Day One

The Gathering Storm




You’re running around the ΚΑΘ house (which is a log cabin) chasing after a chicken (which is your economics professor) when you bump into John Paul II.

“You just watch,” he tells you in Polish (which you understand), Garfield is going to kill Odie.”  He points an I told you so finger at you, but Jack Nicholson gets up from his desk and tells you for the fifth time to put the shovel in the corner.

Walking over to the corner with the shovel (which suddenly appears in your hand, smelling suspiciously like a cooked egg) you find Tonya balancing on a unicycle.

“Gotta sign the shovel back in,” she tells you, and hands you a yellow clipboard which smells like undercooked toast.

“Hmmmmmnnnnnfffffff nnnfffffffuh pehnihhhhhhhhh,” you say, which is code for “I need a pencil.”

“What?” I ask.

Tonya suddenly looks like a sheep--which is perfectly natural, of course--and you struggle to repeat your question.  Your focus expands, and you see an entire field of sheep.  They’re animated.

“I need a number 4 lead pencil,” you manage to say.  Your eyesight drifts around the field of grazing cartoon sheep, and up and to the right you see two crucified figures.  The more prominently displayed one does have a beard, and might even pass for Yeshua if he didn’t have his pants pulled down around his sandals.  In a similar vein, the other crucified figure is wearing a loincloth, tennis shoes, and argyle socks.

“I’m sorry Beth,” you hear a muffled voice ask, “but you did say, ‘...a number four lead pencil...’ ?”

Just when you identify the voice as mine, you notice a caption under the two figures:





The smell of fresh-brewed coffee overpowers you: its aroma delicious.  You roll your head from out of the pillow and look around.  I’m standing over you with a small tray.

“Good morning, Beth,”

You wheeze in a sharp breath, look around some more.  A medium-sized toucan is glaring down at you from the ceiling.  A note is attached to his beak: “This is an ex-toucan!”  On his perch is another note: “The ultimate sex machine.”

Sam The Official Satanic Inflatable Attack Toucan (And Answering Board) bobs in the wind, continuing to stare at you with a gaze that had once actually frightened Vic, my fifth roommate.

“Scoot up,” I say, and you react out of instinct.  Your back presses up against the antique wooden headboard, and you see your feet sticking out from under sheets.  The linen has cute little pictures of sheep drawn all over them.

I place the small metal tray in your lap.  It holds:


To try and comprehend what’s going on, you hesitantly pick up the coffee and sip.  It is more the temperature than the caffeine that wakes you up.

“You know, Beth,” I say, carefully sitting down on the side of my bed, “I had written you three pages of a letter, telling you how bizarre my life had become.”

Rather confusedly, you pick up the fork and break the yellow yoke domes.  Liquid chicken oozes out onto the toast.

“But then last night I was updating it and suddenly noticed that it had become very depersonalized.  I decided that that wouldn’t be very interesting to send to you, and it also didn’t quite give you the feel of what was happening up here.”  I look from your face to the tray, and am shocked to discover that the eggs are gone, as is half the coffee.

You’re now awake enough to start piecing things together.  You’ve already grasped that you’re in Chicago.  Then you realize that somehow I snuck a bite out of the donut.

On a nightstand to your right is a radio alarm clock: 8:02.  AM, obviously.

“I don’t normally get up this early, Matt,” you tell me gravely.

“Something makes you think that I do?” I ask you, shocked--nay, stunned.

“Matt, if you’re going to force me to be in this letter, the least you could do is let me enter it with a full-night’s sleep.”

“Ah, would that I could, Beth, but we have to be somewhere in half an hour.”

You show no concern as you close your eyes and sink back into the downy nest of pillows.

“No, hey, I’m serious.  We gotta get moving.  We need to be at Michelle’s in half an hour.”

You cock an eyebrow at me.  “You’re waking me up to go to Michelle’s?” you snarl.

“Yep,” I reply, and throw something black at you.  “And I’d appreciate it if you’d wear this.”

You reach up and peel the t-shirt off your face.  A bronze rattlesnake is wrapped around the front of a motorcycle.  The type of motorcycle is designated by a famous bar and shield logo prominently displayed at the top: Harley-Davidson.  You look from the shirt to me curiously.

“It’ll piss her off.  C’mon,” I smile cheshire-like, “it’ll be fun.”

You look at me dubiously, then spill over the side of the bed.  “Fine...  fine... fine...” you grumble, a little more sarcastically than necessary, at least until you see yourself in the mirror.  No make-up, unwashed hair: yuck.

“Yuck,” you say.

“No, Beth: it’s perfect.  Even at your worst you’re ten times more attractive than Michelle.  When she’s around other women who are prettier than she is (ie: everybody in North America), she gets in this mood.  It’s funny, in a sad sort of way.”

I clear away the tray, you change from your favorite nightgown into the Harley shirt and a faded, raggedy pair of jeans that you filched from Tonya a year ago.  Cowboy boots would be appropriate, but you have to settle for white Nikes.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” you hear me say from my kitchen, “today is Monday, August 31st,  1992.”

This causes you to pause in lacing your shoes.  That was a week ago.  “Oh?”

I look up to smile at you when you come out, then finish pouring myself a cup of coffee.  My cup, you notice, has a Disney illustration of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.  Setting the pot down, I say “You see, here is the problem with the letter I was writing you.  I told you what was happening up here, but it just wasn’t coming across as effectively as I had wanted.”  I add precisely two and a half tablespoons of pure Hawaiian sugar to my black beverage.

Now that you’re up and relatively awake, you begin to study my home.  Somehow the pictures I’d sent didn’t do justice.  As you explore, I tell you “Quite frankly, I was afraid that you wouldn’t get the full flavor of the events, and that it might start to become, well, boring.”

You smile as you notice some of the Giger prints you and Tonya sent me are prominently displayed on a wall, right under an Alien movie poster.  Obvious juxtaposition.

I pour a rather excessive amount of chocolate cow juice into my Alice in Wonderland cup.  “You know, when Alice needed to dry off from her tears, she read from an English History book.”

You discover my den.  “Curiouser and curiouser,” you say, entering.  

“She said it was the driest thing she knew, so they were dry to the bone in no time.”

You nod in remembrance.  Who else was with her? you think to yourself.  There was Alice, the Dodo, and... who?

“Well,” I say from the kitchen, “I was afraid that this letter was going to be drier than the Gobi.”

This is going to bug you all day if you can’t remember.  Fortunately, you see my bookcases, and realize that I’m bound to have Alice in there somewhere.  My anal retentive stepfather subliminally compelled me to organize my books alphabetically by author.  You find Lewis Carroll between John W. Campbell Jr. and Arthur C. Clark.  The title of the first Clark book, you notice, is The Nine Billion Names of God.  You pull both it and Alice out.

I lean in the doorway, which (now that you think about it) didn’t have a door, and say “So rather than tell you what’s been happening, I thought it would be much better, and much, much more amusing to show you what’s going on.”

You look up from the books.

“And I’ve decided to start with the morning of August 31st.”

“Oh,” you say.  A quick flip answers your first question: Alice was with the Dodo, a Duck, a Lory, and an Eaglet.  And oops!  They tried to dry off with English history, but ultimately had to resort to a caucus race.

I hop back into the other room, and you hear the jingle of keys.

You put Carroll down and glance through Clarke.  To your disappointment, the book is not filled with names, but short stories.  You open to one, called The Sentinel.  A brief introduction says that this was the basis for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey.

“Ready?” I call from my living room.  You decide that you are, and put the book back in its slot.

You follow me outside, and as I slam the door shut, you shiver slightly.  It’s a bit nippy out, but that’s probably normal for this time of the day.  You notice that I’m wearing cut-offs, Bass sandals, and a thin tank top.  Black with the caption “Death from Above.

We walk down the wooden stairs, and you pause to ask “You live on the second floor?”

“Yep,” I answer, leading you between the two front houses.

“So why is your mail addressed to First Floor Rear?”

“Funny you should ask that, Beth,” and we emerge onto North Wayne Street.  I head us south.  “Do you know what a coach house is?”

“Uh, not as such.”

“A coach house is a house in back of a mansion where they kept the coach.  The driver usually lived above it.  The actual first floor of my house is its cellar, where they used to keep the coach.  It’s pretty gross and disgusting, but of course you’ll see for yourself.”

“What do you mean?”

I make hushing motions.  “You’ll find out tomorrow,” and smile at you cryptically.

We walk lazily around a corner and head east, toward the lake.

“I thought we were in a hurry to get over there,” you say, noticing that we are clearly taking our time to get over to Michelle’s.

I give you a dubious look.  “Hey, it’s not like I’m eager to get over there...”

In fact, what was normally a ten-minute walk took twenty-three (an Illuminatus conspiracy!)  Gravely, we climb the steps to her house.  In the inner vestibule, there is a torn scrap of yellow paper with 80-year old arthritic backhand in blunt pencil.



                  Don't go anywhare



“Good one,” you say, noticing her spelling.

I turn around and perch myself on the concrete banister, a Beach Bum Gargoyle.  You sit on the step next to me.

“So while we’re waiting,” you finally say, “would you care to tell me why we’re here?”

I take a deep breath, release it solemnly.

“Beth,” I start, and instantly you can tell that this is going to be bad.  “Remember how I said that Michelle had become rather interested in Harley Davidsons?”

“I think ‘obsessed’ was the word you used, actually.”

I nod somberly.  Obsessed.  Yes, that is the word.”

“Didn’t you say in your last letter that she was about to buy one?”

I pause, take a deep breath.  Michael Palin smile, then “Oui.”

You don’t watch enough Monty Python to quite know what I’m babbling about, but at least your memory is served.

I turn your attention to the street, and point at a white Renegade jeep/truck.

“See that?”

You nod.  “It’s hers?”

I laugh weakly.  “It’s her other car.”

Blonde eyebrows cock slightly.  “If she owns two cars already, why is she getting a motorcycle?”

I pat your blonde head lightly.  “A good question, Beth.  I asked her that, myself.  Would you like the official answer she gave me?”

You look up at me gravely.  “It’s bad, isn’t it?”

I clasp my hands together and look at you spacily.  “ ‘Because I think they’re neat.’ ”

You breathe out in despair.

“It get’s worse,” I say, and your forced-straight face almost cracks into a smile.


I too have trouble keeping a straight face as I nod.  “Ask me if she’s ever ridden a motorcycle before.”

You’re too stunned to ask.  After a moment of laughter, you exclaim “She’s never ridden one....?”

I hold up a placating hand.  “Yes she has.” I look at you as if you were suggesting your favorite ice cream flavor was ‘pork’.  “Don’t be insane: it would be idiotic of her to buy a bike if she’s never ridden one before.”

You see my lips twitch, trying to smile.

“She rode one once,” I say at last, “around a parking lot to get her certificate.”

“Hmmmm.” is al you can say, somberly.

It’s several moments before I can speak.  You’re becoming acutely aware that the cement step your butt is perched upon is retaining the morning’s chill.

“Now Beth, you’re probably asking yourself, ‘why are we here this fine morning?’ ”

“Actually, Matt, I ask myself that every morning.”

“Ah.  Well, today I can give you an answer.  Know that Harley ’Chelle’s going to buy?”

“Uh huh.”

“Well, it’s out in the ’Burbs.  Now obviously having a bike out there isn’t going to do her much good.”

“Obviously,” you concur.

“To make a complete fool out of herself, she’s got to have it here.”

You look at me dubiously.

“Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to accompany Michelle out to her bike, and then follow her back.  We, of course, will be four-wheeling behind Michelle Kinevil.”

“That parking lot she drove around that one time,” you ask.  “Should I assume that they didn’t have her going over ten miles per hour, or out in traffic?”

For your astute perception, you get a big smiley face and a pat on the back.

Just then, a rusting maroon Cutlass pulls to a stop on the street in front of us.  Michelle needs no introduction.

“Hey, c’mon: we’re gonna be late.”  She waves with her arm for us to get in.

I help you up, and we slowly head toward the car.  Even though you know next to nothing about cars, you can hear three noises coming from the idling engine that shouldn’t be there.  There’s noise coming from inside the car that shouldn’t have been there, either.  Sounds like old AC/DC.

“Shotgun,” I announce triumphantly, then turn to see you moving in slow motion.  You are making motions like you’re neck-deep in a swimming pool.

“What are you doing?” I ask.

“Why, the pretentiousness is so thick that I’m treading water in a sea full of jell-o” you reply with a sardonic smile.

“You’re not going to let me live that one down, are you...”

“Nope,” you tell me, and climb into the back seat.  Keeping you company are:


·   Two (2) wrinkled Harley T-shirts

·   A plastic mirror ornament of a skull; a blonde braid is attached with what is know in certain circles as a roach clip

·   An empty can of Lipton ice tea soda

·   An imitation Club car lock

·   A cellophane wrapper from a Hardees cheeseburger

·   Twenty-three pennies and a nickel (another Illuminatus plot!)


“Michelle,” I say after I close the door, “this is my friend Beth.”

Michelle eyes you in the mirror.  She doesn’t seem especially impressed.

“Hello,” she says to you.  Then she turns to me.  “I thought you only liked dark-haired women,” she accuses me.  Falling ungraciously from under a Harley Davidson painter’s cap, her curls are brown.

“You’re blocking traffic,” I reply.  Behind us, a couple of urchins are skateboarding down the street.  She yanks the stick back, and noisily takes off.

“Beth’s visiting me from Texas,” I say as she pulls onto a major street, ignoring things like stop signs and oncoming traffic.  You can tell she’s upset that she doesn’t have me alone.

Michelle hands me a sheet of paper covered with doodles, numbers, and more of the spiky backhand.  Almost all of it is incomprehensible.

“This is where we’re going,” she tells me.

“Um,” I say.

Deciding to be sociable, you ask “So you just bought a bike?”

“Yeah, a ’72 Sportster.  It’s a real show bike, and I’m getting it for a steal.”

The conversation for the next ten minutes consists of Michelle talking about Harleys, with me occasionally mumbling “uh huh.”  During this time, Michelle keeps channel grazing on the car radio.  She stays on a channel for precisely an eighth of a second before changing it.  Obviously, it’s hard to tell what song is playing, but Michelle has some bizarre criteria for deciding if she likes it or not.  You are, however, able to tell that one of the songs she passed up was “Every Breath you Take”.  Another you didn’t recognize, but I did (and enjoyed.)  We both lose out when she catches a refrain of Led Zeppelin and stops.

As we’re about to get on the Eisenhower Expressway, I point out a Denny’s by the exit.  The billboard under the sign reads: “If it’s your birthday, the meal’s on us.”

“If it’s your birthday and you’re in Denny’s,” I reply, “your life sucks.”

As you stop laughing, you hear Michelle observing “I hope the traffic thins out.”  The traffic doesn’t strike you as all that bad, but then she continues “But if we just stick to the slow lane, we should be all right coming back.”

This takes me by surprise.  After several moments, I ask “Uh, let me get this straight.  You’re planning on riding your bike back home on the Expressway?”

She looks over me insanely.  “Oh course.  Gaaa, it would take forever, otherwise.”

“Yeah, Matt,” you chime in.  “What, you think she should drive back on sparsely traveled backroads?”

“Right,” she says to you, not catching your sarcasm.  Just then, a car passes us on the right.  You shudder at the thought that cars in the ‘slow lane’ are actually going faster than cars in the express lane.  Like me, you begin to get a bad feeling about this.

Led Zeppelin ends, and Michelle resumes her rapid fire channel switching.  In fact, she’s more interested in the radio than in the traffic.

“Wasn’t that our exit,” I ponder aloud.

She turns to see that it was.  “Ooops,” she says, then pulls into the breakdown lane, throws the car into reverse, and backs up to the exit.  Just slightly illegal.

“This maneuver would be much easier with a motorcycle,” Michelle announces as she enters the white-striped boundaries dividing the highway from its exit.  Tone of the conversation set, she waits for the traffic to ease up and begins to chatter about motorcycles.  As she finally pulled out into the off-ramp, she was lecturing us on why we should never buy a Japanese bike.

Just as your mind feels like it’s about to harden into concrete, she whips into a driveway.

“Here we are,” she says, and is out the door nanoseconds after turning off the engine.

You and I get out more slowly, cautiously.

“Hey,” a deep voice announces out of nowhere, “I’ll be with you in a minute.”

You look around.  There is a relatively brand new Lincoln Cougar parked outside the open garage.  Squinting, you can make out in he garage’s dim recesses a shadowy blob that roughly conforms to the shape of a motorcycle.  A denser shadow is moving behind it.

Michelle walks into the garage, and it is the first time that you actually get a good look at what she looks like.  She is wearing steel-toed boots with a pair of artificially faded Jordache jeans tucked into them.  Her pants are about two sizes too small, and are skin tight because she has more than grown into them.  Around her hips (which would have made the members of Spinal Tap very happy) was one of those belt purses.  That ridiculous kind where it looks like you’re playing with yourself when reach inside to get something.  Although you couldn’t see it at that angle and distance, she had sewn a Harley Davidson patch onto the front.  She had also sewn, and rather amateurishly, a large Harley Davidson eagle onto the back of her vest.  That vest was shiny black leather, and to our mutual horror, she wore nothing underneath.

You are not impressed.

It is also her first chance to get a good look at you.  Obviously, the first thing she notices is the t-shirt I gave you.

This makes her pause, and you can tell that she’s reevaluating you.

“Do you ride?” she asks.

You walk up to her, taking the time to compose an appropriate answer.  Straight face: “Used to.  When I lived out in Arizona, I was shacked up with this Hopi named Jimmy Carl Black.”  I snigger at the name, but Michelle only nods, doubtless approving of the fact that you don’t limit your sex life to “Caucasians only.”  You continue: “Anyway, all the Indians out there had cashed in their horses for Harleys...”

“No,” Michelle interrupts smugly, “I don’t think the exchange rate is balanced.  But,” and she nods with a slight smile, “I know what you mean.”

“Well, one day I’m out riding with Jimmy...  And out in the Mojave you occasionally get these assholes who like to play chicken with the bikers out there, and they hide behind signs and shit, then jump out at the bikes to see how close they can come.”

“Yeah,” nods Michelle sympathetically, “I hate assholes who do shit like that.”

“Yeah, well this one guy jumped out from behind a cactus at us, but he mistimed it and Jimmy hit him.  He got thrown over the handlebars, flew twenty feet in the air, and hit one of those yucca trees.”  You hold out your arm, rigid at exactly ninety degrees, then with some relish swing it into Michelle’s neck (a little harder than was necessary.)

“Branch decapitated him.”

Most people would have winced; Michelle only nods blankly.

“I got thrown on my back, and the impact paralyzed me.  And because I couldn’t move, I not only saw Jimmy die, I got to look at his severed head and body for three hours before somebody found us.”

“It took three hours for someone to find you?” Michelle asked, surprised.

“Yeah.  But that was the last time I was ever on a motorcycle.  I’m never going to get on one again.”

Michelle looks disappointed at you.  “Awww, you shouldn’t let something like that discourage you.  After all,” she says encouragingly, “you weren’t driving.”[1]

“Hey, Michelle,” the lurking shadow in the garage called out.  Now that you are close enough, the shadows have resolved into a parked bike and a man squatting behind it.  He was just old enough to have gray hairs reconnoitering his mustache, and his hair was thinning like the Amazon basin.  Basic blue jeans and a white t-shirt with grease stains streaking across like a new form of mechanical camouflage.  And, of course, the requisite, grossly oversized Harley belt buckle.

“Hey, what’s up?”  Michelle walks up to him, her attention more on the motorcycle than on the man.  She stands there, drinking in the bike.  It is quite obvious that if she were a man, she’d have a hard-on the size of the bike’s exhaust pipe.

“Hey,” I call out to the mechanic.  You join in my greeting, and in my decision not to enter the garage.

Michelle looks up from the bike, looks around to see where the voice had come from, struggles to remember who we are.

“Oh, this is Matt, and, uh.........” she fumbles with your name.

“Lori,” you say, tweaking me in a tickle-sensitive zone.  Michelle gives the facial expression of bewilderment: it didn’t sound right, but she wasn’t going to question it.

“And Lori,” she concludes, then turns back to gaze passionately at the hog.

“Hi,” the guy says.  He never takes his eyes off his hands, which are adjusting the rear wheel.  “I can’t believe this,” he says, nodding toward the wheel, “that idiot tightened the chain.”

Michelle turns to us.  “The guy that last had this bike was a jerk.  He’d had the bike only two weeks, but somehow he put a dent in the gas tank.”

“Michelle, would you climb on?” he instructs.  Eagerly she does, and the bike sags noticeably.  While she begins to posture and pose, the man pushes on the chain.  There is very little give.

“If you’d ridden this out, that’d snap on the first bump.  I can’t believe he tightened it.”

“What an asshole!” Michelle responded.

He resumed his tinkering, and said “Yeah, well he thinks he’s a mechanic, but he doesn’t know shit about bikes.”

Michelle turns to us.  “Isn’t that stupid?  Asshole owns a bike, but he doesn’t know shit about it.”

We’re both stunned that she doesn’t see the irony of her words.  So stunned, in fact, that there’s time for a tree:




“Okay, get off,” he tells her, and reluctantly she dismounts.  He then begins to correct the problem, going so far as to invite us over to watch.

“I’m sorry,” he says, “But I’ve forgotten your names.”

I give mine, and you give yours.  Michelle is too absorbed with her bike to notice.  He gives his as Bud.[2]

“Well, pay attention, because periodically you should check and adjust it for her.”

“Oh, I’ll be sure to do that.” I tell him in a syrupy voice.  You crack a smile at my tone.

“God, don’t show him,” Michelle says, pointing to me.  “He’s even less mechanically inclined than I am.”

I smile sardonically at her.  I thought of defending myself (after all, I am mechanically inclined, but I’ve never learned any of the technicalities) decide against it.

While he finishes his adjustments, I go sit on the driveway, basking in the sun.  Underwhelmed with Michelle’s company, you join me.  Scarcely are you settled down that you are deafened: Bud fires up the engine.  From our vantage point, we get a disgusting view of Michelle’s nipples going hard at the sound.  Even for a Harley the pipes are loud.  That, of course, was one of the things she told me that had attracted her to the bike.  Impossibly loud pipes.

He kills the engine, makes one final adjustment, and puts his tools away.  Michelle unzips her waste purse and pulls out a thick stack of bills.  Undoing the rubber band, she counts out a four-digit sum in $20s, $50s, and $100s.  He gives her the title, and then motions for her to try the bike out.  She’s straddling it before you can say “Eric Robinson.”  She looks it over, and asks “Now to start it...”

He walks over and recants the directions for a manual electric start.

She got it on the third try.

It must be pointed out at this point that most other people would have given her a pat on the back and said “Hasta La Vista, Baybee.”  Bud was pretty cool, though, in that he wanted to make sure that she was comfortable with the bike.  He killed the engine, wheeled it into his driveway, and told her to ride it around the block a couple times.

“Okay, now after I’ve got it started...” and then she confirms basic moving procedures with him.

Michelle dons a helmet and a heavy leather jacket, takes a deep breath, and then tries to start the engine.  She talks herself through it several times, and finally gets it going.  Then she stands idle for a full thirty seconds.

By this time, Bud is coming to realize that Michelle has exaggerated her knowledge and experience to him.  He takes a deep breath, as does Michelle, who suddenly bucks forward, stops, and hesitantly tries it again.  Uncertainly, she starts off down the block.

“Oh, man,” I say to you confidentially, “I smell a class-action suit.”

“Yeah,” you concur, “this has litigation written all over it.”

“She has ridden before, hasn’t she?” Bud asks me.

I turn to him, distracted.  “Huh?  What?  Oh, yeah.  Once around a parking lot, when she got her certificate.”

Bud winces.

Forty-five nail-biting seconds later, we hear a distant, brooding rumble.  The restrained thunder of The Muffler From Hell precedes Michelle by a full ten seconds.  She lumbers past, doing about fifteen miles an hour.  A nod of the helmet, and she disappears down the block for another lap.  We listen to the roar of her pipes--still audible though she was by now out of sight--and pray for the best.

By the lesser-known Einsteinian theorem




30 seconds of Real Time { T(R) } had the Tense Feel { T(f) } of  450 seconds, or seven and a half minutes.   After a full minute (T(f) = half an hour)[3] of no Michelle, we began to get worried.

After two minutes of no-show, we unanimously decide that she’s crashed.

“Hey,” Bud asks us, “What time is it?”

I shrug.  “Maybe two minutes.”

He nods irritably.  “Yeah, but what time is it?”

            I don’t have my watch, but you do.  “Oh wow,” you say in surprise, “it’s 11:30!”

“Shit,” He mutters, “They’re gonna hate me at work.”

“What time you gotta show up,” I ask.

Just as he says “9,” we see Michelle walking around the block at the end of the street, pushing her motorcycle.  We walk briskly to her.

“I dropped it,” she says when we are within earshot.

“Are you all right?” I call out.

“Oh, I’m fine,” she says, annoyed, “but I dented the bike.”

“What happened?” Bud asks as we reach the bike.  He kneels to examine the front mud guard.  The paint is badly scuffed.

“I stopped at a stop sign and stalled.  I couldn’t keep my balance and I dropped it.  Then I couldn’t get it started again.”

We wheel it to the edge of the driveway, and Bud gives it a thorough inspection.  While kneeling by the engine, he reaches up and tries the starter.  It surges to life with a powerful roar.  Like a conductor, he listens to the symphony of the machine, and tunes it slightly.

“The machine’s fine,” feebly jokes Michelle, “it’s just the operator’s an idiot.”

Truer than you know, you concur silently.

Bud gets it running, and encourages her to buzz around the block a few more times.  So hesitantly, off she goes, whizzing and pasting and pooting down the street.

“Would you keep an eye out for her?” Bud asks us: “I gotta change for work.”

We nod, and he disappears inside.

I look at you, you look at me, we both look down the street.  No sign of her.

We wait in silence for an awkward thirty seconds.

“So, what kind of welding you like?” I ask at last.

You turn from the street to me.  “Beg pardon?”

“What’s yer faverit kind uh weldin’?” I ask with a broad smile and Southern White Trash accent.

You are convinced that I have finally gone out of my mind.

I lean over, and say in gesticulated confidence, “I like heliarc m’self.”  I nod my head for emphasis, then drop the expression.

“Sorry,” I say.  “Ancient inside joke.”

You smile.  “That’s what you are, Matt: an inside joke for a select crowd.”

“Michelle should’ve been back by now.”

“Uh huh,” you agree.  We both look back down the road.  Just as Bud is finally emerging from his house in a suit and tie, Michelle comes puttering along.

She pulls up to us and kills the engine.  “Sorry, I stalled at a stop sign, and I had trouble starting it.  But,” she quickly adds, “I didn’t drop it.”

Bud nods, you stifle a yawn.

“Okay,” she says to Bud, “ to get to the Eisenhower Expressway I go down that street two stoplights, hang a right...”

“Whoa!” says Bud quickly, holding up his hands.  “You’re going back by the Expressway?”

“Yeah,” says Michelle, “I’ll just stay in a slow lane.”

“There are no slow lanes on the expressway, my dear.  I suggest you go back by Grand Avenue.  That turns into Fullerton, where you’re going to keep your bike.”

“Yeah,” Michelle protests, “but that’ll take forever.”

He shrugs at her.  “Hey, I don’t think you’re ready to take this over forty.”

“I just thought of something,” I say, and you can faintly see the lightbulb over my head.  “Going back by Grand, she’s going to have a lot of lights and a lot of stopping.  Michelle, do you think you have mastered the stop-without-stalling technique?”

She gets very evasive.

“Do me a favor,” I tell her, “Go around the block a few more times.”

Only when Bud agrees with me will she.  And so Remedial Motorcycling 101 continued.  Somehow it was creeping up on one o’clock.

When it was exactly twice as long as was necessary for her to have returned, we set out on foot.

“I didn’t want to sell the bike to her,” Bud suddenly announces.  I consider this unsolicited piece of information, then ask, “So why did you?”

“If I didn’t need the money, I wouldn’t.  But she told me that if I didn’t sell her that one, she’d just buy one from somebody else.”

You: “I don’t think that she appreciates your taking the time out to help her like this, so I’ll thank you for her.”

Just as he says thanks, we spot her.  She is on a side street half way down the block.

“I dropped it again,” she says, fighting the starter.  It refused to catch.

At this point, we all have a long pow-wow.  It is obvious that Michelle is incapable of riding the bike into Chicago.  Michelle curses both of us for being unable to ride the bike back in her stead.  We wonder if she should rent a trailer and haul it back, but she just gave over all her money.

Finally, Michelle gets Bud to agree to ride it into town for her.  But of course, that’ll have to be tomorrow, because he’s terminally late for work now.

So we pile into her car and putter back to Chicago.

“Well, that was a waste of time,” Michelle growls, jabbing the radio changer especially hard.

“Not really.  It gave you a chance to ride around on it, and get a feel for it.”

From the back seat you smile at this: Matt being optimistic.

Two minutes later, Michelle has us hopelessly lost.

“I could have sworn the Eisenhower was back this way,” she mutters.

“Why don’t you ask for directions?” you suggest helpfully.

Michelle looks around.  “Do you see anywhere to ask?”

At the next corner is a gas station, with a police car sitting in it.

“Maybe up there,” I suggest.

She pulls in, rolls my window down electronically, and orders me to ask.

“Excuse me, officer, do you know how to get to the Eisenhower?”

“Boy, you’re lost as hell, aren’t you?”  He contemplates the problem with a thoughtful grin.  “Simplest thing for you to do is to keep on this street ’till you reach Harlem and hang a left.  That eventually hooks up with it.”

“Got that?” I ask Michelle.  She nods.

Now most people would have reversed a little bit, swung their car in a curve and gotten back onto the street.  But Michelle drives forward to the other entrance of the gas station, where the bisecting street runs.  She pulls into the street, half way across the concrete divider, and blocks both lanes as she waits for an opening.  You turn around to see if the cop is going to give her a ticket for being an asshole, but he’s gone.

The light changes, and the lanes we are idling in begin to move.  Everybody is honking at us, and Michelle flips everybody off.

“C’mon, asshole,” she yells, “let me through!”

I turn around to you.  “Isn’t this fun?”

You begin to club me with the car lock.

Finally Michelle peals out, narrowly missing a bus.  She gets back onto the street we want, and has us hopelessly lost again in record time.

“I asked for directions last time,” I tell her.  She pulls into a Swiftee Mart, and suddenly the car lurches as she drives over the concrete pylon denoting the end of the parking space.

Before you can find a suitable object to kill her with, she’s back in the car.  The vehicle lurches as she backs over the pylon and into the parking lot.

“Are we all set now?” I ask.

“Yeah,” she says.  “I know exactly where we are.”

I glance at you in the rear view mirror, find you looking incredulously at me, and we both start laughing.

“What’s so funny?” she asks.

“You’re going to make me listen to this, aren’t you?”

I’m indicating the radio, which is belting out Bob Segar.

“What, you don’t like Bob Segar?”  She sounds shocked.

“Michelle,” I patiently explain, “Bob Segar is one of the most overplayed and undertalented mongoloids to crawl out of that cultural vacuum known as the 1970s.  The man has not only reached the epitome of cliché, he has defined it.”  I stare at her hatefully.  “I piss on Bob Segar.”

“I like Bob Segar!” she says defensively.

“That’s hardly surprising.”

If she realizes that I’ve just verbally slapped her in the face, she doesn’t show it.  She turns the channel as she turns the car.  The traffic is getting thick.

“That’s anther thing I like about motorcycles,” she says, “it’s a lot easier to cut traffic with one.”

And once on that subject, she jabbers mindlessly the rest of the way back about them.

Five blocks from my house, she asks “What time is it?”

You have a watch: “about 3:30.”

“Oh, shit,” she says, “I gotta go take care of some dogs.”

I turn around to you and explain: “Michelle hires herself out to people as semi-professional pet care.  She walks people’s dogs and feeds them.”

“For $10 an hour!” she sounds proud.  “Unfortunately, half of these assholes take off and leave me to do it all alone.”

You contemplate pointing out that the reason they paid her to take care of their animals was so they could “take off”.  But then you decide that this is just par for the course with our driver.

“Mind if I just drop you off here?” she pulls into a gas station before she even finishes with the question.

“Sure,” I say, getting out, “why not?”

Scarcely are you out of the back when she’s pulling back into traffic.

“What a dreadful person,” you say.

“Yep.”  I begin walking along Diversey, heading home.

“I’m sorry to drag you along on that,” I say as we cross the street, “but ultimately it underlines what my original point was.”


“As I said eight hours and fourteen pages ago, my original draft of this letter summed that encounter up in about two paragraphs.  But now I think you have a much better feel for what happened, now that you’ve been through the events yourself.”

“But you’re right.  This is much more colorful.”

“In more ways than one,” I say, smiling back.  “Believe me, I wish you had been here.  Your company would have made all of this much more bearable.”

“Well thank you, Matt!”  We turn down a different street.  “So what now?” you ask.

You recognize the back of my house up ahead.

“Oh, I don’t know.  We can just hang out and watch a movie until 9 O’clock.”

“What’s at 9?”

I’m unlocking my door.  “Northern Exposure.”

“Ah,” you say, shutting the door behind us.  Scarcely has the bolt clicked than the phone is ringing.

After the message, a feminine voice: “Hey, Bozo.”

With obvious dread, I pick it up.

“Hi, Mom.”

You wander into the kitchen and open my refrigerator.  The beverage selection is a bottle of dangerously flat Mountain Dew, and a quarter carton of Tropicana orange juice.  You pull that out, sneak a look over at me.  My attention is elsewhere (I’m yelling into the phone) so you chug the OJ and toss the evidence into the garbage.

“Mom, it’s none of your FUCKING BUSINESS!!!!!!!!!!”

You look around the corner, startled.  I hang up a moment later.

“Bitch!” I shout.  “Not you; her.”

“What was that all about?”

“Oh, remember when I went to see Penny how my folks wigged out, and found out I went out of town?”

“Yeah?” you recall the letter explaining it all.

“Well, I’m in the clear on that, but now a new snag has developed.  My excuse was that I was shacked up at this girl’s house.  Well, now Mom’s all intensely curious about her.  She started asking a lot of questions just now, and wouldn’t take my evasiveness for an answer.  I told her that I didn’t want to talk about it, but of course she’s a nosy bitch and kept pressing the issue.  You just heard the outcome.”

“Ooops,” you comment.

“Too bad you weren’t here in real life: I’d have had you talk to her.”

“Oh, sort of a Lori deal?”

“Yeah, but now I’ve got to cover my tracks some more.  Well, at least she buys into my seeing someone and still doesn’t know about my excursion.”  I shake my head in disgust.  “God, she really pisses me off sometimes.”

“She’s paying your rent, Matt,” you thoughtfully point out.

I walk into the kitchen and open the fridge.  “I know.  That’s why I go through the motions of being sociable with her.  Wasn’t there some orange juice in here?”

“So what movie do you want to watch?” you ask innocently.

“I don’t know,” I answer, too angry to see the empty carton in the garbage.  “Pick something out,” I say and go outside to check the mail.

You’ve narrowed it down to a choice between “The Omen,” “Prince of Darkness,” and  “The Seventh Sign” when I come back in.

“What’s that?” you ask, indicating the envelope I hold.

“Unemployment check.”  Still in a bad mood, I pick up my guitar and turn on my amp.  Barring a few poorly recorded offerings, it’s the first time that you’ve heard me play.  It’s obvious that my rage influences my playing.  It doesn’t sound very good, and even I quickly lose interest.

“Know what this calls for?” I ask.


“Prank phone call.”

“Oh goodie.  Michelle?”

“No, she’d recognize our voices.”  Over at the phone, I dial a completely random number, and write it down for future reference.

“Pick a name out of the Bible,” I ask you while it’s ringing.


“Hello, is Aaron there?  ...Is this...” and I recite the number I just dialed.  You smile.  “Well, then, can I speak to Aaron?  ...Look, just let me talk to him for a moment...  ...Hey, if he’s busy, just say so--you don’t need to give me the run-around...  ...why are you being such a dick?  ...Listen: Aaron gave me this number and told me he could be reached here...  ...well, fine...”


“Got the idea?” I ask.

“More or less,” you reply.

“Cool,” and you can tell that I’m in a much better mood. “let’s watch a movie.”

Two hours later, I hand you the phone and dial the number.

VOICE  “Hello?”

BETH  “Hi, is Aaron there?”

VOICE  “I’m sorry, you have the wrong number.”

BETH  “Is this,” and you look at he slip of paper with the phone number on it.

VOICE  “Yes it is,” the voice replies patiently, “but there’s nobody named Aaron here.”

BETH  (starting to giggle) “Ah!  I see: when are you expecting him back?”

VOICE  “No, you don’t understand...”

BETH  “Just have him call me when he gets in, okay?”

VOICE  “But...”

BETH  “Thanks.”


“How was that?” you ask.

“Perfect,” I respond.  “What do you want for dinner?”

“What do you have?”

“A phone, twenty bucks, and the number for the best pizza in Chicago.”

“Sounds good.  Just no anchovies.”

“Not a problem,” and I call in the order.

After gorging ourselves on pizza and watching Road Runner cartoons, you call The Number again.

“Disguise your voice,” I tell you.

You nod, but a different voice answers.

BETH  “Hello, can I speak to Aaron, please?”

NEW VOICE  “Uh, you’ve got the wrong number.”

BETH  (confirms number)

NEW VOICE  “That’s the number, but no one named Aaron lives here.”

BETH  “That’s funny; he gave me the number last night.  Are you sure he’s not there?”

NEW VOICE  “Quite.”

BETH  “Huh.”

NEW VOICE  “Sorry, but...”

BETH  “Well, can you do me a favor?  If he does show up...”

NEW VOICE  “Highly unlikely.  I don’t even know anyone named Aaron...”

BETH  (matching tone perfectly)  “yeah, yeah, but when he does show up, could you tell him...”

NEW VOICE  “You’ve got the wrong number.”


“I see that you’ve got the hang of it,” I say, as you hang up.

“Goodie.  Now what?”

“Now Matt plays guitar for an hour.”

I pick up my guitar and begin cleaning the strings.  Bored, you wander into my den.  As I’m practicing scales, you peruse my book collection.

“They say that reading is food for the mind,” I call out over the Do-Re-Mi tones of the major scale, “so if that’s the case, you’ll find the snack food on the bottom shelf of the right-hand bookcase.”

A glance there shows that it where I keep my comic books.  Pardon me: graphic novels.  You pull out the first bound volume of Cerebus the Aardvark.

I stop playing.  “Actually, Beth, I have an idea.  Want to help me make my next tape?”

You put down the book and look out at me.  

“I’m making Evil Matt Party Mix #11, and I’m having all of my friends talk onto it to say things and make links.”

“Yeah, you said something about that in your last letter.”

I turn on my JVC, and fast-forward the tape.

“Well, I’m a quarter way through side one and kind of stuck.”

I press play.

You hear a obsequious Hollywood producer-type voice announce “By the way, I’m Mister Fabulous!”, followed quickly by “Hi, boys and Girls, I’m Jimmy Carl Black, I’m the indian of the group,” which cuts to a devastating guitar line.  A voice sings over it:

“I am anger, under pressure, left in cages, a prisoner, the first to escape.  I am wicked, I am legion...”

This cuts to a deep voice (George C. Scott’s) intoning “...and Jesus asked the man who was possessed, ’what is your name?’  And he answered ‘Legion,’ for we are many...”  You smile in recognition of the source of the quote: Mark 5:9.

The song suddenly cuts back, as do the lyrics: “Strength in numbers a lie, the number is One.  I... I... I... I am standing alone, but I still rock you... ”

“Who is this?” you ask, still listening in case another shift happens.

“Right now it’s Black Sabbath.  Song is called “I”.  Understand the transition?”

You nod.

The next verse: “I am virgin...”

and suddenly, abruptly, the song cuts off.  I’d obviously pressed STOP on the cd while recording, intending for the next link.[4]

I stop the tape, and pull out a tape deck with a built-in microphone  You eye it suspiciously.

“What do you want me to say?”  you ask.

I hand you  slip of paper with a sentence written on it.  You read it and laugh.


You know enough about Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to be able to duplicate the appropriate tone: “Hello, my name’s Beth... and I’m a virgin.”

(me, duplicating a crowded room): “Hi, Beth!”

I stop the tape, rewind it, and listen to it.  We both fall on the floor laughing.

I rewind both that tape and the other, and splice our segment onto the master copy.

“That was fun,” you say.  “Can we do another?”

I set the tape up, and suddenly shout “Wow, man: is that Freedom Rock?”

Taking your cue, you yell “Yeah, man!”

“Well turn it up, Man!”

Listening to that almost makes us cry.

Struggling to recover, “I’ll slip that onto side two somewhere.  Right now I have to figure out what goes on after ‘Hi, Beth!’ .”

“Well, why don’t you decide after Northern Exposure.  It’s on in five minuets.”

I glance at the clock on my vcr.  “So it is.  Ever watch the show?”

“Yeah, it’s strange.”

“Precisely why I like it.”

An hour later, I turn off the tv and switch my stereo back to Tape Playback mode.

“I’m really psyched to get back to work on the tape,” I say.

You suppress a yawn.

“Forgive me for being a bad host, but I’m probably going to be working on this for the rest of he night.  After all, it’s what I really did that night.”

“Okay, then I’m just going to crash.”

“No you’re not,” I say, and hand you the phone.

You smile and dial The Number.  As it rings, you see me pulling out a set of heavy-duty, professional quality earphones.

Voice:  “Hello?”

Beth:  “Yeah, is Aaron there?”

Voice:  (slightly perturbed.)  “Uh, look.  There’s no one named Aaron at this number.”

I’m smiling as I peruse my video library, listening to you say “But he gave me this number.”

Beth:  “Well, he must have made a mistake...”

Deciding that a good offense is the best strategy, you snarl “Look, just who the Hell is this?”

I pull down “The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly”, trying not to laugh out loud at your tone.

“Look, I don’t care!” you’re practically yelling.  “I need to talk to him!”

You look over at me.  “He hung up.”

“Good,” I reply, fast-forwarding the tape to a scene I intended to steal dialogue from.

“Good?” you ask.

“Yep,” I reply.  “See ya tomorrow.”

You wander back into my bedroom, ending the day and the letter where you began it: in bed.

As you drift off to sleep, you faintly hear me trying desperately to suppress laughter.

[click here for Day Two]

[1]  This is a true story.  It happened to my mom when she was going to the University of Arizona back around ’66 or so.  Her boyfriend’s name was named Grey, actually, and not only did he lose his life that day, he lost his motorcycle as well.  The guy who jumped out at them got up after the collision and rode off on Grey’s bike.  When Michelle asked me why I didn’t ride a cycle, I told her this story, explaining that my mother wouldn’t let me near one because of what happened.  Those were Michelle’s actual responses.


[2] Actually, it was something else, but does it matter?  I think not.

[3] This formula almost works.  You have to use a whole number larger than 2, but consider:  using the formula, 5 minutes equals 12.5 minutes when calculated for minutes, but (5 minutes = 300 seconds) it yields 12.5 hours if calculated for seconds.  And 23 minutes of real time converts to 264.5 minutes of Fear, whereas its seconds equivalent comes up with 264.5 hours.  This conversion is constant.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Pretty scary, huh?

[4] Obviously, since you weren’t here, I had to splice it another way (I’ll keep how a secret, so you’ll be surprised when you hear it) but if you had been here, this is what I would have had you say.  At the time this part of the story supposedly takes place I was still on side one, but as of now I’m 9 minutes and 51 seconds away from finishing it.  It’s easily the best thing I’ve ever done, and of course I’ll send you a copy.  A couple of parts are on there just for you!