Gettin’ Me All Wet was not the first song written about Little Aleppo’s rains, but it was the dirtiest. Duchess Jefferson wrote it in ’52; it went to number 11 on the R&B charts. The lyrics were about going on a date and getting caught out in a downpour, but they weren’t, really. There was Every 18 Days by Wheels Wagoner. That one was a country tune from ’89. Wheels’ wife packed up and left him while it was raining and now the rains torture him every 18 days. That one hit number 8 with a bullet. Rainy Day Blowjob #12 & 35 was by Little Aleppo’s contribution to the glam scene, The Snug. It was about getting head while it rained. The song failed to chart, but was used several years later by the military to blast a Central American dictator out of the church he was hiding in.
There was something about the rains that inspired: maybe the imperturbability of them, their cyclical nature, the way they sliced life into digestible and comparable chunks. Novelists used them as a temporal conceit to hang plots on; short story writers noticed things in one moment of the downpour. Innumerable haiku. The Poet Laureate has several hundred cantos written about the rains in English, Mandarin, Sanskrit, and several other languages that the Poet Laureate does not speak very well.
The rains could give you perspective. They could give you a benchmark: were these 18 days better than those 18 days? The rains reset life in the neighborhood somehow. People forgot they were mad at each other. (Sometimes they didn’t, though. A saying in Little Aleppo was that if you were pissed at someone for three rains in a row, then you were going to hate that fucker for life.) The rains made the Verdance so green. Deacon Blue has a good line about it.
“After it rains, man? Verdance is greener than a seasick frog.”
Fine, it was only an okay line, but it made the Reverend Arcade Jones smile, and Tiresias Richardson, too. (Tiresias would make note of the line and steal it during that night’s broadcast.) Penny Arrabbiata had just woken up and wasn’t paying attention. Augusta O. Incandescente-Ponui, whom everyone called Gussy, was also not paying attention, but because she was studying the menu at the Victory Diner. The five of them were in the large circular booth in the back corner and rain was pounding the windows. When customers would come in, they would shake themselves off like dogs. The busboys mopped the floor by the front door dry at short intervals.
It was a little after five on a Friday, but the Victory Diner is a 48-hour diner, and it is always three a.m. after the Saturday night bars let out in a 48-hour diner. Tense, sloppy, and as good a chance of getting laid as getting laid out. Four of the booths still had individual jukeboxes, the little ones posted up above the sugar packets with the big flappity pages of singles that you could page through. Looking for that B-side no one’s heard yet. Two songs for a quarter; choose carefully. The only thing that ever started more fights in the Victory Diner than the jukeboxes was the time they tried to remove the jukeboxes.
Suspended over the far end of the counter was a teevee. Little Aleppo Live with Cakey Frankel was on; Cakey was wearing a dark blue blouse, and around her neck was a bow tie/scarf deal sort of thing that stretched out to her clavicles. Her hair was principled, in that it could not be moved from its position. She had teeth like ice cubes.
“Last day to register your child for the Little Aleppo Little League is tomorrow. The league would like to remind everyone that it is for children under 13 years old, and to please stop loading up the teams with short 22-year-olds for the purposes of wagering. Now, Cakey with the weather.”
Cakey turned from one camera to the next.
“Thank you, Cakey. It’s raining. Cakey?”
She turned back to the first camera.
“Excellent reporting, Cakey.”
The Reverend Arcade Jones was sitting in a chair at the circular table with his back to the rest of the diner, but he watched the screen in the window’s reflection.
“I do not understand the television programming in this neighborhood in the slightest.”
“Present company excluded, of course,” the Reverend smiled.
“Cakey is a doll,” Tiresias said.
On the teevee, Cakey’s smile was as bright as she wasn’t. She was warm, and kind, and empathetic, and inviting, and had wonderful manners; she was attractive, but not intimidatingly so; she smelled good. Cakey had also gotten lost in KSOS’ studios this afternoon, and she’s worked there for 11 years.
“The Little Aleppo Chamber of Commerce will be sponsoring a job fair in the auditorium of Paul Bunyan High this week. Go Blue Oxen!” she read off the teleprompter. “The Chamber has asked me to remind you that it’s not the kind of fair with rides and games, so please don’t bring your children like last year.
“There were two deaths at the Hotel Synod last night. Artillery Branch and Darcy Honkytonk, lead singers of the local punk band The Fucks were found hanged, stabbed, shot, and with multiple arrows sticking out of them. Foul play has not been ruled out.”
Cakey blinked four or five times.
“Oh, I can’t say ‘The Fucks,’ can I?”
“Turn that shit off, Melisandre.”
“I told you my name is Violet Violence, Stuart.”
Stuart Grand was the *** of Students for Harper Observatory. He was the President for a few minutes, but then group consciousness decided that “president” was dismissive of those who believed in a parliamentary system. Then he was the Leader, but someone made the excellent point that “leader” privileges leading over following, and this title was thrown out, too. “Speaker” was deemed offensive to the mute. A sophomore named Joey the Spaz IV offered up the suggestion of “Poobah” and was nearly drummed out of the group for racism, and then, when he dared defend the word as being from The Mikado, was nearly drummed out of the group for being a theater nerd. After several hours of debate, the motion to call the group’s leader “***” was approved; the vote on how to pronounce it was tabled for another date which still has not arrived.
There were five of them in Stuart’s dorm room. He was in the chair that came with the room. Joey and Violet Violence, whose real name is Melisandre Boone, was folded into a beanbag chair on the other side of the space, as far away from Stuart as possible.The portable teevee was atop a dresser to her left and she made a half-assed effort to reach up.
“It’s very far away, Stuart.”
“Just stand up and turn it off. Violet.”
She gave him the finger, but kindly, and then rolled out of the bean bag until she was lying on prostrate on the floor.
“So much gravity.”
“Please just turn off the television.”
“Oh, the heaviness.”
“Why does everything have to be like this?”
Violet was blonde and wearing three tank tops–red, white, and blue–and grey work pants; there was a tattoo of a voodoo doll on her muscly left arm, and she was barefoot. Her clompy black boots and stripey green socks sat by her feet.
“Why does everything have to be like this?” she repeated in a dumb-guy voice. Logically, Stuart knew that was a terrible argument, but it still hurt when she did it.
She rolled over on her back and launched her left leg up towards the teevee on top of the dresser, far more elegantly than you would expect from someone in work pants. Ballet. Pointed toe and straight knee. She wiggled her foot. It was two feet away from the set.
“I almost got it.”
“Just stand up.”
“Don’t police my body, Stuart.”
Violet put her arms on the floor and rolled up onto her shoulders so that she was almost completely vertical; her legs were straight and her toes tight and slowly, with control, she stretched her leg to the set and jabbed the power button with her big toe and then there was silence in the room that was broken by her slapping down on the cheap carpet.
She gave him the finger again, but not as kindly, and rolled back onto the beanbag chair, which was dark blue and held together with duct tape.
Stuart Grand was a senior at Harper College. He had read many books and understood almost some of them; they sat in piles around the room, most with bookmarks sticking out around halfway through. The Post-Colonialists, and the Antephilosophers, and the Historiographers. Stuart had read what the French thought of power, and what the Russians thought of despair, and what the Chinese thought of death, but all in the English translation. And he was convinced that the Revolution was coming. Any minute now.
He was being fucked, he knew this, and he was damn sure going to do something about it. “By whom” and “what” were unanswered, though. Corporations, definitely. Religion was an oppressor (except for Buddhism and Rastafarianism). The government was hiding something. Hell, maybe the government was hiding everything. There were secrets, Stuart thought, and there were masters–no, not masters: Masters–and there was most certainly a Plan. He ran his fingers through his shock of brown hair; he wore it like Egon Schiele.
“Isn’t it ours?” he said in a quiet voice. “Doesn’t the place where you live belong to you? That’s the issue here, right? It’s the essential question of ownership: landlord versus landholder. Who is qualified to grant equity? We’re told it’s the bank. We’re told it’s the state.”
Stuart was sitting in the chair at the desk under the window. The room was small and rectangular; the walls were covered with posters of revolutionaries: Che, Mandela, Belushi. The bed, unmade, was along the long wall. Joey the Spaz III and Anacostia Hymen were sitting on it; their legs dangled. Anacostia passed Stuart a joint.
“Locke said that when you mix your labor PHWOOO with property, then that makes it yours. Kant said that the owner of property must act with the knowledge that the property will be someone else’s one day. Doesn’t a neighborhood have rights, naturally? What’s the difference between the act of a government and the act of rich man if it hurts the proletariat? The effect is the same! A diktat must be refused, whether it comes from Town Hall or some washed-up singer.”
“Tommy’s not washed-up,” Violet said. “He’s still got it.”
“He’s got shit, Melisandre!”
“Whatever!” Stuart was mad at himself for getting mad, but Melisandre–or Violet or whatever she was calling herself this week–was infuriating. She wrote fucking poetry, man, and she would challenge him on every little thing. Philosophy, history, psychography: she hadn’t read the damned books, but she still had a fucking opinion. Two full years at Harper College and she had a chapbook of poems–which didn’t even rhyme–and a gallery’s worth of paintings to show for it, and at least 60% of the paintings were well-hung Jesus. Life was art, Violet said often, and so she changed her name like she changed her hair color or underwear. Last year, she had been Shimmy Koko-Bop, and Spectacular Farm; this semester had seen her call herself Pam Frond and Ann Halen.
“The organized populace, having been concentrated into a strike force, has a moral obligation to act,” Stuart said. “Stancroft said that, and I think he’s right. Those that are able have a moral obligation to act in behalf of the masses.”
Violet rolled her eyes and took the joint from Molly McGlory, who was a legacy at Harper College.
Violet–or whatever she was calling herself this week–had a chin with a cleft in it, almost overgrown, and Stuart stared at it while she hit the joint. The underside of her jaw, that palish and tight triangle under the mandible, her throat’s delta: it sucked in when she inhaled and Stuart stared until her head began to come back up and he looked away.
“What do we do? Stop talking. What do we do?” she said.
“I’m getting to it,” Stuart said.
“You’re not. You are pontificating.”
“You’re a pontificator. Motion that the group replace you as *** with Joey the Spaz.”
“Don’t call me that,” Joey the Spaz said.
Violet raised her arm from the beanbag chair, and then her bare foot. She pointed her toe.
“Second?” she asked.
Anacostia glared at Violet. Molly smirked to herself. Joey the Spaz said,
“I don’t really want to be in charge.”
“Motion has no second. Motion is denied,” Stuart said, and rapped his knuckles on the desk.
“Suck my dick,” Violet said, and slapped her palm on the floor.
The thunder went SHWAKATHOOM outside and the rain drops hit the window like limpdicked bullets. It was dark out and the campus was pocked with umbrellas and not much else: people stayed inside during the rains. The only people out were going to get laid, or to get yelled at; only passion would bring you out-of-doors in this weather.
“Do you have an idea?” Stuart said. The joint had come back to him, and he inhaled and blew out and coughed.
“We talk to him,” Violet said.
“We talk to Tommy Amici,” Stuart smirked. “We talk to Tommy Amici? How does that work?”
Violet kicked both her legs straight up and tossed herself vertical so she was sitting with a dancer’s posture
“We can make him talk to us.”
She had eyes that were gray like a battleship and her teeth were slightly too large for her mouth.
“So that’s the plan,” Penny Arrabbiata said.
“I guess,” Deacon Blue answered. “Reverend?”
“Sounds good,” Arcade Jones said, and all eyes at the table turned to Tiresias, who was trying to balance a salt shaker in a pile of salt. She had not ordered food, as the Draculette costume was getting a bit constrictive. She had stolen some fries, but she was only human.
“The plan,” Penny said. “You good with the plan?”
If Tiresias was honest, she would have admitted to zoning out on the conversation fifteen minutes ago and daydreaming about winning a Golden Globe award. But she wasn’t honest, and so she nodded and said,
There were orders coming in at the Victory Diner, and there were meals going out. The waitresses were circuitous. The jukeboxes played two songs for a quarter, and outside it was raining down on Little Aleppo, which is a neighborhood in America.