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Choreography

Dreamed 2006/9/7 by Chris Wayan

THAT DAY

I'm getting over the "flu"--really a relapse of a mystery virus that keeps coming back when I'm stressed out. In the morning, I write a letter for school, begging to be allowed to substitute a different history class for a required one that's full. I struggle to control my anger and just list the facts--first they require me, then forbid me to take medieval history, out of dozens of cultural surveys and history courses! Nothing else will do?

I'm missing my Shakespeare class, but the letter has to be in today, or I don't graduate. I'm still too weak to bike ten miles to school and back, so I drive to watercolor class. Gail, the teacher, sets up a still life of bright-colored blocks casting shadows--a baby Stonehenge.

Grayscale drawing of a floodlamp sidelighting small wooden blocks.
Cartoon of teacher with glasses peering at an anxious student artist I understand why Gail assigned it. She's trying to make us separate grayscale values from colors--see through the distraction of hue to the underlying values. I soon finish; it's too easy for me. But my classmates struggle to see grayscale at all. I feel a bit out of place here. Thumbnail of an arched watercolor panel depicting an archery range in Tehran.

So instead, I start to sketch out three pages of a comic I plan to watercolor, titled Marjane. It tells a dream in which I was cartoonist Marjane Satrapi (of "Persepolis" fame). In the dream I go to art classes where I feel out of place, I go out with Marjane's Iranian boyfriend (particularly disorienting) and finally I witness a mysterious shooting in San Francisco's Mission District. I don't really understand the dream, but it compels me...
Pencil sketch of student with scarf frowning at her drawing pad. Click to enlarge.

Suddenly the reek of solvent pulls me out of my revery. I sniff round the room. It's only in my corner. I ask "Did someone just use fixative?" but no one admits to being the source--it's against the rules. I'm extremely vulnerable to solvents, so I walk out for ten minutes and sketch the dream outside on a bench.
Cartoon of frowning art student with long dark hair and funny little glasses

When I come back in, the chemical's dissipated, but someone's taken my seat!

So I perch on the ledge by the window like I'm the class's pet parrot, and sketch my classmates as they earnestly draw and interact with Gail. Instead of obediently drawing more... blocks.

Feel like I'm not really welcome here--in class, in school. All these hurdles, and then when we do get down to making art, it's on such an elementary level!

Still, at the end of the class, I like my sketches for Marjane. And as I drive home, I feel okay.

That evening, I eat my first real meal in a week. Well, the first I digest.

THAT NIGHT

I'm at a crowded beach near a handful of teens, each one babysitting a mob of kids. One guy near me gets hit by a series of swift, perfectly coordinated "accidents"--he's tripped, hit on the head, and shoved half-stunned under a table and trapped there in a cage of fallen beach gear. It's brilliant stunt choreography, worthy of Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan. Once he's out of the way, a second mishap-chain starts, equally funny at first: tripping over beachballs and coolers, parasol-whacking and blanket-rolling, climaxing in two fat-tired bikes that crash into a small boy simultaneously, crushing and stunning him, maybe breaking ribs.

Crowded beach with Frisbee, beachballs, dogs, birds and leaves flying around, about to trip everyone. Arrows show likely vectors of the pile-up.
The victim's a small blond boy, maybe 8. He looks fragile and haunted, like he's been hassled before. But this wasn't just a plot to distract the sitter and bully a weakling. The kids in his babysitting-group mob the boy, winding big beach towels around him til he's a rainbow-quilt mummy. Then a team drags their squirming patchwork cocoon on a blanket up a sandy bluff and throws him, bound and blind, over a thirty-yard cliff into the sea, to drown.
sketch of four kids dragging a victim wound in blankets up a sandy bluff

Never once did I see anything you'd call weapons. Murder by joke, by towel, by blanket! Nor adult planners--not even older teens who might be jailed. Yet a whole group of kids clearly practiced these meshing stunts until the choreography was perfect. Sketch of cliffwalled cove with girl clinging to cliff.

Perfect evil.

Was it an accident that two girls also went over the cliff? They were unbound, and seemed to be in on it; did they hesitate, or did the planners suspect they'd blab? Sketch of girl clinging to cliff.

An older teen, a babysitter temporarily distracted by a loud set of clever simultaneous diversions I haven't even mentioned, starts hunting for the girls. I lead him up to the cliff. We find it's not a sheer drop, but a sandy bluff about 60 degrees, sloping down to a cove. One girl slid or rolled down to the water; unless she was knocked out, she'll only have scratches. The other's clinging to the slope near the top. The teen with me tries to sidle across to rescue her...

During the choreography, they looked nearly as young as the victim, around ten. Both wore skimpy, high-cut bikinis, one black, one pale blue. Now the one clinging to the cliff-face seems a bit older; small breasts. Beautiful, even sexy, but eyes huge and frozen with fear now. Even if she was in on it, she's only 12 or so; surely she doesn't deserve to die here too. I hope these two were just going along with what seemed a clever, challenging prank until the final murderous toss.
Sketch of girl with long dark snaky hair, almond eyes, eagle nose, blue shirt. Sketch of boy with Harry Potter glasses at a podium.

Later I'm at a makeshift court in a nearby neighborhood center. At a wide podium with two mikes, an earnest owlish boy of 12, with big round glasses (quite Harry Potter) presides over the hearing.

The first witness comes up to testify. She's tallish, slender, eagle nose, sleepy eyes, long dark hair, attractive, maybe 15. Looks a bit like my first big crush, Cary Ricas. She wasn't part of the plot, just a witness, but still is nervous before all these people. Thin voice, and the mike has its treble too high, it rings with feedback. She pauses, whispers "Can we switch mikes?" They fuss with sound-settings, delaying the testimony further.

I'm sitting near the back with acquaintances. My friend's son, 18-20, asks "do you study full-time or work too?" I feel embarrassed, don't know how to explain about my illness, so I just say "full time student." I bitch about SFSU a bit--idly, until they fix the hearing set-up and we start to get what we came for: an explanation for the carefully choreographed crime I saw.

Who planned it and why? For it was planned. The plannedest murder in history.

Only... how many of those practical jokers knew? Maybe only one.

NOTES IN THE MORNING



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