The night is soft, but charged with danger. Mingled with the sounds of the waves and the land crabs clawing their way up the palms is the whir of the computer drives. The bleeps and blips. The room is bathed in illuminated darkness. Bamboo blinds rattle lightly in the breeze. Out the window, the far-off volcano glows in fiery anger. Stacked on the teak tabletop, next to a laser gun (one can’t be too careful , no matter how remote my location – Dr. Fiendish and his henchmen still patrol the skies) is a crate of records and CD’s scavenged from a shipwreck on the beach, a jelly-filled donut, and a large, radiant jewel.
But let me backtrack a bit. I’ve recently wrapped up an arduous journey – a quest for the Eye of the Orangutan. You may be familiar with this rare jewel, a dark orange ruby said to give the bearer super hearing and the ability to turn ordinary bagels into donuts. If you’ve heard of it, you’ll know that it hasn’t been seen by human eyes in over 100 years. Not since famed explorer and ukulele virtuoso R.J. Sconeskipper proclaimed its discovery…and then promptly disappeared. I had been retracing his route, following leads and tips, consulting ancient maps and texts – one step ahead of my nemesis Dr. Fiendish, who would attempt to find the jewel first.
I sit here now on this small island somewhere in a turbulent sea (forgive me if I don’t reveal my exact location, the reason being all too obvious) and recall the events of the last few months and the music that was often my only companion.
R.J. Sconeskipper began his journey in Kathmandu, and that’s where I found myself at the start of the expedition. The wind and snow obscured Himalayas loomed over the dank, slightly haunted hotel where I waited for the weather to subside so I could set off in search of the hidden valley where the Eye of the Orangutan was originally found. I had been there a week and feared I was coming down with a case of beriberi. In a small shop in a back alley, tucked among incense, dried goat meat, and cell phone chargers were copies of the latest album by Julia Holter, Have You in My Wilderness, and Promised Land Sound’s For Use and Delight. Back in my room, I waited two more days for the blue sun to once again return, my only company those two albums, lush art-pop and country rock…strange bedfellows indeed.
Finally I was able to depart for the mountains, a little thinner, but no wiser.
The air was sparse at the altitude I eventually reached. The Sherpas who had accompanied me had turned back the day before, refusing to venture into the sacred, forbidden valley spread out before us. As a hard, cruel wind buffeted my tent, the dulcet sounds of “Valley of Wonders” by Beautify Junkyards played on my iPod. I ventured down the rocky slope, the sun rising behind me like a squashed grapefruit. As I descended further, the air began to warm and sparse vegetation began dotting the nearly nonexistent trail, causing me to trip more than once.
By evening I was sweating profusely at the edge of a jungle full of vines, at least 73 shades of green leaves, and a million pairs of eyes. Always the eyes. Watching me – like a python watches it’s soon to be devoured prey. Were two of the eyes those of Dr. Fiendish?
With the snow-capped mountains still looming over me (and the jungle, and the eyes), I began my search of the clearing – the place my GPS coordinates had led me to. A thorough search turned up nothing. Just as I was despairing of finding any clue as to the current location of the Eye, a startling lime-sherbet colored bird, maybe a parrot and maybe not, appeared on a branch to my left. “Follow the winding river”, it croaked, before singing “Come Down to the River” by David Wiffen. So I said “Thanks, pal” and hightailed it through the dangling vines and past the million blinking eyes to the river I knew must be dead ahead.
I burst through the undergrowth and fell down an embankment, hitting the rushing water like a sack of Basmati rice (organic, of course). Surfacing and gasping for air, I managed to hitch a ride on a passing log after dislodging (dislogging?) the pesky sunbathing turtles (with their damn turtle eyes staring at me). As the current picked up speed, I glanced back, just in time to see Dr. Fiendish emerge from the trees. “Hello, Hello (We’re Back Again)” by Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil, played on a boombox being carried by one of his henchmen.
Dr. Fiendish shook his fist (which was holding a cheese croissant) at me, exclaiming “You can’t win! I will find the Eye of the Orangutan before you!” As his words faded out, I slipped around a bend in the river and soon began to get sleepy. Luckily, I had my trusty waterproof backpack, which I used as a pillow, drifting off to sleep on the surprisingly smooth and marshmallow-esque log as stars began to dot the ever-darkening sky like pinholes in a big black balloon. Gazing at my favorite constellation, the Love Platypus of Archimedes, I fell into a sleep of fevered dreams, punctuated by the psychedelic atmospherics of “En Gang Om Aret” by Dungen, interrupted eventually by the more fevered “Helelyos” by Sexwitch.
When I awoke a day (two days?, a week?) later I was in the shipping lanes of a calm, but not too calm, sea. A freighter plowed towards me, unaware of my tiny presence. “Ha ha”, I said to myself in a triumphant and heroic voice, as I launched myself from my log raft, grasped the dangling anchor chain of the ship and climbed up the deck like a spider, nay, like Spiderman himself!
Though the crew spoke no English, I was of course fluent in Swahili and Japanese – the predominant languages on board. I arranged for a cabin and soon found myself in the dining quarters eating fried squid and bananas flambe while “Pickled Ginger” by Wilco played on the ship’s intercom.
I looked up from a tentacle and saw a mysterious man trying to look inconspicuous behind a newspaper across the room. It was none other than Dr. Fiendish! I leaped out the window as one of his burly henchmen burst through the door. Fortunately, I landed on a crate of sponges, as we were dockside. I scrambled to my feet and made my way quickly through the throngs of people and maze of streets. Where was I?
A church bell sounded, reminding me of “Images in Glass” by Norwegian chanteuse Karin Krog. I was in fact in Norway. The fjords here ran deep, deeper than the swimming pool at my two-bit apartment back in Miami. Not that the pool was very deep. But if you dropped a donut in it, it would sink like a rock, buddy. What was at the bottom of these fjords, though? Maybe the Eye of the Orangutan. Sconeskipper always talked about Atlantis being at the bottom of a fjord, so he was familiar with the area. After a quick cup of coffee at a café playing GospelbeacH’s “Sunshine Skyway” and a couple of hours of shut-eye in an abandoned yo-yo factory, I rented a submarine (yellow, of course) and started a descent of the deepest fjord.
Weeks I lived on that cursed sub, my frustration only lessened by the liminal sounds of Zachary Cale’s Duskland. Constantly I searched for any clue, any sign of the Eye. But I searched too long. Dr. Fiendish had ample time to track me down. And track me down he did. His henchmen caught up to me one evening as I lounged on the dock under the Aurora Borealis, which was sparkling and waving like a drunk cheerleader in a glitter factory.
As they attempted to drop a net over me, I rolled over the dock edge into the cold, dark deep. In the water yet again (this was getting to be a habit). I swam hard, holding my breath, the tune of “Dead Fox” by Courtney Barnett playing over and over in my head (“If I can’t see you, you can’t see me”). Coming up for air, I found myself at the floats of a seaplane. I climbed on, just as it was taking off. The cold and lack of oxygen at altitude caused me to black out. I woke up as the plane landed on the smooth waters of the Hudson River, the New York City skyline over my shoulder. I was no closer to the Eye than before. Or was I? As I walked, dripping, through the early morning streets, I heard a pawn shop radio playing “Laugh in the Dark” by Tommy Keene. A light bulb lit up in my head, “Of course! The jewel is in Sconeskipper’s secret underground library!”
The streets were dark by the time I found the hidden entrance under a flickering, buzzing neon sign reading “Ukuleles Polished Here“. “Neon Repairman” by Freedy Johnston came to mind. I searched and searched through the library’s many volumes until one night, bored and eating a bagel in the library, I was listening to “Airline” by Sasha Bell, which inspired me to take a specific book (Penguins, Jet packs, and the New World Order) off a back shelf. The book had a cutaway section in the middle…with the fabled jewel inside: the Eye of the Orangutan! You may think this was luck too good to be true and you may think I just want to end this too-long story by now. I’ll let you decide. Either way, the Eye was mine!
I picked it up and could immediately hear the sound of insect orchestras through the library’s walls, the sound of grass growing up above along the mean streets of the city, the sound of a tree falling in a forest miles away, where there was nobody to hear it. I grabbed my half-eaten bagel and it became a donut. Chocolate, at that! Ha ha! I had succeeded. But then I heard Dr. Fiendish approach down the stairs. Quickly, I grabbed the Eye (and the donut) and made my escape! Which brings me to the present….
I don’t know how long I’ll have to hide on this island. This island of madness. This island of bloodthirsty land crabs, bathed in the demonic glow of the red hot volcano…I have my stack of music …but all I can hear is the crackling of the lava, though leagues away, amplified by the Eye. Lava and donuts. I ask myself, “Was it all worth it?”
(Any thoughts that music choices were wedged into this story haphazardly or awkwardly so as to highlight some of the author’s favorite music of 2015 are purely/probably in the mind of the reader.)