Don and Dan Build a Shelter
In a little town in Alabama—where exactly I won’t tell you, since my dad always says the internet is full of creeps—there’s man who wears a grey smoking jacket on hot summer days, who has a loaded antique revolver on his hip at all times, and who keeps an old greyhound out back. This guy is my neighbor, Don Bigote, who everyone calls “Colonel.”
He may be called that, but I don’t think ever was in the army. I think he got that nickname from his habit of wearing a gun all the time (though God knows he isn’t the only person to do that around here). Or maybe it’s the stiff, sort of military way he walks and moves around, like he’s a windup doll. In any case, it’s clear that the guy was never a soldier, since he’s so skinny and light— basically a skeleton with some skin stretched over it. This skinniness, combined with his height—he’s a lot taller than any of the boys on the basketball team—makes him look like a human streetlamp.
But I forgot to mention Don Bigote’s trademark look: his enormous white mustache. I don’t know how he maintains that thing, since his hair is thin, and the top of his head is totally bald. But his mustache sits proudly over his lips, totally covering his mouth. In the wind, it shivers like a leaf on a tree, and it’s always moist with whatever he just finished eating. But normally, that thing is perfectly brushed, trimmed, and sculpted. It’s a work of art.
Don Bigote isn’t working now. Nobody’s really sure what he did before he retired. My mom thinks he was a schoolteacher, since “All teachers are useless hippies. And besides how else could he have such a good pension? The good-for-nothing, stealing from the government!” My dad thinks he never worked at all, “How could he? Look at him, he’s a total crank! He couldn’t hold down a job in a million years. Must’ve inherited his money.”
Most people agree that Bigote’s a bit off. He doesn’t seem to have any friends or family. His social life is confined to his greyhound, Rosebud, who he alternately pampers, and then totally forgets. On the one hand Rosebud’s house is nicer than Bigote’s. On the other hand, Bigote sometimes forgets to feed or walk her for days at a time (we can tell because she walks around in his yard, head low, pawing at his door).
The two of them are pretty funny to see when they walk through the neighborhood. Rosebud is one of those old greyhounds who used to race. Who knows if she was any good. But now, the old pooch is almost as stiff, skinny, and boney as Don Bigote himself. Rosebud walks slowly, limping slightly, with her head bent down, not pausing to sniff at anything, while Bigote marches forward to an invisible drumbeat.
You get the picture. Well, Don Bigote has been our neighbor for a long time now. And aside from a few neighborly interactions, and aside from the usual commonplace hellos and all that, and aside from the occasional jokes about his weirdness, we haven’t had much to do with him. Not yet, anyway.
Lately I’ve had much more important things to worry about.
I just graduated high school, which is a big deal. That’s something you only do once. You can graduate college multiple times, and you can get married to many different people—in a row or all at once (depending on where you live)—and you can have as many kids are your sperm count permits and your wife’s (or wive’s) egg count allows, and you can exclude as many of those kids from your will as your heart desires, and you can even die over and over again if someone brings you back with a defibrillator—but graduating high school is a one-off thing. So I’m savoring the experience.
To get particular, this savoring involves a lot of drinking and as many girls as I can convince to be a part of the celebrations. I’ve saved up money, planned it all out with friends, and friends of friends, and just whatever random people I could find, and I’ve done all my homework, tracking down good party spots, checking where the cops like to patrol, and buying all the supplies we need—beer and condoms, mostly—to make sure that this savoring goes on for as long as possible. So far so good.
Last night was no exception. I won’t go into details, because I don’t remember any. But this morning I woke up on Jimmy’s couch next to someone (what’s her name?), needing badly to pee and vomit (not in that order), with a bad headache and a kind of little fire in my private parts, which I hope is just from overuse. After taking care of business, I do what I always do: throw on my clothes and sneak out, leaving everything for Jimmy to clean up.
Well, as I’m walking home, eyes hurting, head hurting, body hurting, and almost blind in the sun, stopping once in a while to spit up a little into the bushes, this dude Don Bigote—who, I should say now, before I forget, is the entire subject of this story, and the entire reason I’m writing in the first place, so pay attention!—this dude Don Bigote, as I was saying, with his mustache twinkling in the sunlight (he must’ve drank something recently), walks over from his front porch to his fence and starts talking to me.
“Hello, good sir,” he says.
“Ugh,” I reply.
“Fine day, is it not?”
“Yes, there is a northerly breeze, and the sun’s rays are dripping full down like a waterfall from heaven.”
He opens the gate of his fence and approaches closer. I can hardly keep my eyes open, and judging from the sounds my stomach is making, I don’t have long to get to a bathroom (we ate spicy burritos before the party).
“May I ask, sir,” he says, “if I have the honor of talking to the first-born son of Mr. and Mrs. Chopin?”
“Yurgle,” I answer.
“And is this first-born son bestowed with the appellation, ‘Daniel’?”
“That’s me,” I say. “Dan Chopin.” Stomach clock still ticking.
“Ah, what a pleasure,” he says, and stretches out his hand. I do likewise and he very formally and firmly shakes my limp hand until he’s good and satisfied.
“And am I correct in the knowledge, recently acquired, that this very same son, Dan Chopin, is recently graduated from high school?”
“Mmmm.” Stomach can’t take much more of this.
“And is this same aforementioned son, the honorable Dan Chopin, currently in want of gainful employment?”
“Uuhhhhhuuuhh!” I scream. “Man, I’m in a rush!” And I run into the house and make it to the bathroom just in time (well, close enough).
I shower, nap, get up, shave, apply deodorant under my armpits and my legpit, and then I go again to the bathroom just to make sure my system is totally vacant, and then—cleaned up and emptied out—I go downstairs to eat my mom’s cooking. I’ll give it to her, that lady can cook. And I can smell that she’s already busy in the kitchen.
“You got a letter,” she says as I walk in. “It’s on the table.”
“Oh yeah? What’s for dinner.”
“Chicken. You got a letter. It’s on the table.”
“Oh yeah? What kind of chicken?”
“Roasted. The letter is there on the table.”
“And what’s on the side?”
“Potatoes and greenbeans. The letter’s right there on the table.”
“Heck yeah,” I say, as I sit down at the table and open the letter, thinking it’s just the usual bullshit about college. But then I pause. It’s written in script, and the writing is all squiggly and fancy-like. I need to squint to read it, since who writes in script? It goes like this:
My dear Daniel,
I hope this letter finds you in good health and fine spirits. I am sorry to have caught you at an inopportune moment earlier today, my sincere apologies.
I am writing you today to introduce a certain proposal into your hands. Recently I have been doing a great deal of work in my house, and it struck me that I badly require assistance, seeing as I am old and increasingly in need of haste due to events beyond my control.
My proposal is this. I wish to contract your services, for a few hours each week, to help me around the home. For your services, I will give you a suitable monetary reward, the exact amount being negotiable but certainly substantial.
If you wish to accept this offer, or if you are merely intrigued and wish to learn more, please come over any time tomorrow and we will discuss it further. If, however, you cannot or do not wish to accept this offer, be assured that I understand and respect your decision, and no further action need be taken on your part.
What a wackjob. Who writes like this? Well, what should I do? I’ve got so many parties coming up, I don’t think I have any spare time…. tonight at Jimmy’s again, then Thursday I’m with Jessica, then Friday we’re going to the old factory… But then again, if I work during the day, maybe it won’t be a problem. And some extra money could really help with the partying, especially since I got fired from that froyo job.
“Hey mom,” I say.
“Not for another five minutes,” she says, stirring something.
“No, it’s not about dinner.”
“This letter, it’s from the Colonel. He wants me to work for him.”
“That’s nice, dear.”
“Says he’ll pay.”
“What do you think?”
“Well, it sounds terribly nice.”
“Should I do it?”
“I think it would be a nice thing, Danny.”
Next day at noon, I knock on his door.
In three seconds Don Bigote opens it. He’s dressed the usual way: pistol on hip, grey smoking jacket, mustache looking sharp.
“My dear Chopin, come in,” he says, gesturing like a butler in a movie.
“Yo,” I say. “What’s up?”
“I am so pleased you came.”
We walk to his kitchen. On the way I get a glimpse of his house. It’s a total mess. Magazines, books, and papers are everywhere. It’s a weird assortment of stuff, too—the National Review, ¡Adios America! by Ann Coulter, a book of Latin grammar, a history of the Spanish Reconquista, and several books with the Twin Towers on the cover. Also random are the pictures on the walls—Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, the Confederate flag, a map of Europe, a glossy photograph of a castle, and an old oil portrait of someone with a big chin who looks historical and important. And the whole place smells like cigars and sawdust.
When we get to his kitchen—which is filthy, with chipped plates, dirty dishes, and greasy glasses in the sink, and pots and pans and forks and knives everywhere—a radio is playing:
“Nowadays, you can’t say you’re against immigration or the media immediately calls you a racist. Like, am I a racist if I don’t like Mexicans? It’s a conspiracy! The left is trying to open the floodgates, my fellow Americans, and they’re already in control of all the television, all the…”
Don Bigote turns off the radio. Then he pulls out a chair for me at the kitchen table, and walks over to the cabinet to get something. In front of me is a Bible (in the King James translation), and a book called Vaccines and Autism: Behind the Liberal Conspiracy to Poison our Kids.
“I understand,” he says, as he rummages through his shelves, “that nowadays it is illegal for people of your age to partake of alcoholic drinks. Government tyranny!” He pulls down a bottle of bourbon from the shelves. “Those ungodly communists!” He pours me a drink, and pours himself one.
“To freedom!” he says, and we clink glasses. The bourbon burns.
“Onward to business, then,” he says, crossing his leg over the other, sitting straight up as if someone stuck a stick up his ass. “Chopin, before I begin, I need your most solemn promise of confidentiality. What I am about to tell you is very sensitive information, and if you were to tell anybody, maybe even your parents, then things could get very bad for me.”
“No worries, dude. I’m no snitch.”
“Excellent. Well, to begin, surely you are aware, Chopin, that the world is in crisis. This much is clear to everybody. Immigrants are pouring in and turning the streets into chaos, Muslim terrorist are sneaking into countries and killing untold numbers of innocents, and the media and the government are doing nothing to stop it.”
“You sound like my dad.”
“Yes, all this is generally known and rightly complained of. But after many years of painstaking research on the internet, searching through countless forums, blogs, and chatrooms, as well as a huge effort of radio listening and video watching—it has come to my attention that the trouble goes far, far, far deeper than you think.”
“Oh yeah?” I say, and polish off the bourbon.
“You see, all of these events are connected. The Muslims, the Mexican immigrants, the Media, the Government—they aren’t separate phenomena, but are working in a close alliance. And they have been for a long time, Chopin. Now, I don’t want to scare you, but what if I told you that everything from the Twin Towers attack, to global warming, to vaccinations, to multiculturalism, to abortion, to evolution, to feminism—all of these, Chopin, are part of a carefully planned and perfectly executed conspiracy.”
“Is it alright with you if I have another glass?” I say, as I walk over to the bourbon bottle.
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“So, like, why?”
“Yeah, what’s the point of this conspiracy, then?”
“Chopin, don’t be naïve!” he says. “The purpose is as clear as crystal: to end Western Civilization as we know it.”
“Mmmhmm,” I say, mid gulp, mulling it over. “Are you sure about this, dude? Sounds pretty crazy to me. Like, isn’t the government busy killing the terrorists over there? And, like, why would feminists want to blow up the World Trade Center?”
“I know it may seem hard to believe,” he says. “But that’s just the brilliance of it—that’s why so few have figured out the truth.”
“Well, alright. Then shouldn’t we stop it? Or like tell the police?”
“Chopin, Chopin, I wish we could. But I’m afraid the conspiracy goes far too deep. I mean, look at this.”
He pulls out a twenty dollar bill from his pocket.
He starts folding it very carefully, like its origami or something. When he’s finished the bottom is triangular and it’s been folded lengthwise in half.
“See?” he says, handing it to me.
I can see two parts of the White House with trees on the end.
“Can you believe it?”
“Well, I’ve honestly seen better. My friend can make a swan.”
“The Twin Towers!” he says.
I look again. I guess it does sort of look like two buildings on fire, if you squint.
“The twenty dollar bill has had this design since 1928. You know what that means? They have been planning this since before the World Trade Center existed! And at the highest levels of government!”
His eyes were wide with terror, and his mustache seems to be crawling around on his upper lip like a small animal.
“Wow, that’s pretty crazy,” I say. “Some real illuminati shit. So, like, when’s the last time you went to a doctor?”
“You can’t trust doctors either, Chopin. I’m afraid they are some of the most fiendish conspirators of all.”
“I see, I see. Well, man, it seems pretty hopeless. What do you want me to do?”
“At this point, Chopin, I think that there is no hope of preventing their success. Civilization will collapse entirely, in about five years if my calculations are correct. Thus, I have taken it upon myself to begin storing up knowledge for the dark times to come. If I cannot prevent this disaster, at least I can make it easier for future generations to rebuild civilization and regain what was lost. This is what I need you for.”
“Yeah, go on.”
“You see, I am building a shelter beneath this house, a shelter deep underground, where I will store up all of the knowledge, the literature, music, architecture, painting, poetry, all of the science and philosophy, and of course all of our theology and religion, where it will be safe, I hope, when society begins to fall apart. I can’t build it alone, so that’s why I wanted to hire you, as an assistant.”
“So, like, how much are we talking here?”
“Is this a monetary question?”
“Yeah. Cashwise, how much?”
“Well, since I expect money will lose its value in a few years, I am willing to be very generous. How about $50 an hour?”
“I’LL DO IT!” I say. “Let’s start right away!”
“Okay,” he says, “let me see here. How long did you say the basement is?”
“25 feet and 3 inches.”
“And tell me the width once more?”
“20 feet 8 inches and a quarter.”
“Hmmm. This means, according to my calculations, that we need about sixteen hundred cinderblocks, eight bags of cement (I have the mixer machine already out back), at least half a ton of gravel, and several hundred feet of plastic tubing.”
“My dear Chopin,” Bigote says. “The atmosphere on the surface will be unbreathable. We need to install an atmosphere purification system, to remove toxins and radiation, so we can survive long enough for the earth’s ecosystem to re-balance itself. Trust me, I’ve read several blogs about this.”
“Why, do you think I’d be so heartless as to leave you to fend for yourself during this cataclysm? The thought of it!”
“And my parents?”
“Well, uh, you see Chopin, space is very limited.”
“Ok, I hope you’re a good cook, then, if I won’t have my mom with me.”
“Have no fear about that. I have been practicing the ancient and noble arts of French and Italian cooking, so that I can teach the survivors how to make poulet cordon bleu and spaghetti carbonara—two vital elements of Western culture.”
“No more time for small talk, Chopin. We must attend to business. Let us away to the pick up truck, to purchase these supplies and start construction.”
“Ok, but I’m driving.”
Bigote’s truck is a true piece of shit and leaves a trail of black fumes behind it as it coughs its way to the department store. The whole interior smells like gasoline and burning brake fluid, which pours in through the ventilators, and the seats aren’t even comfortable.
“I bought it used,” he explains. “No paperwork, paid in cash. For the past seventeen years, you see, I have been doing my best to live off the grid. No bank account, no government records, no paperwork, no signatures, nothing. I live invisibly.”
“But isn’t your name on your mailbox?”
“An alias, my good Chopin, an alias. My true name is not Don Bigote.”
“What is it, then?”
“Here we are!” he says, as the Home Depot pops into view.
We jump out, and I pick up one of those big metal trolleys for serious home improvement shopping. Bigote leads the way, his giant legs crawling like a giant spider over the flat parking lot, his mustache fluttering heroically in the wind. He looks ridiculous and I feel embarrassed, but money is money.
We walk through the sliding automatic doors and into the big warehouse of the store.
“First, I suppose we should get the concrete,” Bigote says, staring down at his list through wire-framed glasses.
“Welcome to Home Depot,” someone says. “Can I help you?”
“Yes, do you—”
Don Bigote looks up at the assistant and freezes. I look at the assistant, too, and recognize him immediately. He’s my classmate Juan López, from Venezuela, a short, dark-haired boy with a nose piercing. Quite good at lacrosse.
“No, sorry, I’m not in need of anything, just browsing, thank you very much…”
Don Bigote turns and bolts down the nearest aisle.
“Yo Juan, you coming tonight?” I say.
“Dunno yet dude.”
“Ok, well see ya around.”
I follow Bigote.
When I find him, he’s leaning against the tires, pale and panting.
“Dude, what’s wrong?”
“Don’t you see!” he sputters. “They’re here! The Mexicans!”
“Who, Juan? He’s not Mexican, dude.”
“That’s what they want you to believe!”
“Who? His parents?”
“Oh, this is bad, Chopin, very bad. If they see what materials I’m buying, they will get suspicious and investigate, and my scheme will be ruined. No, it’s too risky, too risky.”
“I’m pretty sure it’s fine, dude. Juan’s cool, mostly. He did hit a guy in gym class in April. Got suspended.”
“Damn them to hell!” he says, pounding his fist into his palm. “Clever bastards! I will not be defeated so easily!”
And with this, he pulls his revolver out of his holster and starts dashing towards the front door.
“What the fuck?!” I yell, and run after him.
He gets to the end of the aisle, stops, and aims straight at Juan.
“See you in Hell, communists!”
“Wait, wait, wait!” I yell, and tackle him from behind just as the shot is fired.
The bullet goes wild and hits the roof. Meanwhile the two of us slam into a shelf full of electric drills, which comes tumbling down. And then, like in all the movies, the domino effect: one shelf hits another shelf hits another, until the entire store is collapsing. Babies are crying, men and women are running for the exits, the alarm is sounding, red lights and a siren, the sprinkler too, everything is going totally nuts.
Finally the last shelf tumbles down, and the place is deathly still, except for the cheesy shopping music. The two of us slowly get to our feet.
What do we do? What do we do? Shit, shit, shit, Bigote will get arrested, and then who will pay me? And what if they arrest me, too? Think, think, think.
I got it!
“Freeeee stuff!” I yell. “Get it quick, get it now! Before the cops come!”
The store explodes again, as every customer begins frantically looting, ripping open the cash machines, filling up their arms with everything they can carry, running this way and that, in every direction.
“Now’s our chance! We’ve got to go!” I say to Bigote, and yank him towards the exit.
“But the shelter!”
“No time, dumbass! Let’s get our asses in drive, and skedaddle!”
And we run out into the parking lot, jump into the car, and zoom into the sunset.
(Continued in Chapter 2.)