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Forcing the Hand, pt. 2

The following Sunday, Charles (who’s always game for crazy) and I show up to Gordon’s pet store with photos of our cats jammed in a manila envelope. As promised, Gordon, the last hippie in the Haight, mans the register in loose tie-dye, his thin ponytail crawling over one shoulder like something expecting to be fed. The B-side of Sergeant Pepper’s plays through speakers set into the ceiling as the catnip plants in the window stretch to meet the violet arc of grow lights. After a minute or two of forced conversation we hand over the envelope, which Gordon tweezes briefly between two fingers before slipping it under the counter and out of view. Aware that leaving a wad of cash in a place of legitimate business may come across as a bit gauche, Charles acts the gentleman by going out of his way to purchase a hot pink leash and harness for his cat. As he explains it, if the Big One ever hit, forcing the city’s population into mass panic and evacuation, he and his tethered beast could disappear together into the wild wastes of Golden Gate Park and spend their post-apocalyptic days snouting through their new Eden in search of life sustaining fungi. As Charles talks, Gordon watches us from the other side of the counter looking bored, or possibly stoned. It’s hard to tell. But Gordon’s ponytail, straining against its fuzzed scrunchie, is unmistakably pissed.

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Back at Charles’ apartment we find that his cat was way too fat for the harness, so we spend the afternoon taking turns with the leash, dragging her on her side across the kitchen floor to get her used to the sensation of moving when dead-set against it (the feline definition of catastrophe, we assume). Attempting to console Charles in the wake of his failed contingency plan, I point out that the cat’s unwillingness to be moved could mean salvation, given that in the event of a major cataclysm I would be chief among the grief-stricken and hunger-crazed mobs tracking him through the underbrush with the intention of devouring his cat, pink leash and all.

Now that the whole pet-portrait scenario is out of our hands, Charles and I kill time by scouring the city for Will’s flyers, which seem to be plastered everywhere from the Great Highway to the Embarcadero. The cost of dog food aside, Will must be spending a small fortune at Kinko’s for an effort that seems to be going completely unnoticed by most people, except for the two of us and a friend who calls one afternoon to say that he’s just seen Will tacking up a flyer in an Outer Richmond café. But when I ask for a description all my friend can offer is that Will seemed really tall. Which is about as useful as describing a shark as really wet.

Two weeks go by, and while I’m not an impatient man by any means, I often like to know when things are going to happen and exactly how they’re going to go down. After all, it’s not everyday that I walk into a pet store and hand a wad of bills to a man who’s likely to mistake my envelope with his monthly mail-ins to Mr. Kite’s Benefit. So I call Gordon to see if Will has been by. Gordon reports that Will has been in the week before and might have picked up the envelope, but is reticent to offer any more information. I decide to call Will and track the order’s progress.

In my message I’m polite, asking Will if he’s received the photos and the money (you know what they say about the fidelity of hippies), but Will’s beeper service cuts me off mid sentence. I call back and am cut off a second time. After dialing again I get several seconds into my new message and forget my train of thought so I hang up and call back a fourth time.

The following night I come home to a voice mail from Will, one that I’ve saved on my machine and replayed for friends enough times that their immediate look of shock and concern upon hearing it has begun to erode at my initial amusement. The message starts and ends with Will referring to me as “man,” a bit slurred and unmistakably riled. “You’re really starting to irritate me now,” he warns, “and you don’t have to be calling me every day.” Then he insists that if I’m “in such a damn hurry” we can make arrangements for me to pick up the drawings from him “as is.” Hearing this the first time I briefly considered his offer to meet and collect, until I began to imagine the actual transaction: a night scene, most likely under a freeway, with me fumbling my way around pallet fires and mounds of discarded doll parts until I’m suddenly blinded by the high-beams of a camper as somewhere beyond the light the ring of tags and collars begins to close in.

Needless to say, I decide to sit on things at this point, prepared to take a forty dollar loss if need be. But when I play the message for Charles he’s convinced that the whole thing is too hilarious not to pursue, insisting that I call Will back to apologize for my impatience. Admittedly, I give in despite my knowing that every additional phone call I make carries the potential to ramp up Will’s hostility. So I keep it brief, speaking quickly to avoid multiple truncated and rage-inducing messages. I apologize to Will for rushing him, and apologize for wanting to know where the money was. Then I apologize for any past apologies that I may have accidentally offered in any past messages, expressing my regret for anything that may have come across as remotely overly-apologetic, after which I’m cut off. And as I hang up, it’s impossible to ignore the likelihood that all this false humility has done little more than piss Will off, further jeopardizing the chances of seeing any pay off for my troubles. Quite naturally, my thoughts turn to devouring Charles’ cat feet first.


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