The Bulldog of Kansas City

A mystic once told me in Oklahoma that evil resides not merely in treachery but absence. That truth – beyond the notion of being a simple virtue – is a vital force in decency and good action. My final engineering gig in Missouri – Sunday Night Football – was a vexing experience, but opened my heart to his truth.

I was dispatched to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to replace another RF technician who got into a heated exchange with a broadcast cameraman he referred to as a tripod. Considering my former life in cinematography the drama – its alleged comment – intrigued me.

“The moment your framing is automated,” the tech was rumored to have spewed over martinis in the lobby, “your opinion will prove far more superfluous than your job.” I giggled at this allusion to progress and realism, but was immediately reprimanded. A video shader, with whom I wasn’t in conversation, but who stood nearby eavesdropping, snarled through an abundance of testosterone, a sort of artificial tenor, an alloyed pitch neither here nor there, warning me of a disciplinary line I myself ought to follow. So I pulled my grin, stood at attention as Matty winced beneath vacant eyes, a shaved head, and yellow lips, cracked, dry, and wretchedly virile. In retrospect, as this video technician thrived in broadcast glory, I nearly died in it!

If hell is really a state of mind, an attitude that commands and conditions, I was placed unwittingly in its jaws but released on this final outing. Dragging a rolling case of equipment the following morning, I entered Arrowhead Stadium, headed down the vomitorium, and walked onto the pitch, to a position known as near right end zone. After rigging two sector antennas onto railing near the goal post, I crossed the Chiefs logo on my way back to home bench. It was here I was emasculated by a tall, bloated figure wearing red athletic pants and sweater.

“Stop!” boomed its heavy voice, “turn back!”

As I glimpsed over my shoulder a quarterback approached, spiraling pigskin through air and catching it. Because I thought the player was his recipient, I ignored warning and sat diligently behind my pylon, at the fifty-yard line, slapping in a battery and turning it on. Shadow eclipsed the lens, spilling gray onto my hands like wet rotten luck.

“You approach team bench again,” shouted Goodson, turning purple, whose nametag dangled from his lanyard, “I’ll have you thrown out!”

The quarterback, hiding a smirk – a sort of sidelong glance – shook his head and glided passed, again tossing himself the ball as a child might, ostracized by peers. It wasn’t until I made it back to the compound that Matty, overtaking me at the dock I/O (a panel ferrying video signal to and from the field) mentioned my mistake, my breaking network protocol before Sunday’s game.

“Why wasn’t I warned?” I asked, frustrated having been deprived of information.

“You just were,” said Matty, now hacking through cold, frigid weather and spitting green onto concrete before swaggering off.

As I finished work that evening, a simple procedure of metering RF video over fiber, and routing signal, decoded, into Matty’ station, unexpected girlish laughter – a sycophant’s, really – erupted from the engineering trailer across the way. My stomach turned as I grabbed my bag and skedaddled, clocking out and clearing departure with our tech manager, a kind but faceless bureaucrat who also alluded to my earlier trespass.

“Yes,” I said, politely, but standing ground, “Goodson, Matty, and now you have all reminded me of the same error.” I remembered my place (I was just a fill-in) and said thank you.

“And what’s that?” he asked, studying me as one might study something alien and out of step. So I dug in, lowering myself to the incident occurring on the fifty-yard line.

“No, no,” said the tech manager, “God no. Not that.” He shuffled weight, blushed.

“Something, unfortunately, a bit more egregious.”

“Really…” said I, surprised, adjusting both my shoulder straps.

“Well, in today’s social climate and –uh…” he stammered, pursing his lips, sighing, “… I mean, the pandemic and all – ”

I interrupted, saying: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Matty mentioned your spitting near the dock I/O,” he warned, shouldering me with compassion toward the gate, explaining the network’s position on Covid-19, influenza, masks, et cetera, “and we all either touch, handle or wrap coax and fiber. You understand…”

We shook hands; I was reminded of tomorrow’s call time. As I was leaving the truck compound Matty emerged from the honeywagon, looking down then looking away as I approached, feigning distraction. I stood by the security gate and waited, again intercepting spite from this lowly technocrat who seemed to be choking down bile.

Walking back to my hotel room, a haven overlooking the theatre district, I shunned this innocent city as gloom oppressed auspicious thoughts and unfamiliar sights. The cobblestones upon which I walked, ancient and wine-stained, reeked of blood, meat and vinegar. A bistro, inside which coffee percolated, and electric light flickered, burned my nose and eyes like factory smoke. A belfry, chiming peacefully above a gated cemetery, conjured impressions of contrition and forgiveness. Once I arrived at the intersection, a blinking yellow signal on the far side of town, I gagged at the notion of transcendence, the eightfold path, and the mystical Self. It was here, standing beneath a marquee, that I cast oaths into my consciousness appealing to Allecto, Megaera and Tisiphone! Supplicating intercession and rejecting stillness, I entered a theatre, found my seat, and sat in the dark, staring deeply into footlights before me.

I closed my eyes briefly and awoke as the curtain lifted. The lead, a tall, slender, fairskinned blonde – nude, sprinkled with buttercups and anointed with sandalwood – wrecked, unfortunately, my attention with desire. If there were any lasting traces of treachery – left smoldering by that repulsive Matty, whose name I’m loathe to associate with beauty – they disappeared like that! And suddenly, with the crackling of tungsten, I was released. The ingénue sat cross-legged, palms up, and chanted some indiscernible syllable, her mouth pressed, her nostrils flared, and her breasts dangling like berries from a bough. At some point her body, settled into form resembling a Pythagorean triangle, conjured images both animated and dormant, a floating halation fixing itself to primary and secondary existence; a higher process not unlike an assembly of lines pushing relief off a painter’s canvas. An Upanishadic verse, one I was already familiar with, blessed her lips in the cavernous tomb of this theatre.

“The Self desires nothing that is not good,” she whispered, “wills nothing that is not good. Seek and realize the Self!”

The black rug on which she sat, of Khokhloma design, reflected luminance into the background like tapers flickering inside a cave. She took in air, held her breath, then again slowly released her syllables. After meditation the curtain fell, and lanterns were lighted, revealing two corner exists. For whatever reason I straggled behind hoping, I suppose, to catch an intimate glimpse behind the curtain. But to my good fortune, glimmering in the flanks like a star, a Gobo pattern lay on the stage beneath a Source Four dangling unsafely from the green beds above. Backstage the lead electrician, passionately shaking my hand, demanded to return the favor. I mentioned, perhaps, a buttercup, just the petal – one chalice maybe – from the actress’ prop. He laughed, offered to introduce me, but said he needed a pretext, something authentic.

“What about wearing a tool pouch and following me with that ladder?”

I didn’t warm to his idea at all. Instead, I suggested giving her a copy of something I’d written, a story which made it to print several months earlier, which I kept along with other writing, published or otherwise, in my bag.

The dressing room in which I sat, a spare nine by eleven space, fragranced also with sandalwood, featured a Cézanne reproduction, Mont Sainte-Victoire, and nothing else. In a corner near the far wall stood a rush-bottomed chair; on this I sat till she arrived. As I tapped paradiddles on my knees the actress walked in, combing back her hair, now black as jet, short as a pixie’s, and plastered to her scalp like a polo helmet. She wore a black robe and black puffy slippers, and her calves, as smooth as Caspian marble, bloomed colder than permafrost, blue veins scrolling her tapered legs like some ancient tablet.

“You write out of Manhattan?” she asked, striking a match, lighting a Winston, flipping through pages of my story.

“No,” I said, “the Mid-Atlantic.”

She rolled her eyes.

“And your articles on theatre appear inside which magazine?”

The stage electrician had obviously taken liberty on my behalf. I struggled for ground.

Finally, after recovering from a blush, I said: “I’m working out ideas for a story is all.”

“In Kansas City?” she wondered, dragging the comb across her head, wicking Brylcreem onto her collar like water beads on duck feathers. “What subject?”

I thought for a moment. I didn’t want to embellish.

“The cathartic relation between ingénue and admirer,” I said, remembering a term paper I once wrote in Rochester.

The actress pulled the Winston from her lips, it sounded wet – like a plug, tapped ash inside a planter sprouting weeds, and exhaled a miasma of smoke, blue and acrid.

“Fiction,” she said, “doesn’t interest me!” She slapped my story onto the credenza and left.

I jumped from the chair and followed, stopping at the threshold, looking out.

“Excuse me!” I said. Blue hall light, glowing from a tinted practical, colored her skin.

My presence annoyed her. “I simply want to know your thoughts on unity,” and I approached gently.

“Transcendence, the renunciation of Self, one’s ego – I mean, into the first principle.” Her icy tone chilled the roots of my hair, plunging also my enthusiasm into a vault darker than the shroud of multiplicity embalming her.

“You oughta discuss that concept with our playwright,” hissed the actress. She walked away, cigarette coal dangling between her fingers and receding, like her form, into the depths of indifference.

The greatest aspect of this gig, by far, is travel. And every room in which I’ve stayed returned my gratitude beyond expectation. Honoring Pythagoras in every circumstance, particularly the notion that reciprocity is living justice, I’ve also tried never taking a pleasant hotel stay for granted. Upon returning from the theatre that evening I undressed, sat cross-legged on bed like the actress, and dialed back a desk lamp to burn dimly and obliquely. My thoughts, however, still wouldn’t settle, circling back to waste and wretchedness as if answering echoes in a spell. Reflecting upon conditions at hand, I involuntarily remembered Matty – one of the more heinous faces I’ve encountered – wondering if injury resolves, vengeance yields, and forgiveness conquers. I finally managed to switch images from horror to beauty, sending awareness back to the theatre while repressing errant desire. Mimicking breathing techniques, mumbling the actress’ mantra, I witnessed humiliation plunge from altitude to horizon as stillness finally settled.

The next morning I awoke without an alarm, dressed quickly, and walked contemplatively to work, infusing myself in the emptiness of Kansas City. I stopped at the theatre, gazed through its window, and squinted a Buddhist verse printed on saffron-colored paper nailed to an easel: “Sitting alone, sleeping alone, going about alone, vanquish the ego by yourself alone.” Peace, which I’ve not at all felt since beginning work in RF, descended immediately into my heart, manifesting acceptance through images of memory and experience. I continued on with a lighter step, nearly skipping, and arrived at the truck compound before any other technician. The sun’s rim, pushing against a distant ridge, and reflecting upon both rooftop and pavement, torched impurity from the engineering trailers, somehow exorcising oaths and omens, pettiness and deceit. The tech manager – unlike before – evolved now into visible expression, kind and solicitous; he intercepted me at the security gate.

“Good morning, sir!” he said, shouldering me like yesterday, inquisitive but gentle. “Do you have your tools?”

I said yes, “they’re in my bag.” We continued toward security, and stopped at the metal detector, where I was prevented access to the stadium.

“Your replacement arrived this morning,” he said. “I apologize things didn’t work out.”

I was astonished; for a moment, till I remembered the saffron-colored leaflet at the playhouse, I nearly lost composure and balance. I felt pale, colorless. And for this, I suppose, the tech manager waxed magnanimous, providing reason.

“Evidently you missed fax,” he said, steel-like and clinical.

“That’s impossible!” I protested, “RF was stable, it was solid before I left yesterday. You signed off. We shook hands!”

His blush looked as red as a beet’s. “Matty – from what I gather – attests to this.”

“But when?” I asked, vainly stitching together details, “at what point?”

“Last night,” he said, taking my lanyard and heading through security, “at the honeywagon.” He signed paperwork, pushed keys, wallet and phone into his pockets, and entered Arrowhead Stadium.

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