Thomas Wictor

Good old-timey nightmare

Good old-timey nightmare

Haven’t had a nightmare like this in a long time.

Though back in college, I was my present age. I shared my dorm room with Bill Carroll of KFI AM 640, Los Angeles. The room was long and narrow, like a train car, with bunk beds.

Everyone else in the dorm was ecstatic at the news that the jazz bassist Jaco Pastorius was going to stay with us for a while. I was extremely upset at hearing this because I knew he was dead and had been crazy for the last few years of his life, picking fights and exhibiting horrific behavior in public. Nobody cared about his pain. They just wanted to bask in his fame.

The dorm room was now a motor home traveling down a freeway. We were on a road trip to some haven of drinking and complete abandon. One of my dorm mates brought in Pastorius, and to my great sadness I saw that he was indeed completely insane. He looked like a cross between Jeff Goldblum and Richard Ramirez, and he wouldn’t stop talking. He sat on a little built-in couch on the side of the mobile home, put his feet up on a coffee table, and jabbered endlessly. Nothing he said made sense.

At some point he brought out his legendary “Bass of Doom,” which he’d had in a leather gig bag. My dorm mates were utterly enthralled. I lay on the top bunk, looking down at the scene, while Pastorius leered and babbled.

“So you know, like, what this dude once tried to get from me was, like, some sorta hamstrung fish carcass or something, back when I didn’t have no way to pay, man!” he said.

He laughed, his mouth extra-wide, the way Michael Jackson’s was at his last press conference. Everyone in the room was oblivious to how ill Pastorius was. It was incredibly painful because he’d been one of my heroes, and now he was like a homeless mental patient. I was the only person aware of what he’d become.

As I knew would happen, Pastorius finally noticed that I wasn’t joining in the swoon-fest over him.

“Dude, why’re you such a downer?” he asked with his Michael Jackson smile. “You’re like some big vulture hanging over my head. What’s your problem?”

His jollity was chilling. I knew it was 1985 and that his death was still two years in the future, and I also knew it was 2013, I was fifty-one, and I shouldn’t have been back in college, especially with Bill Carroll as my roommate. The whole situation was so deranged that I had no idea how to react.

Pastorius lurched up and came over to my bunk.

“I’m gettin’ tired of you just starin’ at me like you think you’re better than me,” he said. He produced a dagger from behind him and jumped at me, slashing wildly. The crowd shouted, “No! No! No!

At his second or third attempt, I grabbed his wrist with one hand and yanked the dagger from his grip with the other. He flew up toward me again, his head almost touching the ceiling, and I stabbed him in the side, sickened that he’d forced me to do it. When he came back down, he collapsed in a heap on the floor, his eyes closed.

“He had a gun!” someone said, “He shot you!”

My vision became a grainy, slow-motion instant replay that showed Pastorius pulling a small automatic pistol from his pocket. The gun was highlighted in a red circle; he fired at me as he jumped. When the replay ended, I lifted my shirt and discovered a bullet hole in my chest. It didn’t hurt or bleed.

My dorm mates dragged Pastorius into a narrow closet that ran the length of the mobile home, which was now a stationary college dorm room again. The closet had a sliding, Japanese-style shoji door. Bill Carroll covered the corpse with a down comforter up to the neck as blood ran from the gaping mouth. Then everybody sat on the floor as if waiting. In a few minutes, Pastorius blinked and revived. All my dorm mates laughed and congratulated him.

“That was incredible!” someone said. “The way you stabbed and shot him! Holy shit!”

I lifted my shirt to examine my front again and found multiple knife wounds. Like the bullet hole, they didn’t hurt or bleed. I couldn’t understand why everyone thought it was so wonderful that this crazy, violent former hero of mine had tried to murder me for no reason. It made me so sad that I wanted to die. I didn’t have a friend in the world.

Pastorius sat up. “Yeah, man,” he said. “I know how to waste people when I gotta. Like now!

He aimed his little gun—a .25 automatic—at me. I hid behind one of my dorm mates sitting on the floor, and Pastorius dropped his arm. When I raised my head, he aimed at me again.

“I don’t think you should be doing that,” someone said. “You might shoot the wrong guy.”

Pastorius laughed. “Yeah, that’s true. I gotta make sure I blow the right guy’s fuckin’ brains out.”

He threw off the comforter, got up, and came toward me. I was overcome with terror. The first bullet and the stabbings hadn’t killed me, but I knew that now I’d die. I jumped to my feet and ran out of the dorm room into a long corridor like in a movie hotel. I seemed to run forever. Every time I looked back over my shoulder, Pastorius was always there, ambling along, his eyes filmed over with a layer of semi-translucent white. He talked nonstop.

“You’re not gonna make no donkey outta me, man, ’cause there ain’t no way dumb-ass yokel bastards like you get one up on people who got their shit together, man, and I shouldn’t even have to say crap like that in this day and age, but sometimes I guess we gotta just pound it into your thick skull ’cause you don’t listen, no matter how many times you fuck up and we have to show you, right, you idiot son-of-a-bitchin’ loser who don’t matter even the slightest when we—”

Finally I threw open the door to the outside. There were millions of places to hide, so I’d be safe.

In front of me was a giant apartment complex, each dwelling with its own balcony. I shot upward, bounding effortlessly like a mountain goat off the balconies. When I got to the top, I crouched down behind the balcony wall and carefully peeked over the edge; Pastorius was at the foot of the building, staring right at me. He smiled and rocketed up the balconies, his arms and legs spinning like propellers. He’d reach me in seconds. I ran inside the apartment, out into a hallway, and down flight after flight of stairs. I could hear Pastorius a few steps behind me, talking and laughing.

On the street again, I came across an abandoned, half-demolished building with an opening that led to the crawlspace beneath it. I blindly threw myself into the black square, scrabbled up over a pile of soft dirt, and hid behind empty paint cans, corrugated aluminum sheets, and rusted machinery. Pastorius fell into the crawlspace through a window on the other side of the building and looked around.

The crawlspace was now a full basement, the ceiling seven or eight feet high. Pastorius didn’t seem to see me. I held my breath as he unzipped his pants to urinate on the wall.

When he was finished, he snapped his head around to face me and shouted, “Do you think I’m an idiot? You can’t hide from me, you stupid asshole!” He wore a large knapsack and canteens and carried an alpenstock.

I clawed my way out of the debris and emerged into the sunshine, trying to lose myself in the masses of pedestrians, but I understood that Pastorius would chase me for decades. No matter where I went, he’d be right behind me, trying to murder me.

Then I was at a reunion commemorating my survival. Pastorius had died on September 21, 1987, after his fight with a nightclub bouncer, but he’d still pursued me for most of my life. The attendees were young Japanese men and women and Ed O’Neill. I was very confused, not knowing what year it was or why people who’d had nothing to do with my ordeal were commemorating it. My mother was also present; she sat in an electric wheelchair that resembled a bobsled.

“You know, you were shot twice,” a girl said.

For the third time I lifted my shirt and saw a bloodless, painless bullet hole next to the first hole and the stab wounds. I had no memory of the second shot. All the perforations gaped, showing blackness inside me.

“Tell us how it happened, Tom,” somebody said.

A tall, fat Japanese boy stood on my right. “Well,” I said, “just imagine what it’d be like if someone did this to you.”

I swung my fist at him, and he raised his arm to block the blow.

“See?” I said. “That’s all I did, but it made him chase me for the rest of my life.”

It was a complete lie. Pastorius had tried to murder me because I was a loser. I looked over at Ed O’Neill, who was disgusted. He’d seen through my dishonesty. That made me hate him.

I pointed at O’Neill. “One last thing. Avoid famous people. They’re nothing but trouble!” I said as maliciously as I could.

Everyone laughed while O’Neill blushed and hung his head. As I was about to get into the bobsled-wheelchair with my mother, the entire room said in unison, “Tom, you need to answer one question.”

“What?” I asked.

They all chanted something unintelligible: “Bohaha loha foha sunny sholaha flohala sunny somaha dolaha gohaha sunny?”

The ceremony was a travesty. Since I had no idea who these people were or what they wanted, I silently got into the two-seat bobsled in front of my mother and took her to the dorm room where Pastorius had attacked me so many years ago. It was now an apartment decorated in a psychedelic motif. Somehow I got the bobsled through the narrow doorway. As I was about to explain everything that’d happened since 1985, I realized that Mom didn’t care, so I just backed the bobsled out of the room and took us outside.

We drove up onto a grass-covered parkway beside a busy street. My belly was suddenly enormous, and my arms were sticks with clenched hands: I was a quadriplegic. Though I was unsurprised and indifferent, I was also grief stricken because when Pastorius died, he’d transferred his incredible skill on the bass to me. I could’ve played like this if I were able-bodied, but that expertise was forever inaccessible.

Nobody cared that Pastorius had come to such a terrible end or that his art was trapped inside someone who couldn’t pass it along. There was nothing I could do to make the world aware of the beauty and tragedy that I alone knew.

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