Chapter Twenty-one

   So, Maureen is gone, off on her walkabout, or sabbatical, or whatever you call it when a fictional character acts on her own and takes off and leaves me sitting here, staring at a blank screen. It's out of my control now, I guess, which is strange, and troubling, and leads to that larger, more elusive question, the one I keep ducking, but -- is it time? (Yes! -- Ed.)
   No. However, one thing is obvious: I am not in control. I am not in total, final, and ultimate control. I am not MR. BIG. I'm just his representative, his mouthpiece, a voice, the voice of the persona of the character of the narrator of the -- hell, you're probably as confused and pissed off as I am by now, so I won't belabor it, but the fact remains that there is only one MR. BIG, and who HE is and why HIS name is in caps, those questions remain to be answered.
   Meanwhile, I'm pretty much left in charge of things, kind of like automatic writing. I figure, if you can tie your shoelaces automatically you can do the same thing with writing. (What? Are you saying this is automatic writing? Who do you think you are, Yeats? -- Ed.)
   All right, I'm no Yeats, but Yeats never had the ability to block, erase, move, and then lose entire passages of a novel, like I just did! A wonderful passage, rich in imagery, that practically jumped off the page (screen)! I'd really be broken up about it, too, except for the fact that this, right now, this thought, this word, this sentence, this is what counts. I can't be concerned with stuff I've erased or forgotten. What am I gonna do about it anyway? Nuts to Yeats! This is all thought out, every last word of it!
   Let's move on. In every culture there are certain defining characteristics or national activities or common intellectual pursuits which separate that culture from all other cultures. In ours, the American culture, the culture of individual expression, the culture of constantly changing images that are shared publicly by a consumer-driven society -- in this culture one thing is certain: Very few people think about such things, so forget I ever brought it up. Instead, let's go back to World War Two:
   Dear diary: It's the 6th of December, 1942. The sea was calm today as we set out again to find the reported German sub. This time, though, we went without our groundbreaking frogwoman, Maureen. She elected to stay on shore and wander aimlessly through an ill-defined and unpredictable landscape. But our task was clear, even if the water was murky.
   Our boat, a brand new Hovercraft (What?!!! -- Ed.), hugged the coast, looking for anything unusual. What we came upon, however, was more unusual than the most unusual thing you could ever think of. In fact, if you took ten years to think of unusual things you wouldn't be able to come up with anything more unusual than what we saw. What we saw, and it's still hard for me to believe it, was --
   (Editor's Note: All right, stop it right there! This is ridiculous! Ridiculous!!! Who made this deal? Who signed this author to a contract? Who?) (I did, sir -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: When?) (Two years ago. If I could explain, he came to us with a clever notion, one that had possibilities, but -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: I don't care! Just get him off the payroll and out the door as soon as you can. This stuff is giving me an Excedrin headache! Excedrin -- fast relief from pain. What?! Did I say that? Do you see what's happening? Do you?) (Yes sir, I do. He's manipulating what you say to come out like a commercial endorsement for a headache pill. It's very obvious that that is what he is doing -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: But, but -- how can he do that?!!!) (I don't know, but I have to tell you, I had the same feeling when he walked out of the office two years ago after we agreed to advance him seventy-five hundred dollars on the basis of his verbal description of a novel which, don't look now, we're in -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: I think you're right. That would mean that what I'm saying at this very moment, what I'm saying right now -- perpendicular porridge! -- that these words are not mine, but his, every last one. I wouldn't even think of saying perpendicular porridge. It would be out of character for me, a top editor, to say that. I don't even know what it means. What does it mean, perpendicular porridge? Do you know what it means?) (No, Mr. Note, I don't. But I do know, as long as it's come up for discussion, that we have to make a decision about this book, and whether or not to continue our relationship with the author -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: I say we cut off our toes.) (What? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: I say we cut off our toes. No, no, I don't want to say that, but, but... ) (Let's just table the issue for now, sir, and let him continue, and... -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: And give him more money! No!) (Yes! No! I mean yes! -- Ed.)
   Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a researcher for the U.S. Patent Office was searching through old records when he stumbled upon the patent for a device that automatically tied shoelaces. He turned the page and stumbled upon another useless invention, and then another, and another, and something clicked in his brain. How about a book about all these cockeyed inventors and their dumb inventions? He took the idea to his boss, who explained that getting the rights to use the images of all those people, assuming they were still alive, would be a mess -- and then he stole the idea and took it to a major New York publisher, laid out the whole thing to them, and they said, no thanks, this is wartime, no unnecessary use of essential materials, etc. -- and then they stole the idea, assigned an in-house writer to the project, and published Necessity is Not Necessarily the Mother of Invention after the war, in the fall of 1946.
   I tell you all this because I think it's important for you to know as much about the background of my character, or at least the one left over after the Xerox accident, as is humanly and fictionally possible. There is a Jim Reynolds, named for James M. Reynolds, and yet all this has happened since the accident, so therefore take everything I'm telling you now with a grain of salt, as I'm sure you are.
   So, you're wondering, how could I feel so chipper? Maybe it's the freedom. The freedom of knowing that nothing, no one, no entity, force, or international cartel even, can influence what it is I'm about to say: Perpendicular porridge. Oh no. I didn't want to say that. I'm serious now. Perpendicular porridge. Uh-oh.
   Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge. Perpendicular porridge.
   And this continued, out of my control, for hours.

(This ends Chapter Twenty-one, with storm clouds on the horizon.)

Chapter Twenty-two