|GATOR SPRINGS GAZETTE|
a literary journal of the fictional persuasion
|ARE WE THERE YET?(page fourteen)|
VOICES FROM BEYOND AND
A. Ray Norsworthy
That brute Siegfried awakens me. Wielding his magic sword, he shatters Wotan’s spear and then dances through the fire that surrounds the rock where Brünnhilde sleeps. He cuts open her breastplate and removes her helmet. Entranced by her beauty, he kisses her. Brünnhilde awakens, and despite herself, falls in love with Siegfried. A duet begins.
Eyes fluttering in slow motion, I lie in bed and listen to the radio as if I were sailing a longship on the Rhine, bound for Valhalla with the Rhinemaidens’ gold. But the transcendence is short-lived, interrupted by the reverberating propeller-beat of Valkyrian helicopters flying overhead. Probably paparazzi on the way to Michael Jackson's, I surmise. By the time the helicopters have faded, a commercial comes on KSPL (“Casting its spell on Southern California”), Tommy Lasorda touting Slimfast. Without raising my head, I plop my hand down on the radio alarm's off button.
Seeing that I have returned from the land of the dead, purring, nestled Parsifal rises with a squeak (his only mode of communication—he’s never meowed), stretches, and heads for the kitchen to await breakfast. I yawn again, as the aroma of brewing coffee from my automatic-timer coffeemaker fills my widening nostrils. Lifting my head, I gaze into the bureau mirror across the room. “Get up, you lazy little snotrag,” I say, mimicking my dear old mom. Above the muffled honks and revving engines drifting in from the neighboring streets, I can hear gulls shrieking without enthusiasm, and close by, a lawnmower's sputtering crescendo and diminuendo. The air is bereft of the inspiration I seek. What I need is a funeral march, and brave Brünnhilde riding her horse onto my self-made pyre. But like every other morning, I would have to settle for recorded voices of the otherworldly.
Even after all these years there is still enough anticipation of hearing the psychic transmission to conquer my dread—but just barely. I sit up on the edge of the bed and with my left hand vacantly scratch where the cat's tail had been swishing my cheek while my right hand reaches for the voice-activated micro-cassette recorder that I keep on my night table. I rewind the tape and then hit the play button. I hear myself clearing my throat, and then my voice, slurred and adenoidal, but unhesitant: "Oh God, what's wrong with my tongue? I sound like Gabby Hayes. Maybe I should tell Roy I'll go fetch the horses."
Who can that be? I say to myself. Sounds like he stepped out of an old TV western. Following that is a minute of silence and then what sounds like the answer to a question: "Eatin' rattlesnakes and drinkin' M.D. 20-20." A minute later, snoring.
Making a face, I say, "Thanks a lot. Just what I needed. Words to live by from a desert-dwelling wino.” It isn't the first time my psychic transmissions have been disrupted. If I’ve had a bad day or if I’m under a lot of stress—in other words, most of the time—the ventriloquisms may be nothing but nonsense babble, Dr. Seuss playing the dozens with William Burroughs.
For the moment I force that to the back of my mind and concentrate on the day’s agenda. First, like every other day, sex with a woman of the same species. Might as well go ahead and cross that one off the list. Second, it’s Saturday and I’m supposed to go in to the offices of the Oceanside Daily to finish up a story about Johnny "the Shrimp" Sakamoto, the four foot six inch Japanese-American jockey who has been a sensation at Santa Anita. "The Shrimp" was one of my all-time worst interviews. The only place at the racetrack I could get him to sit still long enough to talk was the sauna. I was wearing my favorite blue-striped seersucker suit, and within minutes I was so soaked with sweat I could have filled a gallon bucket by wringing out my Jerry Garcia tie. For my exceedingly generous perspiration, I received very little that I could quote in a family newspaper. Johnny should have been a rapper, with all the “cocksuckas” and “muddafuckas” he scattered throughout his conversation. The only thing he mentioned of interest that I could quote was that his heroes were Yukio Mishima and David Bowie. When I mentioned that they were both of questionable sexual orientation, he scowled and said in his best gangsta, "Yo, I can fuck da phat bee-yatches all night long! Like Britney Spears—she one fly snapcrakpoppa. Tha’ girl be some fly chicken licken'! When I told him that Britney likes her men long and lean, he laughed menacingly and said, "I long and lean where it counts. Check it out!" Since he opened his towel, I couldn’t help but check it out. He was long and lean, all right. In fact, he could have used it to stab litter
Jeb, my editor, will be pissed when he sees what I’ve got. There’s been a lot of tension between us lately, anyway. My disgust with him has become so obvious that even he recognizes it. It isn’t just because he plays golf with O.J. Simpson when he comes to town. That’s bad enough. But the sonofabitch has, despite my heated protests, hired a laugh-a-minute ex-country club golf pro for the L.A. Lakers beat that I had been coveting for years. The guy is a barely functional illiterate but that is of little consequence to Jeb, who values a golfing buddy over journalistic quality. For the last two weeks, I’ve made it a daily ritual to attempt to summon up the nerve to threaten to quit. Today, I decide, is the day of reckoning. Of course, that’s what I decided the other days, too.
While I drink my coffee and eat a bowl of Crispy Critters, I stand at the sliding glass door that looks out over the pool area of the complex. Outside it’s a typical Southern California day, sunny and hazy, full of sunny, hazy people: a perfect David Salle painting.
Me, the artful observer. What my gaze is actually riveted on is the gorgeous thoroughbred Charlotte, a girl I barely know and yet know only too well. As usual, she’s laid out by the pool in one of her Mies van der Rohe bikinis, her skin already aglow from being slathered down with tropical-smelling balm. She lies on her taut stomach, propped up on her elbows to read a brightly colored tabloid. Her thoroughbred’s legs are bent back until her heels almost touch those impudent bronze buns. Only a tiny white string separates the twin globes that jiggle like a goosepimpled flesh soufflé when she shifts her weight. She’s accustomed to being looked at; every breezy toss of her genetically spun golden mane confirms it. Charlotte is a girl on the way up who knows what she wants and how to go down and get it. To her I’m just Sport, a horny, beer-bellied, balding sports reporter, and not of any discernible use to her. I would eat every blade of bluegrass in Kentucky for her breeding rights.
“Good time for a shower,” I announce in a voice full of Bogartian portent. I drag myself away and put the cat out in the breezeway for his morning constitutional. "Stay on the balcony, you troublemaker," I tell Parsifal, in my most authoritative voice, which is akin to telling a cop not to beat up a black guy. Not wanting to ruin the mood, I take pains not to glance in the mirror before stepping into the shower. With the water pulsing against my Adam's apple I break into Nessun Dorma. It may sound more like one of Pavlov’s dogs than Pavarotti, but it fills me with a sense of mission... impossible.
While I’m shaving, I hear a piercing scream that spooks me so bad I cut a gap in my mustache. Wrapping a towel around me as best I can, I tiptoe to the balcony’s sliding glass door and pull the cord on the drapes. The bright sun blinds me as I step out onto the balcony. Covering my eyes, I can see Charlotte below by the pool hurling a Styrofoam coffee cup full of coffee at an unseen target. I lean over the rail and volunteer my assistance. Charlotte looks up at me with the meanest sun-glassed stare I've ever seen. Meaner than O.J. Simpson’s. I hope she doesn’t own a knife.
"Your goddamned cat swiped at my pendant and clawed my boob!" she screams. A beautiful aquamarine pendant always dangles like a blue eye in her cleavage.
“Parsifal!" I yell boldly, belatedly, at my mischievous cat. "Bad kitty! Get up here right now! Kitty, kitty!" Of course, Parsifal has taken a powder. I am mortified by Charlotte’s rage, and yet, titillated by her wound. "Sorry, Charlotte. Is your...um, boob all right?" I must admit that I enjoy asking the question.
Once again that dark glass-orbed stare. "Sure, Sport. You wanna come kiss it and make it better, huh, do ya?” She sounds as sweet as Shirley Temple. “As if!” she shrieks, morphing from valley girl to the creature in Alien.
“You poor clueless jerkoff!" She moves off in a derriere-jiggling huff, heading for apartment 38D, an ironic assignation if ever there was one. Suddenly she stops as if she’s forgotten something, and turns back around. Before she speaks, she lowers her sunglasses and looks up at me with an appraising squint that is part poon but mostly tang. “By the way, Sport,” she says, sniffing, “It’s not the clueless jerkoff part I mind so much.”
All I can do is nod, since there is a lump in my throat and one under my towel. As she exits stage left I feel pangs of both relief and regret. In the reflection of the sliding glass door I see my face, half of it still covered by dried shaving lather. No doubt about it. From a certain angle, and in a particular light, I have the look of a man who hates angles and light.
“Doesn’t mind clueless jerkoffs, huh?" I whisper. “Well, if I spank out some Benjamins she oughta be crazy about me!” This saucy babe might be too high-spirited to take home to Mom, but I would love to give her her head. Or just give her head.
At one o'clock in the offices of the Oceanside Daily, I stride lion-heartedly up to Jeb's editorial desk and without beating around the veldt, tell him to stuff the story on the Lilliputian equine samurai, and it’s time I had a raise, anyway. Sneering, he says: "You wanna raise, buy some elevator shoes, Sport. As for the little Japper, I was just givin' you someone to play with. They say he likes to flash his bamboo shoot.”
Play with this," I say, making a familiar lewd gesture almost before the words are out of his mouth. "I'm having dinner tonight with a big time Hollywood producer who thinks my experience and expertise will be invaluable in the movie business. I, uh, can't mention his name, he likes everything discreet, but I can say he works for a company whose logo is a mouse with big ears." I loosen my tie with a swift tug as if casting off a hangman’s noose and swallow back the acid reflux creeping up my esophagus.
"What are you gonna do, Sport? Be a mousketeer?" He enjoys his wisecrack so much he repeats it a dozen times to passersby before I have time to clean off my desk, say my goodbyes, and make my exit.
Driving home on the freeway, Jeb’s words still burning in my ear, I put everything into perspective. For seven years I’ve endured his taunts, boasts, and prevarications, and for seven years as a sports reporter I’ve used everything but Chinese water torture in my attempts to elicit halfway interesting quotes from arrogant, ignorant, socially insulated, self-centered athletes. There will be no more clichés for me. It’s time for me to put up or shut up, and fast, since I’m out of a job and without a glimmer of a prospect. Why did I make up such a daring Jeb-like prevarication to Jeb, who didn't believe me anyway? I certainly hadn’t planned it. It really was a Mickey Mouse pronouncement. The words seemed to fly out of my mouth as if yanked by a string. It wasn't like me. I wonder if the voices are threatening to overtake my waking consciousness as well.
Even though it’s Saturday, traffic on the freeway is almost at a standstill. There’s plenty of time for me to think. One of the things I’ve been considering lately is seeing a psychiatrist, to see if he or she could help me somehow introduce some order to the chaotic unpredictability of the voices. I’ve pinned so many hopes on my unique ability, and yet have so little to show for it. I give the rearview mirror a hard stare, pleading with myself.
You in there, people? I ask my reflection. Yes, I contain multitudes.
The strange psychic phenomena began when I was sixteen back home in Oklahoma, after I awakened from a coma two weeks after falling headfirst out of my parent's attic window. I had been leaning out as far as I could, entranced by the sight of the girl next door dancing naked with her reflection in her bedroom mirror, when I lost my one-handed grip on the windowsill (my other hand was busy gripping something else). My ass landed on my dog, Benny, breaking all four of his legs (he recovered, but had to lay around wearing casts for awhile), but my head hit the corner of his doghouse, which my father had constructed out of concrete blocks.
After I was sent home to begin my rehabilitation, I began to awaken in the middle of the night spouting someone else's words. Even my voice sounded different. Afterward, I would immediately fall back asleep, and in the morning I couldn't remember anything about the strange phenomenon. The only way I was certain these episodes really happened was that my older brother eyewitnessed them. He thought I needed to undergo exorcism. When it bothered me enough to tell the doctors, they assured me it was nothing to worry about, my brain was fully functioning, but they couldn't do anything about my sanity, or lack of. Hee haw.
After I left home to attend college at OU, I bought a cassette recorder to use in class, and one night after cramming for a semester English exam, I awakened with enough presence of mind to hit the record button. In the morning when I awoke, there were two phlegm-choked utterances waiting for me. "Irony had few wrinkles that Mother could not iron out," the first one went, then there was a pause and I finished up with what sounded like, "Your Bomb, it is on my news. Hurt brand new, you god."
Needless to say, I didn't shout those words from the rooftop. It sounded like the pretentious yawp of some freshman lit major trying to outhowl Allen Ginsberg. What a letdown.
But to my great shock, on my exam that day, we were required to write a paragraph to be read aloud in class about our mothers using the word irony. My heart fluttered. The first line had been handed to me on a blue plate special. The rest followed like pie and antacids:
Irony had few wrinkles that Mother could not iron out. If Milton aspired to justify God's ways to man, then my mother's aim was loftier; to justify to herself the life she chose. Her justifications for leaving her upper class family in Chicago to follow a love-struck sailor to the plains of Oklahoma were as many and varied as the verses of Paradise Lost. They seemed to come to her most often when she was lost in thought standing at the ironing board in the living room, appearing in loud exclamations like a sudden burst of steam from her iron, while around her we oblivious children watched TV, and our father, the sailor, now aimless and morose, snored loudly in his naugahyde recliner, a can of beer clutched delicately in his calloused, grease-stained hand.
I received an A, as well as admiring praise from the stern and straight-laced English professor.
Hail to the voices! I thought to myself. Hail to my psychic friends!
Later that same day, still feeling buoyant from my mystical tutorage, I attended my fraternity initiation. Although I felt confident I had been chosen for some unknown purpose by occupants of the great beyond, what remained to be seen was whether I would be chosen by the Gamma Eps. I felt supremely confident that the voices would see to my success.
At the frat house, water pistols filled with cheap grain alcohol were passed out to all of us earnest pledges. After being told to strip naked, we had to squeeze into high heels, oversized bras and undersized jockstraps, then were forced to parade around the area called Campus Corner screaming Lionel Ritchie songs, "Three Times A Lady" being the sadist's particular favorite. For the master plan, we were split up, and told to engage every person we met on the streets, which were crowded since it was a Friday night. Somehow, we were to persuade them to open their mouths, and then shoot the tonsil-dissolving hooch down their throats before they knew what hit them. We would be followed and watched closely by our fraternal big brothers. If the person we met didn't go for it, we had to shoot the water pistol's contents into our own mouths.
Confidence waning, I struck off up Buchanan Street. I was not by nature a terribly persuasive person. My first job in college, the guy who trained me to sell Kirby Vacuum cleaners, told me I couldn’t sell Sharon Stone’s bunghole to a proctologist. Still, hadn't my voices come through for me that morning?
After several unsuccessful tries, complete with pleading, cajoling, bribes—and in the case of one snotty-acting deb, the threat of implanting the three inch heel of my shoe in her tightly-clenched anus—I was falling down drunk and the pistol was reloaded for at least the tenth time.
As luck would have it, the next person I ran into on my daring odyssey was the father of Tina Sikes, a girl I was allegedly dating. (She had the body of a young Jane Fonda, but unfortunately, the face of Tom Hayden.) Butch Sikes was a hulking Goliath, a marine vet whose silky soft lisp, fearsome manner, and shaved head reminded me of Brando (minus about five hundred pounds) playing Col. Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. He was also a bit of a dandy who had an affinity for pink shirts. As the militant Butch marched out of the movie theatre (Tora! Tora! Tora! was playing) lighting a victory cigar, I saw him fix his squint on me as I advanced toward him in a relentless stagger.
“‘I’m once, twice, three times a la-dee-ee,” I sang. I hoped with all my heart that Mister Sikes was a Lionel Ritchie fan.
At the sound of my slurred, off-key falsetto crooning, Sikes stiffened and spread his legs apart as if expecting a sudden gust of wind. An aura of bloodlust surrounded him. Moths swirled frantically around his head.
I waved the water pistol with a Semper Fi grin on my face, a madcap faux marine ready to surrender at once before I was initiated into Greek tragedy. My bra bounced loosely on my flabby chest. The jock strap felt like a slingshot with my two Davidesque stones in it. Sikes' deep-set eyes gleamed fiercely like miniature flares. To him I was the enemy he’d just shot down in his own disbelief-suspended mind, a kamikaze Zero on a collision course with his daughter's love boat.
Tina hadn't even noticed my approach; she had her daddy’s arm and was cooing excited daddy-talk in his ear. Preparing my speech of surrender, I tried unsuccessfully to summon the voices to my conscious mind. "Reinforcements," I mumbled, turning around to glare at Merle, my big brother Ep, who was following close behind. He made gung-ho motions of encouragement.
"Go get 'em Pledge! Eps forever. Fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. Move it, you fat maggot!"
“Wha' th’ hell," I said, emboldened by Merle's show of brotherly encouragement. Marshaling my inner forces for the assault, I straightened up and pushed back my shoulders, but I lost my balance and teetered backwards on the heels (pilfered from some poor unsuspecting sorority sister’s closet) as if I was walking uphill. This did not go unnoticed by Sikes, whose meticulousness and sense of decorum exceeded an obsessive-compulsive Nazi interior decorator’s. On my first date with his daughter, he’d forced me to stand at attention in the foyer while I waited. (She was in the bathroom, probably trying to cover her acne with a caulking gun full of Clearasil.) I asked myself for the hundredth time if this was worth being a Gamma Epsilon and for the hundred and first time the answer was still no, because I said no twice, louder the second time, if only in my head.
Ray's story continued on page 15
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