“Mr. Leeds? I’m back. Surprised to see me? Well… don’t be. Or do be. Either way, I’m back and I’ve learned all about sex work and sex workers and I found The Man with the Gold Car’s daughter. Her name is Pillowface and she’s my friend, and I’m going to write her story and tell all of Anytown—the whole wide world!—about how she’s been mistreated and about… about how that jerk Tidwell and that awful Man with the Gold Car hurt her and hurt my friend Danny and how you’re a nasty mean old man doing their rotten bidding, if you try to stop me! What…” Emily Twiggs chewed over her words a bit, rubbing her palms together and then shaking her arms at her sides as she tried to gather her thoughts and maintain her composure. “What do you think about that? Huh, Buster Brown?”
“Sir, this is a Wendy’s drive-thru.”
“What?” Emily scoffed, both taken aback and more than a little annoyed.
Danny Cater laughed a little, then realized his friend was legitimately upset and annoyed (her face growing beet red and nostrils flaring, steam practically shooting from her ears, tipped him off). “Oh, um, sorry, E.T. I just thought…”
“Doggone it, Danny,” Emily said with an exasperated sigh and took a seat in one of the cramped, stiff hospital chairs at his bedside. She leaned back and fidgeted with her hair. “You’re supposed to be helping me practice this, not…” she stood again, her nerves too frazzled for sitting, “Doing your… improv!”
Throwing her sweater over her arm and the strap of her purse over a shoulder, Emily made a beeline for the door. “I should’ve just asked Oscar. I’ll… talk to you later…”
“Oscar?” Cater asked confusedly.
Emily stopped and, sounding distracted, replied, “What? No. Otter. My boyfriend,” and resumed her march to the door.
“Oh. Glad I asked,” Cater dead-panned and turned his head slightly to do his “Jimface” for the non-existent camera and corresponding imaginary audience.
As Emily’s departure left the bed-ridden “writer” all by his lonesome, Danny’s self-satisfaction with his well-timed, wonderfully-performed “Office humor” faded quickly, not so much because this brand of humor was well past its saturation point and late “aughts”/early “teens” “expiry” date (another phrase with which Cater had become oddly fascinated, incorporating it into both his spoken repertoire on dubiously pertinent occasions and into a recent draft of his perpetually-in-progress Modern Love script to “give color,” no pun intended, to a formerly “BIPOC” character who he’d now turned white and British in an effort to make one of its many regrettable, offensive elements less “problematic”) or even because he felt bad that he’d been a prick to the woman he claimed to “love,” either or both of which would’ve been normal, appropriate human behaviors, but rather because he felt his “best material” was squandered like fine South Sea pearls before imaginary swine.
“Note to self: make sure to use the good lines with an audience to hear them,” he said into a tattered napkin before taking a big healthy chomp out of it, like a cowboy pulling off a chaw from a plug of tobacco.
Cater, as weird a fuck as he was in most respects, was rather common in at least one: his tendency to think and view himself as “protagonist of reality.” It’s unclear when, where or how individuals began to see themselves in this way—as the “hero” of some lung-running drama, where friends and family are supporting and background characters, people who impede the “hero” in some way are “villains” and objects of desire are “love interest characters”—but it seems likely that the prevalence of this “protagonist syndrome” has grown with that of general narcissism as atomization has increased.
Brian Powell once entertained, consciously, the idea of his being “protagonist of reality,” but this was more a paranoid flight of fancy for a mind prone to such things as narcissism. His computer registry had gotten “irrevocably fucked” (Powell to O. Berkman, 1/04) by a virus courtesy of a sketchy early-2000s porn site and, having taken several rips from a gravity bong packed with a dark, sticky and especially potent strain of marijuana, he lay in the dark silence of his spartan efficiency and let the THC overrun his senses.
In these days, stewing over and reeling from, among other things, a bad breakup with a young woman who “did a real number on [him]” (Powell to O. Berkman, 11/03), Powell often planned to go to the corner bar a block from the apartment in which he spent most of his time sitting and rotting, a pub where he imagined he might find some degree of camaraderie if not meet a new partner. However, young Brian (sources vary on his exact age) did not yet find it possible to hobnob freely without being intoxicated in some way (and the degree to which he ever found this possible remains open for debate), and so it was necessary to “pre-game” prior to walking over. The best (and, occasionally, worst) results were gained by drinking beforehand, but he often chose to “die his brains” with reefer instead, with the predictable result that he’d become hopelessly stoned and too paranoid and/or “zooted” to face the prospect of a crowded bar and would instead lie in bed too high to move.
Powell became convinced, on this particular night, that his virus-riddled computer was merely a metaphor for his own mind and body, which his ex had infected surreptitiously with and unspecified venereal disease (having been rather promiscuous before and, possibly, during their relationship) during unprotected sex and that, just as the PC would not boot properly after he’d shut down Windows, if he fell asleep—as seemed likely at any moment, given how baked out of his fucking guts and gourd he was—he’d become catatonic for perpetuity, if not cease to exist all together. This delusion became more grand and cosmic as consciousness ebbed from his scrawny 135 lbs. body, encompassing some sort of God/Satan/Angels narrative too convoluted and preposterous to recount here.
This is believed to be the genesis for the original Brian Powell Story and its ultimately nonsensical conceit involving former MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and a gaggle of ex-big leaguers (notably “Nasty Boys”-era Reds third baseman/corked bat enthusiast Chris Sabo and Blue Jays World Series MVP catcher Pat Borders), representing an evil God—a Yaldabaoth type—and his hitman angels, pursuing slightly fictionalized versions of Powell and his long-time friend, the former Astros/Cubs/Giants catcher Scott Servais. It’s also well known that Powell had a curious preoccupation with the “Prophecy” series of mostly straight-to-VHS horror pictures, which undoubtedly influenced this unwieldy and ultimately fruitless story line to which he nonetheless devoted many, many hours.
Whatever the dubious value of the “MLB Angels” story arc, it’s indisputable that this era—late-2003-Spring 2004—was the most productive of Powell’s writing life. Together with friend and confidant Oscar Berkman, then still laboring in the original headquarters of Moustache Publishing in Montana but soon to depart to Indiana in pursuit of other ventures, Powell published hundreds and hundreds of thousands of words of material into the vacuum of the early-21st century “blogosphere.” Brian had left Moustache offices at some earlier juncture to become a pizza boy by day while continuing to generate content by night. His routine consisted of delivering pizza pies six days per week, from roughly 11 a.m. until six or seven in the p.m., then returning to his hovel to write for several hours until consciousness abandoned him.
Had Brian continued in this manner, it’s impossible to say what may have become of him. His overall pattern of behavior was likely unsustainable, and the autobiographical details that emerge from this early iteration of The Brian Powell Story do not speak well, generally, of the young pizza boy’s overall health. Still, there’s nothing in this era that quite suggests the willful self-destruction of the heavy drinking that followed.
Brian Powell had dabbled in alarming alcohol intake previously, but somewhere in the realm of late-spring of 2004 he began to drink daily and at home, solo. This gave way to morning and daytime drinking, including while working in his capacity as a pizza pie driver. He once told me that he was drinking as much as a quart of vodka per night and a six-pack of beer per day over the course of his pizza shift, with the ill effects of this regimen making themselves known rather promptly: his nose would bleed spontaneously and profusely multiple times a day and blackouts were a multiple-times-weekly if not nightly occurrence. It’s unsurprising that his first substantive legal troubles came shortly after this period of self-abuse began.
At some point following the writing of a series of Rashomon-esque “con reports”—Daniel Cater, an acquaintance of Oscar Berkman’s, wrote what is considered the most lucid of the bunch (“the bunch” being Cater’s, Berkman’s and Powell’s reports on the “Wizard World ‘04” funny book/media convention—Powell spent several months in the slammer, where rather than take his mentor Servais’s advice to “lift weights… get in some kinda shape, fer chrissakes,” he reportedly slept to the degree possible and played pinochle for candy bars and Jolly Ranchers.
Brian’s tenure in the since-replaced “Old Richmond” jailhouse was described in a letter to a friend (Powell to [redacted], 12/04) as being “eerily familiar… like returning somewhere [he had] been before.” The stint also coincided, in part, with the infamous Tropical Storm Gaston (9/3/04), which hit Richmond hard and, in particular, inundated the town’s low-lying, historic Shockoe Bottom district, where the jailhouse was located.
Powell described, in an unpublished essay originally written in one of his jail notebooks, a scene befitting a “Post-Literate” Inferno: the jail’s lights out for multiple days, the tier on which he was housed—with its old-fashioned barred windows exposing those within to a measure of the elements, as was the case with most but the highest custody tiers—filled to shin-deep with stagnant rainwater, leading to an infestation of mosquitoes, the deputies forgoing their multiple daily counts in favor of one morning visit to pass out brown paper sacks containing an apple, a ham-and-cheese sandwich and a carton of milk, the darkness of dusk bringing with it screams from throughout the jail, the inmates banging hellish rhythms on the frames of their bunk beds and the tier bars, old grudges settled under cover of night with detached lengths of piping, gallows humor from those who were still speaking, all the while the phones having been turned off to ensure no one’s loved ones or attorney on the outside found out about the conditions within the facility before the city had a chance to get its story straight.
Sources have discussed Brian’s powerfully vivid imagination, and his ability to lose himself within that world without need of any outside entertainment or stimulation (famously, he was able to achieve erection and orgasm—a form of literal “mental masturbation”—without photographic or visual stimulation and without the use of his hand, the “hands-free orgasm”), but the conditions he portrayed the jail as having during Gaston have indeed been verified as true to reality. Whether this deplorable situation had any bearing on the city’s decision to build a new jail is unclear.
[CUT TO: DANNY CATER, heavier, slightly wizened, but largely untouched by the hands of time—the blessings of a life free from need and unfamiliar with labor—sits in an ergonomic chair in a luxurious condominium that’s nonetheless overrun by various memorabilia, collectibles and assorted pop-culture ephemera. Additionally, the corpses of many a tattered napkin are strewn about, along with a number of unreturned “NoshToss” tubes that have old, sometimes moldy food caked to their hard plastic shells.
Cater is rubbing the thin, small little fingers of his tiny, damp, ferret paw hands on the arms of his chair, producing a scratchy sound that appears to function as the salve that soothes his fragile, troubled soul.]
(serenely, eyes closed)
[He opens his eyes after an awkward moment. Their beadiness and the dark circles around them are masked to a degree by the large frames and thick lenses of his glasses. He looks at the camera.]
Sorry, what? I needed to rest my eyes for a bit. It’s been a busy… (trails off, yawns)
MICAH THE CAT (O.S.)
That’s… quite alright. I’m sure you’ve been busy with your scripts. I… just asked about Brian Powell?
[ON BOTH: MICAH THE CAT is sitting across from Danny, perched atop a little ottoman too small for that purpose, but he’s making it work. Cater rubs the arms of his chair more vigorously to calm the distress the mere mention and resulting thought of the loathsome Powell is causing him.]
MICAH THE CAT
You didn’t care for him…
No, I didn’t bloody care for him! (Fighting back a smile, so pleased is he with his lifelike reading on and seemingly spontaneous use of “bloody.”) He was one of the worst people I’ve ever met, and he was a really bad writer too. No respect for the craft. No understanding of plot or character or dialogue.
MICAH THE CAT
This is good—the unvarnished truth. Meow, That’s What I Call Music!
MICAH THE CAT
(purring a little)
It’s a little catchphrase I do. Drives engagement among my “hoo-fans.” Please share and smash that like button and don’t forget to subscribe and ring that little bell.
(smiling slowly, laughing a sharp, awkward laugh)
Oh, I get it. That’s pretty good. “Meow, That’s What I Call Music…” (laughing some more) It’s like the TV said, but different!
MICAH THE CAT
Yes, that’s it exactly! Do you like it?
Oh yes, it’s pretty good.
“What?” Powell asked in a shaky voice he’d intended to be a whisper but was in reality far louder and very alarmed.
Servais’ face was torn to shit. The skin on the left side of his face was hanging loose and free like that chunk on the middle of a fried chicken leg after the first bite, blood spurting and welling in the resultant gap. He took a ragged, halting breath then gurgled and, in the apparent attempt to speak, spat a misting spray of crimson. His eyes were wide and white.
Powell looked at the grizzled former big leaguer, uncertain of what to say. As luck or perhaps fate would have it this was good, because now Servais repeated himself, grabbing Brian by his arm with a coarse hand slicked by his own blood. “Got me… pretty… good.”
Then he laughed, replicating the misty blood spew from a moment earlier in so doing. He hadn’t tried to speak before at all; he had laughed at the potentially fatal blow the rampaging beast had dealt him. He smiled the way that someone who is letting go smiles and a reddish, translucent bubble popped in his mouth and a film of blood coated his teeth.
There’s a theory that when one dies one doesn’t really die. Rather, one’s consciousness, at the point of apparent death, jumps to a branching, alternate reality wherein one has survived whatever it was that “killed” the person in the preceding universe. This still leaves us, ultimately, as withered old husks at the end of a long existence, mourning the loss of everyone we’ve known and loved and, besides that, with more questions than answers. For a start: What then? What’s next? Isn’t there any rest? Don’t we ever rest?
Thou in thy secresie although alone,
Best with thy self accompanied, seek’st not
Social communication, yet so pleas’d
Canst raise thy Creature to what height thou wilt
Of union or communion deifi’d;
I by conversing cannot these erect
From prone, nor in thir wayes complacence find,
Thus I embolden’d spake, and freedom us’d
Permissive, and acceptance found, which gain’d
This answer from the gratious voice Divine.