( – promoted by buhdydharma )
I put down the crack pipe and pick up the remote control. I turn off the TV. Was there ever a time when Wheel of Fortune wasn’t on the air? If fortune is a wheel then this particular spin of the wheel called “my life” is decidedly unsuccessful.
I sit in the darkness in the quiet, a trace of burning base filling the air. Then, suddenly, out of the blue, because of chronic short-term memory failure, I remembered why I put down the crack pipe and picked up the remote control in the first place.
In the dark he was hard to see. There was only a fragment of moonlight. But, still, it didn’t take a rocket scientist, which I’ve never wanted to be, to see the visitor wasn’t from around these parts. Wasn’t from America. Not one of us.
First of all he was completely naked except for a tiny loin cloth which would make Tarzan’s a tux with tails. And second he stood there with a spear, taller than him, one end in the ground and the other pointed toward to the sky. And finally, and maybe most importantly, time will tell, around his neck was a huge snake. A serpent draped down to his knees.
Now maybe it was the crack or the single-malt Scotch or the medium-rare pork rinds, but the sight of this silhouetted man, framed in the doorway against the abyss of my failed potential, did not unnerve me in the slightest. Perhaps it was his size, maybe five-foot tall and he couldn’t have weighed more than eighty or ninety pounds, but the man wasn’t starving. He was strong. Alert. Poised. Comfortable in his own skin.
We stared at each other for a moment. Me in my La-Z-Boy and him in his body-paint and loincloth. And spear. He was a hunter. Mustn’t forget that. He hunts for his survival and I spray RAID to murder miserable little pests before they find their way to my well-stocked pantry. I have my GPS and he’s guided by the moon and stars. I live in the relative security and comfort of the First-World and he’s a charter member of the primordial goo. Everything separates us but our humanity.
We stared for a long moment until he broke the silence. He shot me a withering glance like my grandfather did when I failed at something or other any two-year old could do. After countless generations of upwardly mobile success of both material and spiritual wealth, I was the bust-back, presumably for reasons better relegated to the Wheel of Fortune than any deeper meaning. I made the black sheep in the family look like Prince Charles back in the day before he chewed his brains from the inside out and mistook himself for a King. Ah, Charlie, if only we could have stayed in Bangkok forever.
The aboriginal apparition, the universal earthman spoke in perfect English. With an English accent. I wish Diana were here to hear it. She’d laugh and laugh in that way of hers with a wicked smile before she dropped down for another line.
The visitor said in a clipped British tone, “Am I supposed to stand here forever or are you going to invite me in?”
To me he was already in and there was no inviting to do but an explanation of why the hell the little squirt was standing in my doorway with a loincloth and a spear. But as an American, I only thought these things to myself.
“Come in,” I said. “Sorry. May I get you a drink?” I declined my recliner and hobbled to my feet.
“Water,” he said. “From the tap into a clean glass, please.”
I turned to get the native man a glass of water. “Sure you don’t want bottled water?” I asked, suddenly remembering again what I swore I’d never forget – they found a bunch of poisonous chemicals in the water supply. Drink at your own risk – meanwhile you can buy bottled water which is ‘clean.’
“When water is a prisoner she cries. But sometimes the wail of a siren is preferable to her embrace.”
I didn’t quite understand how an ambulance was a her and water was a her and why they both cried.
“Would you rather have a beer?” I asked.
“Water is so hard to find?”
“No, it’s easy,” I say, “It comes in a bottle from the store.”
“I prefer to dip my hand in the river,” he says.
“Well,” I say, feeling chipper and at the top of my game thanks to the drugs and drink and dancing fantasies of Vanna White on a bear-skin rug with a flute of White Star and a mirror of cocaine, “You never know what crap folks put in the river upstream. Better to buy clean water from the store. Better safe than sorry.”
“I am a man and you are a ghost,” he says. Then he laughs. At me. Do ghosts have feelings, asshole? Huh? Do ghosts bleed when you stab them with the dagger of regret? Huh? Do ghosts smell up the bathroom in the morning while reading the 31st Psalm or Guns and Ammo, whichever is within reach? Huh?
And it’s then I lunge at the bastard. Arms out, fingers extended like some demented monster of Frankenstein I lunge at the little diapered Gandhi with a Bush smirk, ready to strangle the water-mocker like I’ve seen it done a thousand time in the movies.
Though, they never wait long enough in the movies. It takes much longer to kill someone in real life. Especially by strangling. Maybe ten seconds max in the movies. Well, people don’t go that easy let me tell you from experience. They’ll try to trick you and make you believe they’re dead and then when you let up they grab you in the balls and poke you in the eyes and generally fight like hell to survive. Even pampered little country club, city spa, chalet in Aspen bankers will fight like hell to survive. The little twerps.
So, I’m lunging at little black Sambo right out of a Tarzan movie with the stupid little spear and the stupid little grin and before I can say, “Gotcha you miserable little bastard” the miserable little bastard steps out of the way as I tumble to the ground and he places the point of his spear on the back of my neck. Okay, the years of neglect, the tons of sugar, the kilos of black, brown, green and white, the decades of debauchery, mainlining popular culture, yeah, maybe I lost a step. Or maybe it was the same corner of the damn rug I always trip over and been meaning to tape to the hardwood floor since 1987. Or maybe it was voodoo magic from the Amazonian psychedelic patch. The point is I’m in a slightly vulnerable position for no other reason than I’ve got no good drinking water from the tap and the little hunter-gatherer-warrior-shaman dude can’t abide Perrier.
Wasn’t it him who invaded my space unannounced, uninvited and unclothed liked he was dropped out the sky by the Zetans as some kind of practical joke? I was trying to be a good host and give him what he wanted, but no, all he wants is water from an unsafe tap. I saved his life and this is the thanks I get. Ungrateful little Third World Neanderthal. And all this is going through my head instead of my life flashing before my eyes because who wants to rewind that fucking disaster, when all of a sudden I’m pulled to my feet and instantly somewhere else.
Like a cloud or something. But a conference room too. Like a conference room in a cloud somewhere in a dream. It’s all white. And there are people sitting at a conference table looking at me standing before them. Men and women looking at me. Maybe seven or eight of them. Judging, evaluating, reckoning, setting the penance.
Finally one of them says, “Where’s Bob?”
And then I realize the little pigmy grunt is standing next to me, still holding the damn spear. I look at him and sure enough all of a sudden he does look a little like Robert Guillaume the guy who used to star in Benson when I was a kid and I realize this is a very bad dream, but still not a nightmare as I’m not being chased, yet.
And one of the people in the conference room in the cloud says, “Well? Well gottlieb? What do you have to say for yourself? Huh?”
Well what can I say really except it’s indigestion and maybe a loose sphincter or something equally as embarrassing because I really have no idea what’s going on and frankly was loosing interest because I just realized the Wheel of Fortune is actually a very profound game show. And the comfort of my Easy Boy and my freedom-of-choice remote control and as a devotee to finance capitalism and the ideals of ‘get-rich-quick’ – all these things called to my dream and prodded to get me back to real world.
And sure enough, I awoke in my recliner as Vanna White was turning a Q. The category was “America’s Favorite Pastime” and I thought “there is no Q in baseball.” Or Mom’s Apple Pie for that matter. And I thought of all the Q words which could be America’s favorite pastime that wasn’t baseball. And I couldn’t think of one. Vanna just stood there smiling stupidly into the camera like “Come on gottlieb you dumb fuck.” And I just couldn’t think of it. Like it was staring me right in the face: Wheel of Fortune, the letter Q, America’s favorite pastime and I wished I was back in the dream in the stupid conference room in the sky with the pigmy named Bob and the scrutinizers judging me unworthy… and all of a sudden I get it. And I say it: “Quack!”
And I know it’s true but I don’t why. Kind of like Jesus and The Beatles wrapped into one thing you know like a pot-sticker. America’s favorite pastime is to quack. Like a duck. Quack! Quack! Quack! Like Burgess Meredith as the Penguin.
Holy Breath of Life, Batman, my life is flashing before my eyes. And I realize I’m dying, probably from an overdose of undiagnosed guilt for all things I never did but could have to help out humanity, and the stranger from the Amazon was probably an angel of death sent to carry me to the “other side” of the Styx where everyone dresses in loin cloths and there’s unlimited sex with no jealousy and lots of Ambrosia. Lots and lots of Ambrosia.
And I’m sitting in the Cozy Boy recliner with the remote control in one hand and a scotch and soda in the other and on the screen is a documentary about the Amazon. There’s Bob in a little reed boat which makes primitive modern and he’s throwing his spear at something in the water. He smiles to the camera as he retrieves his tethered spear. He’s caught something all right. Something big. Something to feed his family for a week. The camera zooms in. It’s a Rolex Watch. With part of an arm attached.
And Bob smiles at the camera in his loin cloth and paint. He holds up the arm. And a phrase comes on the screen underneath the picture of Bob and the detached arm with the Rolex watch: Get Rich Quick!
And then I know: A Quark. And then I think back to Vanna and wonder how I had it so wrong and curse god “why can’t I have her on the rug in front of the fire with bottle of Moet and a few grams of coke?” When we’re both in our twenties and unafraid of passion instead of now sitting in an old folks home with an IV in a wheelchair overlooking the parking lot of a Walmart which won’t even have me as a greeter.
Where did it go? It goes by so fast. Even the most boring life is over before you can say “poof.”
“Are you ready?” Bob says from behind.
“Ready when you are Bob,” I say, “Ready when you are.”