I was sitting on the living-room couch, writing on my laptop, when somebody started rattling my apartment door.
Startled, I jumped up and crept toward the door. The knob continued to rattle, then someone pushed on the door, as if ramming it with their shoulder.
I held my breath and looked out the peephole. All I could see was a grotesque, fish-eye view of Dave the Downstair Neighbor’s face. His nose and lips looked distorted and huge.
“Hey!” he said, pressing his eyeball against the peephole, so that he looked like a deranged cyclops searching for prey. “Let me in!”
I stepped aside and opened the door.
“What’s this all about?” Dave asked, brushing past me as he walked into the apartment. “It’s the middle of the day. Why’s your door locked?”
“I’m trying to keep out psychotic freaks,” I said, closing the door and sauntering back to the couch. “And until now, I was batting 100.”
“You mean batting 1,000,” Dave said.
“What’s the difference?”
“What do you mean, ‘What’s the difference’? There’s a big difference between batting 100 and batting 1,000.”
Dave shrugged. “I don’t know. 900? I don’t really follow baseball.”
“I don’t, either.”
“So what are we talking about?” Dave asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I was trying to work on my blog. You’re the one who barged in here like a psychotic freak.”
“And what’s the deal locking me out of the apartment?” Dave asked, walking into my kitchen and opening the fridge. He wrenched out a beer and pried off the cap.
“Help yourself to a beer,” I said.
Dave walked back into the living room, swigging his beer. “I was worried when I couldn’t get the door open. I thought something had happened to you.”
“What would have happened to me?”
“I don’t know. Maybe you slipped in the shower and broke your neck, and you were lying there under the spray — which had long gone cold — moaning and praying that somebody would find you.”
I frowned. “You envisioned all that from a locked door?”
“What else am I supposed to think?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe I took off for the weekend with a woman, and she and I rented a hotel room in Napa. Maybe we were entangled in each other’s arms after a long day of tasting expensive vintages.”
Dave shook his head. “Nah. Knowing you, the broken-neck-in-the-shower scenario seems much more realistic. As clumsy as you are, you’re more likely to be entangled in the shower curtain than anything else.”
“Says my drunken neighbor as he ransacks my beer.”
“Up yours,” Dave said. “And here I was worried you had a broken neck.”
I turned to my laptop and started to type. “All I did was lock the door. Why would you assume the worst?”
“Because I’m your neighbor, and I couldn’t get in!”
“Who are you, Cosmo Kramer? Why do you need unrestricted access to my apartment all of a sudden?”
“Why else? Because I ran out of beer.” Dave sat down next to me on the couch and rested his feet on the coffee table. “So you know what I did today?”
“I hope it involves looking for a new apartment.”
Dave belched. “I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on DVD.”
I looked up. “You mean the Gene Wilder one?”
“Of course. I’ll never watch the remake. The first movie said everything that needed to be said about the subject.”
I shrugged. “I didn’t know there was a subject that anyone needed to say anything about.”
“There’s not. That’s what I said. The first movie said it all.”
I stared at my laptop. “You won’t be offended if I ignore you while you talk to me, will you?”
“There are just a couple of things about the movie that get under my skin,” Dave said. “Like the beginning, when the candyman is prancing around and tossing out free candy. Charlie’s just standing outside, staring through the window. That always bugged me. If he’s so destitute, why doesn’t he go in with the other kids and get the free candy? I mean, if the happy-bastard clerk is going to dance around and sprinkle everlasting gobstoppers all over the crowd like a freewheeling drug dealer, then why does Charlie stand outside looking all dejected?”
“You should put some of this thought into searching for a new apartment,” I said.
“And then there’s Grandpa Joe,” Dave said. “What a lazy old codger. Him and the three other grandparents lie in bed all day while Charlie’s mother brings in the only income … unless you count Charlie’s miserable paper route, where he delivers, like, four papers — and to top it off, he doesn’t even have a bicycle.
“And Grandpa Joe hasn’t gotten out of bed for twenty years. Twenty years! But when Charlie wins the golden ticket, all of a sudden he’s on his feet and tap-dancing like Fred Astaire with an Energizer battery shoved up his ass. How come he didn’t use some of that pent-up vigor to find a job?”
“Pot and kettle,” I said.
“I mean, if Charlie’s going to take anybody to the chocolate factory, it should be his own mother!” Dave said. “She’s the one who keeps them with a roof over their head. Grandpa Joe just sits in bed and soils himself — with pea-soup and shit stains all over his pajamas — and then he gets to tour the chocolate factory? If he’s got that kind of energy, I’d hand him a pick and put him to work in the coal mines, the geriatric bastard.”
“I think a lot of people have pointed out Grandpa Joe’s abrupt health rebound,” I said. “It’s amazing how a golden ticket can apparently cure paralysis.”
“Yeah, well, that paralysis was keeping him in bed drinking beer,” Dave said. “Which is another thing I don’t get. All the grandparents were stuck in bed, and supposedly none of them could walk. So how did they go to the bathroom? Did they use a chamber pot? Did Charlie’s mother change their diapers?”
“I think you’re putting more thought into this than the moviemakers did,” I said.
“I’m serious. Did they just let it all go when they had the urge? And what about intimacy? Do you think they did things in front of each other? Or maybe the four of them got it on together? I mean, they’re all in the same bed for twenty years. You’d think the thought would have to occur to them at some point. At the very least, you know they were playing footsies, because they were all lying head-to-toe.”
“You know, I don’t really want to think about it,” I said.
“But this is all I can think about when I’m watching the movie,” Dave said. “Grandpa Joe’s a lazy scumbag, and meanwhile, the poor Oompa Loompas are enslaved and rowing a boat through a river of sewage. And then they dance around and sing every time a child dies, and meanwhile Gene Wilder is tripping on acid in a tunnel of psychedelic horrors.”
He frowned. “You know, it’s kind of a messed-up movie, now that I think about it.”
“Maybe that’s why your imagination is running wild today,” I said. “You thought I was lying in the shower with a broken neck just because the front door was locked.”
Dave shrugged. “Could be. It’s a traumatizing flick. The worst part is when Grandpa Joe drinks Willy Wonka’s beer, and then him and Charlie are floating toward the ceiling fan. I remember being terrified by that part as a kid. I hate Grandpa Joe. What a useless, deranged drunk that unemployed bastard is.”
“Pot and kettle,” I said.