On Thursday, Robert left The Fig at three-thirty—in theory, plenty of time to get ready for his upcoming date. After a harrowing close call on Wednesday with Nurse Neshorn, he’d finally managed to chat up Turid. Unbelievably enough she had agreed to a dinner date later that evening. For reasons not fully explained to him, he’d had to make an early doctor appointment on Friday. Try as he could, he couldn’t finagle his way out of it; Neshorn wasn’t going to let him out of the clinic until he’d been down to this doctor’s secretary. Robert was beginning to become concerned by the way Neshorn was focusing on him. It could mean nothing but trouble. The secretary hadn’t been exactly forthcoming with details either, Norwegians seldom were, only assuring him that there were several other students being called in as well. It had something to do with a project, which he’d apparently signed up for. What had she said: some Dr. Høyehals considered his participation as very significant? What was that supposed to mean?
Minor worries, at best. Robert could hardly believe his good fortune. Turid Aakrann was going to go out with him. The two of them, spending time together. Alone. There was the possibility of sex; yummy, hot, slobbery tits, ass and legs sex. He could feel it. If not tonight, then soon.
He’d be needing a proper plan; this was too hot to leave to chance and circumstance. Turid was most definitely a cut above the usual; probably several cuts. Special attention to detail would be required. He began to compose a mental itinerary. He’d be needing drink. He made a mental note to himself to buy some wine and a bottle of cognac on the way home; his own larder was, as usual, bare when it came to non-beer alcoholic beverages. He didn’t dare keep a stock of drink at home anymore. Much too easy, much too dangerous. Much too close to sending him to rehab. Buy some candles at Nille, while I’m out, he murmured to himself. However, as with most of the things written up on his internal message board, it was promptly swept away in his perpetual stream of consciousness. Robert had shifted mental gears and was already considering the merits of cleaning up his little bachelor’s bedroom. It would probably be a good idea to vacuum the floor and change the stiff, grimy sheets; that kind of thing made an impression on women. Most of the free-floating junk could be temporarily deposited in the closet. Of course finding the floor and a clean set of bedclothes, that might present some difficulty. And the closet was already completely filled from earlier ‘housecleaning’ attempts. The basement, perhaps; there should be plenty of space down there. Not that he’d been down in the basement in the last couple of years. It was dark, gloomy and stank of mildew; more a Bård haunt than a place for him.
Robert’s room stood in stark contrast to those of Bård and Lompa. Being the owner of the house, he had initially chosen the best for himself; the master bedroom with a balcony and panoramic view over Oslo fjord. Bård, however, had somehow managed to convince him that the room didn’t suit him at all.
“No, no, no. No way. You are inviting spiritual disaster. I can’t allow it. All the wrong vibes for your dharma. You need to face towards the west, towards the country of your origin, your source of power. Occupy this space and you will regret it sorely.”
“But it’s the best room in the house. I want it,” he’d whined.
“Looks deceive. Reality is illusion. This room is filled with hostile and dirty vibes. It must be exorcised.” Bård sighed the sigh of the world-weary. “You don’t have to ask. Of course I’ll do it,” he said, clapping an enormous paw onto Robert’s shoulder; “What are friends for, eh?” Indeed. Before Robert could think twice about it, he’d been Feng Shuied himself into the corner room on the first floor, looking out on the front yard, or rain forest, as the housemates now referred to it. In a typical act of self-sacrifice, The Shaman moved right in and began his cleansing operation of the possessed master bedroom. It was apparently a rather lengthy exorcism in that it was now entering its fifth year, with no end in sight. Of course the room had now been so thoroughly cleansed that it was no longer fit for normal human habitation, so what did it matter?
Natural selection had been working overtime since Robert had moved in eight years earlier. To his neighbors’ never-ending dismay, his so-called lawn was now solely populated by towering umbrellas of hogweed, overgrown raspberry thickets (fruitless, of course), and a sorry assortment of gnarled trees and nondescript bushes, all battling for space and light. Of grass there were but a few struggling discolored blades. At the field layer the amount of incoming solar radiation approached zero, possibly even achieving a negative value on heavily overcast days. A path had been hacked out, leading from the front door to the street, however Robert had lately gotten the feeling that it was getting narrower and narrower. The jungle was insidiously sneaking in from all sides, slowly but surely, and soon it would be necessary to walk sideways just to avoid the thorns and tendrils of the wild roses and raspberry bushes. Cutting the bushes back seemed to have little positive effect. On the contrary, it appeared to annoy them, to goad them into producing ever more thorny branches and sticky tentacles. Bård had recently suggested that they abandon the front yard entirely, as they already had with the backyard, letting it return to pristine forest. A hanging bridge from the second floor balcony out to the street, that would do the trick, he offered. Robert could imagine that; Bård swinging through the trees of suburban Oslo in his loincloth, bellowing out Zen obscenities to terrified bystanders and pedestrians. Yet somehow he felt that the zoning authorities, not to mention his already outraged neighbors, would pooh-pooh the hanging bridge plan sight unseen. Subsequently, the housemates of 591 Becquerel were forced to continue running the thorny gauntlet. This could be an especially interesting experience late at night with a beer-befuddled brain; scarred arms and shredded clothing bore mute witness to that. Robert had once become so thoroughly snared in his own shrubbery, entangled in the branches like a man crucified, that he’d had to holler for help. Bård and several of his zonked out friends had eventually come out and rescued him from what, Robert was convinced, would surely have been a long, drawn out and painful death due to exposure and loss of blood.
On the other hand, most of the neighbors’ houses had been broken into at least once or twice; no burglar in his right mind would have ever even considered burgling Robert’s house. At least not without a machete and a lot of time on their hands. The front and back yards functioned as a security measure, and 591 Becquerel couldn’t have been more effectively secured if surrounded by booby-traps and barbed wire.
The backyard was even worse than the front, or better, depending on your place in the evolutionary scheme of things. Creepy, crawly things thrived where humans dared not go. Robert hadn’t ventured out into the backyard for years. Bård had apparently tunneled into it, and often disappeared there for extended periods of time during the summer, although what he was up to Robert had no idea. Probably practicing forbidden occult ceremonies, sacrificing virginal vegetables to the Carrot God.
Hyperactive creeping vines had covered both of Robert’s bedroom windows. In the summer months he was bathed in chlorophyll-green light, the sun’s radiant energy having been filtered through several layers of verdant foliage. Now, in the dead of winter, it imparted more the impression of a jail cell with the tiny, filigreed bars snaking across his only source of natural light.
Robert’s furniture arrangement was devastatingly simple, a carry-over from his late adolescence. Two old mattresses lying on the floor, an outrageously expensive stereo unit sitting within a homemade construction of cinder blocks and boards, a couple of over-stuffed, bursting-at-the-seams chairs which nobody ever sat in, being usually piled high with dirty laundry. In addition there was an ancient oak desk that had been occupying the room when Robert had moved in, and hadn’t moved since. It resembled his desk at The Fig, at least in style, if not in actual contents, and given another year or two would probably disappear out of sight entirely, buried beneath comic books, clothing, dirty dishes, candy-bar wrappers, bills, newspapers and everything else which meandered into Robert’s room, but never seemed to find the way out again.
Dominating the center of the room was a monstrous piece of twisted metal, trimmed with what appeared to be antennae or crustacean appendages, which Bård had deposited as a birthday gift several years ago. Sitting in front of one of the windows, it was of a form, color and shape that brought to the viewer associations of absolutely nothing.
“That’s the beauty of it,” Bård had beamed, when Robert had commented upon this unique quality. “It’s so out there that it defies definition. It’s non-human, extraterrestrial like Hollywood sci-fi never was. It just is! It justifies itself by the fact that, lacking any reference points to either the pre- or postmodern paradigm, pan-culturally speaking, it can’t be deconstructed. In essence, the archetypal complementary angle to all that is known; it’s like the dark side of the moon.”
It’s, like, heavy as shit, was Robert’s main thought when he had first tried to push/drag the hideous piece of scrap iron out of his room, attempting to heave it down the stairs and into the remote depths of the cellar. It wouldn’t budge. How Bård had ever gotten it into his room in the first place he had never figured out; it had just appeared one day with a note dangling from one of its feelers, upon which was written ars longa, vita brevis, which was probably about as close to Happy Birthday as Bård would ever come. Perhaps Bård had materialized it into place; that would be keeping in character. Why it didn’t fall through the floor was another mystery. It had to weigh at least five tons, if not more. Robert had eventually gotten accustomed to it and found that it served quite well as a drying rack for his towels and socks.
The decorated wall space of Robert’s room was arrested development 70’s/80’s; music posters (Hendrix, The Dead, Stones, Zeppelin), stained, threadbare flea market rugs and faded, surrealistic prints. For some reason he often attracted girlfriends who were budding artists; their drawings and primitive paintings also graced his room, usually brutally crucified to the wall with enormous nails. But it was along these walls that one would find Robert’s true pride and joy, the center of his universe: The Robert J. Roid Jr. International Beer Container Collection. A collection meticulously chosen to represent the full and total spectrum of beer possibilities and permutations; from Pittsburgh to the Pescadores, and just about everything drinkable in between. Most importantly of all, and a criterion never to be departed from: Robert had personally consumed the contents of each and every bottle, can, cask or whatever himself. Often in the late hours, especially after a hard round at The Fig, he would lie in bed and gaze with affection upon his trophies, his eyes often lingering a few moments longer on his personal favorites. There was Ottakringer Osterbier, for example. Brewed in Austria exclusively at Easter, and packing a wallop at 7.6%, it was a hard candidate to beat. Light, yet full of flavor; crisp without a hint of bitterness; round, yet not too sweet. In a word; perfect! Or almost. No beer is perfect; perfection is a theoretical goal one aims for, but never hopes to actually reach. Connoisseurs might sneer at him for appreciating such a common, mass-produced beer as Ottakringer, but Robert couldn’t be bothered with such brew snobbery. You like what you like and that’s that. Taste can neither be explained nor justified.
Although he had initially intended to use only his outer bedroom wall, it had become fully stocked all too soon. As new candidates came in, which they did at an alarming rate, the collection had begun to creep around the corners to the other walls. Robert began to envision a day when his precious bottles and cans would spill out of his room and begin to cover the hallways, just like the ivy had taken over his windows. Who could say, perhaps one day the entire interior of the house would be done up in mode de la bière. A veritable museum dedicated to malt, hops and yeast! After all, it was his house, wasn’t it? With his present roommates it was sometimes hard to tell. Whereas Lompa usually kept to his cyber-hole, only occasionally darting out to the kitchen for hot dogs and frozen pizzas, Bård roamed freely, often with an eye to the creative. His latest endeavors included wallpapering the upstairs bathroom with pages torn out of a container-procured copy of Kant’s Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen (part of Bård’s osmotic knowledge process), and filling the downstairs closet with several cubic meters of earth.
“What’s the dirt for?” Lompa had asked Bård at breakfast, the day after its appearance. The meaning behind some of Bård’s conceptual pieces was not always immediately apparent.
“I give up, what is it for?” replied Bård absentmindedly, sucking up a tofu milkshake through a handmade wooden straw.
“I think he is referring to the downstairs closet. You know, the one that is now filled with earth,” Robert chimed in. It sometimes helped to rephrase questions. Apparently key words activated different parts of Bård’s brain.
“That dirt. You are asking me about that dirt. Well, little friends, that was yesterday. Quite a bit has transpired since then. The planet has turned on its axis, thousands have been born. In fact, probably millions. If I were to ask you to recount the condition of your headspace on, let’s say, November 12, 1997, what could you tell me?”
“Well, that’s not exactly . . .” Robert had begun.
“Exactly. Same thing, really, merely a minor difference in the magnitude of the time aspect. Any answer I could give you now would be less than a true reflection of the reality of my motivation concerning that particular installation . . .”.
Lompa and Robert exchanged looks of capitulation. They both recognized the launching of a Bårdian filibuster. It was merely to be accepted that the interior of their living space was in a constant state of flux, driven by logic, or a lack thereof, that few could follow, and that the downstairs closet was now filled with dirt.
The first thing that Robert noticed as he swung around the corner of Becquerel and Radium and began his approach to the house was a flock of pink and orange balloons bobbing about in the airspace above the rain forest. How the hell did they do that? he wondered. You’d be needing a balloon yourself just to get out there. He’d once again forgotten about the party, but upon seeing the balloons it came back to him. What was it that Lompa had been talking about, some sort of concert? He couldn’t imagine. Lompa had been emphatic about Robert’s attendance. He briefly felt pangs of guilt, but these were quickly washed aside by thoughts of Turid and their forthcoming rendezvous. One had to have priorities. Lompa would surely understand, being in a perpetual state of sexual arousal himself, although what that might entail lay beyond the boundaries of even Robert’s jaded imagination. Carnality and Lompa just didn’t seem to go together. Much too organic. In any case, he was apparently throwing a party tonight. That in itself was extraordinary. Lompa had never had a bona fide party before. Not with women or music or drink or any of the other things that one would generally define the word party with.
Perhaps he and Turid would be social and mingle a little before he finally got her alone into his room. Parties generally had an aphrodisiacal effect on women. Social stimulation, as a former girlfriend had so succinctly put it. Things were moving along perfectly, he thought to himself as he parked the Love Mobile in front of the house. Finding a parking space under the dangling thorns and branches was never a problem; the neighbors didn’t dare park their shiny Mercedes’ or Volvos there. He often didn’t even bother to lock the doors, and didn’t now as he climbed out and headed for the front path. He’d soon be back. As he plunged into the thicket forest, the sun, in a final burst of electric orange, surrendered the sky and Oslo slid into the deepening winter twilight.
Swinging through the kitchen, Robert looked up at the large Winnie-the-Pooh clock above the stove. For some reason Bård was just crazy about the fat little bear and all his stuffed friends out in the Something Something forest.
“More wisdom per square centimeter than Plato, Descartes and Freud combined,” he’d said as he hung it up one evening. When Robert had complained that it looked silly and childish, Bård had merely called him Eeyore and walked out.
Two hours of showering, preening and aimless meandering had eaten into Robert’s time plan—it was six o’clock, time to head out. Cleaning his room hadn’t quite fit into the schedule. He’d have to keep the lights down low. Better yet, no lights at all. As he turned to go, he noticed a large pot sitting on the kitchen table. Closer examination revealed a brown, viscous liquid, with a ladle breaking the surface like a submerged tree branch. He stirred the unknown contents with the ladle. Ladles in pots of liquids indicate one of two things; either soup or punch. Sniffing revealed a faint, musty odor, somewhat like a damp cellar. That could mean anything. Since it was a party night, Robert opted for the punch theory. With his first date with Turid looming precipitously before him, he felt the need for a shot of courage. Pre-first-date nerves. A double would do nicely. His own supply of drink was still down to nothing since, preoccupied as he’d been, he’d forgotten to buy anything on his way home, including candles. Plucking a greasy glass out of the sink he dished out a good half of a liter into it. Whoa, this looks pretty grim, he noted as he held the semi-opaque liquid up to the overhead light. Not many photons making their way through this stuff. This has got to be another batch of Lompa’s homemade wine. He sighed resolutely. Lompa, due to a chronically pitiful economic situation, was forever attempting to make homemade wine and/or beer—it was often hard to tell exactly which was which—with varying results. Sometimes it was awful, sometimes it was worse. Nevertheless, for some reason there was usually a measurable dose of alcohol in the final product, no matter how it tasted. Occasionally it had been known to pack a severe punch, such as the time Lompa had served a dose or two to his hippie aunt Guro. After several additional portions she had first tried to seduce Bård and, achieving no success there, had ended up disappearing into the backyard. A rescue team had been mustered and sent out to fetch her. They’d found her asleep in a copse of dwarf pine and, after administering a medicinal double espresso, had sent her home in a taxi. Robert smiled fiendishly to himself. Now that had been fun. Lompa had had some serious explaining to do to his family.
Robert looked once again at the contents of the glass. Better to down it all in one go without unnecessarily engaging the taste buds. This was a method perfected during childhood due to repeated encounters with gross foodstuffs (liver, brussel-sprouts, chicken hearts and, of course, fish). Holding his nose with his fingers, he downed the glass with a chug. Only to choke and almost vomit. “Herregud!” he croaked out loud, lurching blindly for the sink. He felt like he’d just downed a half-liter of diluted mud. Campbell’s Cream of Swamp Muck. Frantically inhaling a glass of water in a futile attempt to wash away the foul aftertaste, an inner voice shouted; Lompa is going to serve this at the party? He must have lost his fucking mind. Dirt wine. A new low, even for Lompa. But he hadn’t tasted any alcohol. Maybe it was soup after all. Dirt soup; that would be Bård.
Never mind. He had places to go, things to do, women to conquer. It was time to consummate his tryst with Turid. With a final vile belch he exited the kitchen, heading for his room. A last stab at cleaning his room had to be attempted.
Twenty minutes later, his room still a disaster area, Robert launched himself through the living room door and into Bård, who was hanging up pink and lime-green-colored balloons over the doorframe.
Bård and Lompa had clearly been busy in the short time that Robert had showered and gotten dressed. The house looked like it was decked out for a first-grader’s birthday party. Balloons and paper streamers in a multitude of colors lay haphazardly strewn about, interspersed with numerous bowls, containing improbable combinations of Cheeze Doddles and carob-covered whole-wheat muesli bars. There were candles everywhere. Wasn’t there something about candles he was supposed to remember? The house would probably burn down after all. Was he insured for that? The only thing that appeared to be missing was pin the tail on the donkey. Robert wondered briefly, as he extracted himself from Bård’s stomach, if they played such party games in Norway. Pin the tail on the polar bear? More likely lobotomize the baby seal with the ice pick.
“Now I know why Lompa has mattresses laid out in his room. You guys are going to have a heavy spin-the-bottle session, aren’t you?” Bård gave Robert a puzzled look.
“Uh, excuse me?” he said after no explanation was forthcoming. Robert was so used to speaking English to Bård that he sometimes forgot that the Master didn’t necessarily possess an intimate knowledge of the diverse American subcultures and their attendant jargons. Maybe Lompa played Trivial Pursuit and had seen reruns of reruns of Jeopardy, thereby amassing an enormous amount of useless information; Bård would have rather eaten raw pork than be caught playing such games. Nor did he care much about America, trivially or otherwise. ‘What’s the big deal? It’s just another one of your standard falling empires,’ he’d once offhandedly commented to a visiting post-doc from Colombia University, ‘Moral decay, decadence, violence, obesity, halitosis, diminishing intellectual and cultural values and, as the feces hits the fan, you’ve got, to quote Shakespeare, false ministers oozing out of the woodwork en masse. An irreversible process, socio-dynamicswise, and, quite frankly, if you’ve seen one rotting empire, you’ve seen more than enough. Yawn, yawn, who cares?’
The post-doc apparently did—Americans usually do—and Bård had received a vitriolic tongue-lashing in return. Not that it had made much of an impression on the Mind of Steel. You’d need armor-piercing shells to penetrate one of his hallowed opinions. For all that, Bård had an otherwise superb command of the English language, mostly due to a taste for Irish and Scottish literature, especially in the deepest black humor vein. Apparently spin the bottle did not appear within this literary genre, nor was it practiced in the Hundred Acre Wood either.
“Spin the bottle,” repeated Robert, at the same time puckering his lips. “It’s a smooch game for pubertarians. You know, you spin a bottle, it points this way and that, and you end up getting duped into kissing someone you’d rather not, while you watch some brainless jerk slobber all over the love of your life. It’s lots of fun, you ought to try it. You could do a veggie version; you know, spin the zucchini.” Bård had returned to his party preparations and didn’t seem to be listening.
“However,” Robert now raised his voice several decibels in order to regain Bård’s attention, “one thing I would not try if I were you, is Lompa’s punch. Christ, it tastes like a cowshit milkshake.” Just the thought of it made him nauseous again.
“Did Lompa make some punch?” Bård asked disinterestedly. “He didn’t tell me anything about any punch. Little sneak.”
“Well it’s not exactly something he’d brag about. I would’ve dumped it into the backyard if I were him. Kill some of those goddamn pricker-bushes out there. There’s a whole pot full of the foul shit sitting on the kitchen table. Ought to a have a biohazard label on it.” Robert began to move towards the front door. He didn’t really have time to chat with Bård just now, especially since he wasn’t even listening. It was date time!
Bård chuckled into his beard. “That punch. That so-called punch, my dear friend, belongs to yours truly, and I would strongly advise you to keep your grimy little paws off it.” Suddenly he stopped mid-balloon and turned towards Robert. “What do you mean it tastes like shit? You haven’t been drinking my tea, have you?” There was an unusual earnestness in Bård’s voice.
“Your tea? No, of course not. I just dipped my finger in to see what it was. I mean, it’s not like it’s poisonous or anything, is it?” Robert felt the wings of panic begin to faintly flutter deep within. It stood to reason that something called tea ought to be drinkable.
Bård smiled a crooked smile. “Well, that all depends on your definition of poisonous. One man’s poison is another man’s ambrosia. Let’s just say that my tea shares a quality with Hesse’s Magic Theater; not for everyone. I guess a finger-full isn’t going to do you any harm. But if you feel your consciousness beginning to minutely expand in an hour or so, you’ve only got yourself to thank for it.”
“Psychedelic tea, as in going-for-a-mind-ride tea.”
That was that. The feeling of panic swelled and burst, a chest-cavity fission reaction racing down Robert’s inner highways, threatening to unman him. He suddenly felt like he was on the verge of losing consciousness, not expanding it.
“Are you serious?” he choked out.
“Yes, I am. How much did you drink, you idiot?”
“A whole glass.” Robert advanced two steps towards mental dissolution. “A big one.” What happened next did nothing whatsoever to comfort him. Bård sprang towards him and with a disconcerting violence, tore off his sunglasses.
“You what?” he shouted. Robert felt as if he had been physically assaulted. There, right in front of his nose, were Bård’s naked eyes. It was R.E.M. deluxe. “Robert, do you have any idea what you’ve just done? A large glass? You just sucked down about ten large hits of my magic mushroom tea. That’s enough psilocybin to send a blue whale to Alpha Centauri. One way.”
“Magic mushroom tea? What’s that?” Robert whined pathetically. “Do you have an antidote?”
“Antidote? Why would you want an antidote? Roberto, mushrooms are the antidote. It’s modern life that’s toxic. Not to even mention postmodern. Shrooms are a panacea, a cure-all for mundane, mindless, bourgeois existence. A little pick me up, throw me around, and in your present case, blast me off to the far side of the universe. You’re just going to have to roll with it friend, go with the flow. Well, I guess it will be more like rock and roll in this case.” Bård was shaking his head, putting his sunglasses back on. “A full glass? Wow, even I wouldn’t do that much. Well, maybe I would. In fact, maybe I have, but it’s not exactly to be recommended for first-timers. We are talking solid psychedelic alkaloids here. Mind-bender city. You’re quite a brave little astronaut. Per aspera ad astra! Or perhaps ad astra per alia porci would be more appropriate.”
Robert was suddenly on the verge of tears; as if he’d drunk the vile shit knowingly. It wasn’t his fault. Fate was forever conspiring against him. Fate and Bård and Lompa and Nurse Neshorn and Marit and Demis and everyone else that had ever crossed his path. Born under a bad sign. Bård was still speaking; “. . . that the word disaster comes from Latin dis, meaning ‘bad’, and astor, meaning ‘star’? ‘Disaster’ means ‘bad star’. Pretty weird, huh? Apparently the Romans figured that catastrophes were caused by the influence of bad stars.” Robert was no longer listening. Wasn’t it just like Bård to be babbling on about some arcane and worthless fact, while he, Robert, the eternal loser, was suffering once again under the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune? He was doomed. Finally, after all these years of waiting for catastrophe to descend, it had. He was going to lose his mind. Probably die as well. He knew it would happen one day, but not like this. Rectal cancer, Dengue fever, murder, a plane-crash. But this? Taken down by a mushroom, a mere fungus? This was Shakespearean tragedy.
He wondered if it would give him any pleasure, if only a little, to throttle Bård, to de-equilibrialize him, hit him with a frying pan, before the mushroom molecules went amok in his already overwrought psyche. It was Bård’s fault for leaving the stuff standing around. In this household everything needed to be child-safe. Bård should know better.
“ . . . that being the case,” Bård was now finishing his little bon mot with a snigger, “it would not be improper to call you a disastronaut.” But Robert wasn’t smiling. If Bård had meant to amuse or comfort, he had failed completely. Instead, Robert felt a mounting panic coursing through his system, the likes of which he’d never felt before. And just when things were going so well! Suddenly, in the course of one minute, everything was upside down.
“Eventus stultorum magister,” Bård mumbled into his beard.
“Nothing. Just a little saying.” He started off towards the kitchen to assess the damage. Robert grabbed at his arm.
“Spare me your fucking words of wisdom. That goes double for dead languages. Now help me!” he hissed, sounding like the dying gasp of a road kill. Bård stopped and turned. Pinned behind him was a yellow balloon, which, being eclipsed by his furry head, took on the appearance of a halo.
“Alright, you need to chill. Panic isn’t going to do you any good; what we need is an itinerary, young wayfarer, and here’s the beginning of it. Despite the fact that you’re putting a royal crimp in my party style, Uncle Bård is going to take care of you. Not that you in any way deserve it. I’m going to trip-sit you, as they used to say back in the 60’s.” He turned towards Robert. “But you’re going to have to do as you’re told, understood?”
Robert nodded meekly, his anger dissolving into a pool of helplessness. Good ol’ Uncle Bård. At this point he would have followed a flock of lemmings off a cliff or into the sea if it would help him bypass whatever was coming towards him now. He had no idea what that might be, but judging by Bård’s reaction, it was nothing to be looking forward to.
“Right. First: go immediately to the toilet and stick your finger down your throat. I imagine that a good portion of the tea is as of yet undigested and hence unassimilated. It does seem a waste of difficult-to-procure fungus but there is nothing we can do about that now.”
No sooner said than done; Robert didn’t even bother to make the trek up to the bathroom; he merely kicked open the front door, ran out and rammed his index finger down his throat. Unfortunately with little effect. Many years of heavy drinking and carousing, topped off with eating habits that made most teenagers look like health food freaks, had put Robert’s stomach in the defensive position. It had become more or less prepared for any and all eventualities, including fingers masturbating epiglottises. It was no go.
Bård had in the meantime retreated to his room to consult his private library. He was now busy thumbing through the index of The Joys of Psychedelic Experiences, looking under ‘Bummers and bad trips, how to avoid them, how to deal with them’ and ‘Accidental ingestion of psychedelic materials (see Bummers)’. The whole idea of freaking out due to an accidental intake of vegetable matter, which there was a high probability of Robert soon doing, was foreign to Bård. He briefly wondered if mushrooms were in fact vegetables; something told him that they’d recently been moved out of the plant kingdom and given a kingdom of their own. That sounded about right: The Kingdom of the Shrooms. And Robert would soon be visiting, his ticket was definitely punched. He moved down the bookshelf until he found his newly stolen copy of the Biology 101 textbook, which was aptly titled General Biology. You had to hand it to those scientists; when it came to inspiring textbook titles, they just couldn’t be beat. He shook his head sadly. Why not something a bit more racy, like The Throb of Life, or From Bacteria to The Beatles; What a Trip it’s Been. The double play on ‘beetle’ was a nice touch. The students would love it. As usual, Bård knew best. There just didn’t seem to be enough of his kind on the planet. Perhaps he ought to let himself be cloned. They were cloning everything else these days, why not something worthwhile for once. He’d just recently heard that they’d successfully cloned a sheep. A sheep! Leafing to the back of the biology book, he found what he was looking for: A Classification Of Living Organisms. Kingdom Monera, Kingdom Protista, Kingdom Plantae . . . Yes! here it was; Kingdom Fungi. So . . . where did that leave them? Make that ‘freaking out due to an accidental intake of fungal matter’. Or was it ‘due to an accidental intake of a fungus’?
As Robert leaned over the porch railing, futilely trying to convince his stomach to give up its contents, a sudden new wave of panic made its appearance on his mental horizon and advanced rapidly to the forefront of his consciousness. It demanded immediate attention. Turid! He was supposed to fetch Turid Aakrann in half an hour! The horrid look in Bård’s eyes (the reminder of which brought new shivers to his present shaking) told him that he would shortly be in no condition to deal with, or function in the close proximity of strangers. Shit, he’d be in no condition to function, period. Out of order. Out of order comes chaos, right? He’d have to call Turid immediately and cancel, that was for sure. He jabbed his finger one more time down his throat, and with a muffled groan of relief, began to puke up small amounts of gray, clumpy liquid.
“A little early for that, isn’t it? I thought the party didn’t start until seven.” Marit, cheaply decked out in a thigh-hugging black miniskirt, patterned forest-green fishnet stockings and stiletto snakeskin heels, had materialized from the path, and was ascending the front steps. Her upper body was covered, however scantily, in what appeared to be a colony of marmots, in truth a wrap of synthetic fox. Various chintzy accessories dangled from ears, arms and ankles, her fingers were ringed, her nose and eyebrows pierced.
“Mmfgorp nuug,” was Robert’s only comment as he wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve. If there was one thing he didn’t need just now, it was Marit and a house full of eager partygoers. He wasn’t even finished barfing. Marit stood there eyeing Robert dubiously, both of them momentarily silent as Bård’s bamboo wind chimes jingled in a cold evening breeze. It became quickly clear to her that there was something wrong with him, something that she had never seen before; and Marit had seen quite a few different sides of Robert J. Roid Jr. during her tenure at The Fig. The door suddenly burst open and Bård came charging out like a buffalo late for an appointment with its favorite cow.
“What’s this?” he asked eyeing Marit, without actually looking at her. Not waiting for a reply he grabbed Robert’s head with both his enormous hands.
“Ahh . . . Robert, I should have known. Dallying with the ladies, as usual. Listen, we need some help with the eh, with the decorations upstairs . . . ” Bård had his arm around Robert’s shoulder and was now half dragging, half pushing him, wild-eyed, through the front door. They both hustled up the stairs and disappeared.
These guys are edge city, Marit thought to herself as she lit up a cigarette and plugged it into her pouting scarlet mouth. Robert looked so normal, yet with men you could never trust outward appearances. If you really wanted to know about a man, you needn’t go any further than seeing who he cavorted with. Robert cavorted with a grizzly bear.
It was freezing out on the porch. Marit felt her legs begin to shake as the wind blew up her miniskirt. She wasn’t exactly dressed for winter. She rarely was. Poking her head in the doorway, she wondered if she should enter or just go home before it was too late. Intuition told her to proceed with caution. Something strange was going down. Movement. A squat figure materialized at the top of the stairs. He was clothed in what looked like a collapsed tent. Marit looked up at him and Lompa smiled back his biggest Bucky Beaver smile for her.
This was Lompa’s big night. He had spared no effort in his preparations. Bård had helped, of course, both in planning the ISG concert and with Lompa’s stunning outfit.
“I see you as an electro-enchanter, a kind of Gandalf of the gadgets.” Bård paused and tweaked his mustachio antlers. “But then again, the wizard thing might not be the real you, Lompa. You’re too, I don’t know . . . , boyish, you know, filled with the blind enthusiasm of adolescence. Wait . . . now I envision something more like the budding composer, or better yet, a youthful conductor. That’s it! Let’s play with that and see where it goes . . .” It went straight into Lompa’s damaged ego, inflating it balloon-wise.
Having been chronically harassed as a nerdy child, Lompa’s mind had become a harbor for subconscious dreams of retribution. His psyche was programmed for it. Revenge as primus psychological motor. His motor was certainly not a rare one. Who isn’t looking for a little payback? Vindication for all the terror, misfortune and unfairness that is dumped onto our innocent, unsuspecting souls. The building-blocks of neuroses.
Tonight would witness the birth of the new Lompa; artist, musician, hi-tech genius, and visionary. And perhaps later . . . lover. So what if he didn’t have the looks, the height, the cash flow. The cash would soon flow, in rivers. As far as looks went, well, his own studies proved just how transitory physical appearance was. Here today, gone tomorrow. Young and virile became so quickly old and fat. Faces and asses inevitably fell to the unending downward pull of gravity. Yet he had something that was eternal: information. As for being a virgin at the age of twenty-seven, well everybody’s a virgin until they aren’t a virgin anymore. A mere abstract number, a technical threshold to be crossed.
No, Lompa and his kind were the new breed of young lions: Lionerds. Infocrats. Better living through creative computing, that was their credo. They were the Department of Transportation of the information highways. And they would soon be in control of basically everything in the modern world.
Lompa was ready to party. The hell with budding young composer. He was shooting for the James-Bond-effect. Debonair. Worldly. Sophisticated. Dangerous. Which meant a third-hand tuxedo from the Salvation Army shop in Majorstua, dating from a time before Lompa’s parents had even fused their Lumponian sperm or egg material. Flying lapels with tips so pointed that you had to be careful not to poke your eye out. A minor detail of little importance to Lompa, the zoot suit had originally been multiple sizes too large. On sale, elephant size. Scissors, staples and super glue had solved the length problem, but one couldn’t help but feel that there was enough room for two or three Lompas within the voluminous confines of the garment. He looked like he could have fronted a Talking Heads concert. In a further burst of inspiration he had washed (with shampoo, no less) and combed his hair, brushed his teeth and, in a veritable hygienic fit, trimmed his fingernails and toenails. He had scraped his face of its sparse irregular beard-growth, at the same time beheading many members of his not insignificant crop of pimples, leaving bloody little craters everywhere. In the spirit of doing up the Ritz, Lompa had swiped Robert’s deo-stick and smeared it over his already perspiring body. The crowning glory to this package of squeaky-clean manhood: a brand-new pair of H&M underpants in bold purples and quiescent grays. It was no less than both the physical and metaphysical rebirth of Lompa.
As he strode down towards Marit, it was all he could do to keep from beating on his chest, letting out a Tarzanian holler, and leaping down the remaining stairs to mount the object of his desires. But timing is everything, he told himself. A little self-control now will pay for itself in spades later. Upon arrival at the bottom of the stairs, he looked deeply into Marit’s eyes. She took a step backwards, as if she was about to retreat through the front door. Which she was considering. So far this was definitely not her idea of a party. Vomitoid Robert, Rude Hairy Giant and now Psycho Beaver. And an empty house filled with balloons. There wasn’t even any music, for christssake.
“Hi, hot stuff. You here to boogie?” Lompa crooned in his best hoarse baritone, sending a cloud of cheap mouthwash vapor into Marit’s breathing space.
“What? As if,” she snapped sliding past him. “Where the hell is Robert?” She darted into the kitchen. Suddenly there were more voices approaching the front door. Lompa walked briskly into the living room. Playing hard to get, he thought to himself and slid Elvis into the CD player. Two can play that game, he ruminated as Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog began to blast out of at least six sets of woofers, mid-rangers and tweeters. As people began to pour through the door, he surveyed the decorations and snacks with a growing inner excitement. Faen ta Marit. He’d show her. There were plenty of other fish in the sea. It was party time at 591 Becquerel.