What Happenz Happens
As Ira and his manager Ken walked past the yellow booth with the special helmets, they overheard three words of conversation between two women sitting on either sides of a table. Ken thought he was the only one in earshot who heard it, but both men slowed down. The woman who uttered the three words was speaking English in a thick Ukrainian accent, and although the rest of her flow of speech was completely unintelligible to Ken, he distinctly heard
to kiss her.
He looked at Ira. Ira was a visual man; those around him swore that they felt the air recoil when something caught his attention. Ira shoveled snapshots of delights through his optic nerve in the manner that adolescent boys approach a plate of fried chicken after a successful sporting event. Ken knew; he had two sons, ages twelve and fourteen.
Ira looked at Ken, they looked at each other and continued walking through the fair. Neither mentioned the yellow booth with the special helmets.
“It’s like a super mall of spirituality, who’d’ve thought.” Ken liked to make demeaning observations, chewing his words like cheap gum and spitting them out before all flavor was lost.
“Whatever. I just want to get a blowjob and get out of here,” said Ira.
“Shh, you’re embarrassing me.”
Ira chuckled. When Ira chuckled it sounded like a boulder became dislodged somewhere in the inner landscape of his barrel chest and rolled down a mountain, crunching trees and sundering habitats in its wake. “Doesn’t take much.”
“Now look what you’ve done; that psychic over there is giving us dirty looks.”
“Which one, the chain-smoking blond or the old chick with the jar of piss-”
Ken jumped in front of Ira, using his body in the way that he would gesture with a single hand if speaking to a normal sized person and not a professional wrestler. “Just- you know what? Stop talking. Can you do that?”
“N-n-n- juh- st- n- Good. Keep it zipped.”
Ira pinched his lip between two sausage fingers. “M mmm mm mmmmmmm.”
“Shut up about your blowjob, I know.”
Ken whispered to himself, “to kiss her.” Hearing the words resonate in his throat, he realized that he might have misheard the phrase: given her accent, it was just as likely that what she had actually said was the cancer.
“Mmm m mmmm mmm?”
“Yes, you can talk now, you dumb beefcake.”
Ira looked around three hundred and sixty degrees and shook his head. An emperor in pre-Christian times might have shaken his head in that exact way when negotiating with warring tribes—eyes unmoving, chin rising by a hair’s width, blowing through his lips a constant puff of air as thick around as an ant’s leg. “A new-age festival? What’s the deal?”
The two men were stopped in between a booth selling vegan seaweed snacks and a Reiki massage tent. The sound of collaborative drumming from indeterminate directions mingled with the herbal smoke in the air in a marriage of mush that seemed to collect between Ken’s teeth. He shrugged. “You’ve been training hard, and I’ve been watching you. You’re eating all the right protein and…so forth. Sometimes, to find that second burst of saliva that’s the difference between a champion and an almost champion, it takes looking outside the box. You’ve got the muscle and you’ve got the aggression—I’ve seen you snap church pews in half over the skulls of giants. Now I’m not saying you have a weakness- I would never say that to your face. But if there’s any area that, um-”
“Yeah, you’ve told me, I need to get more centered.”
Ken hated the way Ira said it. “Is that how I put it? I don’t know- I don’t know exactly what- I mean, look, this may be a perfectly stupid waste of a Saturday afternoon, but who knows, maybe you’ll discover something. Granted I did lure you here under the dubious pretext of prowling for indiscreet sexual favors of the oral variety, which was deceiving.”
“Yes it was.” When Ira nodded his head, the movement was so slight that one could only tell it was a nod because his arms were crossed—he only nodded his head with crossed arms, and only crossed his arms as a prelude to nodding his head. "You owe me. No, I don’t mean like that, you sicko."
As they spoke, they were ambulating in the direction of the yellow tent. Neither man had initiated that trajectory, but both knew it.
The special helmets were a sensory deprivation apparatus that covered the eyes with black suction cups and blocked all sound with plush vinyl headphones. The special helmets were attached to a motorized metal armchair that vibrated.
The proprietor of the yellow tent was a lady with long brown hair and a jean jacket who looked as average as the yellow tent. As the two men approached, she made eye contact as if eye contact was a weapon. She did not smile or open her mouth, but waited for them to come closer. She wanted to see precisely how close they would advance before they would walk away if she did not make verbal greetings. Or, maybe this was a standard test to initiate strangers into their undisclosed organization. Her motives were tucked away in a safe, dark place deep beneath her averageness.
To kiss her.
“Howdy,” Ira offered in a voice that made the entire tent do what those special helmet chairs were meant to do. “My name’s Ira Happenz, I go by Hapz. In the ring, they call me Hurricane Hapz.” He clapped Ken on the back with an arm that weighed about as much as Ken’s back. “My associate here came up with that name. I think it fits pretty good. Always have, except now I feel kind of goofy. I’m fighting Thaddeus the Tornado for the championship next week. It’s just a coincidence, but the papers are making jokes nonstop…I don’t remember any of them, although I’m sure there’re some good ones, but anyway, my associate thinks I’ve been getting a bit distracted and that you might know of something unique that can help me stay on my game, if you know what I mean.”
Ken stopped listening after the words Hurricane Hapz. The lady was making dual eye contact with both of them, listening to Ira’s drivel and transcending it to meet Ken in this cynical mind-land. However that was possible, it was not only possible but highly probable that whatever this was, Ken and Ira were already members. Whatever she was doing to them did not require special helmets.
“This athletic competition means something to you,” said the lady. She had the kind of voice that would be forgotten as soon as one heard any other human voice.
Ira folded his arms. “They say do what you're good at. You're good at this, um, mystical stuff. I’m good at making grown men crap their pants.”
“How old are you?” asked the lady.
“In years or wrestling matches?”
“How old are you?” She repeated herself as if she was not repeating herself.
“Old enough to live in a rent controlled apartment and eat ketchup mayonnaise soup for breakfast—I invented that myself.”
The lady displayed no response to flirtation.
Ira sat down in the chair. “If I may. So, listen, whatever service you’re selling, how much does it cost, and would I have to do any gay stuff?”
They were already in the sensory deprivation apparatus, and it was the world, all the noise, the meaningless interactions, the stagnant routines and destructive patterns, the emptiness was everything that existed outside the tranquility of the special helmet chairs, which was where the self would begin its journey. Ken understood that now. The lady’s blank stare was making him understand, along with other things. The church of the yellow tent had no name.
The lady with the jean jacket and long hair had no name. She said, "If it’s in your nature to win, you'll win. Is it in your nature?"
Looking back later, Ira could not recollect what he said in response to her question. Trying to remember his words was like trying to retrieve the lady’s voice, which had efficiently erased itself, giving the impression that the air had aged several weeks since her words sailed across it. It was like looking for snow angels in a field that was already thawed. She made no inflective beckoning for reaction or concurrence.
She spoke, and then he was in darkness. The special helmet and the vibrating chair. The warm creeping feeling that was like a shiver without the friction. And then the ball of dark jelly expanding to swallow his eyes.
His breathing became loud. He laughed. He laughed because his breathing was hysterically funny when it was the only thing he heard. When the laughter dwindled to an ache in his ribs, the solitude became noticeable. He was not sure if Ken was still there. If he fell asleep, he would probably wake up still in the special helmet and chair, and might want to stay there.
The dark jelly planet was hardening, radiating a red hue around the edges. And then Ira saw Thaddeus the Tornado. His heart emptied a few gallons of fizzy poison into his bowels.
Thaddeus the Tornado’s real name was Thaddeus Schmeidleberg. Thaddeus was the son of a rabbi in a rural town who ran off and joined a circus when he was fifteen, and wrestled lions for ten years before his reluctant career shift to human opponents. Thaddeus saw no difference between men and beasts, except that humans bruised quicker and fell harder.
He wondered if the lady with long hair and the bland voice was open to negotiating sexual favors. A bulge threatened the surface of his pants like tectonic plates. He quickly conjured an image of Thaddeus the Tornado to quell the upheaval. Thaddeus was fat, in the way that snowbanks are fat; one can not combat it all at once; one can only sweat and chip away at it, and feel an exhausted sense of accomplishment when one shovels out a walkable path through it, but the bulk of it will always stubbornly remain.
Ira had fought Thaddeus twice in four years, and both matches had ended in stalemates. Throwing punches into Thaddeus’s paunch was as useless as spitting into an ocean. Thaddeus always managed to heft all of Ira’s two hundred and ninety pounds into the air and hold him high above the ring for several seconds before hurling him to the mat, but that was all for show. Thaddeus was soft. Even his elbows were soft when they landed on Ira’s ribcage. Thaddeus had limited stamina, and plowing a path through it was easy, it just took everything Ira had.
Ken felt a paternal stirring that tickled not unlike a fly walking across his stomach when he looked down at the hulk of a man reclining serenely in the rumbling chair. Conner, Ken’s oldest son, was a big fan of Hurricane Hapz long before Ken became affiliated with the sport. Ken liked being the 'cool dad' and had Ira to thank for his son’s renewed admiration. The man just looked so innocent. He wondered what Ira was dreaming about, and if a lullaby might be appropriate.
The brown-haired lady sat in Ira’s lap as if it was a chair, and not a comfortable one. "The tab is seven dollars so far. You still want to go next?" she said to Ken.
"So this is…relaxing him?"
She folded her legs and stretched her back forward. Her folded legs on top of Ira’s resembled a pretzel on a hamburger. "It’s not doing anything to him." She slowly swung her arms in a giant outward circle, stretching her shoulders. "We’re nihilists." It was almost a yawn.
"And this is a…church of some sort?"
She slid off Ira’s thighs, landed on the grass with her knees bent just the right amount and walked toward Ken until she could not stand any closer. Her face had the complexion of a polished wood floor. "And you are, a, lost soul of some sort?"
Ken climbed over the neutrality of her face and looked down the other side. "You're funny."
"If it’s in your nature to laugh, you will find humor in dog turds. Do you?"
"Do you want to go next?"
Ken thought about it, and decided that what he really wanted was a blowjob.
“If you're not ready to, don’t. If you think you do not need to, try a different direction of thinking, and see if it won’t lead you to the same conclusion.”
Ken swallowed the corner of his lip.
The lady gently shooed a fly from its perch on Ira’s knee without taking her eyes off Ken. “What made you come back here?”
“I saw you walk by earlier. You both looked curious.”
“Oh, yeah, we were just browsing, making the rounds-”
“You turned away quickly because you thought you’d be accosted with a sales pitch if you conceded your curiosity, which was already apparent. It’s a consumer defense mechanism. We use defense mechanisms when in environments outside of our comfort. Your comfort zone is the last frontier, and we’re taught that it’s healthy and noble to keep pushing those borders and conquering until you die.”
“Okay, you caught me; I’m a tourist. I don’t meditate, smoke pot or play one of those baritone long wooden horns everyone’s toting around that make that earthy drone, I don’t even know what those are called. I’m just a regular coffee-drinking meat-eating American. I dragged my, um, friend here-”
“Your friend cannot hear or see us. Why do you hesitate to call him a friend?”
Ken motioned to Ira, hoping that he could evince an obvious answer just by indicating the man’s physical presence. He was becoming less sure that a blowjob was the day’s ambition.
The lady put a hand on Ken’s shoulder. “Have you noticed that I’ve interrupted you at every opportunity? I don’t suppose you would have noticed that. But now that I’ve pointed it out, do you recognize the effect that it’s having on you in this conversation? Because I do.”
They stared at each other until Ken became uncertain which of the three of them was strapped into a sensory deprivation module.
The church of the yellow booth with the special helmets convened in a fourth story suite in a brick building, above a laundry-mat. The organization had somewhere between thirty to fifty members at any given time, but as a rule, they did not assemble; interactions took place in small groups limited to three people. Members did not socialize with each other unless three or less members would be present. All functions were carried out by appointment and business was conducted electronically.
Ken’s first appointment was a one-on-one with an anonymously named senior member. The lady with brown hair opened the door and ushered him into a room that looked like it was either a domestic residence being converted into a business establishment or vice versa — he couldn’t tell. A couch and an armchair stood across from a chalkboard; the three items seemed to float in a vulgar amount of unused space. Against the far wall was a desk with a computer and a telephone.
“Surprised to see me?” She sat down on the couch. Ken wondered if there really were any members aside from her. If not, he would credit her with a fairly clever scheme for meeting men.
Ken looked around the room, trying decide where — and if — to seat himself. A window overlooked nothing. He felt a nervous urge to pull the blinds down. “Thank you for, um-”
The lady gave him an annoyed look. “For the first few times, you'll probably want to think of me as your shrink. We’re just going to talk informally. If that’s all right with you.”
As the hour passed, he became increasingly aware of his inability to remember any of what they talked about; it felt as if he were not talking at all, and while he sat not talking, she was methodically reaching into his soul, scooping out heaps of personal information and organizing it into files. He also grew more and more aware of how much he was enjoying himself.
The lady sipped tea from a mug that matched the couch. “Are you aware that you’ve thanked me twenty three times since you first sat down? And that’s not counting the thank-you you uttered while looking at the window when you first walked in.”
Ken shifted uneasily. “Your point being?”
“I don’t know you in your normal settings. How many times a day do you say thank-you?”
“How should I know?”
“Obviously you won’t. Not accurately. But a rough estimate.”
“Um, okay, let’s think; I buy a cup of coffee in the morning, that’s about two right there, then I'll chitchat with the account manager-”
“Stop. You're breaking it down minute by minute. I don’t want you to count. Just tell me a number that sounds reasonable to you. Tell me what you think.”
“Stop thinking. Tell me a number.”
She stood up and wrote down '13' on the chalkboard, then turned back to him and crossed her arms. “I have an assignment for you, if you'll accept it.” She handed him a note-card and a short pencil. “Tomorrow I want you to keep this in your pocket from the time you first empty your bowels upon waking, to the last time you empty your bowels. I want you to keep this with you…”
“And make tally marks for each time I say the word thank you?”
“Does this sound ridiculous to you?”
He got up and took the note-card and pencil from her hand shiftily. “Thank you.”
“If this sounds ridiculous to you, you might form ideas of how you sound to other people. Try it.”
“Why, so I'll find out that I underestimated, and you can write the number five hundred underneath thirteen on that chalkboard, and then take the difference between those two numbers, or, I don’t know, plug it into some esoteric formula and tell me that the resulting number is my ratio, special terminology, ratio, and then you'll show me countless other examples of interview riddles that will uncannily yield that same numeric value, and knowing a person’s ratio is like looking into their soul and seeing their entire life in computer code, and that’s how it all…”
She waited for him to finish and then clapped her hands. “You have allowed yourself to ramble without fear of offending me. You are progressing faster than precedented.”
“The wrestler, you know, the guy with me who looks like he ate a nuclear submarine for breakfast, has he made an appointment with you too?”
She walked to the door, opened it and waited. Ken wasn’t sure whether she were cuing him to exit or orchestrating for Ira to walk in by surprise. That would still keep their number at three or lesser.
“He was victorious last night,” the lady said. “I saw him on television.”
“Yeah.” He wanted to kiss her, but even more than he wanted to kiss her, he wanted to admit that he wanted to kiss her. He also knew that after the thrill of confessing this desire out loud, he would no longer want to kiss her. He could also just kiss her and not say anything, but then he thought of Conner. He was due to pick up Conner from a birthday party at Nine.
She opened the door wider. “I don’t think he had any trouble staying focused.”
“He’s a hell of a fighter.”
“And you didn’t come to that convention to help him become a better one.”
“I came because…”
She practically pushed him out the door.
He kissed her.
Ira was on the other side of the doorway. Ira looked sad; sad on Ira was like moisture on paper.
Thaddeus the Tornado was not fat enough for Ira’s thoughts to hide in when he thought about the things that could not be thrashed to submission on a square mat in front of a thousand screaming fans.
Ken patted his friend on the back with a hand that wanted to navigate the flesh of his back like a parachuter having landed in the middle of a mountain.
By the time the conversation moved away from the doorway, anonymity would be dropped.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED