“They called me Vulgarian.” He said to his congregation of heathens. Tipping his drink towards the man opposite him, lunging himself into their dispairish japes and attempts at bringing him back into their fellowship. The laughter at their table trailed off one-by-one at the recognition of his voice. From the moment he entered the bar it had been non-stop regaling from the compatriots of old. The prodigal son returned. A prince visiting his subjects. A demigod walked amongst them, having become human just for one night. Hypotheticals came of his supposed time on Olympus - the made up stories of lives they didn’t understand. They summed him up with pats on the back and clinks of their glasses, and he stayed silent through it all. I watched him hang his head in feigned embarrassment, submitting to his deserved beating in-between sips of his whiskey, but not hiding the smile that continued to grow. For a moment I thought he would let them have their fun with no retort. No exception to the contrary. After all, he was pronounced the chosen one of their brotherhood. The prophecy of their childhood come to life. Of all the delinquents that would make something of themselves someday, of course it would be him. The King of Sand. The Royal Misfit.
He looked them each in the eye. Their attention eventually provided. Even the rest of the bar seemed to come to a standstill - as if having anticipated the moment. The warm light of the candles being the only noticeable movement in the room. Except for him, slowly turning in that flickering light, taking in their wanting faces with the glint of his eyes. It was this presence that allowed him this position in the first place. When you are the leader of a revolution, it’s obvious that there were those who would always listen when he wanted to speak. After tonight, they were clamoring for his words.
“They attempt to discredit me with titles of their own creation. Upstart. Parvenue. Vulgarian.” Another sip. Silence. Flicker. “Why? Because I dared to reach into the pot to take what was rightfully ours in the first place?” Some clinking of glasses. Flat hands across table tops as he strode slowly into the light of a clearing. “Who are they to determine such things? Those who have garnered all they have through inheritances and the slavery of others. Am I vulgar because I was born in an alleyway and not a nursery? What is refining if you are not coming from the dirt itself?” The ‘here-here’s arose along with him as he found himself atop the center table overlooking the crowded bar, a small wooden structure in Cheapside the found itself over capacity night after night with the forlorn and the down-trodden. His Hoi Polloi.
“We smashed through the illusion they called world, destroyed the concepts they called society, and now they attack me with headlines and propaganda because they are too afraid to admit they cannot win. It’s a tactic that has kept the have-nots in line for centuries, used by those in power to keep the scales weighted in their favor until the next generation doesn’t even remember what the war was for. History is political. It rarely tells the whole truth.
It will work. There are those out there who will believe it. This floundering of theirs will convince many that the man you have supported is nothing more than an opportunist reaching above his station. And it will work because they will say it with subtle decency; with profound logic in their friend’s dining rooms, or to their butcher at the market. With fancy words such as ‘Vulgarian’.”
He shakes his head. Shrugs even. Shifts his weight as he takes a breath before continuing. Every ear is open. “But not you in this room.” He finally says, with a finger clarifying his intentions, gesturing around this drunken cathedral, even flicking his eyes up to the upper level, where even more of his army looked down from the banisters. “Because you know in your hearts what they do not understand. That my power and wealth is not beholden to what’s in my pockets. It comes from song. From the fire pits where we shared our stories. The tables we have feasted. The cups - “ He raises his glass above his head, and some follow suit “that we have passed around in our poverty. You. My friends. My Vulgarity.” The glass turns over in his hands as the rest of his drink hits the rotting wood of the floor. “And Those we remember.” There is splashing around the room as more drinks are poured out, whiskey and beer mixing with the dust and the dirt until it resembles the mud on their shoes. “That is where I derive my riches.”
“If I am unrefined because I remember where I came from, refusing not to change the way I walk, the way I talk, nor the way I drink - “ He throws the glass to the ground, “to fit in with the bourgeoisie, who make the rules that determine your wages, who tell us what opportunities we are allowed to inherit, then maybe the whole world should become a little more vulgar.”
The crowd began to erupt, along with more broken glass, not even to the dismay of the bartender, who was already pouring more drinks for the eventual toast to come. Yet with raised arms he quieted them, not ready yet to come down from the stage, needing to make his declaration clearer before it was lost in the threatening celebrations. I watched with inspired awe, that I could be in this room, in my own darkened corner, watching the man that would defy whole institutions.
He was right. The world would eventually forget. They would define his reign with cartoons and pundits. Our descendants wouldn’t even learn his name, as the word that was once used to insult him would become nothing more than a slang term invented by the rich to categorize those they didn’t like. They would think it was agreed upon. Fact. Yet they would never stop to think about why a poor person would ever use such a phrase, nor if that, in turn, proved its own biased origins. They would only see the word. The definition. A lie that outlived a generation.
As other stood to raise their glasses I did the same, so that I could maintain my sight on the man; even if I couldn’t quite hear him over the clamoring and the shuffling chairs.
“...And if I choose to put a drink with my friends in the same category that they would put seeing their investments rise, or their heirs birthing new heirs, and that makes me unworthy of their class, then I would still choose you, my Vulgarian Order, every - single - time. Because it is not about the fruits of our labor, it’s about who we choose to eat with, to drink with, to spend our time with, to create with, and to exchange laughter with when there is no fruit to bear. Our mission is not so anyone can remember my name, it’s so that you might have the opportunities to make your own pursuits a reality with the same privileges they have always had yet never acknowledged.
“And if even we fail in forging this new world, at least we will have pursued it with high spirits, full hearts, and dirty fucking mouths - a drink in our hands - and a friend on our shoulders; because that’s the world I want to live in.”
“To the Vulgarian Order!” Someone in the crowd shouts as I make my way through the exit. I can barely hear the echoes and cheers from inside as the door closes behind me, cutting me off from the warmth I had enjoyed away from the now howling frozen winds I found myself trudging through. It wouldn’t be long now, I eased myself, knowing that my time here was almost up. Even though I was leaving the party early, I was still glad for having chosen to come here to bear witness. To see him speak, ignite the spark, at this exact moment, was all I needed. If only his story had been told over the centuries, things might have turned out differently. For the rich and the powerful have learned that revolutions will always come, and quelled or no, their fight for survival is not during the darkest of hours. It’s in the booms and soarings of peace where they keep their lineages strong, by keeping the good and virtuous men in their places with the dividing lines of opinions and commentary. They have stayed the progress of humanity by defining words like success, richness, and altruism when no one else is able to protest. History is written by the victors, as the saying goes, but they never understood that the true history book was the dictionary. Words defined without context, wholly of their time, that retain their meaning even when no one remembers your name. Which is why no one will remember his name, but a vulgarian, noun, is forever established as an undesirable descriptor. Therefore, the status quo is maintained.
But a Vulgarian is what I am. A Parvenue. And Upstart. Whatever slur one might have for me, I claim it freely and wholeheartedly without irony. Just like he did, three hundred years ago in this pub deep in the slums, just as he always had throughout his entire life, and up until the day he died. As I feel my body start to dematerialize in this time and put itself back together in a future far from here, I can’t help but mutter the words I last heard him say, in hopes that they might become my own.
“To the Vulgarian Order.”
It’s time to define our own terms.