The Spellbinding Fish Fry falls short of changing the world, a Mongolian throat singer makes everyone sad, and the Lisping Barista gets horny

If you had to chose between the two, seeing and hearing, many would pick seeing. That which you see exists outside and independent of time; eternal, you might say. All images, such as that of the Lisping Barista dancing, you apprehend all at once, when you come across them, as if time did not exist. The things we hear are not that way. It takes time to unfold the meaning and structure of sound. Then, once it’s unfolded, it disappears, as ephemeral as a flower. So, because hearing must play along with time and seeing can blindly pretend as if time does not exist, seeing is better than hearing, many believe.

As much as they loved the music, many of the listeners of the Spellbinding Fish Fry, by the end of the set, would be likely to agree. It was great while it lasted, but when it was over, it was over.

The music festival had continued in a happy vein long into the night. The zydeco band was replaced by an Irish band, which led into an indeterminate period of silence, as everyone waited for the Spellbinding Fish Fry, chronically late, to arrive and take the stage. No one was sad during that period of silence. The Deep Fries were hopped up on hope, a plentiful supply of smoke, and a steady buzz of the promise that everything would be right with the world. A couple dozen stoners even continued to dance, even though there was no music, still wound up from the zydeco and the Irish jigs.

When the Spellbinding Fish Fry, at last, took the stage, the stars of that warm summer night had already come out to hear them. The moon emerged from behind a cloud just to see what all the applause was about. When the musicians struck their first chords, the planets had, at last, something to dance to. The Milky Way could join hands and sing. The band played long into the night. If they could have played long enough, all the debris from the big bang could have come back together, fitted themselves whole, and gone on as if nothing ever happened.

As it was, the band had to stop. The fingers of the guitarists and the fiddler, as strong as they were, began to cramp. The vocalists’ throats were scraped raw. The drummer developed carpal tunnel. The dancers lost the beat. The upright bass player could no longer remain upright. Once again the possibility that humans could make the world anew faltered on human limitations. Once again, the night took over and everyone had to stop.

As the musicians filed off the stage, a dusky, dumpy man with Asian eyes took their place. At any other festival, the headliners, the Spellbinding Fish Fry, in this case, would have closed it down; but this festival was committed to doing things differently. A Mongolian throat singer followed their act. He stood alone, without accompaniment or amplification, and began to intone whole chords all at once. He was singing sad songs of the Siberian steppes, but the audience, which was sad already, and didn’t know Mongolian, took them to mean sadness that another attempt to better the world had fallen short. All that was left was one cheerless, out of shape, alien man, singing alone, trying to be a whole choir with his one voice.

Most of the crowd began to gather their stuff and head home. That’s the way it goes, they said to themselves. What can you do? They’re playing in Portland next week. All the Deep Fries will be there. But the Lisping Barista could not accept defeat. She wanted to keep it going forever. When the music plays, everything’s alright. When it stops, everything turns to shit.

At this point, she and the Geeky Guy had been sitting in the grandstand. The Rugby Player and the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup had already moved on and were planning their route to Portland. The Geeky Guy thought they’d be leaving, too; but the Lisping Barista just sat there. He looked over and found her weeping.

“Are you all right?”

“No.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

“What do you want to do?”

She swung her leg over him and straddled him. Her feet hung under the bleachers. She grabbed him by the lapels and kissed him deep. Her tears made his face wet. When she stopped kissing him, they were both out of breath.

“I want to fuck. I want to fuck my brainth out.”

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The Geeky Guy finds the meaning of life right where a zydeco band said it was

There’s planes, trains, and automobiles, but no one has ever been transported further and had a smoother ride than with music. Moreover, the usual modes of transportation never take you anywhere significantly different than where you were in the first place and you never show up in as good shape as when you left. You’re frazzled, weary from the road, and the blood has pooled and gotten stale in your legs. You’ve enriched the lives of Arab Sheiks and have impoverished Gulf Coast crustaceans. You may have gone miles, but you haven’t arrived at the only objective that matters: a meaningful life.

They had to return the costumes they’d worn for the Happiness Parade. The Geeky Guy removed his dress and wig, emptied his purse, and rubbed off the lipstick. He didn’t know how to remove mascara, so he kept it on, looking pretty. He left the shed at the same time that the Lisping Barista arrived, still in her wedding dress and, except for the body paint, bravely bare chested. She saw him and oddly became bashful. She covered her breasts with her veil and blushed.

“Don’t look,” she said. “I like to keep thome mythtery.”

He averted his eyes, even though there wasn’t much mystery left that everyone hadn’t appraised. His eyes landed directly on the bare breasts of the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup, took a jolting hop, and settled safely on the ground.

“Thtay here,” said the Lisping Barista, “We’ll thee you thoon.”

As he waited with the Rugby Player, a row of pennants surmounting a dance tent stiffened in the breeze, seeking to fly away from their flagpoles and go free. Flocks of birds, celebrating a windfall of discarded veggie wraps, dropped tofu burgers, and crumbled falafel, gamboled through the air till, hungry again, they returned to earth for more. A few napkins and juice cups skidded down the field before they were rounded up and recycled by a team of environmentally conscious volunteers. It seemed that everything about this place that wasn’t already free was trying to get loose and run wild. So, too, was the grip the Geeky Guy normally had on himself.

A zydeco band had already wound itself up and was unreeling a bayou opus from the grandstand. The crowd flocked to the track and began to raise dust again. The Lisping Barista came out of the shed looking more normal, except for some white paint around the neckline. She smiled and the Geeky Guy began his voyage towards significance.

This journey involved a number of transfers, but not the bothersome kind like you make at the airport, where you have to get off a plane and rush through the terminal, only to find that your flight has been delayed. No, this was more like going from ride to ride at an amusement park, starting at the flying teacups, squeezing in the first car at the roller coaster, and then winding up all wet at the flume. What began with a smile led to a stroll to the foot stompers, hand in hand. They watched them for a time until the Geeky Guy couldn’t help himself and began to do some foot stomping himself.

It wasn’t so very long ago that the Geeky Guy would see a couple in love, joined at the phalanges, delighting in each other’s company, and think, that’ll never be me. Never is an awful word, and a mean one; luckily it never knows what it’s talking about. It’s like its cousin, always. They always make sampling errors, mistaking some characteristic of a limited number of occurrences to be representative of the whole.

An elderly accordion player nodded sagely as he played. He knew all about how une fille can appear out of nowhere to warm his bones. He understood that life consisted of surprises, and surprises like to be cuddled. He squeezed his concertina most affectionately, and fingered her in the places that made her scream.

A hyperkinetic washboard player would not be upstaged. He leapt a good four feet in the air and came down with a mad itch. He scratched enough for a tub of laundry, but not a single shirt got clean. That wasn’t the point.

A bright blond fiddler let her strings deliver a dissertation. It professed that life, like music, didn’t need to mean anything other than what it was. Its meaning is no meaning, its purpose is no purpose, and its logic is illogic; but it must have intricacy, artistry, and a beat.

The Lisping Barista’s friends joined them and they danced comfortably in a ragged circle. The incipient panic the Geeky Guy had felt just a short time ago seemed remote and incongruous. They all were more than one happy family; they were one organism. Not just the Lisping Barista, the two friends, and the Geeky Guy; but all the dancers, They were a thousand-foot-stomping millipede, moving in one accord, directed by a fiddle, a washboard, and an orgasmic concertina. This might be what all the cells in a body feel like when they come together, and click; after they sort out who’s going to be the liver, who the spleen, and who the fifteenth eyelash from the right of the left eyeball.

For all the movement everyone was doing, no one was going anywhere. They were already there. The Geeky Guy looked over at the Lisping Barista and took it all in, to save the image for later. She was a round and cozy young woman. No sharp corners or razor edges. She danced with more grace than heaven could hold. Light brown dreads bopped on top of her head. Six pieces of metal intersected various parts of her face, not counting her tongue stud. Her nipples, which he and the rest of the parade had seen, were pierced also; but he don’t know about anything else. Nothing else, for the moment, but the moment, mattered. It was a moment he’d want to last forever.

The Geeky Guy gets happy, very happy

The Lisping Barista had the Geeky Guy decked out in happiness, and women’s clothing. He went into a dressing room and came out wearing a Mother Hubbard dress that she selected. On his lips, where she had planted a kiss, she smeared red lipstick. When his blush had faded, she replaced it with rouge. She combed mascara into his eyelashes, hung a purse on his wrist, and crowned him with a blond wig. She gave him a full grown baby, her rugby-playing friend, who gazed up from an oversized carriage and squeaked his pacifier.

“You look thtunning,” said the Lisping Barista to the Geeky Guy. And he was.

“I’ve got to get my cothtume on. You two get in line for the parade. I’ll thee you later.”

She gave him another kiss, this one on his cheek, so as to not smear his lipstick.

“What’re you going to be?” he asked. But she had gone already and disappeared into a face painting tent with the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup.

The drums started, calling them to the parade. His heart took up the strong beat. He was in a dress, after all, and appearing in public.

The Rugby Player removed his pacifier and reached into his diaper to pull out a reefer. He squinted and lit it. He offered it to the Geeky Guy, who, even though he had never, ever smoked before, took a hit. It would help keep away the panic attacks. As instructed, he sucked in a big lungful, as if he was diving underwater. He held it in as if he was going down for pearls. Then he coughed it up, as if he was drowning.

“Go easy,” said the Rugby Player. “This isn’t any old hippie hemp. It’s good Colorado hydroponic skunkweed. You don’t need much.”

He was right, by the time the Geeky Guy had finished hacking up a lung he was already high and the Rugby Player had become hilarious. The Geeky Guy no sooner was done doubling over coughing, than he doubled over laughing. Waves of happiness washed over him, but it wasn’t all from the pot. He had lots of reasons to be happy. The Lisping Barista had kissed him, not once, but twice. He was at a music festival that would save the world; the epicenter of revolution. And everyone was happy. The happiness would spread, thereby saving the world. Everyone, young and old, rich and poor, male and female, black and white, cool and Geeky, would join the Happiness Parade.

He tried to explain it all to the Rugby Player, but lost track of the point he was trying to make. The drums continued and he urged the Geeky Guy to push him in the baby carriage and take their place in line.

They claimed a position in the vanguard of the Happiness Parade, behind a trio of drummers, next to a zombie type creature and in front of a basketball player on stilts. The drummers got them dancing and then marching in a dancing sort of tread. The roadway was lined with happiness; smiles everywhere, contentment all around; banks of faces enjoying, among many other things, the incongruity of a man in a dress and another man in a baby carriage. When this is possible, everything is possible. Stifling rules tossed. Freedom unbound.

The Geeky Guy even liked wearing a dress and enjoyed the cooling breeze coming from down below. He could’ve skipped the wig; but it was true, blonds do have more fun. It was nice to have a purse to hold his stuff even though he had to sling the purse over his shoulder. The makeup, once it was on, he forgot about. It may be too weird to say that every man has always been curious to know what it’s like to be a woman, but it’s true and every man should be brave enough to admit it. Playing dress up doesn’t really get at that experience, but it’s a start.

They marched and strutted and juked all the way down the road that ran through the music festival. If he hadn’t been high, the Rugby Player would’ve have gotten carriage sick from all the different directions the Geeky Guy pushed him. The crowds cheered them from the roadway and joined the back of the parade when it had passed. Those in the vanguard took their place at the roadside, watching, once they circumnavigated.

The Geeky Guy scanned the crowd for the Lisping Barista. “Do you see her?” he asked the Rugby Player, who just squeaked his pacifier and lit another joint.

There were countless ways of being happy. There were platoons of young women in sundresses and young men in cut offs. A boy and his mother danced sweetly down the street. A man carried a goose puppet. Kids piggybacked on their parents’ shoulders. A redhead sowed the crowd with condoms. The crowd scattered to collect them as children do candy. The Geeky Guy picked up two, not really knowing what they were. There were hula hoopers and stilters and even one hula hooper on stilts. There were bare chested fat men and bare bellied thin women. There were parasols and banners. The zombie that had marched with them had many friends. There were pom-poms and boas and tutus, guitars and flutes and horns. There was a drum so big it needed three men to carry it. There were masks and gowns, and an occasional giant head, but there was no Lisping Barista, not until the end of the parade.

She paced, as if the grand finale, with a dozen attendants, arm in arm with the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup. The Lisping Barista was dressed as a bride, the bride of the Happiness Parade, her fat friend dressed as a groom. The Lisping Barista had the flowers, the headpiece, and the long, white dress with two girls carrying the train. The Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup had a tux with tails and a top hat and a mustache. But here’s the thing. The Geeky Guy wasn’t sure of it at first. He had to look twice to be certain and, when he was, he thought, perhaps he shouldn’t have looked at all. Both of them were bare chested. Their costumes were nothing but body paint from the waist up.

On a different day, under different circumstances, the Geeky Guy might not have known what to feel; but for now, he only felt glee. This was the Happiness Parade, after all; and the Geeky Guy, for the moment, was happy.

The Geeky Guy and the Lisping Barista get ready for the Happiness Parade

As chance would have it, the shed that the Geeky Guy ran into when he was avoiding a panic attack held all the supplies for the festival’s annual Happiness Parade. It was packed to the rafters with masks, costumes, and banners; enough for a half dozen happiness parades; enough to supply a division of happiness soldiers to march on gloom and declare war on melancholy. A number had already reported to duty and were picking through the racks and selecting their equipment.

“I’m glad you came here. We can get ready for the happinith parade,” said the Lisping Barista to the Geeky Guy.

Many regular festival goers considered the Happiness Parade the high point of the festival, even better than camping next to an all night drum circle, getting baked by the sun while you are already baked by pot, and the performances of dozens of local bands who had hastily rehearsed for a couple nights in an empty garage. The Lisping Barista, who had been to the festival before, came to hear the Spellbinding Fish Fry, but the Happiness Parade was a close second. It gave her the opportunity to get her freak on, strut her stuff, and declare her allegiance to and wave the flag of Peace, Love, and Understanding.

The Geeky Guy, who was unfamiliar with the mores and ideology of the festival, was never one to parade around and draw attention to himself. He had avoided one panic attack, but he could never be sure another might not come along. However, he had to concede that getting dressed up in a disguise would give him a ready-made and portable hiding place.

“Look at all the wayth of being happy,” she said, draping a pink boa. “I don’t know what to pick.”

The Geeky Guy tried on a wizard’s hat for a spell, but it had no magic for him. He skipped over the clothing, he couldn’t be sure they’d ever been properly washed, and went right to the shelves of props. There was a frightful monster’s mask. He could conceal his fears behind a fearsome display of anger. A neat trick. He could do that.

The Lisping Barista squealed from behind the racks. The Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup laughed hard, doubling her number of chins.

The Rugby Player was wearing a diaper, a baby’s dress, and bonnet, and was sucking on an oversized pacifier.

“Awethome,” said the Lisping Barista. “Hey, here’th a Mother Hubbard dreth. Now if we can find a big baby carriage.”

The Geeky Guy searched the prop section. There indeed was a big baby carriage there. They had everything. He pushed it over to them.

“That’th perfect,” shouted the Lisping Barista. “I know, you be old Mother Hubbard and puth him around.”

“No, I couldn’t,” said the Geeky Guy.

“Why not?” she said. “Are you too macho to wear a dreth?”

The Rugby Player sucked on his pacifier. The masks hung on their hooks and looked down, gravely. The wizard’s hat nodded.

“No,” said the Geeky Guy. “Too grumpy.”

“Lithten here, you,” said the Lisping Barista, grabbing him by the shirt and pushing him into a private place within the racks of clothes. The Rugby Player dropped his pacifier.

The Lisping Barista looked the Geeky Guy in the eye, “I have one thing to thay to you, Mithter Grump.”

Their noses were almost touching. The Rugby Player looked on. The Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup touched up her lipstick.

The Geeky Guy asked, “What’s that?”

“You may not want to be happy, but I do. Thtop ruining my happineth. Thtop being tho grumpy.”

Some spit from her lisping got him right in the eye. He flinched and may have looked like he was crumbling. He chose his words to compensate for how weak he felt.

“Make me,” he said.

The Lisping Barista smiled a mischievous smile. You could tell what she was doing just as soon as she turned her nose to avoid his. She closed her eyes. She slightly parted her lips. The Geeky Guy’s heart bounced on a trampoline; again. Couldn’t breathe.

She kissed him.

“There,” she said. “Thtill grumpy?”

The Geeky Guy avoids a panic attack

If Heaven really exists, it would be just like a folky, bluegrassy, neo-hippie music festival. Forget the whole bit about angels floating around in nightgowns in the clouds, strumming on harps; they’re wearing the skimpiest of clothing, enjoying the perfect bodies God gave them. They’re playing the guitar, the fiddle, the upright bass, the drums. They’re swaying with hula hoops and keeping those sticks you keep in the air with two other sticks. They dance and they dance and they dance. When they’re not dancing, they’re smiling and they’re still smiling when they are dancing, that blissful smile that tells you they’re transported by the music. And everyone’s young. Even the old hippies, circled in chairs in the shade, reunioned with friends for the thirty-ninth consecutive year, are young, forever young, and released from the cynicism that arrived with the mortgage papers, was supplied, along with staplers, paper clips, and keyboards in cubicle farms, and accrued with a 401(k).

Despite the abundance of joy around him, the Geeky Guy wasn’t feeling it. He was wishing he’d never gone on this date. He would’ve like to have been home, reading a two year old newspaper, or in his workshop, with his screwdrivers, voltage meters, and soldering guns, repairing a TV he would never watch, rather than following the Lisping Barista, as fine as she looked from behind, past the rows of tie-dye venders, patchouli merchants, and foot reflexologists. Peace, love, and understanding is all very well and good; but it can’t compete with peace, calm, and predictability. He was OK with getting a girlfriend, but not at the cost of losing himself.

So, what was the problem? What could possibly be wrong with accompanying an attractive female to hear good music outdoors on a beautiful day in a loving environment? What could possibly be wrong with that?

If I were going to create a hell, I would not need to go through the expense of digging a hole in the middle of the earth, staffing it with demons, supplying it with pitchforks and fueling an unquenchable fire. No, I could build it right in heaven, with angels and an everlasting soundtrack of hallelujahs. St Peter would have no need to guard the pearly gate, keeping out all unredeemed sinners. He could just let them in, provided they possessed a single thought.

What would be the thought? What single, simple thought could possibly ruin being in heaven? What electrochemical signal, cognitive track, firing of synapses could hell of a heaven make?

The Geeky Guy was afraid he would have a panic attack.

Please note, he wasn’t actually having a panic attack, actually having one is unnecessary. He was worried he might have one. A panic attack would ruin everything.

The Spellbinding Fish Fry was not on till later, but an opening act tuned up on the grandstand in the middle of a county fair racetrack. The dusty track was packed with people. The Geeky Guy would’ve preferred having his panic attack at a little distance, but the Lisping Barista dove right into the crowd and he had no choice but to follow. No sooner had they arrived at the foot of the stage, than the band began to play. The Geeky Guy wanted to tell the Lisping Barista they were too close, he didn’t feel well, could she take him home. He leaned to her ear and she turned it towards him. He could smell her hair, it smelled of coconuts; but she couldn’t hear him. She just smiled and flashed her eyes, as if to say, isn’t this heaven!

The Geeky Guy tried to do the things the Therapist Emeritus had taught him. He slowed his breathing; but, when the music started, the crowd began to dance and kick up dust, till he could barely breathe at all. He tried to focus on a distant point, but his concentration was swarmed by fears, apprehensions, and trepidations. Even the music, which should’ve been overpowering, for he was by the speakers, seemed to diminish, revealing a single, reiterating, reductive thought, like a strumming bass line. I’m going to have a panic attack. I’m going to have a panic attack. I’m going to have a panic attack. Where is she?

The Lisping Barista was gone.

She had spotted some friends and gone off through the crowd to meet them.

The Geeky Guy turned from the stage to look for her, pushing his way through the crowd, first in one direction, then in another. Every single face he encountered had a broad grin. They were laughing at him, he thought. He was going to have a panic attack and everyone would laugh. They were laughing already.

Of course they weren’t laughing at him. They were smiling because they were in heaven. If you were in heaven, wouldn’t you smile? They barely noticed the Geeky Guy.

He had reached the edge of the crowd and broke into a run as the Lisping Barista spied him out of the corner of her eye. She’d been talking with her friends, Deep Fries, both; a rugby player with a busted knee, and a fat woman with too much makeup. The Rugby Player and the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup had just been telling her where their bus was parked, what they had on board, and when they were going to smoke, drink, and snort it. As important as this was to know, the Lisping Barista said, there goes my guy, and ran off after him. The Rugby Player and the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup followed at a more stately pace; The Rugby Player, because of his knee and the Fat Woman with Too Much Makeup, because she was just plain fat.

His instincts were direct: run to cover; even though the thoughts that brought him to that point were complex. He had seen that the Lisping Barista had seen him, but he had already committed himself to avoiding his panic attack. Once evasive maneuvers take over, there’s no going back. There’s no saying, there’s your ride home, the very person you were looking for, the one you were afraid of losing, you found her now, you can calm down. No, circumstances demanded that he hide, so hide he must.

The Geeky Guy ran into a nearby shed, which happened to be filled with costumes and people trying them on. He bushwhacked through yards of tulle and hid himself within a labyrinth of clothing racks. The Lisping Barista tried to follow after him, but a piercing got caught on some lace. By the time she freed herself and located him by his heavy breathing, he had stopped and was sitting on the floor behind some long dresses. His feet stuck out where he might’ve tripped her.

Fortunately, the Lisping Barista knew how to deal with people avoiding panic attacks, when she wasn’t avoiding one of her own. Even though she saw his feet, she tripped over them anyway, went sprawling to the floor, and slid obliquely to his side.

“Oh, there you are. I wath looking for you.”

The Geeky Guy didn’t say anything. He was trying to breath.

“You found a nith plathe.” She gave a long sigh and cradled her hands behind her head. “I got thome friendth I want you to meet, but leth thtay here a while.”

It was a nice place, there on the floor, behind the long dresses, smelling of coconuts. In fact, it was beginning to seem a little like heaven.

The Spellbinding Fish Fry has a moment

Dating seems harmless enough, but you never really know what to expect when any two people come together; sometimes magic results, other times, an explosion, often, a fizzle. It’s a little like a chemistry experiment. It’s intentional chaos.

“What’s the music?” the Geeky Guy asked.

“Thpellbinding Fith Fry,” she said. He had to peak at the CD cover to understand.

Spellbinding Fish Fry was a jam band she followed. She was a Deep Fry, as they called themselves, and had gone to hear them one-hundred-and-twenty-nine times, following them around the country for almost four years, sleeping where she could, working when she had to. They were, in fact, going to hear them now in Massachusetts, the one-hundredth-and-thirtieth concert for her.

“Every thow ith different,” she said. “You don’t know when the betht one ith going to be; tho you have to go to them all.”

Spellbinding Fish Fry, he learned, had been together more than a dozen years, had none of the original band members, and had gone through four drummers, six rhythm guitarists, seven fiddlers, two organists, and three bass players. Some had come and gone and come and gone again. The Lisping Barista knew the whole history. It was all by design, part of the master plan, she told him. The only constant was the audience. They changed band members as people changed their underwear, to keep them fresh. Every new musician brought in new ideas, introduced new genres; every old member got progressively more stale, no matter who they were.

“I like that they keep it thtird up,” she said, and she explained she liked her personal life that way, as well. Keeping things stirred up, never staying in one place or with one person for long enough to get stale, no matter who they were.

They stopped talking and listened to the band playing its overlapping themes. For a while, nothing new happened. The musicians stayed on a pulse. Then things started bubbling up. The fiddler had a thought and made a decision. Extemporizing, she tried to pull the band in a particular direction. It was the moment, the moment everyone knows; when you get out of the way and make room for an uninvited guest.

The music was all about living in the moment, without memory or desire, intention or regret. The Lisping Barista was all about the moment, too. The Geeky Guy was along for the ride, his seatbelt strapped tight, hopefully behind some functional passenger side airbags.

A date is really a two person jam session, and a relationship, a jam band. In a date, two people come together and, though they may not be musicians, they play. Out of a basic rhythm of greeting and parting, question and answer, statement and response, hug and kiss, fondle and stroke, a new tune emerges. They may play old standards, or they may improvise. They may fuse genres, or clash inharmoniously. To varying degrees, or not, they make room for one another, share the stage, surrender the lead.

Perhaps because he had a thing for the fiddle player, the rhythm guitarist was the first to pick up on her new idea. The organ followed, and soon the whole band had fallen in line, although it was not like a line of soldiers, marching a fascist goosestep, eyes right, saluting their leader. It was like a procession of cows, all facing the same direction, but swatting their tails, grazing, cud-chewing, and mooing at different intervals.

The promise of the musical moment had been fulfilled, documented on a CD, and played over and over again to hear, but still the Geeky Guy did not believe in it.

The Lisping Barista’s trust in the moment seemed reckless. The forgetfulness of the road, the hypnotic music, the friendship of strangers appeared rash. Her belief that every new band member would add something good, that every new riff would not be discordant, that she could travel around the country, sleep in parking lots and bathe in rest stop bathrooms, paying no attention to a career, a long term relationship, a biological clock, all was too good to be true. Her faith looked imprudent. The Geeky Guy thought the Lisping Barista lived life a lot like she drove: a little too trusting that others would watch out for her when she was not watching out for herself.

And then he started to get nervous.

What the Geeky Guy knew about women

There wasn’t a lot that the Geeky Guy knew about women. He’d only known a few. His mother was a woman, but she was long dead. His therapist was a woman, but, being one, she couldn’t tell him about women without talking about herself, a serious breach of therapeutic ethics. His sister was a woman, but she was his sister and belonged to a separate category altogether. Besides, she was also a witch.

There was no reason the Geeky Guy would know anything about women. If he was anyone else, the Geeky Guy might’ve learned about women from friends, or women, themselves, might’ve been friends; but he had no friends. Maybe he was too geeky.

If he was anyone else, he might have learned about women at work or overhearing stories about women at work, but he was an engineer, and worked with other engineers, all men, who also knew nothing about women.

He didn’t start off being an engineer. He went to school to study biology, but found he couldn’t understand life, so he became an engineer.

If he was anyone else, the Geeky Guy might have already known about women by having gone out on dates; he was twenty-eight years old, after all; but the Geeky Guy was not like anyone else.

Anyone else would have learned about women from watching TV shows; but the Geeky Guy never watched TV. He and his sister had dozens of TVs, some working, some not; big-assed TVs left over from their childhood and newer flat screens found on the side of the road, only needing a minor tweak to get working again; but he never watched them. The Geeky Guy was a tinkerer and a putterer, not a watcher.

If he was anyone else, the Geeky Guy might have learned about women from movies, but he saw no movies. He didn’t know anything about movies because he didn’t watch TV. When you don’t watch TV you don’t know what movies to watch; you might even forget about movies and not think they’re important.

If he was anyone else, the Geeky Guy might have learned about movies, thereby learning about women, from reading newspapers. He and his sister got a newspaper delivered to their haunted house every morning, and this newspaper had news about movies, but he never read them. They kept the newspaper their parents had subscribed to because they were unwilling to change anything. They would pile each morning’s newspaper on top of the last to save it to be read later. The Geeky Guy thought newspapers were meant to be read in order, no more than one a day, since it was a daily newspaper. It works that way with medication.

He never read newspapers when he was a kid; kids have little interest in newspapers. When he began, he began with the newspaper that had been delivered the very next day after the accident that killed his parents. The first article he read was the article about the accident. It didn’t say much, but it spelled his father’s name wrong and over-reported his mother’s age by five years. It was enough to read for one day. When he was able to return to reading newspapers, he went back to that same day’s newspaper, but skipped that article, since he’d already read it.

That’s why the Geeky Guy never caught up, never read about current movies in newspapers, and never went to movies, learning about women that way.

If he was anyone else, the Geeky Guy might have learned about women from books, but he read few books. In fact, other than those books assigned to read in school, the Geeky Guy had only read one book, an ancient novel left over on his parents’ bookshelves. His eye naturally caught on the title: Kenilworth, by Sir Walter Scott. You can imagine why this book caught his eye. It had the same name as his home town. Both the book and the Geeky Guy’s hometown had been named for the same Kenilworth in England, a town that possessed a famous castle and a mysterious murder. A coincidence, you think? Although the Geeky Guy had scientific sensibilities, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that this was no coincidence and the book, Kenilworth, might hold secrets he needed to know. Therefore, he read Kenilworth over and over again.

Everything he knew about women the Geeky Guy learned from the heroine in the novel. She was named Amy. Whenever the Geeky Guy imagined himself with a woman, and it wasn’t often, he thought of being with Amy. After their marriage, Amy would come to live with him and his sister in their decrepit old house on High Street, but it would cease to be decrepit. Amy would clean it up. She would devote herself to scrubbing the floors and getting rid the piles of junk through the house. She would wash the windows and replace the curtains with a bright, floral design. In the spring, when the ground was soft, she’d pull out the sumac and plant a garden. His sister would continue to live with them; she would take the third floor. Amy would cook them all dinner and she and his sister would be great friends.

Amy would transform their creepy house because, being a woman, she would be able to create life and make people act better than they are. That’s what women do. That’s what the Geeky Guy knew about women.

There were other times that the Geeky Guy imagined his imaginary wife Amy. Shadowy times that involved the lights out, passion beyond reason, furtive guilt, and a wet spot in the bed. Amy would never speak of those incidents in the daylight. No woman ever would.

So there you have it. Everything the Geeky Guy knew about women, he’d read in a Victorian novel.