Whack is a small town north of the Bronx.
You see the problem, don't you? That's Coyote territory. That's Weird Woodland Wibble-Wobble territory. Strange things and people come out of Whack...
I was sitting at my favorite table in The Little Prince Café the other day when a man walked in. He had to stoop to get beneath the door frame. I could see his eyes gleam, despite the fact that he was silhouetted in the doorway. As our eyes met, the din of the room was muffled, as if someone had stuck cotton in my ears. Nobody else seemed to notice the man.
He sat down at my table. Kept staring at me with his bright green eyes and red hair and his smile with pointy incisors and cute button nose and --
I glanced over at Baby Doc, who was tending bar. Doc usually made a few remarks to people who sat at my table, and they moved to somewhere else. But even though Doc met my eyes, he said nothing, and kept mixing drinks.
In my hour of need! He failed me! Ah, but I had the feeling this fellow across from me wasn't something a frail old man could handle. It was up to me this time.
"Alright," I said, "You're sitting at my table. Nobody gets to sit at my table. Not even my friends. Not even on holy days. What exactly do you want?"
"Patricia King", said the man, "The trees whisper your name in the evenings. They have told me so much about you. About your journeys, your adventures. I came to offer you an adventure beyond your --"
"Hang on," I said. "First of all, we're not on a first-name basis. Second, which trees, exactly, have been blabbing about me? Was it the Ailanthus? They love to talk. I'll have to have a word with them."
"Oh, my sources are myriad," said the man, not losing his grin. "You'll have to have a word with ALL the trees of the city. They tell so many tales about you. Difficult to translate to human speech, of course. Much is lost in the translation. But the Squirrels and the Squoils help me. I should write a book."
"If I don't get a cut of the royalties, I'll be sure to spread nasty rumors about you." I slouched in my chair. "The trees are probably making crap up anyway. I haven't done that much, have I?"
"They say you survived touching a glowing Ailanthus."
"And that you rode a Unicorn back from Left New York and challenged Mayor Bloomberg to Strip Polo."
"Ah." His smile vanished. "So you didn't drink a Giant Gonzo Gulp of soda in front of the mayor either?"
"Odds Bodkins, haven't you done anything to ruffle that man's feathers? Have you even tried?"
"What am I supposed to do? I'm a teenaged girl trying to go where I please while keeping my face out of the Police records. And I noticed you're a creepy older man sitting at my damn table. What do you want?"
He laid his hands on the table. "As I was saying before you so rudely interrupted me, I came to offer you an adventure beyond your wildest dreams. Beyond anything you've ever known. Beyond the smoggy, smelly confines of your city, there are brighter, more beautiful worlds, full of youth, merry, and music, and whatever you desire, is shall be --"
"Where exactly were you thinking of? I'm not going to go anywhere unless I know where you're taking me."
"Oh, that would spoil the surprise, would it not?"
"I don't care. Where exactly are you referring to?"
"There is a mystic door in my village, back behind the standing stones, that leads to the wondrous land of Tír Na Nóg, as I said, full of youth, music, fruits in all seasons, and whatever you desire. You are young, and full of desire, are you not?" He wiggled his eyebrows.
I sat up straight. "You're from Whack, aren't you?"
"How do you figure?"
"There's a tunnel in Whack that my sister told me about. She said she walked through it for days and days, and she came up in Los Angeles."
"And if she wasn't pulling my leg, everything you said about your lovely Tir Nan Og sounds exactly like Los Angeles. Except you left out the smog, the traffic jams, the police officers, and the oil rigs. Trust me, I've been there. The place is the Spooky Voodoo of Eternal Sunshine. There's no seasons and it throws off my sense of time completely. I'm from New York City, born and bred. You think I want to go to Los Angeles? You're out of your mind."
"Well, there's San Francisco too, and -- "
"The place with no parking and experimental pizza and naked people. Try again."
"The Big Sur coast? Crashing waves far below, and the wild ocean wind in your hair?"
"The Sequoia Forest, where you can gaze up at living beings older than anything you've ever known."
"Please. I'm a Shaman. I'm going to talk to spirits like that in this city as a matter of course." I put my hands behind my head and leaned back in my chair. "Look, I'm not going to leave the city while Coyote is hanging around, and you're smack in the middle of his favorite territory. No matter how beautiful California is, I can't trust you, and I can't take up your offer. Besides, I like this city. Granted, the air pollution will probably take a few years off my life -- but I see beauty where you don't. A red-brick tenement building with a black fire escape, a robot arm removing shipping containers, an old subway tunnel -- those are all the gritty reminders of the foundations of this city, which is human beings. This is an extremely human landscape. And yet, at the same time, other species have managed to bully their way into niches in this place anyway. I've spoken to the Rat King, that's something I've actually done, and he told me that elbowing one's way into a good position is just how this city works. And I didn't like that at all, but I can see how he would come to believe it, because it's admittedly a small space for tens of millions of people, and yet we manage to jam ourselves in, and we've been living like this for at least a hundred and fifty years. There are so many people to talk to here, so many stories besides my own to write down, if that's what you want, and if I'm ever bored in this place, it's my own damn fault. Big Sur and the Sequoia Forest can't offer me anything like that. I can't speak to bears. I can't stand to listen to country squirrels. I can't speak to the people in the woods because everyone I meet has booby-trapped their property, every goddamn one of them, I don't even -- "
"So you like this city, is what you're saying."
"You don't feel trapped here?"
"You did say that you can't leave here while Coyote is hanging around. What if you have to attend to a relative in Albany? Or what if you want to visit a museum in Stamford or somewhere?"
"Coyote would grab me. I bet. Or he'd do something to trick me. Mislead me. Convince me to steal the sun from the gods, I don't know. I've never met him face-to-face, and I don't want to yet. Look, why don't you come back when I'm ten years older and this whole conversation is less creepy?"
"Perhaps I will. In the meantime, my offer stands. And let me tell you, the only person who's keeping you in this city is you. You shouldn't let your fear of some unmet person prevent you from living the life you want." He rose from his seat and strode out the door.
I looked over to Baby Doc, and said, "Hey, what happened to our deal? You warn people away from my table and I order the most expensive thing on the menu."
He raised an eyebrow. "Did someone sit at your table? I never saw anyone. You were just muttering to the air, there. Are you feeling alright?"
Well, NOW I wasn't feeling alright.
I ordered the Clams Miata and decided to think about this whole conversation another day.