Greatsociety has just finished its 10 year anniversary. I was glad to get the articles done and return to normal activity, but Osama’s death has inspired another piece. My retrospective, I guess. Since September 23rd, 2001, I’ve been writing about the tasteless and insane adventures of Texas Billionaire Oscar bin Laden. Here ends his tale.
Hello. Um…sorry. I’m not much of a public speaker, and I didn’t expect so many people to be here. Nor did I really plan on speaking. Anyway… Well, I first met Texas Billionaire Oscar bin Laden on September 23rd, 2001. At the old Dirtyfreaks.com site, I kept track of his adventures across America with his buddies. But we didn’t really start hanging out seriously till November of 2002 and, of course, a disastrous New Year’s Eve party at the end of that year. Yeah, Paulie knows what I’m talking about, right?
Silver Spring. May 1st, 2011. I was working my way back from McGinty’s after celebrating May Day. Or, at least, that’s what my date said. I met her online and actually took the time to email her because every photo she posted was of her in underwear and unconscious in a shopping cart so I figured, yep, that’s the girl for me. My mind had changed before I got through my first beer. By my sixth beer, I’d gotten the history of May Day from Roman times up till today.
When the seventh beer arrived, I was debating killing her. The bartender, possibly recognizing the look in my eyes, politely leaned over the bar and said, “You’re cut off after this, by the way.” So ended Flora’s feastday. I made a clumsy departure, gave a fake phone number, and slipped out into the cool, grey day. Then the drunken walk up East West Highway to my overpriced apartment and spying, scary neighbors. When I turned up Washington Avenue, a windowless panel van screeched through the light and came up next to me. I eyed the woods to my right and planned to leap wildly through them like a deer when the side door of the van slid open and Texas billionaire Oscar bin Laden stuck his head out of a smoky, dark interior. “Nacho! Get in!
He blinked. “What?”
“I’m not getting in.”
“Seriously, Nacho. This time it’s big. I don’t have much time and you’ll – “
I stepped forward, pointing a finger at his face, “You’re nothing but trouble. I’m not falling for this bullshit again. I’m – “
He leapt out of the van, grabbed me in a bearhug, then threw me inside. The van took off with squealing tires and we rocketed through the neighborhoods and towards the Beltway.
Oscar loved a show. The alleged ‘trial’ in early 2003 was more fiction than fact, though that was a year when his tone changed and he became a bit more serious about the world around him. I think, up till then, he was struggling with his identity. Trying to latch on to something that would mean more to him, and to those he loved. This was certainly clear in late 2003, where Oscar’s love of theater seemed to move front and center. In those days, we knew a more innocent Oscar. A simpler man. I think we were all a bit more naïve back then. They say our world changed on 9/11, but it seems like the world didn’t really change for Oscar until the summer of 2004…
Two hours in the van, holding on for dear life, Oscar next to me. There were no seats in the back, just bare metal sides and floors with leather straps hanging down from the roof, which Oscar and I grabbed as the van hurtled along the Beltway and then up 270.
“Ali films porn back here,” Oscar shouted at one point, “Allah’s Bang Van!”
I snarled at him.
“You should be happy to see me, Nacho! It’s been a long time!”
He shrugged as best he could while being tossed around a van being driven at 90mph by a spastic. “Either way, today’s an important day.”
“It’s my last day on Earth, Nacho.”
“Not mine, as well, I hope?”
He grinned and tried to shrug again.
“Oh my fucking god…”
Oscar’s short-lived bid for the presidency in the summer of 2004 was an embarrassment, really. Even he admitted as much after the drama and the horror that surrounded his assassination attempt, though, at the time, we thought the attempt was a success. Those were a hard few months for Oscar’s colleagues, and few of us appreciated his attempt at a messianic return. But, certainly, that’s when things changed for him. That’s when Oscar put his eccentricities behind him and became more active. And, for many people, more dangerous. The violence that surrounded those heady days in 2004 shocked us all – especially Oscar, who, while always walking a tightrope, was also appalled at the events in the first half of 2004.
And then came Beaver. We all remember her, right?
We finally turned off 270, weaving our way along a country road, then roughly over dirt and gravel, to the edge of Antietam creek.
“Out! Oscar shouted, ripping open the side door and spilling outside into what had become a steady rain shower. I shakily followed him, glancing at a maudlin-looking Ali sitting behind the driver’s seat, staring grimly forward through the filthy windshield.
Oscar smiled, spun in the rain, then hurried to the river’s edge. “Ran red with blood, right?” he said, picking up a stick and tossing it into the current. “I once tried to canoe this river as a boy.”
“How’d that work out?”
I nodded. “So what are we doing here, Oscar?”
He sobered, squatting down in the new spring grass and passing his hands over a few early buttercups. “It all ends today.”
“Does it? Great. Will Ali be taking me home, or…?”
Oscar stared out at the creek in a moody, dark silence that crept slowly into my own soul. I stood there, watching him for a bit, turning to make sure Ali wasn’t creeping up behind me with a hatchet, and then settled into watching the swollen creek flow past.
Beaver was, at first, a welcome distraction, but it all turned ugly. It always turned ugly for Oscar. That was how he planned his life, I think. He sought trouble. Or, maybe… I think he was always seeking to better himself, or maybe cure whatever demons haunted him, but, in the end there was nothing but trouble. Something broke in Oscar in 2005. We all noticed it. We all worried about it. But something broke in all of us around then, didn’t it? A sickness that had spread through our hearts since 2001 continued unabated and, after so many years, it became habit. Fear became second nature. By 2006, all of us in America were hunted by demons, whether we knew it or not. For most of us, this became the status quo. The background hum of empire. For people like Oscar, it was a nightmare. His failed attempt to take over Silver Spring, MD was proof of that, and the downfall of that plan was, of course, thanks to my own actions. Oscar was mad at me. We had a falling out and, for some time, I thought that was the end of our acquaintance. When next I saw him it was election day, 2008…
“So,” I said slowly, squatting down in the wet grass next to Oscar.
“Here’s how it ends.” He said. “Right here, by this creek, in the Maryland woods. I’ve been at peace here. Exploring South Mountain for bizarre Civil War memorials, stupidly trying to canoe this river, exploring battlefields, wine at the Comus Inn, hiking at Sugarloaf. So close to that blistered scar of DC, yet seemingly hundreds of miles away. If it has to end, then I want it to end here.”
“Oscar… Why’s it have to end?”
He shrugged, picked a buttercup and tossed it into the water. “Because we haven’t learnt a thing. Nothing’s changed. Nothing’s better. It’s worse, yes. It’s always worse. It doesn’t matter who does what, it gets worse because that’s our nature. That’s who we are. We dig and dig and dig in the mud and shit until the empire falls, then we revolt and change everything and start all over again. After a while, it almost just becomes motions, doesn’t it? There are no real ideals involved. There were. And recently, too. But not now. Not in our lifetimes. Our ideals are fortune and glory. We’re controlled by greed and madness. And it’s not the greed and madness of some king who can be killed, or some oligarchy who can be thrown out of the palace, or some CEO who can be prosecuted and punished. It’s our own greed and madness. Yours! Mine! All of us. Even the simple fools who just want their trailer and their widescreen TV. It all stems from the same root, whether we think only of the idiotic comforts of our tiny spheres or actually actively harm others for our own gain.”
This felt like a continuation of my date’s May Day conversation. I said nothing.
Oscar continued. “I know I wasn’t right. I know I hurt people. It all felt so pure…once. We were just having fun. I was teasing those other authors you worked with on that stupid weblog thing, and then I was just going quietly insane like everyone else who could see what was happening. I mean really fucking see. I wasn’t a fanatic, I was just reading past the first paragraph. That’s what you’re always ranting about, right? The illiterate nation? The ‘Big Darkness’. Right?”
“Well, yes. But I don’t kidnap people and drive them out to the woods.”
“It sort of felt right to have you here.” He muttered, standing. I stood as well, taking a few steps back. Ali got out of the van, crossed in front and came to stand stiffly at attention a few paces off. He was carrying a decorative wooden box under one arm. “You’re the only record that’s left, actually. The things I did. Everybody else has it wrong, but you’ve archived everything. Ten years of your writing.” He turned to me. “Happy anniversary, by the way.”
“Ah. Well, yes. Thanks.”
“Ali,” he barked over his shoulder. Ali stepped up and opened the case. Inside were two antique dueling pistols.
“Woah. Oscar…” I put my hands out.
Oscar shrugged, took a pistol. “Sorry, Nacho. It has to be like this. Never gentle into the night, eh?” He nodded at Ali, who walked over to me with the case. “Never.”
“I’m not doing this.”
He loaded the gun. Ali drifted closer to me.
“Take it, or Ali shoots you.”
I looked over at Oscar’s longtime friend. Always the driver, always the wild man. Ali had been there since I first met Oscar, though hadn’t said a word in all those years. Now he spoke. “Take it.”
I swallowed and took the gun and the single bullet. Then I stared dumbly at it until Ali took both from my hands and loaded the gun. “Point and shoot,” he whispered. “It’s ready to go.”
“Seriously,” I said to Oscar, “Can we talk about this?”
Oscar stepped back to the edge of the flooded creek, his heels hanging out over the rushing water. The rain had let up slightly and now a slight drizzle fell on the lonely field where Texas Billionaire Oscar bin Laden had decided to end his days. I moved instinctively away, but Ali grabbed my arm and dragged me to a spot roughly 20 paces in front of Oscar.
Oscar pointed his pistol at me and I felt my heart rise in my throat and my stomach cascade to my feet. I blubbered, stepped back, started to stumble towards the van. Ali grabbed me and steadied me, his hand digging into my arm, “Do this or die.” He snarled in my ear with such hateful force I jumped and nearly dropped the gun. He pulled my arm up, aimed the gun for me, then stepped back.
“Rage, Nacho.” Oscar shouted. “Stay angry. It’s what we like about you. It’s what worries us about you. But it’s what lets us know that you’re alive. You’ve gotten weak these last few years. You let the pain break you. You let your soul get heavy. You’ve become dulled, afraid, confused. You’ve let too many people hurt you. You’ve believed what they’ve told you. You’ve gotten tired. They worry that your days are over. That you’ve passed into some crippled mockery of adulthood. You want to end it as much as I, don’t you?”
I focused on my gun, and then on Oscar. I held steady.
“You’ve prayed for death, haven’t you? Escape. How many times? Since I’ve known you, sure. Even now, physically whole once again, you’ve silently begged for a release. It’s in your eyes. It’s on your face. It’s in how you speak, and how you listen. Well. Now I give you a chance.”
I sucked in a breath. Had I stopped breathing? I swallowed. My hand shook as my finger moved onto the trigger.
“Let fate decide, Nacho! It can end for you today, as well. Sweet release from your debt, from trying to belong in normal society, from this broken empire of ours.” Oscar smiled, warm and welcoming. “On three.”
“Ready.” I said. I heard Ali get in the van, and it drove off across the mud and grass. I didn’t turn.
Was he right? What was I doing? How had it come to this? And what was my empty life worth anyway? Just two hours ago I was on my way home to nobody. Porn and Farscape reruns. A quick dinner eaten in the dark in front of the computer.
Off to bed early, then up at 5:30 to try and make peace with another day at my idiotic customer service job. Working for pennies beneath the thumbs of madmen and bullies. Seething boredom throughout the day, the week, the month, the endless years ticking past at the mercy of credit card debt, high rent, unending bills and setbacks and worry. Decades lost to pain and betrayal. Every love, every moment, everything empty.
I took another breath and held it. I closed my eyes. Let fate decide.
“Three.” And we both fired. The gun jerked back and I fell into the soaking field. The rain started again and I opened my eyes, looking up, trying to breathe again.
Oscar was gone. It took ten minutes before I was able to stand, and I walked over to the edge of the swollen creek where he’d been standing. His gun was on the ground. He must have fallen back into the water. Vanished beneath the mud and debris.
I kicked his gun into the river, rubbed mine with the sleeve of my jacket and then tossed it in as well. Then I pulled out my phone and called my old college buddy James. The seven beers had been burned away. Time for a ride home and something stronger.
Election Day, 2008. Now there’s a day we all remember, yes? When we thought America would change. When, for a few moments, we pretended to have the illusion of hope. I had assumed Oscar was long gone, but he lured me to the Crowne Plaza in Silver Spring, where he confessed a desperate and insane plan to kill whichever person won the presidency. He was drunk and crazy. I learned afterwards that he hadn’t spoken to anyone since late 2006. I talked him down and tried to cheer him up with empty jokes and, when we parted ways shortly after, I didn’t know what happened to him. There’d be talk now and then. Comments from friends, stories I’d run across in local papers…
Sorry. This is kind of hard. You wouldn’t think it. I don’t know if we were ever actually friends. Just two people who travelled similar paths. Paths driven by pain, loneliness, fear, and hope. Oscar contacted me again shortly before he died. He told me…
Sorry. Again. Um… He told me I was starting a new chapter in my life. He told me… Not to settle. Not to give up. We are all, always, beginning again, and again, and again.