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  November 2013
volume 10 number 2
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J de Salvo November 2013



photo by james barros

    J de Salvo's stories, poems, and articles have been published extensively in print and online. He is the editor and publisher of the Pedestrian Press and the journals the Bicycle Review and Oakland Review. A native of Los Angeles, he resides in Oakland, CA.



Excerpt from American Holidays

    Look, Geoff, it’s time for you to go.
    I heard you whisper, Bernard. Just tell me where the camera is!
    Geoff, you’re sick. You need to go. I’m opening soon. I can’t have you in here like this.
    Just give me the camera! I’ve been made a fool of enough! Where’s the camera?
    Watson spat in Bernard’s face, hitting him in the forehead. The saliva began to roll down between Bernard’s eyes in the second or two of shock before he collected himself and grabbed a towel off the bar.
    Get out of here. Hey dumbkopfs! Can you get this fucker out of here? This asshole just spit in my face!
    The bartender took Watson by one arm, the bouncer by the other. It was something they had done together many times before, and they did it smoothly and synchronously, like dancing. They picked Watson up off the floor and carried him out of the bar. Placing him on the sidewalk, they stared at him for awhile, waiting to see what he would do next. Bernard appeared with his portfolio case.
    Here’s your shit, Geoff. The rest of it’s safe. You can come back and get it when you’re feeling better. Aside from that, you’re 86’d until further notice. You need help, man. This isn’t like you.
    I hope it was all worth it, Bernard!
    Look Geoff, I give up.I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just don’t come back here for awhile.
    Bernard closed the gate, and padlocked it. Watson sat glued to his spot on the sidewalk for a little while, angry and stunned. So now Bernard was in on it, too. Who knew how much cash that little scene might be worth? It was becoming obvious that now he could count on no one. His friends would side against him. He was only beginning to realize the extent of the thing. Though everyone told him he was exaggerating, it was really the opposite. If anything, he underestimated the scope of it. Feeding him all those martinis was the typical sort of ruse. They always got their best footage when he was drunk. When he couldn’t help letting them know what he thought of them. And only last night they’d been celebrating the new year together; standing on the stage singing, arm in arm, counting down the last seconds. Would he put that part in his little home movie? Of course, who knew how these things were edited together? The guards at the library wouldn’t let him in. Everyone was allowed to watch him but him.
    He stomped up 17th St. to Broadway. Watson had been meaning to ask Bernard for trainfare, but that turncoat had ended up with all his worldly goods! Best luck that he was in this part of town. The 19th St. BART station was an easy place to skip a fare. There usually wasn’t a station agent there, just some mirrored glass to make you paranoid. Police were the ones you had to look out for, anyhow. The Civic Center Station in the City, where he needed to get off, was just as easy, though more frequented by transit cops.
    Watson made it to the platform without incident. Someone had pissed in the elevator, a not uncommon occurrence. There were not many other travelers at this station, but those who were there all seemed to be brandishing smartphones. Watson despised these devices because there was no way to know whether the user was watching or filming. He had got himself sandwiched into a recess by the wall, where no prying eyes could scan, he hoped. Recently, he had begun to ponder telescopic, x-ray, and infra-red capabilities.
    There was always the overhead, a given. That abhorrent mechanism, at least, surveyed the platform without prejudice. Though invasive and impersonal, it was not as facile as its mobile counterpart. There were penalties for its misuse, too, he supposed, but in general he was beginning to despair of the arrival of any sort of redress. The best thing to do was to forget about justice. He could run away from one of them, but there would be another waiting around the corner for him. They made use of technology that was easy enough to obtain if you had the money. To take part in a game of this nature at its highest levels necessarily involved a good deal of leisure and cash, though this didn’t prohibit the underclasses from playing casually with with nothing more than their wits and their simple cameras and phones. Whenever Watson got up the money to obtain a phone of his own he was either thwarted in his attempt, having been misdirected in some manner while trying to reach the point of sale, or lured into some kind of trap or distraction to keep him busy while his phone was stolen. He’d been through several phones; none of them had lasted more than a week. In the end it was not the continual thefts --despite the difficulty of obtaining the cash-- that had finally convinced him not to bother with replacement; it was the phones themselves. He really couldn’t focus on a call, no matter how important, with all of the little clicks, all the noises and faraway voices that had appeared on the line, recently. So the phone, which at some point in the past he might have seen as a potential equalizer provided he used it correctly, only added to his problems. It was just another way for them to track him. Why give them that?
    Watson knew that a good deal of the game was conducted remotely. At the highest levels, there must even be some sort of mind reading technologies in use, as well as a highly advanced relay system. Certainly more personalized mind control techniques like suggestion or sexual manipulation. There was a circular effect being created, and it didn’t matter at how many points and with what level of coordination. All the intelligence was bound to leak out, eventually. By manipulating his mind, they controlled his thoughts from some remote point. The simple fact was that he could not even trust himself.
    Not that he didn’t have allies, though most of them were invisible, and there was always the question of decoys. Items were left in places where Watson was sure to pass. It was up to him to discern which were useful, and in what way. He’d become adept at this: a sheet and a hair tie, for instance, discovered at two random points, could, through the use of knots, be fashioned into a sack complete with a strap for hands free carrying. Whatever he had, and it wasn’t much, it was preferable to keep it on his person at all times. His phone was not the only thing that was constantly being stolen. There were players whose only function was to steal whatever they could of his. So far as he could tell, the value of the item itself was inconsequential. It was simply a matter of who could accumulate more individual tchotchkes that had once been in his possession. That was one way of playing. It was an easy way; inexpensive, and very popular.
    He’d picked up this information through hearsay. Watson knew he had to be careful with that, though. More often than not, the speaker was a decoy who meant the exact opposite of what they said. By allies and supporters, this kind of speech was used as code to deliver hints to Watson without revealing it to enemies, who also used this same technique to mislead him into thinking that they were on his side. He had to be careful who he listened to, and how he interpreted what they said. As Watson made his way down a crowded street, the players would blend in with the oblivious masses. They’d pretend to be talking amongst themselves, and would never refer to Watson by name, but always as “he”. Watson liked to think he’d become better at picking the players out from innocents. They were of a certain smug type. Their smirks, through which they muttered or whispered their cryptic phrases out of the sides of their mouths, always seemed to take on the same shape, conveying their relish of the mischief that they instigated and their collective schadenfreude. Though they often disguised their faces with hats and glasses, this smirk was one thing which all their efforts at concealment couldn’t hide. That his opponents, so numerous and so heartless, could be seen to be having such fun, such sport, at his expense! They had stripped him of any remaining shred of dignity.
    Watson tried to control himself, and most of the time he succeeded, but now his tongue was almost flying from his mouth.
    Take it back! Spy! You brainless heartsucker! he threw over his shoulder at the man with the phone. This man paused for a moment and looked in the general direction of the voice. Watson had his hat pulled low and his glasses on. Two could play at that game.
    I’m telling you! Telling all you skullfuckers for the last time! I DO NOT MOLEST DOGS!!
    A wind came up, and the Daly City train began its noisy approach. Watson’s antagonist made haste to appoint himself in a train car as far away from Watson as possible. Watson considered following the man, but in the end he decided to remain content with the smaller victory. Proud of the restraint he had shown, he boarded the train, still muttering under his breath.
    The other riders all pretended, of course, that he was talking to himself, or to some imaginary person, but Watson was talking to them, the cowards.

copyright 2013 J de Salvo