I know someone who likes conspiracy theories.
It’s all of us; we all like conspiracy theories.
We’re wired to link disparate events and people, finding hidden connections and uncovering the meaning we so desperately crave. It gives us the advantage over our less sentient co-animals, but it can lead to some pretty crazy ideas, too.
Like this blog post, for example.
I was at The Bar in the Middle of the Road one evening, in Carolina Beach, NC. It had another name, but I don’t remember it now; we only ever called it “the Bar in the Middle of the Road.”
I liked that bar. It was lodged awkwardly in a fork of the main road. What they lacked in ambiance, they made up for in absurdity. Who puts a bar in the middle of the road?
It was there that I first (and last) tried Rasputin Imperial Stout. It ranks as the darkest, thickest, stoutest stout I’ve ever drank. Look at the picture on the bottle; it tastes like the expression on that gnarly mystic’s face. It tastes dangerous.
Outside the Bar in the Middle of the Road, a man was playing music, trying to be heard above the roar of traffic. He had a karaoke machine that kept accompaniment while he sang and played intermittently on his guitar. Never before or since have I seen a performer rely on a karaoke machine.
He asked for requests from the (small) crowd, plugged the song into his machine, and sang along, strumming the guitar when he saw fit, all the while making snarky comments about the patrons’ song choices and looking at the crowd with a clear sense of disdain. Who’s judging who, here, sir?
“Any suggestions?” he asked, sure we’d name the lamest songs ever.
Rasputin in hand, I called out over the rush of cars, “James Taylor.”
“Oh what? ‘Carolina in My Mind’? ‘Fire and Rain’?” he asked with a sneer.
“‘Millworker,'” I said. A dare. No one knows “Millworker”.
His face cleared; he turned off the machine. “I actually know that one.”
He played “Millworker” beautifully, soulfully, authentically. Everyone stopped talking to listen. The cars buzzed on.
He finished, and our eyes met. Yes, that’s a good song.
James Taylor’s “Millworker” was written for a Broadway play, for use in a scene about a steelworker’s struggles.
“Yes, but it’s my life, has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool”
I’m currently reading David Cecelski’s blog post, “The Revolt of the Lint Dodgers: The Lumberton Cotton Mill Workers of 1937.” I like ALL his work, which is extensive, so don’t be surprised if I mention him repeatedly.
“Revolt” details the strike of 1930s cotton mill workers less than two hours away from the Bar in the Middle of the Road. The work days were long, the pay low, the hazards high. The workers were as young as twelve (or younger, pitching in to help mom); they lived in homes owned by the mill company. The work was becoming faster-paced, more grueling, less humane. Their bodies and lives were tools of the mill owners. Cecelski’s story highlights how they (mostly peaceably) pushed for changes in this system.
Rasputin was the spiritual advisor to the last Emperor of Russia and his family (including Princess Anastasia, featured in a Disney movie). The last Emperor became the last Emperor because the working class rose up against him in dissatisfaction with working conditions and social inequalities, non-peaceably. Rasputin unwittingly helped their cause by giving bad press and bad advise to the monarchy.
I once attended an anarchist meeting. That’s what they said they were, which sounded exciting to a first-year college student with a love of punk music. But it was a bunch of talk about labor laws abroad, the World Trade Organization, and other peoples’ revolutions. Turns out I wasn’t serious about anarchy, after all; I just wanted to stick up an occasional middle finger to the Man.
So where am I going with this?
If you drink Rasputin beer while listening to a song about the struggles of millworkers, in a bar a few hours from an old unionized mill town, and you once attended an anarchist meeting, and you find a connection between those events, you’re either a conspiracy theorist or a writer. I choose writer.
The “Writer’s Digest Handbook of Novel Writing” (I already read the updated one; now I’m reading the 90s version) calls this “segmented reality.” Call it what you will; it’s the stuff that stories are made of.
Photo: Bernt Rostad from Oslo, Norway, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons