In which a fanny-slapping corporate-type arrives and turns out to be someone Chicken Sheets already knows.
It was a drizzly, cheerless morning and I was mad as hell since my girlfriend, Miss Crabtree, and her son, Marmaduke, were enjoying a Tuesday off from school because of a mid-year election.
I, of course, had to go to my job and fill all the hours of a work day with reading (In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson) and working on my new writing project (working title: Lug Nuts for Brains II).
And so I was writing, minding most of my own business and barely bothering anybody, when a corporate-type–tailored suit, silver pin securing a conservative black necktie, shiny shoes, slicked-back hair–came strutting down my row, his eyes locked on my little corner. As the man got closer, I figured out why he was staring at me.
“Hello, Stimpy,” said Citizen Jim very quietly. “May I see you in private?”
Speechless, I stood and followed him, amazed at the hungry, lustful glances thrown Citizen Jim’s way by whiskered, overweight women and svelte, smooth-faced young men as we walked through the building.
Part of me wanted to smirk at Jim and say, “How long do you think you can keep this up without farting or tripping over a shadow on the carpet?”
But Citizen Jim’s whole air and attitude was one of such refinement, such business-like seriousness, that even if I’d been determined to laugh in his face and refuse his demand to see me “in private,” I don’t think the greater powers of the universe would have allowed my rejection of him to happen on their watches.
We approached the reception area and Jim leaned in close to the woman sitting behind the desk. “I’d like a conference room for fifteen, twenty minutes,” he said. “Can you help us out, sweetheart?”
The woman–who I knew to run hot or cold, sometimes both within a few minutes’ time–nodded, eyes wide. “Do you need coffee? Snacks?” she asked.
“She probably does,” Jim said, “but I’m trying to watch my figure.”
As we walked along behind the receptionist, Jim mouthed at me, “Your ass is HUUUGE!”
I don’t know why I was so happy to realize he was starting to crack. He hadn’t hit me, hadn’t even threatened to hit me; so far, he hadn’t humiliated or embarrassed me. This was already turning into a record of sorts–and I wanted to know just what the hell was going on.
When we got to the conference room, Jim said to the reception lady, “Thanks, Dollface.”
She just nodded, never taking her eyes off Jim. He gently spun her around and smacked her hard on the ass, then nudged her out of the room. She twirled around to face him and he slowly closed the door without another word to her.
“What in the–what’s with your slicked-down costume and your fake-assed, misogyny-tinged savoir faire?”
Citizen Jim leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs at the knee and running a palm down the length of his shirt front. He adjusted his cufflinks and straightened his tie pin.
“I’ll answer your question if you answer mine,” he said, his voice calm and free of as-yet-unleashed anger.
Then his face turned red and he started laughing. “Ha ha! Didn’t your little raisin brain fall for it?” Jim banged the table and stomped his feet as he continued to laugh.
I couldn’t deny it, of course. “Yes, I fell for it,” I said. “But what is it, exactly?”
“I’m experimenting,” he said.
“Experimenting, eh?” I said.
Jim held up a hand to silence me. “No, not like those girls you dated in college.”
“Oh, good,” I said, drumming my fingers on the table top.
“Now, this experiment isn’t as attention-grabbing as acting like that goon-faced queer on ‘Will & Grace,’ I’ll admit. But it’s also not as much work as pushing myself in a wheelchair like ‘Ironside’,” he said.
“So you’re just going around impersonating TV characters?” I asked, hoping he would tell me I was wrong.
“Yes, that’s right. Do you know who I am today?” he asked.
“Herbert Viola from ‘Moonlighting’?” I said.
I knew this would make Citizen Jim so angry that he would slap me on the back of the head. Herbert Viola was played by the same guy who played Booger in Revenge of the Nerds, and that actor bears a slight-though-uncanny resemblance to Jim–a fact that he hates so much that he denies it with the same vehemence that an exhausted child denies he is tired.
Without pause, Jim leapt up out of his chair and slapped me on the back of the head.
See? I told you!
“I knew you wouldn’t know! Because you hate everything I love!”
“No, wait! Wait a second–I do know. Just hang on,” I begged, pretending to be thinking very, very hard.
“Oh, you are the worst friend in the world!” Jim said.
“Hang on! ‘Breaking Bad Men’? ‘A Few Bad Men’? No, wait–’Ass Men’? Is that–”
But Jim had had enough. He was furious! Livid! Enraged! Irate! Fuming! Seething! Incensed!
“Mad!” I shouted. “‘Mad Men’!”
He stared at me red-faced and still angry.
This excited me. “Wait–really? I’m right! I can tell I’m right by how pissed off you are!”
“Am I not a dead-ringer for Don Draper?” he asked. “Oh, I forgot! You won’t watch my favorite television program ever of all time, so you wouldn’t know.”
“Oh, I do know who Don Draper is. That Jon Hamm is handsome enough to make me black out, as you’re aware. So if you really were a dead-ringer for Don Draper, I’d be unconscious on the floor right now,” I reasoned.
Jim picked up an empty coffee carafe from the conference table and held it above my head with both hands, ready to bring it down with a crash. “Oh, I can make you black out–is that what you want?”
I raised my arms to cover my face and whimpered, pretending to pray for my life. Satisfied, Jim placed the coffee pot back on the table.
“What I really want is for you to tell me what kind of idiotic plan you’re hatching to get rich quick and have absolute power over the multitudes,” I said.
“So you want to know why I’m impersonating famous characters from TV shows? Like Don Draper and Archie Bunker from ‘All in the Family’ and Tootie from ‘Facts of Life’?”
He waved away my incredulity. “That wasn’t very successful, I have to admit–I don’t roller skate all that well.”
I rolled my eyes. “Why, Precious Lamb? Why?”
He shrugged. “Honestly? It passes the time,” he said.
“Why can’t you pass the time by doing something constructive? Volunteer at an animal shelter, or do like ********* and build houses for the poor,” I said. “If nothing else, try to get some writing done, for God’s sake.”
“Ha! And I can see how well that’s worked out for you!” he said, then spat on the carpet. He looked up at me with a shocked expression. “Oops. I really didn’t mean to do that.”
“Don’t try and change the subject. Why aren’t you writing?”
He loosened his tie and unbuttoned his top shirt button. “I already said–you’re filling your free time with writing and nothing good is coming out of it for you.”
“I mean, you’re writing, yes–but what? I read something about a so-called novel on your so-called blog,” he said.
“Yes, I did mention a new project on my blog,” I said.
“But you’re not writing a novel–you’re writing this stupid story. Hell, you might as well rip some pages out of a spiral notebook and smear shit on them,” he said. He removed his cufflinks and slipped off his shoes–and I noticed he wasn’t wearing any socks. “Look, I hate to suck all the air out of your high and mighty dreams of literary glory and fame, but I don’t think what you’re doing counts as ‘getting some writing done’.”
“I’ve made some real progress on my novel,” I said. “Don’t judge me without all the facts.”
Jim stood up and unbuttoned his shirt, removing it to reveal a white t-shirt that said “I (heart) Thomas Pynchon.” As he unzipped his fly and started to push his slacks off his hips, I quickly turned around to avoid having to look at his Incredible Hulk briefs.
“Yeah, well, if this novel’s anything like that last one, don’t bother,” he said. “I’d rather read an untranslated farm report written by barely literate Scandinavians.”
“I didn’t know you read Big Trouble in Little Cudgel,” I said, secretly pleased despite the fact the he had nothing nice to say about it.
He spread his suit jacket on the table and began placing his discarded clothes–shirt, shoes, cufflinks–in the center and folding the sides up to fashion a makeshift bindle.
“Yeah, after I read that book of yours I realized how little talent you actually have and it made me so, so incredibly sad for you,” he said. He sat down and placed his chin on his palm and gazed at me. “Why don’t you just stop? As a friend, I have to encourage you to just stop.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked.
“No. No, I’m not,” he said, his eyes wet with unshed tears. “If I’d known how to contact William Hurt 30 years ago I would have told him the same thing about making movies–and I don’t even love him.”
That was true enough–in fact, I don’t think Jim could hate anyone more than he hates the actor William Hurt.
I had tears in my eyes, now, because I was so touched by Jim’s honesty and his genuine concern about my fruitless endeavors. If only all my friends–not to mention my love, Miss Crabtree–were as sincerely distressed by—and as unmovable in their sureness of—my failures.
“You’re right,” I told Jim, who’d begun ripping his pants mid-leg to transform them into a pair of shorts.
“Damn right I’m right–and it’s high time you heard the absolute God’s honest truth,” he said. “Hell, I don’t even read these stories–”
“I know,” I said, averting my eyes–once again–to avoid seeing Jim’s Incredible Hulk underwear.
“Piles of crap, every last one of them,” he said. “Your whole life would be so much better in so many ways if you’d just do what I say.” He wrapped his necktie around his head and knotted it above his right ear.
“You look ridiculous,” I said.
“This from someone who’s written more than 80 Citizen Jim stories? Have you ever stopped to consider how ridiculous you look?”
“Not til now. Oh, Jim, you’re my very best friend ever in the whole wide world,” I said, moving toward him as if to embrace him.
He squirmed away and made for the conference room door. “You have no redeeming qualities,” he said, and took off running.
I didn’t need to chase him. He’d be back. No question about it.