November 27, 2013
November 10, 2013
THE WANDERER STRIKES AGAIN
Ralph Bellamy, known as the Wanderer, to the employees of the drug store, stepped up to the postal booth. Josephine, the new girl, stood behind the postal counter, smiled at him. And as was his custom and his pleasure, Ralph Bellamy smiled back.
“Can I help you sir?” the young woman asked. She was perhaps one third his age. And yet she let him make believe.
“I have a problem,” Ralph said. His face grew serious. Like parenthesis more than emotion. Ralph believed that you should play the part.
“Well, that’s what I’m here for, sir. To solve your problems. Hopefully.” Josephine squiggled her shoulders. And the dimples in her face.
“That’s very admirable,” Ralph smiled. That’s what he wanted to see. Accommodation.
Josephine tilted her head ever so slightly to one side. She’d been practicing the move since she saw it on television. When she was six years old. On the Miss America Beauty Pageant. With Bert Parks. Who looked like her father. Who was an auto mechanic. And not a master of ceremonies at a beauty pageant. We’re talking about Josephine’s father, and not Mr. Parks who was unconscionably handsome.
Ralph Bellamy looked around him. As if he were trying to discover who was slowing up the procedure with pointless and mundane remarks. He turned back to the young woman.
“Did you hear that?” he asked. The question posed by the wrong lips. Or so Josephine was beginning to believe.
“Hear what?” Josephine smiled banally. Banally is unfair. It was just that Josephine’s thoughts were elsewhere. On that boy she was to meet later that night. Oh, he had pretty teeth. They were pearly white. And he liked to nibble on her ears.
“That constant commentary on everything that’s going on.” Ralph responded, demanding more attention than he was receiving.
Josephine, though still smiling, looked at Ralph Bellamy warily. She had a bad experience with her funny uncle Tom. Who put his hand on her knee. With ambitions. And she screamed out like a sailor. Hand ahoy!
Ralph looked at Josephine. “You didn’t hear that?”
Josephine giggled and looked around the shop hoping that another customer would approach her counter. Josephine always giggled when she was nervous. Giggled so much that the police thought they would never get a statement from her. Against her funny uncle Tom.
“I’m not sure. What you mean. Sir.”
Ralph chuckled to himself. Like an old man. In a movie theatre. By himself. With his box of popcorn. And the pretty girl on the silver screen.
“I got a little side tracked there, honey. Happens to me sometimes. Especially in the presence of such… wholesome beauty.”
“Oh, sir!” Josephine blushed. Did he call me honey? The very endearment funny uncle Tom used. To explain that it had all been a mistake. Miscommunication can cause all sorts of problems.
The serious look came over Ralph’s face again. And once again Josephine became concerned.
“Does time exist?” Ralph Bellamy asked. He looked around the ceiling of the pharmacy. Maybe there were speakers. And cameras. And amused little games. Played by bored employees. With too much time on their hands.
Josephine stared at Ralph. Was he the weirdo Bea had warned her about? Bea seemed to know a lot of weirdoes. Some of whom she had dated.
“You see,” Ralph continued, leaning over the counter. Almost whispering. “We are always in the moment. The future doesn’t exist because it hasn’t happened yet. And what can we say about the past? Except that it’s spilt milk. So we’re stuck in the moment. It’s like a prison. And the more we focus on the moment, the less it seems that time exists.”
“I sell stamps,” Josephine reminded Ralph Bellamy. She noticed he didn’t have an envelope. Or a package. Not even a postcard. Which made her wonder. What was he up to? She checked her knee. That was protected. By the counter.
“I know that,” Ralph said, shaking his hands in the air. “But don’t you have an opinion?”
Josephine thought for a moment. Her back became rigid. She licked her lips and pressed her uniform down over her hips with the palms of her hands. Which were becoming clammy.
“If time didn’t exist than I wouldn’t get paid.” Josephine giggled. “I get paid by the hour.”
There was a long pause. While Ralph Bellamy got comfortable. Thinking.
“That’s very good.” Ralph laughed for a moment. Before returning to his former state. Seriousness. The laughter had not just been a reflex of politeness. He hadn’t expected the girl’s response. In some respects he had no answer for it. But if he had, he would have realized that the girl had refuted him. Soundly.
Ralph Bellamy looked around. Again. The comments were not ending. He did a pirouette. His back to Josephine. Thinking he would catch the commentator. But of course he could not. The commentator was in his head.
“But did you ever think,” Ralph said his back still to Josephine. “That you only remember getting paid? That you’re not actually paid.”
“Than why would I remember it?” Josephine asked. Oh, she was glowing. She had him. And she knew it. This was better than sudoku.
Ralph took a deep breath. Thought about… Josephine. Turned around.
“Maybe God is a prankster. Maybe he’s playing tricks on us.” Ralph Bellamy raised his eyebrows. Like bar bells. At the Olympics.
“Why would he do that?” Josephine asked. She looked around to see if there was another clerk nearby. How am I going to get rid of this loony tune?
“Why is he playing tricks on us?” Ralph repeated. “That’s very good.” Ralph thought for several moments. A point well taken. A rational being like God wouldn’t commit irrational acts. Unless.
Ralph snapped his fingers. Like Bobby Darren.
“Maybe God is bored. So much time on his hands.”
Josephine saw Ralph Sampson, the tall black clerk. She tried to get his attention.
“What do you say to that?” Ralph grinned like he had just screamed out check in a game of chess.
Josephine looked at Ralph. “God is bored because he has too much time on his hands? Is that what you’re saying?”
“But you said that time doesn’t exist,” Josephine countered. “So how can he be bored?”
Ralph rubbed his chin and thought for a moment.
“Okay.” Ralph waved his hands in the air, the fingers spinning around like the wings of a fan. “There’s only one of Him, right?”
Josephine nodded. She hated to agree with him. Hated to agree with any male. Since her funny uncle Tom. Made her pull his fingers.
“So maybe he’s lonely,” Ralph cried. “And that’s why he plays jokes on us.”
The girl shook her head.
“I don’t think so. God is all powerful. You got power, you can buy company.”
As Ralph considered her response, Josephine waved over to Ralph Sampson. Surreptitiously she pointed out Ralph Bellamy to the clerk. The tall black clerk started to laugh. She knew that Ralph Sampson was not going to help her. He was enjoying Josephine’s plight. Sampson knew that the customer known as Ralph Bellamy, or the Wanderer, had annoyed all the clerks at one time or another. It was her turn.
Ralph smacked the counter with his open palm.
“Maybe being a joker, keeps God from going mad.” Ralph Bellamy did a little dance step. God, he was happy. Lucky that insight had suddenly appeared. Like a balloon in a cartoon.
Josephine looked at Ralph Bellamy. She’d have to deal with him. Herself. She dealt with happy uncle Tom. Got him six months. And a restraining order. And then there was Billy, Frank, Louis, and Joseph. Hadn’t they found themselves into the oubliette.
Josephine put her hands on her hips. Hobbled her chin back and forth.
“You’re saying that God does things that are insane so that he can prevent himself from going nuts. That’s a circular argument. Circuitous. Only makes sense. On a flat world.”
Ralph’s mouth hung open.
“What?” he cried.
Josephine repeated herself.
Ralph Bellamy stroked his head.
“Do you still want stamps?” Josephine asked.
Ralph shook his head sadly. And wandered off. Defeated. Crest fallen. Buried under… Then suddenly. Like he’d caught his hand in a buzz saw. Screamed at the ceiling. Which was another way of saying…
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
November 8, 2013
Everything about the show is glitz. I have some sympathy for the writers involved who have to go through this ordeal. Its like a spoof from Second City.
November 6, 2013
November 4, 2013
One of our students was knifed once in the back and twice in the chest over the weekend. He survived. Lucky kid. Some of these kids live in a much more violent world than what I grew up in. This particular kid is a big yacker. We have warned him to curtail his mouth. Its this climate of confrontation. And most often between young men (although not exclusively). Its very frightening.
October 3, 2013
I rented a house one summer in downtown Toronto. Our neighbours were lesbians. One afternoon they got drunk and had a fistfight in their backyard. It was pretty violent. There were others there. Friends, I think. They just watched. My girlfriend at the time phoned the police. Later she told me that she felt guilty about it.
I was talking to an old friend who mentioned a writer who we both grew up with. He’d been over for dinner. The dinner hadn’t gone well. My friend said that the writer spent the whole evening talking about his work.
A lot of artists spend a gross amount of time self-promoting. It is the ‘oxygen of success’. (I’m stealing that line from the New York Times.) ‘Giving a good interview’ has become as important or more important than good writing.
September 26, 2013
There’s a character in The Day of the Locust. His name is Harry. He’s a failed Vaudevillian. And his image has stuck in my head.
THE WHOLE PLACE BLEW UP
Hands on the pedestal. Toes tapping. Fingers snapping. OOOE. Charlie What Was His Last Name slid down the aisle. Knee knockers. Of the drug store. His body incredibly still. His feet like clippers over your neighbourhood hedge. In a swirl. Soft shoe. Sand between his toes. Put your ear to the floor. Don’t it sound sad? Vaudeville. There was laughter in his shoes. His fingers snarled. And the air, it just stood there shy and naked.
Charlie stopped up at the make-up counter, his chin pointed toward the ceiling. Really He was feeling it. His back arched, heels spinning, the sequins on his trousers and his vest squinting at the store lights. His fingers tapped the glass top, one over each, ever so lightly. His fingernails recently manicured, cured of melancholy. He tipped his green bowler hat, the hat he’d been given by the deputy mayor on St. Patrick’s Day. The hat rolling down his arm, to a hand, which caught it seftly. Like Jack Duffy caught that hay maker, and placed it back on his noggin. There was a smile on his mug. They were chums never parted. Like cousins under mosquito netting.
“How are you doing today, Charlie?” Deborah Hall asked. The cosmetician was deeply immersed in a magazine. Fashion research. She Liked It Hot And Rough,was written across the magazine’s face. And there were lots of tips inside. How to make chocolate cake without putting on a pound. And what he really wants under the sheets. Charlie knew that they liked it rough in Hamilton. Of course there was always the horn section, dipping their silver mouths into the hot molasses. They liked to call it jazz.
Charlie batted his eyelashes. His head jerked toward Jerusalem and then toward Deborah. His smile was forked, almost demonic. If only humans had never learned to speak, we could all order hamburger tartar in mime.
“Well,” he declared like a full committee of the learned and the privileged. And added, just as an aside, “And how are you?” His voice was theatrical as if it had been trained in a private school in Switzerland. His mouth the bulldog in the dog house. Hearing a funny little sound from his gut, which he didn’t understand, it being pure slang, which only the thugs on Queen Street understood or cared to understand.
“Whateva!” the cosmetician responded shrugging her shoulders in a very melodic manner as if her movements had been choreographed by a Spaniard at Juliards turning the pages of her magazine, her fingers like Fred Astaires.
Charlie relaxed, his body melting from some celestial pose. He leaned over the counter like a flaccid Dali time piece, making ‘I’ contact.
“Well, here’s one to put a smile on your lovely face,” Charlie said. And he loved Deborah’s lovely face. Would have put it on a postage stamp, signed her up to play Joan the last woman on the ark. But a trombone blasted the image of Deborah in his ear, smudged his hair, and misspent his youth. “A woman walks up to the beautician and asks, ‘Can you make me beautiful?’ ‘Hey,’ cries the beautician, ‘I’m a beautician, not a magician.’”
Charlie smiled, tipped his hat once more with juggling delight, than sashayed gaily down the aisle.
Deborah looked up from her magazine with a bored glance and watched Charlie disappear around the corner.
“Whateva!” she sighed and returned to her work. And the whole place blew up in silence.
September 16, 2013
I’ve always had an uncomfortable relationship with business. Not small businesses but banks, accounting firms, churches, media outlets. They never forget that money is the bottom line. Everything else is window dressing. Its not that I think the small businessman doesn’t have the same modus operanti. But he has less clout. He can’t hurt you.
A PROFITABLE RELATIONSHIP DANCES INTO HELL
Mr. Edwards stepped, one, two, three, and then a slide. A fox trot. His flashy brown slickers smoothly moving across the hand woven tapestry. How happy were his shoes. If they’d been Oxfords, they would have received awards.
Mr. Newton did not seem to notice Mr. Edwards entrance. At least not his dance. A slight glance upwards. The two men filled up the room with hand shakes and good will. Oh but how dark it was at the corners of the room. As if they never met, but disappeared into some endless well, running parallel, forever, never touching. Leaving a gap in between, that was equal to the least known irrational number. Except there’s always an except from one corner where the back lighting had the effect of highlighting the banker, Mr. Newton’s profile, making him look, sinister, cruel. Tempting lips, Mr. Edwards imagined, involuntarily, marauding across the thighs of Mrs. Newton. Where the pink reigned down like juice from a sluice of watermelon.
Mr. Edwards smiled.
Mr. Newton stood up and motioned to the chair in front of his desk. The chair wiggled a little. Looking forward to a fanny’s delight. The chair opened her legs. Mr. Edwards surveyed the room to make sure that there wasn’t someone buried in the shadows. Mr. Edwards slid into the arms of the chair.
“I’m glad we finally have met.” Mr. Newton blinked, a strobe light in the middle of a dance floor. A dark voice was crowded in his mouth and wanted out.
Mr. Edwards wondered if Mr. Newton hadn’t been born early in the morning on the dangerous shores of the darkened room. Mr. Edwards noticed that the banker seemed to be talking with his mouth full. Like a shark. Too many teeth in his words. Too pearly white. He reminded Mr. Edwards of Marlon Brando in the Godfather offering his condolences to those about to be deceased.
“I apologize for the darkness of the room,” Mr. Newton said. “I’ve just been to the eye doctor for a new set of glasses. Eyesight isn’t what it once was. All that fine print. Drops in my eyes. Makes them sensitive to light. Not that I’m aware that light has feelings.”
A joke. Who would have thought it. Mr. Edwards smiled. Being polite. Aware that there might be a clown around the corner with a hammer.
“And while I was there,” Mr. Newton continued, “I went to my dentist for a cleaning. He is next door. And what does he do, but pull out a tooth. To add to his pearly necklace. Or maybe he needs to do some work on his cottage. Or pay off a loan shark. So there I was. Drops in my eyes. Cotton baton in my mouth. Doing my imitation of the Godfather. I made him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Which explains why my words seem muffled. But I can assure you, Mr. Edwards, that there will be no words hidden in that muffle. No small print. No secret code. I’m sure you understand. We both have wives who… how can I put it… have a taste for the better life.”
Mr. Edwards nodded. “Yes, our wives. I have always found it a wise policy not to enter into any discussions regarding my wife. But on that other matter, I too am glad that we finally meet, Mr. Newton. Perhaps we should have met earlier. Business being what it is, we both have been very busy.”
Mr. Newton grunted. What amounted to a fart inside of a smile.
“I sent you a preview of my plans,” Mr. Edwards added. “I hope you’ve had time to look them over.”
Mr. Newton’s face shriveled. Like a vampire giving the finger to a glass of orange juice.
What was that? Mr. Edwards thought. Is his body having uncontrollable reactions to my presence? Perhaps we should not be partners.
“Yes, Mr. Edwards,” Mr. Newton continued, “I had an opportunity to glance through them. I had one of my staff check out the figures you sent us. A trustworthy fellow. The details of the report will not go beyond the three of us. Does that suit you?”
Mr. Edwards nodded.
The two men were silent before Mr. Edwards added. “Of course, Mr. Newton, I cannot stress how important it is to keep this information confidential.”
“Of course, Mr. Edwards. My assistant is aware of your need for privacy. These are delicate matters.”
Mr. Newton opened a box of cigars and offered one to Mr. Edwards.
“No, thank you.”
Mr. Newton took one out, ran it under his nose before lighting it up. “I suppose I shouldn’t either, Mr. Edwards. But I have a weakness for Cubans. Even after I have had dental work done.” Smoke sifted out of Mr. Newton’s smile. “My, what a wonderful gift tobacco has been.”
“Yes,” Mr. Edwards responded. “Unfortunately we can no longer sell them in pharmacies.”
Mr. Newton leaned forward. What is he talking about? Tobacco in a drug store? He took the cigar out of his mouth and placed it in an ashtray. He licked his lips.
“If I could, Mr. Edwards, let me précis your request. You want a loan so that you may renovate the furniture store that you believe will presently become vacant. Apparently Mr. Singh’s arrangement with Mr. G. is coming up for reappraisal. And you need money to make sure that that arrangement is ended. And then you will become the new tenant. Is that the gist of if, Mr. Edwards?”
Mr. Edwards smiled. The man is confident.
“Yes. Mr. Singh has made a valiant effort to make a goal of it in the plaza. But I believe that effort has not been rewarded. Perhaps that is Mr. Singh’s fault. Perhaps it is just bad luck. I believe that a furniture store is not a good fit in the Six Points Plaza, that Mr. Singh would be more successful if he relocated in one of the malls.”
Mr. Newton leaned back in his chair, retrieving his cigar, and taking a puff. He chuckled.
“You would make a formidable enemy, Mr. Edwards. I’m grateful that are ambitions coincide. How did Mr. G. react to your proposal?”
“I did not put my ideas to Mr. G. in the form of a proposal. It was more a loose fitting conversation. And he seemed receptive. Mr. G. is a practical creature. And when I pointed out that the practical served his interests as well as my own, he was eager to listen.”
Mr. Newton stood up and stuck out his hand.
“Well, Mr. Edwards, I guess we’re in business.”
Mr. Edwards shook the banker’s hand as he was led to the door.
“I’ll get my assistant to work out the details.”
“That’s fine, Mr. Newton.”
The banker stopped before they reached the door.
“Can I speak to you on a personal matter, Mr. Edwards?”
“Certainly, Mr. Newton.”
“My wife, a dear woman, has had some health problems of late. She is overwrought. The doctor has warned me that we have to keep an eye on her. Now, she may come to you with a story about her medication. Losing them. Something of that sort. Do not believe her, doctor. My wife can be very persuasive. But on no account, give into her. I am terrified of going home one day and finding a corpse in the house. She has had her stomach pumped twice already.”
Mr. Edwards nodded.
“And of course,” the banker added, “I can expect your secrecy on this matter.”
“Of course, Mr. Newton.”
Mr. Newton reached for the door and opened it. He padded Mr. Edwards on the shoulder.
“I think we are going to get along famously, Mr. Edwards.”
The darkness poured over the two newly engaged partners. And stuck to them like pitch waiting for a torch.
September 14, 2013
Russians were called Russians because a lot of them were redheads. The Irish were known as redheads. But they are a disappearing minority. I am a red head. Turned white. My sister was a red head, still is but with the help of chemicals. Neither of my parents were red heads. It is as if red heads were born from the mixture of homosapiens and some alien race. Like Jesus. He is a red head in many paintings. I don’t think he was a red head but he should have been. Redheads, we are ‘of the gods’.