They sat together with the lights off for half an hour before either of them spoke. Prewitt kept a towel over his face for good measure, left hand securing a Ziplock bag of ice cubes over his knee. Castle didn’t have any war wounds like that, but he couldn’t stand up from his chair. It creaked under his bulk.
“I need something slower,” Prewitt told him from under the towel. “I can’t keep up.”
“Yeah?” Castle gave a one-note laugh. “Like what?”
“I was thinking about stabbing you in the back.”
“That’s nice of you.”
“I mean like Shakespeare.”
“Shakespeare didn’t stab anybody in the back.”
“We’ll start as best friends, see.” Prewitt unironically raised his hands in front of his covered face, drawing thumbs and forefingers into the shape of a picture frame. “We’ve already run together before. That time The Dragon tried to throw you off the roof, I ran in and helped save you.”
“I said ‘Thank you,’ right?”
Prewitt would not be deterred. One hand raised the towel so he could look his best-friend-slash-victim in the eyes. “Every week we’ll have some girls come out with us. We’ll be a team, and you do half the work, and I do the other half. After a few weeks, we find a girl you really like. You pretty much fall in love with her. We phase out the other valets, and she’s your one-and-only.”
“Why would any man turn this down?”
“But you’re all shy. After a month, every time we appear, she’s leaning towards me. I get grabby and possessive. Some weeks you work alone with her and me outside, and I’m clearly hitting on her. You can’t tell her how you feel, so you tell me to back off. It doesn’t matter if we win or lose, because what’s going on between us is more interesting.”
“I would like to win more.”
“Maybe that’s your frustration, right? Because you keep losing, even when we’re teaming together, and I’m always walking off with your girl. And you snap and toss me to the ground, maybe even sock me one.” Prewitt punched the end of his towel, letting it flap in defeat. “And I seem all devastated because I didn’t know you cared that much.”
“We should talk more. Communication is important in relationships.”
“The next week, I’m all business. We win for sure. We win three weeks in a row, the pay days are huge, and you’re telling me if we take gold, then you’re going to tell her how you feel. I’m all excited for you.”
“Except you’re not.”
“Except I’m not!” Prewitt slapped his bag of ice, then jolted from the realization of pain. His voice calmed as he laid both hands over the bag, massaging himself with cold. “We go to a title match, and we fight hard, and you come from behind, and you’re about to win, and I stab you right in the back.”
Castle made fists of his gnarled hands. “I swear vengeance. Like Shakespeare.”
“You bet your ass you do. But that valet you’re sweet on comes out with both of us. She has such a hard time choosing sides. One week she’s with me, the next with you, and she asks you not to hurt me too bad. Then when we finally fight, she trips you. Costs you the fight. You’re heartbroken. You leave wrestling forever.”
“Forever?” Castle scoffed and moved to sit up, except his back was still locked up. He grunted in horrid pain.
“For a couple months while you rest your sciatica. I drum up as much hatred as I can as the jerk who stabbed his friend in the back and stole his girl. Wrestle all lazy since I’m a scumbag bad guy. Maybe take a title. When you’re ready?”
“I come back and chase you,” Castle said to the ceiling, unable to adjust and face his nemesis this instant. “I’m going to rip your head off for what you did to me.”
Prewitt leaned over, one hand on his Ziplock bag, the other searching until he clasped Castle’s. They shook. It was guaranteed money and it would only cost them their friendship.
It’s done. The missus has brought your little bundle of joy into the world, and you’ve driven them home. Now the joys of parenting wear on you: the crying without cause, the shrieks for feeding at 2:00 AM, and the vomiting on suits that cost you two weeks salary. Gradually you’ve realized that, as adorable as your mother thinks her new grandchild is, this thing is loud, lumpy, and largely ungrateful.
But there’s help. There’s Wartsinol. By affecting the brain’s dopamine and oxytocin centers, twice-daily Wartsinol will force you into loving this thing that shares your genetic code. In just three weeks you won’t mind driving the store for the second time in one day because it keeps spitting up strained peas. You’ll be happy, and so will your family. Your wife wants you to love it. If you’ve put up a good act, your parents already think you do. But think about your parents. Think about your cold, distant father, five hours late to pick you up from softball practice, and you’ll reckon that Wartsinol will make the world better.
There are side-effects. Mild rash and aching joints are the most common. Not so bad, right? Other side effects include drowsiness, loss of appetite and intestinal lesions, but those happen with everything, so settle down. The worst thing, which I’m paid to tell you in a calm voice, is that twice-daily Wartsinol may cause heart disorders. But I’m not going to say it in a calm voice. I’m going to tell you straight-up that it’s been linked to fewer heart disorders than the fast food you cave into weekly. Also, one in two hundred subjects went sterile, which would disconcert other men, but this little bundle of joy wasn’t entirely planned either, was it, champ? So it’s less of a “side effect” than a “bonus.”
Today ends the first #NaNoReMo. This month we congregated on Twitter and blogs to read those classic books we’ve been putting off. If you’re like me then you’re perpetually discovering additional vacancies in your canon. My entry was the suitably famous Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.
Three hundred pages of telling an English classic to “Shut up” later, I’m still trying to blame others. I’ve been told that this is great literature and that I’m crass; that this is ChickLit and I’m unfair; that Austen was a rebel and that I’m a chauvinist; and that I can sleep on the sofa. If you’re clever enough, you can still troll me on Twitter about this book. Theresa Sanchez, I’m looking at you.
In part I read it to prove that I can enjoy Romances. There are even photos somewhere of me getting very emotional at the end of a movie that I’m not going to publicly admit I watched. Mark Twain’s Adam and Eve, Jonathan Swift’s Celia, and my disturbing soft spot for Joker and Harley. The point is, I’m not made of stone. Jane Austen’s narrative progress was. I even made up for the incident by jumping through Ursula K. LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea last week, which is an utter delight.
So what did you learn from your classic? Did you finish it? You’ve still got a few hours.
Edit: and fine, if you guess the movie in the Comments, I’ll admit it.
The agent adjusted his cufflinks and looked the mummy over again.
“You won’t do anything about the bandages? Not even around the face? People connect more when they see faces.”
The mummy loosened his head wrappings. They unraveled and revealed strands of dry flesh, which constricted into a frown.
“I don’t have much of a face as it is. Without these wrappings I’m… just a zombie.”
The agent tilted his head.
“I’m royalty,” replied the mummy, wrapping his head back up.
“That is a problem.”
“You’re not kidding. I didn’t stuff a pyramid with jewels and scented oils to go shambling with a gas jockey who got bit on the neck.”
“No, I mean democracy is in fashion today. Royalty is going out of style where it isn’t photogenic. Have you considered running for office instead of holding onto your kinghood?”
“Nobody would vote for me. My religious values are thousand years out of touch and I’m not even a naturalized citizen of any of the easily scared countries.”
The agent looked out the window. If he squinted, the casino across the street could be a pyramid.
“And you don’t want to go back home?”
“I think being a monster in a country where blood pressure and playing too many videogames are serious problems will be easier on me, at least as I start back up again.”
“There are terrible things to be scared of in this country, you know.”
“Every country has things to be scared of, but I’m a luxury fear. I need a luxury market.”
The agent sighed.
“I just don’t think we can re-launch you this year as an undead product. Vampires are sexy. Pretty faces, no bandages, and they move faster. And you don’t want to get into the shambling market. Zombies have overflowed so badly that some of them are running now. It is not the same world it used to be.”
The mummy tugged at his bandages.
“Democracy changes things. That’s why I hoped it would die in Athens.”
“It’s a tough business.”
The mummy looked out the window for a while, staring at the casino. Then he perked.
“All those zombies? Do they have a president yet?”
Americans hate science. This is why there are mandatory Science classes in public school. This is why Mythbusters attracts so many viewers. This is why Scientific American has lasted decades. This is why millions of hours are spent on American computers editing Wikipedia entries on Biology and Physics.
This is why the 'M' in 'M.I.T.' stands for “Massachusetts.” This is why Harvard, Berkley and Yale yield so many keen minds. This is why millions of people watch the TED Talks and the lectures of Walter Lewin. This is why President Obama does photo ops with Francis Collins. This is why Stephen Hawking is a rockstar and Albert Einstein is on motivational posters.
Americans hate science. That is why so many houses have electricity and so many kids whine for cell phones. This is why Apple products have created a glossy white cult. This is why Americans drive so many combustion engines and emit so many terabytes per second. This is why some kid somewhere can’t wait for her first campus visit, or her first experiment with live corrosives, or for the next Symphony of Science song to finish downloading. Because of science, she doesn’t have to wait long. She pays for that science. Her people pay billions per year for that science. Her people have been paying for a long time, for crushing Polio, and for putting boots on the moon, and for cartography of the human brain.
I don’t know when “Americans” became “other people.” As an American who was excited for the LHC, who would pay higher taxes to help NASA, who has many friends and a sister in the sciences, and who wonders at both inner and outer space, I don’t much appreciate it.