A lot of people have been asking me just how I got to be such a miserable and embittered bastard.
Well, there is a reason. See, once upon a time in a land far, far away, I used to live in this town. I shall refrain from naming the town, as I believe the authorities still have an arrest warrant out for me over a small misunderstanding involving a machete, a bottle of gin and a town council meeting on the question of pub closing times.
I have decided to render the story of what occurred in this town so many years ago, which shall go some way to explaining my demeanour, in the form of a short story as part of my bid for the Nobel Prize for Literature, so cruelly denied me up to this point despite my profound work in the field of poetry.
By Carlo Sands
Then they locked me in the tower and I don’t know why. I mean, I used to walk the town streets in shorts despite not really having the legs for it, but still.
Or maybe it was the drinking. Staggering through the darkness and kicking poles for fun. Lucky I had some sturdy boots or I would have broken more toes than I did.
I did stab a man once, maybe that’s it. I stabbed him amid the stench of urine and vomit in the alley behind a pub. There was a fight over a game of pool and everyone knows if you sink the white while on the black you lose. In the alley, as we sought to resolve the dispute, it was kill or be killed.
I watched him lie there in a growing pool of dark red in the dim light from the pub kitchen, swigging gin. A dog ran past and, nerves on end, I threw the bottle after it. Fucking thing was two thirds full.
But how many unsolved murders are there in this godforsaken town? It can’t be that, I’d recall a trial, surely.
Or maybe it was my tilt for the office of the President of the United States. Such a lovely building, the White House. But I lost, only just but I lost.
Now, I have no problem with them locking up a past or even sitting US president, goddamn criminals the lot of them. But they can’t lock you up for trying, surely, not for the crimes you would have committed as Commander in Chief of the greatest army ever to slaughter for freedom.
Maybe it was my new wave haircut I used to have or the poetry I wrote when I was 21 and old enough to know better. Can they do that? I don’t mean should they, but can they?
All I knew is I was in the fucking tower. And it was fucking dark.
I had missed something somewhere.
* * *
What happened next I could never have guessed.
I was locked up for god knows how long. It felt like five lifetimes, or being forced to listen to entire album of folk protest songs.
Then one day light streamed into my cell as some bastard burst through the door in a dramatic flourish. “Come on!” he yelled, “let’s go!”
He was dressed head to toe in red and carried a card table.
“Who the fuck are you?” I asked. “What the hell is going on?”
“It’s the Forces of Evil”, he half-whispered, leaning towards me. I wasn’t sure if they were the ones who locked me up or wanted me free.
Before I could ask, he yelled “Let's go!” again and handed me the card table to carry.
We exited through the busted door and made our way through dark, damp and twisting corridors that never seemed to end.
My nerves weren’t helped by my liberator insisting on stopping every ten metres to set up the card table and put a badge board on top, offering small, cheap badges with a variety of political slogans.
“You never know when people might want a badge,” he said. “Hmmm”, he added with what I swear was a note of sadness, “I guess the ‘Free Carlo’ ones are out of date.”
“Not yet, let’s fucking move”, I said, before he thought too hard about the potential loss of revenue associated with my freedom and changed his mind.
Finally, we emerged from the tower and stumbled out into the bright streets of the town.
As I got my bearings I was stunned by what I saw. I left my red-clad liberator at a corner to hawk a petition and wandered in awe.
Things had changed in my absence and I didn’t have a fucking clue what was going on.
On the main street, bankers and beggars were dancing the waltz together, out of time with what seemed a plague of buskers playing “Stand by Me” and massacring Neil Young.
Literally on one corner. A gang of buskers had Neil Young tied to a chair and were trying to torture him to death with renditions of “Heart of Gold”.
Town treasury officials were walking the streets, with baseball caps in outstretched hands asking passerbuyers for money.
“Hey man”, one asked me, “could you spare a couple of bucks for the train?”
“What the fuck is with the bankers?” I asked, watching one dance the salsa with a dishevelled homeless man near a busker 13 minutes into a version of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”
“Trying to trying to look like they’re poor”, the official said. “Seriously, man, can you help us out with two bucks?”
I shook my head and walked further. I stopped to watch journalists giving head to defence department officials on park benches, the journos stopping every now and then to type furiously on their iPads. I guessed they were taking down official statements, though I am not sure what value there was in “Oh, yeah just there!” and “Yes! With the tongue!”.
I assumed “Fuck! Watch the teeth!” was off the record.
The town was always a disturbing place, but this seemed insane. I found no obvious means of escape. The train was running 16 years late and all buses had disappeared after they were flogged off for two scratchie tickets.
There was some excitement, I was told by a bored looking old man in need of a shave behind the ticket counter at the train station, when one of the scatchies won a free scratchie. Unfortunately, the third scratchie won nothing.
Fuck, I thought, I need a drink.
My local, I discovered, had been renamed. It was now called the Four Standard Drinks Or More Is Binge Drinking Hotel.
When I tried to enter some lump of beef dressed in black with an earpiece stopped me and grabbed my hand. The bastard stamped a bar code onto my palm.
“What the fuck is this?” I asked calmly.
He stared at me. “You buy a drink and bar staff scan it. Once you have had four standard drinks it starts beeping to alert security.”
He stared in greater wonder. “Then we come over and beat the shit out of you and throw you out on your alcohol-abusing arse!”
A loud repeated beeping broke out from just inside the door. The bouncer said “Excuse me” and went inside, followed in quick time with a sharp cry of pain and then a body flying out the door.
A young man dressed in a collared shirt, trousers and smart casual shoes picked himself up slowly and stumbled away.
The bouncer came out and resumed his stance, feet part, hands behind his back. His face appeared expressionless behind his sunglasses.
I glanced apprehensively as I walked past him into the pub. I regretted I didn’t have my machete, seized when they locked me up for reasons that remained a mystery.
Inside, I looked around with growing dismay.
It was no longer dingy, but brightly lit. The old, scarred wooden tables and chairs were gone, replaced with shining stainless steel surfaces for as far as I could see.
And the uncomfortable-looking shining white swivel seats were occupied by young men and women in smart casual dress engaged in what, as far as I could tell, was disturbingly polite and restrained conversation.
The jukebox was no longer in its dusty corner and the sound system was playing Nickelback.
With a growing sense of horror, I approached the bar. I asked a thoroughly bored young woman, who I picked for an English backpacker, for a schooner.
“Light or midstrength?” was the uninterested response in a Manchester accent.
I was staring at her in shock when my ears caught a sound I hadn’t noticed over the plaintive wailing from the Nickelback CD. Someone was beeping from the very far corner of the pub.
I looked over into the pub’s only dark corner and made out a shape throwing back the contents of a small glass. I looked around but saw no security rushing over to deal with the issue. The bartender kept looking blank.
I started to walk over and the figure noticed me.
“Carlo!” she cried amid the beeps. “Good to see you! Have a drink, you’ll need one!
She yelled at the bartender for two scotches, which the woman dutifully began to pour.
“Magda!”, I said in some surprise, pulling up a white swivel seat. “It has been a long time.”
“It sure fucking has”, she said, beeping. “You’re out of the tower? Some big fucking changes.”
She shook her head as the drinks arrived. The bartender walked away as quickly as she arrived, ignoring the mad siren going off on Magda’s right hand.
I took a big gulp of the scotch and it burned delightfully down my throat. Such a long time between drinks.
“So how come”, I asked as the English backpacker slotted back behind the bar, “they serve you proper booze and don’t toss you out?”
“Ha! They stopped trying after I decked two dozen bouncers and a squad of cops a couple of years back. Hang on.”
She shouted to the bartender and raised her hand. Dutifully, the bartender came over and ran a scan over Magda’s palm, silencing the beeping.
We were left with the sound of Chad Kroeger whining, with an affected growl, about having been down the bottom of every bottle. Why such an occurrence was cause for whining escaped me.
I looked at Magda and she appeared to have not changed in however many fucking years I was locked away. Of indeterminable age, she had beautiful, flowing auburn hair, bright green eyes and arms like knotted tree trunks.
Once, with the courage only a serious pear cider binge can bring, I had suggested perhaps we could make our way home together when the pub closed. She laughed hysterically for about 15 minutes and then said, in her sweet and tender way, “It’s your fucking turn at the bar, you useless prick!”
“So what the hell is going on?” I asked as I took another deep gulp of scotch.
Her face darkened. “It’s the Forces of Evil.”
There was a silence, broken when Magda looked at her empty glass and shouted across the room: “MORE FUCKING SCOTCH!”
Then she turned back to me. “They saw you as a potential threat to their evil plans, so they had you locked up. Since you’re gone, their control over the institutions of power in this town has grown. Their power is now complete.”
“It is hell, Carlo,” she added and for the first time ever I sensed fear in her voice.
“Well, drink up”, she said when fresh glasses arrived. “Place closes at 7.30.”
“Gotta make sure citizens are well rested for their compulsory 5.30am jog to to the gym.”
“WHAT THE FUCK???”
“It’s alright”, Magda assured me. “You can crash at my place. The fuckers learned the hard way not to try and wake me before midday.”
On our way out, Magda stopped at the bar and ordered the bartender to get her a full bottle from the top shelf, a well-aged single malt scotch.
She turned to leave when a thought struck her and she turned back. “Oh, and that bottle of cheap gin down there for Carlo.”
Back at Magda’s, we sat up all night drinking and discussing plans. Things had to change. We could not accept this tyranny. The rich had bought the entire place and the poor, denied the most basic public services, were sober and fit.
It was a living nightmare.
The only choice was to resist, the only question was how.
“That activist who freed you,” Magda said. “We need his help.”
I was less than convinced, but Magda, swallowing the last drop of her scotch, called him up and invited him over for what she described as “the formation of a united front committee”.
He arrived and explained earnestly that he was there to attend the meeting as the official representative of the United Alliance of Popular Democratic Resistance of the Workers and the People (UAPDRWP).
He enquired as to the proposed program for the committee. We had worked this one out during the night.
Our revolutionary program was three simple points:
1) Immediate implementation of a revolutionary law that under no circumstances shall any busker play a Neil Young song unless said busker is capable of proving, via appropriate documentation, that he or she is, in fact, Neil Young. In the absence of being Neil Young, said busker shall be required under pain of death to SHUT THE FUCK UP.
2) Immediate repeal of all laws relating to the false scientific principle that a mere four standard drinks (less than three schooners) is “binge drinking”. All enforced “fitness” laws shall be repealed in the interests of general happiness.
3) Tax the rich to pay for decent public services abandoned or privatised during the reign of the Forces of Evil and an end to exploitation, injustice, discrimination, unfairness, slavery etc etc etc etc. (We kinda got bored during this one and it was really there for the benefit of the UAPDRWP rep.)
The UAPDRWP rep listened with interest and nodded.
“I shall have to consult my organisation”, he said and walked into the next room to make a call on his phone.
We caught snippets of the conversation.
“That’s because it is a FUCKING UNITED FRONT! We agree with point three, that is grounds to unite in order to ... but we need to relate to the masses and ... it is NOT a violation of our program, we can agree with key parts … well that is JUST ABSENTIONIST BULLSHIT and ... Listen, you fucking Bogdanovist arsehole ... FUCK YOU you can’t split, you’re FUCKING EXPELLED!”
He returned and informed us: “The UAPDRWP has agreed to the formation of a united front around the three points set out for the draft provisional program of the committee. We shall throw our full forces behind the campaign against the Forces of Evil.”
“Unfortunately,” he continued, “we have been weakened by a recent damaging split carried out by an irresponsible and fundamentally disloyal minority, but we have emerged stronger and more united.
“Of course, as a united front I feel obliged to point out that all forces involved retain full independence of propaganda and activity, including freedom for the fullest criticism where deemed necessary.”
That seemed fair to the two of us.
We decided the first course of action would be to stand myself in the approaching election for All Powerful Ruler of the Town on the agreed upon program. With that, the red-clad activist shook our hands and departed, saying something about an important stall to set up.
Magda went out and returned with fresh supplies of booze. I asked her what was the real value of involving the UAPDRWP, but she insisted I’d see.
And sure enough, by the following morning, a walk confirmed the entire town was covered with A3 posters in Impact font declaring the candidacy of Carlo Sands for All Powerful Ruler of the Town in the coming poll and spelling out the program.
So, the battle had been announced. The program proved wildly popular. T-shirts, bumper stickers and graffiti appeared as if out of nowhere with my name and a seemingly spontaneously adopted logo of a schooner of beer.
How would the Forces of Evil respond?
Come election day, polls suggested our campaign would score a run away victory. I cast my vote before the cameras, ballot in one hand, bottle of gin raised high in the other.
Surely, all there was to do was wait until the moment came for me to deliver my victory speech and accept the office of All Powerful Ruler of the Town.
I was enjoying a quiet pre-election victory drink at Magda’s when they came. It was a full-scale military operation. Heavily armed soldiers, tanks, fighter jets overhead, heavy artillery lined up and down the street and, we were told, the incumbent All Powerful Ruler of the Town was in his office with his finger on “the button”.
They stormed the house and a general covered with medals from the top collar of his military jacket to the bottom of his every-so-slightly flared khaki trousers informed me the election had been cancelled due to the discovery of a “threat to public security and basic human decency”.
Information had come to light, the general said, about a plot originating from this address and associated with my campaign. He refused to give details of the plot, insisting it was not appropriate for "mixed company".
I would have to go with them.
Magda jumped to her feet, empty scotch bottle in hand. She took out a platoon before eventually being subdued by a barrage of targetted cruise missile strikes.
I was dragged out and thrown into the back of an armoured vehicle. In a huge military convoy, we drove through the streets of the town. It was the aftermath of a one-sided war and dead bodies were strewn everywhere.
“We have restored order”, the general told me, his medals clanking noisily as he sat up straight.
“In fact,” he said with a small smile at the memory, “I have just come from an important media briefing on the matter.” This reminded him to do up his fly.
The Four Standard Drinks Or More Is Binge Drinking Hotel was burned out, which struck me as no great loss.
The buskers still played, “Summer of ‘69” seemingly a favourite, but the homeless danced alone.
They tossed me back into my cell in the tower and shut the repaired and reinforced door shut.
Here I was again, in the same dark fucking cell.
Only this time I wasn’t alone. Someone else’s voice broke the silence.
The UAPDRWP spokesperson said: “The problem was we made a strategic error, an electoralist deviation. We should have sought to rely on the self-organisation of the working class and based ourselves on the strength of their independent mass mobilisation.”
“Oh, shut the fuck up,” I said and tried to get some sleep.
'No can do this, no can do that, what the hell can you do my friend, in this place that you call your town'.