The following is an excerpt from John's last novel The Assault on Tony's, which features five men--wealthy drunks--who barricade themselves in a posh bar as riots rage outside. There is one woman in the book, Jill the barmaid.
Tony's is mostly an emotional landmine for me, but not in this passage. Herein I find only glee. When I read it, I can believe that some things never die. Then of course, it comes to an end. The last shot sluices from the bottle and all I'm left with is an empty glass, a papery grave and my fading memories. Yeah, yeah.
Until then, enjoy this: my favorite pour from John's final effort.
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“I’m talking about those moments when it becomes clear that a certain new aspect—bad or good—of our life has been accepted by the world at large.” Rudd waxed philosophical over his brandy, his eyes full of arousal, thoughts of his life and what made him good. “I’m talking about the moment of cultural assimilation.”
Jill, seated across from him in the booth, watched as he topped off their glasses. Though she’d hardly touched hers, she was trying to keep a pace of sorts. She wanted to be interested in what he was saying, if for no other reason than to fill the oppressive voids spent watching them all passed out. “I think I know what you’re saying,” she said.
He nodded, anxious to be in receipt of this, her volley. “Let me give you two examples,” he said, mellow yet almost out of breath.
Langston dozed on the benches near the front, a fixture now. He dreamed of small girls, men's daughters.
Osmond, Fenton, and Miles were engaged in conversation at the bar. The latter two kept glancing at Jill and Rudd.
Rudd wore that look on his face, like: bear with me, you’ll get it. “I needed a bandanna—I know, I know: it was for a party, I was going to a Sixties party—so I went into one of those kid’s stores—skates and records, stuff like that—and they had them. The woman asked me what color I wanted, and she held out a red one. She looked at me, presumably waiting to see if I wanted red.” He paused to make sure this had all sunk in, that the significance of a red bandanna was not lost on Jill.
“I don’t think I could see you in a red bandanna,” said Jill. No help.
“Well obviously,” Rudd continued, straightforward, best plan, “that’s why I said to her ‘Jeeze, not red! I wear that and I’ll get shot.’ ‘Does that still happen,’ she said, laughing. And that was it. It was significant because it was such a casual joke. The idea of being shot for wearing the wrong color scarf had become nothing more than a joke. No more: oh yeah, isn’t that awful, or: oh, I know what you mean. It had fulfilled its destiny. It had to become a joke because there was simply no other way to deal with it, no other way to challenge its power.”
Jill was nodding, she was close. “I’m with you,” she said. She was tipsy, thank God.
“Right, right,” said Rudd. He choked down a gulp of brandy. “Nother example, this time a good one. Walking down the street on a sunny Sunday afternoon, just me out for a walk. Semi-residential neighborhood, a few liquor stores and banks, maybe a grocery store...” He paused, momentarily lost. Too much detail, he thought. But that’s the best way, right? Rudd sipped his brandy. “I’m walking, and this car pulled up—a BMW I think, one of those kids’ ones, 320 something. In fact it was full of kids, young women, I should say. The driver, about twenty-five, attractive blonde, leaned over her friend and said to me, ‘Do you know if there’s a Plus machine nearby?’. Not an ATM, she didn’t ask for an ATM. She asked for a Plus machine! She asked a total stranger for a Plus machine, and the best part is: I knew exactly what she meant and where one was. I told her, and she thanked me and drove off. Beautiful, I thought. ATMs are now assimilated, so much so that we need to be more specific when discussing them—”
He was interrupted by Miles, who brazenly wedged his way into their conversation, into the booth and next to Jill. “What are we talking about?” he wanted to know.
Ignoring him, or at least resolved to attempt so, Rudd concluded directly to Jill, “Like the colored bandannas, the Plus machines are now a piece of history. We don’t have to ask about them anymore, it’s not a question. It’s a—”
“What’s a plus machine?” asked Miles of Jill.
She looked to Rudd. She had been nodding too vigorously and now she needed him to answer quick.
“Do you mind, Miles?” challenged Rudd, turning on the man.
She felt she had to jump in with something. “We were talking about how people communicate,” she said.
“Thank you, Jill,” said Rudd, looking at Miles as if declared the victor by the ranking authority. He turned to Jill. “—fact,” he said. “Knowledge. It’s knowledge.”
“Eggheads,” said Miles dismissively, before passing out on the table.
Rudd assessed the situation. “You’re trapped,” he said.
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