Strade's Jacket 


"World's Hugest Flee Marked" — misspelled, chipped, faded, a lesser milestone for assorted reliquaries of kitsch, a signpost up ahead in a region free of the ordinary zoning, an unsigned minor work "brought to you by" the timeless school, radical by design, Serlinghaus.

I pull into the dusty drive path into a patch of nowhere, along its main highway. There are mutant-looking pumpkins littering the roadway, some carved, some misshapen naturally. Freak jack-o-lanterns lighting the way to my rendezvous with the evening they nominate for shadowy things without shadows. "Nice one, Rod" I think, smirking.

I'm a travel writer, here to survey the niches Kerouac chose not to chronicle and I'm surprised, at him, and, the place. Maybe I'll call my groundbreaker "Off the Road."

"Jackets, Nearly New" catches my curious eyes.

It hangs limply on an antique hotel wardrobe cart, its heavy canvas-like texture interrupted by darkly tinged worn-looking leather straps and pocked brass buckles, the leather forming the concave outline belting takes on in tortuous tribute to its usual subjects" size. It fits too well, my brain counsels, but I seek a second opinion from my gut, which was silent.

"Ain't she a beaut," the eager exhibitor offers with a visible lump in his left jaw.

"Wore by Harry Houdini hisself" he adds, liar.

"May I try it on?" is authorized by some of my more polite, yet direct neurons.

"Cost ya," he laughingly says.

"How much?"

"Ain't talkin bout money; your mine's the, just kiddin, go on, try her, Hell of a trick for them treats, eh?"

Scenes from a now burst reservoir of horror films flood my right brain, now in control of the entity I called "me," sometimes "I".

"I," finding some cerebral higher ground, extend my arms; from somewhere comes the thought, "embrace the unknown".

"Nice fit for a "one size fits all" deal" he mumbles, now more deliberate, it seems.

As he buckles the strapping, "I," again, this time from a playful place, conjure the comic mimetic pose of the fake make out, running my still free fingers through the back of my head's hair, the other four groping my ribcage.

"Hey, you ain't no weirdo, are ya, cuz this here's a family place, feller" the peddler now assumed a sterner tone.

"Ya know why they call it a straightjacket, don't ya, huh?"

A group of voyeurs now gathers round the spectacle "I" had gotten "me" to become.

"Mr. Strade, are you alright?" comes a mellow inquiry attached to a blurry vision of a white-clad female.

Her hands are gently stroking the back of my head and my side as if to awaken me.

"You feel febrile; I imagine your chest must be a bit sore from that fall, am I right?"

"Where's the salesman?" I mumble.

"He's still somewhat groggy from the sedative I imagine" the female voice comments to an anonymous hearer.

My addled brain is now doing its best to focus upon simple external stimuli, none of which seem familiar to it; this is scaring me, my name, my name is.

"Mr. Strade, now we're going to have to take some x-rays, ok, won't hurt a bit."

"How did I get here?" is the best my writerly necktop can do.

I can feel several sets of eyes, including mine, I think, rolling in their moist sockets, now suddenly dry from the interrupted robotic task of blinking; it's a wet, dull sloshing feeling, slow, steady workings of the stereo one-way telescopes my brain clings to for acceptable, "best we can do with what we've got" nebulous versions of "is". Get hold of your self, I think, eyes tell lies ain't news, a new folksiness colors my third-rate insight.

This lie is a big one and my attempts to process its empirical data are joy riding on a feedback loop taking on the shape of that "eight on its side" symbol for the infinite.

I am wheeled from room to room, it seems and, after being stood up against a too-cold for flesh surface, my arms are once again bound in unwanted self-embrace.

This latest room is different, more like an office.

"Dr. Alan Rotweiner" is the name repeated in various shaped framed vellum, some in Latin. He walks in to find me squirming, now fully awake, I think. I'm jolted from my random reverie by "Hello" much too loud to qualify as sincere. There's a sort of scripted feel to the conversation, like I've heard it before, as though it's been rehearsed, at least in my head; I just listen in for some reason, I think I'm named Spike Swanson".

"Never seen one of you guys wear one of those, like you've come to take me away. Oh, wait a minute, they've already done that!"

Not so fast, we don't even know if you're ill, do we?

That's a relief. But you don't need a weatherman...

Careful, quoting Dylan songs may be a sign of definite weirdness. Look, Mr. Swanson, I'll drive, all right? Speaking of music, any objections to the opera--I find it relaxes people; the problems in opera are so just exaggerated versions of life and death.
(He switches on a CD)

Fair enough, Hell, I may be a character in one, maybe the soprano role; what shall we talk about?

I'm a Jungian, Mr. Swanson. That means, among other things, that we may dispense with all the canned assumptions about the dark psyche and talk about you according to you. Please begin.

My favorite subject, so I'm told. It all started...


We're making progress already, I can see that. Touché; you see, I'm a pathological liar, I think, since forever.

And you expect me to believe that?
(smirk of amusement on Doc's face)

Interesting, I never considered that angle, at least not with a headshrinker, I see your dilemma—so, basically, everything I now tell you...

Is potential horseshit; you know I've actually done this before, so let's let me sort it all out, shall we?

Fine, fine. What is so scary is that I can't tell anymore whether I am telling myself the truth; as far as others are concerned, no one has ever challenged me before——at least as far as I can remember. Which raises an equally tough question: is my memory also a liar?

Let's back up a moment; do you know your name and, if so, how?

Sure, my name was given to me by my parents and I've seen my birth certificate so I know they weren't lying to me, at least not about that.

So let us assume it is therefore safe to call you Spike Swanson; how do you know that you are that person recorded in the birth certificate and not some adopted or kidnapped child, now grown, all the while raised as your namesake?

The point is that, while, in fact, DNA can determine who your parents were, there is no sure way of knowing if they were who they said they were, or, if that is not true, the same can be said far enough back in their ancestry that science breaks down for lack of a sample and we are left with perhaps nothing more than a long-perpetrated fraud, generation after generation.

But, not to put too fine a point on it, what's a name after all, even if it is really yours, as far as you know. In that sense we may, all of us, be liars.

Am I supposed to be feeling better by now? Because I—whoever that is—am not. I think I was brought in here to discuss the likelihood that I have behaved like an out of control liar and you tell me that I may be a lie! Thanks very much.

I did include myself, in all fairness. Look, facts, as we know them, are all built on assumptions, most of them seeming to be pretty solid, largely because we, society, mostly agree that they are true, which may be very different from actuality.

So one billion Chinese could be wrong about rice? Here's a personal fact: since I was a kid I have been lying about myself, to myself, and plenty of others, forging autographs to myself---assuming I am myself——and "assuming" ——and asking others to assume——they were genuine. Now, there are real signatures somewhere of these people. Isn't that clear cut?

I'm afraid not. Here is the problem: who, other than someone who never actually saw the person in question sign his/her name, authenticates that signature as real, especially in the case of deceased persons. How do we test that guarantor's credibility, the only real evidence being that other people believe him/her? And why do they believe him/her: because other people believe him/her about other signatures. How can there be any ultimate certainty? Stranger still, the signer may decide next week to change his/her signature——don't they first create it and no one else? That is why we, this same agreeable society of ours, have created something we call trust, but can this agreement we have made to trust each other be trusted?

So a second opinion may be a real waste of my time, since he/she is going to trust your diagnosis of me, whoever you and I may actually be.

You have stumbled upon the paramount exception to the rule: experts make a living by not agreeing. But outside of the realms of expertise and its bearing upon making money, the rule applies: you open a bank account, sign a card and they give your money to anyone that signature tells them to; how do they know it is YOUR signature, unless you say it is. The same with the driver's license you are about to tell me they, or anyone, can compare it with. No, the certain facts are very limited in scope: the signature "you" decide to use matches up with who you think you are based upon what others, in writing or otherwise, have told you.

You ever had a patient tell you that 'our time is up?' Could be a first--hey, at least we'll be famous; look, since you've done one helluva job destroying my mental state, one unrelated question you must get a lot, you handle impotency problems?

Yes, actually, it seems the name exerts some sort of reverse psychology—anyway, if it's an issue, I just advise them to call me Dr. 'Rotweiler'.

(Both laugh with comic relief)





I put it to you plainly, how do you know you are not imagining your life and are, in actual fact, someone else altogether, induced into this imagined "life" by the use of psychotropic drugs administered by a qualified nurse at some mental institution? This is the subject of my seminar at the medical school, and I have yet to have any student, howsoever brilliant, rebut it.

Timeout. I—again—may not be who I think I am, right; ok, then when I go to a notary public to verify my signature all that he/she does is legitimize a potential lie. So the law is a harlot, as somebody famous once told us, after all, fucking—I mean servicing those who service her!

And now I see your dilemma: you now see, do you not, that if we are all liars, howsoever unwitting, there are no lies.

Weird! But, wait a minute—then everything is weird?

Mr. Swanson, you are standing—rather sitting—on a chair itself perched upon a floor of a building itself sitting on a rock-like ball in what we call space, governed by a force we call gravity about which almost all of us, including the late Dr. Einstein, know virtually nothing. Yet we do not fall "off—keeping in mind that there is no N, S, E or West in Space, whatever that is, filled, it seems according to the latest research, with 'dark matter', constituting almost 90% of the known universe, the essence of which we are unable to divine, try as we may; Yes, Mr. Swanson, everything is indeed weird.

I would call that a big 'YES'. You don't make house calls, do you, 'cause I could really use you as a mindguard/guru for my next writing assignment?

And now it is I, at least the 'I' called Dr. Rotweiner, who must terminate our session for now.

Terminate—and you guys are supposed to be sensitive?

Would you prefer 'end'? I want you to do something for me, and for you, Mr. Swanson; here is a micro tape device: I want you to record everything for me in the next day or so, including that appointment. Now don't worry about the law, as the recording will be surreptitious and a mere aide in my analysis; the battery is long-lasting and you will, under stress, forget it is even on your lapel; besides, why fear the 'harlot', as you have indicated?she can be satisfied with less than justice, eh?

"Hey, you awright, mister? " yells the old man. "Better call an ambulance, he's out of it" was his command to a fellow stall operator.

"Keep yer shirt on, Spike, goin as fast as I can" the man snapped back, phone in hand.

"Damn it all to Hell...had me a live one, sure did" old Spike complained to any and every one gathered.
As he fiddled with the various items on his display case, he pointed to some well-framed certificates on the shelves.

"Saw him admirin them degrees I picked up real cheap at some estate sale; now what am uh gonna do with em...oh, well, least I sold him that spy recorder deal, got it real cheap."

As the ambulance speeds away, siren blaring, the patient, now coming to, notices the recording device pinned to his lapel; he presses "rewind", then "play".

"An this here ain't no ordinary bazaar or marketplace, my friend; oh, no, see, round here we specialize in the strange, like the strange place that we are. You get a good look at that sign out by the roadway?
Uh, no, just saw "flea market", got curious, I'm a writer, sort of a chronicler of the offbeat, that sort of thing, why?

Well, just this here: sign reads "FLEE MARKED" call yerself a writer, a real keen observer, eh? Makes me laugh, it does; see, you gonna be leavin here, alright, just not any way you want to's all! You been "marked", ain't never gonna forget this here deal, that"ll be $50 for the recorder."

As the ambulance pulled up to the hospital entrance, the jostling of the gurney from the vehicle caused the small device to strike the pavement, shattering it. The paramedic carelessly handled the rickety bed on wheels in such a way that his fellow fell across it, right atop the patient's ribcage, all 300 pounds dead weight.

"Mr. Strade. Mr. Strade, are you alright?" comes a mellow inquiry attached to a blurry vision of a white-clad female.

The End