In 1964, three champion surfers committed the biggest jewel heist in U.S. history, knocking over New York City’s Museum of Natural History in a daring midnight burglary. They made off with scores of famous stones including the Star of India, the world’s largest sapphire. Within weeks, federal agents and local police tracked the trio back to Miami Beach. The sapphire and almost all the other priceless gems were recovered. Almost.
A dozen large diamonds remain missing to this day.
In 2004, a phone rang in the back of a limo. A salesman answered. A tag on his jacket: “Hi, I’m Doug.”
“Yes dear, yes dear, no dear, no, I haven’t been drinking ...” He looked at the bourbon in his hand like a bloody knife and set it on the wet bar, as if she might see through the phone. “Ice cubes? No that wasn’t ice cubes you heard. ... I told you, I’m not drinking. ... I swear I’m not ... Not a drop ... maybe I’m technically drinking ... Yes dear–, I mean no dear ... I’m sorry, dear ...”
The other salesmen in the back of the limo mocked and giggled. “Yes dear. No dear ...”
The man on the phone swatted the air in front of them for quiet. “No dear ... No, that was the other guys ... No, they weren’t making fun of you; they’re making fun of me. ... What did they mean by ‘whipped’? They’re just saying I’m working hard and really tired. ... No, they are not bad influences ... I do not always get in trouble every time I’m with them. ... That’s just twice ... three times ... you’ve made your point ... We’re on the way to the airport right now. ... We’re picking up Dave, then straight back to the hotel for the training conference ... right, no lap dances this time ... I promise I’ll call ... I promise ... I said I promised. ... I’m pouring out the rest of the drink right now ...” – he held an empty hand in the air and turned it over – “... I did so really pour it out. ... Look, I gotta go ... I really gotta go ... I love you, too. ... What do you mean, ‘You do not’? ... Okay, and I’ll remember to call. ... Bye.”
He hung up. They were all staring at him.
“Jeee-zusss!” said Keith, who weighed three-hundred pounds and still had lipstick on his cheek from the lap dances. They all wore the same plastic straw convention hats: United Condiments.
“Doug, man, you’re going to have to do something about that ball and chain,” said the one with the “Rusty” nametag. He handed Doug his drink back. “And the first thing you need to do is kill that right now!”
The limo sped west across the causeway toward the sparkling Miami skyline. Water all around, harsh orange sunlight in the haze. A departing Carnival cruise ship out the left windows, passengers waving at the world in general. To the right, private islands, armed guards, yachts, helicopter pads. Rusty grabbed the bottle of Kentucky sour mash by the neck and refilled glasses. They passed the port, huge cranes dipping into freight ships, hoisting steel cargo boxes filled with coffee beans, wicker furniture, uncut cocaine in pre-Columbian statues, and heat-expired stowaways.
A fourth nametag. “Brad.” He raised his drink in toast: “We’re wild and crazy guys!”
Three glasses upended in unison.
Keith clenched his face and shook off the afterburn, then opened watering eyes. “That was great!”
Brad pointed at Doug. “You didn’t drink yours.”
“We’re all supposed to do it at the same time,” said Rusty.
“It’s the rule,” said Keith.
Doug looked in his melting ice cubes. “I think we should slow down. It’s only nine in the morning. And we haven’t been to bed.”
The causeway tapered into a bridge. Up they went, the downtown financial buildings to the south, blinding glass and bright white concrete, the post-modern condos on Brickell, the ancient Everglades Hotel, Freedom Tower, Bayside market.
“Are we going to have to ban calls from his wife?” said Brad. “It’s like she’s here in the damn limo with us. That’s the whole point of these conventions.”
Rusty was de facto leader of the group, having the big ketchup packet accounts. He grabbed Doug’s knee with his right hand. “We all have to go through our little acts at home to keep the peace. But now we’re on the road.”
The others nodded.
He squeezed Doug’s knee harder. “Now show her!”
Doug raised the glass and grimaced. Down the bridge now, splitting the American Airlines basketball arena and the Herald Building, the freeway passing over the mole-people below on Biscayne Boulevard, families in rental cars locking doors and running red lights.
“On three,” said Rusty. “Three!”
Doug slammed his drink back. Part of it went the wrong way, and he made the wide-eyed expression of someone who’d just backed over three Harleys at Daytona.
The guys: “Hooray!”
Rusty poured again. “That calls for a drink.”
Doug fidgeted nervously. He looked out the back window at the rising sun scattering light through rusty blue girders of a stacked interchange. He turned around; his glass was full again.
Keith was tearing apart his wallet. “Somebody stole my money!”
“When?” asked Brad.
“I’m not sure. I just know I had a whole bunch of twenties and now they’re all gone.”
“You idiot,” said Rusty. “You spent them at the strip joint last night. I mean this morning.”
“Maybe a couple, but I couldn’t have gone through all of it. Someone ripped me off!”
“Right, and someone ripped you off in New Orleans and Nashville and again in Houston. It’s a regular crime wave.”
“Exactly,” said Keith, turning his pants pockets inside-out.
“How come none of the rest of us gets ripped off?”
“That’s what makes it so baffling.”
“It’s not baffling; it’s exquisitely simple. Every time we go to a strip joint, you get stopped at the exotic dancer roadblock and they make you pay the stupidity tax. In your case, it’s quite steep.”
“Chauffeur!” yelled Brad. “Turn up the radio. And go faster!”
The driver twisted the knob on Lenny Kravitz and hit his blinker. The black stretch waited for a Ferrari to blur by, then accelerated into the obnoxious lane of the Dolphin Expressway.
The next round was waiting. “On three ...” said Rusty.
Drinks went down. Keith called off the search for his missing money and began making flatulence sounds with his hands and otherwise clowning around for the amusement of the gang, because it was his job, being the fattest. Rusty held the bottle of sour mash to the skylight. “It’s empty.”
“Covered,” said Brad, pulling an emergency fifth from a satchel of trade show mustard samples. He began spilling as the limo approached the Miami River and angled up a drawbridge over a low-drafting Haitian-bound sloop full of stolen bicycles.
“On three ...”
“We should slow down,” said Doug. “We’ll be too drunk to make the training seminar.”
The others laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“We’re not going to no dipshit seminar,” said Rusty. “Making the Most of Face Time. Fuck face time!”
“We’ll get in trouble,” said Doug.
“Didn’t you ever go on senior skip day?” asked Keith.
“Well, you’re with the varsity now,” said Rusty. “Drink up.”
The limo eased into a toll booth.
“... Are you gonna go my way ...”
“How much farther to the airport?” Brad yelled over the music.
The driver turned down the radio. “Five minutes.”
“Hey, there’s the Orange Bowl,” said Doug. He fell back in his seat and saw Keith pull a burlap gunnysack from his briefcase.
“What’s that for?”
They laughed again.
“Time we got even with Dave,” said Keith.
Brad pulled coils of braided nylon rope from a shopping bag. “He’s going to get a surprise at the airport.”
“What are you guys planning?” said Doug. “This looks like trouble.”
“All those little practical jokes Dave keeps playing on us ...” said Keith.
“... Exploding ink pens, loosening the lids on salt shakers, buttering toilet seats,” said Rusty.
“... Leaving phone messages to call back a new customer, Mr. Lyon ...” said Brad.
“... And it’s the phone number for the zoo,” said Keith. “Payback’s a bitch.”
Doug trembled. “I have to call my wife.”
Rusty grabbed the cell phone away from him and tossed it to Keith, who tossed it to Brad.
A guard waved the limo through a gate at the executive airport on the west side of Miami International.
“I have a bad feeling,” said Doug.
The stretch rolled across the tarmac in the morning sun. Fuel trucks, guys with orange batons, a flight tower.
“There it is!” said Rusty.
A whispering Lear made a ninety-degree turn on the runway and taxied to the chocks. The chauffeur swung the limo toward the passenger door, where they were flipping down the stairs.
Rusty tapped the driver on the shoulder. “No, pull around the back of the plane.”
“We want to surprise him with the limo and everything.” He handed the driver a twenty. “Just do it.”
The Lear’s door opened. A man in a dark double-breasted suit stepped onto the top of the stairs. He stopped and smiled as Miami hit him in the face. Palm trees; warm breeze; sticky sense of desperation. He raised a McDonald’s soda cup and sipped through a straw.
From the back side of the plane, they could only see the fold-down stairs; nobody getting off. “What’s he waiting for?” said Rusty.
“Open the door quietly,” said Keith, gripping the mouth of the gunnysack.
The man from the Lear finished savoring his first breaths of paradise. He took another sip from his soda cup and started down the stairs, the idling jet turbines winding down.
When he got to the bottom, he heard a slapping drum roll of clumsy, drunken footsteps. Before he could turn around, a sack went over his head and down to his hips.
“This is a kidnapping, motherfucker!”
The man thrashed, but the gang was too strong, even hammered. They hustled him to the limo and shoved him in back.
Brad slammed the door behind them.
The chauffeur turned around. “What the hell’s going on?”
“Don’t worry,” said Rusty. “We know this guy. It’s a practical joke.”
“Surprise!” said Keith, pulling off the gunnysack.
“That’s not Dave!”
“He’s got a gun!”
Bang, bang, bang.
“I’ve been hit!”
Rusty dove for the pistol. The two men struggled, crashing into a box of prison-grade relish trays. Convenience store coffee stirrers went flying. Somebody got bit, hair yanked.
Rusty jumped back and stared in awe at the gun in his hand like it was some kind of Star Trek future-weapon. Smoke filled the back of the limo.
“What the fuck’s happening back there!” yelled the chauffeur.
Brad winced, grabbing his shoulder, blood running between his fingers and down his wrist.
“You okay?” asked Rusty.
Doug and Rusty waited a moment, then leaned toward their motionless victim, lying on the floor of the limo in a bed of non-dairy creamer, two red stains spreading across his chest.
The chauffeur was turned around in his seat now, kneeling and stretching for a better view. “Jesus Christ! Do you know who that is?”
They shook their heads.
“Tony Marsicano!” yelled the chauffeur. “Oh my God! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!”
“Who’s Tony Marsicano?” asked Doug.
“Fuck me!” shouted the chauffeur. “You’ve just killed us all!”
Rusty gestured gingerly with the gun. “It was an accident! I just went like this ...”
“You shot him again!” yelled the chauffeur.
“It’s got a hair-trigger or something.”
A side window shattered. Keith fell forward lifeless with a gunshot in his back.
“Where’d that come from!” screamed Brad.
“Sniper!” shouted Rusty, pointing at the roof of the small executive terminal. The chauffeur threw the limo in gear and hit the gas.
Men in black suits and mirror sunglasses poured out of the terminal, guns drawn. Some ran after the limo, others toward a waiting sedan.
More gunshots. The salesmen ducked. An opera window shattered, glass spraying their hair. An unsuspecting fuel truck driver with Walkman earphones came around the corner of a hangar on the jet’s back side, choking off the limo’s escape. The chauffeur stomped the pedal all the way, aiming for an opening of light between the truck and the plane. The limo’s right quarter panels scraped down the side of the tanker; the left edge of the limo’s roof ground sparks along the underside of the jet’s fuselage. The chauffeur punched the limo through and pumped the brakes out of a fishtailing slide on the runway. The chasing sedan tried to stop but spun out, slamming sideways into the fuel truck.
The salesmen peeked out the rear window. Men scattered from the sedan before the tanker exploded in an orange-black ball of jet fuel, catching the Lear on fire, the pilot wiggling out his window and falling to the runway.
The chauffeur continued accelerating. More gunfire raked the limo. The back window blew, the trunk popped. A security guard ran into the middle of the road and blocked the service exit, waving both arms for them to stop.
Doug cowered and wept on the floor of the vehicle, covered with glass and blood and mayo, pressing buttons on his cell phone. “I have to call my wife.”
The guard dove out of the way as the limo crashed through the chain-link gates, which flew open and bounced back against the sides of the stretch. The driver made a skidding left turn in honking traffic and headed back toward downtown Miami.
Doug put the phone to his head.
“Honey, I’m in trouble.”
A bearded man in rags stood on the side of a busy noon intersection, holding up a cardboard sign: WILL BE YOUR PSYCHIC FRIEND FOR FOOD.
A Volvo rolled up. The bum leaned to the window:
“People are out to get you. Vaccinations will be rendered obsolete in coming years by super-aggressive bacteria. Your memory will start playing tricks. Tackle those feelings of hopelessness by giving up.”
The driver handed over a dollar. Serge stuffed the bill in his pocket and waved as the car pulled away. “Have a nice day!”
The traffic light cycled again; an Infiniti pulled up.
“Today is the day to seize opportunities and act on long-term goals. But not for you. The House of Capricorn is in regression, which means the water signs are ambiguous at best. Meanwhile, Libra is rising and out to fuck you stupid. Stay home and watch lots of TV.”
A dollar came through the window.
The light ran through its colors. Serge knocked on the window of a Mitsubishi. The glass opened an inch.
“Put off making that crucial life-decision today because you’ll be wrong. Stop and notice the small things in life, like pollen. Wear something silly and give in to that whimsical urge to kick people in the crotch.”
A dollar came through the window slit. Serge waved cheerfully as tires squealed. Next: a cigar-chomping man in an Isuzu. Serge leaned.
“The word smegma will come up today at an awkward moment. Begin keeping a journal; write down all your thoughts so you can see how stupid they are. Don’t be rash! – Blue works for you!”
“Hey, what kind of a reading is that?”
“Top of the line,” said Serge, holding out his hand. “Where’s my money?”
“I’m not paying you.”
“Come on, ya cheepskate!”
“That was a lousy reading!”
“Okay, let’s see what else I got.” Serge placed the back of his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes. “Wait, I’m getting a strong signal now. A transient will take down your license plate, track your address through the Department of Motor Vehicles, come to your house at night and kill you in your sleep.” Serge opened his eyes and smiled. “How was that?”
The silent driver held out a dollar.
“Oh, no,” said Serge, “that was my special five-dollar prediction.”
The man didn’t move.
“No problem,” said Serge, pulling a notepad from his pocket. “I’ll just jot down your plate and come by later to get the money.”
The man pulled a five from his wallet, threw it out the window and sped off.
Serge picked up the bill, kissed it and waved. He looked around and smiled at his chosen surroundings: drive-through liquor stores, robbery stakeout signs, bus benches advertising twelve-step programs, billboards for deserted dog tracks and talentless morning radio. A sooty diesel cloud floated by. Ah, the great outdoors! Serge turned and headed away from the street. Back to the swamp. It was a small swamp, but it was his swamp, nestled in the quarter-loop of a freeway interchange in the part of Tampa where I-275 dumps Busch Gardens visitors off for thrifty motels and breakfast buffets and encounters with local residents that make the Kumba inverting 3-G roller coaster look like a teeter-totter. Serge pushed back brambles and shuffled through underbrush until he popped into a clearing at a hobo camp. Smudge-faced men tended a small fire in the middle of the cardboard boom town, empty quart bottles randomly strewn everywhere, except on the southeast quadrant, where bottles formed strict geometric crop patterns in Serge’s “quart-bottle garden.”
Serge sat down at the fire. The other guys scooted closer to him; Serge began handing out money.
“How do you make so much?” asked Toledo Tom.
“Why do you just give it away to us?” asked Saskatoon Sam.
“Why don’t you have a nickname?” asked Night Train O’Donnell.
“I’m a simple man, with simple needs,” said Serge. “I’m on a Eastern aesthetic journey right now, trying to shed material wants.”
“How did you get to be homeless?” asked Whooping Cough Willie.
“Oh, I’m not homeless,” said Serge. “I’m camping.”
They laughed and passed a bottle.
“No, really. I love camping, ever since I was a kid. I used to go to the state parks, but cities are much more dangerous and fun.”
“But your beard? ...”
“Your smelly clothes? ...”
“Begging on street corners? ...”
“That’s for the cops. If you’re a fugitive and want the police to leave you alone – if you want everyone to leave you alone -- go homeless-style. No eye contact, nothing. It’s like being invisible. Even if you get in some kind of scrape, you’re too much trouble to be worth the paperwork. They just tell you to move along or drive you to the city limits, not even fingerprints.”
“You’re hiding from the cops?” said Tom.
“Ever since I escaped from Chatahoochee.”
“You escaped from Chatahoochee?” Sam said with alarm.
“A few times.”
“Isn’t that where they keep the crazy people?” said Willie.
“Oh, like you guys are a group photo of solid mental health,” said Serge.
“What were you in for?” asked Tom.
“I killed a bunch of vagrants.”
They began crab-walking backward from Serge.
“That was a joke! I was kidding! Jesus!”
They slid forward.
“Of course, how do you really know when someone from Chatahoochee is kidding?”
They stood up.
“I was kidding that time,” said Serge. They sat back down. “But do you really know for sure?”
They took off running in crooked directions.
“Guys! It was a joke! I thought if anyone could appreciate irony ...!” Serge stood and made a megaphone with his hands. “I’m just joshin’ ya! I’m pulling your leg! ... Or am I? Ha ha ha ha ha!”
A rustling came from the woods on the far side of the camp. Men burst into the clearing.
“There he is! That’s the one who threatened me!” said the Isuzu driver.
“Uh-oh.” Serge got up to run, but three cops quickly tackled him face down.
Serge turned his head sideways and spit out some dirt. “I predict you will soon be seated in a Dunkin’ Donuts.”
A tall redhead in wire-rim glasses and conservative blue suit tapped a pencil. She looked up at a stark wall clock hanging against institutional cinder blocks with fifteen coats of high-gloss latex, then over at the man sitting across from her.
“You know, not talking says a lot, too,” said the psychiatrist. “And it’s usually not good.”
Serge swayed in his beige straight jacket, humming.
“I know you’re angry to be back at Chatahoochee,” said the doctor. “That’s natural.”
Serge hummed louder.
“I’ll bet you’re angry about a lot of things. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
“But I’m not angry.”
“Yes, you are.”
“Couldn’t be happier.”
“The first step is to recognize denial.”
“I’m not in denial.”
“That’s a denial.”
“Things are looking up.”
“How can you say that? You’re sitting there in a straight jacket forced to talk to someone you clearly hate. I can tell by your body language.”
“It’s the cut of this jacket. I’ve asked them to take it out.”
“Why won’t you admit you’re angry?”
“Because I’m not,” said Serge. He looked up at the diplomas on the wall. Alix Dorr. “What kind of spelling is Alix?”
“My mother used an i to make it feminine, but it didn’t work. I still get all kinds of junk mail for men’s magazines.”
“And this makes you angry?” said Serge.
“Interesting,” said the doctor, leaning over and writing.
“Will you stop that!”
“If you’ll admit your true feelings-”
“Look, from your angle over there I can see how this predicament doesn’t look too festive. But I’m a glass-is-half-full kind of guy. I have my health, there are some books I still want to read. I can’t help it if I have a naturally high positive charge. In a resting state, I’m extremely buoyant.”
“You’re lying to yourself.”
“I’m telling the God’s honest truth. It’s all your frame of mind. Every second I’m alive it hits me like a thunderbolt: ‘Holy fuck! I’m still breathing! What a great day!’ So in your book that makes me sick?”
“No, the physical violence makes you sick.”
“I already explained. Some people just don’t obey the rules, have no respect for the social contract.”
“So you have to beat them?”
Serge grinned. “But I’m happy when I beat them.”
The doctor wrote something.
“Is it better if I’m angry when I beat them? Will that get me out of here sooner?”
“How about you don’t beat them at all?”
“Oh right, like that’s an option.”
The doctor wrote something else and looked up. “Have you ever killed anyone?”
“That’s for me to know and you to find out.”
“This could go against you. Maybe increase your stay.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Why are you so uncooperative this time?”
“Because last time I trusted you and opened up. Next thing I knew, my release was on indefinite hold and you were injecting me with all kinds of crap that made my brain feel like honeycomb and gave me the sensation I was in Spain."
“You have chemical imbalances.”
“I like me.”
“There’s nothing to feel guilty about.”
“It’s hereditary. You’re grandfather had the same thing. I have his file here from the V.A. ...”
“Let’s stick to you and me.”
“You don’t like to talk about your grandfather, do you?”
Serge looked away and whistled.
“Is it because he committed suicide?”
“He did not commit suicide!”
“You’re angry now.”
“... I got sunshine ... on a cloudy day ...”
“We’ll call it accidental, how’s that?”
“It was no accident. He was murdered. And someday I’m going to find out who.”
“So you’re carrying this anger around with you? And you plan to unleash it on the person you suspect of killing-”
“I ain’t gonna deliver a Candygram, if that’s what you mean.”
The doctor tabbed back in her manilla file. “You said before that his death had something to do with some missing gems?”
“I don’t think, I know.”
“Same thing I found in your grandfather’s file. Long history of dissociative behavior, claiming to know famous people, participating in historic events. And there was also something about make-believe jewels. I find that very intriguing -- the same delusion.”
“You never heard of the Museum of Natural History job in ’64? Murph the Surf and the Star of India?”
The psychiatrist shook her head as she wrote. “You give your figments some imaginative names.”
“Dammit, just check the microfilm in any library! It drives me nuts when people don’t believe me just because they haven’t done their homework.”
“And that makes you angry?”
“I’m not talking anymore.” Serge began swaying again to the soundtrack in his head. “I’ve had it with doctors.”
“Like the one you put in the hospital?”
“Oh, I see where this is going. You’re all in a fraternity.”
“No, I just want to understand.”
“Then help me understand. What is it about doctors that makes them think they’re a superior species? First they demand a special title in front of their names and next they’re treating everyone else like the subterranean Morlock race from the 'Time Machine.'”
“So you broke his skull?”
“A man can only take so much. Every time I had an appointment, it was at least an hour before I could see him. Every single time. I can’t tell you how crazy waiting makes me. I’m a very punctual person. If I have to be somewhere, I synchronize my watch to the second with the Time Channel.”
“Why didn’t you just get another doctor?”
“You fuckin’ guys! You have no idea what it’s like on this side of the little paper smock. You ever been in one of those managed-care Sam’s Clubs? You can’t just let your fingers do the walking. Then I read this article, and I almost hemorrhaged when I found out there are medical seminars teaching doctors how to manipulate a patient’s wait -- they’ve actually done cost-studies on how long people will tolerate the lobby, when to move them to the examining room and how long they’ll wait there. Which is longer than you’d expect because, after all, ho! ho! -- you’re in The Room! Then they instruct doctors to chop up the wait some more by sending in the nurses for blood pressure and other tap dancing. And you’re thinking, hey, foolish to leave now -- this is almost like actual treatment!”
“What triggered the attack?”
“I saw a thing on Fox News about this horrible new disease that has no symptoms. And I thought, shit, I’ve got that! So I rush in for an appointment, and I tell the woman at the desk that we don’t have any time to waste. I’m showing none of the symptoms of the new disease on TV. ... Sure enough, it’s another whole hour before I get to the examination room, and the nurse comes in and Velcos that rubber thing around my arm and starts pumping her little turkey-baster bulb. I glance at my arm, then squint at her and whisper: ‘I know what’s going on here,’ but she just acts innocent and says, ‘what?’ And finally, when he’s good and ready, the doctor comes strolling in all smiles. I say, ‘doc, my appointment was over an hour ago.’ He keeps smiling and says they got behind and then starts opening my chart. I reach out and snap the chart shut and say, ‘not so fast, Kildaire. I’m onto your game.’ I tell him he can’t treat people this way. I describe my disease and the microscopic pictures I saw on television of these horrible alien-looking things with all these legs and suckers that were going condo in my pancreas. Then I demand he cut his patient load in half immediately and start attending patients in a more timely fashion. And you know what? He laughed at me!”
The psychiatrist pointed with the eraser end of her pencil. “And that’s when you head-butted him, resulting in the cranial fracture?”
“Hey, he was the doctor. He knew the medical risks better than me.”
“What about the creatures in your pancreas?”
Serge grinned and turned red. “Boy, am I embarrassed! I missed the top of the TV segment. Turns out they’re common parasites we all have. They’re actually good for us.”
The psychiatrist nodded and scribbled. “This is excellent. You’re opening up.”
“That’s opening up? ... You tricked me. I’m not saying any more.”
“I think it’s a mistake. You were starting to make progress.”
“That’s my point. I poured out my heart the last time I was here, and you lengthened my stay. Then you turned around and released Crazy Luke, who kept his mouth shut the whole time.”
“You didn’t think that was fair?”
“Jesus! On his first day out, he chopped off all those people’s heads!”
“Psychiatry is an imprecise science. That couldn’t have been foreseen with any certainty.”
“You’ve got like a million degrees and you couldn’t see that coming? Every frothing lunatic in this hospital would have told you he’d do it!”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because he never stopped talking about it! All day and night: ‘Yep, gonna chop me some heads off.’ You try to sleep with that kind of shit coming through the walls.”
“Nobody told me.”
“Did you need a diagram?” said Serge. “His name was Crazy Luke, for heaven’s sake! Didn’t that tell you anything? That’s crazy, as in insane. What did you think the context of ‘crazy’ was? Like glue? Like he worked really well?”
“Now you’re getting your anger out.”
Serge deliberated a moment. He took a deep breath. “All right. Since you’ve already made up your mind to keep me in for the max, I’ll tell you what makes me angry. Tire ads.”
“Like I’ll see an ad in the paper: ‘Tire Blowout!’ And it’ll say, ‘Name-brand tires from nineteen-ninety-five!’ So I get eighty dollars together and go in there, maybe a few extra bucks for tax. But when I arrive, they start talking about balancing, alignment, stems, disposal fees, and just like that we’re over a hundred and fifty. But the best part is I can’t even get the nineteen-dollar tires. ‘Oh, no, I won’t let you buy those. They don’t last at all if you do any regular driving.’ And if you really stand firm and demand to see the ones from the ad, they bring out these little lawn mower tires. And you say, ‘what is this, a joke?’ And they say, ‘See?’ So now I’m into the twenty-nine-dollar tires, ‘which had those terrible Road & Track tests where the treads separated and crash dummies were ejected all over the place.’ So we move up to the thirty-nine-dollar jobs, but they’re no good either. They don’t channel water or something when it rains and go sliding into gas pumps. Of course you don’t want that, so you move up again, and again, and by the time it’s all over, you’re driving away on five hundred dollars of new rubber, scratching your head and thinking, ‘now how in the fuck did that just happen?’”
“Interesting,” said the psychiatrist, flipping to a fresh page. “What else?”
“Phone companies that say they’ll show up between one and five, subcontractors who don’t show up at all, drivers who stop side by side in the road to chat, a pop group’s third farewell tour, those smug young professionals and their chardonnay, the quiet voice of golf announcers, Orkin bug sprayer uniforms with military epaulets on the shoulders, asshole popular kids in high school now making a fortune in GAP ads, the whole El Niño thing ...”
“I see. What do you–”
“... gated communities, canned laughter, sesquicentennials, Members Only jackets, little Napoleons on school boards, the inexorable drumbeat of genocidal horror throughout human history, the final episode of Seinfeld, that I can’t get my head around why water expands when it freezes, struggling to get a pizza box into the trash, remembering to set the clocks back, right lane must turn right, ‘MasterCard -- It’s everywhere you want to be’ ...”
“Thank you. I’d like to ask–”
“... Bankers’ hours, sellers’ markets, horned dilemmas, vicious circles, conspicuous consumption, hidden costs, private clubs, public opinion, live callers, the death of courtesy, new spelling like 'lite' and 'thru,' old spellings like 'shoppe' and 'olde,' celebrity breakups, celebrity breakdowns, celebrity TV chefs, conservatives in general, liberals in particular, youth-oriented beer commercials that extol the social advantages of being drunk and stupid, lawsuits by rejects who can’t perform simple tasks like drink coffee without putting themselves in the fucking emergency room, the daily double-wide news item on the fatal stabbing over the last drumstick in the bottom of the KFC bucket, ads for hopelessly lame cars that use high-energy rock songs and quick-cut photography so you can’t get a very good look at the vehicle, the ’72 Olympic basketball final, the colorization of The Maltese Falcon, the tags in the backs of my T-shirts, the seams across the toes of my socks, ‘Would you like to take our survey?,’ ‘Would you like fries with that?,’ ‘What would Jesus do?,’ ‘No shit, Sherlock ..."