That he not busy being born....Submitted by Tom Sorrell at 2013-11-10 00:16:38 EST
Rating: 2.0 on 3 ratings (7 reviews) (Review this item) (V)
The year was 2000. I was alone at a booth inside an L.A. diner, praying no one would leap onto their table with a .410 shotgun and ask for my wallet, and was surprised when a short, thin old man slid across the table. He was a complete stranger, but he smiled like he knew me.
The timeworn gentleman had wild, curly hair that hung down over his ears and neck. His teeth were coffee-stained and crooked and he wore a hint of a pencil-thin mustache on his upper lip. His voice was raspy, like someone who’d smoked entirely too many cigarettes throughout a long, wild life. It was his eyes, however, that I remember the most: cold and blue, like a Minnesota lake, they seemed to look right through me and sparkled with mischief even when the old fellow was bathed in shadow, which seemed to be often.
He grinned, constantly, to the point where initially I thought he was about to hit on me. Turns out he wasn’t, but I’m pretty sure he could read my mind. I say this because the first words out of his mouth were a bit prophetic.
“Something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you?”
I raised an eyebrow as he grinned and chuckled into his fist before a coughing fit took hold. It was wet and violent, almost as if his lungs were screaming at him in anger, and went on for several excruciating moments. I offered him my napkin, but he raised his hand and shook his head, then pulled out a Marlboro with a dark filter, lit the death-causing end and exhaled smoothly. He smiled, weakly, but his eyes never lost their intensity.
“You ever read any Hunter Thompson?” the man asked.
I nodded. Again, this was back in 2000. Fear and Loathing had come out a few years earlier and I’d plowed through most of his library shortly after.
"Did you know his favorite song was Mr. Tambourine Man?" I asked.
The man smiled and nodded."What’s his line about what you should do after you buy the ticket?”
“Take the ride,” I answered, quickly.
The man nodded. “What do you think that means?”
I shrugged as I paused to think.
The man snapped his fingers. “Don’t do that,” he said. “Just tell me what it means. Go.”
“Uh,” I said. “If you buy a ticket you should take the ride?”
The man frowned, then shook his head and laughed.
“Did you really just repeat the line to explain it?” he asked.
“Well,” I said. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, right?”
The man grinned a wicked grin, as if he could see the shadow of confusion in my brain through my pupils, and nodded.
“What’s the line he says about being weird and going pro?” he asked me.
“When the going gets weird the weird turn pro.”
He nodded. “I can see your problem already,” the man said. “Your recall is excellent, but your critical thinking skills are for shit. You went to public school ... didn’t youuuu?”
I nodded and slunk down in my seat in embarrassment. Not just because the man was right, but also because he’d dragged the word “You” much longer than normal and in a sing-song voice that drew the attention of a waitress. She stomped over to my table and filled my cup of coffee as I tried to avoid staring at the hairy mole on her left nostril that was probably cancerous.
“It’s not your fault,” he said, patting my hand.
I pulled my hand away and frowned. “Who are you, Robin Williams?”
The man laughed and shook his head.
“The name’s Alias,” he said. “If you want to know the truth, I’m you, in a manner of speaking.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Right. You’re me. Ok then. Did I invent a time machine? Did I have plastic surgery? Did I suddenly stop hating shitty facial hair? No.”
“Believe or not, it doesn’t really matter,” the man called Alias said.
“Ok fine,” I replied. “So why are you here? Are you here to protect me from Arnold Schwarenegger or something? Does he become President and take over the world, like they said in Demolition Man?”
The man laughed, loudly.
“No,” he said, with a strange grin. “Not exactly. What’s the deal with you and movies?”
“What?” I asked in my best Tim Curry impression, to indicate that I hadn’t a Clue as to what he meant.
“How many movies have you watched?”
“I dunno,” I said. “All of them, maybe? All the American ones, at least. And some German films. Well ... one German film.”
“Triumph of the Will?”
I nodded, embarrassed.
“I’ve seen worse.”
“Birth of Nation,” I said, softly, hoping the black couple a few booths down didn’t hear me and paying no attention to the old Jewish couple, glaring at me from across the aisle.
The man laughed and nodded.
“So listen, Alias,” I said, taking a sip of piping-hot coffee. “Why are you sitting there?”
The man nodded at a buxom blond bouncing by the booth.
“To keep her from sitting here,” he said.
I frowned and raised an eyebrow.
“Uh … I want her to sit here,” I said.
“No you don’t,” he replied. “Listen kid, that girl there? Her hair’s made of snakes.”
I scoffed and leaned out to stare at the girl’s ass in her Guess jeans. The man leaned out with me and shook his head.
“Don’t you get it?” he asked. “That’s Medusa. You’ll fall in love with her and you’ll turn to stone and trust me, it won’t be worth it. It will end badly. You’ll want to kill yourself. You might even succeed, depending on who you ask. Or maybe you’ll come this close and chicken out, but by the time you decide you want to live you’ll have already slipped into a coma.”
I stared at him as he grinned and leaned in, speaking in that low rasp, just above a whisper.
“The only question is,” he said. “Will you have any friends who care enough about you at that point to find you and take you to a hospital? And if so, what happens then?”
I shrugged. The man laughed again and stood to leave. For reasons I still don’t understand I grabbed the sleeve of his wool jacket and pulled him back into the booth.
“What happens then?” I asked.
"When you make a wish … sometimes it comes true.”
“What the hell does that mean?” I asked.
“How old are you?”
“Mm hmm. And Where did you go on that road trip you took by yourself? Mississippi, right?”
The hair on my neck raised and I felt a chill run through my body. I nodded. So did he.
“Buy the ticket. Take the ride,” he grinned. “If you don’t there’ll be blood on the tracks.”
“You’re crazy Mister,” I said taking a sip of steaming-hot coffee with my trembling hands. I spilled a bit of the liquid on my lap. It was uncomfortable, but for some reason it didn’t hurt.
The man grinned. “Seeing as how you’re a movie guy, I’ll leave you with this: What was the line about Living from The Shawshank Redemption?”
“Get busy living or get busy dying?”
“You got it,” he said, then he stood up, patted me on the shoulder and left the diner without another word. I looked out the window and watched as the man pulled a flat-brimmed hat tight on his head and walked towards an old motorcycle.
“Why would I take advice from someone who dresses like Stevie Ray Vaughn?” I muttered under my breath as the waitress dropped my check on the table and sighed, loudly.