Chapter Forty-four

   "Hi, Jim."
   Hiya kid. Got caught scalping tickets, eh?
   "Yeah. Me, of all people."
   I know, an innocent mistake. Some places allow ticket scalping, some don't. Earth just happens to be one of the places that doesn't.
   "Are you going to get me out of here, Jim?"
   Yeah, yeah -- but tell me, did you meet any colorful characters in there?
   "Are you kidding? They were all drunk. Drunk German soccer fans. Their team had either won or lost a very important preliminary soccer match and they were either ecstatically happy or inconsolably depressed. They were drunk, though."
   Let's go. I just remembered, the opening ceremonies are about to start and I made a promise.
   "A promise? To who?"
   To whom. I promised Dancing Cloud he could replace the archer who shoots the arrow that lights the flame that -- you know.
   "Yeah -- but, how are you going to do that? That's like changing history."
   Screw history! What has history ever done for us? Half of it's lies, the other half's made up. That sounds like something Twain might have said (I'll check -- Ed.) but, where was I?
   "History. The opening ceremonies. You were saying 'screw history' and that you were going to somehow sneak Dancing Cloud into the stadium and have him shoot the arrow that lights the flame that blah blah blah."
   Ah, right. But we don't have to sneak him in. We've got four tickets, remember?
   "We do? I thought they confiscated the tickets."
   Don't be silly. I've got 'em right here -- four tickets -- in between the last two en dashes. But let's hurry. I told Dancing Cloud we'd meet him by the Will Call window out in front of the stadium. Let's go!
   Several paces from the Will Call window, stooped over a large garbage receptacle, Dancing Cloud retched, and retched, and retched, having swallowed about a thousand -- nine hundred and ninety-two to be exact -- peyote buttons. We walked over to him, but he was in no mood for chitchat. However, his Uncle Lupo -- remember him? -- was there to help us out.
   "Hennupa matuba," Uncle Lupo asked in his native tongue.
   "What did he say?"
   He asked me if he could have the fourth ticket. What can I do? He came a thousand years just to be here. I'll tell him okay.
   "Yaluna yula," I said, handing him his ticket. "Yaluna yula, Uncle Lupo." And Uncle Lupo nodded his approval. Then, it occurred to me -- how come Uncle Lupo isn't sick?
   "How come Uncle Lupo isn't sick?"
   I was just thinking the same thing. I'll ask him. "Pua nupa. Pua nupa." Uncle Lupo laughed.
   "Levana bua, nupa levana tupa," he answered.
   "What did he say?"
   He said that he can handle his peyote a little better than his nephew.
   "Nalupa nua, lenada pupa, nua nua."
   He said he once ate six thousand peyote buttons at one sitting.
   "Really? Where did that leave him?"
   I'll ask. "Vanupa nupa?"
   "Vanupa nupa? Lanupa vana, tatupa nua, lupa nua."
   "What? What did he say?"
   Wow, he was way in the future, way in the future -- about four thousand years in the future.
   "Natupa nua lua, pua nua venata pua, nua."
   Wow. You know what? This is getting good. I'm going to let Uncle Lupo take it from here. All right? Start again, Uncle Lupo, but speak -- just for the sake of convenience -- in English, please.
   "Yes. I will speak in your tongue. Many, many years from now -- many, many centuries in the future, there will be a world and there will be human beings, but almost nothing else will be the same. Everything -- everything familiar to you, everything that you take for granted today, everything that you hold dear, will be gone. McDonalds, for instance. There will be no more McDonalds. Or Burger King. Or Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or Pizza Hut, or International House of Pancakes, or Denny's, or Big Boy, or Howard Johnson's, or any of a number of other familiar fast food family restaurants for that matter. Only the Sizzler, with its 'Unlimited Salad Bar', will remain."
   I looked over at Maureen. She was listening in rapt attention, as Uncle Lupo continued, deadpan.
   "That's where I ate about four thousand years from now -- at a Sizzler in Albuquerque, near Route 91. It won't be called Albuquerque in four thousand years, however. Not exactly. They'll call it Lbqrq, or at least they'll spell it that way. No more vowels, the Sizzler waitress told me. They got rid of all the vowels hundreds of years before. So, Chicago became Chcg, and New York became Nyrk."
   What about Oahu? I asked.
   "Just the letter 'h'" he replied. "What other place name has just an 'h' and then all vowels?"
   I couldn't think of any, at least off hand. (Ohio -- Ed.)
   "Jim? I hear music coming from inside. The ceremonies must be beginning."
   All right. You take Dancing Cloud by the arm, and I'll walk in with Lupo here, and -- (Wait! -- Ed.) What? (I want to go -- Ed.) You want to go, Ed.? (Yes, you see I was working during the '92 Olympics. Missed everything. Didn't see a thing. I'd give anything to attend the opening ceremonies in person -- Ed.) Well, gee, Ed., we don't have any more tickets. You see, Uncle Lupo showed up and -- hey, why don't you just rent the video? There must be a video of the 1992 Olympics in the stores by now. (There is, but they're out of it at Blockbuster, and then my VCR broke, and, well -- Ed.)
   What, Maureen?
   "Ed. can have my ticket."
   "No, no, it's all right. I saw it already. I've got a tape of it somewhere. Ed. can have my ticket. Go ahead, Ed., enjoy." (Aw, gee, Maureen, thanks. You're an angel! -- Ed.)
   Hey, that's a pretty long kiss there, Ed., a pretty long kiss... Okay!... Break!
   "Wow. Well, I'll see you later, Jim. I'm going shopping. That Imagination Card is burning a hole in my pocket!"
   Maureen rushed off and, my party of four now set, we made our way through the turnstiles and on to the big event. If only I could have dumped the tickets for a few grand, I thought to myself while the ticket taker tore our tickets in two. Tsk, tsk. (She's all right, that Maureen -- Ed.) Yes, she is, she is.
   "I'm getting a pizza," Uncle Lupo announced, still speaking perfectly good English. "Anyone want anything?"
   "Tatuba nua, mea nua tuba?" asked Dancing Cloud.
   "What if they don't have nachos?"
   "Tatuba nua, zua."
   "Got it... soup of the day." Uncle Lupo looked up at us. "Fellas?"
   I nodded to Ed. to go first. (Thanks. Okay, let me see... I'll have a hot dog, a Diet Coke, and some peanuts -- Ed.)
   "This is Barcelona, Ed.," Uncle Lupo reminded him. "Try the pizza, you'll like it." (Okay. And a Diet Coke -- Ed.) Then it was my turn.
   "What about you, oh great white writer in the sky?"
   Very funny, Uncle Lupo, very funny.
   "So, what'll it be? A beer? A beer and a hot pretzel? What do you say?"
   Oh, I guess that sounds good, yeah. Do you have any money?
   I searched my pockets for some money. I have to say, though, I was fascinated by this Uncle Lupo. I mean, a Powloo Indian from the Eleventh Century and here he was, acting just like one of the guys, like he was one of the guys in my weekly poker game, not that I have a weekly poker game, but that's beside the point. In fact, everything's beside the point. And, if everything's beside the point, then, ipso facto, everything is relevant. Which leads me to ask: Where's Abe? Where's my anthropomorphic pal?
   "Right here! Right here in the palm of your hand!"

(This ends Chapter Forty-four)

Chapter Forty-five