Good old Jack Thompson.
The guy was in my head, mewling and crying and spouting aphorisms about mortality that somehow incorporate rantings on child pornography simulators and murder trainers.
I told him to lay off, that I was collating his latest findings. "Exposure to My Penis Has Turned My Pants Into Pornography Junkies" blared the title. Genius. And true, all of it true.
He and his damned pants.
I finished stamping each page with the official 'Certifiably Jack!' seal of approval. Jack wouldn't have it any other way.
I watched him struggle with the top of the Cap'n Crunch box. He was mumbling his usual steady stream of oracular raving. "Propagating clearly divisive packaging. The cereal manufacturers will rue the day. Rue . . . the . . . day." With each of his final three words he slammed the box on the counter. It sat there deflated and sad.
Jack's hands were purple. "Let's go get some breakfast. Bring the panty shields."
Jack liked to line his underwear. To soak up any "accidental overarousal to stimuli brought about by repeated exposure." Genius.
We pulled up to a McDonald's. Jack eyed the children on the Playground with the look of a father besieged on all sides by forces arrayed against his own flesh and blood. Which he was, in a way.
I turned off the car and tried not to make eye contact with Jack. He'd told me "eye contact raises the serotonin in the brain and stirs aggression. We all know that the sex and violence centers in the brain are in the same exact spot, so watch what you stir up, son."
I soaked up Jack's running monologue. "Playground fighting, Columbine-times-10 in any McDonald's, the sugar, vertical heights of equipment. That pipe there, a virtual tunnel to smoke out virtual VC, a murder waiting to happen. Pipe killer."
We went inside and up to the counter. Jack preferred to let me order for him. He said he didn't trust his "cranial menu. Too many options."
I ordered him a Bacon-Egg-Cheese breakfast and myself a McGriddle. We took a seat in the corner, where the plastic furniture was being warmed by the early sun just peeking over the horizon. Jack sat where he could watch the children.
I saw a family take a seat on the other side of the room. They had a young boy, maybe 11, with them, and immediately upon sitting down he pulled out a Game Boy Advance and began pushing the buttons with a steady, insistent rhythm, what Jack called "the orgiastic reveling in sadism using the hands as an embodiment of machismo."
I knew what would be coming. I saw Jack's eyes flick over the boy. I started to count to ten.
Then I thought better of it, and cautioned Jack to count to ten. He shook his head vehemently. "Another budding member of the Hitler youth right there. Doug Lowenstein and his cronies won't take another down with their prostitute-killing, makeup-artist-having kind."
"Jack," I began, but he waved at me a few times and rose from his seat in a smooth movement. It was like an oil-covered ferret sliding out of a drainpipe, sleek and foreboding. He moved with oozing purpose, a beeline toward the child with the Game Boy, who remained transfixed by the miniature murder-education device.
The boy's parents caught sight of Jack only steps from their son. The glint in Jack's eyes was surely unsettling. The father lunged forward, moving between Jack and the boy.
"Stand aside, thug!" Jack shouted. "Your son is rapt in the clutches of a most vile temptress. Even now his head swims with simulated gropings and stabbings, he is being seduced by images too terrible to describe."
"Now see here-" the father began.
Jack shoved him aside.
Alas, I was not quick enough to grab Jack's collar. He is often like a rabid dog, yet his rabies is a disease of compassion. For the children.
The Game Boy Advance went flying. Its screen caught the sun and reflected a golden gleam into my eyes. I turned away, nearly too late. The infernal contraption would not have me today!
My attention turned rapidly back to Jack, who had his hands on the child and was shaking him with vigor. "The foul demons which have entered you are powerless against the might of my protection and service. Out with the misleading ratings system which haunts you and your family, out with the labias and nipples your Sims game provides, out with the Hot Coffee and all the videogame pornography!"
The child was beginning to turn green. By now his father was up off the floor and red-faced; I saw him yell for someone to call the manager.
"Jack." I tapped hurriedly on his shoulder. "Jack!"
"What!" he yelled, turning on me with flames in his eyes. At least he had stopped shaking the boy.
"We have to leave. Now." The father had run in and scooped his son away while I'd distracted Jack. "Go wait in the car, Jack," I said calmly.
He looked at me, visibly shaking. "Go, Jack," I said, more firmly this time, and he wandered out the doors like a man in a trance.
"I'm so sorry," I said to the father. "Take this card. I will expect a call within the next few days. It would be very nice if we could settle this out of court."
He took the card and peered at it curiously. His wife looked at the card and then at him expectantly. I held my breath.
I gave a small bow and left the fast food joint, heart pounding. Before returning to the car I leaned against a wall next to the Playground. The laughing children sounded like cackling hyenas.
I fingered a small stack of cards in my pocket. I pulled one out, felt the fancy, embossed lettering and tossed it into a heavy cross wind. It zipped away, soon out of sight.
I hadn't even noticed the words, only the writing. There was no need. The words - I had memorized them.
The card danced and skittered in the wind, topsy-turvy and willy-nilly, coming to rest against a curb, where it would sit until a rain, several weeks hence, would flood it into the sewers.
The writing glinted dull and black:
"Please excuse my friend. He suffers from a degenerative mental disease, which renders him unable to control his impulses. I apologize if he has caused any harm. Please refer any complaints to his legal counsel, as he is unable to handle his own affairs. I sincerely hope any damage can be satisfactorily handled out of court."
And below that was a name and number.
I got back in the driver's seat and stared straight ahead, my hands resting slackly on the leather steering wheel.
Jack fidgeted. "I did bad again," he whispered.
I blew out a sigh. "Yes you did, Jack."
He turned toward me. "Look at me," he said.
I turned and glanced quickly up, then down again.
"No," he said. "Look at me."
I looked. His eyes were coated with tears. Then the tears bubbled over and dripped down his face. "It's all for the children," he blubbered, and the rest of his diatribe was lost in choking sobs.
I put my arms around him, drew him close and patted his back. "Shh, shh," I cooed. "It's gonna be okay, Jack. You're a good man. You gotta keep going, don't let this stop you. Keep going."
He pulled away, his sobs only sniffles. "For the children?" He cocked his head like a puppy.
I nodded. "For the children."