26 Nov

It’s Not Exactly Suicide (Part 4)

When you’re a kid, adults tell you you can be anything when you grow up – the president, an astronaut – you name it. “Even an ornithologist?” I’d ask them. And they’d say yes, though they thought it was strange, which you could tell by the way they’d raise their eyebrows and pause too long before replying, “Sure, you can be an ornithologist.”

Except they’d also chuckle a little. So you’d start to wonder if you really wanted to be an ornithologist; you’d look for signs that people who study birds are dumb or silly or have less status. (Not that you knew what status was, but you could see how janitors were treated.) And then you’d start to believe wholeheartedly in the utter stupidity of studying birds for a living. Dad would ask you one day, didn’t you want to be an ornithologist? And you’d kick the ground and say “naw.”

But then one June on a trip with your parents to see Grandma in Iowa, you’d pull over at a rest stop near Des Moines and let the dog go running in the unusually large pet exercise area and you’d see a bird limping and dragging its wing until your dog chased it and it flew away; Dad would explain to you that it was a killdeer and that it was faking the broken wing. And just like that, you’re in love again.

If you’re me, though, what happens next is you wake up after your 21st birthday and you have a hangover and you think to yourself, shit, if I’m going to be a fill-in-the-blank (president, ornithologist), I’ve gotta get crackin’. You might even make some lists. (1. Go back to college. 2. No more weed.) But your buddies show up around 2:00 and you sit around playing Super Mario Brothers for an hour and then you realize you haven’t eaten anything, so you go get a Donor Kebab and pretty soon it’s Monday, and then pretty soon it’s three years later and you’re twenty four and Maggie asks if you want to move to Portland.

I didn’t tell Maggie about Eric Two.

My delivery to the glass building was 30 minutes late, which meant I had to forfeit $15 per the 50-cent-per-minute fee reduction policy for late deliveries. I also had to face the wrath of Big Jasper, the trucker-cum-bike-messenger who ran Magpie Messengers. He assigned me to Beaverton for the rest of the afternoon, which had me running some ridiculously hilly routes to locations too far away to make hiring a bike messenger practical.

The long rides gave me plenty of opportunity to ponder whether to tell Maggie about the other me. But the farther I got from downtown, the less I trusted my senses. You ever hear those stories about little kids forgetting what their dead mothers look like? That was how I was beginning to think of Eric Two – like a dream deferred to the point that I questioned its existence.

So I didn’t tell Maggie.

Did he really, after all, look exactly like me?

13 Nov

It’s Not Exactly Suicide (Part 3)

For the second time, I was tempted to walk away.

“We both have 36 hours to live; we’re like ticking time bombs. And the only way to diffuse the bomb is to kill the other guy.”

“Kill? As in murder?”

“Well, I don’t think of it as murder. But yeah, that’s basically what it is.”

“So the next time you see me, you’re going to try to kill me?”

“I probably will kill you. I’m pretty good, actually.” He was clenching his jaw.

“Why aren’t you killing me now?”

“Oh, that’s right. Thanks for reminding me. You’re not allowed to do anything during the first meeting.”

I laughed. “You’re messing with me, right?”

“No.”

“Who makes up these rules?”

“Um, I’ve never really asked.”

“So let me get this straight. You’ve met other people who look exactly like us? And you’ve killed them? And you’ve never stopped to wonder why?”

“Dude. After the first one, you just kind of know it’s right. I wish you could experience it.”

“But I’m not going to because I don’t stand a chance against you?”

“Correct.” Now he was smiling.

I was sure now that he was joking with me, so I humored the bastard. “Alright, well, do you have any tips?”

He stood up. “Do you get queasy at the sight of blood?”

Boy, do I ever. TV surgery, gangster films, and Animal Planet have all been known to send me into a whimpering fetal position. “Yes, very much so.”

“Get over that.” He walked through the crowd of pigeons like he was Clint Eastwood or something. “Oh, by the way,” he added, “no guns.”

“Why not?”

“Too easy.” And with that, he turned the corner, leaving me with the increasingly courageous birds who, I discovered, were eyeing a half-eaten sandwich that had been discarded below the bench I was sitting on. And here I was beginning to think I was the bird whisperer or something.

10 Nov

It’s Not Exactly Suicide (Part 2)

We walked through alleys, past dumpsters reeking of stale beer, under fire escapes and a web of telephone wires. Pigeons cooed overhead. Rats scuttled through the shadows; one tipped over a glass. I was tempted to turn and run. Instead I made conversation. “So, what do you do?”

“I trade futures on the S & P 500.”

“Really?”

“Naw. I tend bar at a nightclub.”

“Oh.”

“You know what hot chicks are willing to do at four a.m. when they’re drunk and stoned?”

I thought maybe it was a rhetorical question, so I didn’t answer. We emerged from the alley onto an empty street, full of store fronts with “For Lease” signs displayed in the windows, no other people in sight. He sat on a bus stop bench.

The city was still pretty new to me. I had followed my girlfriend Maggie when she said, “Let’s move to Portland” since I trusted her and I had nothing to lose. But I didn’t feel as comfortable with this other me. “Um, where are we?”

He ignored my question and countered with one of his own. “So what’s your name?”

“Eric.” I was starting to doubt myself. As, I suppose, I should have. If you met a guy and followed him to some abandoned street, I’d be inclined to call you a dumb ass. “What about you?”

He nodded. “Eric.”

“No kidding?”

He didn’t answer. He said, “Well, so I’m your first, which means I have to explain.” A pigeon ambled toward us on the sidewalk; he picked up a pebble and threw it at the bird.

I noticed several other pigeons strutting toward us, and a smattering of sparrows on a telephone wire. I notice birds; it’s “Ëścause I wanted to be an ornithologist once.

“Within 36 hours, we’ll meet again. It will seem to be by chance. But it’s guaranteed to happen. We don’t have to arrange a meeting or anything. It will happen. Understand?”

The concept didn’t make much sense, but the words did, so I said, “Got it.”

“When we do meet again, we’re going to fight.”

I examined him closely, wondering if he clenched his jaw like I did when I was trying not to laugh.

But his face was sincere. A mixture of envy and pity, maybe? It was like the expression I saw on Maggie’s face just last week when we spotted a young mother with twin toddler boys, both of whom seemed like a handful. He sighed. “Because if we don’t, then we’ll both die.” I hadn’t asked the question, but he’d answered it.