Sunday, April 17, 2011

And Standing Tall

Yes, Frank had benefitted from the material world right proper. His house was a 7,000-square-foot beaut that sat on a chunk of land with a full hundred feet of frontage. One hundred feet, with enough length to make the monster home look kind-of small. It was a subtle distinction, but one that separated the truly loaded from the McMansion-strapped.

He ushered us right to the spacious and well-manicured backyard, with a luxury that was far more luxurious once the water rationing came in: an outdoor pool. Being a simple sort, a true geek, he had a plain old fence and lawn in the back. A lone tree stood guard on the front, as did a pornoscan-derived security system.

Sorry for being skimpy on the details, but none of us really cared. The only artefact Frank really cared about, one that was truly precious to him, was an ashtray. Against all the handicapping set by not only the Boomers but also our parent’s cohort, Frank had landed a wild one. Ellen had been blond, wide- and semi-triangular-faced, thin-mouthed and fine-featured, not quite a beauty, but she had the self-confidence of one. She was also a proud if tamed smoker, and went gladly to her grave five years after the secular Puritans finally outlawed it. In explanation to Lincoln and Alice, she said she preferred a full life to a long one. To Frank, because their kids wouldn’t understand, she said she preferred the freedoms of death. Oh yes, she was one of us.

Frank was both surprised and not-surprised at Jack’s trouble. As a former bigwig, he was used to fitting people into categories. What he had seen in our peers was a last-gasp grasp at forbidden freedoms that we had let slide while either drifting or striving. One guy he knew on a business basis, a former and thoroughly retired stockbroker, was now a heroin addict. Several of them, in defiance of the powers that be (health division), had taken up smoking once they hit retirement age. A guy who had bossed a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, which had been hot in its time but is one you’ve probably never heard of, was now a confirmed doob hound. Most of Frank’s peers, in the material as well as the age sense, gambled online. Frank himself had helped finance, through ostensibly charitable donations, a social Darknet that allowed him to meet people of any age. Granted that he used it to keep tabs on his kids and grandkids, over and above what the law allowed, but the notion that God and Law were better parents than the parents stuck in his craw and would have mine had I myself propagated. I have to admit, age segregation was a masterstroke of policy. The right wing, so fond of paterfamilias, dropped it like a Koran when they were assured that their own values would be pushed by Daddy Government. The immoral, defined as I’m sure you’ve guessed, were sequestered into Internal Security’s answer to free-speech zones. Needless to say, Frank’s grandkids were in no way sequestered into those places. They were getting an ed-yoo-cay-shun in a private school with a Senator’s son in their class. When we had heard, we were both surprised and not-surprised ourselves.

Government-coin sociologists who worried about “elders in revolt” pegged it as our chance to be our anti-heroes from our youth. There were learnèd discussions about the social significance of Beavis and Butthead and Married…With Children. Sad to say, a lot of it was deemed secret. A lot of their data were from “confidential interviews” from our peers. It’s a damn pity that Julian Assange and his likesake were bumped off. I would have paid real money to click through the leaked documents from that arm of Internal Security. Since that crew was the new MSM, I had a fairly good idea of how much of those “confidential confessions” were outright tales. Suffice it to say that Internal Security had no real idea of what was going on.

Nor did Frank, but he was determined to find out. Through his Darknet system, he managed to get ahold of Jack in the jail cell. Don’t ask me how; I don’t have the foggiest idea. My best guess would be, he jacked through Arcadia’s feed. Frank looked sober when he returned to our mini-reunion. He said nothing about what had gone on between them.

As it turned out, his next-door neighbour was curious enough to poke the head over the fence. Tall, balding and grey-haired, Xavier Godfrey ran a medium-sized hedge fund. His daughter, from what I had inferred from Frank’s diplomatic descriptions, tried to run everything. She was by his side, trying to peek over herself. A thin little snip, she was the product of the admixture of Xavier’s somewhat beefy genes and those of a former minor model.

Frank told him what was going down. Like a solid citizen of Olympia Estates, Godfrey was of the opinion that the law should be enforced. “We can’t let down our guard, you know. 9/11 changed everything.”

“It sure did,” Lindy said in a tone tinctured with irony. Mister Godfrey being more propriety-bound than Frank, he ignored her. Instead, he continued with what he wanted to talk about.

“Frank, I heard your oldest grandson is looking to get into the same field I’m in.” Bankstering, in other words, but I kept my assessment to myself as we were guests here.

Our friend confirming it, Godfrey asked if Frank’s seed plus one would like to come over for dinner some day to discuss his future. The way his daughter tensed up said: a) the “future” had more to do with a strategic alliance involving her, b) she had heard how loaded Lincoln was. Oh yes, and c): her bossiness hadn’t exactly made her the belle of her school.

“Tell you what,” Frank shot back in the direction of Le Godfrey. “I’ll go call up Lincoln and see if he can spare Quigley tomorrow. We can sit around the pool here and talk things over, and see how it goes.” Confirming my guess, his daughter seemed to jump up with glee.

“I can’t bring them right now, because I’ve gotten an errand to run and I can’t throw a malware into Quigley’s schedule. I have to give Lincoln a day’s notice.”

“Sure,” Godfrey replied, pleased that he could strike a deal.

They both going back into their own castle, Frank threw us a grin we remembered well. It was his “Be kind to me, I’m going to be your boss” grin. “And as for you two, I think that Uncle Larry and Auntie Linda would be a mightily good influence on Quigley. Please, feel free to bunk down here and join me in this fine celebration.”

We bunked down in two of the four spare bedrooms, which were high-ceilinged and a lot more spacious than our roomlets in the Social Security Centre. Not having a change of clothes, we resigned ourselves to wearing the same outfits the next day. Frank, being too selfish to hire a manservant, just pointed out where we could wash up. Dinner was prepared automatically by a cooking machine, and tasted a lot better than the Meals, Ready To Vomit we got at the Centre.

Both I and Lindy took turns trying to get Frank to disclose what he had talked to Jack about. He said our questions would be answered tomorrow, when Jack was to be indicted. That surprised us, as it was quick. The prosecutor must be trying to make an example out of him.

Moreover, it was to be streamed. That definitely said the prosecutor was making a pony show out of it.

After dinner, both I and Lindy got the run of the house – or were nudged into house-sitting, depending on what take you want. Frank had an important errand to run, one that would take him a fair bit of time.

He got home safe, and had the monitor set up in the backyard near the pool. As expected, both Lincoln and Quigley showed up. Frank, with a wink in his eye, asked us to stay out of sight until Le Godfrey and his snip of a daughter joined them.

So, we stayed up in the den overlooking the pool and waited. When Godfrey and his spawn joined, we hustled as best we could to the back door and out to the gathering.

Lincoln smiled and greeted us warmly. “Look,” he said to Quigley with a big grin. “It’s Uncle Larry and Aunt Linda.”

We having been pegged as one of the in-crowd, Mister Godfrey looked embarrassed and his daughter re-adjusted her prejudices. Actually, she wasn’t that bad looking despite her mousy hair. Near-anorexic thin, she had her mother’s body and blue eyes.

Standing up, Frank said “I brought you all here to show you something. An old friend of mine, Jack Ostfield, is being made an example of for bringing a gold piece into the United States. That’s all that he did, but the prosecutor has decided not only to push the grand-jury appearance to the head of the line but also to stream it so the likes of us can see it.” Expression and tone remaining carefully neutral, he added: “I’m not going to judge what takes place; I’ll leave it to you.”

Both Lincoln and Quigley knew something was up, but Godfrey and his snippy daughter Mackie didn’t. As was evident from their expressions, they merely expected justice to be done. What they called “justice,” to be precise. Fact is, no-one knew what it meant now. Far more practical to assume “justice” meant not crossing the government.

Both Lindy and I did the foot jiggle while the prosecutor went into his bangin’ routine. When the feed camera shifted to Jack’s table, we say a cup of coffee beside him getting cold. He had no lawyer representing him, which made Lindy look at me quizzically. I was wondering where Arcadia was myself.

When it came to Jack’s turn, he stood up and addressed the grand jury:

“Ladies and gentleman, you’re being asked in assembly-line fashion to indict someone on charges that don’t make any sense. Once again.”

Pausing to chug down his coffee, which he finished with several gulps, he continued: “It’s an obvious fact that the TSA agent lied to you. Look at me: I’m an old man, old and weak. They claim that I have some super-strength that enables me to do bodily harm to a professionally-trained bully. As for that, you will soon see what super-powers I have – if any.” Rather than competing with the prosecutor’s self-righteousness, he was calm.

“As for ‘obstruction of justice,’ how does asking questions count as that? And why is lying not obstruction?

“I am well aware of my fate standing here. I don’t expect you to listen, I don’t expect you to judge the truth, I don’t expect you to do anything except give the prosecutor another notch on his belt. Many before me have suffered the same fate. There is no reason for me to be favoured with what used to be considered a fair trial.”

The prosecutor could have objected, but he didn’t. Why do so when a defendant was clearly hanging himself?

For some off reason, Jack’s breathing became rapid and his face turned a pinkish-red. “In closing – I say – this is no – way to live.”

Then he keeled over.

Now, the prosecutor jumped to his feet. “You honour,” he began with the same self-righteousness, “members of the jury, we’re obviously seeing grandstanding. An act, nothing more than a pity play, by an obviously guilty defendant. After maligning the truly upright, and the professionalism of the agency that had obviously kept us safe from many, many terrorist attacks, he had to pathetically – Yes, your honour?”

The judge noted that Jack’s act seemed to be fairly real. “I think we should find a medical professional.”

Surely enough, Jack was dead. Self-inflicted cyanide poisoning.

“So he didn’t have those super-powers after all.” Sure, what I said was lame, but I couldn’t say otherwise.

Of course, Homeland Security tried a counter-offensive and the trial was airbrushed out of history. But Jack had lived as he never had when alive. He never told anyone why he finally busted loose, but his reason fit. After bending and slumping for so long, he had finally stood up and made a real difference. Myself, I think he was owed that.

It was only a matter of time before the late-stage smokers ditched the illegal cigarettes for illegal gold coins. The smoking habit had only been an act of defiance for them, and gold was now a better fit. What was odd, though, was seeing it spread. More than a few thirtysomethings were obtaining them and even displaying them. There was a lot more “arrest me – I dare you” from people who you thought wouldn’t make a stand.

The Puritans didn’t know what to make of it. No-one had implicated gold as a health hazard and God didn’t forbid gold as sinful. Arrests, and the publicizing of them, peaked for a time but then vanished from the public eye. The authorities seemed to be on the defensive.

Quigley had some gold. More significantly, so did Mackie. She also cultivated a softer side that the boys in her class didn’t believe until it was too late for them. She and Quigley were now an item.

As I approach the inevitable end, I wondered why we hadn’t done anything like that when we were kids. When we were of the age when, if we stuck together, we could have bulled the authorities into backing off. The fact is, we folded pretty easily – and in so doing, we let a nest of tyrants grow into the cage-builders who’ve jailed us. There are lots of reasons why we didn’t bother. For some, it was because standing up meant going self-righteous and becoming a pain. For many, it was plain fear of becoming unemployable; we never decided we had nothing to lose. As I said before, it was easier to find a work-around than to get our hackles up.

But the main reason was, we were raised to think the authorities were reasonable at heart. That’s what the “Free To Be – You And Me” style of child-rearing inculcates. The idea that plain power-hunger was behind some of those ostensibly security-enhancing clamp-downs was counterintuitive to us. For many, it still is.

I know now that I’m dying. Jack only beat me by three years, perhaps four. It’s a toss-up of whether I’ll have 2049 or 2050 on my gravestone, but it’ll be one of the two. My heart’s giving out.

I’m at the end of my road. Whoever takes my place at the Social Security Centre may be as reasonable as me, maybe more so. If he or she is curious, Lindy will do the informational duty. She’s still alive and spry.

The little rebellions from our cohort continue, but they’ve now been spun as just a bunch of old geezers having a kick before dying. Maybe that’s all it is - maybe.

But that gold, it’s spreading pretty fast…

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