The following is part four of the story “Joan of Arc,” concerning the temporal displacement and inebriated escapades of a womanizing retirement community activities director. You can read parts one through three here.
Sat. April 21, 2012 — You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby
The next morning I woke up in bed with Joan of Arc. Who knows how she got there. Who knows how I got there. The last time I’d seen her she’d been cursing me in French with Anne Frank flipping me the bird in the passenger seat of her beat-up Chevy Impala, and now she was lying beside me, naked as a jaybird, dreaming away, as peaceful and heavenly as a goddamn angel. Boy were things getting hobbledy-gobbledy. I rubbed my eyes and grasped at my discarded jeans to retrieve my phone from a front pocket to see what day it was, and sure enough it was Saturday April 21st, 2012, the day all this monkey business started in the first place. What had happened to me last night? What had I drunk? How much had I drunk? What could I possibly have said to Joan of Arc to convince her to come home with me from Jimborooni’s? Or had last night not even happened yet? Was last night tomorrow night? How could last night possibly be tomorrow night? Geez Louise. This whole thing was a real noodle-scratcher. It was a real humdinger. It was like one of those impossible math problems that the teacher gave everyone full credit for because not a single goddamn kid had gotten it right. Joan woke up and gave me the once-over and again was unexcited to see me. At least this time I knew I didn’t have any sausage links or waffles in the freezer. Instead I asked if she wanted any Better Cheddars crumbs or Count Chocula. She didn’t say anything. I guess they didn’t have Better Cheddars or Count Chocula in medieval France or whatnot. They probably didn’t have vampires, either. Certainly not ones who ate toasted whole grains and chocolate, at any rate.
On the first Saturday April 21st, 2012 I hadn’t fully appreciated how goddamn beautiful Joan of Arc was. I tried not to stare at her, old Joan being a Catholic saint and all, but I couldn’t help myself. She was really something. I guess she was just barely of legal age, nineteen, if I remembered her Wikipedia page correctly, which made me a little uncomfortable, but she didn’t look like jailbait or anything. I mean, she led the French army in the Hundred Years War and was put on trial for heresy and was sentenced to death by public burning. I reckon those sorts of things make a girl grow up fast. Plus, technically, she was actually more like 600 years old. Age was such a relative concept. It really depended on how you looked at it.
Joan popped out of bed and hurriedly put on her tunic and plate mail, just as she had the previous April 21st, 2012. She was still just as efficient as dressing herself, still just as eager to get the hell out of my apartment as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to simply lie in bed and struggle to remember key phrases in French and watch her walk away this time, so I slipped on my lucky boxers and jeans, and in doing so I discovered my missing keys in my left pocket. That was sure a relief. Of course, I guess technically they hadn’t even been lost yet, the days going backwards and all. It was hard to wrap my head around. All I knew was I no longer needed a goddamn locksmith. Last year a girl I’d been cheating on threw my car keys down a storm drain and it turned out to be a real pain in my ass.
Joan got her plate mail on and retrieved her sword from the floor and headed out of my bedroom, and this time I followed after her. “Hey Joan, Joni, parlez-vous anglais?” I said. I asked her if she wanted some Count Chocula and told her it contained twenty-two percent of her daily recommended value of iron and was also an excellent source of manganese and riboflavin. But Joan didn’t stop. She didn’t eat my Count Chocula. She didn’t parle anglais. She kept on walking, through my living room, out my front door, onto the street, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. She had plate mail and a sword, and I didn’t even have a shirt on. I followed Joan outside, where Mr. Mittens was sprawled out on the sidewalk like I knew he’d be, and I picked him up and jogged after Joan as she walked briskly toward the railroad tracks. “Hey Joan,” I said. “You haven’t even met my neighbor’s kitty cat. Chat, chat. J’ai un chat. Don’t you want to pet my neighbor’s cat?” But still Joan didn’t stop. I was sprinkling in what little French I knew and everything, but it didn’t matter. She was a saint and a national hero and a feminist icon and I was just some son of a bitch who must have somehow picked her up at Jimborooni’s or Jolly Tamale’s or who-knows-where during a moment of weakness. Everyone makes mistakes. Even old Saint Joan of Arc. It’s just that folks like Joan make one or two every now and then and folks like me make them all the goddamn time.
Well I felt like a real creep, chasing after Joan of Arc shirtless across the railroad tracks at nine in the morning, so I gave up and carried Mr. Mittens back to my apartment and ate the same stale half a bowl of Count Chocula I had eaten last Saturday, April 21st, 2012. It didn’t taste any better this time. The Better Cheddar crumbs didn’t taste any better either.
After I finished my breakfast I gave Mr. Mittens a good tummy rub and rooted around Yahoo! Answers and Ask.com to see if anyone else was having the same problems I was. But no one was. Next I visited a self-diagnostic medical website and typed in Waking Up Two Days Ago as a symptom, but that didn’t prove fruitful either. In a few hours I had to go to Foxwood for the same monthly hootenanny I had already overseen the first time today was today, and boy was I not looking forward to overseeing it a second time. A man can only hear “Turkey in the Straw” so often before his mental health suffers. And my mental health wasn’t exactly in fine fettle, what with my waking up backwards and sleeping with dead saints and getting flipped off by famous teenage Holocaust victims and all. I thought about blowing off the hootenanny and driving over to Jimborooni’s or The Drunk Skunk or Jolly Tamale’s instead of Foxwood—I mean, what did it even matter if I was just going to wake up on Friday tomorrow and the hootenanny hadn’t even happened yet—but then I figured that maybe this was just a temporary mix-up and I might actually wake up tomorrow tomorrow, and if I did wake up tomorrow tomorrow without having overseen the monthly hootenanny, boy was I going to get the business from the old folks and my boss, who, though he liked me fine, was as I said a real son of a bitch.
When I was a little kid, I sometimes pretended I could time travel. Whenever my grandma had a big old cardboard box lying around I’d put on my football helmet and climb in the box and visit the late Jurassic to ride plesiosaurs and hunt archaeopteryx and pet diplodocus and whatnot. My grandma would tell me to come eat dinner or help her open a pickle jar or clean up all the mud I tracked into the living room, but I wouldn’t listen to her, on account of my being 150 million years in the past and all. Boy I felt sorry for my grandma. All the other grandmas had to do was bake their grandkids some cookies every now and then and knit a sweater or two and maybe put out a dish of hard candy, but my grandma had to feed me and clothe me and take me to the doctor and teach me right from wrong and buy me crap on Christmas and my birthday and give me the business and make me stop crying and drive me all over creation and clean up my messes and my accidents and my shit, and she’d already done all that thirty years ago for my mom, but with my mom in heaven or whatnot she had to do it all over again, had to spend her golden years in pediatric clinics and parent-teacher conferences and Cub Scout informational meetings, had to deal with a goddamn punk kid traveling to the Jurassic in a refrigerator box when the dinner she’d just spent an hour slaving over was getting cold, had to raise and shape and mold a tiny little bastard from infancy to young adulthood while all the other grandmas were cross-stitching and marathon-watching the Weather Channel and booking reservations for elder hostels in the goddamn Netherland Antilles and French Riviera and Swiss Alps. And then, when I was finally a young man with a place of my own, out of her hair, no longer bringing girls to my childhood home at odd hours, when she no longer had to deal with me and the girls disturbing her sleep and drinking her milk straight from the carton and creating all kinds of terrible stains on her antique furniture, when she finally should have had the chance to be a normal grandma who relaxed in an easy chair and watched the PBS pledge drive and bought quilts and table throws and birdhouses from mail-order catalogs, she got goddamn sick and had to move to the hospice downtown. Boy it made me sad when I thought about my old grandma getting sicker and sicker in that hospice. It just wasn’t fair. Goddamn God never let my grandma be a real goddamn grandma. I wish I could have traveled forward in time and bought some fancy future medicine and then traveled backward in time and saved my grandma like a goddamn hero, but it didn’t look like that was going to happen. It looked like I was just going to watch everyone get less dead until they weren’t even born yet, which was basically the same thing as watching people die, except in reverse. No matter which direction in time you went, everyone was going to die. It made me goddamn sad. It made me sure as hell not want to hootenanny. But still I hootenannied. I drove to Foxwood, set up the PA, gave the band their parking passes and waited for the aides to wheel in the residents from assisted living and said into a microphone: “So, who’s ready to hootenanny?” No one was ready to hootenanny. I tried to muster up some enthusiasm while introducing the band but couldn’t do it. The nurses and RAs all looked at me funny. I must have sounded sad as hell. I must have sounded like I was introducing the pallbearers at a goddamn funeral. The band played “Turkey in the Straw” and the washboard player fell asleep and the banjo player periodically poked him back to consciousness just as he had the first time today was today, and when the hootenanny was finally over I got the hell out of Foxwood, drove to Jimborooni’s, and told the bartender to serve my drinks stiff. Anne Frank was outside, chain smoking Virginia Slims. Carmen Miranda was at the other end of the bar, accepting Miller High Lifes from a table of vacuum cleaner salesmen in town for a convention. A striking Native American woman in moccasins and a fringed deerskin skirt was making out with a tattooed biker at a corner table near the jukebox. Joan of Arc was nowhere to be seen. The bartender served my drinks stiff and I drank them stiff. What the hell else could I do? I wondered if the Native American woman swapping spit with the tattooed biker was Sacagawea or Pocahontas. The Cleveland Indians were playing the Oakland A’s on the big screen TV, and I wondered what Sacagawea and Pocahontas would have thought about the Cleveland Indians being called the Cleveland Indians. The Indians were up one-nothing in the bottom of the second, and I wondered if that would have made Sacagawea and Pocahontas happy or upset. I wondered if a deerskin skirt was comfortable. It couldn’t have been any worse than a thong or a banana hat. Boy was I losing it. I told the bartender to make my drinks even stiffer, and I drank them even stiffer. I wanted to travel back to the late Jurassic, where there were no people cursing me or flipping me the bird or giving me the evil eye or dying on me in a downtown hospice. All I would have to worry about was not getting devoured by carnivores or squashed to death by a goddamn diplodocus. I could handle that. I could be evasive and elusive. All I needed was a football helmet and a big old cardboard box. But I had neither. So I stayed in the Information Age, drinking my stiff drinks, watching Sacagawea or Pocahontas tongue the tattooed biker as the Cleveland Indians held onto a one-nothing lead going into the third. Outside Anne Frank kept chain-smoking her Virginia Slims. You’ve come a long way, baby, a vintage Virginia Slims ad had said in the dorm room of a girl I once slept with. You’ve come a long, long way.
Matt Gajewski is the author and host of Pure Imagination, a radio show that airs Tuesdays from 5-6 pm on wynwoodradio.com. All old episodes are available as podcasts on iTunes and pureimaginationradio.com.