“So what’s the plan?” That was Arnie. It seems like he’s always asking me that, usually when there’s some major catastrophe befalling us, and it usually pisses me off. Because I usually don’t have a plan.
This time it was different, though, because the only major catastrophe was me still dressing up in a skin-tight bodysuit and going out as Portly Boy. And this time, I actually had a plan.
“Give me your cell phone,” I told him. He whipped his cell phone out of one of the many pockets in his utility belt. I fooled around with it for a few minutes, but the only thing I could get it to do was play the tune from “Green Acres.” I handed the phone back and said, “Dial Mandy. Is there any way to make it speaker phone?”
“Sure, man, this thing can do it all.” He finished off his beer and pushed a few buttons on the phone. Then he plugged it into the dash. The Portmobile was immediately filled with the sound of the phone ringing. It rang a few times, and then Mandy answered.
“Hey, Mandy,” Arnie said. “What’s up?”
“Nothin’, really, just kind of hanging around, cleaning the kitchen, stuff like that. What are you doing?”
“Oh, you know, we’re just cruising around in the Portmobile, doing the crime-fighting thing.”
“What? I thought you were done with that. Didn’t Howie call it quits the other day?”
“Funny you should ask,” I said. “Seems like someone messed up my clock. I ended up quitting twenty-four hours before my community service was up. So I’m back to servicing the community.”
There was nothing but silence from her end of the phone. Ten seconds, twenty, thirty.
Finally, “Wow. Well, uh, that really sucks, man.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, it really does suck. At first I thought it must be some horrible mistake, but the judge showed me the records. My clock got messed up somehow.”
More silence. I didn’t feel like waiting around for it to end this time, so I said, “It appears that my community service countdown clock has been tampered with. And I got to thinking, ‘Hey, who has the brains for something like that?’ I got to wondering just how many people there are out there that would have the free time and the boring life to do it. You’ll never guess what I came up with.”
I heard her blow out a long breath, the kind of breath you always blow out right before you’re about to admit something that you REALLY don’t want to admit to. I looked at Arnie, expecting him to understand the importance of that long breath just as I did. He was drinking a bottle of Scotch and waving to a couple of hookers, not paying attention at all. The hookers didn’t wave back, and I wasn’t sure if it was because they couldn’t see through the tinted glass of the Portmobile or if it was because some creepy guy dressed up like a generic Batman was waving at them. Even in this city, there are certain things that the prostitutes don’t want to get involved with, and I have a feeling that a pair like Arnie and I probably crossed that line, painted a new line, and crossed that one, too.
“I’m sorry, man,” Mandy said. “I did it a long time ago, like when I first started watching you guys. I thought it would be a funny practical joke. We got to be friends, but by that time, I had already forgotten about the clock. I promise, if I would have remembered, I would have fixed it.” She sounded genuinely upset, I’ll give her that. I’m not sure if it was because she really felt bad, or if she was scared of what I was going to do to retaliate. I was hoping it was because she feared retaliation, because I had something so great that I was going to do it no matter what she said.
“Hey, hey, no need to apologize. A joke. I get it, you know? Funny stuff, that. Geez, man, what’s another three million hours of community service? Totally worth it, right? Because you sure played a joke on me. Got me good, Mandy!”
“I don’t know if this is the right time to point this out, but do you realize that you sound like a mad scientist from an old ‘fifties movie?”
“Yeah, we’re all mad here.” I was hoping to have some sort of dramatic hang up at that point, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn the damn phone off. So instead of the whole, “Yeah, we’re all mad here,” line and then a sudden click, what Mandy heard was, “Yeah, we’re all mad here…BEEP. BEEP, BOOP, BOOP. Arnie, turn this thing off, man. CLICK.”
“So what are you going to do?” Arnie asked me.
“Just a practical joke, is all.” This was a true evil genius moment, but Arnie hadn’t been paying attention. Therefore, he didn’t realize that by “practical joke” I meant that I was going to ruin Mandy’s life just as she had ruined mine.
“Good. I was afraid you were going to do something really horrible. And that would suck, because Mandy’s our friend, you know?” He finished off his Scotch and opened a bottle of gin. “I like jokes.”
By the time we got home, Arnie was pretty tired. We hadn’t encountered anything exciting on our route, and he had been knocking the booze back at a pretty speedy rate. I wondered if there was a reason he was drinking so much, so fast. Then I decided that I didn’t care if there was a reason or not, and got back to my plan.
I dug under my futon until I found what I was looking for—a DVD recorder that I couldn’t ever figure out how to work. I plugged it into the wall and ejected the disc. I had been trying to record The Simpsons from the TV onto DVD, just so I wouldn’t have to wait for the following seasons to be released, but I hadn’t been able to figure out how to get the Drunk Tank TV to switch to the right channel. That had been a while ago, I’m not sure how long. In frustration, I had just buried the damn thing under my futon with all the other crap that I didn’t know what else to do with.
I took the DVD upstairs and inserted it into the player that was hooked up to the TV. I didn’t have to watch it long before I realized it would serve my purpose magnificently. Another eject, and I was carrying the disc downstairs.
Down in the Drunk Tank, I logged onto the computer, opened a bottle of vodka, and got ready for a long night.
One thing I had forced myself to learn was how to go back through what we called “the tapes.” There was no tape involved, actually, just a bunch of digital images. I clicked the little icon marked ARCHIVES, and then typed a specific date in the SEARCH field. It was sort of hard to remember the exact date, even though I had almost been killed that day. It’s funny how you might think that an event like that, you would remember everything about it, but when you’re always about to get killed, you lose track of things pretty easily.
I watched that day in fast forward, through a drunk man’s point of view, and finally found what I was looking for. I saved a large section of the ARCHIVES to my personal folder, and turned off the computer. I had barely touched the booze, believe it or not, but it was late, and I had a big day ahead of me.
“You asshole! Take it off! You get that off, and you do it right now! I swear, Howie, if you make me come in there and do it myself, I will make sure that your site crashes and burns in a way that will make the Hindenburg look like a glass of spilled water!”
“Geez, man, maybe you should take it off,” Arnie said. “She seems pretty mad.”
We had Mandy on the speaker phone, and she had been yelling at us for something like fifteen minutes straight. I hadn’t even heard her take a breath, man--it was kind of freaky.
“I don’t think ‘pretty mad,’ does it justice,” I told him. “If it was me, I would say maybe something like ‘enraged.’ Something that really brings the emotion into it. Is that how you would describe your present emotional state, Mandy? Enraged?”
“There aren’t any words, you sack of shit! I’m giving you five minutes to pull that stuff, and then you’re going to pay.”
“No words to describe how pissed of you are? Yeah, that sounds about the same. That’s how I felt when I realized that I had been screwed into wrapping that stupid costume around my fat ass and going back out onto the streets for the world to laugh at. I mean, at first I thought maybe I was just enraged, but then I realized that it was so much more than that. And then I just went kind of numb, like a short circuit, and I just waited for my head to explode. You feeling anything like that?”
“You’re a dead man.”
“I’ll take that stuff off the site, Mandy, all of it. When my community service is up. That seems like a pretty fair deal to me.”
“Dead man,” she said, and then she hung up. Her hang up was very dramatic, and I felt a little chill run down my spine.
“Man, maybe we should just take it off” Arnie said again. “I’ve never seen her this mad. She’s brilliant on a computer, super-strong kung-fu. If she gets in, we’re fucked.”
“But you made sure she couldn’t get in.”
“I’m pretty sure I did, man, but that’s not really even the point. I’m pretty sure she can’t get in and mess with our stuff, but that doesn’t mean she can’t get into other people’s stuff.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that she can wreck us pretty hardcore without even getting into our system. I mean, she could probably find a way into the police computer, change things, give us records, warrants, stuff like that.”
“I thought you said that was just movie stuff, that in real life you end up having to call and talk to people, trick them into giving you all kinds of access codes and stuff.”
“Yeah, dude, and she’s awesome at that. Or maybe she wouldn’t even want to crack a system. She could make a really obvious half-ass attempt to hack into some place like the NSA or the FBI computer, and then leave a trail right to our door. She could do something like that without even trying—I’ve seen her do it.”
“But my vengeance.”
“Look, man, vengeance or not, you need to let this go. This girl could set it up to where both of us spend the remaining years of our lives in prison, getting butt-raped by giant men with bad breath and lots of tattoos.
I didn’t need much time to think about it after that. I logged on, removed the files, and logged off. “Call her back, tell her we took them off.”
“I’m telling her I had nothing to do with it.”
“Fine, just make the call. Candyass.”
“Candyass or not, I’m not trying to get her mad at me.” He walked up the stairs, dialing his cell phone, and he didn’t even fall back down this time.
The files that had caused so much emotional outburst were the ones I had created the night before.
Have you ever been around old people who were trying to catch up with technology? They try to record Wheel of Fortune and end up instead with some late-night softcore porn movie from HBO? That’s pretty much what had happened with me. I had been trying to record The Simpsons, and hadn’t been able to change the channel. So instead of getting The Simpsons I ended up recording about eight hours of Arnie’s voice analyzer thing, which mostly consisted of a straight green line across a black screen, like what you see when a patient dies on TV shows.
The only exciting part of this was the very beginning—that was where Mandy was talking to her then-current boyfriend—Captain Pizza Guy, as it turned out—and was describing to him all of these nasty things she wanted to do with him. Hardcore stuff, that would make even the most steadfast armchair pervert blush a little.
The day after that conversation took place, I went downstairs, unplugged the DVD recorder, and shoved it under my futon, not thinking at all about what it had recorded. Not until yesterday, I mean.
So I had the great audio, but that wasn’t enough. I have never seen Mandy. But Arnie has, and that was where the second half of my sinister plan was formed. I searched back through “the tapes” until I found the day that I had been kidnapped by Captain Pizza guy to be sold to the thugs who wanted to kill me.
Arnie had come to my rescue, but he had had to have someone drive him—Arnie doesn’t drink and drive, and since he’s always drinking, he never drives. The person he had called had been Mandy. Arnie’s Drunkard suit has built-in cameras all over it, and I was hoping that he had been wearing it the day that they came to rescue me. He hadn’t been, though—he had been wearing the suit with no cameras (the one he calls his practice suit), so I thought I was out of luck. Until I remembered that the Portmobile had all kinds of cameras, too.
And there she was, driving out to help Arnie save my life. I thought for a second about how wrong it was to use footage of her coming to my rescue in order to ruin her life, and then I thought about how because of her, my life was probably going to be in danger over and over again while I served out something like four thousand hours of community service.
I edited the video so that the only thing you could see was her face, then I added the sleazy audio. The words didn’t sync up, of course, but it really didn’t matter. I posted three different versions onto the sight as soon as I woke up.
Just for the record, Mandy is super-freakin’-hot. She almost looks like she should be in movies or magazines, except for her beauty is too real for that kind of thing. You see a girl like that, and you can’t even imagine kissing her or dating her. You only think about the trail of broken hearts she’s left in her wake. After actually seeing what she looked like, I had been tempted to drop the entire revenge thing. But every time I was about to call it quits, I would see that yellow bodysuit over in the corner, and it would enflame me all over again.
Arnie came tumbling down the stairs, a drink in one hand, his cell phone in the other. He stood up, shook his head a little—to clear the cobwebs, maybe—and then finished off his drink—to put the cobwebs back.
“What did she say?” I asked him.
“Mandy! You were supposed to call her and tell her that I took that stuff off the site.”
“Oh, yeah, that. Yeah, everything’s cool. She said she’s going to make you pay for that.”
“Wait a second. How is everything cool if she’s still going to make me pay?”
“Huh? Uh, I guess because she’s not going to do anything to me. Plus, I made her promise not to do anything too horrible. She said she was just going to do one more thing, and then you’d be even.”
“What was the one more thing?”
“Beats me, man. We started talking about cartoons, and I forgot to ask. You remember that show Space Ghost? That show was awesome, but I really hated the monkey. That’s what we started talking about. Why is it that there always had to be a cute little goofy-ass character in all the old cartoons? Like on Space Ghost, there was that little blue monkey. And then on the Superfriends, there was…hey, was that the same blue monkey, you think? Gleek? Was that his name? Gleep, maybe?”
“I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter, you jackass. What matters is that now I have Mandy after me, too.”
“Yeah, that, uh…that’s pretty bad.” You could tell he wasn’t listening. He was thinking about little blue monkeys. Generally, I would tell you that this was better than thinking about most of the other things in the world, but right now I needed him to be thinking about how to keep Mandy from ruining my life even more.
“Hey! Snap out of it. Help me out, here, man.”
“I am. It’s just that I need to go watch some cartoons right now—we’ll get to the bottom of this, buddy, don’t you worry.” I thought about trying to stop him as he ran up the stairs, but then I decided that it was probably a better thinking environment with him gone.
By the time six o’clock rolled around, I still hadn’t thought of anything that would help me out in my defense against Mandy. I suited up, with a feeling of dread sulking restlessly in my stomach.
Arnie seemed to have completely forgotten about the Mandy vendetta, as well as the enigma of the blue monkeys. He was happier than I had seen him in quite a while, and that worried me.
“What do you know that I don’t?” I asked him.
His grin broadened. “I know how to enjoy life, my friend. It’s something you should try to learn.”
“Shut up.” We rocketed out of the garage, Portly song blaring, towards the City. I looked at the skyline as we drove, and it reminded me of an old man’s teeth. Jagged and crooked, the buildings stood in silhouette against the burning sky, and they gave me the creeps.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Arnie said, “I’ve just about had it with tampon commercials. I saw that one again tonight—that one where the girl is running from a bear and falls off the cliff and the only thing that saves her is that she has that tampon in her pocket and the string gets caught on a branch. And then the voice-over is all like, ‘It’s a real life-saver in an emergency.’ I mean, what the hell are they trying to sell? Is it the fact that it can fit in your pocket? Or that they’re made out of good, sturdy stuff? I just don’t get it.”
“You’re a guy, man—you aren’t supposed to get it. If they were trying to sell tampons to guys, there would be some chick with barely any clothes on and she would just be sitting there on a super-sweet car and drinking a beer. And then she would go, ‘Buy this tampon.’ And that’s all they would need.”
“Then why don’t they just do that with everything they try to sell to men?”
“Because they’re idiots that don’t understand. Besides, why were you seeing tampon commercials, anyways? I thought you were watching cartoons.”
“I was, man. Sitting there watching the cartoon channel, and every three minutes there’s another tampon commercial. Or maxi pad. Those commercials, they have taken over. Car commercial, food commercial, and feminine hygiene product commercial. Man, I dread the day that I’m sitting there watching cartoons with my kid and suddenly he’s asking me about the difference between heavy flow and light flow days.”
“I’m pretty sure that if you ever have kids, we’re all doomed, anyways. I dread the day that you even have a kid to watch cartoons with.”
“Come on, man—I would be a good dad. Emotional scarring builds character, right?”
I laughed at that. Most of the time, I really hate Arnie. I spend entirely too much time wondering why I’m even friends with him—other than the free rent and all. But then he’ll say something that cracks me up, and I just stop wondering for a second.
I had also stopped worrying about what evil plot-twist the world had in store for me, and that was my big mistake. Because when life can catch you off-guard, that’s when it really bends you over and gives it to you good.
I had just stopped laughing at Arnie’s Demented Parenting Guidebook quote when the Portmobile turned the corner.
And then I heard the dreaded words, “Auto-brake engaged.”
If you’re wondering why the auto-brake was engaged, you’re just going to have to tune in next time. SAME FAT TIME, SAME FAT CHANNEL.