Chapter Sixty-five

   (Editor's Note: Mr. Reynolds has once again disappointed me, my staff, Ed., and most of all you, the reader. He claims he was crossing Madison Avenue at Fifty-sixth Street when a gust of wind came up and blew much of this book, including the last chapter, out of his hands and into the street, scattering pages everywhere. Well, I've heard some good ones over the years -- one author blamed disappearing ink! -- but as a result of what's allegedly happened, we've been forced to publish an incomplete version of In the Bubble, arranging things rather haphazardly and out of sequence. Then again, that's probably the book's greatest charm.)

   (Look, it's true, okay? The manuscript was in a large accordion-like file folder, the wind picked up, the folder slipped out of my hands, the next thing I know "one of the most brilliant works of modern literature" is all over midtown Manhattan. Now, no matter what I do it's just not going to match the original. Just can't happen again like that, I know it. So I won't even try. What I'll do is paraphrase, to the best of my ability. Here goes.)

   Sonny, Greg, Ben, and Farley usually went fishing every year about this time, but this year they had a different plan. This year, instead of getting up at three in the morning and driving for hours only to be told the lake was "closed for re-stocking," this year they decided, to the man, to go out and get some pancakes.
   "But where?" asked Ben.
   "There used to be a luncheonette around the corner from the courthouse that served some fine, fine flapjacks," claimed Sonny.
   "What the hell, let's try it!" Farley exhorted. "I'm famished!" Meanwhile...

   Joseph Heller turned to Norman Mailer and asked him to pass the menu. Mailer didn't respond. Heller then turned to Joan Didion, who obliged. The three were seated at a plush red leather booth in the rear of The Grill, an exclusive Beverly Hills eatery.
   "What's good here?" Heller asked after a short perusal of the entrees.
   "They've got everything from cod to scrod, but not what I want," proclaimed an unenthusiastic Didion.
   "I'm going to have a steak, blood rare," announced Heller, already sucking on his fourth or fifth Rob Roy.
   "I'm going to have a steak, blood rare," said Mailer, already sucking on his fourth or fifth Rob Roy. (Why the same thing? -- Ed.)
   "Fellas," Didion broke in, "I hate to be a poor sport, but before the phony French waiter gets here, could we confab for a second? I say we go somewhere else."
   "Where?" asked a startled Heller.
   "Where?" asked a startled Mailer. (Again. Why the same business for Mailer each time? -- Ed.) (I'll tell you why. Ever since he fell out the window Mailer hasn't been the same. He's been reduced to the role of a surly parrot. Heller's been taking care of him.) (Oh -- Ed.)
   "How about that cute little luncheonette around the corner from the courthouse?" Didion suggested. "Have you ever had their pancakes, Norman?"
   "Uh, no," Heller cut in, covering for him. "Norman has never had their pancakes, Joan. But he'd love to try them." Heller gestured broadly, intimating that Mailer wasn't exactly 'himself' these days." Meanwhile...

   It was the year 1091 A.D., approximately. A self-appointed delegation of elders from the Nudnik Nation was meeting with a similar group representing the Powloo at a neutral site yet to be named. With the anomalous sound of rap music blaring in the background, the grand muckety-muck of the Powloo turned to the Nudnik major domo and said (translated into English): "Why don't you get a haircut?" The Nudnik nabob didn't react at first and then, suddenly, burst out in riotous laughter after remembering that "Why don't you get a haircut?" is the punchline to an old joke that every Native American kid knew from the time he was able to fart. But the joke served a very important purpose, which was to break the ice, to ease the tension before the important issues were to be raised.
   The most important issue, as always, was pancakes, followed closely by peyote. Well, at this particular powwow the decision of where to eat the pancakes was easy -- the place around the corner from the courthouse, natch. However, getting there, and how much peyote that would require, and who would go, and how much to pack, that took the better part of three days of constant discussion and hashish smoking. The decision? To send a combined delegation, made up of equal numbers of Powloo and Nudniks. Meanwhile...

   Early in 1944, with World War Two still raging, Hollywood studios like MGM and Warner Brothers and Paramount and Columbia continued to thrive and flourish, churning out hundreds of films every year, many of them part of the war effort. Three of the biggest film stars at the time were the zany Ritz Brothers. The boys were appearing in those days at a club called the Moulin Rouge on Sunset Boulevard where, one night, just before going on stage for the second of three shows, Harry Ritz was handed a note by a man dressed in a loincloth. Ritz read the note, then sought out his brothers and showed it to them.
   "Who is it from?" asked Al.
   "What does this mean, 'Pancakes at the luncheonette'?" Jimmy wondered.
   "Beats me," Harry exclaimed. "And the guy who delivered it -- he was dressed like an Indian. Musta been on his way to a masquerade ball!" He then struck an obviously mocking pose as his brothers made "nuk nuk" sounds and acted foolish, not unlike their stage personae. Meanwhile...

   In 1863, at a White House meeting of his top generals, President Abraham Lincoln suddenly announced his intention to resign.
   "But -- why?" asked a dumbfounded Ulysses S. Grant.
   "Headaches," Lincoln replied.
   "Oh, we'll do better," offered a contrite William Tecumseh Sherman.
   "No, no, I meant headaches, real headaches, as in migraines. But it's not related to my mandibular disease." (Just what I told that guy back in Chapter Two!)
   "What can we do for you, Mr. President?" Uncle Lupo asked, having been denied a spot in the Powloo-Nudnik pancake delegation.
   "I'd like something to eat," Abe answered. "Something soft, easy to chew -- but it must be filling." Lincoln's top Generals, and Uncle Lupo, got to thinking, and thinking, and thinking, until finally someone came up with the obvious answer. Meanwhile...

   Exactly one hundred and ten years later, give or take a few weeks, in the same Oval Office, John Dean was describing to his President, Richard Nixon, the extent of White House involvement in the Watergate cover-up.
   "Sir, there is a cancer on the Presidency. It extends from the burglars to Liddy, to Hunt, to CREEP (the Committee for the Re-election of the President), all the way to the White House, to the Oval Office, and to you. Thank goodness none of this is being taped."
   "Yeah, yeah, Dean, you're right. But, how do we silence these (expletive deleted) bastards?"
   "How, sir? With, maybe a million dollars."
   "A million (expletive deleted) dollars? We could do that, no problem."
   "And then, sir, there is the matter of the pancakes."
   "The pancakes?"
   "Yes, the pancakes. Have you decided what kind you're going to get?"
   "No, I haven't decided what kind of (expletive deleted) fucking pancakes I'm going to get!"

   So, needless to say, just about everyone was headed for the luncheonette -- Maureen, Abe, Dancing Cloud, Uncle Lupo, Anna Matopeia, Mr. Katz, Izldr L. Qdxmnkcr, Joseph P. Kennedy, Mrs. Dinwiddie, Arsenio Hall, the Nazis, Dr. Mudd, Dean, Nixon, General Grant, you, me, the readers -- everyone. And, I realized, this was now the hard part.
   "I'll have a short stack with the lo-cal syrup," Doc Farley began, and then, one by one, they gave their orders.
   In , Fellini's cinematic masterpiece, Marcello Mastroianni plays a director who is blocked, creatively, so he gathers all his friends, and relatives, and wives, and places them in a futuristic space age set built for a movie he can never finish, trying to reconcile himself with his past, his present, and with his life, and his art.
   "Blueberry," ordered Dancing Cloud.
   "Belgian waffles," ordered Abe.
   I would do the same, except this isn't a movie. In the movies it's easy to resolve things because everything is two-dimensional and superficial, with the exception of Anouk Aimée.
   "Big stack o' buckwheats," demanded Anouk Aimée.
   This is more complicated, of course, too many loose ends, and yet, I have this feeling that if I can just come up with a logical explanation for everything...
   "Poppyseed pancakes," alliterated William S. Burroughs.
   Of course if I don't, the only person likely to read these words will be me, and that would be -- what? -- a silly solipsism? A zany Zen koan? (A silly solipsism -- Ed. And I'll try the apple pancakes.)

   I was feeling a little funny, so I stepped outside for some fresh air, but there was no fresh air, there wasn't much air at all. In fact, it felt like a vacuum, a vacuum that was building, strengthening, pressure increasing, walls falling, sky buckling -- the whole world collapsing, contracting, caving in on itself as if being sucked into a tiny central point, like a vortex, or a black hole, or the toilet. It suddenly got dark, very dark -- a dense, inky darkness -- and then, before you could say "Abraham Lincoln," there was this bright FLASH! followed by a massive EXPLOSION! that sent everything, and I mean everything, hurtling in all directions at what had to be the speed of light. Everyone I knew, everything I'd ever seen, or imagined, or heard of, or dreamt about -- plus a few things that were new to me -- were right there, right there alongside me, flying through space. It was kind of, well, kind of neat -- hey, there's Maureen -- hey! Maureen! Maureen! Over here! It's Jim!
   "Jim? What's going on? One minute I'm in a luncheonette eating pancakes, the next minute...this. What gives?"
   It's the Big Bang, babe.
   "The 'Big Bang'?"
   Happens every sixteen billion years or so. Sort of crept up on us this time, didn't it?
   Yeah, but think of it this way -- you didn't have to pay for the pancakes.
   "So, now what happens?"
   I guess, if you're a student of Newton, and I'm not, we just keep drifting along with the rest of the expanding universe until -- hey look, the Ritz Brothers just flew by! -- until, I don't know, something really big happens.
   "But, does this mean we're going to start all over again, as something else?"
   In a way it does -- excuse me -- Uncle Lupo, you dropped your hat! -- anyway, we'll still be together.
   "We will?"
   Sure. Where else are we gonna go? Say, is it primordial soup yet?
   "I don't get it, Jim. It seems as if the universe is nothing more than a bunch of bad jokes strung together in no particular order."
   That's very good, Maureen. It took me years to figure that out.
   "But when does it end?"
   It doesn't. It just goes on, and on, and on -- ad infinitum.
   "This book too?"
   No. This book only goes on ad finitum. When you see the words THE END, that's it. (Good title, Ad Finitum -- too bad I'm stuck with In the Bubble. Ad Finitum, by James M. Reynolds. Actually it's a better name for a cigarette. Ad Finitum, from Philip Morris. Okay, never mind.)
   "But, what happens after THE END?"
   Here's what will happen: The reader will shrug, scratch his head, close the book, put it back on the shelf, go up to the attic, get out the old carbine, and blow his brains out.
   "I'm serious. I meant you, me, the other characters. What happens to us?"
   That I don't know. I really don't.
   "I'm scared, Jim. It's getting cold, very cold...and dark... and...there seems to be more space between us and everything else. What's happening?"
   Things are spreading out, Maureen. Just as well, it was too crowded. Maybe there will be more space in the next cosmos.
   "But, where are we going?"
   I believe we'll know very soon.
   "I'm scared."
   So am I.
   "If you ask me, the Big Bang has turned out to be a Big Bust."
   Now, now, patience Maureen, patience. The universe wasn't built in a day.

   "What was that?"
   What was what?
   "I thought I heard something... maybe not."
   Relax. You'll know it when it happens.
   "I will?"
   I guarantee it.


   "Come on," Jessie prodded. "Call." She handed him the phone.
   Reluctantly, Jack dialed, and waited, as it rang once...twice...three times... he started to hang up --
   "What are you doing?"
   "We don't want the damn answering ma -- "
   "Hello?" came the soft, feminine voice on the other end.
   "Oh, hello, is this the Gravelle residence?"
   "Yes, it is."
   "Lenore Gravelle?"
   "Uh, no. My name is Gravelle, but it's not Lenore."
   "No? You mean you're not the Lenore Gravelle who lives at 2250 Lake Shore Drive?"
   "I'm afraid not. Wrong number. You're close, though. I do live on Lake Shore Drive."
   "Really? That's pretty amazing. I live on Lake Shore Drive too. At 2740."
   "You're kidding."
   "No, I'm not. Why?"
   "I live at 2740."
   "You do? Amazing. What are the odds of that happening? Well, it's a big building. Let me introduce myself -- Jack Romack, I live in 2-C."
   "Molly Gravelle, 4-A. Hey, maybe we've run into each other in the elevator."
   "Let's put it this way -- if you've ever seen me you'd remember me. I'm the guy with the, with the, well...with the thing on his neck."
   "Oh. Ohhhh! Oh, yes, of course, yes. The man with the -- oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to -- "
   "That's all right, you can't hurt my feelings. I'm used to it. I've heard it all."
   "But, Mr. Romack, I -- "
   "Call me Jack." Jack looked at Jessie and winked. "Hey, Molly, don't feel sorry for me. No one else does."
   "But -- "
   "Seriously now, have you ever heard of a charity for people like me? I sure as hell haven't. Not that I'm complaining or anything. Of course, when you're broke, facing eviction, eating cat food -- "
   "Mr. Romack -- "
   "Jack, I -- "
   "Listen, I'm sorry, I shouldn't be bitter. Life dealt me these cards, I've gotta play 'em. Hey, look, I've taken enough of your time -- "
   "No, Jack, wait."
   "Yes... Molly?" He nodded to Jessie. They had another one, he could just feel it. (What gives? -- Ed.)


   He knocked, even though there was a button for the doorbell right below the name "Gravelle."
   "Who is it?"
   "It's Jack. Jack Romack."
   "Oh. Just a minute, I'll be right there."
   (Editor's Note: Who are these people? Where are we? What is this?) (Beats me! -- Ed.)
   Looking through the wrong end of the peephole he saw a myopic, distorted, wide-angle view of Molly's apartment, and then Molly herself, removing a bathrobe and hurriedly slipping into a pair of jeans and a shirt. She was beautiful, he thought -- and then he quickly backed away as she approached, unlocked the deadbolt, and opened the door.
   "Hi," she greeted him cheerily.
   "It's okay," he said. "You can look at it." And she did -- and without any sign of embarrassment or pity. He was impressed. She smiled and showed him inside.
   "Can I offer you something to drink, Mr. Romack?"
   "It's Jack, and yes, you can."
   "I have some freshly-squeezed orange juice, Jack. Would you like some?"
   He'd learned over the years to accept every kindness with a minimum of resistance. Never say no. It sets a mood, fosters brotherhood, generosity, giving.
   "Sure. Thanks."
   "I'll be right back." She went into the kitchen. In the meantime, Jack looked around. Her apartment was decorated with pretty plain Jane, department store stuff. A sofa, probably a convertible, a small dining room set with four faux fifties style chrome-plated chairs, and a TV set, and a stereo, and some books, mostly art books. Hardly expensive, or pretentious -- hardly the home of someone who'd won thirty-five million dollars in the Illinois State Lottery. Well, that just left more for him and Jessie, he thought.
   "Ahhh!!!" he suddenly screamed in agony. Molly rushed in from the kitchen.
   "Jack, Jack -- are you all right?"
   "I'll be fine, don't worry. It's just that I get these sharp, stabbing -- ahhh! -- there's another one..."
   "What can I do for you?"
   "Nothing, Molly, nothing -- besides, I'm not really sure what I'm even doing up here, and I've got these eviction papers to deal with and the bills are piling up and..." He started to leave, slowly.
   "No, Jack, wait, don't go, please, let me... let me help you."
   "Help me? How could you help me? How could you possibly help me? Do you have a cure for this? Can you remove it?"
   "No, Jack, but -- please, sit down."
   He did so.
   "Recently, Jack, I came into some money. In fact, if you must know, I won the lottery a few weeks back."
   "You did?"
   "Yes, I did. Unbelievable, isn't it? Well, I decided that I'd give the bulk of the money to charity, and since you say there is no charity for people like yourself, and since you need it, why not give some to you?"
   "You're, you're going to give me... some money?" Jack acted genuinely surprised and touched. "No, really, Molly, you don't have to do that."
   "I insist." She pulled out a checkbook and began writing. "This should cover your immediate needs..."
   She ripped the check out and handed it to him. He saw the zeros first. Ten thousand dollars.
   "Wow. Oh no, I can't accept this, Molly, I can't."
   "You must."
   "But -- "
   "Jack, I forgot -- your orange juice. I'll be right back."
   She rushed off. Wow, he thought. Not bad for one phone call. Oh, sure, there were the weeks of tracking her, leasing the apartment, establishing an alias as a man with a horrible deformity -- a sort of half-hand, half-foot protruding from his neck -- and all the work that goes into setting up such a scheme. (I'm baffled, really I am -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: The style is different. It's like a goofy mystery novel, with a touch of the macabre thrown in. Unless this is a different book, a different novel altogether.) (A different novel? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Yup.)
   He was tired. He'd been working this game for years, since the late seventies, and he was tired, tired of the charade, tired of all the moving around. It was Jessie who wanted to keep it going now, not him.
   Molly returned, a tall glass of orange juice in hand. He took it, emptied it in a couple of gulps, and, with mock satisfaction (he hated citrus juice) smacked his lips and stood up, ready to flee.
   "Well, Molly, I don't know what to say, really, I -- "
   "Jack, don't leave yet. I like talking to you."
   "You do? It doesn't bother you that I have this...this 'thing' sticking out of my neck?"
   "No. In fact, I think you're a very attractive man. Sexy, even."
   He couldn't believe what he was hearing! A beautiful young woman, a very sweet beautiful young woman, had taken a liking to him, was even, maybe, coming on to him. He wondered if Jessie would even look at him if she thought the "thing" was real. Doubtful. But -- he had to be careful, very careful, because everything, from the moment he entered, was being recorded. Jessie insisted they tape every sting in order to "review, analyze, and improve." But this was highly unusual.
   "Jack? What's it like?"
   "What's what like?"
   "Having people stare at you, or look away, or whatever? What's it like, being you?"
   "It's, uh, not easy. It's not easy." This part made him uncomfortable -- the third degree that usually followed the giving. And yet, Molly was different. She cared. She sat down next to him and took his hand.
   "I sense a great power in you, Jack. A great power."
   "Wh-what do you mean, Molly?"
   "You've had a tough life, you've overcome your handicap, you've persevered, you're strong, a survivor, a wise and experienced passenger on spaceship Earth."
   He smiled appreciatively and then tried to get up, but she stopped him, grabbing his arm. He felt an erotic jolt surge through his body, and he liked it, and he wasn't sure what, if anything, he could do about it. He could stop the tape, but then Jessie would ask what happened to the good-byes and so forth. He could claim to have a dead battery, but -- Molly suddenly pulled him down onto the sofa and moved in close, real close. What was she doing? he thought, half fearful, half excited. (This is getting steamy, Dad! -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Uh, yeah, it is.)
   "Jack?" she purred, now about an inch away from it. "How does this..."
   She caressed, softly, the "thing."
   "... feel?"
   He didn't feel anything, except that he knew he was in big, big trouble.


   Sunshine filtered through the cracks in the blinds and Jack awoke, in a strange bed and a strange bedroom. Before he could get his bearings Molly entered, carrying a tray of coffee and rolls, and wearing nothing, absolutely nothing.
   "Coffee?" she asked. Jack felt disoriented, to say the least. (That makes two of us! -- Ed.)
   "What time is it?" he asked her as she placed the tray across his lap and propped him up with pillows into a sitting position.
   "About eight-thirty. Do you want the paper?"
   "You mean, I spent the night here?"
   "That's right. You don't remember?"
   "Well, I remember being here, in your apartment, and sitting on the sofa, in the living room. I remember drinking orange juice, we talked, and then, that's about it, that's the last thing I remember."
   "Jack, excuse me, but I believe this is yours." She held up his cassette recorder and switched it on.
   "... Jack? What's it like?"
   "What's what like?"
   "Having people stare at you, or look away, or whatever? What's it like, being you?"
   "It's, uh, not easy. It's not easy." She switched it off. "Oh, I also put your deformity in a safe place. How do you take your coffee?" She smiled -- a warm, forgiving smile -- and he was really confused. Not only had he blown the deal, which was bad enough, he was falling in love, and that was worse, much worse.
   "Oh, and are these yours?" She flipped him a book of matches from a place called The Copper Lantern in Hyannis, Massachusetts.
   "I... I... don't know." Jack felt like his brain was being probed by an alien intelligence. But he didn't feel threatened. He didn't panic. He didn't run. Molly was friendly, almost a kindred spirit from, perhaps, the same galaxy. He trusted her.
   (Editor's Note: Is this science fiction? That's not my department. My department is fiction. There's a big difference, you know.) (Hey, Dad? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: What?) (I think I figured something out -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: You did? Good. It's about time. What is it?) (You don't see it yet? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: No.) (Wait, and it'll become apparent, I think -- Ed.)
   Molly pulled some clothes out of a drawer and started getting dressed on her way into the kitchen, leaving him alone to pick the crumbs off the sheets, and think. He thought about what she, Molly, was thinking. What was going on? How weird, how other-worldly, and yet... how familiar. She returned, dressed, carrying an attach‚ case, ready to go to work.
   "You know, Jack, it's funny, but I have this feeling we've met before." He smiled. In a strange way he knew what she meant.
   (Editor's Note: Come on, where's this going?) (You don't see it yet? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: No.)
   He rolled out of bed and picked his pants up off the floor. Then he dug the ten thousand dollar check out of his pocket and tore it into little pieces.
   "You shouldn't have done that, Jack."
   "Why? You still want to give me the money?"
   "Well, to be honest with you, I'm not all that innocent myself. I mean, come on, that orange juice was laced with some pretty powerful elephant tranquilizer. You went down like a pretty ponderous pachyderm, you did." (See? -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: See what? The alliteration? All those p's? You mean... ) (Yup -- Ed.)
   Jack was stunned. "But, why, Molly? Are you pulling a game too? What's your angle?"
   "I don't have an angle, Jim. No game. Just a feeling about you."
   "Wait. You called me Jim."
   "I did?"
   "Yes, you did, you just did. Why did you call me Jim?"
   "I don't know. Why did you call me Maureen?"
   "I didn't call you Maureen." (Bingo! -- Ed.)
   (Editor's Note: Hot damn! So, now what?) (? -- Ed.)
   "Yes you did. You called me Maureen, I'm almost positive."
   "Well, I, I never intended to. Strange."
   "Yes, strange," she said, almost wistfully. They looked at each other, into each other's eyes, for a long, long time. And then... Molly blinked.
   "I'm late for work, Jack, as usual. Stay as long as you like, just remember to lock up when you go. If you want more coffee, it's in the kitchen." She was out the door before he could even react to her leaving -- he was still a little woozy from the tranquilizer -- in fact, he could barely stand up straight. Dizzy, he fell backwards onto the bed and within seconds he was sound asleep, and dreaming, dreaming about someone named Maureen, and someone named Jim, and a world that seemed to make no sense, no sense at all. And that's how it all began.


(This ends BOOK ONE.)