Town & Country Ch. 1: With a Wrinkled Brow & His Head Cocked
Seraville Country Club sat atop a hill not only in physical space, but also in the minds of those who mingled there. To them it was a kingdom on a hill not just in somewhere, but nearer to the heavens, where those made up of the most meaningful matters fit in. The continents of fantasy, which gave form to pallid thought, were oft made to be real in that all-encompassing, open-ended conglomerate of stuffed space. Seraville was no exception, and all of this was made possible in that place plush with uncertainty, otherwise known as now. If there was one thing that was certain to the Country Club membership, it was that playing there was a privilege. Politicians, lauded business men, clergymen, judges, media anchors, bank owners, the sons of bank owners, and one closet drug-handler spent their days together discussing the weather and the things to which their money was tied. Of temporal course, deference was no stranger at Seraville, for it had a hologram hierarchy broadcast by minds.
The peak of the Roman Catholic pyramid is occupied by what amounts to few officials. There are one Pope, 55 cardinals, 22 apostolic delegates, 256 vicars apostolic, 245 archbishops, 1, 578 bishops. And so, they hang around tables eating and musing about how comfy they live underneath heaven’s floorboards.
In the Soviet Union, the Communist party had its pointy heavenward end in the Political Committee of only nine or ten members. They didn’t concern themselves much with God, but watched their own backs and feared for their lives just as a pious man does. The relatively loose structure of the United States confers considerable influence upon a Supreme Court of nine, a Presidency of one, the Congress of a few hundred congressmen, and the American Senate for 480 Senators. Deference pyramids are over time sheer and steep. Seraville, whose members—just as all Good Catholics, Comrades, Germans and Americans—thought of themselves as the center of the universe, came to a head in a 10 person Board of Governors. Democratic, one might argue, considering only a few hundred were members.
The club covered approximately 250 acres of planet Earth owned by Randolph Avery, the proud owner of Avery Real Estate, the second largest Real Estate firm in the United States. His concern for his under lords, his subjects, had no end. He made a point of reminding them this intermittently throughout the years. He knew that their dedication to the cause was pertinent to the continuity of their little abode away from the doldrums of most other people’s experiences. The club is just as much theirs as his, he would tell them, though they were his capital and not vice versa. Everyone had been contented by a decade of prosperity and a growth they envisaged as unswerving, linear and perdurable. And so Mr. Avery began his speech within a room enveloped by a clear night, and so all the colder, underneath stars punched in the fabric of space, hinting of universes without yet keeping their secrets.
“Gentlemen of the Seraville Country Club, their better-halves,” the crowd robotically chuckled, as if little signs appeared above stage right and stage left:
What a neat trick.
“I would like to welcome you to one of the most important banquets in this country club’s young life,” Mr. Avery carried on.
Seraville’s most distinguished members were on hand this evening awaiting the formal announcement of something they already knew. Judge Finestone was there, as well as Senator Mathewson, Pastor Schroeder, Head News Anchor for BEST News, Skippy Style, and even the owner of BEST News and the myriad associated news centers, Clemens Roger.
Some other people were there, too. Behind Avery on stage sat a number of legal persons, some unfamiliar to club members. Investors and city officials alike celebrated the new era for Seraville, many of whom had put much at stake in the name of club progress.
“In its long and colorful history, some of Los Angeles’ most prominent have called Seraville their second home. There is no denying that Seraville is one of the best Country Clubs in this great land and that you, the members of Seraville, are among the privileged elite.”
Mr. Avery’s body was hardly decrepit, in spite of its sixty years, as if his was allowed a diet of finer feasts in his many days than others financially less well-endowed. Despite, the slicked-backed, phony black of his hair hid a plastic bag gray with the same polymers in the acrylic paints that protested the scene on the concrete walls in the city, with such slogans as:
“Is anybody out there?”
Finally, Avery’s gray, two-piece suit hinted at party-line. In the last row and furthest chair on the right, Danny Tolstoy paid with attention, at a cost of wandering thoughts in five minute intervals, sometimes four or even three.
“It is a surprise that he still has to read his speeches, considering they are all the same,” said Danny to Mervin Montague, a man who happened to be as deaf as a worm. Danny knew this; nevertheless he persisted, certain the others would notice. “His speeches are pop songs,” he said.
And so, albeit perhaps in violation of some noble and compassionate God’s will, Avery went on: “In 1896, when Seraville first opened, it was an escape for the most important people of the day—from the military and the press—and it is clear to see not much has changed. Many of your great, great grandfathers and uncles were here when my great, great grandfather presided over club affairs more than 90 years ago,” Avery went on and on, for he had the persistent vector of tradition, and only tradition, at his desperate defense. He molded it with a fierce accuracy. Knowing precisely the right time to pluck the fruit from the tree, he told the others that, they too shared the thousand-point light bright nexus of his village of Angles.
“While I was a boy I used to help out my father as he managed the grounds, trying my darndest to retain everything he taught me about how to be successful in real estate and otherwise courtly in my conduct. Oh, how surprised our forebears would be today to see how far the club has come. With the addition of more than 200 acres and the residential area Freedom Ridge, it is hard to counter the assertion that Seraville is truly a place for the blessed,” Mr. Avery contended, convincingly enough, thereby making some in the audience to absolve themselves from church in the morning. After all, they deserved a break.
“Freedom Ridge,” Avery went on, “if you didn’t already know, is seventy-five enormous mansions within Seraville territory, safely gated and watched 24 hours a day by top-of-the-line security guards—so that you and your families may be safe at night.”
Top of the line security guards? Where has this wrinkly-old, senile cracker been? I sleep for seventy-five percent of my night shifts at that gate, and then I have sex,” said Marlon, a young man of twenty-five, fresh on the force of mercenaries at Holy Security. Tonight marked the first time he and Tim had met. “This asshole pays us $2 an hour and then calls us top of the line. Shit, if I was top of the line…”
“The minimum wage is like $8.00 an hour, that’s what we’re making, I think it might be $22, but who is counting. Anyway, you seriously get laid during your shifts!?” Tim, the other security guard, interrupted eagerly in a whisper. “And I am always paranoid during my shifts because I am getting stoned.”
“I do that, too. How do you pass the mandatory drug tests?” Marlon quietly snapped, his curiosity piqued. He was new to town, fresh from the east coast.
“Cranberry juice,” Tim answered in a deadened but somehow uplifting tone, as one does when reminding another. “I think I give about one-half of my paycheck to those goddamn cranberry drink companies.”
“Hope you get the shit without any high fructose corn syrup in it,” Marlon said. “I hear that shit is like in everything nowadays. I pop Niacin before the tests—that stuff messes you up.
“Yeah, so what if I do buy the cheap cranberry juice? A homie’s got to pay for his weed. Cheap cranberry drink is just that—cheap. You apparently stay away from that stuff, and you aren’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed.”
Meanwhile, the speech: “In 1997 the Seraville Club Center was opened up providing you, the members and therefore the bosses of Seraville, with a gym, gourmet restaurant and gambling room.”
“We’re onboard, you had us at hello,” said the audience through their applause.
“And now ladies and gentlemen, it is time to announce the most crucial point in the history of Seraville,” after which Avery exhaled and looked at the special guests sitting mannerly behind him.
In the kitchen of the ballroom, meanwhile, two young servers hid in a corner obstructed by an ice machine where they attempted to hastily polish off two water glasses filled halfway with vodka.
“We have to drink these fast, Avery is almost finished with his speech,” said Landon, a brown eyed, lightly skinned student with short, wavy hair.
“Oh, to hell with Avery,” snapped Landon’s corpulent colleague, Barbeque, quietly. “Without these drinks I’d never be able to look him in the face and inform him not only was his speech bullshit, but that he’s an asshole too. The way I see it, we’re doing him a favor getting wasted.”
“The way you see it got you fired from your last job, Barbeque,” Landon riposted. “You even told me so.”
All the same, knowing perfectly well the speech was coming to a close, the two took deep breaths and let the clear, pungent liquid slide along the glasses and down their throats, filling their stomach with a hot sensation as if a stove in their stomachs had been turned on. Filling up these very moments in the ballroom, the chicanery lingered as it had: “It is time for us to hoist Seraville up on our shoulders and carry it among the most adept classes of society, where we and it belong.”
With a wrinkled brow and his head cocked a little to the side, Danny curiously glanced around the room before leaning to Merv and whispering, “You should have somebody explain that to you later.”
“On this date, I, Randolph Avery, formally announce the consolidation of the Seraville Country Club into the proper town of Seraville, California, and name myself Mayor; effective immediately. Confusion the semi-colon conveyed was lost on the crowd, as they erupted into a rogue applause that was not to be tamed for some time. Danny curled over in laughter struggling for breath as he incontinently exhaled, and Merv was stuck in the interstitial of audio-less visual. He seemed to have reason to be pleased, as he looked around
Mr. Avery, now finished with his speech, walked the length of stage right shaking the hands of those that presided from atop the stage over the preceding and their wives. The crowd grew tired of ovation and adulation, and dispersed, the lion’s share seeking hors d’oeuvres and alcohol. Landon and Barbeque placed the dirtied glasses in their proper places so as to not make unnecessary work for others and wore proudly the smiles stirred to veracity by the vodka. “Let’s do this quick as we can. Just make it look nice, you know,” Landon said.
As the two worked quickly, they were stopped by the one whose role was Manager. It crossed Barbeque’s mind that the two likely exuded the smell of alcohol, but remained calm and cool, and focused his attention patiently at the distraction in his way. Landon, aloof in thoughts whose foundation was that of arrogance, did not fear the Manager, for he had, over the years, learned to let himself be free of traditional worries. He feared only that the history found in the past, lay as well in the future. “Good smiles,” the Manager praised. “Now, be sure the two of you make this place so clean you’d drink from the ground,” like a cat might do. A degrading remark from a superior to subordinates, although the workers were used to such maltreatment, and their obsequiousness set the stage for still further discomfiture.
“Yes, sir,” they said together, all at once.
The two began their work. Landon was filled with the satiating energy of affirmation he found in the alcohol. The two hastily crowded as much dinnerware as they could onto their thin, round trays, walked into the kitchen and crowded everything around Manuel—whose duty it was at the end of the night to wash the dishes—and repeated, every so often nattering or making offhanded remarks to each other about the soup of gobbledygook in which they wasted away.
They had been fucked up, ambushed by the richest, and now they were zipped in, fucked up beyond all recognition. 10,000 years into the anabasis of civilization, only the language of the military could do justice for their viewpoints. The addressees at the banquet mostly ignored the presence and surface diligence of Landon and Barbeque. Save for now and then as someone articulated to them something they believed to be pointed, but was, in an honest reality, the defeated nudging of air molecules. In all probability, to be sure, these assorted espousals or nippy jokes or irrelevant and nosy inquiries were stabs for attention or camaraderie or something of the sort.
“Be aware not to miss a napkin or a used rum and cola glass!” shouted a lowly club member from a nearby table as Landon cleaned. Landon customarily smiled.
“Come here,” the man said, gesturing with his index finger, pulling it in towards his chin. “What’s your name?”
“Landon, what is yours, Sir?” in a contrived cheerfulness, he answered.
“And where do you go to school and church, young man?” the man said, ignoring Landon’s question.
“Well, I went to high school at San Juarez Academy, in the Valley. Now I am at University. And I don’t go to church.”
“Well, perhaps that can be forgiven as you went and got yourself into an academy. You must at least have potential to earn your keep.”
“I tell you what, here is my business card. Give me a call sometime and if you need anything, and you’re on Mr. Avery’s good side, I might just see what I can do,” said the drunken man, tripping over phonemes. Landon was prescient enough to notice that the man in the striped suit addressed him with a drunk sincerity and, also, had trouble stringing together sense. But he didn’t care enough to ask for sense to be made, or think much of it, for that matter, for he had been conditioned to associate others with balderdash.
Without having consciously tried, Danny found himself within earshot of Mr. Avery, who was placing onto his plate assorted cheeses and small slices of white bread. Danny couldn’t think of much to say worth his own while, and so he mulled over the cake provided. Antagonistically, Avery gestured in his direction, breaking his hobnob with important folk to talk to the eccentric fellow nobody much cared for. They spoke seldom, Avery and Danny, although the newly self-appointed mayor had learned to respect Danny, for his myriad talents endowed him with an air of exceptionable mystery.
“So, what do you think Danny, to be part of such a community?”
“Well, I’m honored—what else can I say? Rumor has it there’s even going to be a new shopping center? Wow, this is really something—a historic day, for sure.”
“You betcha,” Avery said. “We have just about our own little country here. Next thing you know we’ll write a constitution.”
“Well, is that so? I’m sure some of the corporations our members work for have larger GDP’s than most countries, but you and I both know that that’s par for the course these days. But a constitution? Have you thought about just opening up a PR office? I’d love to run it. I’ve always thought I’d have a knack for pulling at heart strings.”
“By golly, that’s an idea.”
“An idea indeed,” Danny rejoindered, taken aback by the mayor’s keenness for observation.
“All we’d need is a simple slogan people could latch onto. How about, ‘come join us, you rich hunk, you.’ Isn’t that the latest marketing trend: hitting on your consumer base?’”
“We’ll see Danny. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to return to the members at hand.”
“Or wait, I’ve got another one,” Danny rushed to get it out before the Mayor had departed the conversation. “’Be Rich, bitch.’ What do you think?”
Mr. Avery pretended not to hear. Although Danny had known for quite some time that he was not a part of the membership in the minds of most of the members, per se—he did, all the same, enjoy being on the outside looking in—he had never anywhere else been so blatantly ostracized as he had been at the Club—not in school, not at work, not ever. He was always among the most popular. That this was not the case at Seraville did not deflate his ego. After pondering the affront, Danny made his way towards Landon, whom he’d always tipped lavishly, despite that such loyalty to a meager club worker elicited suspicion among the courtlier members. A good tipper, within the confines of the club, was like a committed communist.
“What’s up, Danny?” Landon inquired.
“Not much, Landon. What do you think of all this self-indulgent frippery?”
“It’s a contumacious bunch, these shitheads. It’s pleasurable at one level, though, to watch them all lick spit-filled water out of a bowl at master’s feet. By Master I mean Mayor, of course. Not so pleasurable when you consider they have no idea they’re doing it.”
“Karma is on a round trip, right back to them in the end,” said Danny.
“Karma’s not in demand,” said Landon.
“Oh Landon, you’re a cynical bastard. How old are you—thirty ?”
“You ought to muster up some pep and spare some of the chagrin for later on. There’ll be plenty of time for that.”
“But Danny, by then I will be a member of the club,” Landon said in a rising, expectant voice. “What more could a working class white boy ask for, but the steady climb up; you know, a little upward mobility?”
“All right, I need to get one more glass of wine for the road; when the kids are this sardonic we must be on the edge of a new dark age. I should also mingle once more so everyone’s last memory of me on this night isn’t commiserating with a modern day Karl Marx.” He started on the wend.
“I’d prefer Malcom X,” said Landon with a grin. Danny stopped moving, one foot already started in front of the other—direction wine—and looked at Landon for an extra second in blasé bewilderment.
“Yeah okay, farewell my boy—see you tomorrow for our golf game,” Danny said, palm of his hand now on Landon’s shoulder blade. Danny walked briskly to the seat in which he had sat during the newly anointed mayor’s speech, where he nodded his head forward to acknowledge Montague, and then bent at the waist to pick up his portable coffee cup.
“Not to worry Mr. Montague, the lights are prettier than the sounds,” he said, albeit without successfully luring the attention of his deaf friend. He said it again, but this time to himself: “The lights are prettier than the sounds. What does that even mean?” he wondered, and vaguely decided he ought to attempt to cut back on his dosage of pills.
With a look of earnestness—so as to disguise his intent—he set off for the bottles of wine, knowing full-well it would take a smooth maneuvering of blather and stealth to pour wine into the coffee cup without alluring too much attention towards himself. He had done this before, but remained nervous in spite—nevertheless, he parted not from determination and the task. As a gist of thought made him aware that everyone had turned away, he seized the opportunity, and started over towards the table on which the wine sat. He walked over confidently and briskly, uncorked the already opened bottle of wine and then poured smoothly.
The coffee cup filled to the brim, the bottle found its way back to the table and on the bed of ice. Danny glanced around the room. The others busied each other while he made for the door. He stepped outside where his body interrupted a fragment of breeze that splashed around his body—it was neither cold nor hot nor warm for that matter: Usually, so long as vanity was excluded from the equation, one felt as at home in the air of a Los Angeles eventide as in one’s own skin. On his way to the valet, he kept his nose to the sky and watched the wind bully, in slow motion, clouds, nudging them like marching prisoners of war herded by officers, on and on for some vague eternity. He then handed the valet a card on which a description of his car was written: A silver hybrid, the only one at Seraville. Danny felt hip in it. The valet said thanks and went off to fetch the auto.
Danny turned his body in circles and wondered if an owl turning only its head had it any easier. More and more, as his eyes adjusted to the night, the scenery around him emerged out of an ebon formlessness like fresh hallucinations. The valet returned with the hybrid, Danny handed him a scrunched up twenty dollar bill—one of the better tips the young valet would receive on this night—and drove off, but not before taking a sip from his “coffee.” On the inside, Landon and Barbeque finished their duty. Although they would soon be free to carry on with their night, the bulk of the fun elsewhere—at parties and bars, etc.—waned. For, in a contrivance of work, the hour was always growing later. Still, they made haste.