Saturday, November 07, 2009

Apocalypse or something like it

I was indulging one of my two talents - staring vacantly into space, the other one being annoying my wife - when Wally plopped down on his usual bar stool. "I'm worried about this whole Mayan calender thing," he began. "I was just talking with Larry and he says that their calendar ends in 2012, but when you translate that date to binary and parse it, it spells 'apocalypse' in ASCII."

That was a lot of paranoia for just one sentence, even for Wally.

"Larry's just messing with your head, Wally." I smiled. "He's had you spooked ever since he said the IRS was looking for you. It's the after effect of Halloween. People pretend to believe any damnfool thing if they think it's scary. And what would scare you more than a supposed visit from those Treasury agents?"

"Well, maybe," he said. "The only thing scarier than Halloween is when the presidential election season coincides with it every 4th year. And you're right, people do believe a lot of damnfool ideas." He jerked a thumb toward the far end of the bar. "It's a lot like that movie, Resident Evil, but without the light-hearted whimsy." He mentioned the movie because it was playing again on the television. We'd all seen it many times, so Larry wisely turned the sound off. Some of the patrons mouthed the lines in some sort of drinking game as the silent movie played out.

Wally had a story to tell. He'd bumped into Bill Howard at work. Bill is the chairman of the Philosophy Department at the Broken Elbow extension campus, a big fish in a small pond. Howard was that breed of pompous academic who insisted on being called William and positively beamed when brown nosing students called him 'Doctor' Howard. He had a masters degree in education, and that nicely framed piece of paper coupled with his skill could land him a job stocking shelves or flipping burgers. Wally despised him, but always greeted him with a big, cheery smile. "Bill! How are ya? How you feeling this morning, just peachy or just Nietzsche?" He deliberately pronounced it Nee-Chee in an effort to be annoying. They nearly came to blows in a faculty meeting when Wally called him William Howard Daft. Over the years, Bill had produced a huge, steaming pile of wisdom, and we felt sorry for the students who had to sort through it.

Wally had just started into his tale of the latest assault on Bill's over-inflated dignity, when Bill himself walked into the bar. He looked around in the gloom and spotted us near the back. Fixing his eye on Wally, he walked toward us with a rapid, purposeful stride. It was one of those western movie moments. The Resident Evil drinking game stopped as did all conversation. If Larry's had a piano player, he would have ceased playing too. Larry reached under the bar for a cut down pool cue. Fistfights were not permitted in the bar. Combatants had to use the alley out back among the garbage cans, like civilized people.

"Wally, I just ran over your damned bike. It scratched up my car and you're going to pay for the damages!" Bill was furious. His fists were clenched and he was ready to start throwing punches.

A big surge of adrenaline makes time slow down. Wally stood up so quickly that his barstool went flying. Bill's right fist delivered an uppercut into Wally's chest. The air whooshed out of him and his eyes bulged. Larry's pool cue tapped Bill on the head. He collapsed onto his knees. My kick to his shoulder put him on the floor. Wally's barstool clattered to a stop.

Shelly, Larry's pretty young barmaid, called the cops. Fred and Ethel were on the scene within a couple of seconds because they'd seen Wally's old bike crumpled up on the sidewalk outside. They came into the bar. Ethel was hoping to find Wally equally crumpled. "What's all this?" Fred asked. He talked with Larry about the incident while Ethel glared at me and Wally, obviously intent on cuffing and arresting the two of us. Any pretext would do. He'd tried reckless bicycling, public intoxication, jaywalking, and even mopery. We still didn't know what mopery was, but none of the bogus charges had stuck.

He stood close in order to prevent our escape if we decided to make a run for it. Wally was still gasping for air, his voice little more than a croak. He couldn't run the length of the bar. And my bad knee wouldn't hold out to the door.

Shelly came down to our end of the bar and fixed her lovely blue eyes on Ethel. "I thought this was a quiet little town," she said. "Do things like this happen often?" Ethel blushed and stammered a reply. He half-turned toward her, finding Shelly's gaze as compelling as any moth in a candle flame. Adrenaline also causes tunnel vision. We quietly slipped off our barstools, crossed behind Ethel, and went out the front door unnoticed by either cop. Shelly, of course, was sweet on Wally despite him being twice her age. I will never understand women, but she gave us an opportunity to escape.

Sure enough, Wally's disreputable Peugeot was strewn across the sidewalk next to Bill's Volvo. Both wheels were tacoed. The tires were flat. And one chain stay had pulled out of the bottom bracket, revealing extensive corrosion. The bike wouldn't have lasted much longer, but on the other hand, anyone else would have consigned it to the scrap heap more than twenty years ago. Still, it was the bike Wally had hoped to ride to the White House during his campaign to be our next vice-president. It had some historical value, in that regard.

Wally was heart-broken. He picked up some pieces, a broken shift lever, the scuffed Ideale 90 saddle, and carefully set them back down on the concrete. "How did my bike get over here? I put it against the front wall on the other side of the sidewalk. Someone must have moved it."

No one in their right mind would dare to ride that bike, so about half the town's population was above suspicion. Still, there were some questions to resolve. First, how did the bike get under Bill's Volvo? Second, what kind of bike should Wally buy to replace the Peugeot? And would I have to accompany him on a shopping trip to some bike shops? Maybe I could fake appendicitis.

To be continued...



Blogger brother yam said...

Wally needs a gas pipe 3 speed from England. A Volvo doesn't stand a chance...

11:15 PM  

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