I woke up, looked at the clock to the side of my bed. It was flashing. The only information it gave was that the power had blinked off more than two hours ago. I looked at the letter beside the clock. No blinking on that front. It was pretty stationary. I laughed at the joke in my head. I pulled the paper out of the already ripped envelope and looked at it again.
For some bizarre reason, it was pretty stationery. I remembered all the crap that dad had kept stuffed into drawers and figured that this had once belonged to my grandmother. The pressed flowers that made up the border were drained of any of their natural color. I was sure that their perfume had left long ago as well. I didn’t smell it to check.
If I had leaned in to smell the paper, someone would have walked in and I’d end up looking like a guy who sniffed things. It had happened before… Why does this library book smell like chocolate? and then a whole group of red hat ladies had walked in and looked at me like I was someone who shouldn’t be allowed to handle the books.
I’m allowed. I can read… I’d said but that statement, taken on its own by people behind me who hadn’t seen me smelling anything, and taken in conjunction with the observance of the book sniffing by the group who had just walked in, made me seem erratic and defensive. “Archie is erratic and defensive,” a middle school teacher had written on one of my reports. I was sensitive about this description for sure.
I left the library quickly. The book that I hadn’t had a chance to check out was shoved into the return slot. As it fell down the hole, I saw a sticky brown handprint on the back cover. It waved goodbye. I didn’t wave back. I wasn’t crazy.
Archie, the letter read,
I’ve been waiting here for you to call me for the last fifteen years but the inevitable has finally happened and I’ve run out of toilet paper. After carefully weighing the pros and cons, I’ve decided to venture out in search of some. In case you call during this critical reconnaissance mission, and find me absent, the return address is my own, feel free to write. Hell, here’s a stamp. I’ll save you the hassle.
The stamp was for 33 cents and had a picture of Amelia Earhart. I would need two of these to send anything out. The stamp was the kind that you had to lick to activate. Activate may be too strong of a word. I wondered if the glue on the back even worked. I stuck my tongue out theatrically and gently moistened the patch of paper.
A woman I’d never seen before walked into my room. “Ohh, sorry. I’ll come back at a better time,” she said and backed out. I dropped my hand but the stamp still stuck to my outstretched tongue. What the hell was that about?
Exercise, his shrink had told him. And less of the drinking. A drink in the evening wouldn’t hurt. A drink? Archie asked. That was tantamount to a Godzilla crushing like one building. What was the point? Exercise, he’d agreed, and maybe downgrading to skim milk.
A man running from many demons, Archie figured that he could use this concept to his advantage, exercising to a soundtrack of artists that he hated. Efforts to distance himself from the horrible crooning of Bon Jovi, Creed, and Stevie Wonder might actually motivate him to move his limbs to a cadence that would elicit exertion.
He made a mix CD of songs an ex-girlfriend had loaded onto his computer. The whole relationship, in retrospect, seemed worth it, now that he could mine her bad taste in music for his own physical gain.
Years ago, the dentist, after filling a tooth would, if he’d been a particularly good boy, give him a certificate for a free small pizza at some forgettable local chain. At the time, this concept of strange bedfellows – a root canal aficionado and a glorified pastry chef with pepperoni distributing skills – hadn’t registered, but when his therapist had handed him a ‘free pass’ to a local gym, the connection seemed dubious. Archie was all about finding connections in the world but preferred to seek them out, rather than be banged over the head with the fact that business was business especially in the business world. So many esses. He should have just taken the bus.
In his youth and post-youth immaturity, Archie had enjoyed biking. In fact, a cycle had been a necessity when he’d hitched away from home and settled into a sad apartment miles away from the nearest job prospects.
He figured riding a bike was like having sex, you never forgot how.
Archie carefully arranged himself and his Discman on the stationary bike – clearly establishing himself as ‘old school’ in the sweaty sea of iPods – pressed the right facing green arrow button – the universal sign for play – and started pedaling.
His hunch was working. The sounds that the frontman for Nickelback was making – singing? – actually enraged him and the pent–up blood pressure pushed him to an RPM that he probably never would have achieved otherwise.
Twelve minutes into his rhythmic flailing, a Tom Petty song came up.
What the fuck, Archie thought. I fucking love Tom Petty. How’d this get on here? He started singing along, forgetting the indifferent audience. You take it on faith. You take it to the heart. The wai-ai-ting… In his efforts to stretch out the lyrics in time with the Heartbreaker’s lead man, Archie forgot where he was, tangled himself in his pedals, twisted his leg as he tipped of the bike. The sounds he couldn’t hear over Tom’s sweet serenade were his knee dislocating and the tendons and ligaments ripping, tearing.
For a second, Archie thought that his doctor was someone that he used to work with back in Idaho. He wasn’t. But the nose did fall off of the man’s face in a way that Archie considered ‘potatoey.’
The good doc had hashbrowned Archie’s leg into a brace after several x-rays to determine if there were any mashed bones.
“The good news is that there aren’t any bakes.”
“No broken bones.”
“That word you used there, gnocchi. I’m not sure that I know what that is, precisely. Isn’t it some sort of pasta?”
“Actually more of a dumpling, typically with a potato filling.”
“Ahhh, I knew it was something like that… What were you saying?”
“Though there aren’t any broken bones, you’ll have to keep this brace on for six weeks.”
Archie must have flinched because the doc patted him sympathetically. “The waiting,” he said, “is the hardest part.”
As Archie’s flashback kicked into play – the universal sign for green, rightward-facing triangles – the white-coated man handed him a slip of paper. “This should take some of the edge off,” he said.
Archie briefly fantasized about a month afloat on a sea of painkillers. He unfolded the paper – a 10% off coupon for a pottery class at the strip mall down the street.
The fact that he’d been born in the 21st century never failed to get Archie down. It wasn’t the arbitrary time scale that got to him; it was simply the fact that, by the time he ambled into reality, everything had already been done. He’d gone into music hoping to innovate or come up with some earth–shaking groove that had never been heard before.
Of course everything was neo-classical this and nu-metal that and it really didn’t help matters that he was playing bass in an all ‘90s cover band. He’d tried to make one of their shows a little edgier by wearing a shoe on his dick during his performance but realized that the Peppers got it right the first time and it was pointless to tweak perfection, if one considered perfection to be four grown men wearing only socks over their penises. Archie wasn’t gay or anything but he could appreciate the sentiment.
Okay, Archie was a little bit gay but he didn’t know if the one blowjob he’d given at his sister’s high school graduation party had been a result of boredom, or attraction, or simply a need to experience something different.
Of course, with thirty-three odd years under his belt, a world-weary white middle-class American man like himself realized that there was no road less traveled, everything new was just an extended metaphor for something that already existed. Even the almighty platypus was a cut-and-paste version of other, less interesting animals.
Archie wished that at least he had an addiction so something would move to the forefront of his priorities instead of everything blurring together in a melting pot of vagaries. “I’m an epiphenomenalist,” his friend told him. “Big deal,” he’d replied. “I’m allergic to bee stings and peanuts. A little bit of either and I could die.”
Not dying was no way to live. When he looked out the window, even the salt flats looked just like a moonscape that looked like the salt flats that had bored him since he was fourteen years old. Boo, he thought. Hiss.
Though Archie could only appreciate the platypus in a vaguely Dadaist way, he still halfway admired the way the animal came at you unexpectedly, all egg-laying and flippers akimbo. Though he knew that it was impractical bordering on silly, Archie himself had yet to take the shoe off of his penis. It gave him a little somethin’, he thought, that no one else had.