It’s early Sunday morning and I don’t know who I am.
I don’t mean that in any existential kind of way. I mean I don’t know what my name is.
I woke up beneath a parked Mazda an hour ago, screaming as I shook a gang of street mice from my smoldering tux. As the desperation of that emergency faded, a new, heavier kind of desperation set in. I could remember a lot of things, like what time The Real World was on, or the price of Big Bear 40s, but I couldn’t remember who I was.
Now, wandering down Main Street, wiping axle grease from my face as I dodge the constant flow of Binghamton riff-raff, I wait for part of it to come back to me, like every other morning.
It doesn’t come back to me. An hour later I still can’t salvage a shred of memory, not from last night, not from anytime before. A search of my pockets turns up a few crumpled bills, some broken glass, and an iPod. I’m sweating furiously and shaking, hoping against hope that my instincts will somehow lead me back to myself.
When I get to The Giant I find my way to the beer cooler without much trouble. Being Sunday morning there’s still fifteen minutes until it’s legal to buy beer. When I realize this, my heart kind of sputters and I clutch my chest, gasping. I don’t know this guy, me, but I know I don’t want his heart to stop, the electric passion I feel as I look up and down the beer cooler tells me there’s a lot to live for.
Panicking now, thinking I may not last long enough to make my purchase, I reach down and touch my toes. Before I know what I’m doing, I’m limbering up for a full-fledged regimen of calisthenics. It might be too late for this, but I have to try. It’s like some sort of rain-dance I’m doing, though it has nothing to do with rain, or dancing, but has, instead, everything to do with helping me live long enough to purchase massive amounts of alcohol.
For a while I’m so mesmerized by the kaleidoscopic colors of the beer cooler that I can almost forget the old woman down the aisle who’s been blatantly staring at me for what now must be almost five minutes.
I don’t want to look away from the beer for fear I’ll slip right off the edge of the Earth, but as my routine progresses I really begin to feel this lady’s eyes. They’re gouging me, blasting the side of my head.
I fiddle with my cummerbund for a moment, confused, maybe even a little scared. Finally I realize I have to confront her. I turn and look. The moment I do, a jar of preserves falls from her withered hand and shatters on the floor. She teeters off around the corner, leaving the mess behind.
Focused now, I begin my set of lunges. My routine’s going great until I catch my reflection in a row of St. Ides 40s. There’s a secret moment of horror as I see that my face is smeared with grease and some sort of cryptic message written in lipstick across my forehead. My hair is singed on one side, as though I’d tried to grill it, my own head. My tux, which doesn’t seem like something I’d own in the first place, is missing an arm. I try to focus on the image but as I do, my eyes start to look crooked, like one eye is placed higher in my skull than the other, and all at once I think of Shannon Doherty, Brenda, and my mouth is so dry the shriek that tries to leap out of me gets stuck there, in my mouth, and implodes into a pathetic whimper that almost drowns me.
I tear myself away from the reflection and lunge down the aisle, telling myself my eyes are level, but I don’t believe him, myself.
At just about the same time the panic passes “Believe In Me (Rhythm Masters Believe It Club Mix)” by Mankey starts playing on my iPod and I act surprised, like this is a magical coincidence, even though I put the iPod on myself and hit play, at which time I noticed that “Believe In Me (Rhythm Masters Believe It Club Mix)” was the only song on my iPod. Regardless, I’m kind of slam dancing about it, this coincidence, and making some dangerous eye contact with another old lady who’s had the misfortune of wandering down my aisle.
The song keeps saying “You’ve got to believe in something, why not believe in me?” over and over, and as I listen I’m picturing myself as the one everybody might as well believe in, and in my imagination I’m levitating above a crowd of thousands in a suit of golden, crotchless armor, radiating light like the sun.
By now the lunges I was doing have become so intense I realize I may injure myself. When something in my groin starts to quiver, I stop and break into a cycle of vicious squat-thrusts.
I’m sweating now and the sweat is leaping from my brow as I squat and then thrust and it’s all so intense that the sweat is actually landing on a 12-pack of Molson Ice and although this beer is out of my price range I feel a sudden connection with it. I stop thrusting. For several moments I forget to breathe. I want to reach out and touch the Molson, the tender cardboard, the glistening bottles beneath, but I know that if I do the mystery will be lost, the moment ruined. Instead I just stand there, absorbing the distance between us, trembling.
Then the moment is bludgeoned anyway as a meaty finger presses into my shoulder. It’s a big, bald stock-man. He looks threatening. I step between him and the Molson.
“What are you doing buddy?” he says.
“Nothing,” I say. “Why?” He’s looking at me funny.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“Of course,” I say. “What makes you ask?”
“Because you’re wearing . . .” He waves an arm at my tux. “This get-up, and you look like you just escaped a house fire or something. Not to mention the fact that you’re doing squat-thrusts up and down the aisle. What’s with you?”
“I was at a barbecue,” I guess. “It got a little…out of hand?” Flustered, my voice starts to warble. “And if a man wants to do calisthenics, that’s his business.”
“But you’re scaring customers.”
“Yeah,” he says. “You look completely outrageous.”
“Liar,” I whisper.
“Would you mind telling me what a ‘cud’ is?” he says.
For a moment I’m reeling, my brain unable to follow this unforeseen twist in the conversation. I’m scared, maybe by this man, maybe by the word “cud” itself.
“Listen,” I say, my voice still wavering. “I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about. All I want is to buy some beer.” I take a deep breath. “Please just let me be.”
“No,” he says. “What’s a ‘cud?’”
I recoil, almost gagging.
“Why are you using that horrible word?” I whimper. “Did you just make it up to hurt me?”
“No,” he says. “I’m using that word because it’s written in lipstick across your forehead.”
My heart sputters again, then I’m whimpering, wiping frantically at my face.
“So,” he says, very smug. “I was just wondering what exactly a “cud” was. You know, since it’s written on your face and you’re walking around in a public place.”
“I…” I begin. “It…”
“Maybe you should just go home and get some sleep,” he says. “Forget the beer.”
I pause, outraged, partially because I don’t know where home is and partially because he’s suggested that this ordeal would, or could, possibly end without the purchase of a large quantity of alcohol. My adrenaline kicks in. I need to take control.
“Just let me be,” I whine.
“Buy something or leave,” he says. “And no more working out in here. This isn’t a gym.”
“But I want to buy beer,” I say. “And I have to wait fifteen more minutes to do that. The State of New York decrees it.”
Subtly, I start to jog in place.
“Stop!” he bellows. He’s scowling now. He’s a mean guy.
I stop, cross my arms. Inside I’m lunging. It’s like he can sense this because he takes a step back.
“Buy your beer and then get out of here. If you scare another customer I’m going to personally kick you out.”
“Scare? Who did I scare?” Then, a bit unsure, I offer, “I’m not that frightening.”
“Stop screaming at me,” he says. “Take your damn iPod off!”
I pull the “Believe In Me” (Rhythm Masters Believe It Club Mix) from my ears, I’d forgotten I’d been listening. Suddenly I can hear much better.
“A little old lady told the manager you were ‘thrusting your pelvis’ at the beer cooler.”
“That’s not true,” I say. I’m lying now. Now I’m a liar.
“Just don’t mess with anyone else,” he says. “Remember what I said.”
He pauses, looks at my hand. “What’s wrong with you?”
I pull my hand away from the 12 pack of Molson I’d been protecting, realizing now I was kind of caressing it, kind of fingering it a little.
He leaves, disgusted.
I look at the Molson. I was right, I shouldn’t have touched it. Whatever I felt before is gone now. If anything, it looks a little slutty.
I wander down the aisle, disillusioned, mentally doing the most intense lunge to squat routine of my life. I make my way toward the peanuts. I can’t afford Planters, so I pick up a container of Good N’ Tasty honey roasteds. The container is familiar in my hand, I’m swimming in its comfort. But just for a moment, because I turn around and I see this girl who’s looking through the chips section. She’s beautiful. I’m clutching the peanuts now, whimpering, adjusting my cummerbund relentlessly.
I want to talk to this girl but I’m immobilized by fear, I can’t do a thing.
Suddenly I want, no, need to drink a case of Beast Ice by myself while watching a marathon of The Real World and eating honey roasted peanuts with a desire so intense I swear my hair is going to start on fire again, right here as I clutch my peanuts, right here as I tremble in my tux. Then, I realize it’s at least mildly interesting that I can recall every cast member’s name from every season of The Real World, but I still can’t remember my own.
The girl makes a sudden movement toward a bag of Lay’s Sour Cream N’ Onion chips and I’m thinking: tell her I’m Ben Affleck, tell her I want her to star with me in my new barroom apocalypse flick The Sum of All Beers. Then some vague, embarrassing cloud of feeling that can’t quite be called a memory tells me that this may not be the best approach.
Suddenly I remember what worked with the Molson. I have to touch her, a touch will make her real and break the spell. I move toward her, my arms and legs shaking, and although all I mean to do is brush by her with my shoulder, or maybe firmly grip her curvaceous buttocks while screaming in her ear, my nonchalant shuffle must look pretty menacing because when I get within striking distance she swivels and drives a jar of Tostitos brand Salsa Con Queso into my face with such force that it shatters and cheese is dripping down my forehead and cheeks and I’m screaming reflexively for Matt Damon, frantically checking my face for cuts as I run for my life.
For a good five minutes I’m lost, bounding through aisles of condiments and soups, canned meats and detergents, household products and frozen foods. I’m wiping cheese and jalepenos from my eyes, digging glass from my hair. I take a corner too fast and knock over a pyramid of canned beans like a human bowling ball. For a while I’m just lying there in the wreckage, weeping. When I get up I can’t see, I can’t hear. I don’t know what I’m doing in The Giant. I don’t know what The Giant is. I’m lost, a brutalized warrior who has long since forgotten his war.
When I happen upon the beer aisle again I remember. It’s like a little light that comes on, a beacon in the fog. I look at the clock on the wall. The time has come. I can buy beer legally in the State of New York. At once I am buoyed up.
I see that Natural Ice is 34 cents cheaper than Beast Ice. I extend my arm to the Natty, ballooning with purpose as I float down the aisle toward the registers. When I get there I’m holding the magazine racks so that I don’t drift away.
I turn and notice the bald Grocery Store Bouncer. He’s standing near the canned bean pyramid, eyeballing me. Maybe he’s the one who had to restack it. The look he gives me offers some sort of vague challenge, it seems to suggest that because I’m leaving the grocery store, he has won. I notice the girl, the Con Queso Offender, she’s walking up the condiments aisle. There is no justice in The Giant, I’m thinking. Then I’m smirking, because none of them have any clue what’s coming. I suddenly stop though, kind of blushing, when I realize I don’t either.
I’m practically floating out the door with my Natural Ice and peanuts. My purchase has left me with only a dollar and change, but I think it’s going to be okay. There’s no reason for me to think this, I just think this.
In the parking lot I hide behind a dumpster and start pounding beers. Usually I’d find a better place to do this, maybe down by the river, but I’m not ready to retreat from the Grocery Store Bouncer. If I just stay here and drink I’m fairly sure he’ll get was he deserves.
I’m ripping the most intense, ear-shattering burps you could imagine. I devour fistfuls of peanuts. I’m almost floating now and I’m not even bothering to open my beers properly, I’m holding them lengthwise and biting them, tilting my head back and swallowing them in a single gulp.
The old lady from inside the store walks by with a bag of groceries and stares open-mouthed. I smile at her and bite a beer, almost fainting because I’ve finished the case in what seemed like roughly half an hour. But I don’t faint, instead I cross myself, like any God-fearing crusader would and as the old lady teeters over and faints I slowly begin to levitate. I give her the thumbs up and turn to The Giant, a giant now myself, except I haven’t actually increased in size, but I’m hovering about 50 feet up in the air, which gives one the impression of being pretty big.
From this angle The Giant looks small, helpless even. I wave my hand and there’s a horrible screeching sound as the roof tears off and disappears into the sky. When the people inside see me hovering there in the air, kind of disco dancing and covered in beer, they start to scamper like speed-addled rats in a maze. The Grocery Store Bouncer’s jaw drops, he flails and knocks over the canned bean pyramid again. I hold out my right hand and the cigarette case shatters as a pack of Marlboro Lights jets outs into my grip. Now that the Tri-Force of beer, peanuts and cigarettes is complete, I’m truly omnipotent. Someone screams. Everyone panics. I take action.
I catch the Con Queso offender in my tractor beam and she levitates up to me, screaming like King Kong’s chick screamed. A case of Zima leaps from the beer cooler and one-by-one they empty themselves into her mouth. It’s me, I’m doing this to her. It’s telekinesis like in that movie Carrie, except I’m not a girl and I’m not killing anybody. Instead, I’m bringing them to life.
Beers are flying through the air like bullets, uncapping themselves and pouring themselves down people’s mouths. The Grocery Store Bouncer climbs out of the canned beans mess and starts to run. I trip him up with a bottle of Boone’s because it’s worthless anyway, then a bunch of cases of Busch weigh him down as I dance my way over to him and hover.
“What?” he shrieks. “What is this? I knew I should’ve kicked you out!”
Instead of answering him I stick my finger down my throat. There’s terror in his eyes and there should be, because just then I projectile vomit a stream of semi-digested Natural Ice into his mouth like a mother bird, except this mother bird has the propulsion power of a fire hose. His body writhes and spasms. In a few seconds it’s over and I fly away, waiting to see the effect as I disco dance with my now inebriated Con Queso Offender in mid air.
I put my fingers to my temples and my iPod flies from my pocket like a killer squid and attacks The Giant’s intercom system. The check-out girl can’t stop it because she’s busy pounding a twelve pack of Milwaukee’s Best. When Mankey’s “Believe In Me (Rhythm Masters Believe It Club Mix) starts blaring from the intercom, all hell, or maybe heaven, breaks loose and I don’t even have to force-feed them anymore, they’re drinking on their own.
The Grocery Store Bouncer’s spasms start to mimic the song’s beat and before I know it he’s break dancing. The aisles are alive with people making out, eating chips and Salso Con Queso, dancing, two strangers start going at it in the produce section, doing something unspeakable with a zucchini. Beers are launching into the sky like bottle rockets and exploding. Then the big boys get into the game. Kegs start firing into the sky and exploding with loud booms, raining beer down on the spectators who are crowding around now, opening their mouths to catch.
A team of angry cops respond with sirens blaring, but I pepper them with Budweiser strafing fire and before they know what’s hit them they’re so drunk they’ve stripped down to nothing but their hats, boots and gun-belts, and are dancing on the hoods of their patrol cars, shooting their guns in the air like armed Village People.
I’m still fifty feet up, disco dancing and making out with the Con Queso Offender while kegs burst all around us, splashing us with beer. It’s hard to make out with her because I keep wanting to open my mouth to catch the beer, but I try to maintain discipline.
I wave my hand at a bunch of dilapidated houses across Main Street and beer explodes out the windows and front doors. Suddenly the fire hydrants explode and beer fountains into the sky. Onlookers stick their faces into the streams. A teenage kid hops onto one and he’s kind of body surfing. Through all of it I can hear my song on the intercom system, some of the crowd has started to sing along, “You’ve got to believe in something, why not believe in me?”
For some it might be hard to believe: the riotous party in a depressed little grocery store, the beer fireworks, the naked cops, and the utter lack of gravity. Whether or not you believe probably depends on your perspective, the person that you are. I don’t know the person I am, but as I do the worm through the air and hear the uproar from the drunken crowd some fifty feet below, I know something even more important, I know what I believe.