Read an Excerpt
An odd occurrence, even by my standards.1
Picture it this way: You’ve offed your home, a comfy if rustic little villa with a wood stove, and deer standing outside the picture window. You’ve summarily given up a movie and TV writing career that’s been quite good to you over the years, although it currently appears to be going nowhere.2 You’ve sold, chucked or given away everything that might impede swift, economical movement and hit the road just your dog and you, with no plans to return.
You’ve burned bridges.
Your former life seems over, kaput. The only apparent meaning to your new life is based on this idea: You’re in search of an old friend and sometime partner in crime who vanished into the wilds of Central America five years before. You have little idea of what you’re going to say to this guy if and when you track him down – although you do have some questions in mind or where you might go and what you might do afterward, but that’s the plan.
In some sense, what you’re doing is an attempt at making sense of things, of your life. 3
Truth is, you’re about halfway out of your mind. 4
You’re in far southern Mexico now, four months into your bolt. You left in 1996 but it’s now 1997. You’ve pulled over onto the side of a road labeled Mex 200 on the map. You cut your engine. There’s no traffic. It’s very quiet. You’re staring at a sign indicating a turnoff to a town some distance inland. Motozintla. You’re suddenly feeling dizzy and a little disoriented – a little more disoriented than usual. You’ve seen this word, this name, before.
Had a ring to it when you first saw it.
You say it aloud. Motozintla. Moe-toe-ZEEN-tlah.
Still has a ring to it.
In your mind you travel back in time to 1982. Your life of crime is over, recently abandoned due to ridiculous, though dangerous, circumstances. You’re staring at the first page of a composition book. You start writing. Your goal is to make sense of things, of your life. 5
Before that first session of writing is finished, you find you’ve turned back to the first page and printed at the top the words Cosmic Banditos. You don’t know where this came from, since you have no real idea of where the story is going. You’re completely winging it. About all you’ve accomplished so far is the description of a dog. You shrug and press on.
Back on the roadside in Mexico in 1997, you dimly recall that at some point in the writing you did in 1982 you needed a town in southern Mexico for some things to happen in. You’d pulled out a world atlas and searched for a name that has a ring to it. Motozintla. The characters in the story you’re writing have an adventure in Motozintla then move on.
1 The events described in The Forward to the New Edition should be completely viewed as more or less being at least partly true. In other words, as nonfiction.
2 You don’t wish to name the movie studio that caused your career to be going nowhere but it’s the one that has cartoon characters on its West Coast corporate headquarters front lawn and that is sometimes referred to as Mousevitz, or Duckenwald, for its Storm Trooper treatment of creative types, especially writers.
3 You will fail miserably, of course.
4 A related issue: You are currently trying to get the reader used to the excessive footnoting to come.
5 You will fail miserably, of course, but in this case with a certain panache.
So: You’re staring at a sign indicating the turnoff to a place you’ve written about as if you’d been there but of course had not. You’d made everything up, including your physical description of Motozintla. 6
But that’s not why you’re feeling weird.
You’re feeling weird because you’re beset by a creeping epiphany.
The term déjà vu comes to mind, but it isn’t quite accurate.
How about vuja de? An experience you’re sure you’ve never had before but gives you the willies anyway, because you may have imagined having it.
You glance at your dog, sitting beside you in the cab of your pickup truck, looking at you in the way dogs do that asks the question, What’s next?
Normally, the sight of your dog has a calming effect on you, but now the reverse is the case. For the moment, your dog’s presence is no help at all.
Your dog is a big part of your creeping epiphany, your vuja de experience.
In order to avoid eye contact with your dog, you look out the window, only to find yourself again staring at the Motozintla sign, which sports an arrow pointing off toward the right, to the turnoff. Your sense of dizziness, of increased disorientation, of heightened weirdness, increases further.
What’s going on here?
This: The tale you wrote in 1982 in order to make sense of things appears to be actually taking place now, fifteen years later. By the way: Although the tale was inspired by real events in your life, the crux of it was not only made up, but essentially nonsensical. 7
Yet here you are.
The hero of your fictional tale is in the throes of a crisis. His former life appears to be over, kaput, due to ridiculous though dangerous circumstances, and he’s about halfway out of his mind. Spurred to action by rising dementia, he embarks on a quest, with his dog, through Mexico and Central America, in search of an enigmatic figure who presumably has the answers to some important questions. En route, he comes across various banditos, fugitives, corrupt establishmentarians and all-around lunatics and miscreants.You, while on this real-life quest to find your vanished old chum – an enigmatic figure for whom you have some questions have encountered various banditos, fugitives, corrupt establishmentarians and all-around lunatics and miscreants.
The hero of your fictional tale has a peculiar obsession, having to do with the physics of matter and energy.
You have a peculiar obsession, in practice quite different from that of your fictional hero, but – come to think of it with identical theoretical roots: the physics of matter and energy.
One of the essential themes of your fictional tale is the idea that human beings exist in different branches of reality, an unaccountable number of them, and all of them are real. In other words, anything that can happen, will happen, or may have already happened.
This realization causes you to swallow with an audible gulp.
6 In your writing, you have an overall cavalier attitude toward geographical veracity. You’ve given Bolivia a coastline, for example, because you needed a South American country name that starts with a B, to alliterate with the words bandito and burrito, yet has a coastline. Bolivia, of course, is landlocked. .7 The phrase complete crock of shit comes to mind..
You look at your dog, who is brown with asymmetrical white patches here and there. Her ears are out of alignment and she has a large tongue that always hangs out, giving her a clownish appearance.This is the exact description of your fictional8 hero’s canine sidekick. A Clownish appearance are in fact the words you used in that first writing session to sum up the fictional dog’s physical attributes. The thought crosses your mind that your real dog9 was born in 1987, five years after you’d described the… other dog. Further, this current dog and you teamed up accidently. You did not pick her out of the canine multitudes due to a predilection for brown dogs with asymmetrical white patches here and there, ears out of alignment and large tongues that always hang out. Dogs with clownish appearances.
In fact, none of what’s taking place can be explained by your innate predilections, story telling preferences, or some sort of interconnection between the two. And anyway, remember: The real events are taking place 15 years after the events you made up.
The word coincidence pops into your mind, then pops right back out again. You thumb through your mental thesaurus but don’t come up with anything that accurately defines the situation. 10
You’re still staring at the Motozintla sign. Thinking maybe you should make the turn, follow the arrow11 and pay Motozintla a visit. See who, or what, shows up there – or is already there.
Or maybe not. Maybe you shouldn’t go anywhere near the place.
Out of the corner of your eye, you dimly perceive that the dog sitting beside you is still looking at you with that expression that asks, What’s next?
8 Given the implications of the different branches of reality concept, the usual definition of the word fictional should henceforth (and, as a matter of fact, retroactively) be viewed as suspect.
9 Better phrasing might be the dog sitting beside you in this branch of reality.
10 The phrase twist of fate does come close, especially if you add the adjective bizarre to the front.11 The phrase arrow of time occurs to you.
Reprinted from Cosmic Banditos by A. C. Weisbecker by permission of New American Library, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2001 by A. C. Weisbecker. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.