Chapter Forty-five

   And then... I woke up. And then someone else woke up, and then a whole lot of people woke up, millions of people, billions of people throughout the Western Hemisphere.
   And then... I went back to sleep. And I had a dream. I dreamt that I was awake again, walking aimlessly in a downtown section of a large city. It was daytime, my clothes were rumpled and smelly. I hadn't shaved, or bathed, or slept in weeks. My fly was open. As I walked, the soles of my shoes flopped loosely like a clown's shoes. My breath reeked of rancid goose liver. I thought to myself -- now would be the perfect time to meet women! "Where's a good place to meet women?" I asked myself, out loud. "The library!" I answered. The next thing I knew I was stopping strangers, asking them how to get to the Library District. One guy was pretty blunt in his response.
   "The Library District? There's no such thing as a Library District. Unless you're crazy or you're dreaming."
   I'm dreaming, I explained.
   "Oh, well, in that case, make an immediate U-turn, go two blocks, then make a left and you're there."
   I had to laugh -- people act so differently when you tell them you're dreaming! Boy, do they change their tune fast.
   I would explore this further, except, quite honestly, the dream that I've just described was not a dream at all -- it really happened. I really was, at one time, down on my luck, dressed like and acting like a deranged street person. And I did talk to myself in public, out loud. And that guy who gave me directions was merely mollifying me, or he was being facetious, or something.
   So it's funny -- now -- but it wasn't so funny back then. I vowed at the time to one day write about it, put it all down in a book. There, I've done it. Now, on to less important matters.
   "More important matters, Jim."
   Maureen! You're back from Barcelona -- did you have a good time?
   "Very funny. As soon as you changed the subject it was bye-bye Barcelona, hello abyss."
   Sorry, but you are, by nature, in a precarious position.
   "Understood. However, Jim, I've been thinking."
   At least someone's been thinking around here. About what?
   "About the book."
   The book? Why? I've already spent the advance money, I still owe them the finished manuscript -- which they're apparently in no rush to receive -- what's to think about?
   "Just this: What if it sells?"
   That's not very likely, Maureen. Especially since I've already doomed it to the remainders bin back in Chapter whatever-it-is.
   "I know, I know, but you can always delete that part. No, I'm just thinking ahead. What if, people like it? What if it gets good reviews? What if it becomes a best seller?"
   What if you lit a fart on the moon?
   "Nice. No -- what if the reviews, the word-of-mouth, everything -- goes our way? Are you ready with a sequel? Can you follow this up with something? Have you thought about it, Jim, at all?"
   No, I haven't, I haven't thought about any of that stuff, I never do. What -- do you, do you think I could write a sequel?
   "Sure. Why not? In fact, they might publish it sooner if you could demonstrate that the story, the setting, the characters -- have some repeatability. Marketing -- the word makes your eyes glaze over, I know -- but it's important, Jim, it's important. Are you listening?"
   Yes, yes, marketing... eyes glaze over... important. How come you know about all this -- and I couldn't care less?
   "Beats me. Anyway, we could float it by Anna Matopeia and, maybe, get another advance. What do you think?"
   Another advance. You're a genius, you're a fucking genius, Maureen!
   "You like that idea, don't you? And as long as we're talking sequels, I have another idea. It concerns my last name."
   You don't like Ripley. Okay, we can go back to McDonald, or whatever it was.
   "No, I like Ripley. I wanted to know where it came from. Where did you get the name Ripley?"
   You really want to know? Well, the name Ripley comes from Robert Ripley, Jr., the lesser-known son of the famous Robert Ripley (Believe It or Not). Junior invented the "Automaton Ping-Pong Game" -- a Ping-Pong game that played by itself, with no human players. It was a commercial bust, but an item about it made its way into the aforementioned compendium -- Necessity is Not Necessarily the Mother of Invention, by Ethan Childress or Blabbo Blabberman or whoever -- and appeared on the same page as the story about James M. Reynolds and his shoelace invention. In any case, on that fateful day -- yesterday? -- when I lowered my head onto the cold, cold glass of the Xerox machine (No more plugs for Xerox, please! -- Ed.), I was not alone. In fact, there were several other texts and papers -- and a five dollar bill -- already in the machine! Not only was I xeroxing, excuse me, copying, my brain -- I was also combining it with whatever information already happened to be in there! Thus, my name, your name, a page from the book about cockeyed inventors, the Powloo, frogmen, darts, the 1992 Olympics, Mal, blueberry pancakes, Alaska, sound waves, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, all the names, all the places, every word, everything -- even this! -- came from a book or a magazine or a five dollar bill, or my memory banks, or from somewhere else. But, as for what came from where, that I don't know. Which, I guess, puts us back at square one.
   "I'm not surprised."
   No? Why not?
   "Well, I've learned a lot since you first introduced me to the reading public back in Chapter One, and I think I've finally figured out what this so-called 'novel' is all about. It just came to me while you were going on and on and on just now."
   Oh really? What is it? A riddle? A metaphor? A cautionary tale? A public service announcement? What is it, oh great sage of the made-up world?
   "It's a scientific experiment. It's a costly, highly speculative scientific experiment -- not unlike the super-collider, or the Hubble telescope, or the giant receiving dishes set up to listen for alien intelligence."
   Uh-huh. And what's the point of this scientific experiment? What am I trying to prove? What am I trying to find?
   "Well, we can define infinity -- it's something that never ends -- but no one had ever seen it in action before. Until now, and this book."
   Oh, I get it. You're being sarcastic and nasty now, Maureen.
   "Well, yes, I am."
   You really think I'm going around and around in circles? On an unending path, a Möbius strip, a spiraling, never-ending journey?
   "Yes, I do."
   How can I prove to you that you're wrong?
   "End the book."
   What? Right here?
   "Yes, right here. Go ahead. End it. The End. Go ahead. I'd respect you greatly if you did."
   But I can't. I can't end it here. I've got so much more to say.
   "Like what?"
   How should I know? This isn't the world almanac, or a history of the Peloponnesian Wars, or even Lincoln: The Man. This is fiction -- spontaneous, improvised, organic, evolving, changing, transforming, mutating, metamorphosing -- it's fiction! We're in Baloneyland, Maureen, Baloneyland!!!
   "Okay, okay, don't blow a gasket. But, maybe you should take a short vacation. Get some R and R."
   Who's going to do the writing?
   Oh. Okay.

(This ends Chapter Forty-five, and I'm headed out to the Hamptons for a little rest and relaxation.)

Chapter Forty-six