Man was made at the end of the week's work when God was tired.
Mark Twain, the name under which the notable 19th-century typesetter Samuel Langhorne Clemens chose to write
Hanging out, hanging loose, hanging on to her broomstick and finally just hanging, Annie entered meditation space and cruised around it at warp speed. The twirling boys and dancing girls floated by while the big dogs on the steps growled and postured at each other and the elders looked sage and rosemary according to chosen gender rôle. Office workers peeked surreptitiously at the carnival miming tantalizingly in front of the double glazing. The warm sun of a drought fall didn't reach into the corner focus under the overhanging roof, to the irritation of the HandiCam operators, but bathed the overflow crowd in pleasantries and encouraged them to joke and play in unbizness-like, indeed un-Mercan, frivolity. The wooden face of the building, used to the solemn respect that the cult of cash demands, frowned censoriously on the parking lot, which shuffled its feet in embarrassment like a puppy that had been locked up too long in the house and fouled the welcome mat.
"I'm going to work," insisted an abrasive voice by Annie's shoulder.
"Ah, that's, sort of, ah ..." explained a voice that she recognized as Luke's, a diagnosis that was rudely confirmed when he fell into her right shoulder, almost sending her flying. She struggled to keep her balance and hold the banner upright, then watched Luke climb apologetically back to his feet and saw one furious Marine going ballistic not three feet away.
"You have no right to stop me!" he was yelling.
"On the contrary," explicated Luke in his most maddeningly pedagogical style, "We have every right, even, you might say, a duty..."
Sergeant Jones was, to put it kindly, discombobulated. He was building up a dangerous head of steam, cheeks scarlet and eyes bulging, and apparently preparing to take on every one of these godless enemies of the republic and the flag for which it stands, single-handed and barefisted. Looking at him from a distance, anyone would have thought the whole thing was a complete surprise to him, which was the intended effect, although in fact it had taken four beers over lunch for him to reach this planned peak of spontaneity, as was embarrassingly obvious at close range. He should have stuck to vodka, but then Sgt Jones was stronger on execution than on planning, which was part of why his long and undistinguished career had risen no higher. And vodka was a Commie drink anyway.
"My duty as a Marine..." he began to babble, and things could have gotten nasty, but fortunately a uniformed cop (who had been briefed ahead of time by the lieutenant, who in turn had been tipped off, under promise of absolute secrecy, by the Army man, who had no intention of appearing anywhere in the same area code as a headline in the last year of his service) appeared on his right and distracted him.
"Excuse me, Sergeant..." he interjected, tentatively.
"Thank God you're here!" barked the hapless non-com, who was beginning to realize just how badly the barbarians outnumbered him. "I need to get into this building!"
"Yessir," said the policeman, who had been well trained in the delicate art of affirmative contradiction. "If you'd just step this way for a moment."
"My office is in this building!" insisted the irate leatherneck.
Annie was staring with some interest at the back of his nearly-shaved head, most of which was visible below the forward-tilted hat, as the flush of his anger gradually spread around and turned it a fascinating shade of puce. He was not particularly tall, five ten perhaps, but plenty wide, a muscular endomorph who probably lifted weights to keep his body fat down. He had a big neck, framed with veins that were beginning to throb in an alarming manner. She thought better of warning him against apoplexy, imminent though it appeared; it didn't seem like advice that would be welcomed. All in all, she preferred to stick to the rear view, which at least meant that he was fulminating at someone else.
"Yessir," agreed the obliging public servant, "Perhaps you could have a word with the Captain."
"Right!" said the earnest Marine, who never met a chain of command he couldn't follow, and straightened the lid on his simmering brain. He followed the uniform towards a large white van that Annie suddenly realized must be the mobile HQ for the Capitola police, beside which a middle-aged, middle-class, gray-suited white guy was standing with a look of quiet authority.
"Darling, what fun!"
Annie turned back to see a grinning Sebastian ogling the exit of the furious Sgt Jones.
"Sebastian, what are you doing here?" she cried.
"I just came to have lunch," he insisted, waving a little brown bag, "And I thought I might find you here. What a lovely fellow."
"Mm-phmph," grumbled Luke, "He almost knocked me down."
"You are all right, aren't you dear?" inquired his wife, Pat, solicitously.
"That's not the point," he insisted, but he let her lead him off to cool himself down in the shade by the wall.
"How exciting," continued Sebastian dryly. "It's wonderful theater, but where are the picnic tables?"
"Hey, there's a bunch of grass on the other side," chipped in Bobby, who had been beaming beatifically over the whole confrontation from the north end of the banner, "Why don't we go see if we can plant this thing?"
"OK," agreed Annie promptly. "You first."
Bobby fended off a couple of worried 'You're not leaving's and half a dozen other sign-bearing humans joined them as they paraded around the west side of the structure and onto the grass that faced Capitola Road. It tuned out that a number of people were already sprawled on the grass, resting from their journey no doubt, and a few were lined up to wave at the passing vehicles. Short of spading into the manicured sod, which would have been socially, environmentally and politically unthinkable (We Are the Good Guys, Remember) there was no way of making the sticks stand up but Bobby was ready to wave the flag a while and someone actually volunteered to spell Annie, who took her up on it with a promise to return soon, and sat down (grokking that grass is a sittable substance) with Sebastian.
"Want some?" he offered. "Avo and jack."
"Sure," she said gratefully. "Got anything to drink?"
"You can share my Calistoga."
"Who was that masked man, darling?" inquired Sebastian casually between mouthfuls.
"I think he said he was a Marine," offered Annie. "He said he wanted to go to work."
"Oh, you know what I mean, dear. Anyway, the cops won't let him, is that right?"
"I'm a stranger here myself," she shrugged. "Looks like it. Hey, Patrick would know. Patrick!"
Sidling round the corner, hands clasped in front of his chest, was a Witness parody, white shirt, black suit, both slightly faded and wrinkled, neither ever in fashion. A tie, by God, but dark and shiny like an undertaker's castoff, skinnier and not much longer than the blond ponytail hanging down his back. The baby face and fuzzy beard belied the attempted solemnity of the eyes and the sanctimonious mincing of the walk. Dumb insolence at its very finest: He had putten on his sooten shoes and turned the notional gesture of respect into a technically deniable fuck-you to the official universe, including to be sure the one he had made his own.
"Hi," he said, conveying a wealth of nuance. For instance,
A heavy load for a monosyllable but it's all in the intonation.
"Patrick, this is Sebastian," pronounced li'l Emily Post, and the men nodded at each other with solemn flirtatiousness (for a fleeting moment, Annie started picturing them entwined, a sinuous knot of variegated browns and pinks, but thrust it firmly to the back of her brain), "Sebastian, this is Patrick, who's one of the, um, central people in the PGPC."
"Oh, I ..." Oh, shut up.
"Mmm, I know."
"You do?" She looked up at the jolly blond giant, "He knows everyone."
"I shall say no more," she completed like Eleanor Bron. "What's up? How come you're not up on the steps there talking with the cops?"
"No, no, not my scene. Eric and Nancy and people can deal with 'the authorities'." He made them sound like a contagious disease, which perhaps they were. "I'm just psyched to get arrested and that's not happening, at least not yet."
"How come?" Annie had never been too clear on the etiquette of these things.
"We won, I guess," he shrugged.
"What about the fellow with the gross neck?" asked Sebastian.
"The red-blooded American fascist?" smiled Patrick.
"Yeah, the guy with the blood pressure problem," chipped in Annie.
"The cops are tying him up," exaggerated the missionary. "It's really funny to watch. He wants them to carry us off, which is what I was here for anyway, but the cops won't do it. They're saying we can stand around and demonstrate all afternoon as long as we don't break into the locked offices and we let people into the insurance place, and they've got a side door anyway."
"So here we are. How long you wanna stay?"
Annie smiled and blinked a moment.
"I don't have to work till Sunday," she said slowly and elicited a laugh that struggled out of a massive burden of contradictory implications approval of the spirit; contempt for the naïveté; acknowledgment of comradeship; hopes of struggle; fears of glory ... your basic don't-ask-me-I-only-work-here response, proffered as an excuse by middle management everywhere (but not to be lumped in with the original version as put forward by the proletariat, who never had a choice).
"I think they're thinking more like when they go into overtime, five o'clock, maybe."
"Well, OK, it's a nice afternoon." She felt put in her place and somehow superior for knowing it. It was a good day so she was magnanimous. "Anyway, we wait here right now."
Annie nodded over to the banner.
"I'll help Bobby with that. Yell if anything happens, will you?"
"Sure. I'd better get back, in case."
"See ya." [Cubed.]
Sebastian chuckled wickedly as Patrick walked away.
"What's so funny?" asked Annie. "Didja date him or something?"
"No, it's him. He's so smart he can't even believe himself."
"What do you mean?"
"Look," explained Sebastian, who rather enjoyed having a straight to explain to (it helped him understand), "You've got your gays, right, and your straights, and then your straights who are sort of bi, and your bi's who are really gay, and your gays who are really bi, right?"
"Sure," said Annie, "That makes sense. So?"
"So then you've got your folks who really are bi and say it so loudly that even they think maybe they're really not and half the gays out there think all bi's are really gay anyway and they're OK when they're doing it but they sure do have problems when they're trying to think about it and then they start listening to what they say and it all falls apart. Poor boy."
"Patrick," she said, trying to keep up.
"Maybe," he said, copping out. "I gotta go back to work. You're going to be here later, then?"
"Looks like it," she beamed. "Be here or be square."
He picked up the trash and wandered away. She figured she should go back to work too, and strolled up to the banner. The woman who had taken her end said she was fine but Bobby could use a break so she took his end. They stood on a slight rise, smiling vaguely at the mostly baffled drivers slowing to the stop sign at the corner or sliding right through the yield. Some of them waved, some tooted their horns in support, one or two yelled with bemused hostility ("Go back to Santa Cruz" was Annie's favorite; she thought that's where they were, but the Capitola natives clearly had a more restrictive view) and a few pretended not to notice that anything out of the ordinary was going on. For them, Annie revealed her regal wave and an especially large smile.
It all felt so ... normal.