I went for a drink at the Old Toad tonight after seeing Midnight in Paris. I was sitting outside with Melissa when a man walking by with a bike stopped at our table and asked me if we would be there a while, intimating that he wanted someone to watch his bike. I said I would watch it. He asked what I wanted to drink and I told him I didn’t need anything. He said I did. I told him to surprise me.
Several minutes later he came back with a drink and I introduced myself. He had a Scottish accent that sounded fake and he said his name was Daniel. I told him my name was Alex and he said, “You already said that”. Melissa went inside to go to the bathroom, brushing my shoulder as she passed, and he still had not let go of my hand. He told me to squeeze as hard as I could and I said no and he said right answer. This was the first of many bad signs.
Daniel told me I was failing and wanted to know what at. I tried to think of something and I told him that everyone fails at something. He told me not to be coy and I said I wasn’t. He insisted I was failing at something and at one point stood up off the chair and leaned across the table and close to my face to tell me again. He confronted me with a barrage of related accusations and told me not to look down and not to be coy, that we were not in the movies, which was funny because I had just seen a movie that I imagined during my conversation with Daniel to have been full of such moments.
He asked me to tell him a riddle and I said I couldn’t think of one. He said of course not and then told me one. Who can remember these things? But it went something like this:
“You’re trying to find something, trying to find meaning. You keep looking and every time you look you go deeper into the rabbit hole.” When he said this he pointed down into the hole in the center of the metal table where an umbrella could go but there was no umbrella.
“You go deeper into the rabbit hole”, he said, pushing the forefinger on his right hand down into the umbrella hole, “and then the universe pushes you back out”, using his left forefinger, now up underneath the table, to push the right finger back up.
“Then, one morning you wake up in a room full of your friends and you’ve turned into a pink elephant balloon. And you’re there with all your friends and there’s no way out. And you despair because there’s no way out of the room. Finally one of your friends finds a way out. It’s the slightest pinprick of a hole. And your friend leaves. And then one by one the rest of your friends leave. They’re all gone and what do you do? Do you follow your friends?”
I considered answering at this point but took a sip of beer to buy time. Then Daniel continued describing the scenario.
“Because if you follow your friends through the pinprick hole you know you’ll be turned inside out and your insides will be on your outside.”
Eventually the riddle ended, I never answered, doubting whether what he told me really counted as a riddle, and the conversation turned to Daniel’s life history, which included, among other things, having gone to Cooper Union and holding his mother in his arms as she died from injuries sustained in a car accident. I tried to respond and all of my responses he ridiculed as lies. When someone feigns access to the otherworldly and the transcendant, the safest thing to do is to take them at their word and listen. I listened to Daniel and I felt scared but reassured by all the people on the terrace at nearby tables and on the sidewalk walking by.
Eventually Daniel called his girlfriend with his phone. I noticed that he had an iPhone, which convinced me that Daniel was not schizophrenic and homeless, as I had originally assumed, inexplicably spending his money, stolen from the group home slush fund, buying beer for strangers and then possibly poisoning those beers before most certainly murdering those who drank them.
He got his girlfriend on the phone and I could hear her voice.
“Should I sleep in the back room or crawl into bed with you?
“You’re not gonna tell me where to sleep? Well so then I should continue doing whatever the fuck I wanna do?
“I’m at the Old Toad. Talking to a young guy I’m trying to get into a fight with.”
Then he handed me the phone.
Her name was Lauren.
“Hey man, you should just put down the phone and walk away”, said Lauren.
I handed him the phone and without saying another word to Lauren he pressed “End”.
I swallowed the last bit of my beer and thanked him.
“Thank you for the beer, Daniel. I appreciate it. I don’t want to fight.”
“There won’t be any fight.”
We shook hands and I went inside.