Here’s the best advice I can give you. Don’t die wearing a headdress.
Of all the things that suck about kicking it, and believe me there is an exhaustive list, the one that seriously chaps my incorporeal ass is that bullshit death mask rule.
I can understand looking like you did when your expiration date finally hit. I’m not one of those vain creeps who think every spirit walking around should look like George Clooney. (Although if there were sex in heaven, can you imagine the kind of play you’d get with a face like that? Sweet Valhalla!) However, I do think the powers that be get a little picky when it comes to dress code. I see no reason why I should spend the rest of eternity looking like Tonto.
I really hope my best friend is in hell.
* * *
If Gabe had had a heart, it would have been in the right place, but when I looked at myself in the mirror, dressed in fringed buckskins and a long, feathered headdress, I couldn’t remember exactly why we were friends.
Three quick knocks on the bathroom door allowed me a moment to look away from the train wreck of my reflection. I don’t remember ever feeling a deeper sense of shame. Thank God I’d skipped the war paint.
“Come on, buddy,” Gabe said from the other side of the door. “Time’s a wastin’.”
“I can’t do this,” I said. “I look ridiculous.”
“You look the part,” he said. “Now open the door already.”
Feeling like a condemned man (irony, you little bitch), I opened the door. Gabe stood on the other side, admiring himself in a full-length mirror. He was dressed like a World War II flyboy, and as I watched, he popped the collar of his leather jacket, winked at himself, and smiled.
“I look freakin’ sweet,” he said.
“I thought your boss’ party was a cowboys and Indians thing,” I said.
Gabe smoothed his sleeves and then turned in profile to check out his own ass. “No. Just a cowboy thing.”
“Then why am I an Indian?” I asked.
“Because you want to make an impression,” Gabe said. “It’s a ballsy move. The kind of thing he’ll remember come interview time. Besides, it’s funny.”
Shame gave way to irritation, and I found myself wishing the costume had come with a tomahawk. “Why exactly is it funny?”
Gabe managed to look away from himself long enough to glance at me and shrug. “Because you’re Indian.”
“Gabe, we’ve talked about this before. I’m not Indian.”
“Maybe not the right kind of Indian, but nobody’s going to notice,” Gabe said. “You’re totally rockin’ that look.”
At the time, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. Hindsight being what it is, I now know it was just the fog of rage swirling through my head. “I’m not any kind of Indian, you asshole! I’m Pakistani!”
“Whatever,” Gabe said. It was his stock answer for anything beyond his sphere of understanding. “I just don’t think you should be getting in such a twist about it. Indians are huge right now. They’re on, like, every TV show. Indian is the new black. In fact, if anybody asks, you should tell them you’re from India.”
“You’re a racist asshole,” I said.
“And you’re from Fresno.” He said it like someone else might say “checkmate.”
I waited for the great revelation that his tone implied, but no clouds parted, no angels sang. (It wouldn’t be the last time that didn’t happen.) “So that somehow makes you less racist?” I asked.
“As it applies to you . . . yes.”
I’d spent the last five months crashing on Gabe’s couch, listening to the wheezing death rattle of the job market lull me to sleep at night. But it wasn’t until that very moment that I saw the true desperation of my situation.
“You really think you can help me get this job?” I asked.
Gabe smiled like he was sure of himself. I should have known better. He always looked like that. “I’m on it, chief.”
I shook my head. “Don’t do that. That’s just wrong.”
“Dude, just embrace it.”
* * *
Before we could leave, Gabe said he had one more surprise for me. We took the stairs to the roof of the building where he introduced me to the mother of all bad decisions. Tethered to one of the building’s air conditioning units was the reason that Gabe had donned the fly boy costume.
“You’re not really a pilot,” I said. My knees felt a little wobbly as I looked at the thing.
“I’ve been up lots of times,” he said. Always so damned sure of himself.
“That’s not really a plane,” I said. It didn’t look like it belonged in the air at all. The only thing I could think was that somehow, somewhere a bicycle had raped a hang glider, and this was the result.
“It’ll fly,” Gabe said.
“How do you know?”
“I told you. I’ve been up.”
I considered that for a moment. “Where’d you get it?” I asked.
“I’ve got a buddy over at the Air and Space Museum,” he said.
There were so many questions that phrase didn’t answer.
“You know, I think I’d rather drive,” I said.
Gabe shook his head as he walked over to the glider. It was a two-seater, and he took the spot with the steering wheel.
(A freaking steering wheel! Like that wasn’t a sign from God.)
“You’ve got to be bold, man,” Gabe said. He smiled again. Always sure. Always so damned sure. I wonder what he was thinking as every one of those cosmetically straightened teeth exploded into so much shrapnel.
“My boss just lives a couple blocks away,” he said. “And we’ve got plenty of height here. We’ll glide over and land this baby right in his backyard. Grand freakin’ entrance, my friend. What could possibly go wrong?”
Quite a lot actually.