Friday, April 23, 2010

Cascade And The Little Spirits Of The Surf

The tape ends. Fifty minutes of The Orb and Peter Murphy reverberate gently in my mind and mingle with the endless refrains of the ocean on the sand. All of the happily shrieking children have vacated the beach, as has that jackass who spent the afternoon bellowing into her cell phone. The gulls call back and forth, catching up on the details of each others' days. The air is warm now, no longer hot. A breeze has come up to cool my slow-cooked skin. Is Gertrude awake? Probably. She's probably still working through her book of word puzzles. She finds peace in ways that are completely foreign to me. She always has to be doing something; can't begin to understand where I am going right now. Pity. I'm almost there.

I have, with the help of my music and this perfect moment, arrived at the intersection of conscious and unconscious. I feel everything. I hear everything. I know only what I need to know, without all the commercials. I can smell and taste the sea air as I drift along. My brain entertains me with sensations of floating on water, then of flying, then of weightlessness. I continue to hear strains of music, cascading in cool waves of liquid sound. My mind takes some of what it has been listening to and gradually weaves those themes together with some of its own, creating new, perfect music. If I were awake, and trained in the science of music, I could write it down and share it. But no. I've got one foot in a dream and one in the warm sand. The symphony will be gone when I get back. For now, I let it play.

Voices. Two tiny voices are whispering, one in each ear. We have no image. We're just called the good friends. I've been joined by two little ghosts, and they want to tell me a story. Can it wait? I'm in the middle of a really great song. Okay. How can I decline? They're so polite. They sound English. I've never heard such proper speech in such miniature voices. They're like the kids in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, only not obnoxious. Go ahead, wee spirits. I love stories.

We call the madmen back, as they fly to the ant hills. I don't know if I'm picking up what you're laying down, little ones, but I could listen to your accents all day. We never know, we never know. We sleep in satin nights, throwing energy like bluebirds. In twilight. I don't get it. But I wouldn't dream of interrupting. I can't help but think the plot must be just around the corner.

We call to stillness, as we kiss the Water King's hand. We hear the one same name, as the darker the land gets. My storytellers start to draw pictures in the sand. I like the sound their fingers make as they push through the grains. The images are clear. I see two children in turn-of-the-century swimming suits. In one scene, they're making sandcastles. In the next, they're head-over-heels in the waves. Finally, they're angels floating above the sea. My heart breaks. They shoosh me, and hold my hands in theirs. We never know, we never know. We're fueling for the Light, cascading in the Rain. In twilight. They're still so young. Their energy fills me, warms my blood, calms me. They continue, taking turns.

Waiting for you - you look so close. We walk a thousand stairs. Aching for your hand, our love a distant voice. We have no image. We are light. I see adults. Crying. Praying. Lowering small empty caskets into the ground. I see the kids again, soaring in playful loop-the-loops above their parents, waving, giggling. They don't know they're dead. They only know they can fly, and that their parents don't seem to notice their endless play.

We are not asking - no favours from the dead. We wash with moonlit hands, on the shores of our island. We never know, we never know. We sleep in satin nights, throwing energy in silver curves. In twilight. In twilight.

They each kiss my cheek, then drift away together on the ocean breeze. And I am awake.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Temple Of Dreams

The heaven that was my first non-retail job was relatively short-lived. I was hired as a “Customer Service Representative” at Access Kontrol, which I was told was to evolve into supervising the three in-house reps in charge of managing the electronic key-cards for the clients. The director who hired me was fired by the owner a month or two later and my job’s evolution took on an unpleasant new direction. I floated for a while until I eventually found myself reporting to the VP of Sales. Sales? Sales. I was still called a Customer Service Rep, but now “servicing the customers” increasingly meant making them buy stuff. This was a short story. I’ve always hated selling, knew very little about our rather technical products, got no support or training from this tiny company and was destined to fail. They even gave me a sales quota. The firing was a thing of beauty.

On Friday March 31, 1995 (the last day of a pay period) my boss asked me what I was up to that afternoon. I told him all I had left for that week was to complete my monthly reports, including the sales figures – the first time I had made my monthly quota – and one afternoon appointment in downtown DC, from which I’d be going straight home. He asked me to stop by the office on my way home. When I got back to HQ at about five o’clock, he was the only one left in the sales office, which was unusual. The rest is pretty typical – he sat me down in front of his desk and bluntly said I was not working out and was being let go as of that minute. I could have gotten rug burn on my chin, my jaw dropped so hard. There were no warnings, no evaluations, no ultimatums. The only measurable thing I had to go on was my quota, which I had just surpassed for the first time. I think my stunned look of horror surprised my boss. Suddenly those stories of people going postal and killing their bosses didn’t seem so far-fetched. The impulse to hurl his arrogant, skinny ass through his fifth-story office window was so overwhelmingly powerful, I could swear the muscles that such an action would require started to twitch. I would later learn of the true depth of Access Kontrol’s gall when they contested my unemployment claim, citing “gross misconduct on the job,” an allegation they only dropped when I subpoenaed half their staff and countless documents for the hearing.

I never needed that unemployment money, thanks to another timely step to the plate by my man Blanston. He had found his way into a good job at a little Gaithersburg genetic testing lab called Gene Tests R Us, and his boss needed a temp immediately. A strange, life-changing series of events was set in motion. The assignment was a breeze – mainly simple office clerk stuff, and Gene Tests R Us loved me. They kept me there for four weeks and sent rave reviews to the temp agency. I didn’t miss a day of work, as my next assignment started immediately.

This one was even more interesting than genetic testing, although it didn’t sound that way at first. I reported for duty at the Rockville loan processing office of Some Bank, to do what was described by the temp agency as “light filing and general office work.” That proved to be mostly accurate. I did plenty of copying and filing of home equity loan packets, some data entry and a lot of sitting around getting to know the staff while the office manager tried to figure out what to have me do next. The atmosphere was often very uncomfortable. The office manager, a diminutive woman of about fifty, frequently had customers visit the office. Some of these visits were less than pleasant. This sweet-looking little lady would lock couples (and sometimes whole families) who had fallen behind in their payments in the conference room and “straighten them out.” There was terrible yelling and profanity, slamming and banging, breaking glass and horrifying threats. These customers inevitably left in tears, sometimes with broken thumbs. I would have to go in and clean up the conference room. Every two or three days, she sent me to Pier One to buy more water pitchers. The actual work I was doing was easy, but I was glad to see that assignment end, when the company came in and shut the office down.

My next assignment had me spending two harrowing weeks with the man I came to know as “The Evil Dr. Claw.” His name was actually Jim Claussen and he wasn’t a doctor, but he was running a weird little laboratory on “Biotech Row” in Gaithersburg – and he had a prosthetic hand. The agency had told me to expect lots of data entry and filing, but I never did either. Instead, on the first morning, Dr. Claw gave me $500 cash, drew two vials of my blood, then sent me home. The next day he gave me some more cash and stuck a little square band-aid on my shoulder, then let me sit in a vacant office and watch TV all day before giving me another blood test. He promised that this important product testing I was doing for him was completely safe. The following day’s band-aid was slightly larger, but the routine was the same. I had no idea what he was testing. I’d heard of little nicotine patches that doctors were using to help people quit smoking, so I assumed that I was testing something similar. I just know I felt great. I was having trouble sleeping though, even with my trusty tapes of WHFS’ “Mutant Dance Party.” By the end of my second week I was literally not sleeping at all, a fact which seemed to delight Dr. Claw. I had also made an extra $2,500 under the table. The company was in the middle of toasting the success of his caffeine patch when the FDA came knocking, and The Evil Dr. Claw was taken away in handcuffs. Actually he was taken away in shackles; they couldn’t get the handcuffs to stay in place on his “claw.” Too bad – I really enjoyed that assignment.

Word was getting around the temp agency about my ability to handle “sensitive assignments.” After a week of catching up on my sleep, I was sent to work as a “personal assistant” for an individual introduced to me simply as “The Dagger.” He was a very dark-skinned Jamaican – tall, muscular and imposing, but the black of his severe, bearded countenance was compromised by the whitest and warmest of smiles. He spoke with a gravelly baritone and his accent, I suspected, could turn frigid women to quivering puddles in an instant. He was impeccably groomed and wore tailored double-breasted Armani suits. He maintained a palatial office covering the entire top floor of the old G.E. Building in Rockville. My excitement at the prospect of temping in a gorgeous office overlooking the tracks of the CSX Metropolitan Subdivision was dampened by The Dagger’s proclamation that we would rarely be spending any time there. Seemed like an awful waste. Thousands of square feet of prime office space, beautifully appointed with cherry and brass, vacant ninety-five percent of the time. “You’re the boss, Mr. Dagger,” I said that first morning. “Call me The Dagger, kid,” was his reply. The first morning was spent learning how to disable The Dagger’s car alarm so I could go pick up his suits and “run backup” for him, learning how to disable the office alarm system so I could drop off his suits when he was out, and learning how to operate the phone system for those rare “in-office” days. That afternoon, we went to an indoor shooting range in P.G. County, where I had my first experience firing a Colt .45, a .44 Magnum, two .44 Auto-Mag Longslides (one with, one without laser sighting), a snub-nosed .38, a 9mm semiautomatic, an Uzi 9mm fully automatic, several customized AK-47’s and a “very old” Derringer named Betsy.

Day Two: Driving Lessons. The Dagger taught me how to drive backwards at high speeds for extended periods of time. He showed me the secret to backing quickly out of a tight spot, doing a split-second 180 and zooming away. We also spent an hour practicing driving while slouched down low in the seat, an endeavor which involves heavy use of the side mirrors, as well as this odd little periscope device on the dashboard. The Dagger was the coolest dude I’d ever met. When we got back to the office, he sent me out for pizza and his dry cleaning – in his 12-cylinder 1996 Jaguar XJ6 convertible. I was terrified at first, but on the way back from Armand’s with the pizza, I lined up at a traffic light next to a 1970 Mustang Mach-1 with a massive blower and racing tires – and easily blew him away. Yes, this was better than I ever could have hoped, for eight bucks an hour.

The next day was very short. We met at the office at eight o’clock, then I drove The Dagger to Enterprise, where he rented a plain gray Toyota. I followed in his Jag as he drove this nondescript Corolla or whatever to an industrial park off East Gude Drive. We left the Jag there and I drove him in the Toyota to a house just off Stone Street in the Lincoln Park section of Rockville and waited with the engine running while he shot Lester Jones eleven times in the head. Then I drove him back to the lot where we’d left the Jag, he took off in the rental and I went home. Wife1 was none too pleased at the thought of having my temp agency’s client’s $85,000 car parked outside our Frederick apartment, but she got over it, as soon as I let her drive it.

For the following several weeks, I never saw The Dagger. I just went to the office and played with his computer, watched his satellite TV and kept an eye on the train tracks all day. He’d call and check his messages, which were few, and tell me to forge his signature on my time sheets for the temp agency. Finally, in mid-July we had a “gig.” I got to carry around a couple of hundred pounds of cameras and equipment and make sure The Dagger was “always loaded” during a Victoria’s Secret photo shoot in New York. I had spent the whole Metroliner ride thinking that we were going to New York to whack some crooked man, and that the metal cases I was carrying were full of guns, so it was hard to conceal my delight at the sight of a dozen underwear models and full-service catering. The work was tougher than driving around in a Jaguar, but I can’t say I minded at all. The Dagger was every bit as impressive as a fashion photographer as he was as a professional killer. A true Renaissance man, I guess.

We got much busier for the rest of the summer. I got to assist The Dagger with a couple of initial public stock offerings for local companies. I drove him to the airport for his secret flight to Croatia with the Reverend Jesse Jackson. I read script with him, helping him tune up for his audition for the role of Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling in “Courage Under Fire.” I talked him out of going to Los Angeles to kill Ed Zwick, after the director called to say that Denzel Washington had become available and they wouldn’t need to see The Dagger after all. I got to assist him in the delivery of a baby hippo at the Baltimore Zoo. That was really gross, but after a few minutes the newborn was the most adorable critter I’d ever seen. A couple of times, I had to teach his Chemistry for Non-Majors class at Montgomery College. I got to operate the remote-controlled cameras while he piloted the Goodyear Blimp “Stars and Stripes” 1,100 feet above the Redskins home opener at RFK Stadium. That was the highlight of my assignment with The Dagger – floating above the field on a brilliant September afternoon for eight bucks an hour.

I loved that assignment, but eventually all good things must come to an end. The Dagger was hired for a long-term covert job in Liechtenstein. He said his “employer” would be providing an assistant from their own staff, so my services were no longer required. I wouldn’t have been able to go, anyway. It had been a constant challenge to keep Wife1 unaware of the wild stuff I had been doing for the temp agency all summer. Plus, Blanston and Gene Tests R Us were about to come through again. Their receptionist was leaving and they offered me her old job on a temp-to-perm basis, with the idea that I could move into a customer service role after a year or so. I accepted, and happily launched a significant new phase of my employment life. I was making the same salary Access Kontrol had been paying me – just to answer the phone, sort the mail and greet the occasional visitor. Life was again good. Plus, I later met my soul mate there, which was nice.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Where's Lily?

(A big thank you to my soul-mate [Maris], without whom half of this post would not exist.)

BECKULA1897: Jimbo? You there? Happy Monday, bud!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Becky! Wow – caps AND punctuation? What’s up with that?

BECKULA1897: You’re the only person I capitalize and punctuate for over IM. huge waste o time you know

JIMTHEYEAR2525: And YOU are the only person I tolerate calling me Jimbo.

BECKULA1897: :)

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Don’t you type like 110 words per minute? How much time are you really saving by typing U instead of you?

BECKULA1897: It adds up. Is Lily here today? We haven’t seen her on the 4th floor since last Thursday and my boss has stuff for her to sign.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Nope. She was out Friday and the one time she called to check in, all I could get out of her was that she’s “taking a few days off.” Haven’t heard from her since.

BECKULA1897: What??? We need her! She doesn’t take “a few days off” – like, EVER. What’s she doing?

JIMTHEYEAR2525: I don’t know, Becks.

BECKULA1897: Come on. Aren’t you two attached at the hip or something? I thought she told you absolutely everything.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Not about this. I know – weird, right?

BECKULA1897: I’ll bet you wish you were attached at the hip.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Hey! Lily is my BOSS. That’s just wrong.

BECKULA1897: That doesn’t sound like a denial. You know you fancy her.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Oh whatever, Becky. She’s a great boss and a good friend; that’s all. If she checks in, I’ll let her know you guys need her.

BECKULA1897: Thanks bud. Hey – maybe she’s interviewing!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Yeah – at some great new company where she can take me with her. More likely, she’s off doing wholly inappropriate things with the new sales guy. (SHUDDER)

BECKULA1897: Maybe it’s both. And that shudder tells me you’d be so jealous.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: No, I just don’t like him. Anyway, for all we know she’s just taking a long weekend at the beach with her ex and the kids. It’s just more fun to imagine exciting clandestine things.

BECKULA1897: Clandestine??? Who is this – Frasier? Maybe she’s partying in Paris or Madrid. Or in Bruges!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Maybe. I know – she’s in secret ninja training on a remote Japanese island. Or having surgery!

BECKULA1897: She’s in traffic school.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Oh, the possibilities! Did you see the latest farewell email? This is getting bleak.

BECKULA1897: Yeah, we should be updating our résumés. I’ll bet Lily’s taking hot air balloon lessons! Or she’s on a bender. You whined at me all last week about how she seemed sad.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: I didn’t whine. I was concerned.

BECKULA1897: Concerned – is that what you call it? I’ve seen how you look at her. Maybe she’s watching the DVDs of the first 3 seasons of “24” back-to-back.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Sweetie, you’re seeing things that aren’t there. In-patient freckle removal. Eating pistachios for 4 straight days!

BECKULA1897: I know you tell her at least once a day that you’ll follow her anywhere when she quits.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: That would be true even if she was married – or a man. I love working for her. Period. Anyway, I’m thinking there must be a shoe sale in Milan. I’ll check for new shoes when she gets back.

BECKULA1897: All the years we’ve been friends, you never EVER noticed shoes until she started working here. But my guess is an intensive pillow-making class, or maybe learning Mandarin.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Maybe if you wore nicer shoes, babe. I bet she’s been painting a Mardi Gras mural. Flying to Portugal to get her kid’s favorite crackers?

BECKULA1897: Taking mother-daughter recorder lessons (learn in 3 days or your money back)! Buying cruise wear! Learning all the curse words in every language!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: I like that she swears. Maybe she’s shopping for swear jars to replace the one she smashed.

BECKULA1897: You like everything about that woman. You even like that she’s older than you. Why don’t you just quit or transfer to another department, so you can date her?

JIMTHEYEAR2525: You think she would date me?

BECKULA1897: Ah-HA!!!!!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: No! I just mean that I don’t see us dating. Besides, she needs me here!

BECKULA1897: Uh huh. You know – she could be auditioning to be on a reality show. You said she likes a bunch of them.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Nah. She’s getting Lasik for the puppy. Hold on – just got an email from her.

BECKULA1897: I’ll bet it says “stop talking about me behind my back!”

JIMTHEYEAR2525: She really hates that. We should stop.

BECKULA1897: Aww… Hey – did she say where she is?

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Stoppit Becks. No, but she says she won’t be in until at least Wednesday afternoon – maybe Thursday. I hope everything’s okay.

BECKULA1897: Oh that’s so sweet. I’m sure everything’s fine. She’s probably just in training to be a tollbooth operator. Or modeling for Mme. Tussauds. Or setting up an offshore account in the Caymans. Ooh – I know – she’s recovering from a little nip/tuck!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Okay, I’m being completely objective here. Do you think there’s anything on that woman that needs nipping or tucking?

BECKULA1897: No you’re not, but I don’t know. No woman is ever happy with her appearance. Hard to tell, though. She dresses pretty conservatively.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Oh that’s right. You missed the Christmas party. She wore a short cocktail dress and had great hair and makeup and she was all cleavagey and oh man those shoes. She loosened up a lot, too. You should have seen her.

BECKULA1897: Wow. Sir, I don’t think you could be more transparent if you tried. By the way – cleavagey???

JIMTHEYEAR2525: I knew you’d say something like that! I said almost the same thing about you when I first saw you all dolled-up. It’s just an observation.

BECKULA1897: And “denial” is just a river in Egypt. I’m not arguing about this anymore. You dig her. Anyway, I can’t picture her like that. I’m more likely to believe that she’s been washing all the windows and picture frames in her giant house. Or maybe clipping the cats’ toenails.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: She robbed a bank in WVA and needs to lay low until the heat blows over!

BECKULA1897: She’s on a trip to space – she doesn’t want anyone to know she can afford it.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: She took all her aunts and uncles to go ostrich-tickling.

BECKULA1897: Testifying before the House Subcommittee on pig roasts. Practicing stilt-walking.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: You don’t have any work to do today, huh?

BECKULA1897: Not without Lily’s signature on all these contracts. You?

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Nada. She could be delivering sandpaper.

BECKULA1897: Or – Trapped In Cave By Bear In Appalachians!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: And more upset about the loss of phone signal than the bear.

BECKULA1897: Of course. How about plotting her revenge!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Sweet! Making swords at a Renaissance Faire.

BECKULA1897: Backstage passes to jah works * can’t hang * chris cubeta & the liars club * twenty for seven. Singing in Japanese commercial for Mickey Mouse flip-flops.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Becks? Are you okay? Maybe her new part-time job at the ice cream parlor requires 3-day offsite orientation and training.

BECKULA1897: I’m fine. Do you suppose she could be making crop circles at night and sleeping all day? Or making homemade lava lamps to celebrate National Chair Leg Day.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: She’s been at the State Dept. trying to get her name removed from a “watch list.”

BECKULA1897: She’s gone to Ibiza and she is not coming back. Ever.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Yeah. More likely, she’s at Mardi Gras. Tomorrow’s Fat Tuesday, you know.

BECKULA1897: Now you’re being ridiculous. Can you picture her doing the whole beads routine? Exposing herself to drunk 20-somethings for cheap strings of plastic? Oh wait – you probably can picture that.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Yeah. Or better still – she’s been shopping for some outlandish costume for an exclusive Mardi Gras masquerade ball!

BECKULA1897: With a mask and everything? I don’t know.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Not just a mask. A huge red feathery mask in dramatic colors, perfectly matching her sparkly, ultra-low-cut, corset-style dress with a big poofy skirt.

BECKULA1897: Ooh la la! She’d go with electric blue, though.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Oh yeah – to bring out her eyes! And twice as much makeup as she would ever normally wear. And some kind of took-all-day up hairdo.

BECKULA1897: What is she masquerading as, Marie Antoinette?

JIMTHEYEAR2525: No. Just the Lily that we don't know. Dark lipstick. Very dark.

BECKULA1897: OK dude – that’s hot and you totally want her and I’m bored now. Let’s think of some more ridiculous ideas for where she’s been.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Hmm… In New York, producing a Simon & Garfunkle reunion CD?

BECKULA1897: Better. Or tricking out her SUV for street racing.

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Learning to play “Barracuda” on harmonica.

BECKULA1897: She could be recovering from a 3-day marathon of “Rocky Horror Picture Show!”

JIMTHEYEAR2525: Hang on Becks –

BECKULA1897: (Drumming Fingers)

JIMTHEYEAR2525: It’s Lily.

BECKULA1897: Where is she???

BECKULA1897: Where is she???

BECKULA1897: Dude – you’re killing me!

JIMTHEYEAR2525: I gotta run. Not sure if I’ll be in, tomorrow. Wish me luck. ;)

BECKULA1897: What??? Jim!! Where is she??? What’s going on???

JIMTHEYEAR2525 is no longer online.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What Happened On The Plaid Pirate?

Indian summer 1986 had arrived at Montgomery College, and I was sitting outside Science West, basking in the unseasonable November warmth, happy to be getting one last look at legs, when Deandra rushed up behind me and took ten years off my life. “Dude!” she yelled into my left ear. This was our little pet greeting for each other. It wasn’t always shouted, but we typically tried to put as much urgency and alarm into it as we possibly could. Of course, this was easier when we came upon one another outdoors, and the element of complete surprise was a bonus Deandra adored. She gave me a moment to recover my bottle of “New Coke,” which was rolling away, embarrassed, as quickly as it could. I gave her my best look of wounded terror and held up my bottle of caramel-colored foam.

“I love you!” she chirped.

“So you say,” I muttered. “What’s up? You ready to get this Psyche quiz over with?”

“No. But listen – when I said ‘DUDE,’ I really meant it. Dude, you are SO not going to believe what I just heard!”

“There’s a bomb threat in Science West and our quiz is canceled?” I asked hopefully.


“What a crock. I called one in! Are you sure?”

“I’m sure. Guess again.”

“You’re not going to give me a hard time about calling in a bomb threat?”

“No. I know you didn’t. Guess again.”

“Woman, I have no idea. You’re pregnant!” Dee punched me. Hard. She was exceptionally strong. I don’t know why I could never remember that before I’d say something punch-worthy. I was just glad she never hit me in the face.

“Okay, what’s your favorite place in the world?” she prompted.

“Your bedroom.”

She reared back with another fist of fury, then paused and tilted her head at me. “You’ve never been in my bedroom.”

“That doesn’t mean it can’t be my favorite place.” I cupped my hand over her raised fist and held my free arm over my face, just in case.

“Focus, jerk! What’s our favorite place on Earth, even though we’ve never been there together? Think tropical…” She was patient enough to be my buddy but we’d have certainly killed each other if we had ever tried actually dating.

“Virgin Islands?” I knew I was right.

“Yes! And are you familiar with the Plaid Pirate pontoon party raft?”

“Yeah. Haven’t been on it yet, but I’ve heard it’s pretty cool. I’ve seen it a few times. What happened? Did it sink or something?”

“Better! Too bad you took so long guessing – we have to go take our stupid quiz now. I’ll have to tell you after class.” She was clearly disappointed to have to hold on to her news for another hour.

“I’m gonna spend the whole hour wondering what the hell you’re talking about. Can you just give me the short version?” I asked, following her into Science West.

“No. What does Gestalt mean?”

“Dude – the whole quiz is about Gestalt theory! Did you even read the chapter?” I scolded.
“Not really. What’s it mean?”

“Uh, I’m not sure. Something about patterns or something.”

She put her head on my shoulder as we entered the classroom. “We’re so screwed.”

“Do you still love me?” I asked.


Psychology 101 was not a terribly difficult class, but Deandra and I made it tougher than it needed to be by chatting too much. We had hit it off on the first day, when somehow we ended up learning that each of us had recently been dumped by someone who had gone away to school. We also had both just returned from separate vacations in the Virgin Islands, plus we both worked part-time at video rental stores. We had lots of common ground. At first I think we had both seen our relationship as a potential romantic rebound, but that sense dissolved into a comfortable platonic friendship before a single date could be proposed. Now we were buddies, sharing our romance woes (and all sorts of other woes) like a couple of chatty girls. My knack for turning potential romances into this kind of friendship was beginning to deeply annoy me. But Deandra and I had fun just hanging out together, drinking and dancing platonically at “our bar” The Wreck Room and occasionally pretending to be way more of a couple than we really were. We usually acted “couple-ish” when some unsavory male person was hitting on Dee, although on several occasions I think she did it just to torment me.

After our quiz we decided to blow off the rest of the day’s classes and sit in the amphitheatre over by the Humanities building so that Deandra could tell her story. All the way across campus I tried to get her to start talking.

“It was hijacked by Libyans?” I asked.

“No. Just wait.”

“You won a free trip for two to St. Thomas, including airfare, ground transportation, hotel accommodations and complimentary passes for the Plaid Pirate, and you’re taking me with you?”

“No. Wait.”

“The Pirate called, and they want you to return that stolen grass skirt?”

“No. Wait for it.”

“They’ve banned alcohol on the Pirate, and now no one wants to go on it?” I pressed.

“That’s stupid. Just wait a minute.”

“I know – that was a little far-fetched. I got it – they’ve offered you a waitressing job, and you want me to move there with you so you’ll have someone around to pretend to be your boyfriend when unruly Eurotrash tourists hit on you?”

“Dammit, you guessed it!” she answered sarcastically.

“Yep, and let me just go on record as saying that I will base my decision as to whether or not to accept your invitation solely on the length of the grass skirt you’ll be wearing.”

“Grass skirt? They said all their girls have to wear bikini bottoms and tied-off wet t-shirts. Good enough?” she teased.

“Hmm. Well, yes. I suppose that will do. Is the water cold?” We finally reached a vacant spot in the amphitheatre and Deandra turned around with her “time to get serious” look. She dropped her books on the bench, grabbed my shoulder and pulled me down next to her.

“The owner of the Pirate has a price on Jimmy’s head.” she said with all the humor of a tax auditor.

“What? Jimmy from my Erol’s? Jimmy, who just last Saturday at The Wreck Room you told I haven’t hit on you because I’ve discovered I’m gay? That Jimmy?”

“Yes. They want to kill him!”

“What the hell for? I know he was in the Islands last spring, but he didn’t even mention the Plaid Pirate, let alone making anyone want to kill him!” I was stunned. Jimmy was a big teddy bear, very easygoing – downright placid.

“I’m not exactly sure. Apparently he caused some major incident on the boat when there were all sorts of celebrities and dignitaries aboard and some old football player is suing the owners for like a million bucks or something. Jimmy’s been living in the back of The Wreck Room for weeks.”

“That hardly seems like something to murder him over. I don’t think lawsuits against bars – floating or otherwise – tend to get very far.” I said.

“Well, supposedly he got video of the whole thing that would be really damaging to just about every big shot who was there, should it ever get played for the public. These people are seriously pissed off.”

“I don’t get it. Why bother killing Jimmy? Shouldn’t it be the tape they’re after?”

“That’s just it – the tape was in Jimmy’s rented Erol’s Betacam, which he returned to the Wheaton Erol’s with the tape still inside! By the time the Pirate people got in touch with him, the camcorder had been rented out again, but the manager at the Wheaton store said the tape was making its way around to a bunch of the store managers. There’s even a rumor that some copies have been made.”

“Whoa. Wait a minute – where did you hear all this?” I suddenly had the feeling that I was either listening to a very gullible girl or totally being had.

“Curtis told me.” she said with a slightly defensive air.

“Oh great – Curtis, the BARTENDER at The Wreck Room? Hardly a reliable source, Dee.”
“You can ask Jimmy. He says it should all be worked out within the next couple of days. Has he been calling in sick at Erol’s?”

“Yeah, but he was there on Sunday. He did leave through the back door, though… Well I’ll be damned. Big Jim, caught up in a big ugly incident with the rich and famous. We’re both scheduled to work tonight. I’ll give him the third degree. I can’t believe he would tell Curtis and not me.”

“Okay. You have to tell me everything tomorrow.” Deandra squeezed my arm, the playful urgency returning to her voice, “Take notes or something.”

“Okay, but then you have to tell Jimmy that I’m totally not gay and that the reason you and I stopped having sex was because it was becoming too time-consuming and affecting our grades.”

“We’ve never had sex.”

“Maybe in your mind we haven’t.” I said.

“If that’s what you want, you’re really not helping your cause right now, buddy.”

“I know, I know. I’ll get the scoop on Jimmy and the bad guys and call you tomorrow. Think about that waitressing gig, though. I think it could be very beneficial to both of us.”

“I’m sure it would, dude. Later.” She kissed my cheek, got up and crunched away through the dried leaves that covered the path. I watched her, mentally counting down the six seconds it would take for her to look back and catch me watching her walk away. Right on schedule, she peeked over her shoulder, smiled the smile of a girl about to blush and continued on her way.

“DUDE? Deandra? If you’re there, pick up. Pick up! Damn. Here’s the deal – some new Erol’s manager – Dan something – got Jimmy his tape back, plus like 4 copies of it. Swears that’s all of them. Jimmy handed them over to some goons who came into the store tonight. The lawsuit will supposedly be dropped, and Jimmy’s gonna live. They said as long as no other copies of the tape turn up, he’s cool. He’s not convinced, though, so he’s gonna move away and won’t say where. He said to say goodbye to you and Curtis and everybody at The Wreck Room. But first, he told me more about what happened on the Pirate, and it is seriously messed up. Call me, dude. Later.”

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Ecstasy And The Agony

Kids, don't do drugs.

But if you feel that you must do them, do your homework first, like I did. That's rebellion for you – study up on your drug, and then take a small dose of it under controlled experimental conditions.

Yes, stretching myself into all sorts of new things in the wake of my involuntary liberation from Girlfriend #1 in 1986, I took the wildest of plunges and tried a tiny bit of what was alleged to have been 3,4 Methylene-dioxy-N-methylamphetamine or "ecstasy." Oh yeah – watch out, man! I was a real bad-ass, trying a pinch of powdered ecstasy as part of my research for an English 102 paper at Montgomery College. Well, it was illegal. So I got that goin' for me. It was, and still is, rather controversial. Psychotherapists, researchers and the DEA and FDA couldn't seem to agree as to whether it was simply dangerous or incredibly useful. I couldn't very well write a paper about the hotly debated decision to make it as illegal as heroin without actually trying it for myself, could I? I say nay, nay.

I saved my notes. Yes, I took notes. Had to follow scientific protocol, you know…

12:35 I'm all set. I've got my cheese balls, gum (just in case I experience the teeth-clenching and facial muscle cramps described in the research), my video of "Kentucky Fried Movie" and my best tapes. I've got the recommended empty stomach. I'm a little nervous.

12:40 Eight ounces of Cherry Coke and it's gone. I don’t know if it’s the drug or my nerves, but I do feel kind of strange. Too soon to be the drug, yet. I’m just tense. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Mr. Professor had just damn well better give me an A.

12:47 A little tightness in my stomach. I’m hungry. This is stupid. What could that tiny pinch of powder do? What if it was just aspirin? Or sugar?

1:00 Not much going on. They say it’s an extremely subtle drug. I feel pretty good, but nothing spectacular.

1:01 MY ARM IS GONE!!!! Where the hell is it??? Oh my God – I’m so screwed. How am I going to get to work tonight if I can’t shift gears? Oh there it is – what is it doing over there? Sound formed in a vacuum is a complete waste of time. How could that not be as blatantly obvious to everyone on the planet as it is to everyone in this room? Dummies. Plastic showroom dummies. Wait – Mannequins. I’ll be a one-armed mannequin and not move a muscle until all three Fripp and Eno songs are over. Then I’ll stand on my toes until New Order comes on. “I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls?” That’s odd – I don’t remember there being vocals in these songs. The TV is on. Duh! It appears as though Ecstasy impairs one’s ability to discern the source of sounds – I could swear the singing was coming from the stereo. Interesting…

1:08 Stubbed my toe.

1:10 Still a little tightness in my stomach and jaw. A slight headache. I feel strange, but severely ripped off. I’ll try to be patient.

1:12 Stubbed my toe.

1:15 Feeling kind of spunky, but that could just be the caffeine in the Cherry Coke. I ate a ton of cheese balls just in case, but the expected nausea hasn’t really materialized. They sure did taste good, though.

1:20 Stubbed my toe.

1:23 Stubbed my toe.

1:24 Stubbed my toe.

1:28 Getting tired of stubbing my poor toe. Realized I’ve been sitting still for the past twenty minutes.

1:30 Brian Eno sounded incredible and New Order is giving me goosebumps. Can’t stop smiling. Nothing dramatic is happening - I just feel really good. I can, however, see how a bigger dose of this stuff could make you feel like, REAL GOOD!

1:32 Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop. Make it stop.

1:33 [illegible]

1:35 I am the son and heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar. I’m the sonandheir. My forehead fell off. Now it’s a bowl, suitable for serving steaming shark fin soup to hungry Japanese business travelers in Portland. I knew plaster of Paris was the wrong material with which to fashion elegant spoons, but what choice did you give me? Only now that they’ve disintegrated in the clutches of our brethren from Nippon, leaving them to drizzle 165-degree soup across their laps, do you see the folly of your ways. Dummies. Why is the room green? It’s never been green. Mom is definitely going to notice that. Timothy Leary would’ve loved this stuff. Timothy Leary’s dead. No – no no no he’s outside, looking in – and brandishing a scimitar with an Indian corn-studded hilt and wearing an Erol’s nametag! He ordered me out into the side yard, where he ranted for a spittle-laden eternity about the merits of the AMC Pacer versus the Ford Pinto. He has no idea who Andy McClusky is, and he doesn’t care. He thinks I’m not listening. Oh, I’m listening, old man. I just think you’re high. “You have no idea,” he says with a wink, then severs my head with one tremendous swing of his sword. I run about the yard hunched over, trying to feel around on the ground for my head. Whose dog is this? Tell him to let go of my head – I have notes to write, before I start forgetting stuff. Oh. My head is still right where it’s supposed to be. Write that down. My ice cream is smoking the entire pack of Marlboro Lights I stole from Sally. One long drag – gone. Even the filters - gone. Wow. I step back into the duty-free shop at the Nuku’alofa International Airport of Tonga to buy her another pack. “Malo e lelei!” chirps the four-foot tall man behind the counter. “The usual, my man,” I say, and he tosses a box of Lights over the register in a graceful arc as I launch a dollar bill paper airplane towards him. He loves dollars, and catches it and just grins and grins. “Okay bye-bye then, okay bye-bye!” My spirit creature, the Scarlet Macaw, soars over me as I make my way through the throng on the ice at Rockefeller Center. Tom Brokaw is doing triple-lutzes again. That explains the crowd, and the frequent disappointed “aww” sounds everyone keeps emitting in unison. My eyes freeze solid and fall out of my face. I catch one, but the other is surely lost forever amid the thousands of legs and skates and plastic Rubbermaid colanders. The car screams to a stop and I fling the door open, cutting a nasty dent into the fiberglass bobsled we’ve parked way way way way way way too close to. That’s no reason to hunt me with Super-Soakers filled with queso, amigo! No lyrics, no movement, no color – just silence. I’m having a lot of trouble with this application form. They sure don’t make it easy for an ordinary citizen like me to change his name to Parts Is Parts, do they? How did every single thing in the whole room get broken??? And what’s all over the floor? Looks like legos made of green and yellow cookie dough. And how did those holes get in the couch? I’m just sitting here. I must have built the perfect beast. Try to split the script, he says. And if I refuse? I see a werewolf drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s, and – no, it’s a Mai Tai – no, too yellow – perhaps a banana daiquiri. Anyway, his hair is perfect. Take that, Lon Chaney! This is a big waste of time. I’m going to have to make some stuff up, so it sounds like something actually happened.

1:36 My veins are gone. Odd. Plus, I can’t seem to find a pulse in either my neck or my wrist or my nose. That’s hilarious. This drug is supposed to increase pulse rate and blood pressure. I still feel tons of energy. Perhaps all I took was an amphetamine.

1:45 [drawing of a pig with three legs, two heads] Look – I drew a piggie!

2:03 My hat is acting like a complete jerk. All I did was take its girlfriend home from intramural floor hockey practice. It’s not like anything happened. Jerk. I’m not wearing that hat again until it apologizes to me.

2:25 Time is flying. “Kentucky Fried Movie” has never been funnier. Genius. Bringing tears to my eyes. That Jackie Chan [sic] has got to be the funniest, best-looking martial arts bad-ass I’ve ever seen. Damn, he’s hot! Incredible piece of filmmaking. I can’t believe how funny that fake preview for “Catholic High School Girls in Trouble” is, after all these years. Brilliant.

3:00 I’m bored. What a crock! Sixteen thousand dollars, and all he wanted to do was dip us in plaster.

4:30 WhatEVER. I want my money back. I’m going to have to invoke some serious artistic license (to kill) on this paper. I don’t think they give licenses for artistic embellishmentarianism on research papers. But man, I feel like running. How am I going to get to sleep? I know – poetry. Come sweet slumber, enshroud me in thy purple cloak… Hmph. Doesn’t even rhyme.

5:00 I guess I did take something. I got to work and Shawn the Erol's druggie said my pupils looked like dinner plates. Whatever.

So kids, you can weigh the facts and make your own decisions about whether or not to try drugs. I’d just recommend not trying this drug. It's just way too subtle.