The propeller slowly lost momentum as my Bird Chopper sank into the murky gray swamp.
Just minutes ago, I'd been lacing my boots in the TV studio. The house lights dimmed as the low key farewell music played. A man in a feather and felt goose costume blew the cameras a kiss before taking the copilot's seat. The big propeller turned like a ceiling fan when you just pulled the chain to shut it off.
I donned my aviator glasses, saluting the kids in the television audience, clambered aboard. The Airwolf style jet boosters came on, a hidden conveyor belt rolling our chopper into the darkness of the Magic Tunnel.
That's when shit got weird.
My copilot's black and white costume, with an astonishing display of articulation, turned its head and honked at me without moving the rest of its body. Ordinarily Googly moved like a guy wearing a neck brace.
"Damn, Paul, why didn't you do that shit in front of the camera? It's friggin' awesome!"
"Commander Weirdo, you shouldn't cuss," the costume replied in that stupid voice the kids love. "Cussers have to put a quarter in the Fowl Language Jar."
Like Harpo Marx, he pulled the damn giant jar out of his wing. I gaped in astonishment.
"Paul, you, uh, kinda got me at a disadvantage. I left my wallet in the trailer. I'll pay you back, okay?"
The goose head turned sideways and blinked like a real bird. "Who's Paul, Commander?"
I opened my mouth to say something, but stopped. The tunnel should have opened into a dingy studio backroom, but instead it kept going. The view through the windows reminded me of colors whirling inside an industrial front loader on final spin. Also, the rotors emitted an unprecedented level of noise. "What the fuck?"
While I'd been looking away, Harpo had donned a pair of earmuffs and a radio mike. I put on a set of my own and heard, "You owe me fifty cents."
"I knew I shouldn't have tried those blotter sheets back in college."
The tunnel opened up, and I had more to cuss about.
Outside, if my eyes did not deceive me, our 1:87 scale city model had somehow expanded 87 times.
"You're up to a dollar, mister."
We soared above the homage to the old Public Access Channel 19 Building, just inches from clipping the transmitter tower.
"Where to, Commander?"
Horrified, I blurted, "I...wanna go back to my trailer."
The bird suit blinked stupidly at me. "Buddy Beaver's Truck N' Go?"
"No!" I groaned. "Take me home! I wanna go home!"
Again the costume displayed amazing articulation, this time in the facial area. "The Nest it is!"
The helicopter turned toward a mountain range.
"What! God no!"
No charge for saying a frivolous oath. "I'm sorry, Commander. I don't understand..."
"Paul! What the hell is all of this! Where are we? What the fuck is going on!"
"We've gone through the tunnel to Magic Land, and that's a dollar twenty five, commander."
"Talk sense, man! You and I both know Magic Land isn't real!"
"Magic Land is as real as you want it to be."
"Paul! Come off it, man! This shit isn't funny!"
"A dollar fifty."
I grabbed the goose's costume head, attempting to rip it off to expose my costar's head. The suit shrieked and honked at me, beating me with its wings.
The chopper spun sideways, whirled backwards. No sign of the tunnel through any of the windows.
A propeller blade hit something. Sticky blue glop oozed down the glass.
The rotors smoked, and we dropped like a stone, right into The Swamps.
Stationary at last, I frowned at the gray goop sucking at the landing skids. "What's all this shit?"
"You're up to a dollar seventy five, Commander Weirdo." The goose preened itself. "Surely you're familiar with the Swamps of Depression!"
"Uh...it sucks your will to live and swallows you up like quicksand if you stand around too long. That Swamp of Depression?"
The bird offered me a Goofnut. Fictional candy bar. "You're going to need one of these to get out of here."
"Pass," I groaned. "That's just glue and colored styrofoam in plastic wrap. A few handfuls of glitter to make it look interesting when you crush it in your felt beak."
The bird tore open the packaging, exposing chocolate. "Phut yourphelph," it replied with a beak full of caramel coated granola.
"Googly, it's going to be a bitch cleaning that out of your fabric."
I slumped in my chair, watching the bird eat.
An an experiment, I violated the second commandment. The bird only responded with chomping sounds.
Googly swallowed. "Two twenty five."
"Thank you, Mister FCC. I'm getting out."
My boots made a nasty slurping sound when they stepped off the skid. I grimaced as a farty sulfur smell wafted into my nostrils. "Well, at least it's pure sulfur. Not a big fan of E.Coli."
A sudden wave of fatigue made me weak in the legs. I leaned against the chopper for support.
"I'm not worth very much," I had once told my grandmother. Now overweight, balding and garbed in clown-like red jumpsuit, I tended to agree.
A swamp bubble grew in front of me, popped with the voice of my father-in-law saying "Loser."
A cluster of bubbles near it replayed what my wife said when she took the boys and left me.
The chopper sank lower. "You care more about that damn show than you do for your own children!"
I touched my wedding band. The weary feeling prevented me from throwing it into the swamp. I felt like Bilbo and Sam trying to throw the One Ring into Mount Doom.
Bubble: "Bilbo's ring wasn't titanium with a cubic zirconium."
Bubble: "I...think there's been a misunderstanding. I like you because you're great with the kids, and I needed a babysitter. I'm not really attracted to you."
Bubble: "I'm sorry, you're not really movie material. You're Captain Weird."
Bubbles popped with the voice of my father telling me to get a real job.
The bank that wouldn't offer me a mortgage - hence the trailer.
Hurtful things I'd said to family members and couldn't take back.
The silent bubbles hit worse. Shameful memories from my past, my own inner voice telling me how much a failure I was. I tried to cry, but no tears came.
Bubble: "It's okay. Not everyone can cry on cue. We'll add the tears in later with CGI."
Bubble: Any control over the world I thought I had is an illusion. What I say and do doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is me existing as a consumer, to support more important people financially. Life would be the same if I wasn't around.
Bubble: Me sitting alone by myself at Senior Prom.
"I'm such a fucking moron," I actually said.
"Two fifty." A feathery mitt waved a Goofnut bar in my face. "It'll make you feel better."
"It'll just make my fat ass fatter," I moped.
"Two seventy five."
"Could you please run the tab silently? I clearly don't have any way to get back home, ergo no way to give you the aforementioned two seventy five."
The candy bar rattled teasingly in my face.
Slow suicide by heart disease, or depression eating, I don't know, but the candy bar tasted like Kudos.
I did feel better. Enough to schlurp toward higher ground.
A blue pig-like hobgoblin slouched against a weeping willow a few yards away. Its claws clutched a nine inch RCA television from the eighties, staring at electronic snow with a glum facial expression.
I slogged up to its island. "Shitty reception, huh?"
"Three dollars," a voice said behind me.
The pig creature made no reply, just absently gaped at the screen like a depressed stroke patient.
"Do you get any other channels on that thing?"
"That static must be damn interesting."
"Three twenty five."
"Googly, you've got some friggin' odd ideas about what swearing consists of."
I sat down next to the monster, staring at the monitor.
The goose looked frightened. "Commander Weirdo! What are you doing?"
"Shhh!" I mocked. "It's starting to get good!"
I reached for the knob.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Commander! This guy looks tough!""
I only shrugged. "My life sucks. I don't care if this thing kills me."
Clicking the knob up and down the dial accomplished nothing, neither on the TV itself nor the hobgoblin's warty face. "How's this thing work without electricity anyway?"
Sad Sack didn't respond. I clicked it to Channel 19. "Hope you like Bob Vila, because you're going to watch it until Robin Williams comes by with your serum."
I waded on through the swamp, the effects of the chocolate steadily fading with each step.
A quarter of a mile later, I came to a rocky gray shore, but by then had become so weary and depressed that my muscles refused to propel me forward.
A storm cloud gathered above my head, raining down ping pong balls.
I just stood in the mire and cried.