''I need your help. You''ve got to talk to Sid.''
The phone call was from my old friend''s mother. I hadn''t seen Sid since our late teens when he rang my doorbell at 4 AM. He pointed out a UFO overhead that was beaming commands at him. To my untrained eye it appeared to be a garden-variety star. He said goodbye to me - said he was leaving his home, the country, the planet. And no one, friends or family, had seen him since.
Now he was back in town. And it sounded like he was in dire straits.
I rang the doorbell. Sid''s mother answered. Wringing her hands, she said ''Sid shows up here after five years, talking crazy. He''s scaring me. Please take him to the hospital. He''ll listen to you - you''re his oldest friend.''
Sid sat on the living room sofa, dressed in an ill-fitting thrift-shop suit.
I greeted my friend, ''Hi, Sid. Long time no see. How are you?''
He raised a finger in the air in a silencing gesture. He cocked his head and listened raptly.
''Shine On You Crazy Diamond'' - the song by Pink Floyd - was playing. Sid said, ''Pink Floyd is sending a limousine to pick me up. They want me in the band.''
Sid had noodled around on the guitar as a teenager, but he was no Jimi Hendrix.
The front door burst open. Sid''s older brother, Craig, barged in. He screamed, ''Where is the creep?''
The mother grabbed Craig''s arm as he bellowed, ''Sid, you fucking psycho! Leave us alone!''
Sid jumped up and shouted back, ''So I''m a no-talent loser, ay? I''m going on world tour with Pink Floyd!''
Craig lunged at Sid. Fists flew. They wrestled each other and ended up rolling around on the floor. Their mom was hysteric. She scurried around, getting in between the battling brothers and the furniture. ''Watch the TV! The vase! Watch the vase! The stereo! Don''t break the stereo!'' My jaw agape, I just watched this ballet of family dysfunction.
The two brothers came to a stop, locked in a hateful embrace. They panted, their energies spent. The older brother disengaged himself and stood up. ''I wash my hands of you, Sid.'' He turned to me and said, ''You can take care of this nutbar scumbag. I suggest you put him on the first bus out of town.'' And then he stormed out. Definitely not his brother''s keeper.
I sat down across from Sid. I asked, ''Where have you been the last five years?''
He said, ''All over. Keeping one step ahead of my enemies. I''ve slept in jails, in alleyways, in fields. But the aliens are on my side. They contacted Pink Floyd and after our triumphal world tour they''re taking me away from this hellhole of a planet.''
''Listen, Sid. I think you''re delusional.''
His eyes squinted into pinpoints of suspicion. ''If an enemy gets in my way I will destroy him.'' This was going to be an uphill battle. I sighed.
''Sid, I''m your oldest buddy. Remember the good times? The summer of trophy hunting? How many panties did we collect? And when we went to that Clapton concert and he signed your guitar?''
I could almost see the aura of nostalgia forming around my old friend. I was starting to break through.
He said, ''I''m not screwy. It''s my damned enemies. They''re poisoning me, drugging me, beaming messages into my head.''
''Your suffering is real - but it''s the result of a chemical imbalance.''
Through gritted teeth, Sid said, ''Pink Floyd is coming. Then I''m leaving Earth.''
''Sid, have I ever steered you wrong? Remember our pledge, ''You watch my back and I''ll watch yours?''''
Sid moaned, ''I want the torture to stop. I want to kick these voices out of my head.''
''Sid, let me get you some help. Let''s take a ride.''
''You mean doctors? They''ll play with my head. They''ll help my enemies.''
''I''ll be there right beside you at all times. I''ll make sure they''re friends.''
''But I''ll miss the limo. This is my big break!''
''Sid, there is no limo. No Pink Floyd. No world tour. No alien saviors.''
Sid looked around disoriented. On some level he realized the absurdity of his take on reality. He clutched his head and sobbed. I had become the Destroyer of Dreams.
I sat and waited for him to cry it out. In the background - the song cued on repeat- Pink Floyd exhorted the Crazy Diamond to shine on'' and on'' and on.
After several minutes, Sid stood up. Slack shouldered, head hung low, he shuffled towards the front door. His mother peered out of the kitchen muttering about her ''cross to bear in life.''
Sid got in the passenger side of my car. I drove in the direction of the local mental hospital.
We were driving along - Sid sitting there like a well-behaved zombie - when I asked if he wanted some music. He shrugged. I turned on the radio and - just my luck - ''Shine On You Crazy Diamond'' was playing! Sid''s head snapped around in my direction and he grimaced. He said, ''You''re screwing with me, aren''t you? You''re one of the evil shits! Sucking my talent dry, invading my head, tearing me away from my destiny!''
I blurted out, ''It''s a coincidence! If you were sane, you''d see that!'' We both saw the black stretch limo pull up to the stoplight at the same time. Sid flung his door open. I slammed on the brakes. Sid scrambled out of the car and dashed to the limo. He pounded on the window, shrieking, ''I''m the crazy diamond! This is my limo! Shine me on! Shine me on!''
I grabbed Sid''s arms. The chauffeur rolled the window down. He said, ''What the hell is going on? There''s a widow in the back on her way to bury her husband. Do I have to call the police?'' Through the tinted windows I could make out a woman in black cowering in the far corner.
I said, ''My friend''s going through a rough spell. I''ll take care of it. Get out of here fast.'' The limo zoomed off. Sid broke free of my grasp and gave chase. I scrambled after him. Sid ran through a red light. Cars swerved to avoid him. Brakes screeched.
''Sid! Stop!'' He kept up his mad pace, oblivious to my entreaties and the two-ton glass-and-metal projectiles whizzing by all around him.
I yelled out, ''The limo''s been cancelled! Too conspicuous! I''m supposed to take you to a secret meeting place!''
He stopped like he''d hit a rubber wall. A triumphant grin leaped onto his face. ''I am vindicated! I shall take my place among the rock idols and then be lifted up by the alien gods to the galactic heavens. Lead the way.''
As Sid buckled up his seatbelt, he asked, ''So where''s this secret meeting place?''
''The mental hospital.''
''What the fu-''
''Think about it, Sid. Your enemies'' guard will be down. They''ll think you''re defeated, trapped, wrapped in a straitjacket'' but meanwhile there''ll be a''a'' helicopter! Yes, a helicopter! On the roof to whisk you away on your world tour!''
He beamed with megalomaniac confidence. He''d taken the bait. I felt bad about lying but that close call in traffic convinced me he was a danger to himself, and his talk of destroying ''enemies'' sounded pretty ominous.
Sid got in the car and played air guitar all the way to the hospital. As we stepped through the entrance, Sid peered around nervously. Here he was in the lion''s den and he had only my word that this was his gateway to glory.
I spoke to the nurse and she asked us to take a seat in the waiting area.
Across from us a guy sat and flipped through a magazine. Judging from the antiquated issues of ''People'' and ''Field and Stream'' strewn on the coffee table, he''d brought his own magazine in. It was the latest issue of ''Musician''s Monthly.'' Sid squinted at the cover - the feature article was ''Be a Guitar Hero.'' Sid picked up a magazine and flung it at the guy. It hit him on the jaw. Sid yelled, ''Pink Floyd is here for me, bozo! I''m the one with the magic fingers!'' He held up his hands as if they were sacred vessels and proceeded to play a mean riff on his air guitar. ''Beat that, buddy!''
The guy fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a pill vial with shaky hands. He spilled most of the contents but managed to swallow three or four pills. Sid said, ''Ha! Imposter!''
The nurse had noted the disturbance. She came over, shadowed by a couple of large orderlies. ''Sid, we''re admitting you. These gentlemen will take you to your room.''
To me she said, ''You can accompany your friend to his floor if you''d like.''
Sid grinned and demanded, ''Take me to the roof.'' The orderlies looked at each other. Was this guy announcing that he was a suicide risk? They made a move to grab him. I said ''It''s OK guys.'' and motioned them off. They shrugged.
All four of us got into the elevator. An orderly pushed floor 5. Sid said, ''I thought we were going to the roof.'' I could just see Sid going ballistic in a cramped elevator.
I said, ''Sid, these guys are roadies for Pink Floyd.'' The orderlies looked at each other quizzically. Which one were they escorting to the psych ward?
Floor 2... Floor 3... Sid said, ''Nice to meet you, guys. Shouldn''t we be getting out at the top floor?'' Floor 4... ''Ummm'' there''s a surprise for you, Sid.'' Floor 5. The door opened. A pretty blond nurse was walking towards the elevators. I whispered to Sid, ''A groupie.''
Sid winked, ''My first one.'' I was just postponing the inevitable. At some point my bogus story would crumble - I just hoped Sid didn''t.
The nurse smiled at Sid. ''Hello Sid. My name is Marjorie. I''ll be your nurse. After you get settled in to your room, I''ll drop in on you.''
''Is that when I get the blowjob? And is ''nurse'' code for sex slave?''
She looked startled. One orderly scowled. The other did his best to suppress a laugh.
The first orderly said, ''OK, joker. Let''s go to your room.''
Sid said, ''Excuse me, I don''t swing that way. Just me and her.''
The orderlies each held on to an arm and walked Sid towards his room. He said, ''Hey, I can have you guys fired.'' Sid started to squirm under their grip.
One of the orderlies said to Sid, ''You''re in a mental hospital. Our instructions are to keep you here for 72 hours for observation. The sooner you cooperate, the easier it will be for you.''
Sid insisted, ''Let''s just go straight to the helicopter.'' Like a wave, the orderlies carried Sid away from me. As he receded down the hallway, he started bucking. The nurse was preparing a needle. He shouted at me, ''You were supposed to watch my back! Traitor! Judas!''
''Sid, I''ll be back tomorrow to visit. Try to relax. You''ll feel better soon.''
Sid tried to throw off the orderlies as the nurse aimed the needle at him. I took the elevator down.
I exited the building and broke into a sweat. My hands were shaking. And I had developed a ravenous appetite. There was a fast food joint nearby. I made a beeline for it.
I stood in line and swore I heard ''Shine On You Crazy Diamond'' playing faintly in the background. I asked the guy in line if he heard music playing. ''Yeah,'' he said, ''elevator music.'' He was right - it was a strings version of ''Too Much Tequila.''
The fresh-faced young lady at the counter took my order- two double burgers and an extra large milkshake. She said, ''Would you like a blowjob with that?''
My jaw dropped and I stammered out, ''Wha-what di-did you say?''
''Would you like fries with that?''
I said, ''I''m back in the sane world. Time for me to re-adjust.'' The clerk looked baffled.
I sat down at a table. I tore into a burger, slurped my shake, and stuffed fries into my mouth.