THE BIG FLASH
By Zachary Lutz
A master of deceit and a wearer of dark suits, the detached operative from Nightmare, Indiana transfers to Kent to exercise his strengths. Accepted into the Kent branch of an unknown organization, he is given a map with pin-pointed areas of interest and the number to a hotel. Here, the Nightmare Op records his nightly exploration of the Kent State campus and surrounding area in the midst of corruption and the seething mystery of blue and gold.
Then it was Sunday and the first week was over. I had nothing to report. I imagined McGilvrey wouldn’t be pleased, but I couldn’t say exactly why. Working for the Department of Campus Aesthetics is never a heavy job. In Nightmare it was a cinch and it took me a while to realize I’d never get out of there until I left. Here was another place that would do that to you. Kent, Ohio; The Tree City. Founder: John Haymaker, named for Marvin Kent. Sister city: Dudince, Slovakia, Sister Cities International. Earth Day. May 4th. Black Squirrels. Acorn Alley. Portage Hike and Bike Trail. Six wards. I was a regular spouting encyclopedia of the city, and then I was in it.
After my walk on the river, I returned home and slept almost continuously for three days. From the balcony at University in I could see the Star of the West Mill rising on the south of Water Street, in a crude blooming reality of the picture on my map. I had my coffee standing in a lean on the wrought-iron fence there hoping for smoke. Traffic was continuous.
Kent is an old mill town with railroad tracks.
I fished through my notebook and read through some of my notes from Nightmare, to see if anything sparked an observation. Like any learning system, success comes from engaging with material. I wanted to say McGilvrey would understand that, and give me a break. But then on the other hand, I knew he wouldn’t. There was a thing about his blue suit that intimidated me. I thought about doing some character sketches of a few individuals that I had met. Maybe Tommy, the young boy. Maybe the librarian. Or maybe not.
Character sketches was what I’d done time and time again in a lull in Nightmare, prophetic notions of the city born through its citizens. I’d made a pretty good penny free-lancing them to the Nightmare College Gazette, filler for their Arts section. I submitted them under a false name, of course, and Al never got wise. If he’d gotten wise I probably would have left sooner.
Your guide to the Fairchild Ave. Bridge Project.
The problem with any Department of Campus Aesthetics is they never know what they want. I know the job, sure, but I may be the only one. Sunday made me feel sick in the stomach and I had to revisit the gargantuan lady at CVS — she remembered me quick.
“This all?” she asked.
She had on a new shirt. I recognized the design as a tamarack tree and then decided I shouldn’t mention it; she wasn’t one for games. She was a thick trunk of girl and I knew she wouldn’t forgive me if I corrected her.
There was a note slid under my red door when I returned to the Inn. The envelope was white with no address, which meant whoever sent it brought it straight to my room in person. I suspected Dolores. Although, after I tried to imagine the secretary from the “Library of Maps” shifting up the stairwell all coy-like a salamander, I couldn’t quite get it straight in my head. Had McGilvrey brought it himself? No. I shook the idea like a bee.
After ripping through the sealed envelope, I was confronted with professional stationary and the lugubrious, weighted scrawl that could only have been McGilvrey’s. I saw his nose. The note said, “9 p.m.” and underneath that, “In 1995, Kent received national attention when the city's water was named "Best Tasting Municipality Water" at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting.” I was confused, to say the least. It was a rib. He was toying with me.
I decided to re-assess my own slant on the position, and maybe that’d bring me around to some material.
As an operative, you’ve got to be simultaneously visual and calculated. You’ve got to see the things people don’t say out-loud, and then be able to explain at the snap of some abstract fingers exactly why they don’t say it out-loud. You’ve got to bring pessimists out of the swamp; drag them, if you can. Swipe at the bags under their eyes and reaffirm some kind of confidence in proximity. This is the job of an operative working for the Department of Campus Aesthetics. This is my job. I’ve never met another operative, but, then again, no one’s ever met me.
There are local commuters to any campus, and these are the most un-ripe of the bunch. What’s wrong with the college you’re attending, and then why are you attending that college in the first place? But you can’t ask them. Ask the students that come from across the country, international students. Graduate students. Is it a diagnosis based on this perpetual need of our generation to be in distaste? Sarcastic, they say it’s contagious. But I’ve got something worse; through well-articulated examination of environs and community, of social mores on a micro-cosmic level, they hire someone in like me to really shock the place new. Kent State University is a public university with eight campuses covering the northeast Ohio region. I couldn’t say the same about Nightmare College. This was more than I afforded on account of a bar-fight.
Towner's Woods is a great place to relax and have fun. The extensive trail system is great for hiking and nature observation.
“Can’t read, can’t write, Kent State.”
I’d heard a soliloquizing young man who, after bending to tie his shoe mentioned the remark as a response to his cohort’s complaint. Something about a proverbial wind tunnel on campus, which sounded a lot to me like a rumor. The Student Center, was it really designed as a wind tunnel? Probably not. I wrote it down.
Then the man, who still donned his letterman’s jacket scoffed, “Can’t read, can’t write, Kent State.”
I thought about starting another bar-fight, right there on the Esplanade. Better wait and come at it from a different angle. McGilvrey would hear from me, alright. I was boiling.
I sat at the counter in the kitchen and ate a handful of peanuts, crunching out my brain and listening more to the swing and sway of my own jaw than getting all anxious and skipping. The clock said eight-thirty. It was time to check-in. I tied my bluchers.