Matt Vadnais






The Living: [1] [2] [3]

A New Manifesto: [4] [5] [6] [7]

Tito, Wellbutrin, and I have to walk single file. Other groups — louder and more confident than we are — don't move for us. The sun still isn't out. It will storm tonight, but for now it's just this heavy air, thick like static or a magnetic field. The street is broad and long, probably not as crowded as it gets at night, but everyone is so loud, their footsteps, their breathing. I find myself walking too cautiously, jerking away from anyone who gets close.
      I wonder if phobias accrue over time.
      My short hair is wet with sweat, my scalp tight with itching.
      My finger-less hands are awkwardly clasped behind me.
      Sometimes, when Wellbutrin is not caught up in his own anxiety, he reaches forward, and we walk like a two-car train. Tito is in front, trying to get us where we are going as quickly as possible.
      For a couple of years — longer than I have been with Tito and Wellbutrin — the crowds have been like this, a sour wad in my throat. I wonder if this is how Los Angeles felt for my parents, before the dog park and food bank. I wonder if they felt invisible, or too visible. I wonder if they were just lonely, something less jumpy, less crazy-feeling than what I feel; this street, by all measure, is a nice place with friendly strangers.
      I wonder if they had good reason not to like the city.
      I wonder what they gave up to move there.
      I know that, before they left for California, my parents thought of themselves as locals. When I finally saw their bodies, both of them were wearing Kansas University sweatshirts.
      I am wondering why they agreed to move to Los Angeles in the first place — why my chances at celebrity were enough for them to give up Kansas — when Tito takes my arm and pulls us into a restaurant.
      In a corner booth, with an arc seat, we sit three in a row, touching at hip and shoulder. We are sweaty, out of breath. I feel stupid. I see the shape of Tito's mouth, how quickly Wellbutrin's eyes are adjusting to the dark, empty sandwich shop.
      If what I have is a phobia, perhaps it is viral.

The air conditioning is on too high, and the place is as cold as a grocery store. I feel my skin tighten. My knee begins to shake almost immediately. But the air is easier to breathe than outside. The dim light is much easier to see through.
      "What's it like to be recognized?" Tito asks. He is between Wellbutrin and I, leaning his body on his elbows.
      "Ask Wellbutrin."
      "You were more famous,"
      "Yeah she was."
      "But I wasn't spotted. Not unless I was in costume. Wearing black, and the hair, and you know. When it happened, I was playing a character."
      "Same here," says Wellbutrin. "I was on stage. I saw the adoration and stuff, but it was part of a show. Every once and a while, someone stopped me and asked if I was who I was. But only the fanatics, and even they would have believed me if I said I had no idea who they were talking about."
      As he talks about it he chuckles. He has talked of how tired he was in those days, touring and recording. But to see him remember it, after the name change and two degrees, is not to believe him.
      "Say the name again."
      "No," he says.
      "Plato's dead, Baby," says Tito. His hands are touching Wellbutrin's. "Archetype is marketing scheme. My coffee maker is closer to Coffee Maker. My dog is more Dog."
      "The hell does that mean?"
      "Say the name again."
      "Is," says Wellbutin. "Are, Was, Were, Be, Am, Been, Has, Have, Had, Do, Did, Does, May, Can, Might, Must, Shall, Will, Should, Could, Would," he says. Not fast, not in the memorized list that I'm sure he first learned it. I have tried to say it back to him. I always get hung up at been. We know the rest of the story, but he continues with it, and we laugh in the usual places. "But no one wanted to know all that so we were just The Helping Verbs. Even that was too much for radio stations. The Verbs they said. Suddenly, our connotation included running, jumping, exploding."
      "That's a sad, sad metronome," Tito says.
      "What he said," I say.
      Over Tito, Wellbutrin smiles at me.
      It's true that I was more famous. I had to work crowds. Once, legal let me do a commercial in full makeup, selling mufflers — with Speedo your car can be dying and no one will know. I did voice-overs all the time, for commercials, for documentaries, an IMAX show about the Sahara and the cruelty of the natural world.
      And while it's true that several people in this place would recognize Tito's story, or Wellbutrin's bass riffs, everyone here could describe my death.

Finished with lunch, we remain in the booth with emptied plates, scattered utensils. Wellbutrin is whistling, his softness restored. No one has mentioned the broadcast since we left the house. I have not heard any of his final verdicts about our act of appropriation, whether or not I violated his literary boundaries. I'd like to know.
      Still, I don't want to say anything.
      I decide to sit for awhile, our table cluttered but separated from the rest of the restaurant, but Tito grows anxious, getting his color back. For a while he just fidgets, rubbing his chin with a fist. I can hear his hand scraping against his beard.
      Eventually, he begins to drum the table with a knife and spoon.
      "We found our hook," he says.
      "It went fine," says Wellbutrin. I am unsure how to read his tone of voice.
      "More than fine," says Tito. "Better. Firecracker Bill, like a bulldozer."
      "Sure," says Wellbutrin. He is growing heavier again, the same grace, but defeat in his voice. "This is dangerous."
      "It played out."
      "It did," he says. "But that's no guarantee it will again."
      "Yeah it is," Tito says. "That she said anything is red-letter proof that she said it right."
      "No it's not."
      "Boys," I say. "Who's next?"
      Whether or not we do the chat again, there is no question that there will be another house. Though money isn't an issue, we will put the estate up for sale, probably by the end of the week. We attempted to give our first, the Capote house, to charity. But it created a stir. If it happens in real space, exposure is not what we are looking for.
      "Good question," Wellbutrin says.
      "Browder," says Tito.
      Wellbutrin laughs, and I have to smile as well.
      Earl Browder was the head of the American Communist Party during World War II. Tito wanted to do him before Stafford. Wellbutrin had to stoop to saying things like "ideleonomics" to get Tito to hold off this long.
      I know that he is crucial to Tito's ideology, but nothing we do, no amount of house footage, will make Earl Browder a personality. We might as well be shooting from the grave of a random uncle.
      "He's not famous," I say.
      "And he's not a writer," Wellbutrin says.
      "Both troubles are really the pistons that will make us go, go, go," says Tito. He sits fully upright again, still shorter than both of us. He takes his hands from the table. He thumbs at his nose and rocks as he speaks. "People don't know him, true. We want a reformation of ocracy," he says. "And that can't happen only with writers. Browder needs us to make his bones sing. Burroughs, if you want to speak from a technical mouth, already sings from the page. Browder is as deserving as anyone."
      He quiets. When we don't say anything, he begins to tap his knife against his water glass.
      "Look," he says, still tapping. "We're ready for this, for him. After Ghostboy, we have the base audience, several hundred hits since last night. We're ready for the next step, ready to bring fame to a figure instead of the other way around. And we can start to bring out the heavy boxes, pry open the crates marked politics."
      "But politics is all he is," says Wellbutrin. "Nothing needs to be clarified. People want to know Browder, they can take a class on the cold war."
      "People can take a class on anyone," Tito says. "If that brochure is accurate, then we're selling obsolete swampland. Browder's as much of an enigma as anybody. Plus, he's close. Who else we got left in Kansas?"
      "We can leave Kansas."
      "I bought the estate," says Tito.
      "Was it even for sale?"
      "I bought it."
      "You bullied whoever lived there into leaving."
      "I increased our offer. They decided it was worth it. I'm just playing their game, revolution as a slow poison. I signed electronically. We pack up and go. We can be there by sundown tomorrow."
      He's right. With money, the world is smaller. As I watch the waitress ring up our ticket, I am ashamed of how small ours has become.

[ Previous ] [ Next ]