Citizens Fidel Finds Inside the Cow
Everyone behind the counter detested Fidel and at the same time relied on Fidel.
Fidel reached inside the cow and extracted a citizen named Elena. He plunked down Elena on the other side of the counter and smiled at her and said nothing while she waited for him to address her as Lori.
She had grown up in a suburban cult under the guidance of her aunt who also was named Elena. The cult was all about charity and charitable acts, moving people out of the city, for example, when they wanted to be moved out of the city and into some suburban hospice development. Care of the terminally ill made up a large part of the cult’s charitable acts. Hospice care was a mandatory item in the cult’s homeschool curriculum.
Hospitality services, too. Hospice care and hospitality services went hand in hand in relocating the overburdened families of the terminally ill, accustomed to an urban medical infrastructure.
Elena, a specialist in transitioning, working hard to cut out dairy products from her daily routine, running late, badly needed her mid-afternoon Gibraltar to face a client’s difficult switchover from Temodar to Lomustine. Then it was off to acting class and after that another long commute. Leaving the city just when the rest of the city was leaving the city.
How sorry she was that she had ever mentioned to Fidel the exercise from acting class and then demonstrated the smile.
First she would have no choice but to wait out the smile. The line behind her growing restless, she would keep quiet, following her loop, until Fidel decided that he’d had enough and unfolded his arms. Good afternoon again, Lori.
All the citizens inside the cow were named at birth and then christened again by Fidel whose real name was unknown; lately he’d been on a binge of Westworld christening: Lori, Teddy Flood, Kissy, Ashley Stubbs, Pickett, Charlotte Hale.
Before acting class and after Lomustine she would need to squeeze in a quick bout of vying for 4T MRI time, another struggle at a counter. The line at the scanner counter extended all the way to the loading dock and ahead of her would be advocates from other cults along with delegates from research consortia, plus fake advocates and fake delegates holding places, along with paid placeholders from the offices of boutique doctors. It was like waiting in line for caffeine only at the end there was an actual friendly smile, vivacious negotiating, compromise, a block of time.
At least no one was asking her to give up caffeine. Caffeine wasn’t causing premonitions of seizures and she wasn’t transitioning to Temodar. Her vivid premonitions didn’t lead to shuddering in the chin and jaw, only more of her loop, a next morning of gridlock, unforeseen relocation complications, lunch, waiting out the smile. Good afternoon again, Lori.
Fidel reached inside the cow and extracted the citizen known behind his back as All Is Well With Thor.
Instead of ringing up All Is Well With Thor, Fidel flipped the POS device so that the buttons faced the other side of the counter where All Is Well With Thor had already drifted into a reverie of being rung up without a fuss. The fireplace scene needed a new and better resolution, a punchier exit for the ex. The actor who played the ex was stopping by to discuss the scene later that afternoon: not someone you’d want to disappoint.
A vanilla latte with two extra shots should do the trick, Clarence, said Fidel.
All Is Well With Thor had a pet name for the POS device: The Widowmaker.
The actor who played the ex was on a roll. All Is Well With Thor was on a roll, too.
They would brainstorm the fireplace scene over their iced rooibos. A rounded orange button in the upper right corner of The Widowmaker plainly said “Tea, rooibos, iced.” That button was the invitation to successful brainstorming followed by a celebratory second round of tea. They would toast an exit that was punchier by far. Then off to their respective workouts, motivated by an awareness that they’d steered the course.
The button, a beacon guiding his finger safely away from temptation.
A soy vanilla latte with sixteen extra shots will start the day off right, Clarence, said Fidel.
It was the middle of the afternoon and All Is Well With Thor wasn’t dragging nearly as much as before he’d started with the personal trainer he’d been introduced to by the thriving actor. But he was dragging, plus the buzz had worn off from his morning workout, the energizing post-workout satisfaction of crushing yet another barrage of self-initiated challenges, along with the bonus contentment of resisting temptation at the POS device downstairs from the workout.
His finger moved toward the orange button, loyal to the guidance of the new personal trainer.
Clarence! said Fidel. You look a little worn down. Frankly, you look like you’re on the verge of collapse. The whole day lies ahead of you, Clarence! Prepare to face the day!
No way could he make it through an afternoon of brainstorming without a lift.
He would deal with his guilt later when he could punish himself by making life hard for himself in the weight room.
His finger had been drifting toward the unapproved options, but enough was enough: sometimes the best you could hope for was not to grant Fidel the last word. He swerved his finger back, let it hover above the orange button, brought it down. Exit All Is Well With Thor.
Fidel reached inside the cow and extracted a citizen named Ms. Wyoming. No one knew Ms. Wyoming’s real name or what she did for work, only that when she’d breezed into the cow one Santa Ana Sunday there was a Wyoming plate on the back of her K 1600 GTL Exclusive.
Fidel sleepily propped up Ms. Wyoming across the counter while shaking off a daydream about missionaries under his command. He struggled for a moment to remember who she was, her Westworld moniker. Something about a nest of wolves. Misery whip. Loose wires.
Elsie Hughes! said Fidel. Baby girl! Right on time, because I just received a call about the cow. You know how it is with new locations, they’re still working out the kinks in Glendale. Their cow has been making an ominous rattling sound and they shut it down. We’re lending them our cow. We need someone to drive our cow to Glendale.
Fidel looked pleased with himself. He usually did look pleased with himself, never more so than on Halloween when he dressed up as the son of the wealthy sugar cane farmer who’d taken his household servant as mistress and had seven children with her; one of those children had grown up to become the ambitious politician known for carrying a gun and surrounding himself with armed friends.
In the daydream, Fidel, a charismatic leader, stockpiled weapons for a planned attack on a military garrison in the hills. The missionaries under his command would dress in army uniforms, seize control of the garrison and raid the armory before reinforcements had a chance to arrive.
He imagined himself climbing a guard tower and admiring the precise coordination of the missionaries and their air support. With folded arms, he gazed out over the chaotic skirmishes which were all leading to a single outcome: humiliation for the enemy. Munitions in his hands, with minimal loss of life on the side of the righteous, he would congratulate the missionaries in rousing oratory while they changed back into their missionary garb. He’d had this daydream before. It almost never reached its punch line. Reinforcements were on the way. Positioning the missionaries. As he spun out the exhortation, though he should have been in the infirmary, an aide tapped him on the shoulder. That aide would regret the day he’d chosen to make his living as a barista.
Ms. Wyoming was daydreaming, too, a pleasant fantasy of spending a few hours sipping her to-go cappuccino in the Swimwear room. Or the Men’s 1960-2000 Nontraditional Clothes, Hippie, Wild Formal Wear, and P.J.s room, or the Wedding Gowns room, or the Women’s Evening Gowns 1930-1960 room, or the Hawaiian room, or the Courtyard of Shoes room, or even the Depression & Poor Folks room. Anywhere but the American Old West room where she’d been toiling for what felt like forever to transport a feature film audience back to the oil wells at the foot of the Wind River Mountains along the Continental Divide in the state nicknamed The Equality State.
Fidel reached inside the cow and extracted a citizen he’d never met before. He tapped the button combination on the POS device that called up the list of supply and demand—only Fidel knew the combination. Next to each location’s name a stirrer in a tilted coffee cup went around and around; all the cups were full except for Culver City’s. Fidel instructed the citizen to stand at the entrance to the cow in full view of the coffee line and turn in a circle. Excellent, counterclockwise. Culver City was short on counterclockwise. Sometimes the cow provided fodder for Fidel, sometimes it hiccupped and dispensed beverage carbonation stock, sometimes it did its part in maintaining balance in a tricky ecosystem of citizens and their loops.
Plunging his arm into the cow up to his elbow, Fidel extracted a citizen whom he’d christened Marti but addressed as Mirta. Mirta immediately scowled in anticipation of the usual antisocial chitchat about honeymooning, childrearing, divorce, abduction, custody. She braced herself for the name that Fidel relished uttering whenever he saw Mirta: Fidelito. Sometimes he relished pretending that Mirta couldn’t remember a thing about the week they’d spent in the Duke and Duchess of Windsor Suite at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Sometimes he pretended that he couldn’t bear the sight of Mirta and after pulling her out of the cow he stuffed her back into the cow.
A citizen’s turn came who’d been patiently waiting in line. At the POS device he introduced himself to Fidel. My name is Foss, he began. Fidel stopped him. Your name is what? said Fidel. My name is Foss, repeated the citizen. Your name can’t possibly be Foss, said Fidel, as I’ve already named a citizen Foss, and he’s not you. I am Foss, said the citizen. Look, I have proof, he said, reaching for his billfold. Fidel held up his hand to stop him. What’s your first name? said Fidel. Deputy, said the citizen. Fidel did what he did whenever he suspected a citizen was yanking his chain: he hoisted him over the counter and stuffed him inside the cow.
Nicholas, a model citizen, birth name Evan, lacked for nothing inside the cow except a cup to chew on. Fidel extracted Nicholas and launched into a diatribe about the pristine lips of paper cups, the smooth rolled circular edge that’s meant to gently kiss the drinker’s lips, the abuse of lips by consumers who mangle the paper by distractedly nibbling, biting, teething. Somehow the diatribe became a tirade about lacking for nothing; the tirade a rant about being lost in a forest while blindfolded; the rant, bombast about how multiplying a negative number by another negative number yields a positive number. All Nicholas wanted was a paper cup, to be back inside the cow where Fidel’s voice was muffled. Even better, two cups, one for each ear.
A citizen whom Fidel had christened Grace barricaded herself inside the cow, armed with the machete that Fidel brandished on Halloween. The coffee line moved out onto the sidewalk, reassembled itself at the window of the food truck. Helicopters circled overhead. Fidel went back in to negotiate. On the whiteboard above the cow he erased the drink named “Simmering Unrest” and replaced it with “Barricaded Suspect.” That pleased him so much that he forgot all about Grace, her unreasonable demands. Next Halloween, anyway, he’d been planning to upgrade the machete to a druid broadaxe.
Fidel reached inside the cow and extracted a newly minted citizen whom he christened on the spot, at the POS device, as Antoine Costa.
Antoine Costa’s real name was Leon, but his friends at The Ranch called him NDE.
Antoine Costa! said Fidel. Where’ve you been lately? Fidel vaguely recollected seeing Antoine Costa around. Horseshit. He looked a little like the background actor who in nearly every episode stumbled out into the street and was nearly run over by a team of horses while trying to earn a few pennies for whiskey by raking up the mess left behind by unsentient equines.
I’ve been around, said NDE.
NDE couldn’t recall exactly where he’d been lately…performing work of national importance under civilian direction, something like that; no, wait, that was the oath.
In reality he’d spent the last two weeks moving plastic boxes in and out of storage as team leader, a prestige assignment at The Ranch, earned through knowledge and experience. Some of the boxes were labeled “Old-Fashioned Organic Rolled Oats.” Others “Barley Flakes.” “Buckwheat Flour.”
Blurrily in his right hand he felt the heft of a full cup of coffee that had been in his hand a moment earlier, or so it seemed, in his empty hand. That same hand retained a fuzzy memory of counting out copper dollar coins and paying for the coffee, plus one coin into the Lucite box; he’d dropped the coin into the slot and walked off with his coffee, minutes earlier. In fits and starts he explained that he’d slipped on a patch of motor oil in the street and was back for a replacement.
Did he mean to say a slick puddle of a spilled caffè mocha? Slipped in the street, a minefield. Another in a series of defining moments. Clouded, but always involving the street.
Antoine Costa! said Fidel again, trying by uttering the name to jog his memory and place the citizen who was beginning to annoy him by not coming into focus. Wait.
The wrong tool for the job, that was the identity that had eluded him. Not horseshit! Horses did their business in the street, then Antoine Costa’s double staggered off an undertaker’s porch with the wrong tool, a shovel. Soon after he began shoveling, along came a similarly scruffy idler equipped with a manure rake. All the idlers watching from porches and verandas, seeing the quick work that the rake made of the task, began to jeer the shoveler. One inebriated idler took a potshot with his Colt revolver; the bullet whistled within inches of Antoine Costa’s stubble.
Antoine Costa! said Fidel, once more looking pleased with himself. You’ll find a shovel in the back, right next to the anvil and the two-person saw.
NDE smiled blankly in response to this endearing banter. He drifted into a hazy reverie about a massage village under construction, the scaffolding assembled by a team not led by him. Scaffolding with gaps. A chunk of drywall falling from an upper floor. He lingered in the reverie, imagining the chunk grazing the eyebrows of a random pedestrian, shattering harmlessly.
In reality, having survived another session at the POS device, he would sleepwalk back into the cow, by way of The Ranch. The Ranch would welcome him again, put him to work cubing celeriac in bulk for a dinner that featured celeriac mash. Healing work.
Antoine Costa! said Fidel. Where have you gone off to? Your calling awaits you! You know how it is with excrement, it doesn’t just drop. It keeps on dropping. Plop, plop, plop, onto the dusty street where it’s not about to clean itself up. It gets blanketed with dust and becomes more of a menace under its disguise, and meanwhile everyone is holding their breath or waving handkerchiefs perfumed with camphor. And they’re waiting for you, Antoine Costa, while execrating you for dawdling, in colorful Old West execrations, because the entertainment on the street can’t start without you and your wrong tool.
How bad would it be, really, if the citizen whom Fidel had christened The Man in Black, the accurate gunslinger, sauntered in, in costume, as if into a saloon, and drew?