Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Manifest Density

You can't pass off a plutocracy as a democracy.

You can't trumpet the virtues of freedom and democracy abroad and vilify protesters at home.

You can't call yourself just while embracing injustice.

And you can't brag about having a free society when you don't.

You just can't.

* * *

After losing his job, 34 year old Mervin Mayfair moved back to his hometown and lived in a room above his parents' garage.

While away, he had heard through friends that the city and his old neighborhood had deteriorated over the years. Things were tough all over and Mervin remembered watching the city and neighborhood go through changes as he grew up.

One afternoon, he went to Anderson's Corner Store to buy a newspaper. Mervin wanted to look at the Want ads and get back to earning some money.

When he entered Anderson's Corner Store, he wondered if he'd walked into the wrong place. Gone were the coolers once filled with energy drinks. Gone were the racks of chips and snacks and chocolate bars and magazines and hamburger and hotdog buns. Gone were the cigarettes and lottery tickets and the canister of beef jerky on the counter.

Instead, there were a couple of sofas, love seats and armchairs, each occupied by women in their early twenties, all wearing halter tops and short-shorts.

A man with a pencil mustachio approached Mervin. The man grinned. "You came at a good time of day, friend," the man said. "You've got your pick of the litter."

"Litter?" Mervin said. "This is Anderson's Corner Store, right?"

"It certainly is," the man said.

"I'm here to buy a newspaper."

The man laughed. "We don't sell any newspapers, friend." He gestured to a red-haired woman lounging on a chaise nearby. "But Holly here will give you a blowjob for ten bucks."

Mervin left without a newspaper or a blowjob. His friends weren't kidding when they said the neighborhood was going to shit.

He walked down Main Street to Dawson's Gas Bar. There were no longer any pumps out front, but Mervin wondered if they still had newspapers and chewing gum and energy drinks inside.

When he entered, Mervin found the gas bar store had been cleared. The far side wall was filled with TV monitors tuned to horse racing, baseball, hydro plane racing, auto racing, boxing, mixed martial arts. There was a group of people sitting before the monitors cheering the sporting events.

Off to the side was a wicket surrounded by wire mesh. Inside the wicket sat an old woman.

"Is this Dawson's Gas Bar?" Mervin asked.

"Sure is," the old woman croaked in a smoker's voice.

"You don't sell gas anymore?"

"Nah, no gas."

"You don't sell chewing gum anymore?"

"No, none of that."

"You don't sell newspapers anymore?"

"No -- say, if you're looking for all that kind of stuff, why don't you try Anderson's Corner Store up the road?"

"I did, but it's not a corner store anymore, it's a whorehouse."

"You wanna place a bet?" the old woman asked.

Mervin shook his head and left.

As he walked along Main Street, he came upon Edmond's Furniture Store. Mervin did a double-take when he looked through the front windows: there was no furniture in the store, though it appeared to sell newspapers.

Mervin went in and found the day's newspaper. He looked around and saw rows of potato chips and snacks, chewing gum, energy drinks and beef jerky.

Mervin went to the counter to pay for the newspaper. Old Mr. Edmond was working the cash register. Mervin remembered him from years before when he, Mervin, played on a little league baseball team sponsored by Mr. Edmond.

"Mr. Edmond, how're you doing?" Mervin said.

Mr. Edmond didn't seem to recognize him. "Doing all right, thanks. Do I know you?"

"I used to play for the Edmond Furniture little league team," Mervin said.

"Oh, right, you've got a good memory."

"You don't sell furniture anymore?"

"Nah, nobody can afford it."

"How did you get into selling newspapers and chips and energy drinks?"

"Well, when Anderson's Corner Store turned into a whorehouse and Dawson's Gas Bar got into sports betting, it seemed like a natural opening in the marketplace."

"But if Anderson's Corner Store is a whorehouse, why isn't it called a whorehouse or something other than Anderson's Corner Store? Because it's not Anderson's Corner Store anymore."

"Interesting question."

"And if Dawson's doesn't sell gas anymore, and all you can do is bet on sports there, why is it still called 'Dawson's Gas Bar'?"

"Well, 'Gas Bar' sounds better than 'sports betting', doesn't it?"

"But it's not accurate."

"You said you played on the Edmond Furniture little league team?"

"Yeah, when I was about eleven."

"It's my lunch hour," Mr. Edmond said. "What do you say we go over to the Victory Luxury Lounge?"

"Sure, I could use some lunch."

Mervin and Mr. Edmond went down the sidewalk to the Victory Luxury Lounge. Mervin recalled that it as one of the fanciest restaurants in town, where many famous entertainers had performed over the years.

When they entered, Mervin was astonished to see the place was a complete dump: mismatched chairs at tables, the velour booths were bald and ripped, the leather booths all cracked and split. The placed smelled of urinal pucks and BO. It was a large place, which seemed even larger since the old expansive bar had been removed.

Behind a partition dividing the old seating area, there was a group of men cheering and betting on a cock fight.

"I thought you said we were going to get some lunch," Mervin said.

"No, I said that it's my lunch hour," Mr. Edmond said. "I always bet on the cock fights on my lunch hour."

After leaving the Victory Luxury Lounge, Mervin met the town's mayor out walking his dog. There was little grass for the dog to walk on and relieve himself. As the dog pooped on the pavement, Mervin said hello to the mayor.

"Say, your honor," Mervin said. "No disrespect intended, but why wouldn't you take your dog to the dog park?"

"That's used as a junk yard now," the mayor said. "It's not safe to walk the dogs amid all the jagged bits of metal from all the smashed and destroyed cars."

"Why is it still called 'The Dog Park', then, and not 'The Junk Yard'?"

"Because 'Dog Park" sounds so much better."

"I've noticed the same thing with businesses along Main Street," Mervin said. "Anderson's Corner Store is now a whorehouse. Dawson's Gas Bar is a betting hall. And the Victory Luxury Lounge is used for cock fighting. It's confusing when you don't call a thing what it is. Why doesn't anyone call these things what they are?"

"Because our town would look like it's turned into a pile of shit," the mayor said. His dog had finished pooping on the sidewalk, so the mayor gave Mervin a nod and continued along his way.

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