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The Chicken Zoo, part 3: The guy (a non-fiction novel)

Posted Jun 09 2009 11:46am
[ This story is based on my experiences as a reporter for The Delaware State News from 1990-93. Some names and dates have been changed. This was part of my unpublished novel, "The Chicken Zoo," that I wrote five years ago. ]

Now what?

Well, the first thing I did was go back to work, and look up some old stories. I did that for about an hour – I took about three sentences of notes and got bored. Reading the Newsweek story was enough. I just wanted to go home, so I did. Yeah, I know. It was 4 p.m. – I should have stayed at work in case something happened. But I was fried. I needed some respite. I had this apartment the week before. It had this real secluded feel to it, a converted attic in Dover with a low ceiling (almost every time I got up to change the channel on the television, I bumped my head). All I had was a couch with a big hole in the center, and a mattress I rescued from a nearby curb. I had a television set he bought from the Salvation Army for $25, and a telephone. Not much. But it was a place to hide.

I needed to call somebody. I guess I should have called this guy “Chad.” But I needed Dad. So I called him. Give me a break – I hadn’t called him in a week. Every son needs his dad. Sure, Dad was a cranky middle-aged man who worked as a principal for an elementary school. Dad thought the most important thing in the world was work. If you told him that you got an A on your report card, he’d say, “Great. But why did you get an A in math? There’s no money in that!” Dad slaved for years working long hours in the insurance office.

Mom worked, too. She was a sweet lady, when she was around. In fact, I saw more of Dad than I did Mom. Mom worked as an Avon lady. So it was Dad who cooked. It was Dad who cleaned. It was Dad who would lay out the clothes on the ironing board, and burn a hole in my shirts. In those days, my world always felt very topsy-turvey. It’s probably why I was an only child.

But Dad was still Dad, and fathers have wisdom. So I called, knowing he’d be home to answer

“Hey Dad,” I said.

“So how’s the job,” was his immediate reply.

“All right,” I said. “They’ve got me covering a murder.”

“Just tell me one thing,” Dad said.

“What’s that?”

“Why the hell couldn’t they come up with a better name for that place?”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Listen to the words, I,” he said. “Your paper is named after a ‘chicken fart!’ ”

“No it’s not.”

“Well then, what the hell is a ‘State News?’ ”

God. Can’t he ever be serious. Or at least non-cynical.

“Dad,” I said. “Calm down.”

“I’m just looking out for you, that’s all,” he said. “A newspaper’s about words, right? You mean to tell me they couldn’t come up with a better name?”

“I’ll see you dad.”

“How’re you going to be the next Dan Rather when you’ve got a ‘chicken fart’ on your resume?”

“I don’t want to be Dan Rather,” I said. “Dad, can we get off that? I gotta ask you some questions…”

“Ask your mother…I’m not good at this.”

“Mom’s not around,” I said.

“Yeah, I know...Hey, I, I know it’s hard,” he said. Dad always acted apologetic about the situation.

“C’mon, Tom, stop it.”

“Dad, I used to spend recess leaning up against a wall, scared to death of people,” I said. “I never wanted to know anybody, and they didn’t want to know me…”

“Yeah, well, I believe in self-reliance…”

“Self reliance? At age 10?” I said. “Don’t go Ralph Waldo Emerson on me, Dad… That’s not independence. That’s negligence.”

“Just calm yourself down,” Dad said.

“No I’m 23 and I gotta make a living talking to people with no teeth…”

“Just keep your mind on your work and you’ll be fine,” his dad said. “And whatever you do, don’t quit.”

Don’t quit. He always says that. I hate it when he says that. Call me paranoid, but I think I know what he’s talking about. He’s talking about Rutgers again. He’s talking about bulimia. He’s talking about nearly failing out, and having to bail myself out at the last minute. Does he have to do that? You know, the best thing he could have done was send me to therapy. Instead, he’s going to shame me to death.

“Dad, what are you talking about?” I said. “Are we bringing up the Rutgers thing again.”

“I just don’t want any more calls from the local health center, with some quack telling me about ‘induced vomiting’…”

“C’mon dad…Let’s not bring this up again.”

“Seriously, though, what were you thinking?” he said. “You shrunk into some Ethiopian mess….your cheeks looked like they were about to sucked into your throat…”

“All right, dad, that’s enough.”

“It’s a good thing you did have friends…if they hadn’t pulled you out of the bathroom, what would you be?”

“OK,” I said. I really, really had enough. He always found some weird way to end a conversation. “Look, I gotta go.”

“Maybe that’s why you’re a good reporter,” he said, continuing. Did I say he wasn’t a good listener?

“Reporting is a loner’s life,” Dad said. “You don’t have to do much more than talk on a telephone, and make an occasional trip outside the office. It just seems to fit.”

“Thanks Dad,” I said. “Goodbye.”

I had work to do, for crying out loud. I didn’t need to be tortured by parents.

So then I had to call this guy Chad. Chad. Who the hell is Chad? Jenny gives me this number to call, I should call it, right? I mean, I should be able to trust this lady, right? She is my boss. Yeah, she was pretty flaky. She hired me a month before, without even giving me an interview. She called me from some other bar, told me she got my resume and hired me. Of course, I should have known something was up when she hiccupped throughout the telephone call. Then she gives me this weird memo that talks about “public trust” and all that shit and orders me to memorize it. I don’t know. Give me an order to do something and I’ll do it. I don’t need to question it. I don’t have time to question it. Give me the candy, and I’ll eat. Why bother checking for razor blades? That’s why we put people in positions of authority. So they do all the thinking for us.


So I pulled out the slip of paper from my pocket, read it and dialed the number.

“Hello?” said the voice.

“Chad?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “Hey, is this Tom?”

“Yeah, from the State News.”

“Hey, all right, I was waiting for your call,” he said, rather enthusiastically.
“Where are you?”

“Why, I’m in Dover.”

“Why don’t you come down here?” Chad said. “I live in Dewey, but we can meet in Rehoboth.”

Come down there? Christ. OK, I know I try to trust people. But that may be crossing a line. Then again, it’s not like I’m meeting with the Iranians to negotiate a secrete arms deal.

“I don’t know,” I said. “How do I get there?”

“How do you get to Rehoboth?”

“Yeah.”

He laughed. OK, very funny. That’s me. I asked stupid questions. Some people think it’s cute virtuous. Other people think it is what it is. Stupid. Of course, I was also being a bit sly. I was buying time while sorted this out.

“It’s about an hour south of you,” he said. He gave me directions to a bar called Arenas, on the boardwalk. “You’d better hurry up, because closing time is early here.”

“I don’t know…”

“C’mon,” he said. “We’ll be in a public place. Everything will be all right.”

“That’s true,” I said. “Why not?”

“See you about nine-ish or so?”

“All right,” I said. “See you then.”



I headed out, almost immediately. Oh, well, I did grab a few Cheerios and ate them as I ran down the steps. That was dinner. I’ll wash them down with beer, I thought.

I headed south on Route 13, again, straight down that fast-food alley. Ugh. Luckily, it didn’t last forever. In fact, it changed rather suddenly, when 13 changed to 113, and the landscape was filled with a series of lights and fences that were more than six feet high. South of Dover, there were no shopping centers. Just some very large planes, each bigger than a Kmart, with tails that seemed to stretch back about a quarter mile. Some were parked, wing-to-wing, while others maneuvered along the long runways and toward the blimp-sized hangars. All this was happening, before my eyes and in a matter of seconds. It was Dover Air Force Base, and I was in awe.

Overhead, planes roared through the sky in a straight line, landing one after another on Dover's flat, green desert. Man. These were some of the biggest war machines I’ll ever see. All this stuff was right off Route 113 – going on for about a quarter-mile stretch – and it was rather fleeting. As I headed south, I had to stop and give it one more long look, so I turned into a sandy pull-off area, turned around and gazed. Did that for a few seconds, and then I pulled away. But even as I drove, I watched in my review mirror, and marveled as those planes disappeared in the evening fog.

Then it was back to the boring. And the vast nothingness that just seemed to go on and on. The landscape was so flat, and so low that the swamp waters covered parts of the roadways. For an hour it was like this, all in the dark. I stopped twice to buy bottles of Coke, just to pep me up and keep me awake. I could feel my eyes closing at times – not too badly, but bad enough. I State Newsed the radio a few times, even though the only stations I could find played that tired dinosaur rock shit that was getting on my nerves. I couldn’t tell you how happy I was when the scenery finally changed from flatlands to an assortment of water slides, bungi jumps and other beach-tourism attractions. That had to be Rehoboth.



From there, it was easy. Just find the boardwalk, and I did. Then I had get out of the car, turn left and look. I did. I didn’t even need to see the sign of this place; the noise gave it away.

Once there, I opened the door, squeezed into the wall-to-wall crowd, and ordered a beer. The band was loud and bad, and the guitar feedback was screeching. People find this enjoyable. When I’m by myself, I avoid it. When I’m on the job or with thrill-seeking friends, I tolerate it.

I got that beer and drank it, fast. I really needed to numb myself. I had to stop listening to all that bullshit going on around me. Plus, I was nervous. Sure, there were all these people around. But I always get nervous when I meet new people. I mean, why not? Girlfriends make me puke in the toilet.

My “guest” somehow found me, amazingly. He said he knew his way around, so I guess I should have believed me. He wasn’t what I envisioned though. He sounded like the “everyman” on the telephone. But in person, he was tall and skinny, maybe even a little lifeless – except for that wide grin on his face.

“Tom?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Chad. Right?”

“In the flesh,” he said. He saw my bottle was empty. “Another beer?”

“Sure.”

Chad squeezed his skinny body through the crowd, and ordered one. Amazing, I thought. I’m skinny, but to get to where he went, your body had to be paper-thin. He looked like a malnourished college professor, only one who tried to act cooler. He combed too much mousse into his short hair, which made it stick up in parts. It gave him a New Wave-meets-Einstein look.

“So, you’re on this murder thing, huh?” Chad asked, handing me my beer.

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“The Cramner murder.”

“Right,” I said. “Did you know him?”

“Oh yeah.”

I paused for a second, and sipped on my beer. I didn’t want to appear like I was ambushing him.

“What can you tell me about him?” I asked.

“I could tell you some things,” he said. “I’ve got some old photos at my house, if you’d like to see them.”

“Photos?”

“Yeah, you know, pictures of him and me together, you know, fishing and shit like that.”

“You both worked at the base?”

“Oh yeah, he did. I did. I guess you heard of the famous Jones Boys.”

“I’ve had a quick education.”

“Yeah, there’s a lot of guys from that time, walking around, running their fingers up and down their lips,” he said. “It’s sad.”

“Right.”

Now he paused, and stared out at the crowd. I let him control the conversation. It looked like I was going to be there for a while. If he wasn’t ready, so what?

“How about another beer?” Chad said.

“Sure,” I said. “Let me drink this one up.”

Chad signaled for the bartender, and ordered a tall, 32-ounce glass of Bud. He handed it to me, and I smiled.

“You like football?” Chad asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Doesn’t everybody? Who do you root for?”

“The Redskins,” he said. “You’re in Redskins country!”

“That’s pretty scary,” I said. “I’m a Giants fan.”

“That’s even scarier,” Chad said.

"One of my favorite moments was when Lawrence Taylor broke Joe Theisman's leg, back in '85," I said. "I loved how Monday Night Football kept running that replay over and over again.

"THAT is sooo wrong," Chad said. He smiled and reached into his pocket for a cigarette.

Like thunder, the music started again. And it was loud. Why the fuck does it always have to be loud. Our voices were quickly drowned out by this explosion. The band, Crash Tokyo was playing one of its last sets.

“Christ, who the hell are they?” I asked.

“Crash Tokyo,” Chad said. “They’re one of Delaware’s most popular bands.”

Chad looked over the crowd and right at the band. He managed to squeal his voice loud enough over the feedback to be heard. I was amazed, again, but he and the band seemed to have some connection. The second they saw his face, it seemed, they knew what he wanted.

"Butt Steak!" Chad yelled.

"Butt Steak?” I asked. “What's that?"

"Butt Steak is a song Crash Tokyo plays all the time,” he said. “Some guys from your newspaper helped write it. Wherever they go, they play it."

The band obliged, and jammed.

Get yourself a butt steak
Fried up in a pan
Eating lots of butt steak
Will make a boy a man

Butt steak makes yo hair grow
Makes yo teeth turn green
Butt steak gives you hands of stone
And makes you plenty mean

Talkin' bout de butt steak
Makes drool flow from yo lips
Eating lots of butt steak
Make you talk like dis


The overstuffed crowd cheered, and some raised their tall glasses of beer in tribute. Chad was one of of them. I wasn’t. I shrank inside the crowd and sucked down the rest of my 32-ounce glass.

In the song break, the bartender bellowed, “Last call!” Chad looked at his watch, and offered more.

“How ’bout you come to my place for a nightcap?” he said. “I live in Dewey. I can show you those photos.”

“Dewey?” I said. “Where’s that?”

“It’s just south of here,” he said. “I’ll give you directions.”

Chad reached for a napkin on the bar, and wrote them down. He also wrote his telephone number. He then gave me quick review of what to look for, and I did what I could to memorize it.

So now the debate raged in my head again. Should I go? Actually, this was an easier decision. Everybody knew Chad. How bad could he be? In fact, he’s got something that I wanted – information. Besides, I had a pretty cool buzz. Unlike Jenny, I can’t drive when I’m impaired. Maybe this guy had a place to crash. I should feel lucky, I thought.

“Well,” I said, “see you very soon.”

“Cool.”
I tried to stuff the napkin in his pocket, and headed for door. But a lot of other people were heading out, too, even though Crash Tokyo wasn’t finished. I was surprised by that, so I banged into a few people and fumbled the napkin. I turned around and looked for it, but when I couldn’t find it immediately, I gave up. Fuck it. I found my way down here. I could find my way to Dewey Beach.



I got back to my car, and searched for a map that was buried within the assorted wrappers, bags and napkins. The stench was so bad. I was too fired for this. I got in and drove. If I got lost, I just do what I did in Dover. I’ll stop and ask.
Almost immediately, I got lost. Just my luck. I drove around a lake, and looked for anything that Chad talked about. But in the pitch-black darkness, I could barely see the street. Unlike Dover, it was night, and there were no old men pushing shopping carts who knew their way around. In what seemed like an instant, Delaware's nightlife disappeared. No one was anywhere but the night and me.
I did see a sign that said, "Welcome to Dewey Beach." But it should have said, “Dewey Beach Closed,” because it was. There was a payphone hanging from the side of a TV repair shop. I did remember the number he gave me. So I stopped the car, put in a bunch of quarters and called.
"You're lost?” Chad said, answering immediately. At the bar, he seemed so laid-back and cool. Now he seemed more anxious. “How could you be lost?"
“ I lost your directions,” I said. “Sorry. You sound upset.”
“I’m not upset,” Chad said, sighing. He went over them again, and promised he’d wait in the road to flag me down.
I obliged. Only it was getting real dark. He gave me a bunch of landmarks, and for the life of me, I couldn’t see them. I began to doubt whether any of this even existed.
I slowed my car to about 10 or 15 mph, and stayed on the lookout while I cruised that lake road. Suddenly, to my right side a blurred image appeared. Then I heard I heard a "thud" and slammed on the brakes. Oh my God, I thought. I killed somebody!
“What the hell was that?” the guy called out. Relax, I thought. It was Chad, pounding on the side. I unlocked the door, and Chad jumped in.
“You OK?” I asked.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” he said. “Um, I’m just worried about you because I know you had some to drink. So you’d better get hopping – there’s cops crawling all through this neighborhood.”

And so I did. He pointed toward some alley, and we slipped in there, driving past some houses that looked like mansions. They had backyards that were big enough to park cruise ships. But Chad kept pointing ahead, away from these places. He obviously didn’t live in them, and he didn’t appear to have any interest in them.

We eventually came to a cottage, and Chad signaled for me to stop. It was hard to see; trees completely enveloped the place, shading the entire yard from the moonlight. But this was it, Chad said. He stepped out of the car, reached for his keys, and ran up to a light. He tripped a motion light and lit up the dark yard, just so he could see the door lock.

“C’mon in,” Chad said, opening the door. “Let’s talk.”

I followed, right through the doorway. But then I stopped and looked. Holy shit, I thought. Look at all these fucking candles! There were as many as five or six on each tabletop. Each was white, and each was lit. The little flames moved slightly as they felt the slow breeze from the outside.

“Have a seat,” Chad said. “I’ll get you a beer.”

OK. I did. But please help me here: In my young life, I’ve never known a guy to like so many fucking candles. Now, I like to think I’m a liberal, open-minded kind of guy here. I’ve know guys who were into matching shades of paint with the bathtub curtains and all that. But candles? Houston, we have a problem.

I just got over that. I mean, I just got over that. Then I heard a “slam.” Well, I guess a slam would be loud, so it was kind of a mild “slam” – the noise of wood hitting metal. Chad locked the door behind me with a large, wooden rail that slipped into a notch, landing in the slot with a sudden “thunk.” Now we were sealed like Tupperware in the candle house.

Help me, here, OK. Now, I know something ain’t right at this. Something inside me was screaming, “Get the fuck out of here.” But, you know, we all have that split personality thing going on, where one side of us says, “Yes” and the other side says “No.” And you know, I was tired of being the country bumpkin from Arkansas who was always afraid to jump in the water because it was too cold. When I was in high school, I went with my friend Bill to a bridge where everybody jumped into the Manasquan River. There were six of us there. Five of us jumped. Guess who didn’t? Yeah, that’s right. Six years later, I was still living that down. I’m tired of that. I want to live real experiences. I want to live real life. So I ain’t leaving, dammit. That’s what I told myself.

Chad walked back in, carrying two beers and giving one to me. Chad and I then sat. I stared at the wall full of stain-glass windows on the side. Chad stared at me.

“Everything OK?” I asked.

“Sure,” Chad said. "I'm just thinking that maybe I should get a bigger place, probably closer to his bar near downtown. I like being near the action.”

“Yeah.”

"You'll have to pardon that the house is a mess,” Chad said. “I'm thinking about putting up some shelves to handle the surplus."

He seemed nervous, even a little insecure and defensive. But, wait, OK, here’s the big thing: What happened to his voice? At the bar he sounded like Mr. Hard Guy with a football helmet. Now’s got a lisp and sounded a little too much like Paul Lynde. These thoughts were just bouncing back-and-forth in my head. I had to get to business.

“So, do you have those photos?” I said. I wondered to myself why I even had to remind him. “You did say you had some, right?”

“Oh yeah,” Chad said. “I checked, and I couldn’t find any. I must have gotten rid of them.”

“Oh.”

“You know, I should come clean with you on something.”

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Chad chucked back a gulp of his beer. “I’m a Jones Boy.”

“You worked on that case?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Somehow, they let me slip through the cracks.”

“So you worked with Cramner?”

“Yes I did.”

My eyes started to shift, nervously. It was too quiet in there, and Chad was speaking too softly. I had to cut the tension. I was just buzzed enough to do it.

“So did you kill him?” I said, half-jokingly.

“Of course not!” he said.

“All right. All right,” I said. “It was only a joke.”

Chad looked like he was on the verge of a smile. But it was only a grimace.

“So why are you here?” he said.

“Well,” I said. “I heard that you can help me.”

“Who told you that?”

“My editor,” I said. “Jenny Bridge.”

“Oh, jeez. Jenny,” Chad said. Now he was smiling. “Yeah, well we go way back. She used to cover the base.”

“Yeah? She said something about that,” I said.

“So now you’re her water boy?”

“I hope not,” I said. Not funny.

“Relax,” he said. “I can joke, too.”

OK, this was really going nowhere. I really didn’t want to be locked up in the hermetically sealed fruit container for too much longer.

“So if you’re a Jones boy,” I said, “why aren’t you living in a trailer in a woods?”

Chad snickered a bit, and sucked down the rest of his beer. It was the closest he got to a laugh. “It’s not easy, let me tell you,” he said.

“I know a little bit about it,” I said. “But I was only 10 or 11 when it happened, so I don’t know much. I know a congressman got killed, and some wacky guy forced people to drink contaminated Kool-Aid or something.”

Chad smiled. “That’s not even half the story,” he said. “You want another beer?”

“Okay,” I said.

Chad walked over to the refrigerator, grabbed two, popped them open and walked back. He passed me one. Was I going to make it home? I’d better. But first I needed what I came for, whatever that was.

“Everybody talks about California, Guyana, or whatever,” Chad said, sitting in his chair. The more he drank, the more he seemed to sink in it. “But they never talk about here. Dover was where the real fun was.”

"It’s just bizarre to me,” I said. “When I took the job here, I never knew about this. I would just never equate it with what happened down there….”

“Well, Jimmy Carter had to send them somewhere,” Chad said, drinking his beer. “The mortuary here is probably the most active one in the world. Vietnam, Lebanon, Jim Jones – they all came through here.”

“Well, I’ve only been here a short time,” I said. I was so naïve. “But it just doesn’t seem like the kind of place that can handle that kind of thing. Am I wrong.”

Chad smiled again. Only this smile wasn’t of humor or sarcasm. I seemed to strike a nerve.

“Tell me about it,” Chad said. “There were 914 of them that day, men, women and children. All of them blue, with tags hanging off their toes. You know some of these Air Force guys who handled it – they had been through Vietnam and everything. But that wasn’t this. I mean, these weren’t G.I.s in uniform. These were mothers, fathers, children. You know what I mean?”

“I can understand that.”

“There were so many, they had to take in volunteers – local mortuaries, people off the street,” he said. “A lot of people had to take breaks, like every five minutes. They’d take a break, cry, maybe even vomit. And then they’d keep going.”

I nodded.

“Our job was to make a positive identification,” Chad said. “We had to collect personal effects – you know, watches, wallets, family photographs. All that stuff was inventoried.”

“Christ,” I said. “One second…”

I pulled out my pad that I had stuffed in my back pocket hours earlier. The pages were all folded and the cardboard was wrinkled, so I had to take a second to find a flat, blank page. I tried to be coy and secretive, but the whole process took too long. I held up the pad and pen toward his face. Code word: Can I take notes?

“Sure go ahead,” Chad said. The pause gave him an opportunity to drink more.

“So, you were saying about the I.D. process,” I asked. “I guess that takes a little more that matching fingerprints.”

“Oh, yes,” he said. “Then the remains were weighed, photographed and X-rayed. It’s a long process – very tedious.”

“How did you identify them?”

“They were identified scientifically, using digital X-rays, dental records, fingerprints, all that stuff,” Chad said. “Now they use DNA analysis, from what I understand.”

“You must have done autopsies, too. Right?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But each guy had his own job. It was too much to ask each guy to do a complete autopsy on his own … Some did simple stuff, like tag toes. Others do the actual cutting open of the body, and then the embalming. You’ve got to kill bacteria and make sure the body’s safe enough to be exposed to the public. It preserves the body for the return home, you know, for burial."

“You had to prep them, too,” I said. “I mean, for the funeral and the burial.”

“Yeah, there’s a cosmetology area. That’s what I did,” he said. “If they’re in the military, the remains are dressed up, you know, in full uniform, with every medal, ribbon and other decoration they’ve earned. But with the Jones thing, we didn’t have that.”

I paused again, to catch up on my notes. Chad didn’t seem to have a problem with it. He just kept drinking his beer, and staring. Staring right into my eyes. Neither his face, nor his voice, displayed the slightest crack.

Now he may have seemed fine. But the stare was making me uncomfortable.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

Chad laughed. OK, so he did actually laugh. But this wasn’t a funny laugh.
It seemed more sinister, more foreboding. He could tell that I was getting a little squeamish. Not because of the subject matter. It was him. He was the problem.

“Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it anymore, OK?” Chad said.

But that wasn’t the point, dammit. Yeah, the talk about the kids dying freaked me out, a little. But, goddamit, that stare! I felt so trapped in it. It’s like he was some kind of a dog waiting for his treat. I looked around the room, gazing at those stain glass windows and candles with the lit flames, hoping to divert attention. No dice. His eyes moved with my eyes.

“So, what is it you do now?” I asked.

Chad chuckled.

“No, really,” I said.

“I own the Hi-Lo Bar in Rehoboth,” Chad said, reverting back to seriousness. “I had it with the military.

“Yeah?” I said. “You miss it?”

“Nah,” he said. “I got out before I went completely bonkers. Other guys stuck around a little too long.”

“Like who?”

“Well,” he said. “I think that was the problem with Cramner. He was just wasting away over there. Some guys were so hung up over the Jones thing, they really couldn’t work anywhere else. Cramner just got his pension and up and left.”

I paused again. Something wasn’t quite right. Or maybe I just hadn’t asked the right questions yet. That stare was forcing me to rush.

“Did people like him?” I asked. “Did anybody hate him? Who would have done this?”

“I don’t know, really. It could have been anybody,” Chad said. “There was one guy who shot himself in the head, and went blind. He was so fucked up over the whole thing. He disappeared, though – I heard he was up in Ohio or some place like that.”

OK, that’s all I wanted to hear. Time to go. I had it. I could have looked up the encyclopedia and gotten this shit. Resist, resist, resist. I’m asking these wide-open questions, hoping to wide-open answers. This was your opportunity, bucko. Now get on your knees and cry! Tell me how rotten this was! Tell me how this ruined your life! I want to feel your pain. All I get is a stare.

So I wanted to say goodbye. It was at the tip of my tongue, ready to be spoken. I have to admit, I was a little unsure of myself, so it didn’t come out quickly. But it was there. It needed to be said. Instead, I just paused. Chad? He saw it as a break. He wiped his beer from his lip, got up and went to the kitchen. And then he promptly returned, carrying a bong pipe in one hand and a plastic Ziploc bag full of pot in the other. He gestured toward me, offering a hit.

"No thanks," I said. I did that shit once or twice in my life. Didn’t like. And I wasn’t ready to share my germs with Mr. Oogle Eyes.

Chad didn’t like that answer. He gestured again.

"No, I mean it,” I insisted. “No thanks.”

Chad moved on. I don’t think he heard me. He reached inside the plastic bag, and with his thin fingertips, grabbed some of the thin green-and-brown leaves that settled on the bottom. He sprinkled some in the bowl of his pipe, and rubbed his fingers together to make sure every last drop fell in. He took a toke, and returned to his stare.

"I think I should leave," I said.

Chad pulled the pipe from his mouth, choked a little on the smoke, and laughed. Again, a cynical, sinister laugh. Not a happy laugh.

“Stay," he said.

"No, I really have to be back. I've got a lot of errands I have to run tomorrow,” I said. I was just full of lame excuses, wasn’t I. “I need to buy some things for the apartment."

"Don't worry about it,” he said. “I have another bed you can sleep in.”

"Well, Christ, I'm glad you've got another bed," I said.

Chad laughed that ugly laugh again, and got up from his chair. He was holding the bong pipe in his mouth, and walking toward me. Holy shit. Now what? I was only 10 feet away, sitting directly across from him. But it was a walk. I had time to think. Maybe. Well, actually, I didn’t. He got within an inch of my face, he pulled the pipe out of his mouth and tried shove it in mine.

I shut my mouth, as tight as that lock on that door. Maybe tighter. But this Chad guy, man, he was relentless. He tried hard. He tried so hard, he was trying to fit the pipe between my lips, and pushing. One minute longer, he might have tried using pliers.

And then, oh my God, he starts peading. In that lispy voice. "C'mon, just take a little toke,” he said. C'mon! C’mon! It won't hurt you. C'mon!”

"I said no!” I shouted. I wanted to scream. But, god, I was man. I was human. Not like this guy. “No!”

Chad wouldn't quit. I got up. I forced myself to do it, and flung my elbow to bang him out of the way. I didn’t care where it landed. I didn’t care if it hurt him. Well, I did care because I was a newspaper reporter. Yeah, here comes the lawsuit. Let’s sue the guy who’s well known and make a couple bucks. But, yeah, I flung my elbow because I was, at the very least, blazing a trail for that door.

The elbow, it turned out, didn’t hit Chad. But it did hit the pipe. Some ash spilled, and flew in Chad’s direction. It flew like pepper spray, and it scared him. He stumbled to the floor.

I saw him fall but I kept walking. I could hear him get up – that’s why. What was he going to do next? I didn’t give a shit. I had to get out. I had to get through that lock. I didn’t want to find out.

"Wait, wait!" Chad pleaded. "Stay! C'mon, stay!"

I turned around to look at him. Bad move. Satchel Paige once said: “Don’t ever turned around. Someone may be gaining on you.” I did, and he caught up to me. That slightest bit of slowing down allowed him do that. What I saw was someone so out of control, laughing and waving his arms wildly. He was not sane. He was not rational. Time to grab that lock, and get it open.

"No! I said no!" I said. "I've got to go."

Say anything you want about Chad. He was persistent. And he caught up. He jumped on my back, wrapped his arms around my chest and squeezed. He bounced and humped, thrusting his thin frame into my upper spine. Now I know what happens when a pig gets raped at the zoo.

“Woo hoo hoo! Yeee hey!" he screamed.

OK, now I really didn’t care about the lawsuits or the embarrassments. He was going down, big time. I freed one arm, slipped out of his grip lock. Then I twisted my torso like a corkscrew and tried to push him off. He resisted, so I bent my elbow and banged it, hard, right into his ribs. I hit him hard. And, oh yeah, he fell off. He fell right on his back, and his mouth was wide open. It was like a silent scream, and wiggled a little and just laid there. I went and got the lock open, and left.

I swung the door open, ran toward the car, hopped in and turned the key. Chad? He wasn’t that hurt. He managed to get up, and ran after me, running right up to my car window. He cocked his fists and started pounding on the glass.

"You're a fucking asshole! You're a fucking asshole!" he shouted. He jumped up and down, his arms flailing wildly in the air.

OK, now here was the sympathetic side of me again (lame). I rolled down the window to the bottom. I had to signal for calm.

"Ease up, okay,” he said. “It's no big deal.”

But Chad’s yelling was just too loud. I just rolled the window right back up. I backed up and left, and found my way to that road that ran around the lake. But get this: After driving through all those trees, and pulling some 200 feet away from him, I could still hear Chad yelling and screaming.
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