My Strange Encounter With "Q"
July 26, 2021
Though I'm certain no one will believe it, I offer this account exactly as it happened, for the world to make of as it will.
The call came in just as the PBS News Hour was wrapping up. He—or she?—I'll call it he—speaking through one of those voice-changer gadgets, familiar to fans of crime-thriller movies, producing a weird spooky sound, like someone talking under water.
ME: Hello? [Static, followed by some odd clicks.] Hello!
Another click, followed by:
SPOOK VOICE: Do you write for that blog?
ME: What blog?
SPOOK: Tholos of Athena.
ME: Who wants to know?
SPOOK: Meet me at the Hollow Leg on Rosedale.
ME: Who is this? [More clicks.] Hello? Hello!
SPOOK VOICE garbled. Then:
SPOOK: This is Q.
SPOOK: As in QAnon—fool.
ME: QAnon? Ha ha ha ha! You're full of shit.
SPOOK: Meet me at the Hollow Leg and find out for yourself, liberal scumbag.
ME: Hey, watch it, there!
SPOOK: You got half an hour, then I'm outta here.
ME: Fuck you. I'm in the middle of dinner. Besides, you got the wrong party. I don't write for Tholos anymore.
SPOOK: What about Crossroad Vertigo?
ME: . . . .
SPOOK: The clock is running, Fido. Come alone.
ME: Hey, how do I know you're—[Click!] Hey! Hello? Hello?
I sit there awhile, finger-drumming on the desk. Phone rings again. I pick it up, listening.
VOICE: Hey. . .
ME: Is that you, Chuck?
My cousin, Chuck. forty-years-old, sandy blonde hair, built like a pit-bull, worked outside all his life. Rule of thumb: Don't mess with Chuck.
CHUCK: Everything all right?
ME: I don't know. I got a weird call just now.
CHUCK: Yeah? Who from?
ME: Some crackpot calling himself “Q.”
CHUCK: No shit? What's he calling you for?
ME: Beats me.
CHUCK: What does he want?
ME: Wants me to meet him at Ray's Hollow Leg. He gave me till 7:30, then he's leaving.
CHUCK: That's less than twenty minutes. Are you going?
ME: Naw. He's a nut-job. Why don't you come over here. I'll put some burgers on the grill—we'll find something on NETFLIX.
Chuck just lives up the alley from me. He stayed on his cellphone on the way over. By the time he arrived, he had me talked into going, with him along for back-up.
7:25: Ray's Hollow Leg Lounge:
Barely made it. It's a seat-yourself set-up. Donning our masks, I tell Chuck to hang back a little so we don't look like we're together, then stand there scoping the place out. Last time I was here was before the pandemic. Then, it was a lively working-class bar and grill with old-style rock and roll and a funky festive atmosphere. Now, I hardly recognize the place. At half capacity, Ray's patrons look a little careworn, the ever-twinkling, cheerful pin-lights—pocked with burned-out gaps—seem to struggle against the dark. Still, everybody seems cheerful in a subdued way. Only the waiters are masked.
Music: Allman Brothers—“Tied To The Whipping Post.”
Then, I spot him—or is it her?—an ace in the far corner. No mask. She looks up at my approach.
ME: Are you—?
Q: Yeah—sit down.
Definitely a male voice. Maybe a boy disguised as a girl. Floral skirt, satin red blouse, razor-cut blonde bob with a blue streak on one side that hides half her face. She seems pretty tense.
Q: I thought you weren't coming.
ME: Well, here I am, honey. Now, what do you want?—I got things to do.
Q [Face suddenly purple]: Listen fuckwad, DON'T FUCK WITH ME! I don't take shit off liberal scum-bags, all right? I call the shots here, so don't rush me!
ME [Leaning into her, shouting right back in her face]: Look here, you fascist creep, I don't take shit off purveyors of make-believe! You address me like that again, I'll do your dick surgery for free!
Just then, Chuck strolls up, grinning—”Oh, hey, Cuz, fancy meeting you here! Who's your little friend?” Q about has a shit-fit (“I told you to come alone!”), threatens to “flee the interview.” I tell her not to worry, Chuck's my cousin. “He's okay, you can trust him,” etc. We finally get her calmed down, after a bumpy start. She sits there, fuming. Finally, Chuck breaks the silence.
CHUCK: I like your hairdo, man. Miss. [She shoots him a dagger. Chuck smiles.] Beer anyone?
It's on Chuck. He refills her Merlot. Shiners for us. We drop our masks. Chuck wastes no time knocking down half a bottle. Bits of leaves and grass fall from the sleeve of his flannel as he wipes his mouth. On Q's frown, Chuck sweeps the chaff off the table.
CHUCK: Sorry! I work outside. So, you're Q, huh? Man, I never would have guessed. Can I have your autograph?
I shoot Chuck a look. He answers with a look that says, “What? What'd I say?” Q looks at her drink, sulking.
ME: Is that what you want us to call you? Q?
Q: Unless you take back what you said, I'm leaving this joint right now.
Q: The dick remark—I didn't care for that.
ME: Okay. You're right. My apologies. Now, what do we call you?
Q: Call me Ursula.
I print her name at the top of my steno-pad, her eyes flit nervously with my every move. Chuck flashes his Cheshire grin:
CHUCK: That's not your real name, is it?
ME [Quickly jumping in]: Uh, what he means, Ursula—we naturally assume you're traveling incognito.
She hesitates. Then—
Q: I can't stay with one name too long, so I trade them out. I use my ancestor's names.
Q: Ursula was my great-grandmother's name. It's my favorite. I always come back to that one. I've gone clear back to my 14th great-grandmother. Anna Theresa Gomez—my second most fav—
She stops herself, realizing her mistake.
ME: Gomez? You mean you—you come from Hispanic heritage?
Q: I slipped up there. I'd prefer you didn't print that.
ME: Afraid of offending your white supremacist followers?
Q: I can't help what everybody believes. I'm not really into that racist shit, myself. I just believe in the Truth.
ME: That's refreshing.
CHUCK [Raising his mug]:Here's to Truth—in all her abject loneliness!I'm amazed you know your family so far back, Ursula.
Q: I researched it myself. That's what I do—research. Data gathering, probability theory, that kind of thing. Actually, if you want to know, my ancestor, Anna Theresa, worked in the court of Queen Isabella in Spain.
CHUCK: No shit.
Q: I don't mean to brag, but it was she who introduced Christopher Columbus to the Queen in 1492. The rest is history.
ME: Is that a fact?
Q: It is indeed. Look it up if you don't believe me.
ME: I imagine your followers would like to know about that, Ursula.
Q: Really? You think they would?
CHUCK [with a chuckle]: They might even overlook the fact that Columbus was an immigrant.
Q looks at him hard.
ME: Don't mind him, he's just being a smart-ass. So, if you don't mind my asking, why me, Ursula?
Q [Still guarded]: What do you mean?
ME: I assume you chose me for a reason.
Q: I don't know. Why not you? I've been cooped up for too long. I wanted to get out and walk around. Get off the deer trails. I'm sick of preaching to the choir. The choir has become corrupt. They're reading too much into everything. It's getting weird. If Trump farts into his hand and sniffs it, they think it's the signal for Armageddon, the last battle for the soul of the planet. Did you watch them breach the Capitol? Did you see what they did? They organized. They marched. They battled their way in. And then what? They fell apart. Wandered around, like lost children, taking selfies with the cops. Then, with nothing better to do, they trashed the place, like a gang of delinquents vandalizing a school. I mean, really? Trashing offices? Throwing papers on the floor? Is that the kind of army George Washington took across the Delaware in the dead of winter? Or stood with Stonewall at Manassas?
Chuck polishes off his beer. Sleeve-wipe again. More grass clippings.
CHUCK: I thought they were out of their fucking minds, myself. Waitress! [He catches her eye, holding up a finger.] Keep talking, honey, I love all that Civil War shit.
She looks at him, frowning. I had to admit I was impressed with her eloquence. Naturally, I realized that she (or he) could be an impostor, but how could we prove it?
The waitress arrives with Chuck's beer. I was a tad worried—Chuck can get a little rowdy on the sauce.
At this moment a party of five comes barging in off the street, all laughing, talking loud. One of them, a beer-gut with a ponytail, hollers out: “I hope there aren't any liberals in this dive!” More laughter as they head for a nearby table. Chuck glares at them, balefully.
ME: Easy, Chuck. . .
CHUCK: Did you bring those people with you, Ursula?
CHUCK: Are they your followers?
Q: Don't be ridiculous.
CHUCK: I bet they believe in you, though. Why don't we call them over and ask them. I'll introduce you.
Q: Don't do me any favors, honey.
CHUCK: Come on, it'll be fun. You can hand out your autograph.
ME: Chuck—SHUT UP! [To the waitress, still standing there.] Sorry, Miss.
WAITRESS [She smiles pleasantly.] Anything else?
ME: I'll have another. How 'bout you Ursula? Another Merlot?
Q: Yeah. And, um. . .Do you have honey-buns?
Q: What kind?
WAITRESS: Little Debbie.
Q: Oh, good, I'll have two.
WAITRESS: You want 'em heated, honey?
The waitress writes it down.
CHUCK: Hey, I'll have one of those.
ME: Me, too.
ME: Yeah, heated. And another beer.
WAITRESS: Right. So, that's four Little Debbies, a Merlot and two beers.
She hurries off. MUSIC: Dion—“The Wanderer.” I ask Ursula how she found me.
Q: It wasn't easy. In the blogosphere, you're practically non-existent. A zero. Crossroad Vertigo?—what's that? It took me three weeks to find you. And I'm good at finding people.
ME: Thanks. But if I'm such a zero, why talk to me?
Q: Where's your faith in yourself? Everyone starts out a zero. I was a zero. Now, I'm Q. See, you're a test for me.
ME: A test?
Q: Uncharted territory. I'm sick of the same old followers. I wanted someone pure. Seeking you out is like dipping my feet in an unsullied stream. I watched all those people roaming through the Capitol with their Confederate flags, their guns and those Brunhilde viking horns, and suddenly, I thought: this is no army. Just a rabble of preschoolers running amok, playing with their toys. That's what the gun movement is about, you know. It's a fetish left over from childhood. The AK-47, the preferred weapon of mass shooters, is just the actual working version of the plastic replica they grew up playing with around the house, the one that lights up and goes—rat-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-tat! Fifty years ago, it was the Tommy Gun. Remember? The weapon used by Machine Gun Kelly and the FBI. They ran ads for them in the backs of comic-books.
CHUCK: How do you know all this?
Q: I told you, man. Research. I'm a deep-diver into the culture. See, that's what it's all about. Know your audience. Get so you can crawl around in their heads and locate all the furniture. The NRA's a deep-diver, too. They know the psychology. That's why they brought out the little AK for kids six years and up. Get 'em started young, right? Why have a toy when you can have the real thing? See, they're playing right into the fantasies of their gun-toting daddies who would have loved to have a real AK at that age, and now they can play out the fantasy through their snot-nosed brats, most of whom can barely read or do their times tables.
ME: Maybe teaching them math is less important than training them to be killers.
Q: Maybe it is.
CHUCK: I think education's over-rated, myself. By the time I was ten, I could dress out a deer. Could you do that, Ursula?
Q: Do what?
CHUCK: Dress out a deer?
Q: Honey, I don't even like guns. Besides, I'm a vegan.
CHUCK: No shit. You hear that, Cuz? Q is a vegan.
I had to admit, Ursula was not living up to my preconceived notions of who or what I thought Q would be. I finish off my beer, print the word “VEGAN” in the margin with a question mark. Meanwhile, the loudmouths nearby seem to be getting louder and more obnoxious. Chuck keeps staring at them. They stare back. One of them feigns a nose-scratch with his fuck-finger. Not a good sign.
MUSIC: Creedence—“Bad Moon Rising.”
ME: So, Ursula, it seems like you don't have a whole lot of respect for your followers.
Q [She shrugs]: It's hard to respect people who have to have all their thinking done for them.
ME: Aren't you worried some of them might find you on my blog?
Q: You're kidding, right?
ME: Well, it is possible.
Q: Yeah? So is winning the World Series of Poker. Don't you see? For me, appearing on your blog is an act of faith.
CHUCK: Faith in what?
Q: That the right people will find me, even as they found me before. I may even convert some of your liberal scum readers.
ME: Very funny.
Q: No, I'm serious. You're perfect for my purposes.
CHUCK: And what is your purpose, Miss Q?
Q: To disrupt, what else? Short out the system. Pull out the wires, scramble 'em, and hook 'em up again. You see, I consider myself an artist. Every artist knows that only out of chaos can something new flourish and grow.
ME: Such as what?
CHUCK: Fascism, probably.
Q: Oh, that's good. Real funny. So, how's this democracy thing working for you boys? Got everything you need? Things are looking a little shabby, wouldn't you say? I notice you got over half-a-million homeless, now, thousands working full-time, living in their cars. Parents skipping meals so their kids can eat. And here's your shiny new president—won't even stand for a living wage. Did you know 48,000 people killed themselves last year? Same number that died from lack of healthcare. Funny, ain't it? And Medicare-For-All? Not even on the table! IN A PANDEMIC! Excuse me, but FUCK YOU! The question shouldn't be why a few thousand people stormed the Capitol on January 6th, but how come so many millions were too chicken-shit to join them!
CHUCK: She's right, I guess. At least Hitler got the trains running on time.
Q: That's right. When you Liberals run out of arguments, just trot out Hitler.
ME: You're starting to sound kinda liberal, yourself, Ursula.
Q: Don't insult my intelligence. If it weren't for Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the PBS Newshour, you people wouldn't know what to think. Well, you got what you wanted—four more years of make-believe change.
The waitress arrives with our order, filling the air with the sugary scent of warm honey-buns. The table falls silent, as we chew into our cozy soft breads.
MUSIC: Doobie Brothers—“Jesus Is Just All Right.”
ME: So, tell us about the pandemic.
Q: What do you want to know?
ME: You think it's real?
Q: Sure it's real. Of course it is.
ME: A lot of your followers think it's a hoax put out by the secret cabal of Satanic pedophiles.
Q: My “followers”—bless their hearts—are True Believers.
CHUCK: What's a True Believer?
Q: Someone who worships unconditionally.
CHUCK: You mean, like—belief in God?
Q: Could be God or Money, War or Q. Makes no difference. It all leads to the same place.
CHUCK: Where's that?
Q: Where else? To the cleft, the crack, in the witch's cauldron—where raw emotion and magical thinking bubble and toil. Through that cleft, a vast dreamscape opens up, in which the ties to reason and rational thought have been severed, along with the attachments to reality. The True Believer is flying in a reality-free world, in which any thought or whim, no matter how absurd, is possible. Imagine the power of that! The euphoria! Science and reason are shit-canned. What's left of Reality is a fairy tale, where all roads lead to Oz and all flights terminate in Neverland. That's why my devoted followers—few of whom I think we can safely say spend more than a few hours a year between the covers of a book (and they're all the wrong books)—will believe whatever I tell them. If I send out a Q-bomb tonight telling them there are little green gnomes inside the ATM machines spitting the money out along with a receipt, and that all those elves voted for Biden, what do you think will happen? I'll tell you: they'll cut up their ATM cards, and tomorrow morning, Yahoo News will be speckled with reports of ATM machines mysteriously pipe-bombed in the middle of the night.
Chuck chokes on his beer, chuckling. Eyes slightly red.
Q: What's so funny?
CHUCK: Aw, you're just so full of it, Ursula!
Q: That shows what you know. [She looks at me.] Listen, I didn't come here to be insulted.
ME: I know. I'm sorry. Chuck doesn't mean any harm. Do you, Chuck?
CHUCK: Naw, no harm, man. Just cancel me!
CHUCK: Put a gag on me!
He claps an empty on the table. Ursula jumps a little. We look at him.
ME: Chuck. . .
ME: You're starting to act like a drunk person.
Suddenly, at the Rowdies table, Ponytail calls out:
PONYTAIL: Hey, baby, let's put on some shit-kicker music—get this party in gear!
Whereupon Ponytail's wife, puts coin in the juke and up pops Lynyrd Skynryd--”Sweet Home Alabama.” They start a sing-along, clapping to the tune.
CHUCK: Who are those knuckleheads?
Some of them look over.
CHUCK: Okay, okay, I'll be nice!
Just then, a woman and her son walk in, masks firmly in place. On seeing them, Ponytail hollers: “Look, everybody, it's Little Joe Biden!” Which gets a big laugh. The woman whispers something to the boy, leaves him for a moment, walks over to them.
WOMAN: S'cuse me, sir, are you talking to us?
PONYTAIL [Feigning innocence]: Is there a problem?
WOMAN: It sounded like you called my son a name. What did you call him?
Ponytail starts to laugh nervously. His wife cuts in:
PONYTAIL'S WIFE: Hey, lighten up, honey, we're just having a little fun, here.
WOMAN: I guess your boy-friend, or whatever he is, thinks he's a real he-man, picking on children half his size.
WIFE: Now, just a minute—
BARTENDER [Rapping the bar with a shot-glass.]: All right, y'all just take it easy.
SECOND MAN: Don't worry about it, Mack. This woman just needs a man—that'll smooth her out.
WOMAN: Thanks—soon as I find one in here, I'll let you know. Meanwhile, if this tub thinks he's man enough, I'll whip his ass myself.
Laughter and applause from nearby tables. Suddenly, Chuck shoves his chair back with a loud screech.
CHUCK: I'LL HELP HER OUT!
BARTENDER: You stay outta this! Now, if you folks can't behave yourselves, then you can all just get the hell out and I'll close the damn doors! Are we clear?
This has a nice quieting effect on the whole place. The woman stares down her antagonist a moment longer, then, returning to her son, they quietly move on to the bar. Chuck settles back in his chair. Pause.
Q: That was chivalrous of you, honey, but I don't think she needed your help.
Chuck says nothing for a moment. Toys with his honey-bun. MUSIC: Tammy Wynette—“Stand By Your Man.”
CHUCK: So—you live around here or what?
Q [She smiles]: Why, honey? Wanna take me home?
CHUCK: No thanks.
Q: Actually, I move around quite a bit. I don't stay in one place too long.
CHUCK: I wouldn't either.
Q: What do you mean by that?
CHUCK: Well, I'm just saying, if your followers knew what you looked like. . .I mean, if they knew you were. . .
Q: Go on say it. I'm a Trannie, so what?
CHUCK: They'd string you up on the Capitol steps.
CHUCK: No maybe's about it, sweet-cakes. And your hero, Trump, would lead the lynch party. You won't see Biden doing that.
Q: No, you're right, of course. We're his pets.
CHUCK: Aw, come on, old Joe's all right. A little ditsy sometimes, but so was Reagan. And everybody loved that goofball.
Q: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Now, that is funny. See, you're the reason I'm such a success. My whole strategy depends on people like you.
CHUCK: What are you talking about? What strategy?
She hesitates, looking first at me, then Chuck.
Q: Like I said, find out their obsessions. Their triggers.
Q: What sets them off. God, gays, and guns, right? It's so easy. Like poking a stick in a fire ants' nest. Meanwhile, healthcare, a living wage, affordable college—and it's click-click, a dead switch. Nary a beep on their radar. Why do you think that is? Then there's the much larger sublist: abortion, socialism, Hillary Clinton, Muslims, Putin, Hamas, border-wall. . . all this meaningless mumbo-jumbo crawling around in their worm-eaten brains. For real insight into the culture, look at YouTube, right? Notice anything? School boards across the country under attack by raging cave-dwellers so freaked their heads are ready to explode. Over what? Critical Race Theory! And these gibbons don't even know what it is! Anymore than your parents or grandparents bothered to know what Communism was when it was the witch du jour. Not a fuckin' clue. But let's be honest: it doesn't matter, does it? They're just names, labels. They don't mean anything. All the meaning has been wrung out of them. Say the words--“Hillary Clinton,” “abortion,” “socialism”—and poof!—you've by-passed the brain and gone straight for the gut—to pure animal instinct. Like pushing a button that sends juice to the doorbell. And make no mistake, honey, you liberals have your triggers, too. In fact, if you look close, you'll see your triggers are almost identical to theirs. You just react to them differently.
CHUCK: Aw, you're crazy!
Q: I'm crazy? So, what do you want, man? You want people voting for Trump? Or for the other guy? There's hardly any difference. You just think your triggers are superior to theirs.
CHUCK: No, no, you're dead wrong!
Q: Listen, honey, the hot-buttons that inspired the mob to assault the Capitol are the same ones that got you to vote for Biden.
CHUCK [Slamming his fist down]: BULLSHIT!
ME: Easy, Chuck!
CHUCK [On his feet, fists clenched]: SHE'S SO FULL OF IT, MAN! !
Q [Cool]: Is he gonna hit me or what?
ME: I don't know, he might.
Chuck stands there, fuming, the Bartender and the Rowdies watching him. Q finally shrugs.
Q: Okay, I'm full of shit. But if you think the Democrats are your true-blue pals, your best chance to end the Forever Wars, make peace with Putin, stop nuclear proliferation, bring Medicare-For-All, or make any real effort to stop the planet from roasting us alive, then you might as well go with the other side that believes the Democrats are child-eating pedophiles. See, it's not really how different you are from them. No, honey, quite the opposite. It's how much you are alike.
CHUCK: Fuck you, man. Hey, waitress!
He goes off. Pause.
Q: I think I touched a nerve.
ME: Chuck's kinda sensitive.
Chuck heads for the bar. I signal the waitress. Q checks her watch.
Q: I should be going, I guess.
ME: How about another Merlot? On me.
Q: All right, but then I've got a plane to catch.
ME: Where to? [She merely smiles. I shrug.] Can't blame me for asking.
The waitress takes our order. Chuck returns with a fresh beer, flops in his seat, looking surly at Q.
Q: Sorry I upset you, Hoss.
CHUCK: Don't call me Hoss.
Awkward silence. The waitress returns with wine for Q, a Shiner for me and fresh honey-buns.
ME: So you think we're no different from the far right?
Q [Again, she shrugs]: We all shit in the same outhouse. The point is, once you by-pass the brain, then you got complete control. That's where I come in. In a way, I'm just a glorified dog trainer. Think about it. You couldn't want for easier subjects. What else is a trigger but the equivalent of a simple command? “Sit,” “stay,” “roll-over,” “fetch.” A dog doesn't need to know the meanings of those words. He's just reacting to the sound, to the instinct the sound triggers.
She sips her wine. We sit there, letting the warm cinnamon blanket our palates. MUSIC: The Doors—“Riders On The Storm.”
Q: Ooh, I love this song. . .
ME [Looking up, surprised]: You know the Doors? Jim Morrison?
Q: Are you kidding? Light My Fire, Love Me Two Times, Break On Through. . . Morrison's a prophet, man.
CHUCK: Listen to her, she sounds like a hippie.
ME: But you're just a child.
Q: I told you, I'm a deep-diver into the culture. Knowledge is power, you know.
Pause. . .
CHUCK: So, that's what it's about. . .
Q: What's that, Hoss?
CHUCK: You said you care about the truth, but that's a lie.
Q: Is it?
CHUCK: What you care about is power, pure and simple. You're just a power-mad manipulator, spouting a lot of crap which you know to be untrue so you can sit back and watch what happens. [Q looks at him, smiling.]What do you think, Cuz?
ME [a shrug]: Maybe so.
Q: Wow—check out Holmes and Watson solving a puzzle!
CHUCK: You like stirring the hornets' nest, don't you, watching a bunch of people go off their rockers and storm the Capitol. Maybe next time you'll touch off a civil war.
Q: Listen to yourselves. You Liberals are so self-righteous. Those people were already off their rockers before I showed up. You know how many of your fellow Americans believed the lie that Saddam Hussein was connected to the Trade Center Attack? Seventy-five percent! That's right, Hoss. I was like twelve-years-old and even I knew that was a dumpster load of excrement. See?—you can't outwit me. I've got all the numbers, all the stats. Up next—it's Obama. All these goof-balls claiming he wasn't born here. Can you believe it? Kids are going hungry in this country, more people homeless than ever before, and we're arguing over whether some neoliberal servant of Wall Street and Goldman Sachs was born here or not. Anderson Cooper is showing these monkeys his birth certificate and they still don't believe it. You could show them a chicken crossing the road and they'd swear it was a giraffe. Then, what? Then, DRUM ROLL!—Annnnd, it's Alex Jones!—Infowars, right?—this hooligan, this flipped-out kraken, going around saying the shooting at Sandy Hook was a fake. Yeah—a fake! Twenty children and six adults gunned down. First graders, right?—six-, seven-years-old. And the parents?—they're just fucked, man, they're walking around paralyzed, in shock, like the bug-eyed survivors of some bombed-out village, and not just them, but the aunts and uncles and grandparents, and neighbors and friends. And Jones is saying it didn't happen, telling his followers—who number in the millions and hang on his every word like he's the Prophet Isaiah—that the parents and their dead children are all actors, it's a government plot staged to promote stricter gun laws. And, to top it off, out of nowhere, out of some putrid rancid cauldron of raw sewage burps this orange hollow man, this freak with a weird comb-over—candidate for President—and he's—he's like—praising this degenerate psychopath, who should be locked away in an institution, tube-fed a diet of warm soup and Thorazine—calling him a patriot. “I'll stand by you,” he says, “I won't let you down.” And you think I pushed these fuck-wits off their rockers? That's a laugh.
ME: Then, why keep lying to them, Ursula? Why don't you tell them the truth?
CHUCK: Yeah—become a Truth Agent.
Q: A what? A Truth Agent? What planet are you from, boy? You want to know what the truth is? I'll tell you. It's a rusted out crumbling old junker left to rot in a salvage yard miles from nowhere. Both headlights busted out. Nothing left on it worth selling. The few pathetic idealists still peddling that stuff—God help them—are so blind they don't even know they're obsolete. Gone the way of encyclopedia salesmen and the milkman. Poor schmucks might as well be talking to each other in Sanskrit. No one listens to them, let alone understands a word they're saying.
CHUCK: I wouldn't go that far.
Q: Oh, please! They're mud clerks looking for steamboats. In this world, I daresay, they'd have greater success as vampire hunters.
ME: So you decide—what? To double-down on the lies?
CHUCK: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. . .
Q: I just thought. . .I don't know. I had to do something, you know? I couldn't just sit back and. . .I mean, after Sandy Hook, all this shit going down, I realized we were no longer operating in a rational universe. I also knew—beyond a doubt—that the truth wasn't worth a thin dime in this depraved marketplace. So, I thought—I had this fantasy—if I could just come up with a lie big enough, you know, the biggest whopper I could think of, that it would be like—well, like the last card, the joker that brings the whole house of cards crashing down. I mean, like, Woodrow Wilson, you know?
ME: Woodrow Wilson?
Q: The “war to end all wars?” I would tell the lie “to end all lies.” So I. . .I came up with. . . Pizzagate.
ME: That was you?
Q: Yeah, that was me. That was my baby.
CHUCK: Fuck. I thought it was Alex Jones.
Q: Alex Jones, Breitbart, the CIA, they're just bugs, parasites sucking up whatever I throw out. Jones is a tick, so engorged he can hardly walk.
ME: Does anyone else know this?
Q: You're the first person I've told.
CHUCK: Holy shit, Cuz, it's a scoop! You've scooped the fucking internet.
ME: Unfortunately your “lie to end all lies” backfired.
Q: Look, I never kidded myself, okay? I knew the entire alt-right raging nut-wing was crazy. In fact, they've been crazy as far back as Reagan. Hell, they've always been crazy. Opening day of Shakespeare's Macbeth, those bedbugs standing ankle-deep in the mud of the Globe Theater actually believed the witches were real. Fast forward four-hundred-years, and now it's Alex Jones calling Hillary Clinton a demon from hell who smells of sulfur. I mean—really. Hillary Clinton? In a normal world this money-grubber and her husband are nothing but a pair of garden-variety fascists! Pickpockets for the Empire.
ME: And they all went for it. . .
Q: I thought it would be the punchline, you know? Comic Ping-Pong? Satanic child-abuse? Cannibalism! I was expecting a collective howl of laughter that would last for days and leave all the other lies in tatters. But no. They went for it. Sucked it up. Then suddenly, it leaped and spread like the Delta variant. There was no stopping it. Practically all of Trump's supporters jumped on it, like fleas on a pariah dog—Don, Jr., Ann Coulter, Eric Prince, Roger Stone. Sixty-six people on Trump's campaign staff all sitting up late at night in their hotel rooms tweeting Pizzagate. Next thing I know, it's all over the world. The only thing I could do finally was just. . .claim it.
CHUCK: So. . .you're just another lying sack of shit. Right?
She smiles. No reply.
We sat for awhile in silence. I had one more question I wanted to ask her, but I knew we were talked out, so I let it go. . .
Closing time. The waitress brought our checks; no one said much as we made for the exit. MUSIC: Dylan—“Knockin' On Heaven's Door.”
Outside, the pavement was wet—we just missed the rain. We thanked Ursula—Q, if that's who she really was. Then, raising the hood of her jacket, she nodded quietly, turned and headed up the street. We watched her for a moment. Vaguely, I wondered how she would get to the airport. Then, I glanced at my watch, Chuck stared at the ground, shaking his head quietly. When we looked up again, she was gone.