With each chugga-chugga of the train, all the pain of the past drifted further into the distance. The soothing, honking chords of The Other Guy’s harmonica echoed the train whistle, as city gave way to desert. The sun was soon nipping at our tail.
“Do you ever think,” The Other Guy asked, “about things?”
“Not much,” I said. The train groaned as the tracks curved southward. The sun shone in thin zebra stripes through the planks of the boxcar.
“I guess you’re right,” he said. “I never thought of it like that.”
Our conversation went on like that, full of nonsense and sexual innuendo. We refused to discuss religion or politics, except as they related to absurdity or sex, which is to say, religion and politics were all we talked about. The Other Guy had been a snake handler in Appalachia for a number of years before moving to Florida and running for city council (but Florida isn’t a city, which is how he got his name). He lost the election. He lived for a time at Disney World, where he survived by pretending to be the animatronic Lizard King on the “It’s a Small World” ride. The riders would toss spoiled lunchmeat at the robots, as is the custom, and at the end of the day The Other Guy would gather this meat and sell it to the mole-men puppeteers. With the profits, he was able to purchase cat food. But he didn’t have a cat, so he ended up throwing most of it away. This was also the period during which he married and divorced his second wife without her knowledge.
That’s as much of the story I’d heard by the time we got to Albuquerque. I immediately knew, from countless Bugs Bunny cartoons, that one should in fact always take the left turn at Albuquerque. I tried to explain this to The Other Guy, but he was adamant: “I’m no commie,” he said. “I’d rather crash this train at full speed into a dynamite factory than follow a pinko like you!” Things had taken an unfortunate turn and I decided it was time for us to go our separate ways. Besides, the train was going crash into a dynamite factory, and I’d forgotten to pack my dynamite-proof underwear.
So, I bid The Other Guy adieu.
“Gesundheit,” he said. And he had never been more right.
After watching the explosion, I decided to head into town and see if the local sheriff needed any deputies. I saw a man on the street with a star on his chest.
“Hey, jerk,” I said. “Deputize me!”
“No thanks,” said the sheriff, because he wasn’t the sheriff. The star wasn’t a sheriff’s badge at all. He was just on his way to city’s annual Holocaust reenactment. Of course I followed him.
When we got to the town square I saw a few hundred citizens in authentic period dress, milling around, waiting for the festivities to begin. Jews were chatting with Gestapo. SS officers with their kids were seeking shade from the incinerating desert sun. It wasn’t until I saw the towering temporary guard tower that it dawned on me: this might be upsetting to some people. Especially Europeans who always get so annoyed when Americans try to copy their culture. I decided to find out what was, as they say, what.
“Who’s in charge of this thing?” I asked a little girl in a red dress and buckle shoes.
“I can’t find my mommy and daddy,” she said.
I sighed and rolled my eyes (to comedic effect). “Listen, are you going to help me or not?”
She started to cry, so I knew she was going to be of no use. I wandered off towards the guard tower where, in preparation for the opening ceremony, a young woman with a bullhorn was directing Jews to their starting positions.
“Are you in charge of this?”
The woman looked at me over the top of her glasses. “No,” she said.
“I’d like to speak with whoever is in charge.”
She sighed heavily. Clearly I was distracting her from important business. “You want Clancy Blurmstein, the chairman of the chamber of commerce. He’s over there in the Nazi headquarters.” She pointed to the park restrooms.
“Thanks,” I said. I threw up a half-hearted heil and headed towards the toilets.
When I walked in, I saw the spitting image of ”Dr.” Josef “Criss Angel of Death” Mengele sitting on the toilet. Don’t get the wrong idea—he had his pants on. There was a TV tray in front of him, loaded with papers highlighted pink and yellow.
“Are you Blurmstein?”
“Yah, zaht oos me,” he said. He didn’t look up from his paperwork.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Ach! Ein doon’t haven zee timen-freuden!”
“Are zhoo frommen zee newsen-pahper?”
“Yes,” I said. (I like waffles, so this wasn’t technically a lie.)
“Oh. In that case, I suppose I can spare a few moments.” Turns out he wasn’t German at all. The accent was fake.
“That’s great,” I said. “First of all, what is going on here?”
“Welcome,” he said, “to the 77th Annual Albuquerque Holocaust Reenactment and Watermelon Festival. Ours is the largest annual Holocaust reenactment West of the Mississippi. Only Ithaca’s is bigger. And they’re thinking of canceling theirs for budgetary reasons. If they do, we’ll be the biggest in the country.” He crossed his fingers and made a hip-thrusting gesture (which I considered wholly inappropriate).
He continued. “This year we’re performing Sachsenhausen. More than 2300 Jews, Gypsies, and Germans—from as far away as Flagstaff—will provide a fun and educational experience for the entire family! And watch out…” (Here he leaned to his left, even though I was standing directly in front of him, and cupped a hand to his mouth secretively.) “Or you just might learn a little history along the way.” He chuckled to himself for a moment. “After that, we’ll cool down from the heat of the ovens with all the sweet, juicy watermelon you can eat! Watch our state-champion Melon Gobblers perform their championship routine. They don’t just eat watermelons; they also wear them like shoes! Come one, come all, Jew and Homosexual alike, to the 77th Annual Albuquerque Holocaust Reenactment and Watermelon Festival! (Last weekend in June.)”
“Very informative,” I said. “Are there really going to be 2500 participants?”
“Twenty-six hundred,” Blurmstein corrected. “And they prefer to be called ‘performers’.”
“Yeah, well, I prefer to be called Captain Starwars McAmazon.com, but a rose by any other name, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“I know,” he said. “You smell great.”
“Are you going to stay for the festivities?” he asked, with hope in his eyes.
“I’m afraid I can’t. You see… I don’t like watermelon.”
“No, not really. But I don’t like cucumbers.”
“I understand,” said Blurmstein. “Then you must go. On to California… On to freedom.”
I was shocked. “How did you know I was going to California?”
“I know all kinds of things,” he said menacingly. “I know you don’t work for a newspaper. I know your shoe size is 11. I know how cute a baby rhinoceros is.”
“I have a subscription to National Geographic,” he snarled. “And I support public television.”
My head was spinning. Maybe it was the fumes from the park toilets. Maybe it was the sudden realization that rhinos are always ‘horny’. Whatever it was, I knew I had to get out of there. And fast.
I burst from the restroom, Blurmstein’s maniacal laughter echoing behind me. I stumbled onto the park green. Dizzy and disoriented, I collapsed a few yards away.
A man who looked like Hitler came to my aid. “What’s the matter, sir?”
My vision was blurry and my speech mumbly. “Whuh… Who is that man?”
“What man, sir?”
“The man in the bathroom. Back there.” I gestured behind me as Hitler helped me to my feet.
“What are you, blind and racist? Right over th—” I froze. Looking behind me, I realized the sturdy concrete restrooms had vanished. There was only an old tire. “It’ssatire! How is this possible? Where’s Blurmstein?”
The Hitler-looking guy now looked like Hitler, only more confused.
“Excuse me, sir, but… who?”
“No, no, what’s happening?” I gripped the man by the shoulders. “What about the Annual Albuquerque Holocaust Reenactment and Watermelon Festival?”
“Sir, I’ve lived here all my life and I can tell you… there is no such thing.”
I gasped. “N-n-no such thing?”
“No, sir. Never. This here,” he said, sweeping his arm towards the people bustling around us, “is the 77th Annual Albuquerque Holocaust Reenactment and Cantaloupe Festival.”
My strength gave way, and I dropped to my knees. “No,” I whispered. “No, no.” The aroma of the orange, supple melon flesh drifted to my nostrils, and mingled with smell of grass and pretzels.
“Tell me,” I said without raising my head. It was little more than a whisper. “Do the Melon Gobblers wear them like shoes?”
Hitler Guy was silent for a moment, then spoke. “I’m sorry, sir. Cantaloupes are too small to wear like shoes.”
I stifled a sob, and my anguish turned suddenly to rage. I pounded the ground with my fist. And again, until my knuckles were stained with the dark, grassy green of fury. As Hitler Guy drifted away, I silently vowed revenge. I knew I hadn’t seen the last of Clancy Blurmstein. If that was even his real name.
Which it was.
The End…? No, of course not. That would be dumb.