ERASER HEAD (part 2)
[from Eraser Head, by Tim Freeman]
HAVING acquired so many sobriquets over the years, Patrick Dempsey seldom answered to the name Pat or Patrick anymore. He collected nicknames like patches on a jacket, and each title held a level of significance that Patrick identified with his own uniqueness. There was Special K because he once ate nothing but Special K for a week to lose weight but ended up gaining five pounds instead. The fiasco was so typically Patrick that the name naturally stuck with a certain compartment of his friends who liked to joke about his slight weight problem. There was Patch Adams because he patched up dinks in cars (actually, an eccentric kid from across the street dubbed him that because, well, he was eccentric) There was Malt Shop (he wasn’t sure how he came by that one) and Chop Shop (because some joked, and half-suspected, that he was doing something illegal in his garage with his cars) and still further there was Pet Shop (because Patrick once adopted stray dogs in the neighborhood and sold them when they weren’t claimed). His closest auto-mechanic connections called him The Gopher because Patrick was faster and more reliable--not to mention cheaper--than Advanced AutoParts when it came to tracking down that rare bit of metal needed to bring, say, a dead VW micro van back to life in the dead of winter. “Gopher,” they would say, “do you think you can get me X, Y and Z for a ‘68 Mustang Firebird,” to which Patrick would reply, “I think a have Y and maybe Z lying around my garage somewhere, and I know a guy who might be able to get you X.” The Gopher could never fail. Patrick’s mom called him Hot Box when he was angry and Soap Box when he was clean and Strong Box when she needed his muscles for something she could not do by her own strength alone. “There’s my Strong Box,” she would say as he hoisted a table above his head and carried it to her desired location. “Look out, here comes Hot Box,” she would sometimes utter as Patrick stormed down the hallway mad as Hell with a look on his face that indicated he was bent on destroying something delicate with a lot of sentimental value.
But there was another name Patrick had been known by and associated with growing up. It was a name all but lost in the unfurling of time, tolling out its final echoes in the dark recesses of his brain until that inevitable neurological file dump should come along and eradicate it from his consciousness completely. When this happened only an empty space of blackness would be left, a depth to fill with the synaptic coordinates for a face or perhaps a new telephone number to memorize. Patrick would have wanted that most, he would have wanted the name completely gone for good if he only knew this ghost from his past still lingered in the hollows of his brain.
Perhaps today would be the day his mental updates would identify the useless file and single it out for termination. Yes, please let it be. Or in a more abstract way, an unconscious mental reconnaissance would survey his psyche and find no more traces of the hidden enemy, it having been bombed to dust by beer can grenades and joint missiles, or maybe just fled off the map completely. If Patrick had known he would have begged God to let today be the day when the name vanished forever, when it trickled out of his body in a stream of urine, some microbial form of a name to be washed away into the bowels of the sewers.
Today was Wednesday, a gray and overcast Wednesday, and the gusts of Ohio wind were blowing the rain into screaming diagonal bullets that ricocheted off the windows of Del Franco’s Pizza where Patrick was temping to make some extra dough. He was standing there tapping a pencil and waiting for the phone to ring so he could get to work preparing pizzas, and maybe if he was lucky, get out of the store and go do a delivery. His friend and co-worker Fred was soaping down the tables and whistling a tune to himself. Other than the raindrops which pelted the windows as if seeking to penetrate the thick glass, Freddy’s whistling was the only other sound that broke the silence on that Wednesday afternoon in Del Franco‘s. Patrick’s head was heavy in the palm of his hand and he knew that if he was at home right now he would be in his bedroom with the latest issue of Penthouse sprawled on his knees and a lacy bra clenched in his hands. Somewhere between Patrick’s ononistic reverie and Freddy’s shouting, the phone rang. It momentarily startled Patrick and he looked across the room at Freddy.
“Are you going to get that?” Fred was saying.
Patrick picked up the receiver.
Patrick stared for a moment wondering what the Hell the person on the phone had just said. Freddy had just gone outside to wash a piece of bird shit off the window and could not help him out on this one. He thought he heard the person say Racer Head but he could not be sure. He watched Freddy reach up with his rag and carefully wipe at the white glob of bird droppings which had been stuck to the window going on days and was now becoming hard and crusty like a rock. He wondered at the angle and trajectory of the flying bird feces. How had landed with such aesthetic precision so high up on the flush windows of Del Franco‘s pizzeria? Why did it not run and drip down as gravity would have it do? All of this went through Patrick’s mind as the silence from the receiver buzzed in his ear.
“Is this Eraser Head?”
The voice sounded very near yet at the same time very distant. It had the inflection of a voice from a memory yet it also could strangely be the voice of a stranger he may have just talked to an hour ago.
“What?” Patrick said.
“I know that’s you Eraser Head.”
Patrick was puzzled. Who was this Eraser Head person the caller was asking for? Was it a prank call? Why would anyone want to prank call Del Franco’s Pizza in New Hatfield, Ohio--a dead-end town in a dead-end state--to begin with? Thinking of how he could have some fun with this person Patrick thought for a moment and more silence ensued. Finally, he gave up trying to figure a way to prank the caller back and said, “Yeah, pizza’s are thirteen fifty for a large and mediums start at ten even.”
Patrick could hear breathing coming from the other end of the line.
Contemplating the gruffness of the caller’s voice, Patrick decided that it sounded eerie in a backwoods sort of way. He pictured an unemployed man in his thirties or forties calling from a trailer on the outskirts of New Hatfield. He pictured the man sitting in a stained Lazy Boy recliner with a sick-pack of cheap, domestic beer by his feet. There was perhaps a flowerpot next to the man overflowing with cigarette buts and maybe a shotgun within arms reach incase things got to that point. Patrick winced at these mental sketches he was making and secretly congratulated himself also for their accuracy. But at the same time it was all very disturbing.
Why me? Why now? he thought.
The breathing continued and became deeper and more hoarse.
“Are you going to order a pizza or not, dude?” Patrick said.
“Hhhhuuuuhhhhh?” the voice replied.
Patrick started a little at this and began to lose his patience. What kind of sick fuck was he talking to? Of all the businesses to call, of all the places, of all the people! Why wasn’t this guy calling the FBI or the NRA or the DEA or even the BBC? Why wasn’t he talking? Maybe he was retarded.
“Don’t you remember Eraser Head?” the caller finally breathed out.
“Look! Are you going to order a pizza or not?” Patrick repeated.
“Not!” the caller blurted out and the line went dead.
Patrick slammed the receiver down hard. Just then Freddy came back inside with a look of satisfaction on his face at having successfully removed the bird shit from the window. Perceiving the frustration in Patrick’s eyes his look immediately changed from one of smugness to one of concern.
“What the Hell was that all about?” he inquired.
“Nothing,” Patrick said.
“Just somebody having fun.”
Just then the phone rang again and Patrick quickly fumbled for the receiver and put it to his ear. This time, however, it was a legitimate customer. They ordered three cheese calzones and a two liter bottle of diet soda. Patrick got to work preparing the order while Freddy resumed with his cleaning. The incident was quickly forgotten as they went about with their respective tasks but Patrick was left with a discomforting feeling he could not quite shake or identify for the remainder of the day. He made many mistakes while preparing the calzones. At one point he put pepperoni on one of the calzones and at another point he burned himself on the coils of the stove. The rain was falling harder outside and the customer called back to amend their order: they would not be picking up, they now wanted the calzones and the soda delivered to their house. Patrick would have been formerly relieved by this assignment but now he was overcome by a desire to remain inside of Del Franco’s for the remainder of his shift, which lasted for another half hour. A mob of people was now inexplicably flooding into the pizzeria, however, and Patrick got stuck with the delivery. He grumbled as he tucked the heat-proof box under his arm filled with the calzones and headed out into the rain to his car. He thought about the irony of carrying a heat-proof box and the fact that his mother always called him Hot Box when he was mad. He fumbled with the keys and jerked the car into reverse. The rain was coming down in torrents now and Patrick zoomed through the streets determined to get this mission over with as soon as possible.
Two miles into his trip he got stopped at a long light where his was the only car in sight. Patrick sat there and watched the shrieking rain drops pelt his windshield like bullets of blood sent from some god in the sky. He thought of each drop of rain as a delicate insect sent on a suicide mission from high up in the atmosphere. They were little paratroopers who, instead of landing and combating the inhabitants of earth, blew up upon impact whenever they touched an object. They were exploding on his thick glass windshield now and his wipers were wiping them away like so many hapless casualties of a futile war.
The light was not changing and Patrick was becoming impatient. He still did not see any cars. He muttered a few curses and began to tap his horn as the rain let up a little. The light seemed to be stalled because it was still stuck on red.
“What the fuck!” Patrick yelled.
He was now blaring his horn and cursing at the top of his lungs. Finally the light changed and Patrick raced through the intersection. The sky was clearing and the rain had almost completely stopped. Patrick rolled down his window and exhaled into the cool air and watched the mist of his own spirit escape. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he yelled to anyone who would listen, which was no one. He peeled out at a corner and a stray dog standing across the road looked up from its sniffing hardly appearing to be startled.
Patrick was driving fast now towards the address of the customer. He was racing to make it to the house and back to Del Franco’s in the half hour he had since he left because Del Franco’s would not pay him for the extra time he spent working. As Patrick raced down the endless road that headed away from New Hatfield he was struck with a sudden realization. He could plainly see a metaphor beginning to manifest itself before his eyes. He was running farther and farther away from something that was leading him into the unknowable distances. The monotony that had become his life had him headed down a road that was as ugly as the one that now surrounded and stretched before him. Where did it all go? He looked up at a house number and realized he missed the address of the customer. He stopped in the road, turned around and began to slowly head back. He looked off into the distance at the greenness of the hills flowing around him and at the emptiness of the fields. The sky opened up and a beam of sun shot out like a ray from heaven.
Then he remembered.