Life is a weird thing. I’m not talking about sex-with-puppet fetish websites or about those old ladies who are always wearing about thirty coats and they talk to themselves as they push their grocery carts down the street. That stuff’s weird, don’t get me wrong. But what I mean is how it’s like the whole world can seem like an entirely different place just by changing your perspective a little bit. Like what if you were a tapeworm? You spend your whole life in someone’s ass, eating chewed up food, dodging bowel movements, and then getting killed as soon as you’re discovered. Tapeworms live on the same planet as, say, Tom Cruise. But they see the world from entirely different perspectives, you know? One lives in shit, the other has sex with hot chicks whenever he wants and gets adored by society as a whole. See the point I’m making here?
Me, I was lovin’ life, man. Free from the bane of Portly Boy, and I had more money than I had ever had before. I was rich and I was free and the world was a wonderful place. That was on Friday.
On Tuesday, when I walked into the judge’s office and tossed my ugly yellow suit down on his desk, it was still a pretty wonderful place. It would have been better if it had been the evil judge who actually sentenced me to serve my community service as Portly Boy, but it was still pretty fun. I had meant to take the suit back on Monday, but I ended up spending that day passed out under my futon—don’t ask. So first thing Tuesday (maybe not first thing—it was pretty close to three in the afternoon when I woke up) I went down to return the suit.
“There you go, judge! There’s your crappy little suit back.”
“I beg your pardon?” This judge, I didn’t know who he was, I just knew he was in the office that used to be the evil judge’s. He wasn’t quite old yet, but he was almost there, and he looked stuffy, like a room in a museum or a library that’s been shut up for too long.
“This is the suit that the city issued me for my service as Portly Boy. I’m done being Portly Boy, so here’s your suit back. Is there some form I need to sign or something?”
“A form for what?”
“A form saying how I served my time, paid my debt to society, whatever. Just some piece of paper saying that I’m done with all this bullshit.”
“Sir?” A voice asked from behind me. “Is there a problem here?” I turned around and saw the same asshole bailiff that had issued me the suit in the first place. Dennis the Sadistic Bailiff. The last time I had seen him, he had been flopping around in vomit—mine—after being sprayed with pepper spray—also mine.
He recognized me as soon as I turned around, and I saw his hand drop to the butt of his gun.
“How you doin’, Dennis?” I asked him. “Your uniform cleaned up nice.” He unsnapped the little leather strap that held his gun in the holster, and I decided I better quit taunting him. “I was just turning in the suit, you know, little closure and things.”
And then something happened. It was frightening on so many levels that I didn’t exactly know what to be afraid of. What happened was, Dennis smiled.
I started sweating. Had he planted drugs on me? Was he going to shoot me right now? Was the judge behind me, about to plunge a pencil into my back? I didn’t know the answer to any of these questions. What I DID know was that it was a bad thing for me that Dennis was smiling.
“I’m afraid there’s been a misunderstanding, Mr. McKay,” the judge said.
“A misunderstanding?” I didn’t dare turn my back on Dennis, so I just sort of backed up against the wall so that I could see the both of them. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that you broke the terms of your community service.”
“What? No! What term? I didn’t break anything, man, I followed all the rules.”
“You stopped performing your duties a full twenty-four hours before your service was up.”
“I’m sorry, what? You’re saying I was supposed to go out last night?”
“That’s exactly what I’m saying.” He wasn’t getting any pleasure out of this—he was just doing his job. Dennis, on the other hand, was about to pee his pants laughing. I was about to have a heart attack, it felt like.
One thing you never want to do is crash from a wonderful life straight down into the shittiest thing ever. That was my mistake, but I don’t think it was my fault.
“No, no that can’t be right. I had this timer, see, I had it everywhere. It was so I would know exactly when my time was up. I had it counting down from something like two thousand hours. I had it installed in the Portmobile as soon as we got it. It was all over the house! All of them, they said I was done being Portly Boy!”
“I’m afraid they were all wrong,” the judge said in his calm museum voice.
“You have gotta be shitting me!”
“I don’t. What I have to be doing is sentencing you.”
“Go easy, judge, please. It was an honest mistake.”
“We have a couple of options, here. There is no way around these options. The former…judge…gave you a very harsh sentence, and you signed the paper saying you understood this sentence.”
“I can’t be held responsible for that—I was drunk!”
The judge smiled a little smile. Not quite a museum smile, but close. “Yes, I heard all about it. But that isn’t the point. The point is, Loretta abused her power. We all knew that. But, frankly, it was pretty funny, watching you run around in that suit.”
“Hey, great, glad you enjoyed it. Who the hell is Loretta?”
“Loretta: “The Evil Judge,” I believe you call her. What I’m trying to say is, her sentence also included the sentencing if you broke the terms of community service. They’re just as harsh and bizarre as the original sentence, but there is no way around them.”
“What are my options?” It wasn’t anything I really wanted to know, but standing there in that judge’s office, I felt like when someone was pointing a gun at me—I never really wanted that gun to fire, but I was sick and tired of waiting for it.
“You can keep dressing up and doing the Portly Boy thing or you can go to jail for a year.”
“Be honest with me, here, judge. If I go to jail, will I be killed?”
“Honestly? I don’t know. Perhaps your use as a sex toy will keep you alive.”
“Fuck!” I grabbed my yellow suit off of his desk. “How much longer do I have to do this?” He told me, and before I could respond, there was nothing but black.
I opened my eyes slow, trying to shake off the horrible dream I had just had. Then I saw that I was still in the judge’s office, and realized that it hadn’t been a dream.
“Are you all right?” The judge asked.
“That…that’s more time than I was originally sentenced to.”
He nodded, kind of sad-like, but you could tell he was trying not to laugh. “Sucks,” he said. He pushed my suit into my hands. “Go get ’em, hero.”
I sat on my couch, staring at the puddle of yellow cloth that was piled in the corner. It wasn’t quite as bright as it had been when I first got it, but it could still probably blind you if you looked at it for too long. I was trying to mourn the loss of my freedom, but Arnie kept on kept on screaming things like “Three cheers for Portly Boy! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip—wait, how many was that?” and “Back in the saddle again!”
All kinds of crap like that. It’s hard to properly mourn when you have a drunken fool screaming and dancing around in front of you—mostly you can only attain a low-level hatred of the world. Jail time was starting to seem like a pretty good idea, homicide/rape or not. I thought about that for a few minutes, thought about it graphically, and then decided I probably wasn’t ready for prison just yet.
“Arnie, shut up!”
“Man, I’m just celebrating. This is gonna be AWESOME, man, just like old times.”
“You moron—‘old times’ was like three days ago.”
“You never realize how much you love something until you lose it,” Arnie said, trying to look all serious and poetic. His deep poet façade was destroyed when he accidentally stepped onto an empty whiskey bottle that rolled out from under him. He crashed onto the pool table, knocking the balls all over the floor, regained his balance, stepped on the six ball, and crashed down onto the floor.
Usually his slapstick antics cheer me up, even if he only hurts himself a little, but it did nothing for me tonight. I figured he would probably have to have internal hemorrhaging to make me feel better, at least.
“Did you screw with my clock, you bastard?” I grabbed the whiskey bottle and broke it on the pool table. I held the neck and tried to point the jagged end at Arnie’s throat. He had already crawled away, though, and was looking at the turtle.
“No, man,” he said as he watched the turtle sit there and do nothing. “I would do a lot of things to keep you as Portly Boy, but nothing like that. I mean, if I did something like that, you would probably just snap and try to kill me.” He turned around and saw the whiskey bottle. “Oh…is that what you were about to do?”
“I don’t know.” I threw the bottle remains at the Portmobile, but it just bounced off and landed on my couch. “How did my clock get screwed up, man?”
“I don’t know, dude. Maybe that virus that Captain Pizza Guy planted on our site?”
“No, Mandy went through and fixed all of that. That was before she was all pissed off at me and—“
Arnie must have seen the look on my face. I saw the same look on his face, kind of. I mean, it was a look of dawning comprehension on my face, like when you suddenly know exactly what happened, when the facts just walk up and kick your brain in the balls and start laughing. The look on Arnie’s face was slightly different, because the look of “dawning comprehension” is kind of beyond someone with something like two living brain cells left. I was sober, and he was dunk out of his gourd. And I could see him trying to work himself into a good strong bout of self-denial.
“No, man,” he said. “She wouldn’t so something like that, no matter how pissed off she was. I mean, that’s your life, dude, and she wouldn’t do that. Mandy’s pissed off at us, but she’s not EVIL, man. She wouldn’t do something like that. She wouldn’t.”
I didn’t even have to argue with him. The truth was inside his head, apparently doing all the arguing.
Good thing, too, because I was just thinking about how hard it was going to be to track Mandy down and ruin her life. I hadn’t ever seen her, I had no idea who she was, and I wasn’t anywhere near smart enough to track her down. But there was something…
My mom used to always tell me that the only thing that kept me out of trouble was that I had a tricky memory. She told me that since God hadn’t given me the good sense to stay out of trouble, He had given me an automatic shut off. Like if I saved a bunch of firecrackers for causing trouble after the Fourth of July, I would forget where I stashed them. Or I would trap a huge spider in a jar, with intentions of using it scare the shit out of whoever, and I would lose the jar. I never remembered where I had put these things until it was too late. Like I wouldn’t remember where the firecrackers were until it rained, and then I would remember that I had stashed them out in a tree. Or I would find the jar with nothing in it but a corpse.
It was a bad idea, her telling me that, because that’s when I started taking notes, writing things down, so that even when I forgot stuff, I could still check back through my notes. Of course, I usually forgot where I put my notebook full of notes, too.
What I eventually ended up doing was figuring out a way to remember. Sort of like hypnotizing myself, I guess. I would just sit and concentrate on the object of my desire—the case of beer that I swiped out of some guy’s car when he was attending my aunt’s marriage, for instance. I would picture it in my head: a six pack of Coors Light, silver cans, sparkly with moisture, red and white lettering, a rip in the upper-right corner of the box.
And then I would slowly pan out, just a little bit, like in a movie. The secret was going slow. If you went too fast, you just ended up visualizing a six pack of crappy beer surrounded by white space, wondering if you were an alcoholic. But if you went slow enough, the picture would form around it, a moth-eaten seat, dark blue upholstery (pull back a little more), a windshield, cracked door paneling, some sort of car (pull back a little more), and then you see your neighbor’s house out one of the windows. And suddenly you realize you stashed the beer in the abandoned car that’s been parked down the street for about thirteen years.
It was tiring and really boring, and half the time, the reward wasn’t worth the effort it took to remember, but it worked.
“Arnie,” I said, “Go upstairs and try not to make any noise.”
“What? What are you doing?”
“Just go upstairs. Find a way to make sure that Mandy has no access to our…whatever they’re called—our databanks or whatever.”
“Databanks? What, are we in some ‘fifties horror movie, now?”
“Shut up. Just go up and figure out a way to make sure Mandy can’t get into our computers. I’m serious, man. If she wants to look at our site, that’s fine. But nothing else. No more talking to us while we’re at home, no more changing shit on the website, no more access than any other person. Got it?”
He looked like he was about to cry. “Before you do whatever you’re about to do, can we at least find out if she did it?”
“Sure, man. And don’t worry, Arnie—you’re gonna love this.”
“Yeah?” You could tell he didn’t believe me—he had lived around my evilness for years, and he knew that doing something like screwing me where I had to keep up the Portly Boy shit was going to call down my full wrath. But he WANTED to believe me, you could tell that, too.
“Yeah, dude, this is going to be the ultimate. I’m going to get even, man, for sure. But you’ll dig it.”
I’m not sure if it was my little speech that cheered him up, or the bottle of Boone’s wine that he swallowed while I delivered the speech. “All right, man! I’m on it.”
“Good.” I waited for him to run up the stairs, I waited for him to tumble back down, I waited for him to give me the thumbs up and then run back up. And then I started to think.
I didn’t have anything to concentrate on, really, because I had no idea what it was that I had forgotten. Plus, I hadn’t tried this trick in years. I mean, ever since I moved out on my own, I hadn’t needed that sketchy memory that kept me out of trouble when I was a kid. All that crap that I wasn’t supposed to do, I just did it, and I think that the part of me that was supposed to keep me out of trouble was one of the first things to die when I started killing brain cells.
I concentrated on the ugly pile of fluorescent yellow cloth in the corner. I concentrated on Mandy. I had no idea what she looked like, so I just pictured the little naked cartoon that danced around on our TV screen every time that Mandy talked to us.
I concentrated on my Portly Boy outfit and the naked cartoon for about an hour, and I was about to give up when it finally hit me. I smiled. Then I laughed. I laughed for a long time, until Arnie came down and checked to see if I had driven myself insane.
He looked a bit disappointed when I told him that I was fine. “But we’re gonna have a good time tonight,” I told him. “We’re going to go out, we’re going to fight some crime. We’re kickin’ ass, we’re takin’ names, we’re doing all that hero bullshit!”
I was in a good mood. Stupid outfit, stupid life, stupid sidekick—none of it mattered. I was going to get revenge, and that kind of thing always cheers me up.
“That’s the spirit!” Arnie cried. He lifted a glass of champagne. “To Portly Boy!”
That kind of killed my mood. “Screw you, Arnie.”
“Um, to tonight, then!”
“To tonight!” I yelled back at him, suddenly in a good mood again. “And to revenge!”
He had already drank the flute glass of champagne, and most of the bottle, but at the revenge thing, he lowered the bottle. “Wait. What?”
“Just drink your champagne,” I told him.
Usually it’s pretty hard to get Arnie to do what you say, but usually you aren’t telling him to drink. If you just hang around all day and tell him to drink, you’ll think he’s the most obedient person ever.
He drank his champagne. I gathered the pile of neon yellow from the corner and started dressing in it. By the time I had put on my costume, Arnie had drank two more bottles of champagne.
“I’ve been saving these for a special occasion,” he explained. “Portly Boy Lives! I think that’s pretty special!”
“You think that because you’re an idiot. Did you get everything safeguarded against Mandy?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I don’t think she can get in. And if she does, everything will just disconnect. I made it to where you have to enter a code to change things on the website. If you enter the wrong code, our computer disconnects itself from the internet.”
“And this is nothing that she can reconnect?”
“No. It like really disconnects. I fixed up some Tinker Toys and our blender so that if the wrong code is entered, it actually unscrews the connection from the wall. Impossible to hack our shit if our shit isn’t connected.”
“I want to change the code.”
“Because she’ll figure yours out in about half a second.”
“It’s booze, isn’t it?”
He smiled a big shit-eating grin. “Nope. It’s whiskey, because…no, wait a minute. Yeah, at first it was whiskey, but then I decided that I might forget which particular kind of booze I had entered, so I just made the code ‘booze.’ What was the code that you said?”
“Just make it so I can type in the new password. And be quick—it’s almost time to go out.”
He typed a few things on the keyboard that had slid out of the Drunk Tank wall, and then he stepped aside. “Okay, you’re all set. What’s the new code going to be?”
“It’s going to be a secret, is what it’s gonna be. Turn around and close your eyes.” I waited for him to turn around and close his eyes. I typed in the new password, hit the enter button, and started laughing again.
Arnie turned around and looked at me. He looked all confused at first, but then he started laughing, too. He had no idea what was funny, but drunk people love to laugh.
“Go get dressed,” I told him. “Tonight’s going to be an adventure.”
And here’s where the goofy narrator’s voice would come on, if you were watching some campy old TV show. It would say something like:
What dastardly deeds await our hero? And what dastardly deeds does our hero have of his own? And what is that turtle’s name, again? I forgot. To find out the answer to at least two out of three of these question, tune in next time:
SAME FAT TIME, SAME FAT CHANNEL!