Negative Capability

Setting the World on Fire

Negative Capability

Setting the World on Fire

Entitled (fiction)

His eyes looked just as mischievous closed as they did open, and even under the poorly applied and unnecessary make-up, it was clear that even though the life had gone out of him, it hadn’t. There were no more sly grins, no more subtle signs of displeasure: the raised eyebrow, the slightly tilted smile that seemed permanently temporary. I guess I didn’t expect to see a ghost dragging chains or hear the faint echoes of an invisible presence in the room just beyond a closed door, but seeing Greg in an open casket while a priest played the sycophant to his grieving parents, I laughed quietly, knowing that Greg would have laughed with me, at his parents, at his cousins, and at the priest, mocking their values and traditions. As far as I know I was the only guy he had ever kissed, and both of us were drunk, and I guess now that his end of the secret has been kept, I don’t mind saying it, go ahead, ask him if isn’t the truth. He ain’t talking anymore.

I met his girlfriend, Nora, in a bar in Miami, and I can’t for the life of me remember what the hell I was doing in Miami, I mean there ain’t nothing in Miami but Cubans and old people. God’s waiting room, that’s what I used to call it, like they were all sitting in their air-conditioned cubicles or schvitzing on the golf course waiting for their number to be called. The whole fucking place smells like roasting corpses and stale sweat. So I was in this bar, trying to pick up this chick, oh, don’t let my little revelation make you think I was some kind of rump-wrangler, fuck, no, I mean I’m a guy, but I was, well, Greg was, my best friend, and we didn’t have to waste time chit-chatting about it, I mean it just was. I thought I had Nora going, I was making fun of all the losers in this dive, I mean the band sucked, the drinks sucked, the A/C sucked, and there was this pervasive sucking sound all over the place. Vintage Miami. This was like two years ago.

So Greg comes over to me and starts making like Nora is his property and I’m just some shit-faced asshole, not worthy to chew their used rubbers. I looked at Nora like I was shocked, like she was leading me on, and she leans over and plants this kiss on me, and my boy Freddie is standing at attention, even though I ain’t sure if it’s for real, but fuck, man, who cares? We hit it off like gangbusters, like fucking Han Solo and Chewbacca, and if you had ever seen his back you’d know which one I was. We shot pool a few times, and of course I kicked his hairy ass all over the place. They took me to this place called Grand Prix, they have these little go-karts, and man it was a blast ’cause they don’t give a fuck if you tool around all drunk. I was obliterated and whipping around this little track, sucking in rubber and clouds of exhaust from those little fuckers. We smoked a joint and played video games, they have this game there called Smash TV where two people can play at the same time. They should just call it “Kill Everyone” since that’s all you really do. Just start out in the middle of this floor, it’s supposed to be a game show. Anyway, what you have is a gun that fires in all directions and you are surrounded by gun-toting maniacs and you basically have to blast your way out. Blood comes out and people scream and if you hit people with grenades you see body parts just go flying, it’s amazing. Then you win prizes, like TV’s and shit, and then right into the middle of a new floor, to wreak more havoc. That game is great.

They both kept me entertained for a few months and then it was off to Dallas. See, I write, mostly letters to Penthouse Forum, but sometimes I do greeting cards and shit like that. Roses are red, violets are blue, give me a blowjob, and swallow my spew. Poetry, right?

Nora dumped Greg almost six months ago, but now she is crying her fucking eyes out, like she wasn’t the one who tore his heart out and showed it to him. She stills looks good though, and me and Freddie are comforting her, and boy does she look like she would be comfortable if you know what I mean. She tells me what she knows about Greg dying, dumb bastard fell asleep or passed out in his car in the garage. Man if I had been there he might not have—who am I kidding? I woulda had a double funeral with him. I wouldn’t have had such a turnout though, fuck, I mean my parents disowned me so long ago I barely remember what they look like and I never stay anyplace long enough to wear out my welcome, usually takes me about a weekend. I don’t drink so much now, sometimes I just make snowcaps, a little snow on top of the bong and whammo, I’m in the ozone gliding over the planet. Looks pretty good from up there.

I was just standing there when his parents came over to me, like they fucking know me or something. I think they are gonna say something obnoxious about my boots, big black fuckers with gold spurs and swastikas and shit, and they look me dead in the eye and ask how I knew Greg. They said it in the past tense, it was weird. I say we used to hang out and talk about filming this screenplay that I wrote about two guys who go on a road trip dressed as Vikings, raping and pillaging, real funny stuff. They didn’t even listen to me. They told me that Greg had a will and they know that I am mentioned in it, and then they give me a card and leave. Man, they had this sadness in their eyes, but I know it was all show. I guess I wasn’t crying either, but I hadn’t seen Greg in maybe three or four months, we got into a pissing match and he won, and I fucking hate to lose. I was going to call him, but there’s nothing I can do now, except go and see what’s behind curtain number three.

Mostly Greg barely had two nickels to rub together, but I heard that he was pitching some spec scripts in Lalaland. I’m not usually jealous, but he used to churn and burn all this pulp shit and worker safety films, I mean he was all, yeah, I guess I should say was, he was all technique and no style. His idea of style was to intercut a few frames of strange shit instead of a cool image, because I guess he thought that putting some weird shit in would let the audience think something cool happened, when in reality it was all bullshit. I had a script, real short, and for the line where it says, “He had no idea what to say to Charlotte, his attic was empty, like the family that lived there had moved in a hurry,” great line, I know. But he just shows the face of the guy and then cuts in six fucking frames of an empty attic, which meant to me that the guy was dumb, had nothing in his attic. We fought for like three hours over that, him giving me this elaborate bullshit story about Fellini and Bergman, when really he just read it too fucking literally. That was Greg, all stories and excuses, totally unable to admit when he wasn’t thinking.

When I went to the lawyer about a week and a half later I was really hung over, it had started to sink in that Greg was really gone, up until then I really believed that he was jerking me around, that he might just come out and scare the hell out of me. After the meeting was over I knew he was really gone, but fuck, I didn’t expect what happened and I was wishing that I was still drunk. I got his stereo and his 8mm camera. And an envelope with my name scrawled in red ink across the front. He misspelled it on purpose, but they didn’t ask me for any fucking ID. I waited until I was out of the office to open it, I thought it might be a bad idea to read it in front of his parents. This is exactly what it said:

Dear Chauncey (everyone including you will call me Rex):
If you are reading this letter it means that I am dead, and you should be crying your fucking eyes out, you dick. Today is March 14 and unless I was killed in a freak farm accident I have some bad news for you. I was murdered. I have been getting threatening phone calls and weird dead animals in the mail and the reason I haven’t spoken to you in a while is that I didn’t want to put you in any danger. I don’t know if it has to do with this exposé that I did about slaughterhouse employees, married girlfriends or Elvis, but shit, now I’m dead and can’t tell you anything, because I don’t fucking know anything. I don’t know what you can do about it, you’re probably hung over right now, you maggot. Maybe you will very carefully find out who did it and bring them to justice. Enjoy the stereo!

I didn’t know what to do, so I went home and visited the ozone, where I could do some serious thinking.

The next day I had to go to a job interview, but I didn’t get it, so why bother with the stupid details? I wanted to go visit Greg’s parents to find out where he had been lately, but I knew that they were probably just as clueless as I was. I called Nora and invited her over. She showed up like two hours late, but it was worth the wait. She was wearing red heels, and red miniskirt, a really, really sheer white silk blouse, and a lovely red lace bra. Freddie and I were both real glad to see her. I showed her the letter and she told me that she had no idea what it meant, but she said that it sounded like bullshit to her. She gave me the number of some guy named Matt who she said Greg had been hanging around with lately.

When I went to go see Matt he only had nasty things to say about Greg.

“That fucker? Coulda been anybody, man. That fucker once crazy-glued my dick to my stomach when I was asleep. He thought it was hysterical, but I had to pay a doctor three hundred fucking dollars to take a knife to my dick and cut it loose.” Freddie cowered. “I thought he died in his car, fell asleep while he was drunk or something.”
“That’s what his parents told me. Did he owe anybody money?”
“Like anyone would lend him money.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Anybody catch him with their girlfriend or wife?”
“Catch him? No. He was slick about that shit. I’m sure people suspected him, but I suspected him of doing all kinds of shit.”
“Like what?”
“Listen, I have to get back to work, I really can’t help you. It sounds to me like it was an accident, I mean his number could have just been up. Someone may have been after him, but it looks to me like he got to himself before anyone had a chance.”
Cocksucker. I went home and had a beer and watched my Trials of Life tape that had come a few days ago. Zebras butting heads and these little green frogs in South America who get into fist fights over who owns the leaf. It was a lot duller than the commercials, certainly not worth whatever the hell I paid for it. I decided to check out the camera that he had given me. The serial numbers had been scratched off, but he could have done that just to make his parents think it was stolen. There was a cassette in it, so I hooked it up to the TV and sat back to watch. There was this black guy with severe dreads smoking a big joint and laughing. I could hear Greg talking.

“Greg, why are you filming, man? I ain’t your baby, save that shit for someone who cares.”
“It’s my house, my joint, and you’re my dog bitch, Tav-o. If you don’t want me to-”

The joint exploded and Greg starting laughing his head off. I guess the guy was named Tav-o, whatever the hell that means, and he was staring right at the camera, looking really pissed off.

“You fucker, man, I oughta kill you.”

Greg was laughing hysterically, he was on the floor, filming Tav-o’s shoes. “Man that was classic. That was fucking priceless.”

Tav-o’s shoes stirred and left the room. The front door slammed and Greg continued to laugh. This could be a help, I thought to myself. Maybe this Tav-o guy did Greg in. Fucking asshole, wouldn’t put it past him. What kind of a name is Tav-o anyway? Why not Shaliqua or Aquanetta? Oh, those are girls names. My mistake.

I called Nora and asked her if she knew Tav-o. She did. Barely. She didn’t have his number and sounded like she didn’t even give a fuck. I told her that I thought maybe Tav-o had done it, ’cause he looked really pissed in the video. She told me that I was being a racist, but I tried to explain. She didn’t want to hear it. She thought that Greg had killed himself with his own stupidity, but I didn’t think so. I watched some cartoons and took a nap.

I was in a bar a few weeks later, I had been working on spec for a greeting card company, they’re called Acme, like the place where the Roadrunner bought all of his stuff. They publish Kevin Pope stuff, that guy is a fucking genius. He even got 10K for doing a little calendar for Pop-Tarts with these idiotic twins called Dweezil and somebody else. They go fishing with Pop-Tarts and catch a whale. Ten thousand dollars for two idiots fishing with Pop-Tarts. I’m sure there is some kind of sexual joke to be made about Pop-Tarts, but fuck if I can think of it.

I saw Tav-o in the bar and decided to buy him a drink, knowing that if a guy bought him a drink he would notice me and come over and talk to me. It worked—he came over and looked me up and down before he sat on the stool next to mine.

“You some kind of faggot?”
“Me? Fuck no.”
“Why you buying me a drink?”
“You look familiar, is your name Tav-o?”
“Some people call me that. Why you got a Nazi thing on your boot?”
“Oh, that’s a goof. Got it at a Dead Kennedy’s show, it used to say, ’Nazi Punks Fuck Off!’ but that part has been scraped off.”
“How’d you know my name?”
“My friend Greg introduced us, I think.”
“Greg Shedd?”
“Yeah. You remember?”
“No, I was probably lit when I met you.”
“So was I.”
“So what can I do for you,...I don’t remember your name.”
“Yeah, I was wondering if you have seen Greg lately.”
“No. Not in a few weeks. Last time I saw him he blew up a joint and tried to kill me.”
I tried to play dumb, even though I realized that this Tav-o guy hadn’t done it. “He blew up a joint?”
“Yeah, he was always playing practical jokes on me, but that one went too far. You looking for him?”
“Not really. He’s dead.”
“No way. No fucking way. Are you... what happened?”
“They found him in his car in the garage, passed out or dead, I’m not sure.”
“Did he kill himself? That ain’t like Greg.”
“No, I think he was murdered.”
“What would make you think a thing like that?”
I didn’t want to show my hand, so I bluffed. “Just a feeling. It was just too weird, the way he died, and besides I’m always suspicious of easy answers.”
“That can drive you loco, man. You know who might be able to help you? Peter, this guy who did some work on that slaughterhouse thing. Cinemtogsomething or other. Made sure that the picture was framed right. Greg said that for some reason he kept seeing things all tilted, so Peter helped him straighten it out.”
“Did anyone at the slaughterhouse have it in for him?”
“Probably, but they would’ve gutted him like a pig, killing a guy in a garage sounds like an accident, not a warning. Now if he had been tagged in the back of his head or something, then maybe.”

I got Peter’s number and didn’t call him for a few days, I had other shit to do. I finally tracked Peter down after playing answering machine tag for a couple of days. Sounded real queer on the phone. He kept asking me what happened to Greg, I guess he hadn’t heard. I told him that I would only tell him in person and I met him at this bar called McGowan’s Irish Pub. Shoulda pegged him as a fucking drunken potatohead.

He was just as queer as I had pictured him, wearing a red silk shirt, unbuttoned down to a fucking scar that marked his solar plexus. I hated him instantly.
“You mutht be Rex.”

A fucking lisp. Probably was dumping a load of sperm in his drawers as he was talking to me. “Yeah, I spoke to Tav-o and he said you might be able to help me.”

“Tav-o? Oh, yeah, the black guy. Really nice, but kind of, um, nevermind. So how do you know Greg?”

He was saying everything in the present tense, like he didn’t know. Maybe he didn’t. “I used to hang out with him when I was in Miami, but now that I’m back in Philly I haven’t seen him in a while. You?”

“No. Last time I saw him we did a film about the slaughterhouse, really grim stuff. Made me swear off meat. It took me like three weeks to get the smell out of me, I had to boil my clothes. I still hear pigs screaming sometimes when I listen real hard. I try not to.”

He looked like he was going to cry. Loved animals fine, but didn’t seem to care about people. Dick. I ordered a beer and went with Peter to a booth. He was drinking something blue. Figures.

“Why haven’t you spoken to him in so long? You guys have a fight?” I didn’t like the way I said guys. Shoulda said dudes, or men. Too late to worry about it.

“I was really pissed at him once. We were at his house watching TV and he was just sitting in the kitchen, humming. I asked him to get me a drink and he told me to get it myself. That’s just Greg, you know, but when I went in the kitchen he was making bacon and laughing his ath off-” He started to choke on the words. “He thought it was really funny, but I thought that we both felt the same way about pigs. They’re smarter than dogs, and people would freak if we ate dogs for Christmas.”

“So you were pissed at him, huh?”
“I forgot about it after a while, I still needed work, and Greg just didn’t think sometimes. He just did stuff and thought about it after.” I knew that he didn’t do it. So I dropped the bombshell.
“He’s dead.”
“Who?” What an idiot.
“Greg. Died in his car. He was in his garage and he passed out and died.”
“Oh, God. Shit. Really?”
“Yeah, I wouldn’t lie about something like this.”
“You know what he did? Like two months ago he said that he was being followed and weird stuff was happening. He gave me this key and told me that if anything happened to him I should find some guy named Chauncy Randolph and give it to him.”
“He gave me this key, I think it’s for a safe-deposit box or something. You know this Chauncy guy?” I was thinking that I should kill him just for saying my name.
“I’m Chauncy. EVERYONE calls me Rex.” I was really pissed, but I wanted the key.
“How do I know that you’re him and not just some guy trying to make some dough?”

I showed him my license and explained that Greg never had any money, certainly never enough money to leave in a safe deposit box. It was probably the names of people he thought might have been trying to do him in. I took the key, said goodbye to what’s-his-fag, and went home.

Two days and ten phone calls later I had found the bank where Greg had his box. I went there and stood around for like an hour, these assholes in monkeysuits checked me like I wanted to fly the Stealth bomber or something. Ties can make almost anyone into a dick. Finally some guy let me into the vault and showed me the box. He asked me if I wanted to be left alone. I said yes. I opened the box and inside was a videotape, in Beta. Vintage Greg. I closed the box and went to this video processing house where this girl I know works. She let me borrow a Beta player and I went home.
It took me about forty-five minutes to hook the whole thing up, what a pain in the ass, no wonder Beta died. I grabbed a beer and sat down with a pen and paper.

It opened up filming an empty chair, really poorly lit and skewed slightly off center. Then Greg came around and sat in the chair. It was really creepy. Then he looked right in the camera.

“Hi, Chauncy, I mean Rex, no I mean Chauncey, with an ‘e.’ If you are watching this, it means that I am dead and you have met Peter. He’s sooo cute, isn’t he, Rex? Wanna fuck him? He likes big biker wannabees like you. Now that you have found this tape and know that I have been murdered, I have to tell you something.” He started laughing and then continued. “GOTCHA, YOU GIANT DICK. I wasn’t murdered, you are so stupid, I can’t believe you fell for it.” He was hysterical now. “I bet you would like to kill me, but it’s too late. You should feel really bad. At least now I know that you care. I love you, too, Rex. Kiss me again.” Then he walked over to the camera and kissed the lens. I thought maybe he had offed himself just to pull this joke on me, then I thought maybe he just offed himself. I realized that he wasn’t talking anymore so I laughed along with him and blew a kiss back.

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