Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Art of Absurdist Mischief [Pt. 3]


The reasons probably don't matter, maybe a testimony to too many movies seen without suitable adult supervision, though I’m fairly sure this deal went down well before we witnessed Blood Sucking Freaks. Maybe just the natural lunacy that happens when three teenage boys recover from a sleepover night filled with Eddy Murphy and Dan Akroyd movies like 48 Hours and Dr. Detroit on a diet of Dominos Pizza and soda pop, waking at the crack of noon to powdered sugar donuts dunked in Pepsi and with Sunny D chasers. Sugar, salt, and corn starch infused pubescent hormonally enriched enterprises born not from necessity, but for the necessity of invention itself.

We devised a plan, a deal so devilishly dastardly we’d certainly emerge the talk of the town, the bad boys all the ladies would clamber for. The trick, though, is to appear the culprits, yet not actually be up to anything wrong or illegal. Essentially play out roles that would draw attention and encourage onlookers to make assumptions that would tempt actions that could get us a bad boy rap without actually, technically, being bad boys. Meaning, not actually being arrested and shipped off to Sing Sing, parents certainly wouldn’t approve of that, no matter how funny the song is by Was Not Was, “Hi, Mom… from jail!”

I don’t know who hatched the plan, though considering how discombobulated it was, and how much it relied on the perceptions of, or passing rubber neck interest from onlookers, the plan probably had roots sprung from seeds I must have planted and cultivated. A scene running through my head that cast the world as actors, the local Mall our stage, beginning with the Spencer’s store.

We spent a good hour looting Steve’s closet, his out of town father’s as well, to build costumes that got us as close to the appearance TV and film had taught us meant we were bad guys, shifty, crafty, on the angle and on the take. Steve had the best costume, a black Fedora type hat, one of his Dad’s silk ties tied around his head like a bandana, like john Cusack in Better Off Dead, and a black trench coat decades before the idiot duo at Columbine turned that fashion statement into something seriously sinister, before they co-opted Christian Slater’s costume in Heather, and acted out several dozen steps too far.

Josh had some sort of baggy, surfer thing going on, also with one of Steve’s Dad’s silk ties wrapped around his head, and I had a ramshackle get up with a suit jacket, white t-shirt, and shorts.

Steve and I were primary cast; while Josh would be the camera man, and spotter to warn us if the heat got wise to us. Or more specifically, over act as though a lookout while discretely taking photos with my skinny Kodak disc camera that’d been a gift from my god grandparents, the Howes, a couple years earlier. Still amazed how long one hour developing places supported those discs, when the cameras were off the market almost as swiftly as they appeared.

The plan, to draw a lot of attention to ourselves by overly acting as though we were being indiscrete and wary of unwanted attention, constantly looking around and back over shoulders as we moved into shops and eventually rendezvous in the back somewhere to make, “The Exchange.” Our McGuffin, a freezer bag filled with flour and the remains tapped out of our box of powdered donuts, taped up, wrapped in cellophane, and taped again, to look as much like a kilo brick of blow as we’d ever seen in the media. We rock-paper-scissor elected a “Mule”, the other person becoming “The Buyer”, while Josh remained dedicated look out / documentarian.

We should have abort at the first sign of trouble, that sign turning out to be the discovery just inside the doors of the mall as the contrast of the air conditioning to the heat outside left us breathless that Josh had forgotten the camera. “I’ll remember every detail,” he insisted, knowing full well that even if he did, I’m the one that could draw. Sigh.

We continued on, faux brick of nose candy stuffed up inside my jacket, pinned beneath my wing with enough force my armpit began to ache. We stood just one storefront down from Spencer’s and threw down some digits to determine who would carry the merchandise in. Had we known more about the actual trade neither of us would have been willing to be the mule, and even without cavity usage awareness neither of us liked the power balance of Seller versus Buyer, though realistically the seller has more power in the drug trade, it’s the addicts that are weak and subjugated. We didn’t know that, we hadn’t seen Less Than Zero yet, or heard LL Cool J croon about going back to California to eat peaches on beaches for hours.

Steve lost the rock paper scissors and took the warm package of faux contraband from the relative safety of my armpit, stashed it up under his trench coat, tugged down the brim of his hat and jut his chin with determination, and began looking around to ensure he wasn’t being watched or tailed as he meandered into Spencer’s next door. I counted to twenty, tried to ignore Josh grinning at me, and wandered into Spenser’s after Steve, careful to thread down the opposite side of the store that he had gone down.

We ran into one another mid-store, right by the kinky and lewd greeting cards and shelf full of adult oriented playthings, banana flavored edible panties, fart buttons, striptease Monopoly. We ham flavor acted worried and up to no good as we looked this way and that, each looking in the opposite direction, both seeing clearly that no one in the store had the least bit interest about us, largely invalidating the whole point of our excursion to the mall, to get some attention and if busted throw our hands up and announce with a hearty ha ha, “Just joking, only kidding, don’t worry, it’s just flour!”

 We persevered against our anonymity, did the exchange, Steve handing me the brick of flour, flour getting suspiciously heavier as each of us slathered the plastic wrapped parcel with sweat. I handed him the envelope padded with newsprint cut into cash size, not having access to Monopoly money or a full color copy machine.

Each of us exit the store without event, no hands on shoulders, no macho mall cop voices, not even the gum snapping front counter clerk made a move to manhandle us. We strolled down the mall’s main thoroughfare and regrouped on the far side of some husband-wait-here couches to consider tactics. We rock paper scissors role allocations, I took the package and the black hat and had a go of being the seller, only to soon discover no one in Sears thought a thing of our theatrics. Not even a raised eyebrow. Where were the SWAT teams, Crockett & Tubbs, the Coast Guard?

Our enterprise seemed a bust, teaching us a very important lesson, that clichés we’ve come to see as convention on television and in film actually have more design and less reality in their details and deliveries. Our costumes weren’t compelling people to judge us as common criminals because common criminals don’t dress like us, don’t wear silk ties like Corey Feldman in The Lost Boys or Steve Martin in The Jerk, and definitely don’t try to offload bricks of narcotics in midday suburban mall stores. We consoled ourselves with big portions of cookie from the giant cookie place and plot a third, final drop dead deal.

Josh wanting a turn to be the Mule made sense, thinking about it retroactively. A change in the lineup when all else had failed. So I became the lookout, Steve the Buyer, and Josh the Mule. We picked another shop in the far corner of the mall, then Josh decided to stop at Chick-Fil-A, because after all tomorrow they’d be closed since they were Christian owned and didn’t open on Sundays, apparently a day when chickens could rest easy.

When Josh raised his arm to receive his sandwich from on high, Steve and I reacted simultaneously by simply standing there, slack-jawed, as the brick tumbled, relativity slowing time and snapping our focus onto the object like a reversal of the bone tossed into the heavens by a cave man ape in 2001, except of cutting to shot of a spaceship, we watched the Big Bang of white powder bursting out from ruptured cellophane like a cosmic sneeze.

And then we ran, Steve one way, me the other, and Josh paid for his sandwich, walking away calmly as if he hadn’t just dropped and inadvertently detonated an improvised explosive in a public market. A little while later Steve and I met up with Josh outside the mall entrance, Josh’s blousy beach comber britches covered with white dust, and together we trudged across the beltline to Toys-R-Us.

Years later I read about the early ImprovEverywhere installations popping up to pester people and smiled, because had we stuck with our antics perhaps we would have evolved into something so clever, so grand a scale and clever an execution. We were small time fake criminals, audaciously amateur actors applying our antics in poorly planned venues. We had presumed too much of our audiences, instead of understanding how best to unnerve them, reverse their expectations in their chosen environments.

If you haven’t watched the ImprovEverywhere projects, their undercover missions, you should. They’re clever social exercises, artfully executed social commentary, and brilliantly wicked good fun that doesn’t hurt anyone. What I consider the perfect crime, one that defies expectations without anyone getting hurt, the exact opposite of armed assholes assaulting students and storming schools.

And remember, in life as with mischief and perfectly victimless crimes, smiles are free and pants are always optional.

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