BEA 2005

Citizen Jim arrives with an invitation to attend B.E.A. 2005—only to be rebuffed when Chicken Sheets misunderstands what B.E.A. stands for and figures he’s lying…again!

I’d been engaging the line and hanging up on the same telemarketer for close to three hours on Thursday morning when I hit the talk button on our phone and got a big surprise.

“Hey, Stimpy! Guess where I am!”

Because it was Citizen Jim who happened to be asking this question, I didn’t dare guess. “I don’t dare guess,” I said.

When it comes to guessing his whereabouts, it’s hard to tell with someone like Citizen Jim. He’s a man who delights in replacing the predictable with shocks to the system, and real surprises with eye-crossing banality.

“I’m close to where you are, and we’re gonna pick you up in the limo and take you to Bee Ee Aye,” he said.

“B.E.A.? What the hell are you going there for?” I asked.

“Don’t try that stupid-act with me. You know good and fucking well why I’m going to B.E.A. Now get your suitcase packed and head out to the nearest on-ramp of I-85 North! We were supposed to be there yesterday, so we’re running a day behind as it is!” he shouted.

“I’ve got a lot going on right now,” I said, rolling my eyes. “You better go without me.”

“Listen! I know you’ve got no job, and you’re bored shitless waiting for your girlfriend to get home from working her fingers to the bone every day,” he said. “You don’t even have the Internet! Now get a move on!”

“But—”

“Look, Stimpy. Last year when Al and Carolyn went to B.E.A., do you know who they saw just walking around as glamorously as John Nelson during Arts and Crafts?”

I thought a moment, and threw out the first name that popped into my head. “Whoopi Goldberg?”

“Very close,” Jim said. “They saw Ted Nugent!”

“Who?”

“The Nuge! The Motor City Madman! And they got his autograph!” Citizen Jim said excitedly.

“That’s great,” I said.

I didn’t believe Jim’s story about Ted Nugent’s being at B.E.A.—an N.R.A. convention, yes; but B.E.A.? No.

In fact, I didn’t really believe Jim’s story about going to B.E.A. himself. There was no reason I could think of that he would be attending such an event. He would have stood out like a sore thumb—as would Ted Nugent, which reinforced my belief that it was all a pack of lies.

One lie deserved another as far as I was concerned: “I’d love to meet Ted Nugent myself.”

“Well, he probably won’t be there this year,” Jim said. “He doesn’t have a—”

“Then you probably need to count me out this time,” I said.

“Suit yourself,” Jim said. “But don’t be crying and throwing a hissy fit when I e-mail you photos of me and Paul Theroux together, or if you see me on the news having a chat with Jack Klugman, Mike Wallace or Chuck Barris.”

He hung up before I could even react, and called back before the phone left my hands.

“And another thing—I know how crazy you’ve always been about Philippa Gregory, that historical romance writer. So if I happen to see her, I will NOT BE GIVING HER YOUR REGARDS!” he screamed, and hung up a second time.

At this point, I was certain that Jim was not going to be attending B.E.A. My big clue was that he hadn’t named one famous or even marginally famous person appropriate to the nature of the event. All I’d heard from Jim was the equivalent of saying he was going to the Gay Pride Rainbow Fruit Fairy Dyke Poof Awards and not naming a single queer he might bump into.

But if that was the way Jim wanted to be, fine. I settled down into a chair and went back to reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I’d finally put our entire phone call out of my mind when Jim burst through the door. He was wearing a bright red, three-piece, sharkskin suit, diamond cufflinks, black shoes with white spats, a purple fedora and several gold watches—two or three on each wrist.

The fact that he was dressed this way made me wonder how I’d ever managed to take him seriously in all the years I’d known him. “What’s with that god-awful get-up?” I asked.

“I’m wearing the finest threads and bling I own—this is B.E.A. we’re talking about, not a trip to SEBA with the Town Whore!” he said.

“I’ve never imagined you were such a racist,” I said. “But wearing this kind of outfit to B.E.A. certainly changes my mind. Why don’t you just go in black face wearing a ‘do-rag?”

He looked at me as if I’d gone mad, then shook his head violently and ignored everything I’d said. “I can’t believe you aren’t ready to go! I thought you were just bluffing,” he said, grabbing my arm and trying to pull me out of the chair I was sitting in. “Damn, you done turned into the Chunky Monkey! I’d say you’ve put on a few extra pounds in the last few months—I bet your ass is EXTRA HUGE, now! Come on, or we won’t get there in time to see Fonzie!”

“Fonzie? You mean Henry Winkler?” I asked.

“That’s right. Henry Winkler, also known as Fonzie, also known as Barry Zuckercorn, will be at B.E.A. this year and I aim to shake that cat’s hand!”

“Jim, why don’t you just give this whole joke a rest? I’m not laughing, and I’d bet Miss Mabel’s next paycheck that you aren’t going to be anywhere near the Black Entertainment Awards this weekend. I mean, fer fuck’s sake, do you think I’m that—”

“Stupid? Why, yes. Yes, I do think that. Divorced from logic? Definitely,” he said. “In fact, you’ve just proven yourself to be so stupid that I won’t even slap you. I won’t pull your hair, I won’t bash your head in with a brick, and I won’t punch you in the face.”

I stared at him, too shocked to respond.

“No, I won’t do any of that,” he went on. “And when I get to Book Expo America, I sure as shit won’t be going out of my way to stand in some mile-long line of freeloaders to get you an autographed copy of the new book by any author there. But especially not one by Walter Mosley.”

I sat staring into space for six hours after he left. Then I blacked out.

{ To be continued . . . }