I said that we had never met but he insisted that we had, that photographs exist documenting that we had met, and that I knew perfectly well who he was. I told him again that I didn't know who he was and he told me again that I was wrong and it seemed like we would be doing this, going around in circles with our insistences of ignorance and memory, when he said his name, a name that I recognized from the last time that we had bumped into each other—a time again when I again had not recognized him and in fact had made such a protestation of not knowing him that he called me a pigheaded tweezer until again after his repeated insistences, I had to admit that, yes, I knew him.
“You’re not going to call me a pigheaded tweezer again, are you?” I sniveled.
He do-si-doed, saying that he never called me a pigheaded tweezer, that he had no reason to call me such a thing when a lesser slur would do, that anyways in his estimation I hadn’t a head on my shoulders. He claimed to be a man of good pipe-cleaners, so he said, so how in good pipe-cleaners could he call me a pigheaded tweezer when I hadn’t a head, pig or otherwise, on my shoulders?
“That’s not strictly true,” I said.
“You’re saying that I’m not a man of good pipe-cleaners?”
Which is of course not what I meant, for I meant that indeed I had a head, a perfectly normal head of perfectly normal dimensions, the existence of which was proven to my satisfaction every morning when I shambled to the mirror to flipper the hair on my existent head. Which was existent too, the hair. How could I have hair to flipper if I had no head, pig or otherwise, upon which to grow it?
But the conversation—is that what one calls an exchange of words?—was not about my hair, he said. And he was right: our words were not about my hair. So I relented and said that perhaps I was confused, that though I distinctly remembered the spittle that sprayed from his mouth when he called me a pigheaded tweezer on that previous time when I forgot that we knew each other, I was willing to overlook the question of whether we had previously met.
“We had,” he said.
“That’s not what we’re talking about.”
“You getting twirly on me? Don’t you go getting twirly on me.”
Twirly. Now that’s a word.
He was, of course, my congressman, freshly tanned and still sporting the sheen of sunscreen from a slew of junkets to island resorts far removed from me, his constituent. Not that I remember voting for him but someone must have sauntered into that polling booth and pulled the lever on his behalf—and many times at that, the district being so large. Each month I was the recipient of his many letters, letters delivered without the aid of postage stamps but franked with his signature, letters that asked the favor of access to my personal funds and could I not hit up friends and relatives too?
He was so busy scuffling for his constituents, he so often wrote, that he needed me to help underwrite his reelection efforts, which—as he said—he could not do himself because he was so busy scuffling for us, his constituents. Washington was a nest of alligators; unless he scuffled, the alligators were going to redistribute our hard-earned wampum and maybe make us lick the trotters of the new possessors of our hard-earned wampum.
My ears perked up, the licking of trotters being a sure sign of a civilization in decline. And it made me feel proud, the reassurance of ears an essential indicator of a head.
“So write me a reelection checkeroonie,” he said. “Something with three zeroes.”
I had no checkeroonies of the three zero variety, at least none which would not perform a criminally-prosecutable bounceroonie, which would do neither of us any good: him being big on law-and-order, and me being big on avoidance of the clink.
“So you are going twirly on me, aren’t you?”
The congressman, he of the sheen of sunscreen sustained at beaches located at a remove, wakes at night howling of alligators. This much is reported to tabloids by ex-wives dissatisfied with stingy divorce settlements. He is, he is proud to say, a scuffler who favors no distinction between opponents real or figmentary. His motto, “Scuffle first, ask questions later,” invites that he is as likely to take out his aggressions on a hair that does not flipper properly as he is on an alligator seeking to winnow hard-earned wampum from me, his constituent. Whether he is a man of good pipe-cleaners is up to debate, but no judge has yet to convict him of any offense, so who am I to throw the next stone?
So he wakes at night howling of alligators. Unless restrained, he throws pillows to the wall, unfurls bed sheets and gnashes his teeth. A holdover from the Nixon era, he knows that menace lurks in shadows. Everywhere there is cause for alarm and his campaign chairman warns that checkeroonies just aren’t flowing his way as fast as they ought. Funds are drying up, the public’s fear of catastrophe lessening. Nine years after the tumbling of towers in lower Manhattan, the congressman suspects that the nation no longer shares his will to lash out at bogeymen. Politicos warn that there is only so much fear that can be jammed down the throats of soccer moms.
I wouldn’t know an alligator if it grabbed me in the birdhouse but the congressman swears that they are loose everywhere—in library pantaloons and the crispy skin of fried chicken deep within a bucket of KFC’s finest. I ask about the alligator with the tick-tock clock that scuffled the pirate in Peter Pan, and instantly feel the fool for the way he stares me down, the staring down of constituents apparently being an essential component of his job description.
“Tic-Toc was a Croc. No alligator he.”
Disbelief must have settled over my face, for how he glowered at me.
“Trust me: I’ve seen the classified report.” He reached into his jacket pocket and wrote my name into his day planner with a felt-tip pen. Buses were traveling down the street in front of us in opposite directions, but otherwise no one was watching us and I feared things would get twirly but there was a weariness in his gaze and I could see that he was a tired man. Being ever-vigilant against the prowl of alligators takes its toll. He was a man of good pipe-cleaners, he said, and if I divulged this Croc intelligence to anyone, he would be the one to deny knowing me the next time we bumped into each other. Which didn’t mean that I couldn’t still toss him a checkeroonie or two.