Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Me and Moby Dick (Part 2)

    I hurried down the hall and knocked on the door of 2C.
It smelled of dog poop at this end of the hallway.       
   I knocked again. Mrs Harp emerged, not from the door upon which I knocked, but from the apartment behind me, across the hall, and shrieked; 
   “About time you got here!” 
   I recognized the angry voice I’d heard buzzing over the phone in the boss’s office not five minutes before. It was a very hard, high, irritating sound, especially grating to my foreigner’s ear. 
“Well, whataya going to do about it?” she squealed.
I turned from the door of 2C to greet Mrs Harp. She stood in worn pink nightgown and matching fluffy slippers, her face thickly painted in makeup. In her hand, which more than anything resembled a bloody claw owing to the length and color of her nails, was a half-filled glass which she waved around for emphasis. Behind her stood the neighbor, looking embarrassed and anxious to be rid of Mrs Harp.
“Well!?” she repeated, “Whataya going to do? My little dogs are in there with that fiend!”
The dogs inside apartment 2C, hearing their mistress’ voice, began to bark ferociously. More dogs inside joined the barking, there must have been four or five of them now. 
Changing her tone, Mrs Harp leaned over to say through the door, “My poor, poor darlings. Don’t be frightened. Mommy will be with you soon. The nice man is going to take away the mean, old, bad man.” 
Then, having finished speaking to her darlings, she changed from loving Mommy to angry Munchkin, shrieking at me, “Do something, you idiot!”
I turned from Mrs Harp and knocked again on the door of 2C. Pounded, really, because one couldn’t hear themselves think with all the racket from the howling inside. It sounded as if Beelzebub’s very own hound of hell, three-headed Cerberus, had been shrunk to the size of a Chihuahua and then joined the Lapdogs of the Baskervilles inside, baying for the pure blood of the innocent.
If there be any innocents left. 
I pounded on the door again, trying not to sound like a flabbergasted cop. 
“Javier?!” I called. “It’s me, Flasher! From the office. Open up, will ya? The boss sent me. Hey, Javier!”
“Screw off!” was shouted loudly from behind the door.
“Javier!” I pleaded. “Come on! Open up, mate!”
The door opened a crack and Javier looked out with panic in his eyes. “Tell that loco to get out of here before I come out, man!” he said.
Then, seeing Mrs Harp behind me, he started to shut the door. Thinking fast, I stuck my foot in the doorway just in time to have it nicely slammed.
“OW!” I cried.
I may have been thinking fast, but I wasn’t thinking smart, because seeing the door was impeded for some reason and would not close, Javier pulled it back and slammed it again, harder this time, into my foot.
“OW!” I screamed again. I looked into Javier’s face. He looked crazy.
“She’s crazy!” he screamed.
“Who’s crazy? You mean Mrs Harp?” I couldn’t think for the pain in my foot.
“She tried to seduce me, man! Go on, ask her!”
“I never touched him!” she screeched. “Crybaby!”
“Come out and let’s go!” I pleaded. “There’s a crowd forming.”
“Yeah!” Mrs Harp screeched. “No one’s going to seduce you now, crybaby.” 
The door opened and what seemed like a million little dogs streamed out and began yipping and barking at our feet. Then, timidly, out stepped Javier. He was from South America, Honduras I believe, about forty years old, a small man. He hadn’t been at Empire Messenger Service more than a few days. The dogs at our feet barked insanely. Javier’s frightened eyes stared at Mrs Harp.
“Keep her away!” he ordered. “She’s loco, man!”
“Okay,” I said, “Okay. Nobody’s going to ...” 
Mrs Harp was suddenly upon Javier, strangling him ferociously and kicking at his shins.
“Asshole!” she screamed. “Keep away from my dogs!” 
“Oh! Ow!” gurgled Javier. “I like dogs, lady!”
“Let’s get out of here,” I said, attempting to separate them. Meanwhile, Mrs Harp’s dogs had continued to snip and yip at our heels. We were ankle deep in the little critters. 
“Let’s go!” I yelled and with a tug freed Javier from Mrs Harp. Javier and I ran for the elevator, elbowing aside the curious tenants who blocked our way. 
“Where’s your badge?” demanded the crabby one as I brushed past.
Behind us, Mrs Harp unleashed her lapdogs. 
“Sick em, my darlings!” she cackled. 

To be continued…

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Me and Moby Dick

(Part 1) 

New York, 1987.
I was a messenger for Empire Messenger Service.
To their surprise, it turned out I was a reliable employee, and so far nobody had complained about me. That made me unique at Empire Messenger Service, so I could work as many days and as often as I liked. 
But no matter how many days I worked we never had enough money. It went through my hands like water and Suzie was no better. 
We were just a couple of fools in paradise, I suppose.
“Hey Flasher! Put down that book! I’ve got a job for you!” 
It was the boss, out of his office and looking excited, puffing up a storm on his foul smelling, cheap cigar. “Hurry up! Goddammit!” he barked at me, “I don’t mean tomorrow!”
I closed my book and rose from the hard bench where we messengers waited. 
“Okay, okay,” I called back. “Keep your pants on, mate!”
“That’s a fine way for you to talk, Flasher!”
Since my first day there, the boss at Fourteenth Street had called me Flasher. The big boss at Headquarters up on Thirty-fourth Street who had hired me must have passed on his belief that I was a past flasher to my new boss. 
Hence my messenger name, Flasher.
The boss ushered me inside his office and shut the door, not the usual procedure for a simple delivery job. Usually, he just yelled ‘Hey you!” through his open door, you were handed the package to deliver, and off you went.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“We got a situation,” said the boss.
“What do you mean, we?” I replied.
“One of our messengers,” said the boss, ignoring my comment, “Javier, a new guy, has gone goofy or something and he’s holed up in a customer’s apartment over on Irving Place. I want you to get over there and talk him into coming out.”
“Me? What about the customer?” I asked. “What’s he doing about it?”
“Exactly!” answered the boss. “Goddammit, Flasher, you’re a smart one! That’s what I like about you.” He picked the phone up and held it out for me to hear. “Only it’s not a he,” he said. “It’s a she. She’s on the phone from a neighbor’s place right now.” 
Sure enough, I could hear high pitched metallic screeching from the earpiece as the boss held out the phone. It sounded like an angry hornet trapped in a tin can. The boss held the phone up to his own ear for a second before shouting down the line, “Okay, okay! Take it easy, will ya? I’m sending over our best man. What? Yes! He’ll be there in five minutes.” 
He slammed down the phone, causing the stacks of papers on his desk to rustle, before barking, “Javier’s locked himself in her apartment, the meathead! Gone crazy or something. She hasn’t called the cops yet, says she doesn’t want no trouble. I want you to get round there and fix it up!”
“I don’t know how to deal with crazy people,” I claimed.
“Yeah? You’re an artist, aren’t you?”
I was about to protest, but the boss interrupted.
“Besides, you’re all I’ve got. Now get going!”

It was a nice building about halfway up Irving Place. I took the elevator to the second floor, arriving to a crowd of gathered tenants. I was looking for Mrs Harp, apartment 2C. From down the hallway came the sound of a little dog barking. 
No, not one dog. Two dogs, maybe more.
“You a cop?” asked somebody in the crowd. “Where’s your badge?” 
“Do I look like a cop?” I answered. I was flabbergasted to think that I could be mistaken for a cop. “I’m from the messenger company. Please, where’s apartment 2C, Mrs Harp’s apartment?”
“Down there,” pointed an elderly woman, “at the end of the hall. She’s pretty upset.”
“Where’s your badge?” repeated the voice. He was probably the cranky, crabby, self-appointed busybody of the building. “You got a warrant?” he added. “Where’s your badge?”
I started down the hall in the direction indicated.

To be continued…

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Birds and the Bees and Rusty Pliers

When I was thirteen-years-old my parents were killed in a car crash and I was sent to live with my uncle Jack and aunt Rose on their sheep farm in rural New Zealand. 
Funny how easy that is to say that now, all these years later, but at the time it came as quite a shock to me.
I think it came as quite a shock to my uncle Jack and aunt Rose, too, when I arrived on their doorstep. They’d never had any children of their own, so you might say that with my arrival they had parenthood thrust upon them, rather than have searched it out voluntarily.
I was a gawky, introspective kind of kid who didn’t adapt very well to my new country. Believe me, it’s not easy being an orphaned immigrant. I especially found school difficult, where everything was so different than what I was used to in America. 
Uncle Jack, trying to be helpful, said that I should ‘buckle down and try harder.’ 
So on schooldays my usual nighttime occupation, after helping with the chores and feeding the dogs, was homework and more homework. 
“Better hit those books, Rusty,” said Uncle Jack every night after supper. 
“Yes, sir,” I always answered. 
He liked me to call grownups sir or ma’am. 
Then off I went to my bedroom, where I hit the books.
I also kicked them around a bit, for I detested schoolwork.
Instead I’d draw or read and listen to pop music on the radio until I drifted off to sleep.
I don’t know about you, but that’s how I do it. Drift off.
It was about this time that there began to come to me unbidden in the night as I innocently slumbered, realistic visions of an extremely sensuous nature.
I’m sure there’s no need to go into it. We’re all grownups here. We’ve all had our dreams, wet, dry, and otherwise. So, if you were expecting to hear some details from the adolescent wet dreams of Rusty Pliers, forget it. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you’ll have to go home tonight unsatisfied.
Which is a rare thing to hear from the lips of Rusty Pliers.
Ah, but the jealous gods demand a price for what they give! Rather than lay back and enjoy these wonderful dreams, the morning found me covered in shame, and the sheets spotted in semen. 
Or was it spotted in shame and covered in semen?  
Boy! There sure seemed to be a lot of it!
And how did some get on the ceiling? 
I’m sure I’m not the first person that has happened to, awakening to shame and semen, but that didn’t make it any less disturbing when it was happening to me.
I felt guilty, somehow, as if I’d done wrong, so I did my best to hide my shame, and the soiled sheets. 
Naturally, Aunt Rose discovered my secret almost immediately.
“You’d better talk to your uncle about this,” she gently said, blushing a little. She wasn’t disgusted, as I feared she would be. “It’s a natural thing that comes to every growing boy,” she said. 
My shame shrank away some and I felt relieved, but questions flooded my mind.
“Yeah,” I started. “But what about when my…”
“Your uncle will explain everything,” she promised. 

And explain he did. 
I think he was more nervous than I was, as we sat down to talk. 
“Ever hear about the birds and the bees, Rusty?” he began.
“Uh. No, sir. Not really,” I answered. 
“Your father never told you?”
“Told me what?”
“About the birds and the bees… about the, er, facts of life?”
So Uncle Jack began to tell me. 
Being a farmer, Uncle Jack used barnyard examples to get his lecture started. (Which came close to destroying the possibility of me ever having a normal sex life with human beings, but I didn’t know that at the time.) Try as he might, I found my uncle’s explanation vague and rambling, with, I later learned, many important parts glossed over or left out entirely.
After the first hour, my head was dizzy, my innards were knotted, my faith was crumbling. Maybe it was me, although I’m usually not so dumb about a subject I’m interested in. Babies came from where? Why would you put it there? Below the belly button? What good would that do?
It sounded painful and unnatural, the way Uncle Jack was describing it.
(Which, I also later learned, can be fun, if that’s your thing…) 
At the second hour we called a halt for a bathroom break and sustenance. Aunt Rose, bringing in the tea and hot-buttered scones, glanced nervously at us, then departed in silence. 
Eventually Uncle Jack’s voice grew horse and he started to draw crude diagrams on pieces of butcher’s paper… and when that didn’t work he resorted to a strange, nervous kind of dance… as if a spastic flamingo were describing the sexual copulation of a Komodo dragon with a water buffalo on a Coney Island rollercoaster during a ferocious three-state thunderstorm. 
(Which, I again also later learned, can be fun, if that’s your thing…)
Aunt Rose later related, as the hours passed and we hadn’t emerged, that she was getting ready to call in the marines, although how in the heck they could have helped she didn’t say.
Finally, Uncle Jack collapsed into a chair and said, “There! Do you understand now?”
Sensing no other answer would do, I said, “Yes sir, Uncle Jack, I sure do!”
“Good!” he answered, plainly relieved. “Good. If you ask me the best thing to do now is to leave the whole subject alone for a while. Maybe let it sink in a little bit. You know, sort of let it marinate in the old bean for a spell.” 
I nodded my bean, glad it was over, and said, “Thanks, Uncle Jack.” But I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know about the birds and the bees anymore.
“Now run along and hit those books!” he ordered.

Luckily, within a few weeks I met the eldest daughter of the school principle, who thought my American accent was so cute, and she showed me what the birds and the bees was really about. 
And what to put where.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

“Human Control Is An Illusion”

Human control is an illusion.

It kinda hurts to think that,
Doesn’t it?

But it’s true.
Human control is an illusion.
A moment’s thought should confirm it
To any but the thickest of numbskulls.

Why not admit it?
And having admitted it 
Why not leave that silly idea behind,
(Or as we zen practitioners say,
Unattach yourself from it)
And live on
In greater happiness
Without it?

Understand things as they truly are,
Realize the interconnectedness of everything,
Past present future,
Everything there ever was or ever will be.
Bringing us to this very moment.

That’s the zen of it!

And forget about 
Controlling anything
In this ever-changing world.
As painful a thought
As that may be.

 So don’t waste this valuable pain.
Make use of it!

Use your pain to help you think.
Use your thinking to gain some wisdom.
Use your wisdom to attain a little enlightenment.

Because enlightenment 
Makes it possible to endure living 
In this crazy,
Uncontrollable world.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Rusty Gets the Collywobbles

I had been ordered by the headmaster to get my hair cut before I could attend school in New Zealand…
“Huh?” I repeated. “Short what and what?”
"Short back and sides, young man," said he. 
I didn’t like the sound of that.
“All students,” Mr Hamilton intoned, “without exception, will comply with the regulations regarding hair length. The regulation, young man, is short back and sides.”
He looked down at his work and waved me away, saying, “This discussion is ended. Report to me before assembly Monday morning. Be gone, boy.”

Next day I caught the bus into Avonmore to get a haircut. As I entered the little town’s only barbershop, a group of four boys about my age followed in behind me.
The barbershop had been empty until our arrival. Seeing me, the barber motioned that I was next, and the boys behind me seated themselves on a bench to wait their turns.
“Step up, if you please, sir,” said the barber with a smile. 
“Well,” I shrugged. “Okay.”
I eased myself into the barber’s chair, saying, “Short back and sides, please.” Even with these few words, I could hear my American accent resounding within the mirrored barbershop. The boys on the bench, hearing me, perked up, and paid more attention.
“Which school?” asked the barber. 
“Huh?” I answered. I was surprised by the barber’s question, and unsure if I had heard him right. Surprise and uncertainty, my usual state since arriving in New Zealand. I answered his question with a question. “What do you mean?” 
“Which school are you attending?” he asked. 
I heard stifled laughter from the boys on the bench. I could tell I was making a fool of myself. Gathering my courage, I asked, “Why do you need to know which school?”
[For my American readers, I will interpret the barber within these brackets.]
“Crikey, mate! [Jeepers, friend!]” exclaimed the barber. “For a minute I forgot you was from America! Strewth! [God’s truth!] Went on a little mental holiday, I did. Haha! That makes me a bit of a dag [a bit of a fool], don’t it, sir?” 
It was known in the town that Jack and Rose from Manuka Farm had inherited an orphaned American boy, and the barber, hearing my accent, had put two and two together and come up with… me.
“I need to know which school,” he said, “in order to give you the correct haircut. Short means short, to some, and not so much to others.”
“Avonmore College,” I said.
A gasp went up from the boys on the bench. “Hammy!” 
“Ah. Mister Hamilton, is it?” said the barber. “Then it’ll be short means short.”
“Don’t worry,” assured the barber. “You’ll be chuffed [pleased].” 
“I’ll be what?” 
“Chuffed, mate. Dead chuffed [very pleased]. You’ll see.” 
He stood back and looked at my head with the air of an artiste. “Let’s take a squiz [look] at you, mate. Yes,” he said, “It ought to be easy enough… a plate of piss  [a piece of cake]. No need for the collywobbles. [No need to be nervous.] 
“The what?” I asked, but he had already begun to snip away at my hair, talking all the while.
“Avonmore College, eh?” said the barber. “Used to be an American Navy hospital, back in the war.” He raised his voice to include the audience of boys on the bench. “Did you know that, lads?” They looked as if they did know, and had heard it all a thousand times before, too. He turned back to me. “You being a Yank, I suppose you’d appreciate that, eh? Haha! Oh, don’t get me wrong, mate, I like yanks. Sure I do! Some folks finds them a bit dodgy [doubtful] maybe, a bit stroppy [excitable] sometimes, but not me. Why, I remember back in the army, they was always free with the smokes and good with the jokes!” 
“What about their bleedin football?” asked one of the boys derisively. “Whataya call that?”
“They don’t play footie!” said another. “They play grid iron!” 
“Now lads,” said the barber. “They can’t help it…”
They argued good-naturedly about football for a minute while I listened without comprehension. The barber was enjoying himself, I could see that. He was a likeable fellow, with a friendly way about him. 
“Yes,” he continued, “back in them days we was even too knackered to rattle our dags! [too tired to move our backsides!] We was even too skint for the sparky [too poor to afford an electrician!] and just about buggered [done in]. Too bleedin right!” [Ain’t it the truth!]
“What? I’m bleeding?” I asked, but he didn’t hear.
“Yes, no time for wankers! [self-lovers!]” he exclaimed. “No place for pikers! [quitters!] No use for bludgers! [parasites!]”
“For who?” I asked.  
“Pikers, mate! Nor wankers neither! Bunch of drongoes [fools], the lot of ‘em!” 
He snipped away at my hair.
“Well, mate,” he asked. “What do you think of Godzone?”
“Guards what?” I answered.
“God’s Own,” he replied, speaking louder and more slowly. “New Zealand. God’s own country. What do you make of it so far?”
“Gee, uh,” I said. “I don’t know.”  
“He don’t know,” mimicked one of the boys, and they laughed a little.
New Zealand? I really didn’t know. Everything was different. Why were even the simplest things, like turning on a light switch or the names of food or even understanding what people were talking about, so difficult now? 
“Well, give it time, lad,” said the barber. 
“Yeah,” I said quietly, not wanting anymore comments of mine to draw anymore comments from the bench. 
“I came to Avonmore after the war,” the barber continued. “Married a kiwi sheila from the wop-wops [a New Zealand girl from the rural districts] and settled down in the bach on Whangaparoa [lived in a small house by the sea]. ’Course, it wasn’t all chilli bins [ice chests] and jandals [flip-flops, it wasn’t all a day at the beach]. No sir! But we got our A into G! [our Asses into Gear] We got stuck in! Went for the hard yakka [difficult work], and stayed off the dole [refused unemployment assistance], until it all come a-cropper! [until it all failed!]”
He paused a moment, as if to reflect. “Oh, well,” he added. “Here I am now, good as! [good as gold!] No time to pack a sad [feel sorry for one’s self], eh? Haha! It’s a good life if you don’t weaken.”
It’s a good life if you don’t weaken. Somehow the truth of this stood out like a bright diamond to my young soul, and has done ever since.
The barber switched from using scissors to electric clippers. With a load click they began to buzz.
“What part of the States are you from?” he asked over the buzzing.
One of the boys from the bench said something I couldn’t hear and they laughed again. I wished I could join in and have a laugh too. I hadn’t talked to any boys my age since arriving in New Zealand.
Before I could answer, the barber continued, “I’ve got a nephew in, ah, let me think… Tampa Bay.” He paused a moment to consider. “Yeah. Tampa Bay. Maybe you know him? Name’s Nick? Nick Botica? Big bloke, used to be a panel beater [straightener of automobile bodies]. Loves to knock ‘em back when he’s on the piss [enjoys a few beers when he has the opportunity]. But mind you, he won’t be laughed at, chafed at, or slung shit at! Haha! Not old Nick!”
“Sorry,” I replied. “I’m from Cali…”
“Never mind,” said the barber. “Not to worry. She’ll be right!”
“Shelby who?” I asked. I had been hearing this person’s name since the day I arrived in New Zealand. Shelby Wright? I didn’t even know if it was a boy’s name or a girl’s, yet it was on everyone’s lips. Shelby Wright!
With a click the clippers stopped buzzing and the laughter of the boys entered my consciousness.
What was so funny, I wondered?
The barber stepped back from his work and I glimpsed myself in the mirror. 
It was me that was funny. 
“Whaaa?” I gasped. I was stunned. All that remained of my hair was a tuft of whitish blonde, perched at the very top of my pale, shiny cranium. The rest was gone! No more Viva Las Vegas for me. My head looked rather like a small white dove was attempting to land on an overturned china bowl, flapping it’s wings for balance. 
Only nowhere near as beautiful. Some things are too horrible and I had to look away. 
Seeing this, the barber spoke.
“No need for the collywobbles, young sir,” he said. “Avonmore College. Mister Hamilton. Short means short, to some. There, there, sir, Shelby Wright!”