In front of Federal Hall on Wall Street, a rock evangelist sang with an electric organ. Her fervent “sa-tiss-fac-tion” tantalized the Anarchist. He put a dime in the girl’s straw basket and, as an afterthought, a postcard from a brown-wrapped package he carried under his arm. Sandy could use such talent, he had thought. The girl looked around for the card giver, but he was already climbing the impressive steps of Federal Hall. The Anarchist was wondering what such a grand building was used for.
The inside rotunda was bordered on two sides by bank vaults whose doors were wide open for tourists. A sign proclaimed: THIS AREA IS GUARDED BY SECRET SURVEILLANCE. They needn’t have bothered. The place was a tomb except for a sallow, nervous guide in Betsy Ross calico who greeted the Anarchist with cheerful desperation.
“Welcome to the Treasury Building! On Wednesday, March 4, 1789, on this site, the government of the United States under our present constitution began to function. New York City was the first capital of the United States, and New York’s City Hall, remodeled, enlarged, and renamed Federal Hall in honor of its national importance, was its first capital. It is the building in which Congress met for its first session—with the Senate in one wing and the first House of Representatives in the other. It is here, also, that Washington gave his first inaugural speech. Our tapes catch much of the authentic flavor of that bygone era.”
“How do you know?” asked the Anarchist.
“I was a history major,” the girl flushed. “Not that that means much.”
The Anarchist disagreed with her and said that it meant a lot before he entered the side hall of the rotunda. The hall was lined with two glass cases. In the first one were two rows of figurines against a painted backdrop of colonial houses, carriages, and cobblestones. Minute Men and Red Coats twelve inches high faced each other with features of an identical cast. The Anarchist thought it was ill-fitting that revolutionists and royalists should bear such a familial resemblance. He abandoned the scene for the adjacent case. The contents better pleased him.
It held a miniature inauguration with enough color for him to imagine the real event. Painted spectators hung from windows and rooftops. After a few seconds, he could identify Adams and Franklin in two dolls. There was even a tiny red bible in the hand of a George Washington doll. The Anarchist pressed a button on the side of the case to see what would happen.
He heard the sound of carriage wheels and then a reverent, but anonymous voice saying, “Here on April 30, George Washington of Virginia, wearing a suit of brown cloth manufactured in Connecticut, with silver buttons decorated with spread eagles, and standing on a half-enclosed open air balcony on the second floor, took the oath of office and became the first President of the United States.”
Though the Anarchist knew he was listening to a tape, the presentation was so “on the spot”, he almost expected the doll’s lips to move as the voice on the tape recited, “And I say to you, I have no experience in law, none in domestic affairs. I am not qualified for this office.”
A second voice was identified as the Chancellor of New York. He administered the oath, “Do you solemnly swear that you will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will, to the best of your ability, preserve, protect, and defend the constitution of the United States?”
“I solemnly swear…”
“It is done!” cried the voice of the Chancellor. “Long live George Washington, President of the United States!” (Cheers in different voices were repeated)
The Anarchist looked respectfully at the Washington doll, admiring its modest disclaimer of competency. He reflected on the revolutionary struggles of his own countrymen — the unthinking violence — feeling an irony in a museum representing giants of Washington’s ilk with dolls. What an odd shrine, he decided, leaving the hall. The very principles the country was founded on were exalted, yet trivialized. The question of why this was so occupied him on the steps outside. He answered it as economic, looking down Wall Street at a patch of river. Cynicism had its function in providing good, unquestioning workers for the marketplace.
Steps below the Anarchist, two boys coolly smoked a joint. Black box radios blared electronic minimalist music. A tune for marching, the Anarchist thought, as a boy addressed him in singsong, “Ludes, reefers, ups, downs, mesc-a-linee.”
“Sorry, I don’t have the coin,” the Anarchist said, in all truth.
The boy imitated a well-known comic, “Heeyy, that’s show biz.”
The boy’s intrusion into the Anarchist’s thoughts about revolutionary leaders made him realize that he was as alien to modern American culture as the statue of Washington. Poured concrete or marble, he speculated, it was irrelevant. Around the statue, around the deserted museum, the business district throbbed. In its shadow, in the black boxes’ beat, the Anarchist made a pledge to be a visible element of Sandy’s PHOENIX operation. It meant that he would forgo his safe escape route with the AG. Without her, he would procreate no generations to enshrine him — still, each man had his job. Even Washington knew his destiny was not to be emperor, but to serve two four-year terms. Under his statue was a good place to employ the laser.
Sandy would not be pleased, he knew, since Federal Hall was just a museum. She would say it housed little of current interest or strategic importance. The Anarchist didn’t care what Sandy thought. The face of the statue and what it represented awed him. In it he saw the origins of a great country, now in an atrophied state. He would illuminate the symbol by incinerating the statue, long neglected and ridiculed as pop iconography. Identify, integrate, and atrophy…that was the fate of the American Revolution. His own act, separate from a group of integrated acts, would lack the force of a revolution, but it might have an effect on the debris of ideology he lived among.
The Anarchist knew he had made an irrevocable decision about his destiny. He turned his granite face toward Nassau Street and saw from a bank’s clock that it was time to go home. He had a volunteer to meet before the Vendettas reunion that evening. Identify, integrate, atrophy… BREAKTHROUGH. At the same moment:
THE AG HITS THE CITY CASH MACHINE.
It was the kind of almost spring day that made the AG feel as if her shoes were carrying her a few inches off the ground. Actually, she was walking through Washington Square Park in solidly cast rubber sandals, beige latex harem pants, and a cream-colored sparkle sweater which had once sprouted ostrich feathers. The AG, on her way to the cash machine at La Guardia Place, was glad she had removed the feathers. They were too fragile to bear the weight of the canvas marketing bag on her shoulders.
When the AG reached the Urban Banking Center, she inserted her plastic card into the vacuum-formed indentation at the side of the brick building. With mild trepidation, she waited for the “buzz” that would jolt her senses before admitting her through the thin electric eye into the Quik-Cash Center. The machine inside was separated from the bank, which had not yet opened, by a seamless Plexiglas wall. The AG, waiting in line, appreciated the round Plexiglas screws fitted so perfectly flush. She wondered if they were sanded down after the-fact or conceived apiece. Since it was her turn and hard to determine in any case, the AG dropped the idea and dipped her plastic card into another pre-molded slot. The pleasant computer blinked its green display board welcoming her with:
I AM GLAD TO SEE YOU! TELL ME WHAT LANGUAGE YOU WISH TO CONTINUE IN- FRENCH, SPANISH, ENGLISH, GERMAN, ITALIAN, GREEK, OR JAPANESE?
The AG pushed ENGLISH.
ABBREVIATED CONTEMPORARY ENGLISH OR AMERICAN SLANG?
The AG indicated the first category and the computer blinked its display approvingly.
DO YOU WISH ME TO: MAKE DEPOSIT, ESTIMATE EARNING POTENTIAL WITHIN A FIVE YEAR PERIOD, APPLY FOR A LONG-TERM, HIGH INTEREST LOAN, SHORT-TERM MODERATE INTEREST LOAN, PURCHASE FUTURE STOCKS? CASH WITHDRAWL? PLEASE INDICATE ONE OR COMBINED FUNCTIONS.
The AG pushed withdrawal, entered her personal code, and waited for the barrel above the display board to rotate with her cash. Instead, the machine playfully blinked its board and asked: WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY TIC-TAC-TOE CASH-O-LA?
The AG looked behind her for someone to explain this new function, but she was alone in the Urban Bank Center. The green board formed a tic-tac-toe board. The AG pushed the CASH button, because she did have her marketing to attend to. Three sets of X’s formed on the board. A diagonal line skewered the X’s. The image disappeared in a wildly flashing display saying WE ARE HAPPY TO SERVE YOU AT THE U-SERVICE BANK! The barrel rotated wildly, distributing piles of cash onto the floor. The display board excitedly exclaimed: YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED FOR CASH-O-LA! THE 100TH CUSTOMER TO WITHDRAW. YOUR SERVICE CHARGES AND THOSE OF MILLIONS OF OTHER CUSTOMERS FOR A BRIEF ONE-YEAR PERIOD HAVE LED TO ONE CASH-O-LA WINNER EVERY SIX MONTHS. CONGRATULATIONS!
The green type blinked fast and bright. The cylinder rotated raucously back and forth. Money continued to thud dully onto the floor. The AG counted seven complete revolutions of the cylinder before it calmed down. On the display screen she saw a graphic of dollar bills floating in space. She picked up the gray customer service phone and waited for a voice. Instead, for 15 seconds she heard “Hey Look me Over, Lend me an Ear…” Then a tired, human voice said, “May I help you?”
“What is Cash-O-La?”
“Our mainframe computer’s brain was recently transferred from our Las Vegas branch, where we have linked banking programs with legitimate gambling enterprises. We are attempting a transplant.”
“Then there’s been a mistake,” the AG said. “Money which is not mine…”
“The L.A. brain is in a trial unit. The New York branch will soon link our banking system with legalized gambling. This is no mistake. You may keep the money. You have,” continued the voice, “been chosen the lucky depositor of the past six months while we test our equipment. It’s a great promotion. This event has been videotaped by our cameras. We will eventually publicize your experience as a recipient in our introductory statewide campaign. Please accept the cash, but make your deposit another time. We’re having problems switching to normal functions after Cash-O-La.”
The AG, stuffing bills into her marketing bag, realized that cash had become an object. Somehow, because of the unspoken estrangement between the Anarchist and herself, she felt apprehensive. Money could change the exterior of things. It could become another object between them, like Sandy’s presence and the general atmosphere of suspicion which filled the loft. Sandy believed in alliances, observations, recordings, and conquest. The AG admitted she felt a strain in her living arrangement. She hoisted her marketing bag onto her shoulder and decided not to go shopping. Money was a valuable commodity, but its proper usage evaded her. Instead, she would go to Central Park and contemplate the changes it would bring to her life. The AG knew of a round pond, which was perfect for absorbing transitions.
Riding the Lexington Line, she realized that one had already occurred. Unlike the day Ray had approached her with the Swiss Air bag, she was very concerned by the money in her marketing bag. The stuff had no real organic origin or history of ownership, but it was a ”standard.” Being poor, her past and future had become integrated in a “now” of daily work and meals, never planning ahead. Money would force her to review the past and separate it from a new future. She might acquire property for the Anarchist, but what else? She had never believed in spanking new objects. They had no history, no subtle traces of previous ownership.
Sensitive with her new anxiety, the AG felt the shock of the day’s beauty very deeply. The air uptown, as she ascended from the subway, seemed exceptionally clean. The sunlight endowed people, buildings, cars, trees with unique clarity. She thought of buying a red wind-up toy from a sidewalk vendor, but became totally distracted by a man in a semi-formal suit hawking falafels from one of the most modern stands imaginable.
The AG lost herself in admiration for the chic aluminum stand with red-walled wheels. A yellow umbrella covered the whole cart. The falafels inside the gleaming deep fryer were perfectly asymmetrical and fresh smelling. The tomatoes, pre-cut in quarters, were scooped up by a dark man with a beautiful smile who said, “Whole wheat or pita?”
“Yes, I would like one,” the AG said without pause.
The man made a delicious wedge and poured Tahini and wrapped the sandwich in wax paper and clean towels. The AG had never seen such a perfect falafel. She took a tasty bite and realized how immediate her possession of the sandwich had been. She had become self-consciously cognizant of such transactions. Possession, the possibility of enjoyment, heightened her sensuality. Was money really its own Magna Carta?
A black man with a boutonnière in a pin stripe suit watched the AG eat and said, “So, you like this food? He’s been trying to get me to try one, but I won’t.”
“Oh, you should,” said the AG, enjoying the man’s carnation boutonniere. ”They’re delicious and healthful and taste so good!”
The proprietor bowed imperceptibly, pleased by the AG’s testimonial.
The black man bowed pointedly. “I am the ambassador from Guyana. Your country has much to answer for. Patronage of immigrant food-stands scarcely fills the bill.” The AG was not ignorant of the excesses of neo-colonialism. She bowed markedly, feeling the weight of her marketing bag on third world countries.
“I can only answer for myself. Others are rarely interested here.”
The ambassador handed her his carnation, “You must visit my country some time. It is very beautiful… like you.”
The AG shook his hand and headed for the park, her consciousness as stirred as before. Yes, her money did have a social purpose. It could be used to alleviate future pain, but the Anarchist would have to supervise its distribution. She would never be able to decide among the world’s needy.
The AG walked past decorative carriages to her round pond. The water was still, though trees rippled ecstatically in a strong breeze. The AG watched the water’s minimal movement and an old lady in a print dress with expertly-rolled sweat socks. The woman, about age seventy, ran laps in the opposite direction from an old man of the same years. They crossed, their circles overlapping where the AG sat on a bench. The woman, without breaking stride, inquired of the man, ”How many laps ya doing, Mr. Phelps?”
“I’m doing six.”
“I’m doing ten.”
“You think so, Mr. Phelps?”
They crisscrossed smiles of playful competition. She quit at six.
“Better wind, Mr. Phelps,” she gasped.
“Wait for me, Marge,” he said at a slowed trot.
“Ready and waiting,” she said, taking a seat next to the AG.
The broadening shadows of the couple circling the pond had made the AG think of the distance between the Anarchist and herself. They were running in opposite directions, but no longer intersecting. It was as if slowly, imperceptibly, each had lost sight of the other’s stride.
Was it really just Sandy’s doing? Maybe the AG had been less than understanding of his problems, less than resourceful in helping him resolve them. A small pain in her chest came with her desperate need for reassurance. The Anarchist must love her as profoundly as before! What difference did a windfall make to this estrangement? Essentially, it would affect the Anarchist more than herself. Anti-materialism was an ideology he had accepted, though it went against his instinctual desire for perpetuity. He liked fine, beautiful objects — objects with historical import.
Perpetuity and procreation were things he valued. Maybe, with coaxing, he would learn to enjoy himself and put the money to personal use? As for herself, it was getting on towards dusk, and soon she would need to go to work. Luckily she had left her costume in the dressing room and wouldn’t have to make an extra trip back to the loft. This evening was not the one to show the Anarchist the contents of her marketing bag.
The Anarchist had taken great pains to insure she would not be home. He had taken inventory of her possessions, making sure she had all she needed for her go-go act. He was eating his dinner out, he said, so she should not bother to cook when she returned from the market. Even so, she had seen the postcard on the table. She knew there was a meeting in his print shop to which she had not been invited. She hoped, with all her being, Wayne would attend.
The AG wondered how people coped with anxiety. She decided not to let the unpleasant feeling darken her experience of the day. Clarity was not to be lost. Spring was a treasure, and she carried it’s materialization in her marketing bag. What was luck, after all, but another aspect of time?
Philosophically, she took an upward path from the pond. A boy with bad skin and a few teeth fell into step beside her. Moved, the AG noticed his sneakers were in tatters. She perceived his nature was not evil, but stunted. She was prepared, when he jeered at her, “Where you going, doll? You’re gorgeous. How would you like me to call you up?”
The AG knew how much he hated himself, how he cultivated rejection by speaking offensively. Why, the AG wondered, as the boy mounted his verbal offense, was he setting himself up for certain abuse?
“You need new sneakers. You must have walked very far with these.”
“Yeah, you wanna massage my…”
“Could I give you money for a new pair?” the AG asked with great gentleness. “Would that make you feel better?”
“No, just your ass,” the boy said evasively.
”You never saw it,” the AG said sincerely. “We’ve been walking side-by-side.”
The boy nervously jumped from one foot to the other, “Smart, how ’bout I use my knife…”
“Why? If you want money, I’ll give you all you like.” The AG unzipped her bag. “I have a lot here, but would appreciate your leaving some for me.”
“You’re a cop,” the boy said, backing away. “It’s entrapment, or you’re nuts. No one goes around talking to people like me!”
The AG watched him retreat, thinking how odd and sad some people were in New York. She also realized she might have been risking harm by not giving him his usual abuse, but she had offered recompense. Some people were so suspicious!
The AG exited the park at the Plaza and walked up toward Fifth Avenue. She saw the boy navigate the thick crowd intent on a girl in a green raincoat. She heard “Hi, gorgeous!” before the pair disappeared. The AG hoped he would find satisfaction this time. It was a matter of inverted ambition. She had been too receptive to reward his initiative. The incident also showed that her windfall was no cushion from the aggression of those less protected than herself. But she had never desired money for the purpose of social insulation. No, she thought with childish joy, all she ever liked to buy were exotic foods, feathers and beads, and…the AG’s enthusiasm for varieties of trivial goods served as a temporary balm for her anxiety. On her way to Joe’s Place, she thought about life’s uncertainties, glad she had taken a little peace of mind from the park.
FOOD FOR VENDETTAS
The Bowery businesses were bustling to the end of another workday as the Anarchist headed for a small, wedge-shaped park across from Cooper Union. Surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, the park was barely deserted at night, barely inhabited during the day, but never really empty. Art students and derelicts coexisted around the statue of an eminently unremembered personage, which had resisted the graffiti and pickaxes of the idle and deranged. The Anarchist sat on a bench under this statue and opened a brown paper package filled with postcards.
Glossies! He rubbed his finger over the lush surface. No smudging! Photo-litho on cardboard plates, the specialist had finally come through. The cross-hatching was as sharp as the original. BOMBS AWAY in red was a real eye catcher. On the flipside in bold Helvetica he read OPENING–THE PHOENIX–A NON-CONCEPTUAL EVENT, “Movement in Action” Contact: Sandy at Ad-A-Live.
Sandy had sent out half. The rest had been circulated by the Anarchist through the old members’ network. The Anarchist, admiring the cards, rewrapped the package and waited for his contact. Recruits could be safely and singly met in the park, right under the gaze of stray neighborhood cops. He was just another bum hanging out The Anarchist was glad to be making contacts again. The Vendettas reunion at the meeting gave him an excuse to meet with many old friends. One, who worked at a clinic down the street, was due very soon. The Anarchist was surprised he had followed-up on Sandy’s call. He had always seemed a sensible, moderately liberal person. He even had a dedicated career as a professional social worker, in which he channeled his idealism. Why would such a man even consider the PHOENIX seriously enough to request a private meeting with the Anarchist? They had been friends, but became estranged out of varying interests and attitudes. Regrettably, the Anarchist thought, that was how one lost contact — points of variance more frequent than intersections. It was a facet of life in New York City.
The clinic had a modern-esque door that never locked properly. The tile was turquoise in the lobby, set in half-inch squares all over the walls, ceiling, and floor. It was the American Byzantine style popular in the 1950s, when gold paint was used in the mortar. The floor also contained yellowish puddles and plastic cups littered in circles. This lobby was the battleground, where the methadone clinic on the fourth floor trafficked with the alcoholism clinic on the first floor. Though once a day the floor was swept and mopped, the odor still remained — the relics reappeared.
Unwashed clothes, yes, that’s what the lobby smells like, thought the social worker getting into the elevator. Heroin and alcohol. Two different drugs, two different sets of addicts.
An alcoholic wandered into the elevator and greeted the social worker with a bold face bloated beyond lines. The man wanted to get off at the methadone clinic, whose door the social worker had just locked.
“The clinic is closed for today, and don’t you want the one downstairs?”
“Don’t people live here on the fourth floor?” the alcoholic persisted.
“Not in the clinic.”
“Do you live here?”
“Not if I can help it. I’m a worker.”
“Can I join and live here, too?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Why not? Aren’t a man allowed to live…”
“Look, I don’t want to talk. Do you mind?”
“Not if you give me a cigarette.”
The social worker didn’t smoke, so he offered the drunk a quarter. The guy refused it saying, “I asked for a cigarette. Not money.”
Different populations, the social worker repeated to himself, wondering about his own motivations for offering the quarter. He’d forgotten that alcoholics were a different species of addict, more grandiose and, somehow, more human, though he was prejudiced after all his years at the methadone clinic. His gesture was an unprofessional act, some kind of alienated liberal leftover. It was the liberal leftovers in his character which made him agree to Sandy’s solicitation. He had always liked the Anarchist. The guy was at least serious about his statements. “Last stand” was one that was currently in the social worker’s vocabulary. He figured they might now have something in common.
Just that week, the social worker had been informed that the clinics were being kicked out of the lofts for luxury conversions. The alcoholism clinic could relocate, but the methadone clinic had lost funding completely. It would mean more bodies on benches, more deadly dealing. Hoarding had already caused the street value of methadone to balloon. Plastic cups were glutting the few outpost clinics left. The Anarchist’s friend would fight the loft conversion and the funding cut, but he feared a losing battle. He would become an unfunded sociological priest. Eventually, after unemployment and nonprofit organizational leads ran out, he would redirect his counseling skills to a public relations firm, or some philanthropic organization funded by an obscure eccentric for esoteric studies or–just now, he would rather talk to the Anarchist.
Three o’clock. The Anarchist saw the time on the clock at Cooper Union. He didn’t have much time to chat, since he was to meet Sandy at four o’clock about the meeting. With some relief, he watched the social worker approach. There was a “gameness” about him he had never noticed before.
“What do you have there?” asked his friend, pointing at the brown-wrapped package.
“Like one?” the Anarchist offered, slipping a card out and handing it to the social worker. “You might find it a good time.”
His friend, perplexed, turned the card over, only increasing his perplexity.
“I don’t get this.”
“Look again,” said the Anarchist with a grin. “Have you ever known me to have a sense of humor?”
“This isn’t a joke?”
“Nope, it’s purposefully obtuse. I can’t afford humor,” the Anarchist said, “You pay for that perspective in time wasted.”
“That seems the current mode of cultural refuse,” the social worker laughed. “Adaptation, survival—it’s preached as a supreme virtue to hide the fact that to have ‘survivors’, there has to be an incident of devastation, unless the whole society is just that.”
“Propaganda,” the Anarchist shrugged. “You’re in the reclamation business. Besides, really, who are they?”
“Government, private industry, powers that be–authorities. When they talk survival, they mean kissing ass and knuckling under. I’m losing my clinic, and I’m not the only one.”
“This meeting’s in my shop, the basement of the loft,” the Anarchist said, pointing across from Phoebe’s. “Come tonight and make whatever commitment you can.”
The men crossed arms and shook hands. Then, the Anarchist was alone. No one had been watching them meet, he was certain, but the social worker should not be seen with him, just in case. For all he knew, some “authority” might be taking the Phoenix seriously.
Wayne Niebold, returned from the Vendettas meeting and took off his St. Mark’s outfit. He smoothed down the spikes of hair and washed off ash he had smeared into his sneakers. Out of a battered manila envelope, he took the folded invitation and a copy of Sandy’s questionnaire. He wanted to make some sense of the experience. What had he committed himself to? The Questionnaire was as straightforward as a management seminar:
1. Have you ever committed a radical act? If “yes” list dates and type.
2. Are you proficient at firearms, electronics, munitions, propaganda, or video equipment?
3. Do you need a definite object for your acts; financial reward or personal value?
4. Would you volunteer time for the new Food for Vendettas? How many hours a week?
5. Food for Vendettas is a fully responsible, unstatused organization dedicated to internal political anarchy. Would you be responsible for its acts or its protection, contingent on your participation?
6. What kind of monetary contribution would you be willing to make? Amount?
7. lf told you should leave now and give me this form, would you? If not, please explain.
8. Does commitment to an ideal mean action for you? Do you feel a need for either?
9. Does acquiring goods and services in a never ending variety and quantity seem a suitable objective for your life? What role do you give it?
Wayne, of course, filled in everything in the time allotted. He described himself as an expert on nonverbal communications. He said he knew something about commitment; had a religious orientation and acrobatic skills. He volunteered an afternoon a week and specific weekends. He was lucky, when he thought about it. Sandy had allowed him into the meeting. It might have been his nervousness that made her suspicious. She had singled him out at the door where she was collecting the invitations and checking off names. He had run his finger down the list and crossed off his own name. Sandy had handed him the questionnaire, whose flipside contained a price list for the Anarchist’s posters. The cover of a gallery opening wasn’t a bad one.
”Don’t talk much, do you?” she had challenged him.
Wayne had been cool, shrugging poker-faced. He didn’t feel, under her pressure, like saying he was a deaf-mute. Her aggressive force inhibited him from revealing anything she might construe as an advantage. Still, she had singled him out.
After the “opening” part of the evening, she and the Anarchist had collected pencils and questionnaires from opposite ends of the shop and met at the front. She overturned an orange crate for a podium. It was next to the printing press.
“Anyone who wants to participate will be assigned a port-a-pack and walky-talky. The
Anarchist will give sessions on their use. If you are uninterested in this operation and just came for the art opening, please leave at this point.”
Sandy discarded cards as people left. Wayne saw her mouth to the Anarchist, “I hate to waste my breath.”
Randomly flipping cards, she singled Wayne out from the small group that remained.
“Wayne Niebold, why are you here?”
Wayne had hastily scribbled a page in large block letters. He tore it off his pad and waved the page with OUTRAGE.
“Have you taken a vow of silence about it?”
Wayne, reluctantly, signed a typical deaf-mute’s NO, thinking the sign common knowledge.
“Deaf–mute” the Anarchist had clarified.
“Do you have a background in outrage?” Sandy asked, undaunted.
Wayne decided to have some fun. He took his folding chair and smashed it on the floor, succeeding in breaking one cross-bar of wood.
Sandy had approved. “Good response,” she said, making an okay sign.
“Now an intro for all of you who remain. The Anarchist is my associate. I am the coordinator. The scope of this operation is Manhattan Island, but it will serve as a symbolic national paradigm. I have your cards, and you will be contacted if you volunteer. And, for your own protection, remember no volunteer will be told more details than they need to perform their tasks.”
“What kind of thing are you doing?” asked a red-haired girl from the back.
“This is the opening of ‘The Phoenix,’ a non-conceptual event. Movement in action is our vernacular. The Phoenix is really a radical act. This will not be a psycho-drama or a recreation of anything, but a live guerilla-strike, which will be documented in video-verite style. Make no mistake. My name is Sandy and I am a terrorist. Immigration is familiar with my identity. We will be staging our event like the ones created by mainstream cultural institutions. We want to show the vulnerabilities of urban defense systems and the lack of a coherent, consistent ideology, which really serves the people. For example, let me talk about one absurd practice of the so-called public utilities.”
Sandy went on to describe how the electric company had a special squad who were paid bonuses to turn off the service of people who were late in payment. She related the boasting of one employee, how he climbed into a basement through a broken window on a rickety ladder to turn electricity off. But, she explained, turning it on was a different matter. That was a “routine” operation, so employees received no incentive and, in fact, were encouraged not to go out of their way. Even so, she raved, you were supposed to identify with the company’s right! It’s a subtle process of intimidation.
Wayne found Sandy and her mysterious operation more melodramatic than threatening. He was surprised when her request for testimonials of this “process” provided stories: a stockbroker told of false stock manipulations and what they cost the country in economic stability, a chemical engineer told of incentives to develop compounds dangerous to humans, but lucrative to business, an ex-Krishna told of the extensive corporate investments of his organization, despite the celebration of poverty in recruitment policies. With the litanies of bad and dangerous working conditions, unemployment, evictions, price-fixing, and lost pension funds—accepted commonplaces of modern life, Wayne wondering these people managed to feel at all.
If Sandy were the evangelist, the Anarchist was the resident sage. He impressed Wayne as a rare man, one with the internal resources to resist absorption in external ideologies. How had he been manipulated by someone as obvious as Sandy? Since Wayne had entered the shop, he had wanted an answer for this question. He had noted all relevant and irrelevant data: how the Anarchist tilted work lights so his posters seemed displayed at a real art “opening”; how the Anarchist greeted guests and poured wine, careful to be near someone with a watch, of whom he repeatedly asked the time; how the Anarchist smiled and shook the hands of curious college kids, sullen art students, post-60s organic food consumers, Ukrainian neighborhood folk, a few desperate but tidy corporate men and one woman in a gray flannel suit, who didn’t seem to take herself seriously at all. Friends of the Anarchist crowded around the posters. Some bought a few and left, as the small basement tended toward dankness.
After all this observation, Wayne was unsure what he thought of the Anarchist. His initial impression of a hot temper was muted by a shy cynicism apparent in compressed lips and lowered eyelids. A girl in a halter dress halted the Anarchist’s tense prowling.
“You’re printing these! How nice. I’ve seen them around town. They are very idealistic.”
“Your choice,” the Anarchist said, smiling shyly. “Three dollars, or free.”
The girl took out some singles and asked, “Is your friend serious about her ‘Phoenix?’”
“Just a tape and take-over to be exact.”
“I’m not too action-oriented,” the girl apologized. “I better go.”
“Stasis, an intelligent course,” the Anarchist said wistfully, giving her the poster. “A body at rest stays at rest.”
At nine o’clock, the Anarchist told people the “opening” part of the evening was over and began to set up rows of folding chairs. With angry precision, he formed rows, straightening each chair. His clean, white shirt didn’t camouflage the impression he hadn’t slept in days. He drifted over to the apple juice table and picked up Sandy’s cards. The Anarchist took a back seat. Maybe, Wayne thought, Sandy would be ‘saying it all.
“Walk through that door if you are merely curious,” Sandy said. “If you have families, leave also. Those who remain can take a questionnaire card and review the material carefully. It will help you determine if the Phoenix is the mission for you.”
Watching the Anarchist pass out lined index cards, Wayne was impressed by his purposeful self-control. A complex man; the cynicism of a few minutes before now seemed a cover for a strange fervor. Wayne understood the reason the AG had chosen him. He felt a need to strike this man with the force of his own character, make him realize that Wayne Niebold was worthy of notice. He listened to Sandy, waiting for such a moment.
”Each of you is to list the acts you have performed which qualify you for this event.”
A neatly-dressed man in a V-neck sweater stood up. Anarchist, Wayne noted, swiveling in his chair, showed a strain of recognition. The man might be a friend.
“My name is Ralph. I’m involved with a methadone clinic soon to close. I know there are two sides to the argument, whether maintenance is better than…”
“Ralph,” Sandy interrupted, “what do you know?”
“Munitions, hand to-hand combat and,” he laughed, “counseling people who don’t fit. I began with myself, after I shot my battalion leader in Vietnam.”
“Your reasons sound fine, but I also want you to list practical skills – like truck driving, on your card and give it to me or the Anarchist before you leave tonight.”
After Sandy’s line, the Anarchist buttoned-up his jacket for a hasty exit. Wayne followed the angle of Sandy’s open mouth from the orange crate to the door of the shop.
“Where are you going?”
The redhead turned reluctantly. With the barest of courtesy he said, “Out for air, gurl.”
“No. Your pledge and presence are a necessity.”
Reluctantly, the Anarchist found verification in the faces of the expectant audience. He joined Sandy at her podium. She kissed him hard, with solid possession.
“This man’s integrity and dedication are known to all in this neighborhood,” she began.
The Anarchist silently went along. What made him a reasonable mark for someone as obviously unscrupulous as Sandy, wondered Wayne. Perhaps he was a man who didn’t fit into modern urban life. Maybe there was something fragile underneath his committed ideology, some naive simple vanity stirred at the thought of being essential to the PHOENIX. In any case, Wayne wanted to help the noble Anarchist, and not just for the AG. He wrote a note at the door of the basement, where Sandy and the Anarchist embraced the departing recruits. The Anarchist was excited, but dignified. Wayne passed the note in his palm to the Anarchist and lingered behind the last recruit. YOU WILL NEED AN ASSISTANT. I WOULD LIKE TO WORK WITH YOU read the Anarchist, out loud. Sandy regarded Wayne with some hostility.
“You don’t believe he’s a deaf mute, do you? He’s too fashionable.”
The Anarchist released anger. “Enough of your suspicions. This man wishes to help me in my work.”
“Okay, but I’ll wait before discussing elements yet to be obtained. Jack will be able to get some things. By the way, did you like Jack’s Krishna impersonation?”
(She aimed her last remark at Wayne, hoping to see disillusionment.)
”I think your friend, Ralph, will also be useful, but him,” she gestured toward Wayne.
“I want a report on all your activities with the Anarchist.”
“NO,” said the Anarchist. “I will not be monitored.”
“I want to keep an eye on him, not you. If he proves a spy, if the Phoenix is confused or miscoordinated, or falls apart, all the better.”
“What,” The Anarchist said, “are you talking about?”
“No one important will believe it’s real.”
Was the operation a hoax, Wayne wondered, or did she want him to suspect that? Wayne was intrigued enough to relinquish the well-being and peace he had recently created in his life. Why had he volunteered for such craziness? It had something to do with his need for commitments–the way he joined organizations because of individuals he admired. Denotation might have given him a way of life, but it was the Llama he adhered to, and now the Anarchist? Why was he this way? Why did he so gleefully smash the chair?
Sinking into his platform bed, Wayne practiced self-analysis by free-associating Denotation-style. He thought of his childhood and the suburban family left behind. Wayne’s adolescent rebellion had not been severe. Only a coy, occasionally clever joke, like when he referred to a suburban center for mass consumption as a shopping MAUL. Such cute witticisms became family jokes, still causing ripples on his infrequent holidays home. His father, who had once made a living repairing electrical appliances, now sold components for stereos in his own chain store. He was, Wayne realized, a man who changed with the times. He showed his approval of Wayne’s journalistic aspirations with technical talk about available word processors.
On Wayne’s last visit, the family posed for a Polaroid. Wayne’s brother-in-law held the camera. Wayne was installed between his two sisters, in chronological order. His father wore a spacey metallic cap. He handed it to Wayne, who put it on his head just before the SNAP! The family had been preserved in natural daylight without the benefit of a flash. The world was not picture-perfect in the suburbs, Wayne thought. His father might be progressive, but he had never remarried after Wayne’s mother died. The portrait would not be sepia-tinted. Who knew the way Polaroid developer would wear ten years from now? His father was sad without a wife. Perhaps, he thought optimistically, the picture would form an interesting after-tint.
Transitory items, such as space hats and Polaroid shots, irritated Wayne. They made the suburbs supportable, but seemed part of a matrix of hypocrisy. People only talked about “pleasant” subjects — a new car, an engagement ring, a new baby, or a perfect haircut. He grew up, with no traditional mooring, among serious discussions of daily tragedies–mastectomies, cancers, car accidents, heart attacks, divorces, and robberies. Horrors were whispered by his sisters, under the oppressive “pleasantness,” which had to be maintained against any evils, natural or otherwise. Wayne was taught to cultivate an attitude of well-being, equilibrium, “normalcy,” and keep it at all costs!
That maintenance had, he decided, given him a loose screw. That was why he had smashed the chair, a nostalgic trace of a quelled rebellion, as absurd as politics in the suburbs. It was only now, in his work for the Church, that he had realized loss of well-being didn’t mean a change for the better. How could he have faulted his family? They were happy. Their edgy belief system had proven a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fondly, he remembered a game played with his brother-in-law on his last visit, while his sisters pushed plastic squares around a new kind of canasta board. The object of the game was to identify a famous person from the first letter of their first and last name within a certain time-limit. Wayne thought the game stupid, but wanted to please his brother -in-law. He had written, conversationally, on his score pad: IF AS WARHOL SAID, ALL PEOPLE WILL BE FAMOUS FOR 15 MINUTES ANY OF THESE NAMES ARE INTERCHANGEABLE.
“They’re just names we know,” his brother-in law said. Wayne agreed. Love for the esoteric of mass produced commodities was a common cultural denominator. It brought together couples, children, even estranged families. Wayne knew it was part of space hats and generations of Polaroids, and the oppressive sense of the “pleasant” which had made his childhood vacuous. It was this mind-set which kept him from really defining his actions. He didn’t live by acts, but by chronicling the esoteric. Still, though he couldn’t hear the sound, he HAD smashed the chair.
Wayne considered his associations a success. He now understood his motivations for involvement in the Phoenix. Living with the consequences would be more complicated. He would have to write three sets of reports: the “Helpful Hints” column, the Llama’s AG report, and Sandy’s reports on the Anarchist’s project. He would also be assisting the Anarchist. Well, he consoled himself, the opposite of a vacuum was activity. That was why he sought commitments though, now he had overdone it. By declaring himself for the AG, he was in conflict with the Llama. Why did he do it?
She had given him a sense of being an “essence,” a real person in a special way. But what was the AG to herself, feelings from an unprocessed panorama of experience? A kaleidoscope of associations related to the myriad variety of life? Her source was definitely unconscious. Wayne halted his speculations. He knew nothing about the AG. Did everyone project their sensibility onto her? She seemed to lend herself to that. For Sandy, she was the fool he hoped to dupe, for the Llama, the symbol of a religion he hoped to counterfeit? Wayne didn’t like entertaining this last idea. He slipped into his bed, enjoying the clean tucked sheets. It had been an interesting evening, not dull in the least.
The Anarchist, unaware that he had his black coat on, lay down on his bed to think. He was glad he was solitary, wanting to mull over the meeting, his mission, and his new assistant. Wayne seemed a likely lad, quiet, smart, eager, and as far as trust (the question Sandy had posed for him), the Phoenix was absurd enough. He had even heard it murmured at the ”opening” that the operation was a self-promotional event. A subversive act, which was going to be taped, was likely to be discounted.
Was the Phoenix a grass-roots community action event? This applied only in a very limited way. Was he guilty of duplicity with his neighbors? Sandy had used his auspices, yes, but he hadn’t misled anyone. In fact, one of the oddities of urban Americans was that they were so ‘event’ saturated, reality had disappeared from actuality. It only existed in the interpretation and this was scrupulously left to individuals. Why not? The task was awesome, and many found it not to their measure.
The future of Wayne Niebold might be his own business, but the Anarchist could not ignore the danger in which he was involving the young man. He resolved, as things progressed, to discover how much of his motivation and ideology Wayne shared. Conscience and action should meld to one consistent truth. Wayne would make his choices along the way, just as he had at the meeting. There would be plenty of chances for him to back out.
Feeling relaxed for the first time in weeks, the Anarchist dozed. Filled with a tangible sense of purpose, he dreamt of confetti and tickertape falling out of windows on Wall Street. It was New Year’s Day, and brokers were dumping cartons of it out their windows. The Anarchist had forgotten about the New Year and was caught in miles of the stuff, tripping and sliding so he couldn’t find his way down the street to the river. Ahead, he vaguely saw the head of the George Washington statue on the steps of Federal Hall. Around it and the Anarchist was something so thick, he choked and gagged and …
The Anarchist woke to find a green paper on his eye. Closer focus identified it as a fifty-dollar bill. Though this recognition coincided with a giggle from the AG, the Anarchist found it hard to acknowledge the evidence of his eyes. The bed was filled with money, which the AG continued to take out of her marketing bag.
“AG! Enough! Where did you find all this?”
“We won the bank machine’s cash game. It’s legal, Anarchist! We can do so many things now!”
The Anarchist looked at the money and felt depressed. In the face of his recent commitment to the PHOENIX, the money meant disaster, publicity he didn’t need at this time. Besides, the AG had never wanted the joys of insularity that came with wealth. Well, it was hers, anyway. In the aftermath of the PHOENIX, she could go and build herself a future. Just now, however, he would have to distance himself from her fortune.
“AG, I will not be a party to possession. How many account service charges, foreclosures, and object repossessions have contributed to this bonanza? How many bankrupt families are represented by these bills? Take the money and go somewhere, AG. Otherwise, I will leave.”
The Anarchist picked up a broom and began sweeping the green bills into one large pile.
“I’ll hide it until you get used to the idea,” the AG said. “You have wanted many things that weren’t possible.”
“In the past. Give it away, AG.”
The AG watched the Anarchist sweep and tried to tap into his thoughts. Luckily, she was not completely blocked. He felt regret at having to reject the money. There was something he had decided which made it possible for him to detach his life from hers. This something combated his love. It had produced, the AG decided, some very twisted emotions.
“You have a commitment,” she said to the Anarchist, “that’s making the money more than difficult. Please, forget it. Let us go away to a warm climate for a while.”
The AG saw an image in her mind’s eye, a desert with a small house and a miraculously sprouting garden. It was not a fantasy. There was something too tangible for that, something very changed in her Anarchist working that garden. The image provided a respite from the constant anxiety, which made her urgent and careless.
“Anarchist, something awful is going to happen. You’ve closed yourself to me!”
The Anarchist stopped sweeping. “AG, you have no right to pry!” The Anarchist felt afraid. He shouted, knowing he needed to break with the AG. He could not sleep next to her this night or any other (what if she found out about the Phoenix?). He swept quickly, realizing he did not want to lose her, knowing he had already given her up. He retreated into the age-old paradox of freedom and destiny. How did they interact? What was the story behind the AG’s windfall? He believed there were no accidents, no true coincidences, just natural laws beyond common understanding. He was stubbornly committed to his destiny, and a little afraid it might not exist. The AG would not understand the necessity for immortality.
The Anarchist swept the bills into a neat pile, tied them with a rubber band, and paused at the loft door before going down to his print shop. Adversity could not look at prosperity with less than contempt. He would not use the AG’s money to finance his laser.
“AG, I will sleep in the shop. Please have the money removed when I return.”
The AG felt devastated as she listened to his footfalls recede. She reviewed the evening for a clue to her error. She had not left the club at her usual time, eleven o’clock, because she had been too excited to stay past 10:45. She had been careful to hide her find from Joe and Rhonda. Neither would understand. Joe would be disconcerted by her “easy money,” suspicious that the Anarchist might be involving her in a criminal activity. Rhonda would be superstitious about some impending social nemesis from possessing a treasure without great toil or sacrifice. To simplify her life, the AG inconspicuously stowed her bag in its usual place under her mirror in the dressing room (though she did offer Rhonda a loan for a new costume). Soon as her act was over, she left to break her news to the Anarchist. The AG feared she was guilty of insensitivity. Perhaps excitement had blocked her usual intuition. Showering him with cash had seemed akin to her own favorite luxury, wrapping her body in an incredibly precious silk. Money was just magic stuff. It could change their circumstances and atmosphere, but only that. Obviously the windfall meant something different to her Anarchist. The AG sighed, wondering if she had been naïve.. Many people thought money was life. Was the Anarchist such a one? Why else would he act, as if she had brought home something indecent, slightly obscene? He was a materialistic man by nature, but he only wanted money for one purpose. And that was a mystery.
The AG’s thoughts tumbled in emotional confusion. Her sensibility was useless without her Anarchist. Lying down on her bed, she sought a solution from her dreams. It was a method she had learned from a passing Sufi who often discussed with his children, over breakfast, the content of their dreams. If a child was attacked by a tiger in a reoccurring nightmare, the Sufi instructed the child to give himself a suggestion to combat the animal as he was falling asleep. If the tiger again attacked, the child could wake up within the dream and vanquish the beast.
The AG knew from her own experience how the two states of consciousness mirrored each other. The dream life, however, seemed to have more consistency, an emotional logic to the images and their sequences. If only she could use the Sufi’s technique to dispel her deep anxiety and amorphous dread of what was unfolding. She wanted to dream about the Anarchist and discover in what direction he was investing his destiny. She would wake in this dream, cognizant, and change the ending he had ordained. It was a tall order for a self-taught dreamer. The AG closed herself to outside stimuli and gave it a try. After all, she had success with other subjects, awakening pink and happy with the outcomes.
First, she created the sensation of consciousness in an immediate context – her body floating in an environment of rotating visions. She focused and refocused her attention with the special exercises Sufis taught the “clairvoyant dreamer,” the one born to each generation. She followed her instructions, waking in the dream context and preparing to displace herself in the fourth dimension. The AG focused on clothes — patterns, textures, lines, and colors. Using single concepts, which she imaginatively experienced every day, she was able to see the fabric of the future. She was able to sense the invisible particles and waves, which formed the texture of time. The A G was not ignorant of how the universe had occurred, but she wasn’t interested in the question. She was more practical. Since her body was not meant for the solitary state of space, she had to take care not to detach totally from her gravity-bound existence.
The AG finished her psychic calisthenics, closed her eyes, and visualized the Anarchist in sharp detail. Her dream sought its object, but with little success. So much of her sensibility was invested in this subject, so much emotion was present, that she lost her dream and could not sleep at all. That night, the AG discovered insomnia. Insomnia led her to more desperate ambiguity as the night progressed to the morning. Her feelings were heightened by the knowledge of the Anarchist’s movements, hidden from her sight more than five floors below.