Sunday, January 16, 2005

The Wayne in my brain is plainly insane

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I've diagnosed myself as both a paranoid and a hypochondriac, but I don't remember which one I noticed first.

I'm also addicted to caffeine and get nasty migraines and cold sores. Can I come over for dinner?

As for the hypochondria, that's probably just all in my head. The paranoia, however, is real.

It started young. When I was a boy, hanging out after school at my grandparents' apartment near St. Anthony of Padua Church, I would stare at the commemorative plate of President Kennedy hanging above the door and wonder if there was a spy camera in it.

After staring into Kennedy's ice-blue eyes for a few weeks, I decided that there was.

This was during the 1980s, so naturally I assumed the Soviets put the camera there. I watched the Kennedy plate for hours. I hoped to form some sympathetic psychic link with the fur-hatted Communist spy on the other end. I wondered who would change the camera's batteries when they ran out -- probably a mysteriously accented cable repairman, I deduced.

Once I flipped it the bird and was immediately sorry.

The stormtroopers would arrive swift as the wind to drag my Vavo away from her sewing machine. They'd leave behind a few jackboot prints in the carpet and a vague but insistent odor of beets and Stolichnaya.

Later, of course, I learned that commemorative plates of President Kennedy are common in many Portuguese households. As a culture, we're positively wild about Camelot gossip.

Lately, most of my paranoia involves the phone. I'm normally very nice, but talking on the phone is very vexing, mainly because I like to make finger quotes around words, and you can't do that audio-only. What I mean to say is, you could, but it
would sound like this: "My dog used our couch pillows as a NAPKIN. I just made finger quotes around the word NAPKIN."

Any-hoo, for years, I was receiving phone calls for somebody named Wayne. All different people called for him. It was troubling.

I told all of them the same thing: I was not Wayne, I had never been Wayne, and I had only known one Wayne in my life and he was a very nice guy but I can count the number of times I'd seen him in the past 10 years on one hand, and that probably wasn't the Wayne they were looking for.

A few months ago, I found I had a voice mail message on my phone at work.

It was Wayne.

I don't remember his last name, but Wayne wanted me to call him back.

It was [make finger quotes here] urgent.

I call Wayne up, and Wayne answers.

"Is this Wayne?" I said.

Wayne sounded very busy. "Oh, great! Thanks for calling me back, Dan," he said. "Are you going to be there in the next 10 minutes?"

"I think so."

"I'll call you right back, OK? Right back. Do not go away." Then Wayne hung up.

I waited patiently by the phone, but Wayne never called back -- not in 10 minutes, not in 10 hours.

All afternoon I wondered why Wayne would want me to stay in my office, why he was so adamant I wait for his phone call.

I called my wife -- on a different line -- and told her about Wayne.

"It's got to be the same Wayne from the wrong phone calls," I said.

"Why would that be?" she asked.

"How many Waynes have you ever known? Two, tops? Wayne is an uncommon moniker, my lovely, quite uncommon." I stroked my chin, and told her over the phone that I was stroking my chin. "Clearly, Wayne has some ulterior motive for making sure I remain at my desk -- 'Do not go away,' he said." I paused for a moment to let the irony simmer.

"Hello?" my wife said. "Still there?"

"Indeed, my sweetness. If I had to guess -- and I don't -- I would say this Wayne is up to some mischief. I would wager he's trying to assassinate me." I cackled delightedly. "Egad! How do I do it?"

"Did he sound threatening on the phone?"

"Waynes never do, Watson. They lure you in with their Wayneish charm until it's time to strike." I began speaking more swiftly now as the pieces fell into place. "It's elementary. If I'm not to leave, then he must have had his henchmen plant some sort of explosive device here, perhaps under my very desk. Or in my very file cabinet. There's room."

"Henchmen," my wife muttered.

"It could be in my very mug where I keep my very paper clips."

My wife cleared her throat. "Uh, maybe he knows you're onto him, though. And he knows that if you're onto him, you'd leave--"

"Oh no..." I said.

"Which is exactly what Wayne wants you to do," she said. My wife is brilliant and beautiful, and no, you can't borrow her.

"So I should stay inside at work?" I asked, gnawing my knuckle. "Or do I leave? What the hell should I do? No, wait. I take that back. What would Wayne not expect me to do?"

She considered it, then said, "Better leave. Make some excuse--like, go out for coffee?"

"All right."

"While you're at it, bring me home a mocha latte, sugar, no whipped cream, please."

I bade her a tearful farewell, in case I didn't bring her the coffee quickly enough, and wrapped my scarf around my neck so I didn't catch pneumonia -- it's everywhere these days. Before I left, I made sure the phone was plugged in and gestured to the nearest copy editor.

"If Wayne calls, tell him..." I narrowed my eyes with a sneer. "Tell him he can't get to me -- up here." I pointed to my head with a solemn index finger. "And tell him you're pointing to your head."

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