(J01E06) Red Letter Day – III

“I think we might be misreading the situation,” I said to the girl a bit later. “What if those dudes simply ran out of roaches?”

We were sitting in an auto, heading to a broken-down amphitheater on the old campus.

“Don’t you wanna know why they cut you a new one?”

“Not if it involves waking up in hospital again.” I leaned into the gap between us and rolled a fresh one from the dust in the cigar box.

Dude. Just stay sober for fifteen minutes.”

“I’m in the midst of a marathon,” I patted down the sticky bit. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“You know, I remember campus being mellower,” she said after a bit. “No gratuitous violence or multi-day parties. It’s like you people don’t want to live anymore!”

“Well, it’s a pretty popular marathon,” I coughed. The stuff was better than anything I had smoked in years. “Are you sure you’re from these parts?”

“Nice try, mister. No hints.”

“I was just asking!”

“Save it for your fellow brain surgeons, Jimmy,” she took the stub from me and flicked it out into the open air. “We’re here.”

*

Your mileage may vary on most of the people I describe here.

Babli is a legend among cops, the Crow a dreadful myth fluttering down the rafters of campus; but outside their circles they’re both relatively unknown (as they’d no doubt like to be).

The meeting we were crashing, however, was the Red-and-Black Sermon, and the sliver of card belonged to the Reverend Ma’am himself.

We were in over our heads, like two Charmanders left overnight on a waterslide

I mean, I’d spent enough time around other people’s televisions to catch my share of Godmen, and enough effort in the pursuit of literature to absorb some radical feminist thought; but never had I seen anyone walk a tightrope between the two as confidently as the androgynous man in black currently pacing the stage before his flock.

This was probably how cults got started – and the scary bit was how much sense he made up there.

*

-Let me just stop you right there.

I let him. The fact that he managed to saunter in and sneak a peek is most promising: the throb in my leg is gone, my ribs less xylophone than kid-poking-a-stick-at-someone-else’s-chest.

God bless pain medication.

-Sure, Mandy. Sup?

-This is the Reverend Ma’am you’re talking about. 

-How many people do you know by those two honorifics?

-Okay, first of all, we can’t touch her.

-I’m not asking you to.

-Good, because I don’t have the authority. And second: we can’t touch her.

-Easily fixated, aren’t we?

-I mean the Reverend Ma’am is a woman, Jimmy. Female of the species and all that.

-Really?

-What did you think the Ma’am stands for?

-Macadam? Malayalam?

-Goddammit, should I cut off your meds again?

-You’re no fun, Mandy. Ever wonder why I call you that?

-Because you’re an asshole with a reckless disregard for authority?

-That, and it gets a rise out of you.

-What does that.. wait, you were purposefully planning to antagonize her?

-People reveal a lot more of themselves when angry.

-And by people you mean the Reverend Ma’am.

-You must really enjoy saying her name out loud.

-You must really enjoy eating through straws.

*

We caught roughly the last twenty minutes of the sermon but it was the conclusion that really stuck with me.

“They need us for reproduction, so they commodify our bodies. And we let them. They need to control the value of their commodity, so they put a high premium on ‘virginity’. And we let them. They need our complicity to uphold their precious power structure, so they continually reinforce how gentle the woman in the cage is, how tender. And. We. Let them.

“We let them chain us to the kitchen sink. We let them control our articulation. And then we tell them, sure, go ahead and think.

“For us!” The entire gathering called as it scrambled to its collective feet. A lot of them were women but I caught more than a few beards among the disembodied heads floating over the red-and-black sea of fabric.

“For whom these stone walls, this glass ceiling?”

“For us!”

“And for whom do we fight?”

“For us!”

“And for whom is the night?!”

“For us!!”

A rousing crescendo in a hundred voices drowned out the tall lackey having a seizure over his keyboard.

The Reverend glowered into the middle distance, walked back to the podium, blew on the big mic.

The resultant shriek of interference shut everyone up.

“The language is their friend. The terms of engagement are defined by them. And that is fine. It simply makes us the guerrilla monkeys to their demon horde, the Rebel Alliance to their Sith Empire. We will subvert the discourse. We will hit them right where it hurts, and again, and again. And we will not stop until we regain control.”

*

There was no mention of kicking strangers in the groin, no militant choir ending the sermon with an angry rendition of some popular tune (the tall lackey on keyboard appeared stoned or dead or both).

These words I attribute to Ma’am were transcribed from a faulty memory that renders everything into so much pseudo-erudite bluster. But right there, in the ruins of some past generation’s heated debates, the tiny person in the Undertaker getup radiated more conviction than any orator I’d met outside YouTube.

For a moment I almost let pot-fueled geniality shout down the misgivings in my gut.

“That was heavy,” the girl standing beside me breathed.

“I think that dude might be onto something,” I agreed.

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