When my friend Don suggested we go on a trip to the South Seas together, and offered to pay for the whole thing, I thought, Fine, but what's in it for me?
After he explained that I'd be getting a free vacation, I still hesitated. It was true that, jobwise, I had some time. I had just been fired again. And after working there for nearly two months, I was ready for a vacation.
But finally I said no. For one thing, I don't really like the tropics. The last time I went to the Caribbean I wound up in a bongo factory, forced to make bongos.
Also, I was making good progress on my novel, Muscular Angry Clown. It's about a well-built circus clown with a hot temper. I was at the part where he breaks the neck of the evil lion tamer.
Also, I had been dating this woman, and we were really being in love. I can't remember her name right now, but she's great.
I knew Don would ask me again. He doesn't have a lot of good friends. That's because he doesn't hang around in bars a lot, like I do. That's where you make your really good friends, in bars. Don spends most of his time at work. He's a counselor for deranged children.
Sure enough, Don called again. He said the reason for the trip was that his divorce had become final, and he wanted to go someplace far away. And he wanted me to go because he had a bunch of different emotions, and he wanted someone to share them with.
That was when I pretended something was wrong with the phone and hung up. When Don called back I used my Chinese voice and said, "He no here!"
Why, then, you're wondering, did I call Don back and agree to go on the trip with him? Someone lit a fire under me. And that someone was Conk and Conky Pingle. They dragged me into an alley and lit a fire under me. They said that if I didn't pay them the money I owed them, they would put a device on my head.
"What kind of device?" I said.
Not a device, they said, a vise.
South Seas, here I come!
After I agreed to go, there were ominous warning signs:
I got a letter addressed to "Occupant." But someone had crossed it out and written "Resident."
I saw my name in a bowl of spaghetti, misspelled.
I spotted a quarter on some steps. But when I tried to pick it up, it was stuck down with bubble gum. Then I heard the sound of pixies laughing.
A burglar broke into my apartment while I was out. He didn't take anything, but he left an angry note.
I went to check on the new sidewalk. It was smooth again. There was no sign anywhere of my footprints, my handprints, or my face print. It was as if I had never existed.
A squirrel stared at me. I looked away, but when I looked back he was still staring.
I dreamed I was in the jungle, holding a lighted stick of dynamite. I tried to throw it, but it stuck to my hand. Then I noticed the brand name: Sticky Dynamite. I woke up in a cold sweat.
Scariest of all was the hideous old crone. She pointed her long, crooked finger at Don and me and croaked, "Do not go on this trip. There is nothing but death and destruction." Then she said, "But if you do go, I can get you a really good deal." And she did. All we had to do was connect through St. Louis.
We had our plane tickets and were almost out the door when the crone said, "Wait, I want to give you two handsome men something very special." She lowered the blinds and flipped the sign to Closed. She led us to a darkened room in the back and lit a candle. "What I am about to give you is very old but very precious." Uh-oh.
She opened a creaky cabinet, tearing several spiderwebs apart. I felt sorry for the spiders and all the work they had done. She took out a folder and blew the dust off. After we finished coughing, she blew some more dust, and we coughed again. Then she put the folder back and took out something else.
"I am among the last of my kind. Soon there will be no more travel agents. I want someone to have this before it's too late." She spread out a ragged, faded map. It showed a large, mysterious island in the middle of the ocean, a land that I had never heard of. Then it hit me: This was the same place Don had mentioned. And the same place our tickets were to. It was all starting to fit together.
The crone tapped her clawlike fingernail on a spot deep in the jungle. "This is where you will find it. The greatest treasure known to man. The Golden Monkey!" She cackled a screeching cackle.
I started to ask her a question, but she let out another screeching cackle. When she finally stopped I said, "Why don't you go find the Golden Monkey yourself?" I was smirking, because it was such a good question.
She said, "I am too old. Soon I will be—"
"Retired," she said.
I kissed her on the cheek. Don claims I made out with her, but Don's a liar.
When you have a real treasure map in your hand, all sorts of thoughts go through your head. The first is, Don't lose the map. The second is, Hey, what happened to the map? The third is, Oh, yeah, I gave it to Don. The fourth is, Hey, where'd Don go? The fifth is, Oh, there he is.
Don made me swear on the Bible to keep the whole thing secret. I went and got my Bible. Inside I had carved out the shape of a gun in the pages. That's because if I ever get a gun, I'm going to hide it in there. If I'm at home when a burglar breaks in, I'll say something like "Is it okay if I read my Bible while you're robbing me?" Who's going to say no? That would be crazy. And then I'll open the Bible to the Ten Commandments and say, "Thou shalt not ..." And when the burglar says, "Thou shalt not what?" I'll pull out the gun and kill him.
With the Pingle brothers after me, I was anxious to get going. "Let's get over there and steal the thing," I said. Don said it wouldn't really be stealing because the civilization that made the Golden Monkey was probably long gone. Come on, Don, it's stealing. To prove it I opened my Bible to that part, but it had been carved out.
I decided to get some advice from Uncle Lou. He'd found all sorts of golden things over the years.
His servant led me down the wide hallway, past the glass case holding his old boxing gloves and championship belt, and into the library.
"God says we shouldn't crave gold," said Uncle Lou, puffing on his cigar. "But that's easy for Him to say. His whole throne is made out of it."
He pointed to a golden iguana on the mantel. "I betrayed my entire expedition to get this," he said. He pointed to a golden mouse. "I pushed a man off a cliff to get this one." He pointed to a little golden snail. "This one I got at a flea market."
I told Uncle Lou only that we were going after something goldish and monkey-ish. He got a faraway look in his eyes, I think from all the pills he was taking. "A golden monkey, eh?" he said. I didn't answer, just nodded, so as not to break my oath. "And you know where it is?" he said. I just did a tiny nod.
I got worried Uncle Lou might want to come with us, along with his little dog Screwball. But fortunately he was too ill. His Tomlin's gland was giving out. It might even go spastic. His treasure-hunting days were over.
He urged me to go. "This trip might finally turn you into a man," he said, which made my eyes well up and my lip quiver.
He stirred himself another bourbon and Coke and finally handed me a glass of wine. It had a familiar powdery taste that I couldn't quite place.
He jabbed his cigar at me. "Always remember this: If your friend falls in quicksand, offer to throw him a rope. But first get him to throw you his wallet."
"Ahh, I see," I said. "But what if he wants to see the rope first?"
"You're missing the point."
"Maybe you could just show him a vine and say it's a rope."
"You don't need to show him anything."
"Maybe you could say you need the wallet to go buy a rope."
I felt woozy. I toppled over. The last thing I remember was Screwball pulling off my glasses and chewing on them.
The next day it felt like I had been run over by a bicycle, which I had, as I staggered home from Uncle Lou's. My head hurt. My body hurt. I even had a sore tooth. The trouble with going to Uncle Lou's was he was always drugging you. I guess he thought it was funny. Yes, the food was good, but half the time you didn't even remember it.
One day I would get my revenge. My plan was to get a metal container and fill it with sizzling acid and go to his house. If everything worked correctly, the acid would eat through the container after I had already left, and spill out onto the table, and ruin it, and Uncle Lou would have to buy a new one.
I asked Don if we were taking any Sticky Dynamite on the trip, and he said no. That was a relief. How about hand grenades? No again. That was a disappointment. I'd like to throw a hand grenade sometime. Imagine pulling the pin out, throwing the grenade at something, and watching whatever you threw it at blow up. Maybe I'll get to do that in Heaven.
The airplane flight was long and boring. The only interesting part was a magazine article I read on the way, about dandelions. It said that not everything that looks like a dandelion actually is a dandelion—even if it blows like a dandelion. It could be a "false dandelion." I thought that was pretty interesting.
I also read a card that showed me how to open the exit door next to my seat. Yeah, like I'd ever want to do that.
The great thing about sitting next to a stranger on an airplane is you can ask him all sorts of questions. "What's a good nickname for me?" I asked, explaining I had narrowed it down to "Biff," "Wrong Way," and "Studs." He didn't seem to have a preference.
As I sat there slurping on my straw, trying to decide, I said, "Wait a minute! What about 'Slurps'?" He looked like he was in pain. I don't blame him—it was a tough one. I went over it in my mind, out loud. I decided I liked "Slurps" better than "Biff" or "Studs," but not better than "Wrong Way." Then it hit me: how about "Wrong Way Slurps"!
I turned to the stranger, and that was when I got an idea for an even better nickname: "The Sleep Pretender."
By the time we started to land, I had changed my nickname back to "Wrong Way Slurps." It just hits the ear better.
We came in low over the jungle. It looked so peaceful, except for the volcano shooting boulders into the air and the monkeys fighting each other in the treetops. So this was the mysterious land of "Hawaii."
We landed in a dirty, coastal backwater called Honolulu. The stench was unbearable. Honolulu once had a thriving fishing industry, but now the only thing left was the stench. The coral reef, it turns out, is actually thousands of old fish heads. Honolulu is also home to the Golden Cow Stink Bomb Factory, which adds to the stench. Also, the town is infested with thousands of belchwood trees.
When we got off the plane the smell hit us full in the face. A scary-looking transvestite put flower necklaces around our necks and said, "Aloha." Someone told me later that aloha is a curse word.
As we walked through town we held our noses, which marked us as tourists. Pushy street vendors tried to sell us nose plugs, but I'd read it's better to get your nose plugs at your hotel.
Thugs and lowlifes glared at us from every rotting, ramshackle street corner. Prostitutes beckoned from every window or wrestled each other in the muddy streets. A dead bum was being eaten by vultures. Another bum held up a sign, See My Friend Get Eaten By Vultures—2 Paleekas.
Honolulu seemed like a good place to get Shanghaied or Hong Konged or Bangkoked. One thing for sure, it was no vacation town.
We came to the town square. In the center was a big bronze statue of the discoverer of Hawaii, Sir Edmund Honolulu III. He was holding up one hand in greeting and pinching his nose with the other. I guess the place smelled even then. The plaque, from the People of Hawaii, said:
HE GREAT MAN.
HE FIND US.
We were staying at the best hotel in town, the Coca-Cola Hotel. It was called that because the owner had found a Coca-Cola sign on the beach and used it as his hotel sign. Which he hung from a rusty chain he also found. Man, that guy's lucky. I never find anything on the beach.
The owner was a giant grizzly of a man, with long, grizzled hair and wild, frizzy sideburns. He had a grisly scar that had been drizzled across his face. Just to look up at him made you dizzy. His name was Bizzy.
We found him in the hotel courtyard, shooting a crossbow at a big target. The target was the outline of a man running away, looking back over his shoulder in panic.
"You Bizzy?" said Don.
"Bizzy not here," he replied.
When I pointed out that his name tag said "Hi, My Name Is Bizzy," he grinned. "You very smart. You must be tourist."
I started to tell him about my country, with its "cars" and "buildings," but he didn't seem interested. We followed him to the counter inside.
"Two room, fifty paleekas," Bizzy growled.
"Fifty paleekas?!" I said. I didn't know how much a paleeka was, but I think you're supposed to be outraged whenever somebody tells you how much something costs. Bizzy refused to bargain over the price, so I tried bargaining with Don, but he wouldn't bargain, either. So we settled at fifty paleekas, which seemed fair.
Bizzy was confused by my request for nose plugs. "You know, nose plugs," I said, pointing up my nostrils with two fingers. He jerked open a drawer full of clutter, fished around, and pulled out two old whiskey corks. "Those won't fit," I explained.
"Maybe I make them fit," he said with a weird smile. I guess he meant he would have to carve them down, so they would be smaller and fit comfortably.
Bizzy mumbled something to us as we headed up to our rooms.
"Sorry?" said Don.
"Welcome Hawaii," he snarled impatiently.
As we climbed the stairs, Don gave me a Don look. And it wasn't because part of the bannister broke off in my hand. He said I shouldn't have told Bizzy that pretty soon we'd be paying in golden monkeys instead of paleekas.
I said, "Do you really think a guy who owns the whole Coca-Cola Hotel and can afford to have all his teeth sharpened, cares anything about golden monkeys?" Think, Don.
Once in my room, I took the treasure map from Don and laid it lightly on the table. The table instantly collapsed. I picked up one of the rotten table legs. "Hey, Don, look, Superman." I crushed it in my hand. I guess I shouldn't have done that, because the wood released a smell that was ten times worse than the normal town stench. Don and I covered our faces and staggered to the window. Every step we took broke through the floorboards, releasing more stench. We moved in slow, stinking motion.
We finally got the window open. Don took a deep breath, and threw up on the ground below. A mangy dog came by and ate the vomit, then emitted a gas so foul that we had to close the window.
Then we passed out.
By the next day, things had improved. My fingers were still swollen from the window slamming down on them, but getting better. So was my paper cut. And my tarantula bite.
The morning stench had lifted, and the afternoon stench had yet to set in. From my window I could see all the way across the bay to the town of Diarroa. The people of Diarroa, I was to learn, are stuck up. For them, nothing is better than living in Diarroa.
Don gave me a list of supplies to buy and some money. I finally got a look at a paleeka. It has a picture of the aging Queen of England in one corner and a shrunken head in the other. In the center is a picture of Sir Edmund Honolulu being roasted on a spit. In the background some natives are pointing at him and laughing.
Excerpted from The Stench of Honolulu by Jack Handey. Copyright © 2013 Jack Handey. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.