The Day We All Became English
Inauguration Day, 2000 AD, 10:00 PM, Eastern Central Time
I was at “A Moderate Amount of Soul,” a bar in Ybor City. Ybor had been a barrio once, a Spanish ghetto, completely surrounded by Tampa, Florida. In the late eighties, artists of questionable talent and even more questionable liquid assets had descended on the place like a plague of self-important locust in pursuit of cheap loft space. Then came the bostros. Then came the clubs. Then came the brooding, nihilistic teens. Then came the pretentious art community. Then, inevitably, came the tourists; out went the people who’d lived in Ybor all their lives. It was now too expensive and trendy to be poor there. By the turn of the century, the place looked a lot like Rodeo drive in L.A., and it had been featured in several glitzy credit card commercials.
“A Moderate Mount of Soul” was a blues bar that specialized in playing up-beat non-threatening blues songs that wouldn’t depress the mostly white upper-middle-class patrons. Hence the name, I suppose. It was rumored that Dave Barry, the Governor, frequented the place when he was in town, but I’d never seen him. Anyway, I was there with my friend, Evan Koulianos, and his friend, Craig Summers. Craig had blown into town that morning, and laded on Evan’s doorstep chanting “Chicks-chicks-chicks-chicks” to no one in particular. We took him out on a bar-crawl to convince him that we had lives.
An obscure band called “John Brandt’s Revenge” was playing,a nd I was flirting with a cute waitrest that, I was pretty sure, had been female all her life. Later on I’d make my move and ask to see her Sex License. (Or ’License Licence’ as they were commonly known) You can never be too careful in Ybor.
It was Inauguration Day. It shouldn’t have been Inauguration day, but it was. A few years prior, during the increasing mania about the end of the century, there had been a great public outcry to hold a special election in November of ‘99. It make a kind of backhanded sense, and the current president was terribly unpopular, so an amendment was passed. I think it was number 46 or something like that.
The election was held, and it was pretty much business as usual. The Old Money vested interests that controlled the Republicans versus the Old Money vested interests that controlled the Democrats. The Democrats had the bright idea of harkening back to the glory days of the early Sixties (And ignoring the disaster days of the early Nineties) and recalling the personal charm and charisma of a Kennedy-type personality. They even went so far as to run an actual Kennedy, what with name recognition being so important in advertising and all. Hence, the Democrats won the electoral coin toss, and John John Kennedy became president elect. It was really a stupid idea that nothing good could come of, sort of like running Tad Lincoln for president because his dad had been really popular. Tat would have had the class to turn down the nomination, though.
On the far side of the dance floor I saw these two incredible looking women, standing a bit too close together. They had their arms around each other. I was wondering if they were, perhaps, a little friendlier than the situation called for when two things happened. First: Craig leaned over and asked if we’d taken him to a gay bar; and second: the girls kissed.
“No,” Evan said, “It’s a straight bar. They must have wandered in by mistake, or else they just like pseudo-blues.”
“Or perhaps they’re just exhibitionists and like to cause a scene,” I volunteered. That settled, we pretty much ignored the band for the rest of the night and stared at the girls. I can only speak for myself when I say I felt rather unclean, but at the same time I couldn’t turn away. Presently a really dopey-looking guy came by, either too drunk to notice their tastes, or too trunk to care. He evidently propositioned them, and the next thing I knew, the three of them were dancing together on the floor, copping feels and so on. I decided the dopey guy was probably buying himself an E-ticket to hell, but from a testosterone point of view, he was a very lucky man. I thought this was a pretty funny thought, so I mentioned it to the guys. Craig decided they were hookers. This was pretty good for all our egos, so we pretty much went along with that theory for the rest of the evening. I was even vaguely aware of the band playing again. For the next couple hours, we debated how much the dopey-looking guy’s life would be shortened by disease.
President John John had been sworn in at seven that evening. The normally-wild inauguration parties had seemed strangely sedate on the news, though I myself hadn’t actually seen the simulcast of the ceremony itself. I thought it odd that I wouldn’t hear more about the trendy goings-on among the beautiful people at the parties on the radio or TV, but I just assumed it was one of those things. It was now about ten-thirty.
I took a whiz.
When I got back to my table, something seemed odd. Everyone seemed a little less animated. Presently, I noticed the ménage a trois was no longer menage a trois-ing on the dance floor, and I attributed it to that. I mentioned it to Evan. He didn’t notice any change, but he seemed a little odd to me, too. Then it hit me:
The band was now called “John Brand’s Revenge.”
“Wasn’t it ‘Brandt’ a minute ago?” I asked. No one seemed to notice. Not even Evan, and he seemed to know everything about music. I could have sworn it had been “Brandt.” Oh well, stupid me.
My waitress came back. She was no longer wearing shorts and a T-shirt, she was wearing a rather dowdy tweed suit. I commented on this. She seemed Irate that I’d mentioned it, and I thought her voice sounded a little funny.
I looked back at the stage. The band was now called “The Johnny Brand Experience.”
“Evan,” I said, “Something very odd’s going on around here.” I couldn’t convince them anything was wrong until the lesbians returned. They were no longer dripping of pheromones and sex appeal. They were rather prim, with short, bobbed hair, and plain worn-looking clothes. Noe makeup. What really made my skin run cold, tough, was their jeans: they were ironed. Ironed!
I pointed this out to Evan and Craig, and they kind of recognized that something was wrong, but they couldn’t’ quite pick it out. I guess lust made the memory have some staying power. Maybe not. At any rate, they got headaches when they thought about it too much, so we decided to leave and find a quiet place to sort it all out. On the way out, I saw the dopey guy. He looked like an investment banker now. He had a strange, unwashed appearance.
Ybor is not a place for the easily unnerved. Rather than go to some sleazy little coffeehouse where the waitresses all wear live snakes, we decided to go back into suburbia and find a neutral place. We ended up at “Mammaries,” a chain restaurant that served awful buffalo wings, and was mainly noted for the uniform requirements of its waitresses. (They had one size, and if you weren’t slightly too well-endowed for it, you didn’t get the job) It was the kind of place that walked the line between a frat boy’s idea of good taste, and open ogling.
Our incredible hostess took us to a table, where our equally incredible waitress took our order. Craig’s voice, which was normally an irritating Brooklyn accent, sounded odd. Evan seemed OK.
“I’m telling you that it was John B-R-A-N-D-T-apostrophe-S Revenge,” I said.
“Yes,” Evan agreed, “I can remember that now, I just couldn’t seem to then. I couldn’t see that it was wrong, even.”
“I think we should just avoid the problem and trust our leaders to solve it for us,” Craig said.
“Well, it’s obviously not a big problem or else we would have been warned about it. I think we should just relax, go about our daily affairs, and trust the prime…uh…prime…uh…pee…uh…president John John to solve it for us.”
“I doubt it’s anything epic, just a Jungian delusion…”
“Well, if it’s very bad, we can write our M.P.”
“What would you write your M.P. about, Luv?” Our returning waitress asked.
“I don’t recall,” Craig admitted, “These two just seemed to think it was a good idea.”
“It’s ‘ardly civilized botherin’ the M.P.s about nothing’,” the waitress observed as she gave us our food. The rest of her and Craig’s conversation degenerated into incomprehensibly accented slang. We’d ordered wings, but what she brought us was just a lot of meat pie and kippers. And, come to think of it, she was dressed differently. Gone was the cut-off half shirt and the stupid little silk shorts. She was now wearing a kind of plaid shirt and ironed jeans. Her big hair had collapsed, and was tied into a little bun. She was still blonde, but her hair seemed unwashed. Odd how it took me so long to notice.
“Craig,” I asked, “Let me se your driver’s license.” I had a sudden idea. He showed it to me.
“Spell your last name,” I asked.
“With an ‘O’?”
“Yes, of course.” His accent was now painfully English.
“Evan, we’ve got to get out of here.” I grabbed him, and we ran.
It was hell driving. Most of the traffic was on the wrong side of the road, and it was all moving very politely. No one cut anyone off. Everyone moved at a steady 35 miles an hour. It was really hard to drive that way if you’re not used to it. In the half hour it took to get over to Pinellas county, I was the only one who used the horn.
“What happened to him?” Evan asked.
“You noticed it, too?”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. What happened to him?”
“Somehow, I don’t know how, but somehow….somehow he turned English.”
“English? But how could you tell? Why?”
“He spelled his name with an ’O,’ but on his license it’s spelled with an ’E,’” I said, “That’s an Americanization. After the Revolution, Noah Webster and some of his buddies corrected a lot of the spellings in English that didn’t make sense. That’s why we spell ’Tire’ like we do, while the Brits spell it ’T-Y-R-E’ and so on.”
“As near as I can figure, there’s been some kind of psychic disturbance that’s causing people of English descent to revert to form,” Evan said. (He had been a psych major.) “They’re tying intot some kind of Jungian cultural unconscious, becoming British.”
“Yes, but why?”
Roy Orbison, who had become quite the bee’s knees since his death twelve years before, was playing on the radio. He was bigger now, in death, than Elvis and Frank Sinatra had ever been in life, even together. In the middle of the song, ’Trying to Get to You’ was yanked and a very British D.J. introduced the Beatles singing ’Let It Be.’
Hell’s Bells, I thought, They did it to him again.
I worked in an insurance office. By the end of the millennium, insurance offices had become *the* popular meeting places. They were open around the clock, had espresso machines, dance floors, and usually a masseuse on staff. As we pulled into the parking lot, Evan looked nervous.
“Craig was of English descent. The waitress looked like she was, too. That explains them, and maybe the people at the bar. What about people who are half-English? Will they Jung-out too?”
“I’m worried about you,” I said.
“Why? I’m Greek.”
“Yeah, but the British owned Greece for a very long time.”
“I really wish you hadn’t said that. If I do start to, you know, become a Brit, promise me you’ll kill me. I don’t wanna’ live that way. I don’t want to be so…white.”
Evan, being Greek, was Caucasian, as was I. I knew what he meant, though.
We went into my office. It was awful. The once-lively, irreverent atmosphere of the insurance office was gone. The dance floor was cordoned off, and the computer terminals had been removed from all our desks. They were piled up in the back of the main room. Periodically, a trollish-looking man came out of the back and took one off the pile. With a start, I realized that I didn’t remember how to use a computer myself. So it was happening to me, too, but not as fast. Perhaps because of my mixed parentage (Daddy was Jewish), or some other reason.
Normally an insurance company had a lot of friendly, good-looking women working for it, especially if the office had a bar. All the women in my office were gone, replaced with spindly, unwashed-looking men in greasy hair and bad suits. I asked one what he was doing. He looked up at me and said, “I’m scrivening.”
I shook, and went to get my gun. I always kept one in my desk, ever since the Emergency Road Service Riots of ‘98. Evan used the phone. He looked shaken when he hung it up.
“They got my brother, Matt.”
“He had this good-natured attitude towards buggering the freshmen, said only seniors should have cars and date and so on. He actually said ‘buggering…’”
“We’ve got to get out of here,” I said. Evan continued on. His voice had changed subtly.
“…Actually, I’m happy he’s fitting in. It’s good ot have a healty attitude towards tradition, even if that tradition involves a good deal of sexual abuse. After all, our schools are the best in the world, and if a bit of buggery goes on, with the underclassmen taking the brunt of it, well, I say ‘right-oh!’ ‘Pip pip,’ and all that sort of rot, ay, what?”
I shot him where he stood. The clock struck midnight.
I drove back into Tampa. It was a longshot, but it was all I could think of. I knew I was doomed too, but at least I’d know what was going on before…before…
As near as I could figure, it had something to do with the inauguration. Evan’s brother was in Gainesville, a couple hundred miles north of Tampa. Things - judging from Matt - were worse there. I’d heard nothing out of Washington all night. I imagined waves of Britishness spreading out in concentric rings, like ripples on a pond. Ahead of them, all was fine, normal. Behind them, a sea of dull-eyed, pasty-skinned Anglo-Saxon zombies.
I drove past a police station with a union jack flying above it.
I went to TIA, the Tampa International Airport. Two men were repainting the sign to read “Aeroport.” I parked, and ran to the British Airways terminal. It was stupid, but it was all I could think of.
Without preamble, I grabbed the beady-eyed man behind the counter by his shirt, and pointed my gun (A German Mauser Parabellum, circa 1911) in his face, and screamed at him to tell me what was going on.
He offered me some tea. I declined a little too politely for my liking. I could feel my inherent American angst and rebellion slipping away. To fight it, I forced myself to use bad grammar.
“It’s really quite simple,” the ticket agent said, “The most British of all things: a conspiracy. A lot of people favor German conspirators, but really they can’t hold the proverbial candle to us.”
“Stop yer stallin’,” I cried in my best Southern drawl. I feared he was trying to run out the clock on me, hoping I’d be British before he finished his explanation.
“You see, we Limeys are really only at our best when we’ve got an empire to keep our upper class amused, and to threaten the lower classes and gutter trash with banishment to. At one point, we controlled a fourth of the land surface of the world. Simply stated, we want it back. We’re getting it back now.”
“First, I must explain how we lost it.”
I cocked my Mauser
“Briefly: it was a case of hypertrophy. We grew too fast for our resources to manage, and most of our more undesirable free-thinking element had gone to the colonies. Friction was starting. It was either have a controlled crash, or lose everything, so the P.M. at the time opted for the former. We incited a premature revolution, using double agents like Washington and Hamilton and so on.”
“What are -” I attempted to interrupt, but to no avail
“If I may continue: If we had waited, a *real* war would have come, and we would be lost. S it stood, we started our own and bled the pressure to revolt off. We intentionally lost your pathetic little ’Revolution,’ and set up a puppet government. Then, over the next two centuries, we subliminally programmed your population to have an increasingly pro-monarchal outlook.”
“’Programmed’ how?” I was having to concentrate to pronounce my ’H’-es.
“With various front organizations like the Daughters of the American Revolution and the John Birch Society.” I had a sudden mental image of little old ladies whispering in sleeping children’s ears, ’The king is good,” of rabid Birchers holding secret ceremonies to celebrate the divine rights of kings. Apparently I wasn’t that far off the mark.
“The Kennedy family is the closest thing to a royal family the ’States ever had. Rich, amoral, above the law, alcoholic, moderately inbred, good public speakers, and not as bright as they seem at first. We programmed them from birth. Would have annexed the US by 1966 if that stupid gunman we hired in Texas had been able to tell the difference between a man and a woman at two hundred meters. So we went with plan B and sent the Beatles over.”
“But the empire is in ruins!” I cried. I was half arguing with him, half upset over imperial glories lost. My gun wavered. He pushed it aside.
“Only apparently so, my dear boy. Illusions. Why do you think we were so quick to give up Eastern Africa in the 1970s? Because we knew we’d be getting it back soon enough. First America, then Canada, Austrail-Asia, China…”
‘Austrail-Asia,’ the old name for Australia and New Zealand, snapped me back to my senses for a moment. I felt a little bit of the Alamo well up in me, then peter out. I knew I was lost even before I finished speaking.
“You have no right!”
“My dear boy, we don’t give a fig for what’s right or not. We’re English. We ran the world and we will do so again. That’s what’s important. When we came to China, it was a prosperous, happy, stable country. That would never do, so we introduced Opium. They practically invited us a generation later. Besides, who are you to talk of ‘right?’ This continent was stolen a dozen times over. It’s all about power. It’s always about power.”
Presently the bobbies came for me. I found that at the stroke of midnight, John John had simultaneously declared a state of emergency, and turned the whole country over to the British crown. I was observed for a few days, and set free. Technically, since I’d killed Evan before midnight, he wasn’t a citizen/subject yet, and no one really cared what you did to foreigners.
I lecture now; make a good living. Have a few quid to spare. Talk to the boys’ schools. (Girls don’t really need education in our society) I tell them how ad life in the old U.S. was, and how John John’s inauguration address was packed full of key phrases that let loose a lifetime of subliminals. I’m a curiosity, as I didn’t hear the speech, and thus held out a little longer than most. I remember the transition, and people pay to hear my stories. It beats being a scrivener. Oh, don’t get me wrong, ‘God Save the Queen,’ and all that. I just occasionally feel this nameless little angst in my soul and can’t remember what it’s called.
Thank you, and goodnight.
Copyright 2012, Republibot 3.0
I’ve been writing - or trying to - on and off since my senior year of high school. It wasn’t until this story - dated March 10th, 1993 - that I *finally* managed to do something good, and it was also one of the very few that I managed to actually finish. That’s about eight years. It was a fluke. I didn’t do anything worthwhile again between this one and 2006, another 13 years. If you like my writing, thank you very much, but believe you me, it took a looooong time to get here. The very rough nature of the writing here proves that.
I’d thought this story was lost, and toyed with the idea of reconstructing it from scratch, but was basically too lazy to do so. In December 2011 I found one surviving print out of it in a stack of old magazines and doodles and things. Hooray!
I wrote this in one or two sittings during the brief period when I was living with my brother in Florida. He’s in the insurance industry. It was set seven years in the then-future, obviously. The tale was a goofy little dawdle I didn’t care about at all. Afterwards, I was quite frustrated that it was so good when my repeated attempts at The Great American Novel were so darn bad. I’m basically a short story guy, but I didn’t really understand that at the time, and kept trying to force myself to write long form. Just didn’t work.
Re-reading it now, 19 years later, I'm struck by how stiff the lesbian stuff was. I'd forgotten how awkwardly people reacted around that kind of thing back in the day, but that part is based on a real incident, and everyone in the bar was scandalized/couldn't look away. Odd decade, the '90s. The hopelessly condescending portrayal of British people (Unwashed hair, dowdy-looking women, bad clothes, etc) seems really out of place now, but it was based on the two weeks I spent in the UK in 1983, and it's fairly accurate for that time. Presumably stuff had changed a lot when I wrote this a decade later, but this was prior to BBC-America, so how would I know?
Still and all: I do really like the pointlessly paranoid, weird plot. So there you go: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Hack.