As soon as the site went back up, I start seeing some fishy-looking email addresses. Lots of them from the same domain. So from now on, new subscribers have to be approved. Just to be sure you’re human!
The site is back up!
Lots has happened — the server was attacked, then some things happened that made it impossible for me to get into the site to adjust or post anything. The site’s been fixed so that I can get into it, but now it seems there are lots of pages missing. For that reason. a 404 page shows up when visitors try to access the site, so there’s still some work to do, but at least it’s back up and running, and I can get into it!
As you can see, there have been some changes, and there are more to come. I decided it was time to put some of my photomanipulations on the blog as well, and thus some changes needed to be made. Thanks to my friend Joe for all the codeslinging and updating!
As for fiction, there’s plenty in the works. I’ve just been updating drafts instead of posting. And inspiration has been kind of AWOL lately. But there will be some new stories and chapters posted soon!
One Very Busy Day (8-9-00) by Storytella2000
Copyright (c) 1999-2000 MDG Sites. All rights reserved.
Like Paulette said earlier, I’ve been going through some changes, and I guess she must still be connected to my imagination somehow because she hasn’t been around. Either that, or she’s just been silently stalking me and staying out of my way.
Anyway, this morning, I went out for coffee and such, and came back with a full coffee tray and two bags. As I approached the front door of the building with both hands full, hoping somebody would be inside and open the door for me, the door swung open. By itself.
I started to panic, looking around quickly to make sure no one saw, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around. I quickly stepped inside so that the door would close, waiting until it did before thanking Paulette.
“Here, let me take that,” I heard her say. Then I felt a tug at one of the bags, the one with my toasted-buttered-and-jellied bagel in it. I thought it was safe, half-remembering some crazy thing about Paulette not needing to eat, so I let it go.
No sooner did I do that than my wax-paper-wrapped bagel floated out of the bag, which then settled down onto the floor. A bit disappeared from the bagel, accompanied by a soft moan that seemed to come from the bagel itself.
“Hey, that’s my breakfast!” I protested, reaching for the bag. But as I approached, the bag slid away from me.
“I know,” Paulette said, with a grin in her voice, “and it’s good.”
Just then the elevator door opened, and I jumped at the floating bagel to grab it before anyone on the elevator could see it, bumping my unseen breakfast thief in the process. As the elevator opened, I could see it was empty, drawing a giggle from my invisible companion and a groan from me.
The bag on the floor rose and floated over into the elevator behind me, after which Paulette said, “I’ll take that.” My bagel removed itself from my loose grip and another bite disappeared from it.
“Hey, wait a minute,” I said, as a snippet of an earlier conversation popped into my head. “I thought you didnt’ need to eat?”
“Didn’t need to eat?” repeated a voice coming from a mouth plainly full of food. “I never said anything like that. Must have been your imagination.” Then a few seconds later there was a burst of laughter.
“What’s so funny?”
She took a few seconds to compose herself before replying, “It *was* your imagination. Do you remember a character named Maria from some bad dream you tried to make into a story? You called it ‘Imaginary Catfight’ but you wound up ditching it, remember?”
I did vaguely recall, but hunger was playing with my perception. A few seconds later, though, as the elevator stopped on my floor, I realized that something wasn’t right here.
“Wait a minute. How do you know about Maria? That was a dream–” I whispered, as the elevator doors opened. Again I grabbed at what *had* been my bagel, missing it this time as it dove into the bag it came from. I reached for the bag, but again it slid out of my reach before lifting itself from the floor and floating out of the elevator. I was worried that someone would see it, but if they did, no one said anything. I picked up the rest of my stuff and walked down the hall toward my desk.
“You wrote the story down, remember? Hel-LO? It was right there in black and white, or whatever color you write in and white… and getting back to me eating: I’m alive, OK? Maybe I wasn’t *born* like you, but still I have substance. I have a body, and it needs food.”
“So how come I’ve never seen–” I started, before she cut me off as we approached my desk.
“–never seen me eat? Never known me to have to ‘use the facilities’? Such questions! I have to confess, I was trying to live up to my screen name, Mystery Woman. I wanted to create an aura of mystery about myself. Silly, huh? But now you know better.”
As I put the rest of my stuff on my desk, my supervisor called me into her office to go over some things she wanted me to do. She got couple of emergency phone calls about some things that needed to be done right away, so I forgot all about my coffee and such until I returned to my desk about thirty minutes later, to find two large empty coffee cups, an opened bagel wrapper full of pieces of bagel crust and bits of butter and jelly, and a note: “Thanks for breakfast! It was good. Hope you get to eat something before too late… Love, Paulette.”
How do you like that? When she decides to show me she’s not quite the “fantasy creature” I thought she was, she does it by making me go hungry until lunch.
I never got a chance to get myself something else to eat, so I was a little bit huffy when lunchtime came. I went out to move my car, and then headed to Nicky’s for a slice of his famous white pizza.
When I got there, Tony, Nicky’s son, looked at me like I owed him money (not a good thing) and said, “You Doe?”
“Huh?” Whatever I had approximating a “spider sense” was tingling like mad. I knew I had never done anything to this man, so I had nothing to worry about.
“Are you Bryan Doe?” he repeated. Then I realized that the look on his face was just his normal expression. I told him I was, and asked why he wanted to know.
“This weird lady came in here,” he said, “and picked up two slices of pizza and said if a guy named Doe came in here, to tell him he’s taken care of.”
“Weird?” I said, expecting the worst. “Weird how?”
“Well, it’s 90-somethin’ degrees and humid outside, like hot soup an’ all, and this chick comes in here with her head all wrapped up in scarves, wit’ shades on and leather gloves on her hands. She had on some extra-tight jeans, though. Kept expectin’ ‘em to split, they wuz so tight. Somethin’ wrong wit’ her?”
“No, she’s basically all right,” I said. Tony looked like he didn’t buy it, but I’m sure he had forgotten the whole thing thirty seconds later. Of course, there was no real doubt as to who the visitor was. It could only ahve been… OK, it could have been a few people.
So I headed back to the office in the sweltering heat, stopping in the convenience store around the corner from my job to pick up a soda and a juice to drink with lunch. Blanca, a very cute and rather busty South American woman who works there, looked up and smiled as I entered.
“Bry-en, right?” she asked. I smiled and nodded, surprised that she remembered my name from the few times I gave her a lift partway to her job.
“Some lady was here, strange lady, with scarfs wrap around her head, and gloves and sunglasses on inside the store. She said she know dat I know you, and dat you would be here for somethin’ to drink. Then she said dat you really come in here to look at me. Is dat troo?”
I was shocked. I couldn’t believe Paulette would play me out like that. But I was cornered, so I owned up to the truth.
Blanca smiled. “Iss OK. I like when you look at me. I like looking at you, too. Just wish my Inglis better so we could talk more, you know?”
While I was still trying to absorb this, she continued, “You online? Here’s my email address,” and gave it to me. I gave her mine, which she folded and put in her purse. Looking back at me, she smiled and said, “I tell you story one day. You won’t believe, but iss true. I tell you one day soon.”
I thanked her, smiling, and left, floating on a cloud. I was still in disbelief that Paulette would put me on the spot like that, but considering the latest turn of events, I thought that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad after all (I really HATE being put on the spot, generally speaking).
I went into the building and up to my desk. There was a note on my desk to see the supervisor. I went in, hoping she’d make it quick so I could eat while the pizza was hot.
She said, “There was a young woman here just a while ago, who said she was a friend of yours. She wouldn’t give her name, and she didn’t want to wait for you. She just left a box with two slices of pizza at the reception desk, with two sodas. The receptionist was worried about her being all wrapped up liek that, in all this heat, and then with those extra-tight jeans on. Is she, you know, OK?”
*Just great,* I thought. *What was Paulette thinking of when she came in here all wrapped up liek that?* She should have known that she would create a stir, and that I would get caught in it.
I fumbled through an explanation of how she’s generally OK, just having some problems after a family situation, hoping the boss didn’t detect that I was making it up as I went along.
Then, when I was finished in her office, and left to TRY to eat my lunch, teh coworkers gathered around with all their questions. “Who was she is she your girlfriend what’s with the scarves and gloves in all this heat and them tight jeans are you SURE she’s not your girlfriend blah blah blah.”
I managed to escape from the questioning wolfpack and into the conference room to eat my pizza. I had to wonder just what had gotten into Paulette to come into my job in a getup like that, and I must have mumbled it out loud.
“Well, what would you have preferred?” asked an angry voice from thin air, somewhere to my right.
My immediate reaction was just to rest my forehead against my left hand and sigh, before answering. “Paulette,” I said, “I appreciate the lunch and all, but did it occur to you that you could have just called and ordered the pizza and told me about it? I could have gone and picked it up and would still have appreciated the thought. Now they’re gonna be watching ME as well as looking for you. I work for Social Services, remember?”
“Speaking of which,” she continued, “what’s with your boss hinting that something’s wrong with me? I’m invisible! I can’t go in there like everybody else! If I’m gonna go into teh place and buy food, I have to do it without causing a scene, and the scarves are the only way to do it. Until somebody figures out how to make me visible, that is.”
I didn’t think it was time for me to answer that just yet, so I dug into the first of the slices. Then I thought about her clothes. “What did you do with the clothes, anyway?”
“Same thing I always do with them. I put them away.”
“No, I mean where? Could somebody who saw you in them find them anywhere?” I asked, hoping she hadn’t stashed them somewhere in the building.
She sighed heavily and said, “I put them right here, OK?” At “here” the long-sleeved Arizone Diamondbacks baseball jersey and tight jeans materialized on her, but not the scarves or gloves. Seeing how the Diamondbacks logo was stretched by her torso made it difficult to continue with the conversation, so I just sat, ate, and watched her. And thought.
OK, so if I suddenly became permanently invisible, maybe at first I wouldn’t be so discreet about it either. Then I realized taht wasn’t a fair comparison. I was looking at it from the perspective of someone who is visible. Paulette never was.
Then I began to realize that I really didn’t know Paulette’s perspective. I knew more about Kim, Nikki, and the others than I did about Paulette, and I “made” her. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t finish her story. I didn’t try to get much info out of her, and she must have figured I didnt’ want to know.
So we called a truce.
I was feeling like a first-class heel when I had finished the pizza, and said so. I thanked her for lunch, then she kissed me and thanked me for breakfast, apologizing for makign me go hungry until lunch.
“So is this what I have to look forward to from now on?” I asked, laughing. “Competing with you for food?”
She laughed. “No, not really. I might start hanging out in the bagel shop in the mornings, you know, and ‘haunt’ the place.” She let out a wicked cackled and continued, “Maybe I’ll materialize some clothes and fool around with that big flirt Sergio… give him a taste of his own medicine.”
“Come on, Paulette, don’t start anything. Why not just go back home and wait for me?” I said.
“No, sorry. I’ve been hanging around home too long. It’s time for me to get out and about. I need to stir things up, start getting into things, you know?”
While Bryan was still busy chowing down on that surprise lunch I had brought to his job, I quietly and completely invisibly (?) left his job, wondering just what else I could get into…
I thought about going over into the Galleria Mall and maybe causing a “ghost” scare there… or maybe raising some sand over at the library… or maybe even (I had to giggle) head on down to the police station and cut up over there. I have to confess, I liked the police station idea best; the idea of all those super-macho-posing cops reacting to a woman none fo them can see struck me as hilarious.
Then I remembered they have guns.
So I headed over to the Galleria. As I entered the Macy’s entrance, I had to step carefully to avoid bumping into the small crowd of homeless people and drifters that congregate there. I kinda felt sorry for these folks, but there was no way I could do anything for any of them without spooking the person I’d be trying to help.
I got into Macy’s after slipping by a very nervous-looking security guard, trying to figure out who brushed against him when there was no one around. All kinds of ideas about what kidn of mischief I could cause came to mind, but one stood out, and so I headed for teh escalator.
Right after I stepped on, I felt something tap my right ankle, and I couldn’t help gasping, though I tried to cut it short.
“Oh, sorry about that,” said the man holding the cane that had bumped me. “I didn’t mean to hit you.” He was blind, and so he couldn’t know that the person he bumped couldn’t *be* seen.
The woman approaching the escalator behind him shot him a strange look. I wanted to laugh, but at the same time I felt bad for him. And for *me*; I had to acknowledge him somehow, without alerting the woman behind him.
I leaned VERY close to his ear adn whispered, “That’s OK, sir. People walk and bump into me all the time.”
“What’s the matter?” he chirped in response. “Do they think yer invisible?” Of course, he laughed at his little joke, but from the look on the face of the woman behind him, she must have thought the man was going psychotic. She just about turned and ran back up the escalator.
*Oh well,* I thought. *At least I can talk to him now.*
“No, sir,” I answered him, speaking normally only after seeing no one in the immediate vicinity of the rapidly approaching base of the escalator. “Mostly they’re just being rude.”
His cane tapped the floor, and he readied himself to step forward. We both stepped off and he turned to me and said, “Well, you have good afternoon, young lady.”
“You too, sir,” I thought, wondering what that exchange would have been like if the escalator had been crowded.
Ahead of me lay my destination… the piano display.
This Macy’s had had regular acoustic pianos, player pianos, and MIDI’d (oops… electronic) pianos at least since they took over that store from Sterns a few years ago (who took over from Abraham & Straus, who took over from…)
Back before Bryan actually started writing stories, he used to sometimes have this picture in his mind of an invisible woman playing the piano whenever he was in Macy’s and they had their player or MIDI pianos going. And as you all know, when it comes to stories, his wish is my command…
I approached a grand old Steinway, which seemed to be calling out for someone to play it. I limbered my fingers, sat down on the bench, and just as I was about to start playing, I noticed an LCD panel and a row of LCDs. This was a MIDI’d grand piano masquerading as the old fashioned acoustic kind.
I never did like the MIDI grand pianos much. So often they sound detuned or something, not quite like the good old acoustic piano… Listen to me, 26 years old and I’m going on about oldstyle pianos…
Anyway, I pressed lightly on a key, just to see if it was set to playing. It was, so I started playing “Linus and Lucy,” looking all the while for a salesman to come running. Momentarily, one of the salesmen did come walking up, in a money suit, saying something over his shoulder about “not time for the demo disks yet.”
I jumped up from the piano bench, almost running into the neighboring piano in my haste. I had to move because this particular model had its disk drive directly over the center of the keyboard. If I’d stayed, he would have jabbed me in the back reaching for the disk drive.
I stood and watched as he pressed the disk eject button, then tried hard not to snicker at the look of consternation on hsi face when there was no disk in the drive.
“Hey, Ed,” the salesman called out. A particularly exasperated Hispanic man in a maintenance uniform appeared in a doorway a short way from teh piano.
“Ed, we don’t have ‘Linus and Lucy’ on the demo disks for any of the other pianos, do we?”
“Wha’ you talkin’ ’bout, Lenny?” Ed growled.
“We’re supposed to rotate the demo disks, so that the customers get to hear all the pianos, and I thought we only had ‘Linus and Lucy’ for the Steinway,” Lenny replied.
“I just heard ‘Linus and Lucy,’ and when I came over to check the Steinway, there was no disk,” Lenny said.
“Did you check the others?” Ed asked.
“Well, uh, no. No, I didn’t,” Lenny said sheepishly.
“Then whatcha callin’ me for? Can’t you do something yerself witout callin’ me? I don’t pay attention to what song’s on a stupid disk…” Ed trailed off as he stomped away.
Lenny walked over to the other pianos to check their drives for an errant disk. I decided to have some fun with him.
I tiptoed back to the piano while he was too far away to see the Steinway’s keys and played that one-finger “shave-and-a-haircut-two-bits” riff.
Lenny’s head jerked up so violently it seemed liek it should have flown off his neck. I let out a quick sputter before I realized that for a split second he was looking right into my eyes.
He came stalking over to the Steinway, looking around for pranksters, I guess, and reached for the disk drive. Again finding no disk, he turned and walked toward the other pianos.
I stood right by the right edge of teh keyboard and played the “da-da-da-duuuum” riff from Beethoven’s Fifth. Lenny whipped around, looking at the Steinway keyboard again. This time I didn’t wait for him to step away or even turn around, playing that “da-da-da-duuuuum” again while he was watching.
Evidently Lenny was a bit high-strung.
The man just exploded. It was like he just turned into a bunch of different people. Liek he had a bunch of different ways to react to the sight of a piano playing itself and decided to try to do all of them at once. It was like a private Robin Williams routine.
The man was all over the place, more places at one time that I knew was possible. The shoplifters must have had a field day, because it seemed like all the Macy’s personnel in the basement was there in an instant, trying to console or control Lenny.
And in bits and pieces, he told them what happened. “By itself, I tell ya,” he’d start, before veering off in three or four other directions, and then, “there wasn’t even a disk, just keys moving,” and then he’d jabber some more about whatever, and then, “A ghost, that’s what it was. They play pianos, don’t they?”
Ed crossed himself so many times while watching Lenny I thought he’d wear out his arm. Finally, two guys in white coats came and took Lenny away. As he went peacefully with them, I heard one fo the ladies from housewares saying, “At least he made six months this time. And he was doing so GOOD, too. Last time he only lasted three weeks, remember?”
OK, so my “fun” didn’t start out so good. But then I went down to the food court…
In the food court, I did more or less what you would expect: I played with people’s food. But I saw something that made put all games aside and get serious for a bit.
There was a guy, sitting at a table, chewing away and ranting at his girlfriend over something or other that she did that he didn’t like. Now, I guess if I was visible I probably would have pretended not to see, like so many others do. But since I don’t have that “problem” I decided to do something about the situation.
The girl looked terrified as the brute ranted, calling her every name imaginable. I took a chance and whispered in her ear, “Would you like me to do something about this?”
I guess she must have thought she was imagining it, because she ignored me. She actually had no reaction. So I tried again. “Do you want me to teach him a lesson?” I whispered.
Her eyes darted back and forth for a couple of seconds, then she bit her lip and nodded, so subtly I almost missed it.
The guy managed to stop his stream of vitriol long enough to take a bite of his sandwich. Or at least, that’s what he INTENDED to do. Because when the sandwich was a few inches in front of his face I kind of helped it along. Instead of biting the sandwich he wound up wearing it.
I thought that maybe hte idea of something like that happening might set him straight. But I guessed wrong. Even though he HAD to see that his girlfriend never touched the sandwich, for some reason he decided that it was her doing, because he started screaming at her about how she was stupid to touch his food while he was eating, and so on and so forth.
“But, Todd, I –” she started, before he cut her off with more of his tantrum. I was surprised to find that her voice sounded exactly like mine, which gave me another idea.
I got as close to her as I could and whispered in her ear, “Do you want to try this again?” She nodded.
“OK, this time look him straight in the eye,” I said, “and don’t flinch or smile or anything. And don’t shift your eyes away.” She directed her gaze toward Todd but her expression was totally blank.
I cleared my throat to get his attention, and then I started. “Todd,” I said, “you know I deserve better treatment than this. I want an apology right now, and a promise that you won’t go off on me like this ever again. In public or anywhere else.”
He was watching the girl from the point when I cleared my throat, so he could see her lips weren’t moving. By this point she was looking a bit more defiant. Todd sat there looking panic-stricken, not talking, not moving; I’m not sure he was even breathing. When I didn’t get the apology I asked for, I said, “Todd, I’m waiting.”
Still no reaction. So I picked up his cup of soda from the table. He followed it with his eyes as I took off the top but when I started to pour the soda out in his lap, he jumped up from the table and ran screaming from the food court. The defiant look on the girl’s face melted as Todd hightailed it from the Galleria.
But in my singleminded quest to avenge my “sister” I forgot about all the other dozens of people in the food court. Most of them reacted more or less like Todd, though maybe not quite as loud. By the time the mass exodus was over most of the food court was empty. I figured there was no need to continue whispering.
“Are you OK?” I asked the girl.
“Yeah, for now,” she said. “Who are you, anyway?”
“That doesn’t matter,” I said. “What does matter is that you deserve better treatment than that. There’s plenty of guys out there who can appreciate you and know how to treat you. No need to settle for that kind of treatment.”
I preached to her a little longer, and then left the food court. By this time all the mischief had been drummed out of me, so I went upstairs to do a little shopping. But as I got off the escalator I found something strange… a little girl, about four years old or so, staring me right in the eyes.
I shrugged it off. Figured it had to be a coincidence, but as I moved first closer to and then away from the little girl, I could see she was following me with her eyes.
I totally forgot myself and walked back towards the little girl, and I guess she must have thought my eyes were about to pop out of the sockets because that’s the look she gave me for a moment before dissolving into laughter. My hand went up over my mouth in shock, though I had the presence of mind to keep quiet. The little girl must have thought it was a game; she started giggling.
“Whatcha laughin’ at, sweetie?” her mother said.
“The lady’s making faces at me,” she said, still giggling.
The woman looked around. I wanted to run away, thinking I’d been discovered… I’d become visible somehow… but the woman didn’t seem to be able to see me. “What lady, honey?” she asked the little girl.
“The lady right there,” she said, pointing right at me.
“I don’t see anyone, honey,” the woman said. “Are you sure that’s not your imaginary friend Holly? She likes to hang out at the mall too, right?”
“That’s not Holly,” the girl said, a look of indignation on her face. “You don’t see the lady standing right there?”
This was getting too weird. I turned and walked away, not wanting to see how this little minidrama would unfold. Along the way I passed the elevator that led to the food court and checked the mirrored outer doors for a reflection. Not seeing any, I had to wonder how it was the little girl could see me. But soon it became apparent, as I passed other young children, that some of the younger ones, up to about age four, did in fact seem to be able to see me. Since according to some people I don’t even exist I had to wonder how it was these kids could see me. I figured maybe it had to do with their being so young, with vivid imaginations and still-forming minds. Or something. I don’t know…
Then I made my way to the Yankee Clubhouse store, tucked away in a seemingly forgotten corner of the store. With the success the Yankees have had this year (right up to a couple of weeks ago, anyway), I would have expected the store to be a mob scene. Maybe all the Yankee fans know the story Bryan keeps telling me about the ’64 Phillies; maybe they think it’s all over.
Anyway, I went into the store and looked around for a bit, hoping to find a Derek Jeter sweatshirt with his number and “Derek” on teh back instead of “Jeter.” (Too bad the Yankees don’t license one with his FACE on it!) I knew that I could have done like I told Bryan I can do, and just “made” myself one, but I wasn’t really in the store to shop; I was there to give people reason to sit awake at night instead of sleeping.
But it seems that the tables were being turned on me, because when the salesman came out of the stockroom into the store… he could see me, too.
“Is dere anyting I can do for you, miss?” the salesman asked, in a strong West Indian accent.
I tried to ignore him, willing someone else to be nearby that he could be speaking to. Someone *visible*. But when I turned and looked around, there was no one in the store but the two of us.
*What’s going on?!* I thought. *No one’s supposed to be able to see me!* I could accept little kids being able to, since their minds are still learning to sort out imagination and “reality.” But this guy was an adult! I mean, I’m a figment of Bryan’s imagination and even *he* couldn’t see me!
The salesman eyed me worriedly, and cautiously took a couple of steps toward me. “Are you OK, miss? Do you need–”
What I *didn’t* need was for this guy, a complete stranger who wasn’t even supposed to be able to see me, to get near enough to touch me. “No! I don’t need anything! Get away from me!” I backed away from him, going towards the front of the store, and in doing so I passed a mirror. I was able to confirm that there was nothing “showing,” nothing that he should have been able to see. Not *normally*, anyway.
“Miss–” he started again, before the phone rang, right by the cash register. As he ran back to answer it, I noticed a strong scent of something that somehow smelled both minty and mediciney. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was, so I tried to sneak a little closer to the register to see if it was coming from teh salesman. Maybe he spilled some kind of medicine on his outfit or something…
I heard teh salesman say, “Hold on a sec, let me get the other phone,” just before putting down the phone by the register and going back into the storeroom. I inched closer to the register, noticing that the smell got stronger the closer I got to the register. It seemed to center on a large coffee mug sitting on teh counter right next to the cash register. It had a strange smell, like peppermint tea laced with Listerine.
I stood there, trying to figure out just what this stuff could be. I couldn’t think of anything I’d ever seen or known about that would give off an odor quite like this stuff…
A voice said, “Miss?” I nearly jumped on top of the counter. It was the salesman. I was so engrossed in thought that I hadn’t seen or heard him return.
“A li’l jumpy, are we?” he asked, in a sympathetic tone. “Whatever i’tis, miss, you should try to relax. You’ll be able to deal wid it better. Now, how can I ‘elp you today?”
I stood there, stunned, still not able to process that an adult could see me. It took a few seconds for me to find my voice.
“I, um, I’m looking for a Derek Jeter sweatshirt, one that says, um, ‘Derek’ on teh back instead of ‘Jeter.’” I swallowed, and tried to look casual, but I imagine I must have looked like I was in pain.
“A ‘Derek’ shirt?” he repeated. “Did you actually see someone wearin’ a shirt like dat?” I nodded.
“Well,” he said, “I t’ink it was prob’ly a special horder, ‘cuz we never get ‘Derek’ sweatshirt. I better check just to be sure, though. Be right back, OK?” As he left, he took the mug with the strange-smelling drink.
I took stock of the situation. It was obvious that the salesman had no way of knowing there was anything unusual going on, so there was no point in me overreacting. Strange as it may sound, if no one knows I’m supposed to be invisible, then it wouldn’t occur to them that anything might be wrong with them seeing me. Only I would know the difference, and since I had no idea just how many *other* people I’d run across who’d be able to see me, the best thing would be to play it cool. And maybe find out what it is that made me visible to them…
I was *almost* relaxed by the tiem the salesman came back, with bad news. “I’m sorry, miss, but we don’t ‘ave any of dose shirts in stock. You probably ‘ave to go to de Stadium for a shirt like dat. But we ‘ave plenty of other Yankee stuff available, if you’re hinterested in showin’ off ya team,” he said with a smile.
I wasn’t quite as interested in showing off my team as I was in irritating Bryan just a *little* bit. His precious Mets had lost their shortstop, Rey Ordonez, for the rest of the season, and I just wanted to tease him a little bit. Though if they had any of those shirts with Derek’s face on them, I might have had to buy one. And not just to get on Bryan’s nerves…
I looked around a little, and told the salesman that I’d probably be back with a Mets fan that I’d be dragging in with me. That drew a smile.
“I see ya relaxed some,” he said. “I ‘ope ya don’t mind too much about me bein’ nosy ‘ere, but what was it dat had ya so woun’ up?”
I thought about my few-minutes-ago observation, and figured it wouldn’t hurt anything, really, to tell him. Either he’d believe or he wouldn’t. Either way, if I came back with money, the money would be the same color. But when I actually tried to *tell* him why I had been nervous, I got jittery again.
“Well, um,” I started. “See, it’s like this. You really aren’t, um, supposed to be able to see me.”
He raised one eyebrow. *Oh great, a Trekkie,* I thought.
“Whatcha mean?” he asked, in an flat voice.
“Wellll,” I drawled, “this may sound kind of strange, but… I’m actually a figment of someone’s imagination.”
He chuckled, then, in response to my double take, he quickly backpedaled. “Sorry, I don’t mean no offense or anyting, but my grandfather used to say almost de same ting, dat we all figments of our own imagination. Never ‘eard noone say dat ’bout demself, though.”
“Your grandfather said that?” I said. “Interesting. But what I meant was that I’m a figment of someone *else’s* imagination. In a way you can say that I don’t exist.”
“Don’t exist? ‘Ow can dat be?”
“I can’t explain it,” I said,”because I don’t really understand it myself. But that’s why I was so shocked that you could see me.”
“Hmm,” he started, as he took a sip of his brew. “I guess mebbe dis stuff really work, den.”
“What *is* that, anyway,” I said, quickly adding, “if you don’t mind *me* asking?”
“‘S a tonic from down ‘ome,” he said. “‘Sposed to ‘tune’ the mind and body. Jus’ a lil somethin’ from bock ‘ome in Barbados.”
“You mean,” I said, “that you can see me because of some homemade rotgut?” This time it was *my* turn for disbelief…
Naturally, when it turned out that the salesman was able to see me because of some homemade brew he was drinking, it kind of left me speechless. Kind of seemed like Paul C’s Cathy and Greg story, in a way.
I left the Yankee Clubhouse store a little shaken up and found my way out of the Galleria. I still had some time to kill before Doe got off work, so I crossed Martine Avenue and went into the library to pass the time. I felt for the old woman who looked quite shaken to see the library’s revolving doors start going by themselves, but what could I do? It was either that or the handicapped entrance.
I went into the library and headed for the computer to check out the online catalog. Once I found what I was looking for, I headed to the sci-fi section and spent an hour or so there, trying to stay out of people’s way. I know I had originally gone out to stir things up, but the idea of anyone other than *maybe* Doe being able to see me took most of the mischief right out of me.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t as discreet as I should have been. I was standing in a narrow aisle, reading a book of Robert Silverberg’s collected stories, when a young guy entered the aisle. I saw the movement in the corner of my eye, and froze, too late realizing what he must be seeing.
But when there was no gasp, or yelp, or anything, I looked up to see that he was engrossed in a book. He evidently didn’t even see the large book floating above the aisle at eye level. I quickly stashed the book in the case in front of me and stood as close as I could to the bookcase behind me, with my back up against it. He did brush against my chest as he passed, but he was so into his book that he didn’t seem to notice.
That brief, offhand contact, though, awakened something in me. Somethign I didn’t even know was there. But the library was no place for that. Even if I could strip off my clothes and take care of the urge right then and there, I had no way of knowing if someone else who could see me would happen to cross my path. I had to hold on a bit longer.
But I found I was having some difficulty keeping my mind off that urge. I managed to get the situation under control by selecting the single most unattractive guy in the place, and just staring at him until the feeling went away.
That worked, all right; the feeling ended so quickly and finally I feared that maybe it moved without leaving a forwarding address. I knew there was no real need to worry about it, though; when the time arose, Doe would be able to take care fo that for me. At least, I hoped he would…
So I left the library and headed for Sam Ash music store. By now it was 4:15, and Doe would be getting off work in 45 minutes, which would leave me a little time to browse before meeting him at his job.
The store was packed. I overheard one of the salesmen claiming that the one of the guitars, in a locked case, “used to belong to Jimi Hendrix.” The customer he was talking to naturally disbelieved, so the salesman took the guitar out of the case to show him something or other that was supposed to prove it. I guess this salesman was a bit of a showoff, because after that customer left, the salesman strapped on the guitar, plugged it into an amp behind the sales counter, and began to play around with it.
Just then the phone rang, and it was for the salesman; he put the guitar down, behind the sales counter, and took the phone. I looked around, and didn’t see anyone looking my way, so I took my chance. I quietly stepped behind the sales counter, picked up the guitar, and began to play.
I got so into it, I closed my eyes and just wailed away on that guitar. When I opened my eyes again, all activity in the store had stopped. Every eye in the store was on the guitar that they all must have thought was “haunted,” because not one of them would come any closer than about six feet away.
I realized that none fo them seemed to be looking at me, only at the guitar. How was I gonna get out of this?
An image flashed in my mind: the beginning of that “Invisible Couple” Levi’s commercial, when the guy is trying to tidy things up on his way to the door; a guitar floats up off the floor and flings itself into a corner.
I slowly and deliberately lifted the guitar strap from around my shoulders, unplugged the cord from it, took the guitar in my right hand, lifted it over my right shoulder, and threw it as hard as I could towards the back of the store.
A few brave souls ran towards the flying guitar; a few terrified folks ran from the store; but most just stood frozen. Maybe they were waiting for a sign that what they had just seen didn’t really happen.
There was an open path leading from the sales counter I was standing at to the front door, and I took it quickly and quietly, before any of the frozen folks started moving around. Just for kicks, when I got to the door, which had been helpfully propped open, I picked up a magazine from the rack next the the main sales counter, just inside the door, and threw it into the crowd.
The guy standing closest to me, who was about three feet away, saw the magazine sailing over his head, turned around and saw no one there, and yelled, “I’m getting out of here!” That started the stampede, thankfully after I was safely outside the store. By then it was close enough to five that I decided to just go to Doe’s job and wait outside for him.
When I got to Doe’s building, there were a few people standing around. I was a little nervous about whether any of them could see me. White Plains is notorious for attracting off-center folks who congregate in the downtown area, and infants and off-center folks were the kind most likely to be able to see me. I was glad when no one seemed to notice me, though I was still wary.
Five o’clock came, and shortly afterward so did Doe, lugging the oversized bag full of notebooks and story printouts he carries to work with him each day (no wonder his back hurts!) He started towards the Galleria, where his car was parked, so I hurried over to him and grabbed his hand.
He flinched at first, then whispered, “Is that you, Paulette?”
“You’d be in a lot of trouble if it wasn’t, wouldn’t you?” I replied.
He chuckled. “So to what do I owe the honor of you meeting me here today?”
“I told you earlier,” I said, “that I was tired of being cooped up inside the house, remember?” He groaned.
“Don’t give me that,” I said, raising my voice just a little bit. “How would you like being stuck in the house all day?”
He panicked. “Paulette, keep your voice down! I don’t want to start anything out here!” Then, after he had calmed down a little, he continued, “So what did you have in mind?”
I didn’t answer right away, partly because I was a little bit ticked off at him, and partly to make him squirm. I guess I got to him, because when we got into the Galleria parking lot, he whispered, “Paulette, you still there?” I tapped the back of his hand to let him knew I was. He continued, “I don’t mean to be a spoilsport or anything. It’s just that the thought of you running around getting into things makes me nervous. I don’t want you to get me into trouble, or to get *yourself* hurt.”
“Don’t worry about me,” I said. “I can take care of myself. And I won’t do anything to cause trouble for you, either.”
“So what did you have in mind?” He asked again.
“Nothing fancy, for now,” I said. “I just thought you might want to check out Sam Ash. They have that keyboard you wanted.”
“And just *how* did you know that?” he asked, trying unsuccessfully to fight a grin.
“You don’t think that I went home to Mount Vernon, turned around, and came back to White Plains between lunch and now, do you? Without a car or anything?” I replied, grinning myself.
“Oh no,” he groaned, his smile fading. “What did you do?”
“Why are you so suspicious?” I said. “How do you know I didn’t just hang around and wait for you?”
“Your exact words were, ‘I need to stir things up, start getting into things, you know?’ So I’ll ask you again, what did you do?” By this time we were in his car and parking in the Chester-Maple municipal lot behind Sam Ash.
“Let’s just say I was here earlier, and leave it at that, shall we?”
Doe didn’t say a word as we got out of the car. I walked over to him and held his hand, wondering what was going through his mind. I do know how he thinks, but not just *what* he things; I can’t read his mind. I was pretty sure he was mentally filing through all the hijinks could have gotten into earlier at Sam Ash (does anyone ever get into lowjinks? What’s a jink, anyway?)
When we got to the front door at Sam Ash, Doe was nervous about going in. “What’s the matter?” I said. “Even if I did do something — and I’m not saying I did — nobody has any reason to link it to you, right?”
That seemed to relax him a little, and we went in. A few people were still standing around the “Jimi Hendrix” guitar, which was still where it landed when I threw it. “Wonder what that’s all about?” Doe mused.
I didn’t say anything in response to his wondering, but I couldn’t help chuckling. He heard it and said, “Did *you* have anything to do with that?”
“Mmmm, I might,” I said.
“I don’t think I wanna know any more,” he mumbled. I squeezed his hand and led him to the keyboard section. He went directly to the Korg display, stopping in front of the KX-88 digital piano and the BX-3 and CX-3 organs. “Did you–” he started, before I cut him off.
“No,” I said, “just the guitar.”
Oops! I wasn’t supposed to have told him that. *Oh well,* I thought, *it’s out now.”
“What did you do?” he whispered, a half-smile on his face.
“It’s a ‘Jimi Hendrix’ guitar, according to the salesman,” I whispered in Doe’s ear. “I just made them think it, you know, came to life.”
“And then what?” he whispered.
“And then it was time to meet you,” I whispered back.
He didn’t say anything to this. Instead, he began playing a riff or two on the KX-88. I began to tinker with the BX-3, and I could see it was making him nervous. He didn’t try to stop me, though, so I went on.
He began playing a riff from the instrumental version of a song called “Lovin’ You,” by Tony Toni Tone. I picked up on the song right away and began playing the organ part along with him.
Someone walked in from another room saying, “Hey, that’s pretty good, that you can play both–” He stopped when he saw that Doe was only playing the KX-88, and the BX-3 keys seemed to be moving by themselves…
“Oh no!” he wailed. “Now it’s happening again over here!” Before Doe could say or do anything to react, the guy (who turned out to be the store manager) ushered him and all the other customers from the store. I managed to get in front of the fleeing crowd so I wouldn’t have to worry about any unexpected contact. Once Doe was outside he started looking around for any signs of me, so I walked over and grabbed his hand.
“What was that all about?” he whispered, once we were a safe distance from the store.
“Let’s just say I gave them a little concert earlier,” I said, “without them knowing just who or what I was.”
“Paulette!” he whisper-yelled sharply, as we walked to his car. “You can’t go around doing stuff like that, do you understand? You’re gonna mess around and get someone in trouble, maybe even yourself!”
“Get myself in trouble?” I repeated. “How could I manage to do that? It’s not like anyone can see–”
I cut myself off when I remembered the Yankee Clubhouse store, and the salesman there who *could* see me. Bryan chimed in as soon as I stopped speaking.
“Paulette? What’s the matter?”
“Nothing,” I replied truthfully, as we got in his car. “I just remembered something I wanted to get for you at the Galleria.”
“Something you wanted to get for me?” He said. “How? You don’t have any money. You mean, something you picked out that you want me to get for myself, right?”
“Something like that.” He drove back to the Galleria parking garage and parked at level 4East. Once we got out, I took him by the hand and led him toward the Yankee Clubhouse store. He followed without complaint until we were right in front of the place. Once he realized that’s where I was headed, he balked.
“You want me to go in *there?*” he said.
“Yes, I do,” I replied. “Come on, it won’t kill you, Mr. Mets fan. I just want to show you something, that’s all.”
He went into the store, but he made me pull him in, and took one step at a time, like he was expecting a monster to drop down on him or something. Just then the salesman from earlier came out of the storeroom. I smiled at him, expecting him to speak or acknowledge me somehow, and shake up Doe.
Instead, he approached Doe, asking, “Evenin’, sir. Can I ‘elp you?”
“Uhhh,” Doe started. “I-I guess I’m just looking.” The salesman nodded and moved toward the sales counter.
Poor Doe was clearly uncomfortable in Yankee territory. I’m sure he was expecting some kind of cue from me, but I was preoccupied with trying to get the salesman’s attention. At first I just smiled and waved at him, but it was like he didn’t see me. Of course, I thought maybe he was ignoring me or something, and got a little bit huffy. After all, he had seen me earlier.
I came up to the sales counter and was standing right beside the salesman when I let loose. “What’s the matter?” I said. “Now that I bring a man with me you wanna act like you don’t see me?”
“‘oodat?” he said, in a shaky high-pitched voice, his eyes darting around as he spoke.
“It’s me, Paulette. We spoke earlier, remember?” I didn’t know what to make of his reaction, thinking it was some weird kind of game or something, so I smiled. “Only then *I* was the nervous one.”
The salesman began whimpering, “Stop, please, make it stop.” After a few moments I realized what was really going on, and I just stood there with my mouth hanging open. I couldn’t believe it. The same guy that was so warm and friendly and relaxed earlier was now acting like he was scared of me. I backed away from him a little and, not knowing what else to do, I turned to Doe and shrugged. “I guess he can’t see me anymore,” I said.
“Anymore?” Doe repeated, by now as close to the salesman as I was. “You mean, he saw you earlier?”
The salesman mouthed the word “anymore” in unison with Doe, and then covered his face and began shaking his head and moaning softly when he heard my answer to Doe’s question. “Yeah, he saw me. We spoke and everything.”
“I can’t believe dis,” the salesman said. “It’s ‘appening all over again. Chris is gonna get me fired, I know it.”
“Chris?” I repeated.
I guess it was too much for him to try to deal with an invisible woman there in the shop, because he acknowledged my question with his hands still covering his face. “Did I ‘ave some funny-smellin’ drink ‘ere when you spoke to me hearlier? Was I reeeal mellow and calm an’ all?”
“Yeah, you were,” I replied. “In fact, you were trying to calm *me* down.”
“Why did he have to calm you down,” Doe asked, “or do I wanna know?”
“I was nervous when I realized he could see me.”
“Hit was that smelly stuff I was drinkin,’” the salesman said. “It was Chris that saw you earlier today, if I unnerstan’ you correctly. ‘E’s part of me, kind of. That tea I was drinkin’ bring him out.”
“Huh?” Doe and I chorused.
The salesman sighed hard before continuing. “De tea, dey call it Bajan green tea, from Barbados, where I’m from. Hit’ somethin’ like Chinese green tea, only it got some other stuff in it dat mess wit’ me ‘ead and bring out another side of me, one I canna’ control. When ‘e’s out, I’m like sleepin’. I don’t know nothin’ about nobody comin’ in ‘ere earlier today that’s suppose’ to be invisible. To me it like I’m speakin’ to a man an’ a ghos’, and dat make me nervous, yunno?”
I wanted to apologize, but before I could say anything else, Doe spoke up. “Paulette, let’s go, and leave this man alone. Sorry for the mixup, um–”
“Reggie,” he said, sticking out his hand. “And no problem a’tall. No one really at fault, it’s just a misunderstandin’, dat’s all.” Doe shook his hand, and then extended a hand for me to take it. I did, and then turned to Reggie.
“Reggie, I’m sorry–” I started. He flinched as soon as I started speaking, and that’s when I stopped short. I figured that if it upset him that much to hear what must have seemed to him like a voice out of the air, then I’d better keep the apology to myself for now.
Thank goodness for Doe. “Reggie, I think what she wants to say is she’s sorry for shaking you up like that. I’d guess she didn’t know about your, um, situation, and I know she wouldn’t want you to think she was here to play a trick on you. Probably wanted to play one on me, in fact.”
He and Reggie said their goodbyes, and we left the store. I expected a tongue lashing as soon as we left the store, or when we were in the parking garage on the way to the car, but Doe didn’t say a word all the way to the car, making sure to hold on tight to my hand. Almost like he would to a child, it occurred to me later that day.
When we finally did make it to the car, though, he lit into me. “What in the world was that all about back there?”
I took a deep breath. “You want the short version?” I said.
“Well,” I started, “I thought it might spook you a little to find someone who could see me when even you can’t. Turns out I was the one that got spooked.”
“*You?*” said Doe. “What about poor Reggie?”
“Well, it’s like you said. I wasn’t trying to do anything to Reggie, I was trying to play a trick on you. I didn’t know anything about his *other* situation.”
Doe didn’t say anything else, as he maneuvered the car out into traffic. Finally, as we approached home, he said, very softly, “Two people in one body. That’s kind of creepy.”
“He didn’t say two actual people,” I said. “He said this Chris was another side of him. So they’re really the same person. Kind of like me and you, when you come down to it.”
He slammed on his brakes. Fortunately there was nothing behind us. I went off anyway. “Doe, what are you trying to do, put me through the windshield?!”
He ignored the question and fired back with one of his own. “How do you figure Reggie and Chris are like us?!”
“Well… I came from your imagination. I was only part of your reality until that happened, and now I’m out in the world. And you can’t control me.”
Doe answered in measured tones. “Yeah, but evidently Chris has to make Reggie drink that stuff before he can come out.” He was silent for a bit before adding “Interesting.”
Interesting, indeed. I made up my mind to find out more about this split salesman. It would take some doing if I was gonna find out anything without shaking Reggie up, but with my built-in advantage, I could find out what I want to know soon enough.
A kind of “virtual reality” story where a writer writes an adventure story featuring a friend of his becoming rich and famous (without the friend’s knowledge), and it happens. Everything written in the story gets mirrored in real life. But the friend changes on the writer, and the friendship starts going downhill. And the writer takes out his frustrations in the story… you can probably imagine the rest.
Lenny Douglas gets tired of reading magazine story after magazine story about this “famous” woman named Lisette Frederick who doesn’t seem to have done anything in particular to become famous. He decides that *he* wants to be famous, and goes off in search of fame without a clue of how to get it. He’s not any good as an actor, or so he says. He can’t sing, he’s only fair-looking, he doesn’t really stand out at anything.
His cynical friends tell him things like “kill/shoot/kidnap/etc. somebody.” He gets into one thing after another, and even does a few years of jail time for basically being in the wrong place at the wrong time rather than anything he’s really done…
…and then tries to go straight and abandon the wanna-be-famous idea. He meets an attractive woman named Lisa Friedman at his old neighborhood bar, and things progress, and then one night a eager young reporter comes into the bar and begins asking the woman questions. He calls her “Ms. Frederick”… yes, she’s really Lisette Frederick, a few years down the road. The reporter is working on one of those “Where are they now?” stories. He takes plenty of photos, and Lisa insists that Lenny be in them too.
Story and photos are picked up in newspapers, magazines, etc. Lisa (now Lisette again) gets more and more press, always with Lenny by her side. Someone interviews him, the story runs, a movie producer hears “ka-ching,” and… Lenny becomes famous!
Any opinions? I might add a scifi touch here and there, but it basically won’t have any imaginary invisible girlfriends, or floating food, or outfits of clothing removing themselves from an unseen wearer. At least I don’t *think* there will be…
The first time, I had no idea what they were talking about. They told me it was about the new restaurant, the Virtual Reality CafÃ©, that was all the rage. All I heard were good things, and some of them just seemed too out there to be true. After a while I got tired of all the noise and decided to check it out for myself.
Being the natural skeptic that I am, I was fully prepared to be let down. After all, what could this place really be but just another theme restaurant, long on diner food and hype? Not really any different from the Motown CafÃ©, Fashion CafÃ©, Hard Rock CafÃ©, Planet Hollywood, or any of the others, once you scratch the surface.
I followed the directions I was given, noting as I did so that I was getting further and further away from where restaurants would typically be located. By the time I got to the semirural area on the outskirts of town, I was sure I had either taken a wrong turn or else I’d been given the wrong directions. Just about when I was ready to turn around and retrace my steps, I came across a parking lot full of cars. Next to the lot there was a tiny building about the size of a tollbooth, really nothing more than a cement shed.
I was sure that this couldn’t be it, but just to be thorough I went up to it, and sure enough there was a ceramic tile sign on the front door reading “VR CafÃ©.” I thought this was either some kind of joke, or else just a pickup point. Maybe they were keeping the hype and mystery going by picking up prospective diners here in buses with blacked-out windows, so no one would know where the restaurant really was.
Right below the doorbell, there was a small shelf with a stack of what appeared to be tennis-style visors with attached eyepieces. “Please keep visor on at all times while inside,” said the sign next to the shelf. I pushed the door open, and saw just what I had expected to see: the field outside the window on the back wall of the little booth.
Out of curiosity, I walked around to the back of the booth, and saw the field across the street from the booth through that same back window. *This can’t possibly be it,* I thought, but as a joke I went back to the front and donned one of the visors.
To this day I don’t know what the deal is with those visors, but with that one I looked inside the door and saw, through the door, what looked like a catering-hall lobby. I raised the visor from my eyes and saw the same forlorn booth. What I saw with and without the visor just didn’t seem possible, but I reasoned, *I came out here to review a restaurant, and if this is what I have to do in order to do so, then so be it.*
Wearing the visor, I went inside, and the first thing I noticed was a lively party going on in a room directly across from the door I had just walked through. Sala de Salsa (Salsa Room), read the sign over the door. There was a staircase right outside the room, leading to other dining areas upstairs and downstairs. There was also a corridor that stretched forward of the door I had just walked through. *Impossible,* I thought. *How can that corridor extend past the front of the building?* But, somehow, it did. And there was another one, that extended past the right wallâ?¦ well, of the right wall of the cement hut I saw before I put on that visor. I wanted to take it off, but when I reached up to do just that, somehowâ?¦ it wasn’t there! I have no clue how they managed that, but the visor wasn’t there anymore.
I was so busy gawking at those corridors that I never noticed anyone coming up to me from behind until I heard a voice ask, “Can I help you, sir?” I turned around and, so help me, I let out a yelp that could wake the dead. Because there in front of me was a filled-out dress, hovering in space, like there was a nicely curved female body in it. But there was no one there.
I mean, she was there, wearing a sequined, strapless royal-blue party dress, with sheer blue stockings and tasteful jewelry, but all I could see was the dress filled out like there was someone in it, along with hovering accessories, but I couldn’t see the woman! I stood there and stared at the dress’ torso area in disbelief, until the voice asked me again, “Sir, can I help you?”
“Um, yeah,” I said intelligently, trying mightily to compose myself, and failing badly. “I-I–”
The voice chuckled. “I’m guessing this is your first time here.”
“Y-yes, it is,” I said, glad I could finally put a sentence together. “I’m sorry I’m acting so silly…”
“Not to worry, sir,” the voice said, as the dress began to move in the direction of the stairs. “Just follow me up the stairs and I’ll show you to a table.”
He didn’t notice the men unloading the truck in the forecourt. He just walked past them as if they’d been invisible. Jake, the warehouse foreman, called out, “Cheer up Max, it might never happen.” Max showed no sign of having heard – not even the traditional reply of “It’s too late, it already has.”
Jake watched as Max made his way through the warehouse, past the rackings of quality teak garden furniture. There had been something about his face, perhaps a few wrinkles, more than you’d expect from a man in his thirties, perhaps his hair was just a little flecked with grey. Jake shook his head and sighed. They’d all heard about the problems Max had been having, but he hadn’t known they were so bad.