Mesmerized momentarily by the overwhelming phosphorescent aura of the Fluoridated Whitening Payphone, I awoke with a start. I didn't have a choice. Awaking with a finish doesn't mean much and is just plain confusing.
I had been lost in a reverie wrapped up in an enigma tossed out in a garbage bag. I was dreaming that I had gone to a travel agency (no, not the funeral home) to book a trip to the Land Beyond the Great Waters. Fortunately, they were all out of flights to Pittsburgh (aptly named though it is). Instead, we had gone into the back alley behind a pool hall, and there to find what has been called by People magazine "the world's most sincere manhole cover."
But as I say, it was just a dream...
I was standing instead in front of a gigantic scintillating Superstore. The fractionated Graviton particle had disappeared. In its place was a cat. A cat who looked strangely familiar. It was a cat we had owned years ago, one who had died a horrible death. It was playing about on the rim of a giant vat of hand cream, fell in, and softened to death.
The cat's name was hyphenated because he had had a brief fling with a poodle from three blocks away named Xochimilco. Since the cat's given name was Popocatepetl Teotiuachan, the name on his passport is Popocatepetl Teotiuachan-Xochmilco. We called him "Smike" for short. We almost never called him "Fred".
It should be noted that this is not the same pitiful Smike from Dickens' novel Nicholas Nickleby. No, actually the cat's name was "Spike", but I have a speech impediment under certain bizarre weather conditions.
As a test, I asked Smike a complex philosophical question, based on bitter personal experience. The cat, without hesitation, answered:
"Weiners are sold by the dozen because they go by the Universal Meat Standard, which is part of the Imperial system of the late 1780s. Packages of buns, on the other hand, come in eights because the number eight represents a level that is higher than nature, and above time. This is the level of the miraculous, which is not bound by the laws of nature."
"So...what should I do? Buy two packages of buns and throw four of the buns away?"
"You should eat tofu."
It was Smike, all right.
Not only was he a vegetarian, but he was also a brilliant cat. On the other hand, I remember he used to lick the neighbor's driveway after their garbage was picked up.
"Forget the garbage episode," he said. "Like it or not, I'm going to be your mentor, guru, and guide to this next phase of your journey."
We walked into the store. I was immediately blasted by a large, clear light. It was, in fact, the clearest light I had ever seen. Not white, not even eye-soothingly Soft Cool Amber. Just clear. I could truthfully say I was dazzled by the light. And by the blinding wall-to-wall day-glo neon and plastic lawn chairs, tables, and barbecues. Not to mention those Everyday Low, Low, Prices.
"How do you like this light?" said the cat.
"It's OK, as lights go."
"You should investigate this light. If at any time you feel inclined to surrender to the will of this light, don't let me stop you."
But I was distracted by the broadly grinning payphone. I fumbled for a coin and inserted it in the slot.
"I'm sorry," said the payphone. "We don't accept Canadian money."
I turned to Smike.
"Do you have any change?"
"Do I look like I have pockets?" he said, licking the floor.
Since I had forgotten my cellphone in my other shorts, it appears I was doomed to remain isolated from my beloved Mooburg. (Reminder to self: wear other shorts at earliest convenience.)
In a basket near the payphone was a Superstore flyer. Just one. You know. The kind that advertises prime ribs of succotash for only $3.99 a pound. Only this flyer was really odd. It had a photo of a lineup of smiling employees at the top, each a winner of the 2004 Award of Excellence. Which reminded me of a funny story about my Uncle Succotash.
But I digress...
What struck me was that each of these grocery managers had a red jacket -- and a cloven hoof.
The cat eyed me from across the entranceway.
"That flyer was for me," he said, his eyes giving off a faint reddish glow. "You weren't supposed to see that."
A chill ran down my spine. I was standing in front of an ice cream vending machine. Chills almost never walk down your spine.
At the same moment, I stepped on something that made a crunchy sound. It was a pretty flat fortune cookie. I picked up the little strip of paper and read it. It said: "You will soon see the essence of emptiness, where all phenomena, pure and impure, are dissolved. All phenomena will arise from this clear and luminous source."
That sounded like a really good deal, since I'd never been to Pittsburgh. I started to walk toward the clear light, but the automatic door swung open and I was sucked inside by my own epicerine gluttony.
As soon as I get back to Mooburg, I’ll visit a mechanic and have my gluttony adjusted.