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Month: December 2009 (page 1 of 5)

38 – Mr. Spider’s Gift

The very next day, my friend and I were sitting on the deck.  It was a very sunny day, very fine, and we were enjoying the weather.  I was sipping on a cold Coca-Cola Classic, one of my most favorite things in the whole world.  Nothing seemed like it could go wrong.  

I thought a little bit about Mr. Spider from the night before.  I wondered where he had gone and if he were ok.  I sincerely hoped he was doing just fine out there.  It could be a scary world sometimes.  I felt where he had bitten me.  It didn’t even hurt, just a tiny bump to remind me of the gift he had given me.

I stared out over the placid, rippling waters of the lake.  Suddenly my ribs started feeling very itchy.  I pulled my shirt up to scratch and make sure there no ticks trying to get a free meal off me when I felt a patch of short, very coarse hairs, almost like sandpaper.  Now, I have to tell you, I am not a very hairy person.  I have just a few hairs on my chest, and they are all very soft.  So these new bristly hairs were something of a surprise to me!  I was concerned, but wanted to take a closer look.

“I need to go to the bathroom.  I’ll be right back,” I told my friend.

In the bathroom, I looked and saw a patch, maybe the size of my hand, where there a number of these tiny, black hairs poking through my skin where there had been none the day before.  Strange!  I thought that, perhaps, all the good clean country air was making me develop in a more manly way.  Nature has many secrets.  

All the Coca-Cola in me had worked its way through, so I made use of the bathroom for its intended purpose.  Killing two birds with one stone, right?  But when I peed, what came out was not the usual stuff, but a silky white substance that was very stretchy.  I wiped as much of it off my fingers as I could and flushed it down the toilet, hoping it wouldn’t clog.  That would be too embarrassing.

Back on the porch I couldn’t get the thought of the white sticky stuff out of my mind.  I thought about telling my friend, but I was afraid he would get the wrong idea about it and I think I had done something immoral.  I decided to keep quiet.  Just to keep an eye on things to make sure nothing bad happened.

Another soda pop helped me feel better.

“What are we going to have for dinner?” my friend asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied to him.  “Pork chops?”

“Yeah.  That sounds good,” he said.

“I, uh….” I started but then stopped.

“What’s up?” he said.

“Oh.  Nothing.  Pork chops sound pretty good, huh?” I said.

“Yeah,” he said.

Next door the neighbor’s dogs barked.  I found them to be pretty annoying while we were trying to relax, but what could you do about it?  Dogs had as much right to be dogs as I had a right to be me and as Mr. Spider had a right to be himself.

My jaw ached a little bit.  Maybe later I would go over and say hello to the dogs so they didn’t have to be scared anymore.  Yeah, that seemed like a pretty good idea.  It’s not fun to be scared.  

37 – Curtis Can’t Find His Phone

With the wind blowing snow into his eyes and freezing his ears, Curtis ducked quickly into the subway station.  Once down the stairs and in the lee of the wind, he sighed, releasing the tension brought on by severe cold.  Stepping through the turnstile, he reached into his inner coat pocket to feel for the chocolate bar he had hidden in there earlier, hoping that the cold had kept it nice and solid.  Unfortunately it was a big, melty mess, and instead of wrestling with it not to soil his fingers, he threw it into a trash can on the train platform.  Sometimes you had to sacrifice pleasures for the greater pursuit of virtue.  In this case, not to have filthy, sticky, chocolate-covered hands.  He hated dirty hands.

Absentmindedly he patted down his pockets to make sure he had not left anything at the diner while eating dinner.  Wallet: check.  Keys: check.  Chocolate bar shaped emptiness: check.  Cell phone.  Cell phone.  Cell phone?

Shit.

He doubled checked all his pockets, and then to be sure, checked a third time.  He definitely did not have his phone with him.

He could see where he had left it on the counter.  With his second bowl of soup in his stomach, he went to the bathroom to relieve himself before his long train ride home.  He left his coat and phone on the counter next to the check.  He didn’t want those guys to think he was skipping out on the meal, especially on Christmas Eve.  Curtis was many things, but a thief and a cheapskate he was not.  When he came back from the toilet, he put his coat on, dropped some cash with his customary 8.5% tip, and walked out the door.  He completely forgot to grab his phone.  

Shit.

He could go back now.  It’s only a few blocks between the subway and the diner, but the cold was nightmarish.  And, besides, he had paid his 2.25 fare.  Since losing his job, he no longer got the unlimited passes and each ride cost him.  He did not like to pay twice.  

The phone could wait.  No one was going to call him.  He had no family to speak of.  His only friends were the guys at the diner and he had already seen them tonight.  He knew he would be back there the next day for lunch.  He was sure they would just put it behind the counter for him.

But that did not stop him worrying about it.  A man in the station played the guitar.  Down the platform, another man was bent over looking through the gaps in the wall.  A pretty brunette read as obviously as she could, telling everyone to leave her alone.  And there was Curtis, a pathetic, sad sack, who had managed to worry so intensely about losing a 15 dollar pay as you go phone that he had broken a sweat on the coldest, bitterest day of the whole year.  And there was no one in the whole world to just give him a hug and tell him everything would be ok.

The train rolled up and he got on, feeling no closer to home.

Elsewhere, a lone cell phone, buried three feet deep in trash in a dumpster behind the only diner still open on Christmas Eve, rang.  When no one picked up, it went to voice mail.  She left a message, heartfelt, warm, caring, that Curtis would never hear.

36 – My Country for a Cookie

Samantha fought a losing war against her god damn, cheap ass, piece of shit stove that burnt everything she put on or in it no matter how vigilant she was with it.  Its temperature markings were wildly inaccurate, its range jumped from super high directly to medium-low with zero gradation between, its heat would be different at the same marking depending if she was raising or lowering it, its pilot light went out on a whim, and no matter how methodical she was with the nightmare it misbehaved.  These cookies weren’t just going to make themselves and this motherfucking stove was standing in her way.  Must it be so difficult to satisfy her craving for fucking chocolate chip cookies?  She worked hard.  Did she not deserve a chocolate chip cookie or fourteen once in a while?  Why must this stove stand in her way?  And it was new.  Her mind boggled at how bad the stoves in the apartments of the people who had lived in the building for 30 years must be.  Her landlord refused to do repairs on apartments people were only paying 150 dollars a month for, and she could understand that, but she paid market value and she thought it fucking sucked to be stuck with a bum stove.  Fuckers.  Can’t just buy a stove that isn’t a piece of trash.

Tonight, desperately needing cookies, the dough made, the first sheet dotted with mostly round balls of potential cookie, she wanted to kick the stove when it refused to heat.  The pilot was on, but it decided that, tonight, it was already too warm and did not really feel like getting hot.  

She opened a beer and contemplated just eating the whole bowl of dough.  She decided against it, though, not because of the raw egg, whatever, but because she would probably eat the whole thing and it would make her feel sick, completely defeating the purpose of cookies in the first place.  She considered putting the bowl in the fridge and trying again the next day, but she felt the urge too hard.  The need was too strong.  If she could not have cookies tonight, she would probably die.  Her life depended on eating at least 4 cookies with the milk she had picked up on the way home from work for expressly that purpose.  She hated when plans got derailed.  

Then she thought of that weirdo across the hall, what was his name, Jacob or something?  He would probably let her use his oven in exchange for a few cookies.  Giving away some of the cookies would be smart too since Yu Lee was God knows where tonight and if she had the whole batch, she would start tomorrow with no cookies.  Better to remove the temptation to gorge on delicious, buttery chocolate chip cookies up front where it can’t hurt her as much.  

Samantha knocked on the door across the hall, but got no answer.  Determined, she knocked again, more vigorously, after a moment.  

She heard heavy footsteps and grumbling approach from within the apartment and then the little spy window open.  Through it she saw a bloodshot eyeball that suddenly went wide.  The window shut again and she heard a chain being fiddled with and the deadbolt being thrown.  The door opened a sliver and Jacob poked his head into it.  

“Yeah?” he said.

“Uh, hi, I’m Samantha, from across the hall?”

“Yeah yeah, I remember you,” he said and opened the door all the way.  He was wearing paint spattered pants and a wife beater t-shirt that needed to be thrown out.  “What can old Jacob do for you, young lady?”

She hated being called young lady.  “My stove isn’t working and…”

“You want me to take a look at it for you?”

“No, it’s done this before.  It usually fixes itself after a while.  I’m over here to ask if I can use yours for a little while.”

“Oh sure, sure.  No problem.  Mine works just fine, I guess.  I ain’t used it in who knows, but it worked fine once right?”  He laughed at what she could not tell was a joke.  “What’re you making?”

“Cookies.  I’ll be glad to give you some.  For helping me out.”

“Cookies.  Wow.  We got a regular Mrs. Fields over there.  What kind of cookies?”

“Chocolate chip.”

“You got any milk?”

“Yup.”

“Well well, I’ll leave my door open then, and you can just come in and out as you want, ok?  I’m not doing a whole lot in there, just watchin’ a movie on the TV,” he said while adjusting his pants.  He needed a belt.

“Ah, yeah, ok.  I’ll be right back,” Samantha said and went back into her apartment.  She closed the door behind her and tried to shake off the skeeved out feeling she had.  God, his teeth were bad.  Then she looked at the cookie sheet waiting to be put into a 375 degree oven for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown at the edges.  She grit her teeth and sheet in hand, crossed the hall.

A brief summary of Pineapple Express as experienced by me this evening

Perhaps I shall endeavor to watch this Pineapple Express film I have heard so much about. Oh, look, it is offered by Netflix for streaming. How convenient.

Joe presses play.

FLASHBACK! FLASHBACK ENDS!

YELL YELL YELL!

POT SMOKING.

YELL YELL YELL!!! YELL YELL YELL!!!

POT SMOKING!

YELL YELL YELL!!!!!!

GUNS!

YELL YELL YELL!!!

MORE GUNS!!

GUY FROM FOOT FIST WAY GETS SHOT A BUNCH OF TIMES!

YELL YELL YELL!!

CREDITS!

Well, that was certainly something. Perhaps I should share my impressions with my loyal readers on The Black Laser?

35 – Curtis Wonders

Curtis sat alone at the counter a diner hunched over a bowl of soup that was too salty.  Steam from his soup warmed his face, still half numb from the walk over.  He was not hungry, but he did not want to stand in the cold, so he had ordered the soup.  He had no intention of eating it.  His spoon had not left the counter.  Instead of staring at the chocolate cakes sweating under their glass domes and empty porcelain mugs waiting to be filled with coffee, his head was turned all the way to the right so he could gaze out the front window at the people passing in the street.  They all seemed so happy, laughing, holding hands, having animated discussions he could not make out.  Children scampered, playfully tossing hunks of newly fallen snow at each other, screaming joyfully upon impact, their parents taking all the mischief in good stride.  A man rushed by talking into his cell phone holding a brightly papered box under his arm.  A young couple passed with a Christmas tree.  Curtis wondered if it was their first.

Curtis stirred the onions from the bottom of his soup and made careful, slow whirlpools in the bowl.  He thought about the last Christmas tree he’d bought and about decorating it.  It felt like so long ago.  It was so long ago.  He loved the smell of a tree when it was first brought home.  Something about the contrast between his dismal inner city life and the rich green freshness of the tree made him feel as if everything was ok for the time being.  The smell of the tree was the smell of the holidays.  It was, for him, to the holidays what the smell of coffee was to the morning.  Just as his day could not begin until he had a cup of coffee, the holidays could not begin without the pleasantly overwhelming scent of tree in his house.  When he realized that his tree metric would mean that the holidays had not begun for him in nearly 15 years, he turned his face away from the crowds on the other side of the glass, living a life he had long since lost.

He pulled his old, barely functional phone from the one pocket in his jacket it wouldn’t fall out of and placed it beside his glass of water on the counter.  He flipped it open to see if he has missed any calls.  He had not.  No one ever called.  He thought about just getting rid of the phone all together, but while she was still out there, there was potential for her to call.  She wouldn’t, he knew, but something had to keep him alive from day to day.  Something had to make all the emptiness worth it.

After stirring his soup for two hours, he finally worked up enough hunger to actually eat it.  It was cold, but he felt like he deserved nothing better.  At least this diner was open, as he sat alone on yet another Christmas Eve.  There was a lot of night left.  He ordered another bowl of soup.

A letter to My Ears as I deal with the waning period of my cold

Dear Ears,

Please stop your incessant popping! YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY! I WILL PUT A KNIFE INTO YOU!

Sincerely,

The Black Laser.

34 – Benny Rides The Train

Benny stood on the subway platform picking corn kernels from his teeth with his fingernail.  Unsuccessfully.  He sucked and he prodded, but the little bastards would not come out.  He regretted even more stopping at the street fair to get the corn on the cob, the delay of which had caused him to narrowly miss the previous train, leaving him to wait what felt like an eternity with something obnoxious stuck between his teeth.  He half thought about knocking one of his molars out on one of the steel girders sticking out of the platform.

The station housed only one train, but there was another side, lit, seemingly abandoned, unused, separated from the functional platform by a wall which had small openings he could see through if he ducked his head a little.  The tracks had been pulled up and there was no obvious way to enter, yet the city kept the lights on for some reason.  Stairs led to the other platform, but they were gated and locked off.  He tried to imagine where they led, but could not figure it out.  He had often wondered about the other side of the station.  It called to him.  He thought about exploring it every time he was down there, waiting for the train, typically on his way to do something bad to someone.  Its mysteries were attractive, wrought with potential magic, danger, and glory, but Benny had never summoned the dogged buttheadedness to jump the tracks and explore.

To his right, he heard the growing roar of the train hurtling up the tunnel toward him followed by the reflections of its lights on the tracks.  He looked back through the openings in the wall and only just caught a hint of movement on the other side.  Being a New Yorker he had seen his fair share of subway rats, and whatever just moved behind the wall was no rat.  His interest was piqued.  He looked back up the tunnel again to judge whether or not he had time to cross the tracks before the train pulled in.  When his eyes were blown shut by the rush of oncoming displaced tunnel air, he decided that it was best to wait.

The train he had been waiting for pulled into the station and everyone got on.  Everyone except Benny.  The Chink can wait, he thought.  A woman who had just boarded the train looked at him, surprise on her face, as if to say, “There’s only one train.  Why aren’t you getting on?” but she said nothing.  Benny, acknowledging the passing connection they had made tipped his hat to her.  The train doors closed and took her from Benny’s life forever.  

When the train was safely gone, he scanned both side of the platform for subway staff.  Satisfied that no one would see him cross, he hopped down onto the tracks and crossed through the not-quite-man-height gap, careful to avoid the third rail, into the abandoned half of the station.  

Disappointingly, it looked basically the same as the other half—central platform lined by tracks, stairs every so often, garbage cans, rats, trash, syringes.  Normal subway features and detritus.  The only real differences were the profusion of tags on the walls and the heavy layer of dust over everything.  Not the black grit from the train’s brakes that typically covers a subway station, but the more common greyish-brown dust that covers a dead, unused place.  He climbed up onto the platform to see if there was anything interesting on the opposite tracks.  He found only more of the same old nothing.  A train bed with the tracks ripped up.  He wondered what train used to run here.  

A sound on the edge of hearing echoed through the dead cathedral of transportation.  Benny stopped cold in his tracks, standing still, not even breathing, trying to get a better idea of what the sound was.  He could not make it out.  Ever cautious when dealing with other bad men, Benny ran and hid behind a dumpster on the far end of the platform.  He squatted there, listening.  The sound was becoming louder.  Footsteps.  Footsteps from down the tunnel, growing louder, more clear.  And not just one man.  Two, maybe three all walking together down the tunnel.  From his hiding spot, he could see clearly down the tunnel was coming from.  And suddenly, like the birth of a star in a distant galaxy poking a hole in the night sky, lights appeared in the tunnel, bobbing, weaving.  Flashlights.

Behind him he heard a new set of footsteps approach from another tunnel.  He shifted around the dumpster to be out of sight of whoever was coming through the tunnel.  Benny had spent enough of his life involved with nefarious sorts of characters to know that anyone meeting in an abandoned subway station was probably up to no good and that it would benefit Benny’s longevity to stay the hell out of their sight.  He thought about making a run for the passage way back to the other platform, but it was too far away now and he did not want to risk being seen by whoever these guys were.  He was in enough trouble already.  He didn’t want any more.

33 – Benny Makes Friends

Benny was not excited about what he knew he needed to do the Chink this afternoon.  He was a stand-up sort of fellow, most of the time, and Benny had no problem with him.  It really got his goat that Spiegelman had told him to do the Chink, but who was he to argue with the Jew?  Benny knew his place.  He was muscle, brawn.  He was the intimidation factor that would make certain business deals more amenable for the party he stood next to.  He knew that.  Mostly, he was happy with the situation.  It gave him a real rush to see how some people got the fear in their eyes when he stepped into a room.  Not weaklings either.  Real, hard men.  Benny would step into a room where a moment before those fellows had been the kings of the world, then they would see him and start quivering in their boots.  It made Benny feel powerful.  More powerful than just his physical stature.  Powerful in that abstract way people used when talking about mafia bosses.  The kind of power that made another man feel dread.  Not too bad for a kid from the South Bronx who could barely read and never finished the sixth grade.  And Benny took pride in his work.

But he liked the Chink.  Except that he liked to cheat at cards, he never bothered Benny.  He figured he’d only stab him in the throat three times.  Either it would kill him quickly, or he would survive.  A man who had been stabbed three times in the throat and lived deserved it.  Benny liked the idea of giving his friend a fighting chance.  But first he would have to find the greasy, yellow son of a bitch and that was not going to be a simple matter.  

He spent all afternoon wandering the sea of Chinamen downtown but never found the Chink.  They all looked more or less the same to him anyway, and all the spitting made him sick.  Their dried squid and starfish and octopus was the stuff of nightmares.  He didn’t know what they did with it.  They certainly didn’t eat that filth.  He towered over everyone in the whole neighborhood by a good two feet, but it didn’t stop the old ladies from bumping into him with their shopping bags and umbrellas.  The first time he got an umbrella spoke in the face he looked up to check for potential rain, saw only blue, and gave up searching for the day.  He knew he had a few days at least to take care of this business for Spiegelman, so he felt confident that this was a good time to call it quits for the day.  Besides, the Chink had a way of showing up in the damnedest of times and places and Benny’s nerves were a little frayed.  He needed a beer.  

Dodging a flock of brightly dressed Asian women, Benny ducked into a tavern.  Smokey fog enveloped him and pulled him into the dimly lit, lightly populated room.  He removed his hat and coat, hung them by the door, and took a seat at the bar, leaving a stool or two on either side between him and the other men at the bar at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday.  

The barman walked over to him, cigar in mouth, and nodded.

“Beer,” Benny said.

“Light or dark?”

“Light,” and the barman walked to the tap.  

A familiar voice popped up behind him and said, “I hear you’re looking for me?”

Benny spun around on his barstool to see his quarry standing there.  The barman set the beer in front of Benny on the bar.  He took it and drank.  “You’re right.  I am.”