Now Paging Virgil… Virgil to the Gates of Pandemonia

June 27, 2007

took my car in to get the brakes fixed today.  I first noticed the problem a few days before I left for LA – a crunchy gnashing whenever I slowed.  Now I’m no mechanic… but I know that crunchy sounds shouldn’t be coming from my car… and the conditional parameters of said crunchiness suggested to me that my brakes were the most likely culprit.  Yesterday afternoon, in the parking lot of a Chinese Restaurant, I tossed a notebook down onto the asphalt and gave my brakes a once-over.  "Yep," I announced to my brakes, "looks like something’s going on."  Even my brakes knew I had no idea what I was talking about.

So I took my car to a Meineke today, after explaining my problem to the burly-voiced gentleman over the phone. 

BVG: So what’s the problem?
AP: I think it’s my brakes…
BVG: Why do you think it’s your brakes?
AP: Well, I noticed that whenever I slow to a stop, the car will make a deep, gravely rumble… but it’ll only happen sometimes.  I also noticed, when driving in densely-populated neighborhoods, that a high-pitched and rather quiet shriek rings out from my tires… perhaps this might be related to the crunchy brake problem… but of course, you’d know better than I, what with you actually being a mechanic, and my not… being… one.
BVG: …
AP: Hello?
BVG: So you want to bring your car in to get the brakes checked out…

I have a hard time with car people.  Same with construction workers and landskeepers.  I just don’t know what to say.  Foppish I may be about these things… but I just get so nervous.  I start talking over myself, and try to show the guy with the hairy belly that I can be a regular car-guy too – humiliatingly referring to my car’s faulty altimeter, or how the barometry is way off on the fuselage, and it’s caused my Epstein-Barr to crack.  I’m just not a dirty-hands kindof guy.  I’d like to be… and in all honesty am pretty sure I could manage quite well… I just wouldn’t know what to say to anyone.

BVG: So, dude… did you see that game last night?
AP: No, actually, I stayed up until 4AM watching both versions of Solaris while writing out my signature a hundred times on the back of an Amazon box that held my newest book about poisons!
BVG: Dude… are you gay?

So I drop my car off at the brakes place.  A pork-roast with greasy fingers and a yellow hat took my keys, and my cell number and told me that he’ll have it up on the rack in an hour.  I walked over to a bookstore… where I wafted from aisle to aisle, smelling books and thinking about how easily I could spend every last dime I have to my name on science books and stories about whales.  Curt-voiced mothers and their paunchy children milled around tables which spilled over with great summer readings – "Guns, Germs and Steel" and "The Stranger," "Bullfinch’s Mythology" and "The Good Earth."  Books that I haven’t touched in forever. 

I had brought one of my own books with me… a memoir I’ve been assigned to read for school.  I curled up in a big comfy chair like a tabbycat and read for the next hour and a half… only managing to make it through 40 pages, as I spent most of my time watching mothers argue with their children, and young boys sneak peeks at a playboy that had been precariously left out by some absent-minded perv.  I went back and forth between my memoir, which is quite good by the way, and daydreaming about all the places I’d rather live than New Jersey. 

How does one choose to leave their home?  Is it as random as it seems?  Lacking the luxury of a drunken, abusive father, or outstanding debts to a man with garrote wire in his jacket pocket, I’m forced to actually depart my home on my own steam.  I feel like one of those spaceships, sputtering and hissing on a launchpad.  Everyone’s watching me… waiting for me to take off… I’m just not sure of the trajectory yet.  Is this something you can plan?  Is it something you should?  I met people at school who just picked their lives up and moved them… who suffered from the same malaise as I did… but chose to constantly move, rather than stay in one place.  How did they do that?  Are they running away from life, or are they running towards it?

My cellphone buzzed in my pocket, and the burly-voiced gentleman told me that my brakes would end up running me $800 – for new pads, rotor sanding, a power box (I think that was bullshit), parts and labor.  I could pick my car up at five.  It was 2:30.

I had a decision to make… I could either wait it out there, in the bookstore (which was rapidly filling with more and more portly children), or I could walk home through the heat and humidity.  I chose the latter.

My father had called me, asking me what the deal was with my brakes.  I tossed the quote to him, and informed him that I’d be walking back home.  "But… it’s hot out," he said.  This stung.  I know I’m not a tough guy or anything… I’m not going to be picking up any buicks or slaying any mountain lions before my days are up… but I’m sure I can walk a few miles back to my house.  Even if it’s hot.  People walked for thousands of years before there were cars.  And they carried spears and shields and little bags of gold teeth around.  All I had was a cellphone, an iPod and a Louise Erdrich memoir.  "Fuck that noise," I said, "I’m walking."

Rule #1 when acting stupid and walking home through a heat-advisory to show up your dad… don’t run.  Especially when you’re a smoker and haven’t exercised in a week and a half.  I started out at a nice trot… cutting through parking lots and a bland business complex.  The sun’s heat diffused through the afternoon’s humidity, painted itself all over me… my breath burned my lips as I breathed, and my skin started to itch.  "Better lose the shirt," I announced to myself.  Picture this… a pasty, skinny goober, running with his shirt tied around his head, a Louise Erdrich memoir tucked into the back of his jeans.  A fat woman puttered past me in a red honda, shouting: "Put your fucking shirt on!" as she went.  "Fuck you, you fat bitch!" I shouted back… surprising myself with how easily those words had come.

At about the halfway mark, I realized that I had made a mistake.  I was running through a kiln.  The vague whispers of breeze which had cooled me in the beginning of my trek were causing me to shiver, and I was beginning to feel sick.  Do people die from heat stroke often?  Am I getting close to that, or am I just a wuss?

Suddenly the heatstroke episode of Six Feet Under started playing in the movie theater in my brain… the young, black kid, muscular and athletic, at first standing like a dark pillar of masculinity before toppling awkwardly to the ground, as opposed to me, his photo-negative with my tiny pot-belly and sweat-speckled pallor.  "If that kid died, I’m fucked," I thought.  I didn’t want to stop though… I couldn’t turn around, the bookstore was too far behind me… all that was left was to press through my mounting exhaustion and waver my way home.  I refused to even stop to rest… I was like a car… I’d burn more fuel by stopping and starting than by just puttering along at an even pace.

"Slow and steady wins the race."
"Slow and steady wins the race."

3/4 of the way home and I was dying.  I hadn’t vomited yet… but was seriously considering it.  I had wound my way into a woodsy neighborhood, every other house being peppered by the spray of a mounted, machinegun sprinkler.  I b-lined my way towards each of them… pausing for just a second to be mowed down – the sharp jets of water stinging my bare and reddened chest.  In the distance, a chorus of little girls in bathing suits brutalized a birthday pinata with wiffleball bats.  How would they react to me?  This sweating lobster boy with ratty hair and hairy nipples, lurching down the sidewalk, murmuring a line from Aesop.  Would they scream in unison like they did in movies?  Maybe I’d get lucky and they’d attack… and kill me with their bats.  But no… their father, seeing me trot by, recognized the opportunity to grab his camera.

Dad: Hey pal!  Wanna help us out?
Me: Arraaghara…
Dad: Here… just hold this pinata… I’m gonna go grab my camera.
[Dad runs off into the house, leaving me and the girls outside.  I hold the pinata out, dangling over the head of a pudgy little girl in a sodden, little mermaid bathing suit.  She swings and swings at the pinata… hitting my fingers with the hardened tip of the bat.  They are all arguing over who gets to hit my fingers next.  Nobody’s looking except for the little wet girl.  Dad’s nowhere to be seen.  I rip the pinata open and the candy spills out onto the ground, causing the wet girl to cry and the rest to cheer.  Dad runs outside with the camera.]
Dad: Oh no! Am I too late?
Me: Yeah! That’s a sin… well, enjoy the candy!

I made my way out of the neighborhood.  Only one more street to cross, and then I was home free.  All the energy had left me… my experiment was draining the life from my body with every step.  My fingers swelled, my heart pounded in my ears.  I was comfortable with dying… looked forward to saying hi to my Mom.  I blustered through the door and ran into the bathroom.  I peeled the clothes from my body and flung myself into the bathtub. 

I don’t know where I want to end up.  I don’t know what I want my life to be about… I don’t know if I have it in me to explore things, or to play it safe.

All I know is that wherever I end up… I want to be able to wallow around in a bathtub like a basking shark when things get too hot for me.  I want to be able to lie back in the water and float, and for just a single moment, not worry about what it’s like outside.

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One Response to “Now Paging Virgil… Virgil to the Gates of Pandemonia”


  1. M40_recoilless_rifle

    Stephen D. Lindsey Tarentola mauritanica Valley Stream Central High School Washington Afro-American San Diego Country Estates, CA Patriarch Dionysius V of Constantinople Art periods Strawberry Sweetcake WORLDPORT LA Wataniya Telecom Maldives


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