I remember asking Carlos if the names he'd given my dream bodies applied to everybody, and he said no, he'd named them by reading my unworlding journal and 'grokking their ident '. He said all the other terminology was universally applicable, but not sacred and subject to change without notice.
Early in my journaling, Carlos caught me making up acronyms, for example, I was going to rename the Green Room 'GR,' the Projection Room 'PJR,' the Nowhere 'N1' etc. He grabbed a clean notebook and made me copy everything over with all the words spelled out, then he burned the notebook with acronyms in the kitchen sink and set off all the smoke alarms in the building. After that he visited each of the tenants in the building--to apologize, he said--but when he came back he had a pocket full of batteries. Somehow he'd managed to remove the batteries from all their smoke detectors. I tried to object, but he said the place couldn't burn down with him in it, and promised to put the batteries back, 'When and if I ever move out of this dump.'
That day in the late afternoon, Carlos took some money out of my wallet, and headed for the door. He had written the word 'Urumara' on the inside of the door with a magic marker, promising to repaint the door, "If I ever get to leave this shit-hole, and the way you're progressing, that might never happen." On his way out, he turned and looked at me. I was still reading through my journal, as he'd told me to do over and over throughout the day. This was supposed to make it easier for the 'Earthville Mental Institution' reality to merge with the 'Unworld' reality. Carlos had his hand on the doorknob. "You comin'?" he asked.
I didn't need him to ask twice. I made a beeline for the door. He pushed it open as I got close to him and pushed me through it so hard I thought I'd hit my head on the wall of the corridor opposite the door, but when I looked up, the corridor seemed way too large. "What the--" I took my glasses off and rubbed my eyes. Sure enough, we were in the mall.
"You might want to stand up before I get arrested for assault," he said in an urgent, low tone. I looked up and sure enough, he was towering over me, but he looked six feet tall, and everyone knows Carlos Castaneda was only five feet, four inches tall. More importantly, a mall cop was headed our way and neither of us had bothered to shave that week so I knew what we looked like. I scrambled to my feet and walked as steadily as I could, even trying to get a steady smile on before the cop got to us. Carlos saved the day by handing me a wad of bills so the cop wouldn't think we were vagrants, and as we sauntered past him innocently with money peeking out of our pockets and grinning like chimpanzees, Carlos looked at the fat young mall cop and said, "My friend here is trying to learn break-dancing."
As we hurried past him, the security officer smoothed his bushy moustache nervously and we could hear him calling out, a little late, "Take it somewhere else, gentlemen." Carlos waved behind himself condescendingly, without looking back, and poked me in the ribs to keep me from swerving.
Naturally I only had one question: "What the fuck???"
"You know where you are. You've been here innumerable times. They have some fine chocolates and a decent variety of bad wine right over there, a bookstore right over there, I know what you like. Your fingerprints are all over this place."
"I hate malls."
"Which never stopped you from coming here every time you got your monthly check so you could get your monthly bottle of wine and binge on expensive chocolates that you couldn't afford."
I didn't bother to deny anything. So my fingerprints were all over the place, were they? My head was swimming. I could not remember how we got here so I gave up trying.
Carlos looked over his shoulder. "OK, the coast is clear, the Rent-A-Cop is gone." He pushed me over to some benches and I was happy to sit down and cradle my throbbing head in my hands. He didn't say anything. Finally I broke the silence.
"At least you didn't dissolve me."
"Of course I did. That's exactly what I did. Same as the yuppie in the diner."
I let that sink in.
"But unlike the yuppie in the diner," he continued, "I like you, so I followed you here to keep you from getting thrown in jail. You know it's illegal to be unconscious in public here in modern-day America today."
"So I've heard." I ruminated for a moment, with apprehension. Finally I blurted out, my voice cracking in ill-disguised terror, "Are you gonna tell me what we're doing here or do I not want to know?"
Carlos looked at me quizzically with a tiny smile. "Both," he said. "But first, we'll be paying a visit to your favorite overpriced chocolate store." I couldn't believe my ears. Carlos never let me eat chocolate. I wondered if maybe my re-education was almost complete. Could it be that I'd earned this as some kind of a reward?
Carlos as usual knew what I was thinking. "Of course you don't deserve this, but you will before the day is done, so let's get it over with. A fitting reward for a part well played, and you haven't even played the part yet. But you will."
I started to imagine the taste of dark chocolate running down my throat, maybe with a touch of orange peel or marzipan to justify the expense and make me feel like a gourmet while gorging myself like a dog. But inside the store, Carlos walked right past the overpriced chocolate section to the overpriced dry wine section. He was reading labels when I pulled myself away from the chocolate and sauntered up behind him, wondering what he had in mind. I noticed the two clerks talking to each other behind their hands and one had her hand on a phone. I nonchalantly pulled some big bills out of my pocket and she pulled her hand back as if the phone was a rattlesnake.
Carlos chose the cheapest bottle of Shiraz he could find and told me to pay for it with the money in my hand. He told me to ask the women for two paper cups and I stupidly did so. Now they were both eyeing the phone. I heard Carlos say, "You can't tell when someone's just yankin' yer chain, can you," but when I turned around he wasn't even there. I scoured the mall for him, remembering to do the Buzz Breath as I walked around. I assumed we were gonna go home and drink the bottle as a reward for the progress I'd been making, and I wanted to make up for how plastered I'd get from a half bottle of wine by doing some spiritual practices in the meantime. But then I remembered that the promised reward was for something I hadn't done yet, and a shiver went up my spine. I noticed that I'd stopped breathing completely and I was clutching the wine bottle hard. If it had been a kitten or a puppy I would have squeezed the life out of it by now.
I looked around, but couldn't see Carlos anywhere. I was just to the point of starting to mutter under my breath, and I wasn't looking where I was going, when a fat woman pushing a shopping cart plowed into me and the bottle of wine flew out of my hands and straight up into the air. The cart was blocking my way and I knew I didn't have a chance of getting around it in time to catch the bottle, so I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared to hear the sound of a full bottle popping open and splintering on the concrete mall floor... but the sound didn't come. I opened my eyes and Carlos was standing in front of me holding the wine. The fat woman was gone.
"Lose something?" he said.
By then I knew it was gonna be one of those days. If only I had known what kind of day it was really gonna be, I would have stayed home.
Like I even had a choice.
Carlos pounded me on the back and said, "Let's see a movie!"
OK, another first. Carlos wouldn't let me watch TV, rent movies, or use a computer, and all those devices had been taken to Goodwill while I was asleep. I wondered if New Age Ned had helped him carry my nearly functional appliances back to Goodwill. My blood started to freeze as I imagined Ned watching me sleep, so I banished the thought.
"Nothin' wrong with takin' in a show now and then," he said, and I knew something was up.
I reminded him that, unlike everyone else in the mall, we had no car to stash the wine in, and we would not be allowed to enter a movie theater with a bottle of wine. He told me to stop worrying so much and shoved the bottle in the front of his pants. I took a step back and looked at him. There wasn't even a bulge. He twirled like a ballerina and said, "I have the ability to carry a lot of extra circumference and length between my legs, due to a lifetime of practice." Guessing what he meant by that, I decided against asking for proof. He led the way and you would have never guessed that he had a bottle of wine clenched between his thighs. He walked as fast as ever, although he did seem to have an extra pair of knees about mid-thigh, and appeared to be deformed, like his legs were made out of rubber. I still had to hurry in order to keep up with him.
Our favorite mall cop was sniffing around the theater entrance as we entered with our tickets. Carlos made small talk with the cop while I stood in line for tickets. He kept adjusting himself, but I got the impression he was doing this only when I looked, just to entertain me. There was something about that cop I didn't like. I was sure he was hoping to see action and had pegged Carlos and me as the most likely to be arrestable that day. Whatever Carlos was saying to him, it was not making him any friendlier-looking.
Carlos had asked me which of the twelve movies playing was probably the most uninteresting and worst grade-D movie I could ever hope to not want to see, and after I decided, he made me buy two tickets for it.
So much for takin' in a show.
Once we got to the lobby, he told me to buy a medium Coke but no popcorn, reminding me that all grains were forbidden, being suitable fodder only for livestock. I said I hate Coke and he told me I worry too much, I would not be forced to drink the Coke, but I had to buy it because he could feel his load slipping and needed to get sat down. The whole time I stood in line for the Coke, I tried to imagine Carlos drinking a Coke, but couldn't. I'd never seen him touch sugar or junk food at all.
I found Carlos easily in the dark because his fake snoring was unmistakable. As soon as I sat down he pretended to wake up and told me to pour the Coke out on the floor, but keep the cup. I hissed a whispered objection but he just said, "Don't worry, they clean this shit-hole every month, no one will ever know."
When he pulled the bottle out of his pants I knew what the paper cup was for, but still couldn't detect any rhyme nor reason in whatever it was that he intended to make me do.
He handed me the bottle and said, "Did you bring a corkscrew?"
"Of course not," I hissed. "Why would I bring a corkscrew?"
He stroked his chin and stared off into space thoughtfully, then said, "Well all right, we'll just have to do this the hard way. Clench the bottle between your thighs as hard as you can." I did so, reluctantly. He reached over and started stroking the bottle up and down, frantically. I looked back and forth in horror, knowing what this would look like in the dark.
"Why are you doing that?"
"Heats up the bottle quick. The heat'll push the cork up a little and you can pull it out with your teeth."
"I don't think so!" I hissed, and he responded right out loud for all to hear:
"Well you stroke it then, if you think you can do it better than me!"
I was ready to pass out from embarrassment when I noticed everyone in our row was changing seats. I heard tittering and was sure someone was already calling 911. Then I realized I had closed my eyes again.
When I was sure everyone had moved to another row, I dared to open my eyes, and found clenched between my thighs an open bottle of wine. Carlos spoke around the cork clenched in his teeth, "You want me to pour it for ya too?"
I tried to calm down. I had tried to come up with a speech for the mall cop but he never showed up, which is good because I couldn't think of what to say.
Carlos made me drink the whole bottle of wine all by myself.
About halfway through, I mentioned to him that I was starting to enjoy both the wine and the movie, and his only response was to mumble something about "crap wine for a crap movie." So I asked him why he was making me drink the wine and watch the movie if they were both crap, and he said, "This wine will make you as brave as the hero of this ridiculous flick, in preparation for what you have to do next."
I didn't agree. "This wine will make me puke, I can't drink any more."
"It would help if you don't look at the screen."
"Whaddaya want me to do, sit backwards in my chair?"
"No, look at the four corners of the screen all at the same time and then backwards from there at the 3D screen of the infinite Nowhere behind you where your eyes can't see."
Feeling unusually brave, I tried to picture what he had in mind, and as usual I asked for clarification, but he just repeated the same exact instructions and wouldn't say anything else. So I tried it, and it worked. The screen turned into a bunch of jumbled images and pretty soon I was watching dragons and sea monsters writhing behind me and was completely unaware of the movie's childish plot. Before I knew it, the movie was ending, and Carlos was waking me from an unanticipated nap, hissing under his breath, "Finish the wine before they turn the lights on!" and like a comatose idiot I did what he said, upending the bottle till the delicious but wasted fluid was all gone, the last few drops dribbling down my neck. I tried to set the bottle down gingerly on the floor, but it plinked and plunked against chair legs and rolled all the way to the front of the theater where it bounced off of the front wall.
It was time to go and I was only a little worried that I wouldn't be able to walk. Normally I would be very worried, but normally I wouldn't be this relaxed. My limit was half a bottle of wine while watching two movies in a night, and I'd somehow managed to guzzle a whole bottle during one movie. I found myself wondering what the movie had been about while we followed the crowd up the ramp to the lobby. I was glad we were the last to stand up, so no one would be walking behind me watching me wobble.
Carlos said, "You gonna puke now or later?"
I obligingly dropped to my knees and puked all over the nearest seat.
Carlos congratulated me on my perfect timing, stating that I was now about to embark on the quest of the evening.
"Excuse me," I objected in vain, "but this evening is over. I'm going home."
"You can't walk three miles in your condition. You'll do as I say, if you don't want me to move out."
"I want you to move out."
"Well that's tough, I'm just getting started on you."
So much for the optimistic light I'd tried to cast on everything earlier.
As we entered the mall-at-large under the watchful eye of the mall cop, I was sure he would notice that I was not walking straight, but Carlos got between us so my uneven kilter was not easily visible from the cop's vantage point, and then Carlos hollered, "Jesus!" while pointing frantically to the far left end of the mall toward J. C. Penneys. The cop's head snapped to the left and we took a sharp right, quickly getting lost in the crowd of exiting movie-goers. Noticing the boredom dripping from their blank faces, I briefly longed for a boring day, a boring night, even a boring hour.
"What was that all about?" I managed to ask.
"I thought I saw Jesus coming out of J. C. Penneys. I know that cop saw Jesus, he's headed that way to arrest him right now."
Carlos led me to some benches and told me to sit down or I'd fall down. I wanted to be home right now, but sensed that the worst was yet to come.
Carlos cleared his throat, and looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "You see that big fish restaurant?" he asked.
Of course I saw it, we were looking right at it. The smell made me want to retch. I can't stand the smell of fish. The word "bottomfeeder" kept coming to mind.
Carlos looked at me for a good half a minute before he spoke. These long silences always meant he was up to something, sizing me up for the next 'groove-jumping session' as he liked to call them. I knew what he was talking about because I'm old enough to remember record players. This was going to be a groove-jumping session. A smashing of routines. An implosion of expectations.
I could hardly wait.
"You gonna puke again?"
"Nah, I'm all puked out. Let's go home."
He stared off into space a while, but I sensed he was still sizing me up. I wondered maybe if I puked again he might let me go home, but quickly discounted that notion. I knew I was in for some real trouble.
Carlos spoke. "When's the last time you filled out a job application?"
My blood froze, but I tried to sound calm, "That would be the day before I applied for disability on the grounds of insanity."
"Insanity," Carlos mused. "So... due to the insanity of the entire human race, you were unable to get hired to work for any of them. Right?"
"I couldn't have said it any better myself."
Carlos nodded. "I certainly commiserate."
I asked him if he was gonna teach me how to disintegrate yuppies now, or make money grow in an empty wallet, and he snorted.
"I'll teach you how to disintegrate yuppies when you're ready for it," he said. "But growing money is not possible for someone like you, in any of the infinitude of parallel universes. You need me, bub."
He stood up and told me to wait for him. He ran into the restaurant like the place was on fire, straight into the kitchen at the far end. I hoped if he was gonna make me get a job, he'd at least be the one to do all the talking. I couldn't stand to ask for jobs, especially at my age, because my job record wasn't worth poking a stick at. I imagined going to my new dishwashing job in the morning, with a hangover, and all the young folks working there would instantly start making fun of me and asking me what I had done with my life.
He came back with an apron and told me to put it on.
My heart sank. I told him I could only work for pay under the table, or else I'd lose my disability check.
"What pay?" he said.
I think my mouth fell open. I tossed the apron on the floor. He stooped down quick and picked it up. Put it back in my hand. "You don't want me to move out do you?"
"Really? How will you live without good ole Carlos teaching you how to get unworlded?"
His words rang true. Since he'd moved in with me, my boring, routine life had become a thing of the past. I was experiencing unworldings of all kinds, even when I was awake. It was exciting and scary. I never knew what was going to happen next.
But... a job? With no pay?
I started to ask, "Is there any other way...?" and he just said, "No."
I put the apron on and asked him who I should report to.
"Just go in the back and start washing dishes. No one's expecting you."
My mouth was definitely hanging open by now.
"But... how... how... ?" I just stared at him. "Am I supposed to go ask for a job or what?"
"Hell no, amigo, just get your butt in there and see how long before anyone notices you."
"What happens when they do?"
"That's your problem."
I stumbled toward the restaurant, suddenly glad that I was ripped to the tits.
As I stepped onto the funky carpet, I looked over my shoulder. Carlos was smiling in a genuinely friendly way, urging me forward with a shooing gesture of the hand. I wondered if he would bail me out of jail when they caught me washing dishes without permission.
As I strode through the smelly, darkish restaurant toward the double doors that led to the brightly-lit kitchen beyond, I heard Carlos' voice talking to me in my head: "Just let the wine make you brave."