William Skink had been right, Ronald Rump won the election. Knowing this ahead of time should have better prepared Tavin for the surreal transition. Tavin even referenced Rump’s victory a week before the election in a video recorded Halloween night, but still, like so many of his fellow Americans, Tavin couldn’t believe it when it actually happened.
The world before the reign of Rump feels like a lifetime ago. For Tavin it was before meeting William Skink, before reading his books, before the birth of his girl and before finally burning out at his shelter job. For the nation it was one of two things: 1. before Russia installed a Manchurian puppet, thus destroying American Democracy and 2. before Rump’s mystical odyssey of restoring greatness, which is only being hindered by baby-eating liberals obsessed with the conspiracy theory described in 1.
Tavin sits in the shop where he creates the art work of William Skink. The space features visual artifacts saved from William Skink’s apartment. Collages of magazine images ripped from their context and taped together, posters of movies and shows like Donnie Darko and Stranger Things, pieces of metal and old leather, and a smooth, black stone.
There isn’t much time left, Tavin thinks. The dreams of escape have returned, the panicky sense of needing to flee, often on mountain roads with sheer drop-offs. In one dream Tavin remembers seeing ships leaving earth, giant ships that he knew weren’t coming back.
It’s the same feeling as knowing that something dark is stirring, and that it’s heart is inside a mountain in Colorado Springs.
The text, Tavin assumes, is Maxine reminding him of some this or some that that needs to be done. No precognition is needed to know domestic duties with 3 fantastically maddening kids will interrupt shop time eventually. Being present with the kids and finding time to create is a constant struggle, but the kids are at the heart of Tavin’s need to know what to prepare for.
Tavin gets up and starts shutting down instruments, amps and the computer. Then he looks at his phone. The text is not from Maxine, it’s from his buddy at work, Samson. call me reads the text.
“What is so important you are disturbing the domestic bliss I am obviously enjoying right now?” Tavin declares when Samson answers.
“Are you hiding in the shop from your family again?” Samson asks.
“Fuck off, what’s up?”
“Remember that poem you sent off to the newspaper about people dying on sidewalks in Zula? Where you threw all that shade at the “luminous ones” on city council? I think it got someone’s attention.”
“First, just don’t. We are both too old to be throwing shade. And second, who would give a passing fart over a poem?” Tavin asks.
“I heard Gwen Crohns ask Bowler to arrange a chat with you tomorrow. She’s on the board AND on Council.”
“Sounds like fun, thanks for the heads up. Now about that bliss I was having, I really do need to leave the cave.”
“Yes you do.” Samson says, and hangs up.
The email comes early. It’s a simple request from Executive Director Elsie Bowler to have a sit down with Gwen Crohns. Tavin’s one word response, sure.
Coffee in hand, Tavin enters the balcony conference room. Crohns is already seated. Bowler has yet to arrive. Tavin sits down.
“Did you know, back in the day, it was not uncommon for op-eds in newspapers to be written in verse?” Tavin asks, breaking the silence.
“I know there are things that happened “back in the day” that don’t happen anymore, like slavery, women as second class citizens and a disabilities act that we, as good civic stewards, must adhere to, which is why I consider your op-ed hate speech.”
“Hate speech? Are you kidding me?” Tavin had been ready for some pushback, but for Gwen to go there this quick? Not good.
“You are inciting violence toward elected officials by implying we intend for homeless people to die on sidewalks and that we are forcing grandmas to risk bodily injury by shoveling snow.”
Tavin is stunned. Gwen is yelling and shaking her finger aggressively at him.
“But people ARE dying on sidewalks, and you ARE increasing fines for failure to shovel snow from sidewalks by 9am.” Tavin responds, face reddening, heart rate increasing.
At this point ED Bowler enters the room and sits down. Gwen stops her tirade, chest heaving. Tavin doesn’t know what to think.
“Look at that passion” Bowler says admiringly. “I wish all elected officials felt that strongly about infrastructure improvements.” Bowler looks down briefly at a folded piece of paper before turning her gaze to Tavin.
“Mr. McPhearson, I know you know we are an inclusive organization with strict policies regarding hate speech because you signed the agreement when you became an employee of this organization, so it should come as no surprise that your time here is done, effective immediately.”
A pause is left withering in the silence like a balloon deflating rapidly from malicious penetration.
“Um,” says Tavin. “I, I didn’t write that like I was speaking for this organization. Shouldn’t that matter?”
“No,” Bowler says quickly and emphatically. “People in wheelchairs need sidewalks. Moms have died in the street because they didn’t have the privilege of sidewalks to walk on.”
“But that old couple was going to be forced to pay $30,000 dollars of their own money, by the city, to make how many feet of sidewalk? And you sent the letter right before Thanksgiving! Do you understand how badly people are being financially squeezed?”
The following pause after Tavin stops talking lets him know, intuitively, that any further defending of himself will only lead to criminal charges of disorderly conduct.
“Ok, I’m leaving now.”
Tavin stands, heart pounding, and walks out the door.
“Let me get this straight,” she says. “You got fired because the newspaper printed your poem?”
“Yes. And I am delighted to have more time to help around the house and to do some serious Lego building.” Tavin adds that last part because the ongoing joke/problem is that Tavin spends entirely too much time doing “serious Lego building”.
“And why do you seem not upset by this?”
“Well, I was upset. I’ve helped “build their capacity” to better respond to the Zula shit-show—and it was bad in the conference room for a bit—but after I left I got to thinking about what Gwen said as I walked out. She asked me if I was going to write about this on my blog.”
“And that matters why?”
“Political speech is protected speech. And if you can afford a lawyer, they can make it matter. And we can afford a lawyer.”
“Is this just payback?”
“No, use different words, like they do. This is an opportunity.”
“An opportunity to do what exactly?”
Oh man, Tavin thought, THAT question. The opportunity was to get a chunk of money to buy some remote parcel of land and a shipping container to bury in the ground. For the books and the information they contained that would be disappeared in the coming purge.
“I need something to change,” Tavin says.
“Suing your employer will definitely change your employment status.” Tavin looks for a hint of humor in this statement, but finds none.
“I know this is asking a lot.”
“I know I haven’t been easy to be around lately.”
“You mean that period of time since quitting your last job and spending 9 months hiding out in your shop, or the time before that, when you were getting more burned out and angry at everything with every passing day?”
“Ok, are we going to get into all that, or should we agree that I got shit-canned for bullshit political reasons that exposes them to legal liability for infringing on my rights. Because that sounds like a better way of figuring out what to do about the loss of my stellar non-profit salary.”
Pause. Angry stares going both ways.
“Do what you think you need to do.” Maxine says.
“I will,” replies Tavin.
“Can you get it to him?”
Tee-Pee has never seen this person standing over him before. He has round, spectacle-like mirrors for eyes, a shaved head and dressed all in black. Almost like he was trying too hard to be a minor character in the movie The Matrix.
“Get what to who is one question.” Tee-Pee says. “Why would I is another.”
“You’ve done it before. The package is information.”
“From the garden?”
“Then affirmative, I can get it to him.”
Tavin walks into the law office, Coleridge & Hart, and approaches the receptionist.
“I have an appointment, Tavin McPhearson.”
“Yes, I see you right here, have a seat.”
Tavin takes a seat and glances at the glossies selling Big Sky. Noting nothing worth reading, Tavin shifts to marveling at what a little public financing can produce. The building renovation of the old downtown structure had been mostly financed with public money intended for historic preservation before the property was then sold to a private investment group.
Paying attention to municipality intrigues and writing about them is the reason Tavin finds himself in a lawyer’s office.
“Mr. Hart will see you now.”
Tavin stands and follows the receptionist into an open atrium space lush with vegetation. The remodel opened up the interior of the building, decreasing the square footage, which had been contentious at the time. Coleridge & Hart occupy a portion of the old building that was saved after a local resistance group of social-media-savvy historic preservationists mounted a successful online campaign.
“Hi, I’m Frank Hart.” Franks almost shouts over the hum of a generator, but when they enter his office and the door closes, the sound is almost totally shut out.
“I’m Tavin, nice to meet you.” Frank gives Tavin a good, firm handshake before sitting down behind his desk.
“So, why do you think you need a lawyer?” Franks asks.
“I was fired from my job for writing a poem.”
“Hmmm, that’s the first time I’ve heard that one. What is this poem about? A dirty limerick about your boss? A racist diatribe about minorities? A love poem to a minor child?”
“No, it’s a poem about sidewalks and Zula’s political priorities.”
“Ok, can I read it?”
“Sure.” Tavin brings up the poem on his phone and hands it to Frank, who spends a few minutes reading it. Chuckling to himself, he hands Tavin back his phone.
“That’s a pretty good poem. You got fired for this? Did your employer specify this poem was the reason for your termination?”
“Yes, they called it hate speech and said I was inciting violence toward elected officials by publishing it in the newspaper.”
“Did you write it at work?”
“Did you identify yourself as a representative of your organization when it was published?”
“And you were confronted over this poem by who?”
“A City Counsel person who is also a board member and the Executive Director. The Counsel person also asked if I was going to write about what happened on my blog.”
“You write a blog?
“Yes, I have for years. I post under a pseudonym.”
“Do you express political opinions on your blog?”
“Yes, I’m quite critical of our local political leadership on a number of issues.”
“Well, ok then. The short of it is I think you have a damn good case because your employer made a big, BIG mistake terminating your employment over this. If you want to move forward with me representing you, I’m willing to take this on contingency.”
“That is exactly what I want to do.”
“Ok then. I’ll write up the contract and you can stop by later this week to sign.”
Frank stands up. Tavin does the same.
When Tavin exits the building he hears a short whistle/chirp from across the street. He looks and sees Tee-Pee motioning for him to cross in an eager manner that means something more important than just a panhandling soft-sell.
“Someone told me to give you this.” Tee-Pee hands Tavin the package.
“What is it?”
“It’s information from people who know what’s coming.”
“I don’t know if I have time to deal with this cryptic shit right now, Tee-Pee.” Tavin turns to walk away when Tee-Pee shouts with a force of command that stops him in his tracks.
“YOU WHO HAS BEEN GIVEN THIS GIFT SHALL NOT WALK AWAY FROM IT!!!”
Tavin stops, turns, and grabs the package.
“What am I suppose to do with this?” Tavin asks.
“Gardens do not exist without seeds.”
“Thank you for the canned street wisdom, Tee-Pee, but I’ve got to go.”
“Go with intention,” Tee-Pee says, then starts searching his pockets for rolling papers.
Back home, in his shop, Tavin takes a seat in his favorite rickety old wicker chair and, after a few spins, opens the package.
It’s a journal. It’s William Skink’s journal.
Tavin opens the worn moleskin journal. Weird images from what look like art magazines are crudely assembled with scotch tape. Some pages have scribbles of poems and doodles. One page looks like a playlist of songs.
As Tavin carefully examines the contents of the journal, a hurricane of children burst through the door and fill the shop with complaints and accusations. Retaliation in the form of a football is launched by the oldest at the middle one, but it misses and hits Tavin’s hand holding the journal.
“Goddamn it!” Tavin yells in his customary angry-dad fashion. The kids scatter.
After dispelling the hurricane, Tavin searches for the journal on the concrete floor. When he finds it several pages are damaged and tattered. Upon further inspection Tavin discovers writing beneath the images.
Stunned and intrigued, Tavin sits down to read.