‘Would passengers for Flight 0077A to Buenos Aires, departing at sixteen thirty-five, please make their way to gate…’
Mr. Zimmerman checked his boarding pass.
I guess they mean me.
He wondered if he had time to make a last-minute purchase of a book or a couple of magazines to see him through the long haul flight?
His watch told him forty minutes to take off and whilst Zimmerman suspected he did in fact have time he quickly arrived at a contrary conclusion, one that, naturally, contradicted his original belief; I feel far from certain about all sorts of things, including the passage of time relative to my being.
What is certain; Zimmerman entered a bookshop cum newsagents cum gift shop in search of reading material, feeling something wasn’t right.
‘Last call for Flight 0077A to Buenos Aires, departing at sixteen thirty-five. Would all passengers make their way immediately to gate…’
I am Zimmerman, Zimmerman thought; that is to say, my Air Canada boarding pass confirms the fact I exist.
If indeed it could be called a fact?
A piece of paper cannot lie, he said to himself, staring at the bright red maple leaf motif, and yet, it is just a piece of paper, not an oracle as such. Ergo, another possibility remains — garbage in — garbage out.
Nevertheless he conceded, I must proceed, and for safe-keeping quickly slipped the boarding pass inside the book he handed to the shop assistant.
‘That will be three pounds ninety-nine pence, Sir.’
The next thing the man who doubted whether his real name was Zimmerman knew, Flight 0077A was airborne and he was busy unzipping an expensive looking flight bag.
Inside the bag a paperback book, which he removed.
He took a quick look at the cover, a sea-lion balancing the letter G in the book title — Sailor Song by Ken Kesey — on the tip of its whiskery nose, before he turned the book over and read the author preamble that preceded the synopsis, preface or whatever it was they called it.
The Ad-Men have not pulled any punches pushing this one, he smiled to himself, satisfied that despite all, his command of words and word play, had not deserted him.
Zimmerman mouthed the words silently before thinking to himself — all those years in the wilderness; if you can call the Californian hills up round La Honda blessed with giant other-worldly ancient trees, new-agers and wouldn’t you know it, Not In My Back Yard residents, wilderness?
Twenty-five years after the legend who wrote One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Sometimes A Great Notion had quote, ‘abandoned’ the novel, for reasons here conveniently air-brushed out of sight. Out of sight is not entirely out of mind, Zimmerman suspected, especially when you were talking about an infamous acid-fuelled east-to-west-coast crawl across the good old US of A in a hippy bus with the ubiquitous iconic psychedelic paint-job, not to mention laying low in Mexico for a time before doing a short stretch back on home soil for possession.
Legends, the pair of us, Zimmerman said to himself, me and old Ken — I wonder if we ever met?
On reflection, he thought not, and probably never would if he stayed on in Buenos Aires, wondering why on earth he was headed for the Argentinian capital and had Kesey, in fact, passed on?
‘Do you know who I am Miss?’
‘No Sir,’ the air hostess said, ‘should I?’
‘What I mean is…’ Zimmerman paused here, his attention snagged by the magnificent pink bloom which had spread rapidly south from the young air hostess’ slender neck and which now threatened to invade her lifted-but-not-cleaved-by-a-Hello-Boys brassiere B-Cup breasts.
‘You do know who I am then?’
Zimmerman took an age to compose himself.
‘What I should’ve said, is…do you know what my name is?’
‘Your name is Zimmerman.’ It was the woman in the window seat immediately on his right who spoke his name.
Zimmerman said, ‘Thank you, Miss…?’
‘Ruston — Audrey Kathleen Ruston.’
The name, Zimmerman thought to himself, and the voice, too, sound sort of familiar?
That said, ultimately he recognised the fact his thoughts were coming to him in a nebulous fashion, increasingly so since he’d boarded the plane. And now, somewhat lasciviously, he found himself studying Audrey Kathleen Ruston rather too closely for her comfort and felt quite shocked that she seemed content to demure to his scrutiny with barely a flicker of embarrassment.
Miss Ruston’s anachronistic appearance was yet another sign, he mused, all was not right in Zimmerman’s World.
The upper half of her angelic face was all but obliterated by can’t-see-me sunglasses, in black. Slender hands were obscured by white kid leather gloves that finished at the elbow. She wore: a just-above-the knee pencil skirt. Black. A pearl-buttoned white satin blouse. Jet black hair coiled in an elaborate bun sculptured by a black and white chiffon headscarf set above ears no bigger than a child’s.
Ruston reached in a purse and withdrew a five-pound note.
‘May I have a Martini please?’
‘There’s no charge Miss Ruston,’ the air hostess replied.
‘Please call me Holly G?’ she said, winking conspiratorially at the air hostess.
‘Free drinks!’ Zimmerman slapped his thigh. ‘Hell, I thought this was economy class?’
‘Geneva is so beautiful this time of year,’ Ruston said, turning back to Zimmerman, ‘don’t you think so, Mr. Zimmerman?’
‘Call me Bob.’
‘Is it a good book you have there, Bob?’
‘Geneva!’ Zimmerman looked to the air hostess for confirmation. ‘Is a helluva long way from Buenos Aires…isn’t it?’
‘Direct routes…’ the air hostess observed whilst undoing the top button on her porcelain blue jacket, then fanning herself with a drinks napkin, ‘are fine, Mr. Zimmerman. And yet, isn’t it the journey that matters?’
‘Quite,’ Audrey Ruston added with a wry smile, ‘and wasn’t it you Bob, who once said, the answer is blowin’ in the wind?’
Well I’ll be damned, the man who did not know for sure what his name was, thought to himself, it WAS me who said that wasn’t it?
It was the man in the aisle seat on Zimmerman’s left, with several dirty great holes in his chest and hellish looking flames licking around his head who had said ‘Yes Bob.’
‘You did say that,’ he added, ‘but it’s me who’ll very soon be damned’ and disappeared with a small popping sound.
‘Poor Joe Chip,’ Audrey Ruston said.
‘How come you know that guy’s name is Joe Chip and my name is Zimmerman?’ Zimmerman said.
‘That wasn’t Joe Chip,’ the air hostess interjected, ‘that was David Koresh.’
‘The Waco-Wacko nut job?’
She nodded solemnly.
‘But I thought he was…?’
‘You thought correctly, Mr. Zimmerman.’ Audrey Ruston sipped her Martini. ‘Or may I call you by your adopted name?’
I wonder, Zimmerman thought, if I knew what my adopted name was, would that other me cease to exist in another dimension?
He suspected that might be the case and not surprisingly felt a little edgy at the prospect of his alter ego suddenly disappearing, perhaps venturing off where the scary guy with flames around his head had gone to and so decided it best not to grant Audrey Kathleen Ruston, or Holly G, or whatever her name was, her wish, even though there was something compelling about her, a benevolent aura he felt certain hung about her person, but he could not in fact, see.
The anachronism who wished to be known as Holly G, said, ‘I don’t make this suggestion lightly, Bob, but why don’t we swap books? I’ll read Sailor Song, and you can read UBIK and learn all about poor old Joe Chip.’
Why, for the love of God, Robert Allen Zimmerman thought, does Audrey Kathleen Ruston keep mentioning this Joe Chip guy?
The air hostess, who was, Zimmerman suddenly realised, the image of a girl he once knew very well or a girl he did not know very well at all but had met only recently, but could not place, leaned into him.
She pressed two fingers firmly against his neck.
He could smell her cologne, almost taste the off-piste sweat slaloming lethargically down her open-pored flesh.
‘You’ll be fine, Sir,’ she said to him, ‘just lay there a moment, a medic is on his way.’
Zimmerman lifted his head. He tried to look down the aisle to see if there really was a medic heading towards him but could not see beyond the air hostess. His focus instead, fell on a row of gaudy magazine covers beneath a row of paperback books.
Somewhere in amongst all the images swimming around him Zimmerman picked out the face of the man who had sat near to him up until a moment ago, who had said he would be damned, whose name was David Koresh and who Zimmerman believed, claimed to be some kind of messiah.
Beside the scary guy’s image was the face of an angel — Miss Ruston, he realised. And above the waif-like ephemeral beauty the name HEPBURN appeared. And there were voices, too, ones he had not heard before, saying things such as ‘Isn’t that Bob Dylan?’ and ‘Who’s Bob Dylan?’ and ‘You think the poor guy’s having an acid flashback or something?’
AUTHOR NOTE — A few years ago I bought Ken Kesey’s novel, Sailor Song, second-hand from an on-line book seller. Around halfway through reading the book I turned a page and out fell an Air Canada boarding pass for a Mr. Zimmerman bound for Buenos Aires departing London, 12th April 1993, and inside the pass a till receipt for the purchase of the book, dated the same day.
A week after Mr. Zimmerman bought the paperback book from a Trust House Forte store and flew to Buenos Aires, what had become known as the Waco Siege, ended in tragedy. Four Special Agents from the US Government agency, ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms) were killed. Six members of the breakaway cult church Branch Davidian, including their ‘charismatic’ leader, David Koresh, lay dead. A further seventy-six church members, mainly women and children died in the ensuing fire.
A couple of months earlier, actress, sixties icon and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Audrey Hepburn, who was dying from cancer, left hospital in California and returned home to Switzerland, where she passed away, 20th January, 1993, aged 63.
UBIK is one of my favourite novels by my favourite writer, Philip Kindred Dick.
I trust Mr. Zimmerman does not mind that I have made use of the Air Canada boarding pass he forgot to remove from the book he bought prior to his flight to Buenos Aires, mind that I have concocted this fictional story about his namesake, Bob Zimmerman, better known to the world as Bob Dylan. Likewise, I sincerely hope Mr. Dylan would not be offended by this story, which is or is not about him depending on how you perceive it?
An unverified quote from Mr. Dylan I found on the Net: ‘…I think everybody’s mind should be bent once in a while. Not by LSD though. LSD is medicine – a different kind of medicine. It makes you aware of the universe, so to speak; you realize how foolish objects are. But LSD is not for groovy people; it’s for mad, hateful people who want revenge.’