3.12 – The Mall

The next morning Mom woke me up on the couch.

“It’s time to go to The Mall,” she said.

“Nooo,” I said.

It was too early, and I wanted to keep sleeping.

“Come on,” she said. “We need to get your pants.”

“But I have pants.”

“We need to get your dress pants for the wedding tho, remember?”

“I don’t wanna go to a wedding.”

“But you’ve already come all this way for your friends in Philadelphia.”

“I don’t know anyone there.”

“Yes, you do, sleepyhead.”

Then she opened the blinds, and the sun shined too hard on me.

“Nyaargh!” I said.

But it was too bright to go back to sleep. I hadta get up and get ready and go to The Mall even tho I didn’t even remember why.

“Do you want to drive?” Mom said.

“Of course not,” I said.

Then we took her car, and I got in the backseat.

On the way The Radio was playing a song with sitars and chanting. I’d never heard it before.

“Is this some kind of New Hit?” I said.

“No,” she said. “This is my Self Growth Music. It’s good, listen.”

I trusted Mom the most on songs and tried to like it. But it was in a language I didn’t know, and there were no electric guitars or high, powerful vocals. There were no choruses or verses or bridges or solos, it was just the same noises repeating over and over.

“It’s not very high or powerful,” I said.

“Its vibrations are high and powerful tho,” she said.

“Oh.”

By the end of the drive I decided there was no way it could ever be on The Great List of Old Songs. But more importantly my ears were getting full of TimeFuck Tingles. They hurt, and they were growing, and I knew it would be really bad if they spread to the center of my head.

Soon the massive concrete square that was The Mall arose before us.  We pulled into the equally massive parking lot, and Mom turned the music off.

We went into The Department Store where all the clothes were.  There was a men’s section with my clothes, but no one else was there with their Mom.

She immediately started looked thru the racks of dress pants trying to find the right size.

“Hmm,” she said. “I don’t think they have anything small enough to fit you.”

She picked up a pair of pants and held them up to my waist.

“These might be alright,” she said, “but you’ll need to go to the fitting room to find out.”

“Do I have to?” I said.

I was tired and my head was still funny from Mom’s new music. I just didn’t have the energy to take off my pants and put on new pants and then take those pants off and then put my old pants back on.

“You don’t want them so long you’re stepping on them with your shoes. They’ll fray at the bottom.”

“I don’t think I care.”

“If you stay for another day we could get them hemmed.”

“Aren’t I just going to stay here for every day forever?”

She didn’t hear me tho. Then she got the pants, but she still wouldn’t let us leave The Department Store.

“What are we doing now?” I said.

“You still need to get a dress shirt and shoes and socks and a belt.”

“Oh.”

Then we had to look thru more racks. We went over to the shirts, and she held a blue button-down one up to my chest.

“I think you’re a small,” she said. “You’re probably still a small.”

“Alright,” I said, “just get it so we can go.”

She got it, but she soon got distracted by other racks that didn’t even have the things she said I needed on it.

“Ooh,” she said, “look at this t-shirt. What’s that on it? A crocodile?”

“I hate crocodiles,” I said.

I was so tired and bored, I didn’t want to stand anymore. I sat down cross-legged on the floor and held my head in my hands while Mom kept shopping. It was taking forever. Sometimes pretty teenage girls would walk by and look at me weird, and it would make me feel bad.

“Mom,” I said, “can we go now?”

“But we haven’t got your shoes yet,” she said.

“I feel sick tho. I’m too sick to be at The Mall.”

“Tsst, I bet it’s all that Dr. Pepper you drank.”

“We need to go home so I can take something that makes me better.”

“Alright, I have some Self Growth remedies that will cure you.”

“I don’t care. We just hafta leave here.”

When we got back in the car The Self Growth music was playing again. The Tingles were now in my stomach, too, and I felt like throwing them up.

“Can you play The Real Radio instead?” I said.

“You mean like The Hits Station?”

“Yes!”

“Oh, I don’t ever listen to that kind of music anymore.”

“Not even Journey or Mariah Carey?”

“No, I guess I’ve Grown past that.”

Suddenly my whole body got filled with a gigantic dose of TimeFuck. Had I remembered I was a Reality Traveler I might have made a last minute sacrifice to The Goddess of Faith, but I did not. The spinning went faster and faster until all my senses shut off, and I didn’t even know where I was anymore.

“My city is gone,” I managed to say right before everything turned black.

3.11 – Great Old Movies

Somehow my parents’ Self Growth hadn’t affected The TV yet. They still had a huge one with the latest technology and every single possible channel. As soon as Mom turned it on, its lights and sounds gave me a second wind of energy. The TimeFuck dizziness eased up, and I was able to get off the floor and sit up on the couch.

I grabbed the remote, and it felt good and comfortable in my hand. I hadn’t watched any TV during The Training, but it was all coming back to me. I used the remote to control the TV with the highest speed and accuracy. The goal was to find a good show, and I knew from one or two seconds of light and sound whether I needed to stay or move on. Even when you found a good show it would be interrupted every so often by a company trying to persuade you to buy their products, and you’d have to find another show to tie you over for a couple minutes. One commercial came on tho and managed to hook me in. It showed a juicy hamburger on a smooth bun with a side of golden french fries and big-strawed soft drink to wash it down. Then it showed the golden arches logo of McDonald’s, and my mouth was watering with TimeFuck.

“No!” I said. “Torture commercials.”

“Put it on one of the movie channels then,” Mom said.

“Oh yeah.”

There are certain channels you pay extra for to have no commercials and only movies. I turned it to one that was showing one of my favorite things on the Great List of Old Movies, Big.

Big is a movie about Reality Travel. In it a small teenage boy is sick of taller MeNotzies and makes a wish to be big like them so they’ll finally MeToo. But the wishing machine misunderstands him and turns him into an Adult instead. He’s not a Reality Traveler and has probably never even heard of it before, yet he is forced to deal with the highest degree of difficulty Reality Travel ever. He’s suddenly cut off from his family and most familiar Past Realities and must MeToo an endless series of New Adult Realities including jobs, girlfriends, and the dangerous and unpredictable random Realities of NewYorkCity, all in a body he’s never operated before. He gets his ass kicked badly at first, but somehow avoids Vertigo and ends up MeTooing them all, including an Adult lady SoulMate, in one swift stroke by playing “Chopsticks” with his feet on a giant electronic keyboard.

“Chopsticks” is a song about being the first thing you learn to play on the piano. Every Reality knows it.

“Bravo!” I clapped when it was over.

I would’ve hoped that I could be half the Traveler the Big kid ended up being, but I was actually starting to forget what Reality Travel was anymore. The TimeWarp seemed to be getting stronger the longer I was there. I was even beginning to think I was still a kid. So I just did what I would’ve done until I got The Calling, nuzzled into a nice couch groove and watched the next great old movie.

“Ooh, Crocodile Dundee,” I said.

 Crocodile Dundee is a movie about Reality Travel, too. In it a crocodile hunter from the far off and exciting Realities of the Australian Outback follows his SoulMate to her home in NewYorkCity. It’s his first time ever Reality Traveling, and tho he’s an expert at survival in the wilderness he’s an amateur in the Realities of a huge American city. But Crocodile Dundee is a Natural at Reality Travel and nothing kicks his ass ever. All of his Australian quirks like saying “G’day” and wearing a crocodile tooth hat and carrying a very big sharp knife are all wildly MeToo successful no matter where he was.

The movie was so soothing and relaxing for me, I fell asleep before it was over. It was alright tho, I had seen it so many times I had no doubt Crocodile Dundee would use his wilderness skills to hunt down his SoulMate in the subway and tell her he Loves her before it’s too late, so they could live It’s Alright, Baby ever after.

3.10 – The Professor’s Training Lesson: TV

“Beware of TV,” The Professor said. “TV enables the light and sound of one Reality to instantly Travel to any other Reality in The World no matter the time and distance. It can feel as if you’re on a Great Reality Travel Trip and you’re getting MeToo’d by many far off and exciting Realities, but the truth is you haven’t actually Traveled off your couch. The light and sound have also been manipulated by TV Producers to make you think something is real when it’s actually fiction. But even if it was real, you would never be able to MeToo the TV back.”

3.9 – Dogfight

When I came back in from the garage the Buddhawg was there waiting for me again. He leapt up and was quick enough this time to actually get a whole dangling finger in his mouth. It made me hurt.

“Sorry,” Mom said. “I let him back out because I thought you were going out.”

“How would I do that?” I said. “I can’t drive ever.”

But she couldn’t hear me cuz the air was full of barking.

“Hold on,” she came over. “Let me put him back in the cage.”

“No, wait,” I said. “This time I want revenge.”

Then I led the Buddhawg to the living floor and got down on my knees to his level. We stared and growled at each other.  We faced off like two enemy fighter pilots in the First Great Reality War.

“The old dog didn’t bite,” I told him. “Dogritos was a creature of Pure Love and only wanted to be cuddled and squeezed.”

“Yap, yap,” Buddhawg said.

“Now I’m going to overpower you and make you exactly like her.”

Then I lunged in and smothered him with the weight of my much heavier body. I got nipped on the hands a couple times, but I was able to grab him by the neck, raise him up, and smush my face right into his furry and vulnerable underside. Then I pulled away so I could pinch his little black nose and see how wet it was. The Buddhawg snorted and fought to break free, but my species was just so much more powerful.

“I’m doing it,” I said. “I’m winning. Just like Le Rouge Baron.”

Buddhawg didn’t give up tho. The moment I let up he squirmed away and got several nips in. I tried to pin him back down again, but the whole fight my head had been getting more TimeFuck swirly. Soon I was out of breath and hadta lay flat down on my belly. Then I was defenseless, and my hands got nipped so many times.

“Can’t beat him,” I mumbled into the carpet.

Then I hadta call Mom over to rescue me. She came over, scooped up and imprisoned the biting dog once again. I kept lying there tho.

“Tsst,” she said. “No wonder you’re so tired. You haven’t eaten or rested all day.”

“I don’t know,” I told her. “I just know I only want one thing now.

“What?”

“TV.”

3.8 – Driver Training School

I knew in order to be a great Reality Traveler I’d have to be able to drive, so I went to Driver Training School. For the Training you had to Hit The Road with The Driving Professor, and he told you all the rules and booby-traps to watch out for so you could get The Driver’s License. He was originally from TheSwamps of Louisiana and had reptile eyes and a giant crocodile sharptooth mouth. He seemed like he should’ve been bellyflopped and chomping on a riverside instead of teaching you how to make a car go.

The car was the fastest, heaviest, and most expensive thing I’d ever tried to control, and I could easily imagine how much damage would be done if I accidentally hit something with it. Every time I drove I went really slowly and didn’t make a move until I was absolutely sure I could without crashing.

“How come you not relaxed?” The Driving Professor said once.

I didn’t answer cuz I was afraid I didn’t know the right answer. The Driving Professor’s scales looked extra jaggedy that day.

“Rmm,” he said, “take this next left.”

A left turn was hard cuz sometimes there was no traffic light with a left turn arrow, and then you had to anticipate a gap in the cars, and if you mistimed it you would hit one.

“How come you hold your breath every time you make a left turn?” The Driving Professor said.

I didn’t know how to answer again. His eyes were extra yellow and slitty that day. His back spikes rose high. The light reflected off his fangs and made them sparkle.

“How come you never speak?” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I don’t know.”

“No one else in Driver Training as scared as you. What’s the matter? You don’t like it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Seems like a lot you don’t know.”

“I know.”

“Rrm, turn on this two lane Road, to practice lane changes.”

Lane changes were hard cuz if you didn’t check first there might be someone else already in the lane and then you’d hit them. The Driving Professor told me to go from the right lane to the left lane.

“Holding your breath again,” he said.

Then he told me to change back from the left lane to the right lane. This time I tried really hard not to hold my breath, but then I forgot to check the lane first. When I started to move there was another car already there, and he honked at me, and it was the worst sound I’d ever heard.

“No!” The Driving Professor Crocodile roared. “You gotta check first!”

His mouth opened up and you could see a lot of his teeth points. He looked like something so vicious it should’ve been killed off with the rest of the dinosaurs, but here he was in modern times. I was scared and pulled the car over to the side and stopped.

“What you doing?” he said.

“I don’t want to anymore,” I said.

“Huh?”

“I don’t want to drive anymore today.”

“Huh? What’s the matter with you?”

“I don’t know.”

“Let me explain something to you…”

“Alright.”

“Anyone can drive.”

“Okay.”

“Do you know why?”

“No.”

“Cuz it’s easy.”

“Oh.”

“You don’t have to be a bird to fly this. Teenagers and grannies and handicapped people, everyone out there are all driving, cuz it’s that easy.”

“But it’s hard for me.”

Then the Driving Professor growled and opened his jaw all the way and snapped back down quickly.

“You think this is hard?” he said. “Man, I’m from TheSwamps. You’re from from the Suburbs. You don’t know what hard is. Now turn back on the Road.”

I didn’t move the car.

“Get back on the goddam Road!”

His words grabbed me by the neck and took me under the water with him, and then I was too bitten to do anything.

“You just gonna quit then?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said.

Then we both had to get out of the car and switch seats so he could drive me home.

3.7 – Salad

When I came back in I was immediately attacked by The Buddhawg. I had to hold my hands way over my head so he wouldn’t nip them, but he jumped up and tried anyway.

“Mom!” I said.

“Don’t let him bite you,” she said. “We’re trying to train him out of it.”

“I’m not letting him. He’s forcing it to happen.”

Then she had to pick him up again and throw him back behind a high wall of metal wires. Even then the puppy kept staring at my fingers and barking at them.

“Mom!” I said.

“What?”

“I’m hungry.”

“I’m just about to make a nice big salad.”

“What’s that?”

“Salads are the best food. They’re full of the vitamins and minerals your Self needs to Grow and have none of the toxins that Shrink it.”

Then she made a huge bowl of it for me, but it was only made of things from The Great List of Gross Food. There was sharp, pointy weed-lettuce and tomatoes and red peppers and cauliflower and toadstool mushrooms and currents and walnuts and lots of seeds and no dressing on it whatsoever. I tried to eat it, but the taste was not good, and every time a bite went in I had to close my eyes and shake my head, and my throat would try to close off so none of the grossness could get in. I looked down and there was so much left I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish.

“Can I have something else?” I said.

“Like what?”

“Something from the Great List of Food.”

“Well, I guess you can look around.”

I got up and opened the refrigerator and the pantry, but nothing we used to eat was in there anymore. There were only unfamiliar things called ‘herbal tea’ and ‘tempeh’ and ‘quinoa.’ The Tingles got big and swirled. I got dizzy and wobbled.

“Mom!” I said. “I can’t eat anything here.”

“What’s wrong with the salad?”

“Everything. I want McDonald’s.”

McDonald’s is a restaurant about being able to get the same great fast food everywhere in America. Everything on their menu is scientifically designed for the most Realities to MeToo. And it’s ready to eat as soon as you order it. The best thing there is The Happy Meal. It comes with a cheeseburger, french fries, milkshake and a toy of a McDonald’s character like Ronald McDonald.

Ronald McDonald is a clown about being really happy.

“Tss, tsst, tsst,” Mom said. “McDonald’s is the most toxic food there possibly is!”

“But you made me like it, cuz we would always stop there on the way back from The Mall.”

Mom wasn’t listening tho, she just kept shaking her head and tsst-ing me.

I had to fight thru the TimeFuck and get out of there again. I made it to the garage and got in the car. But then I realized I got in the back seat. Then I realized it was Mom’s car, and my own car was actually in the driveway. And then I realized I actually didn’t want to drive anywhere ever.

3.6 – The Great List of Food

General Tso’s chicken

Dr. Pepper

Doritos

Twizzlers

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Popcorn

Apple Pancakes

PeanutButter&Jelly sandwiches

Chicken sandwiches

Chicken wings

Chicken fingers

Mozzarella sticks

Marinara sauce

Onion rings

Ranch dressing

Keebler fudge grams

Oreo cookies

Christmas cookies

Spaghettios

Fruit Roll-Ups

Hot Pockets

Honey Nut Cheerios

Birthday Cake

Ben&Jerry’s Coffee HeathBar Crunch Ice Cream

Pizza

Flintstones Chewable Vitamins

Potato Salad

Salmon

Red White and Blue Popsicles

French Fries

Croissants

Macaroni and cheese

Juice boxes

Breast milk

Banana milkshake

McDonald’s Happy Meal

3.5 – Kat Call

As soon as I got outside I got a call from my ex-girlfriend Kat. I’d left a message when I was Lonely in Iowa that said something like, “I could be in Just-Outside-NewYorkCity-County Reality at any moment to see you.”

“You can’t just make plans with no notice like that,” Kat said.

“It’s alright,” I said.

“Adults don’t do things that way.”

“It’s alright, Kat.”

“But for all you know I could be out of town for my own friends’ wedding this weekend.”

“Well, are you?”

“No, but I do have to kat-sit for someone.”

“What night?”

“The night after tomorrow.”

“So that means I can crash with you tomorrow?”

“Eh… I guess.”

“Alright, great.”

“I’ll be at my parents’ house because I’m living there again. Not because I need to but because it’s a smart financial decision that will help me save up the necessary tuition for graduate school which will lead to a better career.”

“Alright.”

“They’ll be gone for the weekend tho. It would just be you and me.”

“Great, I want to go The Golden Lion and get General Tso’s.”

“I’m going to be working all day. And then I have to go to sleep early to wake up early to work all the next day. I barely have any time. If you want to get dinner with me you have to be here at exactly 6:00pm.”

“Alright, got it.”

“You’ll try to be late, but you can’t be.”

“I won’t try to be late.”

“I know you.”

“Alright, no Sidetracks, Kat. I’ll be there at the exact correct time.”

“We’ll see.”

“It’s alright, Kat.”

“I have to get ready for bed now.”

“Already?”

“Yes, this is when Adult’s go to bed.”

“It’s alright, Kat.”

“I’ve gotta go.”

“Alright.”

After we got off the phone I stood there in the driveway and couldn’t remember what I came out there for. All that talk about General Tso’s made me realize I was starving and needed something from The Great List of Food at once.

3.4 – The Smaller Nest

Me and my Mom and Dad and Brother usta live in a big house called The Big Nest. It was like a soft, but tightly strewn, perimeter of bramble that could secure and protect a fragile egg or baby bird too young to fly. It was so big, cuz Dad was a moneymaking Doctor, and everything inside it was big, too, like a big kitchen, big toys, and a big TV.

I moved away after I got The Calling, and whenever I came back Mom and Dad would always be talking about a strange new concept called Self Growth.

Self Growth is about your Self not being big enough as it is, so you have to do things to make it grow, like stretching, breathing, running, chanting, eating health food, and acquiring knickknacks from the far off and exciting Realities of Asia and/or Native America. Once your Self has gotten to a certain size you won’t need other things in your life to be as big.

At one point both my parents’ Selves had Grown enough that they didn’t even need The Big Nest anymore, and so they moved into a new Smaller Nest. Every time I went there it never felt quite right.

I got there this time early in the night. I went up to the front door and hadta ring the doorbell cuz I didn’t have a key. Inside I could hear unfamiliar high and powerful noises. When the door opened a small creature leapt out at me.

“This is the new puppy!” Mom said. “We named him Buddhawg after The Self Growth Guru, The Buddha.”

The Buddha was a Wiseman Traveler who MeToo’d via The Great MeToo – All Realities Will End.

“Oh,” I said.

Our old dog Dogritos had just died. We had named her after Doritos.

Doritos are a triangular snack chip about having a bold nacho cheese flavor.

I didn’t even know they’d replaced her with a new dog until that moment. It made me feel a TimeFuck tingle in my head.

The Buddhawg was very adorable tho. His shaggy black hair came down over his eyes, and you could only see a little nose and mouth, and you just wanted to smush his face in with Love.

 “Aww,” I said.

But when I bent down to pet him, he snapped at my hand, and I could feel little sharp teeth.

“Buddhawg, No!” Mom said and scooped him up.  “He’s still a little wild.”

Then she had to take him inside and put him in a little metal cage so he couldn’t attack me anymore.

As usual everything seemed off in The Smaller Nest. The walls and windows and carpets and furniture were all in the wrong places, and they were the wrong sizes and colors. It even had the wrong smell. I hadta shake my head to get all the TimeFuck Tingles out of it.

“Are you alright?” Mom asked.

“Yeah,” I said.

“Did you stop to rest at all?”

“No.”

“How did you stay awake?”

“Dr. Pepper.”

“Tsst, that stuff is toxic!”

“But I love it.”

“It’s making your Self Shrink.”

“I don’t feel like I’m shrinking.”

“It does it slowly and secretly until your Self is so small you don’t have one anymore.”

“But you usta buy it for us all the time.”

“We didn’t know better back then. But every Self Growth book and workshop and seminar says Dr. Pepper is bad.”

The Tingles wouldn’t go away, and they made me hafta sit down.

“So who’s wedding are you going to?” Mom said.

“Huh?” I said.

Besides the Tingles, my mind was also suddenly having trouble remembering things.

“You said on the phone you’re going to Philadelphia for a wedding,” she said.

“Oh yeah, that must be Wolf&Lamb’s I guess.”

“Do you have something to wear for it?”

“What I’m wearing now.”

I was in my Traveler Uniform, which I wore every day I Traveled – blue bandana, blue jean jacket, plain white t-shirt, blue jeans, and black tennis shoes.

“What about pants?” she said. “You can’t just wear jeans to a wedding.”

“I can’t?”

“Everyone else there will be wearing dress clothes.”

I hadn’t thought of that, but she was making sense. If I looked too different I could Stick Out Like a Sore Thumb and become a magnet for MeNotzies.

“What do I do?” I said. “It’s too late to change my Wedding Uniform now.”

“It’s alright,” Mom said. “We can go to The Mall early tomorrow and get a pair of khakis. I think there’s a sale.”

“But I hate shopping at The Mall. Maybe I don’t even wanna go to a Wedding.”

After I said that I realized that my head wasn’t right at all, and a TimeWarp must’ve been taking over. I tried to play “I’m Like a Bird,” in my head, but I couldn’t really remember how the melody went.

“Oh Gods,” I said, “I gotta get something from the car.”

Then I went to grab The Mix at once.