Deep Mongolian Steinem Job
Semi-cationically, you shuffle out into the kitchen, strains of Beethoven’s 8th symphony wafting from my answering machine. Your mind identifies the beep, but can’t place the thick, fudgy voice saying “It’s me, pick up the phone.”
I, however, do.
Some dread: “Hi, Michelle.”
You shake your head, reverse orientation, and shuffle back into my bedroom. You can still hear my end of the conversation as you melt into the sheets.
“Oh do you now; pray tell what is it? ...uh huh... ...what about the storage lot?... ...well, no, they have a point, Michelle. Your bike is a fire hazard... ...actually, it kind of does make sense... ...uh huh... ...uh huh... ...yeah, but your dad would shit... ...I still don’t see why you don’t just park it on the street... ...yeah, but... ...wait—what?... ...I thought you parked the white truck out on the street... ...well, I saw I there yesterday... ...well, this garage: doesn’t your dad ever go in there? ...Well, don’t you think he’ll wonder why there’s a Harley in there?”
You hear me grunt disgustedly. “Well, I don’t know about that... ...well, for starters, it’s pretty dusty and dirty down there. And it’s bug central... ...well, I should probably bounce it off Cher and Laura first... ..if it were my bike, I wouldn’t... ...well, for how long?... ...alright, alright...”
“Oh, Beth dear?” I call out in a falsely polite voice, “we’re having company over.”
You begin to look around for a blunt object to bludgeon me with, but suddenly you are cognizant of a distant rumbling. You look out my bedroom window into the back alley, and sure enough, Bud comes cruising by.
I am already out the back door. You walk into the kitchen, open the refrigerator, and survey Mother Hubbard’s Electric Cupboard. The Harley’s idling roar chokes and smothers at the touch of a button.
“Nope,” a deep voice (Bud’s, undoubtedly) was already saying. “This won’t work.”
“What’s wrong?” came the question from your left: out toward the front house. You hear the echo of her boots as she comes in from the street.
“Sidewalk’s too narrow,” Bud responds. The only liquids in my fridge are vegetable shortening and ketchup. You shut the door in despair, and out of boredom go outside to see what the fuss is about.
My neighbors have a chain link fence quarantining their little yard area from the rest of the world. That fence is roughly three and a half feet away from the side of my house. Michelle is standing on the cement sidewalk, filling up most of those three and a half feet. Bud is indicating the narrow space, saying “I don’t think you’re going to be able to get it here. I could, but you’d have trouble with it.”
Michelle hikes her thumb over her shoulder. “Well, that’s at least a foot wider; I could come in and go out that way.”
Bud shrugs, flips the starter, and drives around to the front. I shut the door and walk around to the front of my house. My neighbors are out on the deck, looking at us. I wave.
A moment later, bud comes ambling down between the two houses. The echo of the engine on the walls was overwhelming.
“There aren’t any cops around, are there?” Bud asks, quickly killing the engine and looking over his shoulder.
I’m standing at the bottom of the staircase to my front door. “Okay, take a look at this,” I say, and step down to the door. The door had a latch, but there was nothing on the house for it to attach to, though there were still visible scars from when it had been forcibly removed long ago. (And never replaced: thanks, Mr. LandLord). I push it open, and the old wooden door swung in a foot before catching on something inside.
Bud is shaking his head sadly. “Don’t bother,” he tells me. “Michelle, you can’t keep your bike down there.”
“Why not?” she protests.
“Even if you built a ramp for the two steps, you’re going to have a hell of a time negotiating that angle to get in and out of there.” I give the door a healthy shove, and push debris back as the door swings open.
“And,” Bud says, “the sidewalk isn’t that wide, and you might get caught in some slick grass if you cut the corner wrong. That happens, and you’ll spill again.”
Michelle steps down to where I am, peers into the open space that used to house somebody’s buggy. She brings her hand up to clear away the disturbed dust from her asthmatic lungs.
Bud peers in, and actually laughs. “Oh God, no.”
You peer over everybody’s shoulder. The dim shadows of a heater squatting amidst some plumbing, and an obstacle course of scrap lumber.
“It’s web city in there, Michelle,” I tell her. You believe it.
“Yeah, you’re bound to get spiders in your carb, and rats eating the tires.”
“No?” she asks.
“Nope,” all three of us say in harmony.
Michelle becomes totally despondent.
Bud glances at his watch. “Well, what are you gonna do, Michelle?”
“Uh, I don’t know.”
“Well, I just gotta get back and get ready for work.”
“Matt, can I leave my bike here while I go drop him off at work?”
Michelle is looking at me with Elvis eyes, pleading her case. Her lip starts quivering, making her look like a Jersey cow chewing its cud.
I realize that she doesn’t have any place else to stash her bike for now, so I decide to be nice. “Sure.”
“Just keep an eye on it until I get back.”
I lean into her and elucidate straight faced, “Of course I will.”
Bud begins to secure it to the metal struts supporting the fire escape from Cher and Laura’s. He’s using a standard bicycle chain and a combination lock; somebody with a good pair of snips could cut it no problem.
I am helping him, trying to position the bike in a way that it wouldn’t block the sidewalk. It was, I quickly discover, a hopeless task.
While Bud and I do the actual physical labor, Michelle stands off on the side and directs. You sit on the wooden stairs leading to my deck. You become conscious that you are still in your night gown about the same time Michelle does. Smiling broadly, she walks over to you. Oh, Gawd, you mutter as you see her approach. She leans over the rail to you, and grins a co-conspiratorial smile.
“So,” she says, eyeing your attire appreciatively, “you two were asleep, or did we interrupt you?”
“No,” you say Blondely, “I was asleep, but Matt was already up.”
“Yeah,” and her smile became the one she flashes when she fakes an orgasm. “I’ll bet he was.”
You shake your head sadly. She’s so shallow!
“So,” she says, “are you Matt’s girlfriend from Athens?”
You can tell from her tone that she knows you are not.
“No,” you say, “I’m from Fort Meyers.”
She frowns a little more than sincere puzzlement calls for. “Fort Meyers? Huh. Don’t think he ever told me about any girls he knew from there, but then again, it’s hard for me to keep track of them all.” You nod. Standard jealousy tactics.
She misinterprets your nod for sympathy.
“Yeah,” she goes on with premeditated coyness, “I know he’s dating some girl in Athens, and he’s got another stashed out in Texas, plus a bunch back at FSU...”
You wonder if you are “the girl I have stashed out in Texas,” or wonder if that is Michelle’s interpretation of Tonya. Since she obviously assumes that all heterosexual friendships involve (and are even based on) sex, she naturally assumes that I am sleeping with all of my female friends.
In a tone denoting both assured confidence and burning curiosity, she asks you flatly, “Well, how is he?”
You put the tip of your tongue between your incisors and flash 23% of a smile.
She nods, looks over toward me. I’m clicking a padlock onto the frame, oblivious to your conversation. Michelle turns back to you. The look in her eyes makes you glad that we aren’t dating. Otherwise you’d be reaching behind your back and saying “Schwing!!! I believe this knife is yours, Michelle.”
Her curiosity is now fully piqued. “So, if you don’t mind my asking, just how big is he?”
Over her shoulder, you see me stand up, and estimate that I’m six feet, three inches tall. You shrug, and say whimsically “Close to six and a half.”
She is obviously disappointed. Still, using simplistic deductive reasoning, she concludes
A = Matt has lots of women
B = all women love sex
C = Matt must know how to use that 6½ inches very well.
Her smile becomes 6 ½% more lecherous.
Bud finishes securing the bike to the fire escape.
“I think they’re going to have a problem getting around it,” I say.
“Who?” he asks.
“My upstairs neighbors.”
Bud looks up the metal poles to the top of my house. There is a small grille platform outside the top window, with stairs leading down to my deck. From my deck it is an easy walk down. “How is this blocking?” Michelle asks from your side. “They can just cut across the grass to go up.” She points at the fire escape ladder next to your perch.
“Michelle,” I say exasperatedly, “That’s not how they go in and out of their house. They go around to the back.” I make a motion with my arm, from Wayne street to the back of my house. The motorcycle jutted out enough that it made a bottleneck with the chain link fence. There was maybe a foot of clearance.
“Oh, they can get by that,” Michelle said abstractly. “Are we ready?”
Bud nods. She turns to you, “Well, we gotta get out of here, so you two can go back to what you were doing.” She smiles that Time’s Square smile again, then walks over to the bike. She takes a long, last look at it.
They take off, and I climb up the steps to join you.
“Think we’ll see her again?”
“Probably not today,” I reply. “If she does show up, it’ll be two hours from now.”
“Hey, I gotta run some errands. Wanna come along?”
You actually take the time to think it over. You decide that you’re far enough awake that it’s not worth going back to sleep.
“Do I have time for a shower?”
“If you’re brave enough to try it,” I reply cryptically. You frown, and I help you stand up. I indicate for you to go into the kitchen, and as you do, you hear me open a drawer. I sneak up behind you with a towel, roll it up, and snap it at your fanny.
“Hey, cut it out!” you cry as my aim strikes home. I toss you the towel, and I point to the wall next to my bedroom. On the wall is a full-length poster of Eddie the Iron Maiden mascot. Much of the wall has been disintegrated, and Eddie is standing on the other side of the wall, pointing a laser at you.
“In there,” I say.
After a moment, you notice that the poster has a door knob, and you suddenly realize that by some fluke the color of the poster and the color of the bathroom door are almost identical, thus concealing it. You open it, and go inside. A small washbasin and vanity, and snuggled in the back, a stand-up shower.
“This is pretty gross, Matt,” you call out.
The bottom of the shower stall is lined with burnt-orange rust. There are a couple spots of it around the center drain, too. But most noticeable is the huge rust drip extending down the side wall from directly under the hot water dial.
It is more than a minor health hazard.
“Isn’t it?” I say, materializing next to you. “It was like that when I moved in, but not as bad. I bitched to my landlord about it several times, but they didn’t exactly do anything about it. So it just kept getting worse. Finally I took some pictures of it and showed it to my landlord. He promised to do something about it right away.”
You look at the trench of rust.
“After a week, ” I continue, “I come home and find a note from the plumbers:
Replaced shower head and washer. If this was not the problem, please contact your landlord with specific instructions.
“So I took some more pictures in, and said ‘perhaps I didn’t make myself clear. It is these large rust spots that I am concerned with’...”
“How long ago was this?”
“Last month. But they made a deal with me. In November, they’re going to expand this into the storage space, and give me a bathtub.”
You shrug, “Well that’s okay, then.”
“Yeah, I can deal with that. Well, I’ll leave you to your aquatic hijinx...” I conclude, pat you affectionately on the back, and shut the door behind me.
Twenty minutes later, you emerge thoroughly soaked, steamed, and relaxed. Despite the tetanus factor, it was otherwise an awesome shower. You towel off in my bedroom, slip into Tonya’s raggedy Lee jeans, and try to decide on a top.
Next to my mirror is a built in shelf, with a clothes rack built underneath. You note with some amusement that it holds my sport coat, dress shirts, slacks, and ties. You also note that my Levis are hung there, plus a small collection of t-shirts. You smile, and study them. Some tie-dies, a couple with silk-screened monsters. A few you recognize from old photographs, or even my wearing them at FSU. Nothing has a title or name (otherwise, it would be filed alphabetically with the others in my den.)
You look over the selection, and on a spur-of-the-moment impulse, don a black shirt with a Boris Valejo painting of a nude woman embracing a winged demon.
From the living room, a German symphony is paying homage to W.A. Mozart. You emerge, power-brushing your blonde locks with long, even strokes. No sign of me. You stick your head in the den, and discover me sitting at my harvest table, tapping keys on my computer much like a concert pianist.
You walk up behind me, and notice two things of interest.
First, to the left of the screen, are taped up a laminated rejection slip (my very first) and three pictures of a barbie doll. One is sky-diving Barbie, another is Brownie-eating Barbie, and a third is a wallet-sized snap of Barbie and a dark-haired doll in a flower-print top, smiling with her arms around the blonde one.
Without stopping the typing, I say “I always put up a picture or two of the person I’m writing to. It helps me focus on them.” I tap the picture of you eating my laughable attempt at a brownie. “I love this picture. It’s my favorite.”
I stop typing and turn around. Seeing the shirt, I smile 5% more broadly than I already was. “Well, it’s exclusively for me. I’m the only one who understands the context of it, and you know that I live for obscure, inside jokes.”
You read the neon green on the miniature screen:
Hey! Hope you’re able to keep some grip on sanity and academics, and are otherwise doing okey-dokey...
I’ve started reading the sequel to Illuminatis! and it’s funny as hell. There’s a lot of Illuminatis! references in it; even a lot of the same characters. It’s called Schrödinger’s Cat, and I’ve learned more about quantum mathematics in the past three days...
You lean over, and hit a procession of keys: shift H i space shift T o n y and finally a.
“How do I make a smiley face?”
“Standard ASCII code is Alternate and 1 on the number pad.”
You try it, and get this after your greeting: J I go into the fonts and enlarge it for you:
Hi Tonya J
“Are we ready?” you ask. I save and exit, then shut off the computer.
“Yep,” I say, taking you to the front door. On a spur of the moment, I lock both locks.
“Where are we going?”
Motioning ladies first down the stairs, I say “Uh, I got my unemployment check yesterday, and I want to deposit it.”
You realize almost instantly what this means. “Oh goodie,” you exclaim at the bottom, “now we can eat!”
“Well, there’s that, plus a few other essentials I want to pick up.”
It was still on the chilly side. A shiver ripples up your spine, and suddenly your whole head twitches. Naturally, I assume that you are cringing at the sight of the metal behemoth secured to the fire escape.
The bike seems to have gotten bigger, and seems to be eating up more room. The ’72 Sportster had a number of faults in its design, and one of them was lousy aesthetics. Things like Easy Riders and Hurricanes had cool designs; this was an eye sore with handle bars.
I point to the splash guard covering the chain. “She says that she’s going to put a little decal of a pig there.”
“Why?” you ask.
“Well, most Harlies are called Hogs, but this isn’t a full-sized bike, so it’s only a piglet.”
“Um,” you say.
“In fact, she’s going to paint that on, in pink cursive: Piglet. ”
“It’s a subconscious plea for help, isn’t it?”
I escort you away from the bike.
“Would you care to make a guess on how long before she loses interest in it?”
You ponder this. “I need more information.”
“Okay, after she met me in 1988, she bought three guitars for roughly a thousand. More money into lessons. I’d say about six months later, she realized that learning how to play the guitar required both time and effort. And since her interest was pretentious and not real, she considered that time and effort to be that most hated word, “work.” In her letters, she used to talk at length about how she was progressing, and shit like that. But you could notice the enthusiasm was rapidly declining, and I don’t remember her mentioning the guitars after about a year.”
You shake your head sadly.
“Guess when the last time she touched one of her guitars was?”
“When she handed one to you?”
I laugh. “Actually, now that I think about it, you’re probably right! But the answer I was thinking of was June. This is true: she had something stuck between her teeth, and she didn’t have any dental floss. So she takes out her prized candy-apple red Strat, clips the thinnest string, and flosses her teeth with it.”
Although you detest the use of profanities, you can think of only one word to express your shocked incredulity:
“No, I’m totally serious!”
We’re both laughing hysterically, and every time we look at each other it gets worse.
Finally, “There’s no way...”
“Matt, nobody’s that stupid.”
“That time she handed me the guitar, I noticed that one of the strings was missing. I said, ‘oh, you broke a string.’ and she says no, she clipped it. And with a straight face, she told me why.”
“She needs help,” you say, trying to sound solemn but still laughing too hard.
“The first step is admitting that you have a problem.”
“Oh, well then she’s out: she definitely doesn’t have a clue.”
“Actually, in a base sort of way I think she suspects. Personally, I think that’s why she’s so taken with the Harley cult right now.”
“Yeah, she’s mysteriously come to the conclusion that bikers as people are basically good-natured, and that they accept everybody for what they are. Films like Mask exemplify this: the gang accepted the kid as one of their own, despite the fact that he was physically grotesque. Now, obviously Michelle has many negative physical and character flaws, but she thinks that bikers—being kind hearted—would overlook these and accept her into their ranks. And so finally, at long last, she would be a part of a group.”
You shrug. “That’s a good possibility. Or maybe she’s just taken up with the glamorized image, and this is her acting out her pretentiousness.”
“How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?”
“The world may never know.” you say with mock reverence. “But I do know how many it takes to get to the center of a marble…”
We’ve reached Lincoln Avenue. Sheffield also crosses here, and the three-way traffic was controlled by a science even Einstein was unsure of.
“So will you please tell me what you’re doing still talking to her?”
It is several moments before I answer: I’m too busy gauging traffic speed. Quite obviously it will be a while before we can get across.
“Well, to tell you the honest to God truth, I think our friendship is entering the terminal phase. It’s not a good sign when I only call her up because I need to borrow something.”
“Ohhhhhhh,” you say, realizing the gravity of the situation.
“Yeah,” I reply, and suddenly sprint in front of a CTA juggernaut. Insanely, you join chase, and reach a peninsula of asphalt that has a greasy Mexican take-out hut built on it.
“You know, the event with Penny made me examine Michelle in a whole new light.”
“Oh?” you ask, slightly winded. I am already heading around the side of the suspicious eatery. Next door to it is real estate appraiser, and then a brick building. A large wooden sign announces Healing Earth Resources. Just as you catch up, I turn and push the glass door open.
Holding the door open for you, I continue, “Yeah, Penny said that she didn’t like the person I had become, and that we had nothing in common any more.”
You enter, and suddenly realize that you have traveled into another world. The street sounds die instantly, replaced by delicate bells and chimes. Exotic fragrances fill the air, though not overpoweringly. The air even had a slight charge of mysticism.
“Well think,” I continue, “I don’t especially like Michelle now, and we definitely have different views and tastes now.”
“No,” you correct, looking around in wonder, “You have tastes, whereas she does not.”
“Thank you, Beth,” I say, smiling.
The table opposite the entrance has displays of mostly Native American origin. Your eye is drawn to a sculpture. It is a deer’s skull, but with additions like a hornet’s nest in one eye pit, a smokey glass ball in the other, and a braid of eagle feathers. Though not to your taste, you realize that I would love it. You see the three-digit price, and laugh. It merely confirms your suspicion: New Age is run for profit, just like most religions today.
I’m over at another able, sorting through incense jars. “Kind of made me think, you know? I mean, what Penny did to me I’m now doing to Michelle. Not only that, but I did it to Holly, Paul, and a couple others. I mean, am I dumping shit on everybody around me, and if so, why?”
You inspect the table I’m at. Sandalwood incense burning in one of those long wooden trays. Not only do they sell sticks and cones, but even little kits of resins that you rub onto charcoal lumps to burn. Yeah, right.
“I’m obviously an outsider on all this,” you say as you inspect an adjoining book rack. “But still, it sounds like Penny was being kind of a jerk to you.”
I come over to you. “Why thank you, Beth,” I say with a genuine smile. “You know, here’s two differences between you and her. The first is this conversation. You actually listen to what I have to say. Penny interrupts me every two sentences. The ridiculous thing about the arguments we had is that she kept interrupting me so much, I never got to explain my point of view. She’d hear a couple of words, and before I could justify myself, she’d cut me off.”
You shake your head, as much in sympathy to what I’m saying as in disapproval of the reading selection. Interviews with the Crystal Skull of the Andes, Profiles of the Rulers of Atlantis (Quimby Dynasty), and self-help tapes. New Age Nonsense.
“The other thing is that Penny took me so much for granted.”
You turn to look at me. “Beth, ” I say, “you’ve made it a point to say how much you appreciate me, and you’re even nice enough to include me in your prayers. I cannot express how much that means to me, Beth. You’re the perfect audience.”
(note to myself: insert big smiley face)
Just as this gets especially maudlin, a five year old red-headed terror charges up and says “That not a scary shirt!” He sounds terribly disappointed.
“Hi, Max,” I say to him.
“That’s not a scary shirt,” He points out accusingly. This morning, I blearily stumbled into my den and rolled two dice. They were my old Dungeon and Dragon dice: a ten-sided, and a twenty sided. The ten came up even. I’d start from the right side. The 20 was a 17. I’d start on the right and count seventeen hangers over. Blindly, I pulled down the shirt, and looked with curiosity a what I’d be wearing. Oh, Joy, it was Ren & Stimpy.
“She’s got my scary shirt today,” I tell him, and point at you. Max studies your shirt, and is impressed.
“Wow, that’s scary.” Having the standard five-year old’s attention span, he suddenly discovered something more interesting, and toddled off to investigate.
I look to find you looking at me with happy curiosity. Your smile was pretty, and slightly infectious.
“First time I ever came in here, I was wearing a t-shirt. It was of a green ghoul, screaming and clutching his head. Except that he starting to rip it in half.”
You recall seeing the shirt in my bedroom a half hour ago. Your opinion of it was my next comment: “It’s so cheesy that it’s kind of cool.”
I’m gathering sticks of dark frankincense and putting them into a thin piece of plastic that was more tube than bag. “Anyway,” I continue, “Max sees my shirt and freaks out.”
I begin walking toward the front counter, where Max happens to be rampaging. His playing orbits a woman behind the glass counter. She’s on the phone, but takes a moment to smile at me and wave before writing something down.
“The whole time I’m here,” I continue, “Max is hiding behind his mom in utter terror. It was really funny,” and I turn around to emphasize it.
Somehow, you form a picture of the scene, like watching a movie.
Aerial shot from the side of the counter. Matt standing casually on the right side, turned enough so that the audience can see his t-shirt. Matt also has long hair. On the left side, Max cowering behind his Mother. Both Max and Mother have red hair; Mother’s is the reddest audience has ever seen. She is roughly thirty, but the actress playing her is both attractive and sexy. She is dressed like a gypsy in form-fitting black denim.
Scene begins visually, with Matt’s attention split between Max and Mother. He is obviously amused by Max, and awed by his Mother. Mother’s attention is also split between her son and Matt. Her reactions seem similar to Matt’s. Max keeps peeking out from behind her back, spotting Matt’s dread shirt, ducking back into hiding, and coming out for a second look. Many people think that Max stole the show in this scene without ever saying a word. The young actor is hilarious to watch. He looked like he had just seen road kill. He was repulsed, but couldn’t help but look.
Mother: (smiling warmly) “It’s your shirt.”
Matt: (close to openly salivating) “gee, and this is one of my tame ones.”
Mother: “I like it.”
Matt: “Well, thank you.”
Both are smiling shamelessly. Matt begins wording his marriage proposal when Max makes a muffled cry. He’d stared at the shirt for several seconds and got the willies.
Mother turns to Max, and shoes him out. He clutches to her leg in a way that Matt obviously wants to imitate.
Mother: “God, look at you. And you’re the one who wants to go see Alien3.”
Matt: (clearly surprised) “He wants to go see Alien3?”
Mother: “Yeah. He saw the ads on tv and said “Mommy, I wanna go see it!”.”
Matt: (bouncily) “Cool!”
Mother: “But I don’t know how he’d make it through a movie like that if he gets scared of a t-shirt.”
Matt: “Yeah, well it’s not that scary, actually.”
Mother: “Oh, you’ve seen it?”
Matt: “Of course...” and a half-hour flirtation in the guise of a discussion on science fiction films begins.
The scene fades, and is replaced with reality. You reach the counter, which is a glass case full of crystals, geodes, and other quasi-mystical trappings. A tarot deck rests on top of the cash register.
The girl behind the counter suspiciously resembles the actress from the movie clip. She sits on a stool, well-toned legs crossed casually. You suddenly know who she reminds you of: Star, from The Lost Boys.
She’s still on the phone.
“Uh, actually, I’m not sure...” Her voice was a little deeper and reedier than you were expecting. She cups the phone to her chest and asks me “How many Nordic Runes are there? Seventeen?”
Only because you’ve known me a while can you tell that, despite my straight face, I haven’t a clue. “I thought it was twenty-three.”
Her face brightens. “No! It’s twenty-five!” She puts the phone back to her ear and says “Twenty-five.”
“Nine,” I say, holding up the baggie of frankincense. She looks at me, nodding. I drop exactly ninety-seven cents on the glass, and wave good-bye. She smiles in return, then quickly says “No, but I’ll be happy to check...”
Outside, I say “I was hoping you could have talked to her. She’s what most would classify as a New Age Nitwit, but she’s pretty cool.”
“She’s pretty—period,” you say with a knowing smile.
“Okay, okay, ” I cry defensively, “I’m only human.”
“Is she married?” you ask. You’d noted numerous rings on both hands. Do New Agers even wear wedding rings, you wonder absently. Christian weddings are so much better. What better way to express your love for someone than to declare it formally in the Presence of the One you love most of all. Marriage by a notary or a townhall clerk or a seedy cowboy with a Las Vegas tan didn’t cut The Mustard Seed. That was merely the creation of a legal contract. For marriage to count, it had to be announced before God.
“I don’t actively solicit information out of people,” I say. “I think that’s rude. I let people chose to tell me what they want to, and so far she hasn’t mentioned her current or past marital status. But I think she has a boyfriend.”
You nod, deciding not to press the issue. Besides, you were still chuckling over it all.
“Where to next?”
“Oh, goodie.” you say, enthused. Finance was so much fun that you got a piece of paper stating that you were a Bullshit Artist in it. So naturally, you just loved being in Financial Institutions.
A late-night campfire in the vault of Allstate Insurance, with a bottle of Sangria and a big-print version of the King James.
“I hate banks,” I say, jarring you out of the hazy vision of lounging naked on a pile of negotiable bonds, reading the second book of Kings.
“I’m sorry” you say, dazedly “what?”
“I said, ‘I hate banks.’ ”
Sacrilege! Around us, the other pedestrians stop their actions in horror, then begin to grab heavy objects. As you watch, everybody becomes scruffy and dusty. They are all wearing loincloths or cape dresses, and are armed with stones.
“Banks are absurd,” I continue, and the crowd, hearing my ultimate blaspheme, stone me to death in the traditional Hebraic style.
“Think about it, Beth,” I say, casting a hateful glance at the weaving drunk who nearly careened into me. “Never mind the fact that a bank charges us to keep our money there, and further charges us to use it. Banks are evil. In crudest terms, a bank is a monster that eats deposits and shits loans. It’s all part of a fiendish monetary ecosystem.”
Beth: “Are you high?”
Matt: “No, listen!” I have the look of a religious zealot, that pathological stare, so you decide to humor me and listen. “Banks have only so much money in them, from deposits, investments, and shit. However, they are able to loan out eight times as much as they actually have. Basically, they are creating money out of nothing. Every time they loan out more than they have, The Federal Reserve guarantees the loan with government bonds. The bonds are good because they are guaranteed by loans from the Fed. Those loans are good, because they are guaranteed by more government bonds. And those bonds (remember) are guaranteed by loans from the Fed.”
The look in my eye is not no much one of a religious zealot, but a political anarchist.
“I think Robert Anton Wilson said it best, Beth: ‘Money is the Schrödinger’s Cat of economics’.”
You not politely.
“Oh, cool!” I point out. The shift of my mood startles you. “There’s the Biograph Theater.”
You look up the street where I am pointing, and see the famous black marquis. Now playing: Single White Female, The Player. A Factoid floats up to your brain. Gangster John Dillinger was killed here after seeing Manhattan Melodrama. However, the body brought to the morgue had a different height and eye color than John Dillinger. Another—and even more obscure—fact is that the body had a penis twenty-three inches long. That was good enough to get it into the Smithsonian. You pause and wonder why your virginal mind would know a factoid like that—especially that last bit. You conclude that I must have told you about it in some letter.
“Ever see a movie here?” you ask.
“Yeah, I’ve been here a couple times. First time was back in ’79 or ’80. Saw a Kurasowa film. I’ve been in here a couple of times since I moved back. Saw Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and The Fisher King.”
“Oh, you’d seen The Fisher King before you and I saw it?”
“Yeah, but I wanted to see it again on a big screen so I could study it. Terry Gilliam’s one of my favorite directors.”
“Oh,” you reply, thinking about that night. The image that most quickly came to mind was taking a sip of Sangria just when the girl in the movie said “The Holy Grail? Yeah, wasn’t that Jesus’s Juice Cup?” In laughing, you sprayed both me and Paul.
“Weirdest thing happened when I saw Fisher King here at the Biograph,” I say, and Mugs & Movies is replaced by the Biograph’s ticket office. The booth was empty: too early for the theater to open. “Now in case you didn’t know, this part of Chicago, Lincoln Park, has been a base of operations for both the Illuminatus and the Discordians. In fact, Simon Moon used to live a couple of blocks from here. He probably still does.”
You nod politely, not having the slightest idea what I’m talking about.
“Anyway, half way through Fisher King, I had to go to the bathroom. And I reach for the toilet paper, and suddenly I notice that every single sheet has stamped on it
It was in this weird red ink, sort of like when you look through those old three-d glasses with one eye closed. Really fucked with my mind.”
We reach a small park. It’s nicely trimmed, lots of flowers and benches. A wooden sign says no panhandling or alcohol. The park tapers to a point as it nears the intersection. A small news shack is at the very tip. Looking in, you’re not surprised that it has more porn magazines than non-porn. Some of the titles are absurd.
Traffic blocks our progress. Looking across the diagonal street, you see a medium-sized structure with the logo Etna Bank blazoned inartistically along the top. Across the other street, Fullerton Avenue, is the corner of a large university named after a prudish hunchback midget who had a fixation for writing long, boring epistles. We stand, waiting for the light to change. I am bouncing slightly, which you find amusing. Agitatedly, I glance down the street, growl at the long line of cars advancing. Then I glance the other way, studying the traffic light. I growl at the green, then look back to see how traffic is progressing.
“Settle down, Matt,” you suggest.
I calm out a little, but only a little.
“What’s your hurry,” you ask teasingly, “I would have thought you’d try and stay away from banks as much as possible.”
The light turns yellow, but the traffic is completely unaffected.
“Well, Beth, I use banks as little as possible, and this bank epitomizes many of the stereotypes about why I hate them. I’m noticing that there are certain places around here that act as employment magnates for people with double-digit IQs. This is one of ’em.”
The light changes, and we begin across the street. “What are some of the others?” you ask.
Holding the glass door open for you, I say “you’ll be seeing them for yourself in a couple of pages.”
Inside is a spacious main area full of healthy plastic plants and dying real ones. A fat black man in his late fifties sits slightly out of sight, reading a newspaper. He is wearing what looks like a tan cub scout outfit. By his feet is a steaming cup of coffee. You make an educated guess that he is the guard. Just at the penumbra of your hearing range are ever-so-faint strains of painfully generic elevator music. The vault is off to the left, open and inviting. There is a long counter full of signs saying “next window please.” The only help for the small queue of customers is a wispy black man with horriffic acne scarring and the loudest power tie in North America.
“Shall we join the lemmings?” I ask. We stroll over and get behind three other people: an amazingly fat lady in a wrinkled, yellow sun dress, and a father with his five year-old son. The son is transfixed by the lady ahead of him. Or, more specifically, by her enormous derriere. It is a combination for disaster: little kid, big butt.
From the gleam in his eye, you just know that he’s going to say something in a minute. Something incredibly embarrassing.
On one side of us is a small formica table with pens attached by ball-chains. It also has an abundance of yellow, white, and pink slips for the customers to fill out. Of course, none of those slips are deposit slips or counter checks—you have to get those at customer service, for a $1.00 charge.
Seeing your attention on the various pieces of paper, I say “You know what’s fun to do? Take one of those, and on the back write “GIVE ME ALL YOUR MONEY OR I’LL BLOW YOUR FUCKING BRAINS OUT!” Then put it back, and wait for the next person to come along and fill out the front and take it up to the counter. Just sit back and watch the fun.”
Suddenly there is a piercing chirp from ahead of us. The fat lady in front of us has a beeper, which just activated.
“Look out!” yells the kid in terror. “She’s backing up!”
A forty-year old lady wearing as close to “hip youth clothing” as the bank’s dress code would allow (and looking totally ridiculous because of it) came out from the vault, up to a window, and said to the beeping behemoth, “can I help you?”
A little urchin with baggy bermuda shorts and an even baggier Vision Street Wear tank top gets in line behind us. Under one arm he has a badly scuffed skateboard.
We stand idly behind the father-and-son team for several minutes, waiting for the people ahead of us to finish their business. Just as the pause is getting unbearable, I turn to you with my cheese-eating grin and redneck accent.
“Sooooo, what kinduh weldin’ do y’all like?”
“You asked me that last letter, Matt, and I still have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“An old friend of mine named Courtney was from Virginia. Anyway, she told me that she once went on a date with this redneck. They drove in his pick-up out to the middle of nowhere, and he hardly said a word to her out there. He just chewed dip, and gave her a six-pack in hopes of getting her drunk. So they’re out in the Virginia boondocks, and after about ten minutes of silence, she’s starting to get really bored. So finally he turns to her, and says “so, what kind of welding do you like?” She just looked at him in bewilderment. Apparently he worked at a ship yard, and he gave her a ten-minute lecture on different kinds of welding. Then she turns to him and says “Are we going to fuck, or what?” I gather that they didn’t, but anyway, whenever I’m really bored, I always turn to whoever I’m with, and ask ’em what kind of welding they like.”
“Um,” you say, unimpressed with the anecdote.
“Can I help you?” the black man asks the father in front of us. They walk up, and the kid puts up several rolls of pennies.
“I’m sorry,” the bank man says, “but I can’t accept those. You’ll have to take those over to customer service.”
The kid looks disappointed, and just as he and his dad walk away, the fat lady concludes her business, and she walks away, too. We now have two people available to help us, but rather than call for us, they turn to each other.
“We’re out of coffee,” he says to her.
“It’s your turn to make some,” she replies.
Two more people get in line behind us.
He turns to her, insulted. “It is not!”
She turns to him, equally livid. “Yes it is!”
“Look, I made the last pot. It’s your turn now.”
A lady in a wheelchair joins our line for service. She is wearing fingerless gloves, and her forearms are as thick as Arnold Schwarzeneggar’s.
“You made a pot this morning, right?” the forty-year old fashion faux pas asks.
“Yep,” he says, self-righteously.
“Well, I made a pot about two hours ago.” Her smug smile says ‘checkmate’.
“Oh,” he says, recognizing that he’s lost. “I guess it is my turn.”
“Yes,” she replies. “It is.”
A tall, blond adonis joins the line behind the handicapped woman. He is wearing a gray sweatshirt with ATΩ on it.
“Wait a second,” the Before Clearasil Poster Boy asks his coworker. “You made a pot two hours ago?”
“Right,” she answers.
“Well, who the hell drank it? I’ve been so busy, I’ve only had two cups all day.”
Had she been doing anything, she would have paused to wonder at this. Unfortunately, she was a textbook definition of “Stagnant Inertia,” so all that happened was a lengthy gap between his words and her rejoinder.
“You know, you’re right! I’ve been swamped, too. Who the hell...” They both look around the interior of the bank. They look directly at us (and the seven people behind us), but somehow see through us.
“Ah!” They both say in unison. You look over your shoulder to see what they’re staring at. It is, of course, the elderly security guard in the foldout chair. Caught red-handed, he is sipping from his cup while contemplating the Sun-Times crossword puzzle. Oblivious to his scrutiny, he ponders a three-letter word for “inattentive”, starting with “l” and ending in “x”.
Groaning wearily, Power Tie gets up and goes back to brew another batch of coffee. Ten seconds later, his companion says “can I help you?”
We walk up, and I hand over the cheque and deposit slip.
“Hi,” I say in a bizarre attempt to be polite.
A grunt passes for greeting. She is too busy comparing the endorsement on the check with that on the deposit slip. Deciding that they’re reasonably close, she turns her attention to the computer screen on her side of the counter. Using a method somewhere between “hunt and peck” and “seek and destroy”, she jabs keys with her index finger.
The machine makes some grinding noises, and prints out on a rust-orange slip of paper. She brutally stamps it with a blotter, and hands over a deposit receipt. Then she ponders the problem of giving me my $50 less-cash-received.
“How would you like this?”
“In one hundreds, please.”
You chuckle, but she blankly reaches into the drawer and pulls out a stack of Ben Franklins. You wonder if she’s going to rip one in half and hand me that. I’m so stunned that she took me seriously that it is a moment before I can correct her.
“Two twenties and a ten will be fine,” I say.
She frowns, looks at he screen, and sees how much she was supposed to give me. She is clearly not amused. No “thank you” for pointing out her mistake; just a scowl.
“Have a nice day,” she grumbles as she puts the bills down, then deliberately puts her attention away from me and to the task of filing the paperwork. I consider challenging her to name five ways for me to have a nice day, but decide to leave.
Out on the street, you say “Matt, I think it’s time for you to switch banks.”
“No shit,” I reply.
“Where to now, Boss?”
“Groceries. And we can eat if you’re hungry.”
You shrug. “If you’re hungry that’s fine, but I can wait.”
I lead us back the way we came. “So can I,” I announce, negotiating my way across the street.
“So how’s your tape coming along?”
“So far, great. I finished the first side, and got part of side two done.”
“Any more speaking parts for me?”
“Mmmmmmaybe.” I smile.
A scruffy guy in a frizzly army jacket shuffles by, mumbling to himself. The word “mudshark” is a very distinctive—and oft-recurring—part of his mumbling.
“Zone Tripper?” you ask, studying him.
“Good chance,” I concur.
“So what do I get to say on tape next?”
“I’m not sure. I’m toying with the idea of a little segment called ‘Sub-Plot Theater.’ My inspiration was Michelle’s little pearl of wisdom when she was watching Mask. But instead of doing ‘Mask as a representation of motorcycle culture,’ I was thinking of ‘Alien and the Protestant Work Ethic.’ ”
“Oh?” you say, giggling.
“Yeah, you know the part about the two engineers grumbling for better pay, and the Company dicking everybody over.”
You can already see it. Recalling the movie, you say “Yeah! Ripley was the only one who ever put in a hard day’s work on that ship, and she was the only one who survived. The only time the two engineers put in a full effort was after they’d crashed and they wanted to get out of there. As Yaphet Kotto said, “The sooner we get this ship patched up, the sooner we can get out of here. This place gives me the creeps!” But it wasn’t the fear of the planet that motivated him, it was the fear of God! And when and how the traitorous Company android was flame-throwered, it was actually plunged into the fires of Hell. Since the Company considered the crew expendable—and more importantly—didn’t pay them anything, the Company was obviously Satan.”
“That’s the spirit!” I cry, impressed.
“Yeah, you’re right. The film is an obvious pitch for the Protestant work ethic. Too bad it had so much of that alien creature in it; sort of detracted from the overall message.”
“You got it!”
You smile proudly.
We reach a large strip mall. One whole part of it is a giant supermarket.
“I’ve since learned that the best time to shop here is around midnight or so. Any earlier, and you’ve got long lines. Any later, and you’ve got real weirdos to contend with.”
“Oh? Just how weird?”
“I once saw a guy in here, wearing a tie made out of astro turf. His tie clip was a golf tee. I decided it was a little too late for me to be up.”
The electric doors open automatically. I hand you a plastic carriage, and take one myself. Then, taking your hand and swinging it exaggeratedly, we skip down the aisles singing “here we go gathering nuts in May.”
“You know,” I say as we stock up on frozen foods, “if I’d been thinking, I would have lied and had us encounter the guy with the astro turf tie in here now, rather than me just tell you about it in the parking lot.”
“Why?” you ask as we reach the snack foods.
“Well, if anything exciting happened when I went shopping on this occasion, I can’t remember. So rather than give a bland, boring description of us shopping, I could have spiced it up with something that happened a little while ago.”
“Oh,” you say, wandering into the dairy section.
“That’s starting to become a problem with this letter, actually—enough time has passed between the actual events and my transcribing them that the events are starting to become hazy.”
“Well, you seem to be doing so far,” you point out, scrutinizing the soda selection. They only have diet IBC.
“In more ways than one,” I reply, pointing out that we got through the shopping in a record half-page.
“That wasn’t so bad,” you say.
“Nope, I guess not. See, your company just makes the time fly. You can imagine how boring all of this was having to do on my own.”
I lead us across the parking lot to a Dunkin Donuts across the street.
“You know what pisses me off?”
“R rated movies with no nudity?” you wittily suggest.
“This Dunkin Donuts. They’re really chincy with their donut fillings. Their Bavarian creme donuts have about two bites of cream in them, and the rest is just dough.”
“So why do you come here?”
Holding the door open for you, I say “because Dunkin Donuts has the best coffee around.”
Up at the counter, a young hispanic girl is puttering back and forth, looking very confused.
“Can I he’p jou?” she says with a very thick accent.
“Yes,” I say, putting my bags down. “Can you grind up a bag of coffee for me?”
Patiently, I repeat “can you grind up a bag of coffee for me?”
Long pause, in which her forehead wrinkles in a way to indicate total incomprehension. Finally, “I doan’ unnerstand.”
“Which word is giving you the problem?”
“Do you know what coffee beans are?”
“Of course,” she snaps. Her tone indicates she hates to be patronized. Identifying her tone, I double my sarcasm.
“See that coffee bean grinder over there?”
She turns, looks directly at it, then around it, then past it. When her wandering line of sight has reached the racks of donuts, I breathe out a sigh of despair.
“Excuse me, miss?” I finally ask.
She turns around.
“I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark here: you’re new?”
Just as I was about to ask if there was an English-speaking employee on the premises, her manager comes over.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, can you grind up a bag of coffee for me?”
“Sure,” she says. “Regular or decaf?”
“Regular,” I say, in a way that suggests that I would rather listen to ten hours of cry-in-your-beer country music than drink decaf.
She ambles over to the machine, and the junior employee of the month hurriedly goes to the other end of the counter. My eye sight follows her, but comes to a jarring stop at the sight of a police officer sitting in a booth. He is sipping from a cup of coffee, and reading the sports section.
“What?” I say to him in a loud voice, “no donut?” He looks up and over to me.
“Come on,” I continue, and say hypnotically, “chocolate... Frosted... Honey glazed...”
And for the first time in my life, a cop flips me off.
The lady returns with my bag of coffee. I pay her, and we exit.
Just down the street is the gas station where Michelle dropped us off yesterday. You recognize it, and wonder aloud “I wonder if Michelle’s been back yet.”
“I hope so.”
“Because that means we’d have missed her.”
You nod in understanding.
However, we find her bike exactly as she left it. No lipstick smears on the exhaust, or puddles of dried saliva; she probably hasn’t been here.
We unpack groceries, which is when I realize that I’d forgotten to buy bread. Shrugging, I pour us both a tall mountain dew. Going into the other room, I crack open some windows, and a nice breeze begins to flow through. You come in and flop on my papasan. While I’m lighting a stick of incense, you notice that the answering machine on the glass table next to you is blinking.
You press the button, and a very effeminate voice says “Hi, Matthew, this is Dr. Hafferty. I just love your message. Anyway, I was wondering if you’d be able to take the cats tomorrow. Uh, I’d appreciate a call on this. Jim and I are going out to dinner, but we should be back after 9. Talk to you soon.”
I smile at this. “Cool! I’m getting the kitties tomorrow.”
My enthusiasm bubbles over onto you. “Oh, that’ll be fun,” you say, and pick up the phone. I’m pulling out a stick of incense, and smile when I hear you say “Hello, can I speak to Aaron, please?”
I disappear into my den, come out a moment later with a book of matches in my hand.
“Well, do you know where he can be reached?”
I snap a match on the chemical patch. It doesn’t catch. I try again, still with no success. Just as you hang up, the tip sputters to life uncertainly.
“Did I ever tell you about a girl at school named Lara?”
“Probably,” you answer, “but do continue.”
“We called her The Ditz, because she was extremely bubble headed.”
“Was she blonde?” you ask innocently.
I put the incense stick in my mouth, hold the end with my teeth, and put the flame on the end.
“A natural platinum. Anyway, I was in her room one time, and she had a stick of incense like this, and a make-shift ash tray underneath. She was using a paper plate, actually, and I just kept waiting for a live ash to hit it and set the whole thing on fire.”
“That is pretty blonde,” you concur, reclining in the concave chair.
I take the stick out of my mouth and hold it up. The end is now on fire, and smoking profusely. I toss the match onto the round brass Chinese table in the middle of the room. “Oh, that’s not the blonde part. She would light them like this,” and I indicate the still flaming stick, “and let them go. I remember she said ‘These don’t work very well, do they.’ I was stunned for about thirty seconds at that. Finally I leaned over and blew the flame out,” and I pause to blow mine out. The tip glows , and the smoke changes from thick, odorless black, to wispy, perfumed gray. “She sniffs, and says, ‘oh, wow’.”
“That’s pretty bad,” you concur. “What did you say her name was?”
“Ditz. To put this in perspective, her first week there, she fucked three guys just so they wouldn’t think that she was a tease.”
“You weren’t one of those three, were you?”
“I wish,” I confess, “but I kept missing my chance. Finally, though, she shacked up with this big, hulking red neck on my hall who was also a couple cans short of a six-pack. We called the two of them Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber.”
I walk over to the far wall, where I have a plaster cobra mounted next to a book case. There is a small incense bowl built into it; it looks very Eastern. The bowl is designed for cones, but it has a deep enough ash base that I stick the end of the stick into it and it stands upright. Smoke drifts up, ashes fall down into the bowl. You watch the smoke get caught up in the currents and drafts from the open windows. You begin to catch faint whiffs of the cloying smoke.
“It’s turned into a nice day,” I comment, looking out the window. You consider this: it has warmed up, and there were no clouds in the sky.
“I think I’m going to lay out,” I add after a moment. “Care to join me?”
You consider this as well: suntanning would be nice, but you don’t have a bathing suit. “Thanks, but I think I’ll pass. I’ll keep you company, though.”
I go into my front hall and pull out a huge beach towel. It smells like a cross between coconuts, pineapples, and oranges; probably my suntan lotion, you guess. I lay it out on the wooden deck and walk back inside. Now that you take the time to look, you see the wood on that part of the deck is darker than the surrounding wood: I must have lain out a lot over the summer.
I return a moment later wearing a pair of very ripped cut-offs. I am not wearing a shirt or underwear, but you do your best not to notice this. I toss an old, discolored pillow down, and disappear inside again. Just as you’re making yourself comfortable, loud thrash metal music pounds from the speaker I’ve placed in my window. I shut front door, and lie down on the towel.
“So how soon until you write the next installment of Familiar?”
I readjust my position to maximize my sun soaking. “I don’t know. I haven’t been particularly inspired in that department lately. I’ve got about ten stories that I’ve written the beginnings to, but I’ve never gotten around to finishing them.”
“Well, you should, and then you should publish them all as a collection.”
“Way ahead of you, Beth. The collection will be called Bones, because pretty much every story has a reference to some part of the skeletal system in it.”
By this time, you notice that Michelle is standing on the wooden staircase. She’s looking at my lightly oiled (and semi-nude) form with a hungry grin.
She’s probably been standing there for a while.
I notice her at he same time. Shielding my eyes from the glare, I tilt my head and say, “oh, hi.”
“Hi,” she says sweetly. She holds up a large plastic bag with the Harley bar and shield on the side.
“Whatcha got?” I ask, without much enthusiasm.
She walks down to her bike, puts the bag down, and begins to pull things out. Reluctant to end my sun basking, I merely look down at her.
The first thing she pulled out was a giant cobra lock. It was a thick cable which was guaranteed to be uncuttable (or your money back!).
Working it through the frame, she says “Guess how much this cost.”
“I dunno. Twenty bucks?”
She laughs. “Higher.”
I look at you with despair, then sit up. “I don’t know,” I say, then mutter in a voice soft enough for only you to hear “and I don’t care.”
The lock’s price, it would seem, is proportional to its difficulty: she’s having an impossible time locking it. “C’mon, guess,” she says as she attempts to resecure it. Now that you take the time, you find the term ‘cobra lock’ is an excellent, descriptive name for it. She struggles to feed the tail through the head.
“Fifty,” I guess.
“Still too low.”
“A hundred?” I say, without much enthusiasm.
“Close; a hundred and eight.”
“You just paid a hundred and eight bucks for a lock?” I ask stunned.
“Yep.” she says with pride.
“I thought you gave all of your money to Bud,” you ponder.
“I did. But my Master Card is still good.”
“Ah,” we say in unison.
Ouroboros finally succeeds in devouring its tail with a loud click. Then she roots in the bag and pulls out a ratty nylon tarp.
“Can you give me a hand with this?” she asks, starting to drape it over the back seat.
Lethargically, I get up and amble down. You play it smart and stay put.
“Tell me,” I ask her, “just how long do you plan on keeping this here?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she says absently. “A week or so.”
Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrrntt. Wrong answer.
“I don’t know about that,” I say diplomatically. “I still have to bounce this off Cher and Laura.”
“Well, I’m taking it out with some friends tomorrow,” she says, feeding the cover over the handle bars.
“Oh, really?” I ask, slightly surprised. “You feel confident enough to ride this?”
“Sure,” she says, “I’ll have a lot of experienced bikers with me in case something goes wrong.”
From off on the side lines, you consider pointing out that she had a thoroughly experienced biker with her yesterday and she couldn’t do diddley. I, however, ask the next question.
“So you’ve found some bikers to ride with?”
“Yeah.” She sounds pleased.
I make a noise that she interprets as a laugh. “So you’re joining a motorcycle club.”
“Well,” she says, “I’m going to be sort of an unofficial—oh, shit.”
The tarp is old, beat up, and ripped in several places. One of those rips just enlarged as she tried to stretch the edge to fit around the front tire.
“But you’re riding out tomorrow,” I repeat.
“Yeah,” she says.
I was about to tell her that the moment she rides out on this (or more likely, someone rides it out for her) that it’s not coming back. However, another rip forms as she compensates for the first. I suggest a different covering technique.
“Cool,” she says as it is finally more or less under wraps. “Can I use your bathroom?”
“Yeah, sure,” I shrug. Michelle climbs up the stairs and walks past you without saying a word.
I cast a death glance at the vehicle, then walk up to the deck. Offering you a hand up, we go inside. I consider lowering the volume of the music, decide against it. I know that that kind of music really annoys Michelle; if I keep it on, maybe it’ll hasten her departure.
She comes out of the bathroom, smiling at me.
“Thanks for letting me keep it here,” she says at last.
“Sure,” I say. I was about to add “no problem,” but thought better of it.
From her belt/purse, Michelle pulls out a toothpick, wrapped in white paper. Then, to our mutual surprise, she perches it in her lips.
“Got a light?” she asks coyly.
I arch an eyebrow, then decide that she’s serious. I decide that this must be my payment for bike storage. From on top of the speaker I take the matchbook I’d used earlier and toss it to her. Without taking her eyes off me, she lights a match, puts it on the end of her needle-thin cigarette, and sucks crisply. A brief puff of smoke blows out the flame, and smiling wryly, she hands me the smoldering joint.
Specifically avoiding your disapproving glance, I hold the toothpick-sized joint between thumb, index, and middle finger. The glowing tip is almost touching the inside of my palm. I power-inhale, and a long tube of ash forms. I finally turn to you to politely offer you some (even though I’m sure you’ll decline), but you’re just looking at me sternly. I hand it back to Michelle.
She takes a long drag, which reduces it to a quarter-inch tip. Handing it to me, her hand touches mine a little longer than is necessary. I pry the roach between to long fingernails and suck in. What’s left I hand back to it’s owner. Seeing that there’s nothing smokable, she sticks out her tongue, which is coated with saliva. Then, in what could only loosely be called an erotic gesture, she extinguishes the tip on the end of her tongue. She keeps her tongue hanging out for a little longer than is necessary, too.
“Thanks,” I say.
“No problem,” she says. A goofy grin is starting to spread across her lips. I’m starting to get a headache, but she’s starting to get a head rush. She makes some sort of relaxed, contented purring noise which makes you shake your head even more.
She walks over to me, getting a little closer than I’d like right now. You recall my once describing marijuana effects as three H’s: Happy, Hungry, and Horny. It’s obvious that she’s hit at least two out of the three.
She looks out the window, where the rear end of her motorcycle can be seen.
“Well,” she says, bobbing her head, “I finally got a bike.”
“Yes,” I say.
“Yeah,” and she looks me dead in the eyes. “I can’t wait having something large thundering between my legs.”
I look over at you for help. You are too busy trying not to laugh. Without a doubt, you have just heard the worst pick-up line ever uttered.
I pick up my guitar and slip under the strap. I now feel a little better that there is a type of barrier between her and me now. Turning on my amp, I start to improvise along to the cd.
Realizing that I would rather play with my guitar than with her, she begins gathering her things. It takes her several moments to realize that she doesn’t have anything to collect, so awkwardly, she says “well, I guess I got some dogs to take care of.”
“Okay, well I’ll see you around.”
“Sure thing,” she says, still flirting slightly. She nods good bye to you, and makes her way outside.
I shut the door behind her, look at you, and die laughing. After a moment, you join in.
I take off my guitar, go into the kitchen, and root through my cupboard. Pulling out my brandy snifter, I pour myself a mountain dew. Glass in hand, I go into the bathroom, pull out a bottle of ibuprofin, and swallow two.
“Are you okay?” you ask.
Back in the living room, I spot my original glass, and frown.
“Short term memory loss, Matt?” you chuckle.
“Hardly. I just wasn’t thinking; this is Michelle we’re talking about. The probability of her having decent weed was about as much as her having common sense.”
“It wasn’t good stuff?”
“Low-grade skunk bud.”
“...skunk bud...” you repeat, amused by the term.
“Yeah; pot has nicknames according to its type. Sometimes it’s to tell you where it’s from, like ‘Maui Wowie’, ‘Aucopolco Gold’, or Florida’s own ‘Gainesville Green’. Sometimes it’s to describe the effects, like Kryptobud or California Creeper.”
“...Kryptobud...” you repeat.
“Yeah, it’s pure kryptonite. Shit’ll kick Superman’s ass. Then there’s California Creeper.”
“Yeah, first half an hour you think that you’ve been ripped off, because nothing’s happening. Then it just sort of sneaks up on you, and an hour later, you’re a mound of polarized jell-o.”
“Ah. And what, pray tell, is Skunk Weed?”
“Smells like shit, and taste’s like shit.”
“Of course,” you say. “Just asking out of idle curiosity, why would you smoke something with those specifications?”
“Because normally it does the job; can’t argue with the results!. But of course this is Michelle we’re talking about, so so far all it’s done is give me a headache.”
You give me the “serve’s you right” look.
“Hey, wanna help me make my tape?”
“Sure,” you shrug. “What do I do?”
I open a drawer and pull out a complex series of wires. One end I hook up to an output jack on my amplifier, the other to the back of my stereo.
“When I nod, press record.”
Dutifully, you set the tape up to roll. I nod, and you press the button. A moment later, I kick into a very heavy guitar crunch.
“Hey,” you say, amused, “that’s The Toad Elevating Moment!”
You listen to me play it live, hearing it the way it should be played. It sounds much better that the pre-conceptual version on Volume 6.
“Cool,” you say as I finish playing. We rewind the tape and listen to it. The biting guitar tones that had filled the room a moment earlier come out of the speaker sounding tinny, hollow, and less-impressive.
“This would be so much easier if I had a real mike. But I guess I can live with that,” I say. You nod.
I pull out the master tape, and begin rewinding both. I press a button, and you hear my voice:
“The Locrian mode, in D Sharp, alternating with E Ionian in five four.”
I stop the tape.
“What was that?” you ask.
“Advanced music theory,” I reply, and begin the dubbing process. As the tape is going, I say “Wanna watch another movie?”
“Sure,” you shrug. “What’d you have in mind?”
“How about Jesus Christ Superstar?”
“With a name like that,” you conclude, “how could I refuse?”
To your surprise, the movie is a musical. Even more surprising, it was told from Judas Iscariot’s viewpoint.
“Well, that was...,” and you struggle for an appropriate term.
“This was taken from a Broadway musical. Outstanding. The original Jesus was played by Ian Gillan, who sings with Deep Purple. He’s worshiped on the opera circuit.”
“Cool,” you say.
“Excuse me a second, would you?”
I run into the kitchen, open the back door, and go outside. Looking through the window, you see a short, and really cute brunette. She looks maybe sixteen, though she’s actually twenty-two.
“Hi, Cher,” I say, and you see the two of us talk. Undoubtedly I’m apologizing for the motorcycle. You see the two of us laughing. Undoubtedly I’m telling her the “thunder between my legs” line. You see the two of us smiling. Undoubtedly we are passively flirting.
I come back inside, and she goes upstairs.
“So what do you want to do now,” you ask me.
I turn on my computer, and while its booting up, I refill my glass. “Well, if this letter is to be faithful to events, I’m going to spend the rest of the day writing letters. You can do whatever you want.”
You join me in my den, and as I set up a WordPerfect format, you decide to satiate your curiosity. Going through my bookshelf, you find the Arthur Clarke book Nine Billion Names of God, take it into my bedroom, and read the title story in about an hour. A mild disappointment: it was about a Hindu monastery using a supercomputer to print out nine letter permutations, which they believe are all the names of God. They believe that this is the purpose of life, and when it’s over, the universe will end, or at least move on to the next phase. That’s how the story ends: the printer finishing, and the stars fading out.
Disappointed, you come back into the den to replace the book. I’m in a deep trance, typing furiously. Looking over my shoulder, you read the screen, and smile.
I’m writing a letter to you, and describing the previous day’s events. Reading it, you recall what I had told you the previous morning: that my original draft wasn’t as descriptive or interesting. Seeing the evidence before you, you silently agree.
“If you’re looking for something good, try the Cerebus comic books.”
You decide to, and spend the next several hours immersed in the world of the Aardvark Barbarian. A tapping on the kitchen window shatters your concentration.
You open the door, and Cher is standing there.
“Hi,” she says in a voice which is surprisingly high. She sounds like a ten year old. “Is Matt here?”
“Heyyy, Cher,” I say from behind, “what can I do for ya?”
“Could you change a light bulb for me?” she asks innocently. You find this amusing, until you realize that she is so short that, even standing on a chair, she probably couldn’t reach the ceiling.
You clear your throat.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Cher, this is Beth. Beth, Cher.”
She smiles hello. “Laura’s home,” she tells me as we climb the stairs to the second floor of the house.
Their place is identical to mine, but not nearly as well decorated, you decide. Walking into what would be my bedroom, I pull aside a chair and climb up to the ceiling lamp. Looking around Cher’s room, the first thing you notice is a medium-sized iguana climbing around a bookshelf.
“Hello, Luggage,” you say. Cher giggles.
“His name’s Yoda.”
“Hi, Matt,” a voice calls from the other room.
“Hey, Laura,” I call out, straining to reach the bolt securing the fixture. A tall, thin girl with double nose piercing and short maroon hair pokes around the corner.
“How ya doing?” Laura asks. Then she sees you, smiles a cute smile, and offers a hand.
“Hi, I’m Laura,” she says.
“Beth,” you respond.
“How was your trip?” I ask.
“Fun,” she says, amused at the sight of my lanky frame stretching to unscrew the bulb.
“Where were you,?” you ask out of polite curiosity.
“I’m a professional dancer,” Laura starts.
“Actually,” Cher cuts in, “we both are.”
Looking at their lean, well toned forms, you don’t doubt it a second.
“Anyway, I was in Indianapolis doing a promotional dance for Huggies.”
I make a bizarre noise indicating that I have nearly lost my balance and killed myself. Ignoring it, you ask “Huggies? Like the diapers.”
“You were dancing in diapers?” you ask, trying to picture this.
“Actually, no. We were dancing in white over-alls.”
“And it was a dance bordering between the erotic and the sexually explicit,” I add, recalling her preforming it in my living room with one of the other dancers from her troupe just before she left.
“Um,” you say.
“Laura, I’d like to apologize for the fact that there’s a motorcycle out in the walkway. I was suckered into letting somebody store it overnight, and I’m trying to have them move it as soon as possible.”
“That’s good, ’cause it is kind of in the way.”
Screwing in a new bulb, I recount the toothpick-sized joint and it’s dubious effects on Michelle. Laura laughs, then says “Oh, that reminds me, I just got a bag.”
I look down from my work. “Did you now...”
“Yep. Are you going to be in tomorrow?”
“Hmmmmm, I think so,” I say, casting you a quick smile.
“Cool; I’ll stop by.”
“Great,” I say, giving the bulb a final twist. Light floods the room. “I’ll immortalize you on my tape.”
She smiles, and I wave good bye.
We go back downstairs. I return to writing you a letter, and you return to the wacky world of Dave Sim.
And before you know it, you’ve nodded off.
Coming Next Issue:
Laura’s Taping Session
...all this and more, in
 Her response to this was “Probably, but he won’t know whose it is.” Think about it.
 The long hair was an anachronism, actually. Matt had cut his hair long before this scene, but director Beth Browning always visualizes Matt with long, flowing locks, and had insisted that the actor have a similar mane when this scene was filmed.
 Or is it a discussion on science fiction films in the guise of flirtation?
 As mentioned, Michelle was enamored with the movie. She was watching it once, and commenting that the bikes in the movie were not all that impressive. She was clearly watching the film from a motorcyclist’s perspective, absorbed in the subplot about the mother and her biker friends. She told me, “I’d like the film more if it didn’t have so much of the kid in it.”