Here in bucolic Fairfield, California, amidst rolling vineyards and struggling big-box stores, unassuming souls like Norman Bates go largely unremarked. While most Americans would instinctively recoil from his habit of brutal murder and the uses to which he puts his victims’ bodies, here in Middle America he is Norman Next Door, a soft-spoken young man whose manners nearly any mother would applaud, working to keep open a family motel that serves both as symptom and as symbol of the economic anxieties roiling the heartland. Norman has heard murmurs advocating radical change, from Wal-Mart’s gun aisle to the local church’s pork-and-beans supper, and seems guardedly optimistic. Perhaps it will become easier for him to date. “Most girls don’t want to hear about being violently stabbed to death and having selected portions of their remains repurposed,” he says, browsing the knives at the dollar store. Now, he feels, things may be about to go his way.
The Joker understands that mainstream Americans do not approve of him, or his plans to set most of Gotham City’s inhabitants on fire. He has come to see this disapproval as the fruit of consistent media bias. A slender man dressed with immaculate care, he possesses an infectious laugh that instantly announces his presence in any room. “Your big legacy media companies just aren’t equipped to think about crime on my scale,” he says, sweeping with his customary brio into a local Steak n’ Shake and nonchalantly commandeering a booth whose most recent occupants have succumbed to his poisonous gas. “They’re dinosaurs. They can only imagine mass extinction as a bad thing.” He takes a sip from the Orange Freeze a newly departed customer has left untouched and gives his trademark roguish grin. “I think ordinary people, your average Americans, are tired of all the knee-jerk moralizing, the hypocrisy. The New York Times got so holier-than-thou about that thing with the orphanages, but they publish David Brooks twice a week. How do they justify that?” He feels the current political volatility, the disappearance of the Police Commissioner and Mayor, might at last permit his ideas to be heard. “The anarchy, the looting, the complete breakdown of civil order: it’s my moment.” He strolls along Maple Street, glittering with fireflies in the Midwestern dusk, toward the Volunteer Fire Department, another clever scheme in mind.
Leatherface has no grand ambitions for himself. It has always been enough for him to live here, on the wind-scoured Texas plains, working with his brothers in the family’s humble assortment of businesses: a small gas station, adjoining restaurant, and a now-shuttered slaughterhouse. Often one of the brothers must resort to hitchhiking, hoping to steer passing motorists the family’s way. Leatherface does the homestead’s chores, his beloved chainsaw always at the ready. He even built the family’s furniture, using whatever traditional materials come nearest to hand. Years of thrift have become ingrained habit, and absolutely nothing goes to waste.
"We’re just trying to put meat on the table,” he explains, slipping into an Applebee’s booth that other regulars, by unspoken agreement, leave reserved for him. He has brought his own dinner, wrapped in humble butcher’s paper, and tucks into his meal with a workingman’s eager gusto. He must occasionally readjust his homemade, lovingly hand-crafted mask, constructed entirely from recycled human flesh. “That’s what people outside the flyover states never understand. If they want to find out what this country is really about, tell them to come out here. Straight to my house.”
Darth Vader, weary at the end of another long day, agrees to an interview at a Cracker Barrel off the Ohio Turnpike. He orders coffee for what can only be reasons of politeness; his complicated and burdensome respirator apparatus will not allow him to drink liquid in public. His detractors in the press view him as aloof, out of touch, and motivated by implacable evil, but he still sees himself as a humble farm boy from a tiny desert village he declines to name, a place so poor that his family actually had to farm for water. He never knew his father, but he claims still to feel that Dickensian desert demi-orphan inside him at his most impetuous moments, as when he is strangling another senior staff officer, and during whatever subsequent moments of fleeting regret.
He was raised not to complain, but feels that the public has come to see him solely through the lens of a one unfortunate, notorious day. “The single worst news cycle of your life, repeated forever,” he intones, in his deep, reassuring church-organ basso. “That is CNN.” He offers no self-justification or excuse for the destruction of the planet Alderaan and its millions of human inhabitants. He speaks instead of his faith, at once old-fashioned and profound, a set of lifelong, deeply held beliefs that have come to feel out of place in modern, secular society.
“Is the problem that I created a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced?” he asks. “Or is the problem that no one in the liberal coastal elite could feel that disturbance? I find their lack of faith disturbing.” He counts out his tip carefully, in exact change, before leaving it on our server’s lifeless body.
The few New Yorkers who have ever heard of Cthulhu consider him a malevolent demon-god intent on the elimination of all human life. But here in the hardworking blue-collar neighborhoods of Providence, Rhode Island, he passes easily for that most beloved of homespun meals, a plate of fresh calamari. Cthulhu considers his poor reputation a temporary problem, soon to be rectified, in his view, by the terrified madness and utter annihilation of every living creature. It’s a goal he has long dreamed of; he knows that not everybody understands. We meet at a local Dunkin’ Donuts, where his entrance reduces customers and staff to shrieking horror and dismay.
“This country has a serious problem,” he says in a blood-curdling and nigh-incomprehensible gargle. “Washington doesn’t understand it. Mainstream media doesn’t understand it. No mewling pathetic humanoid could possibly grasp it. I alone know what the problem is, because I am the problem. You will all bow down to me before you die.” He demonstrates his point by disemboweling the morning-rush customers and brutally eviscerating the staff. The interviewer, reduced to gibbering madness, crawls out of the Dunkin’ Donuts having lost of his ability to speak. He has been permanently institutionalized; portions of this article have been reconstructed from his notes. But before leaving, Cthulhu takes two honey-dipped donuts in a wax paper bag: for all the world, in that moment, just another ordinary customer on the streets of the Real America.
cross-posted from Dagblog: all comments welcome there, rather than here
On the Road and In Your Backyard
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