A Man Out of his Element
It’s just as well I’m not attached to money, as money is not attached to me.
If Eddie had known where he was going, he never would have left where he was at. Half slumped down in the driver’s seat, he was leaning a little to the right, elbow deep in the armrest, left hand draped on the wheel, left foot planted on the edge of the seat where he kept it for highway driving. The heel of his boot had worn a spot to the warp and weft of the velvet, but that didn’t bother Eddie much. He knew the old heap would be ready for scrap long before that seat wore through, and the way he drove that Cadillac car, he might have been on to something.
The boots were custom-made from horsehide, black with silver toe caps on them, initials cut from lizard skin. He’d kept them up with polish and spit but, along with everything else about Eddie, they were starting to show their age. They’d cost him a thousand dollars once when he was on the tear, spending the fortune his forebears earned making useful things for people. Several billion, some said it was, but Eddie went through it in less than a decade after his grandpa died, on slow dogs and fast women, derivatives and mortgage bonds. If it hadn’t been for the leveraged bets, he’d be a rich man today, but all that was left of his family’s sweat were the worn out boots, the junkyard car, and the clothes he’d packed in the trunk.
Other things were packed in trunks, locked away in drawers within, buried deep in puzzle boxes, opening one by one. That flickering face of death, flashing through his mind’s eye time and time again, a half-likeness of his own. Younger, prettier, gentler, no more at peace with itself than he, the head turned back, the eyes rolled up, stealing her last glance at him as they wheeled her away on the gurney. It was an anxious, troubled face he’d seldom known in life, and there was no absolution from it, just the distraction of fast living he could no longer sustain.
Desperate to divert himself from thoughts of his daughter’s death, Eddie keyed his microphone time after time, launching into that CB chatter in a version of Texas Twang he’d learned from nowhere anyone could place.
“This is Gofer Aynis talking, heading west on highway ten, anyone out there? Over.”
The accent would seem genuine, even to Texan ears, were it not for the drawl of the Georgia hills and bits of central Florida cracker he’d picked up at the track. It wasn’t that Eddie was phony, he just felt that Connecticut lockjaw wasn’t the way to appeal to truckers working the Deep South routes. It seemed as far from who he was as any voice could be.
“This is Gofer Aynis talking, heading west on highway ten, anyone out there? Over.”
Bestowed on a Doofus he once portrayed on the open mikes of comedy clubs, the handle by then, was a private joke, made at his own expense. Performing had been an outlet for him, a means to escape the hedge fund work he’d never had much interest in, and a vain hope he’d be discovered and given a break in Hollywood. The routines were the work of his songwriter buddy, a one-hit wonder with a Grammy award, who had faded into obscurity in a haze of mind-altering substances. He was a surgeon when Eddie knew him, the kind who trims the trees, and he had all manner of harebrained schemes for drawing attention to himself, consisting of youtube videos, mostly, that never went viral. With his beatnik jive and bohemian style, he offered Eddie a change of pace from the rentiers on the resort circuit who had been his most loyal investors, and was one of the few who would speak to him after his fall from grace.
Eddie keyed his mike again. “This is Gofer Aynis talking. I’d sure like some company. Anyone out there? Over.”
A CB craze had swept the country at the height of the sexual revolution. Celebrated by popular culture in film, television and song, its demise coincided suspiciously with the rise of the AIDS epidemic, yet still it served its original purpose as a medium for teamsters. He figured it would enable him to be whatever he chose to be, and say whatever he had to say, with one distinct advantage over the social Internet. Unregulated by the FCC,unmonitored by the NSA,and unrecorded by Lockheed Corp. for the spooks at DHS,it was the one remaining medium of free and unfettered self-expression. The words he spoke would be gone forever, a memory only to those who heard them, never to fly back into his face after going viral on him, or louse-up his career prospects due to their nonconformity to acceptable ideas. But all he had gotten so far was dead air.
Eddie put down the mike and sighed. The romance of the open road was not living up to his expectations. He’d been a full day on the road already, up through the Florida Everglades and the coastal swamps on Route 19, where boundless groves of wax myrtles were a man’s sole travel companions. Unless you count the Florida heat, which felt like a sex tape from Gaia, Eddie trapped in her sweaty navel, Uranus bumping and grinding on top. He’d warbled into that microphone all the way up that lonely road, singing every song he knew, issuing pleas for company, and wishing he’d taken the Interstate. With lightning flashes from a distant storm, resembling his old portfolio charts, crashing down on a landscape laden with relics of the housing bust, it was not the time for solitude. Eddie switched the radio on – “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…” – only to shut it off again. Much as he revered the singer, to one who’d known the freedom once of nothing left to gain, the words stung like mockery. With emergency repairs that morning having taken his last two cents, and the blinker on the gas gauge demanding his attention, there was nothing liberating about it.
The sharp blast of an air horn jarred him out of his despond as the snarling grille of a big Mack tractor loomed in his rear view mirror. Eddie swung his wheel to the right, veering into the slow lane. Watching the tanker truck roll by and cut in up ahead, his eyes were snared by the skull and crossbones looming over its tail end.
Is that what Mom and Dad looked like? – the voices murmured in his head. The suicide note had gone to their lawyer while he was away on vacation, and Eddie was far too busy to call, or to notice they hadn’t called him. Until the attorney returned weeks later, he’d never guessed there was anything wrong. The emergency crew was first on the scene. When Eddie arrived some hours later, the dirty work had already been done, but the air was putrid and thick with flies. The bodies were too far gone, they said, for anyone to identify, and were taken away for cremation. The instrument of their deaths; however, an antique ivory smoking pipe, carved in the shape of a Chinese dragon, was still among the bed cushions on which the bodies had reclined.
With a shudder at the thought of his parents’ deaths, Eddie fingered the red bandana wrapped around his neck, shifted his weight in the seat in the seat a few times, tipped the wheel left and right, gunning the motor to pass the skull and all the morbid thoughts it brought him.
Suddenly, the scanner squawked. “This is Hairless Hairy. Anyone know some banker jokes?”
Almost overwhelmed with joy at the sound of a human voice, Eddie grabbed his microphone. He knew lots of banker jokes, many of them personally. He had such an array to chose from, he let someone beat him to it.
“This is Tango Tyler, Harry. How does a Wall Street bankster resemble a Master of the Universe? Over.”
Eddie rolled his eyeballs.
“Beats the hell out of me, Tango,” Hairless Harry replied.
Not wishing to denigrate central Asians, let alone those with Down’s Syndrome, by equating them with investment bankers, Eddie left the punch line in the air and steered the conversation elsewhere. “This is Gofer Aynis, Harry, you get clipped in the bond market, too?”
“What the hell you talking about?”
Man’s a write-off, Eddie thought. “Whaddayasay there, Tango Tyler? This is Gofer Aynis talking, heading west on highway ten.”
“Whatchya hauling, prairie dog shit?”
That’s my kind of animal, Eddie said to himself. Quick, half-witted banter was precisely what he needed.
“Seat of your pants, there, Tango Tyler, think you’re some kinda comedian, do ya? Rig full of laughing hyenas here be much obliged for your jokes and all but you wouldn’t want to mess with them none. They ain’t been fed a spell.”
“Don’t be giving me lip now, boy,” Tango Tyler shot right back. “Running a handle like Gopher Anus, you take what’s coming to you.”
“Got your attention, didn’t I?”
“Don’t be letting it go to your head. Been trying to raise some chat all day.”
“You ain’t the only one.” Eddie replied. “I’m looking for that good old boy they calls Ophelia’s Darling. Ain’t heard tell of him lately, have you?”
“Sounds like a live one to me, Good Buddy. You two doing the hanky-panky?”
“Hell I am. But your wife might be. He’s one hell of a womanizer -”
“Don’t be talking about my Mama,” Tango Tyler said.
“Just squaring up the put-downs, pardner. Heard that handle round these parts?”
“Can’t say I have there, Gopher.”
“How long you been driving, Tango?”
“Darn near half my lifetime and I’m well over fifty.”
“And you ain’t heard of… damn! All his cooking and womanizing… boy’s a legend near as I can tell.”
The traffic ahead was slowing down toward the brow of the next hill, at least what passed for a hill in those parts. It was undulating woodland mostly, elongated peaks and troughs that rode a bit like waves. To Eddie, it mirrored the chart pattern of a real solid equity buy, but songwriter buddy’s words of wisdom echoed in his mind.
Get your head out of that world, Big Daddy. The market’s just a pack of wolves feeding off a diminishing herd. Think of what else you can do for bread instead of running money.
Making money out of money was the only trade he knew, but he drowned in an alphabet soup of products that promised him a good return when all else seemed to fail. Having, thereby, lost his family’s wealth, he was doing what his father urged but never had the courage to try. Like many a fictional character before him, and a few real people too, Eddie set out to make his fortune without a dime to his name. He aimed to become a celebrity chef and would use the means at his disposal to promote himself to that glorious end.
Eddie keyed his mike once more. “Just like I was saying, Tango, that boy makes the best damn gumbo, heard tell it won prizes too, down in New Orleans and pot roast chili, hootdeedang! Made with brisket, stewed in stout, with garden herbs and chili peppers, couple of secret ingredients just to round the hot stuff out, served with long neck Dixie Beer. Worked cafes from here to Abilene long as I been driving rigs, last I heard he’d be in these parts. Always like to taste his cooking whenever I pass through, but that boy never stays put nowhere. Gets himself in woman trouble everywhere he goes. Has to hotfoot out of town once they get that way about him. Says them gals want saddle ponies, they shouldn’t be riding rodeo.”
In love with the sound of his own words, Eddie smiled with satisfaction. My advertisement for myself went off pretty well, he thought. He’d spread the word about his chili, made it sound right tasty, too, and sexy enough to sell it. He enjoyed that trickle of endorphins he always got when things went well, and a warm feeling came over him that he was off to damn good start.
When Eddie reached the crest of the slope, a cacophony of voices erupted from the scanner. The talk was full of exit ramps and alternate routes, etcetera, of what the cause of the hold-up was and how long it might be. Another half a mile on Interstate Ten was a parking lot, and a truck stop parking lot at that, filled with scores times dozens of trucks, all within range of his radio, and all at a dead stop. Eddie looked down at his gas gauge, turned his vapor fueled car to the shoulder, and waited for the chatter to settle down.
As Eddie sat there cooling his heels, enjoying the opiates in his veins, that little pac-man in his head that always came when he got that feeling started to gobble it up. His past was full of accomplishments – a quarter of industry leading returns, a year of better than average earnings – yet lately; it seemed to hold nothing for him but failure, death and destruction. He wondered if, had he gone his own way, and achieved what he had aspired to do, would he not have killed his wicked witch, and would he be starting over now? Then, it occurred to him something was wrong. Goddam it, Gofer Aynis, you forgot about the outfit. How’s anyone gonna recognize me and offer me a job?