‘I mean, c’mon. It’s his focus. I mean look at him. He’s really flowing you can tell. it’s in his posture. Some people say body language doesn’t mean anything, it’s all hokum. But fuck that. He’s on fire. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this.’ Flip Barton pronounced.
Burt Hartley, arms folded let it fly past. Who’s to say, really. Without anything else to go on he could be right. And there was no denying the motion. That was fact. It might all be gobbledygook, but it was certainly coming out pretty quick and fairly steady. Still, he wouldn’t concede. For all that the talking heads credited to ‘process’ there was not real direct line you could spot in the moment, especially watching on TV. In a crowded bar no less.
‘I don’t know man. Maybe.’, said Burt with the air of an arbiter entitled to an opinion on the matter. ‘I mean there’s no denying the pace. That said, pace is not correlated with quality. Some guys have both, but it’s a fools game to presume causation. More often it’s correlation. That said, I’m more struck by the focus. He seems oblivious to his own context. A passenger on a journey of his own making. If nothing else, he’s certainly lost in it.’
They’d been arguing the point for years. Simple analysis versus informed interpretation. More often than not the odds favored Burt. He was the one with some context after all. His novels weren’t trendy, though they had an audience. Not a consistent one, but a big enough one to be sure. Besides, his two short story collections had won awards and were nearly perfectly scored on the aggregating sites.
‘A passenger on a journey of his own making? Really.’ Flip wasn’t one to let that kind of puffed up nonsense just float.
But before Burt could even turn his head to try to save face the air left the room. The noise had stopped and the afternoon crowd here for the Scriptships were stunned.
‘Well, that’s a first.’ Flip said, eyes locked on the screen over the bar.
Liston Maize was frozen at his keyboard.
‘Listen to Parnell. If anything I think his pace is picking up.’, said Burt. ‘I mean, shit. That’s focus. Show him.’
‘Are you kidding me. Maize has never edited in a first draft before. Is he reading or deleting? Jesus. What a disaster.’, said Flip.
After a few minutes the ambient noise of the day drinking revelers who had hoped to see a truly competetive match succumbed to the simple pleasures of day drinking with like minded friends as the network scrambled to make the analysis of a match already decided compelling.
Back in the booth Flip and Burt continued the dance they had been dancing for years.
‘Truth is there’s been signs.’, argued Burt.
Flip laughed. ‘You’re going to try the ‘called it’ maneuver on Liston Maize melting down in the Pen Ultimate. Honestly man, come on.’
Burt chuckled. ‘No, but that’s fair. I’m just saying, he hasn’t been ‘Liston Maize’ in years. I’m not saying I saw this coming, but come on, we can’t be that surprised. I mean, he’s out of shape, he’s drinking again and did you see how early he went to the glasses. He’s like late 80’s Kareem or mid 80’s Stevie Wonder. His best days have been behind him for a while is all I’m saying.’
Flip had long since given up their fantasies of writing competitively. Or rather they had put them away in their drawers and on their desktops. Still, it was a national pastime to imagine yourself on that stage.
‘I just wish they’d move it from Oxford. The south is rich with writers but putting it there permanently dismisses the New England School. And even the suggestion that it is insulting to the Yanks is laughable when you consider the western traditions. Sure they ain’t as long, but Hollywood was recruiting early and that sweep spread the word out west. What about the cowboy poets.’
They both smiled. The long days journey had them now squarely in the midst of the night. Boozy and bored they knew that when the ‘Cowboy poets’ were argued for they’d reached the end of their evening.
It was like that every year. Not the extraordinary and disappointing fall of a great like Maize. No, this competition, this historic day for watching creative intellects perform was a part of the fabric. No amount of stories about PED’s and drug fueled creative binges was ever going to stop the masses from indulging in the sport of it all, the pageantry. And surely, for Flip and Burt a night like this would fuel weeks of midnight toiling, play acting like the masters. It would fuel months of hope as they worked to create anything that might give them a moment in the sun. A moment that would never happen for the tens of millions who dreamed. But the dream was the prize. The work was enough. And until next year, well, they’d have a lot to talk about.