“So she’s from Berkeley?” Kayla asked Nick and Steven of the girl they almost ran over in Jefferson.
“No,” Nick replied.
“But she went to school there.”
“No, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“Kayla, her last name is Berkeley,” Steven jumped in.
“Oh, and she’s from Savannah.”
“Didn’t she say she lives in the hipster neighborhood of LA?” Steven asked. “Which is ironic because she’s not a hipster.”
“The hipster neighborhood? Hipsters only wanna live in one neighborhood in LA? Cuz there’s only one place in LA where there are food trucks, organic fair-trade coffee shops, and vintage clothing stores? LA invented that, fool! LA was hipster before hipster was mainstream! The Mission in San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Adams Morgan, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NoDa in Charlotte, all the other Southern cities whose hipster neighborhoods are called Five Points copied that, holmes!” Nick retorted. “The first time I heard the word hipster, I didn’t know what it was. The dude described it to me, and I thought, ‘Oh, that guy Mason I went to high school with.’ He lives in the Valley now. The most un-hipster place ever. Which is ironic, so that’s the most hipster place ever.”
“And so Christian and Savannah…” Kayla started.
“Yes, the two of them seemed to spark a connection. I pulled into the shoulder and we got out to see if she was okay. She didn’t say much to Steven or me, but she and Christian kept going on and on about Southern stuff – hush puppies, SEC football, the best lighting in which to photograph a palmetto, some good sales at Stein Mart and Publix, oh and sweet tea. They demanded I drive them to the nearest place to get sweet tea. I took them to a McDonald’s in Pasadena.”
“Then we drove by Cal Tech and she started talking about the Big Bang Theory,” Steven said. “Not the show…”
“Sucks, by the way,” Nick interrupted. “Characters aren’t believable.”
“…but the actual theory.”
“Okay, you know what, it’s a felony in California for three or more people over the age of 21 to be hanging out in a living room without an open bottle of wine being present,” Nick declared. He went into the kitchen where his wine rack was located, a stately mahogany feature that was probably his most cherished possession in the apartment. He returned with a dusty bottle of pinot noir from the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.
“Now don’t be taken by surprise,” he warned. “The ripe berry notes kinda come at you sideways.” He chuckled a bit. Kayla and Steven stared blankly at him.
“Sideways, get it? A Santa Barbara pinot. The movie Sideways, takes place in Santa Barbara County, and pinot noir plays a central role.” Nick was dismayed that no one ever laughed at his wine or chemistry puns.
“Don’t worry, Steven. Nick’s jokes are drier than a nine dollar bottle of Chianti,” Kayla joked. Steven laughed.
“Oh come on!” Nick protested. “That joke was more obvious than pairing chardonnay with literally anything under the sun!”
“Anyway, we’re not here to crack wine jokes, we’re here to gossip,” Kayla said.
“Well aren’t we a catty bunch of bitches?” Steven asked.
“Please never say that again!” Nick urged.
“So what of this date the two of them went on the other night?” Kayla asked.
It was the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever seen. Christian wanted to take Savannah out to dinner at the nicest restaurant in town. I mean, with a classy girl like that you just gotta. Unfortunately, the nicest restaurant in town is the one he used to work at (and, as you recall, a robot disguised as him currently works as head chef). It would draw quite a bit of attention if he showed up for dinner at the same time as he was supposed to be working. So, to not draw any attention to himself, he went to dinner in a neon green tyrannosaurus rex costume. Thus, no one bothered him. Full body t-rex suit and everything. No one said a word. In fact, if he were in Venice Beach, people woulda criticized him for dressing too conservatively.
“Well, I don’t want the evening to be completely devoted to gossip. I am thrilled to announce to both of you that I have been accepted to UCRB,” Nick stated.
Kayla and Steven jumped up and offered their congratulations.
“I’m really excited to begin research there. I’m really passionate about the research they’re doing there, and I think the career opportunities there are really great. In 20 years, people will talk about people coming here to Redondo the way we talk about the tech people flocking to the Silicon Valley in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps that’s the California visionary in me speaking, perhaps that’s the wine, or a little of both, but I really think I’ll be part of something great.”
Kayla began to ask “So you’re gonna be doing research with that guy…”
“Dr. Dabney? Yeah, the plan is I’ll be doing summer research with him. Not officially in his group for my PhD research, this is kind of a risk-free trial period for both of us, but I like my chances.”
“What’s the UCRB mascot?” Steven asked. “When I was in college at Salisbury University, we were the Seagulls.”
“Wow. How lame. The UCRB Lobos,” Nick said. “Spanish for ‘wolves.’ Better than the University of South Connecticut Gamepenises.” Nick had also been accepted to the University of South Connecticut. He really loved the campus and area, but the research and career opportunities couldn’t quite compete with UCRB. Plus he would be ridiculed mercilessly by everyone he knew. And worse…it’s on the East Coast.
“Oh that’s right. Hey, remember that crazy shit on Halloween with the wolves and all?” Steven asked. “Maybe that was, like, an omen or something.”
“If you believe in that sort of stuff. Of course, the other day, I saw a Green Chicken take a shit on an Audi with Oklahoma plates.” About 10 years ago, someone who owned some tropical parrots released them into the city. They interbred, and their descendants live on in Redondo. They inhabit the tall palm trees to this day, feed off of whatever scraps they find (a city is a really great place to be a bird if you think about it), and due to their green feathers and distinct squawk, they are called the “Green Chickens” by the Redondo residents. “So by the logic of omens, I will win the lottery, buy an Audi, move to Oklahoma because the taxes are lower, and open a tropical bird store.”
Nick knew someone from college at Cal State Long Beach who was from Oklahoma.
“And then the wind came up off the ocean and shooed the parrots out of the tree, so that must mean my store will get wiped out by a tornado.” Nick was a natural skeptic, driven by his devotion to rational, scientific analysis. He didn’t buy into omens or anything like that, thinking that you can always look at a chain of events or details from the past and make any connection you wish.
Meanwhile, Moore, Oklahoma gets absolutely leveled by a tornado.
“Hey, there’s a light on in Christian’s house,” Kayla noticed.
Unrecognizable. News helicopters document the spectacle live.
“Yeah. I kinda wish he were here so I could tell him of my acceptance to UCRB,” Nick said. “Although he’d probably say some non-sense like my acceptance letter is a fish.”
“Did you hear? Iggy is coming out with a song called Absalom.” Steven asked.
“What is this odd connection between Christian, Iggy, and the works of William Faulkner all of a sudden?” Kayla inquired. “And it’s ever since Savannah came along,” she further noted.
“Hey, why not? I guess,” Nick offered. “I’m sure there could be a connection between William Faulkner and Lorde. That’d be just what we need.”
“No way. No way you could make that connection,” Steven challenged.
“Yeah. Lorde is the sweet, innocent girl of pop music. Faulkner is deep and really dark. You almost hope Lorde never comes across a Faulkner novel,” Kayla added. “No way such a connection can be made.”
“Lorde is sweet and innocent? You don’t think she has a dark side? Okay, here. ‘Royals’ starts with ‘I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh.’ Diamond is a jewel. A main character in Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is named Jewel. And the line in ‘Yellow Flicker Beat’ that goes ‘They used to shout my name, now they whisper it,’ doesn’t that mimic how Anse at first reveres his dying, then dead, wife, wants to honor her wishes and all, but quickly forgets about her and replaces her with a new woman in Jefferson in the end? Anse used to shout Addie’s name, but now he’d only whisper it? And doesn’t it also mimic the fall from grace of the family central to The Sound and the Fury? Their family’s name used to be shouted in reverence, now it’s only whispered in pity. I mean, hell, that was really easy. Next!”
Kayla appeared baffled. Steven appeared annoyed.
“See, that’s what I mean. You can pull any connection you want out of your ass and make it seem legitimate,” Nick added.
Just then, Christian walked in the door. Californians keep their doors open most of the time. Doors are boundaries, which don’t really exist there. “Iggy’s also coming out with a song called ‘Sherman Burns Savannah,’” he announced.
“The hell?” Steven asked.
“Yeah, I don’t think Savannah got burned by Sherman,” the history buff Nick answered. “As I recall, Savannah’s leading citizens negotiated a peaceful surrender to General Sherman, offering the city as a veritable Christmas present in December 1864.”
Meanwhile, in Palmer Station, on the ragged edge of Antarctica, a gang of penguins unhappy with the presence of several biologists surrounded the scientific camp. A few days ago, researchers had taken a penguin into captivity for scientific study. However, the penguin died under nebulous circumstances. Many penguins had legitimate concerns over the tragic issue that beleaguered their community and expressed these views peacefully. Some said there was a disconnect between penguins and researchers, and that better sensitivity and communication could have prevented the issue. Still, some penguins hijacked the tension to satisfy their anarchist desires. The crowd began throwing snowballs at the camp. Instead of doing anything about the situation, however, the Mayor of Penguins decided to hide in her office and call the snowball-throwing penguins “thugs.” She buried her head in a hole in the snow for three hours until relenting and asking her superior, the Governor of Penguins to step in. Instead of burning down the neighborhood of the people they were mad at, the penguins proceeded to burn down their own neighborhood. Because that’s effective.
Amanda sat and watched all of this, cuddling in her bed with the oversized Pikachu pillow as Palmer Station was on lockdown. You would never think that such an event would happen there. In fact, the Mayor of Penguins, trying to deflect attention from her mismanagement of the crisis, criticized the Penguin TV news announcers for focusing on the violence, saying it presented a negative image of Antarctica. Right. Because this is the one incident, the one thing ever off of which the people are going to base their negative opinions of Antarctica. “I can’t believe this is a street in Antarctica,” one announcer liked to say. Right, because Antarctica is above all of the world’s problems, and nothing bad ever happens in Antarctica. Because Antarctica was the model of utopian society in which everyone prospered and got along. Because there was a show called The PenguinWire.
Back in Redondo, at the end of its own continent, Christian got a text message. It was from Iggy. Despite having deleted her from his phone, he knew it was her because the phone number wasn’t a normal 310 number, it was some weird foreign number. 011-61 or something like that. “You’ve replaced me so quickly? I’ve replaced you so quickly. Here’s his picture. His name is Sherman.”
Nick declared, “Sherman burns Savannah. Oh, I get it now.”