The Unknown: The Red Line.
  Crossing the state line into what used to be known as “Vacationland” depressed Dirk greatly. He had spent six miserable years in Maine during the 1980s and was not pleased at the prospect of returning to the site of his darkest hours.

Felled by a severe migraine that refused to respond to any of the myriad of pharmaceuticals available on the van, Dirk missed the Portland reading entirely. Reports from Marla, who was by now nearly beside herself with fear and grief, indicated that Scott and William had more than made up for Dirk’s absence by being even more rude and obnoxious than usual. William alternated between raving about Maine Yankee (Maine’s aging and potentially dangerous nuclear reactor) and reprising his “I’m - drifting - into - a - drug - induced - coma - but - don’t - request - medical - assistance - or - I’ll - make - sure - you - pay - if - and - when - I - recover” act, which was frightening to behold, the way his glazed-over eyes produced hyphen after hyphen to punctuate what amounted to extremely sophisticated drooling. Scott had located some heroin he’d forgotten to use in Seattle and so spent most of the time nodding off, shivering back into semi-consciousness in order to request a beer, then nodding off again. Our manager Marla ended up doing the reading and was repaid for her efforts by being jeered at by her now completely obliterated clients.

By the time the van rolled into Orono, home of Dirk’s first graduate school alma mater, the University of Maine, Dirk’s migraine had subsided somewhat, due mostly to the frequent full-body massages willingly donated by the coterie of comely disciples who had invited themselves along for the rest of the tour. They drove behind the van and often paid for everybody’s meals (though Dirk insisted, out of their earshot, that he did not require such financial contributions, but was unable to say no to such heartwarming generosity). “Right,” Scott and William thought, while chowing down on lobster, steak, and clams, liberally doused in Maine Blueberry Syrup.

Both William and Scott had become increasingly concerned about the effect Dirk’s cult was having on the book tour. On the one hand, the perks weren’t bad, the lobster meals for one, or the occasional make-out session with whichever disciple wasn’t chosen to join Dirk as he continued Gandhi’s experiment of having naked virgins lie beside him at night to test his vows of chastity. Sure, Dirk’s disciples were far from virginal, and the noise levels emanating from Dirk’s resting place almost surely belied his claims that he refrained from carnal knowledge, but both Scott and William admired the audacious lying since it reminded them so much of their own work. “Finally,” they thought, “Dirk is giving up that effete poetry kind of lying and really laying down some awesome, he-man Hemingway-type of fiction lying.” This comforted them, somewhat, though Dirk had seemed to become much more distracted ever since the Tallahassee Smerz-Transcriber had published an exposé of Dirk’s cult in which they noted that Dirk’s school transcripts did not support his declaration that he had been fully trained in clinical hypnosis and transcendental Rolfing. The latter didn’t even exist, the Tallahassee paper announced smugly. As if a little thing like credentials could derail Dirk’s sacred mission.

Still, both William and Scott agreed that they should keep an eye on their co-author, as well as stop the annoying habit of doing everything in tandem. “They were individuals, dammit!” they shouted loudly, at no one in particular. “Dang, it’s happening again! What’s with this simultaneous thought, speech, and action Siamese-twin effect?” A sobering thought hit them: perhaps they had been co-opted into Dirk’s cult without them even realizing it; perhaps he was at that very moment controlling their lives, putting words in their mouths, even manufacturing the thoughts they were allowed to think. But if that were the case, then even this realization would be the result of Dirk’s cruel machinations, a way of starkly revealing the limits of their free will, shining a spotlight on their chains.

After their reading in the University Bookstore, everyone ended up at the Oronoko Restaurant, which specialized in deep-fat fried food. Even the beer was deep-fat fried. At least the reading had gone fairly smoothly. The audience was small, so chances to insult them were reduced. Dirk managed to choke out a couple of poems before the black karma of the place incapacitated him. Scott and William used his limp body as a prop to finish off the evening before returning it to his frantic disciples who began bickering over who would get to perform the first full-body massage.
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Read 4/8/99
at Brown University
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