"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes."—Jack Handey
No Winners in the Game of Life…Unless You Count All Those Millionaires
Over the next few weeks I got to know Lazlow pretty well. I took notes and tested theories. He became comfortable having me around, and began letting down his guard. One night, he got a little tipsy and confided to me he felt his existence was pointless.
"It's like all of this…is all just a big game, Harv," he said, sipping on his beer. "Like, I exist only for the purposes of someone else, whose name and identity I don't even know. I'm just here to be a voice. A voice crying in the wilderness. Background chatter. Lazlow the chatterbox." He shook his head. "I don't know. It's just all so depressing."
He was going on and on about it, waxing philosophical. It started to make me depressed, too. I stopped washing dishes for a minute and said, "Well, at least there's only one of you."
He just kind of gave me a dull look, like my opinion didn't add up to much. "What do you mean, Harv?"
I set the goblet I was rinsing in the drying rack. "I mean, there's just one you. There's only one Lazlow."
"Well, look around, Boss. Liberty city is populated with clones. There's only about ten types of us around here. Me? I even get confused and forget what my real name is sometimes. I don't really have an identity. But you, Lazlow, now you are special."
He laughed at me. "No," he said, "not special. Lazlow isn't special. Lazlow, my little friend, is just about the least special— You know, you know what Lazlow is good for? Well, I'll tell ya. (hiccup.) Here's a guy, he sits there at the radio station all day, taking these stupid calls from some pretty obnoxious callers…who, I suspect, are all just made-up characters in some grand scheme of things themselves. They don't even know it. No. There's only one special person around here, and, Baby, it sure isn't Lazlow."
I frowned and put down the dish towel. Lazlow drained the rest of his beer and belched loudly. He gazed off into space, muttering something I couldn't quite hear.
"You aren't making any sense," I said. I walked over and stood above him. He just grinned up at me with that sloppy grin of his. I said, "You really think this is all a game?"
He nodded and raised his glass for me to refill it.
I ignored the glass. "This isn't a game," I said. "This is my life. Yours, mine. Whatever. But, please don't say this is just some stupid game."
He smirked up at me and wiggled his glass a little.
"Then," I said, "If you are serious…I quit." I took off my apron, crumpling it up as I went over to the coat rack. "If this is just a big game," I said, "I quit, and I'm not going to play it anymore." I threw the apron down and put my coat on. "At least not by anyone else's rules," I said.
"Come back here, you little clone!" I heard Lazlow shouting. But I didn't look back. I went out the door and slammed it behind me.
When I got to my car, Lazlow was yelling from his porch. "You're just a nobody, Harvey, do you hear me? You exist only to serve me. And I'm employee of the decade, Harvey. You get back here and finish these dishes!"
I stood there for a second, trembling with rage, surprised at myself for feeling the way I did. If Lazlow wasn't special, what was I wasting my time on him for? He had already given up all his secrets. He was just too stupid to know it.
I got in my Manana and started it, rolling down the window as the little car chugged to life.
"My name's not Harvey!" I yelled back at him.
Then I peeled out of there. Well, that is, I drove away as fast as you can, in a Manana. But I did manage to throw a few satisfying bits of gravel onto his sidewalk as I left.
And that felt good.
--- --- ---
Ten minutes later, I was sitting at a red light, still a bit dazed from the recent unfolding of events. But it was dark out, and I was already beginning to cool off. The whole thing with Lazlow telling me there was only one person who mattered in this city was just crazy. Was he simply drunk? Or…was he perhaps drunk and telling things he shouldn't? My brain began hurting a little bit, trying to put it all into a form I could manage.
Something in the near distance disturbed my concentration. I couldn't help noticing the roar of a high performance engine coming up behind me. Mixed with it, there was an angry whining sound like the wailing of multiple police sirens. The traffic signal in front of me was still red, so I began looking over my shoulder to see what was happening.
A second later, a sleek red Stinger sports car popped over the hill and flew toward me at a breathtaking speed. There was nothing I could do. I braced for impact just as it plowed into the rear of the Manana.
The crunching of metal on metal deafened my ears, and flying bits of glass pelted the back my head. I felt myself rocking forward and spinning through space. The Manana bumped up over the curb and came to rest in the grass, with me still sitting behind its wheel, feeling dazed.
When I opened my eyes, there was the Stinger lying in front of me on its top, wheels still spinning. It was on fire. The police sirens were raging now, and suddenly there were patrol cars sliding around and colliding with one another in the grass. Red and blue strobes blinded my eyes for a few seconds. The smell of testosterone and adrenaline filled the air and I was overwhelmed by the miraculous chaos giving birth to itself all about me.
You can probably guess my reaction, then, when my driver's door suddenly yanked open and I looked up to see the form of a man, silhouetted in the beams of a police searchlight. He bent down, reaching for me. At first I thought my car must be on fire—just like the sports car in front of me, now in flames—and the man had come to save me. I was too shocked to move, but then he grabbed a hold of my coat and ripped me from the automobile.
I tumbled out onto the grass. When I rolled over and looked up, my car was streaking away and the police were stumbling all over one another, trying to get back into their own cars.
In a matter of a few seconds I was left utterly alone again, sitting in the grass and wondering what just happened. The sirens wailed off into the night. The faceless stranger had disappeared along with the last glimpses of the tail lights from my only means of transportation. He was the man everyone wanted—the man at the very front of the parade.
I stood to my feet, checking myself over for any broken bones or blood, but except for a disheveled sense of mobility I seemed to have emerged from the wreck unscathed. I began walking.
"I have no car," I told myself.
"It is gone."
I snapped my fingers. "Poof," I said. "Gone."
I walked a little further. "Where am I going?" I asked myself.
"Well, I'm walking home, where else would I go?"
And so, that's what I did. And along the way, I had plenty of time to come to some conclusions. There is only one special person in this city. And it sure isn't me. The purpose of my existence is only to provide him a car when he chooses to take it. And to maybe throw my coat down for him on a mud puddle so he won't get his precious feet wet when he steps down.
Somehow in my heightened state of shock, it seemed to all make sense, like I had just solved the great riddle of life or something. That's how I felt that night. Everything was as it should be.
--- --- ---
The next day, I woke up aching. Reality had settled in again. I didn't have a car, and my knees were bruised. What kind of nonsense had I been thinking the night before?
I walked to work that morning and I forgot about everything I had learned. When I saw my neighbor on every corner I waved at him. And when I saw my other neighbors in the hallway when I got home I didn't notice they all looked just like me. Everything was back to normal.
And then one day, I found a little crumpled notebook in the pocket of my coat. And when I opened it, it took me a while after I read through all the notes, but eventually I figured something out.
This was not my coat.