Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Buffy vs Angel

Let's start by agreeing there is no reason to pit Buffy against Angel (Although, obviously if we did Buffy would kick Angel's sorry vampire ass). Both these two shows are both delightfully available to stream and meant to be enjoyed in tandem.  And, oh, how I do.  But it is hard not to compare them, right?

Here's something from Noel Murray's recaps over at the AV Club that I liked a lot:

They're different kinds of shows, these two.  Buffy is punchier in a lot of ways, and more intimate.  Angel is the epic adventure, that takes its time to build and pay off a story.  But both are witty, thrilling, heartbreaking, and astoundingly mature about what it means to be alive in this world, and to assume responsibility for who we are, what we do, who it affects and what it means.

I really love that quote.  I love the way he calls the shows "astoundingly mature" because they've both long been reviled as kid stuff by people who've never watched either show.  But after my second run through both series, I am even more blown away by just how goddamn good they are; thought-proving, emotional and so satisfying.  

But if I'm gonna sum up the differences between the two shows, I would do so thusly:


Buffy saves the world.  A lot.  Angel doesn't believe that the world can be saved.  It's a bleak worldview, but also one that I find strangely comforting.  You learn by my age that you're not going to save the world once, much less a lot. Decency is its own reward and might, in fact, be the only reward.   But decency still matters. You don't have to contribute to the bullshit.  You are still the captain of your own shit.

Enough of this pontificating. Let's get to the numbers!

Favorite Episodes - Buffy
#5 - Innocence
In which we learn that Whedon doesn't have to kill anyone to shatter your heart

#4 - Dopplegangland
I am totally gay for evil Willow
#3 - The Zeppo
And I loved seeing Xander get a win
#2 - Once More with Feeling
Everything about this episode is perfect. Except Giles should sing more.  Giles should always sing
#1 - Hush
I gotta say - this is my favorite.  So fun, so smart and so scary.

Favorite Episodes - Angel

#6-4 - The Whole Pylea Arc
Pylea is peak Cordy!
#3 - Waiting in the Wings
Such a great, creepy, cool episode that should have been it for Angel/Cordy smooches
#2 Not Fade Away
Best. Finale. Ever.
#1 Smile Time
But this is my favorite episode in the whole damn Whedon world.  

Let's Bring the Pathos - Buffy
I'm not sure any television show has gotten the death of a parent down better than The Body.  Maybe Friday Night Lights.  But the way the camera angles were always a little askew,  and everyone felt confused and comforted by tasked minutia.  That episode was hard to watch.  It broke my heart.  It was perfect.

Let's Bring the Pathos - Angel
Oh, Fred, when you died there really was A Hole in the World.  And when you said, "No, I am not - I am not the damsel in distress.  I am not some case!  ... I am not gonna be cut down by some monster flu.  I am better than that!"  You summed up why we love Joss Whedon so much and then he killed you before you even got to spend a night with the love of your life and we hated him a little.  How perfectly Whedonesque!  Cordy should have gotten an ending as poetic as yours.

Let's Bring the Hathos - Buffy
You're probably expecting me to say Beer Bad, aren't you?  I'm not - although that was a true nadir in the show.  You may be expecting me to say Riley.  But I'm not even going to say that.  I'm almost going to say that most of my Buffy hathos is for Xander's endless tendency to question Buffy's loyalty and direction.  Remember when they yanked her out of heaven and then threw a party for her, but ignored her through it and then Xander was all "You're not being a good enough friend?"  Shut up, Xander!

But worse than that:  Xander left Anya at the alter.  Xander was heartless and then never made it up to her and then she died. Hated it.
Let's Bring the Hathos - Angel
Oh my god, you guys ALL of season 4 but especially what happened to Cordelia.  She and Angel are falling in love (what?)!  She's a higher power (wait...what?)! Higher powers don't have any powers (huh?)!  She's sleeping with a kid who is, for all intents and purposes, her son (WHAT!  GROSS!) She's evil (WHAT?!)  I just hated the whole thing.

I enjoyed the quick redemption of her character in season 4, but didn't cleanse the bad taste in my mouth.

So, Meg, Which One Is Better?
It sort of seems like I liked Angel more, right?  But I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I watched Angel last.  In a nutshell: while I may prefer the themes and philosophy of Angel, I prefer Buffy Summers to Angel.  She's a better character (which is saying something since Angel is a great character).  Thus, the shows share equal parts of my affection.  I love them both a lot.  They make me happy Let's do a dance of joy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The March, Chapter 30: Blithe Sibling Comfort

Chapter 29

Save Ferris!
-Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

Fred knocked dispiritedly on Tré’s door.  He didn’t want to go home.  He couldn’t go to The March.  That left Rosie. 

Rosie came to the door in one of Tré’s old tee-shirts, eye make-up smeared down to her cheekbones, hair a mess.  But she was a cheerful mess.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, brightly.  “God, what time is it? I didn’t get home until 6:00 am.  I hope you’re not here looking for money, I’m completely tapped out. I did a little shopping yesterday.  The shoes! You HAVE to see these shoes!”

Fred walked in past her, swatting away her stream of words, and sat down heavily on the couch.
“Mary paid off my bookie for me,” he said.  “He came into The March while I was there and said I was owed a beating.  Mary paid him off.”

“Fuck,” said Mary.  “That’s rough.  Well, you’ll pay her back.  Once you start school, Dad will start up an allowance again.  Shit, sometimes I think about going back to school so I can back on the money train.”

“It’s not just the money,” said Fred, and explained the special reason Mary had for assiduously following the letter of the law.

“Oh, please,” said Rosie.  “What is the likelihood that something like that will come up again? I think she’s just being paranoid.  Get her the money back and she’ll feel better.”

“Maybe I’ll sell my car,” said Fred.  “That ought to be good for five thousand.”

“You can’t sell that car, dumbass,” said Rosie. “Dad’s got the title, which he loves to tell you every time you fuck up.”

“Shit,” said Fred.  “She also told me I couldn’t come into the March when she was there.  Mary hates me.” 

“Oh, Fred,” said Rosie, sitting next to him.  “You did what you do.  You fuck up and then you’re sweet and people forgive you.  Mary will too.”

“No she won’t,” said Fred, putting his head in his lap and mumbling, “I fucked up too much this time.”

“Oh, come on, Fred,” said Rosie.  “It’s not like she could do better than you anyway.”

“Of course she can,” he said, ever and always shocked by Rosie’s callous disregard of Mary.

“OK, Fred,” said Rosie, rolling her eyes a little.  “Mary’s amazing and awesome and the greatest thing on two legs.  Now stop being so depressing.  There are lots of different kinds of lawyers.  Mary can be one of those.  Shit, maybe she can be one of the ones that make a lot of money. Come on, let’s watch Springer.  He’s doing a show on Club Kids and I’m thinking of radicalizing my look a little.”

Fred sat on the couch and watched some crappy daytime TV and nibbled at a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that Rosie made him. But he never stopped feeling miserable.  He’d decided on a pure, all-encompassing misery to serve as penance for his sins.  If Mary understood how truly terrible he felt about what he’d done, she would forgive him.

There is nothing on earth more infuriating than some hangdog man courting pitiful for forgiveness.  Penance is earned not gifted.  And it was shitty of Fred to decide on his own penance and then shift the burden back to Mary.

Fred is a young man who’s spent his whole life serenely certain that the right opportunity would find him; equally certain that once found, it would require very little effort on his part.  Success was his birthright, and if he screwed up a few times on the way, things would eventually work themselves out.  Fred was selfish and spoiled, filled with an entitlement that he was often artfully unaware of. 
But there is hope for Fred, yet.  Despite what Mary thinks, Fred’s feelings for her extend beyond her potential salubrious effect on his well-being.  Fred’s feelings for Mary are not self-reflective and remarkably un-narcissistic, especially for a rich boy who’d been raised such that narcissism was virtue. Fred loved and admired Mary for her own ineffable Mary-ness.  

Fred was kind.  And Fred knew what he's done. He has the capacity for change.  He will learn to be generous and train himself to thoughtfulness.  There's hope for Fred yet, who has just fallen asleep with his head on the couch Rosie scoffing and guffawing at the parade of insanity on The Jerry Springer Show.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Guide for the Joss Whedon Skeptic

I'm nearing the end of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel re-watch.  At the end of it, I'm going to write the definitive (DEFINITIVE, dammit) treatise on how the two series stack up.  But another topic first.

Sometimes, when I mention that I'm watching either of these shows, I'm met with a look kinda like this:

Because there are people out there who cannot get past the vampire thing and think that Buffy and Angel are just quippier Twilights.  We should have no patience for these people because evidence abounds as to the quality and cultural relevance of the Buffy.  But it might be we love them and need to guide them past their prejudices.

And so I've decided to write the definitive (DEFINITIVE!) guide to the Whedonverse for the skeptic.  Argue with me if you must... but, you know, I wrote down DEFINITIVE and I'm pretty sure that will hold up in a court of law.

The skeptic's foray into the Whedonverse begins with Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog.

Why? Because it's perfectly Whedonesque in that you are delighted and amused for the first 35 minutes of it - It's so clever!  Someone's writing for smart, sensitive people!  Oh my god, did Nathan Fillion just say "The hammer is my penis"? HAHAHAHA.  And then Whedon rips your heart out.  And then makes you doubt the reality of what he's just presented.  All in 42 minutes.  Plus, Neil Patrick Harris.

Piquing the Interest
Next up, we're gonna watch Cabin in the Woods.  

In this entry, our novitiate learns how Whedon can rapid-fire crack you up and then scare the shit out of you and then crack you up again.  Cabin in the Woods is pure, uncut Whedon.  And the person who rolls his eyes at Buffy will find nothing mockable in this movie.  He'll leave with interest piqued.  "Is Buffy really like this?" he asks.  And you'll nod sagely and then say "well, mostly.  You're not ready yet."  

Whedon 101
Our Whedon skeptic is still not ready for a series. There is prep work to be done.  He must be divested of his dearly held belief that the story of a tiny, blonde vampire slayers is inherently stupid. Let's show him what Joss did with the superhero genre and sit down with The Avengers.  

Sure, he's probably already seen it.  But now he's watching with eyes wide open.  Now he knows that there's really only one guy with the writing chops to make the line "Hulk Smash!" feel fresh.  

Whedon 201
Now it's time to break the heart of our new Whedon fan.  It's time to show him what happens when you love Joss Whedon.  It's time he knows about the heartbreak.  Its time for Firefly.

He'll go "Hey!  It's that guy from Barney Miller!" And he'll learn of the enviable hotness of Gina Torres and wonder why she isn't a huge star.  And he'll see Christina Hendricks and think "Of course, she's a huge star."  And then it'll be the end of one season and he'll be all "WTF?!  Fox canceled this show!  THERE IS NO JUSTICE IN THE UNIVERSE!"

Whedon 201, Part 2
What the hell, let's let him watch Serenity now.  One of the benefits of coming into this late is he can get resolution and remember that Joss Whedon is the only guy out there who can make a damn movie of his own beloved TV show and make it so EFFING GOOD!

Also, he'll probably do this:

You know why.

Whedon: Profiles in Buffy

And now he's ready for the big time.  We have stripped him of his skepticism.  He's ready to walk through the door that was the entryway to the Whedonverse for most of us.  And he's ready to internalize the message Joss has been sharing with us.

It's a journey you can take with him. You'll be there during Innocence and The Body.  You'll bitch about Riley together and bemoan Beer Bad (oh my god, that episode).  He'll be shocked at how good and how scary Hush is.  He'll be delighted at all the feels in Once More With Feeling. You can discuss Glory (personally, I'm a fan) and Dawn (she got more tolerable as it went on...).  And you can share in his likely disappointment in the finale.  It's a little disappointing, right?

Whedon: Profiles in Angel
To get past that disappointment, he'll dive into Angel posthaste.  

(I just watched this tonight and oh the lolz)
You can join him in Keritas and Pylea.  You can talk about how awesome season 1-3 Cordelia was and how awful season 4 Cordelia was.  He will have real opinions about Conner. And he'll be there at the finale because that, my friends, was a fucking finale - I wanna slay the dragon.

Whedon Graduate Studies
Oh, let's get cultured and watch Much Ado About Nothing.  Wes and Fred were always meant for each other....

Optional Studies: Whedon

Look, I watched Dollhouse.  It began too badly to make up for its course-corrected ending.  Also, let's face it: as an actress Eliza Dushku has a really great body.  

But, the ancillary performances are pretty fantastic.  I was especially blown away by this guy (another one on the Whedon "why aren't they bigger stars" list). But the show suffered from too much network influence and floundered too badly in the beginning to really recover.  But it's on Netflix if he's got a hankering...

Whedon Course Review

So what do you think?  Did I miss anything from my definitive (DEFINITIVE!) list?  Do you question the order?  Do you think Buffy and Angel should be watched in tandem?  You can argue all you want, but this is a DEFINITIVE list.

Also, Tony Soprano didn't die in that diner.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The March, Chapter 29: Fred is Thwarted in his Quest for Perfection

Chapter 28

“Sorry, Vern. I guess a more experienced shopper could have gotten more for your seven cents”
-Stand by Me

Refreshed from a good night’s sleep, Fred strolled into The March bearing coffee for himself and Mary, along with a copies of both daily newspapers tucked under his arm.  Fred nodded his “good morning” at Mary and handed her a cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, no sugar, extra cream.

He liked to watch Mary when she did her prep work in the morning.  She had, unintentionally and unbeknownst even to herself, made a practice of holding all her doubt and self-recrimination in a kind of mental reservoir.  Then, while carrying out her mindless morning routine, she’d let the dam down and work through it all.  This morning she was worrying over her performance during a constitutional law class yesterday.  She sliced limes and wondered if her tone was off-putting.  She rinsed juice containers and doubted the cogency and clarity of her conclusions.  Her lips moved silently, restating arguments, disagreeing with her own harsh assessments.  At a particularly thorny issue, she stopped with a bucket of ice halfway emptied into the ice bin. She froze for a second, then shook her head vigorously, and finished emptying the bucket.  At the end, when the bar was in order and everything was ready for the day, her confidence was restored and she was certain again that she was forging an alacritous and appropriate path to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Fred loved how comfortable Mary was carrying on this routine with him around.  He didn’t feel ignored; he felt trusted.  And he was.

After a bit, Mary came around the bar and took a look at the paper Fred was reading.

“Fred,” she said.  “Are you actually looking for a fucking job?”

“I just need a little beer money,” he said.  “Dad cut me off until school starts next fall.”

“If it’s just beer money you want,” said Mary.  “Why not get a job here?  I’m sure Dad could find a few door shifts for you.”

“No,” said Fred.  “That would be weird, son of the owner and all that.”

“Oh, my ass, Fred,” said Mary.  “Rosie works here!”

“Rosie is totally different,” said Fred.

“Don’t be stupid, Fred,” Mary started and then stopped as she spied a customer walking in. Instantly her bartender radar went off.

The man who walked in looked like a midlevel manager at an office supply company or something.  He was in his mid-50s, paunchy, balding, with black-framed glasses.  Still, he wasn’t bad looking for an older man.  But Mary’s radar went off nonetheless.  There was something dangerous beneath that aggressively normal façade.  He took off his coat and hung it up on a hook, adjusted his sweater, hiked up his jeans and sat down next to Fred.

And well she should have been nervous.  Because the man who walked in, Wayne Ribaltsky, was Fred’s bookie. And he was there to collect some money.

 “Hi, Fred,” said Wayne.  “I expect you know why I’m here.”

“Sure, Wayne,” said Fred.  “Let’s just go somewhere else and talk about it.”

Mary moved to pick the phone up. Without looking away from Fred, Wayne said, “No calls right now.”

She froze with her hand on the phone.

“Wayne, let’s just go,” said Fred, desperately.

“I’ll be glad to leave, Fred,” he responded.  “So long as I can leave with my money.”

 “OK,” said Fred.  “Look. I’ve got $400 that I can give you now and we can work out payments for the rest.”

“I’m not a fucking bank,” said Wayne, evenly.  “You’re into me $5000.”

“But I only have $400,” said Fred, weakly.

“And I’ll take it,” said Wayne.  “And I know you’ll get me the rest.  But I think you need a little convincing that I am serious about this money.  So, let’s go for a ride.”

“Listen, Wayne,” said Fred, scared now.  “I’m good for it. You know I am.  I’ll get it soon, just take the $400 and I’ll give you money every week until I’m paid up.”

“You’ve been playing that game too long, Fred,” said the bookie.  “I’m tired of it.  We’re going for a ride.  But, don’t wet yourself, kid.  You’ll live.”

“I can pay you,” said Mary, suddenly.  “I’ve got the money in the bank.  There’s a branch just down the street.  I can get it and pay you now.”

“No, Mary,” said Fred. “You can’t....”

“I can,” said Mary, scared.  “I’ll pay you.  We can go to the bank right now.”

“No…” Fred started.

“Shut the fuck up, Fred,” said Mary.

“Yeah, Fred,” said Wayne.  “Shut the fuck up.”

Mary grabbed her coat from the office and walked toward the door, resolutely not looking at either of the men.

Fred sat alone at the bar, more miserable than he’d ever thought possible.  He knew that Mary was saving money, trying to pay as much as she could to avoid crippling student loan debt when she finished law school.  Fred was rich!  Or his family was, anyway.  He’d never worried about making a rent payment or replacing a pair of gym shoes.  He ate Ramen noodles because he liked them.  His parents had wasted tens of thousands of dollars on schools he’d flunked out of.  He knew what $5000 meant to Mary.  He knew it would hurt losing that money.

And he didn’t even know the half of it. 

Mary strode rapidly down the street, Wayne Ribaltzky right behind her.  She wrestled with the gravity of what she was doing.  She was breaking the law.  She was breaking a law and if she got caught, she could kiss her future in the U.S. Attorney’s office goodbye.  You need a clean record for that shit.  And she’d had one.  And now, thanks to fucking Fred, her whole career could be over.

At the bank, Wayne bestowed a blandly pleasant smile at the young teller as Mary handed her a withdrawal slip.

“How would you like this,” asked the teller.

“I don’t care,” said Mary.  “Hundreds, I guess.”

The teller counted out 50 one hundred dollar bills and Mary thought about what she’d planned to do with that money.  She’d have to hit her father up for rent, and she’d never done that before.  And, worst of all, she’d have to take out more student loans for next year’s tuition.  She’d even been thinking about buying a word processor to do papers on so she wouldn’t have to use the computer lab at school anymore.  Of course, none of that amounted to much now that her whole future was jeopardized.

Goddamnit, Fred!

Outside the bank, Wayne took his money and thanked Mary.

“Are you going to come back to my bar,” asked Mary.

“Nope,” said Wayne. “Debts have been paid.  There is some honor among bookies, after all.”

“Yeah,” said Mary, as he walked away.  “Real fucking honorable.”

When she got back to the bar, Fred was sitting on a stool.  He had the nerve to look up at her with tears in his eyes.

“Are you fucking KIDDING me,” said Mary. “Do you really expect me to feel sorry for you, you spoiled piece of shit?  You spoiled, careless fuckwad!”

“I promise to get you the money,” said Fred.  “I’ll do anything!  I promise to pay you back!”

“I don’t care,” said Mary.  “I mean, you’re goddamn right you’ll pay me back.  But I just paid off your fucking bookie. I just got involved in an illegal fucking activity.  If anyone finds out about this, my whole career goes… poof!  Gone! God, Fred, you’re so… FUCKING careless.”

“No,” said Fred.  “I didn’t mean… I mean, no one will…I’m sorry, Mary.  I’m so sorry.  But I promise no one will ever find out.”

“Oh, for god’s sake, Fred,” said Mary.  “How can you keep a promise like that?  Your promises are worthless.  Just get the fuck out of here and don’t come back in while I’m here.  Ever again!  If you try it, I’ll have your sorry ass banned.  And don’t think I won’t.”

With that she turned around and began furiously polishing a bottle.

And Fred left The March, miserable, bereft.  And he hadn’t meant for any of it to happen.  It had all just gotten away from him.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The March, Chapter 28: The Tip Top Tap

Chapter 27

This is what I call a target-rich environment
-Top Gun

Bulstrode walked into his office, disgusted with his protégé.  Forget that – forget “protégé.”  He was disgusted with his employee. Bulstrode thought he might as well have given Fred the job, if Tré was going to spend every night getting drunk and every day failing in his responsibilities.  He’d had such high hopes for this kid and Tré was letting him down.

Bulstrode walked into the lobby, with the intention of complaining about Tré to Wally Cadwallader, even though he knew Wally would tell him to lighten up.  But he was in the mood to complain and Wally was on the payroll and had two ears.  So Wally could good and goddamn well oblige Bulstrode by listening.

Bulstrode was not in a good mood.

And it was about to get a lot worse, because when Bulstrode entered the Lightweight offices, the first face he saw was Karl Rafferty’s, and it looked even more strung out and smug than it had the last time. Bulstrode looked quickly around and was relieved to find Raff alone. Wally must have stepped away to the bathroom or something.

“Jesus, Raff, get out of here!” said Bulstrode.  “You can’t have burned through that whole five grand already.  Just get the fuck out of here!”

“No worries, Bully,” said Raff.  “I still got a little but left.  But I was just thinking about you and wanted to chat about the old time.  What do you say we head back to your office and crack open a bottle of the good stuff?”

“You want to CHAT?” said Bulstrode.  “Get the fuck out of here or I swear to God….”
“Aw that’s cute,” said Rafferty.  “You swear to God what?  What are you gonna do to me?  So long as I can talk, you’ll probably do what I want.  So let’s drink some whiskey and reminisce a little.  What do you say?”

“Fine,” said Bulstrode, defeated.  “But not here. There’s a bar down there called Tip Top’s.  Just go there and I’ll meet you in five minutes.”
“All right,” said Raff.  “But if you’re not down there in five minutes, I’ll just come right back up.  So don’t be late.”
Bulstrode darted back into his office, took ten deep breaths and tried to calm down.  He’d expected Rafferty to come back.  But not so soon.  It was too soon. This was bad. Bulstrode grabbed his checkbook and headed out.

Tip Top’s was an old man bar. 

An old man’s bar is a bar where bottles of domestic beer are served with short glasses and shots of whiskey are sipped not bolted.  They are bars where tipping is done at the end of a session, and always in the same amount. The clientele is made almost entirely up of men, retired and unmarried, on the far side of 60. Men who headed to the bar after a late breakfast, usually at the same diner, content to spend the lion’s share of the day discussing current events and sports with other old men.  Sometimes they played checkers or dominoes.  These old men were usually home before the evening rush hour, a little loose, but never drunk.  People don’t get drunk at old man bars.
The bartender at an old man’s bar is either an old man or a middle-aged woman. She was the latter at TipTop’s: on the wrong side of 40, been in the game for a while and patient with these old men.  She flirted a little and indulged them in their fantasies that maybe there was still a chance for things to be different, even though they were all caught in the entropic thrall of the old man bar and no one would be able to break the spell. 
This bartender was not pleased to see Karl Rafferty walk in.  Right away she pegged him as a wiry, strung out bit of trouble just waiting to happen.  So, she ignored him in the hopes that he would leave. But Rafferty wasn’t going anywhere; he was perfectly content to wait five minutes for his reluctant benefactor.
Tip Top’s wasn’t an L.G.E. presentation, so when Bulstrode walked in, no one looked nervous or annoyed.  In his desperation, he looked a little like all the other old men there, only maybe a bit more prosperous. Bulstrode settled himself next to Rafferty, and the bartender conceded that her ignoring strategy wasn’t going to work.  So, she took their order. 
When she placed a short glass along side his bottle of High Life, Bulstrode poured the beer into it without thinking.  He sipped the shot of Jameson she poured him.
“What do you want now,” said Bulstrode, turning to Rafferty.
“Aw, is that anyway to start off a chat between old friends,” said Raff.  “Look at us, sitting at the bar, just like old times.”
“Raff, it was never like that,” said Bulstrode, wearily.  “We never had any old times.  You were always just some guy who worked at the same bar as me.”
“That’s not true,” said Raff.  “We was friends.  We was pals.  You used to slip me shots from behind the bar.  We used to drink together after hours.  We had some laughs.”
There was some truth to that, thought Bulstrode. Maybe, after a long shift, he’d have a beer or two with Raff in the quiet morning hours.  He’d let Raff talk about how smooth his pal, Bully, was.  He’d let Raff talk about all the broads who wanted to bang his pal, Bully.  Raff had always been around the periphery, eager to stroke Bully’s ego, content with the paltriest attention.  They’d never really been friends.  But Bulstrode hadn’t bothered to tell Raff that, and Raff grew to believe his own fiction.
And then during one of those quiet nearly morning chats, Bulstrode had let down his guard.  He had let slip to Rafferty how Ellinore Ladislaw was ready to give him some money.  He told him far more about his plans than he ought to.
He hadn’t seen any harm to it then.  Raff had been so eager to play sidekick, so happy to sit back and worship, that Bulstrode had never seen the harm.  He’d never noticed Rafferty’s little rat eyes landing on things, paying attention.  And when Raff got dangerous, Bulstrode got rid of him and thought it was all done. 
But now he was back.
 “Fine,” said Bulstrode, bitterly.  ‘We used to be pals.  Whatever.  What do you want now?”
“Oh,” said Raff.  “I guess I won’t be welcome into the bosom of your family any time, huh?”
“No,” said Bulstrode.  “And leave my family out of this.”
“Another grand will do then,” said Raff.  “Another thousand will make for a merry Christmas.”
“Fine,” said Bulstrode, pulling out the checkbook.  “One thousand dollars.  Cash it and don’t let me see you again for a while, do you understand.”
“You got it, boss,” said Raff, signaling for another shot.
Bulstrode turned and left the Tip Top and headed back up to the L.G.E. offices.  He looked in to Tré’s tiny office and, finding him with his head on the desk, chewed him out ferociously.  When Wally told him to take it easy, he turned his fury that way, ordering Wally to spend more time thinking about his job at L.G.E. and less working on his ridiculous makeup adventures.
Then he stormed into his own office, slammed the door, and spent the rest of the day feverishly working on things to discuss with his soon-to-be-fellow elders at Fourth Presbyterian.

When Bulstrode got home that night, he found Susan sitting in the living room, sorting through a dozen boxes of the beautiful Christmas decorations they’d accrued over the years.  He stood in the doorway looking at his beautiful wife, in their beautiful living room, surrounded by beautiful, glittering, gold and silver, red and green decorations.  A crystal wine glass filled with Chardonnay rested on a coaster next to a copy of the Utne Reader.  Everything in the room was fine and lovely.

He had so much to lose.

Monday, September 1, 2014

The March, Chapter 27: Tre is Being Very Irresponsible

Chapter 26

This goes up to eleven
-Spinal Tap

As Brooke did the dishes and listened to Teddy recall anecdotes from the dusty, depressing texts he’d been mired among all day, Will settled into a barstool at The March.  He was curious about the place.  Tré sat a few barstools away from him, wearily sipping a Heineken and watching the Bulls game.  Sports being the great barroom socializer for heterosexual, male-to-male relations since time immemorial, it wasn’t long before Will and Tré struck up a conversation.

“They have a shot at winning it all,” said Will, tipping his beer bottle towards the TV.

“Maybe,” said Tré.  “If Jordan can remember there are five guys on that court.”

“Ha!” said Will.  “If one of those guys is Michael Jordan, you probably only need three and a half.”

“I guess we’ll let BJ Armstrong be the half,” said Tré smiling and reaching his hand out.  “Tré Little.”

“Will Ladislaw,” said Will, shaking hands and sliding down a stool.

They sat together companionably, drinking beer and watching the game. They chatted about the NBA at large, and decided if the Bulls could get past the Pistons, they could get past anyone.

Tré was glad for the diversion.  His mind had been uncomfortably niggling around money.  Nights out at the club were expensive.  Rosie chipped in here and there, but she was barely working and spent most of her money on clothes and shoes.  Being Rosie was expensive!  

Tré’s credit card debt was growing exponentially and he was having a really hard time staying current with his rent.  He was broke and tired all the time.

But he liked being that guy at the club.  He liked having Rosie on his arm and the jealous looks of the people in line that they walked past.  And he liked Rosie.  He liked Rosie a lot.  Even if she was wearing him out.

Midway through their second beer, Rosie floated across the floor and twirled in front of Tré.  It was a frequent method of presentation.  Rosie had been shopping.  She was wearing a black lace bustier beneath a man’s white shirt, knotted at the waist.  Her pleated plaid skirt was short, leaving a good six inches of thigh exposed to the cold November air.  On her feet, she wore knee high motorcycle boots.  Out loud, Tré complimented Rosie on the ensemble.  Silently, he opined that Rosie would have looked just as hot in an outfit that hadn’t cost a chunk of the rent he was behind on. 

Will compared her unfavorably to Brooke and then wondered why the hell he’d done that.

“Well,” said Rosie, grinning impishly.  “Why don’t you buy me a drink and introduce me to your friend.”

Tré signaled for a vodka and soda for Rosie, returning Caleb’s barely perceptible eye roll.

Rosie was actively honing her charm offensive on Will, whom she’d quickly ascertained came equipped with a certain West Coast cred.  But, Tré didn’t mind.  When Rosie flirted like that, she employed enough cute artificiality to keep everyone feeling comfortable.  Rosie was just working out her skillset.  She was happy with her man.

As they were toasting with a round of shots, Brooke and Teddy walked in.  Teddy was visibly unhappy to see Will encroaching on The March and strode peevishly to the far side of the bar, where he grimaced unpleasantly at Will between gulps of beer. Brooke, on the other hand, smiled at Will and walked over to the threesome.

“Hey!”  she said.  “I didn’t know you knew Tré and Rosie.”

“Just met them tonight,” said Will, feeling awkward, as if he’d worn too small dress shoes to the gym.

“Brooke!  The eco-goddess,” said Tré, fatigue compounding the effects of the alcohol, increasing his bonhomie.  “You’re looking good, girl!  How go the plans to save the world?”

“Good,” said Brooke.  “We’re kicking off bottle recycling here.  You know Fred Bulstrode?  Rosie’s brother?  He’s helping me out.  Caleb says the recycling bins are on the way.  I bet we get started next month.”

“Cool,” said Tré, thoughtfully.  “You know, I’ve been thinking more about incorporating that into the rebrand at large: Lightweight Enterprises, Light on the Environment, or something like that.  It’s definitely on trend.”

“It is?” said Rosie.

“Totally,” said Tré.  “It’s springing up all over the place.  Bulstrode wants the places all branded the same way and putting some kind of environmental bent on it would be cool.  It could do something to sort of mitigate the corporate feel of it. Make it hip.”

Brooke was clearly excited to find, yet again, someone interested in her plans.  Will thought she looked especially pretty with her face all lit up like.  For some reason that pissed him off.  Sour, he looked down at Teddy and was gratified to see him shooting the stink eye their way.

“I thought your boyfriend thought we were all doomed anyway,” said Will.  “What’s the point?”

Will sourly happy with the awkward, toxic silence he'd caused returned his attention to the Bulls.

Rosie realized quickly that this would not do and so reached out to salvage the situation.  “If we’re all doomed, we might as well be dancing.  Let’s hit Lobo!”

“I don’t know,” said Tré.  ‘It’s kind of nice here.  Can’t we just hang out for a few drinks and then go home?

“What’s the matter with you, man,” said Will, recognizing a good opportunity to exorcise his sourness.  “When a beautiful girl asks you to dance, you dance.  Lets go!”

Rosie grinned and said, “I like that!  Let’s go!”

When the check came, Will and Tré split it right down the middle.  It was nice, Tré thought, to have someone to split a check with.

At 4:30 that morning, Tré and Rosie stumbled into Tré’s apartment.  Rosie was lit up like a Christmas tree.  Tré longed for sleep.  But when he turned around, Rosie was right in front of him, kissing him hard, her hand slipped down the front of his pants.

And Tré didn’t get to sleep for another hour.

He was late getting to work the next day.  He rushed into the office at 11:00, still smelling of cigarettes and booze from the night before, dark circles under his eyes.  Just his luck, Bulstrode was emerging from the office as Tré came into the lobby.

“Good afternoon,” said Bulstrode, pointedly.

“I know I’m late,” said Tré.  “It was a late night last night, though. I ‘m researching nightclubs around town.  You have a couple of stores that I think would do great with more of a nightclub feel.  Also, I was thinking about introducing some environmental initiatives.  What do you think?  Environmentalism is getting really in these days.”

The words poured out.  He was scared of losing this job that had been such a coup to get.  Even worse, he feared losing his only source of income when he was behind on his rent and his American Express card was close to being cut off.  He panicked and hurled ideas at Bulstrode in the hopes that one would stick.

“Whatever,” said Bulstrode.  “I’m more interested in seeing the mock-up for those table tents you promised me two days ago.”

“I’m on it, boss,” said Tré, who hadn’t started them.  “I’ll have them for you by the end of the day.”

When had he gotten so irresponsible?  So prone to putting things off, falling behind?  He’d been a straight A student at school.  He’d shown up for every post-college interview on time and prepared.  But here he was, reeking like a bar, exhausted, and falling behind.

It had to stop, Tré decided. It would stop right now.  Tonight, he’d go home, have a decent meal and be asleep by 10:00.  If Rosie wanted to hit the clubs, she could go without him.  He’d limit his clubbing to Sundays and Mondays, industry nights, the cool nights.  He’d focus on work and usher in a successful rebrand.  He’d be a player on the business side of the hospitality industry, not just the party side.

He put his hungover head down and got to work.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The March, Chapter 26: Brooke and Will

Chapter 25

Maitre ‘D: Abe Froman?  The sausage king of Chicago?
Ferris Bueller: That’s me.
                                    -Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

The next morning, Teddy and Brooke were sitting at the kitchen table having a quiet breakfast, reading the newspaper, when something she read triggered Brooke’s simmering enthusiasm and she couldn’t contain it anymore.  She set the paper down and grabbed Teddy’s hands in both of hers.

“You know what,” she said.  “You have more than enough material for your wonderful book!  Let’s start putting it together!  Today!  You can dictate to me and I’ll transcribe!”

 “Not yet, Brooke,” said Teddy, without looking up from the paper.  “This is my project and I’ll decide when it’s time to begin the compilation.”

Brooke was disappointed, and kind of pissed, but she reined it in and responded conciliatorily.  “I’m sorry if I spoke out of turn.”

“That’s quite all right,” said Teddy. “Your youthful exuberance can be charming.  Now, I’m heading to the Newberry this morning to examine a manuscript.”

“Fine,” said Brooke.  Let me get the dishes done and I’ll go with you.”

“Oh, there’s no need,” said Teddy.  “I expect you’ll be bored.  It’s just old books.”

And that was that.  Brooke’s temper exploded.

“Goddammit, Teddy,” she burst out.  “What have I ever done to make you think I was bored with this research?  I’ve been enthusiastic over every discovery you’ve made.  I’ve never complained, never sighed or rolled my eyes at what you do. And you sit there across the table so… so fucking dismissively!  So sure that I’m just some dumb girl who could never understand what you do.  Why, Teddy?  What have I ever done to make you doubt my commitment to this project?

After a long, stunned silence, Teddy responded.  “I guess I was just surprised that someone like you would be interested in this stuff.”

“I was interested in this stuff, Teddy, before I met you,” she responded.  “I’m going for a walk.  Just go to the library without me and I’ll see you later or something.

Brooke walked into the brisk November air and wandered around the Gold Coast despondently, struggling with her thoughts and holding back tears.  At one point, she walked right past the Bulstrode residence.  If she’d looked up, she’d have spied Susan Bulstrode in the window of her beautiful brownstone, sipping a cup of tea, planning the Thanksgiving menu.  But Brooke didn’t look up and wouldn’t have known who Susan was anyway.  Brooke remained blithely unaware of how close she lived to the seat of all that Lightweight power.

She worried at her relationship with Teddy.  He was, after all, the same man that she’d sat next to at The March and been so enamored of.  And he was the man who could help usher her into significance in the environmental movement.  But she was so irritated with him! So frustrated at how he treated her.  

She was so sick of always being in transition!  She swiped away angry tears.

Coffee, she decided.  She wanted some coffee and something sweet.  So she wandered into a coffee shop and sat at a table with a hot cup of coffee and a rich, chocolate brownie.  She shrugged off her jacket and settled into her seat, opening a copy of The Reader.  Back in those dreary internet-less days, metropolitan youth relied on free weeklies to communicate with each other.  The Reader was home to Savage Love and Life in Hell and some truly inspired personals.  Brooke banished all thoughts of Teddy and the new wrinkles in their relationship and settled into enjoy her coffee, brownie and the paper. 

It wasn’t long before she was feeling a little better.

When Will walked into the shop, he almost didn’t recognize her.  She was sitting cross-legged on a chair, paper spread out in front, giggling at something she was reading.  She looked nice!

“Brooke,” he said, walking up to her.

She looked up and, after a moment of befuddlement, said, “Oh!  Will, hi.”

“Hey,” he said.  “Um, do you mind if I sit here with you?”

“Of course not,” she said.  “I was just reading the paper.  Check out this Life in Hell.”

Will read it and laughed.  “I love this strip,” he said. “Do you watch The Simpsons?

“Well, not anymore that I live with Teddy,” she said.  “He doesn’t have a TV. But my sister, Celia, and I used to watch it. It was the only thing we both liked.  Most TV is so intellectually stunted and corporatized.  But The Simpsons is post-modern and counter-cultural.”

“Not too mention funny,” said Will.

“Well, that too,” she said.  “Maybe I’ll tell Teddy we should get a TV just for that.  I bet he’d like it.”

“No he wouldn’t,” said Will, smiling.  The waitress approached and Will ordered a coffee and brownie.

“So, how’s Chicago treating you so far?” Brooke asked.

“It’s good,” Will said.  “Good and cold.  I mean, San Francisco isn’t warm like you think California is.  But this is a different kind of cold then I’m used to.”

“Will,” Brooke laughed. “This isn’t cold. It’s in the 40s for god’s sake.  This is just jacket weather.  Give it a while.  It’s not really cold until you have frozen snot on your scarf.”

“Nice,” said Will, laughing.  “So glad I have something to look forward to.”

“Well, I’m weird,” said Brooke.  “I kind of like the winter.  It’s so cozy when you’re inside and the snow can be pretty.  And fun.  I remember when I was 10 or so, there was this fierce blizzard that shut the whole city down.  My parents couldn’t go to work, and school was canceled for like a week. It was great!  It snowed so much that my sister and I opened a window from the second floor and slid down a snow drift to go out and play.”

“How’d you get back in,” Will asked, fascinated.

“Through the front door, dummy,” said Brooke, with a snort.  “It was drifting, not 15 feet deep.”

“I’ve never seen a snow like that,” said Will.  “I’m kind of excited about it.”

“It’s pretty enough at first,” said Brooke.  “You almost don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is.  Well, I 
don’t mind what a pain in the ass it is.  Normal people do.”

Will bit into his brownie.  “Are your parents still in Chicago?” he asked.

“My mother died not too long after that blizzard,” said Brooke.  “My father lives in the suburbs with his new wife and kids.”

“Are you close to them?” Will asked.

“Not really,” she said.  “My mother died when I was in 8th grade and Dad was just kind of …gone after that.”

“My mother died when I was young too,” said Will.

In the warm coffee shop, with the snow beginning to flurry outside, the two found themselves bonding over shared experiences.

Brooke told Will about coming into the kitchen after her mother died and seeing her father just standing there with a cereal box in his hand, confused about what to do next.  How she’d had to take the box from him and make him a bowl of cereal. And then, somehow, he met this woman and moved off to Naperville with her.  Brooke and Celia stayed in their Rogers Park apartment.  Brooke thought it all sounded a lot sadder than it was.  Their father loved them a lot, but just wasn’t equipped to parent on his own. And she and Celia were pretty good at taking care of each other.

Will told Brooke how his mother was sick for such a long time before she died.  She was a free spirit hippie-type with a huge group of like-minded hippie friends.  Whenever she got sick and had to go to the hospital, Will went to stay with one of them.  They’d feel sorry for the kid with the sick, dying mother and let him do whatever he wanted.  He told Brooke that he could eat pizza for dinner every night and watch whatever he wanted on TV so it got to where he almost looked forward to his mother’s trips to the hospital.  “It was all pepperoni pizza and Sanford and Sons reruns,” he said. “It was fun and then I’d feel guilty because it was fun.”

“I was happy when Dad moved out,” said Brooke.  “He was so sad that we always felt mean not to be that sad too. And then I felt guilty that I was glad to see him go.”

The two sat silently, sipping coffee, remembering sad, guilty things.

“Well,” said Will.  “This is a cheery conversation we’re having.”

“I know,” said Brooke.  “I don’t normally talk about this kind of stuff.  I’m not even sure Teddy knows about it, can you believe that?”

“Actually,” said Will.  “I can.”

“Oh, lay off Teddy,” said Brooke.  “Let’s talk about something else.  Tell me about your political future.”

“Well, you know we have a little family history with it,” said Will.  “And Chicago politics are so fascinating.  It just seems like a good place to be.”

“I wish there were some political cure for the shit we do to the environment,” said Brooke.

“That’s the only cure,” said Will.  “The only real change will come when you get it legislated.  You should be spending your time lobbying congress about this, not curled up in dusty old research with Teddy.”

“But Teddy’s work will be the thing that makes the change,” said Brooke. 

“No it won’t,” said Will.

“It will,” said Brooke. “It has to.”

She left a little while after that and headed home.  Will stayed at the coffee shop for a while longer, leafing through The Reader and thinking about Brooke.  She was beautiful and smart and she seemed like a nice person. What the hell was she doing with Teddy?

Then he landed on a classified ad looking for a bass player.  Maybe he could do that to fill in the time while he waited for his political future to begin.

Brooke made a roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli au gratin for dinner. It was Teddy’s favorite.  When he got back from the library, the table was set and wonderful smells were coming from the kitchen.  Teddy sat down and smiled, accepting Brooke’s tacit apology.

I know. 

Why on earth is Brooke apologizing when Teddy is clearly in the wrong here?  He’s rude and demeaning and cannot be bothered to take even the most cursory interest in Brooke’s life.  He hasn’t even bothered to learn the sad story of her dead mother and absent father.

But that’s who Teddy is.  Teddy has constructed a narrow world, fooled himself into thinking it vast, and lost the inclination for inquiry into the lives of others.

Brooke, on the other hand, found the world (especially the part with people in it) threateningly vast and was willing to bend to his manipulation.  Teddy would change the world and in doing so, Teddy would shore her up.   So long as Teddy takes her with him, she can admit her own weakness, forgive him his, and move on.

Of course, Teddy was sure the world was about to end and it was none of his fault.  He collected evidence of its imminent demise the way other people collect butterflies, pinning buggy corpses onto cardboard for no other reason than because he can.

Don’t worry.  Eventually Brooke will figure all this out.

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