I met my imaginary friend Bertie in the parking lot near the Bowie Regal Cinemas. You might remember that Bertie insists that he is in "the entertainment industry." He really does that thing with his fingers when he says it, too.
He's wearing baggy shorts and a pair of Chucks. His sweatband matches the red, white and blue basketball in his hands. Throughout the conversation he'll bounce that thing from hand to hand. That wouldn't be so annoying, but I know he's going to bounce it off his foot every so often and chase the ball between the minivans and SUVs.
"I have this great idea," he tells me, flipping the ball above his head and stepping backwards. The ball sails behind him and bounces off the side panel of an Expedition. The SUV starts honking and flashing its lights.
Everyone ignores it.
"Maybe we should do this somewhere else?" I suggest. "Or maybe put the ball away?"
"Nonsense," he says, after retrieving the ball from under a Hummer. The hood is about the same height as he is. "I like to have a prop when explaining my plans."
"What does a basketball have to do with barbeque joints?" I bite.
"What? Oh. You've already grown bored with that idea. I've moved on."
He tries to spin the ball on the tip of his finger, but when he slaps the ball to spin it, the ball smacks him in the face, knocking his glasses to the pavement. I grab the ball before it finds the Mini. Poor thing looks lost between two XUVs.
"I don't think you'll make a lot of money suing the movie theater for injuring yourself in their parking lot," I tell him and hand back the ball. He smiles disdainfully.
"I was listening to NPR yesterday," he says, a seeming non sequitur. This surprises me.
"You were? I thought you only listened to that UFO guy."
"He's only on in the middle of the night," Bertie replies. "You know, I can be as sophisticated as you. Besides," he looks around furtively, "that Sue Scott. Her voice makes me buzz."
I don't want to know about Bertie buzzing, so I ask what he heard on NPR. He displays the basketball.
"It's that tournament," he explains. "They said it grosses like a billion dollars. That a nice piece of change. I think I deserve my cut."
"You going to hawk peanuts?" I ask.
"You wound me, sir," he says in his fake British accent. "To think that I'd have so little ambition as that. No, I'm going to try out for one of the teams. I haven't decided between the Tennessee Terps and the Syracuse Cavaliers."
"Um, you're a wee bit old to be a student," I remind him.
"That's what I expect them to say."
I fail to see the value in that, and tell him so.
"It is common knowledge," he tells me in his best talking-to-a-four-year-old voice, "that the NCAA is not concerned about the academic achievement of its atheletes. If they were, they wouldn't be traveling all over the country during the school week. In my lawsuit, I'll press the case that the NCAA is a business entity that not only has discriminatory hiring practices (particularly with regard to height and age), it also illegally denies the workers the ability to organize a union."
"Yes. Who can deny that an enterprise that collects a billion dollars off the efforts of an unpaid workforce is not violating the law and several human rights conventions? I'll be rich."
"Well, as long as you have the best of motives," I say.
"You're not worried that they might be able to suggest that you weren't hired because of your lack of skill?" I ask after he bounces the ball off his Chucks for the fifth time.
"Nah," he says. "I have a backup play, any way. I'll learn the violin, join an orchestra, and sue for my pay to be linked to the number of notes I play."
"That'll never work," I say. He flips the ball in the air and we watch in horror as it flies to the hood of a Mercedes. It bangs a dent into the hood and sets of the honking and flashing.
"Fly, you fools!" Bertie cries.
And we run.