|STRANGERS IN PARADISE|
STORY by Willard Manus
By the time he joined them for breakfast they were already pretty well
pissed. Klaus, the novelist and poet, was on his third brandy, and Peter, Victor's playwright friend, had drained a couple of Bloody Marys. Two plates of poached eggs eggs lay untouched before them, looking like coagulated eyeballs.
Peter, who spoke the better English of the two, brought Victor up to date on last night's reading at USC. "It was a disaster," he said, drawing out the last word for emphasis. "A total fokking dee-zaster!"
Klaus spat out something in German--Viennese dialect, really-- which Victor did not fully understand, though he did catch the sneering contempt powering the outburst. Peter ventured an explanation: "They gave us an hour each. We read our work as best we could. Klaus is phantastisch with his reading, much better than me, but when we finished it was like...like a...a mortuaire," he said, groping for the right English word.
"I should have
gone back to Wien with Aleksander," Klaus muttered,
"Of what we read they nozzing understood," Peter cut in. "Not one fokking word!"
The audience, it
turned out, was comprised mostly of German language,
Aleksander, the third member of the team, had been the first to snap. In the little theater of an East Texas university where his narrative gifts, his magical use of irony and wordplay, had sailed high above the dozing audience's head, he suddenly flung his manuscript aside and launched into an extemporaneous tirade denouncing America for havingkilled all its Indians and wiped out cunt-licking as well.
Then he ran from the auditorium, jumped into his rental car and sped to the airport, taking the first plane out of the country.
The waitress came over and refilled everyone's cup of coffee. Peter's plump, bearded face broke into a smile. "I still cannot believe how much coffee zey give away," he marvelled. "Do you know how much in Vienna coffee costs? And I love coffee. I vill never Los Angeles leave, it's my idea of heaven!"
"Fokk ze coffee," Klaus sneered. "I still think Aleksander had ze right idea. Ve should have gone a long time ago home."
Klaus, a thin, neurasthenic
elderly man with a grey, wilted moustache and skin like faded newsprint,
kept his bitching up all during the drive to Disneyland. He sat in back,
smoking one cigarette after another and
Success sat well on him. His love of food and drink had given him jowls and a paunch; when he laughed his large body shook like creme caramel. He was clad in a wrinkled white linen suit and pith helmet he called his "Stanley Livingston" outfit. Victor found him much more confident and assured in manner now, but without an attendant loss of irreverence or idealism. He still wrote plays that satirized the decadence of capitalism, still took part in demonstrations against the neo-Nazis and the despoilation of the environment. He also gave money away freely, especially to needy playwrights and actors in once-Communist East Europe whose theaters had been privatized and were now bankrupt.
"It's very kind of you to take a day off and look after us," Peter said to Victor as they drove through the industrial wasteland abounding the Santa Ana Freeway. "It's the first free day we've had. Usually the colleges assign us girls who keep taking us to high kultur places, museums and galleries, when all we really want is to get into zere pants."
"Fokk ze colleges," Klaus suddenly shouted.
"Jah, jah, and fokk ze professors of German, too!" Peter added.
"Fokk zem all!"
Peter's eye was caught by the mountain tip rising incongruously out of the otherwise flat Central Valley plain. "That is what?" he asked.
"The Matterhorn," Peter repeated, a delirious look of joy on his broad face. He turned to Klaus and said in German, "They have moved the Matterhorn to Orange County."
"I want to climb it," Klaus replied. "But first I must have anozzer drink."
Victor tried to argue him out of the idea, but Klaus was adamant. Victor had no choice but to turn off the freeway and head for the nearest mini-mall, where he bought a pint bottle of California brandy.
Klaus drank all the
way to Disneyland and when they arrived insisted on
Victor fell in beside
him as they strolled along, weaving through heavy
The book had shocked
Austrian readers and critics alike, and Klaus had
When Victor expressed surprise that he would bite the hand that fed him, Klaus replied, "You miss the real point, which is that the politicians act as if it is their money which goes to the arts. But they're wrong. It's our money, money we have paid in taxes, and that's why we're not afraid to tell them to go to hell, nicht war?"
Victor was about
to comment when they were accosted by several costumed
He brought out the brandy and took a quick snort. Victor made urgent signs for him to put the bottle away, realizing at the same time that Klaus couldn't stop drinking even if he wanted to. He had been an alcoholic all his adult life, doing his writing during the dry periods, the last of which had lasted two years. But this trip to America had tipped him over the edge again, undermined his stability and self-control.
Victor kept waiting for Disneyland to cheer his two friends up. It was a long wait. Not even Peter, younger and more lighthearted than Klaus, could find much to enjoy as they walked along. He could not believe all the signs that directed traffic, curbed behavior, told you where to stand when taking photographs. "This is George Orwell, pure 1984," Peter said as they went from exhibit to exhibit in the midst of a herd of people, waiting on interminable lines to view the Haunted Castle, or to whirl around in an Alice in Wonderland teacup, or to stumble through the dimly lit interior of Space Mountain.
Peter was right. Disneyland was supposed to be democratic, a place where everyone was treated the same, a world at once equal and exclusive, but the irony was, there was familiarity but no intimacy, sentimentality but no warmth, and these two foreigners had picked up on that immediately. Even Victor, who had enjoyed Disneyland as a child, began to feel oppressed and manipulated, especially when they arrived at Tom Sawyer's Island.
As he looked at the padded rocks and fake reeds, he felt his guts begin to tingle hotly. This should have been Huck's island, Nigger Jim's island, not that freckle-faced, duplicitous little momzer Tom Sawyer.
"Now I need
the bottle," Victor announced as their mock river boat was
They were walking
on wax legs by the time they left the riverboat and
"Ve must still the Matterhorn climb," said Klaus.
"You couldn't climb into a barber's chair," Peter sneered sarcastically. "You are a good-for-nothing stinking burnt-out European and should never have been allowed into this beautiful, innocent, American place. You should be deported back to Austria."
"I am never going back to Austria," Klaus said in German. "I will never let them publish another book or poem of mine, not even after I am dead."
"Is that any way to talk about your motherland?"
"Fokk that whole
country of fokking farmers and shopkeepers," Klaus
"And drinkers of kaffee mit schlage," Peter added.
"Mit scheiss," Klaus corrected. "Fokk those eaters of scheiss and lovers of Hitler. I am going to stay here and climb the Matterhorn every day."
"I will climb
it with you," Peter said. "We are Austrians, they will
"Me, too. Let's go and apply," Klaus said, putting Peter's pith helmet on and starting up the lane.
He led the way down Disneyland's main roads, trying to obey the rules and stay in line, but his boozy brain would not quite obey and he kept lurching into others, a large lady overflowing her pink pants suit, a Japanese gentleman in an orange-and-blue L.A. Lakers T-shirt and cap. Dirty looks were directed at them, voices began to rise again.
Victor spotted, up ahead, two uniformed security guards hurrying their way, walkie-talkies pressed to their faces. Quickly, he grabbed Peter and Klaus and spun them around in the opposite direction. Finding a lull in the traffic flow, he steered them toward Central Plaza where he hoped they could lose themselves in the throngs of people milling around, but their path was suddenly blocked by several capering costumed figures, two of which Victor recognized as Wile E Coyote and Pepe La Pew.
They had come to
play, or perhaps pose for snapshots, but Victor was
They broke into a run, lasting maybe a hundred yards before Klaus pulled up, his face gorged with blood, his sunken, pale-blue eyes wet and pained, his chest a heaving sea.
"I need a drink," he gasped. "I need a fokking drink."
He looked expectantly at Victor, his leader.
"They don't sell booze here, I told you that," Victor said, hating the parental tone of his voice.
"A beer will do, even a fokking light beer."
"You cannot even beer get," Peter reminded.
Klaus turned to Victor again, his eyes pleading piteously for help, making it clear he would not be able to survive much longer without his schnappes.
"The monorail!" Victor suddenly cried. "It'll take us to the Disney Hotel. They have a bar."
The magic word gave strength and inspiration to the two Austrians. Onwards they pushed, seeking out the monorail station.
Trouble up ahead, though: more security guards. Nothing to do but run for it again, this time in another direction, against the flow, trampling on lawns and signs, kicking over refuse barrels, leaving chaos in their wake.
The station came
into view but access to it was blocked by another team
"What the fokk!" Klaus howled as Mickey danced before him in jolly fashion with open arms and bright eyes, his big, black nose and ears bobbing.
rodent, get away from me!" Klaus screamed in his guttural
Peter meanwhile went for the unsuspecting Minnie and tried to jam his hand between her legs. Victor could hear the girl inside the costume give a scream, but then he himself had his hands full with Donald Duck and Pluto as they threw themselves at him in angry defense of their mates and flailed away at him with their padded fists.
Victor spun away and aimed a kick at the duck's rear, landing it heavily enough to knock him over. Pluto he disposed of by hurling a pink-pastel garbage can at him. The goofy-looking dog reeled from the blow and backed off, paws raised in self-defense.
Grabbing Klaus and Peter, Victor took off again. The three of them ran at full speed, faster than any of them had ever gone before. Spitting and wheezing, reeking of brandy fumes, they passed Frontierland and Space Mountain, scattering pedestrians before them, startling numerous rabbits and chipmunks, imps and elves along the way, being pursued by a swarm of security guards.
To avoid the ignominy of capture, Victor and the other two fugitives dove into the Mississippi River channel and swam across to Tom Sawyer island. Their splashing and snorting caused a pod of pigeons resting at water's edge to rise up in frightened, noisy flight.
"Are zey real?" Peter wanted to know. He stood puffing for breath, the river water dripping off his black, bushy beard, his white suit plastered to him.
"Probably animatronic inventions," Victor got out. His lungs were seared with pain and he was dripping wet, but he felt great; felt young and alive again, in combat.
The pigeons proved
him wrong by letting loose some droppings as they
"Real shit!" he cried. "Real honest-to-goodness scheiss!"
"Get off that island!" came an amplified cry from the shore opposite, where the brigade of security guards, joined by a few gaping Disney characters, Snow White among them, were lined up shoulder to shoulder. "If you don't obey our orders, we will come and get you!"
"Go to hell," Klaus shouted back through cupped hands. "Especially you," he added, pointing at Snow White. "You fokking cunt! You putana!"
That caused an outcry from the passengers on the Mark Twain riverboat as it ground by slowly and inexorably on its invisible underpinnings.
"In the name
of truth, I declare this Huck Finn and Nigger Jim Island,"
Peter and Klaus's
wild laughter was joined by the cries of the circling