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Thomas Wictor

A friend I want to meet

A friend I want to meet

I’ve known Mark for about twelve years now. An Aussie and a bassist, he sent me a complimentary note about In Cold Sweat, I responded, and we gradually got to be pals despite our legions of differences.


He’s a friend I want to meet. I’m not sure if we ever will. I can’t travel, and Mark is busy. He’s got an astonishingly symmetrical daughter to raise, translations to write, and a wife to keep on his good side. Even if we never share the same physical space, he’ll still be among my oldest friends. And he is really, really old. He’s eighty-seven.

No, he’s a spry (redacted). I was just getting back at him for his Aussie humor. Nobody can humorously insult you like an Australian. They’re easily the funniest English speakers. On an Aussie blog, a guy bought a porcupine for a pet, and he asked his readers to suggest names.

The very first answer was, “Well, you can’t call him United Nations, because all their pricks are on the inside.”

Think of the resources needed to come up with a comment like that. And those resources are right there, ready to be tapped into instantly. This video of Australian air-traffic controllers watching a Russian cargo plane take off is one of my favorites. As a failed military historian, I’ve read tons about Australian troops in both world wars, Korea, Vietnam, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They maintain their cricket-bat-to-the-skull sense of humor in the most dire of circumstances.

Mark’s been through a lot, and he’s seen me through a lot. Maybe someday they’ll perfect either stem-cell therapy or transporters. The flight from L.A. to Sydney is about fifteen hours. I’d have to be frozen solid and put in the baggage hold. Or I’d have to buy a second seat to hold the fifty-five gallon drum I’d need as my airsickness bag.

Today I filmed my book trailer, and it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life,” to quote the Duke of Wellington about the Battle of Waterloo. It was almost my Waterloo. Tim and I filmed it at Dad’s desk. The room spun and I was sweating droplets the size of grapes. We finished it without me spraying Tim like a fire hose. If I flew to Australia, the first thing they’d have to do when I deplaned would be to clean me with fire hoses and then inject me with about three gallons of Valium.

My just-missed Waterloo of chundering at Mom’s house was due to all the bending over to pick up and plug in and unplug. Dad was in love with stunningly harsh overhead lights. When we had dinner together, we all looked like this and ended up with flaming-red eyes that felt bruised, as though they’d been kicked. In the first take of the book trailer, my head appeared to be made of chrome. Even my hair. We had to spend well over an hour fiddling and bending over until Tim came up with the brilliant idea of setting up an umbrella on the dining-room table to block out the horrible, mummifying, eyeball-kicking lights that Dad favored.

So it may not be in the cards for Mark and me to meet face to face. That’s okay. We talk every night by e-mail, and we exchange photos. He’s proofread my books and offered truly cutting, vicious criticism. No, he just gave me some of those Aussie compliments that are like a fist flattening your beak. I’m too sensitive anyway. Gotta toughen up.

My doctor told me that we’d know in two years if I’d be able to shake off the Meniere’s or if it would be a chronic condition. It’s been two years. And…it’s chronic. That doesn’t mean it won’t someday spontaneously vanish, but it’ll be here for a while, maybe the rest of my life.

If it does vanish, I know where I’ll be taking my first plane ride since 1991.

To Hawaii. Fifteen hours on an airliner, Mark? Fifteen hours? Maybe if you were, uhhhhhhhh…

Tell you what: Let’s meet on the Marshall Islands on August 6, 2033. Claire will be out of school and making millions as a designer-writer-pianist-professor-TV personality, and if I’m not done with the Meniere’s yet, I’ll just say screw it and vomit my way across half of the Pacific. We’ll get together at the Tide Table Restaurant and Lounge on Majuro. It’s got Mexican food and the Smith-Franzen seal of approval.

We can take photos of our meals and post them on Flickr. That’s always fun. On second thought, let’s just stick to our basses. Yours are prettier than mine, mate. And those walls! You need to get a bass that matches them. Meniere’s or Exorcist green, it’s called. Very soothing.