There is a car traveling northwest at around eighty three miles per hour-- exactly 83 mph in fact. The car looks just like your car. Unless you drive an SUV. This is not an SUV. I ask you not to picture one. The man driving the car looks just like you. Or your father, or your husband, or your boyfriend, or an actor, or some other male whom you insert as the protagonist of the stories that you read. Why do you do this? Honestly? I don’t know. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you really do put your imagination to use in order to picture the correct physical attributes of characters in books. If that is the case, well, I’m going to tell you what this man really looks like, but if it doesn’t matter, if your father is already in that car, which is still not an Sport Utility Vehicle (or even a mini-van), then please just skip the description. You won’t benefit from it and I do not wish to waste my time or yours.
The driver is unkempt and unshaven. His hair looks uncombed, like hair that is used to being forced into place that has suddenly been allowed to do whatever it wants, in short his hair looks like the citizens of the former Soviet Union in the early nineties. Right, his hair does not look good. He is thin, in his late twenties. Too thin for his late twenties. He is sweating, perhaps because he is very worked up and has been yelling “tell me” for the last forty miles or so. I, for one am glad there are no small children with him in that car. He would definitely scare a small child. If you are not a small child, you would be amused by his yelling. The point, however, is moot as he is not yelling anymore. He is searching for something. Not in the cosmic sense, no, he is searching for something much more specific. His thoughts dwell on some elusive source of music.
-I can hear music playing, but I’m unable to determine the source. I hit my head craning my neck to examine the back seat of the car. Nothing. I hated that fucking job anyway. The profanity sounds wrong. Even in my head. I’m sorry. Who am I apologizing to? Fuck it. No. Hm. This car is moving much too quickly. I am not going to fix this problem. I have other things to worry about. What am I going to do? Tell me.-
The man has resumed his yelling again, only now he has also begun to cry and beat his hands against the steering wheel. You probably don’t enjoy seeing your father in this state do you? Why don’t you go back and read the description, it isn’t very long and it leaves plenty of room for your imagination to ruin things.
Further down the road there is another man. This new man, who is not new, in fact he is decades older than the driver, lives in a large house that sits in the center of a medium-sized town. His name is Huston Bradford. Again, just because this man is old does not make him your grandfather. If you think he is your grandfather you are never going to fully appreciate him for who he really is. He doesn’t deserve that just because you’re lazy. Bored from a lifetime of unprecedented success Huston is trying something new, mainly lunacy. He sits, now, in his office which is beautiful, lots of wood, in what traveling wood salesmen call deep, rich, tones. Being in Huston Bradford’s office is eerily like being trapped inside of a tree, an experience you are likely not to have had the opportunity to enjoy. In any case trees don’t house old men, bored, their hair unwashed, their suits as wrinkled as their bodies, rambling thoughtlessly into a tape recorder.
“It occurs to me that I need to be punched in the face more frequently. Why? No. ‘Why?’ is not the question that must, at this juncture, be addressed. No. The most important, most pressing question at hand is, of course, how? I do not believe that I would be able to muster the courage required to hit myself as hard as is necessary. No. Someone will have to be hired to accomplish this task. Who? Yes now we are getting somewhere. Surely it is not prudent to advertise such a position in the paper. It is not a question of legality, but a question of the response. What is the caliber of man that would respond to such an announcement? What sort of vagrant would volunteer himself to accost and old man? Perhaps I should consult Dustin on the matter? Yes.
“Yes. I would like to hire someone to punch me in the face.”
“Please Dustin, I assure you, I have thought this out. All day I have been sitting here thinking-”
“You were sitting in here talking, sir.”
“Yes I was.”
“Dustin, I’ve explained to you, that I am trying to make a comprehensive oral account of my life.”
“In order to do so I must speak aloud all of my thoughts, so that they too might be a part of the record.”
“Are you recording this?
“So I am part of your story?”
“Well, some things will be unfortunately sacrificed in the process of editing.”
“Will the face puncher be part of the story?”
“The man who is to be hired to punch you in the face.”
“Oh yes! I had forgotten! You caused me to digress! As I was saying, all afternoon I have been sitting here-”
“Before, when you were talking, you said ‘all day.’”
“Yes. All day I have been sitting here following each doubt, thought, and whim to their final resting places and I followed this particular thought, the thought of the face puncher, right to a pot of gold.”
“The face puncher is a leprechaun?”
“I may be a bored and old and quite foolish, but please to not treat me like a child.”
“I’m sorry, sir.”
“Yes. Please go now. I have talking to do.”
Dustin isn’t really a jerk. He has to antagonize Huston in this way in order to remain sane. He leaves the room trying to remain calm. A few minutes later he also leaves the house. He is crossing the street when the man, the one from the beginning of this story, hits him with his car.
Excerpts from the notes of Holton Fox
Holton Fox is not a Private Investigator. He is not an art critic. He is not particularly happy. He is not in his twenties anymore and he wishes people would stop reminding him of that fact. Do they think that he doesn’t know that? He knows that every year it takes more lung capacity to blow out the candles and he knows that every year he has seemingly less lung capacity with which to do so. You’d like Holton if you knew him. You’d like to think that you wouldn’t be so harsh with him, but you would be. Let’s face it: it’s maddening. He has two PhDs. Two! Now this of course is Holton’s defense. He’ll tell you that when he was in his twenties he was at school… and the whole time he was at school you were all complaining that he was wasting his time. When in fact you were all just consumed with your own almost crippling feelings of inferiority because you don’t have the will, the tenacity, to really be passionate about anything. Now you feel justified in being angry with him. That’s what you were looking for anyway: validation. So you wouldn’t feel so bad that he took off a year ago. Well, you probably would.
Holton Fox was sitting across the street when Dustin was hit by the car, still not an SUV/mini-van. It piqued his interest. He has been sitting in his small apartment across the street from Huston Bradford’s large house for four months. Holton moved to Last Apple, Oregon to become an art critic. He responded to an ad in the Last Apple Bulletin which he had gotten ahold of through some means that he likely will not remember should he be compelled to try. They were looking for an art critic to cover the local art scene. Upon making the thousand mile journey to Last Apple it became immediately apparent to Holton that there was no local art scene. Upon arrival at the headquarters of the last apple bulletin-- located in the basement of a bar on the south eastern side of the town-- he was meant with stringent denials that such an ad had been run. When he produced a copy of the paper a middle aged woman directed him to see a man who turned out not to exist. Luckily Holton hasn’t ever been the type to get discouraged. He took the opportunity to follow his not quite lifelong dream of becoming a private investigator. The thing is there were no cases to be had. Sure Last Apple has its share of suspicious spouses and disgruntled family members and friends, but that’s not the type of thing Holton wanted to investigate. He wanted to solve cases that would give him, and the world, a deeper insight into humanity’s being. He wanted to solve cases with mathematical and metaphysical implications1. So he mostly sits around and looks through his window scribbling notes onto loose scraps of whatever he finds under his pen. Most of these notes are stupid and deal with the comings and goings of Dustin who spends an inordinate amount of time crossing the street and hanging out at the post office next door to Holton’s small apartment across the street from Huston Bradford’s large house.
there he goes now in a suit, grey suit, yesterday brown. Runing hands thru hair. Upset? Exaspera- struck hard by fast moving red Compact. appears to be alive. Driver with unhappy hair screaming upset by what has happened. runs out of veiw. Presumably to call 911. 911?
“Do they have 911 here? I wonder. Most likely no. Need to get a phone. What else?”2
Carbon monoxide Detector
food (put in the fridge.)
pants, one pair no longer cutting it
Holton is right. There is no 911 in L. A., Oregon. There is, however, a retired EMT from Olympia with a van and a first aid kit and, if need be, a fairly sound knowledge of how to get to a doctor’s office. Luckily the driver from the beginning who spent so much time yelling “tell me” runs into the Post Office where he is informed, by employees smoking cigars and sipping Guinness, that there are no ambulances around. Distraught, the young man, whose mother named him Johnny Day even though his father wanted to name him Dotson, gets hysterical (again) and points wordlessly at Dustin’s body lying in the street. The Post Office people inform him that Dustin appears to be unhurt.
Out in the street Dustin is back on his feet, disoriented but not severely injured in any way. He examines at the car, closely. So closely that he can see his bloodied reflection in the hood. He can also see the dent, shaped vaguely like his left side. Johnny reenters the scene, his Soviet Union hair matted with stress sweat.
“I’m… oh… sorry, yes, sorry that’s the word right? Sorry. Fuck! I’m sorry! I don’t usually use profanity. I’m sorry. Yes.”
“Do you need a job?”
“Do you need a job?”
“Okay well I am going to give you a job.”
“Stop saying that. I’m really in the mood to stand here, in the middle of the street, bleeding, and saying everything twice.”
“Do I need to interview for this job?”
“You hit me pretty hard... He wants to go crazy. He can go crazy. This is bullshit. You ever punch anyone in the face?”
“Well. You want to?”
“Okay, there, you got your interview. You’re hired.”
“What… do you want me to do?”
“I want you to punch an old man in the face.”
“My life is actually kind of weird right now.”
“So maybe this will push it back into normal.”
“Do you think so?”
“No. My life is weird too.”
3. As it happens, people shout
“This is the guy that’s going to punch you in the face.”
Dustin is standing in the doorway of Huston’s tree room. Huston is leaning back in the chair. He should shave. He doesn’t look rugged when unshaven, just uncomfortable. No one wants to look at someone who appears to be uncomfortable. Except perhaps people who are themselves uncomfortable.
“My goodness Dustin, what happened to you? What’s wrong? Did something happen? Did…”
“Please do not rephrase yourself again sir.” Dustin breathes deeply, as he is prone to do in conversations with his employer. “This is the man to punch you in the face, I’m sure of it. He’s agreed to do it. So I’m satisfied.”
Johnny has, up to this point, been distracted by the ornate engravings in the wood. They are inscrutable.
“Oh. Yes. He says ‘what’ all the time.”
Holton Fox is moving across the street. He is not moving with grace or stealth, he is not inconspicuous. He is crouched over himself and running. Just because he has folded himself in half doesn’t make him invisible. To be invisible he would simply have to cross the street. People don’t notice ordinary things, people crossing streets or opening umbrellas. They do notice men in unwashed pants scampering across the street clutching large vintage tape recorders. Cut him some slack though. Holton hasn’t been a private detective very long. This is really his first case. And nothing has even happened yet.
While Dustin and Huston bicker, Johnny sees Holton “sneaking” across the street. He watches as Holton approaches the window. He even makes eye contact, briefly, with him as Holton pushes one of the study windows open and drops his tape recorder into the room. Dustin doesn’t notice. Huston doesn’t notice. They are screaming at each other about the universe.
Johnny Day is a man who knows a fair bit about the Universe. He was, until recently, considered the foremost Plutologist in the greater Milwaukee area. That all changed one night when he got drunk at a party thrown by a very famous astrophysicist at a very, very upscale hotel and mentioned to a visiting astronomy professor from the Sorbonne that no Plutologist with a head on his shoulders really considered Pluto a planet.
“No way. I mean have you seen it? Of course not! Because we had to use math to find the thing. Math! It’s absurd really. Not because of the math... You want anything? Wait. What? Oh sorry. I don’t usually drink like this… Pluto though, yeah totally a hoax. Well a mistake that has perhaps now evolved into soem sort of a hoax-like dance, Basically my job is to make sure that Pluto retains it’s status as a planet. I mean, we’re also trying to devise ways to see it, and send something up there, but really, we have to do that in secret since we all know it isn’t a planet right? So what do you do?” Johnny’s hair looks like the Soviet Union in the eighties, together but losing its place.
Unfortunately, the man Johnny was talking to was waht is known in the world of of academic astronomical politics an Ochacho. Ochachos were once considered renegade astronomers hell bent on reducing the size of the solar system to eight planets. Their founder, Miguel Fitzsimmons-Quetzal, didn’t have a preference as to which planet was demoted, as long as the solar system only contained eight planets he would be a happier man. Psychiatrists now believe that Miguel Fitzsimmons-Quetzal was a text-book obsessive-compulsive who needed to group things in multiples of eight. Wives, fingers, toes, pets, planets. But over the years the Ochachos had set their sights on knocking Pluto off of third grade dioramas. Other astronomers began paying attention when the once laughable Ochachos began pointing out that Pluto is awfully small and doesn’t actually follow a planetary orbit. This made Plutologists nervous. Plutologists never got much respect in the first place, theirs was always an esoteric branch of astronomy. Plutology departments were already dying out at most major universities. They would all be out of jobs if everyone else began seeing Pluto for the hunk of freezing rock they knew it to be. Johnny Day mistakenly let slip all of this to the visiting French Ochacho, and the next thing anybody knew The International Astronomical Union convened in Honolulu and Pluto was no longer a planet. So, safe to say, Johnny dropped the ball on that one. Overnight he became the most famous Plutologist since Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in a last ditch attempt to impress his girlfriend, and the most hated astronomer since Floyd Anderson, who was just an asshole. A disgraced Johnny was chased from his home at dawn by angry Plutology students who had yet to complete their dissertations and would now have to start over.3
But now things are looking up for him. He has been hired to punch a bored old man in the face, presumably to help this man get a grip on things. He thinks that he will be good at this. All he has to do is make a fist and swing. He has been told that he is to surprise Huston with the blows. The first time he hit Huston they were both very surprised. Huston had fallen asleep at his desk. When Johnny came into the study, still unable to focus because of the ornate wood carvings, Huston perked up and asked him how he was settling in. Johnny then hit him in the face knocking out two of his teeth and rendering him unconscious.
The next thing Johnny knew a man in his late sixties drove up in a white van. The man knocked on the door, introduced himself as Bradley Fambler, and elbowed his way into the house carrying a lunch box with a red cross drawn on the side in crayon. This is Bradley’s first aid kit. Johnny has honly two more opportunities to witness Bradley and Bradley’s first aid kit in action because every time he has tried to get near Huston, Huston has fainted. The next time he actually succeeded in punching him Huston was sitting in a chair and again feinted upon the sight of his face puncher. Johnny failed to notice and hit him anyway, breaking his nose. The third time Johnny lost his nerve and ended up punching Huston weekly on the nose, momentarily disorienting him.
All of this is greatly confusing Holton, still sitting in his small apartment across the street from Huston Bradford’s large house. He has a second pair of pants now. He also knows that Last Apple has a retiree from Olympia as their makeshift first responder. In fact it had been Holton who had called Bradley all three times Johnny had attacked Huston. The first time he was merely curious as to whether the homeless man who slept outside the post office had been telling the truth about Last Apple not having real paramedics. The subsequent calls were placed with increasing concern as to why the man who had run Dustin over with his car was now punching an old man in the face. He would have all the answers that he desired if he had been able to listen to the tape recorder he had dropped into Huston’s study. Unfortunately he had no plans for the future extraction of the tape recorder. In fact, he isn’t even sure if he turned the thing on.