[A bit if weirdness I imagined while watching the yuppie crowds at Monterey Beach.]
All Rights Reserved © 1999 Thomas W. Day
On a hot Saturday afternoon, a man sat on Cannery Row's sidewalk, near the Monterey Aquarium. The lone unconventional in a conventional place.
In most California cities on summer weekends, prime sidewalk space is covered by street vendors, musicians, jugglers, comedians, beggars, and counter- culture types. Monterey has exiled these misfits to be seen only in comedy shops and bars and mostly-hidden alleys. Serious outcasts live in halfway houses and derelict buildings, their belongings stored in grocery carts. Monterey is a very neat city. Some people clean their homes the same way: little crud under the rug, big crud under the bed.
The man on the sidewalk was an aberration. He was clean, well dressed, and out of the way. The Monterey's Finest would ask him to move, or move him, if he didn't get up and buy something soon.
The man on the sidewalk sat lotus-crossed-legged with an expensive looking, triangular, cloth bag in his lap. His back was against the doorway of an abandoned fish processing plant. He was out of the flow of traffic and bothering no one. He stared straight ahead. He sat quietly. He said nothing and did nothing to attract attention.
He drew a crowd anyway. As when one person stares at the sky, others look up, when one person stopped and looked down at the man on the sidewalk, others stopped and looked down. The longer he sat, the larger his crowd grew. People were drawn to his aura; and to looking down on him.
After a crowd of twenty tourists had gathered around his dingy alcove, he seemed to become aware of their existence. He smiled up at their expectant faces and said, "Welcome to my first performance."
His hands had been resting, open palms up, on his knees. He drew them to the bag resting on his lap. He ran the zipper around the bag and laid it open. The bag was sheepskin-lined and it contained a blue-black, small-caliber, automatic pistol. Using the soft, sheep-fuzz surface of the bag as a work table, he turned the gun so that it pointed away from the crowd. The end of the barrel rested against his navel. He picked up a small cardboard box that was also in the bag and slid it open. It contained dozens of small bullets, nested alternately slug up and slug down. He took three bullets from the box. He removed the clip from the gun and pulled on a button on the side so the bullets could be dropped into a slot on the end. He slid the clip back into the gun. The gun had remained in his lap while he loaded it. His hands had touched the gun only enough to slide the clip into the gun.
The crowd realized that they were standing in front of a man with a loaded gun and they came to life. "What are you going to do?" "Let's get out of here, he's crazy!" "You can't have a loaded gun on the streets of Monterey!" "Somebody should call a cop!" A dozen foreigners said similar things in foreign languages. Or maybe they said completely original things that nobody, besides their companions, understood. The crowd backed away from him and a few of the hoard started to walk quickly down the street.
The man looked into the crowd and said, "Get with it people, I'm an actor. This is theatre. Art. Haven't you ever been to San Francisco? Don't you go to plays, see movies, or watch TV? Don't be so reactionary." His reassurance quieted the crowd and they moved closer again. The people who had started for higher ground stopped and returned to the audience, except a few who didn't understand the actor's English.
The actor was confident. He had presence. He was good looking. He was the only entertainment on the street without a cover charge.
The actor picked up the gun with both hands, carefully keeping the barrel from pointing at the crowd; which meant the gun was always pointing at him.
Someone said, "Be careful with that thing."
The actor spoke without looking at his audience, "This is theatre. Do you know you can still see Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, Ronald Reagan and Rock Hudson in movies? They died in real life, but they are still alive in the theatre. They use real guns and real bullets in movies, but nobody really gets killed. Likewise, I am not a real person, I'm an actor. I can not really die. No one can really die in theatre."
A man in the crowd said, "Looks like a real gun to me. Says Ruger on the barrel and the bullets are Remingtons. Those people make real guns and real bullets. You damn nutso, keep this up and I'm going to call a real cop."
The actor looked into the crowd toward the analytical voice. His expression was tired and pained, his voice was hard and bitter. "This is Art. Use your imagination. Stretch yourself. Nothing can happen without your imagination. You think you see a gun. You imagine you feel tension. Illusion. I have no props, no stage, no supporting actors, no script. I can't see for you. I can't make you nervous. You are doing it all for yourself. This is the purest theatre. I have only you. I only need you, my audience, to make it work. Actors need an audience like bacon needs a butcher. Like hoboes need railroads. Like politicians need graft. Like young-upwardly-mobiles need success. Like love needs hate."
The actor's hands never left his lap while he talked. He delivered his speech without any major shift in emotion. He had the presence of an actor turned politician. He could have sold icicles to Eskimos.
He raised the gun to his face. His hands pressed together with the gun between them, his right thumb on the trigger. The crowd became nervous again. He quieted them by humming a melody. It might have been "I can do anything better than you can." He punctuated the song by asking for group participation. He told them to, "Imagine the ways I could off myself. Think of the possibilities. I could shoot myself in the chest; messy and slow death." He pointed the gun's barrel toward his chest. "Nobody who really wants to die does a body shot. That kind of drama is only for the types who hope to get saved. Bleed a lot. Rush to the hospital. Get enough sympathy to feel loved."
"Close your eyes and imagine with me." He hums some more. Anything you can do, I can do better, I can do anything better than you.
"I could 'eat the gun' like cops do. It's true, cops do it a lot. I guess they get sick of what they know and punch out. Probably the most popular way for cops to use a gun. Still messy, but very effective. Almost everybody who 'sucks the tube' only does it once." He moves the gun to his lips and kisses the barrel full on the mouth.
He hums softer, now. "I could blow out an eye. Almost nobody has the guts to shoot their own eye out. A real man dies that way, I guess." He looks down the barrel like a telescope, scanning the horizon.
His humming becomes hypnotic. "I could be traditional and make new pair of ear drums. You know, poke a hole from side to side. I could even enlarge the old ear holes." With only his right hand holding the gun he pretends to clean his ears with the gun.
He stops the music. "Keep your eyes closed." They did. "Imagine the ultimate live performance. Imagine that I really kill myself. Imagine how I would do it. You may think of new ways to use this weapon. Ways I have never thought of."
They did. They imagined holes appearing in nearly all of the vital parts of his body. Some do it with their eyes closed. Some can imagine with their eyes wide open. He bounces off of the wall with the back of his head blown off. He slowly bleeds to death from a small wound in the belly. He shoots himself in the ear and brains spray from the opposite ear. He puts the gun on top of his head and blows the end out of his big toe. He shoves it up his ass and his dick inflates until it pops like a balloon. The variety is as wide as the crowd is large. Their imaginations are stretched and they are entertained.
The man who identified the gun and the bullets did not need help imagining ways a gun can kill a man. He did not need to imagine what he had lived through. He knew. He had been to war and he had seen bullets enter bodies. He could see the flesh part as the bullet dug an insignificant entry hole. He could see the cavernous exit hole and the strings of innards following the bullet like confetti flowing from a gory office window. He imagined the actor's expression as his life left with the bullet. And he could hear the screams of the men he had seen die. They all screamed from the actor's mouth. He wanted to close his eyes to the death all around him, but his eyes were already closed. He turned away and opened his eyes. He had enough of Theatre. It was too much like real life.
After the performance, the remaining audience put money into the open sheepskin-lined gun bag on the actor's lap and tell him what a great artist he is. The actor smiles up at them and thanks them for their participation. He tells them what a great audience they were and how he loves them all. "Thank you. Thank you. You were wonderful. You were. I love you all! You've made this a great moment in my career."
The crowd broke up and the tourists look for the next attraction. Many of them are hungry and the seafood restaurants draw their attention. Some of the tourists are from Silicon Valley or San Francisco and are on diets: they look for something to buy.
Fresh traffic passes the doorway and these tourists are horrified. The walls and sidewalk of the doorway are covered with blood. Pasty gray chunks of veined-Jello are splattered against the left side of the door. The actor is slumped against the wall. His eyes are open and blood drains out of his mouth. His gun is back in his lap. His legs are still crossed. The money in his bag is drenched in blood.
"Call the police, someone has been shot," they scream. One of the tourists at the tailend of the actor's audience looks back with disgust and says, "Get with it, people. Don't you know Theatre when you see it?"