Episode 1: Friendly Games.
Script and Summative Comments [’70s cop drama, 30 min, color.]
Opens with standard montage of sedans, blue and brown, tailfinned and otherwise, gliding over federally-funded blacktop. Then the obligatory shots of people having evenings out; white folks speaking, each to each, in bistros with virgin white tablecloths and deferential brown waitpeople. The opening theme, the jazz-fusion “Horehound’s Groove”, chikka-chikkaing mid-tempo and mid-range as the familiar deadpan voice of Grant Cameron [Concerned Citizen’s Brock Horehound] intones gravelly, secure in his poses as omniscient oracular figure, director, and producer of the series.
Horehound: This is the city. Los Angeles, California.
Abstract close shots of concrete, of branches of trees indigenous to southern California. An inexplicable close shot of an adobe house. As is typical of most episodes in this series, as well as in most of the oeuvre of Grant Cameron, there is an attempt to provide a documentary feel through employment of this slide show effect.
Of course, the attempt rarely succeeds. Too much imposition of opinion, of conjecture. One of the aims of this scholarship I’ve undertaken here ? a transcription of the show, with helpful editorial or clarifying comments italicized after each burst of dialogue ? is to puncture the balloon that houses this dead air that is Concerned Citizen, in the hopes of demonstrating to hiring committees and whoever else might read this that I, Malcolm Couture, PH.D, am a scholar who understands keenly the interplay between cultural artifacts and how people live in the culture.
Horehound: A city on the move. A city that grows by tens of thousands of people yearly.
In a “deadpan” touch, we are treated to boxes being moved into the adobe house, by burly, brownshirted movers. Presumably, a representation of the city’s growth, as Grant Cameron would have it be. A safe growth, participated in by safe people. People who will boost the tax rolls. People who won’t tax civic resources.
Horehound: In Los Angeles, there is room for diversity of opinion, to be sure.
Caucasoid housewives in sensible skirts picketing an anonymous building in a manner so peaceful that the purported film might as well be a still life. Here, we see the parameters of “acceptable dissent”.
Horehound: In Los Angeles, new and exciting things are always happening. Things are changing. Los Angeles is a city on the move.
The refrain “city on the move” repeated here. Things are always changing. You can’t fight City Hall. Bad weather’s like rape, you might as well just sit back and enjoy it. Would you like to super size that? Due to budget cuts, I regret to inform you that the Committee will not be able to hire a new Cultural Studies Instructor for the upcoming school year.
A thousand points of light. A thousand lies fake and transparent as genuine diamelles, perpetuated even here, in this “summer replacement” series that ran six turbulent, low-rated episodes.
Horehound: I worked here. I carried a badge.
Note the ironic inversion of the catchphrase ? I work here, I carry a badge ? from Grant Cameron’s long-running earlier series Badge and Gun. For reasons which will be seen as the show progresses, the choice to invert said catchphrase is deliberate, given that this program ? as well as many things beyond this program ? is based on a series of inversions.
After Horehound finishes his opening voiceover, we are treated to a shot of his soon-to-be-familiar 1966 Ford Fairlane, which obeys the speed limit as it makes its way down an unassuming residential street.
Horehound: It was a Saturday afternoon in September, the date doesn’t matter, not anymore. The air was cool in Los Angeles, and I had been invited to visit my former LAPD partner, Ray Linger.
Horehound pulls up to a modest one story home. Red brick exterior. 1000 Square Feet, give or take. The home of an enlisted man, a cop too straight to be on the take, to shoot for opulence through graft.
At least, that’s the implication. In all fields, there is graft. Treachery. Betrayal, screwjobs, and resultant isolation.
Horehound: Linger and I had been partners for seven years. It was a rocky run, at first, as I was charged with reining the fiery rookie in. With showing him the ropes, so to speak.
Horehound’s voice drips false humility in a manner reminiscent of grease dropping from steakhouse Texas Toast, or oil dropping ponderous from the grill of a beater car.
Horehound: As Linger developed his skills as a peace officer, laurels followed. He began to receive commendations. Still, it was understood that I was the senior member of the team.
Here we get a flashback sequence. The two men ride together in a sedan not dissimilar to the Ford Fairlane Grant Cameron’s character is driving in the so-called present. Horehound here is driving Linger around. There is no conversation; just the squawk of the radio, just the sadness etched on the cops’ faces.
Horehound: But now, there is no team. But now, I have no badge. I have been, so to speak, forced off the force.
Back to what passes for real time. Horehound, alone in the Fairlane. He checks his appearance in the rearview mirror. Out of the car, walking toward the front door without moving his arms the slightest bit. He rings the doorbell, muttering….
Horehound: This… is the city.
Horehound gets a few seconds to “reflect” on that statement, while waiting for the front door to be opened by a short, slight white man with black hair, wearing a khaki polo shirt and matching pants. The man nods in the direction of our protagonist.
Horehound nods back. There’s no extension of the hand for a hearty shake. If you look closely, though, you can see Horehound’s lips turn downward and his eyes skitter away from the doorway, as if he’d just developed a shrubbery fetish.
A curt nod in return, as if the men are locked in some interpretative dance of repressed feelings, resentments, hatreds, and so forth.
Horehound: Game started yet? I came as quickly as traffic would allow.
Horehound manages a smile here, however guarded and wan it might have been. Both men remain rooted in their positions: Horehound outside the house; Linger in the doorway.
You can assume that these positions will bear a significance later in the episode.
Linger: The TV set is warming up right now. Come in, already ? I’m not air conditioning Los Angeles, you know.
Linger and Horehound share a moment of staccato laughter, before the “junior officer” shows Horehound into his living room. All beige, all the time, here. Beige. The color of non-commitment. The color of adjunct office walls, of government building lobbies. Beige, the color of loss and regret.
Horehound: You’re the one who was supposed to let me in, friend.
A more genial smile this time. A suggestion of conviviality finally breaks through the tension, as Horehound follows Linger through the living room toward the kitchen.
Cabinets of dark wood. Floral paper on the walls. A flouride-white countertop, hosting a loaf of bread, a jar of pickles, and a jar of mayonnaise on its surface. On a serving platter, six sandwiches are stacked in a 3-2-1 pyramid arrangement.
Linger: I figured you might want to check out the spread I’m laying out right here.
Linger gestures toward the counter like a cross between Mae West and a Subway Sandwich Artist. The effect is momentarily appalling.
Horehound: Spread, buddy?
Horehound shows us his “quizzical” look, momentarily.
Linger: This on the counter, Brock. Do you need me to spell everything out for you?
Linger’s voice cracks in exasperation. Though the implication is that the two are old friends having a friendly spat, it is clear to anyone who has ever left an employment situation that former co-workers don’t make reliable friends.
I can speak to that point at some length.
Horehound: No, no, I can see it. What are you making? Should I ask?
The camera focuses on the unlabeled jar of mayonnaise, if only for an instant.
Linger: An old Linger specialty! Mayonnaise and pickle sandwiches!
Linger fixes a smile on Horehound as he knifes mayonnaise from the jar and smears it on a slice of bread.
Horehound: Mayonnaise and pickle? Wow, your palate certainly hasn’t changed. This is as bad as your tackle box full of pickles and olives.
With a series of flourishes, Linger finishes spreading white on white, before placing slice atop slice.
Linger: You’re just not a gourmet, Brock. You don’t understand the appeal of al fresco dining.
Another piece of bread. Another slather of mayonnaise.
Horehound: Well, I guess that’s the difference between us.
Horehound grins, amused, self-satisfied. This scene, like so many in Cameron’s earlier, more popular series Badge and Gun, allows us to identify with the central character ? Brock Horehound ? in the most innocuous way imaginable. The message is unassailably clear: that if we share in his laughter, we’ll feel a kinship when the supercop gets over on the bad guys, whoever they may be.
Linger: Well, say what you will.
Linger screws the lid back on the jar with more force than the job actually requires as Horehound lights a cigarette.
Horehound: Remember that time you were eating some garbage ? a sardine and olive sandwich ? in the car, and we got wind of a racial incident in East LA. I was weaving in and out of traffic, and it was all you could do to stuff that mess down your throat. Remember?
Horehound’s tone here suffused with the giddiness of reminiscence, so often the flipside of sadness, current as oil change coupons in a mailbox, eternal like loss, like every solitary loss.
Linger’s tone and face here are entirely impassive, as he returns the mayonnaise to the refrigerator and the bread to the box that holds it, even as Horehound’s face crinkles in mirth.
Horehound: But I guess that’s just the difference between us, right, buddy?
Horehound’s expression a bit more serious here, as if aware that he hurt the feelings of his erstwhile junior partner, who turns around and faces him with a sharecropper-grave expression on his face.
Linger: That’s where you’re wrong, buddy. The difference between us is that you are unemployed and that I am still on the force. The difference between us ?
The visual cuts to Horehound’s lower lip, trembling like the proverbial leaf with a raindrop weighing it down.
Horehound: Look, Ray, I was just kidding around.
Horehound’s eyes brim with contrition, and in his response, Linger lowers his voice. But he doesn’t lower it so much that his intent isn’t as clear as the glare from his eyes.
Linger: The difference between us is that you need to show me a bit more respect, now. Hear?
Horehound nods, in a way that connotes a subservience and acquiescence unfamiliar to viewers of Grant Cameron’s previous series, Badge and Gun. A reviewer of the time found the first episode to be “regrettable… in its failure to give the audience a hero in whom they can believe… especially in these times of festering social unrests.”
People who would look back from the distance of years or even decades found Cameron’s choice to not simply make this series but to stake his entire future (or legacy, if you prefer) on the success or failure of a show about an unemployed policeman. I can certainly see how one could subscribe to this read of the show, given that so many of our society’s problems ? political, spiritual, and, as I know from personal experience, educational ? stem from the failure of our culture to forge models of heroism.
Horehound: We returned to the living room, where the game was just beginning. I ceded the “easy” chair to Linger, partly in deference to what I deemed to be a physical fraility, and partly because I understand a man’s need to be comfortable in his own home.
You certainly don’t need an extended description of how the men sat down in front of the television, but it might bear mentioning that both men are clad here in gray pants, white oxford shirts, and black loafers.
It also bears mentioning ? and here I feel compelled to apologize for this digression ? that I don’t feel we can find heroes in the sordid, rotten husks that pass for government agencies. Our heroes should be artists and revolutionaries! Men as disparate as hiphopper Tupac Shakur and firebrand Al Sharpton and actresses and actors who use their positions for the general good! These are my heroes.
Television Announcer: Looks like a great game today between the Dodgers and Giants! This certainly has pennant implications!
Horehound and Linger are settled in by now, of course, each armed with a generic can of beer and genial smiles on their faces.
Horehound: Who do you think’s going to win today, Ray? Deadpan delivery, right before sipping from the can. Scenes like this led syndicated columnist Buxton Reilly to term Concerned Citizen “the first action show where there’s no actual action.” In the same vein, the program was utterly despised by focus groups, testing lower than any show of that era, with the arguable exceptions of Bachelor Houseboy and the Mod Redecorators. Linger: Depends. The Dodgers have the pitching…. Hey, buddy? Linger looks at Horehound with a beseeching look in his eyes, which comes off as the closest thing to real tenderness in this entire episode up until this point. This line, like every line of dialogue in the show so far, is delivered with a eulogistic deliberateness. Even with my credentials and my dedication to studying this and similar programs, I have trouble reconciling the languor of the show so far with the other work in the Grant Cameron oeuvre, which relied on noiresque blasts of dialogue. The most profound conundrum, at least to me, is why Cameron chose such staticness in the pilot of all things. Perhaps he felt the show was set up to fail. Perhaps he felt himself to be a failure, as most people do, as I sometimes do myself.
Television Announcer: The 3-2 is on its way, as Murphy digs in here, asking nor giving quarter. Reynolds has been working him inside the entire count!
Horehound, transfixed by the television, finally looks over at Linger, whose eyes are still locked in the aforementioned posture of beseechment.
Horehound: Yeah, Ray?
Like in so many scenes in the first few episodes of the series ? though less as the series works toward the final ? Horehound is shown with an almost comically wide-eyed look on his face. It is rumored that focus groups found Horehound’s “look” to be too “mature” for a leading man role. In that light, perhaps we can see the widening of the eyes, so to speak, as an attempt to transcend physicality, to stave off the inevitable rejection of age and fraility by our culture.
This interpretation is bolstered, as you’d expect, by other things in this episode. The reference to Linger’s fraility above, for example.
Linger: I need a favor from you, buddy.
The same look on Linger’s face, the look that people so often use when negotiating so-called favors. Even at your weakest moment, when you’ve been fired from your job unjustly, you’ll have these “favors” asked of you.
On your way out, can you turn off the light? Before your heart finally stops, can you sign over this property please pretty please pretty please with sugar on top? Can you sign a non-disclosure agreement? Won’t you please stop calling, begging for just one more chance, one more shitty little adjunct class?
Horehound: Say the word.
What else could he say in that situation? Consider the complete inversion of the traditional power structure here: Horehound, the former “leader” of the team, bumped from the team. Not only is there no longer a power struggle, there’s not even the pretense of debate.
Say the word. Because you have to be a “team player”. Because you have to “show you’re still committed to being a good guy.” Because you don’t know any better.
Linger: My back’s giving me a bit of trouble, and I was wondering if you’d be a good guy and go to the kitchen to get the sandwiches.
Linger punctuates the request with a thumbjab in the direction of the kitchen. That in and of itself doesn’t shock. What is shocking, however, is Horehound’s reaction.
The way he reached his feet as if jacked up by cords in a Hong Kong movie. The way he smiled while doing it. The way he performed the task with, as they say, alacrity.
It shocks me, but it shouldn’t. I like to think of myself as a strong person, but I too have acted similarly obsequious.
And I can see myself doing it again, under the right circumstances, for the right payoff. Whatever those are, whatever that is.
Horehound: I walked to the kitchen a bit more quickly than I should have, perhaps. I needed some time to myself. Linger had promised me on the phone before I came over that we’d talk about getting me back on the force, but so far all I’ve done is two things: step and fetch.
The camera shows Horehound walking to the counter, grabbing a sandwich, biting into it, and spitting out the bite as these words are said. A deeply symbolic action, played, as so many things in the Cameron oeuvre, for comic relief.
I know all about deeply symbolic actions. The voiceover continues.
Horehound: Linger owed me. Owes me. I broke Linger in, when he was a raw recruit. Steered him clear of the cops on the take, the ones who lifted reefer from suspects, the ones who took favors from the local prosties. And here he is, feeding me mayonnaise and pickles and calling it lunch. Things were going to change. God help me.
Horehound takes the sandwich he bit out of and throws it in the trash as the screen fades to black. The commercial interregnum is well-placed here, as it affords me the opportunity to hold forth, if only briefly, about some of the stepping and fetching I myself have done, in order to fit into a community that rejected me.
Shortly after the termination of my employment, I found myself besieged by well-wishers, with their cheery e-mails and their invitations to bleak dinners in bleaker bistros. Against my better judgment, I accepted one of these invitations. It wasn’t like anything else was going well, given that I had no job outside of the retail sector, and no hope of further academic employment in the immediate future.
I had maintained a certain distance from my co-workers, and if you’d ever met them, you wouldn’t blame me. There were two of them who actually showed for this so-called get-together. Two. Another composition adjunct from Thailand, a slight man who walked as if racked by arthritis, and a visiting lecturer, a rotund gentleman who taught for, as he put it, “shits and giggles.”
We agreed to meet at a local “brewing company” where the burgers were greasy, the waitresses were slatternly, and the ambiance was disastrous. Some Eric Clapton live CD was playing, and it seemed to have played on continuous loop since the establishment opened, Clapton forever warbling about his dead son or his affinity for domestic pisswater beer, or whatever.
But I wasn’t there for heart disease, venereal disease, or aural lobotomy. I was there to talk business. Nothing personal, just business.
I gamely struggled through the small talk the men tried to engage in with me. Well, yes, of course pedagogy is important, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and of course the students are primary and gee, whiz, I’m sorry your wife died, friend, buddy, brother, pal. All that ancillary blather, when all I wanted was key information.
It was my theory that the fix was in. That the decision to let me go was part of a concerted plan, a twisted, sordid plot brought forth by people threatened by Mal Couture. It was my theory that there was a loop ? who knows if it was loose enough to include these two hangers-on ? made of rough cord and designed to fit snugly around my masculine neck.
I asked my erstwhile colleagues if they’d seen anything, if they’d heard anything. But according to them, there was nothing to see and nothing to hear. No smoking gun emails. No deep throat voice mail messages. Just stagnant puddles outside the door of the English Department that these two lapped up and called Moet. Under the pretense of going to the bathroom ? bad bowels, I told them ? I left the dinner before dessert wasn’t even served. Though the Thai left a number of messages for me under the pretense of me “paying my share”, I felt that it was best for me to maintain a distance from him for purposes of reclaiming my personal space, and I ignored calls from his home and work numbers until finally activating call block days later.
And with that, the first episode of Concerned Citizen resumes, with a shot of a Kindergarten-aged albino female riding a training-wheeled bicycle on a deserted residential street. As well, there’s a voiceover from an unseen Horehound.
Horehound: Friends! Not all of us have children, but all of us have concern for the safety of youngsters from Walla Walla to Hialeah, and all points in-between!
A shot of the child’s bicycle wobbling down the street, in spite of the training wheels theoretically ensuring its balance. Any number of components of this scene have metaphoric implications.
The child, practically translucent, representing youth unsullied by countercultural pressures. The bicycle, an unmotorized vehicle, a stand-in for the sort of simpler time subdivision planners allude to when trying to sell homes and plots in their latest planned communities.
The training wheels, wobbly in themselves, perhaps an allusion to our world itself. Spinning forever out of control, as I am spinning out of control. Jobless, friendless, bereft.
Horehound: You can’t control other people’s children, but you can control your own actions. Be careful when on any roadway, as you never know who may be out there!
The wobbling bicycle turns into a white driveway, which turns into an implacable wall of black. Then the scene shifts, as expected, back to Linger’s living room. Linger is asleep in the easy chair, as Horehound takes the platter with three remaining sandwiches back to the kitchen. As the bumper music ? light, frilly jazz ? comes to an end, we hear a human voice.
Television Announcer: A great game we’ve just seen! Dodgers win 4-3 in ten innings….
The voice of the announcer fades as Horehound enters the kitchen. He stands with the platter of sandwiches next to the trash can for a moment, trying but failing to commit to discarding the leftovers. Lingering, in a manner of speaking, before his voiceover starts.
Horehound: Linger had been out since the fifth inning. I, of course, had stayed up for the entire game. The moon was starting to rise outside of the kitchen window, and I thought of what night might bring.
Horehound covers the plate of sandwiches with tinfoil. One is reminded of Eliot’s Prufrock here, in that Horehound is “deferential… glad to be of use.”
Horehound: I considered calling some old flames, though I knew that some of the flames no longer burned. It occurred to me that this city perhaps wasn’t my own anymore. That I might as well be a stranger in town.
Horehound strips the tinfoil from the plate and begins to wrap each sandwich in foil instead. On a somewhat tangential note, “Stranger in Town” was the lead track from Grant Cameron’s 1957 self-titled album. The disc received uniformly bad reviews and sold less than ten thousand copies.
Horehound: As I wrapped the last sandwich, I heard a chair creak in the living room. Linger was finally roused from his slumber, and my opportunity to find a date for the evening had slipped away, at least momentarily.
Jazz so cool it’s frostbitten plays. Just as Linger enters the kitchen, Horehound has his head buried in the refrigerator.
Linger: Digging for something to eat, eh?
An edge of sarcasm in Linger’s voice. The tone of a father upbraiding an overweight son, perhaps.
Horehound: No, just putting this stuff away. Figured that there was no reason to keep it out any longer.
Leaving aside the problems implicit in leaving mayonnaise at room-temperature in the open air, we can notice an essential contradiction between the edge in Horehound’s voice and the slightly overdone smile on his face. The melding of thevoice and the smile creates an effect akin to that of a wolf baring teeth.
Linger: No reason? Poppycock!
Horehound raises his eyebrows in reaction to the stridency in Linger’s voice. Central to the scene is the tension mounting in response to the reorganization of the power structure.
Horehound: Come on, buddy, talk some sense and cut the drawing-room talk. What’s going on? You got us some girls coming over?
Horehound puts the sandwiches away, a beatific glow on his face. The “gonna get laid” glow, indigenous to all men, white-collar or blue, employed or not, broken or not.
Linger: Something better, brother. Something that’ll be the cure for what ails you! Poker!
Horehound looks at Linger skeptically.
Horehound: Poker? Come on, Ray. We are ? I was ? a Vice Cop. Who in their right minds are going to play poker with us?
Linger returns the skeptical glance with a stare that borders on baleful, as the screen fades to the perfect pitch black of narratorial reminiscence.
Despite the disaster-plagued dinner with my former colleagues, I couldn’t shake my feeling of having “unfinished business” with certain students I had taught. I’m not a fool. I understand, really, how disgraceful my firing was. That I undoubtedly was a running joke with certain students who weren’t getting A’s in my class as well as with certain in the faculty and administration.
Academia is a closed society. That’s the nature of the beast. That said, even in my limited role, I saw ? and see ? myself as a gatekeeper between an oft-inhospitable educational establishment with its rules and its obligations and its students. The young souls entrusted to us, with their brave hearts, with their kind souls.
With their sweet asses. I thought to myself that there was no reason now to maintain a barrier between myself and certain of my charges, those who had smiled and flipped their hair in my direction when I smiled back. No reason at all.
Linger: Some of them you know, some of them you don’t yet.
The air was damp and chill on the evening I decided to make the first call to a former student. She wasn’t exactly dynamite, or even a bottle rocket, but she was a safe bet, I thought. The type of student who isn’t as “smart” as others in the class, but whose proclivity for making her teachers father figures made her, if not a favorite, then at least a subject of conjecture and conversation.
We agreed to meet at a bar near [University Name Withheld]. After we ended the conversation, I wondered if perhaps this wasn’t the wisest course of action. I had been fired, after all. I could only imagine the possible embarrassments if another student ? or God forbid, a colleague ? saw me on their turf after I had been forcibly removed.
But I visited with Jim Beam for a bit, and concluded that I was better off kicking against the pricks, as they say. Fuck it. Let the bastards know that Mal Couture was still a force to be reckoned with. I even showed up a few minutes early, symbolizing my deep, steadfast commitment to my stand.
Horehound: You’re being very coy. Is there something you’re hiding?
I was a few drinks into my tab already when Meg walked in. A skinny thing, sure, but with blowjob lips and a can-do attitude. Her dress was thin, black, and clingy, and I felt her eyes pulse toward me even as I pretended not to notice her outside the window, saying her hellos to regulars, preparing to impart hopefully more singular greetings unto me.
When she entered, she came up behind me and left the hint of vanilla on the back of my neck with the aforementioned lips. I felt a stirring someplace inside of me, and I wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol or something more primal.
Linger: Brock, what exactly would I have to hide? It’s a weekend game of cards, for Pete’s sake. At first, small talk that merits barely more than summary. Good to see you. You’re looking great. None of those things they said were true, were they. Of course not, you know how things get blown out of proportion. In the midst of life, we are in debt, et cetera. This went on for some minutes, or some drinks, whichever you prefer. I preferred drinks, and found myself toddling and wobbling to the men’s room as the evening went on, feeling Meg’s gaze warm me from behind each time. Even at my most alcohol-impaired, however, she was nothing if not kind to me, even telling me once that I had beautiful eyes. I couldn’t remember the last time anyone had told me anything on me was beautiful. I kissed her on the cheek and thanked her, and began to wonder if Meg was my reward for the tribulations alluded to elsewhere in this document. Despite the wrinkles on her face ? 30 years on her would be like 40 on someone who didn’t quite “live” as much ? she was a catch. A girl to do Sunday crosswords with, to cook breakfast with, to hold and to say I Love You to when she’s having bad dreams. But here, as there, I’m saying too much.
Horehound: Ray, I don’t know. I’m just not myself right now. Maybe I should raincheck the card game and go home, huh?
Brock’s apprehension mirrors my own, as I struggle with the idea of imposing my own experience on what purports to be a dispassionate analysis of Concerned Citizen. Though I do feel that my experience matters here, as it sheds insight into my identity and my perspective, I think it might be best for all parties concerned if I just go ahead and complete this entire story here rather than do an injustice to the serious work at hand:
As the tab mounted and the drinks became easier to swallow with practice and the repetition that implies, Meg began to sway a bit. Something of a feat, given that we were both sitting down. Curiously, her swaying found her moving ever closer to me.
I didn’t think I was a fool. I didn’t think it was foolish to ask her if I could walk her home. I didn’t think of a lot of things.
The curiosity of her making an animated cell call before staggering to her apartment with her arm locked in mine. The ease with which I maneuvered her to her futon ? in a room where candles were already lit ? and divested her of her raiments. Stripped naked, it was too easy for me to work my tongue into her folds and to taste of life and youth for what seemed like the first time.
She was a dead lay, as it went, but that didn’t occur to me either. All I heard was fuck me, fuck me, fuck me daddy. All I heard was the crashing of her words against the alcohol and the rocks in my head. I went in unprotected and found myself declaring love to her, though for all I knew she was checking her watch. She was quiet, too quiet to be surging toward orgasm. I came and there was blackness. When I came to, a note, a short message.
“I gave you AIDS, motherfucker. You false-teeth, toupeed, potbellied ratbastard. Die.”
As I said earlier, she wasn’t a smart girl in the academic sense. Note the myriad mechanical problems in her message. That said, she stung me pretty good, didn’t she?
Linger: Nonsense, friend. You’ve got to play through the pain. Like the pros.
Linger pats Horehound on his shoulder as bumper music plays. The scene then cuts to Horehound and Linger sitting at a table with three other men.
Horehound Voiceover: The men came over as scheduled. All were neighbors of Linger, who assured me that none were apprised of my employment situation. As far as they knew, I managed a hardware store in the valley. That was the cover Linger had created for me, even before I asked for it.
A shot of each of the three heretofore unseen men at the table. An elderly cottonhaired caucasian, long and gaunt as an alley cat. A short Chinaman, in the dark blue jacket and dusky workshirt legendary among repairers of appliances and public telephones. An Italian, squat but not as short as the Asian, his deep tan offset by his white t-shirt.
Music plays as Horehound speaks. A jazz arrangement, curiously somber for poker, more approprate for me. When I grabbed my clothes which had been sprayed by a dog or other creature fond of “marking its territory”. Or a bit later, on the way home, when I felt for my wallet and noticed it had been divested of its paper money. Or after that, perhaps, when I noticed a swastika had been shaved into the hair on my ass.
Horehound Voiceover: Linger likewise assured me that these men weren’t particularly adept card players. He said they could be taken, but not to take them too far. When pressed as to his exact meaning of that phrase, he declined to answer and I didn’t press.
The camera pans around the table as each men is dealt his hand, and as the music swirls into a percussive, propulsive frenzy. None of Linger’s guests bear cryptic poker faces, and it strikes me that this scene bears a metaphorical relationship with citizenry in general and the poker faces they must bear ? or prepare ? for their watchdogs with badges and guns.
More facial shots. The bemusement of the Italian whose supply of change has depleted. The Chinaman with rage bubbling like heated lamp oil, the old man whose wrinkles pucker with sorrow, as if he had been counting to turn a profit on the handling of cards in this “friendly game”.
The guests were jobbing hard. Linger’s pile was holding steady, which was a complete work given his bunco experience. The money had to be flowing somewhere, and a shot of Horehound’s face obviated any need to show his pile of coins.
Horehound’s grin was that of a man vindicated, who just spent his rent check on scratch-off tickets and actually saw them pay off. As the background tune rat-a-tat-tatted on past the players folding and cutting out one by one, walking by the plate of untouched sandwiches, we get shots of the departing Linger friends nodding curtly as they depart.
The implication is as clear as a Final Notice. There will be no follow-up games in Linger’s quiet home, with lights dim and cans of beer frosty-cold from the icebox. One by one, the boys file out, sacrificing Linger to the company, alone, of his former partner, Judas superimposed on John the Baptist, left with the evening, domestic beer, and a plate of sandwiches whose mayonnaise has turned never to turn again.
After the last man has left, the music stops dead on a horn hit, and Linger turns to his partner, eyes blazing, jaw slacked in disbelief.
Linger: Brock, tell me what that was about before I throw you out.
Linger begins to shuffle the deck of cards, but botches his move in mid-cut and leaves the cards to lay on the table, as if abandoning them like legless Gypsy children in the desert.
And I too have been left abandoned. Despite the very grave message Meg left me with, there was still the feeling of having been special enough to at least be thought of. My other attempts to secure interludes with girls I had taught bore no fruit, and I was forced to consider other means of letting amor balm my wounded psyche.
Horehound: Buddy, I thought your boys could handle themselves just a little bit. Besides, it’s penny-ante anyway. What’s the big deal?
Horehound’s eyes, cut downward, suggest that he knows exactly what the big deal is. I recognize the shame as that I bore in my own, when I did what they euphemistically dub “tomcatting around”, “playing the field”, or “shacking and shagging”.
At least, my intent was to successfully philander. At my heart, however, I was a failure on that front. My charms were transparent and undesired, trinkets from a gumball and bauble dispenser in front of some grim piece of Big Botch Targetechture.
But I digress, and I realize that. Just a moment, though, to reflect on the myriad failings that came when I began to date ? or attempt to ? women from the “outside”. Bagel shop doyennes with their craggy smiles and seabreeze breath. Waitresses whose teeth lie black and dead like exhausted bulbs on motel vacancy signs. The single mothers, with houses smelling over microwave popcorn and urchinshit of death itself, who implore you to hold them for just an hour. For just another fucking hour.
And I have heard these stories and lived through these scenes, and there is very little salvation or solace in the experience or the insight I’ve gained from it.
Linger: You know what the big deal is, Brock. You’re a screw-up. I covered for you and carried you for ten years, brother, and that time is done. And tonight proves why.
The camera holds on Horehound, whose face trembles as his jitter-jat hand reaches for a smoke. Horehound lights the stick with alacrity, as if hoping the rich, smooth taste of Chesterfield 120s will afford some scant solace for the degradation his character has endured. A loss of status, of purpose, of structure. A loss all too much like my own.
Horehound: I played the game to win, Ray. You understand ? I always play to win. I always play my way!
Horehound’s voice shaky like said Chesterfield, like his future, like my present. I know that this project isn’t “about me”, as the kids say. But even as I type those words, I know it is about me. Concerned Citizen could be to me what Professional Wrestling was to Barthes or the Panopticon to Derrida. I wish there were some way to apologize for that ? it would be simpler if one could simply cleave the researcher from what he researches, as simply as yolk and white by a master chef.
But it’s never that simple. I am destined to be defined by this, my most ambitious work of all, twinning my fate with that of a fictional cop. Such irony. But not nearly as ironic as me having to do this kind of work, just for the chance of perhaps getting back in the academic game, of overcoming the blotches on my resume, and so forth.
Linger: Shut your trap!
Linger’s face is contorted in rage. His fists are balled up and he is in a fighting stance, and we see here that Concerned Citizen, in certain respects, isn’t quite as simple as Badge and Gun.
Which is not an endorsement of the politics or “lifestyle choices” of either program.
Horehound: Not my fault your friends couldn’t take the heat! It was a friendly game, Ray, and damned if I was going to throw-
Horehound matches the fighting stance with one of his own, but the former partners are only jawing at this point.
Linger: I am telling you now, shut your mouth, brother!
A long shot here of both men, circling around the Linger livingroom until Horehound’s back is at the door. Martial rhythms play as two men in matching gray suits sneak silently into the front door of the Linger home, a sneaking to which Horehound is oblivious, as he is to the secreting of a needle from an interior pocket of one of the men’s suits, as he is also oblivious to the needle entering his arm just before the screen fades to black.
The men in the suits, like all demons, resurface again, and will be the death of Horehound. Eventually.