Day of the Century (A.K.A. "Event of the Century")



The Ox Mania phenomenon is sweeping across the globe like a huge tidal wave! -- The Morning Dispatch [headline: "The Ox Mania Phenomenon"]

Ox Mania is like a gigantic social wave rolling over the surface of the Earth, engulfing the whole of civilization! -- The Summit [headline: "What is Ox Mania?"]

Ox Mania is an intoxicating and enlightening elixir for mankind! -- The Western Track [headline: "The Essence of Ox Mania"]


10:30 a.m., Tuesday, March 23, 2009

        Last night, after Ralph 'The Ox' Oxner finished typing his autobiography's seventh chapter, he joined the sleeping beauty in bed.  But this morning when he awoke, she wasn't lying beside him any longer.  Upon walking into the kitchen, he found her sitting at the table in her purple bathrobe, eating breakfast.  It was still hard for him to mentally digest the fact that she was actually his wife.

        Angel looked up, smiled, and said, "Good morning" before the spoon-full of oatmeal entered her mouth.

        Ralph returned the salutation and kissed her cheek as she chewed.  Then he fixed himself a bowl of cereal and orange juice.

        "Did you read the newspaper?" he inquired, after he pulled out the chair and sat down.

        "Yeah.  Guess who made the front page again!"

        "Oh, I'll say PeeWee Herman," he joked.

        "Nope.  Big Boy Oxner!  The headline is: 'Ox Expected to Return to Land Today.'  Wanna read it?"

        "No thanks.  I'm tired of reading about myself in the papers.  The last article I read stated that I was being worshipped by everyone aboard the ship."

        "Well, you know, that's practically the case!!  People can tell that you're special!"

        "If I was 'special,' I'd be eating Special K cereal.  But I'm eating Frosted Flakes.  So that must indicate that I'm a flake!" he joked again.

        Angel, taking the issue seriously, corrected him: "You're a genius!!!  You've amazed everyone, including me!!"

        "Are you referring to my piano skills?"

        "Absolutely!  A lot of people I've talked to said that they think you might be the reincarnation of Beethoven."

        "I guess it's possible.  The first time I played his music, it felt so natural and familiar to me!  It was like I'd played it previously."

        "Yeah, I remember!  You picked up on it in a flash.  There's no other way to explain something like that [other than] reincarnation!  I actually wondered if you were telling me the truth when you said that you'd never played the piano prior to our first lesson."

        "I wasn't lying.  That's for sure!  My father was way too poor to even think about buying a piano.  But he did get me a used banjo from a pawn shop when I was seven years-old.  And my mother let me play her flute.  So, I do have somewhat of a musical background."

        "I'm looking forward to meeting your parents.  We haven't talked much about them."

        "Well, there's not much to say, really.  I've already told you just about all there is to know about them."

        "Whom do you favor the most: your mother or your father?" Angel inquired.

        "Oh, definitely my mother!  I don't look anything at all like my dad.  But Harold looks just like him."



        The conversation carried on until they completely consumed their respective hot and cold meals.  Then, they got their pre-packed suitcases and left the grand suite, not planning to return.  The upper deck lounge was where Angel and Ralph decided to spend the final minutes of the magical cruise.  The couple sat side-by-side on the fleecy, white couch by the full-length [ceiling-to-floor; wall-to-wall] window.  Designed by The Leader, it offered guests a panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean, and happened to be one of the yacht's main attractions.  Everyone said that it created the impression of being outside on the water's surface.  Ralph and Angel, as well, considered it to be the ship's most impressive feature.  They loved it!  Through the huge piece of glass, they could already spot the harbor in the distance.

        "My wild ride is about to end," Ralph said, with gloom in his voice and sorrow in his heart.  He bore the dreadful feeling that his marine sanctum was dissolving like a well built sandcastle being gradually washed away by the incoming tide.  There came over Ralph the terrible sensation that his short-lived freedom was leaving him forever.  The Sea Gypsy had given him such a wonderful sense of security and adventure!  And escape!  Indeed, the sea was his heaven... and the land his hell.

        Angel detected a wistful look in those soft, brown eyes gazing afar.  Last night was her time!  She wisely knew she didn't need to speak one word of comfort.  All she needed to do was let him have his moment in silence and peace.


       Frances Queen Prescott was irritated that she was being torn away from the TV by her continuously ringing telephone.  Although she'd tried to ignore it, it just kept ringing, and ringing, and ringing...  She went into the kitchen and picked it up following what must have been the twentieth ring.

        "Hello," she said, in a less-than-polite tone.

        "Hey, Frances.  This is Olivia.  Are you watching the ship come in??"

        "Uhh, yeah!  Along with just about everyone else on the planet," she sarcastically replied.

        "They just showed it out on the sea.  This is so exciting," Olivia squealed.

        "YOU think it's exciting?!  The Ox hijacked my car.  If I wasn't at that location at that precise moment in time, he probably would've been apprehended and none of this would be happening right now.  I changed history!  How do you (think) I feel??!!"

        "You're so lucky, Frances!  I wish he had of hijacked my car!"

        "Olivia, being forced to give up your car at gun-point isn't exactly fun!"

        "Yeah, but if The Ox does it to you, it's like... an honor.  Know what I'm saying?!"

        "No, Olivia, I DON'T know what you're saying.  Hardly ever do!"

        "Well, Frances, I'll let you go now.  I just wanted to make sure you were watching the 'Event of the Century.' "

        "Yeees, Oliiivia.  I wouldn't miss it for the world."

        "Me neither!  Bye."

        Frances hung up, shaking her head and smiling.  Her silly girlfriend was annoying, but she was humorous enough to tolerate.

        All of the major networks' regularly scheduled programs were interrupted so they could air coverage of the special event.  It was dubbed 'The Day of the Century' along with 'The Event of the Century'... and rightfully so!  Not since the sinking of the Titanic had an ocean liner received this much media attention.  And the American public anticipated Ralph's return on land far more than it had anticipated the Fab Four's premiere arrival in the United States back in 1964.



That's because the stowaway was way beyond "rock star" status.  Ralph Oxner was like a flesh and blood Marvel Superhero to people of all ages.  "The Ox" had become synonymous with "Superman."  Indeed, he WAS Superman in the hearts of the masses.  And "Ox Mania," coined by one columnist, was rampant and growing.

        The televised frenzy was like a Superbowl pre-game show to the hundredth power.  A white helicopter circled over the ocean, displaying red camera flashes in rapid succession.  It had been stalking the mammoth vessel for over an hour.  Down below, a horde of reporters, video crews, action photographers, broadcasters, field technicians, and others stood in wait on the marina.  That maritime domain was cordoned off with yellow 'DO NOT CROSS' tape -- accessible only to media personnel and federal law enforcement authorities.  Crowding the pier and dotting the beach was a huge assemblage of Ralph's most loyal fans and ardent supporters.  Many came equipped with cameras and camcorders to capture the momentous historical event for posterity.  They also held up placard signs on boards above their heads for all those in TV Land to read.  Some of them were: DROP CHARGES, D.A.!!! / VICTIM, NOT CRIMINAL! / SUPPORT THE OX / KEEP OXNER FREE / OXNER #1 / THE OX RULES!  But the most eye-catching and appealing message out of the bunch was: GOD MADE RALPH OXNER FOR US!  That was very expressive of the public's sentiment toward its beloved, underdog hero.

        Thomas Monroe was reveling in the opportunity of a lifetime.  He knew that he was one lucky man.  Being a political analyst and a part-time national news commentator was pretty big, but THIS was beyond the pale!  The suave, handsome, 39 year-old Harvard graduate had literally been given the assignment of the century!  Representing MBC, and sharing the spotlight with other major network newscasters on the scene, he was in the process of covering The Sea Gypsy's homecoming.  The wild atmosphere on, and around, the harbor caused him to draw the comparison of a spacecraft landing on Earth and people waiting for the alien inhabitants to walk out of it.  Ralph Oxner was the figurative extraterrestrial whom everyone wanted to see.  Indeed, if the crazed spectators could merely catch a fleeting "Oxner sighting," THAT would be the indisputable main event in their idol-worshiping minds!

        The port was Mr. Monroe's stage.  Standing in front of the portable television camera, he spoke into the microphone: "Current measurement is that 'The Sea Gypsy,' also known as 'The Leader's Ark,' is now only about two and a half miles from the coast.  Radar reports I've received state that its pace has slowed down drastically.  This is just personal speculation, but that fact may indicate a desire by the helmsman or captain to remain on the ocean for as long as possible.  You viewers at home can surely hear the raucous crowd in the background.  It's a task trying to speak over them.  They've been in an upheaval ever since they caught sight of The Sea Gypsy out in the Atlantic Ocean.  The populace watching the drama unfold on TV can get a bird's eye view of the yacht, thanks to the Breaking News Chopper.  My gosh, look at these people!!!  I even see old women acting like maniacs!  These people may be tame for the most part, but today they're behaving like aggravated chimpanzees in cages." [On cue, the videoman swept a shot of the "animals" in action across the pier and on a section of the beach.]  "The excitement is astounding, and seemingly contagious.  I can feel it, as well.  It's like strong currents of electricity rushing through my veins, up to my brain.  I've never been a part of anything quite like this in my life!  From my vantage point, The Sea Gypsy is like a far away dot on an immense layer of sea.  But as it advances closer and closer, the anticipation will keep mounting until, at some point, it reaches a fevered peak.  It's like waiting for an explosion!



Not to sound unprofessional, but I can hardly contain myself!  I feel like bellowing out 'Whew!!!' at the top of my lungs, but I'll refrain." [Mr. Monroe was attempting to flavor his scripted dialogue with a heavy sprinkling of drama and high-energy enthusiasm.  And although his words were intended for psychological effect, they were sincere, as well.]

        "Now, just to recap: The Sea Gypsy has been cruising on the Atlantic Ocean for over five weeks.  The ship received international attention when media reports surfaced, linking it with the desperado-type fugitive, Ralph Oxner.  It was later officially confirmed that he was, indeed, aboard the luxury liner.  As for The Sea Gypsy itself, THAT'S no ordinary vessel!  It is 457 feet long and there are only two personally owned ships in existence which surpass its size.  They happen to belong to Benjamin Forbes and Lloyd Gates.  As for the owner of The Sea Gypsy, there isn't much to say about his background!  His name is... well... 'The Leader.'  Government and private investigators have been unable to obtain his birth certificate, and no one knows his social security number, or if he even has one.  And, of course, the identity of his parents is a mystery, as well.  Everything about the man's early history is completely unknown.  It's almost as if he came down from the sky!  However, The Leader's credentials more than make up for his bizarre obscurity!  They are extraordinarily impressive!  Just to list some of his accomplishments: He amassed an unspecified fortune by way of his numerous inventions, which have been successfully marketed and are accessible to nations all over the Earth.  Get this: The Leader has a whopping 253 patents and, in all likelihood, he's a multi-billionare!  Furthermore, and perhaps more intriguing, he heads a psycho/spiritual organization called 'The White Light Liberators.'  He's also written 112 books in almost every genre, including Science Fiction.  The best selling one is the self-help manual, How to Free your Mind.  That is like the White Light Liberators' bible, I've been told."

        Thomas Monroe continued on with his upbeat, informative reporting, while Angel and Ralph deliberated in the privacy of the peaceful sky lounge.  "Okay, Ralph, I think The Leader has everything in order.  There's no need to worry about what will happen when you get off the ship.  You'll be surrounded by six bodyguards.  It should go fine."

        "I'm not worried.  But The Leader said it's a circus on the marina."

        "He also said not to be intimidated by all that hoopla.  I realize that that's easier said than done.  It's going to be hard on you being the central focus of the festivity.  Since all eyes are gonna be on you, you'll have to remember to keep your head up and show the world that you're proud of who you are and what you've done.  Be sure that you don't walk with your head down like a criminal trying to hide his face while he's being escorted to the police car.  I think that's the main thing The Leader wanted to get across!  Body-language can either send a good or bad message."

        "What about verbal language?  Should I respond to the reporters that will be trying to get me to say something?"

        "That's up to you, honey."

        "Well, I don't want to ignore them.  That would be rude.  But I don't know what I should say."

        "Just tell'em the first thing that comes to your mind.  Don't premeditate what you will say.  Let the spirit speak through you."



        "Sheesh!  That's pretty good advice, Angel!  You're wiser than I thought!"

        "I guess The Leader is starting to rub off on me, huh?!"

        "I wish stardom would rub off (OF) me!  I hate being famous!  On top of the constant exposure, there's a million and one things to take into consideration.  It's so complicated!"

        "Well, you'd better get used to it because you'll have to put up with it for the rest of your life!"

        "Now I know how Aaron Hughes feels!"

        Aaron Hughes is a celebrity.  YOU'RE a Superhero.  There's a big difference between the two!"

        "Oh, THAT'S nice to hear; you're saying I even have it worse than the biggest movie star of all time?!"

        "I'm afraid so," confirmed Angel, with a grimace-like smile, raised eyebrows, and an affirmative nod.  "His annoyances are minor compared with all the hassles you'll have to endure," she added.

        "Yeah, I'm sure that wherever I go, the paparazzi will be out in full force."

        "Mmhmm.  I just want you to be prepared for what it'll feel like to be habitually stalked and fawned over."

        Suddenly, the adolescent Messenger with the auburn hair, freckles, and milky-white skin burst into the room.  He wasn't expecting to see anyone sitting on the couch.  "Oh, I'm sorry to disturb the two of you!"  He looked upon them as royalty, and it was as if the white couch was the throne on which they sat.  "I was just gonna try to see the harbor through the window.  Please excuse me for barging in on you."  He bowed, turned around, and began walking away.

        Ralph halted his progress by hollering: "Dude, be our guest!"

        "Thanks a lot, your highness... I mean, 'sir.' "

        Angel chuckled at the Freudian slip.

        As the kid gazed out the glass, he said, "It still looks pretty far away, but we're getting closer.  I've been watching the news coverage on TV for the past tow hours.  This is wild!  It's better than an Arnold Schwarzenegger action movie.  Listen to that helicopter overhead!  It sounds like it's barely above us.  I'm so lucky to be in the thick of all this adventure!  I'm an up-close witness to something spectacular and historic.  When I'm an old man, I'll tell my grandkids all about my firsthand experiences on The Sea Gypsy -- when their classmates will be relegated to reading about what happened in text books.  They'll be like: 'You actually spoke to The Ox??!!' "

        Ralph rolled his eyeballs upward.  All the excessive sensationalism and rabid attention was wearing on his nerves.

        "By the way, sir, do you know if there's an engine failure?  I stepped out on the deck to waive at the helicopter because I wanted it to film me, and I noticed that the momentum of the ship is pretty slow."

        Angel spoke for Ralph because she sensed that he was not in the mood to submit a detailed explanation on his behalf.  "The Leader came in here about thirty minutes ago and made Ralph the Honorary Captain of The Sea Gypsy for the remainder of the voyage.  The big lug asked The Leader to relay a command to the guy in the cockpit.  Can you guess what it was?"

        "Umm... it must have been to slow down."

        "That's right.  He goes: 'I'd appreciate it, Mr. Leader, if you'd tell him to travel at turtle speed for the rest of the way.' "  Angel was poking fun at her hubby, and thoroughly enjoying it.

        The Messenger Boy nodded and, looking a bit puzzled, said, "You mind me asking why he issued that order?"

        Ralph rolled his eyes again, annoyed that they were blatantly talking about him in his presence.

        "Well, I think that Ralph is sort of attached to the Sea Gypsy."

        "Angel, you're making me look like a big baby!" he snapped.

        "Waaahh!  Waaah!  Waaah!  Waaah!" she teased.

        Ralph shook his head in chagrin, while the Messenger Boy laughed.  Then the Messenger Boy said, "Excuse me for intruding, and thank you for letting me take a look out the window."

        "No problem," said Angel.  "Can we help you with anything else?" she politely asked.



        The young fellow took a few seconds to seriously ponder that question.  "Well..." he began, timidly.  "May I be so bold as to request a favor?"

        "As long as it's not anything sexual or illegal," Angel cracked.

        "Ha!  That's a good one!  I'd just like for you to take a picture of me standing beside your husband, so I can show it to all my friends and family back home in Kansas."

        "Request permitted!"  Angel said that in a formal, authoritarian tone like a queen granting a peasant a simple, yet subjectively substantial, wish.

        "Cool!!!!" the overjoyed Messenger Boy exclaimed.  "I'll be right back with my camera!  Thank you, Mrs. Oxner!  Thank you, Mr. Oxner!"

        After he dashed out, the royal couple shared a lighthearted laugh at the young man's exuberance.  "Hey, he didn't ask (me) if I'd agree to pose with him, Ralph said, in a playfully disgruntled tone.

        "That's because he can see that (I'm) the one in charge," Angel humorously returned.

        "Must be," sighed Ralph.

        "Having that photograph is gonna mean so much to that boy!" Angel thoughtfully stated.

        "Yeah, I still can't see what everyone sees in me!  I just can't see it," Ralph said to himself and his wife simultaneously, while shaking his head.

        "You're 'The Ox' -- the one and only!  Folks can admire you and relate to you at the same time.  They see themselves in you.  It's just that plain and simple!"

        Ralph sort of understood what she meant.  It was finally dawning on him that the public had grown tired of the paragon heroes of old who weren't plagued with intrenal tribulations, traumas, and massive misfortunes.  What they'd subconsciously longed for was a blemished, sympathetic, violated--yet triumphant--hero whom they could identify with, and also respect.  The commoners needed The Ox for their own sense of self-acceptance and self-worth.  Ralph was beginning to fathom the intricate psychological basis of his ostensibly inexplicable appeal.  The tangible being known as "Ralph Oxner" had somehow transmogrified into a byproduct of the collective mind!

ONE HOUR LATER: Now that The Sea Gypsy was no farther than seven football fields away, the cluster of competitive reporters were all vying for preeminence, and aggressively trying to talk over one another within the limited confines of the marina.  There was even a scuffle between two female newscasters, which security personnel promptly broke up.  Meanwhile, the crowd of watchers on the pier and beach, most of whom were normally civilized and mild-mannered, was whooping and hollering like a bunch of overzealous football fans with painted faces.  Some, indeed, had "OX" on their cheeks and foreheads in various colors.  They held camcorders and signs that were elevated high above their heads.  And of those whom had nothing to grip, they shook their fists or waved their hands in excitement.  All the while, at various locations and angles, the high-tech film cameras captured the wild medley of coastal activity for the world to witness.

        Following another brief commercial break, Thomas Monroe was back on the air and talking into his microphone: "Everyone's heard of 'Girls Gone Wild'; well, what you're seeing now is 'Oxner Fans Gone Wild.'  Wow!  I think this is what you'd call 'Ox Mania'!  'Ox Mania' is such a pervasive cultural phrase that I had to use it sooner or later!  And you can consider me an 'Ox Maniac,' along with everyone else out here.  It's like an enormous outdoor party!  It seems they keep getting more boisterous and animated as the ship draws closer and closer.  These peoples' spirits are higher than a kite!  I tell you, this is really something to behold!  If you're not amongst the mob, you can't grasp it fully!  Nothing can compare to being here--physically present--watching it all unfold.  I wish everyone could be witnessing it in person, instead of through the screens of their television sets.  To me, this grand occasion has the feel of an Olympic ceremony, only a thousand times bigger and better.  This isn't about sports; it's more spontaneous and unpredictable and less structured; and it's much greater in importance and intensity.  Those are the main differences between the two events.



Now the Sea Gypsy is approximately 840 yards away [from port] and it's sailing only two miles per hour (1.74 knots).  That's like a legendary boxer walking to the ring very slowly.  It's driving the audience crazy.  They want the ship on the dock and they want Ralph Oxner out of it.  So, I guess you could say that the party has still only 'just begun.' "  The massive liner crept along at a slow, steady pace on the ocean's surface in the distance.

        There was one man in the gathering who had a vested interest in the proceedings.  As he shuffled along the pier, reflections of a young lady he fell in love with many years ago gripped his mind.  He'd always lamented that she was already claimed.  But that ring on her finger deterred neither of them from engaging in an illicit affair.

        Although he was taking slow, short steps, his preoccupied mental state caused him to bump into something.  Nautrally, his attention was shifted to the object of the minor mishap.  Looking down, he discovered that he had collided with a cute, little blonde boy.

        A smile came upon his olive skinned face and, while tipping his driving cap, he said, "Excuse me, sir" in a chipper voice.

        " 'Sir'??!... You're the first person ever to call me 'Sir!'  I like the sound of that!"

        "Well, I'm very avuncular," the Generous Gypsy said, in explanation of his word choice.

        "Av... what??" the seven year-old unsuccessfully attempted to pronounce.

        "Av-un-cu-lar," the adult slowly repeated, stressing each syllable.  "That means I'm nice to children.  I also have an extensive vocabulary, as I guess you can tell."

        "You sound pretty smart, Mister.  And that's a nice blue suit you're wearing."

        "Thank you for both compliments.  You're very accurate on both accounts; my IQ is 157, and this suit is just about the finest money can buy."

        "Are you from around here, Mister," the youth asked, sensing that there was something very peculiar about the diminutive gentleman, aside from his demeanor, apparel, intellect and accent.

        "I'm from around everywhere," was his nebulous reply.

        "What do you mean by that?" he probed, unsatisfied and perplexed by the answer.

        "I travel a lot.  Always have, always will."

        "Why do you travel so much?" queried the kid.  The man wondered when this line of questioning would end, but it didn't annoy him because he understood that children tend to be curious.

        "Because that's what Gypsies do... amongst other things."

        "You're a real Gypsy??!!" the boy excitedly, and loudly, said -- in seeking absolute verification.

        "As real as they come!"

        "Do you steal peoples' wallets?"

        The kind Gypsy chuckled at the stereotypical inquiry, and spontaneously decided to be honest, for a change.  "Yes... but only if I discern that my potential target is both rich and bad.  I'm a thief, but I also have a creed to live by.  That's so I won't rob innocents and fall into the pit of guilt."

        "How do you know if someone is rich and bad?"

        "That's a good question, son!  How did you know that I wasn't 'from around here?' "

        "I could just tell."

        "Well, I, too, can 'just tell' about people."

        "My dad isn't rich (or) bad, so you wouldn't swipe his wallet, would you?"

        "Nope!  Fortunately for him, he doesn't meet either guideline.  But, as for you... I think you fall into both categories: I think you're rich AND bad!"

        "No, I'm not!!!  No, I'm not!!!" the youngster vehemently protested.

        "I know, I know.  Calm down.  I was just joking!"  The consummate teaser got a kick out of the emotional reaction he'd provoked.  "But when you get older and have a wallet, remember to protect it carefully from [immoral] thieves who aren't discriminating like me," he warned.



        "I have a dollar bill in my front pocket.  I bet you couldn't steal that," he casually stated.  The master took pride in his craft and he regarded the comment as a personal challenge.  Flashing that mischievous expression, he said, "What do you have in your right shoe?"

        "In my shoe??  Nothing buy my foot."

        "Why don't you check to see if there isn't something else in there, as well," suggested the Gypsy.

        The lad just gave him a befuddled look.

        "Go ahead... do it!  Take off your shoe," he prodded.

        "Whatever you say, Mister."

        As he bent down and untied his sneaker, his magically gifted elder stood smiling with folded arms.  Right after the obedient one removed the article of footwear, he shot straight up with a folded one dollar bill in his hand and a totally confounded expression on his face.  His shell-shocked light blue eyes stared straight into a pair of dark brown eyes that were teeming with amusement.

        For a few seconds, the boy's mouth was speechless.  Then it spoke the words: "How'd you do that???"

        "It's just a little trick.  I can do more than that... MUCH more!  Now, put the bill back in your pocket and never underestimate a Gypsy's ability."

        From behind him, the boy heard his mother's concerned voice cry out: "Danny, we've been looking all over for you!!"

        He turned around and saw his parents approaching.  Pointing his thumb behind his shoulder, he proclaimed, "Mom, dad, this man transferred my dollar bill from my pocket to my shoe without even touching my clothes!  I don't know how he did it!  He's a Gypsy and he has magical powers!"

        "What are you talking about?!" his father uttered, in a voice of agitation.  Danny turned back around to identify the individual he was referring to, but all he saw was a clump of strangers walking, and standing, on the pier.  The Gypsy trickster was gone.  He gazed up a ways, then to his left, and then to his right, but that incredible character he'd just met was nowhere in sight.

        "Danny!" his father began in an authoritative tone.  "You'd better be sure to stay by our side from now on!  We were afraid you had gotten lost!"

        "Why isn't your shoe on?" his mother asked, in observation.

        "Because the Gypsy told me to take it off.  Somehow he managed to..."

        "Danny!" his father sharply interrupted.  "That'll be enough of that ridiculous talk!" he snapped.  "Now, after you put your shoe back on, you're gonna hold your mother's hand and NOT let go of it!" he sternly commanded.  "A Gypsy teleporting his money in his shoe.  What'll he come up with next?!" he rhetorically asked, shaking his head and looking at his wife.

        "I don't know.  He's got some imagination," she responded, while her son was kneeling on one knee tying his shoe laces, and feeling frustrated that they didn't believe him.  That mysterious, little Gypsy had beguiled yet another unsuspecting mortal!

        The Sea Gypsy's plodding progression had tantalized the drove of spectators in attendance.  For oh so long they'd endured it sailing at a crawl.  Now that it was approaching the harbor, they'd gotten quieter and more attentive.  As for the general public, it had not witnessed anything like this on TV since a white Bronco pulled up to a Brentwood mansion's front gate to cap off a low-speed chase.  But this was better... much better!  For one thing, the main character involved in the current drama was an interesting individual.  And, furthermore, his crimes were devoid of premeditation and malice.

        Thomas Monroe and company continued reporting, and the Eyewitness News Helicopter provided excellent aerial coverage.  The 'Event of the Century' was turning out to be The Event of the Millennium!  Time seemed to stand still.  Continuous waves and a cool breeze added a sense of romantic flavor to the magical atmosphere.  Everyone watching it was held breathlessly captivated by the enchanting scene.  The billion-plus television viewers were only slightly deprived of the full effect.



        Nearly every human eye beheld the humungous hull transfer itself from the sea to the marina.  The crossover signaled a shift in the course of history; as a result of the Ralph Oxner saga, nothing would be the same ever again!

The home viewers had the advantage of seeing the beautiful, shinning ship in extreme close-up and from multiple camera angles.  But nothing could compare to the experience of being present on either the wooden pier or the sandy beach, under a warm sun, amidst a fresh wind.  At last, The Sea Gypsy was still.  It seemed to be resting.  The analogy of a marathon runner crossing the finish line and flopping down in exhaustion was made by, none other than, Thomas Monroe.  He perceived a distinctly humanistic quality in the chunk of steel, along with many others who had the same anthropomorphic thought about it.

        Nine minutes elapsed.  Nothing happened.  The entire world watched and waited in a collective state of hypnotic anticipation.  All the while, the reporters' motor-mouths kept running.  Their voices had elevated in intensity.

        Ten minutes... Eleven minutes... Twelve minutes... An automatic door slid open.  The global excitement escalated.  The culmination of the Event of the Century hung in the balance.

        A man emerged.  He was a dignified-looking, older gentleman.  As he descended the slope, the reporters hurriedly swarmed to greet him.  Out of the pack, he spotted a familiar face and selected him without reservation.  The others vigorously fought for his attention with a barrage of jumbled questions, uttered concurrently.  But he ignored them all -- in favor of one Thomas Monroe.

        Following a secret handshake, Mr. Monroe spoke into his microphone: "Please identify yourself to the public, sir."

        The man cooly removed his sunglasses with one hand and announced, "My name is The Leader.  This is my yacht, and Ralph Oxner is my disciple."

        His voice exuded strength, intelligence, and righteousness.  He sounded like a quintessential leader!  His posture exhibited confidence, his brow was furrowed, and his eyes were piercing.  He was dressed casually, and even without a suit he appeared urbane.  He sported a short-sleeve, white shirt with the letters W.L.L. stitched in blue on the left chest area in front of his heart; he had on white shorts with blue, vertical streaks running down each side; and he wore white socks, and white Nike shoes with the trademark blue"check" design.  On top of his red head was a white skipper's cap, highlighted with two blue stripes going around it over the visor.  The organization's initials and its decorative dove emblem were on the front in gold -- overlapping the stripes.  That cap was like his crown!  It was custom-made by his followers for his 40th birthday.  He always wore it with a sense of pride.

        Thomas Monroe proceeded with the Interview for the Ages: "Speaking of Ralph Oxner, he's the most famous person in the world.  You've been on the ocean with him for over a month.  Can you share with us your opinion of him?"

        The Leader answered without hesitation: "Mr. Oxner is the most remarkable person I've ever met!  What a survivor!  He has an iron will, and an even stronger character.  Also, his musical talent is unbelievable!  And he hasn't even tapped his full potential as a classical pianist.  Ralph is one-in-a-million, a real gem.  I'm so lucky to have gotten to know the fellow!"

        "Mr. Leader, do you feel like his meteoric rise to stardom has overshadowed you?"

        Chuckle... "I certainly hope so, Thomas.  I've never been too keen on the idea of living in the spotlight!  If I was, I would've been famous a long time ago.  I cherish my privacy... but from now on, I don't think I'll be getting too much of it, will I?!"

        "I mean, taking into consideration all of your accomplishments, you deserve a tremendous amount of recognition!"

        "Yes, I know what you're saying, Thomas!  All modesty aside, I do appreciate admiration.  But the thing is: I don't crave it!  Ralph Oxner has made me MORE recognizable and respected due to my association with him.  The fact that he's more popular than me is irrelevant.  From the start, my only hope was that Ralph's predicament served to raise public awareness about the dangers of psychiatry.  Aaron Hughes gave that development a big boost when he was on Celebrity Interview talking about issues that desperately needed to be addressed and exposed to the public.  Aaron and Ralph are my heroes!  They're valiant young men!"



        "Mr. Leader, in addition to the psychiatry controversy, another vital thing that has spread like wildfire as a result of the Ralph Oxner saga is interest in the organization you founded thirty-four years ago: The White Light Liberators.  Because of all the attention it has received, you've gained an astronomical influx of new members.  It's estimated now that there are as many card-carrying Liberators out there as there are Mormons and Jews combined.  And the numbers will continue to rise.  Three years ago, you proposed the idea of converting the White Light Liberators into a major political party like the Democrats and Republicans.  I truly believe that Ox Mania is the impetus that will facilitate that occurrence.  But I know that it won't happen overnight!  How long do you think it'll take for us to see political candidates registered on a Liberator ballot?"

        "That's a good question, Thomas!  I'm working on that right now.  Hopefully, in about a decade you'll be seeing a Liberator running for President of the United States."

        "Mr. Leader, I have to ask... WILL THAT LIBERATOR BE YOU???"

        "For the time being, I'm content doing what I'm doing: writing, lecturing, and working on my inventions.  But, I'm not going to dismiss that as a future contingency.  Consider it a remote possibility."

        Clapping hands, whoops, hollers, and whistles were emitted from all those assembled on the pier and beach.  After they'd finally finished expressing their diehard approval, Thomas Monroe said, "It looks, and sounds, like you already have some loyal supporters.  I'm pretty sure they'd all campaign on your behalf!"

        The Leader chuckled and added, "Yes, my base would be a strong one at that!  There are a lot of good men and women in the world!"

        As a cool, face brushing breeze swept by the oceanic vicinity, attention was diverted from The Leader to a troop of moving bodies that were in the process of departing his ark.  The TV cameramen quickly broke away from The Leader and began filming the scene of immediate activity.  Apparently, the exit procession had begun.  Up in front, a tall black man with a bodybuilder's physique, bald head, and a branded left arm headed toward ground level -- taking short, stiff steps along the way.  Trailing him down the ship's incline were other men of considerable height and extraordinary bulk.  They totaled seven.  It was reasonably, and correctly, assumed by most people that they were bodyguards.  However, there was one exception: The middle man, who happened to be the most physically impressive, wasn't a bodyguard.  On the contrary -- his body was the one being guarded.  As if it needed protection!!  The formation was in accordance with The Leader's orders.  It was his personal bodyguard staff.  The Leader's main concern was that a lone nut, or a paid assasin, might attempt to shoot The Ox.  He didn't even take into consideration his own safety.  Hardly anyone recognized Ralph because no photographs of him were released to the media from The Sea Gypsy after he'd lost all that weight and gained mounds of muscles.  Therefore, the prevailing image of him in the minds of the masses was fixedly an obese young man with pale skin, messy hair, and black-rimmed bifocals.  In addition to his vastly improved body, he had a good tan, neat hair, and clip-on shades attached to his thick lenses.  Those shades successfully disguised his nerdy eyeglasses as sporty sunglasses.  There was almost no trace of his former self.  He looked like a different being altogether!  It wasn't until the six bodyguards encircled Ralph--forming a human shield--that people became aware of his true identity.



        The overly zealous reporters charged toward them with a spurt of impassioned vehemence.  All at once, they spewed out a round of rapid-fire questions that merged together: "Mr. Oxner, do you have a comment???" / "Ralph, please give us a statement!!!" / "Do you have anything to say, sir???" / "How does it feel to be loved by so many people???" / "Did you get married on The Sea Gypsy, or is that just a rumor???" / "Are you planning to sue Walter Krouse for abuse???" / "Why do so many folks worship you???" / "Do you consider yourself a hero???" / "Have you taken the Liberator oath???" / "Is The Leader your mentor???" / "Do you think angels helped you escape???" / "Will you plead innocent or guilty???" / "Is it true that you nearly drowned trying to save a kid???" / "Did you know the President labeled himself an 'Ox Maniac'???" / "How did you lose so much weight so fast???" / "Have you corresponded with Aaron Hughes???" / "Are you a great musician??? / "When are you going to write a memoir???" / "Anything to say to all the Ox Maniacs???" / "What's it like being so famous???"

        The determined hounds were unable to penetrate the blockade, and trying to slip microphones through it with outstretched arms provided futile, as well.  "Back off!!" one bodyguard growled.  Another one made a hostile motion, but resisted his urge to shove.  Only Thomas Monroe was granted access to The Ox.  Together they stood on the provisional world stage between sand and sea -- the subjects of everyone's focus.  The other reporters had simply given up and quit talking.  It was as if God had shut their mouths!  Aside from a scatter of dying murmurs, the crowd was quiet, too.  Then, Thomas Monroe broke the silence with the question heard from coast to coast.  It was posed thus: "Mr. Oxner, is there anything you'd like to say to the world?"

        "Yes.  I would like to say..." [pause lasting five seconds] "... I've come a long way!"

        The crowd erupted in a rapture of pure exhilaration!  Roaring applause, whooping and hollering, pumping fists, bobbing heads, gyrating bodies, flapping arms, waving hands, cries and calls characterized their response.  It was a volcanic-like reaction, an emotional avalanche!  They were in a state of euphoria.  It was a potent combination of what he said and how he said it that sent them over the edge.  But not the mild mannered Gypsy who was now standing on the opposite end of the pier.  While those around him went wild, he just smiled and said to himself, A chip off the old block!  The volume was too loud for him to hear his own words.  As Ox Mania was at its peak, Ralph was whisked away by three U.S. Marshals, ushered into a military helicopter, and flown off.