A novel by EJ Spode.
Chapter 4. The Trojan Horse
I’ll say this much about Funmaker: He could spin a story. His story of Cloud and Plum involved some grotesque leprous monster that came to a Lakota camp and swallowed up a bunch of their women, and then detailed the heroism of the brave Lakotas that hunted down the monster, killed it, and saved the women. What made the tale impressive though, was the telling. Funmaker was a master of pausing at the right moment, ostensibly to fire up a joint or something, and leaving everyone hanging, waiting for what would happen next. He played the audience like a musical instrument.
After he finished, everyone was like “awesome story, Funmaker” but I felt a little bit like he hadn’t addressed my point – which was, after all, that knight in shining armor stories perpetuate patriarchy. I tried to re-explain my point about patriarchy, but Funmaker’s story was a tough act to follow, and I wasn’t getting much traction with the others.
I wasn’t getting traction with Funmaker, either. He rolled his eyes and said: “This has nothing to do with that.” Then he looked over at Bigfire and said “Joe can you tell him the story of No Moccasins and Three Horns?” Then he turned to Dimebag and Debby in turn and asked if they could make him some coffee.
Debby said she would get the coffee, and Dimebag said he would get some snacks. So we all got up and used the bathroom and stretched out while we waited for sustenance and the next story. You had to appreciate the setup in Dimebag’s mancave. Why point your couches at the TV when you have quality weed and storytellers like this?
Debbie appeared with a pot of coffee, but I decided to stick with Hamm’s. Then Dimebag came down with two badly needed Tombstone frozen pizzas. For those who don’t know, Tombstone pizzas are the best munchies food ever invented. Don’t even start with me about Doritos; there is no comparison. No one knows why Tombstone Pizzas are so awesome, but my theory is that it had to do with their supernaturally crunchy crust and extraordinarily gooey cheese. Their sausage pizza is my favorite even though I know the sausage was probably made from downer dairy cows and horses that the glue factory wouldn’t take. It smelled like cheese and sausage and freezer burned cardboard.
Climax shouted “feast!”
I could see that Athena was rotating back into her silly phase.
“Carbs man, carbs.”
I had to agree: “Carbs are righteous.”
“Yeah they are, I love carbs more than life.”
“Without carbs, life itself would be impossible.”
“So true, EJ. I just want to smash loaves of fresh baked bread into my face all day long.”
“You know, not even eat it. Just smash my face with those carbs.”
“Carbs are the bomb doogie, EJ.”
“No. You can’t do that.”
As I feared, Athena was bending the conversation back to bodily functions.
“No carbs, no stank doogie bombs.”
“Seriously? This again?”
“EJ you do have a problem with gas!”
“I don’t have a problem with gas.”
“You should let rip more often, EJ; you would be less agro.”
“I still refuse to believe that this is how people talk these days.”
“I thought you were a writer.”
“I am a writer.”
“You never write about gas?”
“Trust me, I’m never going to write about gas.”
“I dunno man, I’m just saying I love carbs, that’s all.”
After everyone settled in and Athena was done talking about carbs and gas, it was Bigfire’s turn.
This was another rescue story, only this time it involved the woman saving the day; No Moccasins saved her husband Three Horns from a hostile tribe that captured him and tortured him and were basically in every way shitty to him. Then she nursed him back to health on a long trek home that involved various clever moves to prevent the bad tribe from following them.
Afterwards, Athena was almost in tears. “That is such a beautiful story.”
Funmaker chimed in with the moral. “You see, EJ, it is not about men saving women; it is about all of us saving the people that we love. It is about the superhuman effort that this requires, and it is about how we all have the capacity to find the extra amount of courage and wisdom needed to make this possible.”
I wasn’t thinking about the story so much as about the very different ways in which Funmaker and Bigfire told their stories. Funmaker was clearly the better story teller. There was nothing wrong with the way Bigfire told his story; it just seemed to be missing something. Funmaker fashioned breaks in his story allowing us to slip in comments, pauses for us to collect our thoughts, more pauses so we could look at other people to see if they were registering the same things we were. He had introduced grotesque details to keep us engaged and responsive. He drew us into the story as a kind of Greek chorus. Funmaker had not merely pulled us into his story; he had made the story about us in addition to Cloud and Plum.
I cracked open another beer. The Hamm’s jingle was back in my head.
After the stories by Funmaker and Bigfire I didn’t see much leverage in arguing, so I conceded the point.
“OK, I get it; it’s not about patriarchy.”
Apparently that concession was not good enough. Dimebag, for example, had had it with the patriarchy talk. “What’s this shit about patriarchy all the time. Jesus EJ, is that the only thing they taught you at that crap school of yours?”
Athena came to my (actually, Cornell’s) defense. “For fucks sake Bobby, don’t be dissing Cornell, it’s one of the best schools in the world. Tell him about it EJ.”
That turn in the conversation took me by surprise. “Well it’s in this town called Ithaca… in New York… State…”
Dimebag grinned and hit a giant el – a blunt rolled up in a cigar wrapper – which he had miraculously pulled out of somewhere. I dunno, maybe he found it under the pillows on his couch, or stuck behind his ear, but at the moment it seemed like deep magic.
Slowly realizing I was too stoned to be talking I continued. “And like … it has gorges…and the school is… good … I guess? What I’m saying is it works ok for me.”
Athena stared at me like I was an idiot.
Funmaker, to my surprise, took an interest in this topic. He leaned forward and followed up with a line of questions, now breaking out his patented lawyerly interrogation techniques. Funmaker had an education behind him, but it wasn’t the kind that would get you into a fancy law firm. He had gone to South Dakota State, and then he went to William Mitchel Law School in Minneapolis, which is usually disparagingly known as a night school program, but it did produce former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. He dug in on the claim that Cornell was somehow one of the best.
“Why is Cornell the best?”
“One of the best,” Athena qualified.
I nodded at Athena for some reason and leaned towards Funmaker. I don’t know why I did that either, but it seemed like the thing to do. I did my best to answer Funmaker’s question, but I noticed that most of my answers sounded like questions.
“I dunno, cuz the professors are the best?”
“Best at what?”
“At what they do?”
“What do they do?”
“Well my professors do literature.”
“Do they teach literature?”
“What makes them the best teachers?”
“I never said they were best teachers. Actually…as teachers they are pretty shitty…”
Funmaker sipped on his coffee and continued with his grilling.
“So they are shitty at teaching but they are best at what?”
“At what they do.”
“What do they do?”
“I dunno, thinking about literature and shit.”
I glanced over at Climax, who was staring at this exchange with his mouth open like… I dunno … like he was watching a kid eat a live hamster in the next pew at church. “Fuck EJ, you’re paying them cash money and you don’t even know what you are buying.”
Funmaker ignored Climax’s interjection (which he used to grab a slice of pizza) and continued the interrogation.
“Why are they good at thinking about literature?”
“I don’t know, they just have the gift.”
“How do you know they have the gift?”
“Well you read what they write and listen to what they say, and you realize they have the gift – they have the x-factor.”
Funmaker finally leaned back and sipped some more coffee.
“Yeah, they definitely have the x-factor.”
“This is some bullshit.”
Dimebag, to my surprise, was still paying attention: “Word. They fucking saw you coming EJ. Is it too late to get your money back?”
Debbie came to my rescue. “No that isn’t fair guys,” and then turning to me, “give us an example of how they taught you to write better.”
“Well… they don’t exactly teach you how to write.”
I could see I had lost Debbie now. She had joined the chorus of open-mouthed yet silent, incredulous stares. I needed to give her something or I would be without allies.
“You see…they teach you how to think…about…uh…literature.”
This was Funmaker’s cue to come back in. “What’s the matter, you don’t know how to read?”
Funmaker had made a tactical error with that comment; it was a bit sassy – not his style – and it gave me an opening to say something profound.
“Well, yeah … in a way we don’t. Let’s say Shakespeare wrote something four hundred years ago. We can read the words, but what was he trying to say? — and by that I mean what was he trying to say to us, not just to the people living in England in 1600. He had something to say to us, too. How do we get at that? How do we connect his writing to our lives?”
Debbie was now back on my team. “Can you give an example, EJ?”
“Well I took this class about Greek Mythology, and we just studied the story of the Trojan Horse, right? You know that story? The Greeks are fighting the Trojans, and they can’t breach the city walls, so uh, they like pretend they quit and leave a giant wooden horse, and the Trojans wheel it into their city because … fuck… I don’t know why they did ‘cause everyone told them it was a really bad idea but they did it anyway… and, of course, thirty or forty Greeks are hiding in the horse and at night they climb out and open the gates and the city of Troy get’s its ass kicked. The end. But that isn’t the end. The question is, what does that story mean for us? It was a cautionary tale that is still important. What are the Trojan horses in our lives today?”
Bigfire responded, even while he was chomping on a piece of Tombstone pizza. “Trojan horses,” he nodded as he spoke while chewing, “like Trojan horse computer viruses.”
To which Fumaker threw me a curve by adding “Or for example… your university.”
Me (hitting the El): “…dude that made no sense…”
“Your fancy university is a Trojan horse,” Funmaker said again.
I thought Funmaker was talking gibberish but as I looked around everyone was kind of nodding. This group confusion had to be stopped.
“You aren’t making any sense man, a Trojan horse is like a gift that is deceptive and you take it in and it destroys you from the inside…”
Everyone kept nodding. Then Funmaker took over with his voice of God lawyer voice again.
“Exactly cuz, exactly. They promise you all these fancy jobs and important knowledge and say they will enlighten you. Then you let them into your mind, and they fill your mind with crap and lies. They will make you think your future job in a cubicle working 50 weeks a year or teaching some privileged white kids is a great gift. But you’ve been imprisoned cuz, they’ve made you their slave. The fancy ideas don’t enlighten you. The ideas told you to be a good slave and to enslave others. They sold you a bill of goods; they made you their slave. “
Funmaker usually had a good point buried in what he was saying so I tried to get at it.
“Dude, what’s with this slave stuff?”
But Climax was already onto the point and getting excited about the whole thing.
“So true bro so true. Fuck this country. Look what it did to Funmaker’s people. Look what it did to almost everyone we know. That school is training you to help run the prison. They brainwashed you into being into being a prison guard and you think that’s a great gift. It ain’t no gift. Trojan. Fucking. Horse. Forealz.”
Funmaker leaned back in and got strangely compassionate in his way.
“It’s ok bro; we did the same thing. We all make that mistake.”
“ …same thing…”
“ Treaty of Fort Laramie.”
“Treaty of Fort Laramie cuz, the Sioux treaty of 1868, our Trojan horse. We took the gift, and we did not look inside. We signed a treaty with the US Gov in return for land of the Ponca Indians and for education for our people. The treaty said that minors should be provided with an English education. Many thousands of our children went to Carlisle Indian Industrial School. They promised our children a fine education and jobs, but it was a reeducation camp. It was designed to make our children unlearn their knowledge and culture. The school cut their hair and changed their names to white man names. You know?”
“That’s horrible, Gary, but you can’t say that Cornell is like that.”
This is when Athena jumped in.
“EJ what Cornell did to you is not horrible like that, but it fucked you up. Those professors closed your mind even while they told you they were expanding it. You think they taught you how to think, but what they asked you to do was bend the meaning of literature to what rich people want to hear. And the thing is, it shows in your writing. You are writing for them now, not yourself and not for us. You’ve lost your spirit, your soul. You have been a fucking zombie ever since you started going there. Where the fuck are you in there?”
No one said anything. It was kind of awkward, and I got up and went and took a leak. When I came out, everyone was putting on their coats. It was truly time to leave. We left Dimebag’s place around 6:30 AM. The sun would not be up for two hours, but the sky was already turning progressively lighter shades of India ink. It was ass cold, and the snow made an annoying crunching sound as we walked to the car. A rooster was crowing.
“Fuckit,” I said. “I guess we can go to the Stockman tomorrow.”
“Sure thing bro” – I’m pretty sure it was Climax who said that, but honestly I have no idea. No one said anything while I drove them back to their cars outside the Welcome Inn. As we rolled into Tea, though, Athena broke the silence.
“EJ, did you fart?”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Images: Jana Astanov
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Sunday, November 20th, 2016.