It’s not often that Dr. Zeker gets in a mood like this. “Do you think you’re the Dude?” I asked him. “The yukata was bad enough, but at least it was a statement of your intention to become Japanese. This is just ...” my voice trailed off.
I watched him shuffle down the supermarket aisle in his Pendleton bathrobe and sheepskin slippers, clutching a bottle of Patron Silver in one hand and orange liqueur in the other. “I need limes,” he said. I caught up with him even though I didn’t particularly want to.
“What do you think?” he asked. “Are Facebook Friends real friends or not?”
“Are people you’ve never met real friends, you mean? They can be. But probably not that often.”
He handed me the bottles and then pulled a plastic bag from a roll and began to squeeze limes, assessing their readiness for sacrifice to something larger, and incomprehensible to them. Margaritas. Denizens of the world of Spirits. “When you’ve never met someone, never talked to them on the telephone, you imagine them.”
“They’re a figment of your imagination?”
“That implies they aren’t real, and of course they are real.”
“Real enough to try to boost you for money once in awhile, aren’t they?”
“Do you have a credit card?” he asked. “I don’t have my wallet on me.” It was one of those automatic check out stations where you just scan your items and swipe a card. I fished out my American Express. “Do I embarrass you?” he asked.
“Of course you do.”
“That’s because you don’t really see me, so much as you imagine yourself here in the Supermarket in a green plaid robe with nothing under it.”
“That’s more information that I needed.”
An employee had to push a button on his console before we could put the liquor through. He was very tall and had a big lump of belly fat protruding in front like a fallen cake. “I guess you’re old enough,” he said, and he gave off a blast of heat that smelled of popcorn and cooking oil. Then he retreated to his station, recording Dr. Zeker and me with quick, furtive snapshots.
I wanted to get Dr. Zeker to his truck so he could get home before somebody called the police, and him without any identification, money ... he had nothing except me to give him identity, and I was beginning to feel afraid of him. Maybe he was crazy. He looked and sounded manic, standing in front of the market in his robe, talking away, oblivious to the stares of the shoppers coming in or out. “You want real friends,” he was saying, “but how much can other people be to you, anyway?” I mentally braced myself, knowing he was going to butcher Schopenhauer.
“Let us not be surprised if we find men of genius unsociable and repellent,” he began. “It is not their want of sociability that is to blame.” Here he forgot entire chunks of the essay, but soldiered on.
“He prefers soliloquy to the dialogue he may have in this world. If he condescends to it now and then, the hollowness of it drives him back to his soliloquy.”
“Of course,” I said. I steered him toward his massive black pickup, which was taking up two spaces. He first opened the passenger side to put his liquor into the seat, then went around and climbed up into the cab. I looked away. “That’s the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen,” I said. “It’s a good thing you prefer soliloquy to other people.”
“Sometimes I get depressed,” he said He started it up and the stereo came on, a little too loud. Waylon Jennings said that the devil made him do it the first time, but the second time he done it on his own. The truck roared to life and the lights came on. Dr. Zeker pulled out too fast for being in a parking lot, then he spun the tires when he hit the street. He didn’t really need more margaritas. But it’s his business; it’s none of mine.