One of the things I hate most about my talking car is that it never says anything good. It never says something like, “Hey, Howie, there’s a couple of hot chicks over there that want to take you to bed,” or “Look at that pile of gold and Hot Pockets just sitting over there for anyone to take.” My talking car—a.k.a. The Portmobile—is always just saying things like “Auto-brake engaged.”
Even the auto-brake engaged thing might be cool, if the auto-brake was engaged because of something cool like a topless wrestling match at some sort of Girls-With-Perfect-Breasts convention.
But that’s never the case. The auto-brake always seems to be engaging at the most inopportune times, like gunfights or when there’s some supa-gangsta standing there, waiting for me to come along so he can kill me.
Or when there’s a line of mental patients holding hands and chanting about how you’ve ruined their lives.
I didn’t know they were all mental patients at the time, actually. Alls I knew was that there was a line of people standing there, hand in hand, blocking the street. Of course, when you see a bunch of people standing in the middle of the street, hand in hand, your first thought is that they’re a bunch of escaped mental patients. Or gay people. Seems like gay people are always forming a human chain of some sort, I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just this city, but it seems like I can hardly walk outside without running into some sort of something-or-another-for gay-people rally.
I wish some other group of people would do this kind of thing. Because—and don’t take this the wrong way—every time I see some group doing one of those interlocked-hand demonstrations, I’m reminded of those old carnival games, where they give you a pellet gun, and you have to shoot down at least four of the ducks as they float by on the artificial waves or else you don’t win the cheap prize that always smells a little like old booze and rotten cigarette smoke. But you start running around talking about how you just wish you had a paintball gun at the gay rally, and next thing you know, you’re in jail for a hate crime. That’s why some other group should form one of these human-chain things, some group that society has deemed it appropriate to shoot with paintballs—maybe like politicians, or those asshole bouncers at clubs who always seem to let everybody in but you.
Anyways, this wasn’t any sort of a gay rally, and it sure as hell wasn’t a bunch of politicians for me to shoot with a paintball gun. These were mental patients—you could tell by their slippers.
“What the hell is this?” I yelled at nobody in particular.
“Looks like a bunch of mental patients,” Arnie said.
“You don’t think it’s maybe a gay rally of some sort?” I asked him, without much hope.
“Do you know one gay man in this city who would be caught dead in slippers like that?” Arnie looked at me condescendingly. You know you’ve said something really stupid when someone like Arnie looks at you condescendingly.
“Maybe Larry?” Larry was kind of like our last gay friend. Back in the day, when Arnie was all rich and throwing parties all the time, there were all kinds of rich and famous people hanging around, saying things like, “This party is absolutely MARVOULOUS,” and “Darling, where did you FIND this music?” All kinds of annoying shit like that. It seems to me that rich and famous people are always saying all kinds of dumb shit. But I’m getting off track here.
In the midst of being Arnie’s friend while he was rich and famous, I met all kinds of rich and famous people. Some were straight, some were gay, most of them were complete assholes. Larry was this gay guy who had a reputation for being particularly eccentric. He would wear ugly clothes just for the sake of wearing ugly clothes (nobody else on Earth could get away with wearing the Hawaiian shirts he sported), and he didn’t care much about the line between “what’s hot” and “what’s not.” He was always getting drunk and telling me that he liked me because I was “down to earth.” He was goofy as hell, but an all right guy.
He was one of the few people who didn’t bail immediately when Arnie lost all of his money. Larry stuck around for quite a bit, but in the end, he had to go. The places he liked to party at, me and Arnie weren’t even allowed to stay in the line outside the door.
But even Larry wouldn’t have worn the off-white, open-back slippers that all of the people in front of the Portmobile were wearing. Larry would have called them tacky, even for lounging around the house.
“What are they doing, you think?” Arnie asked me.
“Looks like they’re standing in the middle of the street, holding hands.”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s what it looks like, all right. Wonder why.”
I wondered why, too. Until I saw a familiar face break from the line and step forward. “You gotta be shittin’ me,” I said.
“Holy smokes! Look who it is!” I couldn’t tell if Arnie was excited, or if he was just surprised.
Jimmy Flicks. Freakin’ guy was supposed to be locked up in some mental institution for the rest of his life. But here he was, standing in his off-white, open-backed slippers, his lime-green pajamas, and with a dirty towel tied around his throat like a cape.
I’ve never been partial to little kids—I’ve always felt that they’re kind of like living proof that Mother Nature still hasn’t learned from her mistake—but I know lots of people who like them. And when they see a little kid run out in his underwear, with a towel wrapped around his neck like a cape, these people who like kids generally do something like say, “Ooooh, how CUTE!” You dress a little kid up like a maniac, it’s cute. You dress a grown man up the exact same way, and it’s just terribly frightening.
Jimmy Flicks didn’t look cute dressed up like a maniac. He looked like a maniac dressed up like a maniac.
I cursed the Portmobile for a few seconds because it didn’t have any lethal weapons. Then I pushed the button that turned on the outside speakers. “What’s up, Jimmy?”
When you have the outside speakers on, you also have the outside microphone on, so it’s possible to have an entire conversation with someone outside the Portmobile without ever opening the protective hatch. I didn’t want to have an entire conversation with Jimmy Flicks, but I figured that if I had to, I definitely needed to do it within the safety of the protective hatch.
“Oh, you know,” Jimmy said, “Not much. Been locked up in a mental institution. Because of you.”
“Are you sure it’s not because you’re insane?” I asked. “Because you’re standing in the middle of the street in your pajamas, holding hands with a bunch of mental patients right now. That’s not exactly the behavior of the mentally sound, Jimmy.”
“In a world gone mad, who is to say what is sane and what is insane?”
“Beats me. Maybe the courts. Or the shrinks that listen to your psychotic babble day after day. Or anyone with an I.Q. over five who knows that you don’t go out in public dressed up in your pajamas and a dirty towel tied around your throat.”
“It was a rhetorical question, you dick!” It’s weird getting scolded by a lunatic.
“Well it wasn’t a very good one. Why aren’t you locked up, getting fed your pills out of those cool little paper cups?”
“Because I was released.”
“That’s what always happens to insane villains,” Arnie told me. “They get released to go out and wreak havoc on the world in general and their arch-nemesis in particular. I mean, before Batman had that whole grocery list of enemies, the Penguin was escaping like every other week, and he wasn’t even all that clever.”
“This must be some sort of a fluke,” I said.
“Yes,” Jimmy said. “It was a fluke. I have no business being out here in the outside world, as far as society is concerned. Because I have differing opinions, because I think and act as others do not. Because I am different, I am locked away, hidden from the eyes of those whom I would offend!” He was really getting himself worked up.
“Dude, you got locked up because you kept trying to kill me, and you were starting everything on fire. You’re a menace, not a martyr.”
“Great alliteration,” Arnie said. “If our comic book deal goes through, that should for sure be the title of one of the stories.”
“What?” I asked. “What comic book deal?”
“Oh, man, didn’t I tell you? I was sure I told you. That night where we were exposing the Sea Monkeys to all the black lights, hoping that it would mutate them into super hippy Sea Monkeys? I could have sworn that I told you about the comic book deal.”
“Maybe I just dreamed it. I dream about that night a lot. In my dream, though, our mad experiment always backfires, and the Sea Monkeys turn into this hyper-intelligent race that take over the world, and they think that you’re like a god or something, and you destroy the planet.”
“Cool dream, but what about the comic book deal?”
“Oh, that. Yeah, um, so they said they would pay us to-“
“Hey!” That was Jimmy. He banged on the hood, desperate for attention. His little dirty towel/cape was blowing in the wind, sweat was dripping from his brow even though it was something like four degrees outside and he was standing around in his PJ’s. I didn’t want to deal with him, really.
On one hand, his insanity tickled my mental base in a really uncomfortable way, making me realize all that is terrible in the world. On the other hand, he was just some skinny little freak that was annoying me. I pushed the button that popped the hood.
One thing about the Portmobile, it doesn’t really do anything half-assed. I mean, if you’re taking off and your theme song is going to play, it’s going to play at a brain exploding volume that will leave you gasping for breath and the ability to remember your name. If you’re going to stop because there’s a line of lunatics standing in your way, you stop like nobody’s business, no matter if it ruptures your spleen and whatever other organs there are in your body that weren’t expecting a sudden stop. And if you pop the hood, everyone around knows it.
Unless, of course, there’s some idiot leaning forward over the hood when you pop it. If that’s the case, everyone around knows it except for him—and he’ll know it as soon as his knocked-out ass wakes up.
“You know,” Arnie said, “He’s really not getting any better at this super-villain bit.”
“I wish we could just run him over and be done with it.”
“Superheroes aren’t supposed to run over their unconscious enemies.”
“That’s too bad, really. I guess we should call the cops.”
“What are we going to do about all those mental patients?”
“I don’t know.” He was rummaging around under the seat, and when he sat back up, he had a martini shaker in his hand. “I guess the cops can just take them, too.”
He was busy fooling around with the martini shaker, so he didn’t see that the mental patients were slowly closing in on us. “All those mental patients are slowly closing in on us,” I told him.
He looked up from the shaker. “Dang! Creepy-looking bunch, aren’t they?”
They were. I don’t know a whole lot about mental patients, actually. I’m sure that there are plenty of them out there that look just like regular people, and function just fine as long as they get their medication. But that’s not the kind of mental patient that would be hanging around with Jimmy Flicks.
These people just looked…well, as much as I hate admitting that Arnie ever gets anything right, he hit the nail right on the head. They were indeed a creepy-looking bunch. Slack-jawed and dazed, with a touch of arrogance thrown in, just for good measure. They looked like stinkin’ punks, just like Jimmy, only on serious meds, that’s what they looked like. And they looked like they were coming to attack us.
“Go ahead and call the cops,” I told Arnie. “The Portmobile has survived Supa-Gangsta and his gun-toting thugs, so I’m pretty sure that we’ll be fine until the cops get here. But, still, I don’t want those people touching our ride, you know?” False bravado-style.
“Yeah.” Arnie was messing around with his cell phone, and I could see that he was a little nervous. I was freaking out.
I don’t know man—I knew that we would be safe, but there’s something just really creepy about a mob of people slowly closing in on you, and they’ve all got that stoned-crazy look of violence in their eyes and drool, and they’re wearing their pajamas. Lunatics are scary, man.
Arnie was sitting over there with the phone to his ear, but it seemed to be taking forever to ring. “Maybe you could use the net,” he said to me.
I hit the button that fired the giant net from the front of the Portmobile, but nothing shot out. Instead, an error message popped up on the computer monitor. “I don’t understand what this means,” I said. “What’s the car trying to tell us, Arnie?”
“It’s trying to tell us that if we shot the net right now, it would hit Jimmy, and there’s an off-chance that it could kill him.”
“So what’s the big holdup?” I hit the button a few more times, but nothing happened, except for the error message popping up again and again, like some cruel taunt.
“It won’t let us do anything that could get somebody killed.”
I thought about arguing this point—it seemed like every time the stupid auto-brake engaged it just about got me killed—but the mental zombies were almost on us now.
“Okay, man. Clutch time. How long before the cops get here?”
“I don’t know—they still haven’t picked up.”
I grabbed the phone from him and put it to my ear. There was no sound. I looked at the phone and saw that although Arnie had typed in the phone number, he hadn’t hit the “dial” key.
“No cops, Arnie, you didn’t hit the key.”
“Oh, man, I’m always doing that.” He kind of chuckled and pulled a bottle of wine from somewhere over on his door panel. “I do that, and I forget to hit the disconnect button, you know? So I don’t get the phone hung up, and whoever’s there, every time they pick up their phone to dial, they just hear my cell. Did I ever tell you about that one time that I called my mom? We talked for a while, blah blah, and then she had to go to the store, and I had some work to do. I was supposed to get some new footage for the site, but the guy who was supposed to be doing the sex scene, he got sick. So I just decided to do it—the chick, Becky Miller was her name, used to live beside me when we were little, so we went way back. We had a couple of drinks, talked about old times, and then got to work. So there I am, going at it like crazy with this girl, and my mom’s sitting there on the other end of the phone. Mom just needed to call her friend Marge to get the lottery numbers, but every time she picks up her phone, alls she can hear is me and Becky getting’ busy. But she didn’t have any idea who it was, she thought it was some sort of horrible prank call. And the only thing she could think to do was call the police, but when she picked up the phone to call the cops, there me and Becky were, all moaning and there’s skin smacking on skin, all that dirty stuff, you know?
“This goes on for like an hour and a half. And then it’s time to end the scene, you know how it goes. So she’s yelling my name, I’m yelling her name, and my mom figures out that this is her son and Becky Miller screwing like there’s no tomorrow. She just starts screaming into the phone as loud as she can about how we better knock it off, what would her mother think, I was raised better than that. All kinds of stuff. Totally killed the mood. The phone was in my jacket pocket, but you could hear her plain as day. You need a cell phone, get one of these babies, man, because you can hear a pin drop. So my mom’s screaming and going insane, Becky’s ‘O’ just stops mid-thrust, and I end up with yet another mental issue. I climbed down and hung up my phone, but the entire sequence was ruined. Becky was horrified and all embarrassed and made me promise to delete the entire thing, my mom was all pissed off. Oh, man, was it a mess.”
“Yeah, great story.” In fact, I had heard the story about two hundred times. I didn’t always hear it the same way, of course. Sometimes I heard it because Arnie had forgot to hit the “Dial” button and it reminded him of the story. Sometimes I heard it because he forgot to hit the disconnect button, and THAT reminded him of the story. Sometimes I heard it because he was trying to figure out what permanent psychological injures might have been incurred because he had hear his mother shouting at him just as he ejaculated. Freakin’ Arnie.
I generally don’t like to let him talk for more than ten seconds because it either gives me a headache or makes me feel dirty in a way that a hundred showers won’t fix. The only reason I had allowed him to reminisce without interruption this time was because I needed him sidetracked.
Arnie takes this hero crap entirely too seriously. Like if you’re about to be surrounded by bad guys and the cops aren’t even aware of the situation, Arnie thinks you need to get out and subdue them. I, on the other hand, am much smarter than Arnie, and I know that if you’re about to be surrounded by bad guys, you get the hell out of there. I didn’t want him pulling any of that override crap that he’s always doing, where he can make the Portmobile do what HE says instead of what I‘M trying to make it do, so I had just acted like I was listening to his story. And then, when he really got into it (around the time where she’s yelling his name and he’s yelling her name) I threw the Portmobile into reverse and took off. You can drive backwards as fast as you want, because if you’re about to hit anything, the auto-brake engages. So I had been just randomly turning the steering wheel, heedless of my direction, while Arnie rambled away.
By the time he realized we were driving, we were already about fifteen blocks away from the crazy people. “Hey, what are you doing?”
“We’re driving backwards, man. Take your foot off the gas pedal. You must have become too enthralled with my story and accidentally floored it.”
“Yeah, yeah. That must have been what happened.” I’m not really sure if Arnie is as stupid as he seems or if he just lives in a constant state of denial. Probably a little bit of both, actually.
“But that doesn’t explain how the Portmobile got put in reverse.” He looked at me all suspiciously.
“I think I was just going to back up a little while we called the cops.”
“Well let’s get back to the scene, man! We have to subdue those mental patients until the police arrive to take them away.”
See what I mean about Arnie taking this hero-thing entirely too far over the line? “Maybe we should call the police right now, and let them handle it.”
“No, we better get back there, first.”
I had anticipated this, and hoped that I had stalled long enough for Jimmy to wake up and take his band of loonies somewhere else. We drove back to the scene in silence, mostly because I wouldn’t let Arnie turn on our theme song. By the time we got back, they were all gone. Arnie was pissed off, and I acted like I was upset, too, but really I was thinking about how my shift was almost over for the night.
We started heading back to the house around eleven, and made it back to the house at about five ‘till twelve. I ended up circling the block a few times, and then calling it quits for the day.
I didn’t waste any time wondering about what Jimmy Flicks was (literally) doing back on the streets, I just fell onto my futon and tumbled into slumber.