Sarcasmo's Scribblings

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Birthday

A long post - but possibly not much to see here. There is no purpose - I just followed this character around a bit - trying to incorporate a few suggestions (and also my mis-reading of a headline today, which actually read "Poetry Beamed In Space"). I guess what I'm saying is don't expect too much. And don't get too attached to Fraser. There might be more later, and there might not.

Fraser Bright stepped through the portal and back into the leather-appointed office of the Honorary French consul. “Bienvenue en arrière, madame. Allait-il comment votre voyage?” asked the unsmiling intern, not even bothering to look away from her computer monitor. Fraser could hear the familiar dings of an instant message conversation ringing from the mousy girl’s computer.

“Beau, merci, mademoiselle.” Fraser answered as she plopped herself into the thick honey-colored leather chair put aside for visitors who experienced travel sickness. Fraser had traveled by portal a handful of times, she was pratically a pro; she learned long ago that squeezing her eyes during the travel process went a great way in quelling the initial nausea and disorientation most people felt watching the landscape dissolve around them. She was just a little light-headed – and knew it would pass, but she slumped down slightly in the chair and gave out a low moan. She could hear the abrupt cessation of the click of sharp nails against the keys, and the barely surprised sigh as the intern pushed her chair away from the desk and went to the water cooler. Fraser put her head between her knees so the intern couldn’t see her grinning.
Snotty little bitch.

Fraser kept her eyes down as she listened to the girls heels click against the parquet floor. The intern’s toes appeared just beneath Fraser’s overturned auburn hair. They looked painfully pointed. “Etes-vous bon, Madame? Avez-vous besoin d'un docteur?” Fraser shook her lowered head and gestured for the girl to put the water on a nearby table.

“Non. Pas de docteur,” she muttered. She waited until she heard the return of the sign-song AOL chimes to sit up and sip the water slowly.

She understood the girl’s scorn. Fraser was a Luncher – the lowest of the portal travelling low. Lunchers could travel to the destination country for a vastly discounted price – with the caveat that their trip could not last more than one hour. Originally started as a promotion to introduce the wealthy business traveler to the pleasures of portal travel (see the Seine on your lunch hour, be back in time for your 1 pm board meeting!), it soon became the illicit splurgey thrill of young, urban 30-somethings who couldn’t afford a proper vacation but still wanted to fill the languishing pages of the passports.

Fraser prided herself for not being like other Lunchers. For one thing – she always strove to learn a bit of the official language of the country she was visiting, she never got drunk and argued with the locals, and she never advertised her country of origin unless pressed. She considered herself a guest of these countries, not a conqueror. She was also very, very prompt when it came to her return trip; although this was more about good finance than good manners. She hadn’t visited a country yet that hadn’t charged excessive “overage fees” for every minute a Luncher overstayed their one-hour visit. Fraser worked with someone whose indulgence of a half-hour during their anniversary lunch in Tibet meant they had to take out a second mortgage on their house.

Fraser stood up, pulled her faux rabbit fur coat tightly around her, and headed for the door. She bypassed the brochures offering more flexible travel options (weekend packages, visits limited only by the length of your visa – special European Union packages that allowed Americans to visit 6 countries in 6 days!). She used to pick these up as a courtesy – or perhaps out of fantasy – but she had given up on that. Airlines, though frustrating, were still the cheapest way to travel – and until she hit the elusive big time (or bagged herself a millionaire) – she’d have to live with jet lag, crying babies and cramped legs when she wanted to travel.

The cold January air cut into Fraser’s skin as her feet hit the slate paving stones. The sky was gray and dark – not so different from the weather in Paris. She walked by the old brownstones and admitted to herself that Philadelphia was a lovely city – but it was no Paris. She’d be brown-bagging it for months to pay for this trip – but to lunch lightly on the Seine on her birthday had been worth it. Her annual trip to Paris always renewed her spirits- made her feel bright and alive. Let others have Paris in the Springtime! She much preferred it in winter – slate gray skies, streets less crowded with hopeful young lovers, and a substantial discount for off-peak travel.

Although she was disappointed, as she had, predictably, forgotten to bring along her camera. Typical.
Were it not for her passport stamps – no one would ever believe she had left the city, let alone the country.

Pulling her hands into her lined sleeves, Fraser considered her options for the rest of the day. She could window shop – the only kind of shopping she’d be able to afford for a while, maybe catch a matinee. She never planned too much ahead for her birthday celebrations.


They started the same way– Frasher pulled her overcoat and Galoshes over her flannel pajamas, plunked a hat on her still unbrushed hair – and then braved a quick trip to one of the many Starbucks ™ in her neighborhood (you could pick a random direction from her front door . They were on every corner now) for a triple Venti latte and some chocolate croissants. Then back home; crawling back under the covers to eat her crumbly breakfast with no apologies –sleeping, reading, stretching, and or/lounging as long as her body could stand to be supine. For the past two years she cut her lounging a bit short in order to be showered in time for her birthday lunch. Sleeping-in was a joy, but then Paris was…Paris. After lunch she liked to wander around and see where the day took her. Despite years of disappointments, Fraser believed firmly in the magic of birthdays – and was certain that if she had faith, one of these years the universe would take her on a real adventure.

Today seemed too cruelly cold for an adventure. Fraser could see her breath fogging up before her – and the metal arms of her glasses burned icily against her skin. She pulled her hands into a giant fist and blew into them – relishing the brief warmth.

Clearly, today was not a day for wandering.

She considered going home, getting back into her flannels, mulling some wine, burying herself on the sofa under a huge down comforter and renting hours of weepy films on her all-purpose home media entertainment unit. Comfy and tempting – but she knew that evening ended; ill-advised text messages to old flames, weepy phone calls to friends, and a very bad hangover to suffer at work the next day.

Besides, whoever heard of an adventure showing up at one’s door? Ok, she conceded, Bilbo Baggins maybe. But otherwise – it was incumbent on the adventurer to find the adventure. Fraser stopped at a corner paper box and freed a local paper, took herself to the nearest coffee shop for something warm, caffeinated and delightful; and sat herself down in one of the carefully market-researched and strategically placed over-stuffed chair and opened the paper to the events section.

It was always important to know one’s options.

Fraser flipped through pages of ads for bars and sex services until she found that day’s listings; bars and sex clubs she could go to any old night (they were basically all the same to her – dark, smoky, and devoid of potential for interesting conversation. The only discernable difference was whether the anonymous sex was happening in the bathroom stall or on the bar top).

It was her birthday, dammit. It should be something special.

The water front casino arena was staging a Giant Atomic Chicken fight that afternoon. They were both rookie fighters – barely out of their eggs apparently - so there weren’t likely to be any interesting celebrities in attendance. Fraser chewed absently on her lip – and considered it. Since learning the chickens’ massive 12 ft statue was due to years of top secret genetic mutation and cross-breeding and not anything remotely radioactive (the term “Atomic” was apparently a marketing term meant to remind folks of the oversized animals in old B movies) she had a morbid, curious desire to go to a match. Maybe even bet a little money. The bleeding heart hippie liberal in her held her back – safety from radiation exposure aside – cock fighting was a barbaric practice; only pandering to the most basest bloodlust of man.

On the other hand – she couldn’t deny her human, deeply-seeded and slumbering blood-lusty roots. And if she did want to see it, she knew she’d have to soon. NPR said the ASPCA hadn’t been able to shut the Giant Atomic Animal Corporation down because some of the genetic tinkering they had done apparently made the chickens technically not chickens – or any other recognizable animal – which affected their party line.

And also – they had a hard time convincing the public that the chickens should be freed. First of all – they were ugly, snarling, violent beasts with red beady eyes and hideous chicken feet; not cute, cuddly, big-eyed creatures of comfort.

Secondly – no one could think of a good place to let them go. They had no natural habitat. And certainly couldn’t have them wandering the streets. How do you fine a Giant Atomic Chicken for blocking the box on a Saturday afternoon? Who do you sue when they lay a giant egg that crushes your car? Some folks wanted to destroy them, or ship them to one of the fledgling moon colonies (if only there were portal trips there, Fraser mooned) – the ASPCA couldn’t publicly support an action of extermination or deportation, so the shows continued with little trouble.

Fraser secretly mused that they gave up when USA Today did an Info graphic that showed more A-list celebrities attended the matches than protested them outside arena doors. (The Gant Chart depicting celebrity match attendance/protest crossover had gotten many a press agent fired.)

Fraser nibbled the last of her shortbread cookie and listened to the intermittent hiss of the espresso machine punctuate the air. It’ll have to be it, she decided. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Besides, if it were awful, she could always fall back on her sofa plan.

She treated herself to a cab.

The waterfront casino was always busy – didn’t matter the time of day or day of the week. Scores of folks from bright-eyed young twenty-somethings to cloudly-eyed eighty-somethings streamed in and out of their darkened doors all day.

She made her way down the strip towards the Barnyard – a farm-themed casino that catered to folks who liked to bet on cattle and pig roping, bronco riding, and, of course, Giant Atomic Chicken Fighting. Outside the Milky Way (space-themed) she had to push her way through an adamant crowd of angry young protestors. A young man carrying a silvery placard jostled Fraser as she tried to Excuse-me her way through; his elbow dug sharply into her chest.

“Oh, sorry,” he said. “I didn’t see you. These streets are so narrow. It’s getting to be you can’t protest properly anywhere anymore.”

Fraser grinned and rubbed her ribcage. “Hey – at least they don’t lock folks up in those Free Speech zones anymore.” He was cute, she found herself thinking. Dark hair, thick, Poindexter glasses. Just the type she went for. “Say, what are you guys protesting, anyway? Not the chickens, I hope?”

“Chickens? Huh? Oh no. The chickens are great. Saw them last week. Really exciting. And frankly a little surreal. Lost a bundle on Little Pete. I heard the mob’s got a line on him – so I wouldn’t put my money there if I were you.” His smile was crooked. Fraser tried not to swoon. “I’m Bob, by the way.”

“Thanks for the tip, Bobbytheway. I’m Fraser. Fraser Brights.” They shook icy hands. “So, is that what you’re protesting? Little Pete? Rigged sporting events? Losing money?”

Bob turned a red that was too dark to be from the cold. “Oh, no. Sorry. I – we- want to ban poetry in space.”

Fraser hated when old adages were true. The cute ones were always crazy.

“You want to do who with the what now?” Fraser asked, backing away slightly.

Bob’s face became very serious. “Ban poetry in space. They’re talking about teaching it in the colony schools. I don’t want to have to pay for that. Those people wanted to take that risk, try to farm those dead worlds, fine. They want to drag their families into the cold tundra of space – ok. But it’s not up to me to pay for their kids to have a liberal namby pamby education. I say teach ‘em farming, basic math., survival skills. That’s what they’ll need up there. But poetry? I’m not paying for that crap.”

Fraser nodded slowly. “O-kaaay, Bob. Well, I got to go – the fight starts soon and I still need to get my ticket. Good luck with your protest,” as she turned away she quietly mouthed “crackhead” to the wind.

“Yeah, thanks!” he shouted out to her. “Don’t forget – stay away from Little Pete. Maybe I’ll see you out here after the fight.”

Fraser turned and gave a fake smile and friendly wave and then began to walk faster. She had never been so relieved to be in enough of a crowd to get lost in.

The inside of the barn-shaped casino was surprisingly dark despite the seemingly endless rows of machines and doodads the swallowed money with their flashing, blinking, hypnotic lights. Fraser checked her coat with a young man who was wearing something she could only describe as “bondage cowboy” – cowboy hat, cowboy boots, the tightest leather shorts she had ever seen – and naught else but a bolo tie any girl with imagination could easily use as a leash – or some other things. The cocktail waitresses all looked like every girl who had ever tried to go out for Halloween as some trashed up version of Gilligan’s Island’s Maryann; it was a veritable sea of belly-revealing gingham and shorter-than-short-shorts.

Fraser sashayed up to the nearest slot machine, dropped in a quarter, and spun the wheel. Then she pressed the service button. Two quarters lost later, and she was the proud holder of a watered down cosmopolitan.

Fraser often pretended to gamble in casinos. She had discovered as a broke college student that a carefully spent five dollars could be meted out into a mind-meltingly good night of complimentary food and drinks. After her morning’s splurge it felt good to get back to her penny-pinching roots.

She wandered through the casino and found her way to the arena.



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