We moved to Vanguard City, Calif., in June of 1973. Brooklyn had turned toxic. We came to V.C., as we referred to it back then, to be with the other dope smokin’ Godless Commies. We came to have a great time and build a just society.
In Vanguard City, I partied, dealt drugs all through the ’70s. Spring of 1980, I went to rehab, cleaned up. For the next 30 years I labored, rendered anonymous by occupation. I was a beast of burden, an untouchable, pushing a lawnmower over the manicured hills and dales of Alta Vista, California, just to the east of Vanguard City.
Then my wife died. We had been very close. She died a hideous death, a medical malfeasance suit, leaving me more than enough to get by on.
Fifty-five years old, bereft of companionship and short on purpose, I joined a fiction writing group which met in the Vanguard City Senior Center. I’d been in the group two years when Chester Ague showed up. Chester Ague was our resident alien, not that he was from Mexico or Zanzibar or Patagonia, or Mars. Well perhaps Mars. Perhaps he was from the bowels of the earth; maybe that would explain him. At first, I took him under my wing. In a city full of the purposefully weird, Ague stood out as being genuinely odd.
When I inquired about his past, all he’d say was that he lucked out on a “dot com,” getting out just in time. “Not millions but enough to live on while I try to write.” And how that sonuvabitch could write, not the type a’ thing I could write or would wanna’ write. I much preferred my Romantic Comedies to his ….. horror stories, to my way of thinking. The fact that the rest of the group took solace from these tales was what so disturbed me. You didn’t listen to Ague’s stories with your heart and your mind. You listened with your glands. I was immune to his charm. My jealousy inoculated me. In my two years in the group, I had more than established myself. My light comedies were a hit with the ladies in the group. I had been quite the darling. It didn’t take Ague long to beat my time despite his pot belly and his ravaged complexion. I was amusing; he touched baser emotions.
When Ague read one of his stories to the group, it wasn’t unusual for the ladies to sob, or sigh. These were mature and gentle ladies, bear in mind, sophisticated and worldly. The men would hold their breath till the climax of the story when inevitably, an army of the dispossessed or Indonesian pirates or space aliens or a Great Horned Beast would appear in order to smash the thin veneer of civilization, revealing the sensual paradise beneath. Then the men would roar and the women would moan. That was only the beginning; it wasn’t long before Ague had his own little harem. His own praetorian guard.
So I seethed at my computer and wrote a story that savaged Vanguard City and all of its inhabitants, from its larcenous mayor to its nihilistic hordes pining for the beast and the no-nothing bourgeoisie they hid behind.
Sadly, I went word for word with Chester Ague and was humiliated, scorned, finally shunned. If the pen is mightier than the sword, what do you do when the devil is the better wordsmith? That is not a rhetorical question.