In which Citizen Jim arrives and mistakes Chicken Sheets’s explanation of the morning’s events as an admission that she has “switched teams.”
Friday morning—as usual—I was awakened by the cats before I was ready or willing to get out of bed. I refused to get up, and this infuriated them. They were so angry at my ignoring them that they took off in opposite directions to wreak havoc in different parts of my little Hobbit House. They continued this until I was a quaking mass of rage, barely able to shove my feet into my slippers on the first try. After preparing two bowls of food and two bowls of fresh water, I was fully awake and mad as hell about it.
This was my day off.
I hadn’t even planned to sleep in extremely late (my alarm was set for 6:30) because I had a repairman coming sometime between eight that morning and noon. But what do two selfish cats care about any of that?
When it was closing in on ten o’clock, I thought maybe I would lie on my bed with my iPad and read for a bit.
Then I thought maybe I would work some more on the script for the first episode of the podcast my sister and I were trying to develop. I was also feeling kind of inspired to record a fake commercial for Bunker Mart, where doomsday-preppers and end-times preachers shop for another inevitable US Civil War or the overdue Rapture—whichever happens first. (Don’t Google it: as far as I know, this retail establishment only exists in our podcast’s fictional town of Kilter.)
Then, too, there was always housework I could be doing—dusting, sweeping, tossing away any clutter I came across.
But none of this sounded as good as firing up Adult Swim and watching all the available episodes of “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law,” and every single Steve Brule bit from “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”
You could say my life was nearly bursting at the seams with heart-pounding possibilities. But I guess I should say that someone was trying to burst through the front door with nothing but the pounding of his fists.
I was pretty sure I told the woman who set up my appointment with the repairman that I preferred someone who wouldn’t try entering the house in any unorthodox way. So I knew it wasn’t the repairman once I heard the roar of a chainsaw motor coming from right outside the door.
However. The person I found standing outside was going to get enlisted to trim the branches on my neighbors’ magnolia tree, as they were on the cusp of blocking clear access to my mailbox.
I was quick about flinging open the door, and wasn’t surprised at all to see Citizen Jim staring at me from behind a pair of protective goggles, holding an orange Stihl chainsaw with both his suede-gloved hands.
“Cut it off!” I shouted, pointed at my ear to indicate displeasure with all the noise.
“You want me to cut off your head? Why?”
I went back inside and slammed the door shut.
Within seconds, the chainsaw motor went silent, and Citizen Jim tapped the door a few times. “Come on, Stimpy, let me in. I’m real thirsty. And dizzy. I’m dehydrating. I feel like I might die if you don’t let me in,” he said, his voice sounding so soft and weak during this final plea that I had to give him a second chance.
After all: Citizen Jim is my best friend and the person I love most in the world.
I opened the door and he rushed past me, as he’s done tens of times before, still carrying the chainsaw, still wearing the protective goggles, his hairy, ape-like hands still covered with the suede work gloves.
He didn’t look or act dehydrated at all.
It suddenly occurred to me that he had lied to get me to open the door, and though he has done this same thing more times than I can even count, today I was shocked and hurt and not just a little furious with myself for always falling into his traps. Here’s what I’ll never figure out: is it true idiocy on my part, or do I just pretend to be tricked in order to advance the narrative of my Citizen Jim stories in the direction of comedy?
The fact that I couldn’t determine which scenario was correct sort of terrified me.
I was so lost in thought that I only realized Citizen Jim was yelling when he came to the end of a furious rant: “—supposed to know what the hell’s going on? I mean, come on!” he yelled from the kitchen. When I walked into the kitchen he said, “How many times do we have to go through this for you to learn your lesson?”
Though I wasn’t sure exactly what he was talking about, I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. You tell me.”
“Why do I have to tell you? Why do I have to do all the work in this friendship, especially for no reward? You don’t even have any orange Fanta in your refrigerator!”
It was hard to concentrate on a good answer when Citizen Jim was still looking at me through yellow-tinted safety glasses. I squinted at him. “Can you please repeat your full accusation, because I’m lost.”
“I can’t believe I have to remind you of these things,” he said. “I was saying that I had to come down here and threaten to cut a hole in your door with a chainsaw just to find out what you’re failing to do with your life these days. Because you haven’t written a Citizen Jim story in more than six months.”
“That’s not true! I wrote one at some point after the armed insurrection at the capitol on January 6,” I said.
“If you did, then you must have given yourself some knock-out drops every day up until now. Otherwise you would know that there was no armed insurrection at the capitol in January,” Citizen Jim said. “That’s been established as irrefutable fact. We need to move on.”
I didn’t agree, but I wasn’t about to argue. I had bigger fish to fry, and I aimed to get Citizen Jim away from my campfire as soon as I possibly could.
“Maybe you can come back on Monday and we’ll talk about it,” I said. “My plate is pretty full today. I’m waiting on a guy to come and fix my washer.”
Citizen Jim’s mouth hung open, and he lifted his safety goggles off his eyes, as if to better comprehend what I just said. “Oh my God,” he murmured. “Oh. My. Freakishly Omniscient God.”
He staggered backward, clutching for some stabilizing surface until he found the edge of the counter. He seemed to hold onto it for dear life.
“What is wrong with you?” I asked.
He opened his mouth, but all that I heard was a strange, low moan coming from the back of his throat.
“Please do not have a stroke. I’m very busy. I don’t have time to supervise your removal from my home by the local paramedics,” I said.
“This is why—” he finally managed, stopping mid-sentence for a few rapid blinks before continuing. “This is—this is the reason I haven’t heard from you, isn’t it?”
I frowned and scowled and closed my eyes all at the same time. “What the hell are you talking about?” I asked.
“As if you don’t know! I’ve heard people call hook-ups plenty of things, but I’ve never in my life heard anyone say ‘I’m waiting on a guy to come and fix my washer’ when they were talking about a booty call,” he said.
Thank God he cleared that up for me. “Thank God you cleared that up for me,” I said. “But I’m sure you’ll be shocked to find out that you’re wrong. You’re so far off-base that you’re not even in the stadium anymore.”
“I’m not wrong. I see it in your eyes,” he said. “You decided to switch teams.”
“Yeah, you used play for Team Lesbian, but now—”
I stopped him before he could say something both stupid and disgusting. “You mean sexual teams? You think I’m—”
He held up his hand and shook his head. “Hey, man, I don’t blame you. This is what? An eight-year losing streak you’ve been on?”
“I haven’t been keeping track,” I said. “And besides, I’ve pretty much sworn off relationships of any kind at this point. And even if I were still open to relationships, there’s no way in hell I’d ever start dating men.”
“You don’t have to explain anything to me. I’m fully aware that there’s only so much a person can take before they dump their failing franchise and run off to a sure thing.”
At this point I knew I had a choice: I could continue telling Citizen Jim he was wrong, a diagnosis he never accepts in an argument, or I could pretend to go along with whatever he said in order to get him to wrap things up and leave.
“Okay, okay! I can’t pretend anymore,” I said. “Yes, I have a guy coming by. But I’m really am going to make him fix my washing machine before he has his way with me.”
Yeah. I threw up a little in my mouth after I said that.
“What’s wrong with your washer?” Citizen Jim asked, walking over to the stacked washer/dryer unit that came with my rental. He opened the door on the dryer and peered inside. “Looks fine to me.”
“First of all, that’s not the washer. Second of all, I have no idea what’s wrong with it. I have to manually turn it off after every wash load finishes, or it just keeps cycling over and over,” I said. “It’s starting to effect the quality of my life—for the worse.”
“Just like all those women in your past,” he said, shaking his head.
“Yeah, well, I don’t have to worry about that anymore,” I said.
Citizen Jim peeled off his work gloves and threw them on the floor before stomping his foot. “Stimpy, don’t do it! Don’t hook up with this guy, please,” he said. “I can’t stand the thought of you giving up on love. Sure, the pandemic has robbed you of your few social skills. And yeah, you’re over fifty—for women that’s like walking around with an invisibility cloak thrown over your head. But I have faith that you’ll meet the right girl one day, and she’ll change your mind about everything!”
“I don’t want to meet a girl,” I said. “If I meet anyone—and I’m not saying I will or that I want to—I’m only interested in a woman whose age is within four years of mine. I think you know how sensitive I am about age-appropriate attraction.”
“Yeah, it’d be hard to miss after all the bad jokes you’ve made over the years about my young wife,” he said. “Plus, I do kind of remember Miss Crabtree dumping you and marrying a college coed.”
I winced at that recollection then nodded once, glad that he understood.
“All right, okay. You wait right here,” he said, walking toward the front door. “I’ll be back in eight hours.”
“Eight hours? If you need to do a number two, it won’t take you that long to drive to the gas station around the corner. Or have you been shredding cheddar cheese onto your ice cream again?”
“You dolt! I’m not constipated, I’m gonna drive back to Birmingham and get my tools,” he said.
“Tools? For what?”
“So I can fix that problem with your washing machine,” he said. “While I’m gone, you need to put a profile up on Match dot com. And don’t you dare let that repairman into this house!”
When he left, I smiled at what a true-blue friend Citizen Jim was.
Then I packed a suitcase and took off for parts unknown for the rest of the weekend.