Venus & Mars

by Fielding Goodfellow

 

It wasn’t always easy to know if what the neighborhood crazies were doing was worth doing, particularly with them creeping around houses and peering into the windows of the so called communists who may or may not have moved into the neighborhood while we were all looking the other way.  During that psilocybin summer, as we crawled through the wreckage of The War Of The Worlds they were intent on getting inside our heads even though we were desperately trying to get out. It felt like we had been marooned in one of those really bad public service announcements, but Maverick Nash, who claimed to know more about anything than anybody else, was pretty sure that it was the Martians and not the communists that we should be concerned about. We had no idea if he was right, I mean every time we drifted through the outer limits they were all passed out by the pool. Nash had collected evidence from copies of The UFO Investigator, and a rest room stall at a downtown Burger King. We weren’t surprised, I mean he was always able to find some kind of conspiracy even if one didn’t exist, but I suppose that’s just the way conspiracy theorists are. We didn’t think that there were any communists living in the neighborhood, and even if there were it wouldn’t have mattered anyway, I mean they weren’t really much different than the fascists who had us practice hiding under our desks in the event the world was ending. It seemed that the universe was filled with apprehension and contempt, but it was really about the money. It didn’t matter what they said, it was always about the money.

The downtown Burger King served a chicken sandwich that Nash said was well worth the trip. He wasn’t wrong, I mean not one of us complained about the sandwich. “Look at their eyes.” he said. “There’s no way they’re from around here.” It was true, I mean their eyes were completely empty, but Farberman thought that they may very well have been communists. It was never easy to tell the difference, but Nash was certain that they were body snatchers. Farberman thought that it might have been possible that they were both, I mean there really was no reason why they couldn’t be, but Nash insisted that space invaders really didn’t give a shit about politics. We were pretty sure he was wrong, I mean Nash was always a bit of an arrogant ass, and generally couldn’t handle the hallucinations. The fact of the matter was quite simply that the body snatchers could have been communists if they were given half a chance, but the promise of power and control was enough to have them waving placards while they waited to be fitted for a stylish, brown shirt.

We had an unobstructed view of the rest room door hoping to see what Nash described as the who’s who of interplanetary transportation but instead we got The Wizard Of Fries and Sir Shake-A-Lot who were really only interested in finding Betty and Veronica. We had no idea where they were, and we were all pretty sure that they were lesbians, anyway. I suppose that the signs were always there, but I guess that we just didn’t want to believe it, I mean they were pretty  hot, and none of us would have objected to doing the fandango with either one of them. We sat there for hours, waiting to see what was going to step through the space-time continuum and enter our world undetected by anyone beyond our table. I suppose they just didn’t want to believe it, I mean it wasn’t really any different than Betty and Veronica. That’s just the way it is though, I mean we develop some really bizarre belief systems that are almost impossible to get rid of. Sitting at the downtown Burger King, I was certain that communism, fascism, socialism and any other ism floating around out there as the flavor of the month, are all the same. No matter how many windows you peer into the general premise is the same, I mean someone else is always in control. There are limited decisions we can make, and we’ve been lied to for so long that we’ve begun to believe that its best to view our existence with our eyes closed. Its just like Betty and Veronica, I mean it shouldn’t matter if they’re lesbians or not. The fact is, they’re not real anyway. Despite the lack of evidence though, I’m pretty sure that there are space invaders and body snatchers walking around among us, and I’d rather take my chances with them than with the fascist, religious fundamentalists who have been allowed to run the cruise that we have all purchased tickets for.

Several years ago I lost all interest in religion, and politics, I mean I didn’t give a shit who was coming here anymore and I wanted out. I would sit at the downtown Burger King with an unobstructed view of the rest room looking for a way to step through the space-time continuum and wind up on the other side of the crazy circus mirror that we call life. I almost have it figured out, I mean as soon as Farberman tweaks the numbers a little, I may just be able to get the hell out of my own head.

Tragic Janet & The Manic Muse

by Fielding Goodfellow

Janet Bolan always seemed to be one hallucination away from a padded room, but somewhere in the dark, melancholia that danced around her head like Fred and Ginger lived her muse. Or so she said.  At the time I had no idea what the hell she was talking about but it didn’t really matter, I mean I was pretty fucked up back then. She said that she was a poet, carving images of  human suffering out of the words and phrases she found hiding in her thoughts. She would sit cross legged on a table in the common room, dressed in cut off jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt, and seduce me with a reading, but all I was thinking about was how to get her clothes off. She had this way about her, a serene confidence that seemed to make her ‘I don’t give a shit’ attitude tolerable. And while she may have been a little out there, I’m not so sure that it was such a bad place to be, I mean there was a lot of crazy shit going on right here back then.

Woodstock had come and gone and the promise of a better world seemed to have dissipated like the cloud of smoke that was left over upstate New York that weekend.  It was a very confusing time, filled with anti communist rhetoric and the banning of books and music that questioned the establishment. After putting a man on the moon and tripping across the Isle of Wight, we were forced into hiding in campus coffee houses in order to continue our journey across space and time. Janet joined the Feminists for Freedom and published her politically charged ‘I Didn’t Burn My Bra Just To Show You My Tits’, which catapulted her into pseudo celebrity status. The truth is, we were so messed up back then feeding our heads with peyote and psilocybin, that we hardly even noticed when the mania set in. She said it wasn’t her, I mean she claimed it was her muse, but whatever it was, Janet said that she could see the truth like that.

The fact was that she just couldn’t be satisfied with just the truth. She was always looking for something better than that, and I don’t think that she was ever able to find it. It didn’t really matter though, I mean the truth is always completely subjective. Her truth though was born out of the same anxiety and fear that drove her to write about life rather than experience it. She had no choice really, I mean she was not only afraid to die, but she was also too scared to live. It was tragic really, and she probably should have been in some kind of therapy or something, but when her muse went manic, Janet simply disappeared. She spent days in  hallucinogenic seclusion, giving life to her truth, usually reappearing three or four days later with some brilliantly executed, though completely misguided slice of humanity that she hoped would rival Ginsburg and Ferlinghetti,

Sometime in the early 1980s, after a particularly lengthy exodus from the here and now, Janet simply ran out of things to say. She said that her muse had simply packed up and moved out, leaving her dressed in cut off jeans and a sleeveless tee shirt, sitting cross legged on a bed on the third floor of Our Mother Of The Blessed Emptiness Center For The Recently Disillusioned. I was still thinking about how to get her clothes off when I visited her. but she was different,  I mean she was completely lost in whatever had decided to hover over her head. Without her muse, she seemed empty. There was nothing left really, I mean the truth is only the truth for so long. We keep changing and every now and again we shed what no longer keeps us balanced and grounded. The truth is like that though, I mean sometimes it mutates and just doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Janet knew that and I suppose that’s why she couldn’t find anything else to write about, I mean without the truth there’s really nothing left. I didn’t see her much after that, but a few years ago Tate ran into her at a downtown Taco Bell where she claimed to be staving off another alien invasion. As crazy as it sounded though, I knew it was true.

It Could Have Been

by Fielding Goodfellow

 

We spent most of that year hanging out in Ricky Ray’s basement watching the colors that emanated from the sounds of Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, and experimenting with assorted hallucinogens and the Nyland triplets.  Sometime in the spring though, despite all of the film strips we watched in health class, we heard that Marcie Nyland was pregnant. We all knew that any one of us could have been responsible. Most of us had been with at least one of the sisters and it was more than likely that we’d been with all of them, I mean it was almost impossible to tell them apart with their clothes on. No one was really surprised though, I mean all three of them had legs that parted like the Red Sea and we always knew that it was bound to happen to at least one of them sooner or later.

Farberman always fancied himself a great detective, more like Charlie Chan than Phillip Marlow though, but he was determined to uncover the truth. Most of us didn’t want him nosing around in it, I mean I suppose we didn’t really want to know. It would have been a lot easier for us if it all just went away. Marcie and her sisters weren’t saying anything, and even if they did we couldn’t be sure that they were telling the truth. Ricky threatened to kick Farberman’s ass, but it didn’t slow him down. Through the process of elimination he announced that Sam was off the hook, I mean we all knew that he was gay and everything, and that left one of the remaining four of us as the expectant father to be. Before the school year was over Marcie stopped attending. We heard that she had been shipped off to live with a relative somewhere overseas. It was the thing to do back then, I mean I guess the family thought they wouldn’t have to deal with the shame or something, but we all knew anyway.

Farberman’s investigation had come to a dead end after he said he had narrowed it down to Tate and Ricky. It didn’t matter anymore really, I mean Marcie returned after the summer and was no longer pregnant. We heard that she had the baby when she was out of the country and it had either been put up for adoption or was being raised by her relatives. No one seemed to know for sure. Things were never the same between us, I mean the Nyland triplets stopped hanging out with us we just sort of drifted apart. Not that I blame them or anything, I mean we were all such assholes back then. Decades later Tate heard that some girl had been asking questions in the old neighborhood, claiming that she was trying to find her father. When the dust from the panic finally cleared, it turned out that Farberman had been wrong all those years ago, I mean it wasn’t Tate or Ricky Ray. It wasn’t any of us. No one considered for a moment that it could have been someone else. Mixed in with the relief though was a little bit of sadness.

 

Just Another Magic Mushroom Cloud

by Fielding Goodfellow

 

As strange as it seemed, the road less traveled had become so congested that it was nearly impossible to get where you felt you should be going. Sam Fischer had been tirelessly looking for an exit ramp as he found himself suffocating among those who would be equally lost no matter what road they traveled. It wasn’t always like that though, I mean one day everything just changed. It happened all at once really, and there was absolutely no time to prepare. One minute he was out there, wandering in and out of the doors of perception and sailing across the topographic oceans, and in the next he found himself all dark and broody in a universe he was no longer able to understand. On that night of magic mushrooms and The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus, he discovered that Sam Fischer was dead, an apparent victim of psyche suicide. And in the emptiness created when Sam catapulted himself into a black hole and exploded into a gazillion pieces spread out across a million parsecs of space, Arlo Cool emerged. It was as good a name as any I suppose, considering Thelonious Monk had already been taken.

We were all comfortably high the night he crossed that point of no return, and in some higher level of consciousness that propelled him through a series of unforgettable hallucinations and gave rise to his very essence, Arlo Cool discovered that he no longer had any use for Sam Fischer. Everyone seemed quite concerned about Sam’s demise, but I was pretty sure that he was still in there, somewhere. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen that kind of thing, I mean there was a guy I knew in school who disappeared regularly. Every now and again he’d go missing for short periods of time without ever really going anywhere, leaving somebody else to take his place in the parade. One day he left and that was that. He returned years later with a head full of chlorpromazine and a souvenir tee shirt from his stay at the Merriman Sanatorium and Country Club.

Once it happened, they always believe that they were some kind of super hero, but I wasn’t so sure, I mean they were nothing like the ones I knew from Metropolis, Gotham or Capital City. Arlo Cool was certain that he was destined for heroics, but it was far more likely to simply be the effects of the hallucinogens, I mean weird shit goes on in your head when you’re fucked up on psilocybin, but I suppose its hard to know the difference when you’re frantically trying to stop the pterodactyls circling overhead from belting out another chorus of Grand Funk’s ‘We’re An American Band’.

“I don’t think it was suicide.” Tate said. “Sam wouldn’t do that.” He may have been right I suppose, but I didn’t believe for one minute that Sam Fischer was immune to the darkness that might very well cause someone who would never do that to do exactly that. I don’t suppose any of us ever really are, I mean its always far more complicated and a bit more sinister than that, but I guess anything was possible. I really didn’t have a fucking clue, I mean none of us did.

Sam had been a fan of Osmosis Jones, the founder of  Bio-Essence Transcendentalism. He said it was science, but it always sounded more like science fiction. It was a cult really, but it seemed to lack that element of fanaticism that’s required for cult status. We never realized just how unhappy he was, but bio-essence transcendentalism seemed to give him whatever he was looking for. Jones stated that he was able to separate himself from his physical being at will, and soar effortlessly across the astral plane. He believed that the soul was the essence of all life, but while attached to a physical being it is nothing more than a significantly disturbed entity with no limit to its capacity for delusion. He proposed that what we call mental illness was simply the soul’s response to the chaos inherent in a meaningless, physical existence. “Religion” he had said “is a poison responsible for the death of far more souls than it has ever saved. There is no salvation to be found in the rituals and tenets that were created by men in order to explain the unexplainable. Not one single soul has ever been saved through prayer or atonement simply because there’s no one there to listen.”  He was certain that there was no God. He believed that the extra-terrestrial travelers who had visited earth millennia  ago had simply been misunderstood by the spiritually and cognitively limited inhabitants of this planet.  He was convinced that to free ourselves, we needed to separate body and mind from the essence. Sam was certain that Jones was right, and I suppose he could have been , I mean I had no idea really, but it certainly didn’t sound any crazier than all of the other shit I’d been told over the years. And if Sam had chosen to take that plunge into the black hole, I suppose he was better off, I mean after spending time in the sanatorium with chlorpromazine coursing through his veins, he wouldn’t really be Sam anymore, anyway.

Sometime during ‘The Morning Will Come’,  the effects of the psilocybin began to intensify again, and Arlo Cool found it almost impossible to hold onto himself. He drifted in and out of time and space and none of us could really be sure if he was who he said he was, anymore. Even the pterodactyls seemed to have grown weary of his impetuousness and impertinence, I mean he really was an ass, and as the walls began to disintegrate into multiple pools of neon colors, we could see through to the other side and there was Sam, playing saxophone with Be Bop Deluxe. Arlo was close to invisible by now, and in the blink of an eye, the pterodactyls swooped down and picking him up, and carried him away through the opening in the wall, leaving Sam and the band in his place.

I had always thought that once a soul goes, its gone, but I suppose I was misinformed, I mean Sam came back. I don’t know how it happened, but I guess the soul never really leaves. We may not be aware of it, but it seems that its always nearby. It was good to have Sam back, I mean Arlo wasn’t a real super hero. He really was an just an ass. It turned out that Sam was the real hero, I mean he managed to find his way back from the darkness without getting himself all messed up at the Merriman Sanatorium and Country Club, simply by riding the ‘Kiss Of Light’. He seemed much better when he returned. He said that he had seen what our ancestors had seen, and he was able to understand it all. He said that he had the answers, but he couldn’t tell us as we just weren’t ready to hear it. All he would say was that Osmosis Jones was right. As for Arlo Cool well, he spent an exceedingly painful eternity in the grasp of the pterodactyls. He hardly ever showed up anymore but in the event that he did, we were prepared, I mean Tate had gone out and secured a couple of pterodactyls just in case.

Finding Farberman

by Fielding Goodfellow

 

There are some things that happen when you’re a kid and you just know that you’re never going to forget about them. Like jumping in the bushes with Maddie Grant to smoke a cigarette or cop a feel and then, if you were lucky enough to get a decent lead off of second base, to slide headfirst, safely into third. The thing about memories though is that you can’t really depend on them, I mean they’re just not trustworthy. I’m pretty sure though, that this is exactly how it happened.

Tate had been drinking at The Silver Dollar one night and found himself waking up to the sound of knocking on his door with one hell of a hangover, face down on his living room couch. He couldn’t remember how he got there, but there were government agents asking him all kinds of questions about Farberman. Tate knew something wasn’t right. Farberman had been recruited by some secret government research facility right after graduation. We were sure that he would wind up doing something like that, I mean he held advanced degrees in physics and biology, despite spending most of his junior year with a theatre major named Chloe. She was French, and had the most incredible smoky, gray eyes any of us had ever seen. She smoked Gitanes, drank strong, black coffee and had dreams of being the next Sarah Bernhardt or Claudette Colbert. She was wonderfully Parisian. Farberman was on her like a moth to a flame, often spending nights at her place, drinking absinthe and engaging in bouts of French sex which, while under the influence of the hallucinogen he described as an orgasm having an orgasm. He swore that in those throes of passion he had actually heard the voice of God. Tate and I, on the other hand spent most of our university years majoring in drugs and young women yet still managed to walk off of the campus with degrees in assorted liberal arts. Anyway, when the government agents said that Farberman had been missing for months, Tate was sure that he was up to something. If anybody knew what that was, it would be Chloe.

 

Chloe had done reasonably well in her career. She was a standout as Janet Weiss in a local production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and had just been cast as The Acid Queen in Tommy. Tate and I caught up with her after rehearsals at the Elgin Theatre. She still looked the same, I mean she was older and everything, but those eyes hadn’t changed one bit. She said that Farberman had been in touch with her recently, and had told her that there would be people after him. He didn’t say much more, but he did leave her an envelope that she was to keep hidden until she was to deliver it to a warehouse in the Portlands. All of the details were in the envelope. “Is he okay?” Tate asked.

“I suppose so” Chloe said, “but he looked tired and scared. You know he was never very strong.” She was right, I mean even as a kid Farberman was an anxious and nervous guy. We used to go down to The Rivoli to try our luck with the Fine Arts majors who despite being in the midst of discovering their inner bisexuality, always seemed to be willing to drop to their knees and take one for the team, if you could play anything by Peter Frampton. Farberman found them too aggressive and wanted nothing to do with it, leaving Tate and I to finish the set with a rousing rendition of ‘Shine On’.

Tate’s paranoia began to set in and he was convinced that he was being followed by agents and double agents, all hoping that he would led them straight to Farberman. Everywhere he went he saw espionage and subterfuge lurking in the back alleys and shadows. I suppose he could have been right, I mean he was carrying the envelope we managed to seduce from Chloe under his jacket, but Tate could usually find conspiracy in everything. By the time we got back to his place, he was close to hyperventilating. “Make sure the door’s locked.” he said as he tore open the envelope. Inside we found pages and pages of scientific formulas and mathematical equations that neither one of us understood. There were sketches and photographs of old paintings, and the instructions of when and where Farberman wanted the envelope delivered.

“He’s out of his fucking mind.” I said. “He can’t really think we’d go all the way down to The Portlands just to try to save his sorry ass.”

“No” Tate said, “But I think he thought Chloe would.”

I’m sure she would have. Chloe was like that. Life was funny though. I mean the good stuff like drug induced hallucinations, The Beatles, and sex always seemed to end far too quickly, while the stuff we face with dread, like dental appointments, meet the teacher nights, or attending a second cousin’s wedding, just seem to go on forever. Farberman’s relationship with Chloe was a lot like that, I mean in the two years they were together nothing really changed. Absolutely no progress was made, but Farberman never cared much for progress. He believed that it was nothing more than the advancement of the bank accounts of those who already have so much, at the expense of the bank accounts of those who have absolutely nothing. It sounded very Trotsky like, but it was all just a lot of Bolshevik bullshit.

It was raining when we got to The Portlands, and the old, abandoned warehouse that once stood proudly beside the concrete silos filled with grain to be used by the Goderham and Worts Distillery, looked eerily desolate. We walked towards it, with Tate holding the envelope inside his jacket. He thought that we might have been followed, and insisted that we stood behind a sign that once read ‘The Famous Portlands’, and now, through years of neglect and the elements, proudly declared ‘T   AM     PO   N S’. We both thought it was pretty damn funny, and when he was convinced that we were alone out there, we made our way into the building, walking across the floor and up the stairs to where the executive offices used to be. We could see a light towards the back of the floor and walked towards it, until Farberman jumped out in front of us. “What the hell are you trying to do?” Tate asked him, grabbing him by the shirt. “You scared the shit out of us. I mean it Farberman, you’re such a asshole. ”

“I was expecting Chloe.” Farberman said. “What are you doing here?”

“Trying to help you.” Tate said.

“Did you bring the envelope?” Farberman asked.

“We did.” I said.

“Good.”  Farberman said. “You can relax, now. No one can find us here. The entire building is pretty much invisible. Its completely off the grid” He took the envelope from Tate and starting walking into the brightly lit room. “Come along.” he said. “I want you to see this. No one else must ever know what you see here tonight. Do you understand?”

“Sure.” Tate replied. “Its a big secret.” Inside the room we had to shield our eyes, I mean the light was almost blinding. There were massive screens, all lined up in a row, and equipment we had never seen before that seemed to be generating enormous amounts of energy that was being stored in a series of massive, brightly lit tubes. The room was filled with the sounds of machinery running, with the whirs and groans echoing like a constant buzz in our ears. On one of the tables monitor sat the Superman action figure that Farberman had used as a good luck charm since fourth grade. Hanging on one of the walls was a massive painting that I knew I had seen before, but just couldn’t remember what it was. It was definitely French Impressionist. “What the hell is all of this.” I asked, I mean it was about time someone asked.

Farberman sat down and told the story of how he had discovered, in theory, a process of transporting three dimensional objects into a two dimensional existence. “We had made it possible to go in, and were working on getting people back.” he explained. “But the government was never really interested in bringing anyone back. They had planned on using it as a way to remove insurgents, criminals, and other undesirables, basically anyone who spoke out against the government, permanently. They saw it as a way to silence anti government rhetoric, and it smelled like Fascism. I knew I could never let the government get their hands on it. So, I took the plans, destroyed the working model, and have spent the last little while rebuilding it here.”  The plan now was for Farberman to disappear into the painting that hung on the wall with all of his notes and reproduce his work with the hope of making it possible to travel back and forth through dimensions. He was convinced that there was life within that painting. It was hard to believe really, I mean I would have bet that he was either high or he had lost his mind.

“When I leave here” Farberman said, “I want you to take the big painting and get out of here. You have about fifteen minutes to get as far away as you can. I’ve set explosive charges all around the building. It will go up like giant Roman Candle. There will be nothing left.”

Farberman moved to the painting and stood facing it as an intense white light emanating from one of the machines shot out across the room, and seemed to go right through him. There was a flash and a whole lot of smoke, and when it cleared Farberman was gone, just like that. The machines began to power down, and although I couldn’t be sure, I swear I saw Farberman waving at us from inside that painting.

Tate and I carried that damn painting across the field that led from the warehouse in relative silence. It had to have weighed about fifty pounds. I suppose neither one of us knew what to say about what we had just seen. “Do you really think he sent himself into the painting?” Tate asked.

” I hope so.” I said. “If not, he’s out of his fucking mind. Joseph Conrad said that “only in man’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as of life. And if nothing else, Farberman’s got one hell of an imagination.”

“I hope so.” Tate said. “I think I might like to live in a world safely tucked inside a painting.”

“I’d prefer a book. Something like Kilgore Trout’s ‘Venus On The Half Shell’ would suit me.”

We had made it clear across the field and were just about to leave The Portlands when we heard the explosion. It was like thunder from Mt. Olympus. By the time we turned around all that was left were pieces of brick, wood and machinery scattered in heaps of rubble on the ground that was once home to an old, abandoned warehouse. It all seemed so very Hollywood, I mean it was epic. It couldn’t have had a better ending. Farberman would have stroked out if he had been around to see it, I mean he was also so sure that life  was nothing more than a series of random events strung together through time and space. There wasn’t a poetic bone in his body. I was pretty sure that life was a blank page, or an empty canvas, and it was up to us to write or paint whatever the hell we wanted. It all lives in our minds really, a creative spark that takes on a life of its own. Its creativity that makes a life, not logic and reason. And out there at The Portlands, life was certainly imitating art.

News always seems to travel fast, I mean I went to see Chloe the following day and she already knew. She knew everything. There was even an article in the paper about the explosion, claiming that a natural gas leak had obliterated the old, abandoned warehouse at The Portlands and had taken the life of a renown, local physicist. I read it several times, but I couldn’t tell for sure if Farberman had arranged for the story to be published himself. I wouldn’t put it past him. It really didn’t matter though, I mean the government agents wouldn’t be bothering any of us again. We were all in the clear. Chloe had known all along what he was up to, but she had promised him that she wouldn’t say a word to anybody. She was good that way, I mean she never told him that she and I had tripped the light orgasmic sometime in our sophomore year. As for Farberman, I suppose he got what he wanted, a life inside a nineteenth century painting without the fear of having his invention fall into fascist hands. I was certain that he’d be back, I mean he was a pretty smart guy and all, and besides, Tate had pocketed the good luck Superman action figure just before Farberman disappeared. I’m sure he’s lost without it, but I’m also sure that Tate meant no harm, I mean he only took it to make sure Farberman came back.

 

 

The Kid Is Alright

 

by Fielding Goodfellow

Its been getting a little scary around here, I mean the middle aged guy who did the deliveries for the pharmacy was brutally attacked right there in front of the grocery store on Wellesley Street. There were cars on the road and people on the sidewalk, but nobody stopped to help.  My daughter was taking it pretty hard, I mean I think the entire neighborhood was beginning to feel quite vulnerable.

“I can’t believe you made us move down here.” she said.  You’re supposed to protect us from things like this. If you don’t care about us, why did you even have kids anyway?”

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” My wife said. “But lately, I’m not so sure.” I sat quietly, not wanting to get involved in what I was sure would very soon turn into a nightmare I may never wake from.

“Nothing to add?” my daughter asked, turning to me.

“I wasn’t really thinking about kids.” I said. “I was just enjoying all of the sex that went into trying to get your mother pregnant.” My daughter made a noise that I don’t think I’d ever heard before, and went into her room, slamming the door.

“Nice one.” My wife said. “Now you’ve gone and pissed her off.”

“She’ll be fine. She really needs to lighten up and relax, though.” She’d always been that way. She was histrionic and high strung as a kid, I mean I don’t think she stopped screaming until she was five or six, and even then she was a handful. We’d go shopping, she couldn’t have been more than two or so, and as we loaded everything into the van, we’d find all kinds of candy and shit she stashed in the sides of her stroller. My wife was sure that we were raising a thief. I thought that it was just a phase that she would grow out of and that she would settle down. Well, she’s twenty five now, and we’re still waiting.

We went to a family camp one summer when she was about four, although I never really wanted to make the trip. I was pretty sure that all of the planning and preparation wouldn’t really make a difference, I mean nothing good had ever come from putting the five kids in a minivan and hitting the open road. “Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked my wife.

“One hundred percent.” she said. “It’ll be fun.” My wife was right about a lot of things, but spending two and half hours in the van with the kids was almost never fun. But we headed out on what the kids would later refer to as the best fucking family road trip ever.

“When will we be there?” my daughter asked.

“Ah, hell.” I said. “We’ve barely pulled out of the driveway.”

“I think we should get some Timbits or something.” my wife advised. “That usually keeps her quiet for a while. The quiet didn’t last very long at all. Within minutes the Timbits were gone, and the screaming began again. It was incessant.

“Any other ideas?” I asked, “Or do we just head home?” By now the boys were shouting at her to shut up, but that only made her scream louder.

“Try putting on some music.” my wife said. “I think she likes The Spice Girls. There’s a CD in here, somewhere.”

“Oh, fuck no.” I said.

“Its that, or the screaming.” she said. “You decide?” The CD went in and my daughter immediately stopped screaming. The van filled with the rhymes and rhythms of the inane lyric of ‘Wannabe’. We were all relieved when it ended, but apparently that was the only Spice Girl song she liked. We spent what seemed like forever trapped in the living hell of ‘Wannabe’. I found myself praying,  although it was more like begging, for the aliens to appear and abduct me. I was sure that their probing would hurt significantly less than the tripe that was beginning to make my ears bleed. As luck would have it, the aliens never came but the screaming stopped, only to be replaced with my daughter’s off key vocals that included the brilliantly insightful ‘I really, really, really wanna zigazig ah’,

“I think I’d like to stop and take up drinking.” I said to my wife.

“Not now.” She said. “You can’t drink and drive.”

“Well, I can’t drive and ‘slam my body down and wind it all around’. Isn’t there anything else she’ll listen to?”

“We’ve got Sharon, Lois and Bram if you’d like.” It was then that I realized that if indeed there is a hell, I had found mine.

“Let’s give it a shot.” I said. “It can’t be much worse.” I was wrong, I mean what the hell is a skinamarink anyway?  I pulled off of the highway and into the parking lot of one of those tourist stops that lined the four hundred series of highways. I turned off the van, and sat on a curb stone in front of the golden arches.

“It will be okay.” My wife said, sitting down beside me. “We’re almost there.”

“I know.” I said. “But then there’s the trip back.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“That’s too bad.” I said, as we listened to the kids fighting in the van. “I suppose I should go get them some fries and nuggets or something. That might get us twenty minutes of quiet.”

“You might as well.” she said. “And you can get me a cheese burger and fries.”

The week at the camp went by far too fast. The kids had a great time, and I suppose that was really all that mattered, I mean we did this for them. Even the little screamer was so busy particpating in all of the activities, particularly the ones held in the water, that I didn’t hear a single scream. The night before we were to leave they held a parents’ night off camp property. The counselors were left to tend to the kids, while the parents headed off to the excitement that was downtown Collingwood. We went for dinner and sat with a few people my wife had befriended. Mary Ann Perkins, a diminutive blonde from Mount Forest was sitting directly across from me and was plastered before dinner even arrived. She regaled me with her sordid tale of how she had raised her daughter as a single parent given that she had no idea who the father was. “Just so we’re clear” I said to my wife, “I have never been to Mount Forest, and I’m pretty sure I’d rather be listening to the kids yell and scream than this drunken idiot’s fucked up life story.”

I didn’t sleep at all that night, wondering what kind of torture the trip back was going to bring.  We packed up the van early the next morning, and headed out before most of the others were even awake. It didn’t take long before I heard her voice. “I won this CD at camp.” she said as she passed it forward to my wife. “Can we listen to it?”

“Sure, honey.” My wife said, and in it went. After the first two tracks, I knew the drive home was going to be as much of a nightmare as the trip up to the camp, I mean I was almost tempted to put The Spice Girls back in, but it was during the third song that I lost the hearing in my right ear.

“What the hell is this?” I asked my wife. “Did she just say ‘life in plastic, its fantastic?”

“I think so.” she said. I was not prepared to endure this for the entire drive home, I mean I just couldn’t. After ten or twenty listens to Barbie Girl I stopped at one of those tourist stops that lined the four hundred series of highways. I sat in silence under the golden arches, trying desperately to get that shit out of my head. But it was still there, long after the music stopped playing. “Are you okay?” my wife asked.

“I think so.” I said. “But I can tell you that I’m way too old to party with Barbie. I’ll go get chicken nuggets and fries for the kids, and I suppose you want a cheeseburger and fries.”

“Make it a Big Mac.” she said. “And see if they have any of those orange milk shakes.”

And twenty years or so after that week on the shores of Georgian Bay, my daughter still tries to manipulate and cajole us with her big mouth and idiotic sense of entitlement. I suppose its our fault really, I mean we should never have given in, but my wife just wouldn’t even consider any of the alternatives. She’s a good kid really, but she’s a bit of an ass. My wife says she gets that from me, which I suppose is true. Anyway, the hoodlums involved in the beating of the delivery guy are still roaming around out there. He was too afraid to go to the police, and he quit his delivery job at the pharmacy. The neighborhood is as safe as any really, I mean shit happens and you just can’t live your life hiding somewhere hoping to avoid it. Thankfully my daughter moved out and is living in the suburbs with her boyfriend, who’s a  nice enough guy, but I’m not sure he has any idea what he’s in for. It doesn’t really matter to me though, I mean I have given him the blessing and the problem, and I have a very strict return policy. Its now up to him to decide if he needs to pull off the highway or spend the time trying to slam his body down and wind it all around.

 

The Redding Mile

by Fielding Goodfellow

Oliver Redding wasn’t much of a businessman, but he had inherited the family business when the old man died, and the stress was killing him. I suppose that’s why a portal must have opened up and dropped him into the pink, plastic Muskoka chair beside me as I wiled away the blistering hot afternoon at Sugar Beach. I really have no other explanation as to where he came from, I mean one minute the chair was empty and the next, well there he was. He seemed a little odd, but certainly no worse for free falling a mile or so through the universe. He couldn’t stop talking about the ducks though, I mean he resented that they could both fly and swim, while he could do neither. He thought it would be nice to be able to do one or the other.

One morning Oliver discovered that while he had been climbing the ladder to the top quite matter of factly, it had become harder and harder to breathe, I mean the air was unbearably heavy with the stench of corruption and deceit. He was tired of pretending that he enjoyed the view that always seemed to trigger his vertigo, and he wondered what it was going to take for him to truly feel happy. So, he simply let go and found himself on Sugar Beach. “Well, that’s odd.” he said. I suppose it must have seemed that way to him, but I’d seen it before. It wasn’t so long ago that I was the one drifting through the cosmos, sifting through what had been and what was yet to come, in search of something, although I really didn’t know what the hell I was looking for. I found myself in the strangest of places, so far out there that I wasn’t sure if I would ever make it back. I swear that if I didn’t jump through the haze of sound and color when I did, I’d still be floating around out there with my head up my ass. And in all that time that I was free falling I never, not once felt any real happiness.

“Don’t worry about it.” I said. “It happens all the time.”

“Really?” Oliver Redding asked. It actually didn’t happen all of the time, I mean it was a pretty rare occurrence, but it did happen more often that you’d expect. All of that kind of searching pretty much ends the same way, I mean there’s the desperate plunge of about a mile or so and then well, there you are at Sugar Beach. If you sit there long enough, I’m pretty sure that you’d get to see it.

“More than you know.” I said. “And it always ends the same.”

“It’s not that I haven’t tried” Oliver said, “I keep looking, but I just can’t seem to find anything that makes me feel happy.”

“I think that’s the trouble.” I said  “Its not out there.  But I’m probably not the best person to ask. I’m no expert and I’m not sure I know anything about being happy, I mean I’m a writer, and my entire life is really nothing more than the fictionalized accounts of the movies that keep screening in my head. Some of my characters though, seem pretty fucking happy.”

“What makes them so happy?” he asked.

“Usually drugs or alcohol.” I said. “But sometimes they get the gift of knowing themselves, and when they live their lives true to who they are, happiness just seems knock on their door rather loudly and completely  unannounced.”

Oliver seemed overjoyed at the prospect of finally getting his hands on what he had so desperately wanted. It was a shame to have to knock him on his ass, but its never easy really, I mean the hardest thing to do is to peel back the layers of who you’ve become and stand face to face with who you really are. Most of us wander around our entire lives with our brains and bellies stuffed with all of the shit we carry around forever, assuming that we’re happy until we find ourselves leaving a psychiatrist’s office with a prescription for Prozac or Xanax in our hands. I suppose that’s what makes it so damn valuable, I mean being happy is really not as easy as it seems. Sometimes though, if the gods have had a good afternoon on the back nine at The Mother of Our Holy Emptiness Golf and Magic Club, anything is possible.

“So, I just sit and wait for it to come?” he asked.

“Well there’s a bit more to it than that.” I said. “Forget about what you know. You’ve got to empty your mind. Go to the park and watch the men feed the squirrels, or head to the beach and listen to the waves brush up against the shore as they roll over your feet. Become part of the universe, and once you’ve done that it will come. Don’t wait for it though, I mean it never comes when you’re expecting it. You’ll figure it out when you get back.”

“I’m not sure that I want to go back.”

“I don’t think you have a choice.” I said. “No one else seemed to.” I guess I should have seen that coming. He was pretty comfortable in that pink, Muskoka chair on Sugar Beach, I mean there was really nothing going on. It was just talk, about anything, but mostly it was just talk about nothing at all.

By the time Oliver Redding had to go, I think he understood. I hope so, I mean he wasn’t a bad guy, he was just lost and confused. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the trip back along that mile of space and time was far more difficult than the trip here. The way I see it, its pretty tough to go back to what you were, once you know who you are.

A Squirrel In Every Thought

by Fielding Goodfellow

I don’t know what the hell we were on, but Farberman completely lost his shit. He was stuck in the endless loop of one fucking weird hallucination that just wouldn’t let him out. He was seeing squirrels all over the place, but not the kind you find the old men feeding in the park. They were Secret Agent Squirrels, working undercover to silence our voices, and if that failed, to send us to swim with the fishes. He was dead serious. “Squirrels are harmless.” Ramona said. “They’re probably just looking for nuts and stuff.”

“That’s easy for you to say.” Farberman said. “You don’t have any nuts and stuff.”

“Well, according to Mindy” Ramona said, “neither do you.”  Sometimes Farberman thought that Ramona was pretty funny, but this time he didn’t think so, I mean he had been carrying around a hard on for Mindy Arnett since sixth grade and everyone knew about it. I think he managed to kiss her once or twice, and he might have even got to feel a tit over her sweater or something, I’m not sure, but that was about it. It was a sore spot for him, I mean he would have given his left nut just to see her naked, but now the poor bastard was drowning in his own mind.

It was another time and another place, but my memory of it has been driving around in my head for what seems like forever, although I really can’t be sure that it actually happened. I don’t suppose that matters much though, I mean its as real as any other memory, and most of them don’t make any real difference in the general scheme of things anyway. In my mind though, there should have been stories told and songs sung about it, I mean at the time we thought it was legendary.  We marched for social justice, and we protested for peace. We banded together on the left, raising our voices together in songs that echoed around the world. We were called subversives and anarchists, but we really  weren’t either. The Administration however was determined to stop us. We were sure that they were resorting to subterfuge, I mean the word was out that there were spies among us.

We believed that we could change the world, and I suppose for a time we did, but somewhere along that long and winding road some lost their bearings and wound up neck deep in the quagmire on the right, dangling over the precipice of their own design, with their mouths sewn shut and their beliefs relegated to heresy. They could have seen see it if they looked close enough, I mean you could usually find it hiding behind God. Most of us still believed in the cause, but if history had taught us anything, we would have known that free speech is never really free. It always seems to come with a price, and the listeners are the ones that usually have to pay. Most of the time though the price is found to be far too steep. Campus Police began rounding up the most vocal protesters. Some were arrested, and others were expelled from the school. It was nothing more than a witch hunt, and we were powerless to stop it. We didn’t like it much, I mean we just didn’t care for the superior attitude the authorities flaunted so deliberately.

I guess Farberman could have been right, not about the squirrels, I mean that was just fucking nuts, but I suppose it was possible that we had been set up to swim with the fishes, in the figurative sense. While he barricaded himself in the bathroom, the police arrived and took several of us in for questioning based on nothing more than our involvement in peaceful demonstration. We were released sometime the following day, more determined than ever to protest the violations to our basic human rights. By then Farberman had returned to Earth, relatively unaware and unscathed by his ordeal, but determined to leave our little band of anti-establishment dreamers. I suppose it was all just too much for him, I mean sometimes we can find ourselves moving as fast as we can in circles, desperately trying to hang on to what we’ve been convinced is important, only to find out that its all just a bunch of worthless shit. It seems to me that sometimes it makes a hell of a lot more sense to just leave it all behind, and do the things that truly make us happy.

The Voices In Bobby Litman’s Head

 

by Fielding Goodfellow

 

Bobby Litman had graduated at the top of his class at the University of Toronto Dental School in 1980 or so. and was thought to be one hell of a dentist. I couldn’t say, I mean he wasn’t my dentist, primarily because I always thought he was an ass. He had spent the last decade jumping from one therapist to the next with absolutely nothing to show for it. It had got to the point where he would sit there for the fifty minutes without saying a thing. Not one solitary word. It was just another brutal fifty minutes of the never ending torment that had been running through his mind like a Jay Ward cartoon for as long as he could remember. Even the voices in his head seemed to have had enough, I mean they were quarrelsome and difficult to deal with at the best of times, but lately all they seemed to do was scream at each other. He knew that it was time for a change and to make amends for some of the things he had done, but after all of those years of the mind numbing torture he was pretty sure that it couldn’t get any worse if he just took matters into my own hands, even though he believed that handling it himself was one of the things for which he needed to be forgiven. In any event, he was certain that he had to do something different.

“Alright.” he told the voices one evening, “everybody out, and grab yourselves a seat over there.” He could hear them groan with contempt as they took their places on the sofa, They had always been melodramatic, but it never occurred to him, not for a moment that those voices in his head were cartoon characters. And yet there he was, looking into the vacuous eyes of the cast from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

“Well, this is weird.” he thought.

“Really?” the squirrel asked. “Who the hell did you think was in there?” To be honest, Litman had never really thought about it before. He didn’t think it really mattered, I mean up till then his life had pretty much seemed like a free fall through Frostbite Falls, anyway. Early one spring morning, after a few cursory goodbyes, he set off on his quest to find whatever it was he had been searching for, certain that the toons in his head would probably not make it back.

“Is this going to take long?” the moose in the Wossamotta U football jersey asked. “There’s a big game coming up.”

Litman had spent much of his life living in fear. It had become so much a part of him that he often found himself embracing it, even though it was suffocating him. He had no idea when it started, but he had been spending so much energy in dealing with his fear of dying, that he simply didn’t have the strength to live his life. At best he merely went through the motions. It was no surprise to any of us that, with all of the failed relationships brought on by betrayal and deception, the only ones still speaking to him were the voices in his head. He headed north, and emulating Tom Thompson, tried to seclude himself in the forests and lakes of Algonquin Park, hopefully without meeting the same demise.

He checked into a cabin at the Killarney Lodge on the shores of Lake of Two Rivers. He spent his time sitting on the private dock, contemplating the demise of the toons. He was filled with mixed emotions about it, I mean while he wanted them gone, he did seem to have some strange attachment to them, particularly the little Pottsylvanian spy. He seemed so hapless and hopeless, and I guess Litman could relate to it all. He was sure that he would miss the two little guy. The truth was however, that he didn’t really think he could do harm to any of them.

There was a young woman who came to make up the cabin every morning. She was reasonably attractive, and they had become friendly, making small talk whenever they saw each other. Litman wanted her the way the Mountie wanted Nell Fenwick, and the way Nell Fenwick wanted his horse. His mind filled with various scenarios that ended with him getting her into his bed. He would fantasize about the things he wanted to do to her as he reached down to play with himself. “Ah, hell.” the squirrel said. “Hold on tight everyone, he’s at it again.”

“Don’t worry about it.” the little dog with the glasses said. “If we look at the history, this shouldn’t take very long at all.”

The young woman who made up the cabin everyday arrived early in the morning to find Litman in bed with his hand wrapped tightly around his still erect dick and half his head missing. There was blood splattered everywhere. It was obvious that he was dead. The local police were contacted, and the ensuing investigation and Coroner’s report revealed that he had died of Hyper-Cerebral Electrosis. Basically, his brain exploded as a result of the circuits becoming overloaded by his body’s own electricity. It was the weirdest thing any of us had ever heard, but we knew that. Bobby Lipman had been murdered by the voices in his head and not surprisingly, the toons were nowhere to be heard.

About a week or so after Lipman’s death strange sounds were heard in the forest and along the shoreline in front of the cabin that he had rented. The young woman who made up the rooms reported that she had often heard voices near the cabin and what sounded like a football game being played nearby. Shortly after the funeral, the voices that had once lived in Bobby Lipman’s head completely disappeared. The moose in the Wossamotta University football jersey went on to become a star college quarterback and after fading from the public eye, returned years later with a series of educational videos as Mr. Know It All. The squirrel, a wonderful wide receiver in his own right, wound up hosting a syndicated television show when it was discovered that he could in fact fly. The little dog with the glasses, although wanted in several countries, continued to travel through time and space in his ‘WABAC Machine’ with a young boy named Sherman. As for the little Pottsylvanian spy, he was sent back to Pottsylvania after losing the big game to Wossamotta U., where he spent the remainder of his life trapped in a loveless relationship with the nagging and frigid Natasha Fatale. As for Bobby Litman, he was buried in the family plot back in the city, and I suppose that he had, at last, found the peace he was always searching for.

 

The Man In The Shark Skin Suit

 

Nora Kesler had lived on the street for as long as I could remember, but ever since her husband took off with their Spanish cleaning woman and moved to Ibiza, she pretty much kept to herself. People talked about her a lot, I mean they thought that she was some kind of witch or something. She was definitely odd, but it was in a kind of Sylvia Plath meets Wednesday Addams way. She wasn’t evil or anything, she was just kind of lonely and morose. Even so, almost everyone had a story or two to tell about her. Growing up I heard that she was possessed by demons, or that she had been mutated by the electric radiation emanating from the hydro towers that skirted the edge of her property. There was even talk that she been cursed by the spirits laid to rest in the ancient, sacred burial site that sat directly beneath her house.  Nobody really knew for sure, but they were certain that something weird was going on at the Kesler house.

It was brutally cold that winter, the kind of Canadian cold that could freeze the world for a moment so that everything looked like one of those Christmas postcards. There was an Arctic wind that blew so hard you could actually hear it moan, and I’m sure that’s when Farberman pissed himself. He denied it, but Tate and I both knew that he did. We would hang out on the ice at Rockford Park most of the time, and discovered that if we stood in just the right spot we could see directly into Nora Kesler’s bedroom window. We would huddle together as close as possible without getting all Oscar Wilde or anything, and freeze our nuts off just to catch a glimpse of her tits as she took off her shirt and bra. It was so worth it, I mean we were only thirteen and it was such a big fucking deal. There were times when I was sure that she knew we were watching her, but she never turned away or covered up. I used to clear her driveway when it snowed, I mean I thought it was the least I could do considering what she had been doing for me. Sometimes she would invite me in for a hot chocolate before I headed home, and I would sit at her kitchen table listening to her talk about feeling lonely and everything, while I silently prayed that she would show me her tits again. I suppose that she just needed someone to talk to but none of the adults in the neighborhood would give her the time of day. She was alright though, I mean despite what everyone said about her, she was okay.

It snowed like crazy the day before Christmas Eve. The roads were nearly impassable, with drifts so high that several neighborhood dogs had become lost in their own backyards until the spring thaw despite the extensive search parties that had been organized to look for them. I headed over to the Kesler house to try to clear some of the snow, spending hours out there moving snow across the asphalt that I knew was buried somewhere down there until Mrs. Kesler called me inside to warm up. I sat at the table, cradling the cup of hot chocolate in my hands, as Mrs. Kesler flitted about her kitchen wearing only a robe. I began praying again, asking that the damn thing would just pop open as I watched her every move, hoping to at least catch a glimpse of this or that. I had never really put much stock in divine providence, but an eerie sense of calm seemed to settle around us. The clouds lifted and the heavens opened, letting in a solitary ray of light that I’m certain could have illuminated the cosmos. And then, the hand of the Lord himself reached down and flashed a peace sign, as Mrs. Kesler’s robe parted like the Red Sea. The cup slipped from my hands as I stared in awe at the wondrous glory that was Nora Kesler’s body. It was then that I became a believer. “Oh, my.” she said as she walked towards me with her robe still opened.

We spent the better part of the afternoon with Nora teaching me exactly what she wanted me to do, and exactly how she wanted me to do it. She had a mannequin in her bedroom, a full body replica of a man dressed in a shark skin suit that she said she used to keep her company and to keep her warm, but she was certain that she wouldn’t be needing him any longer. I began visiting her every Wednesday after school, at exactly four o’clock whether or not her driveway needed shoveling or her lawn needed cutting. Farberman and Tate never knew what I was up to, I mean I wouldn’t do that to Mrs. Kesler, but man, I wanted to tell them just what I had been doing with her. It would have killed them both. I never really said anything about it to anybody, but for three years I never missed a single Wednesday. The neighbors continued to talk about her being a witch and how weird things were always going on at her house, and I can attest that there was a lot of weird shit going on over there, at least every Wednesdays at about four o’clock.