A half-hour after the news van had finally departed from the front of my house it was back and the vapid reporter was knocking at my front door sans camera and microphone. They had been driving in circles and needed directions out of the neighborhood. It was that kind of community, a labyrinth of soft bends, hills, leafless trees and identical raised-ranch houses all built by the same developer and mirror images of each other. Nothing stood out. The landmarks were lost in the singularity.
I had already been dubbed “The Hero of East Vale,” which was ridiculous. I was in the bathroom when Toby Meyers started shooting. The alarms went off and the “lockdown” alert sounded and, as I tried to get out of the bathroom, I lost my footing and fell through the door and sprawled out into the hallway with my pants around my ankles, right in front of Toby. He was done up like a commando – some kid playing Rambo for Halloween. He had already killed six students “in cold blood” as they like to say, but he stared at me for a moment, my bare-ass in the air, tie flung over my head like a drunken car salesman, and he began to laugh. It was a strange, lunatic laugh for sure, and then he put a handgun to his head and pulled the trigger. I guess the sight of a middle-aged English teacher’s white, pasty ass is just absurd and surreal enough to warrant suicide.
The thing was, when it happened, I wasn’t afraid. It all just seemed, so normal.
That same day three other schools had gone on “lockdown” for a variety of reasons; in Pomperaug a student brought in spent ammunition casings from he and his dad’s time at the indoor shooting range, which prompted a minor panic; in Brookfield, an image of a gun was spray-painted on a large rock near the middle school, and in Bristol there was a report with a “man with a gun” within three miles of the elementary school. All of them went on lockdown, prompting alerts to all the other schools when they did, so every teacher’s cell-phone was lighting up in class with public school Twitter feeds every five minutes to both announce the lockdown of whatever school wherever in the state and then to announce the lockdown had been lifted. All in all, it made it difficult to get any work done. The classroom seemed more like holding pen for calves waiting to become the next veal steak.
Anyway, NBC had reported that I had “confronted” the student and that he then shot himself. ABC reported that I had actually been “armed” and was in the process of defending the other students, and CNN reported that Toby and I had been “fast-friends” and that he couldn’t bring himself to kill me and thus turned the gun on himself. I had Toby in a class last year. He was a C student and considering the grading system that really isn’t saying much.
But since then, I had the news vans parked outside my house and news anchors play acting a shitty drama in my front yard. I stayed inside till they left. The neighbors shunned them, thank God. I even saw them try to run down Charlie Atkins on his daily seven-mile run. But the news team couldn’t keep up and Charlie just waved them off and continued in the cold morning air in his neoprene jogging tights. Sixty-five years old and running every day like something was chasing him.
It was February, which meant it was Black History month, American Heart month, and Teen Dating-Violence Awareness month. I knew because there were posters plastered all over the school reminding us and teachers had to attend “raising awareness” workshops for Black History month and Teenage Dating Violence. Toby shot up the school on February 6, which is the International Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation Day (another workshop—you understand) and, to me, that just seemed kind of strange or ironic or uncanny or sacrilegious—even I can’t think of the right word for it—and also possibly racist. You never can tell. It was also cold as shit outside.
And there was intrepid female reporter, Monica Daniels, on my front porch shivering and asking for directions out of our little enclave of normality and there was Charlie Atkins running in a neoprene winter track suit, and it all just seemed to hit home for me. I almost lost it right there in front of her. I’m not the weepy poetic type, but, at the moment everything seemed overwhelming and I developed a deep, deep paranoia—a fear that began swirling in my mind and made me want to do something—anything—to relieve it.
“You go to the end of the street, here,” I said to her. “Take a left, and then take your third left after that. Get to the stop sign make a right and continue through two stops and that will bring you to the main road.”
“Thanks,” she bounced. “Are you sure you don’t want to talk to me?” She was pretty, with big brown intrepid-reporter eyes.
“Maybe come back on Mother’s International Language day or, at the very least, Thinking Day. This day isn’t anything so I can’t help you right now.”
That should keep her mind working for a little while, anyway.
Charlie was pounding pavement up the street like his goddamned life depended on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if tomorrow half the neighborhood was out there running laps in the labyrinth, all running away from something, all running in fear. I didn’t believe in running away, at least I didn’t think I did. No. I wasn’t the weepy poet cowering in the corner of a high school bathroom stall. I was the bare-assed poet who saved the day. I was the Hero of East Vale.
I didn’t want to run away. I wanted to face it. I wanted to run in the opposite direction. I wanted to run over Charlie Atkins with my mini-van and face-fuck every loud-mouthed, lipsticked reporter on television. It was all spinning out of control. The center cannot hold, as Yeats said.
Sometimes it seemed like grabbing a gun and shooting everything you saw, that insanity itself, was the sanest thing a person could do.
Two days later there were police at my front door, two eager young law-keepers with guns on their hips and even bigger guns in their vehicles.
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Teller,” the first one said. “But we are searching for someone in this area who is running a pirate radio station from either his residence or possibly a van with some kind of antenna system mounted on it? Would you happen to know anything or have seen such a vehicle?”
“Pirate radio?” I said.
“Yes, sir. It’s an illegal radio broadcast that operates without approval from the FCC. The broadcaster has been disseminating false information and his signal is possibly interfering with commercial aircraft frequencies in the area.”
It was right then that I decided I would try to find and listen to this station.
“Have you seen any vehicles matching that description?” he said.
“When does it broadcast? On what station?”
“We can’t be sure of that information,” he said. “Have you seen any vehicles matching that description or know of anyone with broadcasting equipment in their homes?”
“What is he saying that is so bad?”
“It is illegal to disseminate knowingly false and damaging information and pass it off as fact.”
“How do you know it’s wrong?” I asked.
“Have you seen or heard anything that we should know about?” He was getting inpatient.
“No,” I said.
“Sorry to bother you, sir,” he said and then they both returned to their cruiser and crept slowly like a circling shark down the road. I watched them go and walked out of my front door into the cold air. I walked up to the street to watch the officers stop at another house and approach the door. Charlie Atkins went bounding by followed by his daughter Dana—young, firm and fit and apparently intending to stay that way. It was like being passed by deer in the middle of the night, they are suddenly there, out of nothingness, bounding away to the depths.
Across the street, my neighbor Mark was in his garage but also watching the police go door to door. He was a mechanic in his sixties that would sneak bottles of vodka when his wife wasn’t looking. I would see him, every now and then, across the street in his garage, slipping a glassy bottle out from some top secret location, putting it to his lips and taking a pull that would make a fraternity kid dead. He walked out to the road, his face grizzled and deeply lined from years of hard living. He had a camouflage jacket and hat and I could see that it was hunting gear because the fluorescent orange peaked out at the stitch lines.
“What’d they want?” he said.
“They said they’re looking for some kind of pirate radio station that is giving out bad information and interfering with airline signals.”
“Fuck-ups have no idea what they’re talking about.”
“I guess not.”
He seemed to consider me for a moment, look me up and down like I had just entered an Old West saloon and was getting ready for a barroom brawl. We had lived across from each other for five years but he had never looked at me like that before, he had said barely four words to me that entire time, but now I was the Hero of East Vale and I deserved at least a passing comment.
“I respect what you did,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought you had it in you.”
“Who would have?” I said.
“Well, there’s a lot of men who would have put two bullets between that kid’s eyes before he even got a shot off, but usually high schools are filled with women and cowards.”
“If you can’t do, teach, right?”
“That’s right. You’re a bit of an odd guy,” he said. “I never knew quite what to make of you. You keep your yard all right but sometimes you leave those garbage cans on the side of the road for days….”
“Sorry about that,” I interjected but he merely held up a hand to silence me like a king.
“But as I was saying… You drive a mini-van but don’t have a family and live here. You just waiting for the right girl or what? (rhetorical question). But anyway, I just wanted to shake your hand, though, cause of what you done at that school. You’re a true neighbor, watching out for your fellow man and not just saving your own ass.”
“Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that,” he said. “And, if you’re ever interested, I’m sure the boys down at the gun club would love to meet you.”
“Thank you,” I said. I had never been offered inclusion into anything so masculine as a gun club but I suddenly found myself wanting to accept the offer. “Do you know anything about that radio station?” I said.
He took another look down the road. The police cruiser had already passed over the hill and was out of sight. “Why do you ask?” he said.
“I don’t know. I just thought since they’re so hard up about it, I wanted to see what it was all about.”
Another street-sweep with his eyes. “Nah,” he said. “I don’t know nothing about that.”
I bought a gun. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It occurred to me that Toby probably thought the same thing. It was a double-barrel shotgun like out of the Wild West. Mark took me to the Rod & Gun Club and he showed me how to shoot it and it kicked like a mule in my shoulder. The boys at the club shook my hand and said it was a shame that this tragedy would be used to push more gun control. I agreed with them. Already MAGNUM (Mothers Against Guns and Unregulated Munitions) had organized and was protesting outside the state capitol building. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, they said. Now I’m the good guy, I figured.
I bought an AM radio, a nice one that was recommended by survivalists across the fruited Internet plains. I got rid of television and spent my nights surfing through AM channels and reading Baudrillard and Zizek. I took leave from the school while I “recovered.” I became a one-man neighborhood watch; scanning channels, shotgun at my side, watching day and night out the window, monitoring the comings and goings of my neighbors.
The police seemed to increase their patrols. They bought an unmarked silver sports car and it cruised the lanes slow and menacing and I wondered what a small town needed an unmarked car for.
The town was planning to raze Toby’s old house where he had killed his mother and begun his spree. I drove out to look at it. It was a large Victorian with a wrap around porch that sat on a small, sloping grassy hill. It was still cordoned off with police tape. Sitting there, sagging under the weight of small-town outrage, it looked like a whale carcass dropped in the middle of a forest, its flesh unable to support it tonnage on land and its innards spilled all over the scenery.
Then one night my radio tuned in on a signal—a voice in the darkness that raged like a bonfire; Tyranny will not—can not—stand! This is the land of the free but it has become the land of the weak and the afraid. Our government lies to us and we put on our blinders and just turn on another American Idol. We have to wake up! They are right now trying to shut me down, searching for the source of my transmission but they will not find me, no they will not! They’re trying to find me because they don’t want me telling the truth! They don’t want me interrupting their disinformation campaign designed to fool the American people, designed to lull us into complaisance, to take over our very lives! They are working toward our destruction! They are feeding the flames and fires of those who would kill us. They’re making us afraid so that we turn to them and say ‘take everything from me, every freedom and use it to protect me, to make me feel safe.’ But it’s all lies!
He spared no one. He marched through the culture with a rhetorical machine gun. He found his enemies, took aim and fired away. He left nothing unturned.
Read the report from the East Vale shooting! Read it! This boy suddenly becomes a mass murderer? I don’t think so! What they don’t want to tell you, what they don’t want you to realize is that concerned citizens in Toby Meyers’ town, right in his very neighborhood had been urging authorities to examine the gas pipeline running beneath the houses and homes there for leaks! What about the power lines that run right through that town? What about the vapor trails from the airport just around the corner? Where is the autopsy report? Why have they not yet released it? Ladies and gentlemen we can’t even get the basic information about what happened that day. The news reports were wildly inaccurate! Where’s the second shooter they reported? Where’s the assault rifle they said he used? What are any of the weapons that he used? Now the gun control nuts are lining up to take away our Second Amendment rights? You’re telling me that this doesn’t play right into the government narrative? You’re lying to yourselves! Every incident, every school shooting, every terrorist act is being used to further crush the American people, to further control. They let these things happen so they can control us. They let the chaos in so that we ask to be imprisoned in our own country!
I listened to him in the darkness of my own insane yearnings. I fantasized scenes in my mind that had never crossed my thoughts before; lighting fire to the gas pipelines; aiming a rocket launcher at a jetliner as it descended to land at Dulles, pulling the trigger and the laser-guided missile streaking through the blue to find its target, lighting up with oranges and red and blacks. I pictured strolling through a picture-postcard Main Street and opening fire with a machine gun, ratatatating and watching people shriek and fall and glass break and the sound… Oh, the sound! Echoing off the brick facades, ringing in my ear, empty and hollow; there and then gone again.
All of it swirled through my mind in the night, alone in my house with nothing but my books and my shotgun and his voice piercing the silence, rabid and lonely.
I listened to the voice in the darkness every night, scanning on AM radio till I found that familiar and righteous anger. The station changed every night. Police increased patrols. He raged into the microphone: They indoctrinate our children through subversion and distraction! Have you seen this Angry Birds game they all play? What is it, really? The birds are suicide bombers flying into buildings to knock them down and kill the pigs that have stolen their eggs—their birthright! Can you think of a more disgusting game? Is it surprising this game came out after 9/11? No it is not!
I believe I spotted his pirate radio van one night rolling slowly through the neighborhood, no windows and a creeping presence that worked its way under my skin. I watched its taillights disappear around the corner and then stared for a long time. He was broadcasting at the time. The signal was strong. He must have an accomplice, a driver or a partner of some kind.
The truth IS out there, ladies and gentlemen! You just have to open your eyes and ears.
I had seen the truth. I had seen it right when Toby put that nine-millimeter Glock to the side of his head and pulled the trigger while I cowered bare-assed in the middle of the East Vale High School hallway. I saw it in the sagging edifice of Toby’s former home. I heard it in the snapping shut of my double-barreled shotgun and the report of its shells discharging in the broad daylight.
Mark and I took a couple shots of vodka at the Rod & Gun Club bar and then set out onto the skeet shooting range. He yelled, “Pull!” and flying saucers launched into the deep blue spring sky and I sighted them down and shattered them mid-flight.
Why does NASA shut down the Space Station feed every time something they can’t quite explain appears on screen? Why are they trying to tell us that there is no such thing as UFOs and flying saucers when we can see them plainly for ourselves?
My brother called from South Carolina while a bleach blonde bubble-head on television cringed at images of ISIS beheading infidels in a strange desert somewhere. “We’re worried about you,” he said. “Have you gone back to work yet?”
“No, I’m on extended leave. I have tenure. They can’t let me go.”
“That’s not the point,” he said.
During the Civil War it was brother against brother and that is what they are doing to us again! The NSA surveillance state is omnipresent! Every phone call, every email, every picture! It’s all Big Brother watching!
I pushed a shopping cart through the boxed shelves of a discount grocery while middle-class housewives returned cans, feeding them into the mouths of machines. I bought everything organic. I scanned bar codes across automatic scanners while a teenaged girl sat idly by making sure I didn’t steal anything. I fed the machine a debit card and it spit back three feet of printed receipt. I loaded my groceries in the mini-van and bought a bottle of vodka at the package store.
Every bar code scanned! Every license plate that passes by a State Trooper! Every time a machine takes the job of a working person! Every gene-altered food they feed you. They are all steps leading to a heaven of government bureaucracy and a citizen’s private hell!
Mark was drinking in his garage again, listening to the radio. I dragged the bottle of vodka across the street like a prisoner’s ball and chain. I sat down with him and we each poured a shot.
“Who is he?” I asked.
Mark lightly tapped the side of his nose with his index finger and smiled at me wide and knowing.
The voice’s name was Terry Shaker and he lived in trailer park that sat like a fat tick on a dog’s hide just outside East Vale. He owned a double wide that blended in like a single domino in a row about to fall. There was a black van, the one I had spotted prowling the neighborhood with a long antenna, in the driveway. Terry was somewhat small, fey even, with a thin beard and coke-bottle glasses. I remembered him from the Rod & Gun club; always in the background, quiet, almost demure in any response to the boisterous, sometimes rowdy, men in the club barroom. His voice was gentle, quiet, nothing like the raging animal cry that I heard in the darkness. He lived with Brandon Tomalsky, an ex-Marine bruiser with a shaved head and tattoos spread across his back. The other men at the club had their suspicions about their relationship but nobody said anything overt. Indeed, Terry and Brandon were the top dogs in the pound; “The work they do is essential,” Mark told me. “They speak for us. They’re under the radar. The police are looking for them all right, but they stay on the move. Those guys tell the truth.”
But I knew it wasn’t real. It wasn’t the desert stretched out to infinity dotted with bare rocks, the staging for the temptation of Christ. I knew the truth. I had seen it. I had heard it. I had smelled it sprayed all over a high school hallway.
I had been to the desert.
I was going back.
Tonight was a big night for Terry and Brandon. Terry was interviewing a professor from Florida State who had been writing extensively that the East Vale high school shooting, along with multiple others, were hoaxes perpetrated by the CIA and NSA in order to push gun control and disarm the civilian population. The illustrious professor had made headlines with his Internet claims and crying parents were crying harder on television screens and into microphones across the country. The professor was in the area this week and Terry had landed an interview.
It was nearly 11PM—Showtime. The black van pulled out of the short driveway, Brandon driving and Terry in the rear setting up the broadcast feed. I followed the van and scanned on my AM Radio. They stopped at a ratty motel and the professor, an older gentleman with a crazed look in his eyes and a tremor in his hand from too many anti-psychotic meds made a beleaguered step up into the belly of the beast.
They cruised neighborhood streets slowly, turning into my labyrinthine enclave of middle class starvation. My shotgun was in the back seat of my mini-van, my AM radio in the passenger side tuned in perfectly to Terry’s broadcast. His voice broke the silence and static, he started in with his introduction: Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very special guest tonight…
Brandon turned the van around a corner heavily laden with trees, killed the lights and backed down a narrow dirt and gravel drive that led to an abandoned house that had been foreclosed a year ago. It was impossible to see in the darkness with its lights extinguished. I killed the lights as well and stopped my mini-van next to the trees. I listened to Terry and the professor on air; there’s only one way to interpret these events that doesn’t fit with the government narrative that we are force fed by the state media machine…
I strolled down the driveway and approached the black van on the driver’s side. Brandon seemed to have a moment of recognition when he discerned my face in the darkness, but he didn’t see the shotgun in my hand until it was too late. The explosion tore through the glass of the driver’s side window and battered his face into a dark mist.
I pulled the sliding door open on the van and Terry sat there wide-eyed, enraged, microphone falling on the floor in a heap of wires and the professor trembling in the back trying to cover his face. Terry took out a pistol and I let loose with the second blast. It cut him nearly in half and I thought about the schizophrenic symbolism of it. The radio was sparking, buckshot knocking around its innards like pin-balls in an arcade. I was covered in blood from the back-spray. The professor was trembling and crying. I broke open the shotgun breach and pulled out the two spent shells and loaded two more and snapped it back shut.
I was Toby Meyers.
I was the bare-assed Hero of East Vale.
I was anarchy, shooting surreality with double-aught destruction.
I crouched got into the van and crouched in front of the professor. He pissed himself and kept crying, “please,” and cowering at the furthest reaches of that rolling tin can. All around him was the truth but still he hid his eyes and did not want to see.
Mark and I sat on lawn chairs in his garage with the door open, looking out at our street. We sipped vodka. I said to him, “Today is international Jazz day.”
Mark said, “this is a sad day,” and I nodded with him. An unmarked police car slowed as it passed by, the officers in the front seats eyeing us, assessing us for any number of puny laws that we might be breaking in that instant.
“You know what happened, don’t you?” Mark said.
“No,” I said.
“It was the CIA that took him out. That’s the truth. Plain as the nose on your face.”