Michael Phillips, The Airstream Chronicles - High Weirdness in The Airstream

High Weirdness in The Airstream

Yesterday, as I was plotting a practical joke on Arty involving chupacabra and other "really, really scary things," he barged into the Airstream waving a half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and a college ruled notebook.

"MJB! I have an idea!"

"I was afraid of that."

"Listen, The Art Of Talk sold hundreds of copies, I made enough off of that to buy a new outboard for the yacht..." (Bell has a rotting old boat propped up on a couple of sawhorses over by the chicken coop, it hasn't been in the water in 25 years, but Bell continues to refer to it as "The Yacht". The outboard he bought with his book proceeds was a used Evinrude 40 horse that sputters and coughs out huge clouds of toxic black smoke), "so now that sales have ground to a halt, I think it's time to write another one."

"You want to write another book?"

"Yes, god damn! Ain't it a great idea MJB? I already talked to Joe down at Kinko's, um, I mean Paper Chase Press, and he said he could kick it out in a couple of weeks if I don't slow him down with lots of picky shit like proofreading."

"But Arty, your other book was riddled with typos. Don't you think it'd be a good idea to proofread from now on?"

"Come on, you know how long it would take me to proofread a book? Besides, this thing's gonna be a monster...at least 100 pages! I'd go crazy I tell ya! Crazy!"

"Anyway, didn't you 'tell it all' in the other book? You said you'd never write another one. By the way, that was pretty clever the way you got the tapes back from the transcriber and sold copies as a 'book on tape.'" Bell had "written" his first book by talking into a tape recorder for a couple of hours, and sending the tapes off to a transcriber. Though he's still a little sensitive about the subject, he now grudgingly admits that he has never actually written a book.

"I told you not to ever talk about that again! You're just pissed off at me because filling the orders for my book on tape monopolizes your boom box for a few hours a week. But how's this for a blockbuster idea: Art Bell's Guide To The Internet! Doesn't that just knock your socks off MJB? Here, take this notebook and write down everything I say. That damn C. Crane tape machine is busted again." He lurched toward the La-Z-Boy and tossed the notebook at me. On the way to the recliner, he tripped on an imaginary obstacle and went face-first into the pot belly stove. I could have sworn I saw little cartoon stars orbiting his head as he righted himself and crawled up into the chair, a thin stream of blood trickling down the side of his head. Somehow through all that he'd managed to cling to the bottle of whiskey, and as he plopped down in the chair he took a long pull straight from the bottle.

"Arty, are you serious? Art Bell's Guide To The Internet?"

"Damn right I'm (burp) serious! I was at Wal Mart the other day picking up a couple of cases of chocolate bars and nylon stockings for the missus, and I saw a whole god damn shelf full of computer books! Why shouldn't I share some of my in-line savvy with my thousands of fans?"

"Um, I think that's 'online' Arty. Anyway, is the Internet really your area of expertise?"

"My area of what? Jesus Christ man, stop working your jaw and start writing! Here comes my second best-seller!" He took another big gulp of Wild Turkey and started to talk. "Chapter one: Many people today are very much interested in doing the Internet on their computers. Now, as a long time computer man, I'd just like to offer my own insights into this new technology sweeping the country. People from many different states can dial up their computers to a special place and have important informational discussions to all sorts of matters. Once you do that, first see if the voice says, 'you've got mail,' because other times people will write you a mail, and you will want to learn how to read your electronic mail right away. Next, I suggest you go to 'The Grassy Knoll,' which is an Internet place that talks about such important matters as space alien autopsies and chupacabras. Sometimes I will even have my lovely wife look at that place and type things to the other people who are in there at the same appointed times. This is the amazing thing about the Internet...it's not only you in those places, it's dozens of other people who are just as smart as you!"

I was staring at Bell and wondering if he was putting me on, but his eyes rolled up into his head (a sign that he's really, really concentrating), and he continued to talk.

"Next thing you should do is get on the Internet web. Just type in keyword: Internet, and click on the globe thing there. Now here's a little tip: when you want to do the advanced forms of Internet such as this, you should definitely upgrade your 300 speed modem! I went into town and got me one of them Realistic 2400 modems, and now you can't believe how all this stuff just flies around! As a small technical note here, a modem is a little box that plugs into the computer. Get the guy from Radio Shack to come over and do that if you're not comfortable around wires." Bell began to nod off, so I kicked the chair and he woke up and continued. "So the best web site anyway, is www.artbell.com, which is voted to be the best Internet site, and as a bonus is easily remembered because of the short name, which comes from my site being in a central location in the web."

Bell sat transfixed for a moment looking very intently at a speck of dirt on the floor. I thought I might jog his mind a bit, so I made a suggestion. "Arty, why don't you talk about usenet now?"

"MJB, don't be stupid! This is a book about the Internet!"

"I'm talking about the newsgroups. Aren't you going to talk about alt.fan.art-bell?"

His brow wrinkled and he looked confused for a moment. Then the name clicked in his head and he went off. "Are you talking about that bulletin board where those god damn conumist (that's how he says it) anarchist cocksuckers slandered me and my wife C. Crane?! I mean, me and my wife and C. Crane?"

"Well, yeah. Whatever happens, it's still a newsgroup for your fans."

"That's where you're wrong! Because I made a couple of phone calls, and now that thing is gone. That nice boy Rowland does all the messages now. He only sends me the good ones, the ones that deal with something important, like chupacabra and 20 mile high glass moon buildings." He leaned back and turned his attention to the ceiling. "Did you know that I had Hoagland investigate that group? He wrote me a report that proved scientifically that every one of those negative messages were posted by either conumists or the devil! And now that they've been denied that outlet for their evil devices, they've resurfaced as the much-feared chupacabra!"

I put the notebook down on the table and went to get a wet towel for Bell. It's the only thing that calms him down when he gets into one of his fits. From the other room I heard the screen door creak open and I can only assume that he had fled back to the comfort of the double-wide for more libations and spiritual reinforcement. He didn't come back to the Airstream that day, and he hasn't mentioned the book again.

mjp
5/21/96

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