3/19/07

I woke up with a headache.

A really, really bad headache, the headache that is usually accompanied by uncontrollable spewage from orifices on either end of your body, after a night of debauchery so foul that you can only dimly remember the first part of it.

I found it strange to have the headache and none of the other stuff, but was thankful for small favors. The last thing I remembered - a vague jumble of smelly leather clothes and hiking, had nothing to do with me having a good time, so I assumed that the throbbing dull ache must have something to do with an attempt to injure me in some other way. That turned out to be a good guess.

I had a headache, but I was clean. The camping-grunge/gore of the past four days was absent; someone, (Aurie, I later found out, bless her heart) had done the odious work of bathing me and changing my clothes. I was wearing my Gigantor t-shirt, and a clean pair of underwear. My chinos were folded on a table next to me with a pair of socks on top of them. I would have enjoyed my daisy-freshness more but for the tiny Sumo wrestler stomping up and down on my sinuses.

I reached up to explore my forehead with my hands, as if rubbing it was going to do anything. I found the edge of something taped to it - the edge of a huge bandage that went across the side of my head, from the temple to the back. I touched the center of it, felt a little caked blood, immediately wished I hadn't. Touching it made my head throb even worse than it had been doing.

It was terribly hard to focus on anything in the room. If I did, a pincer of pain stabbed at a spot somewhere behind my right eyeball, and poked like an old lady's umbrella at the front of my brain. I did make out several grayish-blue wisps flying around my head, little casper bird ghosts made of cigarette smoke. I could hear them cooing at me, as if to say, "what are you doing in our apartment?" or something to that effect. Strange that they actually didn't say that. They had big Bill Keane eyeballs in otherwise featureless faces, and when I went "Bluhh!" at them, they disappeared into the rafters. (They're called "piggles," and luckily, there is no piggle guano to dodge while you make your morning coffee. Evidently, they only fart, and it smells like roses. I'm not kidding. This, and the fact that they eat dust, is the main reason that people like them around.)

I lifted myself up on my elbows. Apparently I'd ended up on Aurora's bed. On the table, next to the pants, was an envelope propped up against a large, amber bottle. I struggled to focus on what was written on it: "TAKE TWO AND SEE INSIDE"

The bottle was something out of an 1890's apothecary, except that "WEIRD ASPIRIN' was written on a blank white label in lurid purple letters. Right then, I was ready for any kind of aspirin, regular or otherwise, so I did as the note suggested, swallowing them dry. I wanted some water, but thought, one thing at a time.

While waiting nervously for something weird to happen, something weird happened. My headache went away. I blinked a few times, then ripped open the envelope.

The note read:

HEY, GENE!!!

If you're reading this, that probably means you're conscious. In which case, Glinda the Good Witch was right, and you're well on your way to - well, if not full recovery - at least being yourself. (I'd like to add that you looked quite dashing, covered with blood. Even, you know, soiled and unconscious and stuff.)

I had a vague memory then of Aurie in a halloween costume - a skeleton suit - waving at me in the middle of a bunch of guys who were killing each other. One hell of a nightmare, I thought.

I don't know if you've figured this out yet, but you and I are in the middle of an international incident. Don't know how you managed it, Goofy, but you landed at some kind of trippy Ground Zero for problems I didn't even know we had. I've left some recent writings out for you, in the hope that it'll fill in some of your blanks. Maybe you can fill in a couple o' mine.

(I'm kinda stunned and reeling here, too, but we'll figure it out. Okay?)

It all started to come back to me then, long waves of ridiculous shit, stuff I thought I'd dreamed while unconscious. But evidently, no such luck.

So HOWDY, stranger! And welcome to Oz! It ain't normal, that much is for sure! It's sure great to see you, and I can't wait to hang out, but unfortunately I have to (at least till tonight).

The death of my friend and partner Alphonse Gut-tierez has left, not just Oz, but my restaurant itself in a prickly pinch; some responsibilities have fallen on my end, and it's incumbent upon me that I sort the fuckers out.

At this point, I threw the note on the floor, and kind of stared at the ceiling. Guttierez. Again? Friend and partner? Next she's gonna tell me she knows that psycho Nick, I thought.

Those little piggle things were doing little figure-eights like Shri-ners on motor-scooters in parades. I really hate them.

Piggles, not Shriners. My dad was a Shriner.

And plus, there might be a war.

So I don't know if you've landed in the frying pan or the fire, on the grand scale; but on the small scale, you're more than welcome to just spend the day chillin' at my place today.

It's safe, it's calm, I left some yummy food out, and if you haven't already taken some aspirin, I suggest you do so, as my guess is that you've woken up with a thwanger.

If you do decide to wander out, I've left directions to Ye Olde Emerald Burrito. I'm just a couple blocks away, and it's a pretty inspiring walk. I also left directions to my new friend Mikio Furi, who is brilliant and crazy and was in my dreams last night, giving me a theory that I bet he already had, and which I can't wait to trot out as soon as I get to work.

(Tell ya about it later.)

Work, of course, is where I is. Everyone's gonna be wondering what happened, and I have a lot to try and explain. To myself, more than anyone. But to everyone else, too.

(Mikio, I should mention, knows lots of cute native gurls. And tho I know you're all involved and stuff, I'd be remiss if I didn't point this out. There are experiences you can have here that you can't find anywhere else, believe me. And being from Earth is even better than having an English accent in L.A., if you get my drift.)

What does she mean, "all involved"? Penny is just a good friend. And doesn't she think about anything besides sex? And why does she have to spell things wrong on purpose?

Okay. Enough sleaze. I just want you to have the

best possible time. The people here are generally incredibly sweet,and you'll know the ones who aren't. Past that, you know where to find me. Have a great time!

Yer great pal,

Aurora

The "yummy food" turned out to be some kind of granola shit and some carrot sticks and vegetables. I was grateful for the kindness, but a burrito sounded really good right then. I was starving, but not for bland vegan crap. I wanted some meat, even if it was from one of those slobbery Dr.Seuss things.

I found a mirror against the bejewelled far wall of the living room. White and green rays spilled throught the edges of the drawn curtains, giving me plenty of light to see what had happened to my head. I gingerly pulled back the adhesive on the front of the huge bandage, and took a gander at what was underneath.

The wound wasn't too bad, better than I'd expected. Someone had stitched me with three tight sutures, and most of the caked blood was old seepage from while I'd been sleeping. There was a nice welt there, and something just shy of an Elmer Fudd cartoon head-bump egg.

I figured that if I was starving, and my headache was gone, I was probably fit to go out exploring. Heading for the door of the apartment, I paused, then doubled back and picked up the directions, and the pages Aurora'd left for me.

I grabbed the doorknob and looked for a lock to lock: there wasn't one. This bothered me. I realize now that the Emerald City doesn't exactly have a big crime problem, but old habits die hard. I went back in yet again, and picked up my knapsack, now empty on the floor. My laptop went into it, and Aurora's pages. I clutched the directions in one hand, scratched my chin with the other, wondering whether or not I had anything else that your typical Ozite junkie hoodlum might covet.

Deciding finally the answer was "no," I went out into the hall, slammed the door shut, and looked around at a typical low-rent-apartment-building hallway, like any thousand I'd ever seen in Los Angeles. The big difference was the diffuse green glow that everything had, like the whole city was lit by some planet-sized floodlight - floodlight as in artificial. I felt, as I stumbled down the stairs towards the gem-studded glass door on the first floor, as if I were on a movie set, lights blasting in from outside to light up the shot.

Then I opened the door, and with a hearty "Holy Shit" let in the real glow, covering my eyes against the brilliance of daylight in Emerald. The sun vibrated from jewelled turret to cut-emerald dome, seeming sometimes to actually come from within a tower of polished green stone, or shine up from the sidewalk. Sometimes it actually did, reflecting in and out again at some crooked angle and crazily bouncing off something else, and again, ad infinitum.

In a few moments, my eyes adjusted, and I saw a man in a bright yellow suit, pointed cap bristling with a wide fringe of bells, standing a few feet from the door. He smiled at me with his thin crescent-moon face, tipped back into the shadow of his hat and swept a golden yoyo down in a quick arc toward the street, made it "sleep" for a short second, then deftly pulled it back up into his hand again.

"Pretty good with that," I said, smiling back.

The man laughed, let loose with a torrent of the most backward-masked-sounding, odd-syllabled language I'd ever heard, then he bounded down the street like a disturbed rabbit.

Realizing then that I hadn't had any language leaves in awhile, I decided to work on finding some immediately. I walked out into the dirt street (which could almost be called an alley) and across it, down it a little way, and finally spied the distinctive leaves of a potted language bush next to a green wrought-iron bench. I went over and asked it politely, etc... this one demurely offered me a slender branch to pick from. I plucked some, thanked it, and kept walking, munching away on my gift of leaves.

The directions Aurora left me were pretty clear; I marched down the middle of her street and out to the first main thouroughfare mentioned: Gilabola Boulevard. Almost immediately, a black-hooded man riding something like a two-legged camel nearly stomped me to death. The camel-thing had two long arms hooked around the man's legs, and was carrying him piggyback. It chuckled and spit. "I'm very sorry," it said, in a syrupy, deep voice.

The guy was also very polite, of course, apologized, and then suggested that next time, I look both ways before crossing into a busy street. Which I realized, looking around me, that it was.

People and color and sound everywhere - despite the emerald glaze over everything. Pointed hats with the bells seemed to be an ubiquitous item with the men, seemed to fill the same function as a cowboy hat or baseball cap, and silk, lots of silk on the women, too, and sparkles, and of course jewelry. Vendors' stands sprawled across the sidewalks, people moved in and out of shops and down the street on various conveyences, living or otherwise. Two cows were riding in a cart pulled by two other cows. One very hairy man, I mean wolfman hairy, was gracefully moving down the street in a spidery wheeled contraption. He pumped a water pump, which sprayed a high pressure stream of water over a flywheel of some sort, and turned the wheels.

I took a left down Gilabola, as per the directions, and gradually found myself in the middle of a Bosch painting.

Two little blonde children floated a glowing orb back and forth between them as they ran down the sidewalk, side by side, and a cat-faced man, complete with whiskers, sampled a slice of purple cheese from a pushcart. He smiled and purred loudly as I went by, and produced a string of pearls, which he handed off to the (apparently) lizard proprietor in exchange for a hefty violet cheese wheel.

I'm trying, but there's no way to accurately describe this place. Every L. Frank Baum tryptych is a bleached-out pencil drawing of the real thing. Conventional wisdom suggests that he must have had some strong psychic link which allowed him to draw up the amazing stuff that he did, but, if that's indeed true, it was like a weak, dopplered signal from another arm of the galaxy by the time it arrived, full of noise and distortion, allowing only the most salient features to shine through, the resolution missing. This in turn must have caused Baum to improvise. Sometimes suggestions, letters from his young tuned-in readers, most likely receivers of their own Oz-visions, would fill in factual gaps. Sometimes he came up with right-on fantasy characters on his own that could well have existed here, sometimes he came up with utter bullshit.

But when you're actually here, walking down Gilabola Boulevard, facing east and the gleaming spires of Ozma's Castle, and a guy with a blue-striped face is trying to sell you a bunch of cinnamon-scented things like pulsating pink turnips, it's a question of too much resolution.

I looked up and saw a sign that said, "Topeka" That made me laugh, and it looked like a bar, so I ducked into it. Turns out "Topeka" had nothing to do with Kansas. I was right about it being a bar, though. "Topeka" is also an old Winkie word that means "strong intoxicant." I was all for it right then.

There wasn't much happening in there, two guys sitting at something that looked less like a bar and more like some kind of late 1800's apothecary, or a Chinese herb store.

Sure, there were bottles back behind the counter, and the bartender was dispensing something that looked remarkably like liquor to the regulars, but it looked like there was more to it than that. There were lots of jars of powders back there, too, and unidentifiable yellowed dried things, and what looked like an elaborate altar to some winged diety.

The guy behind the counter was a beefy guy with long salt-and-pepper braids to either side of his head. He looked up from pouring, wiped his hands on his long white smock, and winked at me. His features were unmistakably native American.

"Too early for you to have a drink, Gene," he said. "Go eat something. Come back later."

I grinned a weak shit-eating grin and backed out the door. Either word gets around really fast here, or that guy was wickedly psychic. It being Oz and everything, I guessed at the latter.

I ducked back into the Bosch painting, kept my head down, and followed directions until finally, I saw a big sign with a picture of a big green burrito a la Keith Haring, cartoony steam lines pouring off of it, and "The Emerald Burrito" in block letters underneath.

The front door opened up as I got to it, and this little weeble person looked out, squeeked, and ran back in.

In a second, Aurora was there, slapping flour off of her hands, and giving me a big hug and a kiss on the mouth, getting flour all over me anyway.

God, she looked good right then. She was a sight for sore eyes. Or sore head, whatever. All the vague hopes I'd had for us came swarming up in that moment. But I hadn't come expecting anything; it was enough just to see her, to be with her again. Thank God I didn't say anything stupid.

She'd dyed her long hair, superman-blueblack shining in the green light, big toothy smile and that gravely voice saying how glad she was I'd found it all right, how long did it take me, did I this, was it that. She grabbed my hand and walked me to a table, where I settled myself, noticing seven or eight sets of eyes staring at me from various places in the room. Then she disappeared into the kitchen again, saying she'd be right b

no no on n0o take me why takey wake tappy key tappy key take me no, to the unnumber man, NOWHEN!!!! un-number cloud, loud on the skyaway. Stoppity stop stop wrestling tippity off!!!! Tappity man?

tappity man have me good? Good. Happity. and look to the sky of the cloudy bad to take me.

cloudy unrollings, big capture nets unrolling, 1,2,3,4,5,6 pouring out black across

LOOK TO THE SKY OF THE CLOUDY BAD UNNUMBER CLOUD COMES stoppity tap SEE!!!!

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