Sunday, April 22, 2007
"The Liquid Life" (installment twenty-two)
BLAME IT ALL ON THE PRESS
The gangs, the party, Elendele, the wayward gentleman journalist, a girl named after a ringed and chemical planet; these were things that spiced the story and sold newspapers. From the moment her picture was run in the dailies, there wasn’t anyone who didn’t want to know about the trade unionist with curls and mind roots in violent recipes for ultimate utopia.
“How many great thinkers die cold and alone?” was the theme she was soapboxing for the penworths, at her numerous and entertaining press conferences.
The responsible citizenry and city council were thirsty for red stuff and the district attorney promised them full swiggings. But there was too much attention, too many talks shows, too many petitions, and too many bomb threats from the enlivened fringe for the city to benefit by keeping Elendele’s army in a cell. She refused to implicate any of us, despite hours of time beneath the bright lights, smoke, and accusations of her sworn and natural enemies.
“Plato’s monsters of pure spirit and honor,” was the pearl she threw at an audience unprepared to understand it or Elendele.
Two deaths, a burned church, and three months later, all our cases were dismissed for lack of evidence. Justice had finished its wheel spin just in time because the Elendele stories were now being found on pages eight, 10, and 12 – without pictures.
She’d been consumed and attention was now being focused on newer catastrophes.
Aside from the night of the arrest, we never had to spend any time in jail. Except for Elendele who got stuffed there for drawing the court’s contempt with her contemptuousness.
After the arrest, the police shuffled her place up and found her Maria, her stay-up-late pills, the crumbling seditious pamphlets from battles long lost, including the sacred ones on church burnings. They found a stack of graphic pornography and held a press conference and laid it out on the table with all these other exotic symbols and statues Saturn had lying around – like some secret army’s cachet off weapons.
The coroner’s report revealed that the rubble body found in the church had been sexually molested. The police report claimed that Elendele had been apprehended with a copy of Catcher in the Rye in her possession. The attempt to discredit was complete.
“Your attitude’s shitty, young lady,” judged the judge. "Your character is dishpan…laced…I mean just filled up with lines of dirt and wet filth.”
Elendele told him that so was his, so was everyone’s. “Civilization’s just the arrangement we swallow to cover those things up, so we don’t all smother in multiple shames,” she waxed the courtroom over. “That’s why things are private, and that’s why those things are supposed to be protected – because they’re bound to let off the bad scents of our weaknesses…and our pleasures.”
Superior Court Justice Hadder, a purported man of the people and incorrigible idealist, gave her two weeks in the county jail. When she got out, she acted as if she had liked it a little.
It was Whitey who got us through. He was finished being mad at Elendele and had concluded that her only real flaw was having tried to involve too many people in the affair.
“Ahhh she’s just too democratic,” he graveled his quarryman’s voice. “Just a kid with ideals,” he told me after the cooldown. “This thing was bound to come apart with all these kids, and gangs and what have you involved.”
He’d drawn support from places as distant as Argentina, where the president, and old friend from the days of the war, put in a call and wielded his ever-dwindling influence.
It was the last political capital Whitey had left and he had spent it on Elendele; on the thing that jump-started his life and helped him to know danger again. He was forced to resign in disgrace. But he smiled on his way out, because Elendele had taught him to be comfortable, to relish the attention that came with public
Everybody blamed the getaway by the court’s back door on the press. They said that making everything about the lives of the burner band known, created bigger than life characters, personalized them, and made them seem persecuted for what was going to be done to them.
All the sympathy for them was because of the reporters, one southern congressman cried. Elendele’s friends’ way of doing things had made them heroes to those they shouldn’t have, he argued. The press was widely attacked for being lured to all the darkness, for betraying its neutral self over a chance at a glimpse of the truth.
The press fired off that no character can ever be made bigger than life. Elendele was being busted, not for burning, the reporters thundered to their bosses’ dismay, but for what she had burned. Surly was the fourth estate in its insistence that truth lies in the dark and light alike, in its jack-o-lantern pleasure at having upset everybody so.
I was fired from my job and had my city police press credentials revoked. Elendele produced counterfeit versions. Eating would not be hard she assured us. Money from a pair of funds set up for our defense was still coming in. The job had been complete and Whitey dished up what he could from his end of the deal, given the scrutiny factor involved. It all had to be spent so Saturn, Elendele, and I brought a table up onto the roof and drank champagne for days in a row, cutting out all the articles about the incident for Elendele’s scrapbook, and dissecting the satisfying scandal.
“You see I was right,” she said to us. “Playing by the rules only leaves you subjected to them.”
The pudding was stuffed with proof, but I wasn’t sure I agreed. In days after the calming, I debated her for hours and tried to excise her of such ideas with logic – a popular tool of the legal system with which we had become so familiar. The notion of burning a church was pointless and dangerous, I smoothed. Her politics, rooted so strongly in the factory councils of Turin, were an anachronism.
“The battle for social justice left the factory place years ago now, Elendele. Why do you think they have all the nightclubs in those industrial spaces? Nobody else wants to use them anymore.”
But she would not listen. She was too busy designing a device made from paper clip chains and empty cat cans; to play the machine poems, the metallic incantations of the wily Futurist, Filippo Marinetti. (at top)