Michael Phillips, The Airstream Chronicles - The Terrible Pressures of the Airstream

The Terrible Pressures of the Airstream

Bell sat up straight in his chair and looked out the window. It was an overcast day at the compound, and Bell's mood matched the weather wonderfully. "Fuck it," he said, "I'm not signing another book. Forget it." Paper Chase Print Shop had sent another hundred books over to the double-wide, and Bell was balking. "For Christ's sake MJB, how many of these god damned things have I signed already?"

"Well," I said, "You signed the first hundred, then I signed a couple hundred, and now there's this new shipment."

"Well I'm not signing the damn things. If you want to sign them go ahead, but you can tell those Paper Chase bastards for me, that I've had enough."

Arty gulped down the remainder of his tumbler of "Irish Coffee" and stumbled off to the bathroom, careening into the doorjamb before successfully gaining entrance. I was left at the kitchen table with Ramona. "He's really tired," she said, "He's been up until noon every day working on his latest project." I looked at the jigsaw puzzle laid out on the coffee table in the "living room" and raised an eyebrow. "Well, yes," she said, "That's part of the project, but the puzzle is only to clear his mind of the important facts he's forever considering!"

Even Ramona didn't seem to believe what she'd said, but she made no comment since Bell was now out of the john and barreling around the double-wide shouting at no one in particular: "Bastards! Why am I tormented like this? Isn't 'The Quickening!' enough? Sweet Lord Jesus, what else do you want from me?!" I put my hand on his shoulder in the universal gesture of comfort, but Arty spun around and lashed out. "You too MJB! Fucker! You're supposed to be my friend!"

"What do you want from me?" I asked, as Bell collapsed onto the hermetically sealed couch.

"What do I want? What do I want?" he whimpered, "I want you to take care of these things for me. I want you to take care of the details! What the hell am I paying you for?"

"Let me just remind you," I said, "that you don't pay me."

"Ingrate! All you gen-x motherfuckers are the same! I wouldn't be surprised if you deserted me to be a roadie for Ted Nugent!" I led Bell into the spare bedroom/studio, where I thought he'd be more comfortable. Although since the cameras had been installed he'd had to clean the place up and refrain from leaving porno mags lying around and stash the empty bottles before every show. But even the studio didn't seem to calm him. "What? You want me to do a midday show too? You steering me in here to make even more money off me? Where does it end?! Get out of my sight! Judas! Satan, get behind me!"

When he starts misquoting the bible I know it's time to leave him alone, so I made my way out to the Airstream. But it was hard to ignore Bell, because he'd been on the rampage for the last week or so. Something was troubling him, and it didn't seem to be passing as quickly as it usually did. I decided to find out what the problem was.

* * *

I was sitting in the dusty area between the Airstream and the double-wide with my feet in the kiddie-pool when Bell finally emerged from his pre-fab castle. "Hey, Arty," I said, "come on over and cool your dogs." He walked over to me and gave me his best unconvincing scowl. "Come on," I said, "it's really refreshing!" He stood stock-still until I informed him that there was bourbon to be had, at which point he settled into a rickety lawn chair on the other side of the pool.

He let out a very dramatic sigh and said, "MJB, I'm afraid I'm losing my soul." I poured him a slug of bourbon and leaned back to listen. "I don't know how much longer I can take it," he said, quickly draining the glass. I gave him the instant refill he appreciated so much and asked what he was talking about. "The Quickening...the reverse speech...the god-fucking-damn remote viewing...everything. The whole shooting match."

"The show?" I asked, "You've had it with the show?"

"Maybe. I don't know," he said tossing back the hooch. "Not so much the show, but all the surrounding bullshit." The bullshit? I wondered exactly what 'bullshit' Bell was referring to, since from what I could see, he had a pretty cushy gig. "Yeah, might be time to give it up and just write books."

I was temporarily stunned, but I managed to ask, "Just write books? You're kidding, right?"

Bell's brow wrinkled and he shifted in his seat. "What? I'm not good enough to make a living as an author? Is that what you're saying? Maybe if I wrote some bullshit poetry, eh?" He was referring to my book which for some reason, angered him greatly. "Maybe if I put on a dress and wrote some god damn poetry, then maybe I'd be a real author!"

"Arty," I asked, already knowing the answer, "Have you even read my book?"

"Your poetry?" he spat, "I don't have to read a fucking book of poetry to know it's fag shit." I ignored Bell and nipped at the bourbon. "Listen bitch," he said, "I write real books! Deep shit! My books make people think!"

"Think of a refund..." I muttered.

"I heard that! You cunt! I'll match my sales against yours any day." Bell grabbed the bottle from my hand and slugged directly from it, bypassing the formality of a glass, as he so often did. "For every book you sell, I'll sell ten!"

"Arty, really, I didn't intend to get into a pissing match over books. You're right, you sell many more books than I do."

"God damn right I do," he sniffed, gulping from the bottle again. I reached for the bottle and Bell shrieked, "Get your own!" I opted not to make the point that it was my bottle, and went into the Airstream to get another. When I returned to the kiddie-pool, Bell had rolled his pants up to the knee and sat himself down in the pool, leaning back and gazing at the cloudy desert sky. "You're still here?" he barked, "'The Quickening!' is a best seller!" he bellowed, "Top of the charts! Top of the pops, motherfucker!" He tensed up for a moment, then closed his eyes and smiled. I took my feet out of the pool.

"You're right Arty. I admit it, all right? You're the book selling king around here." He cracked an even bigger smile and drained my bottle of Knob Creek. "Of course," I said, "If I had an audience the size of yours..."

"A what?" he sputtered, "Don't even start with me! God damn it MJB, you don't want to cross me!" I'd crossed Bell countless times, but decided to humor him in his time of need. "The way I figure it," he said, coughing up a nasty batch of phlegm, "We're even. Your book is for sale in stores, and mine is only available from the 800 number. Doesn't that even us out? Doesn't it?"

"Yeah," I said, humoring Bell, "That evens it out all right. Hey, I freely admit it, you've sold five times more books than I have." Bell smiled smugly and grunted, sinking deeper into the pool.

"Anyway, it isn't the books. It's the god damn cameras in the studio. I can't take them any more. I feel like I'm being watched!"

"Well no shit Arty," I said, "Why'd you let Kenneth Keith Rowland talk you into that anyway?"

"Ahhhhgh," Bell groaned, slipping almost all the way beneath the kiddie-pool's surface, "he's another one. Son of a bitch has pictures...certain pictures..."

"Pictures?" I asked, "But I never noticed Rowland at a Greek Night."

"No!" Bell shrieked, "It wasn't at a Greek Night! I don't know how he got the pictures, but he has them, and there's nothing I can do about it." He seemed to be descending into an even deeper funk. "You see what I mean? It's Rowland, the cameras, the groupies..."

"Groupies?" I was shocked. I'd worked for Bell for years and never seen evidence of any groupies.

"Heh, yeah," he smirked, "there's a certain lass from Lincoln, Nebraska that sends me suggestive email...I could have her. No doubt about it. I have naked .gif's of her, man. They're hidden very cleverly on my mainframe." There was a discontinued Packard Bell 486 in the spare bedroom/studio that Arty had picked up at Best Buy in Vegas for $600, he called it his "mainframe." I made a mental note to check it as soon as he passed out, which would be soon.

"Yeah, the pressure, MJB, you don't understand. All the pussy at my disposal...you have no idea. You'd think that would make me a happy man, but with the outside pressures..." he gurgled, slipping below the surface of the pool. I pulled him out of the water and dragged him to the steps of the double-wide. As I was propping him up against the door, Ramona came out, cursing Bell in Hawaiian, and digging her long nails into his neck as she yanked him into the trailer. I fell asleep before the show was due to start, so I still don't know if he made it.

mjp
6/13/97

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