Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Paper Towns - Chapter 23

I slept for a few hours and then spent the morning poring over the travel guides I’d discovered the day
before. I waited until noon to call Ben and Radar. I called Ben first. “Good morning, Sunshine,” I said.
“Oh, God,” Ben said, his voice dripping abject misery. “Oh, sweet baby Jesus, come and comfort your
little bro Ben. Oh, Lord. Shower me with your mercy.”
“There’ve been a lot of Margo developments,” I said excitedly, “so you need to come over. I’m gonna
call Radar, too.”
Ben seemed not to have heard me. “Hey, when my mom came into my room at nine o’clock this morning,
why is it that as I reached up to yawn, she and I both discovered a beer can was stuck to my hand?”
“You superglued a bunch of beers together to make a beer sword, and then you superglued your hand
to it.”
“Oh, yeah. The beer sword. That rings a bell. ”
“Ben, come over.”
“Bro. I feel like shit.”
“Then I’ll come over to your house. How soon?”
“Bro, you can’t come over here. I have to sleep for ten thousand hours. I have to drink ten thousand
gallons of water, and take ten thousand Advils. I’ll just see you tomorrow at school.”
I took a deep breath and tried not to sound pissed. “I drove across Central Florida in the middle of the
night to be sober at the world’s drunkest party and drive your soggy ass home, and this is—” I would have
kept talking, but I noticed that Ben had hung up. He hung up on me. Asshole.
As time passed, I only got more pissed. It’s one thing not to give a shit about Margo. But really, Ben
didn’t give a shit about me, either. Maybe our friendship had always been about convenience— he didn’t
have anyone cooler than me to play video games with. And now he didn’t have to be nice to me, or care
about the things I cared about, because he had Jase Worthington. He had the school keg stand record. He
had a hot prom date. He’d jumped at his first opportunity to join the fraternity of vapid asshats.
Five minutes after he hung up on me, I called his cell again. He didn’t answer, so I left a message. “You
want to be cool like Chuck, Bloody Ben? That’s what you always wanted? Well, congratulations. You
got it. And you deserve him, because you’re also a shitbag. Don’t call back.”
Then I called Radar. “Hey,” I said.
“Hey,” he answered. “I just threw up in the shower. Can I call you back?”
“Sure,” I said, trying not to sound angry. I just wanted someone to help me sort through the world
according to Margo. But Radar wasn’t Ben; he called back just a couple minutes later.
“It was so disgusting that I puked while cleaning it up, and then while cleaning that up, I puked again.
It’s like a perpetual motion machine. If you just kept feeding me, I could have just kept puking forever.”
“Can you come over? Or can I come over to your house?”
“Yeah, of course. What’s up?”
“Margo was alive and in the minimall for at least one night after her disappearance.”
“I’ll come to you. Four minutes.”
Radar showed up at my window precisely four minutes later.
“You should know I’m having a huge fight with Ben,” I said as he climbed in.
“I’m too hungover to mediate,” Radar answered quietly. He lay down on the bed, his eyes half
closed, and rubbed his buzzed hair. “It’s like I got hit by lightning.” He sniffed. “Okay, bring me up-todate.”
I sat down in the desk chair and told Radar about my evening in Margo’s vacation house, trying
hard not to leave out any possibly helpful details. I knew Radar was better at puzzles than I, and I was
hoping he’d piece together this one.
He waited to talk until I’d said, “And then Ben called me and I left for that party.”
“Do you have that book, the one with the turned-down corners?” he asked. I got up and fished for it
under the bed, finally pulling it out. Radar held it above his head, squinting through his headache, and
flipped through the pages.
“Write this down,” he said. “Omaha, Nebraska. Sac City, Iowa. Alexandria, Indiana. Darwin, Minnesota.
Hollywood, California. Alliance, Nebraska. Okay. Those are the locations of all the things
she—well, or whoever read this book—found interesting.” He got up, motioned me out of the chair, and
then swiveled to the computer. Radar had an amazing talent for carrying on conversations while typing.
“There’s a map mash-up that allows you to enter multiple destinations and it will spit out a variety of
itineraries. Not that she’d know about this program. But still, I want to see.”
“How do you know all this shit?” I asked.
“Um, reminder: I. Spend. My. Entire. Life. On. Omnictionary. In the hour between when I got home
this morning and when I hurled in the shower, I completely rewrote the page for the Blue-spotted Anglerfish.
I have a problem. Okay, look at this,” he said. I leaned in and saw several jagged routes drawn
onto a map of the United States. All began in Orlando and ended in Hollywood, California.
“Maybe she’ll stay in LA?” Radar suggested.
“Maybe,” I said. “There’s no way to tell her route, though.”
“True. Also nothing else points to LA. What she said to Jase points to New York. The ‘go to the
paper towns and never come back’ points to a nearby pseudovision, it seems. The nail polish also points
to maybe her still being in the area? I’m just saying we can now add the location of the world’s largest
ball of popcorn to our list of possible Margo locales.”
“The traveling would fit with one of the Whitman quotes: ‘I tramp a perpetual journey.’”
Radar stayed hunched over the computer. I went to sit down on the bed. “Hey, will you just print out
a map of the U.S. so I can plot the points?” I asked.
“I can just do it online,” he said.
“Yeah, but I want to be able to look at it.” The printer fired up a few seconds later and I placed the
U.S. map next to the one with the pseudovisions on the wall. I put a tack in for each of the six locations
she (or someone) had marked in the book. I tried to look at them as a constellation, to see if they formed
a shape or a letter—but I couldn’t see anything. It was a totally random distribution, like she’d blindfolded
herself and thrown darts at the map.
I sighed. “You know what would be nice?” Radar asked. “If we could find some evidence that she
was checking her email or anywhere on the Internet. I search for her name every day; I’ve got a bot that
will alert me if she ever logs on to Omnictionary with that username. I track IP addresses of people who
search for the phrase ‘paper towns.’ It’s incredibly frustrating.”
“I didn’t know you were doing all that stuff,” I said.
“Yeah, well. Only doing what I’d want someone else to do. I know I wasn’t friends with her, but she
deserves to be found, you know?”
“Unless she doesn’t want to be,” I said.
“Yeah, I guess that’s possible. It’s all still possible.” I nodded. “Yeah, so—okay,” he said. “Can we
brainstorm over video games?”
“I’m not really in the mood.”
“Can we call Ben then?”
“No. Ben’s an asshole.”
Radar looked at me sideways. “Of course he is. You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting
people not to be themselves. I mean, I could hate you for being massively unpunctual and for
never being interested in anything other than Margo Roth Spiegelman, and for, like, never asking me
about how it’s going with my girlfriend—but I don’t give a shit, man, because you’re you. My parents
have a shit ton of black Santas, but that’s okay. They’re them. I’m too obsessed with a reference Web
site to answer my phone sometimes when my friends call, or my girlfriend. That’s okay, too. That’s me.
You like me anyway. And I like you. You’re funny, and you’re smart, and you may show up late, but
you always show up eventually.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t complimenting you. Just saying: stop thinking Ben should be you, and he needs
to stop thinking you should be him, and y’all just chill the hell out.”
“All right,” I said finally, and called Ben. The news that Radar was over and wanted to play video
games led to a miraculous hangover recovery.
“So,” I said after hanging up. “How’s Angela?”
Radar laughed. “She’s good, man. She’s real good. Thanks for asking.”
“You still a virgin?” I asked.
“I don’t kiss and tell. Although, yes. Oh, and we had our first fight this morning. We had breakfast
at Waffle House, and she was going on about how awesome the black Santas are, and how my parents
are great people for collecting them because it’s important for us not to presume that everybody cool in
our culture like God and Santa Claus is white, and how the black Santa empowers the whole African-
American community.”
“I actually think I kind of agree with her,” I said.
“Yeah, well, it’s a fine idea, but it happens to be bullshit. They’re not trying to spread the black Santa
gospel. If they were, they’d make black Santas. Instead, they’re trying to buy the entire world supply.
There’s this old guy in Pittsburgh with the second-biggest collection, and they’re always trying to buy
it off him.”
Ben spoke from the doorway. He’d been there a while, apparently. “Radar, your failure to bop that
lovely honeybunny is the greatest humanitarian tragedy of our time.”
“What’s up, Ben?” I said.
“Thanks for the ride last night, bro.”


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