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Erik Cheeseburger Goes to Hebben
By Dave Shulman
First published in L.A. Weekly, May 30, 2007.
As a fictional character, Erik Cheeseburger was offered a considerable sum of money to appear in a feature film. But then the production company could only raise enough money to produce a documentary — a form which, by definition, requires its subjects to be nonfictional. The situation was remedied by Erik being granted dual-persona status by the D.O.P. (Department of Personae). And after some initial setbacks Erik Cheeseburger: The Movie, the documentary, was shot and cut and premiered outdoors on Groundhog Day, at the cemetery across the street from Erik’s leaky pup tent.
Erik’s been under a contractual obligation to remain at least seminonfictional throughout the production process and for 90 days following the film’s release on DVD.
Today is Day 90. Anytime now, Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Erik can fill out some forms at the D.O.P. offices on Spring Street and declare himself fictional again; or, if he prefers, nonfictional. Or, by doing nothing, he’ll retain his current dual status, which has certain benefits in terms of physics and taxes.
Erik Cheeseburger’s in my car, in the passenger seat, mourning the recent death of a stranger whom he didn’t much like. I’m driving Erik up to Burbank.
“No matter how much damage he did,” says Erik, rolling down the window to stick his head into the wind, “he was still one of us.”
By he, Erik means Jerry Falwell of Lynchburg, Virginia, he who recently rode the big white Jesus Express up to Hebben; by us, Erik means the dual-persona status that he and the reverend share: Erik was born fictional and converted in order to appear as the subject of a documentary film, and Falwell was born nonfictional and converted in order to conduct nonfictional business as a fictional clergyman.
Erik pulls his head back inside and rolls up the window.
“One of us,” he repeats.
I nod and reach for the radio. Falwell and I were not close.
Erik has his old job back at IKEA. The job title is mascot, and the job is wearing pajamas and reading or napping in the bedroom displays while appearing content and reasonable in an overtly Swedish way.
I drop Erik off at the employee entrance, then head over to Harry’s diner for a cup of coffee and a nice, slow go at a newspaper.
Then I return to IKEA to pick up Erik. He’s upstairs, in one of the bedroom displays, adjusting the covers on his Hemnes ($259) queen-size bed, reading the Svenska Dagbladet by the light of a Kvintol ($19.99) table lamp.
“Another 15 minutes,” says Erik, checking his watch. “Sorry.”
“Plenty good,” I say. “I’ll go shoplift some as-is glassware.”
I’d arrived at Erik’s pup tent around 3 that afternoon to find Erik laboring over a shiny new Pasquini Livia 90, an espresso machine that was given to him, he explained, in exchange for “certain promotional activities.”
“What kind of promotional activities?”
“Certain,” said Erik, placing two fresh espressos on the mini-table between us. Then he added two spiral-bound notebooks and opened each to a seemingly random page. Book 1 was filled with Erik’s standard handwriting — a demanding but legible chicken scratch; Book 2 was filled with a tentative, youthful cursive script. “Now look at this one,” said Erik, producing and opening a third notebook. Book 3 appeared to be much older than the other two, and its pages were filled with cursive script identical to that of Book 2.
“I’ve reverted,” said Erik, sitting back and crossing his arms. “That weird cursive was my normal handwriting back in elementary school, before my parents told me that I was fictional. And for about three months now I’ve been writing that way again.”
After a few more rounds of Pasquini nectar, Erik started in on the eulogistic ruminations over the death of Reverend Falwell, which would dominate his verbal output throughout the rest of the day. And he showed me a short commemorative poem he’d penned in his involuntary regressive cursive style:
Up and away to Hebben, g’oh!
Instead of living here.
Instead of living here,
G’oh ye Awaye!
“Strong poem,” I said. “But why the e at the end of the last away?”
“Makes it sound classy,” said Erik. “You know — like with real estate.”
“Uh, as opposed to real estat?”
“No,” said Erik. “Like real estate companies will put e‘s on the end of their slums, to make them sound classy. Like Centre Pointe or Lawnwoode Creeke — stuff like that. Everyone wants to pay more for slums that end in an artificial e.”
“Strong poem,” I repeated. “Better, I think, for being drawn out all cursive-like, in your pre-fictional style.”
Erik nodded. “More coffee?” he asked.
IKEA closes at 9. Soon thereafter, Erik and I head west on Magnolia, listening to Meat Puppets with the windows down and the sunroof open to the full moon.
In the middle of the song, Erik hits the mute button and says, “Mail me.”
Erik hands me a large manila envelope. “It’s been 90 days, and I’ve made my decision,” he says.
“How do I . . . ?” I ask.
“I’ll fill out the D.O.P. forms next week, when I get back,” says Erik, flattening himself out, folding himself in half, then folding himself again, and again, very quickly, until he’s just the right size to fit in the envelope. “Pull over just after the next light. There’s a mailbox.”
I do as Erik requests — pull over to the mailbox and seal him inside the envelope, which I see has been stamped and, in Erik Cheeseburger’s normal chicken scratch, addressed as follows:
“You sure about this?” I ask before posting my friend.
“Do I look sure?” Erik replies, sealed but nary muffled.