March 9, 2017 | Feature
To fulfill a vendetta
Brown Bucket List #2
“I once sang ‘Would You Be My Butterfuck?’ in the Quiet Room of the John Hay,” Emma said. “There are no more sacred spaces.”
I stared at Emma with a familiar, speechless admiration. We were sitting in the lobby of J. Walter Wilson on red plastic chairs around a small wooden table. Nearby, the automatic doors opened and closed, letting in gusts of cold wind. In the distance, I could hear the muffled sound of the University Hall bell tolling. But I was far away from this clockwork world of classes and homework and midterms; I was on treasure isles and distant shores; I was on wooden boats which smugglers rowed with muffled oars— I was with the Pirates.
The Pirates are an a cappella group at Brown, and while I do not enjoy their singing, which is discordant, I do enjoy the tales of their exploits, which are endless.
Emma, the erstwhile captain of the Pirates, was telling me about their latest adventure: obscene Valentine’s Day chanties. For ten dollars, the Pirates would publically serenade your friend, lover, or enemy with a vulgar song of your choosing from their repertoire of chanties.
“This is even better than Corgigate,” I said.
“I know, right?” Emma said.
Emma has blond curls, blue eyes, and a smile, which is disarming. Cat, Emma’s pirate alter ego, wears a tricorn hat that covers her blond hair, a plastic cutlass that dangles dangerously from her waist, and a grin, which is discomfiting. I watched as Emma pulled out the tricorn from her backpack and affixed it at a suitably rakish angle.
“I am going to take over the Pirate booth in the Blue Room,” Cat said. “You should drop by and buy a chanty for someone you want to embarrass.
“I don’t hate anyone enough,” I said, peeling a banana.
“There must be someone,” Cat said, and with a wink, she left.
I sat there, eating my banana, my feet resting on a chair. Emma’s words had stirred a memory I couldn’t quite recall. But just as I was getting up to throw away the banana peel, I remembered.
My sophomore year at Brown, I roomed in a double in Caswell Hall with Connor, a skinny history major with tousled sandy hair. The room was picturesque, with a wooden floor and a bricked-up fireplace. Connor had hung a Betsy Ross American flag on his wall. “This is not patriotism,” Connor had said, “This is history.” I was skeptical of this avowal because I had woken early one morning to see Connor, clad only in his blue boxers, his hands on his hips, his nose upturned, posing in front of the flag as if he were a latter-day Captain America. Of course, I didn’t say anything about this: Tact is the foundation of all successful cohabitation.
Unfortunately, Connor had the tact of a rhinoceros, but I didn’t find this out until it was too late. One night I brought a date back to our room. I had given Connor prior notice that this could happen and had exhorted him to remove his boxers from his bedpost, where they hung like the hides of misshapen beasts. “And don’t come back before I give you the signal,” I told Connor as I left the room. When I returned with my date, Connor was gone and so were his boxers. There was still a lingering odor—Connor hadn’t washed his bedsheets since the beginning of the semester—but I discreetly sprayed some Febreze and the odor disappeared.
The date was going well, and we had just settled in to watch The Shawshank Redemption when Connor entered the room. He squinted—we had shut off the lights, the better to watch the movie—and when he finally saw us, deeply ensconced in the blankets, the laptop resting precariously on my lap, he waved.
“Hello kids,” Connor said.
I was gesturing frantically for Connor to leave. I did this by wiggling my eyebrows, but it was too dark, and the gesture would have been wasted on him anyway. Connor, meanwhile, had pulled out his guitar. Holding his guitar in his hand, he approached my bed and with a quick leap he was standing atop the bed. My date and I cowered in the other corner.
“I am now going to serenade the two of you,” Connor said.
He strummed his guitar and then started singing. The song he’d chosen was Get Low by Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz.
Three six nine
Damn you are fine
Hoping you can sock it to me one more time
(Get low, get low, get low)
From the windows
To the walls
Here Connor paused to act out the lyrics. He pointed at the window, then at the wall. Satisfied that we were keeping up, he resumed singing.
The sweat drips down my balls
Oh, the sweat drips down my balls
Here Connor pointed at his crotch, and then, fearing that we might have missed the subtlety of the lyrics, he pointed again.
I am going to kill Connor, I thought. I am going to suffocate him with one of his own odiferous boxers. I am going to break his guitar in two.
Skeet skeet skeet motherfucker
Oh, skeet skeet skeet motherfucker
My revenges will be the terrors of the world, I thought. I am going to tell his girlfriend his laptop password so that she can go through his web history. I am going to wrap him in up in his Persian carpet and roll him down the staircase.
Connor finally stopped singing. I was mortified and tried to apologize to my date, but she was in a hurry.
“I think I should go,” she said, wrapping her scarf around her neck. “Got a problem set due Tuesday.”
As the door closed behind her, I turned to face Connor, who beamed at me as if he had done something clever.
“So you did think of someone,” Cat said, as I walked up to the Pirate booth in the Blue Room.
There were three pirates sitting at one of the marble-topped tables of the Blue Room. They had a cardboard sign—Chanties for sale – ARRR!!!—and their cutlasses were piled carelessly on the table.
“I did,” I said.
“Here’s our list of songs for you to peruse,” a pirate said, handing over a thick sheaf of papers.
I started to flip through the list of songs. Each page had the song title and lyrics. The songs got progressively more vulgar. On the first page was the relatively innocuous Yestergay, which was an adaptation of the Yesterday by the Beatles and in which the protagonist of the song suddenly realizes that he is gay. I flipped the page. On the second page, was the more explicit Pornstar, which was an adaptation of All Star by Smash Mouth and which extolled the virtues of being, well, a pornstar. I flipped the page again. On the third page, was Rolling in the Deep, which was an adaption of Adele’s hit song and which talked about the dangers of syphilis.
“This is horrible,” I said.
“Horrible?” the pirate said, looking offended. “No, it’s beautiful.”
Next to me a girl with long braids and plastic spectacles was going through the list of songs as well. She would read the ones she found most amusing aloud.
“Ain’t No Cock Thick Enough,” she said, giggling.
“That’s a real crowd favorite,” the bro-pirate said.
I was sweating profusely. I had forgotten to take off my jacket, and I kept looking over my shoulder to make sure no one I knew was around. I handed the dossier of songs back to Cat.
“I can’t do this,” I told her.
“Why not?” she asked.
“These are just too, too—” I stuttered. I imagined the pirates lamenting about the diminishing girth of penises in a packed lecture hall, and a balding professor, in the background, clutching at his podium. I could get into real trouble, I thought. Just when I’m about to graduate, too.
“Let us handle this,” Cat said, reading my thoughts. “If there’s any trouble, we’ll take the blame.”
“We’re the pirates,” the bro-pirate said, picking up and brandishing his cutlass.
I was shaking my head and was about to say no when I saw Ink-man. The shadow on the floor was wearing a pirate hat, and it turned slightly, as if to look at me, and then it looked away again. I cursed.
Ink-man is a character I’ve created to represent the stories that I tell myself about myself.
Ink-man is a shorthand for all that I want to be but that I am not.
Ink-man is a shadow future.
I stared at the shadow on the floor, and as Ink-man shifted, grew taller, disappeared, a thought came unbidden: Oh, how I long to dance, away, from the line. To stray, just a little bit, from the lights.
“Okay,” I said, taking a deep breath. My stomach felt crumpled, and my palms were clammy.
“Okay?” Cat asked. “You’ll do it?”
“Yeah,” I said, “Let’s do this.”
Cat smiled and gave me a thumbs-up.
“Alright guys, we have a sale,” she told the other pirates.
“We’ll need three things from you,” the third pirate said. She hadn’t spoken until now and she had a deep, gravelly voice.
“The name—” I said.
“The time and place,” she completed, counting them out on her fingers.
“And the money,” the bro-pirate said. “Don’t forget the money.”
I wiped my palms on my jeans and reached for my wallet.
“Where can one get a fine corset like that?” Connor asked.
“Mister Sister,” Cat said. She was dressed in full pirate garb, including a black corset that was made of some shiny material. “I always go there to get gifts for my friends.”
We were in the Underground at night. There had been a slight hiccup in my planning: the Pirates didn’t serenade before noon, and all of Connor’s classes were over by then, so I had compromised and dragged Connor to the Pirate’s concert under a false pretext. There was a bar top along the side of the room and student paintings on the walls, but you couldn’t see them properly as the lighting was dim. The crowd was scattered around the room, sitting in orange chairs and grey couches. Connor and I were sitting alone at a table, which wobbled dangerously.
“What is this exactly?” Connor asked, after Cat had left to gather the pirates. “A pirate-themed a cappella show?”
“Sort of,” I said. “I’m here for an essay I’m writing for class.”
“Oh, and what’s it about?” Connor asked.
“It’s a revenge piece,” I said.
“Indeed,” Connor said, “Who is the victim? Her?” He pointed to Cat.
“No,” I said, “You.”
Cat clapped her hands twice. “Hello everyone, thanks for coming! Welcome to the Raid on Love.”
The Pirates outdid themselves. Fully costumed—coats, corsets, pistols, cutlasses, rusted keys hung around their necks—and arm-in-arm, they sang loudly and lustily and tunelessly.
“This is appalling,” Connor said, trying to shield his face from the light, during the third song (“Why don’t you lube me up, lube me up, butterfuck baby”).
“It gets even worse,” I said.
“This is a disproportionate response,” Connor said—I had reminded him of the serenading incident in the intermission—during the seventh song (“Ain’t no cock too big, ain’t no cock too thick”), in which the Pirates had begun to perform pelvic thrusts that were encroaching on our personal space.
“I mean what I did pales in comparison to this,” Connor said. “This is like using a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat.”
Connor looked so anguished that I started to laugh. And as my laughter subsided, I glanced at the floor, and thought that my shadow looked taller, more rakish, and was wearing a pirate hat. I raised my hand to feel my head, and Ink-man detached himself from my shadow, doffed his hat, and then disappeared once again.