*(originally published in Futro Magazine)
I’m gripping the wheel of my fluorescent green Lamborghini so tight I feel my knuckles going white under these eel-skin driving gloves. I’m yoking all twelve cylinders, whipping the thing across busy lanes of traffic like a misshapen and potentially suicidal tennis ball. It’s early summer. Wimbledon season.
I’m Dr. Samuel Johnson, PhD. Interdimensional playboy and semiotician to the stars. I’ve just received the phone call that every freelance semiotician both fears and craves: Justin Bieber has accidentally read the back of a shampoo bottle and is currently plunging headlong into an existential abyss.
The only part that makes any sense at all is the fact that it makes no sense, which is exactly what I expect from my crew of woefully misguided and intellectually homeless superstars. It’s why I make the big bucks. It’s why I’m sporting this outrageous ponytail. It’s why I’m currently wilding the morning traffic in my egregious Italian sports car instead of hanging upside down in my custom made gravity defying dream machine, frosted goggles over my eyes, pink noise simmering in my Ultrasones, enjoying intense cerebral hallucinations and the kind of superior quality narcotics that only rich people even know about. Probably one of the office girls would be massaging my scrotum with her super long fingernails.
Except now I’m racing across town to explain to a post-adolescent millionaire that the instructions wash, rinse, and repeat don’t mean forever; that they don’t entail the Sisyphean nightmare my simple and literal minded pop-star believes they do. The damage already done to his precious follicles might cost him millions in endorsements, and his endorsements mean the world to me for reasons I can’t or won’t explain.
This is what’s going down: Justin Bieber has stripped off his clothes and jewelry and locked himself in the bathroom with a gallon of shampoo and a pair of butterfly knives. He’s in there washing his hair ad infinitum, threatening to peel and consume anyone who tries to infiltrate his lair.
“You’re going to have to break down the door!” I’m shouting into my wheel-mounted speakerphone, hoping to convince the team of handlers on the other end of the line that if Justin’s fragile state of mind isn’t properly finessed, there’s a serious possibility he’ll become irretrievably lost in his own cerebral mire. Not to mention the severe damage that over-washing can have on hair as precious and beautiful as Justin’s.
I’m not clean yet! I can hear the young entertainer screaming from the bathroom, along with the rhythmic lathering and rinsing of his hair, over and over. Nothing is how I thought it would be!
“How many of you are armed?” I ask, careening across three lanes of Los Angeles traffic with absolutely no respect for human life. “Because this kid is way the fuck out there and I happen to know for a fact that he’s a goddamn demon with the butterfly knives.”
“Everyone in the hotel is armed with fully automatic AR-15’s,” the voice tells me. “Except for the maid, who’s got some kind of off-brand Kalashnikov. It’s not a sexy weapon, but it’s so unsexy that it’s almost kind of sexy, if you know what I mean? She’s here right now, killing time with the guys, doing a striptease to the Ducktales theme song. Shooting a bunch of holes in the ceiling. Which, thank God we’re in the penthouse. She’s quite a woman.”
“Enough about the maid!” I bark into the steering wheel. I haven’t slept for at least five days and my visual field is crawling with an ungodly hallucinogenic collage of all the women I’ve ever wronged. There are a lot of them (I’m currently dodging child support to over three dozen separate women), and they’re pissed. They’re rage-dancing across my Lamborghini’s bullet-proof and incendiary-resistant windshield, obstructing my vision of both the road and the uncertain future that lies before me.
I’ve been on the job too long. Heard too many stories about strip teasing maids and the tantalizing sensual pleasures of their gun-violence. “I’ll be there as soon as I can,” I’m shrieking. “In the meantime print out a high resolution image of Chairman Mao beerbonging on a slip-n-slide and shove it under the bathroom door. That should keep him busy until I can get there.” I assure the inept child wrangler on the other end of the line. “On second thought make it Crocodile Mile, that’ll really cross his wires.”
“It’s no good,” the voice says. “We already tried the Chairman. Stalin and Pinochet too. Homeboy doesn’t recognize historical figures.”
“He doesn’t recognize them physically?” I demand. “Or he doesn’t recognize them as part of his conceptual framework?”
“Fuck!” I howl, slamming eel skin on my ivory and titanium steering wheel. The pain feels good, but it should feel better. “Alright, try this: Pour a gallon of milk under the door, and when you hear him start to slurp it up—and he will—I want you to play the hidden track from the Stone Temple Pilot’s first album at top volume with all the windows open while burning incense and reading aloud from Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. You do know how to read ancient Latin, right?”
“Of course,” the voice assures me. “The only problem is that the maid butt-chugged all of our milk and smoked all of our incense.”
“They’re in cahoots,” I hiss, downshifting and taking the off-ramp onto Wilshire at more than 100 miles per hour, barely swerving around James Franco, who’s panhandling at the stoplight. Franco recently crossed a line and was cut off from my services. No more than a week ago. Already he’s trying to grow a ponytail. Trying to pretend that he’s a real person. When it comes down to it nobody’s safe from sign and symbol related crises, but James’ psyche is especially plagued by the perverse self-belief of the very rich. His gross misinterpretation of several key pieces of information, combined with a corrupt and flawed intuition, has led him to the absurd conclusion that what he does has objective value.
Just one week without me, and James is a broken man, resorting to both literal and metaphysical transience as a way to deal with the yawning emptiness inside. That’s not something I’m going to let happen to Justin. Sure the kid’s rude, needy, vaguely sociopathic, and shockingly unintelligent, but I’ve got a certain affection for him. The kind of affection that some people have for snakes, spiders, and scorpions.
Nothing is how I thought it would be!
Now there’s a brutal flash of light before everything goes dark and then I’m waking up all of a sudden. Something’s happening to me. My Lambo’s wrapped around a tree. I’m way the fuck out on Wilshire and I’m pretty sure at least one of my legs is broken. I must’ve been spacing out, thinking about Justin.
I totaled my Countach.
Pulling myself from the wreckage, I crawl to the side of the road and load up a gravity bong, hoping I’ve got enough time to catch a smooth buzz before the police show up and demand some kind of explanation for my extravagant—and some might say offensive—lifestyle. I don’t have time for explanations, not when I’ve got an aging child-star desperate for my unique brand of assistance.
Honestly I sometimes feel more like a babysitter than a freelance semiotician/interdimensional playboy. Whether I’m ripping a hole in the fabric of the universe to make sure Justin gets to his urban dance class on time, or I’m just in the kitchen preparing a healthy snack: I’ve pretty much got my hands full. It’s a wonder I can even find the time to interpret signs and symbols at a post-graduate level. But I guess that’s why I command the kind of salary that allows for uninsured Lamborghinis and hunting humans. It’s also why I have a combat loaded Desert Eagle chilling in my glove compartment. The fact that my leg is broken and I’m leaking bodily fluids from more than one orifice only makes me more appreciative for my comically oversized firearm. Around here they can smell blood (among other fluids), and if you show any weakness at all you’ll be giving full body rubdowns to Bryan Singer before you can say: Roland Barthes was a chronic masturbator.
A peel of sirens in the distance now, closing fast. I rip a limb off a nearby eucalyptus tree and whack myself in the thigh, knocking my exposed femur exactly back into place with a satisfying click.
Already I’m surrounded by jackals in SUV’s asking if I’m “okay.” Fortunately I’ve got the presence of mind and the experience to see the ruse for what it is, and I immediately open fire with my .50 caliber pistol, utterly decimating a trio of Lincoln Navigators. You’re welcome, I say, coughing up blood. My hand hurts. Goddamn this gun is ridiculous. I can barely hold it in one fist, and I’m a pretty big dude. It looks awesome, though. And I feel awesome. I feel handsome and powerful. Powerful enough to speed-limp to Justin Bieber’s hotel room and save him from an intellectual failure of such magnitude that he might never fully recover.
I’ve covered less than a football field when the first marked vehicles arrive, sirens screaming, flanking me from both sides and setting up a roadblock in the distance haze. Doesn’t even matter though, because I’m hanging ten on a tidal wave of shock, adrenaline, and the finest crack-cocaine available to man. Nothing’s going to stop me. Except possibly a hail of gunfire rained down on me by a squad of LAPD snipers. Which is starting to seem like what might happen.
Which brings me to the paradox. Ever since I was a young boy I’ve always lived by a guiding paradox, and now this is the one: if I sacrifice everything in order to make it to Justin in time to save him, I’ll be shot down like a dog in the street and he’ll lose me and consequently he’ll lose his mind. But if I don’t sacrifice everything, I definitely won’t make it to him, and he’ll definitely lose his mind. It’s the Justin Paradox. Fucking classic. Good thing I studied semiotics, linguistics, and post-war American literature at some of the best universities in the Cayman Islands. Because Hollywood is weird, and I’m just the man to take things all the way into the unknown realms. I’m talking Baudrillard level disreality.
My mind is big and sharp, like a diamond-encrusted whale’s tongue. I can lick the sharks of this town until they bleed from their eyes and beg for mercy, and my phone number.
So you won’t be surprised to see me hijack a police car, taking its driver hostage and poking him in both his eyes with the business end of my Israeli made weapon of choice. The cop is small and timid and lets me do pretty much what I want.
He looks a lot like Rick Moranis.
Actually, when I take another look, it is Rick Moranis.
“I’m sorry for poking your eyes and humiliating you professionally, Mister Moranis,” I say, plowing through a series of backyards in the stolen Crown Victoria. “I’m a huge fan of your work and I feel terrible taking you hostage, but sometimes a man’s gotta commit some wicked clichés to turn his life around. Summertime, Buenvenidos a Miami, Live and Die in LA. All that shit.”
Rick Moranis nods, conveying his complete understanding. And to underscore the point he pops in TP3 Reloaded and skips it to the second track and I can just tell that everything’s going to be okay.
Roland Barthes was a chronic masturbator.
We make it to the Four Seasons in record time, and rather than waste precious moments parking I just blast through the front doors, broken glass flying everywhere and ripping everyone to shreds. I’m waving my PhD badge furiously so the sentries know not to hurt me anymore than I’m already hurting. And believe me, I’m hurting.
“Good luck with all your future dealings, Rick!” I say, bounding out of the ruined Crown Vic and into the elevator.
The elevator takes forever, of course, but that’s not even the issue. The issue is that I’m already too late. I would’ve been too late even if I hadn’t totaled my Lamborghini and caused a major panic on the west side.
The penthouse is empty except for Justin. He’s cold and he’s ashamed, lying naked on the floor. Not unlike the imbroglio described in Natalia Imbruglia’s eponymous hit of the year 2000. Illusion never changed into something real, until now. Justin’s poor little body is withered and twisted from over-showering. His face is virtually unrecognizable, and his hair looks like something you’d take out of a pill bottle.
Everything is silence, except for the soft whistle of breeze coming from the open windows. I go to them. This is a penthouse, and the ground is a long way down there. Vertiginous is the word for what I’m feeling.
I’ve got one foot out the window, my finger on the trigger, ready for my suicidal double-feature, when the door bursts open and a mariachi band floods into the room, led by whom I can only assume is the previously discussed maid. She’s not wearing anything but high-tops and a sensible windbreaker. Her pubic hair glistens in the suite’s favorable lighting. The dismembered heads of Justin’s support staff are crammed in the tuba player’s bell, which is exactly where they belong for letting this happen to my boy. The maid still hasn’t tired of shooting holes in the ceiling. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I feel like I’m getting a new lease on life. Sweet sweet hypomania.
I want to rip my shirt off. I want to go dancing. I want to swim in cold water.
I want to swing from the chandelier.
“Let’s get married!” I shout between 5-round bursts, hot shells pinging off the hardwood laminate, the concussive madness coalescing into something honest and real. “Let’s have so many children they can only be expressed as an exponential value!”
“Yes!” she cries, shaking lose from her windbreaker and performing a perfect cabriole en tournant, high-tops flapping, butt-milk splashing, her AK dancing free of her hand and emptying its magazine indiscriminately.
“But first let’s close these windows,” she says. “Somebody might get hurt.”