Pistareen is sitting in Moonbean, the student cafe of New Washington University, awaiting his turn at the open mike. As a faculty member, he doesn't normally do this, but he has a bet on with a friend in the audience. He estimates that if things go as expected he should be on deck in an hour or so. He thinks: "Of course, things rarely do go as expected".
Pigasso is industriously sketching a mural on one wall of the coffee house, which he has agreed to decorate in return for free lunches and all the coffee he can drink. He's glad that he was able to get that written into his contract before the owner learned just how high his tolerance for caffeine is.
Pistareen notes that there's another grizzlebeard in the place, apparently cleaning the walls, though why that should be done during a performance remains baffling.
Pigasso is actually in his late 30s, but he's been painting the sky on his mural, and a lot of artistic temperament has plastered blue and grey on his hair and beard.
PPling wipes up some spilled grounds next to the espresso machine. She's an aspiring poet, and goes by this pseudonym to appear more arty. The first P is silent.
Pistareen is hopelessly bored with the current performer, who is playing "Tom Tom the Piper's Son" on the penny-whistle, and goes over to investigate the wall.
Pistareen: You know, there are rules against scribbling on University property.
Pigasso looks down at Pistareen from the advantage of the second step on his ladder.
Pigasso: For your information, I'm painting a mural. You do know what a mural is, I trust?
Pistareen waves this off.
Pistareen: I'm sure the same rules apply to scribbling a mural on University property, too.
Pigasso: They do not, however, apply to artists who have been competitively selected to beautify said property.
Pistareen: Ah. In that case, my apologies. Pistareen -- of the Music Department.
Pigasso prefers not to dwell on the unwelcome fact that his grant was funded under "graffiti containment", not "campus beautification".
PPling fills a student's order for a large latte and wipes off the steam spigot carefully.
Pigasso: Pigasso. Professional artiste.
Pistareen: Well, in summers I go on professional tours, so I suppose that makes me one too.
Pigasso sweeps his tattered cap off his head and bows, adding a new splotch of blue-grey paint to the brim.
Pigasso: You lecture, then?
Pistareen smiles wryly.
Pistareen: Only when I must.
PPling hopes that shrill penny-whistle dork will finish up soon. She'd rather hear poetry, even bad poetry.
Pigasso has always thought that people who teach about art lack the talent to perform it.
Pistareen: I provide instruction in various wind instruments, but I myself perform on the great pipes and -- as today -- on the ullyan pipes.
PPling is such an expert on bad poetry that she produces no other kind.
Pigasso's gaze flits ~~ apprehensively ~~ to the instrument waiting by Pistareen's table, and makes a mental note to take a loooong break, when the professor's turn comes.
Pigasso: I, um, see.
Pistareen: I intend to play a medley of dance tunes today, and I'm hoping some of the tables can be moved a little. Perhaps you'll come off the ladder and dance a bit? Even professionals need a break now and then.
Pigasso: I really must finish sketching in this wall before the light goes.
Pistareen: Quite. But surely it won't last more than an hour?
Pigasso: Errr... well, I shall see.
Pistareen: Fair enough. Can I get you a cup of espresso to help you keep going? I need one myself.
Pigasso: That's very kind of you, Professor. Tell the kid it's for me; that was part of my contract.
Pistareen: Oho. A good businessman, too, eh?
Pigasso: One negotiates as one must.
Pistareen: Quite so -- Professor.
Pigasso looks around to see whether anyone heard.
Pistareen smiles only somewhat maliciously.
PPling makes a couple of espressos for a couple of students.
Pigasso: Here, I'm an artist, not a professor. My work must be judged for its own merit, not because of my status.
Pistareen: I'm sure you need have no fears on that account, Pigasso. Now for those coffees.
Pistareen goes off to the espresso machine and its operator.
PPling spots that bagpipe lunatic approaching.
Pistareen: Two, please. One's for Professor Pigasso, the guy scribbling the mural on the wall.
Pistareen believes in making trouble whenever possible: it keeps life interesting.
Pigasso takes a piece of chalk and begins sketching on the wall, filling in some of the figures for his mural.
PPling turns back to the machine and makes an espresso with loud gurgling noises that don't quite drown out the interminable penny whistle.
Pigasso has chosen to paint an extension of the coffee house, peopled with exotic figures from faraway places and times.
Pistareen takes the espresso and carries it back to Pigasso's ladder, placing it carefully on the top step.
PPling thinks more about the Work she's creating as she makes the second espresso. It's a vampiric erotic romance that takes place in-T before Unity, full of love, death and angst.
Pistareen then returns to the bar and pays for his own espresso, lingering around the bar for a bit.
Pistareen: Thanks. My name's Pistareen, by the way. Are you going to perform tonight too?
PPling is wearing a tight black sleeveless top, and her bare arms are ornamented with painted stripes representing tentacle bruises. This is to help her get into the mood when she works on the poem between customers.
Pistareen thinks this costume is eminently suited to a performance artist.
PPling: No, I have to keep the caffeine coming.
PPling is pleased with that semi-intentional alliteration.
Pigasso is well aware that most of the patrons of the coffee house are the pampered children of boring, well-to-do families, who have never known any greater hardship than having to do their homework more-or-less on time.
PPling: Besides, my work isn't ready to be presented yet.
Pistareen: So you do have aspirations in that direction, then.
Pigasso's mural, needless to say, has a more exotic clientele.
PPling: Yes. I'm a poet.
PPling knows that you don't need a license to claim that. Not even a poetic license.
Pistareen: I'm surprised. I thought you must be a performance artist of some sort. I'm a musician myself.
PPling: I hope to read my poem to an audience some day.
PPling makes a graceful arm gesture to represent the drama with which she will read her work.
Pigasso sketches in a table at which the notorious pre-Unity Sime-Sider, Rafe Merryweather, is sharing a latte and onion rings with a Sime dressed in the rags of a junct.
Pistareen: You surely must have some lesser works in addition to your as-yet-unfinished epic, though. Why not take a turn near the end? I'd be happy to make the espresso for a few minutes.
PPling: That's very kind of you, but no, not tonight.
PPling isn't going to leave the cash box in the care of this guy.
Pistareen: Oh, come on. After all, when I'm dead my chief claim to fame may well be that I attended the first reading of the famous poet -- what's your name, anyhow?
PPling: PPling. With two P's. The first one is silent.
Pistareen represses the horselaugh that immediately tries to take possession of him, and bows instead.
PPling smiles coquettishly. She has a long, very poetic explanation of how she chose that name, which she hasn't had a chance to use. She keeps polishing it, so it will be ready for that perfect moment of intimacy with another truly artistic soul.
Pistareen: Well, my name has only one 'p', but perhaps that difference won't be an insuperable barrier.
Pigasso populates the next table with the hero General Dermott (mocha) and Klyd Farris (espresso). He figures that all his hard work on the bid for the military academy's lobby walls shouldn't be in vain.
Pistareen: Well, pardon me. I must say a word to my colleague over there.
Pistareen smiles nicely at PPling and walks back to Pigasso.
Pigasso is starting on a pair of miners, to make the cafe appear a bit more working-class and grungy.
Pistareen: So, Pigasso. I take it you're creating a sort of Sime Territory mirror image of this cafe?
Pigasso: No, just a larger view of the world. The student body is a bit... homogeneous, you have to admit.
Pistareen: Ours, you mean? It certainly is. Too many business majors and hairy-eared engineers.
Pigasso: Indeed. I hope that this work will at least inform them that a world outside their cozy assumptions exists, even if they'll never seek it.
Pistareen: Well put, my friend. Are you ready for another espresso?
Pigasso sets down his chalk with alacrity.
Pigasso: Always, my friend.
Pistareen: Then come down and meet the source of all good espresso -- a poet, and with other virtues as well.
Pistareen makes a well-known masculine gesture.
Pigasso: She's a bit young for my taste, but I agree, quite decorative. Although the way she dresses...
Pigasso prefers to be the only one with shocking dress -- it makes him feel more artistic.
Pistareen: Yes, well, if things go well one need not worry about that -- after a certain point.
Pistareen raises an eyebrow.
Pigasso is secure in the knowledge that the kid behind the espresso machine would never consider doing anything more than making coffee for a man of his age, so he's in no danger of creating an awkward situation with his wife. He follows Pistareen towards the counter.
PPling picks up the bucket she dumps the grounds into and thumps it down again to make the contents settle so more will fit in.
Pistareen: Another two, one for me and one for our fellow artiste here, if you please, PPling.
PPling makes an espresso with much gurgling and hissing, sets it on the counter and turns back to make the second one.
Pigasso enjoys being considered a fellow artiste almost as much as he enjoys being the only artiste around.
Pistareen: I've been trying to persuade PPling to perform some of her lesser works for the assembled -- persons, but no luck so far.
Pigasso: If you're interested in hearing her work, perhaps she could be persuaded to recite for us.
PPling puts the second espresso on the counter and picks up the coins. She quotes a verse she picked up from a former boyfriend, an Ancient Literature major. It's mere doggerel, but it scans nicely, with all those archaisms:
"How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!
How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!"
Pistareen starts to raise his eyebrows, but manages to convert the gesture to smiling and nodding.
Pistareen: Excellent form. Excellent.
Pigasso tries not to gag on his espresso. He decides that Pistareen must be a bachelor, and therefore a great deal more desperate than he is himself.
Pigasso: Tell me, what's the symbolism of those streaks on your arms?
Pigasso is pretty sure the kid will have some dramatic excuse for defacing her body, other than "I hope it will make people pay attention to me". He hopes that explaining will delay the next onslaught of poetry. He's strictly a paint-and-canvas sort of artiste, himself: poetry leaves him baffled.
PPling: Oh, I'm developing a work about Simes, before Unity. The streaks represent tentacle bruises. It helps me focus.
PPling donates to pay her rent and tuition. But modern day Simes are really boring compared to the original kind.
Pistareen: Simes! How interesting. I myself spend part of each summer across the Border.
Pigasso: Really? Are they an appreciative audience?
Pistareen: Very much so. Of course, part of the audience is Gen, but Nivet-cultured.
Pigasso: The Simes I met certainly seemed eager to help with any artistic endeavor. It was quite refreshing.
Pigasso remembers the eagerness with which Gerrhonot and his friends posed for the mural for the military academy.
Pistareen: Cultural ambassadorship is an excellent experience. Perhaps you should apply for a grant to do murals in Capital? It's quite civilized there.
Pigasso: I'll certainly take it under advisement. Tell me, Miz PPling, have you found a suitable Sime to model your work on?
PPling: Working with words rather than visual images... I have less need for concrete models.
Pistareen: That's very understandable, PPling.
Pistareen isn't big on mistering and mizzing, either.
Pigasso: Still, there's no getting around the fact that Simes are quite different from us.
Pistareen: There certainly isn't.
Pistareen suspects that the three of them are concerned with quite different differences, as it were.
Pigasso: They have an entirely different view of the world. Wouldn't you agree?
Pigasso appeals to PPling.
PPling: In some ways so much the same, in others so very different. But in imagination...
PPling gestures artistically.
Pigasso: And how do you imagine Simes?
PPling: I imagine the worldview of the junct Sime, his junct world... the glow of selyn, the conflagration of need...
PPling gazes into the distance and trembles with imagined fire.
Pigasso: It sounds uncomfortable.
Pistareen gets an idea for a new composition, to be performed on the great pipes, the oh-boy, the spoons, and the snare drum.
PPling: It would have been so... intense... in those days.
Pistareen: [dryly] Particularly for the Simes' victims.
Pigasso: Indeed. That's not a pleasant way to die.
PPling nods. She isn't going to quote the long passages about the ecstasy of immolation in the flames of the Sime's burning need and desire until she gets them to scan a whole lot better.
Pigasso: Those Donors seem to like it, though. Of course, they don't actually die.
PPling thinks the Donors she's met are even more boring than the channels. She's tried to imagine all those boring old channels and Donors Doing It, but it's as squicky as imagining her parents screwing. They're all so... corporate, so gray. Uniforms. Regulations. No passion in their souls. About as romantic as a dentist and his hygienist.
Pistareen: From what I hear, that's the truly intense life, especially the Firsts. Perhaps Firsts are also artistes.
Pigasso: The one who helped me find models for my last mural showed a fine understanding of Art. Sosu Gerrhonot, his name was.
Pistareen: A curious sort of name, but why not?
Pigasso: A very helpful young man, and passionate about his work.
Pistareen: There you are. Was he a First, then?
Pigasso: Yes, I believe so. He works with a diplomat. He's obviously devoted to his channel.
Pistareen: Wait, wait, wait. I have heard that name before. I met him and his channel while I was performing in the park a while back.
Pigasso assumes that the acquaintance was brief, if Pistareen was playing the pipes.
Pigasso looks thoughtfully at his mural.
Pistareen: I was performing with a singer from Sime Territory, and the channel gave him quite a chewing out for, umm, being emotional in public. I confess I didn't fully understand the issue.
Pigasso: Well, he is a Sime. Who can really understand them? Do you think I should put Gerrhonot and his channel into the mural? Over there on the left, perhaps?
Pistareen: By all means.
Pistareen's grip on murals is about as secure as Pigasso's grip on verse.
Pistareen: What will you have them doing?
Pigasso: I haven't quite decided, yet. Something a bit risque -- this is a coffee house, after all.
Pigasso tries to remember how the tentacles go in a transfer grip.
Pistareen: Transfer, I presume, then.
Pigasso: Perhaps. Perhaps with hot chocolate and a muffin?
Pistareen: What's risque about that?
Pigasso: It's bound to shock the hidebound, don't you think?
Pistareen: Sorry, Pigasso, that's just too deep for me. I simply can't think of hot chocolate and muffins as exceptionable.
Pigasso: Ah, but it's the contrast between the subjects and their actions, and their mundane refreshments, that draws the viewer into the scene.
Pistareen gestures "Point!"
Pigasso: If I have a notorious train robber like Buffalo Bergman sipping lemonade at a table, it sets a mood for the clientele: it gives the illusion that interesting individuals can be found here.
Pistareen: Not entirely an illusion in the case of ourselves, eh?
Pigasso: Indeed. Another espresso?
Pistareen: Yes, indeed. And one for you, PPling.
Pistareen puts down double the price plus a decent-sized tip, especially for an artiste.
PPling turns back to her machine.