Hearing Pins Drop

(Discovered on an abandoned thumb drive at the Denver Central Library)

He never quite got used to the sensation, and it felt as though that was some flaw on his part, the simple reality that no matter how many shows were booked, no matter how many times he emerged from the curtains and went into his rehearsed monologue, he never felt safe. Some loosely defined threat from beyond that artificial boundary.

Warren Gere had been to all the popular venues in his pursuit of the big leagues, had lived the life and paid his dues, and now it was 8:43 P.M. on a weekday and he was sweating profusely because this massive auditorium wasn’t built with a proper ventilation system. They never were, he found, places like this dating back to the 20s and 30s, they were ornate but insufficient. As he tied his shoes and brushed his lapel, he realized how outright sad it was to be aware of that kind of minutia.

He had been selected off the usual roster for this and was sure that upon his entry, they would all be staring him down and eyeing him like a pack of carnivorous wolves. He had to stay one step ahead, he reckoned. He was confident. Not overconfident, but enough so that the lines could all flow smoothly, he wouldn’t trip over them. This was his most elaborate routine yet, two hours a day spent screaming into the mirror, and his reflection answering in tandem.

It would have to do, he noted. No time left. Down to the wire, emcee just finishing- he cocked his ear like a hunter in the brush. This was a jungle, after all, a jungle of an entirely different sort, infinitely more savage and cutthroat than the usual one. It made sense to be apprehensive.

He stepped past the taped-down wires, flung the velvet material aside and cast himself, like Prometheus on the mountaintop, to the assembled masses.

The applause died, Warren put himself into that familiar state of mind, erecting an invisible protective shield, a three-foot box of solitary contemplation.

"How's it going tonight, people?" a smattering of hollers from the front row tables. "I like this place, you know. Really do. Furnished like it is. You know- the napkins, folded just so- dainty little chairs. You know what I find about these modern design type chairs? They're really bad for your posture. Look great, but they fuck your back up." He slouched over, contorted himself for the proper effect, and the crowd erupted. They were plied with enough booze, he reasoned. Good.

"You're a lovely sort," he rubbed his hand along his chin. "You got your shit together, I can tell that. Me, I never got my shit together. My shit is like Humpty Dumpty. It might look like I got it together, like I have it easy, as a touring comedian, but I tell you what- you people should be glad that you're not me. Every time you're feeling down about yourselves, just remember- you could be me. You could be up here, thirsty and tired and ready to collect my tiny paycheck." He leaned against the mic stand as if he were conducting some elaborate ballroom dance with it, propped his weight towards it. He found over the course of his career that this motion was suggestive of intimacy.

"But enough about me," he ran on. "Let's talk about you for a moment. You, Sir- what's your name?" He pointed abruptly towards a businessman in the center of the room, sitting alone with one bottle of Heineken and a confused sentiment. Clean-cut, mid-30s. These attributes whirred through Gere's mind like ticker tape.

"Vic," the man responded. "Uh- Vic Dresden." He was hesitant.

"Nobody with you tonight, Vic? No significant other, I mean?"


"See what I mean, folks?" Gere rasped. "Vic here is better off than me! He can't get laid!" Whoops and cheers, a long row of giggles from all around, and Gere did his best to hide his confusion- he wasn't even sure what that joke meant, it was improvised on the spot, and was sort of a non-sequitur if he considered it, but he had delivered it with such confidence, such a precise delivery, that it went over.

Gere was feeling much better, his agent obviously had his best interests in mind. This wasn't nearly as bad as last year, when he had been shipped cross-country to places he couldn't pronounce the names of. There was good chemistry here, and he knew exactly how to manipulate human emotions to the right effect, lift their spirits in accordance with their psychological marionette strings. He was fully in control now.

"Now that's what I'm talking about!" he exhumed, clapping his hands once with force. "Shamone!"

"Ah, you know I love you," he waved his wrist in mock gratitude. "Let's get down to the real meat and potatoes here. It's nice to be out in Colorado Springs, military city and all. Good clean American values down here. Tell me if you've heard this before, but from everything I pick up on, you don't tend to like other cities, you don't like city people like me. But I like you. I seriously do." He paused, a technician defusing an elaborate bomb.

"You might all be illiterate, Homophobic trailer trash, but it's your lucky day, because coincidentally that's my type!" Smatterings of light applause. Less appreciation that time. Oh well, he reasoned. That was to be expected.

"Let me explain," he continued. "You see American flags here. I love that shit. Up in Denver, you don't see American flags hung up anywhere, certainly not in public areas. it's like they're embarrassed of it. Sure, they'll have their public monuments, their flashy civic ideals, but down here- you know what country you're fuckin' in! Am I right?" Certain sighs of catharsis, little pockets of whispers picking up here and there. He had saved himself at the last possible second. Audible quiet now, the procedure of respiration and settling.

He took a moment to survey the exact dimensions of the room- this was a technique that had become instinctual, to deliver jokes depending on their intensity, to craft his act specifically around his environment. It wasn't always the audience that mattered- sometimes it was the architecture, the bones of the establishment itself, which would ensure a definitive victory.

The Rumpus Room, located on Wahsatch Avenue on the southern outskirts of Downtown, one block south of the hotel Gere was staying in for the week, was a medium-sized place frequented by ordinary people. The working class of the area, who wanted easy and affordable escapism, but without the typically attached stigma. Flyers were well-designed, smooth, pleasing on the eyes. The sign outside was bright neon, evocative of a bright, metropolitan feel. Like all Downtown buildings, it sought to establish legitimacy for itself amid an ocean of hapless social incompetence.

Three hours prior, Gere had been on the phone, the ice in his glass clinking pensively. He was taut with nerves and ennui, having been in Salt Lake City the previous month. The Deseret crowd was notoriously difficult to appeal to, and he had lost half his residuals when his car broke down near Provo.

"You gotta help me, Leroy," he stammered. "I don't know what to say, I don't know anything about this place, local catchphrases, nothing. I'm out of my depth here. Please. Please let me cancel the rest of the tour, get back to LA, have someone drive my car out and I'll get on a plane."

"You're a freak, you know that?" came Leroy's distant scolding. "You've never let me down before and you're not going to now. You're made out of iron, anything they can do, you can do. Just use that gift of yours. You know, how you described it to me." Leroy was referring to Gere's proprietary ability, his uncanny knack, for reaching into the depths of whoever he was playing and mirror their emotions. Perfect empathy, he called it. If other figures on his level were unable to read rooms, he was, for whatever reason, able to read the dictionary and then some.

"I'll figure it out," Gere said, thankful for Leroy's stern guidance, and hung up.

He spent the next twenty minutes combing through travel guides, desperate for any useful pointers. Colorado Springs- he knew nothing about it from memory except that it housed the Cheyenne Mountain Complex. They'd probably heard about that a million times, were probably sick to death of it. He knew that if he lived in a backwater nowhere burg like this, with only a few noteworthy points of interest, he'd also be sick of it.

That was the great paradox of what he did- he would coast off the sensibilities of the common people, relate to them as much as possible, convince them that he understood their plight, even if their experience here in this empty place was so, so far removed from his. Even if he wasn't a celebrated dignitary back home in Ventura, he was seen and heard, appreciated, he had a finger on the pulse of the city. He was nothing like the Coloradans.

After jotting down a few notes on an index card- which was bad form, but he always carried those in his jacket just in case memory failed him- it had never once happened across a decade of shows but it had become a sort of routine- he left his hotel room and headed east on Platte Avenue. It was getting strangely cold for early spring, although he chalked it up to higher elevation.

He stopped at a gas station, bought a candy bar and a bottle of ginger ale, he found that it soothed the throat in a particular fashion. The sugar, of course, was useful to amplify his kinetic presence.

On the way back, he passed a small park which was run-down, unkempt, and covered in litter. A group of homeless men pushing shopping carts huddled beneath a tree, discussing the affairs of the day. Gere didn't stop, nor did he look their way to gather what they thought of him. He merely tipped his head back and took a long swig.

"Let me tell you about this great night I had once," he chirped, returning for the moment to his standard set. "Couple years back. I thought I really had it all at this point. I got invited to a lot of fancy places, rooftop parties, you know. that sort of thing. Ah man, I'm thinking. I got it made. Pretty soon I'll be the next Kardashian sister." Pause. Dead weight lifted off his chest.

"There was a girl I liked back then," and he moved his hands down to suggest her proportions. "Real cute. About 120 pounds, give or take. She was always so thin, and I wondered how she stayed like that, because every party we went to together, or happened to be attending simultaneously, she went in pretty heavy on the food. God, I was naive. You know what it was? You want to know? Just let me tell you, once you know this, you'll never see movies the same way again..." he feigned shock, totally in his element, and the crowd sat back, thoroughly enraptured by his piercing stare.

"SHE WAS ON COCAINE!" he screamed. "Mountains of coke! That's how you stay thin, people. I hear all the time, how to stay thin. People complain about that. Easy. Just do coke. You will drop- I tell you what, you will drop half your weight and then some. No fooling." An obese couple on his right, both of them in wheelchairs, began slapping their knees with joy. He was on a roll now. When the barracuda was loose, there was nothing anyone could do about it. At least, according to Leroy.

"Oh, I forgot. This is a meth crowd." Huge barrels, deranged wheezing piled on top of uncontrollable joy, the whole audience a mess of tangled limbs and depleted lungs. And Gere, six feet above them, center stage in the spotlight, felt like a million.

"One night I go into her room," he resumed. "Looking for a little action. We'd had it once, me and her, and we were sort of off-again on-again. And she was sitting there, and get this- on the table in front of her, two razor blades for cutting, and some rolled-up dollar bills. I took one from her, it was a fifty. I'm thinking, what, she can get a supply of pure Colombian this easy, but she can't get hundreds?"

"She says, with this look in her eye, that she wants me to come over and sit down next to her, that it's more fun with someone around. I'm not sure I want to, the party's still going on inside and I want a couple more beers, and I'd never tried coke up until this point, wasn't sure how those react with each other. But she looks so desperate, and lonely. Rejected, like a shell of a person. I tell you what, an absolute SHELL of a person... depleted of the will to live..." he stopped, brushed a few tears with his elbow. He was resisting the urge to break, he found the whole ordeal so paradoxically funny.

The crowd was laughing, now, they were doubling over in fits of hysteria, which Gere found strange because surely there was nothing relatable to them about his experience. These were middle-class, average types, people who worked in diners and collected receipts and lived through a crushing monotony, day after day. Maybe it was merely the human aspect, Gere realized. The strange, cosmically unlikely connection formed. The type of connection only he could form with anyone.

"Oh, man," he gathered his thoughts, which were racing around. Got out a napkin from his jacket and blew his nose. He was aware that this was bad form, but recovered swiftly. They might even view the gesture as humbling, to know that he wasn't immune from his own charm.

"So I sit down next to her and I just look at the coke for a little while," he said. "Like a picky eater, you know, considering whether or not to suck it up. I pick up a couple grains, rub them between my thumb and my index finger just so, as if I know shit about the stuff, or how to tell if it's real, or laced, or whatever-" he pantomimed the motion, the elegant discernment of a conoisseur, and the light caught his hand just right so as to bring it into crystal clear focus.

He was off track, and at the worst possible time.

He had developed a system to recover whenever he lost his train of thought, but it wasn't working tonight. There, on the warm stage with nothing to cool him down, Gere found himself before hundreds of eyes with nothing to fall back on, silently hanging on for dear life. How had he arrived at this point? He retraced his steps.

"So she- uh-" He faltered. For the first time across stages nationally, he faltered. The words remained locked in his gut, held there by steel chains, distant and elusive.

"Look," he stepped back into the shadows. "Obviously, you don't want to hear this story. Let me tell you a different one." A pause. Then, from the balcony, a solitary shout:

"No, tell us what happened!" followed by unanimous murmurs of agreement.

"Okay," and he tugged at his collar, which seemed to have restricted his airflow. He unbuttoned.

"She's like, let's do coke, and I was like, I don't know the first thing about it. She says she'll show me, it's really easy, all you have to do is take the blade, section yours off into its own corner, she picks it up and makes a really nice straight line, I'm talking one grain thick-" he held his finger to the mic for a visual.

"And then, get this- I actually DO it! I lean down, say goodbye to all my inhibitions, I snort that shit right up into my sinuses or wherever the Hell it goes, I clasp that bill tight and inhale. Damn!" Thunderous applause, a herd of buffalo storming across the plains, a Lockheed Martin jet taking off. He could hear drinks being spilled, chairs toppling, fits of absolute contortion in the way only he could induce. Warren Gere, the undisputed master, champion of the world.

"The rush! I tell you, the rush when that shit hits you- it's like nothing I had ever known before! I sprawled back on the bed with her, and I think we kissed, but I'm not sure! Nothing is for certain when you're on coke, nothing! You don't know where your fucking hands are, your brain is so busy eating itself alive!" Roars, peals, clapping from across the room, up the balcony, into the skylight, all from Gere's coke story. This response was strangely unique. He waved his arm in front of himself in a smooth horizontal line to cut the applause, and it ceased.

"Now let me tell you the funniest part," he croaked, emerging back into the spotlight, which was trained on him with a fervor and an intensity. He sprawled his legs out, and the words came naturally.

"She died," he whispered, but the whisper was amplified everywhere. "She fucking kicked it, overdosed, and I wake up in the morning- you- you don't know how it is, you wake up and there's a corpse next to you, little trickles of blood out the nostrils- you don't know what that's like, oh, none of you-" thunderous applause, giggles and hoots and hollers.

"They found me innocent," he murmured, cradling his head on his shoulder. "They did, said I couldn't be charged for it, I proved it was her idea, but you don't know how it feels, how it is, to feel like you were responsible for it, even if- even if you're not-" The applause continued, reverberating throughout the building, pattering smart taps of loving praise from the gathered masses. Scattered laughing from every table. Vocal cords gave out.

"You- you find this shit funny?"

No response.

"What the fuck is wrong with you people?"

Gere walked ahead three paces, and found that where there had been a fully packed room just moments earlier, a physical location with furniture and walls, there was now a long, dark sea of nothing, from which emanated the familiar noises of human laughter, repeating cyclically, over and over again. He stared out at the cold empty place, the place which was just out of reach, right beyond the wooden panels of the stage.

He looked behind him. There were no longer any curtains. Only the gnawing cackles, the horrible sound of mockery emanating from beyond in all directions, and above him the light continued beaming down, no longer fixed to any terrestrial point.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said softly.

"Ladies- and- I've been Warren-"

He staggered forward and off the ledge.