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- Any Coincidence Is - 1/17 -

"I used to do a turn in the army. I was really mad back then... [a] loony! I'd never have any music to introduce me, which was a big deal. Unheard of. I'd hop out on to the stage. It used to take ages. Hop, hop, hop. As I got nearer to the microphone, they'd hear this doddery voice going 'Do do do... do do do.' When I'd eventually make it to the microphone I'd stop and say, 'I must be a great disappointment to you all.' That's it. There's no joke. It's totally irrational. A lot of people don't get it. Still don't." -- Spike Milligan

"What will be is. Is is." -- James Joyce, "Finnegans Wake"

1. The Dim Bulb "If you guys don't listen to me, we're going to end up in that box again!" -- Davy to the other Monkees, "Head"

The young man (boy, really) played with his fingers in the garish light cast from the lone bulb hanging in the concrete basement. He scratched at an imaginary itch on his right hand (just below his thumb) in order to take his mind off the man in the lab coat who sat across from him at the beaten, scarred, wood table. It didn't work. And whoever this man in the lab coat was, he was insistent about paperwork. He had three inches clipped onto a weathered clipboard which he flipped through with precision.

"Can I offer you a glass of water?" asked the boy's captor in a calm, sensitive tenor.

The boy, Kurt, continued to scratch the imaginary itch, which had leaped magically from his right hand to the left. Eventually the falseness of the itch would be deduced, and the lab coated man would disappear out of the cell and return with... God knows what. Kurt had seen torture hundreds -- if not thousands -- of times on TV, and he was glumly aware that there would be no commercial breaks for him.

"Can I offer you a glass of water?" The question was repeated without urgency, as if the speaker was an absent-minded waiter. The itch now leaped with the dexterity of a trained flea onto the boy's leg, and the dutiful fingers followed.

He watched as the man in the lab coat, without name tag or company insignia, studied his stack of papers attached to the clipboard. Several yellow forms near the top half inch were labeled 27B. The man frowned and wrote a note on the top page: Note: Find out who isn't duplicating 27B in Pink.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I wasn't listening. Was that a yes or no to the water?"

Kurt remained in his chair, almost motionless, except for the itching-and-scratching routine. It had leaped again, this time onto his scalp, and the twitching fingers followed. He wondered how long he could keep this up without drawing blood.

"I'll just write down 'no answer' in your file," the Lab Coat Man muttered, shuffling his way through the stack of paper, skipping the yellows and pinks to find a blue. Locating the relevant box on a 43F, he made a small 'X,' flipped to the front of the pile, and looked back at the boy. He had stopped scratching his scalp and pushing his strawberry-blond hair even more out of place, leaving his hands motionless and his eyes fixed on the table top. Good, he thought; at least he won't make himself bleed with all that scratching. The man adjusted his glasses, which didn't help, as his vision impairment was due to the dim lighting. The singular bulb, being pathetic twice over (as it was: A) the only one in the room, and B) thirty watts too dim), hung from a cord -- a more melodramatic touch than he would have employed himself, but from a practical point of view there wasn't much to see even in a well lit concrete basement. A painting or two would clear up the problem nicely, although it would take away from the point of the room: interrogation. Interrogation rooms were not meant to be pleasant. So, perhaps, they would only fill the room with Dali's? The man chuckled and coughed to cover his lack of composure. Dali, indeed. Or Miro. More camouflaged coughing. But the boy, still maintaining what seemed to be an impression of a sedated vegetable, didn't seem to notice. So, the lab man adjusted his collar and steeled himself for the next grim encounter with the unkempt.

"My name is..." he offered. The boy's silent motif continued. He discouraged a sigh that was building inside him. The boy was obviously frightened and knew nothing. How could he, the man thought. I'm junior vice-president, and I have to keep asking Forrester what to do next. Although no one ever called him by that title, or even his name anymore. Just because he had unpacked the first shipment of lab coats and arranged them on hangers according to size, he had been dubbed the Lab Coat Man. And now, weeks later, the joke dead and buried, the name had stuck. Was this the brave new world they were heading to?

The Lab Coat Man sighed. What could he do but persevere? The questionnaire had to be completed. And if the boy was ever going to be recruited, he'd have to be a lot more forthcoming.

"My name is..." he prompted.

The boy resumed scratching, this time under this first knuckle of his left hand.

"Well, what's in a name, eh? Ha ha ha!" The subtle wit of a well executed quote amused the man, but generated no response from the boy. Discouraged, he dutifully noted this on a blue 42C, adding another 'X.'

This could go on forever...

2. What there's no accounting for "If that's the best you can do, then your best sucks!" -- Jodi Foster, "The Accused"

"Because all of you of Earth are idiots!" shouted Tom, wearily wiping the glass counter and removing coconut oil from the reflections of overpriced candy bars. Inside the theater the movie echoed him: "Because all of you of Earth are idiots!"

Tom sighed, not for the first time that evening. The Manager, who paid in cash every Sunday, had decided to take advantage of the bizarre tastes of his Gen X clients and offer an Ed Wood film festival. "Bride of the Monster", "Plan 9 From Outer Space", and "Night of the Ghouls" ran on the second, smaller screen on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, two bucks a head. Carloads of costumed goons from Madison assaulted the theater in droves, throwing popcorn at the screen whenever they saw a particularly bad moment of cinema history. Which meant that Kurt spent a lot of extra time cleaning the theater. He had mentioned this problem to his boss, but his only response had been a toothy grin. The Manager was making a killing.

Tom, who needed the job in order to move out of his parents' trailer home, found little about the Ed Wood canon amusing. Even so, he had been forced to hear the dialog of each film every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday... The soundproofing between theater two and the lobby was nonexistent. Thankfully, he only had to watch them once, when he filled in for the Manager's weasel-featured nephew/projectionist Neoldner, who had called in sick to buy grass in Beloit. In return, Neoldner was going to clean out theater two this evening, and Tom couldn't wait for his shift to end.

One good thing about the Ed Wood freaks - they bought all the popcorn Tom could make. He always had the nagging worry that the Manager would increase his profit margin by manning the concession stand himself. The last two employees in Tom's position had been let go for no given reason... it seemed only a matter of time before the same thing happened to him. But the Manager strolled out of the second theater with a broad grin, revealing his cutting overbite.

"I don't know why," the Manager exclaimed, "but they love it!"

"Most of them are from the 'Ed 9 Film Society,'" Tom replied. "By the way, I need to restock."

"I brought three boxes up already -- they're by the stairs. And once you're done with that whatever else needs to be done out here, you can go home early!"

"A whole five minutes?" Tom muttered, almost inaudibly. "Whatever shall I do with my time?"

The Manager swung his hands apart and then together in loud clap, as he always did to change the subject. "By the way, your mother called. She said to call her back immediately."

"When did she call?"

The Manager leveled a mischievous stare at Tom and quoted the following: "'He tampered in God's domain!'"

"But that was seventy minutes ago!" The closing line, in fact, of "Bride of the Monster". Woodian dialog had become part of Tom's internal clock. "Why didn't you say anything?"

"I had to give Neoldner a hand threading 'Plan 9', and I forgot all about it. Sorry!"

Tom heard Criswell begin his parting words, figured to hell with it, and abandoned his post in order to use the phone in the employee's lounge. It had been a storage room until just recently, when the Manager had redecorated it with a host of kitschy sale items from Osco. Good intentions, perhaps, but the room was only big enough for two people to begin with, and a hypothetical third could only find space through acts of physical intimacy which would have been rendered impossible by the decor. He dialed home and his mother answered immediately, showering him with motherly affection and gratitude that he was safe and babbling on about some catastrophe that had just occurred.

"What, mom? Mom, what?! Mom! What?!" Tom repeated his request in several permutations until he finally received the coherent message that had so shaken his mother: his cousin Kurt had gone missing.

Tom pondered this for a moment.

Any Coincidence Is - 1/17

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