So Telemachus Walks Into a Bar (and the punchline goes like this)
You find yourself at the end of the world, or San Diego to be exact. You notice the Monroes, sticking to their day jobs, watching the ships coming in, knowing that none of them will ever be theirs. ‘Bit disconcerting that, so you go to a bar. Who can tell precisely where it is? Or it’s name? Some sort of a lounge. Yes…a lounge. And the bartender’s name is Joe—from Long Island originally, by way of Arizona. Looks like a cross between Jack Webb and Jack Kerouac, but who really cares? Seems like a nice enough sort. Very friendly. Very normal. Not at all like these two characters here, introduce themselves as Buck X and Biff Mendelschon. “Aliases, of course,” they say, “but we’re not looking for trouble.”
Then the one guy relents, says, “My name is Matt, but a high school friend thought I could use the most inappropriate nick-name for a Jewish guy from Staten Island. Buck it was. I added the ‘X’ in college, when I became political and realized that in the years of slavery in Egypt, my people lost their true heritage. And don’t tell me about DNA tests, I’ve never had any illusions of being a Cohen anyway.” With such honesty, and a few beers, you feel more open, so you pose your question. They seem interested, more than willing to help.
The one, Mendelschon, says, “Look, here’s what you do. Get in your car and hop on the 5, northbound. Blow through LA and all that, there’s nothing for you there. ‘Bout seven, eight hundred miles, you’ll come to the 80. Make a right. Keep going, you’ll get to New Jersey. It’s a little shy of three thousand miles—you’ll know the place, big Welcome to… sign. Just follow the signs for the George Washington Bridge. Go across the George to 87 north. Then get on the Cross County—east, til it becomes the Hutch. North there. Exit ten, left at the stop sign. Uh, to the light, bear right up the hill, just keep going. The road sorta splits, you wanna bear right again, past this little column thingee. Follow that road and make your first left. There’ll be a school to your right. Stop there. Got that? Good. Talk to the guy sitting on the steps.”
“What the hell?” ya figure. So yer off. Couple days later, maybe a week. It’s dark out. And there’s this same guy, Mendelschon, on the steps. Dressed mostly in black this time, petting a black cat.
Perhaps you’re worried, but he senses this and says, “No, I’m not the devil, just more used to those long drives. I’ll bet you stayed in motels and had real breakfasts? I thought so. Sure, I maybe could have told ya a thing or two back there, but San Diego does weird things to me. Too close to the desert and all those stars. Here, the overbearing overabundance of stars is partially obscured by the eternal pre-dawn pink of New York City, and I can sometimes forget that I’m little more than an insignificant speck on an all too hostile planet.” You just stare. “Sorry, I get like that sometimes,” he says. And then pulls out a gun—six shooter—hands it to ya handle first. “Why is it that the Monroes are lurking at the end of the world, while some guy who’s had a long standing TV career playing characters named Tony—so he wouldn’t forget his cue, I suspect—is enjoying a career resurgence by singing and dancing just down the road a piece?”
This adds a new twist to your original question, and you’re about to say so, when he cuts you off. “Take the gun and head south on 95. Make a right in Jacksonville. Phoenix you’re looking for, just up 17. Make a right on Camelsback. There are these apartments…”
Before you know it, you’re off again. Getting into it now, but still stopping now and again. One day you wake up drunk in New Orleans and decide to drive across Texas in a day. It can be done, you feel. Then you’re on your way to Phoenix. Stop and say, “Hi,” to the border Patrol—they can tell from your accent where you’re from—and they wave ya through.
There, outside the door, in Phoenix, is the same guy. Guess he didn’t wake up drunk in New Orleans. “Nah, hopped the 12 right by it,” he says, “Got that gun?” So ya hand it to him and he says, “This time I was just using you, wanted to get the gun here. Every time I show up in this town, the Phoenix PD hassle me. Always think I’m packing, so I figured I might as well be.” He lifts a wood-tipped cigar to his lips and you notice a rainbow colored lizard on his arm. He pulls out a silver Zippo. “Not really silver, aluminum or something. Had a kid ask me to see it once; he looks at the bottom, at some number, and tells me it ain’t really a collectable. I did just like this…” Mendelschon flicks it and lights his cigar, “and tell him, hey, it works.” Mendelschon—since you still don’t have another name for him—laughs for a sec and then says, “Oh, but you were looking at the gecko, huh? Yeah, it’s this damn desert. No matter how much I try to get along with it—living on locusts and truck stop coffee, drinking only booze from the drive through—no matter how I try getting along, this desert still wants me dead. Oh, I tried to make my peace with Rattlesnake, but the only one I’ve ever met is Coyote. This here lizard’s sorta like the desert’s version of the black spot. Too damn depressing. Tell ya what, get back on the 10 and hike over to LA, back up the 5 again—this should all be familiar to ya now—but this time make a left, head into that mess they call San Francisco and find Judah street. Just go all the way west til ya hit the beach.”
Ah, screw it. Ya don’t even care about the answer to your question anymore. You heard San Fran’s a sorta cool town. What the hell? So ya head on up. Somewhere ya make a wrong turn though, get lost. It’s a pain in the ass city to get around, and your car ain’t so happy anymore. You find yourself, well you find yourself on the corner of Haight and Fillmore and it ain’t as peace and lovey as a ways up the street, and you get out cos there’s this bar. Ya figure you’ll get a pint and some directions, but there’s a guy there asks only questions. And you’re out on the street. Out on the street and everyone’s asking ya for change, some old guy with no feet asks ya if ya can help him across the street—what the hell you’re a nice guy—and he pulls out two bucks and hands it to ya and you say, “No, no, I just want directions.”
To which he replies, “Well here’s some direction: Go in that little store there and get me a bottle of Wild Irish Rose. Red. Ya didn’t think that money was for you, did ya?” And he props himself up by the door til ya come back with his booze—two bucks exactly—and walk him to his chair—in a boarded up doorway.
He sits there to drink all day. Just watch the world go by. And he tells ya. Tells ya how to get to Judah street and you’re just about to go…tell the guy to piss off when he asks for a tip. You’re just about to go, but there goes your car on the back of a tow truck. That’s a long walk—and a coupla bucks—til you get it back—with a ticket on top of it all. “Every one just wants money in this town,” you mumble, as you cross over the sand dunes at the end of Judah, and there he is.
Mendelschon, just call me Biff, has gotten here ahead of you again, and is dressed for the cold. How were you s’posed to know it would be this cold in August? You thought Mark Twain was joking. Dressed for the cold, smoking a cigarette, lying back and looking up at the stars. And, without looking at you, he says, "‘member what I was saying back in New York? About the stars making me feel insignificant? Well, this is when I get my revenge. Coupla nights a year, around the thirteenth of August, stars fall out of the sky. If you’re right here, it looks like they fall right into the Pacific. You can’t swim in these waters, current’s too strong. So those stars fall with no one to rescue them, and I’m that much more important. I’m that much less of a dot."
You fail to see the answer in this, and you lunge at the man. But. Did you forget about that gun? Suddenly it’s pressed up against your ribs, hammer cocked, and Mendelschon says, "Never introduce a gun in the second act, if ya ain’t gonna fire it in the third." But then he puts it away and says, "Ah, this ain’t theater. Check it out, lemme answer your question. Why are the Monroes rotting away below LA when they had that big song and all the people liked them? Well, it’s like their own song says, 'What do all the people know?' It’s a damn fool thing looking all over the place for answers when it’s right there in front of your nose. And I didn’t send you on this wild goose chase to find out the answer to your silly riddle. Nah, this was just a journey around the country. To get a taste of it. See the sights. I’ve always wanted someone to have experienced what I’ve experienced. Always wanted some way to show people what I’ve seen. Always just wanted someone I could talk to about all of this. Just can’t seem to get it on paper and the movie would be too long and two dimensional. So I sent ya on the road. Ain’t no big romantic thing, but it passes the time. Now get outta here, before ya get towed again. Everyone in this town wants a piece of ya. I hate San Francisco."
About the author:
Pete Kelleher is not quite satisfied.