“So tell me, what have you been doing during your retirement?” his old pal, who was seated across from him at a booth in an east Charlotte (NC, USA) diner, casually asked as he sipped an iced tea.
“An ongoing art project in that weird, unfinished, gray-walled, 8’ x 7’ [2.44 x 2.13 meters] basement room,” Dennis replied as he ran his right-hand fingers through his thinning, now completely white, collar-length hair. “Remember that little oddball room?”
“I do. Please don’t tell me that it’s now a meth lab.” Paul, an Italian American, began to chuckle.
“Very funny, Paul. No, nothing illicitly dangerous like that, my friend. I’m in no rush to get blasted to Mars.”
“I thought that it was going to be a darts room.” Paul now had a serious expression.
“It was, but it’s not quite deep enough. You need a bare-minimum straight-line dimension of ten feet [3.05 meters] for darts. The regulation oche [throw] line is seven feet, nine and a quarter inches [2.37 meters] from the face of the dartboard.” Oche? He did research this.
“Did you just measure it the other day? How do you remember such an odd distance, Dennis?”
“Because it is an odd distance, Paul. You know me and numbers; I remember them better than people.” That is true.
“Ok, so what is this ongoing art project in the little basement room? One hundred bottles of craft beer on the wall?” He’s always thinking about beer. Bet he orders one very soon.
“You’re a real comedian today, Paul. Did you pop a blue pill and pump Gola last night? Is that why you’re so giddy?” How’d he know?
“No comment.” Paul grinned.
“Well, it involves four common items,” Dennis divulged. “Care to take a guess?”
“Are two of them, diesel fuel and ammonium nitrate?” Paul enquired, and then began to laugh.
“Oh, that’s really funny in this day and age, Paul. No, I’m not making aesthetically pleasing pipe bombs.”
Paul playfully sighed. “That’s a relief. I didn’t want to have to turn you in to the FBI. [Federal Bureau of Investigation] But, it would have been hard to pass on a $500 reward. A guy can always use five bills.”
“Is the comedy hour over now, John Belushi?” Dennis was no longer amused with the zingers.
“Ok, ok, elucidate your subterranean masterpiece to me. I’m all hairy ears.” Indeed he is.
“The four items are a broad-tip magic marker, a yardstick, a large protractor, and a pair of dice.” A pair of dice? Is he gambling again?
“You’ve lost your mind,” Paul remarked in deadpan fashion.
“Maybe so. But, who cares at this point? I’m a sixty-seven-year-old widower with nothing to do and all day to do it. I had to come up with something, Paul. Just wait until you retire next year. You better have a hobby – besides drinking.”
Sixty-four-year-old, tan-faced Paul grabbed his jaw with his left hand. “You know, Dennis, I do worry about becoming a full-blown alcoholic. But, back to your art project.”
“The Boxcars Line started two years ago  on this very date.” [December 3rd] What did he just say?
“A line of boxcars? Is it a Z-scale train layout, Dennis?” But, why the dice and magic marker?
“No, Paul, it’s a black line on that unusual room’s ashen walls. On average it grows an inch every day. Thus, this being the biennial date with no intervening leap days; it is now 730 inches [18.54 meters] long. That’s sixty feet and ten inches.” What in the world?! His deck has definitely lost another card.
“Dennis, how do you fit a sixty-foot-plus-long line in an eight-foot-long room?”
“It’s not a straight line, Paul.”
“Where did this line start?” Paul asked, now quite curious.
“In the inside corner to the right of the door-less opening at a height of four feet, [1.22 meters] halfway between the floor and ceiling.” Pure madness. Poor Dennis.
“Ok, how does the line grow? Do you water it?” Smart-ass.
Dennis smiled sardonically. “No water or sunlight required, funny guy. Here’s the deal: Every single day at noon I roll the pair of dice. If they come up boxcars – double sixes – it will be a line-extension day. If I roll any other combination, nothing happens on that day. When I roll boxcars, which typically happens about once a month – the odds are 1 in 36 [2.78%] – I then roll the dice again to see if I’m climbing or descending, and at what angle.” Wack attack.
“Let me guess – if you roll boxcars again, your line does a loop-de-loop.” Why would he think that?
“No, not exactly, Paul. The second roll is split, die by die. The first single-die toss determines the new trajectory: up or down. If it is a one, three or five, we’re going up; if it is a two, four or six, the line is going down.”
“Got ya. Odd is up and even is down. So, the line can never continue on its previous track?”
“Correct. You still have a few neurons firing.”
Paul took another swig from the tall, plastic, maroon-colored tumbler. “Now, what about the second die?”
“That determines the angle of ascent – or descent. I take the number and multiply it by ten. Thus, a roll of three after a roll of five, would result in the line rising thirty degrees. The maximum climb or dive angle is sixty degrees.” Nutso.
“But, how long will the new line segment be?” a confounded Paul asked. Might as well play along.
“Remember what I said about one day equals one inch?” [2.54 cm]
“Yes …” Paul had no idea where Dennis was going.
“Well, I record all the ‘boxcars days’ in a logbook. When another noontime roll of the dice comes up boxcars, I just look and see when the last one was and count up the days, which become inches. If I see that the last double-six roll was twenty-four days ago, the new line segment will be precisely two feet [61 cm] long.”
“And, exactly when does this wall-defacing madness end, Dennis?” When/if he gets a live-in girlfriend?
“It can end one of three ways, Paul: The line could enter the small upper-window inset, which has a line-accessible perimeter of seventy-nine inches, [2 meters] and which is an ends-in-a-loss, game-over situation; or, the line could eventually pass through the rectangular entranceway, which has some molding strips to guard and reduce its available perimeter to seventy-nine inches – yes, the line has been deflected and sent the other way – as I want to keep this as fair and even as possible – upon breaking the plane, a golden goal would be scored and the game-within-an-art-project would end as a win; or, I could die before either of these scenarios happen, and the game would end in a draw.”
“Dennis, you know that there are medications for –”
“Oh, stop it! Paul, you were more of an avant-gardist than I was. When did you go square?” Go square?
“Um, maybe when I had a crying baby to feed.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Alright, alright. I hear ya.”
“Say, what happens if your line bounces back onto itself. Would that be a losing outcome as well?”
“You know, I haven’t thought about that, Paul. It hasn’t come that close to occurring yet, but I could see it happening by the fifth lap. I’ll ponder it. Hey, what do you think happens when the line collides with a ceiling or floor corner?” Has he marked all over the vinyl flooring, too?
“You have to buy a bucket of Kilz® (a stain-masking primer) and a box of floor tiles?”
“Nope. The line ricochets at the same angle. The ceiling and floor are out of play. A similar thing happens in the wall corners. If the line comes in ascending at forty degrees, it exits descending at forty degrees, and vice versa.” This is meticulously insane.
“Has your linear-art game ever almost ended?” Paul then looked around the restaurant.
“Funny you ask that, Paul. Back on October 2nd, 2017, the line segment came within two inches [5 cm] of the window bunker. I really didn’t want the experiment/game/project to end so soon.”
“You know, Dennis, I haven’t seen our waitress in like forever.”
“I told her that we weren’t eating until … right … about … now.”
“Are you gentlemen ready to order some dinner?” a young female voice asked from the side that Paul wasn’t looking.
“I sure as heck am,” Paul promptly proclaimed. “I’m completely famished after listening to my cohort’s longwinded ‘line-art’ tale. I’ll take the deviled crab with a slice of cornbread. Thanks.”
“And for you, sir?” the sandy-blonde-haired, mid-twenty-something waitress asked with an expression that broadcasted sheer boredom. She kind of looks like the first wife – forty years ago.
“Same for me. Thank you very much.”
The waitress then trudged back to the kitchen.
“So, you haven’t left Charlotte for the past two years,” Paul deduced.
“Sure, I have,” Dennis retorted. “Why would you think that?”
“Well, what if you were in – oh, let’s say Oregon – and you rolled boxcars.” At 9 AM Pacific Standard Time.
“I would just note it in the logbook, and extend the line when I returned. Such happened on a trip to Helena [Montana, USA] last year.”
“What the hell were you doing in Helena?”
“Noticing a lone power-line shadow on the side of an old building.”
“Only you, partner. Only you.”
Six days later, a sleety Sunday morning, Paul and his three-fourths-Cherokee wife would come by to see Dennis’s wall art. Paul knocked on the front door seven times. There was no answer. He then rang the doorbell repeatedly. Still no response. They then walked around to the back door. Paul removed the secret key that Dennis had told him about that was under a small hematite rock next to an azalea shrub. He opened the basement door.
“Welfare check. It’s me – Paul. You, ok, buddy?”
Dennis would be found dead, supine on the floor in his art room. Paul would notice that the line came up an inch short. Gola would quietly remark: “Navnigesdi.”