Jan/Feb 2015  •   Fiction

Ponce de Leon has a Problem

by Mack Basham

Image courtesty of the British Library's Photostream

Summary of the concern expressed by Mickey Sabbath on June 11th 2009

"I knew my friend, my manic, desperate, confused friend was lost when he no longer licked his fingers when a new piece of ass sauntered past him. Usually, Poncey would wet the tips of his fingers and yell, "Youth is such a wasted caper." And then he would look at me and run his saliva'd digits through my knotted beard.

We would raise our heads in unison and moan into the sky, "I'd like to waste her."

Yes, yes. We would share the scented undergarments we stole from friends' houses in alleyways as if we were pupil-dilated drug sniffers. We would go to shuttered theaters and watch crackling films of big-haired women and bald men.

The best... the best times were with the co-eds. We would try to make them foreswear their supple boyfriends and relent to us.

As a professor of cartography at University of Central Florida, Poncey had an ample pool of young women, lost and bespectacled. I would woo them with my puppetry as far as my arthritic fingers would allow. And Poncey just had to sit there with his Castilian skin, his light-projecting eyes. As my fingers popped and cracked, Poncey would simply draw them in with his accent, promising misty sunrises over Andalusian hills after a long night of love-making. When he knew he had one hooked, he would wink at me and lick the tips of his fingers.

But one day he stopped licking his fingers, growling after young girls, catching himself in my beard, and he returned all his stolen panties.

He stopped. I'm not usually one to meddle.


Ponce de Leon explaining toponyms to a nearly empty classroom

It has become a far too bureaucratic system of late. Imagine, yes, I'm asking you to imagine with me. Imagine a time before the horribly pedantic United Nations Group of Experts on Geographical Names. Imagine a time when several peoples would claim a name on a mountain. What is that called class? A... come on... a...? Christ. An oronym is a name of a mountain or a hill.

I refuse to be derailed by your despondency. So just please... please imagine a time when several people claimed a mountain by a name. Imagine the Tetons.

Imagine you're an explorer and you come upon a massive mountain. You are starved. You are horny. You look disgusting. You have traveled a distance inconceivable to most contemporaries of your time. No small number of deaths have tried to claim you. No small nostalgias have unnerved you.

You are starved. You look disgusting. You have seen the plains roll out like a gypsy's rug. You have touched the hem of the horizon so many times, you've lost count. You are starved. You are thirsty. The North Star and the Sun, at one time your friends, sing a siren's song of "Onwards, this way." No man or woman has seen the vast slice of life you have seen. Imagine how dull discoveries must be. Because you are starved, you are thirsty, you are tired.

Suddenly, one of the most glorious mountain ranges know to man presents itself to you.

And you think one thing: "Those mountains look like tits."

Or... or, imagine stepping on some land you think is new, on a vision of the sublime, and saying, "This shall bear my name."

You used to have that right. You had the right to utter words, write them down on a poorly drawn map, and say, "These mountains shall forever be mine."

Not anymore. No more. Nevermore.

I will not be having office hours today.


Ponce de Leon parked on the shoulder of State Highway 528

It's the land of water. It's the land of humidity. Ponce de Leon's olive skin is glistening. Ponce de Leon's shirt is billowing. It's windy. His hair is a grayish white, and he is sighing. It's windy, his hair is grayish white, and he sighs to the greenery. To the expansive greenery. It's windy, and Ponce de Leon is cupping his ears. The drone of cars is loud.

If you will yourself not to look, you cannot see the cars snaking around the expansive green on the thick highway.

A Hyundai stops behind his Explorer. A large man with a huge belly emerges from his car and asks if Ponce de Leon is all right. Ponce de Leon dismisses the kind man with a wave and a smile.

The man does not reenter his car. Ponce de Leon, with his grayish white hair, with his billowing shirt, hisses a curse. He waves to the man. The man still refuses to leave.

Ponce de Leon gets back into his car and drives away.


Ponce de Leon's office on a Wednesday afternoon, the air-conditioning unit humming

The desk is cluttered with scrolls, stacks of papers, graph paper scratched with half-drawn circles. He shoves them aside, then spits in his hands and shapes his hair without the aid of a mirror. The knocking grows louder.

"One moment, please," Ponce de Leon responds. He scans about his feet, looking for the golden pen given to him during his time as Governor of Cuba. Numerous plastic bags and styrofoam food containers obscure his view. He kicks them under the desk with his foot while debating telling her the news. The occlusion of his arteries. A glint of gold catches his eyes, and he picks up his pen.

"Poncey, can I come in?" she says.

"Yes, yes, sure." Ponce de Leon answers. As the door opens, Ponce de Leon swipes the little orange pill bottle off his mahogany desk and shoves it into his pocket. As the vision of a woman, the true paramour of imperfection, enters the room, Ponce de Leon's chest tightens.

He massages it with his fist and considers her smile. He always thought it looked as fundamental as a rip in the earth, as natural as a canyon. It was gummy, it was teethy, and it looked as if it had been present at the forging of the earth.

"Why haven't you called?" she asks in a nice tone. She sits down and hikes her dress up. Drawing her hair from her face, she smiles. He realizes what he must do.

"Because I am tired of you," he responds as he starts to write up a report with his gold pen. He keeps his eyes on the words he is writing.

"Tired of me?" she cocks her head and laughs. "You are not tired of me, little Poncey. You might be tired, but it isn't of me."

She was 25, wore thick glasses, and had long, straight black hair. Her eyes were always changing colors, some days greener, some days browner. She was 25 with changing eyes, a grad-student, who could never remember where she parked her car but always jumped in amazement when she found it.

"It is true. I am tired of you," Ponce de Leon keeps his eyes on the writing of the report.

"I'm the one who revitalizes you," she says while marking the air with quotation marks. The light catches the diamond ring on her finger, and the rock shreds it into a glare. He wants it to explode. He wants the man who gave it to her to die.

"Not anymore. You tire me. You tire me intellectually. You tire me sexually. You tire me with your voice. You tire me with all the childish things you say," Ponce de Leon says, getting up.

"Poncey, you are starting to hurt my feelings," she responds. And he can tell she's telling the truth. She stands up also and tries to grab his hand, his wrinkled, brown hand. Ponce de Leon is usually a withholding man, but he would admit, at that moment, tracing the strands of hair framing her face, he wanted nothing more than to let her.

"No," he says as slips from her grip. "You are pedantic, and you are unexperienced. You tire me, and I am too old to be tired."

It feels like he needs to pop his ears, but all over. There's that pressure in his chest. And she is crying.


A former student of Ponce de Leon, female


A. I took the class because I heard it was easy. All of my friends had taken the class and said he was... well, I heard different things about him.


A. I don't know. I heard he was, like, weird. Like weird, but not in a bad way. Weird in an interesting way, I guess. Eccentric... Intriguing. It was like... I don't know. It was like his mind was always somewhere else, ya know?


A. No. Not like daydreaming. I daydream, my friends daydream. But it wasn't like he was a space-case. Ya know what I mean? Like most people space-out when they daydream. It's like a light goes off behind their eyes. But with him, I don't know. Am I in trouble?


A. Okay, okay just checking. I guess the difference between him and most people is when he goes somewhere else in his head, there is this light. Does that sound dumb? Are you sure? What I mean is, when I daydream, when my friends daydream, it's like we let ourselves off easy. We turn off the lights, I guess. But even when he was "somewhere else," there was this danger. Like he was going through some shit. That his fantasies, or whatever you call them, were hard.

One time, I kinda stuck around after class. We were in this big auditorium, right? The place really resounded. Anyway, he came up to me and said, "The mavericks always stay a little past their due." I had no fucking idea what that meant.

But I laughed. Finally, I got the courage to ask him. I started off with all the stuff I said before, about the light and whatnot, and he kinda just nodded and cleaned his glasses on his jacket. When I finished, he put his glasses back on, put his fists on his hips, and said, "I go nowhere. To tell you the truth, I think I'm just fighting the contours of my brain, the dulling of my memory. I've lived a few lives, and it's a battle to keep them with me."


A. I went to his office hours once or twice. Sometimes he had this creepy friend there who asked me if I wanted to see a puppet-show. He asked me to grab drinks with him once or twice, but I was too young.


A former student of Ponce de Leon, male


A. I barely went to class. Didn't know the guy.


An enumeration of complaints lodged against Ponce de Leon from his neighbors, the residents of the Buena Vista Condos off Seminole Street, provided by the super Jesus DeAngelo, a rather forgiving man with hazel eyes always looking upwards

• My complaint is against the resident of 2F. For years, I haven't had any problems with him. I didn't see him much, but he didn't cause me any headaches. Sure, sometimes he had people over real late, and he played that Cuban music too loud, and the girls... man, the girls. Benefits of being a bachelor, I guess. Those things got on my nerves, but it was really no skin off my back. Why rock the boat, right?

But lately. Lately, something has changed. I don't know if he's going through some shit or something, but I just can't take it anymore. I try my best to be reasonable, to feel for a guy, but sometimes you just have to watch out for numero uno.

When I leave for work, he's there. When I go to have my one cigarette at night, he's there. He's there when my kids get off soccer practice. He's there when my wife does whatever she does.

What I'm trying to say is he's always there, and it's getting on my nerves. In that baggy robe, with his little telescope or whatever it is, just making notes in his journal. Doesn't say a word. Just stands there and scribbles away. At the sun? At the stars? I don't know.

One time, I ask him, "What are you making those notes for?"

Nothing. Just... nothing. There must be some decency bylaw or something. It's such a downer.

• The guy in 2F doesn't take out his trash.

• Professor. 2F. Guy's out of his mind. For the past two nights, I've heard him yelling in the parking lot. I pause my game, take off my headphones, and just listen. It's something about, "It has to be somewhere. It has to be. What kind of God would hide it from me for so long?" I imagine it being really hard for people who keep regular hours.

• I'm pretty sure the guy in 2F vandalized my Google Map car. I can't say for sure. I just came out and the top was all spray-printed. There was this note on the windshield, in a really shaky handwriting. I couldn't really read it. Something about "There must be a corner." I really don't know. It's a bummer, man. I just came home to grab a quick nap.


The bartender at "Green Acres," who considers himself a friend of Ponce de Leon

He used to be here all the time, man. He was a regular, sure. He would come in here early with a pile of papers, and we would talk. He was a funny fucking guy. Had more stories than Homer, you dig?

And the girls! Those girls would buy him drinks. There was something... I don't know. Ineffable about him.

The girls loved him. And he loved them.

I would think about him all the time, man. I was just trying to figure it out. I wanted to know his secret. I would ask him, what's your secret? And he would just laugh at me.

Then he would say, "Wait till you get older." I pushed him on this. He would usually refuse. But one time, actually the last time I saw him, he said, "Wait till you're older." And then, after taking off his glasses, he said, "All you have to be is older and always remind them they are young."

He always ordered an Old Fashion.


Ponce de Leon's shortest lecture

"The final frontier is the depths of the ocean."


The incident at the Epcot

We really don't speak about that. What I can tell you is the disturber yelled at several tours of the World Showcase: "Be envious of glaciers! Be not in awe of borders."

After causing some havoc in the storefronts in English and French sections, the assailant was pursued. One employee claims he lost a beret in the chase. The claim is still under investigation. The disturber appeared quite old, but he was quick. He was rather fit.

As the assailant approached the Spaceship Earth, he screamed "How cold it has all become?" We almost caught him as he ran into a frozen lemonade stand. Still, he was rather fit.

No doubt helped by our much appreciated park-attendants who bulbously blocked his way, we started to close in on him. The disturber took a hard right. He jumped in one of our many idyllic ponds.

As he emerged, he looked quite sad. Swiping lilies away from him, he raised his head and said, "How many pools must I jump in?"

That's when we apprehended the subject. We don't discuss our internal detainment proceedings, but I can say one Juan Ponce de Leon is not allowed in any Disney affiliated park for the rest of his life. If you ask me, it's a harsh but appropriate sentence. Disney is where dreams are made.


Ponce de Leon's office

Is empty.


Ponce de Leon at a friend's pool party

Most are not swimming. Most are not even in bathing suits. Most are not swimming, but Ponce de Leon is sitting at the bottom of the pool. He is at the bottom of the pool, and he has his eyes open. The chlorine is stinging his eyes; his lungs are burning. The bubbles rising from him are twisting. Some are bigger, some are smaller. But they are less and less in number.

People have forgotten Ponce de Leon is at the bottom of the pool. Most didn't come to swim. Most didn't even wear the proper gear. The friend's college-aged daughter spies him from her bedroom on the second floor. She had just been listening to music, holing herself up to avoid the mostly-milling crowd. She is in the proper gear, a floral thing, because it is more comfortable that way in the hot house. Besides, these type of parties always end around five. After five, she can sneak in a swim.

She sees him at the bottom of the pool, and she admits she feels attracted to him. She takes off her earphones. He's been down there a long time, she thinks. He must be even more fit than I thought, she considers. It's been a very long time.

Ponce de Leon is on his back, spitting up. The college-aged daughter's blonde hair is dark from the water. She is leaning over him. The mostly-milling party-goers stop milling and crowd around Ponce de Leon. His whole head burns.

Mickey Sabbath, driving him home after the party, says to Ponce de Leon: "You have a problem." There is silence. Mickey Sabbath adds, "It must have been a nice view after looking at Charon so closely."

Ponce de Leon turns his wet body, chaffing against the borrowed towel protecting the upholstery. The greenery glides by.


The most recent accreditation of Ponce de Leon

Is from the Ranger Rick's Scuba Adventure school. Ranger Rick describes Ponce de Leon as "quite older than most of my students." But also lauds him as "diligent and interesting."

When asked if he knows Ponce de Leon suffers from a heart condition that should preclude him from such activities, Ranger Rick shrugs out of confusion. Then, as the question registers, Ranger Rick clenches his sloping jaw. He hisses, "No comment."