Social Discourses on the Renaissance of the Renaissance: A Paper Presented at the Inaugural Online Personal Freedoms Convention
by Tom Dotson
"I just want you to know Mailman, I usually work alone."
"Please, call me Jack," I said. "We should be on a first name basis."
"I disagree with that. Our written agreement says nothing about using real names. You're Mailman and I insist you address me as Sonny."
I looked away from the road to the Kid sitting in the passenger seat, then back to the road again. I had no idea where I was driving. "Sonny? Where'd you get that?"
"That's my new name."
"What's wrong with Joel?"
"Just drive the car, Mailman. That's all you're contractually obligated to do."
I considered this for a moment and decided he was right. We'd not discussed how to address one another during our negotiations. "Don't you think you're being a little too covert?"
The Kid didn't answer at first. When he did, he seemed to skirt the matter. "You're going to appreciate the hidden identity. Trust me. And don't ask stupid questions either. If you're about to ask a question, unless it's in the heat of the moment, you need to ask yourself if you really need to ask the question."
I nodded my head. "Yes, I suppose we both have our reasons."
"That's right." The Kid motioned with his hand out the window. "Make a right at the light."
I navigated the car as directed. "Mind telling me where we're going?"
"Did you ask yourself if that question needed asking?"
I lied. "Yes."
"Good, Mailman. That's good. Now get in the left-hand lane."
I merged left and kept it straight for the next mile or so. I wondered if I should ask where we were going again. It seemed as reasonable this time as it was impulsively reasonable the first. "If you tell me where we're going, you won't have to give me directions."
"The Rose," I repeated. "That's the posh eatery downtown."
"That's right," said The Kid.
"When have you ever been to The Rose?"
"You didn't ask yourself if you should ask that question. I could tell in the reflection of your voice."
"How do you know I didn't?"
"See? There you go again. Stop the car."
I glanced at him in disbelief.
"Stop the car!" he shouted.
I pulled onto a side street and put it in park. I left the engine running and turned to the Kid. "Look," he started, pointing a finger at my spider-cracked windshield, "this isn't going to work. I've a good mind to call our contract null and void, right here, right now!"
"I'm sorry. We both know I'm new at this so if you could cut me some slack just this once I'd appreciate it. That's all I ask."
The Kid thought for a moment. He finally turned to me and acknowledged my visual presence for the first time since I'd picked him up near his Dad's apartment. I didn't meet his father. The Kid insisted to be picked-up on the corner.
"Very well," he conceded. "I recall I was nervous my first time too and I don't consider myself a hypocrite. But," he emphasized with his finger again, this time directly at me, "that's it, Mailman. You want the scoop for one of those magazines you deliver then you stay on a short leash. Understand?"
I told him I understood completely. I was surprised he'd maintained eye contact with me as long as he did while I confirmed my appreciation for a second chance. I could barely see his eyes beneath the bill of his Detroit Tigers ball cap. He didn't smile or smirk and he barely blinked, if at all. Our mission was clear and his deadpanned face left little doubt our mission was underway.
"Okay. Onward," he ordered, apparently content with my own look of steadiness.
I pulled my Impala back on the road. We said nothing the rest of the way until we were three stoplights from the parking lot.
"I think I'll have the porterhouse," said the Kid. "The chef here knows a thing or two about steak. You ever had the porterhouse here, Mailman?"
The answer was no. I had been to The Rose only twice in my life. Once on a date with a female co-worker who worked part-time as a sorter in the mailroom and once for the Postal Department's Christmas party two years ago. "Not the steak," I answered, surprised to hear my own voice.
"I know what you're thinking," he said.
"Yes, I believe you must."
"You're wondering why I just asked if you've ever had the porterhouse here."
"Yes," I answered. "With all due respect, your asking does seem a bit unnecessary, if you take my meaning."
I pulled the car in the lot and found a parking space toward the back near the fenced-in dumpsters. The Rose was packed.
"That's a fair question, but fair because you didn't ask it. I assume you know what that means."
"I do," I said.
"Good. What does it mean?"
"It means I'm ready."
"Correct. Now, this is the point where you give me the keys to your car."
I looked at him. His voice was commanding and I handed them over without question.
"Good," he said. "Now here, take them back. You know I can't drive."
"You can't legally drive," I quipped. "We both know you can drive and no doubt, drive well."
"I suppose I could drive if I had too but that's why you're driving."
"You may have to. Again, with all due respect, we should consider that possibility."
The Kid nodded his head. "That's a good point, Mailman. An excellent point in fact. But no," he continued, handing the keys back to me, "if it should come to that, then we will have failed and someone will be escorting us both."
I accepted my keys and put them in my front jeans pocket. "I have a suggestion," I offered delicately. "I don't think it's a good idea to address me as Mailman."
The Kid waited for me to explain. I reasoned this carefully. "It might be a dead giveaway in that someone could pin me as an employee at the Post Office."
"Another good point. You should be allowed to name yourself."
I paused as if I were conjuring the perfect name when in reality, I'd thought about it after we'd left the side street. "Dad. I think you should call me Dad. It works with the name Sonny and I think it would be best if it seems as if we're related."
The Kid looked away again. "That's disrespectful. I already have a father."
"That's not my intent. We're both here for separate reasons and in the best interest of those reasons, I believe this will fit us as a tandem."
The Kid adjusted his Tigers cap before placing it back to its original position, a hair above his eyebrows. "Fine," he agreed reluctantly. "But you must agree to use it only if necessary."
"I hope not to have to use it at all."
"Let's shake on that." We shook hands. "Okay. Now, have you your stuff?"
I checked my other front jeans pocket and felt the plastic container with my fingers. "I do."
"So do I. Let's do this."
"Wait!" I reached across the console and dropped the glove box open. I pulled a small notepad and pen from inside and shut it again.
"It's for notes. I think I'll need this, don't you think?"
He looked at me as if this were even more difficult than the father-son scenario. "No, Jack, no. No notes, no tape recorders, no video equipment. We agreed we'd not need to write this in our contract. I see now I should have insisted on this."
"Respectfully speaking, we agreed I would not carry documentation tools into wherever you had planned to take us. Since we're not inside yet, I believe I'm well within the boundaries of our contract." I didn't wait for him to respond but instead began jotting a fake note to myself, something that had nothing to do with our mission. The Kid looked on, either waiting for me to finish or else waiting for me to tell him what I was writing.
"You called me Jack, " I said. "You should have called me Dad. "
The Kid checked his watch. "Let's go. Our reservations are for seven and we're already five minutes behind schedule."
I pretended to finish my thought and closed the notepad before returning it and the pen to the glove box. "Alright. Let's go make history."
The Kid smiled for the first time and we both acknowledged the moment with another handshake, this time out of respect for our mission.
Inside, the lobby was adorned with wall mirrors on all sides, exotic looking horticulture, and a chandelier accenting most of the ceiling. A massive aquarium ran the length of the front wall near the entrance to the dining area. I noticed this was new since my last visit. A fair skinned, middle-aged woman with bright red lipstick in a sleeveless top immediately greeted us from behind a mahogany looking podium. The Kid claimed our reservation while I caught our reflection in the mirror. We looked like father and son.
"Right this way," said the hostess. Two minutes later, we were eating fancy crackers.
"It's good to eat crackers. Crackers are good for our mission," said the Kid.
"Agreed. Crackers are good but crackers aren't the only reason why you chose The Rose."
"Of course not. But the crackers here are good. A nice variety, you must admit."
I leafed through the various packets in the wicker basket. "Yes. Wheat, Rye, looks like some crisps of some sort. A nice variety for sure."
The Kid changed the subject. "You'll notice that the menu here is all-inclusive."
"That so? You sound like a regular of sorts."
"I've been known to frequent this place a time or two. I've scoped-it-out, you might say."
"And you recommend the porterhouse."
"No, not at all. I don't recommend anything. You must choose what reads appealing to you."
"You mean what sounds appealing."
"It's a common misconception and a poor use of context to say that a food item off a menu sounds appealing when in reality, most people don't verbalize a menu, they read it."
A Mexican water boy approached our table and filled our glasses. He pretended to greet us in our own language but no doubt he spoke very little English, if any. The Kid and I nodded in appreciation without words of our own.
"Before we complete our mission, I think it's appropriate and even necessary I know why you chose The Rose."
"I agree. You should know and you will. But that can wait. As the evening progresses, it's possible you might just figure this out on your own."
I chewed a cracker.
"So, do you agree with that?" he asked.
"That people read menus?"
"No. That you should choose what reads good to you. Actually, you shouldn't read the menu at all. You should just order the most expensive item. Ever done that?"
"You mean not read the menu?"
"I mean just order the most expensive item off a menu without having looked at the menu."
"I don't think so."
"You should some time. You should tonight. It'd add to the odyssey of our mission."
"I take it the porterhouse is the most expensive item here then?"
"It's a porterhouse, yes."
"Meaning it's expensive."
"That depends on your definition of expensive," he said, reaching for his water.
I looked around the dinning area. Not a single table or booth was vacant. At one of the booths, a man was whispering something to his girlfriend or mistress. Whatever he said made her laugh and she discreetly, and yet not so discreet-like, reached for his crotch.
"So how's the dating scene?" I asked absently, watching the man massage the woman's back with one hand.
Our waiter stood between us. "Good evening. My name is Jack. May I start you off with some refreshments?" He started to hand us menus but the Kid waved him off.
"We won't be needing menus tonight, Jack."
"Very well," Jack nodded, "you're ready to order then?"
"We are," said the Kid. "I'll have the porterhouse, burnt, baked potato, butter, no sour cream, the salad with French dressing, and a clear soda."
Jack didn't use an order pad though I could tell he was just challenged. "Slice, Sir?" he managed.
"Fine. And my Dad here will have the most expensive item on the menu, rice pilaf, steamed carrots, the salad with blue cheese,..."
"And a glass of your finest wine, red or white, whichever is the more complimentary of the two," I added with flair.
"Excellent, gentlemen. I'll be right back with your drinks." Jack flashed a generic and difficult smile.
"That's a good sign," said the Kid.
"That I didn't order with the menu much less look at it?"
"No. That this guy's name is Jack. That's a karma thing you know."
"I didn't quite catch that at first."
"You should make a mental note of that. That's a fine example of what I like to call undercurrent intelligence."
"Oh, yes. You mean,... actually, what do you mean?"
"I mean the unconscious act of spewing intelligence and the consciousness of information gathering. The faint wisps of discarded throwaways that float about like a gaseous leak, never seen and only heard by a select few who place theory-into-action as a result of these transparent leaks."
I must have frowned, pinching my eyebrows.
"Look," he continued. "No really, Dad. I want you to look around this restaurant. Tell me what you see."
I panned the room twice over, trying to absorb whatever it was I was looking for or looking at for that matter. "Okay," I said.
"What do you see?"
"I see people eating in a restaurant. I see couples on dates. I see drinks being poured, I see a butter knife on the floor under that table over there, I see Jack walking toward the kitchen."
I was even more confused now. "Yes. We're in a restaurant. What else am I supposed to see?"
The Kid tapped his finger on the table. "Look again. Only this time, look at all the background transactions, the motion between the motion." The Kid continued to speak while I scanned the room another time. His voice became softer, less commanding, more casual and yet, at the same time, profound, precise, and true as if he were the narrator for a documentary on gaseous leaks. "Look at the way the waste of movement perpetually hangs in the air like an invisible fog, encircling its own energy forces into a streamline of unconsciousness. It's an energy pool. A dense cloud of afterlife looking for another conscious to inhabit. Do you see it? Do you see the residual undercurrent? Now stop!"
I snapped back to attention.
"Quick, without thinking, tell me how you felt after you ordered your wine," he demanded.
"Good. I felt good. Like I didn't give a shit either way."
"Okay. And if you didn't give a shit, then why did you order the most expensive glass of wine?"
"Because I'd never done that before and I didn't give a shit."
"Okay. You didn't give a shit about what?"
"About how expensive the wine was."
"But if you didn't give a shit, why didn't you just order a cheap glass of wine?"
"Because if I'm going to have a glass of wine, I'll usually get a cheaper glass or at least cheaper than the most expensive glass."
"But why the most expensive glass?"
"Because I could."
"Yes, but you could have ordered a cheaper glass and yet you didn't. Why?"
"Because I've done that before. I know what that's like. I've experienced that."
"And you've never experienced an expensive glass of wine?"
"Maybe. But never in a restaurant without having read the wine list first."
"Because it's never occurred to me before."
"I don't know why."
Jack reappeared and placed our drinks on the table. "I'll be right up with your salads," he said, flashing another fake, all-teeth smile.
The Kid and I stared blankly at my wine. It was white.
"I must be having some kind of fish entrée. Had I known that, I would have ordered red," I mused.
The Kid was serious. "Why?"
"I was only kidding."
"We're on a mission. Now's not the time for jokes."
We both held each other's stare. Again the Kid didn't blink. It was like he was a machine. "Now remember, our mission won't work unless we eat fast and with vigor. We don't want to enjoy our food. We want to eat as if we've just walked away from a holocaust camp."
"This is your last chance to back out." He paused, looking for some response from me. "You in or out?"
"I'm in," I said confidently.
"Excellent. Here's to the mission," he said, raising his Slice across the table where I met his glass with mine.
Jack returned with our salads. "The blue cheese, Sir."
I snapped my fingers. "Land that plane here, Jackie."
"And you had the French."
Jack turned and was about to dash away when the Kid hailed him back. "Tell me, Jack, how long have you been waiting tables?"
"Two years, off-and-on."
"I see. And what do you hate the most about waiting tables?"
"Hate the most, Sir?"
"Yes. What do you say to your significant other in bed at night or to your co-workers in the kitchen about waiting tables?
"It's okay," the Kid said reassuringly, "we tip well."
Jack tilted his face. "Well, I'm a Mormon so there's nothing I hate. Now, can I get either of you anything else?"
"I think we're fine," I said.
Jack left without a smile this time.
"Was that part of our mission?" I asked.
"No. But we could use it to our advantage. Now, you ready? Let's do this."
The Kid and I removed our utensils from their cloth napkins and held a fork in each hand. This was part of our mission: One fork per hand for the eats. "I'm ready," I said.
"Ten, nine, eight,..."
We tore into our salads like hungry wolves on a fresh kill. We crammed one, two, three, four bites in succession, flicking specs of dressing away from the greens upon each thrust to our mouths. The Kid made subtle grunting noises and I acknowledged these in approval with grunts of my own. Another one, two, three, four bites later, and dressing was now splattered everywhere, transfiguring our table into a remarkable canvas of artistic expression like some mutated version of a Jackson Pollock masterpiece. The Kid wiped his mouth clean with the sleeve of his shirt and I pointed and laughed aloud as segments of partially chewed salad took a salvia and dressing hold on my cheeks, chin, and nose. By now, we had caught the attention of the patrons around us. Blank stares and few fingers were pointed in our direction and the Kid and I only laughed louder. A final series of consecutive bites and now people were either whispering or were frozen, transfixed on our eating carnival. I looked over at the man and his mistress/girlfriend. I was certain he wasn't aroused now. For a finishing touch, the Kid raised his salad bowl to his face and licked it clean with his tongue. I laughed a final time and we celebrated us with another toast.
"That was ridiculously delicious," said the Kid.
"Well done," I replied.
Taking a page from the Kid's repertoire, I used a corner tip of the tablecloth overhang like a wet nap, cleaning my hands and face as if I was at a rest stop along the interstate. I took another sip of my expensive wine. It was refreshing and complemented the salad nicely.
Jack showed up again. "I see you've polished those salads off rather quickly." He noticed my sloppy end of the table and seemed unsure. Of what I could guess but in the same instant, he pretended not to notice. He wasn't sporting that fake smile either. I figured the Kid and I had put an end to that nonsense for the rest of our stay.
"Yes. We were hungry," I answered.
"That porterhouse and most expensive item on the menu on the way anytime soon?" added the Kid.
"I'll go see if I can't speed that up a bit." Jack removed our forks and salad bowls and escaped the scene.
"So," I said, "how long have you been a Tigers fan?"
"Since I can remember. How long have you been delivering mail?"
"Longer than long. How long have your parents been divorced?"
"Too long. What's the worst kind of mail to deliver?"
"Anything from The Home Shopping Network. What animal would you say best describes you and why?"
"Too cliché. Ask another."
"What's your least favorite mammal, indigenous in the Western hemisphere?"
"Indigenous or otherwise, the rat. Who's your most favorite contemporary poet?
"Sherman Alexie. Can you swim?"
"I can dog-paddle. Have you ever smoked marijuana?"
"Yes. In how many languages can you say 'hello'?"
"Five, not counting jive. Have you ever been married?
"Never. Have you ever donated blood?"
"No. Do you think we're alone in the universe?"
"Relatively speaking, no. What percentage do you think our history books are accurate?"
"Ninety-nine percent, plus or minus one. If you could be of any other race, what would it be?"
"Here comes Jack," he replied.
Jack arrived with our entrées. The porterhouse looked great. My lobster tail looked small. "Uh, Jack," I said, "can we get these to go please?"
The Kid looked at me in disbelief. This was not part of our planned mission.
"You want these to go now?" Jack asked, equally dumbfounded.
"That's right. I thought we'd mentioned that when we ordered."
Jack looked at me, then toward the Kid. We both confirmed our take-home request with fake smiles of our own this time. "Very well. I'll just take these back and wrap them to go."
"Super," I said.
"Why did you do that?" asked the Kid.
"Because I knew you weren't expecting it and also, I didn't want to lose our momentum."
"I see. That's all very interesting. I suppose we should do this then, yes?"
"I'm ready if you are." We reached in our pockets and pulled out our respective packs of dental floss. "What kind is that?"
The Kid looked at his. "Oral B Waxed Mint. And you?"
"Oral B Regular." I pulled a long strip and ripped it away from its encasement. The Kid had his ready to go too.
"Now the trick here is to go obnoxiously slow. If you get a large chunk, you have to try and flick it off without touching it with your hands."
"Got it. Let's do this."
I twirled the floss around both index fingers and began wedging it between my crooked teeth. In-and-out of one gap and in-and-out of another. I noticed the Kid had a nice rhythm going. He was the first to pull out a winner.
"Bingo! That's a keeper!" he shouted above the chatter of the dining room.
I quickened my pace, hoping to snare a nugget of crouton or something; anything I could use to even the score. In-and-out of one gap and in-and-out of another. With each outward pull from a wedge, I looked at my string hoping to see some discombobulated food mutation. So far, I'd come up relatively lame aside from an occasional microcosmic something-or-other. Our antics captured the attention of everyone nearby. A couple off to my left was thoroughly disgusted; their faces contorted in a look of outrage. The lady confirmed this by overreacting. She turned her head away from us as if watching another human being floss burned her eyes. I figured our carrying-on was probably more artistic than anything she'd ever seen in an art museum. I figured she was the type of person who watches Oprah religiously and probably subscribes to her self-absorbed magazine because that's what the other stiffs in her neighborhood do. I figured she probably didn't know what the definition of aristocratic was since she was, in her mind, above all that.
In-and-out of one gap and in-and-out of another. Finally, I was on the board. "Ha! Take a look at this gem," I said with delight. There was a decent hunk of debris on my floss. The Kid tried to respond but had both hands working for something toward the back of his mouth.
I switched to the lower rack which, from my experience, generally produced a higher return rate. In-and-out of one gap and in-and-out of another. The Kid took the lead again. Finally I pulled out a healthy nugget and this time, snapped the floss back, letting it fly like an exercise in finger archery. It sailed over the candle centerpiece and almost landed in the Kid's Slice.
Jack returned with our boxed entrées. He offered our take home in a fancy, plastic sack with rope-like drawstrings and a lithograph of a rose on each side, his mouth slightly agape, watching us practice good oral hygiene. "Yes, uh,... here are your dinners, gentlemen." He set our boxed meals on the table closest me. "And I can take this whenever you're ready."
"Oh, you can take it now," I said. I wedged my floss between my gums and teeth and freed both hands so that the string was dangling from my mouth. I wiped my hands on the breast of my shirt and pulled a credit card from my wallet. I didn't even look at the bill. "Here you go, Mr. Jack."
Jack said he'd be right back.
The Kid and I finished our exercise and tossed our floss mindlessly on the table.
"That felt great. My gums feel like they just got a great workout," said the Kid.
I worked my tongue over my teeth and agreed. "Yes, that was certainly refreshing indeed." I looked about the dining room and noticed people were still stealing glances. I caught one guy red-handed. He looked away the second my eyes met his. I smiled in my mind.
The Kid checked his watch. "Wow. This didn't take as long as I thought."
"Yes. And I'm looking forward to eating my lobster tail in front of the TV tonight. I think there's a documentary on The Panama Canal. What are you going to do?"
The Kid looked at his Slice. "Probably go online and check out some research materials."
"Well, that should be pretty interesting."
"Yeah. I'm a local organizer for the war on terrorism."
"You mean September 11th?"
"Yes, of course. We're a small group and contrary to initial opinion, we actually work to identify the many flaws of logic inherent in the Government's approach. Basically, where we went wrong."
"Isn't that self-evident?"
"In a manner of speaking. That's actually one of the panels we've planned for our online convention."
Jack slipped in and dropped the bill on the table. He didn't stick around. I added a twenty percent tip to the total and signed on the line. "Well, I believe this fulfills my part of the contract. When you get a chance sometime next week, perhaps you can let me know when you might be available to review my rough draft."
"Absolutely. Just toss your article in with the rest of my mail and I'll complete my end of the agreement."
"Excellent. Well, shall we?"
The Kid and I got up from our table and smiled at those around us as we walked out. I could sense the relief on the minds of other patrons as we passed them. The Kid and I were beaming with satisfactory expressions. In the lobby, we paused in front of the aquarium and studied the exotic fish.
"If fish had the ability to make facials, we'd probably have a much harder time keeping them in captivity like this," commented the Kid.
"I agree. This is further evidence of just how screwed our thinking has become. But, one obstacle at a time, yes?"
"Yes. It's important to remain focused. Still, before I die, I'll go on an exotic fish crusade."
I looked at the Kid as he was bent over, his face pressed to the glass. I decided I'd like to join him on that mission. "Let's go, Sonny. My program is on at the top of the hour."
About the author:
Tom Dotson lives and works in the Chicago area where his own reconstruction of linguistic bliss has potentially evolved somewhere within a certain vicinity of what Roland Barthes describes as 'the pleasure of the text.' He is the founder of the Broken Baseball Bat Hall-of-Fame and the Washboard Players Players Association.