I’m in an airport in Texas, about to fly home from a tour, but looking at the series of little colorful pictures that represent the various destinations of my flight, I realize it’s not really going anywhere near Ba’al timor. I see that the flight is crossing the Atlantic at least once— I’d love to go back to England, which this one little picture with the beefeater in it obviously indicates— but there are a few other pictures in the sequence that are labeled in another language. Is this word here beneath the spinning blue lady the French-Canadian word for Montreal? If it is, that might be the closest this plane is getting to my house… I decide to take the next leg of the flight to southern Florida. It’ll put me on the right coast and at least there’s a layover afterwards where I can plan my next move. Maybe there will be an easier way to get home that will present itself.
I fall asleep right after takeoff. As the plane circles the Floridian airport, I’m awakened by an announcement from the captain. I look out the window and it’s late at night. I also see what appears to be a giant King Kong in a suit and hat thrusting his fists into the air next to a semi-circle of burning debris. The captain acknowledges that this seems unlikely and says he’s going to fly in a little closer, and if it looks really dangerous, we’ll go to another airport. We end up landing with no more explanation and I follow the rest of the passengers off the plane, through the terminal, and onto a boardwalk that is filled with people.
I walk along with the surging crowd, past a really interesting building that looks like some kind of gigantic hybrid of an amusement park Haunted House and a Lazer Tag place. There are huge sculptures of Lovecraft-looking beasts outside, stooped and snarling humanoids with ridges on their backs and limbs and nests of knotted tentacles hanging from their mouths, all of them in the same shade of yellow wax that looks soft and sweaty in the sun. The sculptures are cool but there are only really two different ones that are repeated along the side of this very long building. I can’t remember the sign that hung above… Kumpovol? Campovol? The place was called something like that, in red lettering that was maybe supposed to be reminiscent of bloody fingernail scratches clawed into some old wood. I stop and tell my posse— GZA, my friend’s little brother, and the ghost of my ex-girlfriend— that I have to check this place out. We go down a stairwell and the first door we come to leads to a room where a big party is being held. A bunch of jocko tourists are watching some sporting event on big TVs set in the wall around the bar. There’s a doorman and big, purple double-doors. I peek through the door as it swings open and see a lot of watches and bracelets and hairy arms coming out of rolled-up sleeves from button-down shirts: not my scene. At the top of the stairway, back on street level, there are a few picnic tables underneath an overhang. The posse and I decide to wait there until we can find out more about this place.
My friend’s little brother disappears and reappears a little while later to announce that the Lazer Tag part of this establishment is down another set of steps just inside the double-door of the party room. He says it’s not like a Lazer Tag where you shoot other people but one where you walk through a creepy, winding maze with rooms decorated to look like swamps and creepy New England sea-side towns and you shoot giant Lovecraftian monsters that jump out at you, supposedly like the fearsome wax beasts that stand along the side of the building. There are a lot of people walking up and down the boardwalk, a lot of people at this party, people always going up and down the stairs.
Some younger kid who senses from my looks that I’ll be sympathetic, approaches and hands me a laminated card that’s maybe 11” high by 6” wide. It’s divided into eight squares, each one depicting a portion of a screenshot from some NES game. The first 7 are all of different appearances of some piano-playing man in a suit and hat, sitting at a piano with a slim, flapper-looking babe next to him in a feather boa. The final shot is of a King Kong in a suit, presumably the final boss of whatever game the other pictures are from. The kid enthusiastically explains to me that this card is proof that the King Kong I saw at the airport was racist and wants me to agree with him. GZA, either bored or creeped out by this kid, quietly signals to me that he’s going to go check out that party. I try to politely shoo the kid with the laminated card away but he insists on explaining the entire ending sequence of this game to me in detail, how the piano man that appears innocuously in the background of several levels turns out to be the final boss, and how he and his flapper babe morph into giant King Kongs (their clothing grows to fit their new incarnations— his hat does, too) and how before you fight him he sings a song into mic while a spotlight shines on him.
Then Yao Ming and his manager show up. I’m saved from the kid by Ming’s manager’s pushy insistence that she talk to me right away. Ming sits smiling at the picnic table with me, the manager remains standing, too caffeinated to sit. She reminds me of the favor Ming did me a year or two ago— one I didn’t ask for, I remind her, but Ming interrupts to explain how needlessly generous the favor was regardless. The manager continues to explain how Ming is going to be a master chef now and he needs me to return the favor by getting in touch with my “contacts” and getting him a cooking show on cable.
It turns out Ming is some kind of extravagantly rich dilettante, and that before he decided to be a great basketball player, he had varying success in a few other careers: one of which was music, which is how he and I know each other. I tell the pushy pair that I don’t have any “contacts” at the moment who would be able to just hand Ming a cable cooking show, and try to leave it at that, but they’re so insistent I find myself telling them that they’ll have to at least give me time to talk to the “contacts” I do have to see if they know anybody who might be able to help. Ming reminds me again of the old favor he did for me, and I remind him again that you can’t give just somebody something completely out of the blue and then call for repayment later. He is unmoved by my arguments, always stressing the extreme generosity of his original kindness to me. I suggest that he might be able to easily get a show on PBS without my help— he seems into the idea, likes how he might be able to spin it as the most community-oriented of cooking shows— the most generous.
I abruptly announce I’m ready to try out the Lazer Tag game, gambling on my hunch that there’s no way Ming’s manager would do a frivolous thing like that (she’d never do anything where she might appear out of her element, you know?) and that Ming won’t do it either if it means his manager won’t be with him. The kid with the laminated card has been lurking nearby and now perks up, obviously planning to invite himself along. The ghost of my ex-girlfriend criticizes the hour at which I usually wake up.