Fly on the Wall

(c) 2003

My girlfriend Mandy is a real drama queen. Yes, I mean it that way, but more to the point she really goes in for obscure drama. Latvian films subtitled in Croatian, public access cable shows from Opp, Alabama, bit-films off the Web, and off-off-off-off-Broadways "theatrical" productions. The more vague and ambiguous the better. If you understand the point of the performance you've missed something. In the "best" drama the plot is always enigmatic and the author's true meaning is always indiscernible, blah, blah, blah. Well, at least that what she says, and I love her and have spent many hours enjoying the enjoyment she gets from these plays. And they are good for a laugh with my buddies later, when Mandy's not around.

Something else, too: once they finally legalized magic, throwing in the towel after decades of a failing and draconian "War on Drugs" (read: war on majick), live dramatic performances became much more interesting. Hollywood had been using magic for years, calling it "CGI" or "Animatronics" to keep from being hassled by the Feds, but now it was possible for smaller budget films and stage shows to just hire a conjurer to do the work. Cheaper and without pretense, although from what I hear many conjurers were more of a prima donna than the most self-absorbed actress.

This made many of Mandy's "finds" more tolerable, for at least there was the magic to entertain me while I looked thoughtful and moved by the cryptic (and often silly) dialog. Actors levitated, grew eyeballs on their shoulders and occasionally turned each other into kumquats for no apparent reason but, hey! It's high art. Who am I to question it? Besides, she really ate it up, and I liked to see her happy.

Well, one day I came home from work to find my sweetie pouring over the back pages of a Variety knock-off rag called "Camera Obscura". It was a cheaply produced 'zine, printed on barely readable recycled paper on a Daisy-wheel printer from the 80's, published randomly but consistently for the last 14 years. You had to know someone who knew someone who knew when and where it would sold, and the price changed according to how much paper and ribbon had been used to produce it. This, like Mandy's films, was adequately arcane.

"Hun, check this out, " she said as I pulled off my work shoes, covered with the grime of the new subway I was working on, "a new production by Andrew Fraunke. You know him; he authored 'Suite to Eat'. We saw that last October at that performance space in Hoboken."

I remembered: everyone on stage became a walking vegetable by the end of the play. Something to do with man's inhumanity toward shrimp or something. "What's this one called?"

"'Fly on the Wall'. Let me read you the copy: 'A tone poem of epic proportions in an incommodious environment. Secret plans for global domination at the commode. Illuminati in a lavatory.' It says the special affects are done by a new conjurer, Sinthia Convey, and will be awesome. Sinthia with an 'S', by the way"

"Special affects?"

"That's what it says. Probably a typo. You know the Camera."

Did I ever! The Yellow Pages of fatuous, self-indulgent playwrights. I had no voyeuristic intentions and didn't see how I could put up with watching a couple of guys take an extended leak while talking over world politics, but I knew better than to fight. "When will it be showing?" Hopefully there'd be one performance on a night we both had to work.

"Next week, Saturday the 30th, at 8:00PM. Upstate. They're calling it "Walpurgis Night in Woodstock". That's not too far, and we could spend the night at that little B&B we visited last summer."

Now that I really remember! Fondly! If there's a reprise of that performance…"We are so there, my love!"

The drive up the Sawmill River Parkway on an early Spring Saturday was a joy, despite the heavy traffic. I knew it would thin out eventually, because all these people could not be going to Fraunke's play. If they were then we wouldn't be. But eventually the bumper-to-bumper-ness got to me, so we crossed the Hudson at Newburgh and headed north along the Thruway to Saugerties. West on 212 got us to Woodstock and the Millstream Road Inn in time to check in and change before the play. How long could a play about a bathroom cabinet meeting take? I wondered. We'd be back here early for some relaxation and recreation. Mandy's obsession with drama always fired her passions, something to look forward to.

The performance was to take place in the house owned by Sinthia Convey, down Ohayo Mountain Rd. towards Montoma about three miles from the B&B. Good way to insure your participation in the play, regardless of your conjuring skills I thought. Her place was off the road a few hundred feet, and she had made a space for the dozen of so carloads of aficionados who had trekked up from the city, probably the whole readership of the Camera. As Daylight Savings had kicked in it was still pretty light as Mandy and I walked up to the house, but the thick interlocking pine branches overhead and dark dirt below gave the place a gloomy ambience.

I thought that the play would be out back on a stage or in a big room, but at the front door I learned from the usher who took our coats that it would take place entirely in her downstairs loo. How the heck would forty of us fit into that small privy? Was this her 'awesome' conjuring trick? Before I could voice my concerns to Mandy Maestro Fraunke and Mistress Sinthia appeared at the top of the long wooden staircase, awaiting the perfunctory applause. Andrew was dressed as an emaciated Benjamin Franklin, thinning long hair and spectacles on his hawk nose. He seemed pleased with himself, but not to the point of being immodest. Sinthia and the other hand was a modern day Morticia Addams in her long, tight, leave-nothing-to-the-imagination black dress. Mandy's figure was much curvier than our evening's conjurer, and such a look was entirely passé, but hey! This is high art. Who am I to question?

"Greetings," said Andrew in a quiet tenor, "Greetings and welcome to 'Fly on the Wall'."

"Yess, and welcome to my home," cooed Sinthia in her best gothic contralto. "I'm sure you will find this evening's performance mosst fulfilling. I certainly will."

"What's that supposed to mean," I whispered to Mandy. "Shhh," she hissed back.

Andrew continued, " With this story I reject the notion of commercial art and the horrors of the money that drives it." That's right, I thought, there was no admission price. I think I like this play already. "True artists must live off the indulgence of their enlightened audiences."

"Yess, we artists must live off our patrons' indulgences," agreed Sinthia. "But our story tonight is not about the greed of performers but the greed of financiers and industrialists."

The Maestro proclaimed, "And it takes place in that most appropriately private place, from whence the dirtiest of debates rages between globalists, hidden from eyes and ears of the workers of the world. But tonight we shall change that!"

Andrew was a leftover from the socialist movement of the last century and still railed against corporate demons, real or imagined. I'd have to sit through another diatribe but the rewards of a cozy night with a passionate Mandy were worth it. Besides, how much talking could be done in a bathroom, anyway?

"Yess, tonight many things will change." Andrew briefly looked over at his conjurer, like that wasn't part of the script. She ignored him. "And now's the time for the performance! You may be wondering how we plan to make space for you all inside our small theatre beneath these stairs. Yess, I see the wonderment in your eyes. An enigma, resolved by a simple potion. Please, take a sip of the apple cider Lars our usher is handing out. It has a pleasant taste, I assure you, and once inside our space crowding will not be an isssue."

Of all the plays and films Mandy has dragged me to I've never had to drink a potion, and it made me a little nervous. I'd never been one to take recreational drugs, though I had no philosophical complaint against those who do, but they hadn't been for me. However, Mandy nearly gulped hers so I chugged mine as well; it tasted just like apple cider, maybe a bit bitter but tolerable. I looked around: everything seemed normal. The other audience members were slowly filing one-by-one into the curtain-shrouded bathroom door with little commotion other than an occasional shriek of surprise. Must be some special effect!

Finally it was our turn, and Mandy went first, not saying anything. She disappeared behind the black drapes and I followed her after about ten seconds. When the curtain closed behind me the walls, floor and ceiling of the little bathroom suddenly receded from me at a frightening pace! I was immediately dizzy and started falling; good thing I instinctively beat my wings and flew up to be with Mandy.

WHAT!!! Beat my wings?? My wings??? I, I, I was a housefly, Musca Domestica, a freaking insect! Yikes! What a hell of a potion! But you know, I didn't feel bad at all. In fact, I felt pretty good! I recognized Mandy, and she still looked like a fine piece of thorax to me, cute as a, well, cute as a bug. It was a bit weird, as I never before could distinguish one fly from another, but now as I surveyed the playgoers they were all very distinctive in appearance. There were the two old Jewish women who entered the bathroom before us, and here came the young couple on their obviously first date. And I didn't have to look around to canvas the place: my new eyes gave me 360o vision.

"Hi Hun," buzzed Mandy as I landed next to her.

"Did you have any idea that this was going to happen?" I asked, rubbing her hairy little legs. So sexy!

"Not a clue, but I think it's fun, don't you?"

"So far so good," I replied. Then I noticed two things, actually two gargantuan white blobby things. They moved glacially and rumbled to each other in very low-pitched tones that I picked up through my feet. They must be the actors I guessed. Hummph. I'd not have given them another thought except that they were emitting marvelous odors! Delicious, intoxicating, and I had to get closer. "Come on," I called to my flygirl.

We buzzed around the two, past their slowly gaping maws and ski-slope noses, swirling down around their enormous torsos covered with acres of gaudy cloth, skimming over the enormous lake in front of them. Luscious incense! We took a side trip to the waste bin, also a source of succulent scents. And how could we ignore the lure of the floor behind the megalithic toilet structure? Nobody ever cleans back there, and it was a buffet of heavenly delights. Yesterday I might have found it strange that these sensations were so addicting, but now I wasn't exactly myself you know.

Mandy landed there next to me, close; I could feel the gentle breeze from her beating wings tingling my antennae, and it too was very sexy. I wanted to hop on her right then, but I wasn't sure that's how flies "did it", and besides, there were others watching. Not just the theatre-goers: some ants were busy back there behind the commode. I wondered if they were here for the play also, but they weren't talking to us. In fact, they weren't even speaking our language, just making low mumbling conversation amongst themselves.

I crawled over to Andrew, who was munching on some unidentifiable piece of muck. He seemed to have adapted to insect life very well. He also was oblivious to his play's progress. I thought it would be polite to say something.

"Great show, Mr. Fraunke."

"Thanks, " replied the playwright, and he went back to eating his gunk.

Hummph. "Where's Sinthia?" I asked. "I haven't seen her since entering this 'theatre'."

"I don't know," he buzzed, looking around with facetted eyes. "Oh, she's over, over there...oh my God!"

There was Sinthia, plain as day, instantly recognizable. Only she wasn't a fly like the rest of us. She was a big, ugly, black, deadly, mean-looking, hungry-looking spider! And she was finishing up a dense, glistening, and lethal web across the doorway, our only means of escape!

Just then the two mountainous white blobs started rumbling and moving, flailing redwood-sized appendages around. The lake we had flown over began to swirl and swirl, and acres of great white sheets flapped over a waterfall that had just appeared. Of course, we as former humans knew exactly what these things were, but the knowledge didn't dispel the panic that raced through the theatre-goers, from the orchestra to the flyspace.

Everyone took flight at once. Some flew directly at Sinthia's web, apparently thinking they could blast right through it. Wrong! With a blood-curdling screech and blinding speed she tore over to her trapped victims, tightening their sticky bonds and biting off a head or two in the process. Totally gruesome! Other fly folk, seeing the carnage by the door, made a beeline for the vent. A good idea, except that the two human actors had turned on the exhaust fan, and hapless audience members were sucked in and hacked to bits. Still others, confused by their transformation and circumstance, crashed frantically into the field-sized mirror. This seemed to annoy the actors and they swatted at the would-be escapees. Fortunately the human arms moved at geologic rates and all but one fly escaped. Unfortunately, the typhoon whipped up by the human arms blew a few into the waiting clutches of Sinthia, who had a second course in her feast of fly flesh.

"What the hell are we going to do?" cried Andrew, "She's got us trapped!"

"How the hell should I know?" I replied, "She's your partner!"

"Shut up and look!" cried Mandy. "The humans are getting ready to leave!"

Yes! They'd have to destroy the web to exit the bathroom! I wondered if they even knew what was going on.

"If we fly real low we can slip under Sinthia's web when they break through. It'll be dangerous, we might get stepped on or swatted when the humans walk into the sticky silk. You know how they get!" reminded Mandy. Gees! They? We were they just a little while flygirl was really getting into this!

Sure enough, when the actors hit the web they began to contort wildly. Silly humans! They must outweigh Sinthia a million to one, but they react like crazy people from a little sticky silk. Too bad they didn't squash our arachnoid archenemy; she was right there scooping up the stragglers who were trying to sneak out with the actors. Few made it. Sinthia's broken strands whipped around madly in the human-made windstorm and caught the high-fliers just long enough for her to reach them and wrap them up for a later snack. How could she eat so many of us? I wondered. A 'most fulfilling performance' indeed!

The few who weren't captured by web silk were swatted to oblivion by flailing arms. They may be slow, but if a human connects the force of getting whacked was lethal for us. Buzzing low and quiet we three fairly crept out on the floor next to the left doorjamb. I watched two other flies who were trying our trick get flattened by a ship-sized shoe. Poor folks! But I was too busy escaping to mourn them, and my fly attention span wasn't all that long.

Amazingly, we got through to the hallway and instantly soared high into the air, heading for the kitchen, finding the smell of food scraps there irresistible. Andrew, Mandy and I were apparently the only ones to escape the horror, unscathed but still insects. We landed near a geyser of delicious scents and, free from danger, we got back to work and began noshing. "How long will this potion last?" I asked the playwright, hoping that he might have a clue as to our fate.

"I have no idea. I haven't known Sinthia too long, and she never let on that this was her real plan."

Our situation was dire: we might remain flies for the rest of our now very short lives. Yikes! But then again, on the other hand, the spell might end at any moment, and we would lose all the advantages of flyhood: free food, no rent, no responsibilities and a world of delicious fragrances. Like I said, my attention span wasn't what it used to be. Our condition gave us pause as we gnawed on some scraps in the trash. What to do next?

"Hey," said my flygirl after a few minutes, "I just remembered. There's a new Nigerian performance artist doing a show in SoHo. If it's anything like the Ofili Virgin of a few years ago at the Brooklyn Museum, it'll be right up our alley."

"I know it," replied Andrew, all abuzz, "Let's fly! Maybe we can hitch a ride on a southbound NYDoS garbage truck. It'll be dead-heading back from the landfill at Goshen, passing south of here."

Who am I to question? I thought, getting into the spirit of the situation. It'll probably be the first obscure drama Mandy has dragged me to that I might actually eat up!

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