buck was watching dr kildare on one of the retro tv stations, when jocko came in with a large pepperoni pizza.
how can you waste your life watching that stuff? jocko asked. he sat down on the couch and put his pizza box on the coffee table.
jocko was probably intending to be humorous, but buck, who had a markedly deficient sense of humor, took him seriously, as he often did.
that’s not a nice thing to say, buck said to jocko.
what? what’s not a nice thing to say?
that i am wasting my life. it’s not nice to say that anybody is wasting their life.
least of all you, right?
i did not say that. there you go again, twisting my words.
don’t take it so seriously, jocko said. he opened his pizza box and carefully extracted a slice.
are you going to offer me some of that? buck asked.
you’ve got a phone, order your own pizza.
all right, be that way. but you still should not say i am wasting my life.
don’t take it personal. everybody’s life is wasted, when you stop and think about it.
that’s a terrible thing to say.
you think? give me an example of somebody who didn’t waste their life.
buck thought for about ten seconds.
alexander the great. did alexander the great waste his life?
of course. he should have stayed home and married a nice greek girl, instead of causing so much commotion and burning down all those cities.. and he might have lived to a ripe old age.
all right, how about mother teresa? did she waste her life?
mother teresa! brother, you did not get the memo , mother teresa is not a good person any more, she has been thrown into the pit.
why, what did she do?
i don’t know, i think she disrespected somebody, you could look it up.
how about albert einstein?
he invented the atomic bomb. he didn’t have to do that, did he? he might have wasted everybody’s life, not just his own.
he should have stayed in his village and married a nice girl. and had lots of children and grandchildren, instead of going to rome and hanging out with popes and cardinals, because no good can come of that.
how about some other great artists? picasso? andy warhol? van gogh, what about van gogh?
he’s another one who should have stayed home and married a nice girl, instead of going to some desert island and catching leprosy.
i never knew you were so big on staying home snd marrying nice girls. all right, this is my last shot. wilt chamberlain, did he waste his life?
wilt chamberlain. he was a basketball player, but what he really did was have sex with 20,000 women. and there was this other guy, a french writer named george somebody, he had sex with 20,000 women too.
the same 20,000 or a different 20,000?
um - i think different.
be that as it may, did either of these guys have some documentation to back up their claims? some videos? i think i will defer judgment until i see some proof.
suddenly there was a knock on the door.
jocko got up and opened it and it was the lady next door.
can you guys keep the noise down? the lady next door asked. i got two sick little children trying to get some sleep, and i have to get up at five o’clock and go to work..
noise from what? jocko asked. us talking?
no, the tv, it’s kind of loud.
but it’s just dr kildare, what if it was gunsmoke or rowan and martin?
we will turn it down, buck said. you will have to excuse my friend, he is a braindead subhuman, he was born that way and can’t help it.
thank you, sir. the lady went back to next door.
all right, smart guy, what are we going to watch now?
got any suggestions?
yes, now that you mention it, i do have a suggestion.
and that is?
there is this guy that sells vegetable slicers. he has this ad on i think 8734, and he sells the vegetable slicer for about 25 minutes.
that sounds exciting.
it is! he gives 100 percent the whole time, puts everything he has into it. he sells that vegetable slicer! it is inspiring, it will make you feel good to be alive.
the cold white stars looked down from the cold black sky.
you’ll get them for this, won’t you, johnny? you’ll get the rats who did this?
i will, pete. count on it. i will get them if i have to hunt them to the ends of the earth.
pete was gone. there was nothing left for johnny to do.
johnny started walking.
he walked and walked.
he came to the edge of the city
there was a bench for a bus stop for a bus that did not run any more and johnny sat down on it.
he thought about pete and laughed.
hunt them to the ends of the earth. yeah, right. sorry, old buddy, i got priorities of my own.
johnny got up and walked a little further and came to joe’s diner.
he ordered a cup of coffee - all he could afford. joe looked like his usual mean self so johnny did not ask him for a free piece of pie.
hank came in. he nodded to johnny.
how’s it going? hank asked johhny.
could be better, could be worse.
i might have a job for you.
yeah, i’m interested.
i can’t pay you much, but it might lead to other opportunites, you follow me?
i follow you.
johnny did the job for hank. hank gave him another job, and another one after that.
johnny moved along, and moved up. boy makes good, the old army game.
time went by. civilization collapsed, and the gangs took over. and fought.
when the smoke cleared, johnny’s gang was on top, and johnny was boss of the gang.
some of the guys thought the pope should declare johnny the leader of the free world.
johnny thought that might be pushing it, but he invited the pope to a party and the pope came. that was not nothing.
at the party for the pope, a young woman came up to johnny. she was not bad looking, or real good looking.
you probably do not recognize me, the young woman said.
johnny smiled. i am getting old, he said, my memory is not what it was.
you remember a guy named pete wilson?
i might have known a guy named pete wilson. i might have known more than one guy named pete wilson.
pete wilson was my dad. you told pete you would hunt his killers to the ends of the earth. and you never did it. you did not see me but i was there, hiding in the bushes. i was three years old, but i remember it like it was yesterday.
well, miss, what did you say your name was? maybe i can make it up to you.
make it up to me? how about if i make it up to you, you dirty lying scumrat!
and with that , the young woman suddenly produced a pistol that was not very big, but was big enough to fill johnny’s guts with hot lead!
johnny looked up. bobo, his long time bodyguard, was standing over him.
we.. we had some good times together, didn’t we, bobo? johnny managed to gasp.
if you say so, bobo answered.
i always treated you right, didn’t i?
actually, you were always kind of a jerk. ordering me around like a monkey. how do they say? abusing your privileges… yeah, that’s it… abusing your privileges…
after the hero saved the world, he came home and found his girl in bed with his best friend.
the welcome home ceremony had been cut short by a violent thunderstorm, and the parade rescheduled for another day.
lieutenant bob clark drove up to the modest little bungalow on the outskirts of town, where sherry davis, his high school sweetheart, had been staying with her aunt emma.
sherry had begged off of the welcome home ceremony, because she did not want to deal with the paparazzi from all over the world.
bob had understood.
a red sports car was parked outside the bungalow. could it belong to aunt emma?
when bob got out of his car and approached the house he noticed that the red sports car had a rental plate.
bob knocked on the door of the bungalow.
there was no answer. that was strange.
was something wrong?
had the forces of the empire of x somehow learned of sherry’s whereabouts, to take a cowardly revenge on bob for defeating them?
bob tried the door. it opened, and he stepped into the bungalow.
the unmistakable sounds coming from the rear of the bungalow were more terrible by far than any bob had heard in the final climactic battle with the empire of x.
should he retreat, pretend he had not heard anything?
retreat was not in bob’s genes.
in any case, the culprits must have heard him, or sensed him, because they fell silent.
the door of the back bedroom opened, and sherri stood there.
i wasn’t expecting you so soon, bobby.
the ceremony was cut short. i guess you weren’t paying attention, even though it was on tv.
a voice behind sherry said, no, we had more important things to attend to.
it was tom lewis, bob’s best friend since their academy days!
tom had finished first in the class, and bob two hundred and seventeenth, but bob had later shown his stuff when it counted.
tom! i thought you were back acting as an adviser to the reconstruction corp.
i got a few days leave, and thought i would come home and take care of business.
you don’t have to look so nasty, bobby, sherry said. just because you saved the world doesn’t mean you own me.
she’s right, old buddy, tom added. remember, you are the hero now, the public face of the new age of peace and reconciliation. president a and general b might not like it if you mixed up in any ugly scenes.
i might have my own notions of reconciliation, tom.
maybe. you might be wondering just where i came in.
i will leave you to wonder what i am wondering about, bob said.
he turned and left.
outside, the sun had come out and was shining on the saved world.
this is millersville. you said you wanted to go to millersville.
um - can you take me a little further?
a little further? you said you wanted to go to millersville.
i changed my mind. i want to go a little further.
in which direction? i am going north.
all right, i want to go north too.
but when i get where i am going, i will turn around and come back down south.
that is all right. just take me as far north as you are going.
the truck started up again, heading north.
maybe you are wondering why i changed my mind.
you don’t have to tell me.
it is because they are after me.
the driver made no reply.
i saw something i wasn’t supposed to see. i am the unluckiest guy who ever lived. i was walking down the street minding my own business when i just happened to look in this window. you wouldn’t believe what i saw. some of the richest people and most powerful people in the world, that you see on tv all the time. you wouldn’t believe what they were doing. now they will do anything to shut me up. they will hunt me to the ends of the earth. you don’t believe me, do you?
no, the driver said, i believe you.
yes, because i know what it is like not to be believed.
you see, i was born in a cult. they worshipped a god so evil even his own followers did not dare speak his name. and you wouldn’t believe the rituals they did, things so unspeakable there is no name for them. and they made these movies, and they sold them for millions of dollars. probably to the same people you saw and are after you. they were grooming me for one of these movies. they kept me in a cage. but i escaped…
as the driver was speaking, a few peals of thunder and flashes of lightning had accompanied his account.
now the overhead clouds burst open, and in a few seconds the truck was moving through an onrushing wall of driving rain.
damn! the driver stopped his tale and concentrated on his driving.
i can’t see anything. we are going to have to pull over. but i don’t want to get stuck in some ditch.
look! the hitchhiker cried. there is a light over there!
see it! over there.
oh yeah. it must be a house. is there a path to it?
i think i see one… right there!
all right then. the driver got on to the path. there was some shelter from the rain under some heavy trees.
at the end of the path was a huge old rundown house. there was one light on, in a downstairs window.
the driver and the hitchhiker ran out of the truck and up on to the sagging porch.
there was no bell, and the driver pounded on the door.
after a minute, the door was opened by a woman in a black dress.
larry, she said, i thought you would never get here.
the inspection team arrived on time for its annual visit.
all the inhabitants of building c-98 had been notified, and were in their rooms waiting to be summoned for their annual interviews and exhortations.
rutherford b hayes, number 867-f, was housed in room 402. his number was called, on schedule, at 13:15.
he took the elevator down to the spacious but rather bleak lobby of building c-98, where the inspection team had set up some folding tables and chairs for the interviews.
inspector guy gisborne was seated at a folding table, and nodded to rutherford b hayes when he sat down.
assistant inspector maid marian sat on a small chair on guy gisborne’s right. she smiled pleasantly but perfunctorily at rutherford b hayes.
this won’t take long, guy gisborne announced. we just have to verify your information. i am sure you know the drill.
rutherford b hayes nodded. he knew the drill. he would verify his information, be given a thirty second exhortation to be faithful to the party and to support the heroic efforts of the president, and allowed to go back to his room.
your name is -
rutherford b hayes.
the last four characters of your identity?
867 - 4.
very good. your favorite sandwich is -
peanut butter and marshmallow
your favorite show is -
deep space avengers
your favorite philosopher is -
radford johnson bradhauser
your favorite music is -
do you prefer blue or green?
do you prefer flat or round?
and lastly, do you love or hate the human race?
i love it.
what! it says here you hate it!
no, there must be some mistake. i have always loved the human race.
but it says here you hate it.
maid marian stood up and looked at guy gisborne’s notebook over his shoulder.
you see, guy gisborne said, it says he hates the human race.
maid marian nodded. why don’t we set him aside and move on to the next customer.
very well, guy gisborne agreed with an ill grace. please take a seat in one of the chairs against the right wall, he instructed rutherford b hayes.
the next interviewee was james buchanan, number 573-t, rutherford b hayes’s next door neighbor in room 404.
your name is -
the last four characters of your identity?
your favorite sandwich is -
tofu sausage with with persimmon mustard
your favorite show is -
ancient mysteries of atlantis
your favorite novel is -
the silent ones, by j j suzuki
your favorite entertainer is -
barefoot johnny wilkins
do you prefer blue or green?
do you prefer flat or round?
and finally, do you love or hate the human race?
i hate it
no! it says here you love it!
i am sorry, i have always hated it
this is insupportable, guy gisborne exclaimed.
maybe the two of them just got mixed up, maid marian said.
yes, but we can’t just decide that on our own. we will probably have to file a report.
why don’t we just move on to the next one, and if there is no problem -
and if it is just a mixup between the two of them, maybe we can sort it out during our coffee break -
it seemed a lovely evening, perfect for a walk in the park or a stroll around the neighborhood.
but later that night aliens invaded earth.
the aliens departed as quickly as they had arrived. at first it was not clear what, if anything, the purpose of their visit had been.
but as dawn rolled over the earth, the shocking truth was revealed.
the aliens had stolen the money of the one hundred wealthiest persons on earth!
mr bob fates, mr harold mucklenberg, the inventor steve jones, the countess of peruvia, and ninety-six others - who had adorned the pages of fortune magazine and vanity fair and similar publications, who had been the subject of endless documentaries and profiles in the media - left penniless!
reactions to this astonishing event varied.
some were horrified. many professed amusement.
others took to the streets, brandishing signs with the slogan “not enough!” and demanding that the aliens return and take even more plunder from the next most wealthy.
but to president garver of the world federation, it was no joke, and he was charged with the responsibility of pursuing the thieves and retrieving the stolen goods.
he decided to call in the two greatest heroes on earth, whom he had relied on to pull his chestnuts out of the fire on countless occasions before.
spaceman jones, the bravest of them all, who could face down any adversary, no matter how formidable or terrifying, with exemplary sangfroid.
and mr walter worldsaver, the outwardly ordinary looking guy, the cool and canny customer who had cracked many a conundrum in the past and always seemed to find a way.
i don’t need to tell you fellows what to do, president garver addressed the duo. but i am counting on you, and planet earth is counting on you.
spaceman jones and walter worldsaver wasted no time in palavering.
they climbed into betsy, spaceman jones’s battered but serviceable spacecraft, and took off.
the aliens had seemed to be heading north, toward cygnus a, so jones tried that direction first.
they entered the black depths of deep space.
it is peaceful out here, isn’t it? walter worldsaver observed.
otto could not help overhearing the conversation at the next table.
there were four people at the table. a woman wearing a red hat, a man wearing a green and blue striped tie, a man with a black mustache, and a woman with a purple flower in her hair.
the man with the green and blue striped tie was saying, no, it could never have happened that way, because the temperature in des moines never gets to 100 degrees.
but you never know, the man with the black mustache objected.
otto could not catch the reply of the man with the green and blue striped tie.
daphne would never stand for it, the woman in the red hat was saying.
that is because she has no grasp of statistics or probability, said the man with the black mustache.
what about arkansas? the woman with the purple flower in her hair said.
i think we should all just relax, said the woman in the red hat. nobody ever accomplished anything without indonesian chicken salad.
now the words began coming thick and fast, and otto could hardly keep track.
she never said any such thing.
rick let her know right where he stood.
have you ever actually been to albuquerque in the winter?
that’s what they all say.
but it is what i have been saying all along.
i never laughed so hard in my life.
otto finished his coffee. suddenly he felt sure that the quartet were aware of him listening to their conversation, though he could not have said why he thought that.
as nonchalantly as he could, otto got up and left.
it was cold and dark outside. he walked back to his room at his usual brisk pace.
when he got home he realized he had forgotten almost all of the conversation he had heard. for the thousandth time, he told himself he should buy a little notebook to record things as he saw and heard them.
but even if he bought the notebook, would he have the nerve to write in it if the people he was recording could see him doing so?
it was getting late. he decided to think about it in the morning.
otto fell asleep and dreamed. he did not dream about the four people in the cafeteria.
he dreamed he was at a seashore and wanted to get on a boat that was also a refrigerator. a creature in a blue cloak would not let him on board. the seashore was covered with crabs, and a dark shape loomed up in a mist.
you don’t have enough lemonade, he was told, come back when you have more lemonade.
otto never dreamed about what he had seen and heard, only about things he had never seen or heard.