a horrible tendency to be the last person left alive. Like that time in
Bermuda, when the Hurricane hit. We were all partying on crystal meth in
my hotel room, and there was an announcement that this thing was coming
in faster than anyone had ever seen. They were evacuating the hotel, but
Iím from Connecticut, so I said fuckit, Iím sitting this out right here.
My friends, Dino, Sara, Raj and Tweak thought that that would be cool, what with me having all the crystal. I mean, sure, they could have tried to steal it from me and then run away with it, but that would have required one of them actually saying ďhey, letís just take his crank and get the fuck out of here,Ē and nobody wants to be the first to say that kind of thing. What if nobody goes along with you? Then you feel like a real idiot, have to pretend it was a joke, and nobody believes you, and you can be damn sure that you arenít getting any more free crank. So they all stayed.
The bellboys or whatever they were called down there told us to leave, and we said weíd be right along, but it wasnít like they were coming back to check on us. Who would? Bermuda hurricanes are nothing like Connecticut hurricanes, it turns out. Big, big things fall over in Bermuda hurricanes. Things like trees and buildings and goat farmers. Big goat farmers, the kind with the gnarled hands and the bags of crank back at the goat farm. You have to ask, you know.
Anyway, Tweakís all partying in her little tank top and shorts, but not Bermuda shorts, because, honestly, whatís queerer than Bermuda shorts. Gosh, I miss her. She once sent a used maxi-pad to Bill Clinton, and he wrote back the most beautiful thank you letter. You should have seen the look on her horribly scarred face when she read it.
So Tweakís partying away, dancing and, Iím guessing, really really high on crank, when she looks at the window and says ďWhatís that?Ē
It was one of those big picture windows. It was actually the entire outer wall of the hotel room, and it had a view of the beach that was so awesome it made me want to come. But it wasnít the beach that Tweak was pointing out. It was something else that you donít normally see on the 35th floor of a Ramada Inn, at least not coming through the window of the 35th floor, which is to say that it was a palm tree.
The funny thing was that it was a Key Thatch Palm, which is not native to Bermuda. At least, I thought that was funny until it smeared Tweak against the back wall of the room.
Iím not sure why the rest of us were unscathed by the flying glass and non-native palm tree, but we picked ourselves up and we all looked ok. Sara seemed a little upset, actually, but physically she was no worse for the wear.
Unfortunately, that didnít last long, as the wind immediately shifted and pulled her out the now glassless window. I think her last words were ďfuck fuck fuck,Ē but itís not like I had a pen to write it down, so I canít be sure.
This left just the guys, a pretty sorry state of affairs even in better weather. Raj was my best friend, though Iíd only met him the night before. Dino I didnít trust so much.
I met him at the bar that afternoon when he stole my wallet. He was real nice about it, actually, and after I chased him down he gave it right back and offered to buy me a drink, but still, I think thatís a bad way to start a friendship.
At this point, though, Dino didnít seem to be worried about cash or drugs, as he was trying to get out the door of the hotel room. I thought that would be a bad idea, but I had no idea why until he succeeded in opening the door and the flames burst in on him.
He pretty much went up instantly, and I donít think he suffered much, which Iím glad for. He may have tried to steal my wallet, but you hate to see a guy spend a long time burning to death.
This left me and Raj in a difficult situation. We could either burn to death or drop to death. I liked the dropping, and Raj agreed that this was a better option.
Actually, nine times out of ten, if you have someone trapped in a burning building, theyíll choose the drop. I think that says something about peopleís so-called Ďfear of heights.í
Raj told me heíd go first, and I thought that was real gentlemanly of him. He was from the Kshatria caste in India, and Iím told that they have a thing about being gentlemanly. Well, Raj told me that. He also told me his family had been kings and that he was worth millions back home, but he kept mooching crank off me and his Hawaiian print shirt looked pretty ragged around the collar, so as Iím helping him out the window Iím thinking that maybe none of that was true. Still, you canít fault a guy for telling a few stories when youíre holding close to a pound of crystal.
Raj said ďSayonara!Ē and waved to me as he dropped the thirty five stories. I wonder if he was actually Indian at all. He looked sort of like a cross between black and Asian, and he had a decidedly Caribbean accent. Still, helluva guy, you know?
The fire was now entering the main part of the room, and I started to have second thoughts about the window. Raj really didnít look so good when he hit the bottom. Iím sure it didnít hurt or anything, but the aesthetics were really askew.
What the hell, I thought, and ran towards the flames.
Shockingly, I ran right through the flames, down the hall, and into a non-flaming section of the building. Turns out the fire was pretty much confined to the area right outside the door to my room. I imagine all the ether weíd left out there hadnít helped matters, but when we were cooking up our last batch the hotel staff had already left, and the stuff was starting to give us headaches, so we kind of shoved it out there by the room service trays.
In retrospect, this was a bad idea, but ultimately itís by making mistakes that we learn things. I had learned to stay away from the windows, and so I hid out in the stairwell. It was windowless, and not exactly cozy, but it wasnít at all on fire, and I could slowly work my way down to the ground floor while I waited out the storm.
I was not, at the time, in tip-top physical condition, so the walk down took me about a day, but by the time I hit the lobby the storm was clear, and I could have all the cocktail peanuts and maraschino cherries I could eat. Sure, Iíd lost some friends, but I think, more importantly, that I had grown as a person.
Although, a few years later, when the whole Ebola thing happened, I was probably not really evincing all that much in the way of personal growth. First of all, and I should have stated this more clearly at the time, in spite of what I said to the CDC guys, it probably was my fault. I mean, I knew I wasnít supposed to be drinking on the job. I also knew that the samples marked ďEbolaĒ were not, as Dr. Prahbapanda said, ďtoys.Ē And the monkeys, too, according to Dr. Prahbapanda, were not toys. Nor were the large syringes, the vivisection spreaders, the titration filters, the egg-crate samplers, etc. etc. etc. There were really far too many things deemed ďnot toysĒ for me to keep track of. The more mature step would have been to assume that nothing in the lab was a toy, but I took the more fun step of assuming that virtually everything was a toy. Plus, I had been watching Planet of the Apes, and I thought, well, isnít it time that apes took over the world already?
But, of course, weíd need super apes. Now, who hasnít read a good superhero origin story and thought, ďIf I just inject this random chemical into that ape, I could, no doubt, create a super-ape.Ē Well, if youíve thought it when sober, and then had a full bottle of coconut rum, followed by what must have been an equal amount of home-made absinthe, and then you found yourself in a laboratory full of monkeys, ok, you can see where this is going.
Let me get one thing straight: when I told my friend Maryam about my super-ape plan, after the incident, she made a big point of telling me that monkeys are not apes. Now, Iím not exactly a zoologist, ok? Iím a biologist. Itís different. So I donít always keep track of that kind of, well, nomenclatural difference. There, I said it: zoology is all nomenclature. Itís all just, ďHey, look at this species I found! Now I get to name it!Ē Thatís not how it works in biology, let me tell you. You donít just find a super-virus laying around and say ďYeah, Iíll call this the Marilyn Manson virus,Ē cause youíre a big Marilyn Manson fan. No, you create a super-virus, and then you have to give it a real official sounding name, like ďEbola-JoyDivision.Ē I actually slipped that one by Dr. Prahbapanda. What a dope!
Still, your best killer viruses have to start somewhere, so you get one of these really unpleasant diseases that occur naturally, and then you soup it up. And who do you have to talk to to get a good, basic viral hemorrhagic fever, or, as we liked to call them, a ďVHFĒ? Yeah, you have to talk to a zoologist, because these things live in animals, not humans. Thatís true not just for the filoviridae like Ebola, but for a bunch of the really cool viruses, like the bunyaviruses and the arenaviruses.
I always liked the arenaviruses because Iíd get this image of them in a giant arena, listening to some horrible arena rock, and all bobbing their little RNA heads in time to Angel or Styx or something like that. And theyíd all have mullets.
But anyway, we were working with these arenaviruses and filoviruses and stuff for someone who Iím not allowed to mention, but letís just say their initials are ďThe United States Government.Ē
Iím just a student at the time, working on my masterís in parasitology under Dr. Prahbapanda, and he gets a visit from the most stereotypically government guys youíve ever seen.
Theyíre concerned about terrorist uses of viruses, they tell us, and Prahbapanda starts talking immediately about how his work is going to find a way to prevent the spread of some of these really deadly viruses. He doesnít even give the government guys a chance to explain. No no no, they say, look, we need to find out what kind of things the terrorist might be up to, wink wink.
He still doesnít get it. Heís all ďYes, if we can isolate the strains theyíre using we can create an anti-virus.Ē This was his big concept, the anti-virus, which was a genetically modified bacteria that would attract and destroy the viruses, and produce RNA viruses that would actually heal the cellular damage caused by the bad RNA viruses.
Which is really a swell idea, but the government guys start rolling their eyes immediately when Prahbapanda gets rolling on his spiel about it all, and so finally I step in and say ďwell, of course, first weíd have to play around with a few viruses, see what it would be like to weaponize one of them (I had just learned the word ďweaponizeĒ from an article in Newsweek, and was totally psyched to get to use it in a work-related context), really look into the possibilities of what can be done in that realm, eh?Ē
The government guys start patting me on the back, and suddenly Iím no longer the sub-sub-sub-scutwork specialist, Iím Dr. Prahbapandaís assistant, because, as the government guys say, I ďspeak the language.Ē
So Prahb and me and two other grad students, Wendy Shimmelstein and Farah Khatemei are working in the lab which is suddenly equipped with some really expensive equipment, and Iím practically the boss, because Prahb is always bent over a microscope or busy with his psychotic RNA resequencing stuff, so I get to tell Wendy and Farah what to do.
Now, when faced with two chicks who look great in lab coats, the things Iím thinking of telling them to do are not exactly productive of our labís stated goals. Still, I manage to manage things, and all the test tubes are cleaned out in a timely fashion, if you get my drift.
Well, at least Farah got my drift. Like all Iranian chicks she was hotter than summer in Isfahan. Plus, you know how the Iranian women are with the perfect makeup and hair. Itís like, American girls sometimes look like theyíve been doing something: their hair is tossled, their makeup is fading or smudged. Not so Iranians. At no point did Farah look like she was more than five minutes from her last salon visit, and yet at no time did I actually see her put on makeup or deal with a brush or comb. Itís like thereís some kind of central Asian magic that turns these girls into extras from a fashion shoot.
In spite of this perfection of appearance, Farah was way into spending some time in the cold storage closet checking my vitals. At 5 foot 1, she was on the short side, but letís just say she was a perfect miniature. She had skin that was so smooth you could have ice-skated on it. I never got very far with her, as she had some strict limits about what she was willing to do in a room full of flesh-destroying retro-viruses, but still, we had about as much fun as you can have at precisely -3 degrees Celsius.
This left Wendy with a lot of extra work. Hey, if she didnít want to join in the fun she could make her own fun picking up the slack, I figured. Besides, I was in charge, so who cared?
This is exactly the kind of mistake that middle managers in every business make all the time. See, I had delegated so much responsibility to Wendy that when she didnít show up for work that day, well, I really didnít quite know how to do the job that she had been doing.
And, of course, the drinking didnít help. Itís just hard for me to face a room full of glassware without a little coconut rum in me. And by ďa littleĒ I apparently mean ď2.3 liters.Ē
So, one thing leads to another, and it turns out Iím knee-deep in these specimen containers, not sure what goes where, and Iím drinking more and more to deal with the problem, which, I will tell you right now, is not a good way to deal with the problem if the problem is ďmis-filed resequenced weaponized viruses.Ē Not a good way at all.
Hopelessly lost in this cold-filing hell, it was about midnight when I got the bright idea to inject the monkeys. Now, thatís what the monkeys are for, mind you. We test the viruses on them. Cruel, you say? How about this: in the wild, these monkeys are not only carnivorous, they are observed to be cannibals. Theyíll actually eat monkeys from different breeding groups. So I figure, hell, they deserve whatever we give them.
But that night Iím not thinking about hating on the monkeys so much (which I normally thought about every time Iíd pass their cages and theyíd fling semen at me, another charming monkey habit that the animal rights people should be made aware of before they go complaining about the inhuman treatment of these poor, fair creatures) as I was thinking about this Planet of the Apes thing. Let me reiterate: not being a zoologist, I was, at the time, unaware of how stupid it would be to try to evolve a super-ape from a monkey. But given my ignorance, I really think I can only be said to have had the best of intentions.
I mean, looking back, I find a lot of reasons to hate the monkeys, but I guess at the time I hadnít established a firm position. OK, I actually liked them. Iím really trying to rationalize their deaths with all this anti-monkey talk. I thought, at the time, why not turn them into super-apes so that they can inherit the world?
So Iím thinking, in the attenuated sense of the word ďthinkingĒ that allows it to apply to the kind of thing my mind will do after 2.3 liters of Malibu, that if I inject a super virus into a monkey, Iíll get a super ape. There are only a few logical holes in this thought, mind you. Theyíre big holes, they kind you could fit a nebula in, but still, theyíre few in number.
So I mix up a batch of Ebola-JoyDivision into a serum form, and I start going cage to cage injecting.
We hadnít tried this particular strain on the monkeys yet. We hadnít really tried any of the highly engineered strains. Prahbapanda claimed that it would not be a good idea to try it on a ďnon-disassembled organism.Ē He liked to just test them on tissue samples to improve predictability and control of the viral load.
This is exactly the kind of pussy-shit stuff that pisses me off about modern science, though. Do you think Ben Franklin would have acted like that, given a modern lab? The man flew a kite in a lightning storm, ferchrissakes. Pasteur, Tesla, Curie, Fermi, they all lived on the edge. They did shit that was downright psychotic. And why? Because they were scientists, not pussy-shit clerks working out Godís filing system. They were making the big moves, risking the destruction of the entire planet, just to get on the edge of the knowable. Cool, eh?
So Iím a little drunk, as Iíve mentioned, and Iíve just gotten into absinthe as my new favorite party drug. I should be clear that by ďpartyĒ I mean ďdrinking alone.Ē Just so thereís no confusion.
So Iím partying, late at night, in the lab, humming ďMonster MashĒ to myself, and Iím mixing up the serum, and going cage to cage, and wow, do I get results. I mean, this stuff was good.
Not that I created super-apes. First off, right, they were monkeys, so my odds on that were slim, but more importantly super-apes arenít supposed to explode like water balloons full of blood. I mean, if thatís what super-apes were supposed to do, then Iím the best, Iíve totally created super-apes, but sadly, upon re-reading early issues of the Fantastic Four comic book, I discovered conclusively that that is not what super-apes do.
So, well, there you have it, exploding monkeys. Now, Iím doing my best not to get splashed by the highly infectious monkey blood, but my best is apparently not good enough, because in the morning, when Wendy comes into the lab, I look like I just lost a cherry pie eating contest. Man, I could really have used some delicious cherry pie at that point, too.
So Wendy starts screaming and runs over to me to see if Iím injured, but itís not my blood. Then sheís coated in infected monkey blood, and she asks me whatís going on, and the absinthe in me says something like ďAre camels allowed to be pretty?Ē Then she drops me and follows the trail of blood over to the monkey cages, and starts screaming again.
This brings in three unfortunate members of the janitorial staff, to whom Iíd really like to apologize. There was Jose, who was about fifty years old, and who, so he told me, wanted to go back to Ecuador. Why anyone would want to go to Ecuador at all is beyond me, but thatís another story, one involving a rebel base, a bunch of American hostages, and a botched rescue attempt that left me as the only survivor.
Then thereís was Maddie, who had really weird red hair. It was some unspeakable cross between dreadlocks and cute kiddie curls, kind of like Raggedy Ann. Poor, fat, freckled Maddie. You just hate to see someone like that start oozing blood from every pore.
And finally there was Darrel, who was such a strong and handsome man that we were all a bit surprised when he devolved into a pile of goo. If anyone should have made it through that, it was Darrel. He had arms like bridge cables. One of them skittered across the floor after it fell off, and I measured it at 24 inches around.
Well, shortly after the janitors arrived, the bell sounded and the labís auto-locks shut us in. I donít want to say precisely what happened between then and the following week when CDC pulled me out of there, but I will say that it was in many ways a very beautiful experience, and one that Maddie said she would never forget for as long as she lived. That turned out to be an easy prediction to stick to, since she lived for about ten hours after making it, but still, I thought it was sweet of her.
Why I didnít dissolve like the rest of them remained a mystery until Prahbapanda pointed out that he had secretly infected me with his anti-virus. Good old Prahb! I was glad he didnít get locked in the lab with us and wind up dissolving, though I guess itís hardly better to die in a hail of gunfire during a ďroutine health and safety inspection.Ē But that kind of thing happens when you trade germ warfare secrets to the Iraqis in exchange for the movie rights to Saddam Husseinís latest romance novel.
I was thinking about olí Prahb while I was crouching behind a row of Cheetos at the QuickStop. The gunman holding up the clerk seemed kind of agitated, even for a gunman, and I thought, o no, not again.
I couldnít be sure how many other people were in the store, but since the checkout was so near the door, it was pretty clear that no one was getting out until the robber had finished up his business.
Now, usually, this is a quick process. In fact, to be perfectly honest, Iíve robbed a few convenience marts myself, and I know a thing or two about it, the most important of which is: get in, get out, donít dawdle. Dawdling is the downfall of a many a convenience store hold-up guy. You think youíre all cool with the gun, getting off on the power trip, you want to make the clerk pee his pants and such, and then pow, the police show up and your fun time is over for five to ten.
Well, anyway, the robber at the moment was unaware of this little rule, though otherwise he seemed rather professional. He wore jeans and a black t-shirt under a denim jacket, which is smart, because those are not the kind of clothes that a policeman lifts out of your dresser and says ďWere you wearing this the night of the 17th?Ē Only an idiot wears a custom print Hawaiian t-shirt to rob a convenience store, or so I told my cousin Kenny the last time I saw him leaving the house with a sawed-off shotgun.
The robber also had a ski mask on, which is ok considering that he was robbing a convenience store in Rutland, Vermont. You donít want to wear one of those to rob a store in Ft. Lauderdale, because just owning one down there makes you look guilty.
So, clothing-wise, the guy was a professional. He also had a really snazzy looking Mossberg cruiser grip shotgun, with the optional Speed Feed® stock. It has the 14Ē barrel, so in most places you need a law enforcement license to own one.
Not so in Vermont, thank god. You can even walk around with one concealed in your raincoat without a carry permit. Vermont is just the best about that sort of thing. Theyíve also elected a Socialist to the U.S. House of Representatives, so theyíre really the only state I can get behind politically.
Anyway, Mr. Hold-up Guy is shouting at poor Mahir behind the counter, calling him a dirty shit, telling him to put the money in the bag or he gets his fat head blown off, etc. etc. etc. Seriously, Mahir does not have a fat head. Or didnít have a fat head. Still doesnít, I mean, whatís left of the head, not fat. Not in the standard sense.
Mahir is, understandably, rather upset, and seems to be blubbering and begging a bit, which is, I take it, exactly what the hold-up guy wants. Heís feeding on this. I donít even think he needs the money, heís just having fun.
Now, in these cases I always figure itís best to let sleeping dogs lie, so Iím just gonna crouch behind the Cheetos until this all blows over. But over in the next aisle, a certain Mr. Used To Be On The Football Team is not so wise.
Heís behind a row of soup cans, and I can see him and I know what heís thinking. What can I do? I canít shout ďDonít do it!Ē Thatíll only draw attention to him. But really, Iím thinking, dude, donít do it.
But he does it. He throws the can of Campbellís Cream of Mushroom directly at the head of the hold-up guy. Hits him, too, nice shot. Of course, the Mossberg goes off and eliminates Mahirís face. Mossbergs have a nice kick, and the hold-up guyís hand flies into the air, though he doesnít let go of the gun. Again, thanks to the cruiser grip.
This gives Mr. Soup Thrower a chance to charge him, but does he? No, heís too busy being grossed out by Mahirís splattered brains. What a loser! If youíre gonna try some kind of bone-headed plan, at least have the cajones to go all the way through with it, níest-ce pas?
So while our cardigan-wearing erstwhile hero is looking like heís gonna retch, the hold-up guy turns to him and puts the Mossberg up to his forehead. ďNow look what you made me do you stupid shit!Ē he starts yelling.
And the ex-football hero, his blond prep-school haircut now damp with sweat, his little bald spot showing through as he bows down, is all ďIím sorry Iím sorry Iím sorry Iím sorry.Ē Even Iím thinking ďjust shoot him!Ē
Who needs to hear a failed hero crying, ferchrissakes? Me, Iíd start right off with the crying, no pussyfooting around with acting like a winner first. I figure itís more dignified to just go right into the girly stuff, rather than look like a hypocrite.
Unfortunately, the soup-thrower doesnít like the sound of himself apologizing, so he decides, what the hell, it works on TV, and he bolt up to knock the gun out of the guyís hand.
Little pieces of his brain rain down on the Cheetos, some hitting me on the head. Still, I maintain proper silence.
At this point, some wailing erupts from the freezer section of the store. A middle-aged woman with ridiculously over-done nails is jumping up and down, her tight, leopard-print tube top barely riding above her bulging stomach.
Youíve never seen this much lip liner and eye shadow in your life. I almost feel like getting up to give her a few make-up tips. I mean, címon, the eighties are over.
Sure, I studied make-up design with Way Bandy, so I think Iím bad, but I canít imagine anyone not objecting to this look. And yet, to be fair, itís not uncommon with certain groups of people. I only mention this as an aesthetic note, not a class thing.
Mr. Hold-Up Guy apparently has the same sense of artistic revulsion that I do, because he immediately blows her away. I figure heís just on a roll now, probably thinking ďSame penalty for one murder as for ten.Ē This is not a thought that I want him to have, but I think he still hasnít noticed me behind the Cheetos.
Iím wrong, of course, as the next thing that happens is that little bits of cheez-coated corn are floating around my head. The Mossberg can really fire off the rounds quickly, and I know I donít have a second before the next one comes down, so I roll back two aisles towards Hostess products. This is, at best, a delaying tactic, but I know this whole thing is taking too long, so I have some good hope that it will resolve well for me.
Next thing the store window is ablaze with red and blue lights. Hooray, Iím thinking, the cops will, please, open fire immediately and get this over with. Two cops burst in with guns drawn and are turned into gazpacho by the trigger-happy Mossberg man. Shit, I think, I hope thereís more of them out there.
Mossberg now turns toward me and eliminates a row of Chocodiles, the finest of the Hostess treats. Theyíre a Twinkie thatís dipped in a milk chocolate coating. Incredibly delicious when eaten cold.
Hey, have you ever put Cool Whip in the freezer and then eaten it like ice cream? Also delicious, Iím not kidding, try this. Iím not saying you should do it every day or anything, but for the occasional break from high-fiber organic produce, it canít be beat.
Ok, anyway, after the last shot, Iím all chocolate-coated, and it doesnít feel good. It feels real bad, actually, real real bad. Not so much the chocolate, as what it symbolizes. To me, at that moment, it symbolizes that Iím gonna die.
So I push over the shelves, like thatís gonna help, when in fact all it does is leave me more exposed. The hold up guy fires off another round, but Iím already rolling out of the way, skidding on top of the makeup ladyís blood, and slamming into the beer cooler.
Now, these beer coolers look like theyíre just refrigerators with glass doors, but thereís actually a lot of space behind themÖ you can walk back there. Thatís how they load up the stock. They donít put it in the front, they slide it in from behind. So Iím thinking I can open the door, push the shelves down and get into the cooler, and then head out the back door. Itís not much of a plan, but I was pretty impressed that I thought of it under such duress. So I reach for the door, open it, and jam my arm in to clear some space.
Now, it turns out, there are two flaws in my plan. Many plans have gotten by with more flaws, you know. You wouldnít believe how much stuff went wrong during the invasion at Normandy. But the flaws in this plan are more severe than neglecting the existence of an entire battalion of German tanks.
The first flaw: thereís no way to knock the shelves over. Theyíre welded in place, so I canít get into the cooler. The second flaw is that the cooler is not a rear-walk-in cooler, like most convenience marts have. It really is just a refrigerator with a glass door. When I shove my arm in I hit the back pretty quickly.
So I figure, well, thatís about it for me. At least Iím going out in a convenience store, and not in that building collapse back in Ď89. How I managed to be the only one to make it out of that Iíll never know, but thank god I did and that I got to live long enough to see a Democrat in the White House again, eh?
So now the idiot with the Mossberg finishes pumping the gun, and heís ready to shoot. He points it real carefully at me this time, not wanting to miss again, as these shootings are all being recorded on the storeís video surveillance system, and heíd hate to look like a chump when they review the tapes at the trial.
But he canít help getting in one more stupid comment. I think this is because of all the action films we were all forced to watch in the eighties. Everybody with a half a clip of ammo now thinks that he has to say something clever before blowing your head off. I mean, just get on with it already, right?
So the guy sees my hand stuck in among the beer bottles, and he says, ďThatís right, buddyÖ itís Miller time.Ē Fuck, that sucks! At least it could have been a good one! But ďItís Miller time?Ē Thatís a freakiní commercial, ferchrissakes. If Iím gonna get blown away I at least want some kind of stupid pun or something, not just a catch phrase invented by an ad agency. Especially not a catch phrase that nobody ever actually said in real life! It was a catch phrase that didnít even catch!
So I say as much. I mean, Iíve got no time left, right, and I figure, hell, I can say whatever I want. And I tell the guy, thatís the lamest thing he could have said, that heís just reinforcing the idea that culture is something invented by people who want to sell you something, and if he had to quote couldnít he have quoted from a better source than a beer commercial? Was he a complete idiot, I asked, that his only access to literature, in the sense of a collective body of works that form a touchstone for a culture, and to which we can refer, allusively, as it were, in order to provide an insight by means of a shared verbal background, is to the Ďliteratureí of commerce? Plus, I point out, ďItís Miller timeĒ always sucked as an ad slogan, so why even think of using it now? Was he so brain dead that he couldnít even see that the brain-dead idea of shouting an ad slogan at me would be a little less brain-dead if it wasnít such a brain-dead ad slogan?
Iím not sure why he let me get this all off, but it really seemed to get to him. He started to stammer, as if he wanted to make up for the lame line he had just thrown at me. ďIímÖ Iíll beÖ wait,Ē he said, ďIíve totally got oneÖ waitÖ ummÖ wait, not Ďso long, sucker,í waitÖ ummÖ ok! Iíve got it! OK! How about this: Reaching for a cold one? How about I help you outÖ by icing you!.. no wait, shit, that sucksÖ waitÖ uhhĒ
It was at that moment that his head exploded from the awesome hail of gunfire coming from right behind him. Heíd been so obsessed with improving his line that he didnít even hear the two cops who had just pulled up. When they saw their dead colleagues on the ground they immediately made the right decision and cut short Mr. Mossbergís soliloquy. As a citizen, crime victim, and drama critic, I thanked them most heartily, and promised that Iíd donate a large sum to whatever charity the police of rural New England were most closely affiliated.
And, of course, I failed to do so, which was something I was ruing as I saw the engine flame out on the starboard wing of the Airbus A300 I was foolish enough to fly the next week.
You just donít jump from a sole survivor incident to a plane trip without making sure all your dues are paid up in full, if you know what I mean. Sure, thereís no way that not giving a sawbuck to the Rutland Junior Reprobates Midnight Basketball League could have any effect on a jet engine lifting off from La Guardia airport, which is a full six hours drive from Rutland, but still. You just never know, right? I mean, stranger things have happened, like that time a dog was elected pope.
So here I am, sitting in the emergency exit row, not the one up near the first class cabin, the one near the back, which is usually a cheaper seat, plus you have slightly higher chance of surviving a crash. Statistically, that is. It could just be a fluke, but the people in the rear of the plane have tended to do better.
Still, statistically men are stronger than women, but when that chick went nuts in the Louisiana courtroom were I was waiting to clear up a very minor drunk and disorderly/manslaughter thing, I knew better than to tangle with her. She was at least 6 foot 6, and outweighed me by a hundred pounds. Statistically, men are taller and heavier than women. The fact that I wasnít gonna be a ďmanĒ about it may be the reason that I left that courtroom alive, whereas everyone else, from the bailiff to the elderly court groupies, left in body bags.
But that was neither here nor there when I saw the wing flame out. It just flashed in my head, because itís something I always think about whenever I think about statistics, and seeing as I was about to be in a plane crash, or so I thought, the idea of statistical relations immediately came to mind. Did you know that the odds of walking away alive from the crash of a jetliner are less than one in 500?
Now, the cool thing is that this was one of those planes with the phones on the back of the seat in front of you, so I immediately call a bookie I know in London, and get him to lay some odds on my survival. Heís a bit skeptical that Iíve just seen a flame-out, but gives me odds anyway, pending proof that something really was going on. Thereís a real effort to check the time precisely, and a rider included to make sure that the engine flame out is not the result of malfeasance on my part.
So I bet it all, everything I own. The bookie has to conference call with my broker to make sure this is on the up and up, and finally I get things settled just as the rest of the passengers start to notice that somethingís wrong. Or at least I assume thatís whatís happening based on the screaming.
The funny thing is that the thing that the rest of the passengers have noticed is wrong is not the thing that I noticed was wrong. Which is to say theyíre seeing the port engine flame out.
Iím not sure why the starboard flame out failed to attract much attention, but perhaps itís because it wasnít accompanied by the loud explosion and loss of the nacelle that made the port flame out so much more photogenic.
Now, as I noted above, this was one of the ďtwo classĒ A300ís, the kind with a partitioned first class section. 266 passengers max, as opposed to 298 on the ďsingle classĒ body.
I think it also had the CF6-80CT engines, though it was hard to be sure. I never bothered to go back and check, because, well, it wasnít something I liked to think about. But Iím pretty sure that the CF6-80CTís were the less reliable of the two available engines for the A300, and so based solely on that, when I tell this story, I usually make the engines out to be CF6-80CTís. But to be fair, they might have been PW 4000ís. My lawyer said I should look into it before spouting off about this sort of thing, but he said that before he got all high-and-mighty after defending some supermodel who was accused of shooting her boyfriendís copyeditor. After that, you couldnít talk to the guy at all, you know what I mean?
Anyway, because it was a ďtwo classĒ plane, and because there was a partition between first class and economy, the first class people were unaware of the exact nature of the problem. They heard the screaming, but they were not situated such as to make a good view of the wings available. So one of them either gets elected or elects himself to go back and find out whatís going on. Probably some businessman shitting on the lunch cart, Iím sure heís thinking. Some silly air rage thing. Whatever, when he gets back there everyoneís leaning towards the port side of the plane trying to see the damaged wing.
Now, an empty plane of this sort weighs about 90 tonnes. 200 passengers equals about 15 tonnes. If you slam them all to one side of the plane, it might cause problems. If you slam them all to one side of the plane thatís just lost both engines, the second engine loss resulting in detachment of the engine nacelle from the wing, it seems likely to cause serious problems, níest-çe pas?
Well, strangely, pas. The plane seemed to be managing to fly quite normally, without a hitch, in spite of all this. Sure, there was lots of screaming and panic, but me, Iím thinking, Iím gonna be rich, because it looks like weíre gonna get through this. Weíre just gliding along smooth as satin.
Unfortunately, the Airbus A300, while the most popular aircraft of itís class (something Iím to mention every time I tell this story, as part of a very fair and generous settlement with Airbus Ltd) is not really a glider. No major jetliner is. So why is it gliding so smoothly?
Itís perfectly balanced at the edge of a hurricane force wind. This is fine while this perfect balance lasts, mind you, but, like all good things, it doesnít last long. Next thing, the plane is spinning wildly.
Me, Iím in my seat, safety belt buckled. Just about everybody else is now flying about the cabin like duck pins on a Saturday night in Ontario. Itís a very ugly scene, because this kind of turbulence, if you can call spinning at a rate of several hundred miles an hour into the briny depths ďturbulence,Ē is not the kind that gives you pleasant stomach flips. Itís the kind that bashes heads and limbs against overhead compartments.
Now, hereís something interesting. You know how the stewardesses always say to completely stow your luggage securely and completely under the seat in front of you? It turns out that people take this very loosely, and so a good deal of luggage is also flying about. I see one of those cute little black backpacks careen off the bulkhead, I see lots of sandwiches whizzing towards the lavatory, and I see, I swear to god, what must be the last 1980ís style Louis Vuitton handbag in existence hurtling right towards my head.
I had really thought that these things had vanished with scrunchies and gold lame pirate shirts, but here it is coming towards me at about forty miles an hour. I dodge and grab and pow! Iíve got it!
So cool! I always wanted one, I donít know why. Thereís something just so obnoxious about the LV symbol.
Sadly, it flies right out of my hand as the plane does something that I was not expecting it to do, which is to say that it splits in half. It seems that the A300, while meeting all international standards for shearing stress, is not quite capable of maintaining itself in a single piece after two catastrophic engine losses and a spin-dive in a gale-force wind. Or so it turns out.
The first class cabin thus broke clean away, which somehow unleashed a storm of shoes into economy class. Also, I think there was some screaming, but it was pretty loud in there with the howling wind and the rattling body parts, so I couldnít be sure.
I really wanted to find some way to make a safety bet at this point, so I picked up the phone to call my bookie again, but I guess the phones only work when the plane is still a discrete entity, and has not yet begun the process of becoming one with nature.
So there I am, screaming into the phone, desperate for an operator or a dial tone or something, even that horrible three tone recording that you hear right before a recorded message tells you that youíve misdialed, and at this point I think I may have lost consciousness. Probably from the depressurization of the cabin, but maybe just from the whole phone frustration thing. In any event, the next thing I remember is waking up in a tree just outside of West Islip, Long Island. I was still buckled into my seat, though the seat was no longer attached to the airplane. It was attached to this really majestic Douglas pine, which struck me as odd, because Douglas pines are not native to Long Island.
Some rescue workers were raising a ladder up to my delicate perch when I opened my eyes and said something like ďwhat are puddles made of?Ē Or so Iím toldÖ Iím still a bit hazy about this part.
Anyway, the fact that Iíd said anything caused quite a to-do. It seems that they were thinking in terms of recovering a dead body, and werenít entirely equipped to handle someone who was still breathing. They actually had to call in some live-body specialists and suspend operations until they got there. I didnít mind, though, as I was fairly comfortable in my seat. Unlike most people, Iíve always found airline seats rather pleasant, especially the extra-cozy seats of the Airbus A300.
So thatís how I got hooked up with Vital, who was part of some French cult that was trying to clone a mime. Or something like that, Iím not entirely clear on the details. Anyway, the thing was that after the Airbus disaster, which I am certain to a fiduciary degree, was not the fault of the plane or the Airbus corporation, I was contacted by some incredibly friendly French businesspeople, who were good enough to set me up with a decent sum of money in exchange for my services, which, due to the nature of the contract, Iím not at liberty to discuss.
But one of these people was Vital Metrix, who seemed fascinated not only by my story of air-borne disaster, but also by all my other tales. The French have this great thing called, if Iím translating correctly, ďgoing out and getting drunk and just talking about shit all night.Ē Itís a great cultural tradition, one we should really adopt here in the parts of America that are not Canada, Mexico, or points south.
So Vital is instantly my best friend in the world, because he listens, and also, you know, because all my previous best friends have had trouble surviving up to this point, which really is a sign of their weakness, and not my carelessness, in spite of what the official report on the so-called ďBoseman Cattle-Fart ExplosionĒ might have said, and really, since I was the only one who walked out of that abattoir alive, I canít imagine where the USDA gets off contradicting me.
Anyway, Vital and I are really hitting it off, and so he tells me he wants to take me to see this mime-cloning cultís leader, a guy named Eustache who has the biggest ears Iíve ever seen outside of Disney World. I mean, with a little work this guy could probably fly.
So Eustache is telling me about their cloning program, only Iím not quite getting it all because, to be honest, my French is not so great. I learned it in a correspondence course, and we had the options of grading ourselves, and letís just say that the A I got was a bit generous. But Iím catching a few words here and there, stuff like ďgenocideĒ and ďbilliardsĒ and ďswamp gas.Ē Not enough to create a meaningful narrative, mind you, but just enough to keep my attention. So when Eustache finishes his spiel, and Vital turns to me and says ďWhat do you think?Ē Iím all like ďO yeah, great, sounds great,Ē and I donít realize that Iíve just agreed to something.
To this day Iím still not entirely clear, in fact, on what I agreed to, but I do know that immediately after this I signed something which I (mistakenly) assumed had something to do with the Airbus incident, and then Vital and I are on a plane to Corsica, and then on a ferry to some other island, and then on a private power boat to yet another island, which was the coolest island Iíve ever been to, insofar as it was shaped like a skull and there was a cave/cove where the mouth was.
Thank God Vital was an interesting guy, because by the time we got there it was at least ten hours of travel, and you donít want to be sitting next to a direct-mail salesman during that kind of a trip, if you know what I mean. Vital had had a pretty interesting life, having been born in Cameroon or Burkina Faso or some African country that used to be owned by France. I figured that that was why he was so tall and black, but I thought it would be rude to ask, so Iím not entirely sure.
Anyway, he told me he was a Bobo, and Iím like, no, dude, youíre not a bobo! Youíre totally cool! But he explained that he was a Bobo, not a bobo. The Bobos, apparently, are an actual tribe of African people. Why anyone would name their tribe the Bobos is beyond me, but then I canít figure out why Utah has a basketball team named The Jazz, so what do I know.
So we zip into this cove, which is a cave, as I said, and weíre greeted by these guys who are wearing the worst New Age clothing Iíve ever seen. The stuff looks like rejects from the Star Trek costume department. What is it with cults and bad clothes? Did you ever check out how the Jehovahís Witnesses and the Dominican Sisters dress? Stuff you wouldnít wear to putter around the house.
So anyway this tall guy with this Star Trek-esque woven wool jacket and loose-fitting drawstring pants tells us to come on in, theyíre waiting for us. Weíre taken into a big, pentangular room where thereís a bunch more fashion victims, all wearing the same earthy-orange colored costume as the guy who greeted us. Theyíre standing in a circle, holding hands, maybe thirty of them. This is a big room, with a marble floor and a domed roof and long Greek columns in relief along the corners of the walls. Kind of cool, in a clubhouse sort of way. I would have dug it when I was fourteen and thought pot + pretentious = cool.
But at this point Iím just wanting to eat something, or maybe crash out, because I really donít know what Iíve signed on for, and in spite of spending the last ten hours with Vital, I didnít even ask him, because it was apparent that Iíd agreed to something and I didnít want to seem like an idiot by asking what that might have been. Thatís why I mostly had been listening to him talk, asking him about himself. I was hoping heíd just drop a clue or something.
No such luck, though I was something of an instant expert on the Bobo people of Burkina Faso. Or was it Cameroon? Whatever. Anyway, I ask Vital are we gonna get some food? And he laughs like Iíve told a joke, and so I play like, yeah, I told a joke, Iím a card, and Vital tells everybody that Iím impatient to get to the eating, le mangeant. They all laugh like Iím hilarious, and then they bow their heads in unison and chant something that I donít quite get, but it sounds pretty, like that hit song by the Gregorian monks.
Anyway, when they finish this chanting thing theyíre all smiles again and they say ďNow we eat! Ha ha ha!Ē and ďYes! Letís eat!Ē and such, carrying on my joke. Iím the hit of the show, apparently.
We leave the big marble room and go down a spooky hallway that seems to be carved out of rock, and we wind up in this dining room that could have been in any public high school in the United States, except thereís no graffiti or scratchitti or gum stuck to the chairs.
But the chairs are all that blow-molded green plastic with the skinny metal legs, and the tables are round and orange with hard plastic tops, and thereís one of those things that you slide your tray along, and a bunch of blue plastic trays. Excellent color coordination, guys! I mean, I thought the French has some sense of design aesthetic, but apparently not.
Anyway, the only thing they seem to be serving that day is a big pot of stew, and everybody lines up to get theirs. I go along with this because Iím a sport, and I donít want to stand out too much, which I already do, not being dressed in vegetarian geek-wear, and not really speaking enough French to get along.
So we all get our bowls and sit down, and then one of the guys there leads a prayer, and then he tells us to eat. Now I put the spoon up to my mouth but I get a whiff of this stew and it is disgusting. It smells like ass, if I might be blunt. Having no idea about food customs on the islands surrounding Corsica I figure Iíll just pass on this and wait till later when I can maybe raid the fridge or look about for some identifiably edible plant life.
Meanwhile everyoneís slopping food into their faces with great big grins, so I kind of fake it, raising the spoon to my mouth and then dropping it back in the bowl. I mean, I donít want to be rude, right? This is hospitality, and I am a guest there, so what the fuck, I canít go saying ďI say, your stew smells remarkably like the butt-end of a man whoís been lying in a puddle of his own vomit for the past week!Ē
Well, everyone else is enjoying their stew, or at least smiling big while eating it, and theyíre not giving a damn about getting it all over their faces, either, so Iím kind of slopping it on my face in order to play along, and the next thing you know they all start pitching face-first into their bowls.
When the first guy does it thereís a big cheer, and then they start eating faster, and then more and more of them are doing it until virtually everybody is splashing down. Now, at this point, youíd figure that Iíd get suspicious, but, well, Iím in a foreign country and I donít know the ways, so I think maybe this is just a local custom, a nap in the bowl after a hearty meal. A few minutes pass, and I get up and tip-toe out of the room so as not to wake anyone.
I slip past the serving area to where I assume the kitchen is, and I find a lot of polished metal storage bins and freezers and stoves and such. Very clean and high-tech modern looking, but strangely devoid of any food. Past that thereís a passage that leads to some meager dormitories, your standard aluminum-frame beds and metal bedstands, but not much in the way of decoration, except for a lot of pictures of Eustache, who actually photographs rather well. I mean, Iím not gay, but if I were, heíd be the first guy Iíd call. Of course, heís wearing a hat in all of this pictures, so you canít see his Dumbo ears, but still, even knowing that heís got these enormous fans on the side of his head, Iím thinking he looks pretty good here.
So I donít find anybody, and so I head back to the dining room, figuring I can ask some questions when the nap is over. But of course, me, I get bored of waiting. I really am not the best at just sitting and watching people sleep. My brother Fred, he was great at that. He could watch people sleep for hours. I always envied that about him. I think I miss him the most of all the people who died in the gas leak in our home that night.
But me, no, I canít do it, so I nudge Vital a little, and he flops over onto the floor, at which point I realize what a dumb-ass I am. Itís not that Iím not observant, itís just that sometimes I donít bother to make connections, you know? If Iíd thought about it for a second Iím sure I would have realized that nobody sleeps with their face in a bowl of stew. Itís just poor form. Plus, the fact that no one was breathing should have been a give-away. I mean, I saw their immobile bodies, but I just didnít put two and two together.
Anyway, there I am stuck with about thirty dead French people and no way off this island, until I think to back out to the little power boat. Now, Iím not about to attempt to drive this thing to the mainland, because, (a) I have no idea where that might be, and (b) I donít know how to drive a boat. Plus this is one of those thirty-foot long Cris Crafts with the flying bridge, and I just think those things are ugly as shit. I just wouldnít want to be seen piloting it to shore, you know?
But I know it has a radio on it, so I send out a little distress call, get a guy who speaks French on the line, and basically explain the situation as best I can to him. Next thing I know the whole freaking French navy is streaming at me, and thereís commando-type guys everywhere, crawling through the place, and asking me a lot of questions. In French. Which, as Iíve mentioned, I donít speak that well.
So Iím taken back to mainland France (le hexagon, as they call it) and I get to talk to an English speaking guy, a national police officer who dresses exactly like Inspector Clousseau in those Pink Panther movies. Which I think is hilarious, but you know, the French have a very different sense of humor than we do, especially when youíre the only living guy on an island full of corpses.
The inspector has this piece of paper in front of him, which is apparently the paper I signed at Eustacheís place. Now, hereís the weird part: what Iíve signed is something like a will, in that it says that when I die, all my belongings and what-not go to the cult. Plus, it makes me an official member of the cult. Plus, hereís the fun part, everyone else in the cult has also signed one of these.
The fun-ness of that part is that, with everyone in the cult dead, and me in the cult, Iím the sole beneficiary of all of their estates. Am I like the luckiest guy on earth, or what?
Now, youíre probably thinking, what about Eustache? Well, hereís the beauty part: he never signed any such piece of paper, and so, from a purely legal standpoint, heís not actually in the cult. This was his big mistake, actually. He didnít have everyone leave the money to him, because I guess that would have seemed crass. He just arranged it so that heíd be the sole survivor of the cult. But, and this is a classic French-type error, kind of like building the Maginot line and then not thinking to extend it along the Belgian border, because, what, Belgium is an impenetrable barrier all by itself? Eustache never legally got himself into the cult. What a bonehead! So guess whoís the sole survivor? Thatís right, like itís my specialty.
So thatís it, those are my favorite stories of me being the sole survivor. I mean, I left out a few, like that Nude Destroying a Staircase thing, where I was the only survivor from a performance-art piece gone horribly awry. Or that time when me and six other people were stranded on that island off the coast of New Jersey and, well, let me just say the whole cannibalism thing was not my idea. O, yeah, I think that thing with the space shuttle, too, was sort of in this category, even though the bodies were never found.
But the thing is, with all the money from the cult, and the fame that came with it, and the movie deals and the fawning sycophants and the endless stream of gold-diggers with huge racks, I think what I value most about all of this are the people Iíve loved. Or maybe not loved. What then? The people I talked to, I guess, the ones Iíve shared a connection with, for a day or a week or a minute.
I mean, here I am, surrounded by my giraffe-skin rugs and bookshelves made of the bones of ancient Egyptians, the rubies and emeralds on my hairy, ring-encrusted fist gleaming in the reflected light of my home laser show, but none of that is nearly as interesting as when you first learn that the guy in the cell next to yours once made love to a very famous NBA player during a game. Not on the court or anything, but still, thatís the kind of story that really humanizes an interaction. Sure, the guy who told me this story was killed moments later in that horrible, horrible prison riot. How I walked out of there alive is a complete mystery to everyone in the New Jersey Correctional Services, especially after they came in with the M-16s on full auto. Sometimes it just pays to own a bulletproof vest. But the thing is, even though he left my life far too quickly, this fellow who did it with the NBA star will always live on in my memory, and Iíll always have a higher regard for the experience of talking to him, or to that guy who told me about how his mother was his first lover, right before the sharks ate him, or to that chick who argued against the existence of matter right until the quicksand covered her mouth, than Iíd ever have for playing a video game or watching a movie or going leopard hunting alone, or any of the other things that I can now do on my enormous, fortified ranch.
See, itís the people, the human moments, that are surprising and interesting and worthwhile. I really believe that, I believe it each time I get a settlement check, each time I buy an evening with a porn star, each time I convince a Senator to back legislation that practically names me as the beneficiary. The real treasures in life, and, thus, I think, the real reason we want to be the sole survivor, are other people, even if theyíre only there for a moment, and then are gone forever.