“So anyway, I was reading a book – ”
“ – and in this book, the guy’s talking about get this the guy’s talking about water and how there’s this golf course in the middle of the Sahara, in the middle of the Sahara fucking Desert – ”
“ – and this golf course, can you even start to imagine how much water this golf course uses in a single day, to keep all this grass growing in the middle of the biggest desert in Africa, for chrissakes – ”
“ – and the guys who play golf on this exclusive golf course in the middle of the Sahara fucking Desert – ”
“ – these guys are the same guys who bottle up tap water and sell it to us for three bucks a liter, and coming out of my tap it costs less than a penny for a liter – ”
“ – and these assholes are paying thousands so that they can golf in the middle of the fucking desert, and meanwhile there’s people sometimes in the same country who can’t get enough to drink, and these guys are using countless liters of water to grow grass in a fucking desert.”
“Behold what? Jesus, behold what? I’m trying to tell a story, and you’re ranting under your breath like a crazy person. No more coffee, I mean, I should cut you off. What was I thinking, giving you all this coffee so early in the day?”
“Behold what? Behold the conspiracy. Behold the forces that keep normal human beings enslaved. Behold the tremendous powers over which people like you and I have no control. Behold true insanity. Behold true helplessness.”
“What, the Illuminati? The Masons? Mensa? The Club of Rome? The Bilderberg Group?”
“Fictions. Fantasies of the conspiracy theorists. Clubs for the rich and foolish.”
“Nameless forces. Maybe evil, maybe not. Cloaked men and women named for the days of the week. If I knew, I’d already be dead. Powerful extraterrestrials in human form.”
“That’s what they want you to think.”
I’m feeling out of sorts. It’s five in the morning and I haven’t slept. Stayed up all night reading. At four-thirty I felt strung out, and I called up The Songwriter, because God knows he doesn’t sleep. I’d say amphetamines at a guess, though he’d never admit to it. And of course he was awake, and within fifteen minutes we were sitting here at Ricky’s, 24-hour diner extraordinaire, ordered coffees immediately and we’re already on re-fills.
There’s one waitress, and she’s getting heckled by some guys a few tables over, the only other patrons, who are really pulling the golden standard of clientele down into the muck. It’s pretty clear to me that they came straight from an after-hours club, probably still drunk, maybe pills involved. Sleeveless shirts with skater logos and big hats with the size stickers still on, fiercely finger-fucking their mobiles. She brings me a big slice of lemon meringue pie, and The Songwriter has a Danish, shiny with glaze. The Songwriter brought his notebook, and between sentences sometimes he bends down and scribbles with his chewed-up Bic pen. He’s called “The Songwriter” because of his compulsion, which is to write songs. He’s got a little recording set-up in his basement, and he’s self-released nearly a hundred albums, mostly for sale exclusively on his website. He gets a few orders a day, he says, and he’ll personally sign the disk and put it in a little mailer and send it on its way. He hates performing, and almost never actually plays in public. He just likes to write.
He identifies so strongly with the nickname that he uses it to introduce himself, and I had to ask around to determine that his given name is Tim. Nobody’s sure whether it’s OCD or the amphetamines or something else entirely that keeps him going, but he moves like a freight train with faulty brakes.
I realize that silence has fallen between us, and all I can hear are the catcalls from the guys a booth over, and I wish for a minute that my friend Doug were here. Doug’s a nice guy, but he’s also incredibly jacked, and he’s the guy I’d want backing me up if I was to go tell those assholes to tune it down. The Songwriter would be useless in a fight, because he’d worry the whole time about hurting his hands.
“What are you writing?” I ask, just for something to say. The Songwriter shoots me a perplexed look, and doesn’t answer.
As I’m paying the bill I ask for one more coffee refill, and then I tell The Songwriter to get ready to run like hell, and I proceed to dump the cup of hot coffee over the head of the loudest and most obnoxious asshole. We move unbelievably fast, and barely escape with our lives.
By noon I’m at the central library, and the only solid food I’ve had all day was the slice of pie. I’m toting a large coffee in a disposable cup, three creams, three sugars, because drinking coffee unadulterated in this condition makes me want to vomit. A guy in grungy clothes is talking to himself and stinking up the computer area, so I climb the stairs to pursue my quarry blindly. I have a hard time focusing on the titles of the books; every time I turn my head sideways I feel off-balance. It’s already three o’clock when I end up seated at a desk, trying to pare a selection of seventeen volumes down to ten. This has been my involuntary limit ever since I lost an unspecified number of books, most of which were already overdue, in a freak intoxicated bonfire disaster.
Today’s books have paranoid/delusional titles like “All Hail the Hidden Commander” and “Overlords: The Supremacy of the 0.001%” and, most blatantly, “Contemporary Secret Societies.” The librarian gives me a long, stern stare when she sees the pile in my arms, and I smile as politely as I can, but I can feel the corners of my mouth twitching from the exhaustion and the caffeine.
I take the books to the Action Center, which is how I refer to my work desk. It sits against the wall in my small studio, supported on either side by piles of literary detritus. When I’m working, I try to spend as little time at home as possible. I delve into the world of the conspiracy theory, and I’m lost for hours, scribbling cross-references and questions in a dog-eared 8×10 notebook. I’m an absurdly fast reader, and I’m determined to finish the stack before one or two in the morning, or at least to pass out trying. At the end of it all I’ll re-read the book about water, looking for parallels.
By the time I stagger through an incredibly dense chapter about reptilian mind control, I realize that I’ve hit a wall. With manic intensity I grab an empty coffee cup and begin pacing aimlessly. Around midnight The Songwriter phones me, sounding hysterical, looking for a word that rhymes with “cannibal” that isn’t “Hannibal.” After a moment’s thought I suggest “mandible,” and he laughs loudly and exclaims: “perfect!” He hangs up without saying goodbye.