Ringing True Excerpt: Expanding the Circle

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Justin and Shelby have by now created The Numbers, the text that contains the beliefs of the new religion (as yet unnamed). After discussing possible methods for getting the word out, they settle on the idea of focus groups but have no idea how to secure a place where these focus groups can meet. They agree that Justin should approach Theo (one of his roommates), because Theo has connections with the Seattle music scene and one of them might know of a suitable venue. Justin accompanies Theo and his girlfriend Emmy (both of whom would qualify as “somewhat nerdy”) to a gig featuring their favorite local band, Acoustic Disturbance. After discussing Emmy’s sick cat on the way to the event, they arrive at Pioneer Square in Seattle.

At the time, Pioneer Square was in one of its frequent periods of slight cultural decline due to a combination of a city clampdown after the 2001 Mardi Gras riots, well-publicized incidents of street crime and the persistent appearance of new sports bars creeping out from the recently constructed stadiums. The music scene, centered in Pioneer Square during the heyday of grunge, had dispersed throughout the city, but there were still a few credible venues in the neighborhood. Justin always felt a combination of comfort and anxiety being there. He felt comfort because Pioneer Square was one of the few places in Seattle dominated by brick; anxiety because he knew that brick was not the architectural material of choice in an earthquake zone. Still, he liked the preservation of the old State Hotel sign advertising rooms for seventy-five cents and the faded paint advertising business establishments that hadn’t done business in decades. The dim lighting from the triple-globed street lamps may have contributed to street crime, but had the virtue of providing the scene with a sense of romance and mystery. As he walked with Theo and Emmy through the tree-lined streets and dark alleys to the Colourbox, kicking up leaves and cigarette butts with his shoes, taking in the shouts and smells of the already-inebriated, Justin felt that old Vancouver feeling coming back. He loved the diversity of a city.

Acoustic Disturbance was second on the bill, which meant that Justin had to endure a lame two-person retro-grunge band with very little in the way of talent. Theo and Emmy, on the other hand, cheered loudly after every number and sang along to the cover songs, gazing into each other’s eyes as if they were a husband-and-wife duet on a 1960’s variety show. The impromptu duets allowed Justin to marvel at their physical differences. While Theo was loose and gangly like a toy soldier with broken springs, Emmy was tight and very well-contained. Theo dressed in baggy t-shirts, baggy pants and floppy shoes; Emmy dressed like the stereotypical librarian, with a sweater buttoned at the top serving as a makeshift shawl to cover her thoroughly buttoned blouse. While Theo’s hair refused to form a recognizable shape, Emmy’s brown hair was pulled back tight into a bun that refused to allow a single strand to escape from its clutches. Justin smiled as they stared wholesomely into each other’s glasses, singing away, oblivious to their dissimilarities.

As the bands swapped equipment, Justin and Theo engaged in raised-voice conversation while Emmy twitched to the filler music.

“So, man, this is terrible, Mega Software and all. If you need any help, you just let me know,” offered Theo.

“Well, I need some help finding a stage,” said Justin offhandedly.

“A stage? Do you—you don’t play—I’ve never seen you play—what do you play?”

“Nothing,” Justin responded.

“Then why do you need a stage?” Theo asked, now quite puzzled.

Justin wasn’t ready to disclose to the world that he was a religious icon in the making, so he just said, “It’s a long story.”

“What kind of stage?”

“Something simple—cheap—something with a curtain—a place that could seat maybe thirty or so.”

Theo thought for a minute and said, “Let me talk to Tommy.”

“Who’s Tommy?”

“Tommy’s the bass player for Acoustic Disturbance. He’s sort of the leader? But don’t let the other guys hear you say that.”

“Why talk to Tommy?”

“Oh, man, they rented this space? Kind of over near First Hill? And they signed a lease and everything, thinking they were going to use it as their practice space? But they played so loud that they got complaints and the landlord told ‘em they couldn’t play with amps anymore. And get this—the landlord still wants them to pay for the place and they can’t even use it. This one’s going to court, man.”

“So how do you know about it?”

“Oh, I work with Tommy—he does the coolest graphics—and sometimes they let me hear them practice.”

“Ah,” said Justin. “So, what’s the place like?”

“Well, that’s why I thought of it. It used to be a space for this theater company that went under? So it’s got a stage and some curtains and they even left some of the lights. That’s what they liked about the space—the stage.”

“Sounds promising.”

“You’re not going to have any drums or amps or anything like that?”

Justin shook his head, “No, no—it’s just—like talking.”

“Okay—let me talk to Tommy. He’s really cool. I bet they’d even let you use their practice sound system if it’s still there.”

“Cool,” said Justin, terminating the conversation. He felt uncomfortable because Theo was being so nice while he was keeping a secret. He looked around the club and pretended to notice people for a while, like he was on the make but rather shy about it. Finally he broke down and leaned over to Theo.

“After the set I’ll tell you what it’s all about.”

Theo broke out into a huge happy smile. “Cool!” he said.

*****

It was easy to forget about inconspicuous little Emmy and Justin had done just that. After Acoustic Disturbance had finished (leaving Justin seriously wondering about Theo’s taste in music), the three of them walked outside and looked for a relatively quiet place between the streams of people moving between clubs and away from the homeless who sometimes wandered into the middle of the throng. It wasn’t until they found a small cranny in the entrance of an old building that Justin remembered that Emmy was with them, and with no graceful way out, Justin resigned himself to doubling the size of the inner circle.

Justin didn’t know where to start. After several false starts, he finally said, “This is going to sound crazy.”

Theo showed a look of patient concern and Emmy followed his cue and did the same. “It’s cool, man—it’s your thing—if you don’t want to tell us, we’ll understand.”

Because Theo meant it, Justin lurched forward.

“Shelby and I have started to—have created what we think is going to be a new—new—new . . .” Justin got hung up on the word “religion” for it sounded so pompous.

“A new world movement . . . we need to kind of test it out with some people,” Justin finally choked out.

Theo’s face was a blank, so Emmy went blank, too.

“You mean like a political movement—against the war or something?”

“No, no, more like a, like a—oh, the hell with it—a religious movement.”

Theo now looked thunderstruck. Emmy did not mimic this, but squeezed his arm in a gesture of concern.

“Religion? Wow, man, I never pegged you as that kind of person,” Theo said quietly.

“Well, it’s not your typical religion—we invented sort of a non-religious religion,” said Justin, groping to explain. “We need a space to try out the message and I figured you might know someone who knows someone.”

“So, you want like some kind of space for like a church?” Theo said, still trying to get his fuzzy head around the fuzzy idea.

“No, man—there’s no church. There’s just a message. No rules, no rituals, no priests. Nothing but a message: to try to stop people from doing mean things to each other.”

“I like that!” came Emmy out of nowhere.

Theo looked at Emmy, who nodded, which in turn removed any lingering doubt Theo had. Suddenly, Justin felt Theo hugging him.

“That is so cool! Yeah! Stop all that bullshit!” he shouted into the night, releasing Justin from his grasp.

“Well, now that the cat is out . . .” started Justin.

“Poor Myrtle,” Emmy interrupted.

Justin paused in memory of Myrtle, then took Theo by the shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. “Now, don’t tell anyone about this—especially, and I mean especially, Matthias.”

Theo looked horrified. “Oh, no, man, I don’t tell that dude anything.”

Justin seemed relieved.

“So you’ll talk to Tommy.”

“Yeah, yeah—I’ll go find him right now.” He ran across the street and disappeared into the throngs of clubbers, shouting, “This is so cool!”

Justin turned and looked at Emmy, who was just standing there smiling.

“Theo’s a great guy,” said Justin.

Emmy’s smile brightened up the night. “I know—a great guy.” Justin thought he heard her giggle.

“And I have to tell you—I—” Justin paused in mid-sentence as a little “uh-oh” went off in his mind when he realized he was talking to Emmy.

“What do you want to tell me?”

“Ah, it’s nothing—”

“Oh! Well, I just thought, you know, well, you know.”

Justin looked at Emmy and considered the possibility that she wasn’t an airhead, but simply someone who had a hard time communicating. He decided to throw her a lifeline.

“Would you like to help us?” Justin asked.

Emmy gave Justin another bright smile and said, “Ah! Well! Thank you! I’ll do—I’d love to—well, you know.”

“Yeah, I know. I’ll send you guys our little ‘bible.’”

Emmy stood there gushing, speechless, flabbergasted and then said, “Send the ‘bible.’”

“But like I said to Theo—keep it under your hat. We’re still working things out—and I just think, you know, well, you know.”

Emmy brightened up so much Justin thought the heat would burst her skin. “I know!” she said, with great excitement.

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