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Jefferson Community College Website

"Spin" - Jeff G. Bakkensen

              Together they maintained a website where you could post video clips set at or near the towers.  The idea was Leslie’s.  He said that if they wanted to understand the ones who did it – men was too generous a term – they would have to see the Towers from within a broader frame of reference.  The way an outsider might.  There was communication happening here, per Leslie, on a deeper level than simple anti-Western aggression, and the more context they could string together, the better.  Someone had to; Bush et al were too busy trying to fuck that sticky oil right out of the ground to actually give a shit about what the thing meant as an act, which was harder work and less headline-friendly than blowing a bunch of camel jockeys sky-high with a belly-mounted Bofors gun.  But go figure.  Know your fucking enemy, as Sun Tzu had said.

                They weren’t wackos, though from the start they were plagued by wackos who tried to use the site to spread the word about how the real strings were being pulled by a conspiracy of alien lizards or some such.  Part of Mike’s job was to moderate the forums, which in practice mostly meant shunting the lizard-freaks off into a less-trafficked part of the site where they wouldn’t detract from the movie clips, tourism shorts, establishing shots cut from syndicated sitcoms, etc.  Besides being tedious and reminding him of games of whack-a-mole played under the lazy eye of his less-than-reliable father down at Pearson Piers, Mike had for some time suspected that the extra hours in front of the computer were negatively impacting his health.  See, ever since he’d been told without a shadow of a doubt by the doctor friend who saw him gratis on slow days that it really and truly was With a Capital C inflating his lymph nodes like cooking grease collection bags and waking him up in a fever sweat with the whining cough of an injured dog, he’d suffered from this episodic thing where he would, without warning, lose the ability to move.

                He knew better than to automatically assume causation over coincidence, but the thing – he didn’t want to name it until he was sure what it was – seemed to come on only when he’d been sitting still for an hour or more, going through post after post until each began to bleed into the next like so many second-hand anecdotes.  The first time it happened, he’d stopped for just a moment to look down the hallway and verify the whereabouts of a Lone Ranger figurine he was shipping to a buyer in Oregon that afternoon, and as he turned back to the screen and went to use the mouse, he realized that he couldn’t push down hard enough to click.  At first blush, this was more a curiosity than a concern – after all, he didn’t involve emergency services every time his foot fell asleep – but when he tried to lift his arm and found it about as limber as a tree branch, he started to get worried.  It was the same with his neck, his head, eyes not even blinking, and thin raspy breath moving on its own past his lips; and as each linking part got checked and found to have been knocked offline, he got more and more panicked wondering whether this was a stroke or a side effect of the With a Capital C and how long it would last.  Unless the mailman saw him through the window, it could take days before enough missed phone calls stacked up for anyone to realize something was wrong.  And by then?  The words persistent vegetative state bounced around the walls of his brain as he sat, rigid, listening to the air conditioner and feeling the cooled air dry out his skin until finally a single toe rewarded him with the tiniest bit of a wiggle and then muscle control slowly inched up in his arms and in towards his chest, which exploded in a fit of coughing, and then it was over.  In the course of six weeks, he tallied thirty-four attacks, or just over one every one-and-a-quarter days, and he was sure every time that this would be the one to stick.

                The doctor friend had recommended a center in Jacksonville that did a lot with – he paused here and lowered his voice – “lower income-type persons” – which caused quite a storm on Mike’s part, not because of the money issue, which was nothing to be ashamed of, but because the doctor had been his friend long enough to know not to insult him by suggesting chemo when, given his age and relative health, there were plenty of web-available alternative therapies that wouldn’t fuck up his system and make his hair fall out, etc.  He may not have been a doctor, but he knew how to care for his own goddamn body, and this was ultimately the main reason he had not been back to see the doctor about the latest developments, plus their parting exchange regarding each other’s intelligence and the spatial relationship of their respective crania and coccyges.

                “Aggressively treat,” the doctor friend had said again, right before Mike had told him where he could put his treatment.

                The clips could be posted directly to the site or sent as email attachments or on carefully packaged discs that Mike picked up along with his resale orders at the P.O. Box on Ringling Boulevard.  The response was broad enough that he could afford to be choosy.  He rejected out of hand the many broadcast segments, the anchors gasping and looking to producers for cues.  Likewise, the night vision footage of Kabul lit by bomb blasts.  One packet contained a floppy disk that itself held a single file, a near-thousand-page fantasy novel that in no way related to their project.  Mike read the first page and the start of the second and then erased the floppy and laid it on a shelf next to the flaxseed oil and tea-infused fruit juice he’d been shipped from a reservation in New Mexico.

                But necessity dictated that he watch each of the actual clips in its entirety, as the lizard-freaks had been known to sandwich their crap in between a few minutes of legitimate programming, like a porno rag inside an open Newsweek.  You’d be halfway through a documentary about the role of the skyscraper in American architectural history and boom, cut to a low-def recording of a balding, overweight, paste-colored man in an unfurnished room spouting off about how the world elites and their repto-alien allies were laying the groundwork for a New World Order, the Middle East just a stage in their master plan, yadda yadda.  It was disgusting.  One time the thing hit right in the middle of one of these, and he was forced to watch the video in its entirety, complete with diagrams implicating the British royal family, Freemasons, and the Pope, a literal captive audience, probably the only one the lizard-freak had ever had.  But this was his duty, his own small contribution to the work of protecting the nation’s innocents and staying one step ahead of the terrorists who were probably at that very moment identifying targets for their next attack.

                Of course, most clips were not crypto repto-screeds.  People kept sending him snippets from this one documentary about a New York tour guide, especially a scene from the very end where the guide stood in the plaza and spun around and around and then looked up at the Towers and said it felt as if they were falling on top of him.  Of course, you had to take his word for it because when he did it in the film, the camera just showed the Towers as they were because a camera can’t get dizzy.

                There was something about that clip that always filled him with get-up-and-go.  He resisted the urge, mind you; he wasn’t some teenager with a hard-on and a mud-flecked Chevy.  But he did, in the spirit of the scientific inquiry, sit down one afternoon and watch the clip on repeat for an hour and a half, lips, by the end, forming the words as the tour guide voiced them, and the thing not once even hinted it might be lurking in the shadows.  He watched for so long he missed his slot to staff their table outside the Folk Art Festival.  When Leslie called him later, he said he’d been down with a stomach bug, but what he really felt was rejuvenated, excited, as if the whole messy gunk of his inner organs had been drained and replaced with soft, warm cotton.  It was like putting on a shirt that had been left out in the sun to dry, and he knew this was his body telling him the Capital C was melting away, slowly dripping from his nodes back down into his system to be delicately excreted along with the digested remnants of hamburgers and scrambled eggs.

                “In every conflict,” said Leslie, addressing the group in an afterhours Waffle Barn, “the most critical campaigns are launched far from the front lines.  We must remain constantly vigilant in denying all inroads to the enemy.”

                Gradually, a list of the most efficacious videos emerged, an experimental regimen next to which the group’s carefully worded calls to arms and the manifestos that never seemed to find their way into public record began to lose their importance.  He skipped another meeting, then another, but no one pressed him for an explanation.  And why would they?  He was scouring the forums with an almost unrecognizable vigor, the thing appearing less frequently and then not at all.  They praised him, according to Leslie, who called to say they would pretty soon be ready to move past the collection phase and put the question to the pop-culture enthusiasts and the disaster enthusiasts and, yes, even the lizard-freaks, of what in the Sam Hill those Arabs were getting at in choosing these buildings over all the more militarily and strategically significant options out there, and what that meant for future risk assessment.

                He tried to work out a system for categorizing his favorites but couldn’t find a common thread.  The placement of the Towers, for example.  Sometimes they had only background cameos, winkingly obvious, stars cast in bit roles.  In others, they took center stage.  These longer clips he had to upload in pieces, hours of shaky home video featuring sunburnt children standing stiffly in front of the observation deck’s massive drop, the camera-holder intoning variations of “Christine and Andrew here – June 1997” over and over and over.

                Sometimes it felt wrong that the videos were even there for him to watch in the first place, as if it was only through some charitable oversight in the rules of the universe that they could keep on existing even after the place itself was gone.  By all rights they should have been wiped from the record.  But they hadn’t been, and he felt the cottony lightness and his nodes draining just knowing there was an alternate world in which the Towers hadn’t fallen and never would, where you could still look up and get dizzy imagining them coming down on top of you.  Of course, he could never tell Leslie and the others.  To them the website was a practical thing, only.