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Copy Shop 

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"Have you ever chanted?"

For some reason, everyone who walked into the copy shop this night was wearing Hush Puppies. It was past midnight and the crowd looked like they'd stumbled in from West Madison Street.

"One time I chanted for a TV set and a stereo."

A Jamaican musician and his Wrangler-clad girlfriend had been pawing each other near the typewriters when Mort walked in with his girlfriend. Now the four of them were talking. Mort (not his real name, but it should have been) was a hefty guy with a beret and rings. He looked like an overweight Neil Simon and talked like a character from one of Simon's plays.

"C'mon man," said the Jamaican musician. "When you gonna stop bullshitting me?"

"What do you mean 'bullshit you'?" asked Mort, offended.

"You been bullshitting me for like six years."

"How've I been bullshitting you?"

"Every time I see you, you say you're gonna get me a record deal. You never do it."

"Look. Look. What does bullshitting mean? It means something negative, doesn't it? What have I done negative to you?"

"Well, you haven't done nothin' negative."

"Then I have not been 'bullshitting' you, as you say."

"OK. You haven't been bullshitting me, but you've been playing with my emotions."

"Well, I've changed," Mort said. "And I've got her to thank for it." He jerked his thumb in the direction of his girlfriend, who looked like a peroxide Valerie Perrine.

"How've you changed?" asked the musician.

"I'm into Buddhism now," Mort said. "Have you ever heard of Nam-myoho-renge-kyo?"

"A little," the musician said.

"It's a chant. All you have to do is chant for it over and over and over and you will get anything you want. Any worldly thing. One time I chanted for a TV set and a stereo."

"And you got it?"

"Anything. Anything you want."

The Jamaican musician's girlfriend whistled and made a T with her two hands. "Whoa," she said. "Time out. You mean to tell me that if you chant then you can get anything?"

Valerie Perrine nodded, though it didn't look like she'd chanted for a coat or a pair of shoes in recent memory.

"So," the musician's girlfriend continued, "it's like something for nothing."

"Exactly," Mort said. "That's exactly what it is. You don't even have to believe in it. All you have to do is chant."

"And you don't even have to believe in it?"

Valerie Perrine perked up. "If you jump out of a window, do you have to believe in the law of gravity to fall?"

They thought about this one for a while. A guy with long dirty fingernails, a big brown beard, and a denim jacket walked in and gave Mort and the Jamaican musician soul handshakes. Mort slapped skin with the musician too. Badly.

"This guy," Mort began, indicating the man who had just walked in. "Tell him what you chanted for."

"I chanted for a mansion on Sheridan Road."

"And you got it?" the musician asked.

"You bet," he said.

"You don't look like you live in a mansion on Sheridan Road," the musician's girlfriend said.

"Sure do," he said.

"Who owns it?" she asked.

"Nobody," he responded. "It's abandoned."

"But he got it," Mort said.

"You know something?" the musician said, laughing. "I met a woman who told me that three people were going to come up to me and talk to me about chanting."

"So are you going to do it?"

"I don't know," he said. "I think I'll wait for the third."

"I'm the third," Valerie Perrine said. "You gotta admit it. I'm the third."

The musician thought about this a while and turned to Mort. "So, who you gonna set me up with? Some of your friends at RCA? At CBS?"

"Anyone you want," Mort said. "Well, who do you want me to set you up with?"

"Who do you know over at CBS?"

"I know lots. You mean in Japan, in New York, or LA?"

"How about in New York?"

"I know the president there."

"How well do you know him?"

"I know him well enough that when we were in the elevator together, he said in his lifetime he would give me one favor. And I haven't cashed that favor in yet."

"Yeah?"

"And his son was there. His son witnessed it."

"So, are you going to call me?"

"Of course I'm gonna," Mort said.

"OK man," the musician said. "Maybe we can get something together this time."

They shook hands, and the musician and his girlfriend walked out, arm in arm. The three others watched them go.

"Do you hear that?" Mort asked.

Above the whirring of the Xerox machines you could hear a faint muttering from the Jamaican musician.

"What?" Mort's girlfriend asked.

Mort smiled. "He's chanting already."

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