(inspired by the Stuff You Should Know podcast)
As he crested the top of the Ferris wheel for the forty-first time, Hippie Rob had a revelation.
If he had tried to describe it later on – which he didn’t – he wouldn’t have been able to fully explain what had happened. It was kind of like a religious experience but without the religion, or like a vision but with no visuals. It felt like electricity zapping through his brain, but in a good way, or like jumping out of an airplane and landing on a mattress made of joy. It was like the best trip he’d ever had, times a million, and only lasting the blink of an eye. In short, it was…indescribable. All Hippie Rob could say for certain was that one moment he had been trying to sleep off a hangover on an empty carnival ride, just like any other Tuesday morning, and the next moment everything – everything – made sense.
He sat bolt upright, as though an invisible hand had grabbed his dreadlocks and yanked. Sedona, startled, gave a short yip and looked up at him with wide eyes. Hippie Rob sat frozen for a moment, mouth open, eyes wide. Then he sprang into motion and started to bang on the side of the car with his flip-flop, calling down to Hank to let him off.
Back down on the ground, Hank looked up from his magazine in surprise. Hippie Rob usually stayed on the wheel for hours at a time. Why did he want off so soon?
Hippie Rob was still banging on the car. “Right. Gimme a minute,” Hank shouted over the tinkly carnival music and the roar of the engine. Hippie Rob didn’t hear him, and kept banging.
It took thirty seconds for Hippie Rob’s car to come around. Hank pulled the brake lever, then stepped onto the platform to open the car. As the cage door screeched open, Hippie Rob emerged, a blank and vaguely determined look on his face. Without a word or a glance, he breezed past Hank and strode off through the carnival, Sedona trailing behind.
“Hey!” called Hank, “you okay?” But Hippie Rob kept walking, and was soon out of sight.
In a daze, Hippie Rob left the carnival and headed downtown. His first destination was a barbershop. He went in, leaving Sedona waiting on the sidewalk. When he emerged five minutes later, the confused wolf-dog barely recognized him: gone were the trademark reddish-blond dreadlocks and beard. Instead, this new Rob sported a clean shave and a meek short-back-and-sides.
Next, the man who had until recently called himself Hippie Rob stopped at the copy centre on the corner. He sat at a computer, opened the word-processor, and began to type almost at random. Before his eyes, a polished, well-crafted resume took shape, beginning with his full legal name (which he never used) and an address he had never heard of. His haphazard typing went on to list several degrees from colleges he had not attended, and described his duties at a number of jobs he had not actually held. After logging in to an email account he didn’t know he had, he attached the resume to a new message and sent it off to three made-up addresses.
Back outside, he took the opportunity to empty the contents of his pockets into a trashcan. He threw out two broken lighters, three rubber bands, a bottle-opener, a half-pack of breath-mints, a fruit rollup, and several baggies containing a controlled substance. The only item he didn’t throw out was an unfamiliar key that, he soon discovered, unlocked the front door at the address on his resume.
Inside the sparsely-furnished apartment, he found a closet full of expensive suits, and an answering-machine with a message from a law firm, offering him an interview tomorrow morning.
That was five years ago.
Tonight, Robert puts in an appearance at the office holiday party. At the encouragement of one of the senior partners, he has a glass of eggnog. Then another. After a few more drinks, Robert feels funny: not drunk, exactly – or, at least, not just drunk – but a feeling he can’t quite put his finger on.
Then, in the midst of an otherwise innocuous conversation, Robert suddenly feels the urge to break into song. He attempts to ignore it, but the feeling gets stronger and stronger. Sweat begins to bead on his brow as he tries to fight the impulse. In the blink of an eye, however, Robert is enthusiastically serenading the entire office as they watch open-mouthed. He finishes his song to confused applause, and immediately declares himself to be The Life Of The Party. He photocopies his face. He tears off his suit-jacket and tie, and stuffs them into the nearest shred-bin. Despite the lack of music, he slow-dances with a ficus tree. Finally, he climbs atop a desk and delivers an inspiring oration to his rapt co-workers, urging them to cast off the shackles of commercialism and learn to party. They cheer and laugh, hanging on his every word. That Robert, they tell each other. We always knew he had a sense of humour buried deep inside.
Several hours later, a taxi drops him off at Robert’s house. He is greeted by Robert’s wife, who has been worried sick. He looks in on Robert’s sleeping children, three-year-old Austin and six-month-old Dakota. Sedona barks and prances like a puppy, capering as he follows his master from room to room.
Hippie Rob is charming and vaguely incoherent; wide-eyed and spontaneous. He soon manages to put Robert’s wife at ease, convincing her that nothing is the matter. After she goes to bed, he sits alone for a long time in Robert’s leather recliner. He tries to piece the last five years together, recalling one unfamiliar memory after another, viewing his past through a stranger’s eyes.
Soon, however, he begins to feel drowsy. Aware that he still has much to figure out, Hippie Rob writes himself a note so he’ll remember where he left off, and leaves it on the end-table. Then he passes out on Robert’s couch.
Robert will awaken the next morning with a crushing hangover. He will not remember the previous night, and will apologize profusely to his wife for his behaviour.
Sedona will mope for the next week, though no one will understand why.
After breakfast, Robert will find a note on the end-table, in unfamiliar handwriting. Though much of is illegible, he will manage to make out the words:
don’t you ever, ever forget who you are
By the time Robert reads the note, Hippie Rob will be gone.