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Fiction #174
(published April 8, 2004)
The Mistake
by R.A. Lubow

The first movie we ever took the kids to turned out to be a mistake— a bizarre retro montage of Asian sci-fi military escapades, reminiscent of Godzilla, but surreal and postmodern. The cut that made us leave in the middle was one of many non-sequitors intended to make a disturbing statement about the human condition. A sandwich rotting in fast motion, embellished with special effects such as a liquid ooze pouring out from between the bread slices, while an eerie soundtrack of two angelic voices rang out in slow retrograde microtones on the syllable "ewwww."

Outside the theater my wife and I argued about whose idea it was (it was both of ours) to bring the kids. During this argument, our three-year must have wandered off. The anxiety that ensued was made worse by the fact that we were in a strange mall in a strange city.

My brother (Uncle Jim) thank god was with us on this trip and we went in to "man" mode to efficiently and calmly scout for the missing child. We looked everywhere, to no avail, and regrouped. We lost round one of the search— the most important round when a missing kid is involved.

The anxiety escalated, as we went back to tell the frantic women— my wife and mom— that we lost "round one." But just then, god blessedly, my brother grabbed my shoulder and pointed to somewhere in the distance and said, "there he is!"

Oh good, oh good, oh good, oh good . . .

We sprinted over to the Plexiglass cylinder into which my son had apparently wandered. We opened the hatch and leapt inside. It was a strange cylinder filled with uneven pedestals, lukewarm bathwater, and an assortment of what appeared to be doughy, retarded adults.

I realized the retarded part only after I yelled at them for not knowing that this three-year-old didn't belong here, and that they should have taken the crying boy out of the cylinder. They looked sort of stunned and bewildered by my yelling and I knew, oh, they must be "not right."

This was also the point at which I figured I was either dreaming or in hell, and I looked at Jim, and he said welcome to Las Vegas.

We put the movie and kid loss incidents behind us and went to eat. The open eating area was densely packed with sad, sad souls. The food was in tremendous variety, abundant, and completely inedible.

An old man sat alone in a booth. You could tell it was his booth and that he had a theory about life. It was a weak man's theory and it was to just stay put. I made a mental note to find a good-as-any place at my earliest convenience, and stay put for the rest of my life. But first we had to get out of this place.

The security guards weren't letting anyone out, and the crowds were pooling in the grand hallway near the entrance. Apparently there was something happening outside the hotel, poison gas or something. Probably a terrorist scare— word had it that it was a false alarm, but still, no one could leave.

The hotel mall's canned light was wearing me down and I wanted to get out, and I wasn't alone on this. To sooth the crowd, a bunch of women singers in mermaid costumes hung from the ceiling and sang some very enthusiastic tune about love, in pinching operatic voices. The singing didn't sooth me one bit, but I felt warmed by the effort. I wondered if anyone else liked it. At this point Jim said, "this is gonna be a long haul," and I agreed all too much with him until he laughed.

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