Far from the madding crowd

September 23, 2011


I don’t like crowds. They depress me. Especially on the Expressway. All those dreams. Inside those cars. All those disappointments. And telephone directories. Knowing that your name is crammed in there. Somewhere. Hardly able to breath. And not just human beings. I love cows. In small herds. Or in movies. With cowboys. But seeing large herds of cattle outside cities. All that innocence headed toward the slaughter house. And they know it. And not just mammals. Insects. When I see a swarm of ants on the side of my house. I get the hose and wash them off. They seem. Dangerous. But I love one crowd. Ideas. Libraries. But not galleries. Especially big ones. The paintings seem like prisoners. And I can imagine them making a break one night. And being shot while they are trying to climb the walls. But in libraries, books seem content. Like cows. In a meadow. Far from the madding crowd.

……………………

HURRY UP AND DO ANYTHING

Mr. Martins sat on the stool. Like a small child on a poddy. His left arm swallowed by the sleeve. Of the blood pressure apparatus.

They should give it a name. Like Earl.

Mr. Martins laughed at a joke that someone had told him the previous day. About a guy named Earl. Who was sitting in a bar. On the stool beside him. Sat an orange box. Earl said burglar.

Mr. Martins didn’t get the joke at the time. But he was laughing now. The long pony-tail that hung down his back. Swung from side to side. Peacefully. Like a swing from the bough. Of an apple tree.

Nearby a pharmacist counted pills. Fifty six. Sneeze. Dam. One. Two.

A tear ran down Mr. Martin’s smile. The pharmacist’s assistant was dealing with a customer. Who had been waiting in line. For days. To drop off a prescription. A week was lined up behind him. There was a second line. Customers picking up their prescriptions. A lot of humming of the same tune. Fed over the intercom.

Take The A Train.

Some were tapping their toes. One man had a toothpick in his fingers. Another was using a jackhammer. On his callouses. Somebody’s mother was sweeping. Up the aisle. In a chorus line. Of 1927.

“Mr. Martins!” a voice cried out from an aisle of headache remedies.

Mr. Martin was shaken. From his revelry. Smiled and winked. That gentleman Ralph Sampson, an employee of the drug store and a tall drink of water, had now reached Mr. Martins. Mr. Martins reached out with his free right hand. To shake Ralph Sampson’s hand. The blood pressure machine had a death grip on his other arm.

“You’re looking well, Ralph.” Mr. Martins smile was rattling. His head nodded up and down like a bobble head.

“Damn thing is like a shark. First time it swallowed my arm, I thought it was going to rip it off at the shoulder.”

“I haven’t seen you for some time, Mr. Martins.” Ralph said.

Ralph stood smiling at Mr. Martins for the longest time. Like the Supremes. Singing Reflections. Pointing to the door. And then to the other side. Of the door.

“I heard rumours.” Ralph continued. “Heard that you were doing poorly. I prayed. It wasn’t so.”

Mr. Martins was tired of smiling. But the machine. Wouldn’t leave his head alone. Shaking it up. Like it was a can of paint. Mr. Martins tapped on his chest. With a finger from a hand. That was free. So sure of itself.

“Ralph. I had a heart attack.”

Ralph gasped. His own hand. Went to his own heart. Mr. Martins put a finger on his lips.

“I don’t want the whole world to know, Ralph. Not good for business. I don’t mind my friends knowing but… I’d like to stop it there.”

Ralph smiled. He was pleased to be considered amongst the friends of Mr. Martins.

“I did as you suggested, Mr. Martins.”

Mr. Martins lost his smile.

“You didn’t divorce your lovely wife? Such a beautiful woman. A princess. I know she’s so far. From you. But love is like a girdle. It keeps things from jiggling.”

Ralph laughed. Shook his head. Laughter echoing all the way down his oesophagus.

“Mr. Martins, you are too funny. Too funny. I’m not married. Naturally, you have many admirers. And you have mistaken me for one of them. I am flattered. No. I started taking classes at Humber College. Business management. In fact, your name came up in class. You’re something of a legend. In the local business community. Although I would not believe everything they said.”

“Believe everything you hear.” Mr. Martins glanced at the dial on the blood pressure machine.

It must be almost. Done.

The blood pressure machine began to deflate. Mr. Martins sighed. Took his arm out. Rolled down the sleeve of his shirt. He looked at the readings on the machine.

“Slightly over optimal.” Mr. Martins was pleased. “Just about the way I feel.”

Ralph continued, “Mr. Reynolds, our teacher, was saying that you ran your consulting business out of a coffee shop for ten years. Your secretary reported to you everyday for instructions. An unusual business practice.”

“Isn’t that where we met?” Mr. Martins asked then added, “If I had an office, I would never have showed up. I hate offices. All the politics. Dress code. Casual Fridays. Ralph. Offices were built for people who like to organize things on Monday. And then reorganize them Wednesday. They are the demons of mediocrity. Business should be carried out in the market place.”

“Mr. Reynolds said that you made tens of millions of dollars.” Ralph smiled. “No one knows how.”

Mr. Martins stood up and put on his jacket. A hockey jacket with Lightning scribbled across the back.

“I had a smart secretary, Ralph. The beautiful Florence Devine. Gone now.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, sir.”

“Not dead. Worse,” Mr. Martins responded. He raised his eyebrows. “Married.”

Ralph laughed.

“What brings you into the drug store, Mr. Martins? Used to see you over at Tim’s. That’s where I heard the rumours.”

“About my heart attack?” Mr. Martins asked.

“No, sir. A heart attack was never suggested for your sudden disappearance. One rumour said that you’d been swallowed by sharks while fishing for marlin off the shores of Florida. A gory description spoken with a great deal of relish. Another rumour had you married. To a transvestite named Ms. Devine. And yet another said that you’d come down with the flesh eating disease. Contracted while you were having dinner at Scrappy Reilly’s.”

“Scrappy Reilly’s?” Mr. Martins looked up at Ralph. “I don’t believe that I’ve ever eaten in Scrappy Reilly’s. Where is Scrappy Reilly’s?”

“It went out of business, Mr. Martins.”

Mr. Martins thought about that for a moment. He took a piece of paper out of his pocket and with a pencil so small it disappeared in his fingers, wrote a note. Then he looked up at Ralph.

“Why am I here at the drug store?”

Ralph smiled. There was a vacant stare from the clerk.

Mr. Martins made a grand gesture with his hand.

“If I have another heart attack, and you can be sure, Ralph, that another heart attack is on its way. Speeding down the old 401. What better place to conduct my business. It’s open 24 hours. There’s a clinic attached to the drug store with a doctor in attendance. And all this medication. Next to running my business out of an E.R., I couldn’t think of a better place. That’s why all the seniors smile when they drop in here. They feel safe. Besides I couldn’t keep drinking all that coffee at Tim’s. Caffeine isn’t great for the old ticker. And I couldn’t stomach decaf. Just doesn’t give you that kick. And those donuts. There’s a reason why there’s a hole in them, Ralph.”

Ralph laughed and was about to ask Mr. Martins why there were holes in donuts when Mr. Martins’ attention was broken. He gestured. Ralph turned. A beautiful young black woman. Long black straight hair. Tall and willowy, with small breasts, long legs, and wearing a tight black skirt. Stepped down the aisle. Ralph swallowed deeply. Ralph had never seen such a woman.

“It’s the lovely Ms. Wendy Passion,” Mr. Martins said.

“Your new secretary?” Ralph asked.

Mr. Martins nodded.

Wendy Passion stepped up to the two men. Mr. Martins introduced her and Ralph. Wendy smiled at Ralph and bowed her head. Than turned to Mr. Martins.

Mr. Martins looked from Ralph to Wendy and smiled.

“You can speak freely, Wendy. Ralph is my… protégée.”

Wendy and Mr. Martins spoke about business for several minutes. Ralph listened attentively. Mr. Martins took out the scrap of paper that he had been scrawling on previously. They talked about some new investments. When they were finished, Wendy nodded toward Ralph, and departed.

“Isn’t she a princess?” Mr. Martins said shaking his head. “And smart too. That’s one of the keys to success in business, Ralph. A smart secretary. And when you get one, pay her well. More than she can expect to earn anywhere else. In fact, I’d pay Wendy more than I pay myself if it came down to it.”

Ralph shook his head.

“I don’t know, Mr. Martins. A woman that looks like that. How long are you going to be able to keep her?”

Mr. Martins looked at Ralph.

“What are you trying to tell me, Ralph?”

“Well, Mr. Martins.” Ralph hesitated.

“Come on, Ralph,” Mr. Martins insisted. “Out with it.”

“A woman that smart and that looks like that, well, she isn’t going to remain free…”

“You think I should marry her?” Mr. Martins interrupted.

Ralph nodded.

Mr. Martins thought for a moment.

“I hadn’t considered that possibility.”

Mr. Martins patted Ralph on the back.

“I knew you had a mind for business.” Mr. Martins looked around the drug store. “How long have you been working here, Ralph?”

“Two years, Mr. Martins.”

“And you don’t own it yet? Shame on you, Ralph.”

Ralph shook his head. “I don’t have your flare for business, Mr. Martins. Not yet anyway.”

Mr. Martins smiled grimly. He was quiet for a spell. Then he looked up at Ralph with the most serious expression Ralph would ever have expected.

“Ralph, a heart attack comes with its own lessons. The obvious one is that we are all mortal. I don’t know why but the most obvious fact of life almost totally eludes human beings. It’s almost as if they are afraid to look death in the eye lest they be turned into stone. Like death was Medusa. And I’ve learned my lesson. There’s not more to life than business. There’s not more to life than anything. Life is the key. Stay breathing. So hurry up and do anything.”

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