My friend Vicki and I walked out to the mall on Friday, each got a little bit of food from the food court, and then headed back home.
We were walking by the river, and I was like, “Oh, hey, this looks like The River House. Vicki, I wanna go in there. Come on. I’ve never been in here, I’ve lived in this town for 15 years, I wanna see what’s in here.”
So I try the door and it’s locked. I’m looking around. It’s like two o’clock in the afternoon. Nobody’s in there, and I’m starting to peer into the darkness—always pictured a bunch of board games, or something—and as I’m looking in there, this shortish, skinny, Julia-Louis-Dreyfus-looking lady suddenly appears out of the darkness and comes quickly toward the door, looks at me, unlocks it and then walks away checking her watch, muttering, “We never keep that door locked, I don’t know why it was. Oh, my stars, how late it’s getting!” or something like that.
So, I open up the door, and the lady has quickly walked back to behind the counter and says, “Hi! Welcome to The River House!” And then she’s like, “Wh—what—what’s up? Why are you here?”
So I said, “Well, I’ve never been here before, I’ve lived in this town for 27 years, and I’ve always wanted to see inside this River House.” So, I start to walk a little past her, checking things out. There’s an ‘L’ shaped counter, the one she’s behind, and some old chairs, there’s a bunch of little magazines and things, and also on the counter some magazines and things, and I just walk right back there like, ‘Behhh, where’s the fucking board games? I been reading about this places for years, and I want to see fucking board games!’ Decided then and there that I’d just drop my nuts on everything. But then I actually stopped and looked at her like, “Hey, uhhh, I’m just walking around here. I don’t know—should I have actually gone back there?”
And she assures me, “Yeah, no, no!” And then there was a pause, and she goes, “It’s a public building. You can go anywhere you like.” And I hear this mild commotion upstairs. Now, ‘commotion’ might give the impression that it was a muted cacophony of sorts. It wasn’t. It was footfalls on wooden beams and the like, what sounded like quick movements.
As, suddenly, a teenage boy realized his parents had just come home and he had to eject the VHS porno and stash the skuzzweed before they walked in and started to ascend the staircase.
“Oh, yeah? Really? So I can go back here? Is this the game room? I always thought there’d be board games back here. Hey, is that a kitchen?”
And she comes out from behind the counter, Vicki following her, and says, “No, no, yeah, this is all public property,” and she’s saying it like she’s petrified, but has to say it by law. And sure enough, there’s a beautiful little kitchen. “You can even reserve it,” she says about it. “To utilize.”
So, we walk back, and this lady was real curious about Vicki and me.
“So, how long you lived here? Where are you from?” Asking me questions like I was the new guy in the whorehouse.
Hey, you! Haven’t seen you here before. How you doing there, sailor? Boy, you keep that mustache mighty well-trimmed. Do you always wear Ray-Bans? Are those prescription? There’s a tan line right there across your forehead. Not a baseball cap, I’d know a baseball cap tan line if I saw one. That’s not from state trooper hat, is it?
I realize I’ve seen everything there is to see in the kitchen. There really wasn’t much to it. And I start walking back, but then I remember the shuffling and I go, “Hey, is the upstairs open, too? Can I just go walking up there?”
And she looks at me, and almost through gritted teeth says, “It’s a public building. You are welcome go wherever you like. There are only offices up there, though.”
Now, I can tell this lady is either freaked out or genuinely put off by our being here.
There’s a man with binoculars on the other roof. Just please don’t walk upstairs. I need to eat tonight. Of all the nights…it’s been so hot today! Man With Washed Clothes, the rifle’s not pointed at you! It’s at me! Mr. Clean Clothes…it’s so hot, I see ants…in the sky! He’s got a chart, he’s shown me the chart! Please…don’t go up there!
So I’m like, “Okay. Nah, nah, okay. That’s cool. I was just wonderin’.” Made for a second like I was gonna make for upstairs, then bent over quickly to tie my shoe. Looking at her. Keeping eye contact. Analyzing the amount of dilation and constriction of her iris, giving her an on-the-spot Voight-Kampff test.
Vicki by now has sat in a chair. Because she’s a 50-year-old black lady. And 50-year-old black lady gonna find that chair.
Teleported into World War I? Where’s the fucking chair? Lemme just sit down. I’ll watch this shit, just get me one of them mustard gas hats.
So, we go to leave, “Okeeee doke, thanks for the tour,” and right as we do, that noise that had heretofore gone silent for a few minutes upstairs livens up again, followed by (what seemed like) the suction sound of a tightly-closed door opening, and a red-haired man, in a red beard, in excellent physical shape—and maybe a little red-faced—quickly steps down the stairs. And we’re kind of getting ready to walk out and he goes, “Hey! I’m Zach! How are you doing? I’m Zach!” he says to Vicki.
And I’m like, “Hey, Zach.”
And he’s like, “Awesome Boognish tattoo.” I have a Ween Boognish tattoo on my right shoulder and was wearing a tank top. He goes, “Oh, yeah, man, I actually came from—I don’t live here—I came from New Hope, and I tell you what, I went to a concert there and I actually saw them live. It was so great! Yeah. So, what are you guys doing here?” I gave him the same spiel I gave Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “That’s great, man. That’s great to hear. How long you lived here?”
“49 years.” Or whatever I was saying at that time.
“Good, good. Yeah, yeah. You can go wherever you want, you know. Public building.”
It felt like they were profiling me the entire time. My movements, my appearance, my speech. That sucking sound had been the cryochamber opening and Zach, temporarily disoriented but only for a moment, stepped out, gained consciousness from his robot controller and hustled down the stairs to greet us.
Quick, they’re leaving! Come on come on, what are we paying you for?
Z-15 is pretty fresh right now. Should I pop him out?
Yes! Go, go! But look, just don’t let him go too far beyond the L. I don’t want them to see the tether. If he steps too far it’ll probably pop the socket and he’ll just freeze. Or explode, I don’t know. These new models are kind of dodgy.
Then, immediately after that, the front door suddenly opens and this dreadlocked dude comes in, and Zach turns and is like, “Heyyyy, James, man.”
And James is like, “Hey.”
And Zach goes, “Dude, I’m so glad to finally meet you in person.”
And James says, “Yeah, man, it’s really good to meet you in person. Yeah.”
So, now I realize that I’m in a vignette in the 9-hour Narcos Ken Burns documentary:
They call it ‘plank roasting a salmon’. But what it involved was fishier
than you can imagine.
I’m thinking to myself: Okay, if a fourth person appears, I’m probably gonna fake an appendicitis. Or gut punch Vicki and just run. She’s 50. It’ll take nothing. She’ll maybe forget in a week.
And then Zach goes, “Hey, we’re gonna go upstairs and get everything ready. Julia, can you…?”
And Julia goes, “Yes, of course.”
And right at that moment I bump into Vicki, grabbing her arm, going, “Okay, Nikki, let’s call it a wrap! We’re just gonna go off, and…I’m not calling—I’m actually calling 1-1-9 right now. I know it looks weird because of the angle, but don’t you worry. Have a good time, and I hope you got that paddle board on discount.”
We got out of there. At a medium pace, we’re walking. Eyes forward. It was a beautiful day. I finally said to Vicki after we got a safe distance away, “Vicki, did anything seem weird in there to you?”
And she was like, “No.” And then she thought a while and said, “Well, it was kind of weird in there.”
“Vicki, remember how freaked out that lady was? And those noises upstairs? And then that guy came down right as we were trying to leave? And then James came in, and it was like they were shooting a porno movie up there the whole time?”
“Or meth lab. Something!”
Vicki looked at me. “Are you really a chicken leg short of a chicken dinner?”
She was starting to think I was crazy, I could tell. It was like the more I tried to recount it to her, the more she seemed to forget. I was like, ‘Vicki, remember this? And then when that thing happened? That was a big deal! Remember?’ After a while she just started to go, “Psssh,” and wave her hand at me. It was like a Twilight Zone episode. “Don’t you remember?”
Or maybe she was just getting tired. I mean, she is 50.
“Yes, I remember! God!”
Okay. Just checking.