My editor says I should mention something here regarding the absence of the next chapter of “Morongolalia.” I have two things to say. First, I’m required to apologize. So, I’m sorry. Second, I take it back! I rescind my apology because this story doesn’t remember itself, and the next section, well, I don’t much want to remember. You’d have me torture myself for your amusement? Perhaps you would. Well, you’ll have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime, draw near and I will tell you a blood-curdling tale of telephones and research.
Today I got really stuck on this essay Harper’s asked me to write on the Arquette dynasty. There’s a two or three page satirical digression wherein I make up pirates who are caricatures of celebrities, pundits, reality television personalities: e.g. Blackbeard Trump and Courteney Coxswain. Stuff like that. It was going pretty well until I needed to describe the type of wood used to make this fictional pirate ship (The Gilded Hilton). Not to mention the rogue section on “Sophisti-pop,” (e.g. The Style Council, Prefab Sprout, et. al., but most importantly Sade.) It was in this section I found David Arquette as Captain Arquette, David is largely missing from the article, though during our email interview he demanded that The Housemartins qualify as Sophisti-pop, while I stoutly disagree. David did make mention of his interests in both Marxism and Christianity, following Housemartins lyricist and frontman Paul Heaton’s once strongly held beliefs, and we squabbled over definitions of articles of faith until he called me a liar and I called him “not an actor.”
It’ll make more sense when Harper’s prints it. I promise. Though, the promise is not mine to give. It’s Ellen’s. Not that I’ve spoken to her. But, well, I’m digressing while discussing a digression, so let’s move on.
I’m a stickler for accuracy so, to learn what ships were or are made of I called a “pirate museum,” the Spyglass Tavern in Coronado, California. And because I record all of my telephone conversations, I was able to capture this:
Woman: Spyglass Tavern?
Me: Hi there. My name’s Patrick Benjamin and I’m researching an article—
Woman: Sorry, the director’s not here and we’re not hiring, especially now that… (muffled) Hey Mikey? What did Mister Snailsey say to say if—
Me: No, ma’am. Sorry, I’m not looking for a job. I just wanted to know—
Woman: Especially now that the president is, like, a bilch rat?
Me: Do you mean bilge rat?
Woman: (pause) Yeah.
Me: Well, jobs, I’m not looking for—
Woman: Yeah, sorry. We’re not hiring.
Me: Got it. Not hiring. Your boss’s name is Mister Snailsey?
Woman: He’s not my boss. We’re both docents. But he’s a real historian and I’m a greenhorn. That’s what he always says. But we’re not hiring.
Me: No. I know. But did I, I’m sorry. Did you say your boss’s—
Woman: I don’t have a boss. He’s totally not my boss. He, like, doesn’t even have a degree. He loves… Are you, like, a reporter?
Woman: That sounds cool. Make your own schedule. Freelance. And now you need steady work.
Me: No, no. I’m fine. Did you say the not-your-boss guy, that guy—
Woman: Which guy?
Me: The other docent.
Me: No. The Snailsey guy.
Woman: (laughing) No, no. Sorry you heard that. But, y’know, like I said, we’re not hiring. But if you want to call back and speak to the director he should be in later today.
Me: And I should ask for a Mister Snailsey?
Woman: (exhales worriedly) Aw jeez. No. Snailsey (pauses) I mean he won’t be in until tomorrow. It’s just… We just call him that but that’s not his, y’know… That’s not his name.
Me: Oh. So, if you don’t mind me asking, why do you call him that?
Woman: (hesitant) Um… Well…
Me: No, no. Don’t worry. I’m not going to tell him anything.
Woman: (still hesitant) Well… Okay… He eats, like, really really slow (giggles).
Me: Slow like a snail.
Woman: (laughing) Yeah. Oh man. Yeah. But, y’know, please don’t—
Me: I promise I won’t. What’s your name?
Woman: (hesitant) Um… Sharon?
Me: You sound unsure.
Woman: (laughing) No. I’m sure. It’s Sharon.
Me: Well, hi Sharon. I’m Patrick and I want to know what pirate ships are made of.
Sharon: Oh. Uh… hold on. (muffled) Hey. This dude wants to know what the ships are made of?
Me: Like the wood for the hull or—
Sharon: (still muffled) Yeah, me neither. (un-muffled) Sir? What does that mean? I mean, what do you mean “what are they made of?”
Me: Like the wood for the hull or like the deck or mast or—
Sharon: Oh God, I really dunno. You’ll have to talk to Mister Snai— (embarrassed laughter) Oh God. Mr. Failsey. He’ll be in tomorrow if you want to call back.
Me: (laughing) You got a lot of nicknames for this guy?
Me: “Snailsey” and “Failsey.” Does he fail a lot?
Sharon: No. That’s his name.
Me: His name is Mister Failsey?
Me: Okay. Well, it was Sharon, right?
Sharon: Yeah. Hold on. (muffled) Dunno, wants a job or something… No, I told him… I told him that… Not there. Yeah, there… Up higher… still needs to be higher.
Me: Well, Sh—
Sharon: (still muffled) He said, why am I tellin’ you? Mikey, you were so there… No, that doesn’t make any difference. He said they had to be higher and then… Yeah, tilt it so they can’t see…
Sharon: (still muffled) I so swear to God, Mikey… I’m not screwin’ around. If you don’t… (long pause) I don’t even know what that is… Now it’s upside-down, Mikey.
Sharon: (still muffled) It’s not my job… No it isn’t… No it is not… Nope… Isn’t… Isn’t…
Me: Well, Sharon, thanks for your time.
Sharon: (un-muffled) What? Yeah, yeah. Totes no problemo. Thanks for calling the Spyglass Tavern. Oh, and if Mr. Failsey doesn’t answer, you can ask for the director, Mr. Bater. He knows all that stuff.
Me: (pause) Thanks.
Sharon: Cool. Bye.
Sharon hung up and I stared at the telephone like people do in the movies. Then I walked to the library and along the way I tried to think up a good pirate name for Sean Hannity. The sycamores and cedars on Harvard Ave. bend toward the street, toward the sidewalk. The tops of the trees touch, forming an epidermis blocking out most sunlight. I saw the ship there, stretching the length of Harvard Ave. It was upside-down, sunken, and I was walking the ocean floor. The bloated bodies of Brenda Nowak, Peter Gabriel, Ellen Corby and their respective Arquettes tipped their hats or saluted. A rabble of orange and black butterflies swam near and I stopped to admire the newly paved road, taking in the smell of freshly laid tar, and realized no one, especially me, cares what ships are made of.
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.