PCII. Ch.2.

My Little Chunk of Ham.
     I called Gil from a payphone outside the Winn-Dixie.  I was 6 hours early.  What to do now? 
     “Gil.  I’m at the Winn-Dixie at Route 616 and 418.  Early.  Call me.”
     Six hours to kill before the meeting time at the Boone Saloon.  I drove into Boone, parked the car and looked around.  Snow was falling.  Gray skies were calling.  I didn’t realize how shaken I had been until I felt waves of anxiety flood over me.  A panic attack.  I spun around to look for the source, the detritus that was reorganizing my thoughts into pedestrian fears and slothfully obsessive worries about the future.  What was going to happen in Hot Springs?  Where would I get my next meal?  Would that SUV not see me and crunch me?  Would I lose all ability to construct independent thoughts?  Would I be unable to use language?  Would the sun go out permanently?
     When I reached the point of worry about the implosion of the sun, I knew my fears were unfounded.  I began to slowly descend back to the land of pleasant living.  Natty Bumppo would be proud.  A sure shot could not be made with a wandering mind.  Lack of focus and tangential thoughts would be the downfall of the strongest empire. 
     I found my little titanium cup and Natty Bumppo’s cousin, Natty Bo, in all his golden glory, filled it to the rim, a brimming gold shimmering in the half-light of the glowing, snowy afternoon.  I poured Cousin Bo as I dawdled on the lawn of the town art’s center, an old Victorian mansion with its lawn several feet above the pedestrian sidewalk.
     I felt like the lead-pourer I should be, looking down upon the masses.  I took a sip and Cousin Bo calmed me as he gave me a tour of the land of pleasant living.  So lost had I been for so long.  Who knew that things could be so nice?  Froth formed at the top of my titanium cup as Cousin Bo’s tour took on a level of detail that few could fathom existed.  I nearly foundered at its sublimity.
woke up this morning, with a smile when i saw porpy,
thought, mother sister, i got 24 hours to be me, what shall i do?
think about each step planted firmly before taking the next one,
give a brother a nickel, a little comfort from the cold, a bit of a break from his approximation of reality. compassion.
     Maybe things were not so bad.  I had nowhere to be, except where I wanted to be.  Sandy Brown’s pantry had pretzels and pickles.  There were tea bags, jugs of water and several types of tea.  There were cans of fish and meat.  A chunk of ham was my prized possession.  It kept me going.  It fueled me when I felt I was running on fumes.  It was my pride and joy.  My little chunk of ham.
     Cousin Bo told me it was time to go.  I had already smashed the can and was looking for a proper receptacle.  I deposited it.  I should have recycled but in my state of bliss I did not worry about it.  I let it go where it would go.  I could not hold on any longer.
     I remembered that summer day.  Smiling and my face feeling flush as I clambered into the little white hatchback in the East Village.  We were on our way.
A Small Stinkbug.
     A snowflake landed on my spectacles and I needed to remove them and clear them.  With vigor, I put them back on and looked at the world, as if through fresh eyes.  All was as it should be.  Gravity was still exerting its force.  My titanium cup could use a refilling, but I desisted.  I didn’t want to be too squiffy for my rapprochement with Gil.  It had been many years since I had seen him.  I remember meeting him.
     We were somewhere along the Kentucky-Virginia mountains with several common friends.  I ended up getting a ride with him to a reservoir in his reservoir, a canoe tied to his 1980’s light blue Volvo.  A tin of altoids was in between us. 
     The red bordered, white hulled box made me curious.  I had just met Gil.  I didn’t know his predilections on curiously strong mints or the reuse of candy tins.  I could only hope.  I rested all my hopes that he knew what others knew - the passing strangers who reused their common bonds to analyze the waste factor of hydroponics and made an illicit transaction could still be respected members of society; the chief judge on the ferry sailing north on the inside passage, after his lecture on spruce and its use in aeronautics, spouted off quite candidly upon the different natures of the plants that expand the daylight and draw patterns in the lowlight – that these people all knew what was inside the altoid tin.
     A raven against the state.  The chief judge found for the raven.  Finally, someone with common sense. 
      I gingerly approached the subject.
     “You know, some people keep the subject matter of the battle between the ravens and the state of Montana in altoid tins.”
     Gil didn’t look at me.  He kept looking at the road.
     “Look inside.” 
     Both hands on the Volvo’s steering wheel, he pointed by moving his head in the direction of the tin.
     I picked up the tin.  I unsnapped the lid.  A familiar aroma wafted towards me.  I could only pray.  (And eat and love sometimes.)  My eyelids closed involuntarily as I lifted the lid.  The lid open, my eyelids sprang into the “open for business” position and their transmissions from the tin delighted me.
     Gil was a kindred spirit.
     “He smells so nice.”
     “He’s very kind to people he likes.”
     “Perhaps it will be too dangerous to summon him, considering that we are going to be floating in canoes.”
     “Oh Pee-shaw, dude.”

     He called me dude.  He handed me a lighter and alerted me to a small stinkbug below the chlorophyll-colored detritus in the tin. 
     “Have at it.” 
 Where is my Whiskey and Fat Tired Ability.   
     We rode down by Old Man Johnson's farm.  The horses wonder who we are.  I wouldn't change my stroke.  There was a bowl of fruit loops in the middle of the road.  I've activated the sunny automatic phone attendant to attend your calls.  Thanks for making the switch to sunny 105 automated phone attendants.

     We don't need anything.

     I see just the change in my pocket.  There was a pack of unopened tortillas on the sidewalk.  I had a great time with my family.  But I missed your stories.  I just moved here and I happened upon your channel.  I have a new apartment.  I was playing around with my radio.  I have an apartment.  It has carpet and a garbage disposal.  I never had a place with a garbage disposal before.

     I hope the disposal meets the brother's keeper, so the homos will know that it's waiting for you outside your door.  Never more a moment of truth.

     I'm not sure I understand.

     Do you like to drink seltzer when you weather the storm?  Are you in line for the first day of the rest of your life.

     When does that occur?

     I think in three days.  It's gonna be alright.  I'll be here, so the whole world will know we eat beans.  Have you seen the knife?  It'll set the fishes free.

     In my own little world, I never go hungry, I have shoes on my feet and a little money in my pocket.  I turn off the news when I don't like what I see.  That's easy to do.  What if there's a bigger television?  I should stop at red lights and help the homeless widow.  I looked her in the feckless area above her neckline.  I saw the mark of the purple porpoise.  A small hematite, silvery almost plow soft rock of luminosity,  I grabbed it quickly, the links of the silver chain easily breaking.  I sped off.  Drove Fred to the dunes.  I was looking for the hatted Leila.  I think she was somewhere outside of my own little world.  I had to figure a way to communicate with her.  I felt alone and unmovable.  Oh, where is my whiskey and fat tired ability, I can't deal with these afflictions, eclipsed by glory. 

A Communicator of Sorts.   
     I was thinking about the art of stopping.  I just couldn’t do it.  With a humoresque bent, I spent my last dime on a sugary treat, walking slipshod, arms akimbo on the brown berm, I wondered if Sanjeev and his brood were mucking it up once again.  The tree, on a night of moonlight bliss, is squandered in its cameraless dome of unstressed air, do I see figurined in the lavender sky.
     I ate a pretzel.  The water was nice.  Sometime, birds fly near it.  I like to bathe in it. 
     The lounge was so nice this time of year.  The cool cans of soft tuna in the corner of a wood-enclosed, trash strewn lot, served to replenish the energy needs of someone.  Maybe a song bird, a yellow finch, a tanager of some sort.  I wondered how the chickens sound when they molt.  Shed off all the detritus from last decade.
     I think you’re wrong.
     About what.
     Last decade.  No one else is saying it.
     Oh.
     If you don’t want the tea, close your eyes and dream.  The keys for the bikes are in the teak desk.  Leave the brake changing to me.  I think I can handle it.  I have a book.
     Is the book going to change the brakes?
     No.  I am.
     Well.  I should hope so.
     The earth was covered with ice.  A winter storm weather advisory in effect until 4 am.  My arrival beat the storm.  I was not delayed.  Fred behaved excellently.  Such a storm trooper.  Only with him, could I have enjoyed the journey the way I did.  Sun-filled afternoons, driving with a hat on, I spied many things that were on pictures on the refrigerator. 
     People eating.  Sun on the water.  People standing.  People smiling.
     The humoresque intent of my acts can validate its legality.  If there is no intent, what is there?
     I loaded up Diesel into the back of Sandy Brown.  The USB charged LED lights were out of the box.  Those were for Shane.  He would love them.  So sleek and removable in a second.  I can wear those like a watch, a communicator of sorts, like from Star Trek.  The Denny Moore principle.   You know, the William Shatner character from Boston Legal?  I never saw it.  You walk around, saying, Denny Moore.  Denny Moore.  Denny Moore.  To everyone.  That’s it.
     That’s it?
     That’s it.
Piggy Legos.
     Eat daggles on a little summation of a bloated pork shoulder in Phuket, Thailand.  Phuket.  Phuket.  Buckets of it.
Or it sum bloat alone plow.
     Mr. Sanjeev Bodhiwala was mustering the penchant to talk about his knack for what he referred to as “streamlined poetical formats in the dialogue of the island of ghetto.”  Gemstar rap.  He was too wordy. 
     Gangsta rap?  I know not what you are talking about, Sundew.
     First of all, it is sue - DEEP.  There is no “n.”
     Don’t take that tone with me.  You know what tone.
     The Satyr is at peace.  How can that be?  The Saturn Storm is the cause of it all.  The Saturn Return.  What you will.  What have you.  To wit.
     A remarkably bright storm erupted in the Northern Hemisphere.  Cleveland was deeply affected.  Its beloved football team, the Cleveland Browns, had to postpone a football game because of ice and other related inclement weather conditions.  The game was played on a Tuesday night.  This was big news.  The first time in the National Footballers Convention that a game between two rival division teams contending for the Super Bowl in February played on a Tuesday night.
     I first spotted it in early December.  Just before the hills to the North of Boone challenged me, I saw the ringed gas giant rising in the Earth’s predawn sky.  It was a complex disturbance on December 24th.  Over time, the storm has evolved.
I Combed through My Memories.
     The Volvo rumbled past fields of flowers, orange lilies of the valley.  Mountain lilies.  How silly I had become in the past few moments.  Perhaps Gil will stop the wagon and begin a stern lecture, explaining how proper social interaction does not allow the discussion of certain subjects.  And how I had violated this canonical structure of human discourse.  I didn’t know what to do.  I thought it would be ok.
     I was operating under the assumption that the silver rays of light had set us free and that the usual strictures were temporarily lifted.  A moratorium on enforcement of the rules of discourse was in place.  I was free to move about my brain, flitting from one stream to the next, dipping my conversational cup into any I felt like it offering the cup to my companion.
     Maybe I had said something offensive, and this would explain Gil’s reticence.  I combed through my memories of the past few moments to determine what the offending thoughts and words were.  My conversation was so tea-party friendly that the Authority would have approved of the contents. 
     Had I asked if he thought Sanjeev Bodhiwala was mucking things up at the moment and launched myself into uncontrollable giggles?  What would Gil think of that?  Uncontrollable giggles.  It’s actually a good way to spend a few minutes.  Maybe that was ok.  He probably just wondered what was so funny, and wished he could share the laughter.  Instead, all he heard were words that meant not so much and a state of euphoria next to him which he could not be a part of.  He was worried about things.  His teaching.  His wife and son’s happiness and comfort.  He passed his thoughts over to me without saying a thing. 
     The euphoria subsided and we considered other things.
     Gil opened up, let forth a torrent of concerns that he had been having lately.  His friendly tone was covering a multitude of unlikely thoughts.  There were so many things he had to manage and details that needed to be watched.  Otherwise, things fall apart.  He was the caretaker.  People depended on him.  What would they do without him?  They would wonder why he left.  Sometimes he just wanted to drive for a couple of weeks with his tent and silver rays at his back.  He couldn’t.  He just wanted the random experiences that led him to where he was this moment, responsible husband, father and rising star as a documentary filmmaker and history professor.  But that was not where he wanted to be.  He wanted to be in Montana, fighting against the state with the Ravens.  The Culture Clashes is what the news called it.  Farmers fighting for the right to farm. 
     I didn’t know what to tell him.  I just told him things would be ok.  It is normal to be concerned.
     A song from the 1960’s was playing on a cassette.  Tom started crying.  “I’m just so worried about them.  They think I’m not responsible.  Sometimes I forget and leave my bath towel hanging on the bedpost.  They think I’m a big slob looser.”
     He’s 2.
     But he knows what’s going on.
     I read a Paul Krugman article to him.  He seemed to like it.
     Krugman from the New York Times?
     Gil laughed.  Then a wave came over him and he continued laughing.  He was imagining Clinton, his 2 year old son, playing with his spoon and burbling as I read him a Paul Krugman article from my little computer.
     Clinton started playing the vibraphone and marimbas in Boone around his 4th birthday.  Shortly thereafter, he began his formal music instruction.  His first instructor was Peggy Lacy Craig at the Tumbler Conservatory of the University of Maryland.  He completed the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts in Music by the time he was 12.  By the time he was 17, he started a world tour that has now lasted two years.

     He started hanging out with the renowned improvisational percussionist, Sherm Peolquin.  Mr. Peloquin started the rock and roll outfit the Washington Shuttle.   The association, started on Halloween last decade, has lasted to this day. 

     Clinton didn’t care for  jazz .  He preferred creative improvisations.  Some of his peregrinations with Frank Lloyd Night, Sonny Adcok, and Murray Sunnyboy led him to be labeled as an avant-garde musician, playing primarily abstract “out” music.

     Formal jazz criticism uses sophisticated analysis as a mask for pigeonholing and consequently rendering an incomplete perspective and hence, perpetuating the same old thing.

     They're on the right road all the time, they're going the wrong direction.

     Clinton sounded sensible, the last time Gil heard from him.  Clinton was accessible, playful almost, with a discernable warmth and joy.  Gil was surprised when he heard of the on-stage suicide.

Free to Flit about the Channels.

     It was indescribable.  I felt so good.  Maybe the three days at Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s lodge in the mist, by the salt and sea, was just the thing for me.  Three times a day – who could not be glowing?  I settled for a first floor flat, the warm breezes coming up from the Caribbean gently suspirating through the open windows, the soft, satin curtains heaving and sighing.

     I didn’t know what to do.  It was almost six.  That was when Sanjeev Bodhiwala placed the gleaming, freshly made pastries on silver saucers around the high-ceilinged lobby, wood beamed like a ski-lodge, a European hideaway.  A purple festooned chef bowed as walked by the table of morning treats.  Wood was glowing in the fireplace.  Apparently, this was still physically possible outside of the Perimeter.  The Authority had altered the molecular structure of wooden detritus, making the carbon structure and bonds resemble that of diamonds, so that no burning was possible.  It was just another way to control the masses. 
     All trees up in Venue had been genetically altered in this way.  Nothing could burn except houses.  The Authority had not yet discovered a method to genetically alter detritus.  It could only mutate living things.  That power was pretty super.
     No one had thought about the long-term consequences.  Wood hadn’t been used for heating in Venue since last century.  Fires had been banned, with serious penalties for violations, about 40 years ago.  Venue, then ruled by a democratically elected city assembly, banned outside fires because of all the houses that had caught fire from wind-blown embers.  There had been talk about altering the building code, but then the Freedom to Build movement had been gaining strength and nearly got the entire building code repealed.  In response to the Builders, as they called the new political party, the city council found it would be easier to just ban all fires within the City and Borough of Venue. 
     I was so glad I didn’t have to deal with the Builders anymore.  As they grew more powerful, they finally got enough assembly members to vote to repeal the Building code.  The Builders were all about wood.  They wanted all houses to be made out of wood.  A new Building code was drafted, requiring all new construction to be made from locally sourced wood-products.  No body envisioned how things would unfold because of this battle over fires and wood.
     I didn’t want to think about it know.  I was eyeing the omelet station.  The chef made one for me with chives, goat cheese, mushrooms and radishes. 
     Sanjeev was in a talkative state of mine.  He was sitting behind the massive front desk that he made from reclaimed wood from a shipwreck.  He was wearing a wool vest from the Himalayas and listening to Dvorak’s Opus 107, number 7, softly coming through a wireless receiver. 
     All I want to do is fly.  Reach into the sky.  Sanjeev said, out of the blue.  I had grown accustomed to his lack of good morning.  He would launch into whatever was on his mind.  It was so refreshing, compared to Venue, where conversations had required formalities and were monitored for compliance.  Talking was stressful up there.
     Come see the silver porpoise in my tree. 
     I complied.
     We walked outside, through the windy footpath that led from the lobby to the other end of the property.  There was a tree, draped with moss, next to the shed and a collection of haphazardly strewn porcelain toilets.  No cameras were covering the area.  We were free to flit about the channels in our minds.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala squatted down and I sat in some dry leaves.
     It is very nice here.  I like it here.
I Could Tell It Was Cold.
     I was floating.  I didn’t know where I was.  I quelled the urge to sit on one of the toilets for a solitary movement.  It was unreal what was happening through the world before me.  Like an ecstasy symphony, with the moss in the tree taking the role of the violin section, and Sanjeev Bodhiwala standing below, conducting.  He picked up a stick and used it for balance as he rocked back and forth to an invisible rhythm.
     All rhythms are invisible, you half-witted buffoon.
     I recognized the surliness.  Ray was somewhere in the tree.  I couldn’t understand anything at the moment.  The concept of friends eluded me.  Ray was my friend.  What did that mean?  It was impossible to explain how I couldn’t understand that concept.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala must have put too many cloves in the chai, it was making me spry.  The elevation had gradually changed and I was perched on a summit.
     Relax.  More tea?
     I was unable to speak.  The tea had taken hold of me.  Some special sort of caffeine, I fathomed.  I began to giggle, thinking of the letter T. 
     I’ll have more T.  I would love to drink T.  Won’t it get caught in my throat? 
     No.
     T.  More T.  Morty.  Morty.  Call me Morty.  That’s my nickname.
     More T is your nickname?  I do not believe.  More T?  I have never heard such a thing.
     Not More T.  Morty.
     Ray swooped down and started to sweep some leaves.  They crunched softly.
     Who is this?
     I couldn’t understand the question.  Maybe I had Alzheimer’s.  Maybe punching holes in aluminum cans was not a good idea.
      I ain’t gonna die today.  I feel so good.
     That’s nice. 
     A nice leaf-free spot had been made.  Ray perched straight up and took a bow, welcoming us to his new place.  I wasn’t sure if I could move.  It was on the other side of the tree.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala leaned on his stick and stood up.  The leaves were so cozy around me.  I pretended I was in a nest, high in the tree, surrounded by moss.  I closed my eyes for a slow second.
     I can’t move.
     One of Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s five maroon festooned butlers suddenly appeared in underneath the tree with a glass of lemon water on a silver tree.  I could tell it was cold.  The glass was perspiring.  I drank its contents and could feel tingles in my tired shoulders.
     A floating sylph took the glass and began manipulating the nerve endings in my back. 
     Everything will be ok. 
The Need to Balance the Cup.
     Ray had found me.  I couldn’t believe it.  In a tree, near the Atlantic.  The serendipity of it all.  Just as I started floating away, Ray floated down.  We hadn’t seen each other since I left the Perimeter.  I didn’t think I would ever see him again.
     “Morty?  Morty?”
     “What?” 
     “Do you want more tea?”
      “Oh…yes…of course.  That would be delightful.”
     Ray snickered as he played with some dangling strands of moss in the lower branches of Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s tree.  “Delightful.  Are you some kind of goof now?”
     “Goof?!  What are you insinuating?”
     “Nothing.  Nothing.  Seriously, though.  I think the Authority is on to you.”
     My bliss collapsed, just hearing the name.  My hands started shaking.  The teacup and saucer were rattling.  Hot tea spilled on my leg.  I jumped up.  Pain was shooting through me. 
     “Dang!”
     “Take it easy.”  Ray was calm.  Ray was always calm.  I didn’t know what to do.  The Authority.  They want to take me away from Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s Shrangi-la?  Where I could see the horizons stretch out in front of me?  I would be so lost without the purple and maroon staff of this tranquil lodge.  What would I do, back in Venue?  In the correctional institute?  I would curl up in a ball on a cot until they strapped me down and inserted a tube in my arm to force feed me.  Fear was taking over, just at the mention of the word Authority. 
     “It’ll be ok.  We’ll figure out what to do.”
     Tears were running down my face.  I couldn’t breathe properly.  My body was shaking.  Convulsions swept through my torso.  I stood up and nearly tripped on some dry leaves.  What was going to happen?  Where would I be?  Would I ever see Leila again?  I thought of her sleeping so soundly in our first floor flat.  I couldn’t bear to tell her about what was going on.  But what was going on.
     “Have some more tea,” Ray suggested.
     “More tea!?  At a time like this?!  Are you completely mad?!”
     Sanjeev Bodhiwala summoned one of his butlers by pressing a button on his silver communicator.  Within 30 seconds, Joshi-sahib, as Sanjeev Bodhiwala addressed him, was pouring tea with his right hand from a silver pot into a ceramic mug on a silver platter he was balancing on his left palm.  Milk and sugar were in the appropriate combinations, I was assured.
     “Sir!”  Joshi-sahib announced, holding the platter in front of me.  I got comfortable in the section Ray had cleared of leaves and accepted the offering.  I felt like a saint.  As if I were the subject of worship and respect.  The cup was warm.  The tea steamy and frothy.  I took a sip.  My body relaxed.  My mind slowed.  I could only think of the tea and the need to balance the cup.  I had to sip slowly, to avoid burning my tongue.
     “The Authority,” Ray whispered.
     “What about them?” I asked.
     “Who’s completely mad now?”
Without the Network.
     My cup was empty.  I looked in the cup.  There were a few small fennel seeds clinging to the side of the cup.  I didn’t know what to do with the cup.  Ray was looking at me, trying to determine if I was in the right frame of mind to deal with what needed to be dealt with.  I held out the cup, at arm’s length, and let it dangle on my index finger.  Ray swooped down to catch it, in case it fell. 
     “Allow me.”  Joshi-sahib was had appeared in front of me, noiselessly.
     “Oh no, it is ok.  I can take it.”
     “Don’t be ridiculous.  It is my duty.”
     I handed over the cup.  Joshi-sahib moved in mysterious ways.
     “What now?”  Ray queried.  “Another few days with Leila?  The chicken lady, as you used to call her.”
     “She has chickens.”
     “That is not the point.  You need a plan.  The Authority will find you.”
     “How can you be so sure?”
     “It’s all over the network.”
     My cloud jumping was catching up with me.  The network was so alluring.  Everything was on there.  Every action of man.  It was the greatest book ever written.  Some parts were password protected.  Some parts required fees.  But everything was digitized.  Knowledge and transactions.  Births and deaths.  Road closures and weather forecasts.  Religious texts and pornographic entreaties.  Manifestos of injustices and explications of string theory.  Maps and tablature.  The unpublished love songs of Charlie Darwin.
      Sometimes I was overwhelmed.  My life was nothing without the network.  I missed being part of it.  So lonely was I without the network.
     “Screw the network.  You can’t play in the snow on the network.  Or smell the air after the storm clouds pass.”
     “I know, but-“
     “No but.  It is destroying you.  It will lead you back to a tiny cell in Venue, with only your thoughts to keep you company.  Is that what you want?”
     “My thoughts aren’t so bad.”
     “Really.  Then why did you leave?”
     Sometimes Ray made a lot of sense. 
     “When’s the last time you were on the cloud?”
     “This morning.”
     “THIS MORNING?!  What’s wrong with you?  What did you need it for?  Who did you need to talk to?”
     “Leila was sleeping and I was bored and I thought-“
     “Oh, you thought.  No more network.  No more cloud.  Understand?”
     I sighed.  Everyone was on the network.  My friends new baby pictures.  How would I even know if there was a new baby without the network?  I would be so unconnected.  I would be so lonely.  I wouldn’t know what to do.  Without the network.
Time to Make a Plan.
     The three of us left the tree.  I had drank enough tea.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala had things to do.  He had to sit behind his big desk in the lobby and walk around, inspecting things.  It seemed like a good calling.  He lamented about the economy and difficult times.  My mind was wandering and I couldn’t focus.  I meandered about the gardens, slowly parting company.  I wasn’t sure if I said goodbye properly.  That was one of my deficiencies.  The lack of a proper goodbye.  I never knew what to do.  I still don’t.
     The tree was watching me.  Ray wanted to survey the situation and took my leave.  Leila was slumbering in our executive suite.  I was carrying an empty jelly jar.  I had put sugar and tea leaves.  The lobby had a contraption that dispensed hot water, almost boiling, on demand.  I filled the jar.  The tea and sugar combined and created a sweet elixir.  All that was needed was cream.  I settled for the powdered variety.  Luckily, the jar did not crack.
     I was at a crossroads.  I didn’t know what to do.  Finally, Leila and I met up properly.  It was like bliss on ice.  Unencumbered by anything.  A clean, vacuum of a world we created.  No one else existed.  No thoughts of anything outside our little bubble of freshness.  But that was our approximation of reality.  Too much was in the way.  Maybe we would never be able to come together again.  I was risking my freedom by staying in one spot.  The clouds all around I needed to ignore.  It was fruitless.  I worried.  Maybe our futures had already been assigned a few years ago.  We could not change anything.
     With the Authority on my trail, I couldn’t think clearly.  I would never have the peace of mind that I imagined I would have by now.  Everyone a puzzle lover.  I couldn’t understand.  Life was supposed to be simple.  A factory girl, oilcloth tablecloths, gingham shirts and a drive to the country, little ones running around, books on hand-hewn bookshelves, hardwood floors and a self-perpetuating creation myth that launched each day.  Was I delusional?  Was I asking too much?
     Instead, I was ensconced in luxury.  Eating cream-filled, decadent pastries every morning.  How could it ever work out?  I was from Fancyville.  The Perimeter.  I had made it to the elite sect of society.  I passed all the bubble tests.  Drank the right micro-brews.  Brewed coffees properly.  Wore the right clothes.  Read the influential books.  Listened to the National News Service.  Discussed the proper ideologies.  Respected a certain amount of freedom.  Yet caved into the demands of the Authority.  Worked my shift at the boot and shoe yard, without dissent.  Signed my name like an automaton.  Carried around the proper amount of disdain for those on the Outside.
     Like Leila.
     It wasn’t proper.  What would people say?  A Perimeter man with an Outside girl?  I was so confused at this point.  Why did the Authority care?  If I wanted to leave, I should be able to leave.  It made no sense.  People should be trying to get in, not get out.  That’s the atmosphere the Authority should create.  That’s when they would have control.  Otherwise, things will eventually collapse.  All draconian order that had been imposed by the Authority will fall, I surmised. 
     I remember walking down the street, a few years ago.  I had just got my job at Legal Cares a few months before.  It was the Friday of Veterans Day weekend.   The Authority, as an offshoot of the old federal enclave, recognized it as a holiday.  I had a much needed day off.  I went into town and bought a small plastic flask of Canadian Mist.
     I was in a holiday mood.  The spirit of the season was flowing through me.  Joy Christopher, an abstruse lesbian, waved cheerfully from across the street as I walked towards the forest from the liquor store downtown.
     “How are you doing, Shampy-pampy?!”  I hated being called Shampy-pampy, especially in public.
     “I’ve got the day off and I’ve got a bottle of Canadian Mist!”  My response was all true.  I didn’t know what was wrong.
     I was stopped almost immediately. 
     “Mr. Baguette.”  A stern voice accosted me on the sidewalk.  “May I have a word?”
     “Why certainly!”  I replied cheerfully.
     “I’m from the Language Arts Commission.”  He sent an electronic identification with his picture, name, title and contact details to my silver communicator.  “You’re new to Venue.  As a chosen one, from a satellite community, we’re glad to have you here.  However, your behavior on the street, while fine in Pennsylvania, is not customary here.  When you say, ‘I’ve got the day off and I’ve got a bottle of Canadian Mist,’ the implication is that you’re about to become inebriated.  Am I correct?”
     “Yes.”
     “We’ve received several complaints.  Please be more circumspect.  There will be a training for you.  We’ll let you know the time and place.”
     And so it began.  It all crept up on me slowly.  I didn’t realize what Venue was all about until I started to explode.  I couldn’t go back.  I had to stay on the Outside.  I didn’t care what people said.  It was time to make a plan.  Ray was right.
My Mind was Flowing Now.
     I was slow without Ray.  The next couple of days, he was not around.  Probably went out to the coast to check out the piscatorial offerings.  He was always one to dally.  He could have anything he wanted.  I didn’t know what was out there.  Except a young lady whale.  A porpoise and a whale would not be a match made in heaven.
     I had to move on.  The clouds had been right in front of me.  So tempted was I.  What would be the harm?  I tried to tell myself that it was not dangerous, that no one was watching.  Ray might be anywhere.  Maybe he was surfing invisible waves, on cloud crests, stretched out horizontally over miles, materialized in hyphens or ellipses scattered through the sky.  He could slip into harmony effortlessly with the immutable laws of the cloud universe.  Diving and ascending, following the tails of cloud systems as they passed over the barrier islands out to the Atlantic, Ray made the most of wherever he found himself.
     I wanted to be like that.  Instead, I was the opposite.  I continued to worry.  Ray was even happy in the Perimeter, I just realized.  How could that be?  I felt like I was carrying this glowing globe around with me always. 
     After the morning pastries, I went for a ride.  The coast was only a mile or so away.  It had been several days since Ray had been around.  I found a handlebar bag, attached it, and started pedaling.  The bag had a few things for repairs and emergencies. 
     The sun was rising when I saw the ocean.  Everything was silver.  The sand looked like snow in the half-light.  Water was everywhere.  Renewal was in the air.  Clouds were dissipating in the east as the sun grew brighter.  I got off the bike and found a place to rest, hidden from the massive, towering concrete buildings, some 30 stories high, filled with sleeping people and pets.
     I reached into the handlebar bag for a clementine.  A glass apparatus was there and some green detritus.  A blue lighter was in a pocket reserved for cookies. 
     “So.  To the sea at last.  You have managed to escape the pastries.  Finally.” 
     I began to cough violently and smile broadly as I nearly choked on a section of clementine.
     “Ray.  How did you find me?”
     “The question that must be presented is, rather, how did you misplace me?”
     Ray always made me think.  My mind was flowing now.  Seeing only possibilities that were positive.  I stood up and took a hit of sunshine, right to my face.  My coffee-colored eyes were closed.  “How can this be?”
     “How can what be?”
     “That I am always losing things?”
     “Think about it.”
     “Think about what?”
     “Just think about it.  You will find it.”
     “I don’t understand.”
     “You will.”
     I stopped under a tree and wrote to P. Saint on a magnolia leaf.  She was back in the Perimeter, probably wondering what happened to me.
     Hey Babe,
          There’s an ice storm, a glaze of ice over the world that i see.  I fired out detritus from glassy. Smoke-filled balloons are pulling me around.    I woke up early   I had dreams of getting up early and upchucking a chapter.  I rolled over and thought I did it.  But I did it  Maybe there is one more in me.
     Maybe I'll just pretend this is a chapter and I'll wonder what to do next.  Maybe a little port for my boat.  I’ll  watch the storm of the century.  Where we can be free to be you and me?  Where would that be?  Maybe last century.  Everyone a puzzle lover, trying to figure out what the angles are.  The curves that we spin around.  Warning each of us, like a beacon in the morning mist.  There are seagulls to the east.  Invisible rhythms are all around.
     I got back on my bike.  Bid my adieu and falter for a second, whip my leg over the French frame and slip away back to Sanjeev's lodge, where Leila is still nestling peacefully.  I hope the freezing rain doesn't lead the way.  I'll take a little extra time.  There's not too much accumulation.
Satisfaction on Demand.
     The breezes were behind me.  What would Sanjeev Bodhiwala be doing now?  It was pastry time once again.  Maybe Leila was up and we could reconvene where we left off.  But she was most certainly ready to take her leave, wash her hair and shave her legs and the entire production it was for her to get ready to greet the day.
     Rarely did I take a bath.  I sailed alongside the shoulder of the road.  There wasn’t much traffic at this time.  Diners were turning on their lights, firing up their grills, rustling out sausages and bacon and biscuits.
     I saw yellow lighting up ahead and a familiar curvature.  My favorite eatery.  It was just a block away.  What to do?  Leila would be mad if I stopped.  My paunch was getting larger every day.  The pastries at the lodge were having an effect.  How could I just roll by?  A sign indicated free access to the cloud.  My small black communicator was in the handlebar bag.  Maybe just a peek at the network activity.  Who would know?  Would the Authority really be able to find me?  Follow a ping thousands of miles away from Venue? 
     I knew better.
     I stopped and locked up my bicycle and removed the handlebar bag.  I breathed in the flame fired grease and let it take over my mind.  The aroma was like music.  It freed my mind.  I stood there in a stupor.  I should go.  Back to the handmade pastries at the lodge.  I didn’t know what to do.  Ray was fading away.  He got distracted on the way back from the beach and said he’d see me back at the lodge.  I couldn’t wait so long.  Going back to the lodge, asking him what to do, and then coming back if he said yes, I can go to my favorite eatery?  And take a view from the clouds?  He would never advise me to do that. 
     The crossroads were right in front of me.  The sausage biscuits were so sublime.  I could feel them, so buttery and satisfying and they slid down the gullet.  Please Ray, just one.  Can you hear me?  Just a minute on the network.  Maybe there were some new jokes.  Some news articles people suggest I read.  Some vacation pictures.  Maybe someone posted a picture of the pets.  Or something funny a toddler said.  Maybe there was news I needed to know about.  A populist uprising.  Maybe a weather event was about to overload the infrastructure.  I should know about this.
     “Got a quarter?  Buy a paper.”
     Ray.
     “I don’t want a paper.”
     “Listen to the radio.”
     “It’s not as robust.”
     “Ask Sanjeev Bodhiwala what is going on.”
     “What does he know?”
     “Seek the tranquility of your own mind.”
     “Now you’ve really lost me.”
     “Write a letter.  Like you just did.”
     I sighed.  So close.  Maybe disaster would have taken over had I stepped up to the counter.  I grudgingly unlocked my bicycle.  There is nothing like immediate gratification.  Satisfaction on demand.  There must be a better way.  Back to Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s lodge I rode. 
A Wave of Perspiration Came Over Me.
     A cold snap.  All of a sudden, I smacked into a wall of chilled air.  A mass like nothing before had I encountered.  I didn’t know what was happening.  Hexagonal formations were all around me.  My tires slid underneath and I nearly toppled over.  A lucky bloke was I not to be a piece of road pizza, flesh and bones and blood underneath the wheels of a Ford F150 loaded to the hilt with non-papered laborers.
     The crystals were enormous.  I saw specimens with six perfects straight and equal sides.  There were prisms, needles and columns.  I had never seen a perfect crystal falling from the heavens.  The collisions between perfection and partial melting of the warm air near the ground always resulted in irregularities.  I had heard of perfection.  And there it was, captured on the sleeve of my space coat.  I slowed down, French frame coasting to stillness, and watched the exquisite beauty slowly melting as the heat from my body flowed through the polymers that permitted its escape but refused the entry of moisture.  I watched as angles became curves.  Such a simple design.  I could almost hear its pleas to continue.  The sound of confusion as death reigned once again and another transformation took place.
     There was the sound of a clearing of a gullet.
     “Ahem.”  Ray.
     I was so moved by the sight on my sleeve.  I was nearly in tears.
     “You have things to do.  You need to get back.”
     “What do I need to do?”
     “Start riding.  Now.”
     I complied.  It was cold.  I needed to get moving to warm up.  The cold had enveloped me.  It was freezing.  Just moving, my bones hurt.  I didn’t want to move.  I would be even colder at first.  I began to pedal.  The space coat kept out most of the bicycle created breeze’s effect.  I pedaled faster.  Heat began to emanate from within.  A small fire ball began to glow within.  I slipped into a rhythm, just in front of a wave, and felt alright.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s lodge loomed in front of me.  I crossed the street, rode through the parking lot and up the wheelchair ramp and dismounted.  I kicked out the kick stand and gave Frenchie a break.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala was in the lobby, mucking about behind his massive desk.  Pastries were calling.
     Ray stayed outside.  He didn’t know the chef and was a bit shy sometimes. 
     “I had a Mexican working for me.  He was living here.  I gave him room.  But then I find he was selling drugs.  Into prostitution.  So I fired him.  Then he sued me.  Used one of those free places.  Like where you told me you worked.”
     “How did you know he was into drugs and prostitutes?”
     “He got beat up one day.”
      “Oh.”  It didn’t make sense.  He must have known more than that.  Maybe he just knew things.  How did he know where I used to work?  Did I tell him?  Was he tracking me on the cloud?  Following me all over the network?  Sometimes I talk too much.  Especially if Ray was there.  A wave of perspiration came over me.  My heart was racing.  Ray was outside, thinking about magic numbers.  I never understood his concept.  He said he would publish a paper on it and would be recognized around the world.  That, and a buck fifty, would get you a ham sandwich, I told him.  Porpoises don’t eat ham sandwiches, he told me.  That’s not the point, I told him.  Then what, pray tell, is the point? Ray had asked.
     What, pray tell, is the point, I wondered, as the heat overwhelmed me.  I thought I had a fever.  Maybe I should consult a medical professional.  Perhaps they had some magic elixir to cure what ailed me.  Maybe a siren-songed vehicle could fetch me immediately and deposit me at the closest refectory for a proper repast.  Pastries were killing me.  I felt so bad.

Anything Could Be Formed.
     The custard creamy filling was so soothing.  The raspberry linzer tortes were the same as the ones at Old Sammy’s Comestibles in San Francisco, up on Russian Hill.  The chef was one of the co-founders. 
     “Yes sir.  It was the place to be.  I was there in the 1960’s.  It was founded by Austrians in the 1890s.  My grandfather worked there between the wars and he secured me the position.  The Washington Shuttle founders used to eat their.  They were just finishing their evening of fun when we were opening.  It is no wonder the lovely young singer, Lacey Pluck, became morbidly obese.”
     It was the first time any of Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s staff said more than the obligatory greeting.  The raspberry linzer torte was so captivating of my senses that I wanted to know more.  These were not ordinary pastries.  How could one ever stop?  Look what happened to Lacey Pluck.  Such a sad story.  I couldn’t think of it right now.  Maybe I’d open a few of the Washington Shuttle files I had stored on my silver communicator.  But not right now.  They were not good files for the morning.
     I took some Dextro and began to think of things that were not there.  My eyelids slowly closed.  The cold snap had moved on.  Frenchie was still outside on the sidewalk, perched on her kickstand.  Ray was still thinking about magic numbers.  I could tell by the look in his face.  He never ate the tortes.  He would like them.  I was certain of that.  He refused to try them.  He had said he knew all about Lacey Pluck.  It was a well-known tragic downfall.  Lacey and the Pelican, holed up in an underwater Victorian, a stone’s throw from the National Shrine.
     “The one in Washington?  DC?”  I couldn’t believe it.
     “Yeah.  Why so surprised?”
     “I know the Pelican.” 
     “There is no way.  You know the Pelican?  He was one of the co-founders of Washington Shuttle.  That’s crazy.”
     I had never surprised Ray before.  Porpoises had a wealth of calm.  They were the inspiration for a t-shirt that was popular last century that proclaimed “Nothing’s Shocking.”
     “Lacey now goes by the name Linda.  She had surgery recently to have some of the excess poundage removed.”
     Ray started giggling uncontrollably.
     “What?”  I demanded to know the source of his mirth.
     “Poundage.”
     “Poundage.”
     I hadn’t thought of the Pelican in a while.  His messages I had stopped reading.  I stopped calling him back.  He was wasting my minutes.  There were only so many minutes in a day.  So many minutes in a week.  So many minutes in a life.  But that figure was indeterminate.  So we acted as if it were infinite.  Our minutes are regulated.  Outside, there were no formal limits.  Conversations could extend indefinitely.  Not like in the Perimeter.  For the first time, thinking of all the turmoil the Pelican caused, I missed the Perimeter and its draconian structure.  The mixed potentialities it created, because of its strict control of all resources, down to mental energy, word usage and thought processes, created a cauldron from which anything could be formed.  I never realized it before.  I never knew what I was a part of.  Or why I was running.  Really.
It was nearly 9 a.m.
     “That is wacked out, my boy.”
     “Don’t say my boy.  I hate that.”
     “Why could that be, my boy?
     “Stop!”
     My boy.  Ray resumed his uncontrollable giggling.  Myboymyboymyboy.”
     A porpoise mimicking a pelican.  Just what I needed.  I could stand it no longer.  I wished all my days could extend into the night.  It didn’t make sense.  Could the immutable laws governing the cloud universe above be applied to the clouds of communications near to the ground?  I wondered.  Maybe Ray could help, floating along with a hyphen or ellipsis that broke off.  That we broke off.  How would we break it off?  Would transmissions still occur?  Would signals emerge and messages be comprehended?  Would tracking of my activity still be possible?  There were so many variables.
     Ray was no help.  He was rolling on the ground underneath the tree.  He was enjoying his fit of merriment.  I glared at him. 
     “Oh, come now.  Lighten up.”
     “I wish I could sleep late and wait for an answer.”
     “Don’t bother.  It can’t be done.”
     “You don’t even know what I’m thinking.” 
     “Of course I do.  You know I do.”  Ray became quiet and stopped giggling.  “It is an interesting idea.  With the right conditions, maybe.  I don’t know.  It’s too risky.  Do you really need to be connected so badly?”
     Ray didn’t need to ask.  He knew the answer.  It was all I thought about.  Maybe I should just forget about it.  I was free.  I was out of Venue.  That was what I wanted.  I sat down and Ray seemed lost in thought.  He got up, off the ground, and nearly bumped his head on one of the low-hanging branches.  Moss was covering his head like a wig. 
     “There must be something.  Someway.”  He was talking to himself.  He was lost in thought.  “If the colors were red, if the ionosphere released a multitude of charged particles during a solar flare, the clouds directly underneath would be partitioned in a way the reflected the new structure above.  The observations from orbiting observers could be used to pinpoint within inches the breakaway formations.  I could follow along and guide you.  I think if we used an emission of an appropriate charge we could keep the independent formation intact.  I need to think about this.”
     Ray muttered to himself as he took his leave.  I looked at my watch.  It was nearly 9 a.m.  Leila would be ready to go.  She didn’t want any pastries.  Maybe some eggs from the Egg Tree.  I really needed to find some eggs.
My Torso was Renewed.
     I got to have my fun.  I’ve chosen what’s next.  Not anybody else.  Three minutes to nine.  Coffee and pastries until nine, the sign in the lobby said in playful purple magic marker.  The heck with anyone.  I wanted another torte.  So sue me.
     I walked in like I owned the place.  Like it was my own personal floating luxury speedy houseboat that could win races.  I was brimming with confidence.  This can be done, I told myself.  Joshi-sahib was clearing some dishes.  The Chef, Prometheus Walia, was about to remove his hat when I caught his eye.  As soon as he saw me, he repositioned the hat and placed his hands behind him.
     He bowed.  “Sir Shampy.  Care for something else?”  He said this without the hint of derision.  He knew I could soon resemble Lacey Pluck, or, heaven forbid, the Potomac Elephant, if I kept up my current rate of carnage.
     “Chef Walia.  The Torte Walla.  Walia-walla.”  The thoughts in my head began guffawing, a hiccup in my logic, as I thought about Torte Walla, Walia-walla.  I nearly began a Ray-like giggle fit.  It was uncontrollable.  I began to understand Ray’s perspective.  The Chef would be consumed in a fit a consternation because of my giggle fit.  But he would have no reason to be in such a state of mind.  But he wouldn’t know there wasn’t a reason.  He would, quite justifiably, believe that there was a proper reason.  If there wasn’t a proper reason, why would he allow himself that reaction?  Unless the consternation wasn’t of his own choosing.
     He surprised me.
     “Walia-walla.”  He dropped his wooden spoon into a metal bowl that had a bit of dough in it.  The resulting clang caught Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s attention and he looked up from his mobile window.  Prometheus covered his mouth with his left hand, the corners of a smile peered out, just above the index finger.  A brief fit of laughter erupted before he managed to cap the underlying volcano of mirth.
     “My apologies.”  He said sternly, with a straight face.  “You made me laugh.  What can I get you?”
     Sanjeev Bodhiwala repositioned his mobile window, cleared his throat and nodded.  He resumed his studies and his gaze left us.
     “The usual.”  I sat down and thought about things.  What to do next.  I was so nervous that I was becoming cold.  I was shivering.  I thought my worry had finally got the best of me.  Underneath my space coat was a30 year old brown crocheted vest and a fraying striped dress shirt.  No wonder I was so cold.  I was wearing rags.  The material had no capacity to retain heat.  The large strands of yarn of the brown vest was so loose I could put my finger through it.  Why was I dressed like a hobo?  I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  I looked like a half-witted demented circus monkey.  All I needed was a small red jacket with golden epaulets and golden rope bordering the sleeves.  And a funny hat.  Then I could impress the audience by my ability to sit still on a stool, hold a newspaper as if I were reading the stock market quotes, and sip from a cup of steaming coffee.
     Coffee.  That would warm me up.  Chef Walia made the best coffee.  He roasted the beans himself in a cast iron pan over a flame from a wood-fire outside near the tree.  The glass, sealed carafe was nearly full.  It would be steaming.  The heavy cream was warming in a stainless steel decanter.  He saw me looking.  He poured a cup.  Before he could put it on the table in front of him, Joshi-sahib was there with his silver tray.  Chef Walia added cream and honey from his hives in the proportions I liked and topped it off with a half spoon of sugar.  It was orbital fuel.  Like the concoction that launched the International Ultraviolet Explorer 30 years ago.  As old as my brown sweater vest.  I hoped the Explorer was not so torn and frayed.
     Joshi-sahib brought the perfectly mixed drink to me.  I lifted the mug.  My fingers were warmed on contact.  I could feel the heat radiating through me.  I took a sip.  My torso was renewed.  The glowing-fireball within was stoked.  I zipped up my space coat and tried to conserve the heat inside.  It was high time I returned to Leila.
The Potomac Elephant.
     My silver communicator had another “Received call” in its list.  10:01 last night.  I had been busy with Leila.  The Potomac Elephant.  This had to stop.  It had also rung this morning while I was at my favorite eatery, about to jump through the cloud.
     There was something wrong.  Why was this happening again?  He’s a bloke.  Blokes don’t call other blokes twice a day.  Everyday.  Other fellows got this way.  I didn’t understand. 
     The Potomac Elephant was one of the worst of his kind.  He spent most of his day foraging and eating.  The slaughter he was capable achieved some sort of devout level of consciousness.  Charanjit Singh.  His father had come to this country with so much promise.  Studying with a Nobel prize winner in physics in Ithaca, but yet never published or found a permanent position.  He was always a lowly contractor, doing data entry and analysis type work for one of the many space-related initiatives that started in the 1960’s.    40 years later, he had nothing to show for it.  No body of work.  No mass of money chugging along, spitting off dividends. 
     The Potomac Elephant was a fool.  I took an instant dislike to him.  He was one of those fake hippy dippy balls of fluff.  Anger was seething beneath his proclamations of love and peace and harmony and wisdom.  I couldn’t take it.  I wanted to explode.  He didn’t understand communication channels.  He kept jumping to last century’s phone, person to person.  Time after time, I sent him messages on the network, on one of the various channels that were robust and live, but each time in response he activated my silver communicator’s voice function and left a message that couldn’t be scanned.
     I sent him messages that demanded a response.  I knew he was on the network.  I saw his trail.  He had time to attach videos of cute cats and pictures of people doing complex yoga poses with a cute monkey, but had no time to communicate information.  His thoughts were revealed over the network.
     He wanted to get together.  Somehow, he had heard that I would be near the Potomac after departing Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s lodge.  If the Potomac Elephant could discern my movements, the Authority already knew where I was.  It could pick me up, lickety-split.  The last time I was on the cloud, I had sent the Potomac Elephant a message:  Sunday you can come over if you like.  I have a busy schedule Thursday, Friday and Sunday.  It was an enormous risk.  No response through the channel I had established.  Instead, two silver communicator activations.  Sunday, I used the public network and posted a message, after I had agreed to meet him on Thursday.  I have to go to a reception on a hill.  How about Saturday?
     No response.  Only the rambling thoughts of a halfwit.
Brother Jeremy, very good to hear a word from you.  I have started studying Western Kit Drumming and continue with the African and panGlobal rhythms nicely.I’m doing well in Physical Therapist school. I go until May 2012 and then bounce to SanDiego.  Much love and Aloha, Charanjit.
                         
Ana, you are so beautiful and sincere. I know all will be well with you as you do your mission of love and mercy and joy. Blessings from a brother, Charanjit.

                        i see and feel your Genius and potency more than ever

i'm working on integrating Traditional African DunDun rhythms with Kirtan accompanied on Electric Sitara. Long-range Project just getting underway.
     All of this and no response to my two messages.  I removed the public one.  I was doomed, I felt certain.  This hippy-dippy, roly-poly lurdane would be the end of my freedom.  How to teach him a lesson, I wondered. 
A Behemoth of an Elephant.
     Now I was starting to get angry.  Really angry.  F-bombs were ready to drop.  I desisted.  Even in my mind.  Frack the Potomac Elephant!  I’m going to destroy him!  What an idiot.  My temper was flaring, charging and scattering everyone around me.  Ray was nowhere to be seen.  I couldn’t remember the last time I saw him, so overwhelmed by the seething rage that bubbled up inside of me, about to erupt and spew forth.  Ray was never around during these eruptions.  Maybe he knew they were coming.  Maybe he was scared and scattered.  Who wants to be covered in hot, flaming detritus spewing forth from an angry demented circus monkey?  Who knew what a creature in such a state was capable of flinging?  Certainly it wasn’t the subject of polite conversation.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala would be shocked.  Joshi-sahib would be disappointed.  Chef Prometheus Walia would not be smiling.  I refrained and kept in check the strong penchant to verbally utter my thoughts.
     He is so stupid.  He is such an idiot.  He told me about the chariot he recently bought when he was living on an island in the Pacific.  A perfect place for an elephant.  How he got there is a mystery.  He doesn’t know himself.  No boat could hold him.  Airplanes wouldn’t be able to take off which such dense, voluminous matter as cargo.  I couldn’t imagine.
     He bought a brand new, silver chariot.  It had a special mechanism to transfer energy in a seamless fashion.  It was gearless.  The transmission was contained in a sealed unit.  Somehow, water had got into the sealed unit and had to be replaced.  He lamented about his fortune.  He had to give up his beautiful chariot, the only model made that could sufficiently support his massive bulk without collapsing, in exchange for a few hundred bags of peanuts.  Maybe that’s not the right number.  But the peanuts were worth about a thousand bucks.  Not bad, I thought, for a broken, silver chariot. 
     It seemed strange when he told me about it.  The repairs would cost 4,000 bucks.  Then he could use it.  The repairs would make it like new.  A new one cost about 20,000 bucks.  A lot of coins for a chariot.  That is the price of being a fatso, I figured.  I was lucky.  I could ride my bicycle everywhere if Sandy Brown was down.  Or walk.  The Potomac Elephant could barely walk.  His breathing was impaired.  He would gurgle, breath and saliva struggling to make it past his epiglottis.  It turned my stomach to be around him.  Even on the phone, I felt rather nauseated.
     The Potomac Elephant had to leave the island because he tried to abscond with a geode, some sort of plain-looking orb that was filled with purple crystals.  He told me it had magical powers.  I was puzzled.  If he had paid to repair the chariot, he could have sold it for at least four times the cost of the repairs – sixteen times what he sold it for.  4800 bags of peanuts instead of a few hundreds.  Maybe he didn’t have the money.  Something didn’t make sense.  The geode business also made me wonder.
     He was obsessed with long-bottom leaf.  It was all he talked about.  He must have been hitting the leaf when he stole the geode.  The leaf grows in ravines behind shady rocks.  It has medicinal powers that lets the spirit soar and has a similar effect to a cup of tea.  How he managed to obtain the leaves was beyond me.  The streams coming down from the mountains on the island were narrow and steep.  Even a normal sized elephant would be unable to get there.  A behemoth of an elephant would have no chance.  This fact puzzled me.
     “Oh, I used to purchase it from a leaf dealer.  I had to pay about 120 bucks for a quarter of an ounce.”
     I was shocked.  120 bucks for something one can pick for free by nearly any stream?  Anyone but a Potomac Elephant. 
I had My Limits.
     I couldn’t stop thinking about the Potomac Elephant.  I needed to get back to the flat.  Leila needed to get back to the mountains by mid-afternoon.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala had an 11 o’clock checkout time.  But if I needed an extra hour or so, he told me with a barely perceptible side-tilt of his head, it would be ok.  My silver communicator’s voice function was activated as I walked towards the flat.
     The Potomac Elephant.
     He had told me about the plain rock full of crystals. 
     “I was acquitted.”  He had tried to steal the rock.  I didn’t understand.  Rocks are all over the place.  Why would one need to steal a rock?  Maybe it was a special rock.  Why would one need to buy a rock?  It made no sense.  The entire rock business did not make sense.  I would try to figure out the rock market later.  People buy and sell rocks.  People try to steal things that are for sale. 
     We were walking by the towpath near the canal which ran along the northern bank of the Potomac River when Charanjit, the elephant, told me about the island and the rock.  He reverted back to his favorite topic, long-bottom leaf.
     “As part of my probation, I could not harness the magical powers of the leaf.  That is who I am.  It is part of my essence.  It is my medicine, yeah?”
     I was getting more and more confused.  Why would he be on probation if he had been acquitted of stealing the rock?  If you beat the rap on stealing a rock, they don’t normally restrict your leaf use.
     “Four years.  Four years I could not use the healing powers of the leaf.  My medicine.”  We were barely moving on the towpath.  It had been a warm summer day, the June before I moved to Venue.  Sweat was pouring down Charanjit’s face.  His breathing was labored.  I feared he would collapse.  I suggested that we sit on a bench when we reached the next canal lock.
     “Ah, I am fine.  We can continue walking,” he said as he eased himself onto the shady part of the bench.  He had been telling me about his parents.
     “Mama is cruel.”
     “Cruel?  What has she done?”
     “She is so cruel.  You would not believe.  She tells me I am fat and disgusting.  And that she would not let any girl near me.” 
     I suppressed the thoughts in my head.  You are fat and disgusting.  I wouldn’t let my cat near you.
     “And once I lost it.  But she had it coming.  Calling me such names.  Saying all kinds of things about me.  And to my father.  This is a family secret.  But she is abusive.  Belittles him.  I know I shouldn’t have done it.  But she had it coming.  I pushed her to the ground.  I got violent.  I got physical.”
     I wanted to hear more.  So I tried to appear sympathetic.  Or empathetic. 
     “Oh I understand.  Sometimes you just get so mad you can’t control it.  I totally understand.  It sounds like she deserved it.”
     “She called me fat.”
     You are fat.  Suppress.  Suppress.  “I can’t believe that!  Why would she say that?  She should try to be nice to you.  She’s your mother.  She should be supportive.”  Who could support a fat-ass like you? 
     “I know, right!?  She has some issues.”
     “Have you gone to some sort of family counseling?  Maybe that would help?”  I suggested.
     “Oh, she would never go.  If she did, she would try to take control of the whole thing.”
     It was warm out and above us, small puffy clouds were heading to the Atlantic.  I wanted to go home.  I couldn’t wait to part company with Charanjit.  Then I could relax and enjoy the day.
     And here he was again.  On my silver communicator.  Wanting to lament about his misfortunes again.  I had made a vow to be more understanding.  But I had my limits.
I Didn’t Do Anything.
     I activated my silver communicator and listened to the elephant’s message.  “Aloha, Shampy.  It’s Charanji.  We’ve been exchanging little messages over the network.  And that’s ok.  But I’d really like to talk to you.  See how you’re doing.  What have you been doing?  Ok.  My mama has come back from her pilgrimage to the homeland.  India.  So we’ve been getting a dose of each other.  But do call soon.  I’d like to talk to you.”
     I was steamed.  Another message.  I was burning up my minutes listening to his long, rambling words that said nothing.  Conveyed absolutely no information.  A colossal waste of time. 
     I called him back.  The sun had just set and it was Saturday.  He had called 10 times that week.  I so loathed talking to him that I took a risk and sent him a couple of encrypted messages that used the network transmission infrastructure.  I was taking a risk, but it was pretty safe.  It wasn’t live and robust, like the public network.  No one could see me.  My node changed constantly as I hopped from long, flat clouds to small isolated ones.  Making the phone call was stressing me.  The elephant left so many messages, maybe there was some sort of emergency.  Maybe he just needed to talk to someone.  Maybe he was lonely.  I felt guilty.  I was a decent bloke.
     I pushed the green button on my silver communicator when the words “Fatso” appeared in the scroll on the screen.
     “Shampy.”  He answered.
     “Charanjit.  How is your paw?”  He had broken his ankle a few weeks earlier.  I was surprised at how it happened.  He had left a message right after it had happened.  “Well, I really did it this time.  I was at the Krishna temple for free lunch, and I got into it with some black guys. I pushed them.  They pushed back.”  He said the bone was broken completely. 
     “It’s ok.”
     “Do you still have a cast on?”
     “No.  No.  I’m wearing some Teva sandals.”
     “Really?”  I was surprised.  A clean break and a couple of weeks later, sandals?  Something did not compute.  I was beginning to have doubts.
     “Actually, I’m hitting the books.  I’ll call you back, real soon.”
     What a relief.  Only a minute or two wasted.  Not a colossal waste.  I had been wandering since the morning.  Sanjeev Bodhiwala suggested I stay another night, as his guest.  He could see I was in no condition to drive.  After Joshi-sahib brought me coffee in the morning, I went back to the flat.  Leila was gone.  Back to the mountains and her world full of candy and smiles.  Once again, I was all alone.  No note, nothing.  All her bags were gone.  It was as if she had never been there.  The room had been cleaned and some sort of disinfectant sprayed to cleanse the air.  I couldn’t smell anything that reminded me of her.
     I called her.
     “WHAT.”
     “Hey.”
     “Hey.”
     “You left?  You didn’t say goodbye?”
     “You were too busy eating doughnuts and talking to your friends.  And you don’t know how to say goodbye properly.  You have the social graces of a house cat.  Aloof and spooky.”
     “House cats aren’t spooky.”
     “The one I’m thinking of is.  I’m driving.  Good-BYE.”
     I guess that was it.  What was she so mad at?  I didn’t do anything.
A Flash of Red.
     Ray was nowhere around.  There was no way to contact him.  He had no communicator, silver or otherwise.  He just appeared when he felt like it.
     I was alone.  I wandered over to see Sanjeev Bodhiwala’s tree.  It offered little comfort.  But nothing had changed in the tree.  Joshi-sahib was there with Prometheus.  They were smoking little Reedy cigarettes.  They offered me three.  One for now.  A second for now.  And one for anytime.  I accepted them, holstered two in my shirt pocket and lit the last.
     I inhaled gently and released a plume of smoke that unfurled in the moss hanging overhead.  A flash of purple above caught my eye.  There was a freshly raked patch of dirt next to the tree.  Joshi-sahib gestured forcefully.  “Take it!”
     I sat, the softness of the earth consoling my worries.  Another toke, another flash of purple. 
     “The sacred pint alone, eh?”
     “Literary snob.”
     “Come now.  No need to retort insultingly.”  Ray sat in front of me.  I had never seen him sit before.
     “It will be ok.”  He patted me with a dorsal fin.  “This too shall pass.”
     “Please.  What shall pass?  I don’t care.  Leila can go for a dive.” 
     “Call her again.”
     Joshi-sahib and Prometheus chimed in.  “Yes, do call her.  That is a capital idea.”  How did they know what we were talking about?  What the situation was?  Nothing is private at the lodge.  Everybody talks.  But nothing is on the network.
     I relented.  The silver communicator lit up when Ray lifted it out of my pocket.  He handed it to Joshi-sahib.  Joshi-sahib presented it to me on his silver platter.
     “Do not delay.”  Prometheus advised.  “Do it now.”
     I pushed the button when “Firepink” scrolled across the screen.  I listened intently.  Like the dog on the old RCA labels.  The ringing stopped.  There were sounds and then silence.  She closed the channel.
     “Send her a writing,” Ray suggested.
     “No, it is not a good idea.”
     Before I had a chance, there was a flash of red.  Words streamed across the screen.  “LEAVE ME ALONE.  I CAN’T STAND THE THOUGHT OF YOU.”
     That said it all.  I had to obey.  That is what she wanted.  I did not want to aggravate her further.  What response was there to that?  I extinguished the Reedy on a stick and put it in my shirt pocket with the others.  I would save them for later.  I was not in the mood right now.  I just wanted to go back to my flat and lie down for a while.  Maybe have a cup of tea.
     It was time to plan.  The Authority would surely be able to track the phone calls and writings.  It was so foolish of me.   
     Chulo!  Get up.  Let’s go.  No more dilly-dallying!  I’m not going to mollycoddle you lazy ruffians any longer.”
     Joshi-sahib and Prometheus were on their feet in a second.  The bowed beseechingly to Sanjeev Bodhiwala.  “Yes sir.  Very sorry sir.”
     I sprang up.
     “No, no.  Bus, teekha.  It is ok.”