Tonight's Feature

VX

We were the leaders of a secret association of Bob Dylan fans, living exclusively in a Boles Aero, where bells of iron, brass, and silver along the walnut ceiling would tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. Below this gentle singing, we plumbed the depths of obscure message boards, amassing information about the assassination of Kim Jong-nam. Laptops whirred. We took no food—sipped brown powders stirred into our oolong. No sleep. Scrolling—into darker and darker corners, a new developing picture of the world doing the work of our dreams. And in 48 hours we had exhausted what the internet could tell us, knowing more than our own country about how the estranged brother of the ruthless and etiolated North Korean dictator met his death while waiting in line at an airport in Kuala Lumpur. News outlets still asked, Who really ordered those two women to put poison on their hands and rub it across the victim’s face? Could the women truly have believed they were in a gameshow and not in real life? But in the Boles Aero, phone calls came in without ringing. Slightly accented voices spoke softly in our ears to answer our few remaining questions—What other poisons might have worked? How did the women prevent self-ingestion? What protection can conspirators expect from China? . . .

We ended the calls. We admit that we smelled a little. New candids were up on WiggleWiggle: Bob slipping into the backseat of an Escalade, after this morning’s session at his recording space in Santa Monica. He was wearing our favorite zip-up hoodie, a carryover from 2016, a year which had seen him increasingly reluctant to go out, shirking invitations to the Obama White House, and indeed, we felt no surprise when a surrogate travelled to Sweden in his stead, accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature, and botched the performance.

. . . And why shouldn’t Bob have hidden? An irremediable global situation, humanity’s end—a real prospect in 2016. Each day bringing some fresh horror: a fissuring Antarctic ice shelf and deadly Indian air and thousands of microcephalic Brazilians and Europe’s collapse and America’s ruinous obsession with terrorism and the death upon death of our national and personal heroes—Toots Thielemans, Ilse Aichinger, Abbas Kiarostami, Bobby Vee, Prince, Cohen. Ali. Keeping track of him on WiggleWiggle, zimlinks, and a few other of our favorite fan boards, we saw in Bob all our own weariness and fear of the world.

We took our cue from him, as we did in all things—

Drawing the blinds tighter.

Turning the music up higher.

. . Lock me up and bolt the door
They’re out of sight, I’m out of mind
No use caring, not no more . . . 

 

But, in early 2017, hope came in threes.

The inauguration that made a fascist lunatic billionaire, Donald Trump, the US president.

The assassination of North Korea’s banished prince, ordered by his heartless ruler brother.

The announcement that Bob would release his first three-disc album, Triplicate, on March 31, to feature brand-new recordings of American classic tunes, such as “I Guess I’ll Have To Change My Plans,” “I Couldn’t Sleep A Wink Last Night,” “You Go To My Head,” and “P.S. I Love You.”

And we, who were Bob’s greatest fans, caught our breath at this final bit of news. We breathed in deeply, letting the import sink in.

“On the brink,” we whispered amongst ourselves. “And now Bob is calling on us again. How beautiful to die in this moment. Why not answer him?”

And so we holed up in the Boles Aero, where the overpowering presence of art, literature, and solid food had been removed from the cupboards, shelves, and walls, and here we sipped only boiling waters laced with natural syrups and powders, so that our intestines were as axenic as our aluminum tube dwelling.

The first phase, the Twitter campaign, began in earnest in mid-May. Bob had just finished a two-month run in Europe, and was noodling around Ireland, in County Clare, before heading back to the States to do more shows. His tour bus broke down outside of Doonbeg, just as we had arranged. The sky was predictably wild—apocalyptic darkness one minute, clarion blue the next, because of these huge butterball clouds rolling through the vastness like a video sped up. Bob hopped out of the bus, and his hat flew off his head. Spinning and twirling and pausing and then flying up, down the pretty green lawn that ran right into whipped sea. Bob dawdled after the hat, hands in his pockets and whistling “The Wind That Shakes the Barley,” while his band followed at a distance, one eye on Bob, the other on a little electric cart zipping toward them from a sprawling hotel complex.

“But you see, this is a golf course, you can’t be walking around here really,” said the gentle, blushing security guard, whose gut crimped against the steering wheel as he gestured. Bob had gotten away, headed for the sea or the hat, but his band hung back to explain things to the cheerful young man.

Two hours later, a tweet on the account of @realDonaldTrump. It featured a picture of Bob at Trump Doonbeg, the very green green around him, the very blue blue above him, and a slice of sea behind his (hatted) head.

VX1

Responses to the tweet came within seconds. Then a few minutes passed, and there were hundreds.

VX2

And within the hour, a retweet on the account of @bobdylan: the picture of Bob on the green green lawn beneath the blue blue sky, with the strip of sea like a crossbar at his neck. A retweet of @realDonaldTrump.

This was our doing. We retweeted that. And when we did, we added something.

A caption.

Very simple.

VX3

And in minutes, someone—not our group—had deleted from @bobdylan’s account the tweet that had effectively called the US president a liar, though not before it had been liked 1000 times and retweeted 200.

VX4

Who’s lying about the golf course visit—the president or Bob Dylan? The debate led the day’s news, all the cable news channels chiming in, and the online newspapers, and the late-night shows, and of course, Donald talked about it, too.

VX5

No statement came from bobdylan.com that day or the next. And as the week stretched on and the silence from his website grew, some among us (a shaky, insupportable minority) were tempted to release a fake statement to the media on Bob’s behalf, so disturbed this very few of us were by the relentless and increasingly berserk reaction from Trump supporters which defamed not exactly Bob, but a character of their own creation, a grotesque in their selfsame image, whom they first dubbed “Bum Dylan,” then “Hobo Dylan,” then at last more Twitter-succinct, with subtle anti-Islam connotations, “HoBob.” But those of us with further vision—with a deeper commitment to the cause of ensuring Donald’s downfall, Bob’s legacy, and the reinstantiation of the American Dream—knew that it was vital that Bob make no statement at this early stage. Yes, we silenced those who would speak for him. We silenced them utterly. And the defamation of Bob’s character continued without a proper defense for him.

But if things were bad for Bob on the internet, you wouldn’t know it from the candids posted daily on WiggleWiggle. That very evening he left Ireland for Minsk, commencing a month-long jaunt in Europe, before he was to resume his tour in the States. Truly, he seemed happy—his cheeks not so puffy, his eye-sacks not quite puce. Not to mention his long, hearty teeth were a prominent feature in many a candid, because he was grinning so much. But our line into bobdylan.com indicated that his assistants had chewed their nails to the nubs and had no more raw cuticle to work with. They wanted to tweet, to say something, anything, seriously guys, we’ll be there, in the freaking States, dealing with these deplorables in a matter of days—but Bob couldn’t care less about it. He spent the last week of May at his lover’s villa in Andalusia, and we observed, in a side-by-side series of candids, his skin turn a comely shade of champiñón.

Meanwhile, in the United States of America, a change in temperature. A perceptible cooling. No longer trending on Twitter was #golfgate, Donald’s rants about it at press conferences went from several minutes to a couple to no mention of it at all, and save a perplexing corner of 4chan which had turned the golfgate photo into a meme involving a transient in a bolero whose fondness for small pets leads him, predictably, to indecent exposure (specifically before slant-eyed puppies or kittens still shivering from their recent, gummy entry to the world), things were actually quite tame.

And now the day had come. The eve of Bob’s reentry into the US, where over the next two months he would play dozens of shows across the American South and the Midwest, finally ending up in the Northwest, to play in Sacramento, Salem, and Spokane.

And from the president, a sudden announcement: an upcoming concert at the White House, to feature the very best American musicians, only those truly representing the American musical tradition.

The line-up was TBD.

But would be revealed at the end of the week.

Friday.

The very day that reporters caught up to Bob as he stepped into the departure terminal at El Prat, for his flight to JFK International.

“Have you been contacted by the White House recently?”

“Has the president invited you to play at his upcoming concert?”

“Who?” Bob said.

“The president.”

Bob scratched his head.

“Trump!” chimed a curious bystander, a Barcelonan holding up a camera phone.

Bob nodded up and down.

“Oh Trump! Yeah I heard about that guy.” And Bob walked on.

 

Bob’s comment was perfection—crucial in rechristening the battle between him and the president, crucial in launching, forthwith, the second stage of our plan. For as Bob and his band crossed the Atlantic, a fresh blitz of tweets rang out from the president’s various accounts.

VX6

Relatively good security contained the protests at the musical festival Bob played at in Delaware the following Saturday. But then he headed South, to play at venues at which we had bought up to a quarter of the seating and then redistributed to the most vocal of the golfgate tweeters.

Boos and hisses cut the 12-song set to seven in Vienna, Virginia.

Brawls between Bob’s fans and Donald’s golfgaters brought in the cops in Oklahoma City.

Relative peace and bonhomie during “Once Upon A Time,” “Stardust,” and “Sentimental Journey” in Houston, but then the set list switched to the old stuff and the golfgaters, realizing it’d been Bob all along, blew and blew on their whistles and kazoos, and the stiff-legged fans, having hid driving irons in their pant legs, pulled them out now.

Heyday for the media. Something for everyone in this story, a bottomless vat of so-interesting and let’s-take-a-closer-look, to reach just about any audience with eyes, ears, and a heart.

Old fans.

New fans.

The young just discovering Bob.

The young just discovering politics.

The Latinx who’d never heard of Bob.

The Michigander who loved Bob and Donald, and now felt so confused.

That Latinx again, who listened to a couple of Bob’s songs on YouTube and wasn’t feeling it at all, but then watched a suggested video of a redneck golfgater blowing a foghorn in the ear of a redneck fan, and she shook her head, muttering, “Damn! Damn!”

That Michigander again, who watched the same video, and snort-laughed.

And it was to this American public of kaleidoscoping preferences, beliefs, and life experiences that the media depicted a battle of epic proportions, featuring—

Donald, the new voice of America.

. . . Bob, the dying voice of America.

While in the Boles Aero, where our laptops shimmered like slots at a casino, illuminating our eager, hopeful faces, we spoke with our moles embedded in the various kitchens of all commercial properties owned by The Trump Organization, as well as with our people placed in the factories that produced Trump-branded hotel accouterments (more specifically his individually packaged towelettes), all in preparation for the day, nearly upon us, of Bob’s ultimate sacrifice for America.

 

The morning after the Houston concert, just days before a three-concert run in Florida, Bob’s assistants quietly got in touch with the president’s people.

“Call off your dogs.”

“Sure. But after your guy gives a private concert for the president at Mar-a-Lago.”

“No.”

“Dinner with the president at Mar-a-Lago.

“No.”

“Dinner without the president at Mar-a-Lago, the president makes surprise visit, and there’s a handshake.”

“No pics.”

“One.”

None.”

“You need proof of the reconciliation. A photo. Just one. The president will tweet it and then never mention your guy’s name in public again.”

“OK. Deal.”

 

When the assistants went to Bob with the offer, he laughed in their faces. He refused every part of it, the dinner, the handshake, the handshake pic.

An assistant pulled out her phone, attempting to show Bob a choice pick of golfgate tweets.

He scowled, walking out of the room. “The fuck I need to see that for? I’ve been to my damned shows.”

 

But the next evening, at the Miami concert, he couldn’t get through the first song before fans in the crowd, in an attempt to preempt the golfgaters in the crowd, began a deafening chant:

“Dy-lan! Dy-lan!”

Bob jumped up from the piano, knocking back the bench. The cheers intensified, but Bob strode backstage, shouting to his assistants in a nervous huddle behind armed guards.

“Who’s hungry? I’m hungry! I’m so fucking hungry! Let’s go to that fancy hotel you people have been talking ever so much the fuck about.”

 

On the ride over, Bob was raving about the president.

“It’s not Trump’s world, the world has nothing to do with Trump! Trump can’t wiggle a toe without tangling his puppet strings. The Bible is full of these things, all kinds of puppets. Kings and prophets and the little people. Who do you think the puppet was: David or Goliath?”

The third assistant, realizing she had been spoken to, blushed deeply.

“Goliath?” she said.

“Wrong!”

She squeezed her eyes shut, about to cry.

“David?” she whispered.

Bob hissed.

She brought a hand to her face. Her voice trembled—“Both? They both were puppets?”

Bob whooped. “Give this woman a raise! Quick, get her a promotion!” He smacked his hands together, rubbing them. “Puppet Master, master of us all!”

Out the window, a sign for a “Brother Jimmy’s BBQ” joint came into view.

Bob cried, “There it is! Stop there!”

 

45 minutes later.

11:03pm.

Mar-a-Lago.

Through one metal detector checkpoint.

Past bomb-sniffing dogs, “Mat” and “Glory,” Mat barked once, Glory licked her chops.

Grinning Secret Service agents.

The all-clear.

The band, the assistants, and Bob, striding into a lively dining hall, filled with ladies in red gowns, black gowns, a few yellow gowns, and men in neat suits, many of them laughing, a few of them holding their heads back to laugh, and one woman dabbing her glad eyes with a handkerchief, uttering—“Isn’t it though?”—and sighing.

And our band, our assistants, and our dear leader hauling in bags and bags and boxes of barbeque, “Brother Jimmy’s BBQ” clearly printed on the sides of the crinkling plastic.

And watching the scene from myriad perspectives, on multiple WiggleWiggle live streams, we chuckled about the takeout, Bob’s little way of “sticking it” to Donald. Not what we had planned for Bob to do, but not entirely outside our expectations either. Actually, it changed nothing, this intrusion of barbecue, our plan was still in motion. Yes, the final phase began now

The maître-di muttered into his bugged collar.

A bar-back sprinted into the kitchen.

At a nearby table, two beautiful ladies with lily white hair and tanned skin, wearing piles of glamorous paste, continued their quarrel as if oblivious. Nothing suspicious about them at all. Nothing suspicious about that one’s diamond ring. With her elbow propped on the table, with her hand flopped at the wrist and knuckles turned out. With the tiny lens in the ring’s totally fake jewel capturing video of the maître-di slinking up to Bob.

“Will you be dining with us this evening, sir?”

Bob glared at him, slamming down his load of takeout onto an empty table.

“I see!” said the maître-di.

Joining Bob, the band set their own loads down. They pulled out takeout boxes, along with paper plates, napkins, and plastic cutlery, getting ready to eat, they were starving really, except for one of them, the drummer’s twenty-year-old niece, whose announcement that she’s a vegan, the food smells like death, briefly obscured the audio she was collecting for us.

“Enlighten me,” muttered the bassist as he distributed napkins. “How’s this supposed to get Trump to agree to a truce?”

“Truce?” the drummer whispered back. “Way I see it, Bob’s just now getting into the game.”

Bob opened a box. He blinked at it.

“Did someone order no sauce?”

But opening all the boxes, they saw that none of the ribs had any sauce.

That maître-di materialized.

“Might we bring some extra barbecue sauce to the table . . .?”

Bob set his jaw.

The band looked on glumly at the bare ribs. Dry-looking. Brown.

Bob waved a hand. “OK, fine!”

Someone now snapping photos. The bar-back, phone in hand.

Bob shot him a thumbs-up, speaking sarcastically through a grin, “Sponsored by Brother Jimmy’s!”

The young man nodded, and the phone nodded with him, jostling the video in the same moment as the arrival of the sauce, glimmering pools of it in silver gravy boats. It was announced by one of several bar-backs who brought it in on trays that this was the president’s favorite barbeque sauce, adapted from a secret family recipe of Marjorie Merriweather Post, which the president himself insisted on having with—

Bob nodded. “Yeah, OK! Just pour it over, you know?”

Oh, special sauce! But, tonight, unlike Ms. Post had ever enjoyed. Bob bathed his ribs in the shiny red liquid, its consistency reminiscent of glue.

Then something warm and moist pressed against the fabric of Bob’s pant leg, along his calf, and looking down, he saw that Glory had come into the dining room. She licked her chops, and instinctively he brought his hand to his mouth and licked some sauce off his palm. Mat, too, was circling the tables, nose twitching, and a hush descended across the entire room. Had the other diners at last noticed Bob? No—they were looking expectantly to the back of the room, where through a small door the presidential party was just coming through.

Donald came over and stood above Bob who sat with his elbows on the table, his sauced thumbs sticking up. Bob dipped his head, his eyes suddenly hooded and soft. But the corners of his mouth were downturned, perceptibly quivering. It was precious to us, this reaction of Bob: the reluctance of a coquette, but that’s also a trickster’s snigger, a trickster’s feint. A trickster’s habit to be already laughing at what he planned to do next. Bob’s arm shot out—he had extended his hand up to the president for a handshake. But the hand—it was coated in blood-red barbecue.

Donald recoiled. A wince, a crumpling, his face collapsing into all manner of creases and folds to indicate his deeply felt (and wonderfully well-documented) germophobic delusions. Then, just as instantly, the flaps reopened. A close-lipped smile pressed deeply into his face. Not taking his eyes off Bob, the president reached into his pocket and took out an individually wrapped towelette still in its Trump-branded packaging.

Our pulse quickened: a Trump towelette appearing like all other Trump towelettes, but tonight, like the barbeque sauce, different.

Donald was saying, “Very good wet naps! I always carry one with me . . .”

He ripped open the package, still babbling inanities.

“. . . I can make very, very big messes! But it only takes one to clean it up.”

And Donald draped the towelette across Bob’s extended hand, and in that moment, the elemental sulfur in the towelette comingled with the isopropyl aminoethylmethyl phosphonite in the sauce, creating a deadly poison at a preposterously high concentration, the lethal nerve agent VX, the very same that had killed Kim Jong-nam.

Bob began convulsing.

Pandemonium in the Mar-a-Lago dining room.

Women yelling.

Men yelling.

Phones in hand.

Bob Dylan is hurt.

Bob Dylan is unconscious.

Still alive when the first tweet went out—Bob Dylan is DEAD.

But actually dead an hour later, around the same time that the video went viral—Bob’s hand, covered in barbecue sauce, extends upward to Donald, who drapes on the towelette without making any physical contact. Almost instantly Bob vomits on his lap. And Donald’s face, a grinning sphere, is distinctly visible before being drawn behind a veil of Secret Service agents.

While we, in the Boles Aero, prepare to take our first bite of solid food in months. In the kitchenette, on the stove, a thick seafood stew is brewing—andouille, clams, mussels, shrimp, shark meat—the smell causes our salivary glands to water and sting. It is not quite dawn. Cracking a blind, we see that the Virginia hills are touched with a golden glow. Like Bob had before us, we gaze into the lit mist with tear-blinded eyes. We see the future float in a luminous haze.

VX7

New morning.

Bright morning.

The president, finally, eternally, revealed as the assassin of America’s soul.

And now Bob, of course, is all ours.

Rose Servis occasionally writes about unbearable men.