In Which I Defy Augury
“Somethin’ for the little lady somethin’ for the little lady-“
“What are you singing?” she asks me.
I point to the speakers. “Step Right Up.” She stares at me blankly. “The song. Tom Waits?” Still nothing. I collapse in a heap of disappointment at the bar. “Can you pour me a bucket of whisky?” I ask the bartender.
“No, I’d be charged as an accessory to your suicide,” she tells me. She pours me a nice-sized shot though. “What’s wrong?”
“Just once, I swear, just once I want to meet a woman who knows the lyrics to a Tom Waits song.”
“Excluding Downtown Train.”
She shrugs. “They’re out there.”
“If you find one,” I say to her, “let me know. I swear to God I’d marry her so fast her head would spin.”
“That’s interesting,” she says when I tell her my name. “Mine’s Nomad.”
I choke on my tinto de verano.
I don’t like to believe in God. When I wake up in a good mood, full of optimism about the world, I’m an atheist, and I figure that the whole sordid record of history isn’t something to get too upset about, because after all, it was written by six billion short sighted, selfish mammals all pulling in different directions, and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves.
Other days I wake up in a surly funk, and I think that the shit parade that’s been our history has indeed had an author, some sick bastard who gets his kicks writing a story full of genocide, gang rape and child prostitution, and likely ending in environmental holocaust. On these days, the idea that there might indeed be some omnipotent entity hovering over us with the power to send all of us to a district of hell where we spend eternity getting gang-banged by chainsaws, and whose mind, motivations, and turn-ons are completely unknowable SCARES THE MOTHERLOVING CRAP OUT OF ME.
I’m surprised it doesn’t terrify more theists. I can barely peek out from under the covers those days.
So I’m usually an atheist, because I like keeping a positive outlook. But when you’ve spent the past year running around the better part of Europe calling yourself Vagabond and a girl tells you her name is “Nomad,” it’s a bit like God hitting you on the back of the head with a lemon-flavored two-by-four and telling you to pay attention.
“Really?” I ask.
She shrugs. “That’s what it means in Arabic, anyway.”
“And what does it mean in Hebrew?”
We resume the conversation and I do my best to ignore the coincidence, which after all is really just a coincidence, not a huge one at that, and anyway Vagabonds like to travel light, without baggage.
“Where did you go to school?”
“Michigan,” I tell her.
“Oh, Ann Arbor. My ex-boyfriend went there, I’ve always wanted to see the Big House. His pictures always looked so pretty.”
I blink rapidly for a few seconds while I try to calculate the odds of a madrilena using the words ‘Big House’ correctly in a sentence. No need to panic, it’s a country of 40 million people, surely one tenth of one percent have heard of the Big House, leaving 40,000 Spaniards, likely half of them women.
“So you speak four languages?” I ask, trying to change the subject.
“Yes, but I want to learn more. I took this amazing class in college about the bible as literature.”
Enormous red lights are flashing in the periphery of my vision.
“And you had an amazing professor who could read Latin, Ancient Greek and Hebrew,” I tell her.
She frowns. “Yeah. How’d you know? He taught us all about how the Hebrew creation myth was influenced by the Babylonian myth-“
“Because of the Babylonian Exile. Marduk and Tiamat and all that.”
“Exactly. And he gave this mind-blowing lecture all about-“
“The Book of Job.”
“The Book of Job.”
“Which is your favorite part of the bible.”
“Because God is such a dick in it.”
We don’t say anything for a few minutes. After a while she asks me if I could stop staring at her, because it’s getting kind of creepy. I apologize. “Have you ever read anything by Philip K. Dick?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes. “Hombre. Of course. Do you like Isaac Asimov?”
“He wrote 412 books. I think I’ve read half of them.”
“I’ve got a copy of Dune back at my apartment.”
“The book? Or the movie?”
“Both. I’m kinda nuts for David Lynch.”
True to her word, she has both on her bookshelf, right next to two Italo Calvino novels and a copy of “The Origins of the Second World War” in English. I pull it out and sputter helplessly.
“This. How did? But…this is on my list. My Amazon list. I’ve been meaning to buy it for years.”
She shrugs. “You can borrow it, if you like.”
I put the book back on the shelf.
Right next to a copy of “Rain Dogs.” My knees go a little weak.
“You…you like Tom Waits?” I stutter.
“Oh yeah. Him and Leonard Cohen. But have you heard Jeff Buckley’s cover of Halleluja? It’s actually way better.”
Imagine you’re walking about town of a warm summer night, when you notice that, suddenly, every star in the sky has spontaneously rearranged itself into gynormous cursive letters that spell the words “Her, Dipshit!” with an arrow pointing to someone that is blinking bright red.
It’s amazing, and deeply, deeply frightening.
“Uh, why are you in my bed with the sheets over your head?” she asks.
I try to explain that, apparently, we have to get married immediately, because pursuant to a promise I made to the Almighty, failure to do so might result in all sort of hell being unleashed upon me by some Divine Asshole who likes taking drunken commitments seriously in order to screw with the lives of unwitting fools and vagabonds.
She’s not quite convinced.
I think I might be well and truly fucked.