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Excerpt from The Miranda Complex Volume 2: Poppies

posted: 1/1/2017

The following is an excerpt from The Miranda Complex Volume 2.



***


Despair took hold a mere 3 weeks into 11th Grade upon my having seen Miranda Savitch making out with Freddy Snow during the screening of Pandora's Box we'd all attended one Saturday morning in late September.

Afterward I sat at the bus stop on the corner of Wilshire and La Peer, across from the Motion Picture Academy theatre, wanting to grok the fullness but grokking only that Miranda was a shadow now, off to something new.

Dolly Ferris crossed Wilshire and joined me at the bus stop.

"Hey," she said.

"Heya hey," I answered without looking her way.

"Why so glum, chum?"

I shrugged.

"Death of Chairman Mao got you down?"

"Haha," I let her get a chuckle out of me.

"Mandy and Freddy?"

I shrugged again.

"They're pretty much together, yeah."

"Sure looks like it," I nodded.

"I feel like we've been here before, eh?"

"Hyup," I remembered the sock hop.

The bus arrived and we both dug out our passes.

After we got on board Dolly said walking backwards in front of me, "What are you doing now? You wanna come over?"

"I was thinking of hanging at the Tar Pits," I said.

"Come hang out at my house," she said, "sit by the pool, eat grapes, tell me your troubles. I've got Wheat Thins."

"I dunno," I said with a little less glumness as we made our way down the aisle, "But, dang, dude...Wheat Thins."

We sat in those seats on the RTD where you face each other.

"Hey," she said, kicking at my foot.

She was trying to get me to look at her instead of out the window.

"Hey," she said again, still nudging.

I met her beckoning.

She looked at me like we were already kissing.

"I take it you've broken up with Aaron."

"Uh huh," she said.

"What happened?"

"I dunno," she shrugged, "it was winding down for a while. We both wanted out, I guess."

"That makes it easy."

"Nyeah, not so easy," she said, "I still freak out when I think of him with other girls and stuff. He's everywhere in my head basically. But, yeah, I'm glad it ended on a mellow note. We'll probably even hang out or something when he's in town for Thanksgiving. Or maybe not. It doesn't matter. Does it?"

"Where's he go again?"

"Stanford."

"Right."

Her eyes had this sparkle about them like crushed gemstones brownish and powdery in the sunlight.

The bus opened its doors at Fairfax.

We got off and stood on the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax in front of the Thrifty, and the better part of me said offer to buy her an ice cream cone and go hang out with her at her house and you know you will totally end up making out with her on her bed, but my dominant demon self said out loud, "I think I'm gonna go hang at the Tar Pits."

"Come over," she countered with low-key allure.

Dolly oozed it like an ancient tree.

Dolly Ferris always enflamed me, especially if we were alone. I had let her slip from the fantasy pantheon over the past year because she had a boyfriend, and that killed the whole hope thing that's so integral to successful mental revels. But now and then I'd look at her in class and get all het up again and crave that mercury mouth of hers.

"Come over and play," she said.

The whirl was all before me.

Mine for the taking. Once again.

And I said, "Nyeah I think I'm gonna go hang at the Tar Pits."

Dolly smirked at me.

"You are crazy and you suck," she said, "but I love you anyway."

"Haha," I said.

"I'm serious, Lance."

She looked at me while I looked across the street at the Ohrbach's sign and remembered when it used to be Seibu.

"I've meant that a lot of different ways over the past few years," she continued, "but no matter how else I mean it I always also mean it as a statement of sincere friendship," she said, "Really and truly. Lance..."

We stood a moment longer in the ochre afternoon sunlight.

"...Come over," she said one more time.

"Rain check," I said.

"It never rains here," Dolly frowned, blew me a pouty good-natured kiss and waved as she turned to head home.

I watched her ass for a while as she walked away and wondered if she was aware that I was doing that.

I crossed Wilshire to the Johnnie's corner and then across Fairfax past May Company heading down Wilshire to the Tar Pits.

En route I stopped to hail and salaam the mighty KMET even though it no longer sizzled like it once had.

I walked slowly through the park, inhaling the intermittent whiffs of tar that have always made the place feel like home.

I had come to the Tar Pits so I could lie submerged in self-pity for however long was left of daylight.

Miranda wasn't into me anymore.

Does it matter? I wondered.

I wouldn't even describe it as a sadness.

It was a bewilderment, a lostness, an orphanage.

It stung worse than shampoo lather dribbling down your chafed ass-crack in the shower.

11th Grade had gotten off to a mostly good start right up until I saw Miranda and Freddy making out at the Pandora's Box screening.

The highlight of the school year thus far was having Period 1 American Lit with Mr. Megiddo, the English teacher who would make forever irrevocable my connection to literature.

Harvey Megiddo entered the classroom on the first day of school looking mythological. He was about six feet tall and had thick brown hair, parted on the side, that hung to just below his ears, a droopy mustache, rectangular wire-frame glasses on a heroic Roman nose, plaid shirt, tan cords, Wallabies.

Also on that first day of class Miranda walked right past me without saying hello to sit in the back with Dolly Ferris and Arabella Mayflower.

Miranda had sat next to me in English class every year since 7th Grade.

My stomach tumbled.

Claire Farnaway ended up to my left again just like in 10th Grade.

Gina Dichlich chose the desk to my right, usually Miranda's, and Whitman Rust claimed the desk behind Gina upon whom he was crushing at that time and kept swearing to us that he was just about to ask her out which he never did. Manny Shepherd sat in back of me and Claude Moss sat in back of Claire.

I was totally bummed about Miranda not sitting next to me, though it all made sense 3 weeks later when I saw her making out with Freddy at the Pandora's Box screening.

"Together again!" Claire said to me smiling broadly and dragging me out of my downer.

"Yeah!" I said, quite happy in fact to be sitting next to Claire once more--we always had laughs--yet hyper aware that Miranda was back there instead of up front next to me.

Above Megiddo's desk there was a poster that said Pope Springs Eternal with a gnomish man emerging from the ground like a plant.

"Like on Rocky and Bullwinkle," Claude observed.

"That doesn't look like the Pope," I said to Mr. Megiddo.

"That's because it's not the Pope, though it is a Pope, A as in Alexander Pope, the great British writer. And you know what, why don't we start with Pope because he had a lot of great things to say about art in general and literature in particular, what makes it good and not so good, and that's mostly what we're going to be doing in here, talking about art in general and literature in particular and what makes it good."

"What about the not so good?" I asked.

"We don't have time to waste our energies on the not so good," he said and walked to the blackboard, "That's true of life in general and love in particular."

"True wit is nature to advantage dress'd," he wrote as he spoke slowly, "What oft was thought but ne'er so well express'd."

We looked at the couplet for a moment.

"What does he mean by that?"

We sat in fearful silence.

Nobody wanted to go first.

"What's 'true wit'?"

I raised my hand.

"What's your name?" Megiddo pointed to me.

"Lance Atlas."

"Lance, what's true wit?"

"I am," said Whitman Rust to assorted laughters.

"What's your name?" Megiddo asked him.

"Whit, W-h-i-t."

"OK, well done, sir," Megiddo acknowledged, "But what's true wit, w-I-t? Lance?"

"I know True Grit," said Claude Moss, "Good movie."

"Not really," said Mr. Megiddo, wincing. "Lance, save me. What's true wit?"

"Uh something that's legitimately maybe funny or clever?" I asked.

"I like the legitimately part," Megiddo said, "Yes, and you're on the right track. Wit has a broader meaning here than just humor, though that can be part of it definitely and many times is, but think also of all kinds of inventive or creative expressions that are intended to enlighten or inform or stoke revelations. From the German wissen, to know, and also the Sanskrit veda, knowledge. Wit."

"So true wit is something that's legitimately..." I couldn't find the word.

"Art maybe?" Mr. Megiddo said, "Art, discourse, observation, human creativity, when it's the real deal, is 'nature to advantage dress'd.' What does that mean? Don't be thrown off by the syntax. And what's syntax by the way? Mr. Beauregard taught you this I know."

Gina Dichlich raised her hand.

"What's your name?" Megiddo asked her.

"Gina Dichlich," she said.

"Pardon?"

"DICK-LICK," Gina said again followed by her timeworn smile.

"I meant your first name," Megiddo replied unfazed, "What's syntax, Miss Dichlich?"

"Word order," Gina smirked.

"Correct. Word order. Good. Don't be thrown off by the syntax of this line. Put it in a more familiar sequence. Nature dress'd to advantage."

Claire raised her hand but without waiting to be called upon blurted out, "Things are made to look better than they really do?"

In Megiddo's, you could say stuff without raising your hand and he didn't care unless you interrupted people.

"I'm Claire, by the way."

"Hmm...not quite that, Claire, close, but not quite better than they really do, but rather...what?"

Miranda raised her hand.

"Your name?" Megiddo asked her.

"Miranda Savitch," she said.

"Things are made to look...what?"

"Better than they usually do."

"Bingo," he pointed, "And what's the effect of that?" he asked.

"Well, it's like they...shine."

"Yes, and what's the effect of that?"

"It...makes...you...notice it better?" she tried.

"Yes!" he said and paused, "Art is the universe calling attention to itself. The artist is the conduit, the one who takes us there, to that moment of noticing," said Mr. Megiddo, "and Pope underlines the notion with 'what oft was thought,' what has been thought about a lot, oft, the ideas that are always out there, 'but ne'er so well express'd,' but have never, ne'er, been put into such illuminating or dazzling or profound or exquisitely beautiful words or whatever medium."

"Saying it in a way that's never been said before in other words," I spoke without raising my hand.

"In a way that's never been said before, yes," Mr. Megiddo echoed, "Tell the truth but tell it slant, as Emily Dickinson put it. Give it that shine, that shimmer, that glow. It's the same with people by the way. You know how we describe pregnant women and brides as 'glowing?' Why do they seem to have a glow about them?"

"'Cause they're having a baby or getting married, like big milestones," Whitman Rust said.

"Oh I don't think it's because of the milestone aspect. I don't think a bride is glowing because she is going to get married per se or that the pregnant woman is glowing because she's going to be a mother, no."

"Then why?" asked Claude Moss.

"They're glowing because they are doing what they want to do. Believe me, a pregnant woman who doesn't want her baby or a bride who doesn't want to get married will not be glowing," Mr. Megiddo said.

"But marriage and having babies are something that women are supposed to do so maybe they are glowing because of the milestone aspect to it," Manny said.

"Hey," Miranda hooted from the back, "Uncool. Who says women are supposed to do anything? It's 1976, dude."

"Perhaps," Mr. Megiddo said, "they are glowing because they've found that blissful nexus," he interlocked his hands, "where what you want to do and what you are supposed to do becomes the same thing. We can continue this discussion another time. I'm supposed to collect your emergency cards today. Please pass them forward."

"Can I bring mine tomorrow?" a couple dozen students asked, at which Megiddo rolled his eyes and said, "Of course."

Art is the universe calling attention to itself

Mr. Megiddo's phrase fastened itself to my thought stream.

The artist is the conduit

"The one who takes us there," I said to myself, "to that moment of noticing."

It felt like something I should have known already.

Knowledge had been hitting me that way a lot lately, like, "Yeah, what took you so long, dude?"

That semester was also the first time I didn't have any classes at all with Lorelei Lux.

She was in Megiddo's other American Lit section, the Period 2 class, and nothing else in our schedules matched up either.

I was aware of her on campus, but we didn't interact.

An excellent unexpected surprise that term was a Cinema class some of us got to take as an elective.

Mr. Simmons--a new English teacher who was really into movies--got to teach this one cool non-English class, a history of film starting from the very earliest.

When we first walked into his classroom and saw him, Buzzy pointed and said, "Hey that's the dude from the Exorcist line!"

Claude was also in the class and he said yeah it was him for sure.

"It is!" I agreed.

That story was part of our shared mythology. He came up all the time. Walter Simmons. The dude from the Exorcist line. And there he was, our teacher now. Mr. Simmons. It was trippy.

We told him who we were and he sort of pretended to remember but there was no glint of true recollection.

It's weird how someone can be a mythic figure in your conversations and consciousness yet you play no role at all in his.

It's always kind of like that with teachers.

We remember them way better than they remember us.

In his first lecture Mr. Simmons said of movies, "What you see is an illusion. That motion is really a series of stillnesses," he paused, "and what your eyes see is nothing but a blurring together of those stillnesses in sequence."

We saw great shit in that class. A Trip To The Moon blew our surreal cool-nerd pothead minds.

And Charlie Chaplin became one of our deities, especially The Gold Rush but City Lights also.

It was Mr. Simmons who arranged it so we could attend the Pandora's Box screening at the Academy where I saw Miranda making out with Freddy Snow for the first time.

I was immediately mesmerized by Louise Brooks whose face was like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz only slutty.

About halfway through the movie I looked at the row in back of me, like right when Lulu shoots her new husband, and saw Miranda and Freddy frenching and they were very clearly boyfriend and girlfriend and I hadn't noticed until that moment and nobody'd told me.

I was able to watch the rest of the movie and even love it but Miranda and Freddy frenching right in back of me cut into my pleasure in a major way.

Hence my solitary sulking among the fossils that afternoon.

I watched the bruise-blue sky turn black and the leaves on the trees become more shadow than substance before I thought about heading back to a mopey night of emotional blurgh in my bedroom.