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Monday, March 25, 2013

Marsilio Classics: The Return of Friendly Tony

     Once upon a time, there was a website called "Myspace.com." A precursor to Facebook, it allowed people, particularly young people and older perverts, to share thoughts and images from their lives via a worldwide public forum and communicate with one another, often via sexually suggestive messages and photos. Though the site eventually fell out of favor and is now populated entirely by ghosts and Justin Timberlake, there are certain Myspace features I do miss, especially the built-in blog. Back when I was starting out joeymarsilio.blogspot.com, I wanted to leech off some of that sweet, sweet Myspace traffic, so I planned a crossover between the two blogs. The end result was "The Return of Friendly Tony," an ambitious opus in 12 parts, published weekly and alternating between the Myspace blog and this one. Alas, once Myspace was taken behind the barn and shot, half the story was effectively buried, much to my chagrin. The time has come to finally do justice to this thrilling tale, which has been described by me as "genre-defining" and "written partly while I was doing weekend receptionist work." Now, for the first time, I present the entire saga as one cohesive unit, so you can experience all the face-melting raditude you've been missing out on for so long. Warning: the following masterpiece contains adult themes and explicit language, and arcane references to brands of booze no longer on the market. With that in mind, but without further ado: "The Return of Friendly Tony." Brace yourself for brilliance.



Chapter 1: Chartreuse Dawn (January 25th, 2009)


      It was a strange and terrible morning. My head felt like it was being assaulted by Kratos, the God of War, and a cursory examination of my clothing revealed the awful orangey-brown crust that could only mean I had thrown up in the bed. I hate it when I don’t wake up when I vomit, or, alternately, when I do wake up and am too drunk to remember it. I had leaves in my shirt, a cut across my right cheek and, worst of all, I apparently fell asleep with my belt still on.
     Damn it, I thought. It must be Sunday.
     I rolled out of bed and ripped off the comforter and sheets with the ferocity of a mildly annoyed sloth. While pondering whether to wash or burn my bedclothes, a wave of dizziness hit me, the floor became pudding, and I sat down not entirely of my own accord. I shivered and blinked as remorseless sunlight made mincemeat of my curtains and turned my entire room the color of stale urine. No question about it, I needed some Gatorade.
     A sudden pounding at my bedroom door frightened me, and I moaned like a raped ghost. What devil was bothering me at this ungodly hour, at…I peered at the clock…at 2:16 PM! The barbarity! But my outrage could not make the pounding disappear, and with a wince I crawled to the door and feebly fumbled with the doorknob. I left it to the party outside to actually open the door. Would that I had known who it was before I let him in. I would have been better off jumping out the window.
     In the doorway stood my old nemesis, Friendly Tony. He was clad in a damnably fetching black sweater and dark slacks with a sharp crease. He was clean-shaven and beaming an impossibly white smile, the sort where his eyes crinkled up at the corners. He smelled like cinnamon.
     “Good afternoon, Joseph,” he said to me, extending his well-manicured hand. “How awful to find you like this. Such a pity.”
     “Bah!” I said, swatting away his hand. “I don’t need your pity, asshole. I need some Gatorade. Do you happen to have any?”
     “Ah, but no,” he said, clasping his hands and shaking his head ruefully. “However, I have something much, much better than Gatorade. A gift for you.”
     I scratched the back of my neck and coughed. “A gift? What is it? Is it a can of Sparks?”
     “What? No,” Friendly Tony said. “No, I come bearing the gift of Good News.”
     “Good news?” I said, unsettled for any number of reasons. “What sort of good news? Are you going to do my laundry for me?”
     “Well…yes, in a sense,” said Friendly Tony, squatting down to my level with his hands on his knees. “Yes, I suppose you could say that I am going to do your laundry for you. And so much more.”
     “Um...is this some gay thing?” I asked. I swallowed a harsh acidic gulp.
     “If by ‘gay’ you mean happy, then yes,” said Friendly Tony. “In fact, I don’t think it would be hyperbolic to say this might be the gayest thing that has ever happened to you.”
     “Just spit it out,” I said. “I have to take a piss.”
     “If you insist,” said Friendly Tony, rising to his feet. He spread his arms wide. “This is truly a joyous day, Joseph Marsilio. For today is the day you cease being you, and start being ME.”
 

Chapter 2: What's Yours is Mine



      “What are you talking about?” I hissed. I stifled a dry heave, then continued, “Have you lost your mind?”
      “No,” said Friendly Tony, gesturing at my vomitous sheets, “but it appears you have lost your lunch.” He chuckled, a tittering laugh like raindrops bouncing off a sparrow’s head.
      “God, that was so lame,” I said. “I think I might barf again just because of that joke.”
      “Barf away,” said Friendly Tony. “Do whatever you like. As I said, the burden of being you is henceforth shouldered by yours truly, so you are free to pursue whatever your heart desires, whether it be climbing Mount Ararat, taking up basket weaving, or vomiting all over yourself.”
      “I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said. “I’m me. I’m Joey. You’re not. It seems pretty simple to me.”
      “For the time being, that’s very true,” said Friendly Tony. He adjusted his right sleeve and peered at me. “But it won’t last long. Trust me, it’s all for the best.”
      “OK, look,” I said. “I really don’t feel well right now. I had a rough night, or I guess maybe I’m just having a rough morning. I can’t really evaluate last night because I don’t remember it. But, um, my point is…oh yeah, my point is that I don’t feel like dealing with your bullshit right now. And could you please just get me some Gatorade, if you‘re going to insist on hanging around?”
      Ignoring me, Friendly Tony rubbed his chin and gazed longingly at a stain on my roof that vaguely resembled a cirrus cloud. “You’ve just made such a mess of everything, haven’t you. You had talent. You even had a television show. You went to college, got a degree. All very admirable things. And you’ve just squandered it all away. Well, no longer.”
      “My vocabulary is not extensive enough for me to properly convey to you how annoying you are,” I said, feeling my mouth begin to water. That was ominous. “So how about this: get the hell out of here and leave me alone.”
      “Leave you alone?” said Friendly Tony. “Why, you’ve left yourself alone, Joseph! Your vices, your peculiar appetites and your poor decision making, that what’s left you alone. My, I feel sorry for you, lacking comprehension of these truths as you do.”
      I threw up on the floor. “See, now look what you made me do!” I screeched.
      Sighing, Friendly Tony reached into his back pocket and pulled out a faded piece of paper. He unfolded it neatly and held it up in front of my eyes, now watering to match my mouth. “Do you know what this is?” he asked.
      “Yeah. It’s my birth certificate. Why do you have that?”
      “And do you know what this is?” said Friendly Tony, producing what appeared to be some sort of writing implement from up his left sleeve.
      “Um, I don’t know. A pen. Why do you have my birth certificate?”
      “This isn’t just any pen. It’s magic. Like a velvet Christmas stocking full of elf puppies. Magic.”
      “Will you please just give me my birth certificate back and leave me alone?”
      Friendly Tony held the pen right in front of my face, balancing it on his index finger. “This pen is one of a kind. Its ink is made up of a mixture of gypsy blood and the semen of dead Native American mystics.”
      “How do you get semen from dead Native American mystics?”
      “You don’t,” said Friendly Tony, exasperated. “You get it from living Native American mystics, then you kill them. Such a shame. But you can imagine all the trouble I went through to acquire this, just so I could help you out. No action was too drastic, you see. I simply had to come to your aid.”
      “I really have to pee,” I said.
      “Do you have any idea the magic this pen possesses?” said Friendly Tony with a flourish. He swung the pen like a composer’s baton, and it produced a sound like birds chirping. Dead birds. “It possesses the power of…Magic White Out.”
      I made a dismissive wanking motion with my right hand (always a classic) and rolled my eyes. “This is what you’re bothering me about? White out? I’ll do you one better…I have a thing of that white out tape. It just rolls right on and-”
      “You misunderstand,” said Friendly Tony. “I grasp the concept of your pedestrian white out, but this pen isn’t merely for covering up spelling errors, or the wee-wees someone drew with a Sharpie on your yearbook photos.”
      “Sorry about that,” I said sheepishly.
      “This pen actually whites out reality, you see. Observe,” he said, whisking the pen over my birth certificate.
      “Hey, asshole! What the hell do you think you’re-”
      Friendly Tony flipped the pen, and scribbled something with the other end, which apparently had a ballpoint pen built in. Quite functional, I had to admit. “And there we go,” said Friendly Tony. “You are Joseph Marsilio no longer. From this day forward, you are…Friendly Tony! I’ve already taken the liberty of changing my birth certificate to reflect the fact that I am now you.”
      “What? But I don’t want to be Friendly Tony!” I gasped. “Everyone hates Friendly Tony!”
      “And with that, please leave my house,” said Friendly Tony (Joey?), grabbing me by the scruff of my neck and hauling me out the door and onto the street before I knew what was happening. “My apologies, but I have so very much to do. See you later, Friendly Tony.”
      “But…but…” I stammered, shivering on the ice cold curb. If I had known I was going to be braving the elements, I would have worn something warmer than flannel Wolverine pajamas.
      “Oh my,” said Friendly Tony. “I almost forgot. How cruel of me. I don’t want you to catch your death of cold. Here.” He tossed me my soiled bedclothes. A particularly moist portion splatted against my forehead, filling my nostrils with nauseating funk. Despite the hideous filth, I wrapped the comforter around me for warmth. I looked up at Friendly Tony with a baleful stare as he stood in my (former) doorway, his arms crossed in silent triumph.
      My teeth chattering, I said, “Is this because of the time I cracked your skull open with a bat?”
      He slammed the door shut.
 

Chapter 3: Of Mice and Men and Ethnic Stereotypes

 
     I sat in my soiled bedclothes upon the frigid concrete, my head still swimming. What the hell had just happened to me? According to Friendly Tony (or was it Joey now?), he was I and I was him, or something. My head hurt. Perhaps it’s just a personal thing, but I find it difficult to fathom deep metaphysical concepts when battling a wicked hangover. Even in my lowly state, however, I could see through this baffling, nonsensical lie. This wasn’t Freaky Friday, after all. It was Sunday, albeit a somewhat freaky one thus far.
     “This is horseshit,” I mumbled, and scooped myself off the ground. I had a powerful hunger for Jack in the Box, and that hunger needed to be slaked. Fortunately for me, I had some cash and my credit card, on account of the fact that I kept my money in my socks. Only once before had my supposedly irrational fear of kleptomaniacal nocturnal leprechauns proven such a boon. Shaking my head to clear out the cobwebs, I began to amble to Jack in the Box.
     A fierce wind caused me to yet again curse being clad in flannel Wolverine pajamas, but lacking any control over the elements, my complaints fell on deaf ears. By deaf ears, I mean the ears of the portly deaf Italian man named Prosciuttscio who operates a newsstand on a street corner near my home. As I walked by him, I nodded.
     “GOOD MORNING,” I said slowly, making sure he was watching my lips the whole time. “HOW ARE YOU TODAY?”
     “Ay-ah, Mister-ah Friend-ah-ly Tony,” said Prosciuttscio. “How ah you today-ah?”
     “WHAT?” I said. “YOU MUST BE CONFUSED, PROSCIUTTSCIO. I’M NOT FRIENDLY TONY. I’M JOEY MARSILIO.”
     “Hey-ah, that’s-ah funny, Mister-ah Friend-ah-ly Tony,” said Prosciuttscio with a throaty guffaw. “You make-ah the funny jokes-ah. Hey, I’m glad-ah you heah. I got-ah da new-ah issue ah Flautist-ah Week-ah-ly for-ah you.”
      Pardon?” I said, shell-shocked. “First of all, I wasn’t aware that Flautist had become a weekly. Last I heard, IT was a quarterly. And second OF ALL, I don’t read Flautist Weekly.”
     “Are you-ah tryin’-ah tah play ah trick-ah on-ah me-ah?,” said Prosciuttscio, scratching his mustache. “You are-ah much-ah smahtah than-ah me-ah, Friend-ah-ly Tony, I no getta all ah yah jokes-ah. Forgive-ah my-ah ig-ah-norance-ah, ay?”
     I snatched the copy of Flautist Weekly from Prosciuttscio and tossed him a couple dollars. “I’M GOING TO READ THIS WITH MOCKING DISINTEREST,” I said to him, and stalked off.
     “Have ah nice-ah day-ah, Mister-ah Friend-ah-ly Tony,” he called after me.
     Highly perturbed, I rolled up my unwanted copy of Flautist Weekly and hit a homeless man with it. “Ow, Friendly Tony!” he slurred. “Knock it off! Jeez!”
     I proceeded to Jack in the Box, where I was served a lukewarm breakfast sandwich by a hulking mongoloid. I sat at my booth, flipping through Flautist Weekly’s glossy pages while chewing my food. The article about the season’s hottest new woodwinds enraged me, and made an already unusually subpar sandwich taste like ashes in my mouth.

 Chapter 4: In Dubious Battle


     I returned to my former home to find the door locked. Repeated pounding on the door went unanswered, and I knew that attempting to ring the doorbell was fruitless. Ever since the time I tried to rig it to play a simplified version of “Rollin’” by Limp Bizkit whenever someone pressed the button, the doorbell had been silent. Some say it died to preserve what little dignity it had left, but this of course is hogwash.
      It had been a horrid day so far. After my trip to Jack in the Box, I had ventured to a local tavern in the hopes that a drink might raise my spirits and calm my stomach. An elderly woman approached me, and asked whether Friendly Tony was my given name, or a nickname. I told her I didn’t know, and threw a barstool at her. I was promptly manhandled and ejected by the burly fellow working the door. He smelled like a slaughterhouse.
      Vastly irritated by the horrid amount of natural light I had been forced to remain in thus far, I became more and more determined to get into my apartment. I crept around the side of the building to check whether or not any windows had been left open. They had not, but as I searched for a way in, I observed Friendly Tony (I had made up my mind that even if he was technically named Joey at this point, I was not going to call him by the name that was rightfully mine), lounging in a recliner of unknown origin. He was smartly clad in a blazer with a stylish shirt and some very nice jeans, and he was drinking a glass of what seemed to be milk while reading a novel. I became further incensed by this scene of domestic tranquility, and started slapping my palms against the window. After several minutes of pretending not to notice the noise, Friendly Tony turned and smiled broadly at me. He gingerly unseated himself, and strode over to the window. With a raised eyebrow, he opened it up just enough to allow sound to freely travel in and out.
      “Why, good morning, Friendly Tony,” he said. “How are you liking your new identity thus far? It suits you, I trust?”
      “You son of a bitch!” I yelled. “Let me back in my house! It’s too damn bright out here!”
      Nonchalantly, Friendly Tony fanned himself with his novel. “Hmm. You know, I’m just reading the most delightful work right now. Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded, by Samuel Richardson. Have you read…no, I’m sorry…have you experienced this absolute treasure?”
      “What? I hate that god damned book!” I said, smacking the window pane. “And I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you sit around in a recliner in my apartment, reading Pamela. You might as well just shit on my face and wipe your ass with my dignity.”
      “Excellent, if tacky, metaphor,” said Friendly Tony. “But you still don’t seem to grasp the concept of what has occurred here. This isn’t your apartment. It’s mine. Check the name on the lease. It says Joey Marsilio, not Friendly Tony. Hence, it does not belong to you.”
      “Oh yeah?” I said. “Well, fine then. I’ll just go to your apartment and live there and spill cocktail sauce all over the floor and watch wrestling. How do you like them apples?”
      Friendly Tony shrugged. “Apartment? My good man, my six month lease was up last week. Check the documentation. You’ll find that Friendly Tony doesn’t have an apartment, and has in fact been staying at the Radisson for the past few days.”
      “You dirty bastard,” I said. “Is that what this is about? Stealing my apartment?”
      Friendly Tony looked away, waving his hand as though brushing dust off the air. “Housing? How droll,” he said. “I told you, this is about helping you. This is about charity. This is about salvaging your good name. I mean, my God, man…look at yourself. Who wears a belt with flannel pajamas?”
      I had to admit, it was an unfortunate choice, albeit one I don’t remember making.
      “Already I’ve done such wonderful things for your name. People are loving the new Joey Marsilio. For example, look at my Twitter account. So many followers in such a short amount of time, all saying such wonderful things about me!”
      “You set up a Twitter account in my name?” I howled. “This is slander! I demand you take it down right now!”
      “I’ll do no such thing,” said Friendly Tony. He sighed. “It is heartbreaking that you don’t even appreciate what I’m trying to do for you. But you’ll come around eventually.”
      “I’m going to do terrible things to you, you understand,” I said through gritted teeth. “Terrible things.”
      “Oh, by the way,” Friendly Tony said coyly, “you may want to go check out that hotel room at the Radisson. It’s in your name, after all. If you’re lucky, you may be able to get there and clean it up before the maid finds anything. Oh, I’d hate to see what might happen to you then.”
      With a light chuckle, he gently closed the window.

Chapter 5: Joey Marsilio and the Terrible Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day


     I rushed into the Radisson like a loon, leaning in far too close to the desk clerk and demanding to know which room I was in. Obviously straining to be polite, she asked, “What is your name, sir?”
     “…Friendly Tony,” I mumbled.
     “Friendly Tony?” she said. “Is that some sort of nickname?”
     “I don’t know. Maybe.”
     Annoyed, the clerk said, “You don’t know if your name is a nickname or not?”
     “No,” I said. “It’s just…always what I introduce myself as.”
     “Well, OK,” she said, drumming her fingers on the desk, “what name did you check in under?”
     “Friendly…Tony, I guess? I don’t remember.”
     She stared at me for a moment, then typed something into the computer. “Here you are,” she said, “Friendly Tony Rodriguez, room 232.”
     Rodriguez?” I asked. “Seriously?”
     “Room 232,” she said. “But it says here your check out time was this morning.”
     “What?”
     “Now, the room is still available,” she said. “But you’d have to pay for another night.”
     “Fine. Whatever,” I grumbled, pulling my credit card out of my sock. I looked it over, and sure enough, it said FRIENDLY TONY RODRIGUEZ on it. The son of a bitch really had changed reality.
     I handed the card to the desk clerk. She pinched it between her thumb and forefinger and held it like a rotten fish. She punched in some numbers and said, “Alright sir, you’re booked for this evening. I hope you enjoy your stay at the Radisson.” 
     “Do you happen to know if the maid has cleaned the room yet?” I asked. “I, uh, like the way I had everything laid out.”
     “No,” she said. “Not yet, as far as I can tell.”
     “Good. Call her off. I don’t want to be disturbed.”
     “Of course,” said the desk clerk. “Here’s your room key.”
     Riding the elevator up to the second floor, I started to sweat like John Madden. I had no idea what was waiting for me in that hotel room, but I was willing to wager that it wouldn’t be pleasant. Some sort of death trap, perhaps? I would have to be careful, and prepared for any eventuality.
     As I approached room 232, an intense feeling of dread crawled down my throat and set up shop in my stomach. This was not at all how I had envisioned my day. I had been planning on eating Cooler Ranch tortilla chips and watching Twilight Zone reruns. Those plans were made in simpler times. Now here I was, standing outside a hotel door, consumed by a sense of impending doom. Not cool.

     Reluctantly, I slid the electronic key card into the slot and, after the light turned green, pushed the door open with my foot. I figured if a guillotine blade or something was to come slicing down, I’d rather lose a few toes than a chunk of my head. Nothing came down, though, so I entered the room slowly. At first, nothing seemed amiss. The room was quiet, except for the gentle hum of the air conditioning, and smelled of cinnamon. But when I took a few steps in, I recoiled in horror. I had just discovered where Friendly Tony had acquired the ingredients for his magic ink. 

Chapter 6: Love, (Native) American Style


     If someone would have told me before I walked into that hotel room that my evening would be even worse than my morning, I would have scoffed at them and perhaps insultingly tossed some old grains of rice at them. The idea was too far-fetched, my misery too complete, for anything of the sort to be possible. Yet they would have been right, and shown the foresight of George Orwell, as my evening became a smoking ruin the instant I laid eyes upon the three corpses lying within a hotel room that was reserved under my name.
      Well, lying may not be the proper word here. They were in fact sitting, the three of them posed in a macabre diorama that indicated a sort of undead love triangle. A gypsy woman, who resembled a more ethnic Bret Butler, sat in the middle of the beige loveseat against the far wall, and one of the Native American mystic corpses had his arm wrapped around her. I wondered if this was the sort of thing they had in mind when they named the loveseat. The other mystic sat on the floor, staring up at the couple with eyes like foggy marbles. He looked very upset at the pairing, although admittedly his morose expression might just have been due to the fact that he was murdered.
      I closed the door and gawked at the eerie display in front of me for a few minutes. I’m not sure if I was expecting the scandalous scenario in front of me to play out in dramatic, unexpected ways, or if I was just reluctant to start hauling around corpses, but either way I did a pretty good impersonation of a statue for a little while.
      The stark realization that I would have to deal with this mess posthaste snapped me out of my stupor. Revealing these victims to the police was not an option; my name was, after all, attached to the hotel room, and I doubted anyone was going to believe the magic white out pen story. My extremely erratic behavior this morning with the desk clerk no doubt would lend even less credence to my claims, as her eyewitness accounts would likely paint me as just the sort of kook that might murder minorities and pose their corpses in mildly amusing ways. No, I’d have to make this situation disappear, and I’d have to do it by myself.
      A quick traipse through the hotel revealed an abandoned room service cart two floors above my room, which I stole as covertly as possible. I didn’t want to be seen, as a fellow wearing Wolverine pajamas wheeling a cart around is a bit suspicious. Fortunately, I made it back to my room without incident. My plan was to slip the bodies under the cloth covering the cart and place them onto the rack at the bottom of the cart. This was fairly easy for the gypsy girl; I removed her from the arm of her beau, who seemed to glare at me (I think it was just the hangover making me see things, though), and shoved her onto the cart. She was fairly small, so though a bit of purple silk kept creeping out from under the cloth, I got her outside and into the dumpster out back with little difficulty.
      I was not so fortunate with the mystics, who were quite a bit larger than the gypsy. Neither of them wanted to fit under the cloth, so I used the complementary garment bag in the closet as a makeshift body bag. It was still too small to fully cover either body, so I had to wheel each corpse outside with a chunk of garment bag hanging out that looked like it was stuffed with pumpkins. Transporting the first mystic went off without a hitch, but on my trip to bring the second one to the dumpster, I ran across a portly couple in Hawaiian shirts. They stared at me, and then looked at the bulging protuberance at the bottom of my cart.
      “Damn Gucci,” I said preemptively. “Always trying to escape.” They shook their heads in a show of what I assume was sympathy, and I was on my way.
      As I stood next to a dumpster containing three recently deposited bodies, I pondered my next move. Corpse disposal was not a hobby of mine, and I was somewhat less than well-versed in how one might best rid oneself of incriminating evidence. In spite of that, I knew that if I left these bodies in the dumpster I was essentially begging to have them discovered. I had to do something, and I had to do it quickly. The next morning was going to be garbage day. 

Chapter 7: From Alviso, It Came





          Despite my attempts to remain calm, I couldn’t help but dash to the newsstand. I was not a huge fan of running or jogging or hurrying in general, but the thought of leaving the ghastly dumpster unattended for too long made me exceedingly nervous. Panting, I babbled something unintelligible to Prosciuttscio at an excessively high volume.
           “Excuse-ah me?” he said, bewildered.
           “I SAID,” I wheezed, “CAN I BORROW YOUR VAN FOR A COUPLE HOURS?”
           “My-ah van-ah?” he said. “Of-ah course-ah, Friend-ah-ly Tony. For-ah what, may I-ah ask-ah?”
           “I…HAVE TO MOVE SOME FURNITURE,” I said. “INTO THIS NEW CONDO I GOT. WITH SUPERMODELS. AND A TIGER.”
           “Wow-ah!” said Prosciuttscio. “A tiger-ah! Sure-ah, sure-ah, use-ah my-ah van-ah, Friend-ah-ly Tony. Any-ah-thing for-ah such a good-ah cus-ah-tomer.” He handed me the keys. A little vinyl pizza was attached to the keychain. Way to give in to the stereotype, I thought.
            “THANKS DEAFFY…I MEAN, PROSCIUTTSCIO,” I said, and scurried away.
            I returned to the back alley of the Radisson to find the dumpster mercifully undisturbed. I loaded the three bodies into the back of the van as covertly as possible, save for when one of the Native American mystic’s arms swung down to hit me in the crotch. “Stupid god damned corpse!” I hollered.
What followed was a sweaty ride out to the small town of Alviso. Alviso had once been a bustling port town, but the spread of railroads spelled doom for nautical shipping in the area, and the town fell into decline. A massive flood in 1983 provided the deathblow, causing the town to spiral into a decay which it had only recently started to recover from. You could get some damn fine Mexican food there, though.
A full moon shone in the sky as I drove into town, making an already spooky place all the more skin-crawling. A heavy mist was rolling in from the water, blanketing the area like the sort of Snuggie a ghost might wear if it were cold. A child, shirtless, skittered across the street in front of me, forcing me to slam on the brakes. My flop sweat would have made Louie Anderson envious, and I dabbed away at my forehead with a towel I had stolen from the hotel. Quaking, I arrived at the edge of the Alviso wetlands and killed the engine. I rolled down the window and let the cool marine air wash over my moist face. I thought I heard someone laughing, softly, but I could see no one around anywhere.
After an exhaustive, paranoid survey of the area, I determined to the best of my ability that no one else was in sight, so I set about my grim business. One by one, I dragged the bodies out to the murkiest parts of the wetlands. I weighed them down with appliances stolen from the Radisson (an iron here, a television there), and watched them disappear into the black water. As I stood waist deep in the misty wetness, the wind whistled through the reeds. It sounded oddly like the melody from “Freebird."
I slogged through the marsh and returned to the van, sopping wet. My Wolverine pajamas were clearly ruined, to say nothing of my once moderately attractive belt, which now resembled a limp leather noodle. With a sigh, I tramped over to a local watering hole. The proprietor gave me a sort of sideways look, but I laid down a soggy five dollar bill and asked for a pint of Newcastle. Sitting at the bar, my hair dripping into my beer, I asked if there was anywhere around there where I might be able to pick up a change of clothes. 

Chapter 8: Diminishing Returns

 
Vengeance consumed my mind as I drove the old van back home. I was wearing a slightly-too-large white shirt with a picture of the Golden Gate bridge on it, and a pair of blue shorts that said “Yay Area” across the ass. I was fairly certain they were girl’s shorts, but they were the best option I had at the time save my sopping pajama bottoms, and there was no way I was climbing back into those things. Despite my new clothes, I was still cold and wet, and I shivered as I cranked up the heat.
             I dropped off the van at Prosciuttscio’s newsstand, and at my request he gave me some old magazines he was going to toss anyway. I walked over to an alleyway a few blocks away and tossed my soggy pajamas into a banged-up steel garbage can. I then tossed in the old magazines on top of them, and a lit match on top of those. Standing by the can and watching the whole mess burn to cinders, I imagined what a giddy, sadistic pleasure it would be to throw Friendly Tony into the pyre. As I giggled at the sick fantasy, a homeless man ambled up and began warming his hands by the fire.
             “Feels good,” he said. “Thanks, Friendly Tony.”
             I grumbled some platitude or another and slunk away.
             It was nearing midnight as I returned to my former apartment. Only yesterday, this place had been my home, where I could sit back and relax and masturbate to internet pornography. Now, those idyllic times seemed like ancient history. I brooded about all that had been stolen from me by trickery and white out. Seething and near tears, I peered in the window.
             All the lights were out. As expected, Friendly Tony observed a reasonable bedtime, and was likely fast asleep. Determined to shatter his peace, I began whooping and slamming on the window.
Moments later, a light clicked on, then another. Soon, Friendly Tony’s scowling face was staring out the window at me. He was blinking and clearly half asleep. I found the fact that his hair was perfectly sculpted despite this to be immensely galling.
             Friendly Tony cracked open the window and said, “Can I help you?” in a flat, hostile tone.
             “You bastard,” I said. “You set me up! Trying to frame me for murder, eh? Well, let me tell you: the instant I get my hands on you, you won’t have to set me up, because boy oh boy, I will be guilty of murder.”
             “Excuse me?” said Friendly Tony with a yawn. “Set you up? You have no idea what you’re talking about. I did nothing of the sort.”
             “Oh, really?” I said, my voice lowering to a venomous whisper. “Then what do you call sticking me with three corpses in a hotel room under my name?”
             “Ah, that,” said Friendly Tony. “Yet again, you accuse me of some treachery when you clearly do not understand my intentions at all. I would never try to set you up for murder. Just because I now have your name doesn’t mean I want my old one sullied in such a fashion.”
             “What are you talking about?” I said, pounding my fist on the windowsill.
             “You see, Friendly Tony,” said Friendly Tony, “I wasn’t up to anything diabolical. I was merely hoping you could help me clean up a mess that, frankly, is your fault in the first place. After all that I’ve done for you, it really is the least you could do.”
             “The least I…what? How is any of this my fault?”
             “If you hadn’t damaged your good name to such a monstrous degree that I had to come in and take it over,” said Friendly Tony, “I wouldn’t have needed that magic white out pen. And if I hadn’t needed that, you can be sure I would not have needed any gypsy blood or the semen of dead Native American mystics. Acquiring that was not particularly pleasant, you know.”
             “That is the most dumbass logic I’ve ever heard,” I groused.
             “But anyway, thank you,” said Friendly Tony. “It’s about time you started giving back. I appreciate it, really I do.”
             “Wonderful. My life is truly complete,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Now get the hell out of my apartment. I’m tired.”
             “Well, you have a room at the Radisson, don’t you?” said Friendly Tony with a sneer. “Enjoy it. You’ve only got 11 hours until check out time. And tomorrow morning, check Joey Marsilio’s Twitter. Just go ahead, check it. You might be surprised how positive the response has been.”
             “I despise you,” I said.
             “Check the Twitter,” Friendly Tony said, wagging his finger at me. He closed the window gently, and tapped on the pane. “Check the Twitter,” he said, barely audible through the glass. 

Chapter 9: Tweet and Low



               I had assumed the night would be a restless one, but due to my exhaustion and the supreme comfort of the beds at the Radisson, I slept like a baby on horse tranquilizers. Unfortunately, checkout time loomed at 11 AM, and since I was already within sniffing distance of my credit limit, there was no way I could stay another night. So, mere hours later, I found myself poor and homeless, and did what any person in my situation would do: I went to the library.
                I sat down at one of the computer stations and idly clicked through the day’s news headlines, a who’s-who of human suffering that did little to ease my agitation. Friendly Tony’s suggestion to check his Twitter page set up in my (former) name nagged at me in the back of my mind, but I refused to give him the satisfaction of actually looking at it. Besides, I reasoned, the feeling of seeing other people talk about me when I was no longer actually myself would be too eerie. Yet as I scanned through the headlines on espn.com, “Check the Twitter” resonated through my head. Much like the urge to stalk an ex-girlfriend online, the compulsion proved too much, and before I knew it, I was indeed checking the Twitter.
                Friendly Tony had been right. People were talking about Joey Marsilio. Of course, they were also talking about American Idol and Brazilian waxes, but nonetheless, my (former) name was in the mix. As I pored over the website, I read things such as the following:

MemphisGrizzliesBabe678: @JoeyMarsilio Hey how did you get yr abs so sculpted?
HotRoddy41: @JoeyMarsilio Yeah dude I agree, crocheting is ttly underrated
BigWillieJohnson: @JoeyMarsilio Thx man I never knew milk was so good and I don’t mean the movie j/k
Utah4lifechica: @JoeyMarsilio I think I might love you
MissThangTrang: @JoeyMarsilio No I love you

And so on, and so on. It was quite the lovefest, and Friendly Tony was diligently responding to every message directed at him. I remembered how I could barely keep up with responding to one or two messages at a time on Myspace or Facebook, and here he was having pseudo-conversations with dozens of people. Furthermore, those people seemed quite fond of him, even if they did look like a bunch of nerds and/or losers…not to be judgmental or anything.  It was frankly the most positive response I had ever received…and it wasn’t even me receiving it.
Then it hit me, like an aggressively depressing bolt of lightning: maybe Friendly Tony was right. Maybe he was doing more with my name than I ever could. Maybe, just maybe, I would be better off if I left the name of Joey Marsilio in his custody, and just went around being the best Friendly Tony I could be.
 I headed over to the fiction section to read some Ayn Rand and ponder this turn of events.
Chapter 10: Life After Joey



                Several months passed by. I was slowly adjusting to my role as Friendly Tony. I had taken to wearing sweater vests and eating bologna sandwiches, and had gotten a job as a file clerk in a small law office.
                “That’s funny,” my boss, Jeff, had said during the interview, “You don’t look Mexican.” It seemed like an odd thing for a lawyer to say, but I kept my mouth shut and was hired.
                I rented out a room in an elderly couple’s house, and spent my free time writing a sprawling historical fiction epic and participating in the occasional paid clinical study. It was a quiet existence, but I felt that was for the best as I adapted to my new persona. Some days, if I kept myself busy enough, I could forget entirely about Joey Marsilio. Every once in a while, during my weaker moments, I would check up on the old me, but by all accounts he was doing well, and I managed to stay clear of him. I was bothered by nightmares nearly every night; they were not terrifying, but rather strange and morbid, and would often cause me to wake filled with melancholy.
                “You know, Friendly Tony,” Jeff said to me one day as I sifted through a stack of documents, “you’re an awfully quiet guy. I mean, I’ve known chancres that were more talkative than you. Not that that’s the worst thing in the world…the broad before you had diarrhea of the mouth. Drove me nucking futs.”
                “Nucking futs, huh?” I said, my eyes never rising from the stack of papers.
                “Yep. Absolutely bananas,” he said, mopping his brow. “Hell of an ass though.”
                “Hmm,” I said.
                “God damn,” Jeff said. “You really don’t look Mexican at all.”
                “Yeah. I get that a lot,” I mumbled. It was true, though. I did get it a lot. Mainly from Jeff.
                “So what made you want to work here?” said Jeff later that day. He was leaning back excessively in his chair and I kept glancing at him because I didn’t want to miss it if he fell over.
                “Necessity,” I said.
                He laughed. “Ain’t it the truth,” he said with a sigh. “What’d you do before this? Didn’t you say you used to be on TV or something?”
                “Yeah, cable access. I was on a sketch comedy show for a few years. You’ve probably never heard of it, though. It was called Steel & Marsilio.”
                “Which one were you?” said Jeff. “Steel or Marsilio?”
                “Huh? Oh,” I said. “I was Marsilio.”
                “Why were you Marsilio?” said Jeff. “Is that your middle name or something?”
                “It’s complicated.”
                “Well, I bet that was fun,” said Jeff. “More fun than this, at any rate.”
                “I guess,” I said. “Why? Don’t you like your job?”
                “Oh, hell, I love my job,” said Jeff. “I was just trying to be sympathetic.”
                When I got home that evening, I said hello to my elderly housemates and made myself a bologna sandwich with extra mustard. I grabbed a frigid bottle of root beer and headed to my room. I was intending to get some writing in, but I was spurred by a sense of nostalgia stirred up by my conversation earlier to turn on the television and see what was on public access. As the screen faded in, I saw a portly man with a Santa Claus beard discussing the finer points of Appalachian cuisine. As I brought up the channel guide to see what the program schedule for the evening was, I almost choked on a wad of bologna. There it was, at 10 PM, the television equivalent of the Flying Dutchman…Steel & Marsilio. I looked at my watch. 8:27. I nervously glanced around the room like I was awaiting an assassin. An hour and a half.
                The time passed by slowly, like retarded molasses. I tried to keep myself busy, but there was no distraction that could eclipse my eagerness to watch Steel & Marsilio. What would it be like? How much had the reality shift changed it? Why had I decided to drink so much root beer? In desperation, I put on a Herb Alpert album and tried to relax, but at that point such efforts were like trying to calm a rabid jackal with a puppet show.
                The fated hour arrived, and the Steel & Marsilio opening sequence began. It was no episode I remembered, and as the credits popped up among images of lighthouses and bowls of apples, an awful song played in the background. The credits identified it as “On the Dream-Like Wings of a Fantastic Promise,” an original song written and performed for the show by Michael Buble. Wrinkling my nose, I waited impatiently through the interminable opening sequence. When it finally faded out, I held my breath and leaned forward.
                There they were. The former Friendly Tony (as Joey Marsilio) and my old comedy partner, Garrett Steel, were walking along a beach and discussing the WNBA. I choked up a bit as I waited for their dialogue to begin. Garrett had a few witty bon mots, and then the former Friendly Tony stopped and said, “What? I thought the W stood for ‘Wonderful!’” There was a pause, as if he were expecting laughter to ensue. “Next thing you’ll tell me is that the P in PGA doesn’t stand for ‘Pleasant!’”
                Garrett looked pained. I couldn’t tell if he was acting. “It doesn’t, Joey.”
                “My word,” said the former Friendly Tony. “What an NBA-barassment!”
                “What the fuck?” I roared, rising from my seat and hurling my root beer bottle against the wall. “This is bullshit!”
                “Everything OK up there?” called Ethel, one of my housemates.
                I rushed downstairs and grabbed her by the shoulders. “No! Nothing is OK!” I said, shaking her like a fragile maraca. “That asshole isn’t funny! He’s not funny at all! He’s ruining my show!”
                “Now calm down,” said Barnaby, Ethel’s husband. “What’re you going on about?”
                “I’ll kill that piece of shit!” I shrieked, shoving Ethel into her husband’s reed-like arms. “You can steal my home, you can take my life away from me, but you CANNOT ruin my show!”
                “But I wasn’t trying to-” said Ethel.
                “Friendly Tony,” I said, my right hand clenched in a fist as my left hand ripped off my sweater vest, “you’re going down, you son of a bitch!”
                I bounded out the front door, leaving behind a bewildered old couple and a torn sweater vest, screaming, “Vengeance will be mine!”
               
Chapter 11: The Return of Friendly Tony



               It was after 10 PM, so I figured there was a good chance that Friendly Tony would be asleep. Still, I didn’t want to do something as terribly obvious as trying to get in the window again. Not only had that not worked out well for me in the past, but it was noisy and drew attention. Unlike before, I did not want Friendly Tony to know I was here. I had been going about this all wrong; the key to my salvation was not Friendly Tony himself, not physically. The key was the white-out pen, which, as best I could surmise, was somewhere in the apartment. I needed to get in, somehow, and if this was going to work, I was going to have to be Solid Snake stealthy.
                I searched all around the building for some way into the apartment, but found no entry. While this was great news in terms of the security level of my former apartment, it didn’t really do me much good in my situation. There were not, as far as I could tell, any ventilation ducts or sewer passages that led from the interior to the exterior of my apartment. Or maybe there were; I hadn’t really had the need to break into a home before. When my search for an obvious passageway failed, I retreated to the bushes by the side of the apartment to regroup. I sank deep into thought and, as often happens when I think, I fell asleep.
                The next thing I knew, the mocking sun was shitting rays all over my face (metaphorically). It was a garishly bright morning, and I found myself in the familiar situation of having leaves in my shirt. At least I didn’t have a headache this time. Disoriented and sweaty, I squinted into the glare to assess my situation. I heard a door open, and glanced up; from my vantage point, I couldn’t make out who it was, though my suspicions were confirmed when the individual’s phone rang. The ringtone was the lilting melody of Michael Buble’s “On the Dream-Like Wings of a Fantastic Promise,” the appalling new theme song for Steel & Marsilio. And the chipper voice that answered said phone belonged to none other than Friendly Tony.
                “Hello, Joey Marsilio speaking!” he said with an aural grin. “Yes? Oh, well the secret is a pinch of nutmeg. Mm-hmm, yes, 'kitchen magic,' as I call it.”
                I thought about just tackling him and being done with it. Unfortunately, despite my generous helpings of egotism, I was cognizant of the fact that Friendly Tony’s regimen of “diet” and “exercise” had him in far better shape than me, thus making it fairly likely that he would kick my ass. My already damaged pride could not withstand such a painful blow, so I took a pass on direct physical confrontation. Instead, as I watched Friendly Tony stride down the street with a spring in his step, another plan began to take shape.
                Screw stealth, I thought. This whole affair had been ugly, so I was going to put an ugly end to it. I looked around for a big rock or something, eventually settling on a hideous garden gnome one of my neighbors kept on their front lawn. Looking around for witnesses, it appeared that the coast was clear for the time being. Nonetheless, I’d have to act quickly. With a determined sigh, I hurled the creepy homunculus through Friendly Tony’s window. The sound of shattering glass made my pulse quicken, and I scurried through the broken pane, my adrenaline rush dulling the pain of the cuts and abrasions I was receiving.
                My eyes darting about the room, I searched desperately for any place Friendly Tony might have hidden the white out pen. I heard police sirens in my head as I scanned the place top to bottom. What sort of secret hiding place might he have? A safe, perhaps? If so, what was the combination? How did he get the whole room to smell like cinnamon?
                Time was of the essence. A cursory examination of the room revealed no safes or lockers, and a search for hidden compartments would likely take more time than I had. Desperate, I tried to get myself into Friendly Tony’s diabolical frame of mind to figure out where such a well-organized madman might hide a white out pen.
                And that was it. The solution was far simpler than I would have ever imagined. I walked over to Friendly Tony’s desk and, sure enough, there was the white out pen, neatly labeled in a wire pen cup alongside a ball point pen with a fuzzy penguin atop it and a pair of scissors. Snatching the pen, I opened up the desk drawer to find a manila folder with “Identity Swap Documents” written on it in impeccable penmanship. Never had the downside to meticulous organization been more apparent to me.
                After laying down some white out and hastily scrawling “Joey Marsilio” on my birth certificate, where it belonged, I heard a thunderous pounding at the door. I gasped and whirled around. This was it. I always figured I would end up in prison sooner or later, but not like this. Not for breaking into my own apartment. With a moan of resignation, I opened the front door.
                My (former?) landlady, Doris McGillicutty, stood glowering at me in the hallway outside. She peered over my shoulder at the shattered window and shook her hog-like head.
                “That’s coming out of your deposit, Marsilio,” she wheezed. “And would you keep it down? People are trying to sleep around here.”
                Normally, I would have replied, “Sleep? More like people are trying to do meth around here,” but my elation dulled my sense of sarcasm. I was me again. I was Joey. And I really needed a shower.

Chapter 12: The Status Quo
     “And that was that,” I said to Garrett Steel. “I changed Friendly Tony’s birth certificate too, so he was back to being himself again.” We were sitting at a beige picnic table at Falafel Drive-In. I had gotten a falafel lunch special, which came with a banana shake; Garrett had gotten a falafel and fries, but no shake.
     “Did he ever try to come back to your apartment?” said Garrett. “He was living there, after all.”
     “Nope,” I said. “I guess he figured it out. Anyway, I made a few changes with the white out pen as retribution, so I think he got the message pretty quickly.”
     “Changes?” said Garrett through a mouthful of falafel and spicy sauce. “Like what?”
     “Well, as it turns out, Friendly Tony left a few other documents in the desk. I found his resume in there, and I whited out his ‘current job’ and replaced it with ‘Jizz Mopper’ at Sinnaman Erotica Outlet in Riverside.”
     “Yikes,” said Garrett. “Riverside? That’s just cruel.”
     “That’s the way the falafel crumbles,” I said, motioning to my rapidly disintegrating pita bread. I laughed out loud. Garrett did not.
     “So now what?” Garrett said. “You know, we could make a pretty funny skit out of this whole thing.”
     “Later, maybe,” I said. “I have some important business to attend to first.”
     “I know what you mean,” said Garrett. “Every time I eat one of these falafels, I’m in the bathroom within a half an hour.”
     “That’s not what I’m talking about,” I said. “Although that is a valid point. What I mean is, since I have this white out pen, there’s something I’ve always wanted to do that is finally a possibility.” I paused, waiting for Garrett to ask me what I was talking about. He didn’t, instead just staring at me while eating his fries. After an awkward minute, I continued. “I’m going to change Adriana Lima’s wedding records and replace Marko Jaric’s name with mine. I’m pretty psyched about it…Adriana Marsilio. Heh heh heh.” I rubbed my hands together. Falafel sauce smeared across my palms.
     “That poor girl,” said Garrett. “Actually, you know what? That’s kind of awesome. Could you do that for me, too?”
     “What? We can’t both be married to Adriana Lima, Garrett. Polygamy is against the law. Though I suppose I could white out the law and change it, but there are lines I’m not willing to cross.”
     “I’m not talking about Adriana Lima,” said Garrett. “I want to be married to Michelle Trachtenburg. Can you do that for me?”
     I shook my head glumly. “Garrett, I’m surprised at you,” I said. “This pen is capable of terrible things if used wantonly. I can’t just do whatever I want with it. That would be immoral and destructive. I mean, really man, how selfish can you be?”
     “But you’re-“ said Garrett.
     “Ah, ah!” I said. “No more. I’m not going to do it, Garrett. This is a terrible responsibility, an awful burden I have to bear. You should be thanking me that you don’t have to make these moral decisions, that you don’t have to resist the temptation to abuse this awesome power. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go take my bride. I hope you’ll use this time to think about what a sick, self-serving request that was.” I stood up and left the table, knocking my soggy pita remains to the ground and clutching my Styrofoam cup half full of banana shake.
     Garrett sat at the table, alone, halfheartedly munching on his fries as a stray breeze carried a few rustling leaves past him. He sighed and said, “I miss Friendly Tony.”
THE END

If you've got the hankering for more supernatural adventure, check out Joey Marsilio's debut novel: Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior.


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