“Community Theatre” A political Fairytale of the not-so-distant future.
(c) 2013 Patrice Stanton
I gave up on understanding ideas like Hope, much less experiencing them, long ago, back in the 20’s just like every other kid my age. I couldn’t even tell you if it existed in 2013 when I was born. Back then, easily irritated House Mothers didn’t teach or even talk casually of such vague and impractical things. So no one I knew, then, since, or even now, except for me, would have been able to put such an intangible, so foreign a notion, into words.
My name isn’t important and only a little of my story is, that being the part about where those words of understanding came from. Because what was on that strip of paper, those 111 of the most meaningful, most magnificent words you or I will likely ever read and actually want to memorize sure didn’t start out in my pea-sized brain. So here goes:
It started a few weeks ago in a theatre group. Yes, I said theater.
Sports are the primary thing for guys but I’d quit them almost a year ago. I’d taken more than my fair share of serious hits in my neighborhood’s “flag football” league. Finally had enough; said, Sayonara. Been stuck in emergency rooms for more 8-12 hour stretches than I can remember, only to finally get shoved out the sliding doors with a couple of pain pills if I was lucky. Oh, and a free case of waiting-room flu.
Few other local amusements remained, for my caste anyway, so when I first saw the poster I jumped at the chance to escape that way, though I didn’t think of it as escape at first. “Community Theatre” was just a “way to engage with other citizens in a most unique and constructive manner,” according to the official announcement.
Somewhere deep down I must have remembered a contraband gamer magazine some friends and I “found.” Remembered being held spellbound by the illustrations and scenarios inside. The very unauthorized illustrations and scenarios.
But then you already know that outside of the big-A authorized productions – films and TV programming from the high and mighty International Consortium for Amusements (ICA ) this community stuff is really the only opportunity to “live outside of” an otherwise depressingly mundane lifestyle.
And this year’s second production was promising to be an attention getter from the get go. It would be the first time in more than a generation that a fictionalized Blue and Grey would be seen going head-to-head onstage. And it was to be done in my neighborhood! For several nights we’d make headlines with the 2014 Toney Award winning Civil War sensation, “Justice for All.”
No, I wasn’t going to be getting all the standing ovations as the Union’s Hanging Judge. Even in rehearsals every time that actor pounds his gavel to send the next boy in Grey to the gallows without so much as a How-do-you-plead I wished I’d had earplugs to reduce the applause explosions. And that was just from the director and the other crew members.
And, no, I wasn’t going to get to sip from the fount of Northern Justice as one of the seemingly endless stream of southern soldier-boys the playwright seemed to take perverse pleasure in parading one at a time across the stage. (Though by staging it that way we wouldn’t technically need more than two Johnny-reb uniforms.) What I would get to do was continue to “learn my craft” as a gopher then as a roving stagehand for – as the director said – another few productions.
With a non-existent budget we were all given the Wish List and told to keep a sharp eye out for set décor and the like. I simply got lucky. Rather, as it turns out, it was bad luck because I suddenly found myself “promoted” – to Costuming. It was all for being at the right (or wrong) place at the right time so that I stumbled upon a period costume and brought it to one of our first organizational meetings. All because of a dumpster at homeless shelter, where I do my mandatory volunteering, I (and who knows how many others will?) found Hope, the greatest gift of all.
It comes courtesy of a discourteous STINCH (as if there was any other kind). Typically I don’t help STrong INdependent Chicks. You know the type of female I’m talking about. If you grab a door for them they glare, if you say anything from, “Good Morning” to “Which Floor?” it’s always too loud or the wrong tone, too aggressive or too meek, too suggestive or too limp. My solution? Clam up.
Oh. That’s right…that’ll still get you grief. As in, “What’s your problem, citizen? I’m not thin-/young-/poor-/good- enough for ya?”
So down at the shelter that day this particular stinch was lugging a piled-high box of leftover clothes and personal crap to the trash. Which was exactly where I was going with the two maybe 100 lb. lunchroom garbage sacks.
Turns out her trash was from some old guy who’d croaked in his sleep upstairs in the dorms. I’d heard about it when I first got there but somebody’s always dying around there so didn’t think about it until I saw the quirky crushed grey hat, a Confederate military style cap actually. Heaven forgive me for what happened next as it slid off the pile. I forgot both the men/women kind and the government-shelter kind of rules and picked the thing up. For the other Thing.
“What the hell are you doing, citizen? Don’t you think I know I dropped something?” she said. (I’m being polite here, actually she practically screamed it.)
“Uh…mm,” I stammered. Idiot! So I dropped it like a hot potato and picked my own trash bags back up, maneuvered around her and shoved the door to the alley open and went back to taking care of my own business. For about 15 seconds – until she came out the same door shouting curses at me like I’d been the one to knock the hat to the floor and then insult her.
I’d expected pretty much that sort of scene from the stinch so pretended to be startled and let the heavy metal dumpster lid crash closed as I spun around dramatically.
“Well?” she said, still propping the door open with her body. Looked like she’d jammed the old grey cap brim-down and far enough to keep it from popping out again.
Oh, how I wanted to go through that box. Were there any other ancient goodies buried in there that might be useful for the play?
Instead I held my tongue. She’d probably set the thing on fire then and there with her Godzilla-eyes if she caught wind of the fact I was interested in “recycling” any of it. Shelter rules and all. And she was a consummate rule-following team-player for the Consortiums.
They’d throw it all away but, oh no, they wouldn’t give any of it away. Might have cooties. Which could earn them a mess of trouble from the local agents of the Health & Homeland-Security Consortium. Maybe somebody’d lose their job or get a fine.
“Thanks,” I said, wanting so bad to add on, ‘Master.’ I squeezed back by her forcing her up against the cold doorframe in order to get inside. She gave me a death glare and I knew both reasons why: for brushing against her and for not standing dutifully by to open and then hold the dumpster lid. She knew I knew she’d never get it up by herself, I was barely strong enough to conquer it.
Once inside I waited for it. A high-pitched muffled shout (or curse) had soon come from the alley, then a hollow, metallic thud, thud quickly followed. Without turning I would have bet she’d left the box on the ground; tried to lift the lid, then proceeded to abuse the poor oversized metal container.
At that point I knew if there was anything else worthwhile in the box, it’d be all mine at the top of the hour because that was when my shift was done. I crossed my fingers I’d be first to “find” it.
And I was.
What I found of course was that cap but deeper into the box was a Confederate Army soldier’s coat (inside out) and a pair of matching trousers. For all I knew they weren’t all that old, maybe the geezer was one of those guys from 30 or 40 or 50 years ago and he and his violently-macho friends would play-act the same war outside on actual battlefields with horses and real guns.
However old the suit was, it showed plenty of wear and tear and a few moth holes to boot. What was missing was the Made-in-China/Mexico/India or somewhere label.
I rolled my prizes into a tight cylinder – except for the hat. I stuffed that into the sack of stale rolls and bruised fruit most of us volunteers left with each day. All of it stowed easily into the panniers on my old bike and as I rode away I glanced more than once over a shoulder, fearing Godzilla would come running out and zap me from behind.
But she didn’t. And that was weeks ago.
– – Break – –
The play had been in rehearsal for several sessions when my semi-annual exam came around. They always seemed to be scheduled for us males at either lunch break or at the tail end of rush hour, either being a most inopportune time considering in large part we were dependent on bicycles. I’d drawn the latter kind of straw so stayed after work. Now I hung around in the lobby because of it, having already clocked out at my usual time though there was plenty of legitimate work to be done (“overtime” was ancient history).
A number of maintenance co-workers glanced my way furtively as they scuttled through the marble and glass entryway. They’d already told me they’d be “sending safe thoughts” my way, but now several doubled down on their promises and mouthed a “Good scan” as they left for their particular group-home. Soon I was left there chewing on my nails and rehearsing my own hastily concocted lines for the HHS drones at the clinic. To some extent my mates knew what I was going through. They’d been there. A couple of them recently.
But no one knew about the costume. Not about what I’d found, what I’d learned because of it. They didn’t know why I was feeling more than the usual ambient levels of stress.
I saw my section boss and her assistants leave. They sure didn’t work late and barely acknowledged me. Stinches. But let’s see…who was it that’d pulled whose bacon out of the fire today? Twice.
There were no females in the maintenance crews, of course. But even the white collar kind didn’t know, couldn’t know the stress we felt prior to our check-ups. They, white or pink collar, only needed to submit to head-exams every other year. Their entire kind were perceived as “less prone” to violent thoughts and tendencies, “less threatening” in general. That combined with the fact that they had more (girl) friends-in-high-(and mighty) places.
According to my watch I didn’t need to leave for the clinic for at least ten minutes. 600 seconds. Plenty long enough to run through my Zen meditation drill a few more times. Empty mind. Blank mind. No thoughts. No hatred. No regrets. No desires. Except…except for…what was the word?
Pursuit. The pursuit of Happiness. Damn!
Empty! Empty mind. Blank mind. No Happiness. No Liberty. No abolishing anything.
Blast that geezer for dying. Damn him and his old coat. Its torn lining. My house mother for forcing us boys to sew. Couldn’t just take it to the theatre like I found it. No I had to try and fix it and so I found that piece of cursed paper inside the lining and probably fixed my fate, too.
I reached inside a pannier and pulled out the packet of “Justice for All” program originals I’d promised to get to the printer. Since determining to hide the 111 words in plain sight I’d rapidly finished the promotional artwork that would serve as “camouflage.” The rest of the simple type-filled master pages listing cast and crew and giving the act-by-act story synopsis went rapidly thereafter. So I completed it well ahead of when I could have simply dropped them off in person – always the glass-half-empty type.
Putting them in the post like I did killed two birds with one stone. It would still get them there to be printed and done up nicely for the Publicity chairwoman to pick up next week and more importantly – all blasting and damning and cursing aside – it meant the 111 important words that had fallen into my hands would have the chance of surviving me.
Being the glass-half-empty type.
– – Break – –
“What do you mean I need to wait around for the doctor?” I said, “You should have locked up 30 minutes ago and you still have…” I stopped. The three other guys I knew were still in the reception area waiting to get scanned after me were going to be very late. Nothing I could say would speed these stinches up.
The clinic worker who’d set up then run the supposedly simple “routine” forehead scanner was ignoring me. No surprise. She went to the door and shouted out to the receptionist in the waiting room.
“Send the rest of ‘em home. We’ll reschedule and be in contact later in the week,” she said.
Lucky bastards…I mean, lucky citizen-bastards. Maybe if I’d had a few more days to practice my Zen-Empty-Mind trick…
I started to feel a little sick in the gut at that point.
Now she spoke in low tones into a small portable phone while the other woman remained in front of her computer screen, seemingly mesmerized by what they’d found in my skull. I knew if I didn’t get out of that room right then I might never get away.
The woman at the computer started. Her head snapped around towards me. Could she read my thoughts? She jabbed at some keys or buttons because – what the hell? – cold metal bracelets snapped around my wrists and ankles. The kind we’ve all seen in the movies – the scary kind of movies.
“But I, I have…” my voice trailed off lamely, “a dress rehearsal tonight…’
– – Break – –
“So you see, citizen, my friend, these fine dark lines, how they twist around each other here,” the doctor who’d been called in to do the second, more in-depth, scan had swiveled the computer terminal around so I could see his work. The “more detailed scan” completed moments ago looked to my working-caste eyes like a simple contour drawing of twin mountains on a white screen. With a quirky touchy-feely mutant spiders tattooed on each peak.
As the computer had compiled the diagram line by line on his screen moments before, I’d seen the color drain from the old man’s face practically drop by drop and now I was beginning to figure out why. “You know what this means, citizen…” More or less I did.
He continued, “Because of this,” he tapped the origin, the center of one of the web-like structures then the other, “Well, there’s no way to, to, well, remove, er-r-r, rather un-train this one or that one without destroying too much of…let’s just say it’s not yet possible for us to eradicate such an intertwined…aberration. And well, you must understand…these belief-side plus behavior-side nets, well, they are known to be infectious. ” He yanked the screen back around to its normal position.
Infectious? Thoughts? My thoughts? My thoughts aren’t worth…
“You must see, citizen…my friend…I, that is, we in The Health & Homeland-Security Consortium simply can’t let you leave,” he said, then leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, “before the van gets here tell me quickly, citizen, I mean, friend, to help your fellow countrymen: what caused this, this anomaly in your thinking?”
– – – – – – The End – – – – – –
– – – – – – The 111 Words – – – – – –
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness…