SUBSTANTIAL JOHN IS A FAMOUS musician, actor, comedian, author, politician, filmmaker and athlete. According to a recent poll in Teen Business People, 68 percent of Americans are more interested in learning about what Substantial John says, does or thinks than in spending time with their own families, friends and colleagues.
Out west, at the Gomez Dehydrator Bowling Alley Café, Substantial John and I share a window booth with a view of our original destination, the sushi place across the street, which we’d just found mysteriously closed.
John’s a celebrity. John has lots of money. I’m broke.
“Give me all your money, John. Now.”
“How about a little?”
I’ve known John since we were kids, which, according to the poll, makes 70 percent of Americans 30 percent more interested in me. Collateral interest.
It’s lunch time, about three hours before I usually wake up. The bowling alley’s just opening. Substantial John tells me about his breakfast. Every morning, John has breakfast across town at Sarah’s, his favorite restaurant, with legendary basketball coach John Wu-Tan and a hundred other luminaries. “I call him Coach,” says John. “Everyone calls him Coach.”
“Really, what does he eat?”
“Everything. Coach eats a hearty breakfast.”
“How old is he?”
“Almost a hundred.”
“Jesus. Look at the size of this menu — so much heartiness.”
“Yeah, Coach should eat here.”
“We could all go bowling.”
THE GOMEZ DEHYDRATOR BOWLING ALLEY CAFÉ is about to become Substantial John’s new favorite restaurant, maybe. He likes the parking lot. He likes the menu. He likes the squeaky vinyl padding. He likes the lack of insufferable music. He likes the owner, Addam Gomez, who just stopped by our table to introduce himself and express his “heartfelt longtime fandomship,” as well as his unmitigated confidence in the recent Teen Business People poll.
Substantial John says he might have to start coming here for breakfast. He wonders how he should break the news to Coach.
“You might want to wait,” I suggest, “until after you’ve tried the food.”
“That’s true,” says John.
The waitress introduces herself as Rebecca. Rebecca says she knows all about Substantial John. She knows what he likes to eat. She recommends something in a turkey.
“Okay,” John replies. “Which is better — the turkey avocado melt or the turkey ortega melt?”
Rebecca recommends the former, and John accepts. “I knew it!” says Rebecca. Three Caucasian females between the ages of 21 and 34 at a nearby table raise their cell phones in unison to take photographs of John returning his menu to Rebecca, who seems delighted.
John smiles and nods politely, then looks out the window at the freshly parked Hummer that’s dropping its payload of bowlers.
“I shouldn’t have ordered that,” says John. “We’re outside my turkey window.”
“I ONLY HAVE A TURKEY WINDOW from Thanksgiving Day until January 2,” says John. “And we’re what — 23? 24? Twenty-four days outside my turkey window. I shouldn’t be eating that shit.”
“The fuck’s wrong with turkey? I live on turkey.”
“I’ve had a turkey window in place for seven years, and now I’ve blown it.”
“Gelson’s sells fresh-roasted thighs for $2.29. You have to show up at the right time, but you can get two meals out of each one. Which reminds me: Any chance you’d like to buy me some health insurance?”
“This,” says John, “will be my first turkey infidelity.”
SUBSTANTIAL JOHN LIVES NEARBY, in a big house with a red door. His wife is even more famous than he is; she’s agreed to appear in this story as a gender-specific pronoun only, to affirm John’s marital status. As part of the deal, her public-relations machinery insists that I mention the following entry from the aforesaid Teen Business People poll: In 2006, 30 percent of American males between the ages of 14 and 55 thought about Substantial John’s wife at least once while masturbating.
“Which means,” says John, “that while we’ve been sitting here, about 2,000 people have just jerked off to my wife.”
“My hands haven’t left the table.”
“But you could’ve used your feet, or a remote-operated vibrating device. I mean, obviously there’s that whole part of the Christian Coalition that’s repressed sexually, for . . . you know, whatever religious bullshit they’ve got going on. But I think a lot of the sexual repression in America is financial. I think that sex is used as a weapon in this country — as a method of control and punishment and reward. We’re fuckin’ seriously messed up.”
“Notice that my hands are no longer on the table, and repeat the phrase Christian Coalition until I tell you to stop.”
IT’S THE COLDEST DAY of the coldest winter. The balls are beginning to roll. “If we survive the food,” I suggest, “we should go bowling.”
“I need to buy a snowboard,” Substantial John replies. “There’s this one snowboard company up in Seattle that’s cross-pollinated bamboo with maple — I think it’s maple — so that they can grow their own little miniforest to make the boards, and they don’t have to deforest, you know, the real forests.”
And I say, “Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve had this image of bowling as some kind of warped sexual metaphor — the ovum being hurled down the birth canal to destroy the phalanx of sperm cells. Probably caused by prolonged exposure to the vagina-themed décor at Thunderbird Lanes. Where is our fucking food?”
“And what makes it weird,” says John, “is that the company’s totally environmentally conscious, yet they’ve genetically engineered a new plant, which most environmentalists are completely against. They make a cool-looking board, though. Did you just say fillet of sperm?”
“Phalanx of sperm cells.”
“Oh. The bowling pins?”
“And the ball’s the egg. A gutterball is like reverse unprotected sex.”
MY OMELET ARRIVES, and Substantial John’s turkey infidelity. The food’s good, but as we plow through it, the PA speakers in the ceiling develop a serious problem: You can hear everything, clearly.
“Hall and Oates, I believe that’s called,” says Substantial John. “Too bad. Guess I won’t be saying goodbye to Coach after all.”