Via his quick descent into gibberishness, a process completed over only three workdays during which he witnessed changes of facial and body expressions from students colleagues staff and occasional visitors so fleeting and varied that he became dizzy, DeanofStudents Dunston Maycroft was generously furloughed, or banished, his mind vacillated between the two states, offered his continued salary plus full medical benefits to cover the cost of psychiatric care and institutionalization if need be plus transportation expenses to medical consultations plus hotel and meal costs if they were outoftown affairs — banished, the word he settled on, to a world he could reconcile himself to even less than that of the language he was so irrevocably eschewing: exchanging the language of mediation evaluation quantification recruitment statistics cliches tired jokes socialization curriculum management and reform, the language of meetings meetings meetings and more meetings for a world of TV and commerce and banality and violence rampant irrevocable and universal, a world of flashes buzzes piercing screeches and howls, barks coughs and flatulation crashing and thrashing and bingoing all around him, even Tara, even Troy his son for whom he fumbled with pingpong balls and brayed at baseball games . . .
En thirtythree. There’s a thin roll of thunder outside that almost punctuates his delivery on this Wednesday evening, but it fails to interfere with the resonance of his voice, he lets the sound sink in for four seconds, it’s clear and crisp, pleasing to his ear, all else is silence save for the faintest bips of the daubers on paper.
That’s N three three. Then,
You’re too close to the mike.
Dr. Dunston Maycroft’s eyes jerk from the little numbered plastic orb, his head follows them, he hears a low din, his eyes scan the vast smoky hall like a laser in a palsied hand, he searches as if the speaker might suddenly emerge luminary and sublime from among the hundreds of players laid out before him, maybe with her — it was a woman’s voice, edgy and bonglike, which eliminates about a third of the crowd from contention — maybe with her rubberlipped mouth still gaping and her serpenteyes still glaring. Pardon me he says.
You’re sitting too close, back up a way.
Dunston spots her, she sits like formless plastic just to his left near the front, she’s got trolls pictures of grandkids a faded statue of the Virgin Supplicant at the top of her tablespace, a formidable barrier between her fifteen cards and the floor below, she sits complacent and accusatory with younger women on either side frowning at him in the same way. Dunston’s body stiffens, fuck you you old bitch is his instant reaction. How far back he asks, using his Bingo tone, two feet? three feet? six feet? his eyes flash disgust at her, his smile sweet, unctuous. He’s amazed yet again at the normal flow of his language.
Don’t be smart with her a smoky alto barks, its owner sits ten feet in front of him but before he can respond a pingpong ball pops up and he snatches it, reads it, and displays its face before a small camera that projects it onto a large screen. Gee fiftytwo he announces in his clearest baritone, that’s G fi-ive two.
The heads out there drop forward like lids on a kitchen trash can and the arms start pumping, he hears the daubing. The scotch buzz that has kept him afloat during his ordeal should last another halfhour until Jerry whatsisname takes over and he takes his break he thinks, maybe he’ll go to the adjoining bowling alley and drink a beer or two, maybe a couple of neat doublevodkas, that ought to get him through the next couple of turns, he’ll only get this one chance because after that he’ll have to work the floor on his breaks selling cards to players, god he hates that worse than the calling, he has to put up with their petty jokes and their complaints and their badgering, Hey Dunston, how’s Dunston tonight, how’s your son Dunston, is Dunston going to call me some winners tonight, Dunston hasn’t been doing a very good job so far, all from one bald old jerk dressed in jeans a tshirt and worn unlaced workboots who sits there tapping ashes into an overfilled tray presiding over fifty cards of which he plays half at a time without a dauber, Dunston wants to clench his hand and mash the guy’s face with it, he hears a ding from the timer, a ball pops up, he grabs it, En thirtysix he says, that’s N, number three six.
Every twenty seconds Dunston Maycroft automatically presses a button and a random white ball bearing a black letter and number surges up from the maelstrom of dozens of similar balls and into a tube down which it rolls into his hand, he calls out the number and holds it between two fingers before a tiny camera that projects it onto a screen, then he deposits it into a trough with its discarded mates until the Bingo is validated and the game ends. If he dares lose himself in thought and his robotic hand hesitates for a second or two beyond the allotted twenty the imprecations begin hurled with barbs and venom — Hey fathead get your ass in gear or get out of here is the most polite example. So the oftchastised caller has had to discipline himself to stare at his watch and think and feel quickly and cleanly.
Oh six one. That’s zeero SIXtyone.
No DeanofStudents has ever called Bingo at Flat Street Lanes before, quite a distinction he was told, not for Flat Street Lanes but for him it was added. Dunston Maycroft is thus quite the man of distinction it seems, for neither did any DeanofStudents ever declare in the aftermath of a classroom catfight between a barwaitress and a tabledancer that suck beayver bones betextet and, when asked in suddenly profound silence to repeat the statement, pound his desk and utter suckybeaverbonesextet with a straight and stern face. Nobody had ever said such a thing, and as soon as his mind registered his words and he saw the looks on the combatants’ faces, one of them still bloody from myriad scratches, and on those of his secretary and assistant dean, he knew the end was here, the jig was up.
The hall erupts,