Pete McArdle is clinically old, and when a bad ticker ended his long but unremarkable athletic career, he decided to wow the world with his writing....read more A wecent, er, recent spate of published stories has done nothing to dampen his delusions of literary grandeur. Sadly, some editors have found his work "just not right", eerily echoing the sentiments of Pete's third-grade teacher re Pete.
AN ACCOUNTANT BOTH BY TRADE AND CONSTITUTION, Wallace O'Leary led an orderly life. Before retiring at night, he'd pour twenty-four ounces of water into the coffee maker, not a drop more, fill the filter to the brim with coffee, neat and level, and set the timer for five forty-five so the coffee would be waiting, dark and steaming, when he arose.
On the kitchen table, he'd set out a single paper napkin, his eyeglasses, and his pills: one for arrhythmia, another for blood pressure, a third for cholesterol, and a baby aspirin just to be on the safe side. On the floor by his chair were his easy-on duck shoes, which he wore to retrieve the morning newspaper---though God only knows where the delivery man might fling it.
Allowing an extra minute or two to fish the paper out of a snow bank or out from under a juniper, by six-oh-six Wallace would be seated in his usual spot at the kitchen table, medicated, bespectacled, and sipping his coffee, the newspaper open to the stock prices. He followed this routine exactly and without fail, even on weekends.
But not this Saturday morning. When he shuffled into the kitchen, instead of being greeted by the savory aroma of Maxwell House, Wallace was assaulted by a sour stench of cigarette smoke, beer, and burnt waffles. The coffee maker sat off to the side, unplugged and forlorn, having been displaced by the toaster, and nearby, a torn waffle box rested in a bayou of melted butter, crumbs, and congealed syrup. It appeared that Wallace Jr. and his roommate, Boomer, had made a surprise visit from college last night and had hung out in the kitchen.
On the third try, for he was practically blind without his glasses, Wallace was finally able to plug in the coffee maker and get it going. He bit back on his anger, thinking of the advice he gave his wife, Agnes: Be kind to Junior, he'll only be young once.
Somewhat mollified by the rumble of brewing coffee, Wallace turned to the kitchen table and flinched. Apparently an F3-level twister had touched down in the night, scattering beer bottles, plates, spent matches, and bits of waffle across the table, heaping books, hats, and jackets on the chairs, and leaving a colorful flotsam of socks, shoes, and bottle tops on the floor. An acoustic guitar shy two strings leaned precariously against an overturned cooler.
“Those darn, sloppy kids,” groused Wallace, never one to curse.
His glasses were nowhere to be found but at least his pills were in the proper place, and he took them as soon as the coffee was ready, irritated that his normal routine had been disrupted.
Wallace stepped into one of his duck shoes and felt something underfoot, gravel or small pebbles perhaps, and after hopping over to the corner, he removed the shoe and shook it out over the garbage pail. Then he stepped into the other shoe and found his wire-rimmed glasses, now badly bent but still useable after some crude adjusting.
Now fate is a funny thing. If Wallace had stepped into his right shoe first, as he had hundreds of mornings in a row, he would have found his glasses. Then, upon emptying the tiny pebbles from his left shoe, he'd have seen they were his aspirin, Crestor, Norvasc, and Verapamil, and not pebbles at all. He'd have wondered what pills he just took, and upon waking the sure-to-be-grumpy boys, he'd have learned they were four tabs of incredibly potent mescaline which had fallen out of Boomer's backpack. Boomer, a pre-med student with zero interest in hallucinogens, had brought the mesc from school to trade with J.C., the kid next door, who always had the best pot.
This morning, however, Wallace's precise, reassuring routine had been disturbed---he'd been forced to improvise. Half-blind and half-asleep, he'd stepped into the left shoe first.
There would be no pharmacological discovery, no high-speed trip to the E.R., no stomach pump in the nick of time. As it turned out, there would be no morning newspaper either, the delivery man had managed to toss it in the sewer.
A full fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, and sadly unaware of the closing price for pork bellies, Wallace began his morning shower routine: shampooing his hair, soaping his body, lathering his face, shaving, and brushing his teeth, one minute on each arch using a circular motion.
Afterward, as he flossed in the bathroom mirror, he began to feel nauseous and wondered if he were getting sick.
Not a good day to be ill, thought Wallace. His “to do” list was endless, and now included getting his glasses fixed. He carefully parted his overlong hair---a haircut was the first thing on his agenda---and combed it in a neat, generic style. Then he gazed at his face, with its unremarkable parts arranged in an eminently forgettable way, and smiled. But a sudden wave of nausea knocked the grin off his face as the mescaline began to pour into his bloodstream. He felt his heart quicken and flutter.
Yikes, he thought, I sure hope I'm not having a heart attack!
Wallace mentally reviewed the list of heart attack symptoms and concluded, since there was no shortness of breath, no pain radiating to his arm or jaw, and certainly no elephant sitting on his chest, he was probably just coming down with a virus. Wallace hated the very idea of viruses, how they lurked on doorknobs and magazines, neither dead nor alive, an implacable, malevolent foe. If he had to be sick, he much preferred bacterial infections with their well-established diagnostic and treatment protocols.
After making a mental note to stay hydrated, Wallace dressed quietly so as not to wake Agnes, tiptoed downstairs, and headed for town in his little, gas-conserving import, careful not to exceed thirty-five miles per hour, both hands on the wheel.
Wallace parked in the shopping center lot which was nearly empty at this hour, and he'd just activated the car alarm when the nausea became overwhelming. He staggered over by the convenience store, knelt down next to their flower bed, and threw up all over the peonies.
When he finally caught his breath, he spat a few times and then stared at the thin, coffee-colored vomit pooled amongst the delicate pink petals and dripping off the shiny, green leaves onto the dirt. Why it was beautiful, really, a kind of performance art, and more than visually stunning, it represented a spiritual link with nature, a synergy between the unbearably precious flowers and the contents of his stomach. And look, there was a cigarette butt with a smudge of red lipstick on the filter.
Wallace picked it up and examined it closely, awed by the knowledge that someone had grown this tobacco, someone else had carefully packaged it, and yet another someone had sold it to a woman wearing red lipstick. She was probably the kind of woman who favored black fishnet stockings and liked to be on top during sex, unlike Agnes who abhorred smoking, had little use for lipstick or lingerie, and laid on her back, eyes closed during intercourse, like the guest of honor at a wake.
Wallace shivered imagining sex with the red-lipsticked woman, he could picture her riding him, moaning loudly and sucking on her cigarette, the ash falling on her fishnets and his chest. He felt an intense connection to her, along with all the tobacco people and whoever'd planted the peonies---together they had created a timeless work of art in the convenience store flower bed, a vibrant collage of coffee, peonies, lipstick, and tobacco.
Wallace wished he'd brought his camera.
For someone who just barfed, Wallace felt rather well now, full of energy in fact. He sat back on his heels, glanced up at the store window, and was shocked to see a Native American grinning madly at him. Although he'd been a Cleveland Indians fan his whole life, Wallace had never examined their logo closely, not like he did now. The logo Indian had a mouth full of big, bright teeth, undoubtedly the result of orthodontics and bleaching, and a small, pointy head with a feather the same shade as his complexion pointing skyward.
How had Wallace never noticed that the Indian's skin and feather were the exact same brick-red, a color seen neither in humans nor birds? And the Indian wasn't looking at Wallace, he was peering off to the side, he was wary of something, the smile just for show.
A tear trickled down Wallace's cheek. Oh God, how we'd devastated the Native Americans, those poor, peaceful people! We took their lands, drove them west like cattle, and abandoned them with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a few casinos. Wallace sobbed. It was all so wrong, and thanks to the interconnectedness of everything, he was as much to blame as anyone.
“I'm so, so sorry,” he told the Indian.
“Are you alright?” asked the red man without moving his lips.
“I'm fine, thanks,” said Wallace, marveling that the Indian was telepathic. What magic might the Indians have taught us if we'd only given them the chance?
“Are you here for a hair cut?”
“Why yes, as a matter of fact I am,” Wallace replied, but his smile suddenly faltered. If Indians were telepathic, why hadn't they seen the white man coming, why had they not devised some sort of plan, anything to avert---
A hand touched his shoulder and Wallace nearly jumped out of his skin. It was Frank, the barber, whose shop was next door to the convenience store.
“I saw you out here and I wondered if you were okay,” he said.
“Sure I am,” said Wallace, popping up briskly and brushing off the knees of his pants. His smile felt impossibly wide, almost as wide as his brick-red friend's. Wallace followed Frank into his shop wondering what he could do to honor all Native Americans, both past and present. He'd already collaborated on the masterpiece in the flower bed---God, how he missed that woman! He could still smell her smoky scent---and now he must make a bold statement on behalf of the Apaches, the Chippewa, the Mohawks, and the Sioux.
Frank sat him in the chair, wrapped a strip of paper around his neck and draped him, and asked Wallace how he wanted his hair cut. After a brief fit of giggling---Will you look at all the hair sticking out of Frank's nose, dear Christ, you could braid it! Did I just say dear Christ?---Wallace whispered in the barber's ear.
Frank shrugged, put down his scissors, and picked up the electric shears.
The movie Wallace was watching about a man getting a haircut was finally over. Frank had removed the gown, dusted Wallace with talcum powder---that was so erotic, thought Wallace, I must try dusting Agnes at the very next opportunity---and the barber now held a mirror so his customer could view the back of his head.
Wallace whistled at himself, admiring the two-inch high stripe of salt and pepper hair bisecting the middle of his shaven head. As the stripe of hair went back it was interrupted by his bald spot, so that from above, it looked more like a hairy exclamation point than a classic Mohawk. His scalp skin was so pale next to his face, Wallace wondered if Frank had left some powder behind. But in any event, he and the barber had framed a simple yet elegant apology to Native Americans everywhere, and Wallace gratefully bear-hugged Frank and tipped him a ten-spot. The barber was still shaking his head as Wallace skipped out the door.
Outside, the brilliant sunshine stopped Wallace dead in his tracks, it was so incredibly bright it seemed to make objects glow. Wondering if his glasses were the problem, Wallace removed them but then everything melted around the edges and ran together: a fudge sundae left out in the sun. He quickly put his bent specs back on.
I gotta get these fucking glasses fixed, he thought, and then burst into laughter. He'd used the F-word, and now he was going to hell. And now he'd said hell as well.
“Fucking hell!” Wallace yelled, and collapsed in hysterics on a nearby bench, laughing so hard his eyes teared, his nose ran, and he may have even wet himself a little.
All these fluids---if you laugh hard enough, you start to leak. This insight set Wallace off again, and as he howled, strings of saliva depended from his lips to his knees, yet another bodily fluid making an appearance.
Upon regaining his composure, Wallace wiped his face with his paisley handkerchief and then stared at it, still another ouvre d'art, glistening strands of spit and snot overlaying a raucous pattern of dots, swirls, and what looked like bacteria against a crimson background. He realized the bacteria shapes looked more like sperm cells actually, this piece celebrated life when you came right down to it, and he decided to commemorate his red-lipsticked cowgirl by tying the sperm-patterned handkerchief around his neck like a bandana.
Wallace's anal-retentive personality was strong and battle-hardened. It fought through the absurd levels of mescaline in his system and ordered him to get something done. Although he was having an absolute hoot and had already produced major works celebrating the tobacco industry, bodily fluids, cowgirls and Indians, Wallace realized he'd better mosey on over to the optometrist's and get his glasses fixed, maybe buy some clip-on shades too. It was so goddamn sunny out.
“Wallace?” stammered Sid, the optometrist.
“Sid?” mimicked Wallace, snickering at the sound of “Sid”.
Sid. S-s-s-i-i-i-d. Sid, Sid, Sid. You had to blow air between your tongue and teeth to make the “S-s-s”, then flick the tongue against your palate to get the “id”. So much work for such a silly, little name. Silly Sid. Wallace had another giggling fit.
“Have you been drinking, Wallace?” said Sid.
“Of course not, silly,” said Wallace looking at his watch, “Why it's only half past . . . um, something. And please, call me Wally.”
“Wally” was fun to say too, first the lips puckered up for the “Wah”, then they retracted to a narrow slit for the “lee”. Wah-lee. Wally and the Beaver. The Beave. Wallace cracked up again.
Sid looked heavenward for help, then removed Wallace's eyeglasses and began straightening the frames, moving them on and off as he worked. Wallace, meanwhile, stared at a rack of clip-on sunglasses, amazed to find they came in so many colors: sepia, violet, yellow, and his instant favorite, a mirrored finish like the cops wear.
Wallace had always feared police. He was certain they'd jail him if he were ever caught speeding, or at the very least, rough him up. But now, for the first time, it occurred to him how brave police officers were, how desperately they were needed, and sadly, how under-appreciated they were. We take them for granted and that's just not right. Wallace decided to buy the mirror clips-ons and wear them as a salute to law enforcement everywhere, fuckin' A! And he would personally thank the next cop he met.
When his glasses had been properly adjusted and the clip-on's paid for, Wallace checked himself out in the mirror. With his Mohawk, reflecting shades, and bandana, he looked like an extra from Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome. All he needed was a few scars.
As he unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt, hoping to look more rakish, Wallace noticed Silly Sid shaking his head. Why was everyone shaking their heads today, could they not feel all the beauty surrounding them? Were they afraid they'd leak if they laughed?
“Sid,” said Wallace, trying not to lose it over the man's
uni-brow, “You gotta lighten up, baby!” With that, he kissed Sid smack on the lips, waltzed to the door, and pirouetted out into what had to be the most gorgeous, sunny day since the beginning of time.
What to do next? pondered the unraveling shreds of Wallace's formerly well-organized mind. Perhaps we should go to the diner, get something to eat, the shreds suggested.
Wallace nodded in agreement---his stomach certainly was empty---and then he sashayed down the sidewalk, oblivious to the wide berth other pedestrians were giving him.
The young waitress wore fishnet stockings, or if not fishnet, some sort of patterned nylon. Wallace was staring at her sleek, ebony legs, certain she preferred cowgirl, when she cleared her throat.
“Your order, sir?” she prompted.
The twelve-page diner menu was sitting open and upside down in front of Wallace, who'd been wondering why all the food was pictured wearing wide porcelain hats.
“What's good,” he asked, squinting at her name tag, “Susquehanna?”
“That's Sha'niqua,” she said coolly, “and I'd suggest the #3 Breakfast Special. How would you like your eggs cooked?”
“Oh . . . I don't care, Sequoia, as long as they don't suffer.” Wallace favored the waitress with his best Cleveland Indian grin, but she glared back and departed with an audible humph.
Now what's the matter with her? he wondered.
When he looked at the other patrons, they immediately turned away. What was wrong with everyone?
Where was the love?
Wallace noticed a small jukebox to his right and figured that what these people needed was a little music, something to loosen them up. After emptying the change from his pockets, he stuffed various coins in the coin slot and hit random buttons until a red light came on.
Transfixed by the light, Wallace jumped when “Shake, Shake, Shake (Shake Your Booty)” came blasting out of the speakers, loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss. The mescaline was really kicking in now and it felt like the musical instruments were inside him: the pulsating bass was his heartbeat, the rhythmic synthesizer notes were thoughts careening across his cortex, and the horns were muscles contracting in his arms and legs, making him jitterbug in his seat.
“A-w-w-w, shake, shake, shake,” he sang, head bobbing like a chicken, “Shake, shake, shake,” hands slapping the table, off-tempo, “Shake your booty, shake your booh-t-a-a-y!”
These were the most profound lyrics Wallace had ever heard, they captured the very essence of the bond between a man and woman. Shake your booty. Really, what more was there to say?
The waitress returned with his food, cranky as ever despite the joyful noise emanating from the jukebox. She dropped his plate in front of him, turned down the jukebox, and wordlessly laid the check on the table. Then she stalked away, completely ignoring Wallace's friendly advice that she shake her booty, or at the very least, smile.
Wallace looked down and froze---his breakfast was glaring at him. Two mean, yolky eyes flanked a home-fried potato nose above a grim bacon mouth. This was a decidedly unfriendly meal and there could be only one explanation: Sha-na-na had turned his breakfast against him. That bitch! Even the parsley had a bad attitude.
At that very moment, a Neil Diamond song began to play, and Wallace knew it was time to go if he wished to save his immortal soul. Holding his knife and fork in the shape of a cross, he slid out of the booth and backed toward the exit in a low crouch, “Sweet Caroline” braying from the jukebox. The impromptu cross had powerful mojo, every demon in the place looked away when he flashed it, all except some guy in a grease-stained undershirt who came busting out of the kitchen and began cursing Wallace in a strange, arcane tongue from another dimension, or possibly Greek.
Wallace dropped the utensils and tore out the door, sprinting for the street like a hooker on a tight schedule. As he ran, a stiff breeze blew his bandana behind him where it fluttered like a cape, a superhero's cape, and he suddenly realized he was traveling at super-speed.
It seems God had just granted him a super-power---you had to love the Big Guy's timing---and when Wallace hit the main drag, he turned left and put the pedal to the metal.
Through the streets he flew at the speed of bad news, the world flashing by as if lit by a strobe. Given the choice, Wallace would have preferred super-strength or good looks, but he had to admit, super-speed was exhilarating and fun, and in no time at all he found himself at the train station.A train waited on the platform, undoubtedly part of the Divine Plan.
Wallace careened into the parking lot, scooted up the steps, and slipped into the last car just as the doors closed. As the train trudged out of the station, Wallace fell huffing into an empty seat. He could feel his superhero heart beating wildly, which it was thanks to the insane amount of mescaline he'd ingested.
Wallace looked out the window as the train achieved top speed, and came to the realization that he was now faster than a speeding locomotive, and could probably leap tall buildings in a single bound as well. He saw the Cleveland skyline up ahead in the distance, and figured he'd find out about the building-leaping when he got there.
At the next stop, Wallace noticed kids and grownups wearing Cleveland Indians gear getting on. Imagine that, he thought, the Indians had scheduled an afternoon game just for him. Wallace was touched, for even though he was a superhero chosen by God, deep down he considered himself just one of the guys.
As the train started up again, he set about preparing his
...read more (10/18)pre-game speech---something to include a tribute to Native Americans, a paean to peace officers, and a warning regarding diabolical diners---but his thoughts seemed distant and scattered, and they flew out the door like trapped sparrows at the next station.
Oh well! he thought. Maybe, instead of a speech, I'll sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” for the fans. Now how'd that go again? Hitting not a single note, Wallace loudly and proudly sang:
“O-oh hey can you see, by the darn early light?
What so loudly we wailed, at the high life's last reaming.
Whose bored tripe and bright scars, flew the perilous kite,
Or the wombats we watched, were so gallantly screaming.
And the rodents' red glare, their boobs bursting in air,
Gave proof through their bite, that old fag was still there,
Oh, hey does tha-at---”
Wallace's stirring rendition of the national anthem was interrupted when another superhero came walking by, bawling, “Tribe tickets, who needs tickets?” His power was clearly in his red, inhumanly-large right hand. “We're #1” was printed on it in big white letters, a reference to superheroes, no doubt.
“How much is a ticket, Super-Friend?” asked Wallace, mesmerized by the man's red hand. He realized it was the same brick-red as the Cleveland Indian's face and feather, the interconnectedness of everything revealing itself once more.
“Forty bucks,” said the man, “and I'll throw this in, since you seem to like it so much.” He took off his foam “We're #1” hand and extended it along with the ticket.
Wallace took the hand reverently, slipped it on, and felt indescribable power coursing up and down his arm, the power of Thor, King of the Norsemen! Or was it the Norwegians? Wallace was unsure, he just knew Thor's kingdom was somewhere in northern Europe.
As the ticket scalper waited patiently, Wallace struggled to get money out of his wallet. Although the Hand of Thor was most potent, it was useless for fine motor activities like opening a wallet or counting bills. Finally, holding his wallet between his teeth, Wallace extracted some cash with his free hand and paid his fellow superhero.
“Thank you, brother, for the Hand of Thor,” said Wallace. “I wish I could share my super-speed with you.”
“That's okay, dog,” said the man, heading up the aisle, “Speed makes me grind my teeth.”
A short while later, the train began to slow, and shuddering, came to a stop. Then it spoke to Wallace, saying, “This stop is Progressive Field, home of the Cleveland Indians. Once again, this stop is Progressive Field. The next stop will be East 9th Street. Please watch the gap between the train and the platform.”
A talking train! marveled Wallace. Now I've seen it all.
He paused in the doorway, gently petting the door frame with the Hand of Thor, and said, “Many thanks, brave steed, I will sing of your deeds in Aasgard, home of the Gods!”
“Watch the closing doors---and have a nice day,” said the train.
Wallace stepped out onto the platform and the doors whisked close behind him.
The kind, elderly usher led Wallace to his seat and listened patiently to his question. The usher thought for a moment, then said that the Terminal Tower, which was downtown on Public Place, was certainly a popular building to leap from, it would probably be a good one to leap over. The usher smiled, as if he heard this sort of thing every day, and left.
Wallace had a terrific seat in the right field stands, just a few rows back from the playing field, and all around him rowdy fans were giving the visiting right-fielder an earful.
“St-st-st-stick it up your ass, M-m-m-mahoney!” screamed a voice next to Wallace, who turned to see whom it belonged to.
Holy shit, it was Porky the Pig!
The man was absolutely immense and shirtless, a vast, quivering mountain of pink flesh that strained the boundaries of his seat and good taste. His big, shiny head seemed stuck to his chest---there was no obvious sign of a neck.
“Your wife's a pr-pr-pro---, your wife's a whore!” he bellowed at the right-fielder, causing a nun sitting five rows down to flinch.
“Porky?” said Wallace.
The man turned to Wallace, his piggy, little eyes narrowing with suspicion, and said, “H-h-h-how did you know my n-n-n-name?”
“Just a lucky guess,” said Wallace, shrugging. As the sun beat down on his freshly-shorn scalp, Wallace realized he badly needed a drink. But he was afraid to leave his seat---he might never find it again. Hmm. Despite having swallowed enough mescaline to last a heavy-metal band for a week, a portion of Wallace's frontal lobe was somehow still functioning: he decided to make Porky an offer.
“Hey Porky, how 'bout I pay for everything and you go get us some food and drinks,” said Wallace, smiling winningly.
“Sh-sh-sh-sure!” said Porky, his face lighting up at the mention of free food. With great difficulty, he un-wedged himself from his seat and stood up, blocking the view for about a dozen fans. Wallace handed him his wallet figuring, hey, if you can't trust a cartoon icon, who can you trust?
“W-w-w-whaddya want?” asked Porky, licking his chops.
“Lots and lots of cold beer.”
“Th-th-th-that's all, folks!” said Wallace, waiting for a laugh, but the young behemoth just blinked a couple of times then left.
Wallace tried to concentrate on the ballgame, but it was hard to with all the scary jungle noises around him, the barking and howling and hooting, the whistles and the catcalls. He couldn't see any animals in the stands but they had to be there, he could hear them.
The Red Sox pitcher toed the rubber and looked in for a sign, spinning the baseball in his hand, the ball so virginally white Wallace could see it from here. Then the pitcher wound up and flung it to the catcher, who tossed it back. The pitcher did this again with the same result.
How ridiculous, thought Wallace, why doesn't he just hold on to the ball? Clearly the catcher wants no part of it. This charade played itself out a few more times before the batter swung violently, making contact and driving the ball far and high into the blue summer sky.Wallace jumped up to catch the ball but it landed in the stands on the opposite side of the field. The sold-out crowd stood and roared as the batter styled around the bases, touched home and made the sign of the Cross, and then strutted back to the dugout.
I just don't get it, thought Wallace. The batter didn't want the ball either, heck, he tried to kill it! Why doesn't he just stay in the dugout where it's shady and cool? Speaking of cool, Wallace decided to go shirtless, like half the men around him. He felt so much better after removing his shirt that he took his socks, shoes, and trousers off too. A-h-h-h, that feels nice.
A family of four got up and moved to another section.
Wallace completely forgot about the ballgame and began scrutinizing the various colors in his plaid boxers. He could find no Cleveland Indian/Hand of Thor red in his shorts and this troubled him: perhaps not everything in the universe was interconnected. Shifting his weight, Wallace caught a glimpse of his penis through his fly and decided, for no particular reason, to name him Montague. He wondered if Montague was thirsty too.
Porky suddenly reappeared with four beers in a holder, all for Wallace, and an enormous side of ribs, a two-gallon bucket of popcorn, an extra-large pepperoni pizza, and a small Diet Coke for himself. After handing Wallace his beer, Porky sat down and attacked his provisions with speed, precision, and grim determination, like the Allies at Anzio.
Wallace's beer was ice-cold and delicious, he downed the first one in a single gulp. As he started on his second, Wallace noticed people were staring at him and pointing. They were undoubtedly excited to have a superhero in their midst and Wallace waved back with the Hand of Thor, hoping to bring a little joy into their sad, meaningless lives. When he was down to his last beer, he sent Porky for another round.
Not only did the frosty brew soothe Wallace's parched throat, it also felt great when he poured some on his sun-burned scalp. As a result, the second round disappeared even faster than the first, and the third faster still.
Sometime during the fourth or fifth round, Montague started bugging Wallace for a drink. If Wallace had learned anything in his forty-seven years on the planet, it was when Montague wanted something, he would not quit till he got it. He could be a real dick. It was the seventh-inning stretch and most of the fans were on their feet looking at the giant video screen above the bleachers, watching other fans mug for the camera and generally look like nincompoops.
I'm dying here, said Montague, unaccustomed to so much sun. If I don't get a drink soon, I'm gonna shrivel up and fall off!
He could be such a drama queen sometimes.
What the fuck, thought Wallace, I got a fresh round going here and I'm spilling half of it anyway. He lurched to his feet, held a cup of beer near his crotch, and helped Montague wet his whistle.
The crowd suddenly gasped as one, a woman nearby fainted, and Wallace saw that everybody was staring at the giant screen. He looked up at the screen, unable to focus properly, and vaguely saw some guy holding a cup and swaying from side to side. When the picture abruptly came into focus, Wallace realized it was him up there, almost fifty foot tall, and Montague, the size of an Anaconda, half-submerged in a foamy cup of beer.
Wallace waved the Hand of Thor and the crowd went absolutely bonkers, cheering, screaming, and clapping. They loved him, they really loved him! Wallace felt a sense of belonging he had never experienced before, like he was part of one big, happy family. He wanted to hug every last fan and take them home---but then he realized he was hogging all the glory.
Wallace put his beer down and started rhythmically thrusting his hips so Montague could wave to the crowd, and forty-three thousand people let loose a roar that was heard in Toledo. The stadium shook so much, folks in the upper deck were sure it was going to collapse.
But alas, the forces of evil are always lurking, that's why God made superheroes, and up on the giant screen Wallace saw angry, black-uniformed thugs heading down the aisle toward him. He tossed the Hand of Thor to Porky---“Use it well, my ponderous friend!”---then hurried down toward the field and hopped the fence.
Wallace stood in right field, wondering why on Earth he was there, until a gang of uniformed men began pouring through a gate and reminded him. He took off like a shot, leading the men on a long, merry chase around the park and managing to stay just one step ahead of them, thanks to his super-speed and fancy accountant's footwork.
It was an oppressively hot, humid day, and although the game was being broadcast nationally, the stadium camera director was bored and half-asleep at his console. He'd sat slumped in his chair during the seventh inning stretch, completely ignoring the unusually-loud crowd noise and not once glancing at the TV monitor, a mistake that would cost him his job. Finally checking the time, he yawned, adjusted his mike, and said, “Ready camera three, go live on my mark. On 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . ”
Boomer could not locate the mescaline, no matter how many times he searched his backpack and the kitchen. He must have lost it in transit. Too bad, he was really looking forward to some of J.C.'s weed. Suddenly he heard Junior yelling from the TV room and hurried in to see what was going on.
“Boomer, check out this dweeb!” gushed Junior.
On the TV screen, a bunch of black uniforms were chasing a man clad only in boxers, a bandana, and mirrored sunglasses around Progressive Field. The guy was incredibly fast and elusive, juking this way and that, his penis flapping out the front of his shorts like the trunk of a rampaging elephant.
The fans were going nuts, especially when a portly security guard wiped out, face-first, on the warning track. The elephant man made a sudden sharp cut and ricocheted off the center field wall, losing his sunglasses in the process but causing two uniforms to collide violently with each other.
“Great friggin' move!” hollered Junior, as the camera panned closer on the fugitive.
“Jesus, Junior,” said Boomer, “that freak looks like your dad with a Mohawk.”
“And on speed,” said Junior, “look at him fly, man.”
The pursuers were running out of gas now and clearly frustrated. They stopped for a moment to un-holster their Tasers, then resumed the chase, firing darts at the fleeing man. They had no luck hitting their quarry but did nail one of their own, twice, in the back. He flopped in the dirt by first base like a freshly-caught halibut. The crowd roared.
Someone finally hit the intended target, slowing the fugitive considerably, and then another dart connected, and a third took him down. As the man convulsed on top of home plate, the camera zoomed in for a head shot, capturing his flushed, wide-eyed face on national TV, just moments before he went into cardiac arrest.
“Jesus, Junior,” yelped Boomer, “that is your dad!”
Junior just stared at the screen, his mouth hanging open but no sound coming out. He blinked once, twice, and then flipped open his cell phone and punched in a number.
“Hello, Ma?” he said, beginning to whimper, “You better come downstairs, and I mean now!”
Wallace awakened in a strange hospital room, festooned with wires, tubes, and tape, and surrounded by a vast array of beeping, blinking monitors. A pretty nurse was there and she asked him if he needed some pain medicine, but he didn't, in fact he felt pretty darn good except for an overwhelming urge to make coffee. The nurse informed Wallace he was in the I.C.U. of The Cleveland Clinic and she left to get a doctor.
The doctor, a strutting little peacock named Weiner, told Wallace he'd had an “incident” which had led to cardiac arrest, but he'd been resuscitated quickly, his vital signs were stable, and he was expected to make a full and complete recovery. Wallace, who remembered nothing of the prior day, felt strangely disconnected from this news---like it had happened to someone else---but he was warm and comfy, the first rays of the morning sun were creeping through the window, and he asked for a newspaper and some breakfast.
After a few sips of steaming coffee---not bad, not bad at all, he must find out what brand the hospital served---Wallace was enjoying some blueberry yogurt when he opened the Cleveland Plain Dealer and saw his picture on the front page.
Wallace spat out his yogurt, spraying purple goop as far as his toes and sending blueberries bouncing off the bedrails. After brushing some blueberry fragments off the newspaper, Wallace nearly had a second cardiac event as he read the lurid, embarrassing details of his nationally-televised jaunt around Progressive Field. By the time he finished the story, the surrounding consoles were lit up like slot machines and the EKG monitor was going Ping! Ping! Ping! . . .
Dr. Weiner came rushing in, and after administering a powerful sedative, banned all newspapers for the duration of Wallace's stay. When questioned, the good doctor admitted he'd found no obvious reason for Wallace's schizophrenic-like behavior the previous day, and guessed the whole thing had been caused by an unfavorable combination of prescription medicines, stress, and alcohol. As Wallace drifted off to dreamland, he realized that his marriage was probably ruined, and his accounting practice too.
He was right about the marriage. Wallace and his wife relocated to New York City and tried to make a new life, but Agnes just couldn't handle the stares, the pointing, and the whispers. She eventually left him, become a blond and had breast implants, and now lived with a woman in Greenwich Village.
As for accounting, Wallace had had two weeks in a cardiac-rehab facility to think things over, and when he was finally released, he realized he never wanted to see another spreadsheet or calculate a payroll tax again. He decided to follow his true love, writing, and penned two bestsellers, Life After Death, an autobiography, and Everything's Interconnected, a definitive treatise on the nature of the universe. Between his fat book contract and the generous settlement from the Cleveland Indians, Wallace would never have to worry about money again.
It was the ten-year anniversary of Wallace's bizarre break with reality and as fate would have it, he was in Cleveland for a book-signing. The signing was to start in five minutes and Wallace was in the men's room, combing his hair. He examined the man in the mirror.
His hair had gone completely gray and his eyeglass lenses had gotten thicker, but his blue eyes still sparkled and his body was whipcord-thin from distance running.
Though he could not be considered handsome, Wallace was a celebrity and in every city on his book tours, there was always a woman willing to visit his hotel room and spend quality time with Montague. For the life of him, he could not remember why or when he'd started calling his member Montague but the ladies didn't seem to have a problem with it.
And in the beginning these liaisons were fun, Wallace enjoyed all the sexual variety and constant gratification, but over time they became trite and even depressing, for he never seemed to find that special someone: the woman of his dreams. These days he slept alone.
Wallace tucked in his shirt and made certain his fly was closed. He was wearing what he always wore, jeans, duck shoes, and a brick-red golf shirt. There was something about that shade of red that turned Wallace on, but he couldn't say what.
Ready at last, Wallace smiled at himself in the mirror and then headed out to greet his adoring public, who were waiting patiently in a queue which seemed to wind down every aisle of the bookstore. There was a low murmur and scattered applause as he sat down at the signing table and picked up his Sharpie.
Then, one by one, he gave each customer a smile and some friendly banter, then autographed their book. An hour and a half into the signing, Wallace was on autopilot, barely aware of his surroundings, when he looked up and locked eyes with a beautiful black woman.
She began speaking but her words meant nothing to Wallace as he drank in her amazing cinnamon eyes, full sensual mouth, and soft, ebony skin. In a trance, Wallace opened her book---she'd chosen Everything's Interconnected---and picked up his pen, but then he hesitated.
“I'm sorry,” he said, “but how do you spell that?”
The woman spelled her name and Wallace wrote:
You make the world a more beautiful place.
He handed her the book and she smiled and turned to leave.
“Sha'niqua, wait!” said Wallace, and lowering his voice, “If you're not busy tonight, I'd love the pleasure of your company for dinner.”
“That sounds great,” she said, “as long as you realize my company is all the pleasure you'll be getting tonight!”
Wallace laughed and glanced at his watch. “I'll be done here in about twenty minutes,” he said, “and then we can catch a cab and go someplace really nice.”
“Cool,” said Sha'niqua. “I'm just gonna go outside and have me a smoke,” she said, licking her full, red-lipsticked lips in anticipation, “and then I'll wait for you in Science Fiction.”
As she walked away, Wallace stared at Sha'niqua's long, dancer's legs, simply ravishing in black fishnet stockings. Although they'd met just moments ago, Sha'niqua seemed wonderfully familiar, like finally coming home after a long, strange trip.
Wallace wondered, Could she be the one?
(This story was first published in The Piker Press, a weekly zine, on May 2, 2011)