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There is a little cave of a bookstore near my house called "Other Worlds." It's run by a weird couple, Travis and Dena. They look like the nerds of Woodstock. Long hair, lots of strange jewelry that looks as though it was crafted by alien silversmiths. I stop in often, though I never speak to Travis or Dena directly, preferring to quietly browse.
Within three rooms of the first floor of a small house, Other Worlds holds a transient but nevertheless complete inventory of obscure used books, most of them near mint condition. The books present myriad mental escapes, ranging from tales of 18th Century adventures in unexplored lands to abstract excursions into Borgesian mazes of the subconscious. The store is unmarked, and I have rarely seen any other customer go in. I wonder where the books go.
Saturday afternoon Ann and I took the bus to the megacineplex and watched three movies. We paid matinee price for the first and snuck in to the other two, by heading for the bathroom between movies and lurking in the stalls until the ushers disappeared. The tricky part is reappearing from the restroom at the same time, but we have achieved synchronization after several months of doing this every weekend. The theater has 18 screens, with at least four new films a week. We each choose a movie, and select the third at random. This time, I chose "Lost Grotto," featuring Ron Ely as a geriatric '30s pulp hero who comes out of retirement when his plane crashes near an ancient lost city in the Himalayas. The fight to right things leads him from Bhutan to Manhattan. Ann went for "Corky's Way," an unbearable light comedy about Tom Selleck raising his son's monkey and his wife's St. Bernard after the wife and kid have been killed in an auto accident. Very creepy undertones. The third flick, we both agreed, was the best. "Plutopia." It was a dark science fiction piece featuring a withered Keir Dullea as the lone occupant of a futuristic, automated outpost on the ninth planet, biding the interminable years unto death after the entire population of the homeworld has been decimated. I subsequently bought the soundtrack.
I have a recurring fantasy, admittedly juvenile, of leading expeditions into the unexplored landscapes of anachronistically imagined lost continents of a limitless earth. It begins with a long journey in a seven-masted schooner through uncharted southern seas, weathering typhoons that test the mettle of the most focused navigators, and long hours languishing on the deck under the hot sun waiting for a stray songbird and the smell of land.
With landfall, shrouded mountain ranges lurking beyond dense rainforest, we take our expedition overland on horseback. Weeks of travel, evading reptilian predators, bartering with strange, slightly alien primitives, and hunting wild game more suited to prehistory, brings us over the peaks into the enchanted savannahs of the deep interior.
On our sixth day down the other side, we find ourselves at the precipice of a gargantuan green gorge. It holds a blue river. Some miles in the distance, before the falls, we see the lost metropolis of the ancients, towers of ivory and domes of stone piercing the arboral ceiling. Similarly, last fall I discovered a city block I had never seen, only a quarter-mile from the house I grew up in. It seems every few months I discover a strange new shop in some secret mezzanine.
In the morning we played cribbage. Ann has made up her own rules.
I am a member of an elite paramilitary unit. Our secret headquarters is in an industrial park adjacent to the interstate. It is disguised as the home office of a non-existent financial services company. Several of my colleagues moonlight as supermodels. We are on constant call for alerts around the globe, mostly rapid-deployment insertions into Lilliputian dictatorships not featured on any known atlases. Our primary vehicle for these expeditions is a stealth ramjet which launches through a culvert running under the well-landscaped courtyard of our office plaza. Membership in a well-trained elan of secret soldiers is a unique source of satisfying pride and purpose in my life.
On Saturday afternoon, Ann and I watched a rerun of "In Search Of" on cable channel 67. Leonard Nimoy was investigating the Nazca lines of Peru, miles of meandering tracings through the gravel which cannot be seen from the ground. We ate brownies and drank Scotch while we watched. Ann speculated that many of the randomly zoned districts in our area are in fact deliberate designs visible only from high altitudes at night, enabling landings by extraterrestrial craft.
I am writing a novel in Esperanto.
Sometime during the afternoon I fell asleep and dreamed I was spending the day with Burt Reynolds and his deformed son. Burt was furious, transfixed in a permanent, muttering rage, spewing mumbled platitudes about the hidden beauty of his adopted, radioactive child, and railing at the Hollywood establishment. We drove around Los Angeles in Burt's silver convertible muscle car drinking cocktails of Prozac and Tab from giant go-cups with Disney straws. Both Burt and his son were carrying several firearms. When I woke we were tearing down the freeway, the child spastically throwing hand grenades at a police helicopter.
Ann brought a book with her called "The Paper Trip." She ordered it from the back of some survivalist magazine published by the same people who bring you "Soldier of Fortune." The book is an underground guide to establishing a new identity. It involves procurement of a dead person's birth certificate (preferably with a birthday close to your own), with which one fraudulently obtains a social security card, driver's license, credit cards, etc. We resolved to do this, while maintaining the same houses and jobs. I wish to establish a new identity without changing anything else in my life.
While I snoozed, Ann worked on her monolithic compilation of possible names for a rock band she has no intention of forming. She has filled close to seventy pages of a narrow-ruled binder. Among the likely candidates:
On Sunday morning we drank black coffee and watched a weekend news magazine. There were lots of pretty images of winter, but the whole thing had sinister overtones. At one point, the perky hair-sprayed newscasters had the fat black weather guy stripped and tied to an overstuffed fuchsia couch with silk neckties. They were whipping him with microphone cords. He kept laughing, playing the minstrel fool as always. We finally turned the TV off for the first time in 24 hours.
Instead, we devoted ourselves to designing a new board game. We have not yet come up with a name. The board, which fills the dining room, depicts an imaginary planet, with a grid superimposed to regulate movement. The initial set-up is random, and the game has no end. Play is centered on the lateral movement of dozens of small counters around the map, exploring various locations whose topography, population, and other contents are detailed by reference to the hundreds of annotated descriptions in the rule book. The movement has no real "purpose," in the traditional board game sense.
Monday we slept. In the evening, we sat at the top of the basement stairs and ran water from an outside hose, flooding the suburban landscape of armageddon. Plastic corpses floated to the surface, while others lay trapped in their tightly sealed bunkers. A lone survivor rafted to tentative safety in a tiny bumper car from the amusement park.
The water had receded by the next day, before we both had to leave for work.