Scrambled Eyes

by TRIPP READE


The
obeah man said I had a case of the Looking Glass gaze, also known as true--or
Dreamtime sight, all-penetrating eyes, "standing on Big Rock Candy Mountain," and a host of
other picturesque regionalisms, and that I was one of only three people he had ever known to
contract it.  A certain type of day, he explained from his perch-cum-office, usually triggered an
alteration in the way data is absorbed by the eyes and then processed by the brain.  That this is
pretty much typical of the modern
obeah answer just shows how well they've adapted to our
society by learning the virtues of obfuscatory enlightenment from the medical and psychiatric
professions.
That particalar day I was intending to stop off for a drink at Ivory Joe's before going to work
the second shift at the phone company.  Part-time schoolwork's stretched my college career out
to six years, and I feared I'd be working at the company after I graduated--comparative
religion/philosophy degrees have zero currency in today's stripped-down, super specialized job
market.  Well, what happened next changed that.  After I contracted this weird affliction I
couldn't stand the sight of my manager; luckily, he fired me for laying out of work.
As I said, I was humming down the road on my favorite day--my favorite day is the day when
the sky is blue, the pines are a dark contrast against it and a handful of round clouds roll slowly
across it, the topside of leaves are brilliant, and all things are
distinct, every detail etched in
the day like a Maori tatoo--when a van pulled out of the 66 Fill-Up and turned the bright
Cyclopean eye of its sun-torched windshield on me.  The sun, in that moment before the van
wheeled out of alignment with it, sidearmed one mean stroke of 200 proof galactic hi-octane
upside my brain, sent a lance of coherent light crashing into my eyes.  I'd like to say I saw
spots, but the pure truth is I couldn't see squat and almost motored over the New Hope Creek
bridge, a potential statistic in state accident records and wouldn't that be a great way to go?
Instead, I stopped shy of the wood rail.  When my sight cleared to where I could distinguish
lumps of gray in different shades, I eased into the dirt lot beside the 66 Fill-Up.  Five minutes
later I could see again, and the first thing I saw almost worked my poor orbs over again.  It was
a bus, done in a shock paisley of violent primaries nad equally aggressive secondaries, pulling
into the lot.  The destination window proclaimed
One Step Beyond.
Since I still had the shakes, I got out and walked into the store.
"...you shoulda gone in, man it was great.  The dreadnoughts of logic were shelling the navies
of ignorance."
"Yeah, I ignored Diddley's Dictum and judged by the cover.  I thought for sure it'd be a
redneck bar."
Two denizens of the bus were lodged in the isle between the pork rinds and the walk-in.  I
made my way down the breakfast row, noting en route the appearance of a new Saturday
morning cereal, Agent Orange, between the Nintendo Cereal System and Ms. Pac-Man.  Its
giant display blurb decreed that "It tastes like--victory."  That's how I thought it read.  
Another look offered this: "It tastes like crap.  But our Saturday morning spots inculcate
martial virtue and respect for law in youngsters, so get used to it."
This seemed such a preposterous ad that I turned to have a closer look, but the objects of my
original journey chose that moment to come round to my isle.
"Morbid isn't it."
"Eh? Are you talking to me?" I said.
Mm. Naming it after a poison, that's pretty morbid, don't you agree?"
"I think I do." He had on a ratty leather jacket with SPEED AND POWER painted on it in
white, and his companion wore a loud--no, a hysterical yellow range coat and a pair of polka-dot
shoes.  "Can I ask you something? Who's responsible for your ensembles?"
"Well he gets his fashion tips from Screamin' Jay Hawkings, and I get mine, as you've
probably guessed, from the Angel of Speed and Power by way of its avatar on Earth, and Bad
Checks bassist."
"I can't truthfully say it was on the tip of my tongue, no.  Who are you?"
"Collectively?"
"Why not."
"We're the Eschatological Howitzers."
"Of course.  I have no trouble believing it.  But did I hear you say something about
dread-noughts?"
"Yeah, we stopped at a place up the road to ask where's the nearest gas pump and they were
throwing popcorn and beernuts at the--which prez was it?"
Screamin' Jay's disciple stood up from where he was examining the "flavor gun" brandished
by the life-size anthropomorphic orange in the Agent Orange display.
"Whow, that's a breach of good taste even for the Madison minions," he said.  "What was the
question?"
"Which prez did I tell you was gettin' shelled?"
"Oh, lemme think--the Constitution President, wasn't it?"
"You sure? I thought I said it was the Flag Prez.  Or maybe it was the Education Prez? Really,
did I say the Constitution one?"
"Hey, you were the one that was there, I just..."
I left them in mid-clearification.  A chance look at the Super Tub Size Big Chief Peanut Butter
had revealed a new logo that read
Debased Culural Icon #???! Not the last in the
commercialization of Pert Near Everything!
Something is wrong with my eyes, I remember
thinking.
Anyway, the Eschatological Howitzers had to be talking about Ivory Joe's.  I love Ivory Joe's
not just because the owner, Bob Farmer, a Vietnam Vets for Peace activist, has a jukebox that
features Ivory Joe Hunter and other terrific pianists, but because there's always a solid core of
malcontents at hand to do things like pepper a TV screen with bar snacks.
I almost passed it by.  The bar was still the same beetle-browed affair, looking more like a
flimsy bunker or gentrified chicken coop than a roadhouse, but the sign said
Danny Shays'.  
There was a dollar bill tacked to the door along with a flyer:
Wanted--This man, for selling out
the democratic spirit.
Strong stuff, even for Bob's patrons.
The Union address was over and the peanut gallery was flipping stations, searching for
another show to ridicule.
"What it is, Bob.  When'd you change the name?"
"The name of what?"
"Of the bar."
"Here we go,
here we go, MTV's top 100 videos of the year.  Ten dollars says nobody can
come up with a bigger waste of time than watching this electronic drool," said a peanut in a
sub/urban camo outfit--a queasy swirl imitative of shattered freeway concrete,
faux marble
shopping mall pillars, and a backroom banker's map showing redlined housing projects.  The
patch on his cap read
I Break For Shoppers.
"It's still Ivory Joe's.  You want a beer?"
"Yeah.  I could've swore it said Danny Shays'."
"Hey, good name.  I'll keep it in mind in case I open another bar."
I decided not to ask about the flyer.  From my seat I could see the sign--Ivory Joe's.  "I think
I've got some sun in my eye."
"What'd you say, hoss?"
"Nothing."
Some metal-lite band named Warrant was singing about where the down boys go.  They didn't
look like they were down, unlike the E-Howitzer's jacket, theirs where fashionably tatty; in
fact, they looked like they were doing rather well.  They got
me down, though, so I ordered
another beer.
Not meaning to, I skipped work.  We had the door propped open; a breeze carried the late
afternoon blue sky spell indoors and wrapped me tighter than a love-struck python.  I refused
to leave that caliber of day for the icy fluorescence of Ma Bell's innards.  It wasn't a great job
anyway.
"Aw, you gotta be kidding me--
Club MTV?" said a different peanut.
For a second I saw teenagers dancing to some unidentifiable post-industrial bop, but then I
saw circus poodles, cash money held between their teeth, jumping through hoops held by
rhythm-less men in suits.  After every jump the poodles deposited money into a waiting palm.  
The same song, no, not even a whole song, the same fragment kept playing, over and over.
"That's disgraceful! What're they trying to say with those poodles?"
"How many beers have you had, hoss?"
"Not enough apparently.  I've got some sun in my eyes."
"Yeah? It's dark out."
It was.  I walked to the woods near the creek to clear my head.  Barbed wire and a no
trespassing sign hemmed me against the road.

          PRIVATE PROPERTY
            NO TRESPASSING
                 (I Got Mine)

Blinking hadn't helped all afternoon and it wasn't helping now.  I took Woody's advice and
checked the other side of the sign.

          Mine too.  Scram.

Lord, Superman only had X-ray vision and at least he knew what would happen if he turned the
switch on or whatever it was he did.  That always seemed suspicious, the way sometimes it
would work and sometimes it wouldn't, according to whenever he needed it.  I don't believe
they thought it through too well.  I mean, c'mon, X-ray vision?
Anyway, I decided about this time to go see the
obeah man.
On the way to Dr. Rudder's office I saw one of those back-patting billboards wherein Mobil
congratulates itself for funding the Met.  I'd seen it hundreds of times, but now the caption was,
"Ha. Suckers.  You bought the pose."  I accelerated.
The doctor was as in as he could be, which is to say that his in is everyone else's out.  Neville's
office is in a treehouse on some land behind his apartment.  You have to climb a knotted rope
to get in; it's kind of fun.  I saw the glow of his computer from the wood's edge, and he called
me up from his window.  I have no idea how he lists his business address even though I know
he has business cards.  I met him on a basketball court which, for all I know, is his method for
cultivating a clientele.  He must depend heavily on word-of-mouth.
Obiism came here from West Africa via the West Indies, and that's about all I know since
Neville keeps its more eccentric qualities secret.  His diplomas sit on rough shelving along with
beautiful stylized bird masks, carved and painted sticks inlaid with bone and ivory, floppy
disks, cable guides, raptor claw fetishes, and all his other "tools of the trade."  It's pretty
strange, but it works for me.
"Hey now buddy, what's wrong?"
I told him and he diagnosed my problem right away.
"Yeah now, these deconstruction eyes..."
"Come again?"
"Oh that's just another name for it.  For myself, I like to call it 'Scrambled Eyes,' and you got
it bad.  It's like having aphasic vision.  Aphasia's..."
"Yeah I've heard of that.  Aphasics can't understand spoken or written language."
"Mm-hm, but you can't lie to them, they'll catch it in a second.  Well, nobody can lie to your
eyes."
"Great."
Neville began flipping channels on his TV.  "Tell me when you see something."
A local cable channel was broadcasting a city basketball tournament sponsored by a
corporation known for marketing race-specific cigarettes, toothpaste, and a legion of
comestibles.  And then there they were at a smoke-wreathed table, the captions of industry and
information, watching as the factions of gender, racial, and sexual-preference minorities fought
among each other for the measly portions laid out at a much smaller table, a servants' table.  
The corporate seal bore the inscription
divide et impera.
"Geez they're smug."
"Who?"
I described the scene.
"Whooo-wee.  You got it real bad.  Well, you're stuck with it.  It's a chronic condition with no
known cure, though it can go into remission.  I'm afraid you can be feeling care-free, your
imagination wide-open and smooth-running, when POW!, you'll get knocked right into a
Mobius strip of weirdness.  It's like that.  The only way to dodge it is to become a pinched,
humorless person--law-enforcement officers, claim adjusters, and mid-level bureaucrats in
general are the best for this in my experience.  Short of that--get used to it."
Damn.  I paid good money to find out I have scrambled eyes, an incurable psyche-mystical
condition, and that my only chance to avoid it is to get my job back at the phone company and
stay there the rest of my years, something I'm not going to do.  To put the worst icing on an
already bad cake, I live in the worst country to have such a condition in.  Well, I hope it goes
into remission soon, 'cause I can't stand to see so clearly.  One more news story on Donald
Trump and I swear I may be pitched into frothing mad imbecility.

-from THE AMARANTH REVIEW, first place winner in short fiction
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