At first it seemed like just another star in the sky over Golden Gate Park on that balmy Indian summer night, but as it began its rapid descent, it more closely resembled a blazing meteorite which some radar system was guiding to a safe landing in a deserted meadow. As it began to cool, its luminescence quickly fading in the soft night air, a sense of urgency overcame its desire for peace.
“Do it now!” screamed Prime. “Focus your energy and replicate yourself into this world’s dominant life form before they find you as you are now.”
Secundus dutifully began the division process, splitting himself off from Prime so that two energy spheres existed where before there had been only one. Then, drawing needed energy from Prime, he reluctantly began to transform himself once again. “How many times have I done this?” he wondered aloud. “And why am I here?” He began to moan piteously.
Prime ignored his questions, saying only, “The dominant species here is called ‘Human’, Secundus, and an ugly type it is, too. So get on with it and take Human form.”
Secundus complied and soon, where once there had been only light, stood a fully-formed man, naked as Adam.
“Cute, very cute,” giggled Prime. “But you seem to have forgotten something.”
“I don’t understand.” Secundus was bewildered. “Have I done something wrong?” He looked down at his new body with some confusion.
“You’ll find out soon enough. You should have no trouble reading the minds of these ‘Humans’ since they seem to be rather simple affairs. But do it quickly to avoid violating any of their local customs. Any last questions before I leave you to your fate?”
Secundus thought for a moment. “Just why have I been sent here and forced to take this form? What is the purpose of all this?”
“As you should know by now, the replication process usually causes some memory loss, which is often only temporary. When you remember, you will act accordingly. But for now, you are a new being with no history, no role in their lives. You can use your powers as you choose. But now I must leave you.” As he spoke, the sphere of light that was Prime began to rise up into the sky, slowly at first, but quickly gaining speed so that in a matter of seconds it had already vanished from sight.
Secundus lowered his eyes. He was now a naked man, shivering in the dark. Not knowing what else to do, he turned and walked out of the park toward the lights of Fulton Street.
“…And stay out, you son of a bitch! Nobody rips me off and doesn’t pay the price!”
The speaker was one BJ Duckworth, owner of The Last Resort, a rundown bar in a seedy location on the bay side of the lately fashionable South of Market area, dubbed SOMA by the hip. BJ had had his struggles with the bar since purchasing it upon his arrival in San Francisco in the spring of 1973 and now, more than seventeen years later, both he and his establishment were definitely beginning to show their age.
“Shit!” he complained. “I’m beginning to think there’s no such thing as an honest bartender anymore. Now how the hell am I going to replace that bastard on such short notice? Considering what I can afford to pay and the reputation this place has got lately, I doubt that people are going to be lining up for the job.”
BJ was right. The bar had been going downhill lately, to the point that a popular joke with some of the regulars was that to work at The Last Resort was the last resort. It hadn’t been like this when he had bought the place from its previous owner, a genial 300-lb. biker everybody called Black Jack. In those days it was known as a real melting pot, a place where hippies, Hell’s Angels, and low riders could hang out together. Most of the problems then were centered on drugs and fights over women, and these were easily resolved by the appearance of Black Jack’s sawed-off twelve-gauge from behind the bar.
However, with the coming of the 80’s and the triple threat of Reagan, AIDS, and crack, BJ had seen the average age of his customers increase from 25 to 45, and the tone of the place change from youthful exuberance to middle-aged depression. He regretted this, being only 53 himself (and a young 53 at that). He had always subscribed to the theory that being with young people kept one young, and he found that dealing with old farts day after day, many of whom were younger than he was, was causing him to lose his normally optimistic view of life.
“Ah, well,” he sighed, pouring himself another Irish and soda, “something will turn up. It always does. And if I have to work nights myself for awhile, what can it hurt? Maybe the evening customers’ll prove to be a bit livelier. So buckle down, Duckworth, and wash those glasses. There’s boozers to be served!”
“Damn it, Wanda, I just can’t get it to start!”
“So just leave it alone, Rick, and let’s hitch. I want to get downtown before the bar closes.”
“Hitch? Man, I can’t just let it sit here.”
“Why the hell not? Who’s gonna bother this broken-down piece of junk?”
“What are you calling a piece of junk? This is a 1967 Ford Econoline van. It got me to Woodstock and back and there’s still a lot of miles left in this baby.”
“Man, no wonder they call you Rick the Relic. Get your head outta the 60’s! We’re already in the 90’s and that is a pile of junk. C’mon, let’s go!”
“Holy shit, Wanda, look over there!”
“Jesus Christ, it’s a naked dude, coming out of the bushes!”
The naked dude walked uncertainly toward them, holding up one hand in a friendly manner.
“Hey, man, what happened to you?” asked Rick. “You get mugged, or what?”
“Yes…mugged…” said the stranger haltingly.
“Even took your clothes, huh,” said Wanda with a wink. “Not too bad, hey Rick?”
“Wanda! This is no time to be cruising!” Rick hissed. To the stranger he said, “Um, we’d give you a ride but our van broke down. We were just about to hitch downtown.” He looked at the stranger again and grinned in spite of himself. “You can’t go anywhere looking like that. I think I’ve got some old clothes in the back of my van that could fit you.” He walked to the rear of the van and rummaged around inside for a moment. When he returned, he was carrying a plaid shirt, a pair of greasy, torn jeans, and some old thin-soled running shoes. He handed them to the stranger. “Here, try these on. They ain’t too clean and they might be a little tight on you, but it sure beats running around here naked.”
As the stranger dressed he stared at both Rick and Wanda intently, as if he meant to memorize every detail of their existence.
Rick and Wanda wondered if they hadn’t just befriended a psycho.
“Ah,” said the stranger when he had finished dressing. He looked down at his body as if to judge the effectiveness of his makeshift apparel. “That is better,” he said approvingly. “Much better. You said your…van…broke down. What is wrong with it?”
“I don’t know,” admitted Rick. “And it really pisses me off. Bear just fixed it last month.”
“You can’t fix a piece of junk like that, Rick!” said Wanda with a wicked laugh. “Trust me on that one!”
“Shut up, Wanda…” Rick began, but then felt the stranger’s hand on his shoulder.
“One moment,” said the stranger. He appeared to have been lost in thought. “Could you humor me and try to start it again?”
“I don’t know what could have changed in five minutes, bro, but sure, whatever’s right.”
Rick walked slowly back to the van, got behind the wheel, and turned the key. Immediately the engine sprung to life, purring smoothly.
“Well, strip me and whip me!” said Rick reverently. “How the fuck did that happen?”
“Don’t ask questions!” cried Wanda, clapping her hands and quickly clambering into the passenger seat. “Put the pedal to the metal for The Last Resort!”
“Wait a minute, Wanda. Hey, man, you want a ride? We’re going downtown, but we can drop you any place that’s on the way.”
“I don’t know,” said the stranger hesitantly. “One place is as good as another to me now.”
Rick nodded his head sagely. “Ahh. You’re sorta like ‘on the road’, huh?”
The stranger nodded his head in agreement. “That is true. I just arrived here so I’m not really sure where to go. What is this place you mentioned…Wanda? This ‘Last Resort’?”
“Oh, it’s just a broken-down bar,” Wanda explained, “where all these old guys sit around drinking themselves to death and wishing it was twenty years ago. It’s real depressing. We only go there when we’re broke…”
“Which is most of the time,” put in Rick.
“ ‘Cause Rick likes the guy who runs the place and he lets him run a tab,” Wanda finished.
“Yeah, for sure,” Rick agreed. “Come with us. You gotta meet this dude. For an old guy he’s really hip, and smart too. He’s got like all kinds of connections. I’ll bet he could find you some place to sleep and maybe even a job, if you can get into that kind of stuff.”
“All right,” said the stranger. “I am not against an honest exchange of services for goods. I will accept a job.”
“OK, then,” said Rick. “Get in the back seat and I’ll have us there before you know it. It’s not midnight yet, so there’s still plenty of time till last call.”
“Put that Graceland tape on, Rick. You know, the one with that weird song about role models and cartoon graveyards. My favorite.” Wanda got out of the front seat, went around to the back and seated herself close beside the stranger. “I’m riding in the back with what’s-his-name here,” she told Rick. “He may talk funny, but he sure looks good. Better than you, anyway.”
Rick grunted in reply and then eased the van out onto Fulton Street and into the thin stream of downtown traffic. In no time at all they had passed Stanyan and were speeding down through the Western Addition toward Civic Center. The stranger turned around and watched the park recede through the rear window. He raised his hand in a gesture of farewell.
Wanda gave him a big smile and put her arm around his shoulder. “What’s your name, anyway, mister? Or should I just call you The Incredible Hunk?”
By way of reply, the stranger leaned forward and said to Rick. “I look different from you, don’t I?”
“You sure do,” laughed Rick. “A lot less hair, but a lot more muscles. I’m surprised you could fit into those clothes.” He shot a glance at Wanda. “I can sure see what Wanda’s getting excited about. But then just about anything in pants gets Wanda excited.”
“Watch your mouth, Rick!” snapped Wanda. “He’s the first real man I’ve seen around here in ages. You are a real man, aren’t you, honey? What is your name, anyway?”
The stranger gave her a serious look. “By a strange coincidence, Wanda, my name is the same as the title of your favorite song. You can call me Al.” He leaned back and closed his eyes. “And now, may I rest until we get there? I find I’m rather tired.”
“You poor baby,” cooed Wanda. “Being mugged is no piece of cake. Just put your head on my shoulder, and I’ll wake you up when we get there.”
And that is what he did.
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022