5.5 – Meeting up with El Puma

I parked Wings in the ALC parking lot and stuck my Bluebird Sticker on the inside of my jacket so it wouldn’t stand out too much, but I could still check it whenever I needed to. Then I went to The Dorms where I was supposta meet El Puma. I almost didn’t recognize him at first. He was standing outside, wearing a strange Adult looking suit and tie, and lacking his usual pouncing vigor.

“What are you wearing?” I said.

“They make me wear this for my job at the Major Financial Newspaper.”

“A what newspaper?”

“Major Financial.”

“What do you do there?”

“They say finance words in English, and then I tell them what those words are in Spanish.”

“Does it take a long time to do that?”

“Many hours, every day.”

“That sounds like an Adult job.”

“It may be. But living in NewYorkCity is very expensive, and I must admit I need their money.”

“My Gods, you must have The Malaise like crazy!”

“Yes, I am very fatigued all the time. I am hunting for a better job at a minor-financial newspaper in Just-Outside-County, where possibly I can be a Reporter-Man Traveler who MeToos via scoops. But they require me to have the American Driver’s License. This is why I was at the Department of Driving today.”

“Did you get it?”

“Unfortunately, no. I did not know enough of the American Rules of Driving, and the MeNotzies there would not let me pass.”

“Well, don’t worry, El Puma. The Reality Travel Cavalry is here, and it’s gonna be nothing but MeToos for the rest of the night.”

“Ah yes, this is what I was hoping for. I am happy you have time for me after Love with the Kat.”

“Actually, we didn’t end up Loving. In fact, I barely got out of there unscratched.”

“Oh no!”

“It’s alright. I was able to handle it all with The Always Be Your Own Reality & Roll with the Punches strategies.”

“Ah ha! I see you have picked up new terminology in The Training.”

“Yes, I’m like a whole new Traveler now.”

“And do any Reality Travel chicks Love you for this?

“Even better, I think an Angel may Love me for this. I just kissed her a few minutes ago.”

“Wow! An Angel. I never had a doubt this would happen to you, Traveler Jonathan.”

“Thanks.”

“I am thrilled for you to now meet my Mi Amor. She is inside. Shall we go in?”

“Yes, but we’ll hafta beware. As soon as we get close to the Past Realities of The Dorms we could be TimeWarped into acting like amateurish failures.”

“I do not know of this TimeWarp you speak of. But this is not so much past for me. I am still here almost every weekend to see Mi Amor.”

“Oh.”

“But you will be alright?”

“Oh yeah, TimeWarps are nothing. You just need a good Grounding Device.”

I showed him the inside of my jacket.

“Grounding Device! I am lucky to have such an advanced Traveler with me tonight,” he said.

“Yes, you are.”

Then I took a good look at my sticker, and we went in.

5.1 – Voice Training

The next year at Artsy Lawless I signed up for Voice Training. It was taught by The Voice Professor, an old Downtown NewYorkCity Reality who always wore a bright yellow and green sweatsuit that made her look like a parrot.

First she needed to figure out whether to put you in Amateur Group Training or Expert Private Training, so you hadta do an audition where you sung something you already knew by heart. I had never sung before without The Radio being on at the same time and couldn’t remember the words to things without it. When it was my turn I had to be honest.

“I don’t know anything by heart,” I said.

“Uh huh,” The Voice Professor said. “See that’s not true, cuz everybody at least knows how Happy Birthday goes.”

“Happy Birthday” is a song about wishing someone is happy on their birthday. All the words are known by every Reality everywhere.

I did know that song, and sang it for her, but it didn’t give me a chance to match any high and powerful vocals. I couldn’t help sounding like a kid who just wanted the song to be over so they could get cake and presents.

“Uh huh,” she said. “We’re gonna put you in Group Training.”

Group Training was me and several other Realities. The Voice Professor would make us stand in a row, and she’d go down the line and sing nonsense words at us like “wawamamawama,” and then we were supposta sing it back. Some Realities were able to repeat it exactly, and then she’d go “uh huh” to them. But most Realities just quietly mumbled the wrong pitch, and then The Voice Professor would ask them if they could cry.

“Yeah,” they’d say.

“Well,” she’d say. “If you can cry you can sing. Now go ‘Waaah!”

Then they’d try to go “Waah!,” but they still wouldn’t do it right.

It was like this for a long time until one class The Voice Professor said we could finally sing a line from a real song of our choice. The only thing I could think of was the “oh whoa whoa whoa oh,” part of Journey’s “Faithfully” cuz it didn’t have any lyrics to remember. I knew there was a good chance the class was full of MeNotzies who hated that song, but most of them had also embarrassed themselves by poorly singing nonsense words so I went for it.

“Uh huh?” The Voice Professor looked confused. “Could you sing that again?”

“Alright,” I said.

Then I sang it again, and she squinted her eyes and leaned her ear in right next to my mouth. Her eyes suddenly widened.

“Ooh!” she said.

She hadn’t said that word in the class ever before.

“Can you sing the rest of that song?” she asked.

“Not the words,” I said.

“What about the sounds? Can you just sing the sounds?”

“Maybe.”

Then I did the song just singing ‘la’s’ instead of the lyrics, and I realized I did know the melody and was actually nailing it.

“Uh huh!” The Voice Professor said. “I think you may… I think just maybe… You’ve got It.”

“Got what?” I said.

It.”

“What’s It?”

“You don’t know what It is?”

“No.”

“Uh huh, well, It is The Gift.”

“A Gift from whom?”

“The Goddess of Music.”

“Ohh!”

After that I didn’t have to go to Group Training anymore, cuz I was in Private Training.

4.4 – Artsy Lawless College

I first heard about Artsy Lawless College from La Renarde. She always said college wouldn’t be Reality Travel enough for her, and as soon as HighSchool was over she was going to the far off and exciting Realities of Paris, France. But she did say if she was going to college she’d only go to Artsy Lawless in Just-Outside-NewYorkCity County, New York.

Artsy Lawless is a college about art and lawlessness. Most colleges are Future Adult Training Schools, and they have lotsa Rules to make sure you become one. Like you hafta  train to be a specific kind of Adult, like Lawyer-Adult or Doctor-Adult.  And you can’t take more than one Art Training class cuz no Adult job will ever need it.  And you hafta take a math class so you get used to how boring an Adult job will be. But at ALC they don’t care if their students ever become Adults, and there are almost no Rules. Students can take classes in whatever they want, even if it’s all art.

La Renarde said tons of Reality Travelers went there, and it was a big MeToo Party all the time. I also liked the idea of taking nothing but music classes and getting a real college degree just by writing papers on The Great List of Songs. So that’s where I went.

When I got there tho, nothing was like I thought it would be. Just-Outside-NewYorkCity County was like one endless Downtown OIC(R). It was full of huge and close together rundown buildings with tough-faced MeNotzie types hanging around. The ALC campus was a little island of trees and grass in the middle of it, but you hadta stay in The Dorms and live with a bunch of New Realities. They all came from different far off and exciting places, and looked like no animal I’d seen before. They all seemed like some kinduv ancient Greek mythological creature, half wing&talon bird and half monster-roar lion.

The first night there was a party in The Dorms so all the New Realities could start to MeToo. There was loud music and Alcohol Perception, and Realities gathered in small groups to talk. I joined one of the groups talking about songs. They went around with each Reality saying a song or band they liked, and then everyone else trying to MeToo them. They were all like La Renarde tho, and none of the things they said were Hits on The Radio, and I couldn’t MeToo any of them. When it got to me I knew saying something like Journey or Mariah Carey would be way too risky.

“I like Blondie,” I said.

No one said anything for a second. Then one half bird/half lion started laughing. Then all the others did too. They noticed I wasn’t laughing tho.

“Oh,” a mythological creature said, “he’s actually serious.”

“Old Hits Radio,” another one said, “ew.”

Then everyone started laughing again.

“But I only like the ones they don’t play on The Radio,” I lied, “like ‘Sunday Girl.’”

“But they play so many of their songs on The Radio none of their other songs count,” a classical monster explained.

“Gawd,” another one said, “Blondie’s like ‘Mom-Music.’”

Then everyone laughed the hardest, and I didn’t know what else to do but leave the group and the party and get to Alone Reality right away. It was all going on right outside my room tho, so I hadta go all the way outside. Even out there New Realities were all over the place laughing and drinking and MeNotting things, so I hadta go hide behind some trees so no one could see me at all.

“Ah, thank Gods, I’m back in Alone Reality,” I said to myself.

I was thinking about the horrible mistake I’d just made going to a MeNotzie college instead of a Reality Traveler college and wondering if I was allowed to drive back home to Ohio right away, when I heard a rustling in the trees next to me. It was bigger than a squirrel and heading right towards me. I ducked down so it couldn’t get me, but it did anyway.

“Hey,” it said, “What’s wrong?”

I looked up, and it was not a half bird/half lion but a whole cute-as-a-kitten girl. I didn’t know if she might still be a sneaky scratch-claw kinda cat, and I tried to ignore her, but she didn’t go away.

“It’s alright,” she said. “I’m one of the good ones. You can talk to me.”

Then she reached out her hand.

“I’m Kat,” she said.

I hesitantly shook it and told her my name.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “You’re new, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I’ve been at this place for three years and can tell you everything about it. First thing you need to know is everyone at this school is mean. They all think they’re this thing called a ‘Reality Traveler’ and that makes them better than everyone else. I only go here because I grew up like right next door, and they let you take more than one theatre class. I’m not a Reality Traveler at all.”

I didn’t tell her I was a Reality Traveler, cuz I was getting the sense that everything at the school was backwards, and the Reality Travelers were actually MeNotzies, and the MeNotzies were actually Reality Travelers. It seemed like Kat might be on my side even if she called herself the wrong thing.

“So what’s wrong?” she said. “Why are you out here by yourself?”

Then I told her what happened at the party.

“Yeah,” she said, “they don’t like the same songs as me either. My favorite band is Foreigner.”

Foreigner is a band about being the closest thing to Journey. They both had a lot of hits during the exact same years, and their lead singer Lou Gramm is nearly as high and powerful as Steve Perry.

“I like Foreigner,” I said. “And Journey is actually my favorite band.”

“I like Journey, too,” Kat said. “When I was a kid my dad would drive me places and play The Radio and teach me about all the Good Old Songs.”

“Hey, I would do the same thing with my Mom!” I said.

Then we ended up talking under the trees for a long time.

4.3 – Driver’s License

Even tho I’d quit Driver Training I couldn’t stop thinking about driving. I thought about it when Mom drove me to The Mall or The General drove me to HighSchool. I thought about it when I saw car commercials on TV. I even had dreams where I was driving a flying car, and a tornado was trying to get me, but I was able to go right past it. And I especially thought about it whenever I saw La Renarde around. I had a deep and mysterious sense that driving would be a necessary part of my Reality Traveler destiny.

I eventually went to Dad for help.

“Look,” I said. “I finally want to learn how to operate a vehicle, but The Driving Professor is a big, giant, man-eating monster.”

“Driving just takes a lot of practice,” he said. “You need to be on The Road as much as possible, and then once you start to get better you’ll be ready to face your monster.”

“But what if I’m just bad at driving? What if there’s a God of The Road, and he gives some people the strength to drive really good and some the weakness to always drive really bad?”

“That’s not how it works. The more you do something, the more of an expert you become.”

I didn’t really believe him, but I felt like I had no choice. Soon we Hit The Road together, and he tried to train me for Driver Training. Dad wasn’t a mindless predator like The Driving Professor, but I was still making all the same mistakes, including not breathing. I was still almost getting into accidents all the time.

“No!” I said. “I’m just someone who can’t do this.”

“That’s not true,” Dad said. “The Road is stressful for everyone. No one around you is ever driving how you want them to, and you could get hit at any time even tho you didn’t do anything wrong. You just need something to take the stress off. Like your mom always listens to The Radio.”

“Ohh, alright.”

Then we turned The Radio on and everything changed. It made me suddenly realize that I had a steering wheel and breaks, five senses and a brain, and I could actually control the car with them. Instead of thinking about crashing all the time, I was thinking what The Radio songs were about, and then I started breathing again. I started making fewer mistakes, and when I did  a new song would come on to sing along to and everything would feel alright again.

“Yes!” Dad said. “I think you’re ready now.”

Then I went back to Driver Training to take The Driver Test. To pass it you had to correctly answer enough questions about The Rules of Driving, and then you hadta Hit The Road with The Driving Professor for several minutes straight without making any mistakes. I had The Radio on my side now, but I was still nervous. I knew the Crocodile would be there and maybe try to eat me for my meat no matter how much better at driving I was. Besides who knew what kind of MeNotzie things he would say about the Suburban Hits Station I liked to listen to? I wanted to be like Crocodile Dundee and stand up to him and make a hat out of him, but I didn’t know if I had it in me.

He came up to me as I was waiting. His mouth was so long. His armor was so green.

“You gonna freak out again?” he said.

“No,” I said.

“Huh? Can’t hear you.”

“No.”

“We’ll see.”

My breath had already stopped, and we hadn’t even got in the car yet. I could almost feel my flesh getting ripped apart in his jaws already.

“I’m not gonna take you this time tho cuz I got another Trainee,” The Driving Professor said. “You gonna go with The Other Driving Professor.”

Then he pointed at an old dumpy, gray, little man nearby. From what I could tell his face didn’t have any powerful biting mechanism, and he seemed generally harmless.

“I’m Mr. Pigeon,” he said and shook my hand. “Let’s get this over with.”

Then we got in the car and I tried to settle in.

“Do you mind if I turn on The Radio,” I said. “It helps me.”

“Whatever,” he said. “I don’t care.”

Soon music from The Great List of Old Songs was filling the air, and I was breathing deep and steady. The Pigeon didn’t seem to have any opinion on them. He looked like he wanted to sit on a park bench for a while and stare out. His beak didn’t even look like it could peck you.

“Alright,” Pigeon said. “Let’s try parking first.”

“Like parallel parking?” I asked.

Parallel parking was one of the hardest things to do in Driving. You hadta fit your car in between two other cars on the side of the Road, and there might not be that big of a gap, and you might hit one of the cars or end up way far from the curb.

“Nah,” Pigeon said. “We’re in the Suburbs. You’re never gonna have to do that here.”

Then all I had to do was just park into a regular parking lot space.

“Good,” he said, “now let’s just go around the block a couple times.”

Then we got out on Suburban streets that weren’t even busy. They didn’t have multiple lanes or any kind of weird signs I didn’t know about. He didn’t have me make a left turn before we went back to The Driver Training Center.

“Alright, you pass,” he said.

“Really?”

“Sure, why not.”

Then we went in and he gave me my very own Driver’s License. It had my picture and basic information on it, and it proved I could drive as well as any other Reality.

“Alright!” it made me say.

Dad was so happy for me he got me my own used car. It wasn’t fast or pretty, but it could go on most normal Roads without breaking down. I called it, Dodge, and it was good enough to take me back and forth from Artsy Lawless College.