Monday, November 08, 2010

The Overton Window: Chapter Twenty-One

I think we all agreed that chapter fifteen was the creepiest, right? You remember the whole "don't tease the panther" incident, I hope. (And if you're fortunate enough to have scrubbed that from your brainpan, go here and re-read it.) I only bring this up because, somehow, Beck et al have produced a chapter even more unsettling. And there is no sex in it at all.

The taxi takes Molly and Noah to Molly's ... ummm ... safehouse? Hideout? Crash pad, like maybe the teabaggers are going to the matresses? "Come on up. See how the other half lives" is her invite. And the author spends the next page describing how run down and ramshackle the building is. I suppose this is to contrast with opulence of Noah's condo.

Inside, however, the place is quite nice:

Great effort had obviously been taken to transform this space into a sort of self-contained hideaway, far removed from the city outside. What had probably once been a huge, cold industrial floor had been renovated and brought alive with simple ingenuity and hard work.

Ah, yes, those ingenious and hardworking teabaggers. They made their living space nice. Not like Noah, who got his from Daddy. Noah is a schmuck for not living in a shitty apartment, obviously. He could learn a lot from these teabaggers.

"How many people live here?" Noah asked.

"I don't know, eight or ten, so don't be surprised if you see someone. They come and go; none of us lives here permanently. We have places like this all around the country so we can have somewhere safe to stay when we have to travel."

I don't know, but that sounds... well... vaguely communist, what with all the sharing of housing and whatnot. It also sounds, to be perfectly honest, a little like a criminal hideout. Or maybe a terrorist cell. Why the fuck are there "places like this all around the country"? Why do they need somewhere safe to stay? Is the Hyatt not an option?

Molly offers to fetch Noah some tea (of course!) while he settles in.

He walked about midway into the front room and found a slightly elevated platform enclosed in Japanese screens of thin dark wood and rice paper panels. There were a lot of bookshelves, a dresser, a rolltop desk, and a vanity. But the space was dominated by a large rope hammock, its webbing covered by a nest of comfy blankets and pillows, suspended waist-high between the red shutoff wheels of two heavy metal pipes that extended up from the floor through the ceiling. This room within a room was lit softly by small lamps and pastel paper lanterns. The total effect of the enclosure was that of a mellow, relaxing Zen paradise.

How ingenious and hardworking. And creepy:

A glance through the nearest bookcase revealed a strange assortment of reading material. Some old and modern classics were segregated on a shelf by themselves, but the collection consisted mostly of works that leaned toward the eccentric, maybe even the forbidden. There didn't seem to be a clear ideological thread to connect them; Alinsky's Rules for Radicals was right next to None Dare Call It Conspiracy. Down the way The Blue Book of the John Birch Society was sandwiched between Abbie Hoffman's Steal This Book, Orson Scott Card's Empire, and a translated copy of The Coming Insurrection. Below was an entire section devoted to a series of books from a specialty publisher, all by a single author named Ragnar Benson. Noah touched the weathered spines and read the titles of these, one by one:

The Modern Survival Retreat
Guerrilla Gunsmithing
Homemade Grenade Launchers: Constructing the Ultimate Hobby Weapon
Ragnar's Homemade Detonators
Survivalist's Medicine Chest
Live Off the Land in the City and Country
And a last worn hardcover, titled simply Mantrapping.

While there is no "clear ideological thread" that explains the commie lit jumbled up with works by professional homobigots, I think the list of survivalist manuals is more than telling.

"Those are some pretty good books she's got there, huh?"

It was only the tranquil atmosphere and a slight familiarity to the odd voice from close behind that kept him from jumping right out of his skin. He turned, and there was Molly’s large friend from the bar, nearly at eye level because of the elevated platform on which Noah was standing.

"Hollis," Noah said, stepping down to the main floor, "how is it that I never hear you coming?"

The big man gave him a warm guy-hug with an extra pat on the shoulder at the end. "I guess I tend to move about kinda quiet."

And certainly, Hollis, gentle giant that he is, likes Homemade Grenade Launchers. Hollis, though, seems to like guns. And bullets. And guy-hugs. Yay for guy-hugs! He shows Noah around the compound, taking him to his own room for a moment.

In the room that Hollis identified as his own there was a low army cot, several neatly organized project tables, and a large red cabinet on wheels, presumably full of tools. All these things were arranged as though bed rest wasn't even in the top ten of this man's nighttime priorities.

"What is all this stuff?" Noah asked. One table was covered with parts and test equipment for working on small electronics, another was a mass of disassembled communications equipment, and a third was devoted to cleaning supplies and the neatly disassembled pieces of a scary-looking black rifle and a handgun. More weapons were visible in an open gun safe to the side, but his focus had settled on the nearest of the workbenches. "Are you making bullets there?"

Yes, Hollis is spending his Saturday night just like any American patriot, making ammo. In his safehouse. With a complete stranger looking on. Okay, maybe Noah isn't a complete stranger. He did get Hollis out of jail and all that. Still, seems odd to me.

Noah asks why he's making ammo, instead of, you know, buying it at Walmart like most folk.

"Noah, do you like cookies? And which do you like better? Do you prefer those dry, dusty little nuggets you get in a box from one of them drive-through restaurants? Or would you rather have a nice, warm cookie fresh out of the oven, that your sweetheart cooked up just for you?"

So... homemade bullets are just like cookies from your sweetheart? Gak! WTF? This book is really starting to get to me. I just so cannot comprehend the sentiment here. It is so far beyond my reasoning.

Molly returns with tea, and shows Noah around the rest of the apartment.

At the end of this hall they came to a large room with a diverse group of men and women sitting around a long conference table. On a second look Noah saw that this furniture consisted of a mismatched set of folding chairs and four card tables butted end to end.

The people inside had been listening to a speaker at the head of the table but the room became quiet when they saw the newcomers.

"Everybody," Molly said, "this is Noah Gardner. And Noah, these are some of the regional leaders of the Founders' Keepers.

The regional leaders of the Founders Keepers are a diverse group. Just like the diversity at the Stars 'n Stripes pub. Just like the diversity in the real teabagging movement. What? They're diverse! It says so right there! Molly introduces the group, all using pseudonyms: Patrick, Ethan, George, Thomas, Benjamin, Samuel, John, Alexander, James, Nathaniel, another Benjamin, Francis, William, and Stephen. Oy.

One of the Founders Keepers leaders readers reads from a Thomas Jefferson text to the group. Noah is confused. I am unsettled.

"So what's the meaning of all this?" The book was clearly hand-bound and not mass-manufactured. It looked old but well cared for, and there was a number on the inside front cover, suggesting that this one and the others were part of a large series.

"It's one of the things the Founders' Keepers do," Molly said. "We remember."

"You remember speeches and letters and things?"

"We remember how the country was founded. You never know, we might have to do it again someday."

What? Now I am confused too. They need to remember how the country was founded in case they need to found it again? That doesn't make much sense, does it? I could see needed to know the Constitution, so you've a good base of law... but the how it happened? I'm not sure the how of it would translate, contextually. Unless slave-owning white dudes are somehow relevant in the post-NWO landscape. That seems a stretch.

"So you keep it in your heads? Why, in case all the history books get burned?"

"It's already happening, Noah, if you haven't noticed. Not burning, but changing. Ask an elementary school kid what they know about George Washington and it's more likely you'll hear the lies about him, like the cherry-tree story or that he had wooden dentures, than about anything that really made him the father of our country. Ask a kid in high school about Ronald Reagan and they'll probably tell you that he was a B-list-actor-turned-politician, or that he was the guy who happened to be in office when Gorbachev ended the Cold War. Ask a college kid about Social Security and they'll probably tell you that it was intended to provide guaranteed retirement income for all Americans. Ask a thirty-year-old about World War II and they'll recite what they remember from Saving Private Ryan. Do you see? No one really needs to rewrite history; they just have to make sure that no one remembers it."

Okay. So, Ronald Reagan wasn't a B-list-actor-turned-politician? I mean, I get that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme and should be outlawed, it's the one thing I really learned from reading this book. But what the hell is she talking about? I need me an elementary school history text, pronto. I'm getting lost here.

Molly throws out some Thomas Paine quotes and hands Noah his tea. Noah asks about Hollis' guns.

"That looked like a small arsenal Hollis had back there," Noah said. "Are all those guns legal?"

"Two of them are registered. The rest are just passing through. He's on his way to a gun show upstate."

"So the answer's no, they're not legal."

"Do you know what it took to make those two guns legal in this city?"

"I can imagine."

"It took over a year, and the guy who owns them had to get fingerprinted, interviewed, and charged about a thousand dollars to exercise a constitutional right."

Then, of course, there's a long bit about the Second Amendment. No need to tell you where Molly and Beck come down on that issue. Molly says "The militia was every citizen who was ready and able to protect their community, whatever the threat. It was as natural as having a lock on your front door." And no, I have no fucking idea what that even means. Militias are as natural as locked doors, maybe?

Noah asks about Molly's books:

"I was noticing some of the titles. That's quite a subversive library."

"People use some of those books to smear us, and some of them were written by our enemies. I read everything so I'll know what I'm up against, and how to talk about them. You don't see any harm in that, do you?"

"Who's this Ragnar Benson lunatic?"

She smiled. "He's not a lunatic. That's a pen name, by the way; hardly anyone knows who he really is. He writes about a lot of useful things, though."

"Like how to make a grenade launcher in your rumpus room?"

"That one was from his mercenary days. He's mellowed out some since then. Now he's more about independence, and readiness, and self-sufficiency, you know? The joys of living off the grid."

Ah yes, the joys of living off the grid. Whatever those joys are. It's not clear. Nor is it clear which books in her library are used to "smear" teabaggers, and which are written by their "enemies." But when Noah asks about Ragnar Benson, Molly confides two things.

First, Ragnar Benson is Hollis' uncle. (Faction!) Secondly, Ragnar has retired and Hollis now writes books under that name.

See? I told you this chapter was creepy. There really is a Ragnar Benson (a pseudonym) who writes books with titles like Guerrilla Gunsmithing, Breath Of The Dragon: Homebuilt Flamethrowers, Home-Built Claymore Mines: A Blueprint For Survival, The Most Dangerous Game: Advanced Mantrapping Techniques. These books are real. Scary as that may be.

And one of the characters, one we, the reader, are supposed to have some affection for, is now revealed to be that author. It's mind boggling. It's really unfathomable. I don't want the heroes of my books to be people who've authored Homemade C-4: A Recipe For Survival. The idea that someone else does is really unsettling.

Molly and Noah sink into the hammock, with Noah suggesting "What do you say we just stay here like this, for a really long time." Molly would love to, but she can't. Though, I am pretty sure Noah wasn't being literal. Molly encourages him to finish his tea, which he does in one long swallow.

Molly shows Noah her bracelet. It is inscribed with a Thomas Paine quote "We have it in our power to begin the world over again" on one face. On the other: "Faith Hope Charity."

"I guess I don't really understand," Noah said. "I mean, I understand those words, but that's not really a battle plan, is it? Do you know what you're up against?"

"Yes," Molly said. "But I doubt that our enemies do."

"So tell me."

She explains, sort of, what it all means. No, it doesn't really make sense. She tells how 'no taxation without representation' was coined by a preacher and how the French revolution failed because they don't believe in God in France. (Which totally goes against what I learned in The Da Vinci Code. Wasn't Amélie's grandpappy Jesus? She was French, right? No? Argh!)

"Our rights come from a higher power, Noah. Men can't grant them, and men can't take them away."

Okay. God doesn't like taxes? Or something. And we should definitely not render unto Caesar what is Caesar's? And all of our rights, like not having to quarter soldiers in our homes in time of peace, come from God? And no man can interfere with your right to own an assault rifle? Because God? Whut?

"And charity is simple. We believe that it's up to each of us to help one another get to that better tomorrow."

Unless the way to help your fellow man is by paying taxes to ensure a social safety net for the disadvantaged. Because that is bullshit, my friends. Remember when Mel Brooks quoted Jesus in Spaceballs?: "Fuck the poor!" Amen, sister!

If anyone can make sense of this, you're clearly smarter than I am. (And if you can't, well, it's probably safe to assume you're still smarter than I. At least you're not reading this claptrap voluntarily.)

Suddenly, Noah feels dizzy. He thinks, for a moment, that maybe he's drunk. Like in college. He tries to get up, but Molly tells him to be still.

As the cloudy room began to swim and fade he saw that three strangers were standing nearby, young men dressed in business suits and ties.

"It's time to go, Molly," one of them said, the voice far away and unreal.

Whoops! Looks like Molly slipped Noah a mickey.


"You'll stay with him, Hollis, won't you?"

"I'll stay just as long as I can."

He felt her arms around him tight, her tears on his cheek, her lips near his ear as the blackness finally, fully descended. Almost gone, but the three simple words she'd whispered to him then would stay clear in his mind even after everything else had faded away into the dark.

"I'm so sorry."

Molly, our hero, has spiked Noah's drink. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it will become clear later. I doubt it. Nothing in this book has made any sort of sense, so I don't think this will either. Just another random plot point in a series or random plot points.

In good news, at least something happened in this chapter. Right? That sort of makes up for nothing much happening the last five or six. Though, we didn't really need fifteen pages to get there. She could have just drugged him at the start of the chapter. But I guess then we'd never have learned that Hollis is Ragnar Benson. And we'd have missed all that bullets as cookies stuff. Truthfully, I could have stood to miss that. Gun fetishism always gives me the creeps. But then, so does our hero poisoning her love interest.

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