An excerpt from
An Oral Biography of Buster Casey
by Chuck Palahniuk
The green color of the hillbilly's eyes, the shit on his boots, salesmen call those "mental pegs." Questions that have one answer, those are "closed questions." Questions to get a customer talking, those are "open questions."
For example: "How much did your plane ticket set you back?" That's a closed question.
And, sipping from his own cup of whiskey, the man swallows. Staring straight ahead, he says, "Fifty dollars."
A good example of an open question would be: "How do you live with those scary chewed-up hands?"
I ask him: For one way?
"Round-trip," he says, and his pitted and puckered hand tips whiskey into his face. "Called a 'bereavement fare,"" the hillbilly says.
Me looking at him, me half twisted in my seat to face him, my breathing slowed to match the rise and fall of his cowboy shirt, the technique's called: Active Listening. The stranger clears his throat, and I wait a little and clear my throat, copying him; that's what a good salesman means by "pacing" a customer.
My feet, crossed at the ankle, right foot over the left, same as his, I say: Impossible. Not even standby tickets go that cheap. I ask: How'd he get such a deal?
Drinking his whiskey, neat, he says, "First, what you have to do is escape from inside a locked insane asylum." Then, he says, you have to hitchhike cross-country, wearing nothing buy plastic booties and a paper getup that won't stay shut in back. You need to arrive about a heartbeat too late to keep a repeat child-molester from raping your wife. And your mother.
Spawned out of that rape, you have to raise up a son who collects a wagonful of folks' old, thrown-out teeth. After high school, your wacko kid got's to run off. Join some cult that lives only by night. Wreck his car, a half a hundred times, and hook up with some kind-of, sort-of, not-really prostitute.
Along the way, your kid got's to spark a plague that'll kill thousands of people, enough folks so that it leads to martial law and threatens to topple world leaders. And, lastly, your boy got's to die in a big, flaming, fiery inferno, watched by everybody in the world with a television set.
He says, "Simple as that."
The man says, "Then, when you go to collect his body for his funeral," and tips whiskey into his mouth, "the airline gives you a special bargain price on your ticket."
Fifty bucks, round-trip. He looks at my scotch sitting on the tray table in front of me. Warm. Any ice, gone. And he says, "You going to drink that?"
I tell him: Go ahead.
This is how fast your life can turn around.
How the future you have tomorrow won't be the same future you had yesterday.
My dilemma is: Do I ask for his autograph? Slowing my breath, pacing my chest to his, I ask: Is he related to that guy... Rant Casey? "Werewolf Casey" - the worst Patient Zero in the history of disease? The "superspreader" who's infected half the country? America's "Kissing Killer"? Rant "Mad Dog" Casey?
"Buster," the man says, his monster hand reaching to take my scotch. He says, "My boy's given name was Buster Landru Casey. Not Rant. Not Buddy. Buster."
Already, my eyes are soaking up every puckered scar on his fingers. Every wrinkle and gray hair. My nose, recording his smell of whiskey and cow shit. My elbow, recording the rub of his flannel shirtsleeve. Already, I'll be bragging about this moment of him, squirreling away his every word and gesture, I say: You're...
"Chester," he says. "Name's Chester Casey."
Sitting right next to me. Chester Casey, the father of Rant Casey: America's walking, talking Biological Weapon of Mass Destruction.
Andy Warhol was wrong. In the future, people won't be famous for fifteen minutes. No, in the future, everyone will sit next to someone famous for at least fifteen minutes.
Typhoid Mary or Ted Bundy or Sharon Tate. History is nothing except monsters or victims. Or witnesses.
So what do I say? I say: I'm sorry. I say, "Tough break about your kid dying."
Out of sympathy, I shake my head...
And a few inhales later, Chet Casey shakes his head, and in that gesture I'm not sure who's really pacing who. Which of use sat which way first. If maybe this shitkicker is studying me. Copying me. Finding my hot buttons and building rapport. Maybe selling me something, this living legend Chet Casey, he winks. Never breathing more that fifteen inhales any minute. He tosses back the scotch.
"Any way you look at it," he says, and elbows me in the ribs, "it's still a damn sweet deal on an airplane ticket."