Mass dissociation in town, people wandering to the edges, putting in giant orders over the phone, toting it to undisclosed locations. Bingeing in its several forms. A wave of charlatans tears through, gets what it can, and is gone, off to another county or genre.

 

The newspaper, in a slow, passive panic, resorts to printing boilerplate headlines like “Six Babies Pregnant From Kissing Dirty Towel.” Everyone glances but no one takes a copy from the box. More, nearly identical, copies, stuff the box every day until they congeal into an inseparable mass.

 

Masked custodians dressed, to keep our spirits up, to resemble the slaughterers from Stokoe’s Cows, hustle in and clear the gagged boxes away until there remain only a few drafty fliers for concerts that were canceled without notice.

 

Everyone has by now fed all the time that will go to all the things that will eat it. When there’s no longer any alternative to Professor Dalton coming down from the hills and declaring an auction, he comes down from the hills and declares an auction.

 

We flock to it, changing into clothes and pregaming it however is best.

 

On the way there, I run into a young butcher who lays claim to having written “She eyes me like a Pisces when I am weak,” but could not afford the rest. I have no special credits to my name, but I’m new to the Auction Block.

 

On the way in, taking peanut butter treats from the concession table and signing into the Sign-in Book, we pass Jose Saramago, David Markson, and Clarice Lispector. They give a general, head-swivel nod, taking us in without singling us out. They take their reserved seats in the Auction Hall beside Umberto Eco and Kenzaburo Oe. I wonder how much it cost them. I don’t even know the scale. It doesn’t look like anyone around has serious, serious money, but maybe they did before they got these names and the associated boxes and boxes of work. Dodge City seems to need its own version of everything — if you’re going to read David Markson, he’s going to be a guy in town with a day job at the hardware store. Same goes, even, for Bill Gaddis. He’s someone’s buddy; someone has a hard-to-enforce restraining order out against him.

 

Professor Dalton takes the podium. A children’s bell choir starts playing, on some cue, then stops in the middle and goes away. We’re in like a chapel. There’s a teenager at the back with a camcorder on a tripod.

 

Dalton begins with all the “it’s my solemn duty” stuff. “To come hard to the point,” he says, after having evaded it as long as possible, “we are gathered here today to auction off not only the name and the works but the larger role in our society of the formerly formidable master of long-form fiction known as Blut Branson, who has so let us down.”

 

A whisper works its way through the crowd from the mouths of Dennis Cooper and Travis Jeppesen.

 

There’s a comical element whereby whoever was in charge of making the nametags made everyone’s first name Steve, so the tags read “Steve Cooper,” “Steve Jeppesen,” “Steve DeLillo,” “Steve Le Clezio,” “Steve Murakami,” etc.

 

I suppose someone will walk out today wearing a “Steve Branson” tag.

 

Professor Dalton: “I won’t say the ‘real’ or even the ‘original,’ but the initial Branson has proven inadequate. It is time for the series to advance, evolve. Which of you will step up?”

 

Then comes a certain amount of “The Crying of Lot Branson” histrionics. Steve Pynchon winces gamely at the shout-out.

 

The bidding is heated and hardcore. I sit back, wiping spit from my face with a constant back-and-forth motion. An old Dogs Die In Hot Cars song plays in the far background.

 

In the end, “Blut Branson” goes to a man formerly known as DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf. He ascends the podium in a hail of jeers and spitballs, kneels before Professor Dalton to receive his “Steve Branson” nametag.

 

“So much for the ‘Wolf,” whispers Elfriede Jelinek.

 

So much for Blut Branson, I think. I wonder what’ll become of the actual guy, wherever he is, aware that this kind of thinking has no place in Dodge City.

 

*****

It turns out it isn’t over yet. We break for lunch, the bell choir comes back for another part of a song, and the teenager with the camcorder changes his tape or chip. Then it’s time for the Ceremony of the Subsumption of DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf into the Totality Of Being of the Disgraced Supreme Novelist Knowable Only As Blut Branson.

 

This is hard to watch. If Elfriede Jelinek hadn’t been sitting so near me, I would have looked away.

 

When it was over, it still wasn’t enough. People were wound up, demanding further action, desperate to shock the town out of its funk.

 

“Let us proceed to the Time Capsule,” Professor Dalton declared to general applause.

 

 

OUT BACK a hole got dug. The Time Capsule was a big black trash bag. There were straw wrappers, ketchup and mustard packets, loose Skittles, and Blut Branson inside. In a rare display of perspective, someone removed his “Steve Branson” nametag so as not to cause undue confusion down the road.

 

Blut Branson flinched and squirmed. “C’mon guys!” he shouted. “It’s me, Rabbi DJ Lizard Wolf! You know me, I MC’ed your kids’ Bar Mitzvah’s! Don’t do this guys, seriously!”

 

Professor Dalton crushes the Blut Branson bag down to the ground, says the valediction. The Time Capsule is sealed, some special water or something is sprinkled on top, and it’s lowered into the hole.

 

“May the good people of the New Dodge City know how we lived now,” he proclaims. “Tell them how it was, Blut Branson.” The bag squirms some more, sucking in and out.

 

*****

A few days later, the ground over the Time Capsule is still talking. Blut Branson, down in there, sounds to be still alive, even, some speculate, hard at work.

 

Crowds gather, on their lunch breaks or kids after school, smoking and drinking sodas on the ground above the Capsule, listening to it jabber and pace. A punkish looking 14-year-old dubs himself the new DJ Rabbi Lizard Wolf and amasses a cult following, earning Best New Music on Pitchfork within the hour.

 

“Maybe he’ll finally get his novel done down there,” says Big Pharmakos, who was Steven Millhauser through the aughts but had to give it up when the recession hit. He leaves and comes back with a large coffee which he waters the ground with, watching it get absorbed. “There you go, buddy,” he says, with a rare and sincere benevolence.

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