I woke up, feeling like something had woken me up. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was only twelve-ten in the afternoon, and I knew that something had woken me up. I’m not what you would call an early bird. Or even a late bird, for that matter. If I’m any kind of bird at all, I guess it would have to be one that loves sleep and hates to be awake, a bird who doesn’t want to deal with the fact that life sucks and it’s never going to get any better. I’m a realist bird, and you know what they say: the realist bird knows that the worm’s going to taste like shit anyways, so there’s no good reason to wake up and get it.
I shut my eyes, hoping to catch the last part of the dream I was having, where I was skinny and attractive and there were all kinds of really hot women dancing around me and doing the most sinful things they could imagine to win my favor.
“I saw you open your eyes, man, so don’t even play like you’re still asleep,” Arnie said.
“You aren’t supposed to be down here unless I give you permission,” I told him.
“I couldn’t ask your permission, dude—you were asleep.”
“And that’s the way I like it. But since you’re down here, permission denied—get the hell out of here.”
“Mandy’s on the phone. She wants to talk to you.”
“Tell her to piss off, too. She knows I don’t like to wake up before noon.”
“It’s ten after.”
“She knows I don’t like to wake up before fifteen after noon. Or sixty or eighty after noon. Yeah, that’s it—tell her to call back in about three or four hours.”
“He says to call back in three or four hours,” Arnie said. I assumed he was talking into the phone, but you can never be too sure about that guy. “She says she just hopes you appreciate your payback.”
I sat up. “What’s she talking about payback? Is she talking about Jimmy? Did she get Jimmy sprung?”
“I don’t know what she’s talking about, man. I’m just telling you what she said.”
“Give me that phone.” He tried to hand it to me, but the pass-off didn’t work very well—I was too tired and Arnie was too drunk. I picked the phone up off the floor and held it to my head. “Did you sick Jimmy Flicks on me?”
“I said, did you sick Jimmy on me. Is that your payback, letting a freakin’ lunatic back out onto the street?”
“Jimmy Flicks is out?”
“Don’t act surprised.”
“Shit, what? Why are you saying shit?”
“Because I thought I had the perfect revenge. But life has outshone me, proving to me once again that it hates you more than I ever could.”
“What was your payback?” I asked, not really believing that it wasn’t her who had gotten Jimmy out of the loony bin.
“You know the phone book?”
“The ones they pass out to everyone living in the city?”
“Sometimes they pass out two or three copies to each household, and lots of them to businesses?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know the phone book. What’s your point?”
“They’re printing the new ones as we speak. And, um, you’re on the cover.”
“Yeah, it’s a picture of you standing in front of the skyline, kind of. It’s not a bad picture, really.”
“I’m dressed as Portly Boy, I gather?”
“Then it’s a bad picture.” I was pretty pissed, but probably not as much as she had hoped. My picture has already been plastered across the front of every paper in the city, and I had actually seen my fat ass staring back at me from a couple of the big tabloid magazines, as well. I didn’t like it, but it was there, and what are you gonna do, you know?
One thing about growing up fat and lazy is that you realize pretty quick that there are a lot of things you could probably change if you wanted to, but it won’t be worth the effort, anyways. So you learn to accept a lot of crap because it’s just easier. So even though having my picture on the front of every phone book in the city was probably going to be a major bite in the ass, it was easier than trying to remedy the problem.
“So what’s this about Jimmy being back out on the streets?”
“You know, the true irony is that you changed my countdown clock so that I would have to keep doing this Portly Boy crap, you did that so that you would have something entertaining to watch—and now you aren’t even watching.”
“I was going to watch last night, but I spent all night hacking so that I could get your picture on the phone book.”
“You’re a real creep, you know that?”
“Takes one to know one. So what’s this about Jimmy being back out onto the streets?”
“Beats me, man. We ran into him last night—him and a bunch of crazies were standing around in the middle of the street in front of us when we turned a corner.”
“How did they know where you would be?”
“I’m not his strategist, you jerk. And I didn’t think too much about it, if you want to know the truth. I was just wondering why he wasn’t safely locked away in some mental institution or another.”
“That’s a good question. Did you ask him?”
“Not really. I said something about it being a fluke, and he totally agreed. After that, he went into some rant about something. I think he was trying to say that it was really the rest of us that were insane. I don’t know.”
“So how did he get released?”
“Are you sure it wasn’t you?”
“Yeah. Although, if I had thought about it…”
“Yeah, if you want us to continue this uneasy truce we’ve got going on, you might want to stop before you finish that thought.”
“Probably a good idea. So what are you going to do about him?”
“I guess I need to find out if he escaped or if he really was released. That’s the first thing. I’m pretty sure that if he escaped, I could find some legal way to kill him.”
“Doesn’t that violate the rules of Portly Boy?”
“Maybe I could do it as a civilian. I mean, he’s an escaped lunatic—isn’t there some law that says you can shoot those guys?”
“Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll check into it. I’ll see if I can get some information about his release, too.”
“That would be cool. See if you can figure out who’s responsible, and maybe I could shoot them, too.”
“Do you even know how to shoot a gun?”
“I play HALO a lot. Does that count?”
“Oh. Then, no.”
“Probably a good thing. And, listen: tell Arnie to let me back into the system. I’ll help you guys out, but there is no way that I’m paying good money to watch the two of you run around like idiots.”
“Are you going to screw me over again?”
“I might. But never the same way twice.”
“Yeah, so I’ve heard.”
“Shut up,” she said, and hung up.
I rolled off the couch and went to make a few Hot Pockets. They actually make them in breakfast flavors, if you’re interested—ham and eggs, sausage, egg and cheese, bacon and something. Frankly, I’ve always felt that if you don’t want pepperoni, cheese, and tomato sauce for breakfast, you shouldn’t be eating Hot Pockets in the first place. Leave it to the professionals. There was still some coffee left in the coffee pot, and I tried to remember when it was that I had brewed it. I couldn’t remember off hand, but figured it couldn’t have been more than a couple of days ago. I poured the remaining sludge into a cup and put it into the microwave along with the Hot Pockets.
Arnie came tumbling down the stairs as I sat down on my futon with my plate of food and my cup of whatever. It wasn’t really coffee anymore, but rather a strange, bitter substance that didn’t want to be swallowed. I swallowed it anyways, and pretended like it was coffee.
“Are you drinking motor oil?” Arnie asked me.
“Maybe. I’m not sure. It was in the coffee pot.”
“The last time we made coffee in that pot, wasn’t it like two months ago?”
“Maybe, I don’t know. Why don’t you make some fresh?”
“Because I’m scared to go near that coffee pot. Go upstairs and get some.”
“Too many steps.” I took another drink and figured that two months sounded about right.
“So are you and Mandy friends again?”
“I guess. She put my picture on the front of the phone book.”
“That’s awesome!” Arnie doesn’t seem to understand the difference between awesome and awful. If I thought for even a second that it was the booze that made him as stupid as he is, I would probably start some sort of anti-alcohol campaign, going across the country and preaching the evils of the devil’s brew. Fortunately for all us drinkers, he was stupid way before he found out about liquor.
“It’s not awesome, you moron. What it is, is a book full of phone numbers that pretty much guarantees that I’ll never get laid again.”
“I think you’re wrong, my friend. That’s free ad-space, man. I wish she would have stuck our web address on there. We’d be raking in the dough. And trust me, Howie—it doesn’t matter how portly you are, or what kind of goofy outfit you’re wearing—if you have money, you’ll get laid again. A LOT.”
He had a point, there, but I wouldn’t admit it to him. Not admitting that Arnie’s right is one of my main hobbies.
“Anyways,” I said, “She’s going to check into the whole Jimmy-getting-out thing for us, but she needs you to give her access to our stuff again.”
“Hah! She couldn’t get in! I’m a freakin’ genius!” He raised his shot glass up, like he was expecting some sort of a toast.
I finished the rest of my caffeine sludge without toasting. “No you aren’t.”
He shrugged and threw back his shot. “So what are we going to do while Mandy searches?”
“I don’t know about you, but I’m going to play video games.” I turned on the TV, started up the ole PS2, and waited for my game to start.
“That’s your best plan yet, old chum,” he said, and grabbed the second controller.
“Don’t call me that.”
There are certain things that people just shouldn’t have to worry about, you know? Some people would agree with that sentiment and then bust out about how we’re the richest country in the world and we still have homeless people. Some people say we shouldn’t have to worry about nuclear war. Some people say that we shouldn’t have to worry about our terrible illiteracy statistics, or the fact that our nation’s youth doesn’t seem to be getting any smarter any faster, while the rest of the world seems to be bypassing us.
To those people, I would say that you’re a bunch of jackasses. Of course we should have to worry about that stuff. The world sucks, and there’s all kinds of bad shit going on. And when the entire planet can be destroyed by pushing a few buttons, or by pushing in a few codes, there is a serious need to worry. I worked in retail long enough to know that anyone in power doesn’t deserve to be. So the guys with access to those buttons or those codes, they’re the guys that you never want near a button—whether you’re talking about turning on an electric oven or destroying the world. So, yeah, we need to worry about that stuff.
What I’m talking about is a bit more practical. You should never have to worry about how to get chili stains out of your underwear, you should never have to worry about getting toothpaste in your eye, and you should never have to worry about cracking an egg for breakfast and finding a baby chick inside. These are things that humanity should have conquered by now.
Also, you should never have to worry about how to tuck your testicles into a fluorescent yellow bodysuit. An entire year of doing this Portly Boy gig, and I still can’t figure out what to do with my nuts when I pull on this outfit that seems to be made entirely out of elastic. The thing is, the seam of my suit runs right up the middle of the crotch area, and that’s where it pulls extra tight. So you have your goods either hanging on the left side of the seam, or the right. I’ve even tried a compromise—situating the boys so that the right one is on the right side of the seam and the left one is on the left side of the seam. Nothing works.
It’s my cross to bear, I guess, but it still really sucks.
“You should get a codpiece,” Arnie said. “They only cost like, three bucks at Target.”
“I don’t know, man—this suit is pretty tight. Do you think a codpiece would fit in here?”
“I don’t know, man. I try not to look at your crotch unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“And when would that be?”
“When would what be?”
“When would it be absolutely necessary?”
He looked thoughtfully at the snifter of brandy in his hand. “You know, I’m just not sure. Apparently it hasn’t come up yet,” He said, and drank the contents of the snifter.
“Maybe I should get one of those tonight. How do you figure out the right size?”
“I don’t know, man. I’ve never been into sports.”
“You have a codpiece in your suit. How did you get sized?”
“I had mine custom-made by, uh, a friend.”
“You had some chick you were banging make the codpiece of your suit?”
“It was HER idea! I was just going to pick one up at Target, but she insisted.”
“Just stop. I don’t want to hear anymore. I’ll just buy whatever they have, try them on later, and be done with it.”
“Good call. They’re in the sporting goods section.”
“Nice.” I finished tucking things where they felt most comfortable—which really wasn’t very comfortable at all—and climbed into the Portmobile.
“Where’s the closest Target?” I asked Arnie as the hydraulic lift raised the Portmobile up into the garage.
“I always go to the one over on Grand Street. I don’t know if it’s the closest one, but it’s for sure my favorite.”
“They have the escalators, and you put your shopping cart next to you on this track with little pegs sticking up to hold it, so as you rise up to the top, your cart is right there beside you the whole time. Very futuristic.”
“To Grand it is,” I said, just as our theme music started blasting.