Saturday, June 16, 2012

Chapter 5 - Another Rude Awakening

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Chapter 5 - Another Rude Awakening

Story by:  Thomas Daulton and Justin
Art by:  Justin and Thomas Daulton
Music by:  Evan Brau

By Friday night, radioactive dreams had translated into full-blown anxiety during the waking day.  It became harder and harder for Art to rest and enjoy his sick leave while he obsessed about the City collapsing all around him. ... 

His memories of the Electricity Crisis of 2001 made him doubt that the Governor’s privatization plans were going to end well.  They might even end up laying off more City workers – or giving the Pool less work – if they followed through with water privatization.  

That got him thinking about how unpredictable his own City job schedule had already become … what used to be a full-time job was now offering him six hours of paid work one week, fifty the next.  He spent a few minutes on the City and County employment websites, looking to move laterally in the City.  But the only available job that was in his field was a fairly low-ranking GIS data entry technician.  For this they want to see my transcripts all the way back to high school, and personal references who can confirm the transcripts all the way back to high school too? …Art stared in shock at the online application form.  He doublechecked the salary grade and wondered sarcastically, all that for a job that pays twelve buckaroos an hour?  Does that include twelve for the hour I’ve just wasted filling out this form?

He knew he had to think about a different job – if he wanted out of this dead-end City labor pool, if he ever wanted to get ahead on all the bills, let alone fix his car or buy a new wetsuit.  But, at least for now, he needed a source of income that wouldn’t interfere with his current day job.  The job market was clearly a jungle, and he soon realized that his setup was better than many people had.  As Art brooded on these thoughts, day was already turning into night.  It was too late to make phone calls or apply to another regular office job until Monday, of course… (a week of sick leave had quickly disabused him of the habit of waking up early for work).  He had just about given up on the idea, and he started to preen his meticulously tagged MP3 collection again.  Of course!!  That was what I was thinking about before I got sick, he realized.  The Bootstrapper Lounge!  …suddenly remembering a half-formed plan of his that had interested him earlier in the week.

The Bootstrapper Lounge was a fairly trendy nightclub within walking distance of Art’s house.  Plopped incongruously at the edge of Art’s sketchy neighborhood, its industrial exterior was a carefully designed façade;  USC students – who generally could still afford to commute by car -- were starting to discover the cheap rents in Silverlake, gentrifying as they conquered new territory.  From the cars, the dress code, and the snatches of conversation Art sometimes heard while walking by, it was the latest new hangout for MBA students.

Although he was not much of a dancer or a drinker, about the most fun at parties that Art had ever had in college was when he tried his hand at DJ-ing.  When Art was daydreaming in the Employee Lounge at work about what he’d rather be doing, the idea of DJ-ing a club was a wistful, recurring desire.  Lately he’d started to think about it more seriously.  He felt pretty sure he had a hard-drive full of the latest music that was second to nobody’s (obtained through legal and… quasi-legal means).  But electricity was Art’s angle.  He would approach someplace like the Bootstrapper Lounge and tell them he’d provide his own electric power.  The week of sickbed and the frustratingly common blackouts and brown-outs had prompted Art to renew his experiment with storage batteries, with chargers and low-power equipment for his music and his gaming console.

He’d started tinkering with these independent electric systems years ago when he first moved into the basement from grad school, simply because of the difficulty and expense of running more outlets down there to a 1950’s basement whose rickety wiring system was never meant for more than a single incandescent.  The idea that the nuclear plant was failing only threw his efforts into sharper focus.  Art now recharged his smaller high-tech devices continuously during the day with a couple of trickle-chargers.  His computer took too much power to manage in this way, but at least he could have music and a shoot-‘em-up game on his flatscreen whenever he wanted, regardless of how SoCal Gas & Electric was performing that day.

Even a place like the Bootstrapper had to be feeling the pinch of these electricity bills, and they probably lost a lot of their business on those occasions when the power went down completely.  Spending long nights in his darkened basement, Art had perfected a mixer, amplifier, and speaker system that ran off of a car battery and four sets of double-D’s that could last six hours with only one quick battery swap.  It would interface with the club speakers, or at least Art felt sure he had enough adapters to make it connect.  His own, smaller speakers wouldn’t be ear-splitting during a blackout, like normal club speakers -- but for such small units they packed a punch, and they’d project a blurry beat well enough to keep people dancing despite a dozen conversations in the room.  He assumed the club would have some emergency lights that would come on in case of blackout.

So that evening, after he and Mom had finished a light dinner of soup and salad, Art put on some of his least threadbare go-to-meetin’ clothes and bundled up the essential components of his sound system into his worn but ample leather satchel.  Mom had settled into the TV room and didn’t seem to notice as Art slinked down the corridor behind her chair.  He shut the front door quietly – the iron gate equally quietly, when he arrived at the sidewalk – and started lugging the satchel, heavy with batteries, up his street.  A low-hanging, un-trimmed branch nearly caught him in the eye – he had never gotten around to trimming the trees in the direction opposite his walk to work – and his shoulders and elbows almost popped as he snapped his head away while manhandling the satchel.  But no matter, a few blocks later he trudged up to the door of the Bootstrapper Lounge.

*  *  *

It was much too early to go clubbing, so the Bootstrapper’s normally-sparkly logo was unlit.  Besides the bright logo, the club entrance was almost no different from the warehouse walls that surrounded it for two blocks on either side.  Art noticed the sign with a DJ schedule taped to the door; the names were like something from a sad-sack movie from the last Depression:  “DJ Downtrodden, 21:30.  DJ Revenant, 22:30.” There were a couple more names, but Art noticed the top line read “Doors at 20:30”.  Art also noticed the statuesque, chiseled muscles of the black-clad bouncer who was frowning down at him from a height difference of about a foot.

“Club’s still closed,” the balding man said in a vaguely Midwestern drawl, as he thumbed towards the taped-on schedule.  “Scram.”

“I’m not here for the show – well I am here about a show – what I mean is, I’d like to see the manager.  I want to audition.”

“Huh.” The bouncer seemed to take in Art’s fashion sense and stage presence in that one brief snort.  But Art comforted himself that the bouncer didn’t know about the electronic wonders in his leather bag.  “Then you still want to get in.  The cover charge’s $45 tonight.”Art gasped.  It seemed shocking that USC students could drop that much money on a night of drinking and dancing before they even bellied up to the bar.  But if the club charged that much, surely they paid their DJs well, didn’t they?  “But you just said the club was closed!” Art protested.

The bouncer looked at him like he was very stupid indeed, and began explaining as if to a child.  “The manager is inthere.  Ask for Bertram.  Bertram isn’t coming out here until the show is over.  Then he’s gunna be tired and go home for the night.  If you want to get in there, I need forty-five bucks.  And I need to look in your handbag to see if you’re packin’ anything.”

Well, Art rationalized to himself, They always say you gotta spend money to make money.  He reached into his wallet and scrounged up the bills.  After a pat-down and a brief ransack of his leather satchel, the bouncer checked his I.D.  He stuck a paper bracelet onto Art’s wrist, the kind whose glue is too strong to un-seal.  “Be sure and get that wristband stamped at the bar.  There’s a two drink minimum and I’ll be checking on yer way out.” The hulking bouncer opened the door and politely gestured him inside.

It took a few minutes for Art’s eyes to adjust; the club really was built inside a bankrupt warehouse, so there were no windows, and the management obviously didn’t want to waste electricity on the powerful stage lights until the performers were ready to begin.  A couple of yellowing fluorescents were at opposite corners of the dance floor, and the bartenders were actually working by candle-light.  For some reason it made Art want to whisper as if he were in a church.

“Are you Bertram?” he asked a bartender.  The man looked Art and his satchel up and down, and then gave a funny shrug.  “He’s in the storeroom,” he replied, and thumbed a gesture pointing to a corridor behind the bar.

“Toss ‘em in the trash if they’re dented!!” somebody roared as Art opened the aluminum door to the storage room.  Another tall skinny man, with spiky hair going thin in the back, a black silk shirt and a tie, was speaking to a couple of busboys standing amidst a pile of aluminum cans.  The cans looked like the latest trendy energy drink – and had apparently fallen off a pallet – but the man whirled on Art as he opened the door.  A beat, then 

“Whodahell are you?”

It took Art another beat to respond, while his mind wrapped itself around the idea that this club could afford to throw out a gallon or more of expensive energy drink while just down the street Mom’s cupboard was so empty they had to check ‘em for spiders when they reached far back.

He snapped his attention back to the waiting manager and tamped down all such thoughts, proffering a hand and his best winning smile.  “Errr, I’m the guy who’s going to save your butt when the brownout hits later tonight!”  Art kept grinning and stared down the man’s unibrow for a moment.  He could almost see the gears whirling in Bertram’s head.  The manager tried to hide it, but Art felt certain he’d been correct in his assumption that the club lost business during blackouts.  “Walk with me,” Bertram growled.

The two of them trotted down the dim warehouse, echoes from busy stagehands following their footsteps, and towards the main stage.  Art chatted about his low-power mixing system as they went, but Bertram was clearly not a “details” man.  “Yeah, we got emergency lights,” Bertram confirmed.  He seemed to be calculating something, but whatever it was, it had nothing to do with the wattage and amperage figures Art was throwing off.  “We got the USB, we got’cher co-ax connections.  If this thing works like you say, we could drop a Benjamin on a couple of extra car batteries, keep the music on all night if we have to.”

“I’ve also been working on a solar charging system,” Art offered, exaggerating just a little.  But he wanted to seem helpful.  “If you can front me a little cash, pretty soon we might be able to cut SoCal Gas & Electric out of your balance sheet completely.  With respect to the music, anyway…”

Bertram smiled a sharp-edged smile.  It seemed like he had figured out where Art fit into his business universe.  “Okay, Mr. Art, let’s see what’cha got.”  He saw that Art was still struggling with his heavy satchel.  “Set it up on that card table next to the switchboard there.” He pointed at a small alcove off the main stage, where a keyboardist or DJ might stand and work, visible to the audience but not dominating the stage.  “We might be able to use you,” he drew out the “u” as if he were thinking and planning.  “We might be able to use you tonight.”

Art’s pulse pounded in his temples.  The offer hit him like a physical blow.  He had mixed songs in his mind all week, he had made the occasional mix disk for his friends, but it’d been years since he’d actually stood in front of a crowd and said anything public.  I think the last time I addressed a crowd was to read a white paper on asphalt compaction in front of a local ASCE meeting!  The implications seemed to hit him all at once, that he had embarked spontaneously on something he should have been practicing furiously for weeks or months.  He licked his dry lips.  “Okay, sir, thanks…  it may take me a few minutes to get into my groove…” Bertram’s lips curled, so before Bertram could tongue-lash him onto the stage, Art hopped up the platform and chirped, “You won’t regret this!”

*  *  *

Bertram stalked back down the warehouse towards the bar, but he pointed at Art and tapped his own protruding ears, to indicate he’d be listening.  Art hurriedly started positioning and plugging in his small devices.  He could control the mix from a freeware program on the beat-up first-gen tablet computer that he’d bought used from a co-worker, but he couldn’t make it work wirelessly yet.  He’d have to stand there on stage, behind the card table, plugged in to his mixer.  He threw the equalizer’s “ON” switch, holding his breath, hoping his first impression wouldn’t be a crackle of static from the club speakers.  So far so good!  Art queued up a trippy synthesizer number from Gato Blanko, a solo artist based here in Silverlake who was just on the edge of his first big record deal.  It was eerie enough music to command attention, yet at least a few people in the audience were guaranteed to recognize it.  He figured that’d be a good way to start off a DJ set…

Working his way through a list of his favorite House mixes, he could spare little motion except to rock his knees in time with the music, nod and clutch an earphone to his ear contemplatively, like he had seen other professional DJ’s do in the past.  Well, stage presence would have to come after Art had spent a little time on stage.  He hadn’t even had time to think of a stage name yet!  He was too busy watching for the reactions of the stagehands, who were adjusting the club’s lighting, moving drink tables and setting up decorations.  These people must be pretty jaded to music, he surmised, so if I can get even a little reaction out of them, I’ll be doing well!  As Art tracked a Reggae back-beat from Dub Nation into a Rock song from Big Provider, he thought he was rewarded with a few toe-taps and head nods from the stagehands – not directed at him, but accepted into their work tasks, a sign that Art’s selection of mixes was penetrating their subconscious.  After twenty minutes that seemed to Art like a lonely eternity, up on stage in front of an empty dance hall with people who weren’t directly paying attention to him, Art brought his short set to a close with a very danceable song from Planting Seeds.  The final chorus faded into a screaming guitar solo that didn’t belong in the original, yet reverberated off it nicely (the final solo was taken from an old surf group calling themselves Man… Or Astro-Man?)

In his mind, that last number brought thunderous applause from the dancers – and then he opened his eyes to the dark and empty club again.  My God, I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much, he gulped, and wiped sweat off his brow.  A couple of the stagehands actually looked right at him and nodded – which did a lot to ease the butterflies in his stomach.  But Bertram walked back from the bar, clapping slowly, neatly and pointedly in that manner that somehow suggests sarcasm.  “Okay, kid, you’ve convinced me.”
Art looked at him quizzically.  Bertram’s somewhat condescending body language didn’t match what ought to be great news.  “No really, kid –” the term seemed to take in Art’s novice status, as the manager probably wasn’t more than a few years older than Art himself.  Art risked a return smile.

“So you want to start me?” Art wondered, barely believing his luck.  Then the words tumbled out of his mouth, he could hardly stop them.  “You want to start me maybe on an off night, like a Wednesday or something?  Until maybe I build up a following?”  He hoped he wasn’t negotiating away too much of his position before bargaining even really started.

“Screw Wednesday,” the manager spat.  “We can use you tonight.”

“Really?” All the blood seemed to leave Art’s head and he felt dizzy.  He tried to visualize whether he had a better shirt at home he could change into; the sweat-stains on this one must be visible!  “Tonight?” was all he could stammer.

“Tonight,” nodded Bertram confidently.  “I want you to leave your equipment right there.  The other acts will set up in front of you on the stage.  But if that rig of yours is working right now, I ain’t gonna move it until the night’s over.  Leave everything there and we’ll call you.”  The manager gave him a final nod and turned smartly, heading back into the storeroom.
Art still hadn’t processed the fact that his first attempt at a non-office job had met with such success.  Tonight, he thought.  Tonight!  A Friday night?  All those other DJ’s must be big names.  Friday has got to be one of their biggest days!

He’d been sweating so much that he was thirsty.  He stumbled up to the bar, hoping there might be a drink ticket, or at least a tab, for performers.  “Could I get a fizzy water, please?”  A mineral water was going to taste like success!  One week a City water employee, the next week successful enough to spend money on water from a bottle instead of a jug or a tap.“Tenner,” the barman grunted, breaking one off from a six-pack.  The bar was still setting up, the mineral water hadn’t been in ice long enough to be properly cold, and the bartenders worked frantically as opening time drew closer.  “I can’t stamp your wristband for that, by the way, I can only do that for alcohol.”  Art grudgingly dug a ten-dollar bill out of his wallet.He sat at the bar, a little disappointed that no breaks seemed to be forthcoming for performers.  An old saying leapt to mind unbidden, There is no honor among thieves, and he mused that many performers counted themselves as charlatans or deceivers of one form or another.  If he was up on that stage tonight, that’s what he’d sure feel like!

The stage became a bustle of activity, as several people of different ages started setting up the other DJ’s equipment in front of Art’s.  These days, everybody had hard drives or portable computers of one sort or another, a motley mix of equipment and manufacturers.  Art was old enough to remember when DJs achieved their scratch effects and mixed songs together with twin turntables.  But nobody had put out a new vinyl LP in several years by now, not for the sort of dance music that was popular among young students.  Finally the main doors cracked open, spilling cold air and fading dusk light into the club.  As the first clubbers entered, expensive shoes clacking on the concrete floor, the house lights and the sound system came on in a big tidal wave.  Indistinct tracks of music blurred together and the lights were meant to dazzle, not help people navigate the club.  The room was pitch dark except for roving spotlights that illuminated anyone moving in a harsh circle of white;  apparently the dozens of small spotlights were rigged to automated motion detectors.  When Art searched for the mens’ room, he found the effect hindered his night vision rather than helped it;  that seemed to be the express purpose.

*  *  *

As the club filled up and Art’s watch ticked towards 9:30, DJ Downtrodden appeared out of nowhere on the stage and burst into a set of cheerful melodic pop songs, seemingly chosen as ice-breakers.

They got people swaying and nodding, but didn’t demand too much from the audience yet.  Their attentions were still focused on conversation and Art couldn’t help eavesdropping on a few of them.  Art felt self-conscious, obviously not part of their social circle, nursing a twenty-five dollar Rum & Cola on a barstool in the background.  But as the club got more crowded, he simply had nowhere to turn where he wasn’t hearing somebody’s conversation.

“My Civics 260 paper is supposed to be a privatization plan for a government service that’s been cut recently, but all the easy ones have been –” 
“I was hoping to upgrade to a Ferrari but mom says she won’t co-sign for an import –”
“Fake leather is soooo last year… the animal-rights people are much more worried this year about estrogen mimics from plastics in the food chain, so killing a few cows just isn’t –”

…it was like he was paging through his news headlines again, back at home on his computer.  The news on the wire was what these people, and their parents, chatted about over drinks; and vice versa.  It was quite some contrast, to hear this stuff while his stomach was still rumbling from such a light dinner.  It was quite some contrast to DJ Downtrodden, up on the stage, who appeared to be a homeless bum taken right off the streets.  He had five-o’clock shadow that looked from this distance like it was leftover from 5:00 on Thursday; his clothes were torn and oil-stained, and he had unhealthy-looking blotches on his face and one arm.  But he was up there, smiling at the crowd and rhythmically punching his mixer board, half-dancing as he moved, grinning for all the world like a schoolkid on vacation at the beach.  Did this guy even have two coins to jingle together in his pocket?  How much did the Bootstrapper Lounge pay its DJs, anyway?

The soundman, hidden somewhere in a control booth, announced that the audience should welcome a “new artist, debuting at the Bootstrapper tonight just for your pleasure…” and Art’s heart leapt to his mouth.  He almost sprayed out a swallow of his drink to make room for it.  He didn’t even have a stage name yet!  Would they announce him as “DJ Art”?  Maybe next time, would “Art of DJ” be a good name?

But the soundman continued, “…welcome DJ Revenant!”

DJ Revenant began his set.  He was dressed as some sort of spook or a ghost, in a tattered one-piece robe with a pointed hood that concealed most of his face, all but the mouth.  The robe was gray and rough, as if he’d rolled in charcoal right before coming on stage.  His mouth and arms, when he reached out to manipulate his electronic equipment, were so pale white that they must be shaved and pasted with makeup.  They practically glowed green, like a Halloween vampire.  Was the previous DJ’s skin condition also makeup?

Art nursed his second Rum & Cola and crept around the edge of the room, back against the wall, trying to look like he was just taking a break from dancing with a dozen people.

Listening to some more of the conversations, Art had started to think of these young people as “Trust Fundamentalists”.  The conversations during this second set seemed more like religious incantations to evoke long-dead deities.

“…Teacher wants us to calculate the Greenspan breakeven point for Federal Interest Rate versus employment given inflation at twelve percent…”

He adjusted his tie, setting his half-full drink down on a table.  At least some other DJs wore ties, didn’t they?  As a sarcastic fashion statement?  A waitress speedwalked past him and took his half-finished drink off the table, headed back to the bar, dumped the liquid into a sink and started washing the glass.  Art was flabbergasted, and then almost slapped himself to realize that he’d forgotten to get a wristband stamp for that second drink.  Huh, just as well it got dumped.  He’d have to order another one anyway, to meet the two-drink minimum, and he didn’t want to be too drunk when he played his set.

He finished adjusting his tie and nervously checked his watch.  It was 11:29PM.  To himself, he wondered whether the headline act would be the one that went on now, before midnight, or the one after midnight, when some of the patrons would probably be going home or switching clubs anyway?  “Club Bootstrapper!  Would you please welcome…” intoned the invisible soundman, and Art’s face brightened as he faced the stage.  “…from Portland, Oregon -- DJ Wastrel!”

True to his stage name, this performer walked out lackadaisically onto the platform, a baseball cap pulled low over most of his face, wearing worn flannel, a T-shirt, and sweat pants, like a frat boy who had slept in his clothes.  But he was too old to be a frat boy… he looked to be about Art’s age.  He sauntered over to Art’s mixer setup, while the house music was still blaring.  DJ Wastrel then scratched his privates like he was just rolling out of bed, and started fiddling with Art’s equipment.

Art almost spit out his replacement drink, again.  He looked around for somebody to protest to, but recognized no one.  Bertram was nowhere to be seen, and even the bartenders had changed shifts since he’d asked that first one for a fizzy water.  He had assumed Bertram would ask permission to use his equipment if there happened to be a brownout tonight, but there was no brownout – the house speakers were still going strong – and nobody had asked him anything.  While Art hyperventilated for a moment, DJ Wastrel had already recognized Art’s song-mixing program and selected two songs from Art’s hard drive.  Damn, Art stewed.  Now I have to remember to scratch that Gato Blanko song off of my playlist when I go on, he muttered to himself sullenly.  He didn’t see what other recourse he had left, but to sit and observe.  Maybe Wastrel had had some problem with his own equipment.  Maybe this was just usual procedure for a touring performer who had travelled all the way from Oregon.

DJ Wastrel skimmed through a set of currently popular dance songs, and all Art could do was remark to himself that the guy lacked Art’s musical breadth, (although he did manage to strike two more of the most popular groups from off of Art’s own playlist).  Wastrel seemed to receive the thunderous applause that Art had daydreamed for himself four hours ago, when Art was on stage.  Art hoped Wastrel hadn’t used it all up.

*  *  *

The house music faded to nothing and the crowd began murmuring softly, anticipating the final performer.  Art’s throat went dry, but even if he wasn’t afraid of getting drunk, Art had run out of cash completely and couldn’t afford another drink anyway.

“…And now,” boomed the soundman in his lowest voice.

The crowd murmur went up a notch.

“…For the final performer of the evening,”

Art neatened his collar and tie again.

“…For the first time playing at the Bootstrapper Lounge,”

He reviewed the new songs he’d have to try out because Wastrel had taken three away from him.

“…please welcome,”

Art took a few, hesitant, nervous baby steps away from the bar and in the direction of the stage.

“…please give it up for… DJ …”

Spotlights played across Art’s face, then quickly moved around to the dancers near Art before concentrating on the alcove corner of the stage.

“…DJ Deportee!”

Art’s breath whooshed out in a long gust, and he calmly about-faced and replaced his rear end on the barstool he’d occupied a moment before.

DJ Deportee took the stage, waving and nodding to the cheers of the crowd.  He was a tall black man, made that much taller by the comically large Rasta rainbow knit cap he wore, which failed to contain a dozen dreadlocks that were four- to five-feet long.  The dreads trailed behind him.  Like the others, his baggy clothes looked like they hadn’t seen a washing machine in many weeks.  Unsurprisingly, he took his place behind Art’s bank of electronics and had figured out where the song list was, within about two heartbeats.  Suddenly a strong smell of, to put it politely, sensimilla wafted through the whole club.  It was such a deliberate and quick change that Art knew it must have been incense sticks (or the like) placed in front of the aircon vents on cue.

Art half-swiveled to the bartender and asked, over the roar of the crowd’s applause, “Is there another act after this one?”

“Nope!” the bartender was mixing drinks and didn’t even face him.  “Noise regulations.  Show ends at 1:30 and the cops will be all over us if you can’t hear a pin drop by 1:45.”

“Can you give me an icewater?” Art asked forlornly – soft enough that the young man had to look up at him.

“Yeah, I’m not supposed to,” replied the barkeep equally softly, “but at least you were a tipper.  Not like those grinks out there,” he shook his head towards the well-dressed dance floor crowd.  “Here ya go.”

“LAST CALL!!” shouted all the bartenders in unison.  Sucking on an ice cube, Art had to admit that DJ Deportee knew his stuff.  He mixed some overlooked Reggae gems from Art’s collection with popular Rock chart-toppers to produce an energetic sound, yet with the hard edge taken off by the mellow African beats.

Finally Deportee’s set ended, a few minutes after 1:30, to raucous applause from the crowd. The DJ took a nearby mike to thank the crowd, but he’d only gotten out one word “—thank – “…

…before the still-invisible sound man stepped on Deportee’s toes.  “THANK YOU ALL FOR COMING OUT TONIGHT,” the deep voice boomed from the house speakers.  Art was sure it was audible even in the restrooms, and DJ Deportee knew a dismissal when he heard one.  He vanished behind the stage.  Meanwhile, a line of treelike bouncers had formed in front of the bar, pushing Art gently but implacably from off his barstool as they closed ranks.  “We hope you have enjoyed our first DJ Dance quadruple-header,” the soundman continued.  The line of bouncers advanced a couple of steps, herding people towards the exit.  “Be sure and come back in a week when DJ Deportee will make a second appearance!  Meanwhile, we ask out of consideration for our neighbors, that you put down your drinks and make your way quietly to the front entrance…”

Art loped a couple of steps towards the stage and started up the platform steps, heading towards the alcove with his electronic equipment.  Fast as lightning, the balding muscular bouncer from this afternoon had stepped up from behind Art, blocked his path, set a meaty hand on Art’s shoulder and was starting to spin him around.  “Just whatinell do you think yer doin’?” the man groused, mostly a rhetorical question.

“But that’s my gear up there!  On the table,” protested Art.  “You remember, searching my bag?”

The bouncer seemed to remember no such thing.  “Look kid, that equipment belongs to the club.  Open mike night is the last Tuesday of the month.”  Art noted that the bouncer actually had a night-stick, and his hand, once off Art’s shoulder, was moving towards its holster.  Art started back a step from pure surprise.  Didn’t know this was such a rough place, that the bouncers are actually armed…?  he wondered.  The big man all but frog-marched Art down the platform steps.

“But…” Art pleaded again; however, once on the dance floor, he was swept up with the crowd of exiting patrons flowing out towards the door.  He had to move with them or fall and be trampled.  He pointed above the younger kids’ shoulders at his equipment in the alcove, and the bouncer pointed menacingly right back at him, gesturing towards the door.  Before he knew it, a stunned Art was standing on the curb, surrounded by chatty USC students, most lighting up cigarettes or drinking from flasks.  Several seemed to be waiting for valet attendants to bring their cars around from some secret parking spot out of sight.

Art felt on the verge of collapsing to sit on the curb and put his face in his hands.  But he knew if he did that, it would feel too much like a defeat.

This isn’t over, he swore to himself.

It couldn’t be over.  That was half his entertainment system, sitting on the card table back inside.  He’d bought that stuff over a period of years; it would take him years again to squirrel away the spare cash until he could afford replacements.

The police might be on their way to eliminate the public noise nuisance, for all Art knew, but he suddenly realized he couldn’t bring this up to the police even if they arrived immediately.  

There were so many people selling black-market movies and audio disks on every street corner, that the City police had started chasing “Intellectual Property” violations.  The first thing the police would do in a case like this, where there was music involved, would be to confiscate Art’s hard drive (and any other drives they could find inside the club).  They’d scan Art’s drive for licenses, discover that half of his music came from pirate sources, and then whoever wished to claim the hard drive would be subject to multiple thousands of dollars’ worth of copyright-violation fines.

Art had heard rumors that the reason they prioritized I.P. crimes above others nowadays, was because the police were now cash-strapped – after losing a century-long immunity to the budget cuts that plagued all the other public agencies.  The R.I.A.A. (the Record Industry) was giving them a piece of the fines collected, like a commission.  Art didn’t want to believe that things had gotten quite so bad as that yet – but he certainly didn’t want to put the whole idea to the test.   It was time to retreat to his cave, lick his wounds, and try to ignore the loss of half his entertainment system.  But it won’t end here, he thought.  Tomorrow it’s a different day, he swore.

#  #  #

Thanks for listening and following the story of Art Chupke, and we’ll meet you back here – whenever Justin and I can put together the next chapter!

This story has been produced with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives License, which is legalelse to say please download it, copy it and give it to all your friends.  The police won’t even charge you a fine!  But don’t change this recording, don’t take our names off of it, and don’t charge for it.  As if.

Until next time, all we’re going to ask is to think about what you’re going to do when the Apocalypse comes to _your_ basement.  See you then.

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