RALPH AND TIMOTHY SITTING IN A JEEP, D-R-I-V-I-N-G, FIRST COMES TRAFFIC, THEN COMES IRVINE, THEN COMES NAS ON THE RADIO.
Ralph was inside the Men’s Warehouse, talking to his “sweet connect,” who, Ralph claimed could get them, “twice as much Glenmorangie as we want at half the cost we want to pay,” though he said he was half-kidding after Timothy said he wanted to pay half of nothing, and “if he’s so connected why does he work at a Burlington Coat Factory,” and Ralph said, “no, Men’s Warehouse.”
The fill cracking on the neon “Men’s Warehouse” sign and something about the December dummies in the window wearing formalwear made him so sad, reminded him of his speech and his new friend who promised to write it for him, “Get Down,” by Nas a bassy distraction he’d take, scribbling notes on the back of an envelope, before the song ended and the man on the radio brings him back to reality (“Greek riot police have killed a 15-year-old boy…”) and Ralph gets back into the car with an in-between good and bad look on his face.
“What are you listening to?”
“I don’t know – don’t change it – I want to know what happened.”
“So. What’d he say?”
“He said we have to wait until he gets off.”
Ralph looks to his watch.
“An hour and a half.”
“What the fuck, Ralph. I have to be back by seven.”
“Seven. I told you.”
“No. You said you wanted to be back by seven. You did say you had to be back by seven.”
“What’s so imp –”
“I have to pick up a fucking bathtub for Mona.”
“Yes. We bought one of those stupid old bathtubs that look like they have feet, and we had it cleaned by some hack bathtub cleaner in the Valley, and I need to pick it up tonight, because it’s the only time I can borrow a truck, and the tub cleaner is leaving for Venezuela tomorrow.
“Can’t we just get the scotch another night?”
“No. I promised a bottle for a client, and I have to give it to him tomorrow, because he’s leaving for Venezuela too.”
After a back and forth they learned that it wasn’t the same man. Two separate people with the same 11 a.m. flights out of LAX to CCS on AeroMexico; one checking on his golf course, which the government had threatened to close, the other going to a funeral for his mother-in-law who fought a long battle with Alzheimer’s, and finally drown in the bath in what wasn’t necessarily a suicide, but “if it was I don’t blame her, but drowning, really? That would take some balls,” though she was a ballsy woman according to the Jon from TubScrubber LLC.
“We passed a Sizzler, if you’re hungry.”
“Back there, next to the Bed, Bath & Beyond.”
“Oh. I could eat.”
And they did.
One unlimited salad bar, one “monster of a steak, whatever you recommend.”
One coke and a lemonade.
“How’re things going between you and old Nancy Drew?”
“She mentioned you’ve been talking a lot about time travel.”
“No more than usual.”
“Did I mention that I bought a boat?”
“She mentioned The Problem.”
“She didn’t say, said you just called it, ‘The Problem,’ and I’ll level with you, pal, she told me to take you along to shake some info from you on this problem of yours, and the sooner we get down to it and get it out here on this table,” he smacked the table with an open palm, “the sooner we get back home, and your boy can mosey on down to Venezuela.”
“We still have to wait for the scotch.”
“Nope. There’s no scotch.”
“Then what –”
“This is all about The Problem.”
“Well then what the fuck were you doing in Men’s Warehouse?”
“I was trying on peacoats.”
Timothy stormed out, stormed back in. Just because Ralph is an asshole, doesn’t mean I should forgo all the delicious salad owed to me. The salad bars at Sizzler have additional taco stations too, and dessert bars.
So Timothy had at it: lentil soup, tacos with spicy/cheesy sauces, fruits like melon and oranges, salads with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, mixed cheeses, onions, sliced mushrooms, shredded beets, croutons, bacon bits, crumbled bleu cheese, macaroni salad, clam chowder, watermelon, pineapple, and a crown of chicken wings.
He ate until he nearly vomited, and ignored every question Ralph bounced his way; questions about The Problem, gas mileage, Venezuelan mammals, the 1993 49ers. He knew the answers, though they came at him all jumbled and bounced about inside him, since he wouldn’t let them out… “Capybara,” and “I feel dead now,” and “Dana Stubblefield,” and “28,” “Rice,” and “33 highway,” and “32,” and “I hate the air in our house,” and “Ricky Watters,” and “an agouti,” and “I only smile at bears these days,” and “more with the standard,” and “407 yards,” and “No, they bite,” and “I don’t know, just this terrible feeling that everything in this life is dead and the real world if going on just above us, but it’s invisible and unreachable and melting.”
On the ride home Ralph did nothing but apologize.
Timothy did nothing but stare out the window.
“This is what I have to get away from” he thought, and, “I wonder what the name of that song was. I liked the part where the guy pulls a gun on the judge…”