By Tim Hayes
Walt sunk a little further into his soft, comfy recliner, feet up, brain down, remote safely clutched in his right hand, a bag of barbecue chips occupying his left. Just how he liked it.
His favorite sitcom glowed from the plasma screen. Walt had seen the episode at least 11 times, but it went down so smooth and easy that he didn’t mind completing the dozen. It required no conscious thought. It made no demands of him. Walt had had enough of demands in his life. He enjoyed converting his mind to mush, as spongy as his recliner, and he sunk himself down another inch.
“What do you think you’re doing, mister?” came the screeching voice from the kitchen. “Why aren’t you dressed for dinner? Sitting there in your BVDs. It’s shameful! Did you forget we’re having company tonight? The Rippersons are coming over! I’ve already made coffee and prepared a whole meal, and there you sit like an overstuffed walrus, shoving potato chips into your face! Get out of that chair and clean yourself up – they’ll be here in 20 minutes!”
Walt slowly extracted his carcass from the recliner. On his way upstairs to put on a golf shirt and khakis, he debated when to tell his wife that he was pretty sure he didn’t believe in God, the Trinity, zero-percent financing, monogamous marriage, the designated hitter, or her, anymore. Nobody would need coffee then.
Walt gamely suffered through the insufferable Rippersons and their cloying lineup of blond, intellectually superior, perfectly mannered Stepford Children – a family born and bred in a lab someplace, Walt had convinced himself. He nodded off after the big, heavy, gravy-laden meal his wife whomped up, woke up with a splitting headache, and excused himself to go to bed.
Three days later, he stared at the screen of his eight-year-old Toshiba PC in his office. The company ship had hit some hard rocks on shore of late, and had started taking on water, so to speak. Sales way down, anxiety way up.
Walt, a 15-year veteran, did okay as a clerk in the Finance Department, but had never risen very far. His ancient piece-of-crap computer had a cracked screen, and the “A” and “R” keys had fallen out over the years but had never been replaced, despite submitting numerous requisition forms to those arrogant snots in IT. And, you know, A and R are a couple of pretty popular letters. As a result, the pinky and pointer on Walt’s left hand took a hell of a beating every day. But nobody cared about Walt’s fingers or his career or his life in general.
Metaphorically speaking, sailing on this listing ship of an employer, he could feel his socks getting wet. The end felt nearer than ever before.
Walt took a 360-minute walk that lunch hour, kicking ideas around in his head. On those rare occasions when Walt decided to think, he liked to take a long time about it so he wouldn’t have to go back and retrace those mental steps later. At one point during his cerebral stroll, he found himself pacing through a small church cemetery in the Downtown section of the city, about six blocks from his office building. Some very old tombstones – from as far back as the Revolutionary War period – marked this graveyard.
All of a sudden, Walt’s mind began bubbling, spewing a succession of ideas that confused him at first, but in another instant, inexplicably snapped themselves into perfect order. It felt like balloons inflating inside his cranium. The synapses sparking and crackling in ways never before experienced by Walt. It felt heady, thrilling. He gasped for breath in between hearty peals of joyous laughter.
He ran back to work, unplugged that awful computer, and rushed home, where he set up a writing desk in his garage. He spray-painted the windows black, set up an old shower curtain around his workspace to minimize distractions and detractors – the woman in the kitchen he was married to, mostly.
He emerged 17 days later, haggard, ill-kempt, 20 pounds lighter, sleep-deprived, wild-eyed, and smelling like the bottom of a polluted lake. But also clutching a manuscript, titled, “Discovering the Revolutionary Hero In You” – a self-help tome that, upon first reading, made nearly no sense. But when you read it a second time, somehow it opened doors of clarity and understanding and inspiration for people that they never knew could be opened.
His publisher ordered an initial run of only 5,000. They sold out in two days. Before it had all been said and done, “Discovering the Revolutionary Hero In You” had sold 1.5 million copies and stayed on the New York Times Bestseller List for eight months.
A Hollywood agent and accountant, Aldo Zikra, chased Walt down and started booking him on national afternoon syndicated TV shows. Walt’s hangdog appearance and earnest advice endeared him to people across the country – so much so, that Zikra convinced Walt to take the next step and do a daily TV show himself.
By this time, Walt had become single again, paying outrageous alimony but loving the freedom. He quit his job, sold the house, burned the recliner, got two young girlfriends, and bought two new PCs, four old llamas, and a compound outside of Vegas where he could shoot his TV show and write more books.
Pilgrims could stay at a motel-like structure on the compound for a hefty fee, to try and catch the great middle-aged guru walking around, to squeeze some free life coaching from him on the fly. Each new book sold more than the last. His show got syndicated in every major market. The American public couldn’t get enough of Walt’s homespun, yet strangely and intrinsically piercing, wisdom.
Zikra kept pushing Walt to keep this gravy train tooling down the track faster, bigger, more outrageously than before. And for a long time, that’s just what happened.
Until one chilly February night when it all stopped, dead in its tracks.
Walt would tell the story for years afterward. Bambi and Candi, his two little gold-digger girlfriends, had just come back from lingerie shopping and went upstairs to start the fashion show for Walt – he liked that sort of thing now – when he opened the refrigerator, bent down to reach for a cold Bud Light, smacked his forehead on the freezer door, and felt something snap inside his skull. Literally snap, like it made an actual noise.
Next, Walt noticed a trickle of blood coming out of his left nostril, but as he wiped it with a Kleenex, he noticed more than just blood. It looked like tiny shards of plastic, like a miniaturized bottle or tube of something had broken and now oozed out of Walt’s head.
But even that jarring discovery couldn’t compete with the realization that Walt – global motivational and media superstar – again felt slow, thick, lazy, lumbering, and just plain stupid again. The whirlwind of accolades, authorship, and truckloads of money vanished. The transmission in Walt’s brain cranked down from Third Gear to Reverse, just like that. Next stop, Park.
His synapses, now trudging along again at the speed of butterscotch pudding, suddenly generated lots of news questions, like: Where did that recliner go, anyway? Who are these sexy chicks in the teddies? And who the hell is paying for all this?
Within a month, both the FBI and IRS came a-callin’, looking for answers about unpaid taxes, graft, fraud, interstate commerce violations, and a lot of other scary subjects miles outside of Walt’s once-again low-energy, low-IQ pay grade.
Meanwhile, on a seashore in the Caribbean, Zikra and Walt’s ex-wife were living la vida loca, safe in the knowledge that millions more in laundered U.S. currency remained just a wire transfer away. And we can’t forget their next-door neighbors on this island paradise, the Rippersons – or should we say, the Romanikovs, former KGB agents who smuggled a secret intelligence-boosting serum from the USSR when they emigrated to America.
An incredibly risky plan, dependent on an incredibly risky subject, but one that succeeded beyond any of their wildest imaginations. A heavy dinner always made Walt drowsy, giving these commie con artists just enough time to plant the serum and a sedative into Walt. Within days, that pile of vegetable lasagna between his ears vaulted into genius territory, and before long the money started rolling in and getting diverted into an offshore account, until that idiot smacked his head brought it all to a crashing halt.
No worries, though. Enough money to live the high life for the rest of your life makes crimps in any plan bearable. The Romanikovs knew that leisurely sipping rum and Coke with your toes in the sparkling blue tropical waves of Antigua beats gulping straight potato vodka in snowy Minsk any day, cowboy.
Back home, the judge felt lenient toward Walt, placing him in a minimum-security facility, where he gets regular psychiatric care and all the Hostess Ho-Hos he can handle. He’s asked for a recliner, and they’re going to see what they can do.
Copyright 2016 Timothy P. Hayes