Chapter 7: Hotdog
Bill knocked on Janet's door. When there was no answer, he kicked it. Eventually, Janet appeared. "Bill," she said. "Hi."
"Hi. Where were you?"
"I've been right here. I was working on that report, and then I needed to talk to Shipman so I logged into the Internet. And then some weird stuff was happening in the MUSH.... Zalcor went insane, you wouldn't believe it. He started accusing all the women of being men in disguise. Like he didn't know that already. And then EarNest - he's such a dork - came over and started showing Zal his rose hole, which was the last thing Zal needed to see. I've never actually witnessed an attack of homosexual panic before. It was fascinating. And then Zal killed EarNest, not that EarNest cares about that.... So EarNest came back and crushed Zal's head with a pangolin and set his Blil, a robot-like puppet, to follow Zal everywhere - he said he stuck the Blil up Zal's ass, that was pretty funny - and Zal couldn't get it to shut up and it just kept babbling inanities about tricarboxillates and dogs and small girls humping his leg and Zal went ballistic, I mean he went totally ballistic. Which is understandable, since it took him years to create Singlenesia and EarNest is systematically destroying it. Apparently, EarNest ran a virus on Zal's computer. Zal tried to explain it to me, but it was mostly technical computer science babble. Ontop of that, the virus complicated all communications. EarNest managed to change random words into symbols for amino acids or something. All I remember were lots of 'Glu - Ala - Arg" repeated over and over. It was really annoying. He must have taken a remedial genetics class or something... Then everything went blank, poof, gone, and now I can't even login. It's all very confusing. I've been right here."
"Never mind. What are you doing here?"
"Why weren't you at Angela's funeral service?"
"Funeral? Angela? Oh my... I must have forgotten all about it. I was so involved in other things. I feel so careless. Oh, well."
"Kim was there. She made hairball noises at me. I couldn't believe it. It's like we never even knew each other. She gave me the cold shoulder."
"Oh, my. Do tell."
"I read her poem. Angela, not Kim. I read her poem, and the whole time I was looking out there, I was looking for Kim. I wasn't thinking about Angela at all. I was only thinking about Kim. I thought she loved me. I thought she was mad at me. I never should have told her I loved her, I know she didn't want me to tell her because I asked her if it was OK and then I told her anyway, but if we could only, if she would only talk to me, I knew we could have worked it out. But she didn't. She saw me, and she just made hairball noises. Janet, I don't think she loves me any more. I'm going to love her forever, I'll always love her, there'll never be anything like her, but I don't think she cares about me. Why would she do that? Why would she make hairball noises like that? She knew I was going to be there. She must have gone just to see me. Why else would she be there? So why wouldn't she talk to me?"
"I can think of several other reasons why she might have been there."
"She knew I was going to be on stage. She must have wanted to see me."
"I'm not necessarily sure that follows. What are hairball noises?"
Bill demonstrated the noise of a cat coughing up a hairball. Janet stifled a smile. "I would say that Kim found an effective way to demonstrate her feelings. I think a hairball noise is a very unambiguous communication."
Bill looked threatened. "What do you mean?"
"It sounds to me as though she was telling you that she didn't care for your company."
"Then why would she go to the memorial? She knew I was going to be there. She must have wanted to see me."
"Perhaps you're right. We'll see what happens."
Bill stiffened visibly. Janet relented.
"I'm sorry to seem dismissive. I've been busy. I've hardly had a moment to think. I can't believe what's going on at Eagle Hills. It's like an epidemic, a virus of depression and despair. Students, good students, are turning to drugs and alcohol at an alarming rate. The incidence of suicide attempts has quadrupled in the last month. Angela's death was the only successful attempt so far, but I very much fear that she may inspire other girls to seek the same escape. Although the grisliness of her method may put them off, we'll have to see. Bill. You knew Angela well. Do you have any idea what might have pushed her over the edge?"
Bill thought fast. He didn't want to mention the incident in his bedroom. In his desperate attempt to find a lie, Bill accidentally stumbled on the truth, "She told me she was pregnant. Just like Kathy. John is a stallion. And he never uses birth control."
"Kathy? How did you know about Kathy?"
"John was bragging. He tells me everything. I'm his best friend."
"Hrm. I see. Did he also tell you about the abortion?"
"Yes, he told me everything." Janet looked at Bill consideringly. She was fairly certain that John hadn't mentioned anything to Bill about Kathy's pregnancy. According to Kathy, who had no reason to lie, she had never revealed her pregnancy to John. Furthermore, there had been no abortion. Janet began to wonder what part Bill might have played in Angela's depression, and also whether Bill was entirely to be trusted.
"I see. So Angela told you that she, too, was pregnant? By John?"
"Well, she didn't exactly tell me. I sort of figured it out. But it's John's fault."
"I see. Perhaps it would be helpful for me to speak with John. Obviously, I need to investigate this suicide, and I don't believe John has any intention of returning to school, nor do I think he will be permitted to return if he tries. Dr. Busboom is very disturbed about the content of their music."
"They've locked themselves in a secret place. I'm the only one who knows where they are. But John trusts me. Even thought given a choice, we demonstrated that most people would trust John over me. But you can't trust yourself. Can you? You can enjoy yourself, but I'll be damned if you can trust yourself! I bet I can get him to let you in. Why don't I meet you and we can go together. Probably the best time would be really late at night. They always go to Portillo's, for food, so we can hang around there for awhile and see if they appear. They have to come out to feed. They can't stay hidden forever. They're like hotdog eating vampires, except for Ben of course. He eats, well nothing."
Janet nodded. "I seem to be doing more and more interviews in restaurants. Which reminds me! I'm supposed to see Jerry this evening. What time is it?"
"Oh, mercy! I'm going to be late. I'm sorry to rush off, but I have to meet Jerry before he starts work and find out what's happened to him. I'll see you tonight at Portillo's. What time?"
"Eleven. I'll see you there."
"All right, good. Until then. And Bill?"
"I think it would be a good idea not to get your hopes up too high about Kim any more. It sounds to me like she may be trying to let you know that she's lost interest. Really."
"It doesn't matter. Nothing matters. She told me that, so it must be true. But why? Why would she come to see me if she didn't want to - "
"Bill, I'm sorry, I have to go." Janet took Bill by the elbow and steered him out of the house. "I'll see you tonight."
Janet arrived at Liu's Golden Wok. Jerry was sitting at a table drinking iced tea, an overflowing ash tray in front of him. He wiped his nose on his sleeve as Janet entered the restaurant. He looked up and said, "You're late. I have to go to work."
"You are at work. We'll keep this very brief. Dr. Busboom tells me you've been expelled from school for breaking into the audiovisual room and stealing equipment. Has that been resolved yet?"
"Hey. I didn't break in. They left the fucking key in the door, man. I just opened it. They want to bust me because they were stupid? It was just a joke. If they can't take it, fuck 'em."
"I see. Well, your view of the incident is certainly very different from Dr. Busboom's. I was wondering if you're still playing with Big Poo Generator. I haven't heard any saxophone on the new music."
"Ah. Nah. I'm not on Eschaton. Anyway, I don't play sax any more."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I thought you were very talented."
"Yeah, well, you know. So what? Who cares? It's all meaningless anyway. Why not just go out and get hammered? It's all shit anyhow."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It's all shit. Who needs music? Music is shit. I sold the sax and bought beer with the money. At least beer gets you hammered. Music is just depressing."
"Music is depressing?"
"Yeah. I never realized how depressing it was until I started hanging around with Rikki Rockett. But they eventually showed me how stupid I was. Music is shit. Basically, I'm shit."
"Obviously, Doc. I can't believe I missed it, it's so obvious. You're shit, too. Don't take it personally. Pretty soon it'll all be over anyhow. It's no big deal."
"I see. Or actually, I guess I don't see. Are you telling me that playing Big Poo Generator music caused you to believe that music is shit and depressing and that it's better to get hammered?"
"Sure. Get hammered or die, whichever. Nothing matters, that's what they showed me. Nothing matters at all. You can't believe in anything, because it's all shit. I have to go to work now, and make more shit to sell to these shitty people who come in here so they can have cool trendy yummy Chinese shit lunches instead of going to Burger Shit and having dumb uncool yummy burger shit lunches. See ya." Jerry picked up his little paper hair covering and wandered back towards a door that said Employees Only.
"Oh, well," said Janet. "Another meaningless life pissed away. One after another, they just give up. Who could blame them? He has a point. Life is meaningless. But when you get right down to it, Chinese food is a lot better than Burger King. He doesn't know everything."
"Bill? My shoes? What?"
"Nope, those shoes aren't tied yet. See how the strings just fall on the floor? When they're tied, the strings don't look like that. They make little loops. Looks like you made a mistake again, Ben. No Twinkies for you."
"K-pow! Kcheew! Blam! I just killed your bazooka, baby! Eat hot lead!"
"No you didn't, Rob, you dork. I think this game needs stricter rules. Or maybe any rules."
Rob flourished his bass threateningly. "There are no rules in war. I'm going to annihilate you with my thermonuclear warhead."
"Oho! So you want to threaten me with first strike capability! In that case, I would be forced to deploy my entire plutonium arsenal." John waved a folding chair. "Then the game would be over and we'd both lose. Isn't it more fun to kill them off one at a time?"
"But how can I trust you? I'd better just kill you now."
"If you kill me, I kill you. Listen to the voice of reason."
"Let's have Ben make up the rules. I bet he'd have some good ideas. Ben? Can I blow up John's bazooka?"
"I believe in the divine right of kings. Even if it means you get to blow up my bazooka, I think we should elect Ben king."
"Great! Great idea! Ben, you wanna be king?"
"OK. Twinkies now?"
"Now that you're king, tell us the rules for this game of army guys."
"Guys? Sure. Bill?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Bill sat alone at a booth in Portillo's. He was composing a letter to his mother. The last letter he had written her had been required of him by one Miss Michaelson on a long-ago Mother's Day. Only the threat of a life sentence to third grade had persuaded him to write that one.
Dear Mom, (he now began)
I am fine. How are you? Things are not going very well for me lately. I broke up with Kim. She made hairball noises at me. Do you think that means she doesn't want to see me any more?
I know I have free will. Doesn't that mean I should be able to get what I want? Except, I only want Kim. If I can't have Kim, I don't want anything. If I can't have Kim, then everything else is just meaningless. Why should I go on? It's all shit. She's so beautiful. I would do anything for her. But she just keeps ignoring me. I don't know what to do.
Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it is all just a game. Maybe I don't love her. Maybe I should go out and commit atrocities and take drugs and ruin my life like Jerry did. Maybe she's playing hard to get. Why did she come to the memorial service if she didn't want to see me?
I know. She's lived a rough life. She's never really been able to open up to anyone. She doesn't know how to. It is a scary thing. She opened up to me just a little bit. I'll be there for her whenever she needs me. I love her.
What am I saying? Life is meaningless. This is all shit. Even Kim is shit. You're shit, Mom. I know you're shit. This restaurant is shit. Hotdogs - hotdogs are shit. But I'm hungry. And food tastes good.
Anyway, I hope you are pleased and excited with my newest product, this piece of shit. I certainly am. If you have any comments or inquiries, please feel free to write. Of course, you're so messed up, you can't write. But feel free. You have free will. I will always be grateful for any comments, be they positive or negative. For this enables me to better serve you, my mother, in the years to come.
And if I don't like what you say, I'll come to Ohio and tear your fucking head off.
Janet arrived sometime during the third paragraph. She sat quietly at the table, drinking tea and transcribing her notes on the interview with Jerry. But the dark corner booth was too poorly lit to work, and after awhile she just sat, with no thoughts, and watched time crawl.
Eventually Bill looked around. "Well," he said, "I don't think they're going to show up. Let's go over there."
"OK." Janet collected her purse and they left together.
"Leave your car here. I'll drive."