What the Hell Is Going On


I have a cousin who never wears clothes. His name is Stanley. Of course he didn’t start out that way, for the first thirty years of his life he wore clothes just like everybody else.

He was a bus driver, Greyhound. You have to be a normal person, steady and dependable, to drive a Greyhound. No foolishness allowed. That’s how normal he was. But he started throwing people off his bus.

And I don’t mean old ladies and children either, quite the opposite, he always picked big men, usually the biggest on the bus, to toss out. Once in a while I’d ride free along with him on his Claremore to Oklahoma City route. I was with him, free-riding, on his last run.

We had made a gas stop at Bristow and the passengers were filing down the aisle and off the bus for the vending machines and bathrooms in the station.

“Hey, you!” That was Stanley.

The line of passengers stopped in the aisle. Stanley stood up next to his driver’s seat and was looking down the aisle at one passenger. A really big guy, towering above the other passengers and stooping his head to keep from hitting the roof of the bus. I was still sitting, waiting for the other passengers to get off.

“You!” Stanley shouted, “Yes, you!” he said and pointed his finger at the big guy. “Off my bus!”

Needless to say everybody, including myself, was startled. But I didn’t say anything, just looked wide-eyed at Stanley at the front of the bus and the big guy in the middle of the line. I knew my cousin Stanley well enough to know that when he got mad, and he sure looked and sounded mad as hell then, it was best to leave him alone. He wasn’t big, average, and I don’t know where he learned to fight but he was good at it. When we were growing up, we grew up together in Claremore, Oklahoma, he whipped everybody including most of our high school’s football players. He was nobody to fool with unless you were prepared to take a beating.

“Get off my damn bus,” he shouted, still pointing at the guy. I couldn’t see any reason for this, the man hadn’t done anything and wasn’t suspicious acting or anything like that. But it was Stanley, so I kept quiet.

That wasn’t the first time Stanley ran somebody off his bus. But this is the one that got him fired. The guy didn’t resist and didn’t get back on the bus when we left either, but it was Stanley’s last run.

Later I asked Stanley why he did this. He said it was because the guy was an agent.

“A what?”

“An agent,” Stanley said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I can spot ‘em every time,” he said. “And you’d be surprised how many of them are around.”

“Spot who?” I asked.

“Agents.”

“What kind of agents?”

“Cuban. Castro,” he said.

Now, this was in 2010 and Castro was already a doddering 83-year-old fool, so it didn’t make any sense to me.

“Castro?”

“Yep. They’re still at it,” Stanley said.

“Still at what?” I said.

Stanley looked at me, his eyes full of pity.

“You’re just like everybody else, aren’t you? You just don’t know what the hell is going on,” he said. He shook his head, raised his eyes, and turned on his TV. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore and I didn’t find out, not yet anyway, what the hell was going on.

It was okay for a couple of years after that. Stanley didn’t get another job, managed his way into some kind of disability or something, and just stayed in his house. I went to see him once in a while to make sure he was getting along. When I went to the little house he got when his mother, my aunt Mary, died, he was usually sitting in front of the TV watching reruns of F Troop and Get Smart on Retro TV and the Family Channel. He ate frozen dinners and his garbage always overflowed with crinkled up aluminum trays. I don’t think he took baths either, the smell of the place was old frozen dinner mashed potatoes and fried chicken and Stanley himself.

Two years after Stanley lost his bus driving job and started sitting around his house eating frozen dinners, I showed up one day and he was naked. He was watching Petticoat Junction naked. We were close, Stanley and I, but we weren’t that close.

“Why are you naked, Stanley?” I said, trying to act as if I really wasn’t all that surprised.

“You wouldn’t get it,” he said. “You never get anything, Don.”That was my name. “You’re just like everybody else,” he said.

I felt a little insulted when Stanley said this but I wasn’t unhappy about the fact that my mind, being normal, couldn’t get why Stanley was sitting in his house with no clothes on.

“Well, okay,” I said. “So, it’s just this once, right?” I said. “I mean, you’re going to put your clothes back on.”

“Nope,” he said.

And he didn’t, Stanley never voluntarily wore clothes again. He didn’t go anywhere, just stayed in his house, but various people; newspaper boys collecting, the meter man, insurance salesmen, Jehovah’s Witnesses and the like, knocked on his door and he answered it, but he didn’t make a good impression on them. I can only imagine the faces of the ladies that came once to invite him to the Baptist church.

He had a small garden in his back yard raising tomatoes and okra. He loved okra, mixed okra and tomatoes with his TV dinners. People drove by and saw Stanley’s white nakedness puttering around in his okra and tomatoes. But otherwise, he stayed home.

He did go to the convenience store once to get beer, pretzels, and Twinkies. He caused a small riot, like people had never seen a naked man before, and the police came and took him to jail, where they put jail clothes on him. He stood in the cell, wearing the orange jail clothes, yelling about his constitutional rights.

“Stanley, there ain’t no constitutional right to go around naked,” the police chief said.

“Well, there ought to be,” Stanley said.

I bailed him out. It wasn’t much because everybody in town knew Stanley and knew his deceased parents and they let him go cheap. They even let him wear the jail clothes home, made me promise to bring them back, and I took him to his little house.

“Stanley,” I said, “You got to stop this.”

“Stop what?” he said.

“Going naked,” I said.

“I ain’t gonna wear clothes,” he said.

“For heaven sake, why not? You want to go back to jail? You scared some kids at the convenience store half out of their minds,” I said.

“Guess they thought it was gonna bite ‘em,” Stanley said.

I didn’t ask him what he meant by it.

“You’re just like you always were,” Stanley said, looking into my face again with pitying condescension. “You just don’t know, do you?” he said.

“What?” I said. “Don’t know what? You keep saying that. What?”

Stanley squared his naked shoulders, took a deep breath, and said, “You don’t know what’s going on. For instance, I bet you don’t know who killed JFK.”

It took me a good while to figure out what to think about that.

“I know,” he said.

So this was what throwing people off buses and going naked did to you. There must be a connection, I thought, but I couldn’t see it.

I managed to squeeze out, “Uh . . . okay . . .”

“That’s why I don’t wear clothes,” he said.

I tried to see the logic in this but I couldn’t do it.

“You know what they put in clothes?” he said.

Before I could answer—

“Sizing.” He whispered it, like it was a deep secret or a heresy that could get you burned at the stake. He even looked around to see if anybody else was listening. “Sizing,” he whispered again.

Truth is, I didn’t even know what sizing was. I looked it up. Stuff you use to strengthen yarn when you make clothes out of it. What the hell did that have to do with JFK?

“What the hell does that have to do with JFK?” I said.

“God, you’re hopeless,” he said, sighing. “The stuff controls your mind,” he said, going slowly and emphasizing every word like he was talking to an idiot-child.“Do you know what they use in sizing?”

“No,” I said.

“Carboxymethyl Cellulose—cmc’s they call them—and acrylates, and God knows what else,” he said, “How about that?”

I was supposed to know what that stuff was? I was impressed with Stanley’s ability to even pronounce the words, let alone know what they were, but the words didn’t mean a thing to me.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.

“God help us. We’re doomed. America is doomed,” Staley lamented, and put his hands over his bowed face. “Doomed,” he said.

After a moment or two Stanley raised his head, looking up like a tortured saint pleading with heaven, and said; “The stuff gets into your bloodstream, from your clothes—they claim it washes out, but that’s a lie—and makes you into a kind of zombie. All you care about is TV, eating, sleeping, beer, and fucking. You don’t see anything and you don’t know anything, just like you,” he said. “That’s why I don’t wear clothes, and that’s why I know,” he said. “I know what’s going on. America is turning into zombies. But you go ahead and let them control you if you want to. You and everybody else.”

“Who puts the stuff in the clothes, the government?” That was my best guess.

“No, you dope,” Stanley said. “Not the government. They wear the clothes too. They’re as clueless as you are.”

“Who then?”

“Castro.”

Now that took some thought. And I tried. I did my best to imagine the Cubans secretly putting chemicals in our clothes that made us not give a damn about anything but TV, eating, sleeping, beer, and sex. It wasn’t easy to visualize.

Timidly I said, “JFK?”

“That’s how I found out,” Stanley said.

“Oh. That makes sense,” I said. Sort of.

I had to know, “Who?” I said.

“You think I’m going to tell you,” Stanley answered. “A guy as out of it as you are?”

He wouldn’t tell me. What he did tell me was that since he stopped wearing clothes his mind had cleared up, got rid of the chemicals in the sizing, and he could figure things out. First, he said, he started going naked as just an experiment, part-time.

“Yeah, just after work and on my days off from the bus company,” he said. “I heard about this sizing thing because my mother would never let me wear a new shirt until she had washed it, to get the sizing out, she said. I got suspicious about that. I started hearing about the Cubans did this and the Cubans did that, so it was just natural to wonder, you know what I’m saying?”

“Sure,” I said. I couldn’t believe I was hearing this.

“So I started experimenting, see.”

“Yeah,” I said, “experimenting.”

I went naked at home and on weekends, kept it secret, and what do you think happened?”

“The women started lining up your door, right? Ha. Ha.” Trying to be funny. Stanley ignored me and said;

“First I started feeling better, you know, clear in the head, that sort of thing. Then I started figuring out things I didn’t know before. I mean, like I suddenly knew, sitting around naked one Saturday, that peanut butter is full of ocalates and the peanuts are sprayed with lots of pesticides. It came to me. I felt it flow right into my brain smooth as silk, I mean there was this clear path right to my brain. I knew.” Stanley’s smile beamed across his face, like I’d never seen him smile before.

“The Cubans?”

“Maybe,” he said. “But I knew. And the more I experimented, keeping my clothes off when I could, the better it got. That’s how I knew about those guys on my bus.”

“The agents?”

“Damn straight. That’s how it started, and when I got fired I went all out, naked all the time, and look where I am today. I know stuff you wouldn’t believe.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said.

After he went all out, Stanley figured quickly that the Cubans ran the sizing industry and then, with a little research, figured out who killed JFK.

“Good God,” I said.

I didn’t know how Stanley did his research, he didn’t have a computer and surely even he wouldn’t go to the library naked, or would he?

“You didn’t go the library naked, did you?” I asked him.

“Nope, didn’t have to,” he said. “I’ve got a copy of that Warren Report book and that was enough.”

“Oh,” I said.

You might wonder why somebody didn’t put Stanley away. Have him hauled off by the white-coat boys. Well, I was, as far as I knew, Stanley’s only living kin (thank God my uncle Max and Aunt Mary were dead before Stanley stripped off his clothes) and I couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t harm anyone—he wasn’t throwing people off buses anymore—and he was happy. He wasn’t any kind of threat to himself or anybody else, unless they knocked on his door expecting to be greeted by a clothed person. But surprises like that don’t kill people so I, and the rest of Claremore, let him stay right where he was. Like I said, everybody knew him and his parents and that was enough.

I stopped visiting Stanley as much as I used to. I got down to maybe once a month. I just didn’t want all that much to sit around and talk to him naked. I asked him to put on some clothes at least when I came to visit but he said he wouldn’t. He didn’t have a phone and he wouldn’t get a cell phone either, so I couldn’t call him. “Isn’t that cell phone stuff, all those towers and business, run by the government?” he said.

“Maybe the Cubans,” I said, trying to be funny again.

“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” he said, “so why take any chances, the Cubans may have gotten to the cell phone people too. I’ll have to think about that.”

With his clear and decisive sizing-free mind, I thought.

To keep him from going out naked to get his groceries I got them for him and left them on his front porch. I didn’t want to see him, dangling away, come to the door to get them.

But here’s the thing, the crazy thing; the dude was happy. I swear, he was. When I went to see him he smiled all the time. Always his big smiles. Other people, Stanley’s little group of friends besides me, minus any females, went to visit him too and they agreed; he smiled all the time. He laughed. He was happy. It’s amazing, they said.

“I don’t get this,” I said to Stanley.

“I’m not surprised, you don’t get much of anything,” he said, with that damn smile.

“I mean, you seem to be happy, satisfied,” I said. “How could you be? You’re holed up in this little house, never go out, every atom in your body is stuffed with Swanson’s chicken and mashed potatoes, you watch reruns on TV, and have no girlfriend. I don’t get it,” I said. “How can you do that?”

Stanley only answered with that smile.

But that got me to thinking. Not only about the Cubans and JFK and all that, but about me. Normal? Yes. Happy? Not so much. My smiles were not nearly as big and broad as Stanley’s since he started going naked and much less frequent, too.

While Stanley sat naked in his house, I went through a divorce, lost a job, lost my license for thirty days for DUI, totaled a brand-new car that I had to keep paying for, and was audited by the IRS. And, like I said, I was normal. I wore clothes. I even went to church once in a while; I had an associate’s degree from the local tech school and only drank beer on weekends. I watched football on TV. I definitely did not believe the Cubans were poisoning America with sizing and I firmly believed Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK all by himself. And I had one problem after another.

But Stanley? Couldn’t be better. Smiled all the time. So what happened? Where did I go wrong?

Then one day I took my regular inspection trip to check on Stanley and he was gone. As always, his door was unlocked and I walked right in. Trash full of TV dinner remains, TV on; I Dream of Jeannie. Except for the TV, not a sound. No Stanley.

“Stanley, where are you, boy?”

No answer but a “Yes, master,” from Barbara Eden on the TV.

I searched the house and the garden. He wasn’t anywhere. His car, what was left of it after not being driven for years, was still sitting in the backyard. I looked up and down the road as if I might see Stanley’s naked ass jiggling down the highway. Nope. He was gone.

But later I found out what happened to him. The CIA got him. That’s a fact.

Stanley wrote a letter to President Obama. Told the President all about the Cubans and sizing, and JFK. Laid it all out for him. And the CIA came and got him. The thing I still don’t know, and I’m working on it, is what they did with him. I hope they didn’t make him wear clothes and take his clear mind and his happiness away from him. But they probably did. Or maybe he’s up in Heaven sitting around naked and happy. I’ll find out.

My mind isn’t totally clear yet. I figured out the CIA got Stanley without too much trouble and I’m sure I’ll figure out the rest too. Just takes a little time for all that carboxymethyl cellulose and acrylates to clear out of your brain.

I have to know about my child-hood friend and cousin, and this is the only way to do it. Three days after Stanley was gone I decided. How else would I find out? How else would I know what’s going on? How else am I going to find out who killed JFK?

I took my clothes off, and right away I thought, I was sure, I felt different. I sat down on my couch and waited. Yes, I felt different.

After a little while, maybe fifteen minutes, I already knew that it was the CIA that took Stanley. But I didn’t know where to yet. I didn’t know yet how he was doing. But I’ll wait, I’ll stay in my house naked until my mind clarifies as the sizing runs out of me. I’ll wait until then. But I can feel it already that I am beginning to know what’s going on.

And you know what? I’ve never been happier in my whole life. Only one thing bothers me a little, sometimes I have this urge to throw somebody off a bus.  

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