Short Story: “Street Theater”

If all the world’s a stage, are you an part of the audience, or part of the street theater of life?

“Street Theater”
Part 1 of a Series
by P. Orin Zack
[12/18/2008]

The citizen newsvlogger steadied his camera for a tight shot of the large white ball with blue tape lines that was being held aloft by several people dressed in red suits with Republican Party elephant emblems. One of the ‘Republicans’ was tearing the blue tape off the ball and wadding it up, while the others cheered him on.

“This is Mick Radditzen,” he said, “on the scene with a live uplink of some street theater on the quad in front of the State House. According to the news release handed me by organizer Paula Marks, that white ball represents the state, and the blue tape they’re removing are the congressional district boundaries that were gerrymandered by the Democratic Party last round. Now that the ball is in Republican hands, they’ll be drawing a new set of lines with red tape to increase their control of the House.”

He zoomed out and panned right. “Over there, in blue suits with a donkey emblem, you can see the Democratic Party team’s huddle.” One of them was leading a call-and-response cheer to make it clear to the growing arc of observers who they were.

“When the Republicans are finished redecorating the ball,” he continued, “it will be put back in play, and the two teams will bat it back and forth, keeping it out of the hands of…” he panned again, this time to a group that were not in uniforms, “…this third group, which represent all of the various minor political parties. The whole thing reminds me of being the odd man out in schoolyard sessions of ‘monkey-in-the-middle’. And just like when I was in grade school, the bullies are hogging the ball.”

While quietly shooting the proceedings, Mick overheard a discussion that had started behind him between Paula Marks and a reporter from the city’s progressive newsweekly. When he heard the reporter identify herself as Erica Oerstblander, he smiled in recognition, interrupted his coverage of the event, and turned to see if they’d let him stream the interview.

Just then, a black sedan pulled up, it’s passenger door swinging open even before it had stopped. A clean-shaven man in an expensive-looking suit stepped out, sneered at the activity on the quad, and strode over to the two women, shouting, “Don’t get too friendly with that traitor, Ms. Oerstblander, if you value your job!”

The reporter turned, but before she’d gotten two words out, the man closed on Paula Marks.

“You people can play your stupid publicity games,” he told her, “but you’d better think twice before pressing racketeering charges against the entire political structure of this country with the Attorney General.”

Mick slowly approached, trying not to look like he was still shooting. His assignment seemed to have just got a whole lot more interesting.

“Hold on a minute,” the reporter said, gesturing for calm. “What’s this about a racketeering case?”

The man smirked. “I’m not surprised she hasn’t told you. After all, the press is supposed to be –.”

Paula Marks stifled a snarl. “Look. If you’ve got something to say, then say it or get the hell out of here. We’ve got a permit for this action and —.”

“I don’t really give a crap about your PR stunt, Ms. Marks. It’s the legal action behind it I’m warning you about.”

“Racketeering?” Mick mouthed as he framed a two-shot of them.

“Are you now,” she said archly, glancing briefly at the camera. “And what sort of warning might that be?”

The interloper eyed her for a moment, and then straightened, his expression shifting from hot threat to icy calculation. “You’ve enjoyed lenient treatment by the Capitol Police so far when you’ve overstepped the limits of the permits you’ve talked yourself into. Violating the terms of those permits could get you into a lot more trouble than just some fine or slap on the wrist if word got out about your association with known terrorists. That sort of publicity would do wonders for the seriousness – or lack of it — with which your charges are heard by the judge.”

“Is that to imply,” Oerstblander said, inching between the two, “that you represent some vested interest that feels threatened, Mr. …?”

He glared at her. “I won’t give you the satisfaction. Suffice it to say that the current Democratic majority, whose appointed lackeys had the bad judgment to grant that permit of yours, won’t be feeling so full of themselves after the public learns how it has benefited from the racially-based gerrymandering it performed last cycle. I don’t think their illiterate constituents will take too well to learning how their minority status was abused like that. And believe me, the pundits will have a field day with it.”

“I won’t say I’m not surprised,” Paula Marks cut in. “After all, your Republican masters -.”

Mick twitched when the call tone from his Bluetooth earpiece overwhelmed the conversation he’d been straining to hear. He tapped it to take the call, steadied the camera, and spoke quietly. “Yeah?”

“I’ve got a name, Mick.” It was the tech monitoring his feed. “That’s Henry Koll. I think he’s being bankrolled by –.”

“You!” Koll called out, pointing at Mick.

He tapped the earpiece to kill the call, and casually raised the camera to be certain he had a good shot of the man. Then he approached warily.

“Are you with her?” He indicated the reporter.

They exchanged glances, and Mick weighed the value of pretense. “Yeah. We are. The paper sent us both. I was getting some video of the event for uploading to the website later.”

“Then you’re not live?”

“No,” he lied, lowering the camera but keeping it trained on Koll as best he could. “But I would like to get some background about the reason you’re here. Could you tell us something about that?”

Oerstblander nodded and raised her voice recorder. “He’s right. If we’re going to report the whole story, and not just Ms. Marks’ version, we’ll need to get a statement from you as well.”

“So, Mr. Koll,” Mick added, “whose interests do you represent here?”

The reporter nodded subtly at him, an appreciative smile in her eyes. “In other words, whose threat did you just level at Paula Marks?”

“Just what kind of an idiot do you take me for?”

The organizer crossed her arms belligerently and stepped closer. “He doesn’t work for the Republican Party, I’m pretty sure of that, now. More likely, he’s a shill for the corporate interests that bankroll both of them. The same interests that use the reds and blues like sock puppets in a perpetual game of ‘Distract the Masses’.  That’s what the street theater we staged here today was all about, after all. Think of it like a sailboat tacking against the wind. The money that Koll here represents switches off between the two so-called major parties, alternating which segment of the population their pet government pretends to pander to, while keeping their real objective – complete control of both power and resources – always in their sights.”

“Right,” Koll barked. “Alienate everyone. That’s sure to win support from the people who call themselves Democrat or Republican. Good luck with that.”

“He’s got a point,” Oerstblander said unsteadily.

“Thank you. Now, as I was saying, I’d strongly advise you to abandon that RICO challenge you’ve been preparing. I guarantee right now it will not go well for you or for the people you claim to represent.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll let the Attorney General make her own mind up. She wasn’t exactly pleased with the way her own party steamrolled her into backing down from the challenge she floated about how the presidential debate in her state was crafted. She was elected on a platform of Informed Consent, and she’s still fuming over how the citizens of this state were refused a public hearing of the issues that they considered critical to choosing a new president.”

“Try it,” he said. “You won’t succeed in any case. And do yourself a favor… watch your back. What you’re doing is not very smart.” Disgusted, he turned and walked back towards his car.

Paula Marks raised her fist. “It’s just another kind of collusion,” she shouted after him. “Your masters have them play at having ‘debates’ just like they play at redrawing voting districts.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he said derisively as he slammed the door.

Mick nervously aimed the camera at the reporter. “Sorry about that. I thought we’d have a better chance against him if he thought we were working together. And, yeah, I have been streaming. Got the whole thing safely up on the server, and into the eyes of who knows how many viewers.”

“That’s okay. As long as we got the story.”

Paula Marks smiled. “And what story did you get, exactly?”

“Well,” Oerstblander said, considering briefly, “I’d thought it was going to be about your street theater ball game over there, but I think that threat trumped it nicely, don’t you?”

Mick nodded. “I’m with you there. So now what?”

“We follow the story. By the way, how’d you know who he was?”

He smiled broadly and tapped his Bluetooth. “One of the guys minding the feed.”

“Maybe we should team up.”

“Maybe so.”

THE END

Afterword: The story continues in “Imbalance

Copyright 2008 by P. Orin Zack

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