Readers of many summers and winters will remember that my editor James and I had once travelled to the USA to burgle Harper Lee’s house. After this unhappy episode, which I would trade away the integrity of Atticus Finch to be able to forget, we had driven out of Alabama with only two days remaining to reach New York for our flight.
James was then very keen on a Pittsburgh blogger named The Botendaddy and he had toyed with the idea of visiting his home city to interview him. This had required a detour of over two hundred miles. That James finally pointed our car at Pittsburgh indicates how enthusiastic he was about this blogger.
We never did get to interview the Botendaddy. I suppose, when I look back on it, that we had rather squandered two hundred miles of driving. Luckily we caught our flight, but only after a suffocating countdown that had involved abandoning the hire car in the middle of the drop-off parking and running the entire length of the airport, pushing people out of the way, to get to the terminal gate. Yet we almost interviewed the Botendaddy and there is probably enough of a story therein to be worth the telling. Since I don’t have anything else that is screaming to be written about today, I shall retrieve the labelled bottles from deep down in my mind and uncork the tale.
With the first sip we are back on the interstate to Pittsburgh. It was early morning and we were hurtling along at over a hundred miles per hour. We were debating whether it was “Botendaddy” or “the Botendaddy.”
“The definite article makes him sound rather pompous,” I said warningly. “Botendaddy is more natural and its usage has potentially more of an application. You wouldn’t say, ‘lend me two dollars for a coffee the Botendaddy.’”
James frowned. “The correct grammar is surely: ‘I would be honoured if the Botendaddy would lend me two dollars for a coffee.’”
For forty or so miles we bickered over the correct grammar. The car swerved wildly.
“Why is he such a hotshot?” I demanded. “You will concede that our Harper Lee debacle has put your arbitration on questions of literary merit under a fat cloud.”
“This guy can write!” James cried, in that strained, defensive falsetto that always takes you horribly by surprise. “Good prose excuses a multitude of sins. He is also, I think, an authentic Surrealist.”
“Is he a Surrealist or is he just mentally ill? There must be a point at which you have wondered. At the very best, he appears to be a coprophiliac. I suspect, however, from the evident hysteria of his writing, that he is ultimately a nymphomaniac. I usually want to wipe my entire memory clean after reading one of his posts.”
“Salvador Dali was mentally ill. He would have been sectioned if he hadn’t had Surrealism as an alibi. But what elevates the Botendaddy into greatness is the tension between the outward lunacy of his writing and the expert control of his prose.”
“I would say that there is superficial control and inward lunacy…” I knew James better than he did and I was certain that his fervour for the Botendaddy would have the lifespan of a toothache or some dry irritated skin. Soon the world would have moved on and the Botendaddy would have simply plummeted out of his mind. He had been obsessed with this blogger called Ombhurbhuva for a similarly temporary period. I had known that this wouldn’t last – there is only so much that anybody can read about Himalayan verses and Henri Bergson.
The skyscrapers of Pittsburgh were now protruding over the horizon like climbing fingers that have made contact with a high shelf.
“You will have to change,” James told me. “You can hardly run in that suit.”
“Run? What do you mean by run?”
“The Botendaddy is running in a half marathon today. They might have already started. We will have to put in a great deal of running to catch him up.”
“This is taking quite a liberty! We have already driven two hundred miles cross-country. Now you want me to compete in a marathon!”
“We’re not participating in the marathon. We are press. Come to think of it, I doubt that we need start at the beginning.”
In Pittsburgh we parked under a bunch of skyscrapers and then roamed the streets, with our ears peeled for the distant rattle of the race. At last, we had walked out on to a broad sunlit avenue that had been completely cleared of all traffic and parked cars. It was preternaturally quiet, as if the very atmosphere was lying in wait for the marathon to run down its throat. The road was so scalding hot that you could fry an egg on it. Officials in luminescent jackets were already in their designated places, beside tables that were set with bottled water and paper cups.
James located an antique iron lamppost and he clambered up like a monkey, vaulting at every contact with the baking iron, until he was crowding around the glass lantern. “Throw me up the binoculars.”
They were in my briefcase. I shot them heavenwards and James plucked them smartly out of the air. The roar of the marathon had whispered itself into a distinct surge and next the noise was growing richer and steadier.
“I can see him” James proclaimed. “He’s right out in front. We’ll be able to slip in easily and run beside him.”
“Excellent!” I agreed weakly.
“Do you want to look?”
Down he came and up I went, with him handing me the binoculars as we passed. This iron contraption was far less friendly when it was wobbling about up in the air than it had been on ground level. Ignoring how the lamppost seemed to shudder terminally at my every tiniest movement, I screwed my vision to the binoculars. My reward: a good look at a portly man who shook as he ran and sweated profusely.
“There are a lot of women,” I narrated down to James.
“I hadn’t noticed.”
Indeed, all of the other runners appeared to be female.
“In fact…” I screwed myself into the binoculars more sceptically. “They are not so much running with him as… well… chasing him!”
It was true. A throng of women, as many as there are grains of sand on a beach, and of multitudinous ages and nationalities, were racing after the Botendaddy. Their faces were crazed and sick; they ran as frantically as though life itself was getting away from them. And then their cries were distinguishable on the air, frail and piercing from this distance. “We are thirsting for you Botendaddy… Ah the smell of it…!”
James was already running. But as he drew up alongside the portly man his presence seemed to impel the women behind him into berserk desperation. They flung their legs at the road as if they didn’t care whether they snapped in half.
I was running too. I found myself outpacing a lady with bare breasts and the wizened, whiskered, wrinkled-up face of an elderly monkey. Somehow, she was managing to masturbate under her leotard whilst simultaneously running at top speed.
“Madam,” I inquired. “We are the press. What has motivated you to participate in this marathon today?”
“My titties are unleashed like bats! I am melting for his hard-bodied, supple, del.ic.io.us nakedness and his plunging fetid spermatozoa. Ah the taste of it!”
With these outlandish characters competing around me, I felt like I was trapped in some Satanic travesty of the Wacky Races. An episode in which Dick Dastardly has hospitalised all of the men and disabled their fantastic machines. Next, was Penelope Pitstop going to come hurling along on foot, raving about her vulva?
James had been shunted aside. Greedy hands had finally reached the Botendaddy’s clothes and they were pulling him back and out of kilter. He fell bellowing, like a man who had become trapped in a combine harvester. There was a violent ripping of Lycra. A discarded trainer was chucked past my head.
James was still protesting. “Let us through! We are the press!” The women were currently swarming all over the Botendaddy and they had been joined by a campy Latino man who was visibly rejoicing at the impromptu festival spirit. Another piece of clothing was thrown back and James stupidly caught it as it landed in his hands. It took a moment for him to react and, when he did, he yelped and gagged.
By now, after decades of state propaganda, there is an ingrained British instinct to never throw rubbish on the floor. Even as nausea washed over James, he continued to grip the sagging adult diaper.
I whipped a handkerchief from my top pocket with a flourish and removed a brown speck from James’s chin. “Let us retreat,” I advised. “The Botendaddy is in no position to give an interview today.”
He certainly wasn’t. He was lying naked on the floor whilst about fifty women and a couple of gay men rolled on top of him, affixed to every available portion of his body. Never have I seen human beings mating in such a way that has made them so resemble insects. I was reminded of accounts of medieval dancing plagues, in which whole towns had danced themselves to death.
Behind us, race officials were gathering to deplore what was happening. Sirens were ringing. A man seated up in an umpire’s chair was chanting mournfully through a megaphone, “Today’s marathon is suspended. I repeat: Today’s marathon is suspended! For gross indiscipline!”
Luckily we passed a dustbin on our way back to the car and James was able to part company with the diaper. This would be the extent of the intimacy of our acquaintance with the Botendaddy.
We decided to go for a coffee before driving away forever from Pittsburgh.
Neither of us wanted to speak – nor could we think of anything to say. I felt strangely heartbroken. When exposed to the supreme potency of the Botendaddy, our own previously respectable masculinity, and all of the encouraging evidence of it, had been instantly reclassified as derisible. We carried the weight of this epic failure between us as though it was a glacier on our shoulders.
My own adventures on Tinder now appeared as nothing more than meekly flicking through the pages of an agricultural encyclopaedia, whilst the Botendaddy was on the farm and marching out into the fields to seize every bull going by the horns.
We went into the nearest café and ordered coffee. We had to talk – the wordlessness between us had become unbearable – and I was suddenly, foolishly afraid that we would be unable to resume with our customary fluency. “Such a shame…” I stammered, “that we’ve come all this way to see the Botendaddy…”
“You Britishers are in Pittsburgh to see the Botendaddy?” the barista interrupted, flicking his face away for a moment from the whirlpool in his hands. He grinned at us. “The Botendaddy is one of this city’s best writers. Dudes, you can have one on the house!”
Iced bacon and maple syrup mocha with rainbow sprinkles?
Peace be the Botendaddy.