In which Citizen Jim arrives to inspire Chicken Sheets with a classic rock album by Captain Beefheart.
It’d been hard getting into bed the night before but that was nothing compared to how hard it was getting out of bed after only a few hours of sleep.
Unfortunately, I had no choice.
I’d fed the cat and climbed back between the covers. My eyes had barely closed when I was pulled upward by the worst bunch of caterwauling I’ve heard since my sister made me listen to the Belarusian Death Metal channel on Sirius XM radio during a road trip.
The sounds today seemed to be coming from across the street, but then they got closer, grew louder. Soon the hullabaloo was right outside my window!
I did what I truly thought was the right thing at the time, and dialed 911 on my cell phone. I could barely hear the dispatcher over the noise in the background, though I know she kept saying, “Ma’am, please turn down the radio,” and, “Ma’am, can you please mute the television? I can’t hear you!”
“That’s what I’m calling about!” I shouted. “I think a gang of youths with five, maybe ten boom boxes is right outside my house trying to make me flee so they can rob me.”
“Boom-whatses? Please speak English, ma’am, so I can help you,” the dispatcher said.
“Oh my God—how old are you?” I screamed.
“If this is not a real emergency, you need to hang up, now. I cannot remain on the line for a non-emergency.”
“I’m calling because of the noise!” I yelled.
“You cannot call 911 for instructions on how to use volume knobs or remote controls,” the dispatcher said.
“How old do you think I am?” I yelled. “I was born in 1969, not 1929!”
Boy, she was so mad and was being so mean to me that I finally did just hang up. I still hadn’t looked out the window, and was so tired that I was pretty sure I could lie back down, put a pillow over my head, and go back to sleep with very little trouble.
But it was no use. The noise was too loud and too strange.
Then it stopped.
Chrissy came out from under the bed, where she’d slunk as soon as the noise had started.
A siren, faint in the distance, got closer. Then it was on my street. It stopped. I heard men’s voices.
“—got a call from this address, couldn’t make out what was going on. Is there a dementia patient living here?”
“I’m sorry, officer. I thought she’d stopped randomly calling 911.”
I should have known!
It was Citizen Jim!
I ran to my front door and yanked it open. “I don’t have dementia, and I didn’t randomly dial 911!” I shouted.
“Go on inside while I talk to this man,” Citizen Jim said. He smiled. “I’ll be back in there soon.”
“Was it you out here making all that racket?” I asked.
“Why would a policeman be outside making a racket? This nice officer came to make sure everything is safe and good,” Citizen Jim said quietly. “I’ll explain everything to him.”
“Look,” the cop said. “Is there a disturbance here? Is your wife drunk? Is she high, sir? Does she need to go to Bryce?”
“Bryce?” Citizen Jim asked.
“The nuthouse! The looney bin?” the cop said.
“Young man, what is your name?” I asked. “Are you just pretending to be a cop?”
“I don’t think I like the way you say ‘cop,'” the cop said.
“Oh, poor you! Just go on! I made a mistake. I called for help when I didn’t need it,” I said. I swept at the air with my hands. “Goodbye! Scram!”
The cop pulled out his gun and pointed it at me.
“Officer, I am so, so sorry,” Citizen Jim said, his hands in the air. “Please don’t shoot!”
“You need to tell your wife to watch her mouth, or next time I might think she’s got a weapon on her and I might feel like my life is in danger,” the cop said.
“Put that gun away, you slack-jawed Marine Corp reject,” I said, rolling my eyes.
The cop sneered at me and addressed Citizen Jim. “This is what we get for lettin ’em get on the pill and work outside the home.”
The fact that a man in Alabama would say this didn’t surprise me; the fact that a guy who looked young enough to be my child would say this was a little harder to swallow.
“What are you, some kind of time-traveling cop called to the 21st century from 1950?” I asked him.
“Ma’am, I’d give anything to live back in those simpler times,” the cop said, closing his eyes and placing a hand over his heart. I threw up a little in my mouth.
“I’m sure you would—you and every other racist, woman-hating, bullet-licking, homophobic headcase with a badge and a gun!” I said. “You don’t know the law, and I don’t like your idea of order.”
Boy! I could hardly believe my luck at having an actual policeman in front of me to say this to instead of just typing it into the black hole of a status update on Facebook.
The cop hooked his thumbs in his front trouser pockets and smiled wryly, like a Lifetime Television movie villain right before he beats the shit out of his estranged wife for smiling at the mailman.
Citizen Jim sprinted over to me and clapped a hand over my mouth. “Thanks, officer. We’re good, now,” he said as I tried to bite his palm.
“Buddy you do what you gotta do to keep that one in hand,” the cop said, motioning his head toward me and shoving his pistol back into his shoulder holster. “You won’t need to worry about us coming back to this house for any domestic disputes, if you get my meaning.”
The cop got in his car. For whatever reason, he drove away with his siren blaring again, and his blue lights flashing.
“Yeah, so,” Citizen Jim said, “you know how I’m always telling you to remember your audience?”
“No,” I said. “I remember your saying that to me one time, when I made a joke about rich people at a weird, informal dinner party we went to with some rich people.”
“That’s right. And you still haven’t learned your lesson, have you?”
“No. No, I have not,” I said. “So what the hell was all that noise earlier?”
“That was you trying to get yourself killed by law enforcement,” he said.
“I’m talking about all that noise before the pig in a uniform showed up!” I said. “And boy, don’t I wish that asshole had shot me in broad daylight in this neighborhood with a witness!”
“What witness?” asked Citizen Jim, looking around.
“I’ll just assume that you’re either making a bad joke, or that you’re truly being dense right now,” I said. “I’m going inside and I’m going to go back to sleep. You start that noise up again and I won’t wait for the police—I’ll come out here with a plastic hairbrush and beat the backs of your legs until you can’t walk or sit down!”
“Don’t you want to know why I’m here?” Citizen Jim asked.
I closed my eyes and let my knees go weak in a pretended half-collapse. “I’m tired. Please leave me alone,” I whined.
“Look, it’s not my fault you started this story at seven in the morning and then fooled around all day without finishing it until now,” Citizen Jim said. “You know you’ve got a definite window of time outside of which you can’t finish a Citizen Jim story. Now get inside and let me explain why I’m here.”
I stared at him with a look that should have killed him. But he didn’t stagger and he didn’t fall down.
“I’m not leaving until this story reaches its natural conclusion,” he said, and shoved me toward the front door.
Before we got too far inside my house, the awful racket that had started the whole fiasco started up again. I spun around, making claws of my hands and heading toward Citizen Jim. “What is that awful, awful noise?” I yelled.
From behind his back, Citizen Jim produced a small bluetooth speaker. It was rattling and squawking and buzzing and groaning. “It’s for you! To inspire you!” he shouted over the din.
“Ugh! Turn it off! Please turn it off!” I yelled, covering my ears and grimacing.
“Gah! Fine!” he said.
Silence was never so welcome to me. “How the hell is something so awful supposed to inspire me?” I asked.
“Oh, okay,” Citizen Jim said, nodding his head. “I see.”
“I’m sorry if it’s something you like, Precious Lamb, but it just makes me feel weird and uptight.”
“You are weird and uptight,” he said.
I crossed my arms over my chest and stared, blinking heavily for effect.
“So Lester Bangs says this guy’s a genius, Ry Cooder plays in his band,” Citizen Jim said, lifting his little Bluetooth speaker high above his head and waving it around. “Tom Waits worshiped him, Kurt Cobain, Black Francis—all these people think Captain Beefheart is the shit and say he influenced them in some way.”
“John Peel—The Man Himself—even he called Captain Beefheart a genius!” Citizen Jim said.
I shrugged. “Well, good for him,” I said. “Good for all of them. But it just sounds like Wood Chipper Night at the Hyena Ranch to me. My head can’t contain all that musical mayhem. I don’t know what kind of brain you have to have to think that music sounds awesome.”
“What you know about brains or music wouldn’t fill the eye socket of a tone-deaf ear mite,” he said.
“Then what do you care what I think?” I asked.
“I was only trying to help you! You haven’t been writing! I thought this would help you! It’s supposed to be inspiring,” he said, sticking out his bottom lip and looking at the floor.
“It is not inspiring,” I said.
“But it’s Captain Beefheart’s magnum opus!” Citizen Jim said.
“I’m sorry, but it sounds valde malus,” I said.
“So you think you’re too good to listen to Trout Mask Replica?” Citizen Jim asked.
“If I say Yes, will you leave so I can go back to sleep?”
“I guess so,” Citizen Jim said.
“Yes, I am too good to listen to Trout Mask Replica,” I said. I waved my hand like the Queen on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. “Thanks for coming by.”
“I shoulda let that cop take you to the funny farm! You’re outta your mind!” Citizen Jim shouted as he was leaving my house.
As soon as the door slammed, Trout Mask Replica started back up, the mind-bending, atonal mishmash of crap notes fading as Citizen Jim got further away.
I lay down on my bed, but I was so mad I couldn’t close my eyes. Going back to sleep was out of the question.
I knew I would never get “Ella Guru” out of my head.