|'But I don't want to go among mad people,' said Alice. 'Oh, you can't help that,' said the cat. 'We're all mad here.' - Lewis Carroll
(word count: 2958)
Walter DeMarlowe usually stopped in the Dilbert's Donuts on 41st on his way to work. He most often ordered plain black coffee (with no room for cream) and a plain old-fashioned donut. If he felt particularly adventurous he might get two plain old-fashioned donuts.
At Dilbert's, for some remote, inscrutable, psychopathic reason, they serve Dunkin Donuts coffee.
Dunkin' Donuts coffee is an important source of Vitamin G. What, you've never heard of Vitamin G? Tsk, tsk. Vitamin G is, along with Vitamins H-Q, a very important source of Pyschoflavin. What, you've never heard of Pyschoflavin either? For shame! Pyschoflavin is essential, absolutely essential to a healthy mind-body dichotomy-duality. Walter has written several books on the subject.
Fiona Wallabee had a big, pointy nose. She wrote poetry with the expressed purpose of feeding the wood-burning fire in her living room (burning art gives off wonderful warmth). She thought she might be a hypochondriac. She thought she might be blue-green colorblind. She wore mannish clothes so she could examine the expressions of the more conservative dressers she walked by.
Fiona was worried. She was worried because she had recently realized that every morning she wakes up and looks forward to going back to sleep, dreading everything that comes in between, and that this can't be normal. She was desperately searching for some meaning.
So, naturally, she noticed Walter. She recognized in him the confidence of someone who has things figured out.
Walter used to sit at the same booth every morning, and around his neck he would wear a little paper sign upon which was scrawled, in sharpie, the words, "I have discovered the secret to the meaning of life. Ask me about it."
So Fiona asked him about it:
Walter told her that he was a former CEO in one of the nation's top companies. He wouldn't say which one. Just a "top company." After coming down with a particularly nasty case of existentialism several years ago, he quit his six-figure-salaried-job to fully explore the nature of the secret of the meaning of life. He read lots of books, from the Bible to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, listened to lots of music, from Johann Sebastian Bach to The Proclaimers, saw lots of deep European movies, even wrote a short novel, but he couldn't for the life of him find what he was looking for.
And then, one snowy winter's day, it hit him.
Right in the face.
Walking to Dilbert's Donuts (he really liked Dilbert's Donuts) at around seven in the morning, he felt a burst of pain in his nose and then a warm, sticky fluid leaking onto his upper lip.
"Whoa, mister, are you ok?" a young boy of no more than six ran up to Walter with a baseball bat in hand. Walter was about to lecture the boy on the dangers of playing baseball so early in the morning, when, just like that, he felt a click. Only a little click, but a significant one. He suddenly understood why in cartoons, when someone gets a brilliant idea, a little light-bulb turns on above their heads. Because that's exactly how it feels.
"I've got it! Good God in heaven, I've got it!" He raised a finger high in the air and sprinted off to Dilbert's. The little boy watched him round the corner with a confused look on his face.
"I think I killed his brain…" he whispered, horrified, and ran back to his friends.
"I think I killed that guy's brain!"
Walter exploded into the restaurant, lunged into a booth and clapped his hands. A waiter approached, flipping back the pages of his notebook.
"A cappuccino and a maple glazed donut-- wait, no! A coffee with no room for cream and a plain old-fashioned donut, please! There's something about that combination that intrigues me."
"Would you like some medical attention with that?" said the waiter, eyeing Walter's nose.
"What? Oh, no, I'm ok. Just a baseball to the face, that's all!"
"Whatever you say, buddy," said the waiter, sauntering off to the kitchen.
Walter reached in his coat pocket, grabbed a small scrap of paper and a pen, and began quickly scrawling out his thoughts. After a few minutes, the waiter returned and clinked the cup of coffee and the small plate onto the table.
He was about to leave when Walter suddenly looked up and grabbed his sleeve.
"Wait! Do you have any paper I could use? I'm fresh out and I need to write down my thoughts before the window of opportunity closes."
"Yeah, here you go." The waiter yanked his sleeve out of Walter's grasp, tore out a few pages from his notebook and held them out. Walter ignored the scraps of paper and snatched the notebook out of the waiter's hands.
"Thanks, friend! You don't know what a service you've done!"
"I kind of need that…" said the waiter quietly, but Walter was completely absorbed and ignored him. The waiter shook his head and wandered off.
"Pyschokenetic-Implosion…. Yes, that's the key, an implosion of the senses with a little smattering of extra-ultra-vitamins… heeheehee," Walter said under his breath. An older woman in the next booth gave him a disapproving glace between mouthfuls of eggs benedict. A small child beside her opened his mouth to say something (probably quite rude) but the woman nudged him to be quiet.
Finally, Walter sat back and looked at the notebook that he had filled with drawings and charts and paragraphs upon paragraphs of information.
"I've done it. I've discovered the secret of the meaning of the goal of the concept of life. People will follow me, will become my disciples, and will call themselves Marlovians! Huzzah!"
He skipped out of the Dilbert's and sprinted home.
"Honey! I've done it!" He cried, sticking his head in his wife's tiny office.
"Jesus! Walter, your face!"
"What?" he said, reaching up and feeling the crusted brown blood on his chin and upper lip. "Oh, that's nothing. I was hit in the face by a baseball. But Katherine! Don't you get it? My days of searching for the meaning of life are over!"
"That's fantastic, but I think your nose is broken."
"Oh, for God's sake, my nose is fine! Don't you want to hear about my discovery?"
"Sure, sure. Come to the kitchen here and you can tell me all about it while I try to break your nose back in place."
"Sounds good!" he said with a broad smile. Katherine raised an eyebrow and led him into the kitchen.
"So, the secret lies in neurophysics. Can you believe that? All this time I had been searching for the answer in philosophy and metapsychology, when all along I just had to think of it in terms of simple neurochemistry!" said Walter.
"Neurochemistry? Metapsychology? Walter, what in the name of God did you hit your head on to make you talk like this?" she said, placing one hand on the side of Walter's nose, and drawing in close to examine the damage.
"I told you, a baseball. And don't worry, Katherine. I've never felt better in my life! Honestly. Look, you can break my nose back in place and all I have to do is focus my internal computer to release all the Vitamin G I ingested this morning so I can trigger a psychokinetic implosion of psychons that will render the operation completely painless."
"If you keep talking like that, I swear to God I really will break your nose back in place."
"I beg you, please do! It will be a wondrous demonstration of my new philosophy's power! Go ahead; left hook my nose back in place. Just let me get my psychons ready." He closed his eyes serenely and steadied himself.
"Walter, I'm warning you. You're starting to piss me off."
"Katherine, if you fully understood the power of psychokinetic implosion you wouldn't have such trivial concerns. Now come on, break my nose!"
Katherine looked at him for a short moment, and swung a fist at the right side of her husband's nose, snapping it back in place. She heard a crack, a tiny gasp, and saw a fresh stream of bright red blood cascade down Walter's front. He opened his eyes.
"See? Didn't feel a thing. It's the psychons, I'm telling you!" he said with a bloody grin.
Fiona couldn't be sure how much of that was true. She knew he thought it was all true. Nobody would make something like that up. But she didn't want to believe it was true because if it were, then in order to discover the meaning of life she had to get hit in the face with a baseball.
She had a vivid mental image of that poor kid sitting in his room, crying and crying over the fact that he 'killed Walter's brain'. Maybe he did, Jesus. Is a baseball to the face enough to get somebody talking about the therapeutic powers of psychons?
Don't get Fiona wrong,
She liked Walter. She really did.
But she thought he could be a menace to himself sometimes.
(Or all the time)
After he told Fiona about how he discovered his secret, he began telling her about the discovery itself (some babble about psychons and flavins, and internal orchestras and such). Disappointed, she began to zone out midway through his explanation of the second of the five-fold paths to transcending mind-time, and turned to watch the dirty city rain streak down the window.
"I've lost you," Walter said.
"Yeah, you have."
"No matter. I admire you for taking the initiative to come over and talk with someone you obviously consider rather bonkers. Most people keep a wide berth of me."
"Does your wife?" Fiona asked. It sounded more offensive than she intended but Walter smiled and said,
"No. Katherine doesn't. She's pretty weird too, so she can't talk."
"She's into crystals," he laughed.
"And you aren't?" Fiona raised an eyebrow.
"Believe it or not, I think crystals are a crock of shit."
"But psychons and flavins are totally reasonable."
She laughed, leaning back in the corner of the booth. He smiled apologetically.
And then something rather crazy happened. Rather 'bonkers,' as Walter would say. Something so incredibly unfortunate and improbable that for many days afterward it got even Fiona pondering the concept of fate, and she came from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy school rather than the Bible; something so unfortunate and improbable as to make her bowels threaten to immediately release; something so unfortunate and improbable that it provided Walter with the perfect opportunity to prove to her the power of his philosophy:
Two large scary-looking people, one of them holding large scary-looking gun burst into the store.
"Everyone's heads down, now! Don't move!" one of them shouted.
"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. God, my luck! What they hell are they robbing a Dilbert's fucking Donuts for?" Fiona ducked down low in the booth and motioned Walter to do the same. He defiantly shook his head, and said,
"Watch this, my friend. I'll show you just how reasonable Marlovian philosophy can be!"
"Damn it, you nutjob! Sit down! You'll get us killed, and I'm far too depressed to die now!" Fiona whispered, pulling him back down before he could go anywhere. "I'm telling you, Walter, just sit this one out, ok? I believe you, I believe in Marlovian whatsit, but humor me, ok? Just sit down."
"Oh, alright," he said, disappointedly. "But this would have been a marvelous opportunity to prove to you the power of my philosophy. Your loss!"
"Hey, shit-face!" called one of the robbers, pointing his gun at Walter. "Quiet the fuck down or you get a bullet in the chest!"
"What?" he turned, putting a hand to one ear.
Oh, lord, Fiona thought.
"I said," cried the gunman, rushing over to our booth. "Quiet-the-fuck-DOWN!" He paused between each work to knock the barrel of the gun against the side of Walter's head. Fiona heard Walter murmur something under his breath, his eyes clenched tightly shut.
"What was that? What did you say, little-dick?"
Walter opened his eyes and mumbled something slightly louder bit still inaudible.
"I said," began Walter carefully, "You can't kill me. You can't kill me because I have the power of super-psychokinetic implosion, due to my superior command of my inner computer in relation to my Vitamin G-supply."
The gunman blinked in confusion, saw the sign hung around Walter's chest, and laughed.
"Is this a put-on? Or do we really have ourselves the classic New-York City nut-job here? Marv! Come over here!"
Marv waddled over to our booth.
"What is it?"
"Look at this nut-job! Hey, nut-job!" the gunman prodded Walter with the barrel of his gun. "Say that shit about the psycho-computer again!"
"No," said Walter quietly.
"No. I'm not a performing monkey."
Fiona buried her face in her hands and leaned her head against the cold window.
"Shoot him. Shoot him, David," said Marv slowly. Fiona peeked out from between her fingers and saw the gunman holding the weapon steadily against Walter temple.
"Go ahead, pull the trigger. I'll be fine," Walter said with an unsteady voice, closing his eyes.
"Do it!" shouted Marv.
"Like I said, I'll be fine, I'll be fine, I'll be fine," Walter repeated the mantra under his breath again and again.
"You really want me to shoot you, little-dick?" asked the gunman quietly.
"SHOOT THE SUM'BITCH!" cried Marv, pounding the table with two fists.
And then Walter broke Fiona's heart; he faltered, gripped the edge of the table, and began to cry.
The gunman sighed heavily, pulled the trigger--
--and a small stream of water pumped out the end of the barrel, wetting Walter's ear.
"What the fuck---" said Walter, Marv, and Fiona in unison. The gunman burst into tears.
"I'm sorry, Marv! I couldn't bring a real gun in here! I ain't a killer! I don't wanna hurt nobody, see?" he turned to the silent room.
"A water gun? A water gun!?!" Marv jumped on top of David with a roar of anger, grabbed the water gun out of his hands and began to beat him over the head with it.
A police-officer burst out of the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to both her shoes, and leapt onto the two robbers, furiously attempting to slap handcuffs on them. Sirens wailed outside the restaurant and more police-officers swarmed in.
"Walter! Walter!" Fiona cried, grabbing his shoulders. "You ok?"
He shook his head, eyes still squeezed tight.
"Buddy! You were right! Your psycho-whatsit saved the day!" she cried. At this point Fiona was willing to believe anything that Walter said. I mean come on, she thought. A water gun? This is New York, there is no shortage of scumbags who aren't afraid to use a real gun on a guy like Walter, and we happened to get the one guy who'd rather bring a water-gun? Hell, maybe there was something to this Pyschoflavin stuff. Maybe she had finally found the answer to life, the universe, and everything.
"Oh, shut up," Walter whispered.
"No, seriously! I mean, what are the chances of that? A water gun!"
He silently lifted the sign that invited to world to inquire about the meaning of life off his shoulders, and laid it gently down on the table.
"Dumb luck. Maybe I should look into crystals," he chuckled, wiping a tear off his cheek with his sleeve.
"Dumb luck?? How can you say that? How can the man who believes in Pyschoflavin sit here and tell me that it was dumb luck?" Fiona cried.
"I dunno. What do I know is: it took a baseball to the face for the ultimate knowledge of the universe to reveal itself to me, and a water-gun to the head to make it disappear. Life's a bitch, isn't it?"
Fiona could almost see that cartoon light-bulb over his head switching off.
Dumbfounded, she watched Walter quietly slide between rushing and shouting police-officers, crying young children, frantic old men and women, and slip out the glass doors.
She sat there long after the commotion had ceased and the police had taken Marv and David away. Her tea was cold, her muffin hard as a rock. She thought about life, about truth, about existence, about old-fashioned donuts, about how she had, in the space of an hour, accepted and subsequently rejected a possible answer to the meaning of life. She thought about writing a really long poem in order to keep the house extra warm tonight. She thought about getting a nose job.
She considered the concept of eternity, and what she would think about it tomorrow.
Walter Marlowe usually stops in Starbucks on 43rd on his way to work. He most often orders plain black coffee (with no room for cream) and a maple-glazed donut. If he feels particularly adventurous he might get two plain maple-glazed donuts. Because he likes those ones best, Vitamin-G deficient or not.
He'll be okay. He'll find something else, even if it doesn't involve psychons and kinetic implosion. Hell, at the very least he no longer drinks Dunkin' Donuts coffee.
It's not the best.