Chapter 17: Edge of the Looking Glass
"The Edge of the Looking Glass." Probably meant something about drugs. Dirk was unhappy. Sunday afternoons were understood to be family time, and we had planned to take the children to see Aladdin. When John called me Saturday night, I knew I couldn't refuse. I explained to Dirk that it was for an important cause (an AIDS benefit, John had said, organized by some friends of his). I couldn't say no to John. Although John would never show it, I knew he was proud and excited about the opportunity. For myself, I was eager to see them again. Although I'd seen Bill daily since the night he appeared at my door crying that Kim had dumped him, I'd had little news of the boys in the band. Rob had been out of school with the flu. I'd seen Ben in the halls, of course, but not to talk to. I was, pathetically, thrilled to hear John's voice when he called. If he'd asked me to sing, I don't think I could have refused. Luckily, all he wanted was an audience.
I've always enjoyed Chicago. The Edge of the Looking Glass was right off Michigan Avenue. I drove along the Magnificent Mile, admiring the strolling couples in their spring finery. I felt young, eager, enthusiastic. It would be a great show. Perhaps afterwards .... I disciplined my thoughts and searched for a place to park.
The club was housed in a huge, black, graffiti-covered warehouse. I paid my seven dollar entry fee and asked for a receipt. The girl who took my money looked at me as if she had never heard the word before. I tried to explain about charitable donations and grant funding, but gave up. As I moved to enter the club, a scantily-clad young woman put her hand on my shoulder. "Excuse me," she said. "I have to search you. Could you open your purse?"
I opened my purse and submitted to a desultory inspection of my coat pockets. At first I thought they were looking for recording equipment and was concerned they might confiscate my microcassette recorder, but it was invisible in the chaos of my handbag. When I reached the dance floor, however, I suspected that their concern was more for weapons than recording devices. I clutched my purse uneasily and went looking, as I always seemed to do at these events, for Rob.
He wasn't hard to find. I elbowed cautiously through the smoky, pungent crowd. When I finally reached the spot where I'd seen him, Rob was gone but John and Ben were there, talking to a man whose back was turned towards me. John smiled dazzlingly. Ben gave me a scornful look and turned away.
"Hey," said John. "This is our multi-talented sound man, Freddy Krueger."
The man who turned to face me bore a terrifying resemblance to the horror movie villain. I tried to control my expression. "How do you do?" I muttered. "I'm - ah - Janet Dawson."
"Freddy Krueger" extended his hand. I flinched involuntarily, half expecting razored claws at the ends of his fingers. He smiled. "Pleezta meetcha," he whispered hoarsely. Then he turned to John. "OK, if you guys are ready, you can start setting up. It sounds like they're done," he pointed, "upstairs. You can tell by the blood running down the walls. Seeya," he rasped. He winked at me and disappeared.
I shuddered. "Blood? Freddy Krueger?"
John laughed. "Who cares?" he replied. "Are you ready to rock and roll?"
"I just got here. What's this about blood?"
"Everything is an hour and a half late. There's some kind of church upstairs, and we can't start until they're done."
"Haha. More of your Christian cannibal humor."
I looked up to see a boy with electric blue hair and a saxophone case. "Hey, John," he said. "Where do you want the bubbles and the workbench and the saw?"
"Just put it behind the stage. Rob is back there cleaning everything up and making neat piles of shit and guarding everything so nobody steals our worthless crap. Janet, this is Jerry, the only real punk in our act."
"How do you do?" I said absently. "Punk?"
Jerry laughed cynically.
"You're such an ass," he said. "This crowd is going to hate us."
"Everybody hates us," John replied. "But they'll pay big bucks for your ass at the auction. They're all going to wonder if your hair is blue all over."
Jerry fixed me with a penetrating stare, but his eyes seemed to focus about a foot to my left. "What's an old bat like you doing here?" he demanded. "This is a hip and groovy place. You're nothing but a petunia in an onion patch here. Couldn't you find anything better to do? Don't you have children at home to take care of?" Jerry smiled blissfully at my earring.
"Jerry's our horn section and main bubble blower," said John.
"Hey, John!" Jerry exclaimed. "You've gotta see this, man. My dad left me this note! He stuck it under my door! It's incredible! It's unbelievable! It's got major song potential! Remember when we got busted by the Park Ranger for putting our raft in the retention pond? This is what he said!"
John read the note and began to laugh. "He put this under your door!?"
"Yeah! Isn't it great!"
"I hope you got permission to come here today, dude."
"Obviously. What do you think? Is this song material or what?"
John handed me the note.
JEREMIAH, you can use my cars only for:
- going directly to school,
- coming directly home from school
- job hunting.
If you want to use them for any other purpose, you must get my permission BEFORE you use them, EVERY TIME you want to use them.
I forbid you to use them to go to any Forest Preserve.
When you got in legal trouble with the Canadian Mounties you told me you would not get in legal trouble again. When you broke the law by entering the Forest Preserve after hours you broke your promise to me.
There are advantages and disadvantages to living in the Chicago urban area. I advise you to try to make use of the advantages. Do not break the law in an attempt to avoid the disadvantages.
If you get into legal trouble by misusing the Forest Preserve or Parks do not call me.
If you have to spend some nights in jail you may contract AIDS through anal intercourse. If this happens I will be very sorry. So will you.
I suggest you keep a copy of this letter. So will I.
I gave Jerry an evaluative look. Anal intercourse, eh? In the Eagle Hills lockup? I thought about John and Rob and Bubblefest, but I kept my opinions to myself. Jerry walked off to find Rob backstage and I returned the note to John.
"His dad sounds pretty upset," I said neutrally, but I couldn't control my smile.
"Jerry's dad always puts his true feelings on paper," said John solemnly. "When we came home from the Forest Preserve, all wet with the Ranger behind us, he didn't say anything. He just looked at us. Now he writes Jerry this note. Anal intercourse! I'd like to have anal intercourse with Jerry! Maybe I already have!" John burst into maniacal laughter.
People were milling around on stage, trailing cords and amplifiers and microphones. No one seemed to know what to do, or to care if they ever did it.
"Oh, God," moaned John.
I looked up, concerned. "Are you OK?"
"This is going to take forever. I just came here for the auction. I don't want to play. I want to be the audience. I want to bring home some bacon."
"Bacon? Auction? I thought this was a benefit."
John handed me a program. Fit To Be Tied II, it read. "What does this mean?" I asked in trepidation. I admit I had a suspicion.
"Bondage," said John. "S and M. Leather. Rubber. Whips and chains. Great Danes. You'll love it. It's a way of life. Think of it as an adventure."
"Or a learning experience," I muttered under my breath.
"Exactly! That's the spirit! It's educational! There's got to be some way you can fit this into your research. Why don't you whip out your tape recorder and start asking people stupid questions? I'll bet these people know a lot about pain and suffering."
I was hurt. I felt betrayed. I didn't know what to say. I was rescued from the need to reply when a pretty woman in her early thirties approached John. "Hello," she smiled. "I hope you'll pardon my interruption, but you look so familiar. I'm Cynthia Rakawitz. And you are....?"
John grinned widely, showing his fabulously straight white teeth. "Yes," he intoned. "Yes, you do know me. You know me quite well, in fact. I'm not sure I should disclose the circumstances, though...."
I cringed. Oh, no, I thought. Another of John's meaningless sexual encounters, and this one with a woman old enough to be his mother.
Ms. Rakawitz looked eager but bewildered.
"You really don't know who I am?" John asked.
"I know you're with Big Poo Generator," she replied. "Matthew told me about your band when you agreed to participate. He said you were all called Rikki Rockett. I don't recognize that name, but I'm sure I've seen you somewhere...."
"Maybe in another life?"
Ms. Rakawitz began to turn away.
"All right, I admit it. You were my fifth grade teacher."
"Oh, my God! Johnny!" she exclaimed. Johnny? I thought.
"I remember when you sent me to the principal's office because I farted really loud in class and made Amy Roseberry smell it."
"Oh, my God! It's really you! I can't believe it!"
"You should. It's the truth. You should never turn your back on the truth. It might bite you."
"Speaking of which, I'll bet you never guessed in fifth grade that I had such an interesting hobby."
"Didn't you know?" she asked. "I'm tonight's auctioneer. I haven't changed into my leather drag yet.... Anybody you want to sell?"
"John? Dr. Um?"
"Kim! Just the person I was looking for." John smiled broadly and put his arm around Kim's shoulder. "How about this one, Cynthia? She's been very bad. She needs a strict daddy. I'm sure she'd fetch a good price."
Kim's eyes lit up. "Oh, yes! Oh, yes, I've been very, very bad. Please, someone needs to teach me some manners! I've become indulgent and neglectful. I need to be punished. Oh, yes!"
Ms. Rakawitz appraised Kim with a glance. "How old are you, honey?" she asked. "You look like you'd inspire some very competitive bidding."
Kim lowered her eyes. "Seventeen," she whispered. "But I'm very sophisticated."
"Sorry, honey. No minors on stage during the auction."
Kim's face fell. I breathed a sigh of relief. This place was well named. I, too, had fallen through the looking glass, and had no idea when or if I would ever return to my safe home.
"Freddy Krueger, the multi-talented sound man" appeared on stage. "OK, I have an announcement," he whispered into the microphone. The crowd quieted instantly. "Dicky Moe ain't comin'. Their bus broke or crashed or something. So they ain't here. Instead, for your listening pleasure, The Edge of the Looking Glass is proud to present Big Poo Generator. If they would get their asses onstage and get their fucking workbench and lawn chairs put together, maybe you assholes could hear some music."
"That's my cue," said John blithely. "Later, skaters." He was gone, leaving me with a fifth grade teacher turned dominatrix and a girl who needed a strict daddy. The girl who also, apparently, had broken Bill's heart.
"My cue, too," said Ms. Rakawitz. "You can't believe how much time it takes to get into all that stuff. Especially the corset. All those leather laces.... You wouldn't want to help me, would you, honey?"
"Sure!" said Kim.
"I was only toying with you, little girl. I have my own hand trained body servants waiting for me. Nice to meet you, Dr. Um."
"You could teach me!" Kim pleaded.
Ms. Rakawitz gave her a stern look. "Never importune," she snapped, and strode away. By the time I had the wit to say goodbye, she was long gone.
"Well, Kim," I ventured. "Would you like something to drink? I could use a Coke."
"Dammit," said Kim. "I wanted to be auctioned off. I wore silk and everything. I better go find Ben." I was left standing.
The scene on the stage was chaotic. Ben extended a lawn chair next to the keyboard and lounged in it. Rob darted back and forth deploying miles of cord and cable. John waved his arms and eventually carried in a Black and Decker workbench and an assortment of hand tools. Jerry smiled vaguely at the crowd and blew bubbles over their heads. Rob set up a card table covered with food items and kitchen utensils and rearranged them obsessively.
"OK!" shouted Rob into the microphone. The crowd looked up in amazement.
Rob blushed and looked quite embarrassed at being the center of attention. "Hello? Hello," he said. "Does this sound all right? Testing! Testing. If you think it sounds good now... just wait." Rob looked over to Ben, whose eyes were shut. "Hey, Ben! Ben! We're ready! Wake up!"
Ben lifted his head languidly. John clamped a guitar to the workbench. Jerry blew a few more farewell bubbles and tried to suck them into his saxophone without success.
Ben slowly opened his eyes. He fixed the crowd with his habitual world-weary expression.
"OK," said Rob enthusiastically. "This first song is called.... Um.. Ben. What's it called?"
Ben adjusted his microphone to chaise lounge height. "It's called, `Everybody Wash.'"
"It's called `Everybody Wash,'" Rob repeated inanely. "And it requires a great deal of audience participation." At this the crowd cheered wildly. "We'll tell to wash a certain part of your body, and, if you choose to do so, you can, er, do it. Ear." Rob paused. "I'm going to fucking kill you bastards. You all deserve to die."
The crowd responded with wild cheers of delight.
The band began to play. I couldn't believe it. I knew this song! "Everybody Wash" was a Sesame Street song. What was going on here? They were doomed. This did not look to me like a Sesame Street crowd. I retreated further, to the bar, and kept an eye on the easiest path to the exits. I remembered Bubblefest and cursed myself for my foolish behavior. What would I say to Dirk if I got arrested in a fight in an S&M bar? This area of speculation was fruitless. I focused my attention determinedly on the crowd.
At first, they seemed confused. They milled around uncertainly, apparently choosing between amusement and outrage. Jerry sat at the cardtable eating an apple, equally oblivious to the sprightly music around him and the menace of the crowd. "Everybody wash you hamburger!" Ben chirped cheerfully. Rob hunched over his bass. John began sawing his guitar in half. The guitar shrieked painfully. This was a sound the crowd understood. They cheered enthusiastically and immediately began lifting one another into the air and throwing each other about.
I turned to the bartender. "Is there going to be a riot?" I shouted.
"Riot? Fuck, no, lady. This is what they do. Mosh way hard!"
"They're dancing," he explained.
Although it was only three o'clock in the afternoon, and a Sunday, I ordered a gin and tonic. The band played on.
The audience grew wilder, thrash dancing at hyper-speed. I couldn't believe my eyes. They seemed to be enjoying Big Poo Generator. From the bubble blowing to the food fight at the end, they absolutely loved the whole act. During their last song, "The Epic Saga of King Zob abd His Green Aliens and Ham", John put down his guitar and threw cassette tapes into the audience. He must have thrown at least fifty tapes, some of which may even have ended up in people's hands. Most, however, were moshed underfoot.
After they finished playing, it became a frantic rush to get their equipment off stage. I walked up to congratulate them on a fine performance. The swirls of people on the dance floor looked even more dangerous now. The "moshers" were still in evidence, but now a new group of people, or maybe the same people in new clothes, began to crowd the floor. I tried not to stare. One girl wore sackcloth, and had her ankles shackled together. Others were covered with elaborate tattoos. Many had rings through parts of their bodies surely not designed for jewelry. Some were dressed in long strings of rawhide strategically arranged. When a 400lb woman in a leather corset pushed me aside, I went back to the bar for another gin and tonic.
I saw the three Rikki's standing in a semi-circle all facing a man in a suit and sunglasses. I hovered at the edge of their conversation and sipped my drink.
"So, really now. Which one of you is Rikki Rockett?" He was gesturing with a Big Poo Generator tape in each hand. I wondered if this neatly pressed fellow had been scrambling with the moshers.
John and Rob both pointed at Ben saying, "I am." I saw Jerry off in a corner exchanging small manilla envelopes with a number of eager patrons.
The business man laughed, "I get it. It's good to have a gimic, and I've got to admit that's an original one. The name does sound familiar. So, boys. What are your musical plans for the future? Are you dedicated to this?"
Ben nodded. "We're going to rock the nation all the way to the bank! With our genius and your money, we'll soon make all the world forget about Sammy Davis Jr. and Franki Valle. As teen sensations we'll rock the nation right down to it's knees."
"Good, that's the attitude I like in aspiring musicians." The man waved his hands in a large sweeping arc, "This stuff is small time. I think you guys have real commercial potential. I'd like to get your phone number. After I listen to these tapes. I'll give you a call."
"Our number is on the tape cover. We'll be ready to sign our lives away at a moment's notice. Just show us the dotted line. Oh, by the way did I mention that we have absolutely zero artistic integrity? I'd sell these guys out in a minute if I had half a chance," said John.
"He's a faggot! He wants my ass!" replied Rob. "I have to go to the bathroom."
"All right then. Expect a call from me tomorrow, assuming that your tape is anything like your live performance."
"Rock on, dude!" said John.
"Ear!" said Ben.
I walked up to John and Ben. "Who was that?"
"Some asshole," said Ben and walked away.
"Some asshole? He didn't sound like an asshole."
"But he was," said John, "He's going to make us famous. Or at least he says he will. He claims he's from some ridiculous company called C/Z records. As far as I can tell we're about as famous as the dirt on my shoes."
"ALL SLAVES ON STAGE NOW," a voice boomed. I looked toward the stage. If I hadn't seen her before, I would not have believed it. This was the Mistress Sinthia direct from Corpus Christi, Texas as described in the program, complete with motorcycle hat, black leather halter top, long black skirt, boots and riding crop. I took an involuntary step backwards and looked around for Kim.
John took my elbow and guided me into the crowd. "Listen," he mumbled. "I should probably have told you about this before. But you wouldn't have come. You would have gotten the wrong idea. Nothing terrible is going to happen. It's for a good cause. We have to find Kim."
I followed as John pushed past the freaks. We found Kim deep in technical conversation with a tattoo artist. "Where's Ben?" she asked.
John shrugged. "He's around. Or maybe he went home with Rob. Or maybe he got a ride with Jerry. Or maybe he's dead. Who cares?"
"I'm supposed to take him home," said Kim. "He'll find me. Ben and I will always find each other. Our love is invincible."
"Whatever," said John.
"Slave number one! Down on your knees! Put your nose on the floor. Tell me why someone should invest in a miserable creature like you," Mistress Sinthia demanded.
A fat, balding man in his forties hastily knelt, clasped his hands behind his back and pressed his nose to the stage.
The Mistress caressed his back with a riding crop and prodded his thigh with her boot. Her assistant, an exotic young man in very revealing black tights, glided to her side and handed her a clip board. "Thank you, Thing," she murmured. "It says here," she read, "that your name is Pete and that you would like to be purchased by a straight woman or couple and that you need a good spanking." The Mistress chuckled. "It also says that you brought your own paddle. Isn't that sweet?"
Thing reappeared at her side with a wellworn wooden paddle. She held it up, "This looks well broken in. Mind if I try it?" She smacked him resoundingly across the buttocks. I flinched. Kim gasped and licked her lips. John snickered.
From the stage, Pete moaned, "Oh, thank you, Mistress! May I have another?"
"Now that you've seen the product, let's start the bidding. Who'll give me 100 Big Meaty Chunks for this obviously willing servant?"
Kim raised her hand. "Take me! take me! I've been bad. I need a spanking, too!"
John quickly stood in front of Kim. "Shut up, Kim. I promised Ben I'd keep you out of trouble. Besides, do you really want that old fat guy?"
"No! I want someone to buy me!"
The bidding was brisk. Each successive slave brought a higher price and the demonstrations became more graphic. When Mistress Sinthia shackled slave number six to a wooden frame, I had to avert my eyes.
Suddenly, Kim cried out, "Ben!!!"
I looked around. No Ben. "Where?"
"No," said Kim. "Up there!," she pointed to balcony.
Leaning over the balcony rail was a long haired, bespectacled apparition. This person, whose gender I was unable to determine, wore a black leather bandeau and shiny red plastic G-string. With fringes. An ordinary looking man stood behind it, dressed in chinos and a sport shirt. This man held a bottle of beer in one hand and fondled the apparition's emaciated and largely naked rear end with the other. The apparition wriggled appreciatively.
I turned to Kim, "That can't be Ben."
"It is! It is!" She waved, "Ben! Ben! Here I am!" Kim looked back at me, "It is him. I'd recognize Ben anywhere." She squealed, "Ohhh! Look where he put that beer bottle! I bet that's cold."
I looked resolutely away. "John," I whispered, "What do you think? Even with my glasses on I can't tell for sure. Is that really Ben?"
"Huh? Ben? Where?"
"Up in the balcony," I said.
Kim laughed, "Yeah, some guy just stuck a bottle of beer up his ass. Look at my little sweety! He loves it. Why didn't he tell me! He's been keeping secrets."
John craned his neck upwards and squinted. "Hmmm. There is some resemblance. Sure. It's Ben." He focused his attention back on the auction. It was fine and hot.
Rob waited. The line to the men's room slowly inched toward the single functioning urinal. Someone tapped him on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," a voice said. "I know you. I know what you need."
Rob spun around. "What!?" Rob was unprepared for the burning intensity of the old man's expression.
"I know I don't look like much. You think I'm just another homeless lunatic. I can read your thoughts. I know what you need."
Rob stepped out of the line. "You can read my thoughts?"
"I know you've suffered. I know you'll have to suffer more. And I know why..."
"That's the last of our boys for tonight," announced Mistress Sinthia. "Can we have the girls?"
I took Kim firmly by the wrist as the overwhelmingly male audience applauded the few brave women on stage.
Rob appeared from nowhere and shook my arm. His face was pasty and sweat dripped from the end of his nose.
"Hey, Rob. What's up dude?" said John.
"Janet! John! Kim! I've found my mission. I saw an angel! We have to go. Quick! Now! Let's leave!!!" Rob was frantic.
I agreed unhesitatingly.
John concurred and the three of us dragged a protesting Kim out the exit.
Journal Entry April 15
My mind is whirling. Events are spinning out of control. Fortunately, the past two weeks have brought no new cases for CO-HORT. Even so, we are swamped in paperwork and I am at least a month behind in dictating summaries. I fear, however, that the violence and despair manifested in suicide has found another outlet. Seven members of our varsity basketball team gang-raped a girl from the Bellview High cross-country team. Although Dr. Busboom has done his best to keep the incident quiet, rumors abound. The girl had been drinking with the team in a roadhouse after an away track meet and somehow things got out of hand. The girl is in the hospital. The whereabouts of the boys is unclear. Student opinion is divided on the issue, with the majority feeling that "she asked for it." Sigh.
Images of sexual violence - of the rape, of the slave auction at The Edge of the Looking Glass, and particularly of the boy who might have been Ben leaning ecstatically over the balcony rail while behind him - these images obsess me both waking and sleeping. Dirk says I grind my teeth at night. In my office, I have difficulty concentrating. I know my productivity is suffering. If only I had someone to confide in. I find myself isolated, walled off from my familiar life. It's hard to remember what I was like before I embarked on this study. My family, my friends, my colleagues all seem vaguely translucent. Unreal. What is happening to me?
Never mind. Such speculation is fruitless, if not in fact counterproductive. On to happier news. I only yesterday received notification that the Kellogg Foundation will present me with its Distinguished Researcher Award next month at its annual meeting in Washington.
As for Big Poo Generator, they seem remarkably productive and high-spirited. Their energies are focused on their music. Both Ben and John, in addition, are developing close relationships with, respectively, Kim and Angela. I don't know Angela, and I confess that I find Kim and Ben quite an Odd Couple. Heh. Well. Ear. They all seem happy, with their vital forces fully engaged. Their previous despair and negativism has been subsumed by more developmentally appropriate adolescent pursuits. And that's what really matters. Isn't it?
In other news, I'm looking forward to my next outting with the band. John's younger brother is participating in a state-wide Special Olympics. He invited me and told me it would be 'tardloads of fun'. Although the official plan is that the boys intend to use this event as inspiration for songwriting, I'm interested in seeing how John interacts with his brother. I expect there's a lot more love between them than John normally reveals. Enough of this meandering. I need to get some work done. Onward!