SPIDER JOHN AND CHARLIE PARR at THE MALL
Preface: So you know…Charlie Parr is an “old country blues” style of guitar player/singer/songwriter. He’s based in Duluth, MN and travels around the country showcasing his high level of talent. He is a quiet guy, and very nice. Spider John Koerner (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Koerner) is a legend of folk music from a time before Parr, and was very active in the original, prolific Minneapolis West Bank (of the Mississippi) music scene of the 60’s/70’s . He is mentioned in Bob Dylan’s book, Chronicles, as one of Dylan’s influences, if I am not mistaken. I have read a bunch of books, and they are all mixed up in my brain. (i.e. Sometimes Encyclopedia Brown rides on a raft with Tom Sawyer and it’s not even on the right river.) Anyway, you could probably just ask Dylan directly about Spider John, and he’d tell ya. Another great source for a history of the West Bank scene would be West Bank Boogie by my friend Cyn Collins with the prologue written by Garrison Keillor, who has still not had me on his show, even though I have written quite a few poems about Sweetened Condensed Milk. So if you are still confused about the two characters below, and need to substitute in two more widely known figures who could have gone on a similar adventure as the one in this story, you could maybe replace Spider John with Woody Guthrie and Charlie Parr with Bob Dylan just because he’s from Minnesota. (Not to mention, Pete Seeger is too close in age to Woody Guthrie to play the part of Charlie Parr in that version of this play.) Hope you enjoy my slash fiction. Is that what it’s called? Star Trek people do it.
Spider John Koerner and Charlie Parr descend into view on the down escalator at the Mall of America food court. The tiny hum of fluorescent lighting is a constant annoyance to Spider John, but he doesn’t realize where this sound is coming from. Instead he continues to swat at invisible gnats he thinks are buzzing around his head. He jiggles the polka dot knapsack and stick that rest on his shoulder. Spider John speaks like half prospector, half drill sergeant for the sake of this sketch, because “grrrr” was only funny for two lines. Note: It is preferred that scene openings and parenthetical be read aloud by a narrator.
Spider John: Christ all mighty, when they gonna take out the trash in this cafeteria? Flies everywhere.
Charlie: Gosh, they don’t seem to be bothering me. You got cologne on or something?
Spider John: Am I wearing a T shirt that says “Pansy” on it? This is natural.
Charlie: Oh wait, I forgot I still have bug spray on me from last year’s Home Grown Fest. That’s what it is.
Spider John: Holy Shit, Chuck. Look at that yonder there. Says “Orange Julius.” I used to play with that guy. Or was it Julius Orange? Can’t recall. He was just sitting on Riverside one day–must have been 1974–with a nice dobro, for a bum. Wasn’t that good. I guess he’s famous now. Got his own place, right here in the…where the hell are we again?
Charlie: It’s called a mall.
Spider: I marched on the Mall in Washington.
Charlie: This is an indoors mall. It’s called the Mall of America.
Spider: This ain’t no indoors mall. There’s a roller coaster and a tree. Speakin’ o which, I gotta take a leak.
We see Spider John emerging from behind a tree at Camp Snoopy, zipping up his pants, while Charlie flags him over to look at something out in the store area.
Spider: Thank God it was a number one. It’s like the state fair in there. Security everywhere. Not like it used to be when I could keep a hydroponic dooby garden in the back pool of Ye Olde Mill.
Charlie: Sure Spider, but look it here! A whole store of flannel. Says “Pacific Sun” up top.
Spider: That’s a crock a shit. I been to the Pacific. Hitched rides the whole way, and when I got there, it was so bright, I had to turn around and go home. Sat in Palmer’s for a week just so my retinas could heel up.
Charlie: Yeah, but my wife might like to see me in a new flannel.
Spider: How she gonna recognize you in a new shirt? Can’t see your face, boy. That plaid’s the only distinguisher you got. This morning I thought I was ZZ Top was pickin’ me up till you took off your jacket, and I placed the flannel.
Charlie: Well still, it’s right here. Let’s just take a peek. Maybe we’ll know someone in there.
(The two slowly approach the Pac Sun as if it might be a trap, or maybe an oasis that disappears as soon as they get close. They stop just short of the electronic security scanners you must cross in order to enter or exit.)
Spider: Ah shit. Security again. Jesus Christ.
Charlie: Yeah and looks like this machine took over a real man’s job. I’ll write a song about it.
(As he says this, both begin to empty the contents of their pockets, placing items just at the base of the walk-through scanners. Along with their knapsacks, there is now a jumble of keys, finger nail clippers, guitar strings, a harmonica, and a couple jaw harps sitting on the tile. The two enter. The machine doesn’t beep or sound any alarm, but Spider John remembers one more thing.)
Spider: Hold up. I forgot something’.
(He passes back through the scanner, bends over, and pulls out a large jack knife from his boot, leaving it atop the pile of items.)
Spider (cont’d): They woulda took that for sure.
Charlie: Yah, they woulda.
Spider: Let’s go see about a shirt then.
(The two approach one of the all-plaid shirt-racks near the register. At first, they are afraid to touch the shirts, and instead put their faces as close as possible to the rack sniffing and eyeing up the material which they mistook as flannel.)
Charlie: There’s no fuzzies or bumps on this material. I don’t get it. [do two sniffs]
(He sniffs. Spider grabs out a shirt.)
Spider: What the hell is this? It ain’t flannel.
Charlie: It’s light and airy.
Spider: It’s a goddam blouse they stuck plaid on top of.
Charlie: What does the tag say?
Spider: 50% Rayon, 25% Polyester…Did this crap come from NASA?
(He holds it up to the fluorescent store lights.)
Jesus Martha, I can see through this shit. What are they tryin to pull here?
Charlie: I dono John. I’m scared. This doesn’t happen in Duluth.
Spider: Well get ready, cuz it’s comin’ your way, son. You know that any new thing that happens in Minneapolis makes it’s way up to Duluth a couple years later. Better pack up your family and move on to Thunder Bay.
Charlie: I can’t do metric John. I can’t do it. What’s gonna happen to us? The doctor said “get out and do some walkin.’ It’ll do ya good.” So I did John. I got both of us out ta do some walkin’, and did it do us any good? No. It put the fear of God in us John. The end is surely near if they’re selling us a see-through flannel. It’s cold John. It’s cold. I can feel the frosty breeze from capitalism’s heart on my skin. (pause) Wait. Let me write that down.
Spider: My friend, there’s only one thing to do. You know it. I know it.
(Spider John takes out his cigarette making kit, and pulls a book of matches from the box. He taps a young, spikey-haired passerby on the shoulder.)
Spider: Kid, unless you want the Man to eat your soul and spit it back out in swatches of Rayon, hand over your Dippity Do!
The kid replies: What?
Spider: Your hair gel, son. Your groom-n-clean. The shit you’re keeping’ your hair up with.
(The kid hands Spider John a canister of texturizing paste from his back pocket. Spider dips his fingers into the jar of hair gel, and works it professionally into a clump under the clothes rack: a make-shift lump of sterno, ready to birth fire.)
Charlie meekly asks: Spider?
(Intent on his task, Spider John pays no attention, and pulls off a match. Unfortunately, it won’t light on the matchbook which had grown damp with sweat during the man’s first indoors mall walk.)
Charlie (cont’d): I got it Spider.
(Charlie strikes the match against his stiff general store jeans, and nimbly sets the hair gel aflame. In a matter of seconds the imitation rack of flannel is blazing. The check out girl, blows a bubble and watches it, unresponsive, not remembering about science. Spider and Charlie dash toward the exit and their knapsacks, but not before the sprinkler system has engaged, soaking them through. As they scramble, Charlie calls out): This wasn’t my week for showering.
Spider: It’s free. Take it. Look out! The cops!
Not the real cops, but the privatized mall cops have caught on to the revolt that’s happening in the mall. Well, not the real revolt. They just think someone really hates the Pac Sun store.
Charlie: I can hardly run in this wet flannel, John. It’s too heavy,” (Charlie Cries.)
Spider: That’s the way it was meant to be, boy!
Scene 3, Closing Scene
Spider John and Charlie are handcuffed and sitting on a bench outside Hooters. They must wait for the mall cops to finish their lunch before continuing on to the MOA interrogation room.
Spider: I feel alive, Chuck. We’ve started a movement. I guess this did turn into a march on the mall.
Charlie: Yeah, a real march. Maybe this is the Mall of AMERICA.
Spider: It’s turning out that way, isn’t it.
End of Episode 1