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My Dinner with General Strangeness

June 16, 2012

The other day, I noticed that my lawn was getting rather high. Normally, I pay this pimply-faced teenager down the street to cut it. He usually calls me on the phone when he notices that work needs to be done, and I slip him a few bucks to do the job. But this time, no phone call.

So, I walked down the street to where he lives and knocked on the door. His mother answered, and told me that he and his buddies had gone off on a long road trip to start their summer vacation. She didn't know exactly when he would be back.

Well, I went out to the shed, and took a good look at my lawnmower. I brushed the cobwebs off it, bent over to make sure there was some gas in the tank, and then gave a good pull to start it. It belched out a bunch of blue smoke at first, then after that had cleared away, I tried mowing the grass for a minute or two, but got so tired I had to stop. I went back in the house and drank half a bottle of Cutty Sark to replace the fluids I'd sweated out, and ate a couple of strawberry-flavored Twinkies to get my blood sugar back up. Let me tell you, that strenuous effort just about killed me.

I figured that I'd just have to wait until that boy came back from his road trip, and settled down to a tranquil afternoon watching Fox News and reading Tribulation Force from the Left Behind series during the commercial breaks.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Figuring that it was my exasperating neighbor Karen, who is one of the few people who would ever dare to approach my home, I decided to ignore it, hoping that she would go away. But the knocking was terribly persistent, and as usual, Mr. Twinkle went absolutely berserk, barking his head off and scratching at the door. After twenty minutes, I figured, what the hell, there's no way I can continue watching television and reading my novel like this, I'll let her in, and I thought that maybe she'd give me a back rub to help me recover from all the aches and pains I was feeling after having tried to mow the lawn.

So, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the door, and saw that it was most definitely not Karen standing there, but instead quite possibly one of the most bizarre looking individuals I have ever seen, a man about my age, which is to say in the prime of a robust maturity, completely bald on top with long, stringy, albino-white hair emerging from the side of his head and cascading onto his shoulders and down most of his back. His skin was a lobster-like red on his crown, and his rather gaunt and sunburnt face was clean-shaven. He was wearing a ratty, dusty and stained military jacket from the former Soviet Union, festooned with various medals, insignias and emblems. He had on bright pink sweatpants, also quite soiled, and black Converse sneakers. Looking at me with a rather crazed expression, he blurted out, your lawn is high.

I can see that, I shot back, and what business do you have knocking on my door all this time? If I'd wanted to answer it, I'd have done so several minutes ago. Now, get the blue blazes off my porch before I pump a couple of bee-bees into your keister.

But he was unfazed by my threat, and said, I'll cut your grass for forty bucks.

Make it thirty, I answered. He saluted me military style and shouted out, yes sir, then ran down to the street where he had left his lawnmower and weed whacker, and got to work immediately. Shrugging my shoulders, I went back into the house and resumed my position in front of the television.

After he finished, he came back to the front door again, asking for payment. I scrounged through my wallet, and discovered that I had used up all of my cash. I'll have to go to the bank to get some money, I informed him, so you'll just have to wait until I get back. He then asked for permission to ride with me downtown, explaining that he didn't own a car himself, and that he needed to pick up a few things there. I figured, why not, so I agreed to let him ride with me. I was kind of hoping that he was a socialist so that we could get into a big argument while conversing in the car. You know me -- I love the opportunity to shout at fools. It gets my blood flowing.

However, I haven't really been able to find out how this guy is politically oriented. I'd say that he stands for everything and nothing, all at the same time. They say some people march to the beat of a different drummer. My take is that this fellow marches to the beat of a different plumber. Somewhere up in the clockwork of his brain, a couple of screws worked themselves loose, a spring or two here and there popped out, and a few gears no longer connect to one another.

Let me tell you, I know a crazy person when I see one. And no, the fact that I myself have been thrown into a padded cell more than once and am required by the communist authorities to take infernal psychiatric medications does not in the least mean that I, too, am nuts, you lousy tub of elephant snot. There is a very big difference between being persecuted for political motives and being certifiably wacko, but evidently, you can't tell the two apart because the government has inserted a microchip into your brain through your left nostril while you've slept, and you've subsequently been brainwashed by alien mind beams projected downwards from outer space. But don't get me started on that topic.

So, we made it to the bank, I got the man his cash, and the next thing I knew, he'd talked me into taking him to the Wal-Mart, where he purchased three plastic flamingos. What's all that for I asked. He told me he was going to put them in front of his residence. Well, I thought that was pretty funny, so I started laughing, and he gave me this violently intense stare that immediately shut me up and completely unnerved me. Then he quietly and calmly said, I like flamingos because they remind me of tropical beaches. We continued riding in silence for several minutes.

After we'd returned to my house, he silently got out of the car, walked over to his lawn-cutting equipment, and prepared to leave. Good riddance, I thought, and I was making my way to the door of my house when he called out to me, asking me if I wanted to join him for dinner.

I turned to face him, and responded, why would I want to eat dinner with a freaky old cuss like you? He said, I'll be making macaroni and cheese, from the box. I started to chuckle, and he remarked, well, I'll take that as a yes, see you tonight at seven, and he commenced to amble away.

Now hold on here, I said, let's assume that I did say yes, where exactly do you live? Behind Roger Newton's house, he shouted over his shoulder, and continued on down the street until he disappeared from view.

Well, Roger Newton is one of my tenants, he belongs to my mother's church, is married, and has one or two brats in his household. Nothing particularly odd about Roger, so I can only guess as to how this nutty fruitcake ended up living behind his home. Nah, I thought, I'm not going to eat dinner with this guy, out of the question.

But as the seven o'clock hour approached, I figured, what the hell, some mac and cheese just might hit the spot right about now, so off I went walking down the street with my trusted canine companion Mr. Twinkle, who I had brought along for protection just in case something evil and sinister had been planned for me.

I slipped into Roger Newton's back yard unnoticed, and saw two dozen or more pink plastic flamingos arranged in front of an old and rusty metal garden shed, which was covered all over with wires. The shed door came open with a clattering, scratching sound, and the white-headed wild man stuck his head out into the fading light of the late afternoon.

I asked him, what's all that stuff on the roof of your shed? He bent down, connected two extension cords, and thousands of twinkling Christmas lights came on, instantly transforming the drab exterior of his meager dwelling into a blaze of festive colors. Christmas is more than six months away, I reminded him. It's always Christmas, he mumbled, come on in, dinner is on the table.

Inside, I found that the shed's flimsy walls were covered with newspaper clippings, each of which had been highlighted in several places with bright orange and yellow markers. In the far corner, there were several enormous stacks of National Geographic magazines piled up to the ceiling. I made out a small table with a single electric burner, upon which was a substantial metal pot filled with recently prepared mac and cheese. Behind it was a military cot with a few folded blankets and several stuffed teddy bears and bunny rabbits on it. Next to the cot was a small television with 1970s era rabbit-ears antennae resting on top of it. He had me sit on a plastic deck chair, and he himself rested upon a small three-legged wooden stool.

Not unexpectedly, I didn't see any evidence of running water in that shed. I asked him, what do you do when you need to take a shower or use the bathroom? Well, he answered, there's Roger's garden hose for the occasional bath, and as for the number ones and number twos, I've got a chamber pot that I empty out into a covered pit that I've dug in Roger's back yard. I ventured, it must be hard for you to hose yourself off in the winter. Nope, he replied, no hosing off in the winter, too cold. He then offered, here, have some macaroni, and he handed me a plastic fork and a paper plate loaded down with several spoonfuls of the stuff. It was pretty good, so I ate it. I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, that he had washed his hands prior to preparing and serving the food.

Mr. Twinkle cautiously walked up to our host, who didn't pay him any attention. My canine companion then lay down right next to his stool and took a nap. I'd never seen Mr. Twinkle do that before with a complete stranger.

I don't believe I've introduced myself yet, I remarked. I'm Thurston Thornton. Yes, I know, he responded, I've seen your picture and read your articles on Somebody's Webpage. I was somewhat surprised that he knew about the website, and asked him how he had found out about it. He replied, I've known Somebody for many years, and added, my name is General Strangeness. No kidding, I exclaimed. Haven't you written a couple of off-the-wall pieces for the website? Just so you know, he frowned, the writing is not off the wall, but rather on it, so do take heed, my friend. I raised an eyebrow.

Come on, buddy, I asked him, what's your real name? General Strangeness is my real name, he thundered, and for a second there, he looked a bit like Moses himself, right after he brought down the Ten Commandments from the mountaintop, although sans the beard. Egad, I must admit, for some reason that words fail to adequately describe, he scared the dietary fiber out of me for a second there. But strangely, Mr. Twinkle did not stir in the slightest from his pleasant slumber.

I informed the general that I had read his piece on the origins of quasi-stoicism, and added that I thought it was one of the biggest loads of hogwash I'd ever laid eyes on. I asked him, how in the name of Sam Hill did you ever come up with something like that? He questioned, what do you mean? Your sources, that's what I mean, did you get the stuff off the Internet, or from a bunch of dusty old books and moldy personal papers, or was it all just word of mouth, or did you just cook up all that preposterous nonsense using nothing more than your short-circuited imagination?

You should know, he pronounced severely and not a little indignantly, that for several years, in my younger days, I dwelt among the masters. I broke bread with them, I sipped the ritual coffee in their presence, and I drank deeply from the flowing founts of their wisdom and knowledge. For some time now, they have all been absent this earthly plane. I am one of the last remaining disciples.

Then, spontaneously and completely unasked, he went into an extended monologue about what he calls the supposedly non-existent border between reality and imagination. I interrupted him after a few minutes, and said, look here, facts are facts, there's black and there's white, there's veracity and there's falsehood, there's Democrat and Republican, and all this stuff about relative truth, it's all a big load of garbage, end of story. That may be, he mused, but never fear, nicks are knacks, there's black and there's cream and sugar, there are varicose veins and there's type O blood, there's demagogue and reprobate, your relatives don't always tell the truth, your wife expects you to take out the trash, and not every story has a happy ending. I'll confess, I couldn't argue with that. He left me speechless there for a second, no small feat, indeed.

I asked him what he thought of my writing on the web page, and he said, quite polemic. Of course, I retorted, if you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything. Like alien mind beams, he remarked, and then pulled out a gamma shield, which he offered to sell me for $199.95. You must take me for a complete fool, I shouted back -- I won't pay a penny more than $150 for that, and after a few minutes of wrangling, that's precisely what he accepted for it. Let me tell you, I will absolutely NEVER give more for something than it's worth. But knowing you, you'd pay full price for a gamma shield, since you are undoubtedly a sucker and a rube.

We talked some about the web page editor, aka Somebody. The general went on and on about how Somebody is a great visionary and a veritable website wizard who is leading us to the promised land of Internet fame and riches. He proclaimed that Somebody's Webpage would leave Facebook behind in the dust, and would have an initial public offering that would make Facebook's look like mere child's play. According to the general, Somebody's Webpage would in time become the only way to apply for your social security card, would end up as the primary database for NATO's missile defense array, would process trillions of dollars in financial transactions between global investment firms, and would bail out the International Monetary Fund within the next thirty years. I disagreed, and said that at its current rate of development, Somebody's Webpage would earn about twenty dollars in annual advertising revenue after about ten thousand years. Have you no faith, he screamed at me, and threw a small fluffy teddy bear at my face, which Mr. Twinkle picked up and brought back to him, hoping for a game of fetch.

Well, after he threw that teddy bear at my face, I told him, I'm out of here, come on, Mr. Twinkle, but my dog didn't budge from the general's side. After several failed attempts to get my canine companion to accompany me, I figured, so be it, and walked home alone, assuming that he would soon return. That was a few days ago, and he still hasn't showed up, so I suppose I'll need to drop by the general's shed in the next day or two with Mr. Twinkle's collar and chain so that I can take him back home, willingly or not.

Last night, my mentor Winston Lee, a man of surpassing wisdom and stunning mental prowess, appeared on my front porch, so I invited him in for a glass of Cutty Sark, which he declined as he always does. I told him about General Strangeness, and he remarked that the general had once been one of his apprentices, but that he had strayed far from the path of righteousness, and had instead chosen to align himself with the gray side. Well, I'm not concerned about that, I'm not scared of any man, and I'll be going to get Mr. Twinkle just as soon as I finish up with this box of Twinkies that I've been working on lately. Humph -- the gray side, indeed.


"Won't you tell me where my country lies?" said the unifaun to his true love's eyes...