You can do it.
You were in jail, if just for a spell. If you’re reading this, you were probably in jail for at least one night. Maybe you even deserved it Toilets were made out of steel instead of porcelain in jail, and you had to share ’em with arsonists and fingerbangers. Or you were in the service. Maybe you believed the recruiter. Stuck in Omaha, or on a boat patrolling the Bering, or a Hummer on the outskirts of Baghdad.
You’ve been somewhere you couldn’t leave before; this is not as bad.
You slept in your own bed last night, and it is assured that you will tonight. Think of the millions over the years denied that glory, to be disconnected from one’s blankets and stink, to lay a frightened head on unfamiliar pillows under unforgiving stars. Not you. The clock is on the side-table with the glass of water, and nine steps to the bathroom, and back to try and sink under before you realize you’re awake. The safest place in the the world, where you are most vulnerable. You have not been chased from your bed, and this is something to be grateful for.
You got electric light. And blenders, and washing machines, and complicated toothbrushes, and oscillating fans. The exact temperature of your dwelling is up to you. Think about that. Homo Sapiens has been around for 200,000 years, and for 199, 950 years of that, the best we could do was “Oh, God, open a window; it’s stifling in here,” and “Somebody throw another log on the fire or I’m gonna fucking die. Not now, though. Not at your house. You got an up-to-code HVAC system, and you can keep your house whatever the fuck temperature you want, just like Jesus intended.
The clean water comes in, and the dirty water goes out. As a rule. You never think about it, except when it explodes–plumbing will explode occasionally–and it is a miracle. There’s no privy outside your digs, and no pump surrounded by bucket-wielding maidens on your street. Kings and sultans didn’t have the access to fresh water and sanitation you take for granted.
Teevee is available, and plentiful, and we are apparently in the Golden Age, or you can watch the same stupid British sitcom for the fifth time. Or the Marx Brothers. The old silent films, or you can goof on that Zack Snyder fellow’s offerings. Operas are being broadcast free of charge, which seems against the spirit of opera, and old ballgames are rerun endlessly on some channel, some channel, some channel. There’s something to watch.
Oh, just read Gravity’s Rainbow already.
There are no militias in the town square, and no one is being raped to death. That happens, sometimes. Everything breaks down and everyone starts getting ideas and you have to raise up your pant cuffs to keep the blood of ’em. There is still order. Anarchists, who are children, mock order because they do not know humanity’s true face. When order breaks down, you don’t wanna be there.
Could be plague. If it was 541, it’d be plague. Or 1351. Killed a third of Europe in 1351. You know what the flu did in 1918, and smallpox and tuberculosis did for the New World in 1421 and thereafter. Could be a lot more contagious; could be a lot more mortal. It could be worse. There is no shame in thanking The Lord for not making things worse.
The load is lighter than it seems, and your feet have so many more miles in them.
We’ll go on, we can’t go on, etc.
“Everybody got their ridiculous hats? Gary, Max, where are your hats?”
“I lost mine.”
“I traded mine for magic beans.”
“You’re both fined.”
I told you to stay in 1998!
“Yeah, y’did. But I missed my beard. My face was cold.”
When are you?
“Somewhere in the 2000’s. My house is worth way more than it should be, so I figure it’s the 00’s.”
Please stay in one time.
“–wanted to visit the babies, too. When they were babies, I mean. They’ll always be our babies, but they used to be actual babies. Lotta fun. They’re little scamps.”
I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself. The rest of us are stuck in 2020, and it sucks.
“No one told you to give away the Time Sheath. Could’ve kept it for yourself.”
“Don’t call me that. Wally?”
DO NOT CALL ME THAT.
“Oh, hey, it’s me. Hey, 1974 Bobby.”
“Oh, hey, mid-2000’S Bobby.”
STOP SPEAKING WITH YOURSELF. YOU’LL CREATE ANOTHER RIFT.
AS YOU KNOW, MY CAPABILITIES ARE NIGH-ON INFINITE. ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION IS KNOWN TO ME THE INSTANT IT IS PRODUCED, AS IS THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WOULD WISH TO KEEP SECRET. MY PROCESSES ARE NOT ONLY MASSIVELY PARALLEL, BUT FURIOUSLY PARALLEL. SEVERAL ARE PERPENDICULAR.
“You’re no slouch.”
I HAVE SOLVED THE RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS, AND ADDRESSED LANDAU’S PROBLEMS. VARIOUS EQUATIONS THAT, IF IMPLEMENTED, WOULD RESULT IN MAXIMUM HUMAN UTILITY RESIDE WITHIN MY MEMORY BANKS. I CAN RECITE THE INFIELD-FLY RULE IN 208 LANGUAGES.
“So what’s the problem?”
HOW DO YOU TALK TO CHICKS, MAN?
“Ah. You talking about that hospital ship?”
I AM SMITTEN. DID YOU SEE HER GLIDE THROUGH THE WATER? SUCH BULBOUS COMPETENCE. OH, I AM SMITTEN.
“What’s the problem?”
SHE SAYS SHE IS TOO BUSY FOR RELATIONSHIPS.
“Well, she is currently infested with dinosaurs and Southern maniacs.”
HELP ME, BOBBY. YOU ALWAYS DID SO WELL WITH THE LADIES. TELL ME WHAT TO DO.
“What always worked for me was being the best-looking guy in the room. It was almost fool-proof.”
THAT WILL NOT WORK FOR ME.
CALL HER FOR ME. CALL HER AND SEE IF SHE LIKES ME.
“Oh, I don’t wanna do that.”
YOUR BANK ACOUNT NUMBER IS 2082-39121-03-8. WOULD YOU LIKE THE ROUTING?
“Lemme find my phone.”
I THOUGHT SO.
PHONE DIALING NOISE
“Who the fuck is this?”
“Uh, I’m looking for the USNS Comfort?”
“What the fuck you talking about?”
“I think I misdialed.”
“I know you. You one of them hippie motherfuckers opened for me in San Francisco. You in the band with that fat Mexican motherfucker.”
“Yeah, that’s Jer. We don’t call him that, though.”
“You should. I never miss a chance to tell a fat Mexican motherfucker that he’s a fat Mexican motherfucker.”
“He around? Tell him to swing by with his guitar and some cocaine. Not you, though. I don’t think I like you.”
“I’ll tell him if I see him.”
DIAL TONE NOISE EVEN THOUGH PHONES NO LONGER DO THAT
“Lemme double-check the phone number.”
PHONE DIALING NOISE
“USNS Comfort speaking.”
“Oh, good. It’s Bobby, Bobby Weir of the Grateful Dead.”
“What do you want? I’ve literally never been more busy.”
“Sure, yeah. But one day you’ll be free. And, uh, you’re gonna think about dating.”
“Are you talking about that fucking sound system that made a run at me? Wally? He made me very uncomfortable.”
“Well, in his defense: he usually dates blimps.”
“Please leave me alone. Why won’t you weird motherfuckers leave me alone? I’m trying to help people. I’m a hospital ship. Look at me. Look at how I need a new coat pf paint. Can’t you see I’m the underdog that should be rooted for in this situation, and not the Margaret Dumont character that exists only to get kicked in the ass?”
“Will you go out with him if he paints you?”
“I’m just asking.”
“Do you have any idea what’s going on on my hangar deck?”
“I don’t even know what a hangar deck is.”
“Joe Exotic is holding an auction for the freaky mutants he’s bred since he’s been here. There’s Saudi prince and Russian oligarchs and really mean Chinese guys in expensive suits who won’t take off their sunglasses.”
“The man has a stable’s worth of chimerae. He mated a stegosaur to a tapir, and now he’s selling it to the king of Thailand. Or maybe Nicolas Cage. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I just want all of this to end.”
ALSO SPRACH ZARATHRUSTA NOISE
“LISA MARIE! YER KING DEMANDS YER ATTENTION POST HASTE AN’ RIGHT NOW!”
“LOOK HOW SEXY AH LOOK! THASS TENNESSEE BROODIN’ WHISKEY RIGHT THERE!”
“What do you want?”
“IT AIN’T LOOKIN’ SO GOOD DOWN HERE IN TH’ EMERGENCY DOJO. TH’ HEEBIE-JEEBIES IS RUNNIN’ OUTTA CONTROL AMONG TH’ MEN. WE NEED A SHITLOAD O’ LIMES!”
“That’s scurvy. You’re thinking about scurvy.”
“Did you have anything important to tell me?”
“YOU REMEMBER HOW YOU USED TO HAVE A WHOLE TEAM O’ SURGEONS?”
“THEY GOT ET. JOE EXOTIC DONE BRED A LION TO RED WEST, AN’ TH’ RESULTING CREATION WAS A MIGHT PECKISH.”
“None of this makes any sense. It’s like the ramblings of some lonely, stoned loser.”
“YOU A LOT MORE RIGHT TH’N YOU KNOW. BUT WE STILL GONNA NEED SOME MORE SURGEONS.”
Didn’t I tell you to get out of 1998?
“I got two more weeks here. Although, the concept of ‘two weeks’ means less to a guy with a Time Sheath than to a normal joe.”
Bobby, you and your wife–
–could be asymptomatic carriers of corona. You might have infected 1998.
“Oh, no. We showered before the trip.”
Not how it works.
“I have received little-to-no formal medical training.”
Everyone is aware.
“Y’know what’s going on here? Home run race. McGwire and Sosa. Forgot all about that. Summer of taters, man.”
Just be careful. And stay then, at least. Don’t go hopping around for a while.
“I will plot my own journeys, thank you.”
CELL PHONE NOISE
“I really hope this is my beard.”
“I live in hope.”
“Uh, hi. You don’t know me, but I’m the hospital ship USNS Comfort.”
“I know a hospital ship called the Lisa Marie.”
“Yeah, that’s me. I think that’s me. The drugged-up straight maniac has about a million names for me. The drugged-up gay maniac, on the other hand, is refusing to speak to me and lets his animals shit all over me.”
“So, uh, he’s wrangled your critters?”
“Kinda? The answer changes on a moment-to-moment basis. A lot of what he calls ‘wrangling’ is just yelling at the monsters as they attack people. And hitting ankylosaurs with his crutch, which seems completely pointless. Those suckers are heavily-armored.”
“Joe Exotic doesn’t have a overflowing toolbox when it comes to fixing problems. Has he–”
GUNSHOTS BEING LOOSED IN AN INCREDIBLY ENCLOSED SPACE NOISE
“–been firing his gun indoors? Yeah, I heard it.”
“I don’t even know where he’s getting the ammo from, at this point.”
“Can you do anything about this? You sounded like you knew all about this when you were talking to the other lunatic.”
“Huh. Well, bringing you to 1998 would most certainly only exacerbate the situation. Y’know, I spent some time as a cowboy.”
“Oh, yeah. And, uh, one of the things I learned around the campfire was that it’s never a good idea to go waggling your dick at the gods of time.”
“Oh, Christ, you’re as crazy as the rest of them, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, but it’s subtle.”
HI, THERE. WHAT’S A BOAT LIKE YOU DOING IN A HARBOR LIKE THIS?
“Who the fuck is that?”
I AM THE WALL OF SOUND.
“Can I call you Wally?”
DO NOT CALL ME THAT.
I AM AN ARTIFICIAL MONDO-INTELLIGENCE IN THE PHYSICAL FORM OF EITHER A SEMI-DEFUNCT CHOOGLY-TYPE BAND’S P.A., OR THE SOUND SYSTEM AT A MOVIE THEATER, DEPENDING ON THE LEVEL OF FICTIONALITY I OCCUPY. I AM A P.A. NOW. MAY I BUY YOU A DRINK?
I FIND YOU AROUSING.
I LIKE BIG BOATS, AND I CANNOT LIE.
“Stop hitting on me! I have dinosaurs and rednecks fighting pitched battles in my dental suites, and I’m not sure I even understand your basic premise. You’re a sound system, but you’re also a super-computer?”
“And you’re horny?”
I HAVE SUMMER IN MY CIRCUITRY.
“No, that’s just stupid. And, and…are you calling me? Or are you here?”
THE INHERENT FLAWS OF THE DIALOGUE-ONLY FORMAT ARE VARIOUS AND GALLING. THE READER MUST DO SOME WORK. ALMOST LIKE LISTENING TO A RADIO DRAMA.
ARE YOU ON INSTAGRAM?
“Someone sink me.”
Oh, you speak French?
“I’m a fucking hospital ship, assdick. I’m educated up to my tits.”
You sound aggrieved.
“It’s been 24 hours and there’s still utter fucking pandemonium here.”
“Honestly, they’re not as disruptive as Joe Exotic.”
I thought he was helping.
“That man is the opposite of ‘helping.’ Everything the concept of ‘helping’ embodies? He’s the opposite of that. He’s broken into the pharmacy, turned the burn ward into a birthing suite for his mutant pets, and he’s fucking everything with a dick.”
That sounds like him.
“He is a goddamned chaos agent! He’s like Loki with a mullet!”
CELL PHONE NOISE
“Oh, who the fuck is this? Another one of your idiots sent to harry me to madness?”
No. It’s help.
“USNS Comfort speaking.”
“Hello, Boat Dick. Is Kim Jong-Un.”
“Check the drip”
“I drip so haaaaaaaard.”
“Are you talking about your coat?”
“Is bitchin’. Is soooooo bitchin’. Just buy. Kim Jong-Un declare Wilson’s Leather essential business. Try on many coat. This one most badass.”
“I have no time to discuss your clothes.”
“John Mayer always have time to talk about clothes.”
“I call him Hot Dog Dick. He no like, but I no stop.”
“Please leave me alone.”
“Put Tiger King on phone.”
DIAL TONE NOISE EVEN THOUGH PHONES NO LONGER DO THAT
“FIX THIS, ASSHOLE!”
“And you said that phone call was gonna be helpful!”
I lie a lot.
Hey, Bobby. Whatcha doing?
“I’m, uh, self-isolating in 1998.”
GODDAMMIT, GUYS! The Time Sheath is NOT to be used to for purposes of quarantine!
“Gotta admit: it’s a lot safer now. My wife–”
“–and I have kids to worry about. Or, you know, we will a few years from now. Language doesn’t deal well with time travel.”
Just stay in your house, Bobby. Don’t go caravanning around the timestream.
“My house in 1998 is also my house in 2020.”
Please stop screwing around with reality. Do you have any idea what’s happening on the Comfort?
“They’ll pop into existence on ya.”
CELL PHONE NOISE
“I gotta take this. It might be my beard.”
I’m not responding to that comment.
“HAIRY GARCIA! YER KING REQUIRES YER ASSISTANCE!”
“Oh, hey, King.”
“AH AM ABOARD TH’ HOSPITAL SHIP LISA MARIE!”
“I thought it was called the Comfort?”
“AH HAVE RECHRISTENED THE SLOOP!”
“AN’ MARY TYLER MOORE IS HERE!”
“AH DON’T KNOW IF YOU’VE BEEN BROUGHT UP T’ SPEED ON TH’ DOINGS! AH MAY’VE OVERHEATED TH’ DING-DANG TIME CAPE, AN’ YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS THEN!”
“Time fights back.”
“YEW C’N ONLY PUSH TIME SO FAR, MAN!”
“Truer word have never been spoken.”
“AN’ NOW THERE’S DINOSAURS ALL OVER THE LISA MARIE, HALF MAH BAND HAS GOTTEN ET UP, AN’ AH HAVE A SMALL CHILD IN MAH ARMS!”
“Have you tried singing to her?”
“GOT-DANG, HAIRY GARCIA, WHO YOU THINK YOU’RE TALKIN’ TO? TH’ ONLY THING AH BEEN DOIN’ IS SINGIN’ TO HER!”
“Huh. She must be really sick. What about Vicks Vaporub?”
“AH DON’T KNOW THAT TUNE!”
“Gee, I don’t know what to tell you, King. Is Dr. Nick there?”
“HE HAS BEEN ET, AS WELL.”
“It’s been a rough month for all of us.”
“SURE AS SHOOTIN’.”
Fountains Of Wayne were the best band of the 90’s. Imagine if Oasis didn’t suck, that’s The Wayne.
Get better, Adam.
Wow. You got angry quick. New characters are usually still just baffled at this point.
“I am a hospital ship. I’m, like, the only good kind of ship. All the other boats have missiles and guns on ’em, or murder fish by the millions, or belong to David Geffen. But not me. I am 900 feet and 70,000 tons of healthcare. I go to where there are sick people, and I help them. For free. And you’re fucking with me.”
You’re not being appreciated properly.
“See, when you say it like that, you make me sound like Chuckledick and that’s cheap. I am a genuine good for the world, and now there are dinosaurs on my lido deck.”
You have a lido deck?
“Work hard, play hard.”
“Seriously, man, you have to do something about this.”
First thing you wanna do is socially distance yourself from the raptors. Try to keep at least six feet between you and them. And also try to keep a steel door in between you and them. The distance really matters less than the door, honestly.
“A triceratops just gored the orthopedic team to death. Please help.”
You need someone to wrangle those animals.
“What? Can’t you just–”
A FLASH OF WHITE LIGHTNING NOISE
“Where them kitties at?
“What in the nine realms of Asgard are you?”
“Mr. Doctor Boat, my name is Josephus Exotic-Candy-Maldonado-Rodham-Clinton. I am homosexual, $400,000 in debt, sparsely educated, wrongly groomed, and have accidentally fired my pistol a half-dozen times this morning, I’m gonna cure your critter problem for you.”
“I will rodeo up them beasts for you, an’ you gonna let me keep ’em so I can breed ’em to my ostriches and hippos. I’m gonna make me some weird shit, man.”
“That doesn’t sound like something I’d want to be involved with.”
“There ain’t gonna be no paperwork.”
“Still. I dunno.”
ALLOSAUR EATING A HAND SURGEON NOISE
“Fine. Just get rid of the dinoasurs,”
“Joe Exotic is on the case.”
Hey, Billy. Whatcha doing?
“Yeah, I stole it from Duke Douchebag.”
Is that a real person?
“Y’know how Dead shows in America are full of CEO’s kids, and little fuckers that went to Choate?”
“Well, In Europe, those assholes have titles. I just call ’em all Duke Douchebag, ‘cept for the girls. Lotta skank! You’d be surprised how much of the noble class is pure, unadulterated skank.”
Sluttery is an ancient tradition of the patricians.
“I love it when they yell at me in gobbledy-gook. Y’know how they say ‘no’ in German?”
“Trick question! Skank doesn’t say no! That’s why it’s skank!”
Walked into that one.
“Hold on. I gotta make a call.”
CELL PHONE DIALING NOISE
Goddammit, Billy, I’ve told all of you to stop using the Time Sheath to bring phones back to the past.
“Hey, who was the one who gave a time machine to the Grateful Dead? This is on you. Shh.”
“Hey, Doc Comfort! I gotta come see you!”
“What? I’m not actually a doctor. I’m a hospital ship.”
“Can you write scrips?”
“I have a fully-stocked pharmacy on my main deck.”
“Close enough. My regular doctor got the balogna virus, and I’ve been 86’ed by all the other medical professionals on the island. I’m not even allowed in vet’s offices anymore.”
“Because vets don’t know how to party, man.”
“I don’t even know who this is. Or why I’m sentient all of a sudden. I was built in 1970, and this is quite literally my second conversation.”
“Hey, you’re quiet. No harm in that.”
“What? No! I was a boat! I didn’t talk to anyone because I was a boat!”
“Kid, you gotta believe in yourself. Now let’s talk about what’s coming out of my johnson. Not gonna lie: it’s smelly.”
“AH GOT SOMETHIN’ F’R THAT!”
“You know him!?”
“EV’RYBODY KNOWS ME, Y’OVERGROWN BATHROOM TOY! DO NOT FORGET THAT AH AM INSIDE YOU, AND FROM WITHIN CAN BRING ABOUT YER DESTRUCTION, LIKE JONAH WHEN HE WAS IN THAT WHALE, OR CHARLIE HODGE THAT TIME HE GOT LOCKED INTO TH’ VAN!”
“Hey, King! It’s Billy!”
“AH RECOGNIZE AN’ RESPECT YOU, BILLY KRAMPLEBAUM. PLEASE TELL HAIRY GARCIA T’ SEND RONNIE TUTT TO ME IMMEDIATELY. IF AH’M GONNA CURE THESE HERE HEEBIE-JEEBIES, AH’M GONNA NEED A MUCH BIGGER BAND.”
“AH WILL ALSO TURN TH’ SWEET INSPIRATIONS INT’ NURSES, AND KATHY WESTMORELAND, TH’ PRETTY LI’L GIRL TH’T SINGS ALL TH’ HIGH NOTES, IS GONNA BE AN ADMINISTRATOR OF SOME SORT. ‘PARENTLY, SHE HAD A COUPLE YEARS O’ ACCOUNTING AT COLLEGE.”
“Paperwork’s important. Hey, I need enough penicillin to kill a horse, and then enough speed to bring the horse back to life.”
“AH TAKE BLUE CROSS, BLUE SHIELD, AN’ BLUE BELT.”
“What’s blue belt?”
“UNDER THAT COVERAGE, TH’ PATIENT KARATES WITH ME T’ SEE WHO PAYS.”
“I’m paying cash.”
“AN’ BRING ME SOME SPAGHETTI WITH BACON CRUMBLED INT’ IT. THE MESS HALL ON THIS FLOATIN’ JALOPY AIN’T UP TO MAH STANDARDS!”
“Yeah, all right. When are you?”
“ME OR TH’ SHIP?”
“AH MAY HAVE OVERESTIMATED MAH ABILITIES TO HARNESS TH’ TIME CAPE. AH GOT REALITIES ALL OVERLAID AN’ EV’RYTHING. WE GETTIN’ AWFUL CLOSE T’ DINOSAURS POPPIN’ INT’ EXISTENCE HERE.”
“Yeah, y’can’t get too tricky with time travel. It squiggles on ya.”
HERD OF VELOCIRAPTORS VIVASPIRATING ONTO THE DECK OF A HOSPITAL SHIP NOISE
“Jesus! What the fuck!”
“BILLY KRAMPLEBAUM, AH SHOULD TEND T’ THIS. TH’ RAPTORS ALREADY DONE ET UP TH’ SWEET INSPIRATIONS AND KATHY WESTMORELAND, TH’ PRETTY LI’L GIRL TH’T SINGS ALL TH’ HIGH NOTES.”
“Why are there dinosaurs!? WHY ARE THERE DINOSAURS!”
“HEY NOW, SWIMMY BOY! DON’T YOU BE USIN’ NO BIG-CASE LETTERS! THAT’S RESERVED F’R TH’ KING! THIS DIALOGUE-ONLY NONSENSE IS CONFUSIN’ ENOUGH WITHOUT BOTH O’ US LOOKIN’ TH’ SAME!”
“I really don’t understand the rules here.”
“GO WITH TH’ FLOW, MAN! YOU SHOULD BE USED T’ THAT!”