It had been two weeks since my last Bookface login. The first few days felt like I had just quit smoking cigarettes. Not because of the withdrawal symptoms, just the feeling of pride that washed over me as I silently acknowledged the choice not to feed my habit and sign in (light up). A few more days passed and now my daily routine consisted of a steady regiment of carefully planned out tasks to continually orbit around, yet never plummet into the gooey Bookface center that seemed so fundamental to society nowadays. No. My way of life would not consist of the instant gratification of digital information; I relied on the inborn instinct and the five God-given senses. For me to maintian full cover in this land, this existence, I would have to develop these primal skills. Any other MACHO member would agree.
Stanley’s seat was empty at next Wednesday night’s meeting. He had apparently succumbed to the collective mind of the pumae pack and could no longer indulge in the freedom to think for himself. This, of course, included the choice to attend MACHO meetings. If only he had listened to the advice that our sage leader bestowed upon us every Wednesday evening from 8 to 9 p.m. I guessed those pumae were certainly a force to reckon with. I sat in the back of the classroom housed within the 2-foot bedrock stones of the Our Lady of the Assumption, unaware at the time that this wouldn’t be my last encounter with that powerful pack.
As the meeting came to a close, Mr. Bevilacqua held me back from the exiting droves of MACHO members who were filing out of the room.
“I see Stanley didn’t make it tonight,” Bevilacqua said. “He hasn’t missed a meeting in months. I heard from some of the other gentleman that you were with him last week, the last time any of us saw him.” The wrinkles carved into Mr. Bevilacqua’s sandpaper skin seemed deeper and more drastic this night, I suppose to complement his grave concern for our fellow Stanley.
“Sorry, sir,” I said, “there was nothing I could do. A pack of pumae took him before I had a chance to rally the troops away from another one of Sully’s marathon stories. And I didn’t want to face them alone.”
Bevilacqua’s expression, which resembled the stoic immovable stone chiseled into six gargoyle faces that forever watched over the Our Lady, from the ledges of her steeples 50 feet above our heads, turned from stern indignation to softer understanding. And his wrinkles seemed to shallow a little at this explanation.
“Well that’s unfortunate, but you did the right thing. There’s no tellin’ what they would have done with the two a ya. You boys can have your fun, but bare in mind: a few wobbly pops will only weaken the will and leave it to the little head to make the decisions. You can go out and have a good time, but keep the pack strong and don’t stray. We don’t want another Stanley scenario on our hands.”
“So you think we’ll see him again?” I said, though I already knew the answer was No; it was more to keep the conversation fluid, as I really had nothing else to say. Bevilacqua stood no higher than 5’8″ and was maybe a buck-60 soaking wet, but his look delivered the weight of a grizzly bear. There was no doubt in my mind, as I tried to maintain calm in front of him, though my palms gushed with sweat and my heart raced, that the knowledge he imparted to us every Wednesday night could only have been acquired from his hard-nosed experience, expatriated from the “all-inclusive” Bookface®.
The sage MACHO leader confirmed my prophecy with a gentle shake of his solemn head, closing his eyes and pursing his lips slightly. We said our goodbyes in anticipation that either of us wouldn’t see each other until the next week. I was home within 20 minutes—the tiny studio I had rented a few months back was maybe 10 blocks from the Our Lady. Fatigued from a week of wondering about our unfortunate Stanley, I slipped into a deep sleep. Almost immediately, I began to dream, yet this was like no dream I had encountered before. I dreamt I was Mr. Bevilacqua himself. I couldn’t control his body or make any conscious choices on his behalf, but I had a front row seat into the life of the mysterious man, as if my eyes were his… those wide, black, peering orbs of intensity. And I could hear his thoughts. The dream began like this, Bevilacqua and I one…
…As I’m getting into my electric jalopy, in the Our Lady’s parking lot out back, I make eye contact with Bill walking his dog along the sidewalk across the street. ‘Hi, Bill,’ I say. Something seems to be bothering Bill. The quick pace in his stride and pained look on his face indicate he’s nervous about something. Perhaps sexual frustration or some other internal psychological struggle that’s eating him from the inside out. If I see him again, I’ll make it a point to invite him to our meetings. We may have our next MACHO recruit. Hell, somebody’s got to fill Stan the Man’s seat. I force the key into the ignition. After two attempts, the engine purrs like a kitten with a cold. What a piece of shit. Ah well, ‘A to B,’ as good old Pop used to say. Alright I gotta make it home by 9:30, in time for Sheila’s pot roast. Jesus Christ. If I’m friggin’ one minute late, I won’t hear the end of it from her. Not sure how long this workin’ late at the office routine is going to work. All’s I know is this: she can’t find out about MACHO.
Street-lamp reflections fluidly slide up the windshield like the Wall Street stock ticker. Their stream blurs as I speed home. In the darkness, I can only assume cougars creep in the darkness beyond well-lit roads my shitty hunk of metal and reinforced fiberglass glides economically along. In the shadows, their eyes are too dim to register on the smooth glass. Yet I know they’re there. I speed home. I know Sheila awaits. Beautiful Sheila. If only she knew of the horrid things I’ve seen. An entire underground world utterly separate from Schmuckersburg’s Pleasantville. Thank God she hasn’t. She’s an innocent. She’s never had to exist, to dwell, to linger, to assume an identity so putrid and pathetic, starving and bled dry in the absence of Bookface’s social lifeblood. She’s never logged off and, at the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, I love her for it. I don’t wish this fate, that my MACHO members must endure day in and day out, on anyone, save Schmuckersburg himself for fucking up the very equilibrium of humanity. What a fuckin’ tool.
I finally pull up to the driveway. I pull my cellphone out of my left pant pocket to see the clock read 9:29 p.m. A whole minute early. Maybe that old jalopy still has some juice in her. A to B and then some, Pop. I walk up our cement path, which leads from the car to the side of our quaint bungalow. The kitchen lights beam through the window Sheila has cracked above the sink so I can smell her fresh-hot pot roast. I swing open the screen door and enter the yellowness of the linoleum floor and the hanging lamp dangling above our stained pine dinner table (that I will eat breakfast on in the morning). Sheila’s setting the table and turns her head slightly over her right shoulder. Her flowing red hair moves with this gesture in that way that sends a tingling from the base of my spine only to end in a twinkle in my eye, which meets her one green gazer peeking over the softness of a delicate shoulder. She is my Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. I tell the guys every Wednesday to steer clear of a woman like this, not for their benefit; I want her all to myself. Not only can Sheila never find out about MACHO, those guys can never know I’ve stashed my love two towns over in the safety of a Bookface-friendly community. Then I really will be the hypocrite. ‘Hello, my love,’ I say. She smiles slightly and that tiny perfectly-formed dimple punctuates her happiness that I am home. ‘Just in time,’ she says. ‘Here, sit down and I’ll fix you a plate.’ I really do love her.
— OFF THE BOOK —