The Mandela Play #4
Chapter: The Dying Light
This is part 4 of a series. “The Mandela Play” (part#1) An American boy, Will Hollant, gets imprisoned with a deadly secret, which ties him to an international conspiracy. His grandfather Willem Hollant from Vermont donates him a book about Nelson Mandela.
Chapter IV: The Dying Light
TWO MEN IN A BAR
It may sound like a joke. Two men in a bar. It gets better, but there’s no joke. One of us is black, black American black, like milk chocolate. And he’s a Muslim too.. kind of. And I’m white, like immediately-red-on-the-beach-white, which only through years of farming became a tan. And I’m a Christian…kind of. I never got used to this American religious attitude. I know too well the Bible is a book written by men, who adapted parts for political reasons. I think true believing lies within. My friend, Isaac, calls himself Muslim, but doesn’t trust his own religion. He knows how Islamic Arabs dealt a lot in slavery, way before the colonizing Europeans turned it into a multi million business. So why his parents rejected Christianity for the more Arabic Muslim faith as more true to blacks made never sense to him. We’re basically aging pensioners raging against the dying of the light. And then we don’t mean our age. We mean our country. The US of A. We feel that nowadays the A can stand for Aggression, Adultery, Abomination, Alligators, Anything. We both have traveled around the world and can see beyond our borders. However big our country seems to be, to us it feels tight and diseased. Sadly, we see no doctor coming.
We are sitting a a bookstore coffee bar. The place is freshly painted blue/white with cheap paint. There’s an awful Hillary poster next to a faded Barack’s Hope poster on the wall. Her face has a pirates mustache and eye patch drawn on with a black marker. The furniture is a stunning orange. There’s fresh field flowers in a glass vase on the large readers table, with only the two of us occupying places along side it. It’s the only place in town where some intelligence isn’t immediately suspicious. Our own community thinks people like us crazy. That makes us friends. This is the place where we can meet and talk. There’s a whole group of us, but today we’re alone. “You did what!?” my friend says. “I made sure he got the book,” I say. I smile, “It seemed a dangerous thing to do, yet I feel it was the right thing.” “You rascal,” says Isaac. I smile to the compliment, but don’t say anything back. “Will he take the hint?” Isaac asks. “Hints. Plural,” I smile. “I dunno, Iz, we can only hope,” I answer. Isaac suggests, “I think I know someone who is locked up in there. Perhaps I can give him a hint too.” I nod. All help is welcome for my grandson. I don’t know what happened to him, but I know from Bob, my son, that it’s a screw up. He can’t believe Willem actually shot someone and neither can I. Yet the proof was overwhelming and Willem pleaded guilty. But then again, everyone pleads guilty in this lousy system. The best justice poor people get is pleading guilty for a bargain. It’s the kind of justice to help the police show results, and you don’t get framed for life. Pleading guilty means nothing anymore. At my visit it seemed very much like there was stuff he didn’t tell me, but it wasn’t like he was hiding guilt. It was something else and I have no clue what.
When we get up to leave, I walk up to the bar to pay and ask if we can leave a small poster on the door. Shelley looks at it and shakes no. “I don’t want that kind of politics in here. It’s too volatile.” I point at the political posters behind her. She shoves the the little poster back at me. “Those were so long ago, nobody cares any more,” she replies defending her decision. I shrug and walk outside past Isaac who is holding the door open, like he knew how this was going to end. The poster in my hand says ‘Banned Cartoons Exhibition’ with a picture of religious crosses stabbing Muslims to death, raining down from US drones. We both know that this show isn’t going to be popular. Our small band of activists will visit and some FBI agents pretending to be tourists. After that a camera will photograph all visitors, but not for our safety. Harold couldn’t even get a glass insurance for his gallery, when the insurance companies wanted to know why he wanted it now.
In the end we resort by buying some cheap wallpaper paste and illegally post them on public spaces around town. We see ourselves as two older men postering some sense into the madness around us. “The Rapture will doom you!” An old lady curses us as she passes by with a Walmart bag on the way to her worn out hummer. A few millennials give us the thumb up. One of them looks around first, before he does. An African American woman with shopping bags in hand stands guard until we’re done. An older couple immediately crosses the street once they see the poster. We just observe the state of America in divided reactions on what should have been a fest of freedom in cartoons. They all give us the sense there’s a battle going on and a lot of fear even haunts the streets of rural Vermont. I wonder what Harold will think of this. He’ll probably draw a new cartoon. The left and right divided and shouting angrily at each other: “Your attitude is dividing us.” I’d consider an extra picture of both sides then secretly whispering among themselves, “The other side is so stupid in their believes. Those assholes should be purged, because they pull the whole country down into terrible violence.” Trump may not be president any more. What we got back turns out to be way more dangerous. Men who consciously steer everything in their direction: corporate dictatorship. And with all the new technology they use to get everyone screened, we feel there’s not much we can do, but be scruffy old men, making a mockery of real activism.
And the end of the day we end up at Harold’s house, an artful woodsy cabin with enough rooms to host a family of five. Here he lives with his wife Brandy. Now that the children are out of the house, they use it for art studio and administration for their gallery “Art’s Voice” near the town center. His wife keeps us company in a living room full of unsold art, mostly of natural materials, while he cooks for us. Brandy gets the conversation going by showing off her latest mash up color plates. These plates are their actual income as Brandy sells frequently via several West Coast galleries for outstanding prices. The one I like best shows a Native American all made up with price tags and brand tags. Each tag has been carefully hand drawn. Only at a distance you see the man; up close it’s all tags. I ask her about a few choices. Why a yellow nipple? Why only price tags for his head and only brands for his clothing? Brandy knows how to get people depressed, while making them think and laugh with her answers at the same time. Her storytelling is part of the attraction of her work. Each of her works has a story attached. And all her stories have one thing in common; they make you question the normal in our society. Brandy deeply believes we live in barbaric times. I can only wonder why so many people still need to be woken up to that idea.
Dinner is full of good organic food and fluid conversation. Isaac has us all laughing with stories about how his mother kept him and many others out of the gangs. That lady was one feisty warrior. One day she walks into a crib and takes two other boys home. When the gangsters threaten her, she warns them. “No mother will want to hear her son watched a mother get shot and did nothing.” Somehow she impresses them enough to walk out. Isaac lost his father through gang violence, where he actually was an underboss. After several such episodes his mother then moved her family to rural Vermont. Here she started over and forced Isaac to finish high school. It was through his mother and one inspiring teacher that he himself started thinking. And it was through slam poetry that Isaac found his metier. His husky voice mixed with street cred and crazy sense of humor, which he inherited from his mother made him a small name in Vermont clubs. That’s where we met and became friends. I met his mother before she died from a simple disease, from which she could have been cured. But that was when health insurance started limiting options for low incomes to keep prices low.
At 7:30 the doorbell goes. Harold walks to the hallway and opens the door. From the conversations we understand it’s two cops. We hear Harold getting fried over the apparently offensive posters he illegally spread around town. Brandy joins him in the hallway while we stay out of sight. From the voices we understand one cop just doesn’t want illegal postering. The other is really pissed about the content. Harold and Brandy plead innocence. They made the posters and asked some friends to spread them around, like in shops and the library. These friends seemed to have understood the assignment wrong. They’re very sorry this happened. And no, they won’t tell who they were. But it sure as hell wasn’t them, and they got the alibis to prove it. The cops leave angry. When Harold and Brandy come back into the room they both sigh of relief. “If this was a poster for a dance party, a butcher, or even real estate no one would have made such a noise,” Harold mutters. Isaac and I hold our wine glasses high to celebrate them. I see it as one very tiny victory for freedom.
Other available chapters thus far.
Part #2: The Right Thing (Will)
Part #6: Algorithms (Jackson)