AFTER THE robbery the band decided to go on hiatus for awhile, not so much because their instruments were stolen but because the experience of playing with “Cornell” had shaken the band, forced them to confront in some way their innate lack of musical ability. Fooz in particular was pensive about the whole thing. “I need to clear my head,” he told me. “I’m going into seclusion at The Studio.”
“The Studio” was a room in an old 1930s garment factory that had been retooled as “artist’s lofts” and rented out at outrageous prices. In his younger years Fooz would live there when his mother kicked him out of the house, something that happened regularly the older he got and as Sharon Pinkley’s alcoholism worsened. Now he owned a home in Calabasas and The Studio was where he went when he wanted a place to be undisturbed. He claimed it was his creative refuge but I’d never seen any songwriting going on there. Mainly he lounged around, ate junk food, played on the computer, and engaged in languid acts of onanism.
I got back into my usual work routine, and a few weeks passed before I realized I hadn’t heard from Fooz. You have to understand how unusual that was; since we were kids he’d call me multiple times a day, eager to share fragments of music that had come to him at 3 AM, reports on the texture of his bowel movements, or general complaints about “The Man.” He was compelled to communicate every thought or feeling that seemed important, and perhaps it was this need to communicate that led him to becoming a performance artist—who knows?
Anyway. I got in the Fit and drove downtown, parked, and took the elevator up to the fifth floor. Fooz’s door was all the way at the end of the dark hallway.
I banged on the door. No response.
“ FOOZ, ARE YOU IN THERE?”
I thought maybe I’d break down the door like they do in the movies, gave it a tentative kick, and hurt my toe.
I turned and was about to leave when the door opened to reveal Fooz, unshaven and red-eyed in his baggy tighty-whitey underwear and torn t-shirt. I looked him up and down.
“Good Lord,” I said. “How long has it been since you’ve seen the light of day?”
“It’s been a few weeks. Come on in.”
“Look at this fucking place…”
Fooz had hung an old blanket over the room’s sole window to block out the sun. Dirty clothes were strewn about. The ceiling fan’s slowly rotating blades distributed the smell of rotten food, sweaty socks, and stale semen. I was about to comment on the smell when I saw that Fooz had already forgotten I was there. He tapped at the computer keyboard in that familiar state of near-catatonia that means he’s disappeared into virtual reality.
“Hold on! I’m writing a response to someone right now.”
“That’s what you’ve been doing this whole time? Jerking around on the computer?”
“Not jerking around, Jack. I started my own website.”
“You’ve already got a website. FoozPinkleyExperienceFucksHard.com.”
“I’m not talking about that. This is a message board.”
“A message board, bro. Specifically, a message board for people who are fans of Cannonball Run II, punk rock, and porno—mainly Cannonball Run II. It’s called ‘Fooz’s Fan Forum’, or ‘FFF’ if you will.”
“I thought message boards went out about 10 years ago. People these days use Twi—”
He swung around in his beat-up office chair and shot me the look of death.
“Don’t say it, Jack! Don’t say that word here. Not now, not ever. If there’s one thing you know about me it’s that I’m OLD SCHOOL. I don’t twat, tweet, or twit. I don’t take pictures of my food and shit like that. I’m not on Fagbook with all the old sea hags I went to high school with, okay? I was on message boards way back in 1997, my friend, and know ye this: They are still a valid and important form of communication.”
“If you say so. What’s the URL of the site?”
“It’s www.cannonballrun2.com. That name wasn’t taken, can you believe that? Warner Brothers really screwed the pooch on that one. Multi-billion company won’t spend 15 bucks to reserve a domain name for one of their evergreen properties, HA.”
I took a look at the site. At the top of the screen was a picture of Dom DeLuise and Burt Reynolds. In the corner of the screen was fine print that read:
No copyright is claimed on cannonballrun2.com and to the extent that material may appear to be infringed, I assert that such alleged infringement is permissible under fair use principles in U.S. copyright laws. If you believe material has been used in an unauthorized manner, please contact the poster, have a nice fucking day.
“Legal disclaimer, huh?”
“I’d love WB try to come at me. Rosenblum, Smith, & Felcher LLP has been representing Eichelbaum for 40 years, you think I haven’t learned a thing or two about these asshole studios and how to handle them?”
“If you say so. And isn’t it just Smith & Felcher now?”
“It’ll be Smith, Felcher & Pinkley before the end of the year, pal.”
“You’ve been saying that for years. Don’t you need to go to law school to become a lawyer?”
“It’s all politics, man. All you gotta do is take a few classes, kiss the right asses, pass the bar, no sweat.”
“I don’t think it’s that easy, Fooz.”
“Listen, you stick to writing scripts about zit-faced teenaged vampires, and leave the law to me. All right?”
“All right, all right.”
“Anyways, this message board is the most amazing thing ever. It’s this little community of people who love what is probably the most underrated and culturally impactful movie of all time, and who also share a love of late 70s punk rock and PSP.”
“Play Station Portable?”
“No. Pre-shaving Porno.”
Fooz fell back into his online reverie, jaw hanging slack as he stared at the screen. After a few minutes he sat bolt upright and slurped up the saliva that had pooled in the bottom of his mouth.
“Sorry, Jack. I get absorbed in this shit. I log on at 9 AM, next thing you know it’s midnight. Down the rabbit hole, bro.”
“How many members do you have on your message board?”
He shot me a look and I knew I’d said the wrong thing.
“Four,” he said. “It’s mostly me starting threads. And only one of the four people actually contributes. The others just ‘lurk.’ ”
“So what the hell are you doing here all night and day if you’ve only got four people on your message board?”
Fooz sprung out of his seat and got me in a headlock and then we were on the floor, my nose uncomfortably close to a sock that I was pretty sure had been used not so long ago as a spody-wipe.
“Don’t mess with me, Jack. I’m in no mood for that kinda shit…”
“Okay okay,” I managed to say, trying my damnedest to pull my face away from the sock.
Fooz relinquished his grip and stood up, panting. I’d got a good whiff of his body odor when I was in the headlock and it had been nothing short of horrifying. His carefully-ripped DICTATORS tanktop did little to air out armpits in which billions of small bacteria thrived and multiplied and died. I could feel his pit-sweat drying on my left cheek.
“You know what, Fooz? I don’t need this. Let me know when you raise.” I turned to go.
“Jack, wait,” he said. “I’m sorry about the headlock. I really am. But before you go I need you do me a favor. Just a little favor, bro? Please?”
I sighed. Here came the pitch.
“Okay. What do you need me to do?”
He shot me that big, fake, charming grin and slapped his hands together enthusiastically.
“I need you to set up some sock puppets for me. I tried it myself but it was obvious what was going on. You’re a writer; you’d be better at that than I am.”
“Sock puppet. A fake internet persona, fake account, whatever. Make six or seven of them and start some dialogue. These message boards are like a hard-starting fire; I need you to be the kindling.”
“Oh come on, Fooz…”
“Come on WHAT? Are you bro or are you not bro?”
“Fooz, I’m so fried by the end of the day I can barely muster up the brainpower to watch TV and pour beer down my throat. The last thing I want to do is more writing.”
“Ohhhhh,” he said. “I see how it is. You need an incentive, huh?”
“Incentive my ass. Pay me.”
“Against my religion. But I’ll tell you what. Remember that chick Janelle? That stripper who was hanging around backstage at the Roxy?”
“Uh…yeah.” She was one of the groupies that hung around Fooz’s band. At a show the week before she’d licked the side of Moody Mick’s face and then pulled down her underwear to show us her parts. She was insane. She was a dominatrix. She was into nipple clamps and strap-ons.
She was hot as hell.
I guess this might be a good time to reveal that I’ve got a couple of sexual predilections that are a bit outside of the mainstream. In other parts of the country they’d be called perverted. Here, in Los Angeles, in the entertainment industry? They barely qualify as offbeat.
So when he said Janelle, it was an instant four-alarm fire in my pants.
“She owes me a favor, Jack. A big favor. I won’t tell you why. But all I gotta do is give the say-so and she’ll come over stat and give you the goods. I know you’re into all that weird shit.”
Fooz watched my face contort with lust and disbelief. Then he said with a sly, insinuating grin:
“You and Amber are broken up again, huh Jack? For a month or two? A long time to go without letting your freak flag fly, Jack.”
“Yeah…you’re right about that.”
“Okay, so set up some bogus accounts and just start posting stuff, I don’t care what, just give me daily content. Meet these conditions I’ve set forward and Janelle will show up at your apartment Saturday two weeks from today.”
The incentive worked. He had me.
I ARRIVED home and plopped down in front of the TV and put in the DVD of Cannonball Run II Fooz had thoughtfully provided for me. I lasted 20 minutes. Finally I turned it off, picked up my cel phone, and called Fooz.
“This movie is unwatchable. How the hell am I supposed to drum up enthusiasm for something I can’t even watch?”
Silence on the other end.
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say what you just said about CRII. Regardless, just start posting about anything. It doesn’t even have to be about the movie. There’s a subforum for ‘General Discussion.’ Fake it if you have to.”
“Okay, okay…I just don’t want to watch the rest of this movie.”
Dead air on the line. Then Fooz said:
“You got an all star cast of characters in this film. Do you realize this was the last time the Rat Pack ever made a movie together? And tell me Dom Deluise isn’t the funniest dude you’ve ever seen in your life.”
“You’re making me question our friendship right now, Jack. But I’ll let it go for the time being. Just start posting on the message board, you shithead.”
He hung up. I don’t know how you slam a cel phone down when you hang up, but he managed to do it.
Then it rang again. I answered.
“Burt Reynolds and Dom Deluise, Shirley MacLaine and Merilu Henner, Dean Martin and Jackmy Davis Jr.”
“I get it Fooz, but—”
“Shut the fuck up, Jack.Richard Kiel. Susan Anton. Catherine Bach.”
“Okay you made your point—”
“TONY DANZA. DEAN MARTIN. SAMMY DAVIS JR. JACKIE CHAN!!! JACKIE FUCKING CHAN!!!!”
With that he slammed the cel phone down again.
I walked over to the computer, found the website, sighed, and clicked on the button that said “Register Now.”
I HAD SIX “sock puppets” set up by the end of the day, all posting about different things. I made a few of their names references to the movie that I got off Wikipedia. For instance, one of my “members” was named MANIS_RULES after the orangutan named “Manis” that seemed to figure big somewhere in the movie. To make up for my lack of knowledge about the movie I also started threads about general topics like “Do you like pizza? What kind?” and “Name your favorite TV shows.”
It was all pretty innocuous at first. Then, after I’d been on there a few hours, I saw a new thread in the “EVERYTHING CBRII” forum. It was entitled:
“Cannonball Run II sucks…Midnight Madness is a better flick, and here’s why.”
The guy posting it called himself “Captain_Chaos_36” and I have to say he made some really salient points, carefully comparing both movies and taking some shots at Cannonball Run II that were hard-hitting, spot-on, and vicious. The guy was really quite entertaining. Then Fooz, omnipresent and posting from his lair of masturbation, fired back rebuttals to the guy’s points. He was shot down time and again by the wit and logic of Captain Chaos. The last straw was a laughing emoji in response to one of Fooz’s posts—that sole emoji, and nothing else.
My phone rang.
“Hey man, you’re doing a good job, but lay back a little bit! You’re handing my ass to me here, bro! You’re making me look like a flaming asshole! I’m the site admin, you can’t challenge my legitimacy like this!”
“It’s not me, Fooz.”
“Midnight Madness was a piece of SHIT, man, a total rip-off for teenybopper jerkoffs! Let me tell you—”
“Did you hear me? I’m not Captain_Chaos_36, man!”
“You mean the guy is a real member?”
“I guess so.”
“Hey, it’s working! You’re drawing traffic to the site!”
“Great… can I quit now?”
“No way, man! 2 weeks, I told you! Just a little longer, until we get more members.”
“And keep your eye on this Captain_Chaos_36 character.”
SO LIFE went on. I worked at Eichelbaums writing bad TV shows during the day and by night I posted with fake accounts on Fooz’s message board. At first it was only ten or fifteen minutes a night, but as time went on I found, to my surprise, that I was becoming addicted. Soon I was spending hours a night on the board, posting my opinions on everything from glass blowing to Norwegian literature. It got so bad I even watched Cannonball Run II just to fit in with the growing number of people who had found a home on Fooz’s board. The movie was terrible and I barely got though it, but that’s not what I wrote. Instead, I concocted a detailed critique of the film, comparing it favorably to the works of Antonioni.
Fooz, meanwhile, was embroiled in a never-ending war with Captain_Chaos_36, who took every opportunity to challenge his authority. I watched with amusement at first, but then had my own run-in with him. It was a thread where we were all exchanging pasta recipes. I talked about the fact that I would never eat pasta that wasn’t freshly made and that anyone who used canned Parmesan was a plebeian.
Captain_Chaos_36 responded to my missive with one word: “Faggit.”
I saw red. All the humiliations I’d ever felt as a child, all the rejections by women, all the snubs by my peers in the entertainment world came flooding back. I went on the attack, telling Captain_Chaos_36 what a horrible person he was, how he was ruining the board for everyone with his bad attitude.
His response: “LOL lightweight.”
I slammed my fist into the computer desk and picked up the cel phone. Fooz picked up.
“I’ve had enough of this Captain Chaos, Fooz.”
“I told you,” he said. “The guy is a huge asshole.”
“I hate him. I want to kill him!”
“I want to kill him too, Jack. But maybe instead of killing him, we can just rough him up a little bit.”
“I’m all for that, but how can we possibly find him? Something tells me ‘Captain_Chaos_36’ is not his real name.”
“Don’t be such a noob. When you’re the guy who runs the site, that’s called an administrator. That’s what I am. Do you know what an administrator can do?”
“Even better. I can see the IP address of everyone who posts on the site. I know where they’re posting from. According to my records, our buddy Captain_Chaos_36 lives somewhere in the West Los Angeles area within a 15 mile radius of Beverly Hills.”
“Well that narrows it down, doesn’t it? There are probably 2 million people in that area, Fooz!”
“Hmmm. Maybe you’re right. Well, then I don’t know how to find the asshole.Unless…”
Silence on the line as Fooz cogitated. I knew he would come up with the perfect solution—our buddy Captain_Chaos_36 had no idea how deep into it he was wading.
“I’ve got it, Jack. You have to pretend to be a chick.”
“You’ve gotta make a new sock puppet. A chick. You gotta be flirty. Start flirting with Captain Chaos. Assuming he’s hetero, he’ll eventually come on to you. You send him some nudes and suggest the two of you meet somewhere, then we BEAT HIS ASS.”
“Hey, Fooz. You may not believe this, but guess what? I’m packing sausage and meatballs. Your hands are down the wrong pants, pardner.”
“Hey smartass. Just get him to the point where he’s asking for nudes and then we’ll have a chick ready to send them along. We can have her hold a newspaper or something to prove to him she’s real.”
“Oh yeah? And who would that be?”
“Janelle. And I’ll tell her to bring her strap-on, you sick freak.”
He hung up. I sat there with my mouth hanging open, stunned.
And then I fairly leapt towards the keyboard.
THE SOCK puppet I created was named “MariluHenner1000.” My avatar was a pair of boulder-sized breasts. Right away I started posting to the message board, flirting away, writing silly non-sequiturs sprinkled with flirty emojis, throwing in hints here and there that I was a “fun girl” who liked to “party.”
The response was almost instantaneous from the other users on the board. I went out to get dinner at Chipotle and when I came back I saw I had over twenty private messages in my inbox. What I saw hit me with a wave of nausea. Almost all of them had sent pictures of their penises with messages like “Hey U want 2 fuck?”
“Fooz, you bastard,” I muttered under my breath.
Then, at the bottom, was a message from Captain_Chaos_36. I pumped a clenched fist of victory and read the message. It was so polite, so incongruous with the person who’d called me “faggit,” that at first I was taken aback. The message said:
Hi, my name is Leon. I couldn’t help but be impressed by your depth of knowledge in regards to CRII. Intelligence is a rare commodity in a woman, and I must admit I’m intrigued. Care to chat sometime?
I called Fooz.
“He’s on the hook,” I said. “Asshole wants to ‘chat.’”
“Great,” said Fooz. “I see that he’s online now. Get him revved up. Janelle will be there in 30 minutes.”
He hung up. I turned back to the keyboard and went back and forth with Leon.
Hi Leon! OMG I have to say that it was good to hear from you. I was really happy to find a community full of people who love CBRII as much as I do! So what’s going on? What R U up 2? I am sitting here in my pajamas feeling totally bored.
I felt this twinge as I typed. The twinge of creepiness. It was the same twinge I’d felt at 14 when I masturbated into my aunt’s panties, the first time I called up a hooker, or when I’d stood in line for an autograph from Christy Canyon at the Porn SeXXXpo in Las Vegas.
But, just like I’d done all those other times, I let the feeling pass, and plowed ahead.
The doorbell rang. I answered the door. It was Janelle. Sweet Jesus. She had the briefcase with her. That was where she kept what she called “The Punisher.”
She saw me eyeing the briefcase.
“Fooz says you don’t get the treatment until we set up a date with this guy on the internet. So reel him in and let’s get this going. I have somewhere to be at nine.”
She slammed the door shut, threw the briefcase on the kitchen counter, walked over to the little desk where I keep my computer, and said “START TYPING, MAGGOT.”
I did as I was told.
Hi Leon, Do you want to meet up sometime this evening? I know you mentioned you’re in L.A. OMG so am I.
As I waited for his response I heard the briefcase open behind me. An electric thrill shot through my guts. As I started to turn my head I felt something hard jab into my back.
“STAY ON TASK, YOU WORM,” said Janelle. She leaned forward and dug The Punisher into my spine. I was light-headed with ecstasy.
Leon’s response appeared. It read:
How do I know you are who you say you are? How do I even know you’re a woman?
“This is it,” I said. “Time to reel in the catfish.” I pulled a piece of paper from my printer and a magic marker and wrote HI LEON!!! Then, underneath that, I wrote the date and time.
“Hold this up,” I said to Janelle, and turned around to hand it to her.
She was naked, completely naked but for the wicked gleam in her eye and The Punisher strapped around her waist. She stood at about 6’ 3” in her stilletos. Her breasts were rock-hard grapefruits with a 10-inch chest valley between them.
I was throbbing.
I handed her the paper. She held it up and stuck out her tongue coquettishely. I took the pic (being careful to shoot from the waist up—The Punisher might not be Leon’s bag), plugged the phone into my computer, and sent it off within 30 seconds.
His response was almost instantaneous:
So you really are who you say you are. A goddess. Wonderful. You want to come to my place for a drink? The address is….
OMG yes I will be there at eight. See you soon sweetie XXXOOOXXOXOXOX
I hit “send” and jumped out of my chair and lunged for Janelle. She stopped me cold with a slap to my face and pointed to the couch.
I walked over to the couch, buried my face in the cushions, and thrust my ass into the air.
JANELLE DROVE us to the address with Fooz in the passenger seat and me in the rear. Speaking of rear, I could barely sit down. Every time the car went over a pothole or bump on the road I winced with pain—and pleasure.
We pulled up to the location. “What an amazing place,” said Janelle.
Fooz looked around with a half-bewildered sneer. “How the hell did a loser like Captain Chaos get a swank joint like this?”
It was, indeed, a swank joint. The house was on a hillside overlooking Hollywood and, in the distance, downtown Los Angeles. It was an immense modernist monstrosity of a mansion nestled in a variegated mishmash of exotic foliage, like a jungle on some faraway planet. A long driveway led up the hill to the foot of the house. At the foot of the driveway was a wide steel gate with an intercom.
“He’s not Captain_Chaos_36,” I said. “He’s Leon.”
“Leon. Leon. Why does that name sound so FUCKING familiar?”
Fooz punched his leg in his usual irascible way. He looked agitated.
“So do I actually gotta fuck this guy?” said Janelle. “I didn’t get a chance to clean off The Punisher.”
Fooz smirked. “No, you don’t gotta fuck him. Just get in there, get his guard down, and let us in. Then I am gonna give him the beating he so RICHLY deserves.”
Janelle yawned. “Whatever. You got the rest of the cash on you? I’m not gonna drive around town looking for an ATM like last time.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I got the money, you twat,” said Fooz. “Now make with the act.”
For a self-proclaimed feminist, Fooz sure liked to bandy about words like “twat,” but if Janelle was bothered by that fact she sure didn’t show it. She took a drag of her cigarette, flung it out the car window, and hit the TALK button on the intercom.
A man’s voice:
“Yeah? Who is it.”
“Hi Leon! It’s me, MariluHenner1000. Can you let me in?”
“Oh hi. You know, I really hate that user name of yours. What’s your real name?”
“Ahhh. Much better. I’m going to open the gate now, Janelle. Go ahead and drive up.”
A mechanism in the gate buzzed and clicked and the gate rolled slowly open. We drove slowly up the gravel driveway toward Leon’s place.
“Okay, Jack, lay low so he doesn’t see us,” said Fooz.
We ducked down. The car went up and up and then finally stopped. Janelle cut the engine.
“Hey! Oh, HEY!” Janelle said. Like she recognized the guy.
The car door opened and closed. I could hear a man’s voice:
“I didn’t think you’d make it, Janelle. Well! You look amazing, don’t you?”
“I know that fucking voice,” muttered Fooz from the front seat.
“I said I know that fucking voice. And I know where I heard that name before. Leon. I don’t believe this shit.”
Fooz sat up, and I did too. At first I didn’t understand what I was seeing: Janelle fingering her hair like a schoolgirl while she talked to a scrawny old man in a blazer with a drink in his hand. The guy was odd looking, with a chin too big for his face and bewildered caterpillar eyebrows. He looked familiar, though… a wispy, bedraggled souvenir of another time, another era.
And then I realized who he was.
“Burt Leon Reynolds,” said Fooz. “Captain Chaos, MY ASS.”
Fooz got out of the car and strolled casually over to where Janelle and Burt were standing. Burt saw him coming and made a face that showed mild surprise.
“Who is THIS faggit?” he said.
“Fooz, wait!” said Janelle. “Don’t do this… don’t you know who this is?”
“I know who it is,” said Fooz.
He drew back his fist and took a swing…
What I saw next I’ll never forget.
I saw an old man who looked like he was ready for the eternal dirt nap feint back with all the dexterity of a 13-year-old. I saw Fooz’s fist whiffing in a wide arc through the empty space where Burt’s wizened mug had been a millisecond before. I saw Burt take Fooz down with a judo move so deft it froze the blood in my veins. I saw Burt Reynolds, yes, BURT REYNOLDS jab the tip of his mahogany walking stick right into Fooz Pinkley’s guts.
“You little shits,” said Burt. “You PUNKS.”
He glared at me and at first it was with the rheumy, confused eyes of an elderly man near the end— and Burt Reynolds, let’s be fair, has lived the lives of 20 men. But in the next moment all of that cleared away and I found myself transfixed by the hard stare of the guy from Sharky’s Machine.
“Mr. Reynolds,” I began. “I think there’s been a misunderstanding here…”
“Misunderstanding, huh? You filthy punk.”
I don’t remember much of what happened next—just the black, brown, and red blur of being on the wrong side of an ass-kicking. I can see in the midst of that blur Fooz Pinkley writhing on the ground, Burt’s steel-toed cowboy boots kicking his ribs into corn meal. I can see the round O of Janelle’s mouth on her moonlit face, the animal expression of lust.
I knew right then that Burt would take her that night…just another cocksman’s conquest in a lifetime full of them. Another notch on the mahogany walking stick. He was one little blue pill away from getting back in the saddle.
The walking stick swung out of nowhere, caught me behind my right ear, hit me again and again…
IT TOOK some effort to open my eyes, so gummed were they with dried molasses blood. My limbs felt like chunks of wood, and every joint hurt. On top of that, my asshole was sore from Janelle’s pounding. That night of bliss seemed an eternity ago.
My vision cleared. It was daytime and I was in the back seat of Fooz’s car. The interior of the car looked like the aftermath of a mafia murder. Fooz hardly looked like himself. His eyes stared out painfully from black swollen mounds of battered flesh. I saw bits of teeth on his lips. His Dictators t-shirt was ripped in two and hung in tatters over his chubby torso.
I looked around. We were parked on Hollywood Boulevard.
Fooz looked at me and grinned with a mouth full of broken teeth. Coagulated blood was caked around his lips like christmas fudge; it cracked as he grinned.
“We gotta get home, Jack,” he said. “I can’t wait to tell everyone on the message board about what happened.”