Chapter 3 – The Garlic Apocalypse

On Sunday morning the bird noises were louder than he had ever heard them. The birds sounded like they were panicking, all communicating something with each other, maybe something about moving on somewhere, migrating somewhere in order to survive. Did they know something? Were they aware of some coming apocalypse, horrific storm—or maybe they were just having a big party? Randy wished he knew more about bird habits. He could post something on Facebook asking if anyone knew what was going on with the birds. He liked when people asked questions—it seemed like that was what Facebook was most useful for. Exactly four people would “like” his question, and maybe someone would post a film clip from Alfred Hitchcock's movie, The Birds (1963). Randy looked out the window and noticed that the noise was being made by seagulls, a tremendous amount of them, who were swooping here and there, landing and taking off rooftops—all of them squawking like mad.

That started him thinking about The Birds, and how it was maybe the most frightening movie ever. Giant dinosaurs crushing cities and even the slimy monsters that moved really fast weren't scary, but birds—he loved birds. How could they even be scary? And what was that movie even about? Maybe he should look some stuff up online and read about it. At some point he had realized that all those TV shows he watched as a kid, from Lost in Space and Star Trek to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea to 8th Man—were all infused with disturbing episodes that were based on the experience the writers had been through with soldiers returning from war as changed people. An entire generation of entertainment was PTSD based—but then, maybe all fiction of all time was pretty much that, right, because hasn't there always been wars? This was the kind of trajectory of thinking that Randy got on and lost entire weekend days when he was supposed to be grilling corn on the cob. He decided to forget about the birds.

While listening to some local radio shows, then, he became aware of a “Garlic Festival” that was going to be held that very afternoon in Walker's Point, so after reading a few asinine promotions of it written by people who seemed to have a profound fear of garlic, Randy decided he should attend as a representative of those who listed garlic as among their top ten favorite foods. He sent out text messages, then, to 20 or 30 people he thought might want to join him there (excluding, of course, those who he knew were doing other things, or would be joining him for lunch in a few days). On a lark, he even included a couple of his more intriguing co-workers. By then it was time to walk down there, and upon leaving the house he realized that the wind was blowing at an extreme velocity once again. What was with all the wind lately, he wondered? Was it just him, or was there just way more wind than usual? He thought he might post that question on Facebook, later on. Four people would like it, and one person would spend way too much time looking for the wind emoji.

Randy was happy to see that the Garlic Festival had blocked off several streets and was populated by a good crowd, even though there weren't that many vendors. He started to look around for food that seemed like it might be somewhat experimental in nature, i.e., not just something that always used garlic in its recipe anyway, and also was gluten-free, and also that didn't cost an arm and a leg. There was a band playing all the way down to one end of the festival area, and they sounded good, but they were amplified so loud no one wanted to get within 50 yards of them, except of course for that one guy who always stood three feet from the band. Randy looked around for friends, acquaintances, even co-workers, but there was no one he knew. What did people do on Sundays?—he often found himself wondering on Sundays—did people stay in bed all day? That's what he finally decided the answer was, and maybe that's what he should do on Sundays. And he would, maybe, once he had a bed, but for now, since he slept on the floor, that wouldn't do, because, think about it. Question: “What did you do all day?” Answer: “I laid on the floor.” No.

It seemed like everyone at the Garlic Festival were in groups of two or more, and many of them were young people, men and women in their 20s, and all of the men had beards. All of them. He was glad to see so many young people there, though, actually, at what some people might consider kind of a “square” event. He talked to a woman at a booth selling soap, from a soap-maker based in Whitewater, Wisconsin. He asked her about making soap, since he'd recently become interested in the soap making process, since starting his new Instagram account dedicated to soap. She was selling a lot odd flavors he hadn't seen before. Do you say “flavor” with soap? What do you call the different varieties? He bought some star anise soap that was very fragrant. He wondered if bathing with it would make him feel like he was drinking Ouzo.

Most of the Garlic Festival food wasn't gluten-free, and some was just boring, but then there was the little Purple Door Ice Cream stand that was dishing out one flavor: you guessed it, garlic. Randy had read or heard some discussion of garlic ice cream online that was kind of asinine, where the person seemed to fear the garlic ice cream to the extent that you knew they were just exaggerating their expression of fear in order to try to make interesting journalism. It wasn't interesting, but he hoped the ice cream would be. He had recently looked at the Purple Door Ice Cream website and noticed that they listed some pretty inspired flavors which he was looking forward to trying. He bought a scoop for $3 and tasted it. His head exploded.

Just kidding. That's what he wanted to happen; in actuality, the ice cream tasted like cheap vanilla ice cream with very little flavor at all, and certainly no garlic flavor. It didn't even taste as garlicky as an apple cut by a knife that had previously been cutting garlic. And on top of that, it was the smallest scoop of ice cream he had ever seen. If it had been any smaller, the wind would have taken it away. He walked away feeling a profound sense of disappointment and sadness—that feeling you have when one of your friends does something so inappropriately heinous that you realize, at that point, you are simply no longer friends, and things will never be reconciled. Actually, he had never had that experience with friends, that he could recall, but it must have happened at some point, right?

And to be fair, he realized that, as an avid garlic eater, he was somewhat desensitized to the extremes of the garlic odor and flavor. It was just something that went with the territory—the way that cigarette smokers didn't notice the heinous stench to the extent that non-smokers did. But wasn't the Garlic Festival for garlic lovers? Maybe not. Maybe, in fact, the garlic festival catered to people who didn't really like garlic, or had no experience with garlic and were maybe trying it out in a safe and sane setting, among friends and guides and professionals who could gently usher them into the world of garlic and talk them off the ledge of panic, if need be. Okay, so that's what it was. It was like music festivals, which Randy had been thinking about lately, after looking at the schedule for Summerfest, the annual music festival that bragged to be the world's largest.

He always felt that music festivals were not the best place for enjoying music, in that you had to deal with crowds, hot and humid weather, and port-a-potties. Weren't they for people who didn't really like music but rather just wanted to be in huge crowds of people? (Randy assumed that some people must actually like to be in huge crowds of people, or why else were there always big crowds of people forming?) But maybe he was wrong. Maybe music festivals were for people who loved music so much they were willing to endure huge crowds of people, and peeing into a hole with the very recent excrement of hundreds of people displayed down there like an art installation. After all, since he had quit drinking, due to alcoholism, Randy found that he could not tolerate spending time in bars, taverns, or roadhouses—which were the primary venues of live music—in the evening. But he loved live music, so shouldn't he be embracing music festivals as the place where he could most comfortably experience live music, given his revulsion of drinking establishments? But there lie the problem, he thought, after thinking about it for awhile. Festivals were just one giant excuse for daytime drinking; they were the place where drinkers were able to successfully bring the bar and tavern experience out of doors, and in the daytime.

When he reached home it was several hours later, and it was, as he watched Columbo, as he usually did on Sunday evenings, that Randy reflected on all this. It had not been a really great day, but it was a memorable one, in some respects. At least he had survived the apocalypse, he thought, and the birds had quieted down. It was only then that he noticed a large, white and grey, dried stain of bird shit on his pants.