The Seven Storey Pipe II

Dear Patrons of,

As the chief mail clerk in the town of Martineau Bay, it is my displeasure to announce the discovery of a series of short journal entries recovered from the remains of the Princess Cruise Ship, which capsized en route to the Wyndham Resort and Spa. The body of the author of said entries, last name “Mudd,” first name… “Goodbadoldyoung,” was not recovered with the texts. The Wyndham Resort and Spa offers world-class service and elegance from its perch overlooking three secluded beaches in the Atlantic Ocean and was recently declared by “among the Caribbean’s best kept vacation secrets.” Mr. Mudd, along with two other passengers, was assumed dead at the scene of the wreck. A memorial service will be held on one of Wyndham Resort’s pristine beaches, followed by a candlelight vigil through an exceptional array of recreational options, including two tennis courts, an infinity-style pool, world-class restaurants, and ending on the shore of our world-famous bioluminescent bay. We here in Martineau Bay hope that you will take advantage of our island oasis despite the risk of death or dismemberment inherent the journey here. We grieve the loss of Mr. Mudd with you, and offer discount coupons for an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch, valid October through May.

Kind Regards,
Willis Gorman, CMC
The Seven Storey Pipe II

As the country road meanders, it uncovers ruts and slipp’ry worm dens, so do my thoughts guide this new pale journey. As the shroud veils the nervous bride, it hides her uncertainty, so does this craggly beard hide the worrying creases in my lips. In my heart of hearts, that single pebble trapped in blackest oil, I know that Ronald and I have chosen well this place – a speck! – in life, and nowhere (I cry out to the world!) should we surer be then locked in the trunk of this car.

And the road is as bumpy as a bumpy road.

Ronald’s fat tail swats my face in well-aimed glances and I stifle back an impending sneeze. But the sneeze creeps out from that elusive sneeze-place and I heave heave heave… until it passes. Like every man who has lived a life of virtue and value, this is not the first time I’ve been locked in the trunk of a car with a cat. But I like to think that, unlike all the other times I’ve been locked in the trunk of a car with a cat, this particular instance of being locked in the trunk of a car with a cat is uniquely special. My stomach tingles with how Right it is, and how righteous. No, this trunk is no longer merely a tool to protect me during the many hours I have spent peaking through a damaged taillight at my sunbathing neighbor and her cheerleading squad. And no (alas no!) this trunk will not open to the calloused hands of some bored police officer who feels deserving of the privilege to pull me out, cuff me, and refuses to believe that I was simply “bird-watching.” No indeed. Tonight I am not looking for disturbingly illegal satisfaction, the type one should never disclose to one’s loved ones. Tonight I am looking for a Fat Man.

We’d been stowed for nearly six hours unbeknownst to the driver, some foolish old retch of a thing who, while humming some diddy about trust and tranquility, tranquilly allowed her trunk to be pried open with a Brebbia Iceberg, then trustfully drove on with the added weight of two new trunkward pilgrims. Among the squeal of tires against the freeway she sings on, mixing home-cooked lyrics and diaphanously off-keyed melodies with much the artistic genius of Ruby, the prize painting elephant of the Phoenix Zoo. And yes, there lives a graceful place in my soul that finds beauty in her inability to acknowledge blatant vocal failure. “Sing on! Deaf pig, sing on!” I want to yell, celebrating her voice’s triumph over the stranglehold of harmony. My inner eye nearly sees the spittle flinging from her awful lips as she cracks out another and yet another belching verse, yes another, for the sixth straight ear-poisoning hour.

“I’m not confident that I can survive much longer in this trunk,” Ronald admits. “I enjoy the coziness and, yes, it feels awkwardly satisfying to snuggle up with my morbidly stupid human companion, but I’m pretty sure that smoking so much Penzance in such a tight spot will kill a man, not to mention an eighteen pound cat.”

“I’m not smoking Penzance,” I whisper. “That’s just a silly little exhaust leak that’s been seeping into the trunk for the last six hours, killing our brain cells at a rate of seventy-five thousand per second. It’s nothing to worry about, Ronald. At this rate we still have nearly nine minutes of heavy breathing before we die.” Ronald looked relieved to hear how non-threatening the constant inhalation of exhaust really was, and drew his cheeks and pursed his lips into a cat’s rendition of a human smile. Eight minutes and fifty-nine seconds later we pulled the jiffy switch and leapt from the trunk; a bold and daring move in perfect accordance with my nature. As the car sang joylessly down the highway I could still hear the voice of its commander, creeping closer and closer to her own tra la la hell.

I did a little quick math and determined that, between the two of us, the exhaust leak had killed all but three brain cells, two more than any man could ever need. And although we were bruised and bloodied from the impact with the highway, this extraordinary journey was off to an even extraordinarier start, guided no doubt by the omnipotent appetite of the Fat Man himself.

Any imbecile would by now have ascertained that Ronald and I were heading to the Matanuska Susitna Valley, located in McKinley Country, Alaska. And unless your mother bore a litter of horny-spur-bearing Monotremes, you and yours are well aware that we will be lodging in the holy town of Talkeetna, a hot-zone for ascetics. Why?

Right, as if you don’t know.

It was a bit too dark to fully realize our location on this great continent, but we gathered that, having driven six hours north of LA, we were somewhere near Alaska (if not smack dab in the center of it!). We strolled down an exit ramp, our bellies warmed by the jovial comrade we call “whisky,” and progressed towards the nearest town. Squinting my eyes I could nearly make out its name in the distance: Big Bear. Oh, this was definitely Alaska, our home, home on the range where deer and antelope play. Despite the soaring heat I warned Ronald that Alaska was known for its volatile climate changes. “One hundred one minute, minus one hundred the next!” I stuffed my shirt with supple twigs and pine needles until – I daresay – I was the spitting image of jolly old Saint Nicholas himself, another pudding-bellied ox who probably lived right here in Big Bear, Alaska, carving toys for all the world’s boys and girls. I sweat profusely in the heat. Ronald, unable to officially sweat, pants with the zeal of a steam locomotive. This god awful heat; yet another of Alaska’s great mysteries.

Waking the next morning in a hill of knotty Pines, I twitch my chest and arm muscles to fight off the Alaskan cold. It is just past dawn and nearly one hundred degrees, just hot enough to fool a man unfamiliar with autumn in Alaska. A moment later I am sure that I can see my own breath condensing in the cold but, Sage that I am, I was merely fooled by the smoke of my properly packed and gently burning Ascorti travel pipe. I push back onto the road with Ronald trailing stubbornly behind, bickering loudly about the wreath of twigs and leaves I glued to his lofty fur coat for added warmth.

“You don’t understand anything about cats, Mudd. I can’t WALK covered in sticks!” I remind him that our hearts should be centered on YHWH right now, cleansed of all human and feline worries but he chooses to defy me, flipping his paw beneath his chin in a gesture that, in certain European countries, is considered offensive. I smile compassionately. My teeth twinkle. Pulling the divine pipe from my trouser pocket I hold it before his face and let its holy light shine forth.

“Remember the Fat Man, Ronald. Soon all of your worries will seem so insignificant, so juvenile. Bask in the glory of Radice Fatta a mano.”

“I can’t bask in nothing,” Ronald howls. “You glued sticks to my eyelids!”

“Um hm,” I say. “Where would Dianna Ross be if she spent all her time complaining about sticks glued to her eyes?”

“She doesn’t have sticks glued to her eyes, Mudd.”

“Ya,” I reply. “Like you know her.”

Big Bear was a friendly town that prided itself on being a great place to raise a family of seven to ten mostly toothless, asymmetrical children. I stopped the first man I encountered, a true Alaskan, wearing cut-off jeans, flip flops, and a hat that read, “If You Are What You Eat… I’m Fast Cheap and Easy.” Likely the town mayor, he immediately recognized my greatness and answered my questions with judicious attention.

“Excuse me, Mr. Eskimo, but my cat and I are looking for a Fat Man who we believe lives in Talkeetna. Now I don’t mean a grotesquely fat man like you who rightfully frightens children, I mean more of a Buddha-like fat man who carves pipes with a spiritual attention to detail.” He stares blankly. “Do you speak of the English?” I ask.

“Son, I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing,” the mayor at last responds, “but I suggest you take that there bundle of twigs and leaves and get your pilgrim-looking bee-hind out of town before I turn you into twig-and-turkey stew. You hear me, boy?”

I look to Ronald for guidance but he is caught in the wire of a nearby fence. The gentleman suggested that we leave town, so he must know that the Fat Man lives beyond town borders… just beyond, no doubt. I race to gather Ronald in my arms and run back in the direction of the highway. We must be minutes from God himself!

“What was that I heard about turkey stew?” Ronald asks.

“Oh that was nothing,” I gasp between puffs of fresh air and Navy flake. “These Alaskans are always inviting educated outsiders to their homes for dinner and seal hunts and what have you.”

In less than an hour we reach a lone house, Ronald cradled in my arms like an obese sapling. The house is trimmed in complimentary red and yellow. Above its entrance hangs a sign, a brilliant, glowing sign shaped like the letter “m.” Below the “m” in black text (miraculously glowing black) reads, “Billions and billions served.”

I pause to reflect. My pause is very, very reflective.

It’s been said that when one passes from this world he sees a great light at the far end of a corridor. But here, now, today, even with the blood of life flowing through me, I see this very light. And Ronald would see it too if he could see anything at all. This letter “m,” a symbol of the Mano, and its concise gospel of billions and billions before me served; a humbling truth. Ronald and I are barely suggestions in the dust of eternity. We kneel before the golden arches on this, the seventh storey of our mountain. We were brought to this valley, home of the Matanuska Radish, so that we, feathers on the wings of the almighty Fat Man, might someday be as beautiful as its pipe. Heaving Ronald the twig-bundle onto my back I gather the courage to enter the door that reads “enter,” just beside the door that reads “exit.”

My first impression is that the Fat Man’s home is sort of a filthy rat-hole dump. Syrupy litter lines the floor beside an overflowing trashcan, and chubby, overly enthusiastic ladies stand in a shooting gallery row behind a long beige counter. I presume they are the children of the Fat Man, his chubby cherubs. Call me narcissistic, but I’d bet my ex-wife that they were, well, waiting for me.

“Can I help you?” asks the first angel. She floats toward me as though on a slick film of her own making. Her stomach stands still and rigid as she anticipates my answer, and I suspect – with Ronald in agreement – that this delightfully thick fawn breathes through her foot. Who am I to understand the way of god’s eunuchs?

“Thank you, yes,” I respond in a guttural tone, hoping to project an air of knightliness. “My cat and I have come here to pay homage to the pipe maker of the valley of the radice, the Alaskan God who goes by the name of Fat Man and lives in this red and yellow temple with you and your tribe of plumpers. We’ve journeyed across a continent to find him and live by his command. I’ve even glued thirty-five pounds of rain-soaked timber to my cat in the Fat Man’s honor. Please, summon the Lord, and tell him GOOD Old Young Mudd is here to shed the BAD.”

She tilts a tulip shaped microphone towards her hungry jaws and cackles an incomprehensible command, speaking in angel-language. She then turns back to me. “Do you want to super-size that?” she asks.

“Oh, by all means,” I eagerly reply. “Super-size the Fat Man! Make him the fattest incarnation of the blessed infinity that ever hunkered his saggy arse down to ye ol’ Alaska!”

“Do you want to add an apple pie for ninety-nine cents?”

“HA!!” I howl, “Do I ever! An apple pipe! I’d never dreamed of such a thing. Only here where heaven and earth collide like roosters in a pool of blood!” I rush to hug Ronald in this moment of near-enlightenment but he is gone. Beside me stands a sign for the Midwest hickory smoked rib sandwich. Punched by the implications of the text my heart jumps. “Ronald!” I yell.

By the sudden searing sounds of wet wood on an open flame I know that I am too late. My Ronald, my only Ronald, has fueled the fires of the ribs. The wheezing of the wood, the sputtering. My kitty.

My Ronald.

My only friend.

But one mustn’t grieve forever. I’d even go so far as to bet that that poky little kitty threw himself into the open flame just to have the satisfaction of meeting the Fat Man before me. But my time will soon come. The overweight angel hands me a greasy, beefy looking sandwich with a side of twisty fries.

“I don’t want this,” I say loudly. “Don’t angels have ear canals? I want the Fat Man. The FAT MAN!”

She uncrumbles the bit of paper I had inadvertently thrown at her face and reads it back to me. “Big mac, fries, apple pie.” She smiles, yes smiles, as though reading is some kind of major accomplishment.

“I know what it says, but it’s wrong and you’re visibly stupid.” First she kills my cat to fuel her hell fire and now she expects me to stand back while she tries to force-feed me food that clearly disagrees with my current Atkins diet. I worry the pipe stem in my pocket, rub it like a genie lamp and pray for sanity. To no avail. This “angel,” this Brutus, is not letting me enter Oz. Searching for a horse of a different color I set a new course and follow it. First I drown her in compliments, making liberal use of the word “thin.” She giggles boyishly. When I am confident that I have her under the Spell of the Mudd (which no woman may resist) I ask again, this time coyly, with the voice of polished glass figurines.

“This truly could be love,” I say, “despite your having murdered my cat. But if you want to partake in the fruit that be Mudd, direct me to your Fat Father.” She turns to the holy “drive-up window” and waves over a man who is indeed quite fat but far too disheveled to be my Lord.

“This is Larry,” she tells me. “He’s the team leader.”

Larry smiles at me like a bowl of overcooked pudding. I explain my dilemma, and he nods furiously and with managerial agreement. When at last I can say no more he hands me a card, a survey if you will, and suggests I fill it out for a chance to win an all expenses paid trip to the majestic Martineau Bay. Then he assures me that customer satisfaction is his number one priority, holding up one finger to demonstrate the number one.

“Is this where the Fat Man has gone?” I ask. Again he nods. His nod could mean “yes,” or it could mean “no.” It could mean any number of words, or every word in a sequence of words known as a sentence. I have to make a decision now, as I haven’t a moment to lose. I decide that his nod means “yes.”

October 19, 2004

Dear Diary,

I’ve been traveling alone since leaving Talkeetna. It sure was surprising to find that the people of God’s land don’t welcome bearded outsiders seeking the Greater Truth. Instead of heaven the angels offered me a burger. They even had the audacity to claim that they didn’t know the Fat Man, maker of divine pipes. By “not know him” I of course mean they attempted to have me arrested for my “psychotic” persistence. But, oh diary, I didn’t really “persist,” as they insisted. I sought Providence. If head butting a mute manager and threatening the safety of six or eight “patrons” hoists me one step up the heavenly ladder then, damn it, that’s what I’m going to do.

I hopped a train to the island of Martineau Bay, perhaps the only wise decision I’ve made in this trying and self-defining journey. But the train stopped when land met water, and I was forced (yet again) onto an ocean liner. Naughty on me for taking this blasted route again. Don’t I ever learn from my mistakes? This trip is different though, I must admit. For the past hour a stream of water has been slowly rising in my cell. Like a pristine wading pool it rose up above my naked ankles, then my waist, and now, as I scribble this message to you, my trusty diary, it tickles my chin like an ostentatious feather.

The Fat Man of Alaska sure is out to prove me worthy! But I’m not worried. Dear, dear diary, I write to you now pressed against the roof of my cell. I am fortunate for those swimming lessons my mother made me take as a toddler. This is a test, yes, a test, and I will pass! I will NOT be dissuaded by this massive swell of water that has consumed all but an inch of this chamber, pushing my lips to the very roof. What joy, that God would test me so! I’ll soon be with you, Fat Man! Mark my words, I’ll soon be…..

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