IN A COLD NIGHT in Buffalo last week, I stormed out of the house, marched down the street and banged on the doors of First Presbyterian. In a flash everything was feathery – all clouds and angels.
Floating in the air was a secretary in a pillbox hat chewing on a pencil eraser. I rushed past her.
“Hey, wait,” she said, standing up. “You can’t go in there. You don’t have an appoint–”
“Bullshit,” I said. “I’ve been calling for an appointment every day for the last three months. No dice. Always the same goddamned thing.”
I threw the doors open. The Man was in there, doing nothing as always, examining one of his fingernails like Sherlock Holmes. When a guy really has nothing to do, he’ll stare at a fingernail, like he’s going to find something there that surprises him.
“Oh, hell,” he said. “What now? You still think it’s my fault you can’t dance?”
“No,” I snorted. “You know what I’m here for.”
He took his feet down from the desk and swiveled around to face me. “We’re not going through this again,” he said. “You can’t have Dave Barry’s job.”
“But why?” I moaned. “The guy isn’t in the same time zone as funny anymore.”
“He was never funny. It’s not about being funny. It’s about being Dave Barry. And he’s still pretty goddamned good at that.”
I sighed. “Yeah, I know. It’s just – I can’t do the politics thing anymore. I just don’t have it in me to care. I – I... just...”
I broke down and wept. The Man leaned over and put his hands on my shoulder. “There, there. What is it, my son?”
I looked up. “I want to get paid boatloads of money to write about the vagaries of the suburban experience!”
He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “Well, I can see that, I can. But, do you think you could do it?”
“Can I do it? Are you kidding?” From my back pocket I pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. “Look at this: ‘Ten observations about my refrigerator. I mean, what is freon, anyway? Is there an unfreon? Is that what makes my stove hot?’” I stuffed the paper back in my pocket. “Then I have this thing about fridge magnets. I have one that’s shaped like Cape Verde. I make sure my Atlantic Salmon is right behind it... I can do this shit! I just need a chance!”
He sighed and tapped a finger on his desk. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay. Fine.” He leaned forward and buried his head in his hands. “You realize,” he mumbled, “this would be a Dorian Gray sort of thing. All wealth and vigor and adulation on the outside; soul rotting and stinky on the inside. Every day, you get into that new Chevy Tahoe, the first thing you’re thinking about is how to blow your fucking head off. Think you can handle it?”
I threw up my hands. “Can I handle it? Are you kidding? I’m an American! That dream is in my DNA.”
“You’ll spend a lot of time with Carl Hiaasen. Photo ops with Ricky Williams, sunny smiles through gritted teeth – that whole thing.”
I rubbed my hands together. “Bring it on, baby, bring it on!”
He frowned and fiddled with something in his desk drawer. “Well, maybe, maybe.”
He stuck a British pound note in his nose and leaned over. Then he picked up a mirror and handed it to me.
“You want to line up?”
On the mirror were six fat rails.
“Oh, man,” I said. “That stuff makes me panicky. I start calling people late at night.”
“Not this stuff,” he said.
I shrugged. “All right,” I said. I leaned over and honked one up. He held out his hands.
“Huh?” he said. “Huh?”
“Jesus,” I said. “That’s good shit.”
A second of silence passed. Exactly one second.
“How about those Lakers?”
“Fucking Shaq is unbelievable,” I said. “A monster. They can’t stop him.”
“And nine of 11 from the line in that last game,” he said. “I thought that was a nice touch.”
“That was you?” I asked, licking my gums.
“Yeah,” he said. “The line moved toward Minnesota late. So I was like, Have some of this!”
“Sweet,” I said, laughing. There was another brief silence. Suddenly I stopped feeling good and started feeling scared. My knee started bouncing up and down. “So, are you serious about that Dave Barry thing? When do I start?”
“Yeah, I’m serious,” he said. “You can start anytime. Good fucking luck.” And then he started laughing.
“What?” I asked, wiping my nose. “What? What’s so funny?”
He leaned over and hit the intercom on his desk. “Marcie,” he said.
“Yes, sir?” the box answered.
“Bring in Dave Barry’s soul, will you? It’s in the back, in the cooler...”
“Yes, sir,” the voice said.
He turned to me and smiled. He snapped his fingers and was suddenly holding a copy of the Miami Herald. A wave of paranoia shot over me. I started breathing heavily. The vibe had suddenly turned unfriendly.
He started reading.
“‘Every now and then,’” he began, “‘on this crazy planet we call “Earth,” you come across a story so heartwarming that you need to take a prescription antacid...’ Oh, Marcie, good, come on in.”
Marcie entered, still wearing her pillbox hat. She was wearing green rubber gloves and carrying something that looked like a lunch tray. And on it...
“You see that?” the Man said. “You like it?”
“Jesus,” I whispered. “Why is it steaming like that?”
“We don’t know,” he said. “It just started doing that by itself.”
“Good God,” I said. “Are those... Are those maggots?”
He kept reading. Marcie handed him the tray. Then, without missing a beat, he tossed the maggot-covered thing on my lap. It writhed and began crawling up my shirt. It had legs, like a horseshoe crab.
I screamed. “Get this thing off me!”
“‘Speaking of Barbie,’” he read on, “‘I assume you have heard she is no longer with Ken. I’m serious. Mattel made an official announcement about this, which was all over the news...’”
The blob sprouted a face with too many eyes, like a spider’s face, and it raced up my shirt. A black tongue flicked in the direction of my neck.
“‘Barbie,’” he went on, “‘apparently has taken up with a new doll named “Blaine,” an Australian surfer with one of those asymmetrical surfer-dude haircuts...’”
He looked up. “You like the way he throws that in? I mean, what other kind of haircut would a surfer have, right?”
“Get it off! Get it off!”
“’...one of those asymmetrical surfer-dude haircuts, so he looks as if the various surfaces of his head were cut by various barbers with seriously incompatible views on how long hair should be.’”
He put down the paper. “You see what he’s getting at? Do you? The doll has a funny haircut!”
I was crying.
“You’re a fucking amateur,” the Man said. “Do you really want this job? Do you? Then kiss it. Kiss it like it was a beautiful woman.”
I looked down at the black-tongued, maggot-covered mass. It stared up at me and hissed. A pustule exploded on its back; it bled purple.
And, dear reader, I kissed it. I kissed its hideous face. As I wiped the goo from my lips, the Man applauded.
“Welcome to the big time,” he said. “You’ll hear from my people in the morning.”
NY Press, Volume 17, Issue 21, 25 May 2004