Im on the crowded bus downtown with David, and Im full of delayed potential. Downtown will happen in forty-five minutes; Im ready for it now. I was primed, growing up, for only a five-minute trip downtown...the gap from wanting a comic book to getting one was never long enough to give me time to consider getting something else instead. So Im jiggling in my seat, peppering David with paradoxical questions and rejected kisses. Sometime along the way, I start reminding myself of my father. The one time he did something deliberately insane, a defiant assertion of individuality, I remember looking at him beforehand with the same look David is giving me now. Had Dad been bored? Was that why he acted out? Right there, on the bus, that doesnt seem like a mundane reason. Boredom is significant, a sign that The Man is trying to crush your spirit.
I start flitting from fantasy to fantasy...if I were to do something totally spontaneous and memorable, what might it be? I could hijack the bus, take us all to Disney Land. I could sing an improvised parody of the National Anthem at the top of my lungs...people might give me change! In my fantasy, of course, Im always acting without premeditation, so each fantasized action precludes its actuality. This means Im safe to imagine dangerous and immoral things, embarassing things, anything that thrills.
I stand up and say, loudly and proudly, I am the avatar of Spontaneity! My being and my glory give it power. If you would serve Order, then humble me. Then I raise my fists like a boxer. Somebody else stands up and...
No. Nobody would do something wacky to serve Order. I suppose a policeman might try to talk me into sitting down, but thats different. That wouldnt be playing the game. Try it again.
I stand up and glance around the bus, drawing people into my madness by force of personality. I am the avatar of Cheese! My being and my glory give it power. If you are the avatar of some of other Eidolon, I challenge you to fight, to claim the glory Cheese now holds for your own. And someone else stands, and makes a similar declaration, and we fight.
I like fantasizing about fighting. I always win, and it charges me up. I notice, suddenly, that the guy sitting across from me is clenching and unclenching his fists, tapping his feet. Making boxer gestures. Hes a fellow traveler. He needs an excuse to fight.
If youve imagined yourself doing something twice, and then are prompted to do it for real, your inhibitions melt away. Its what rehearsals are for in plays. In the first two rehearsals of a scene, you pretend to be your character. After that, your ego melts away, because being the character is more natural now than being yourself in that situation. Something extraordinary happens.
I stand up. I stand up. I look into the young mans eyes. Hes in college too, Im sure. I am the avatar of Cheese! I am the avatar of Cheese! He responds, shockingly quickly. I am the avatar of Essentialism. My mind is saying Pretentious twerp. Hes been reading Sartre for class. What a ridiculous thing to be an avatar of. But the fantasy is in control. My being and my glory... My being and my glory give it power. I challenge you to fight, for the dominance of our Eidolons, I say, and raise my fists. He stands up, and raises his, then kicks me in the thigh, probably aiming for the crotch. I yelp and stumble back. Somebody tries to grab me from behind, I think, so I lunge toward the enemy. He sidesteps, and shoves, and my head is outside the bus. His window was open. I kick back at him and connect with something, and then theres a sharp pain in the side of my head and the view dims as I die.
So this is a privileged perspective youre getting. Nobody in the world I create on the bus that evening knows what I was thinking, which leads to some ambiguity. Ill report what happened next, for continuity of voice, even though I technically didnt witness it. Consequences were on the edges of my fantasy.
There are a busload of witnesses, so they reconstruct the dialog and the fight verbatim. The freshman philosophy guy gets sent to a psych ward, and they dont publish what he says, so hes almost as vanished as I am, but the words speak for themselves, once they get on weird news websites and kindred spirits analyze them. People read and forward the story, but dont discuss it much yet; its too shocking to analyze or joke about well.
My parents sue the Chicago Transit Authority and get a pittance and a promise to make busses safer in some unspecified way. Then they find out (I didnt know this) that theres been a longrunning ad compaign by the American Dairy Association with the tagline Behold the Power of Cheese. It often depicts people being suicidally fanatical about cheese. My parents sue them and, in a gross miscarriage of justice, win lots of money. The ADA is ultimately funded by the American dairy industry, which takes a financial hit and has to discontinue its popular ad campaign. Soon after, for this and other reasons, a few small dairy companies go out of business.
Essentialism, those following the story learn, is actually a derogatory term used by Existentialists. There is one pop philosopher who actually calls himself an Essentialist, and hes invited on some news shows to explain why someone might be willing to kill for it. He plugs his recent book, which turns out to be rather appealingly written, and it makes it onto the New York Times Bestseller list.
So the ripples of my death are still visible when the baseball World Series starts six months later. The Chicago Cubs host the Yankees for game one. Somebody Ive never met, a forty-year-old obscure comedian and ex-linebacker named Ernie, gets surreptitiously drunk way up high in the cheap seats. Hed planned to share his booze, but as the Cubs get routed he drowns his sorrows. Hes a witty guy, and as he heckles the Cubs he earns a spot on the Jumbotron--the stadium has a brand-new system that lets it put video and audio of any fan up on the big screen that shows plays. As the Cubs call time out to discuss replacing another ineffectual pitcher, they cut to Ernie and he begins an improvised, semi-coherent riff. Hes feeling excited underneath--hes probably on national television right now, and this could be a big break for his career. But his standup comedy module is in control. Go for an in-joke, get some loud laughs from people wanting to show they get it. You know what, heres what these bums need. I am the avatar of the Cubs! My being and my glory and my beer give it power. Beer, yeah, use that to segue. As he gets his laughs at the reference, he holds an empty beer bottle up and starts to go into a bit complaining about having to smuggle it in--comedy in control, he doesnt worry that hes confessing to a misdemeanor. But then this other guy stands up. Fuck! Hes going to ruin the bit. The other guy is not only surreptitiously drunk, but surreptitiously a Yankees fan in a Cubs seat, and high too on his teams high score. He shouts in Ernies face. I am the avatar of the Yankees! I challenge you! Ernie is furious. He leaves comedy mode. His big chance, and this drunken idiot, this fucking Yankees fan, is ruining it. He glances away and sees security guards heading towards them. Glancing back, he doesnt notice that the Yankees fan has climbed up onto the railings, preparing to launch himself at Ernie like a professional wrestler. He just sees the guys ugly face. He hurls his fist at it. The fan isnt a fighter, and watching pro wrestling doesnt teach you how to take a punch. He topples backwards and falls sixty feet. Ernie has just killed a man live on national television, and Im not sure I would trade places with him.
Before, my incident on the bus was talked about a lot in Chicago, and known about nationally and online. Now me, Ernie, the Yankees fan and the Essentialism avatar are international news. A week later, the Cubs win the world series, four games to one, and people all over point out that both fights seem to have prefigured the ascension of the winners cause over the losers. Essentialism is the new big fad, cheese production is down, and while the Cubs lost that game, they won the series.
The extraordinary thing has now been pantomimed twice. In the following days, about one in a thousand people, all over the world, feel the whim to enact it for real. A few of them act on it, and within a month, avatar dueling has swept the world. The consensus is that a duel only counts if its to the death and in a public place. The winning and losing concepts are collected and tabulated. Those avatars that escape arrest, with the help of increasingly sympathetic crowds, seek each other out in a massive tournament of champions for the future of humanity. If I were still alive, I would feel confident it was bullshit, but people want to believe, and belief creates evidence: the avatar of a corporation is killed, and its stock plummets. I would feel confident it was bullshit, but I would still find it awesome.