Speed-freaks took my reviews. I had a handwritten pile of movie reviews and now they’re gone. And the only reason I wrote them on paper in the first place was because the very same speed-freaks stole my computer and printer a week ago. Clearly, I misjudged their desperation.
Now I’m pacing in the kitchen trying to figure out what to do. It’s a prison yard type pacing where the sway of the shoulders is shark-like.
“What’s the big deal?” my fiancé, Lucia, asks from the table. She’s reading a magazine and is only really asking because she can’t concentrate with a shark swimming around, bumping into the jars of dry pasta and dirty dishes and her prized French press.
I stop and sit and run my fingers through my hair. It’s very greasy. “I was going to use what the magazines paid me for them to get us a plane ticket out of here. I don’t want to be stuck here on New Year’s. You’ve seen how people get. They put on adult diapers and piss themselves.”
“Well, it looks like we’re here. It’s been two days and New Year’s Eve is tonight.”
“That’s why I can’t let them get away with it.”
“Do you think you can find them?”
I go and get on my coat because I know I have to stop this. If I get labeled a mark by these creatures, they’ll never leave me alone. First it was my computer and printer, now pages of my work. If I don’t stop it, I could wake up without a kidney.
Outside the air is cold, so tracking by smell is out of the question. Even the most pungent addicts can stay off your radar when the air freezes. They can blend in as normal cashiers and bankers and real estate agents. But what is this? I look down and see strange markings on the sidewalk. A cigarette has been used to frantically scratch out something in ash—markings that could only be produced with help from high doses of amphetamine. A clue.
I take a picture with my phone and bring the screen up close for inspection. The words are as follows:
robert crumb called him jeeziz. he was the hammer. jeeziz was the hatchet coming down on his cock. jeeziz was a thing to be wielded by nuns or politicians or anybody wanting to stop people from getting off. but not anymore.
Only one person can decipher such insane ramblings. He lives right in the center of the pulsing cyst, the New Year’s monster with hair and teeth and faces all mixing into one. If I want to talk to Conspiracy Joe, I have to go to Times Square.
When I get to Joe’s apartment, the door is hanging wide open.
“Are you in here?” I call out.
“In back!” he yells, coughing at the end.
I go towards his living room. The place is filled to the ceiling with newspapers and print-outs and boxes of files.
“Do you know your door is open?”
He looks up at me, but I don’t seem to register. His eyes are small and black. He’s wearing a stained wife-beater and gray sweatpants, also stained. This has clearly been his position for days. The stack of papers in front of him must contain some mystery that’s held his paranoid interest.
“I just came over to have you look at something for me,” I say.
When he finally speaks, it comes out from deep inside him. Like he’s coming out of a coma. “Please, sit down.”
I do and hand him my phone.
His eyes start to flick around in their fleshy sockets. “This is it!” he says. “This proves everything?”
He shoots up and leaves the room. When he gets back, he’s got a file and he takes his arm and wipes the crumbs and garbage from the coffee table to make room. “Do you see all these crumbs?” he asks.
“Yea. You don’t ever clean?”
He opens the file and points to a page with a picture of a man with a red x drawn over his face. “Robert Crumb—crumbs. Don’t you get it?”
He points to another picture of a man with his face x’d out. “Look at this. This is David Oreck. It was. He was sacrificed last year to prepare for the coming of the Rat and we haven’t had a decent vacuum come out since. It all makes sense. That is why the crumbs are piling up. Can’t you see? Crumbs are the Rat’s favorite food.”
“The Rat? You mean ‘the year of the rat,’ like the Chinese thing?”
“And how does that connect to my thing?”
He explains it to me a couple of times and it seems more insane each time. Lines up for him though. I’m glad to have him with me. Conspiracy theorists like Joe see connections everywhere. The gremlins hiding behind the Golden Arches. The lizardmen controlling the weather. Nixon in the cereal and all that. On nights like these, if you want to find speed-freaks, you need a dowsing rod. Conspiracy Joe’s mind will point me to the same watering holes the ones who stole my work like to wallow in. Watering holes of Syphilis. Of rotting buckets of squid in Chinatown. Of stillborn fetuses and dirty Mets hats tossed on the street with roach cities living underneath. I can see him thinking it through now. Tracking the red string as it chaotically traces over pizza crusts and needle drops in Haven Park Underpass and massive silver buildings. Buildings that surround and look down at the last little part of green, chuckling before they eat.
“I’ve got it!” he shouts holding the phone above his head triumphantly. “I know where they are. The speed-freaks who sacrificed David Orek, so that the crumbs pile up for the Rat that’s coming tonight, so that it’s fed and has enough strength to kill Jeeziz, so that they can live in squalor without the guilt.”
“Where?” I ask, picking out the only thing that registered for me.
“The place where the Rat will rise up, Central Park.”
When we get there we climb a rock for a better vantage point. One of the ancient asteroidian hulks jutting up from the ground. The park looks dead. The trees are bony. It’s totally still and the vibrations are hateful.
“There,” he says pointing to a small flicker coming from inside a patch of trees.
We head straight in. We don’t have much time, Joe says. We’re flying through the trees, trying to get to the campfire these boys are at. The fire shows itself through tree gaps, then disappears. I feel like I’m trying to follow a glowing floater in my eye. It’s dark in here.
Then the trees clear and I see them. The speed-freaks are there at the fire dancing. The Rat’s giant nose is starting to push up through the earth. It’s ten feet high at least. Jeeziz is also here. He’s tied up in chains and the speed-freaks are reading him my reviews. It’s like torture for him and he’s crying. Are they really that bad? I think as Jeeziz falls into a trance of boredom. I don’t want to admit they are mine now, so I don’t say anything to the freaks about stealing from me. Joe sighs and says we’re too late anyway. The Rat has arrived. I don’t know what I’m seeing, or what it means, but surely something bad has happened. Above us, fireworks crack in the sky. Red and white and blue. Some green.
“How was it?” Lucia asks when I get back.
“Pretty good,” I say.
The rest of the night we listen to the people hooting outside, and guns being fired. It’s a little boring after all the action so I go to get more 40’s. On the stairs, I wind down a few flights and feel like I should be at the bottom already. I go what seems like another four floors, but I’m still only at floor five. I shrug and continue on my way down the steps, Penrose steps.