The Overton Window: Chapter 13
As I mentioned I am once again selecting a comment of the week, and this week that "honor" goes to Jay for noticing the serious amidst the stupid:
Noah's "revelations" are meant to be somehow shocking, but they're really just simple math. In a nation of 300 million, things are either going to be run by (a) nobody at all or (b) a very small subset of the population. If you like option (a), a weekend in Mogadishu should change your mind.
As an Ivy-leaguer myself, though, I sort of see the point of their anticollegiate schtick. The bankers and executives that do so much damage have prestigious diplomas as a class marker (the education part mostly didn't take). If they replaced "Ivy League" with "business school" in their rants, I'd be half tempted to cheer with them.
Jay is, of course, correct: the reality of our society is that it is run by a small set of very powerful people. That said, the implication Noah presents that those powerful people are a coalition of sinister societies is pretty much bunk. The version Jay presents, in contrast, makes quite a bit more sense. But this is the "power" of the authors' world: it fuses reasonable points to utter nonsense so tightly that some legitimacy is bound to rub off. Well, either that or herpes. Congratulations, Jay, and keep at it everyone: your time will come.
And, with that, let's begin! As always, page/line numbers are in bold, quotes from the book are in block quotes, my commentary is in regular print, and you can navigate the whole series with the provided tag. My footnotes use the traditional star system (e.g. *, **, etc) while references included in the Afterword to the book are noted with numbered parenthetical tags (e.g. (1), (2), etc.). Let's roll!
Dramatis Personae: In an order chosen by my mom.
Eli Churchill: Former janitor at a volcano lair. Fan of remote telephone booths. Shot in the head by parties unknown.
Beverly ???: Mysterious correspondent of Eli Churchill's.
Noah Gardener: 28 years old. Sets the dating bar "medium-high".
Molly "Hottie McPretty" Ross: Dresses like a hippie, but not really. Looks like a free spirit. Perfectly captures the essence of womanhood. Auburn hair. Green eyes. Pale skin. Has a tattoo on her chest. Wears a silver cross around her neck.
Arthur Gardner Noah's father. Owner of Doyle & Merchant. Megalomaniac. Surprisingly vigorous for a 74 year old man.
Khaled: Lebanese cab driver. Sold out by Noah Gardener.
Hollis: Friend of Molly Ross. Very polite. From the country. May be a Yeti.
Danny Bailey: Some kind of YouTube celebrity. Former lover of Molly Ross. Kind of a dickhead. Loves conspiracy theories and incoherent speeches.
Chapter 13: In which Noah goes to jail, only to be threatened with going to jail, gets saved by his lawyer, and grows a spine.
Recommended Mood Music:
Page 86, Line 1:
He opened his eyes, and found her looking down at him.
"Her" who? The cougar?* Because that would be f-ing awesome.
Page 86, Line 2-5:
It was the wide variety of aches and pains that told him for certain she wasn't a figment of his imagination. His head was resting in her lap, and Molly held him steady as the crowded police van bumped and jostled along the patchy downtown streets.
Okay, so, it wasn't the cougar, but rein in your disappointment for a moment and let's ponder something. When last we saw Molly, she was storming off in a huff because Noah had given her his opinion, which as it happens she had asked him for.** Suddenly, though, in this chapter she feels warmly enough towards the gigantic moron that she's willing to cradle his head in her lap. So, how did this come about? You might answer at first blush that she saw him heroically attempt to stop a riot cop from beating a guy down before- somewhat less heroically- getting beaten down himself. The problem with that theory is that by the time Noah was getting his hero on, Molly was pretty much already eating linoleum (Page 84, Line 9-14). Your next answer might be that Molly realized she was being a freaky bitch and was planning to apologize after his little speech- possibly by inviting him to a threesome with her mom***- but based on Molly's behavior here and elsewhere in the book, I doubt it.**** Next, it could be that Molly is a tad psycho- sort of like Glenn Close in fatal attraction. This is supported by other events in the book, but I'm pretty sure it's not what we're meant to conclude, so scratch that. This leaves two options: either (a) Molly is Up To Something or (b) this is just another example of bad writing. I don't want to spoil your surprise, though, so rather than give you the final answer, I'll just rest with, "Christ does this scene not make any damn sense at all."
Page 86, Line 6:
Police van? [emphasis original]
Oh, right, Noah's in a police van. And he's surprised even though he was the one who, in his own thoughts, made the identification a line or two ago. Or can he actually hear the narrator? Eh, whatever. Noah says "hey" to Molly and looks around, noticing that the van is chock full of people from the bar.
Page 86, Line 15-17
Noah looked up at her again. "What happened-"
She hushed him with a fingertip to his lips, and he saw that her wrists were bound with nylon ties.
Oh...oh god. Is this... is this supposed to be romantic? Seriously? Yikes. Anyway, the van arrives at its destination and its human cargo is unloaded.
Page 87, Line 2-3:
Somehow the news crews had arrived and set up for on-scene reports even before the paddy wagons rolled in.
Wow. It's like they have some futuristic technology like a "police scanner". Seriously, this book is shit. Anyway, they're unloaded searched, booked, and so forth.
Page 87, Line 13-17:
Most of the guys nearby him seemed to be from the group at the tavern. Some others around the cell, clearly seasoned veterans of the penal system, appeared to have been brought in for day-to-day offenses ranging from vagrancy to prostitution to drunk-and-disorderliness.
So, here's a question for everyone playing along at home: by "prostitution" do the authors mean "soliciting" or do they mean... you know... prostitution?
Page 87, Line 27-31:
After a time he saw something that he couldn't begin to understand; he must have been mistaken. The man from the back on the tavern, the one with the gun, was being escorted from an adjacent cell. He wasn't in handcuffs or restraints of any kind. He was just walking along with the officers toward the exit.
I know Noah has recently suffered a head trauma, but surely even he remembers the grotesquely unsubtle hints the authors were dropping about plants from the last three chapters? I guess not. Regardless, the cops call his name, he raises his hand, and they spend some time trying to figure out if he is, indeed, Noah Gardner.
Page 88, Line 7-8:
It was his gold class ring from Riverdale Country School that seemed to cement the positive ID.
Never having been arrested I don't know the answer to this but it seems to me that a distinctive gold ring is the sort of thing the cops would take and put into storage before putting you into general holding. Or am I missing something here? Regardless, the cops take him out of the cell and bring him to an interview room. In doing so, they neither handcuff him nor restrain him in any fashion, which really makes one wonder what the hell was so weird about the other guy being extracted from his cell without restraints? But, anyway, back to the interview room.
Page 89, Line 9-12:
"Now." The cop looked up at him for the first time. "Before I ask you if you're willing to talk to me, I want you to understand something else. This isn't a parking ticket we're talking about here. Somebody's going to jail tonight."
Technically, "somebody" is already in jail, he's just not in prison yet. The cop goes on to describe the more elaborate booking process, involving mugshots and so forth- which would have already occurred one would think- and then it's suggested that none of these folks will be arraigned until Monday because it's a Friday night.
Page 89, Line 21-25:
"If you're not granted bail- and by the nature of these offenses in the prevailing climate, and with Homeland Security getting involved, I seriously doubt you will be- then you'll all get on another bus, and that one'll have shackles on the seats and bars on the windows, because it'll be headed to Rikers Island."
Now, I'm aware that the authors intend for us to react to this scene with indignation, thinking "What offenses? Noah didn't do anything!" thereby manufacturing real indignation at the government over an offense that it hasn't committed. Unless, that is, the NYPD is in the practice of arresting fictional characters. That said, given that this is "faction" I prefer to believe that what's actually going on is that in this parallel world there actually is a "felony stupid"***** and the cops got wind of Mrs. Ross and Danny's speeches. But what are Noah's actual crimes?
Page 89, Line 26-28:
"What you're going to be charged with"- he paused to flip a set of reading glasses down onto his nose- "is inciting a riot, resisting arrest, and aggravated assault on a police officer."
Well, the former is definitely not true, the latter is debatable, but that middle one is pretty much dead on. Anyway, the cop goes on to argue that someone is going to go down for assault with a deadly weapon, states that if someone doesn't come forward to single out who that was they're all going to jail, and then tells Noah that he seems like a nice guy and he should cooperate. So it's good cop/bad cop, but all with one cop. It's basically like a really, really awful Law and Order script. And then he places a voice recorder on the desk and turns it on, thereby setting the stage for a dramatic reveal.
Page 90, Line 27-30:
Before Noah could respond there were three quick raps on the door frame and the Gardner family attorney, Charlie Nelan, walked in without waiting to be asked. He picked up the recorder from the desk, flicked it off, and slipped it into his pocket.
Did I say "dramatic reveal"? I meant "arrival of Noah's kleptomaniac lawyer". My mistake. On another note: I know Noah is supposed to be all powerful and shit, but as far as I can tell- and I have the freaking narrative right in front of me- Noah never actually called his lawyer. So... what? Is Noah lojacked with an alarm set to go off whenever he turns up in prison? Was the lawyer watching the local news on a Friday night and just happened to see him? Did the cops go out of the way to help Noah lawyer up without even being asked to first? Just... what? And then we get a description.
Page 91, Line 5-8:
Charlie Nelan was one of those old-school, silver-haired uberprofessionals who swore by the power of image. No matter where you happened to see him, he always looked as though he'd just stepped out of the "Awesome Lawyers" issue of Gentleman's Quarterly. [emphasis original]
Okay, first off, what is it with this book and men's magazines? Is this characterization, or do the authors just have really detestable taste in reading material? Somewhat more seriously, though, the real failure of this bit is that, rather than establishing a character for poor Charlie, the authors decide to just invoke a cliche instead. They may as well have written, "Charlie Nelan was basically Jack McCoy, but with a different name so as to not infringe on copyright". Anyway, it comes out that the detective is named Halliday- I wouldn't worry much about that as it never matters even a little at any point- and that Charlie wants Noah released, the charges dropped, and the arrest report destroyed. The phone then rings, the cop does a double take looking at the caller ID (Yes, that's what it says in the text) and the lawyer drags Noah next door so the cop can talk on the phone in private. And, coincidentally, my margin note reads, "I feel like I'm in that scene in Left Behind where the dude from Scotland Yard gets intimidated by Todd Cothran." If you haven't read Left Behind you won't know what I mean, so just picture reading about a mime that can't quite figure out how to escape from an invisible box, and you'll pretty much grasp the essential lack of dramatic tension involved.
Page 91, Line 30-32:
"How did you even know I was here?" Noah asked.
The look that came back said that young Mr. Gardner was worrying about something far beneath his concern, given the circumstances.
Okay, so, on the positive side, Noah has noticed that this is an odd turn of events as well. On the negative side, we're being told that even the authors have no idea how to explain it. I'm so glad we had this little chat.
Page 92, Line 1-4:
Charlie was already punching more numbers on his cell, and as he put the phone to his ear he motioned to the water bottle, as though adequate hydration was the only substantive thing Noah could bring to the party at this stage.
From having read about Noah Gardner for more than twelve chapters now, I feel quite secure in saying that Charlie is imposing some pretty high expectations here. True to form, Noah does not drink any water, and does space out staring out the window. He's such a brilliant boy.
Page 92, Line 9-20:
Out in the common area, a dozen or so men were gathered together having coffee and a collegial chat with some uniformed police. He [Noah] stood and stepped closer to the glass, trying hard to believe his eyes.
In this surreal gathering was every heckler, every troublemaker who had made himself apparent during the speeches at the bar. Every one of them was dressed similarly, the differences being confined to the inflammatory slogans on their clothing and their selection of cracker-chic accessories. When scattered among a larger group they'd been harder to spot as co-conspirators, but all together like this, with their guard down, their costumes were obvious and their mannerisms out of character. It looked like the after-party of a Larry the Cable Guy stunt-double audition at Central Casting.
I'm sure that was inserted just in case anyone missed the repeated hints over the last few chapters. Remember, all offensive and irritating jerks at TEA party rallies are totally plants. Hell, apparently they're planted police officers. Way to foster paranoia, authors!
Page 92, Line 21-24:
One of them matched a picture in Noah's memory to the very last detail. He was sure this time: the man was wearing a loud flannel shirt, a hunter's vest, a do-rag torn from the corner of a Confederate battle flag, and a shoulder holster.
This description would probably have more impact if we'd ever seen this guy described before, but I think we're supposed to conclude that this was the shooter at the club. On a related note: since when is NYC a place where you can openly carry a pistol? Anyway, Charlie gets off of the phone and proceeds to tell Noah that he's a friggin idiot****** and that he (Charlie) has called in enough favors to get Noah off the hook. At the same time, however, he emphasizes that this is as far as it goes- he has no more pull to use, so if Noah gets into any further trouble, he's on his own. Noah responds by leveling wild accusations.
Page 93, Line 20-26:
"This whole thing was a setup." [Noah exclaimed]
"I don't care."
"Those guys, right out there-" Noah pointed through the glass, and Charlie looked briefly in that direction- "they were at this meeting tonight, where all this happened, and they were there specifically to start something. When they got tired of waiting for the people to get violent they did it themselves."
Right, again: TEA partiers are never violent, are never threatening, and any time anything happens that seems to suggest otherwise, they were totally framed. Everybody's got that down by now, right? Charlie repeats that he doesn't care and asserts that even if the story is true, it isn't Noah's problem. Noah reacts by continuing down conspiracy theory lane, with a slight detour into back-fitting way.
Page 94, Line 11-13:
"And the press- all those reporters were already here outside the station; how would they have known-"
Okay, let me say this again- slowly- because apparently Noah just isn't getting it: it's called a "police scanner". It's a device that allows people to listen in on police radio communications- they're great for reporters since they provide warning about what the police are doing, where, and why, so that if you want to you can totally get to a crime scene or the station for a perp walk in time to get juicy footage. Can we please just friggin move on now? Anyway, Charlie again tries to talk Noah into just leaving but, well, see for yourself.
Page 94, Line 22-31:
"I'm not leaving." [Noah said, sticking out his bottom lip and crossing his arms]
"I'm sorry... what?"
"Not without everybody else who was brought in with me."
Charlie didn't respond right away.
"You're sure about what you saw," he said at last.
"Because if I open this can of worms again and I come up empty-handed? There's a good chance we're going to blow this deal I just made."
"Charlie, I'm sure."
Oh, wow, so suddenly he's all idealistic? Or is this, in reality, just a really expensive way to try to impress Molly and thereby gain access to her panties? Only time will tell.
Page 95-95, Line 94:32, 95: 1-5:
"Okay," the lawyer said quietly. "Let me look into it and I'll see what I can do. But I'll tell you right now, whatever I find out, this is going to take a lot more chips than I've got in my pocket. That means I'll have to call your dad."
That wasn't welcome news, but Noah took a deep breath and nodded his permission.
And I suddenly feel like Noah's sixteen and wrecked the family station wagon on prom night. But, regardless of how I feel, that brings us to the end of another wretched chapter. Not a moment too soon, either.
Well, come back next time when Noah reconnects with Molly and Molly's mom, gets them both into a limo, and then... well... you'll have to read the episode if you want to see if he closes the deal. But let's face it: the man can't even drink water successfully. What are the odds?
See you then!
* I'm referring to Molly's mom of course. Who else?
** This is, as a side note, a pet peeve of mine. Specifically, if you don't really want to know what someone thinks, don't ask them to tell you.
*** Totally not going to let that joke go; no matter how dead the horse is, I will continue beating the shit out of it.
**** Besides, let's face it, on the rare occasions when people do apologize spontaneously for acting like idiots, does it ever occur this quickly the offense in question?
***** In the David Alexander sense of the term. Look up the story of the same name in the summer 1997 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact.
****** Well, not explicitly, but the spirit is there.
Labels: The Overton Window