Posts Tagged ‘breakfast

24
Aug
10

Disturbing

I’m becoming concerned about what Dad eats
But Mom says we can’t control it.
A cup of oatmeal
Mug of 1% milk
Half a can of peaches
With his morning pills
A retainer band
Cork stopper for a jar
Four tiny rubber tires
And their antique police car
Two slices of bologna
A burger with Tillamook cheese
A coffee drink
More milk
Three wayward Canadian geese
Grape juice
Some horseradish
The remote for Mom’s TV
Gherkins
A baby gate
Candy canes from 2006
Our coffee table
Two slices of Cheddar
A bottle of Diet Coke
One Chinese dinner
With fortune cookie
A wood-handled leather jump rope
I’ve been very concerned about what Dad eats
But Mom-
BURRRRRRP
Mom?
Mom was right; we couldn’t control it.

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02
Jan
10

Cantankerous

The time for breakfast came and went-
You were still in bed-
So sweep all thoughts of bacon and
Waffles from your head.
Would you like a bologna sandwich?
Damn! I can’t find a clean knife.
There’s chili but Mom said
No beans for you so no way. Not on your life.
Cheesy broccoli soup which you hated.
I give up! I throw up my hands.
You wanted it, here’s a fork you can have it-
Cold spaghetti right from the can.

09
Apr
09

The Choice

“I love you.”
She extended her hand and he clasped it tenderly.
“I love you too.”
“I’m glad you’re here.”
“There’s nowhere I’d rather be.”
“It’s such a tough decision.”
“I know.”
He raised one hand, drew lazy circles on her lower back.
“It’s your turn.”
He winked his encouragement, gave her hand a quick squeeze.
She took a step forward, addressed the woman in the brilliantly green top.
“I’ll have a 20 oz vanilla latte and a cranberry-orange scone.”
In one gust of breath the words were out; the wait was over.
She took a deep breath in, released it slowly and smiled.
He winked at her again and squeezed her hand.

10
Mar
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Tenth Installment)

Chapter 3

Chandler Elementary School had been erected in the mid-1950’s to accommodate the Baby Boomers. New desks and books had been brought in as the old ones wore out and a series of additions had been made to the building so it came to resemble a centipede. The one part of the school that hadn’t been materially altered was the kitchen. The peeling Formica on the countertops was now cracked laminate. Dim fluorescent tubes had replaced the dim incandescent bulbs. A food-spattered copy of the USDA sanitation guidelines, with critical comments penciled in the margins, hung beside the pass-through. The cafeteria ladies, their aprons permanently stained but freshly-washed for today’s visitors, might have been the ones who at a different school baked the rolls with which Clement had been assaulted.
Jeff and Clement were outside the principal’s office. “Doesn’t it seem like they should have bigger chairs for older people to sit in?”
“Maybe they don’t think very many people our age will be sitting outside here.”
Jeff wiggled around and crossed his ankle and his knee. “I don’t remember them being this uncomfortable. Do you?”
“I have no idea. I wasn’t here much.”
“Really? You never went to the principal’s office?”
Clement turned and looked Jeff full in the face. “What do you think?”
“You might have been. Maybe you went over to the dark side now and then and ended up here.”
“The only time I was ever in the principal’s office was when I’d been hit in the head with a roll. The first few times it happened, a teacher dragged me down here and we all ‘tried’ to figure out who did it. Nobody wanted to turn snitch on a friend, nobody else wanted to get hit, and nobody cared all that much about me getting hit so I quit making a fuss about it and so did the teachers.”
“You know, some people get sent down here for just having fun.”
“I wasn’t one of them. Did Mari have fun last night?”
“With her girlfriends? Oh yeah. They always have a good time. She got home about 7 o’clock this morning and barely had time to take a shower and have a cup of coffee before she left for work.”
“That’s good.”
“Something weird though.”
“Yeah?”
“When she got home, she didn’t really wanna talk much.”
“Maybe she had a headache from last night.”
“That’s kinda what I thought. All the other times though even if she was gulping down a half-dozen aspirin she was telling me stories in between. This morning she had nothing to tell me.”
“Maybe nobody did anything.”
“No, I think people did things. I think people did things she doesn’t want to talk about. I think her ex was there.”
Clement felt his shoulders rise. “Why would you say that?”
Jeff reached into his pocket and took out a small piece of paper. “I found this on the dresser beside the earrings she wore last night. It looks like the stuff on that paper you found in his office except it’s numbers instead of letters. I don’t know how else she would have gotten it if she didn’t see him.” He handed the paper to Clement who put it in his own pocket just as the office door opened and the principal stepped out.
“Passing notes already, gentlemen?”
Clement looked down but Jeff was bouncing forward with his hand out, “Will you give me detention if I am?”
“I’m Mrs. Lamb. You two can call me Mrs. Lamb. You seem very comfortable here. Did you spend a lot of time in the principal’s office?”
“Only enough to get a chair with my name on it. My name is Jeff Matthews in case you want to have the painter standing by for a new one.”
“And this is?”
“This is Clement Powell. He’s spent a lot less time in the principal’s office. He was only really down there when he got hit in the head with a roll.” Clement elbowed Jeff in the ribs but it was too late.
“Mr. Powell, did you also have Jell-O fights in your cafeteria?”
“I never started any.”
“I’ve never met anyone who did admit to starting one so I wouldn’t expect you to be the first.”
“Nah, Clement would tell you; he’s very honest.”
“I wasn’t meaning to put you on the spot, Mr. Powell. I only wanted to point out that if you’re familiar with Jell-O fights and flying dinner rolls you’re going to feel a lot more at ease in our lunchroom than Mr. Matthews here. Some people have a hard time getting used to keeping one eye on the back of their head.”
Jeff watched until the principal had her gone back to her desk for their name tags then he punched Clement hard in the arm. “In case you were going to laugh,” he whispered.
“Mr. Matthews! I used to be a teacher which means I have two eyes on the back of my head. This is a school and we do not hit our friends in school.” Jeff rolled his eyes and this time Clement did laugh. “Here are your name tags. Feel free to line up with the children for lunch but please do not take seconds until everyone has had their firsts.”
“Do we have to eat lunch at the tables with them?” Clement asked.
“The children enjoy having grown-ups at their tables so they can show off their good manners. Positive interactions with adults outside their family unit boost their self-esteem and promote appropriate socialization.”
“Then I’ll sit at the table but the first buttered roll I see coming through the air- whether it hits me or not- I’m out of there. Agreed?”
“Mr. Powell, if anyone hit you with a buttered roll I would personally track down the student that did it and see to it that they were reprimanded and punished.”
“Yeah, I know. It never turns out to be that easy but thanks for saying it anyway.”
They could hear the rumbling as soon as they started down the hall in the direction of the cafeteria. Even though it grew louder with each step they were unprepared for the full volume to hit them when the doors opened. The tables, hinged in the middle with four attached stools on either side that folded down, had been arranged in ranks with scarcely enough room to walk between them. Five-hundred children were arranged at tables for eight and they jostled and shouted to be seated and to make themselves heard beneath the cavernous ceiling. Jeff and Clement joined the line snaking from the door to the counter but Mrs. Lamb excused herself to go to the teachers’ lounge. Clement pulled the paper out of his pocket and tried to read it but the noise and the crush of bodies made it impossible to think. He felt a small shoe connect with his calf.
“Hurry it up, mister. There isn’t gonna be anything left.”
“They have to make sure everybody gets firsts before anyone gets seconds. We’ll get some.”
“Yeah, we’ll get something but I wanna make sure I get sloppy Joes.”
“What else are we having?”
“How come you don’t know what we’re having? Geez, I’m only in first grade and I know what we’re having. My mom reads me the menu every morning while I’m eating breakfast.”
“Well, I don’t live with my mom and I don’t always have breakfast.”
“What do you mean you don’t eat breakfast?” Clement felt the boy’s small fingers jab him in the ribs. “Come on, move up! Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you don’t eat breakfast then you’re running your car with no fuel or oil in it.”
Clement seized the boy’s wrist and was careful not to twist it as he turned around and thrust it towards its owner. “I know all about breakfast. What I wanna know is can you tell me what else we’re having for lunch besides sloppy Joes.”
The boy stared at Clement’s chest. “What’s that thing say?”
Clement looked down at his name tag. “It says my name is Clement Powell and I work for the Rockin’ Rooster Food Company”
The boy looked at the ceiling thinking. “You the guys that sell those chicken things?”
“Chicken strips? Yes. Do you like them?”
The child pantomimed making himself vomit. “Them are nasty. If we’re having those today, you wanna for sure get the sloppy Joes.”
“What makes them nasty?”
“I don’t know. I don’t cook ‘em. All I know is when we have those chicken things we eat a whole lot of vegetables. The vegetables aren’t good either. The peas are like little rocks, the green beans are kind of like slugs, and the carrots are so hard you can’t chew ‘em.”
“What about the rolls?”
“Oh the rolls are great. The rolls are awesome. See that hole up there?” He pointed to a mark on the wall about six inches from the ceiling. “My brother did that with a roll.”
“Wow.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“How far away was he when he threw it?” Clement took a step sideways to keep up with the line.
“He didn’t throw it. You couldn’t throw it and hit the wall that hard and that high up.”
“So, what did he do?”
With his eyes still on the line ahead, the boy gestured Clement to bend down. “He launched it.”
“With a slingshot?” Clement whispered.
“No. He built it himself. None of the teachers know he’s the one that did that and we’re not gonna tell them. Right?” He winked at Clement and Clement, more than a little surprised at himself, nodded. He pulled the piece of paper out of his pocket and showed it to the kid.
“You know what this means?”
“Geez, what do you want from me? I’m only in first grade.” A sly look came into his face. “My brother might. After all he did build that launcher and he’s in sixth grade.”
“Introduce us?”
“For what?”
“Huh?”
“I mean-“ the boy rubbed the fingers and thumb of one hand together. “And not money. There’s something else I want.” He licked his lips.
Clement nodded again. Taking the boy by the wrist, he led him past the others standing in line- the shoving students, the Lunch Buddy volunteers, and Jeff to whom a fourth-grade girl was relating the birth of her kittens. As he reached the front of the line, he picked up two trays and two sets of silverware. He placed the trays on the rack and neatly arranged the silverware on them.
The cafeteria lady finished scooping peas onto a tall boy’s plate and looked at Clement. “What are you doing cutting in line? Get back where you were.”
Clement bit his top lip and looked down at the little boy. “No. I don’t have to go back there. I’m a visitor and visitors get served first.” The little boy wriggled his wrist around and squeezed Clement’s hand.
“What about him? He’s not a visitor.”
“This is Wilmot~. He’s my guest.”
“His name isn’t Wilmot and he’s nobody’s guest. He’s a snot-nosed little kid whose brother damages school property.”
Clement looked down at the kid again. The kid gave his head a barely perceptible shake. “I’m not sure who you’re talking about but this boy’s name is Wilmot and he is my guest for lunch. Now then, as a visitor I go to the head of the line and, because Wilmot is my guest, he comes with me. We would like two plates of the sloppy Joes.” Wilmot gave his hand another squeeze. He looked at the kid and he was licking his lips.
“Hey! You’re one of those chicken strip guys. How come you don’t want the chicken strips?”
“I’ve heard they’re nasty.”
“Nah. Me and the other cooks like them.”
“That’s right,” said a woman bringing up an enormous pot of peas.
“Why is that?”
“Because,” said the woman with the pot, “whenever we serve those chicken strips the kids gobble down vegetables like they were going outta style.” The cooks laughed.
“Right. Two plates with sloppy Joes and the corn.”
The first cook sloshed servings of sloppy Joes onto the two plates then handed them to her right where the second woman dolloped each with a spoonful of creamed corn. Clement could see the two mostly liquid foods beginning their fight for possession of the plate and his stomach clenched but he placed one dish on Wilmot’s tray and the second on his own. “And three rolls, please.”
“You got hamburger buns under the Joes.”
“Yes, but I see dinner rolls there and I’d like three of them.”
The cook with the corn snatched three rolls from the pan behind her and dropped them onto his tray. “I’ll see you tomorrow, Wilmot.”
“Tomorrow, he’ll be the guest of Mrs. Lamb.” Wilmot squeezed Clement’s hand hard and Clement half expected another kick to his calf. Instead the boy released his hand, the two removed their trays from the rack, selected their cartons of chocolate milk and merged with the flow of children seeking tables.
“What did you get three rolls for?”
“I assumed your brother would like one. We’re meeting him, right? I filled my part of the bargain.”
“Yeah. That was good thinking with the corn.”
“It was the only vegetable you hadn’t talked about.”
“Thanks for taking me with you. I was just hoping that if you managed to get some sloppy Joe then you’d share it with me.”
“Enough gratitude. Let’s see your brother.”
“My name isn’t Wilmot,” the kid said as they pushed through the crowd to a table in the back row.
“Yeah?”
“It’s Nick. My brother is Jack. He’s really smart. Not just to me because I’m a first-grader. You’ll see.”
Jack frowned when he saw his brother approaching the table. The frown deepened when he saw Clement. “Mom said you’re not supposed to be bugging me at lunch. And who is this?”
Nick set his tray on the table and climbed onto a stool across from his brother. “His name’s Clement. He needs your help figuring something out.”
“I brought you this.” Clement placed the roll on Jack’s tray, put his own on the table beside Nick’s and sat down. “People grow a lot at your age. I thought you might be hungry.”
Jack slid the papers he’d been examining under his tray and slipped the pencil into his back pocket. “If you know how old I am then you know I’m only in the sixth grade and there’s not much I’m gonna be able to help a grown-up figure out.”
Clement reached for the papers. “May I?”
“No.”
“You gonna build that thing?”
“Maybe. Maybe someday when I’ve got the money and I don’t have to spend all day in school.”
“You oughta help him, Jack. He’s okay. He got me and him both sloppy Joes and he stood up to Karen and Lydia.”
“Yeah?”
“If you drew those, Jack, then I think you know enough to help me. I wanna show you a piece of paper. If you understand it and you can tell me what it is, that’s great. If not, you got a roll and your brother got sloppy Joes like he wanted and that’s okay too.”
“Please look, Jack.”
Jack nodded and held out his hand. Clement took the paper from his jacket pocket, smoothed it onto the table and handed it to Jack. Jack looked at it, pulled a sheet from his own stack of paper and took out his pencil. He began writing down numbers, adding them, crossing them out, writing down, adding and crossing out others. He stopped writing and smiled at Clement. “Who did this? Where did you get it?”
“Why?”
“Because they’re smart. They know numbers.”
“What do you mean? How do they know numbers?”
“I’ll tell you if you tell me where you got this and who did it.”
“I don’t believe I’m having this conversation. What does your mother feed you boys for breakfast? Your brother shakes me down for sloppy Joes to even get to meet you and now you want information from me before you’ll give me any.” He rose halfway from the stool and looked around for Jeff. He was sitting toward the front on the left-hand side at a table filled with little girls; They were giggling and talking all at once and he seemed to be making a flower with his napkin. Clement leaned forward and said, “I need you to tell me first, Jack, because I don’t want someone to get into trouble. You understand that, right?”
“Yeah.” Jack studied the two papers again. “There are people who know numbers and people who know math. People who know math can figure things out fast. Sometimes they’re just like a computer they’re so fast. Other people aren’t so fast at doing the work but they know numbers. The person who did this might also know math but they for sure know numbers.”
“Why do you say that?”
“This note here says, ‘9 is wasteful not weird’.”
“I saw that. What does it mean?”
“It means they were looking for a number that could be classified as weird. There’s all kinds of numbers. My teacher was talking about adjectives one day and she gave us a list of them to study. I don’t like words but I do like numbers. I spend a lot of time in the hall for bothering people and my mom gets mad at me. I decide I don’t wanna get in trouble so much so I start taking these adjectives and putting the word ‘number’ behind them and looking the whole thing up. Some combinations work like ‘generous’, ‘weird’, ‘efficient’, sublime, ‘friendly’, and ‘wasteful’.”
“And?”
“A weird number is one where if you add up the divisors the total is greater than the number itself. But you’re not putting the number itself in there. Like twelve. Twelve looks like a weird number. Sixteen. See?” He ran his pencil along the line of figures and Clement nodded. “But to find out if it’s truly weird you have to add up the divisors in different combinations to see if they equal the number. If any of them do- 2+4+6=12 –then it’s not a weird number.”
“Yeah. What about ‘wasteful’?”
“It’s just like it sounds. You’ve got extra numbers. Here’s nine. Nine is a one digit number, right?”
“Yes.”
“Nine is three times three or three squared, right?”
“Yeah.”
“So you’ve got an extra number. Nine is only one digit but three squared has two digits because you have a three and a two.”
Clement turned the paper around so all the numbers were facing him. “Why would someone do this? Why would they want to know whether or not nine was weird or wasteful?”
“Beats me. Maybe they’re working on something or maybe they just like numbers. So, who did this?”
“The girlfriend of a friend of mine, I think. He found it next to a pair of her earrings.”
“Keep an eye on her.”
“Why?”
“She’s smart and if she’s working on something you might wanna be around when she gets done with it. It might be worth a whole lot of money. Leave your tray, Nick. He’ll take it back. Won’t you?” He looked at Clement who nodded. “I gotta get to recess and Nick’s gotta get to class.” He folded the larger sheet of paper in half, laid Clement’s paper on top and slid them across the table. “You can keep these. Thanks for the roll. I’ll use it wisely.” He winked at Clement, Nick waved, and both boys were lost to him in the crowd.

10
Feb
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Fourth Installment)

“He’s been like that for about an hour. He looked okay when he came in- maybe a little weird- and he gave me his order and he was kind of grouchy and then he just fell over. I thought maybe he was asleep.”
“It’s not food poisoning. I can guarantee it’s not food poisoning because everything is made fresh and he didn’t even eat anything. Caroline brought it over and put it down but his fork is even still clean. See?”
“He just fell over like that and I thought well maybe he’s taking a little rest and then he’s gonna eat and then he never did. I waited and waited and I thought I didn’t wanna call 911 if it wasn’t really an emergency and then thank God you guys came in so I asked you to look at him.”
“You did fine, ma’am. That’s one of the reasons we like to spend time in a place like this; if we’re out here then maybe we can help somebody.”
“Yeah, it’s got nothing to do with actually consuming food. Lucky for us.”
“I’m gonna need you to step back, ma’am. If this gentleman passed out here, there could be a lot of different reasons for it. There’s a lot of unusual people walking around this time of night. You probably see that every night.”
“Well, we know it’s not food poisoning. He might be on drugs or something but he didn’t eat anything and you can see his fork is clean.”
“Now, sir, I’m going to check your pulse and your breathing. I’m not arresting you. I’m not going to hurt you. I just need to make sure you’re alive and that you’re all right.”
“He isn’t dead, is he? I mean he wasn’t snoring and maybe when I saw he wasn’t snoring I should have called 911. I’m going to be so fired if he’s dead.”
“He isn’t dead. He has a pulse. It’s a bit slow but that’s to be expected if he’s been here and out as long as you say. He seems to be breathing fine so I’m going to try to wake him up now. I need you two ladies to step way back. If he is on drugs or might be having some kind of mental issues then we have no way of knowing what might happen when I try this.” Caroline took one step back. Susan went behind the counter, took up a coffee-pot and started topping up the customers who were watching but trying to pretend they weren’t. “Sir, I’m going to need you to try to wake up now.” He reached over and gently shook Clement’s arm. “Josh, let’s see if we can sit him up a little bit. If we end up carrying him out of here it’s gonna be a lot harder with him partly under the table like that. Is there anybody at the table behind us? Okay then reach over the back of the seat and see if you can get under his right arm and I’ll get under the left one. We’ll lift on the count of three. Ready? One. Two. Three. He’s sitting up but he still didn’t wake up. This guy is really out of it.”
“I say we get a pan out of the kitchen and fill it with warm water and stick his hand in it. Always worked before.”
“Sir, I need you to try to wake up now. I’m going to gently tap the side of your face and then I’m going to shake your arm a little bit more. You’re really starting to scare these ladies and that’s not fair. They’re trying to do a good job of serving people breakfast. They’re going to need this table and they need to be able to pay attention to their work. It’s hard to do that when there’s something like this going on. The breakfast rush really starts at six and this place is going to be packed.”
“What time did you say it was?”
“Don’t try to stand up, sir. We’re not quite sure what happened to you.”
“What time is it?”
“It’s about five minutes to six. What’s your name? Do you know where you are?”
“My name is Clement Powell and I’m in hell, obviously.”
“Well, he’s awake and talking but he seems disoriented.”
“Not necessarily. I wake up in hell every day; Why shouldn’t he?”
“It’s not hell, Josh. It’s just Five Corners. Sir, can you tell me why you think you’re in hell? Did you have anything unusual to eat or drink this evening uh last evening?”
“I had a cherry fruit pie and a Coke. They tried to give me some poppers but I didn’t want them. I didn’t think they were fresh.”
“Poppers?”
“With the jalapeno and the cream cheese and the grape jelly. A Mexican kid gave me some poppers and I didn’t eat them and he threw grape jelly at me and it got on my shoes.”
“Sounds reasonable. I like mine with ranch dressing but yeah grape jelly would be all right.”
“Sir, why did you say you think you’re in hell?”
“Is he really gonna be okay? Because if he’s really going to be okay then I should probably go help set up tables or top up coffee or something.”
“It looks like he’s going to be okay. His eyes look okay. If I need any more help, I’ll call you.” He smiled. Caroline picked up the other coffee-pot and joined Susan in her rounds. Their heads were together almost at once.
“Oh, yeah. Why are you in hell?”
“If you’d had a night like I have then you’d know. If anyone had had a night like I’ve had. I just want to go home.”
“Is there some medication you’re supposed to be taking? Would you like me to have Caroline bring you some fresh coffee so you can take it?”
“No no. There isn’t any medication. I haven’t taken any drugs. I had a Coke hours ago and I haven’t even had any of this coffee. I just want to go home. I want this night to end.”
“Why don’t you go home? Why are you sleeping in a Shari’s?”
“Josh. Did something happen, sir? Is that why you couldn’t go home?”
“Yes, something happened. The damn buses quit running. It was 3 a.m., I was in the middle of nowhere, the bus driver went home to sleep with his girlfriend, the old man went home to feed his cat, and I had no change. Again. I’m going to get two quarters and tape them to the inside of my shoe- as soon as I’m done beating Jeff to death with it- and then I won’t have to worry about it.”
“Susan, could we get a fresh cup of coffee over here? Maybe one of those sticky buns?”
“I’d like one of those sticky buns.”
“You can order your own breakfast. Just sit over there. I want to talk with this gentleman a little more. Cream? Susan, cream too please.”
When they had dressed their coffee, Clement said, “Look, it’s nice of you to get me coffee and a pastry but I really just want to go home. Okay? I’m tired. It’s been a long night. I just want to go home. You said it’s six so that means the buses are running again. I have a bus ticket so I’ll just pay for my breakfast and find the nearest stop and go home.”
“You’re going to get home but why don’t you eat a little bit of that bun and have some coffee and tell me more about you and Jeff. Did you guys have a fight?”
“No no. Jeff is a friend of mine. We’re not mad at each other. I’m not mad at him. I didn’t mean what I said before. I’m tired and I’ve had a frustrating night and he’s just the person I decided to blame it on.”
“Why were you riding the bus at three in the morning?”
“I dropped my car off at the repair place and then I decided I wanted to go somewhere to think. I don’t drink and I wasn’t hungry and a former girlfriend of mine was always bitching at me for driving everywhere instead of riding the bus so I decided to see what it was like to ride the bus.”
“You’ve never ridden the bus before?”
“Oh yeah, years ago. But I hadn’t done it lately. I didn’t know what it was like now. It’s pretty nice. The seats are better.”
“What time did you get on the bus? You want more coffee?”
“Yes. I got on the bus around 11:30, midnight.”
“Why so late? Isn’t that kind of an unusual time to be dropping off a car?”
“Well, yeah. See I hadn’t really decided if it was bad enough to go in. I wanted to drive it around, think it over. As I was driving along, I thought, ‘What the hell are you waiting for? You want to wait till you have to be towed in from somewhere?’”
“At three in the morning?”
“Exactly.” Clement laughed. He sipped his coffee and wiped his mouth with his napkin.
“Okay, here’s the thing, Mr. Powell. Your story is kind of odd. Actually, it’s very odd. You haven’t done anything though except ride on the bus and fall asleep in the Shari’s and that’s not illegal. I don’t think you meant to fall asleep here; You don’t seem to be homeless. You really scared the young lady there and I think it would be very nice if you gave her a big tip. If there had been something wrong with you, she might have saved your life.”
“Yeah, if she’d actually called 911.”
“So, you’re letting me go home?”
“You can go home but I don’t feel comfortable just waving bye-bye from the door there. Is there someone you can call to come get you?”
“Yeah, but I really hate to bother anybody. They’ll be on their way to work or getting ready to go to work or stuck in the drive-up line at Starbucks and it’ll really be a headache. I’ve got a bus ticket. Can’t I just take the bus?”
“Josh can come back for his hash browns and we’ll give you a ride to the bus stop and wait while you get on. The guys at the transit center will make sure you get on the bus at that end. Which one are you taking home?”
“The um 19?”
“There aren’t many riders on the 19 at this time of day so it will be easy for the transit folks to keep an eye on you and make sure you’re okay. Josh?”
“Geez, I didn’t get the hot sauce mixed in yet. I’m gonna come back and they’ll be greasy and the hot sauce is gonna slide right off.”
“Okay, now, the nearest stop is a block and a half. Sorry you have to ride in the back.”
“It’s not the most comfortable but you clean it out, right?”
“Oh yeah, we hose it out every two hours. You see the game last night? Or were you already riding the buses?”
“No, I didn’t see it.”
“Then you probably didn’t have any money on it. Did you?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“These effing guys. They’re favored by seven so I’m thinking, ‘It’s a touchdown and an extra point so how hard can it be?’”
“So what happened?”
“I’ll tell you what happened.”
“We’re almost to your stop, Mr. Powell.”
“What happened is just when they’re lined up and they’re ready to make the extra point some crazy bit- um lady runs out onto the field naked and starts trying to tear down the goal post.”
“I thought they had those special goal posts you can’t tear down.”
“I said she ‘tried’ to tear down the goal post.”
“Here we are.”
“So what happened?”
“Well, there she is as naked as a monkey’s butt and they’re trying to take her off the field but they can’t show them trying to take her off the field because, of course, she’s naked and they go to a commercial and they come out of the commercial into the middle of another game.”
“Did they win? Did you get the seven points?”
“Hell no. It took the whole heart out of the game. They lost by three.”
“That’s too bad.”
“You’re telling me. That was fifty bucks I had to eat.”
“Well, that’s why they call it gambling, right? Is this my bus?”
“Yes, it is. This will take you right down to the transit center then you get on the 19 and you’re home. Are you picking up your car today?”
“I hoped to.”
“I’d recommend getting some more food and sleep before you try to drive anywhere. I don’t want to have to come look at you again.”
“Absolutely.”
“Nice meeting you.”
“Yeah. Good luck with the team.”
“Yeah. It’s up and down.”
“Take care of yourself, Mr. Powell.”
“Oh, I intend to.” They watched him board the bus then signaled left for the Shari’s.

06
Feb
09

Fate Pays The Rent (Third Installment)

The light still burned in the third floor window, Clement noticed as the bus passed it again.
“Holy crap. He must just leave it on all night. That means I wasted the last three hours trying to get on the bus then riding on the bus.”
“You don’t usually ride the bus, do you?”
“No,” Clement said without turning around.
“I ride the bus a lot.”
“Hmm.”
“I ride the bus because I don’t drive. You wanna know why I don’t drive?”
“Hmm.”
“I don’t drive because my brain isn’t wired that way. When I was born something happened and the wiring doesn’t work so I can drive. I can ride the bus though. I ride a lot of buses. You don’t usually ride the bus, do you?”
“No.”
“You drive, huh? What kind of car do you have? How many windows does it have? Do you push a button to make them go down?”
“Are you counting the windshield and the back window?”
“No. Those never move do they? I mean they’re not supposed to.”
“Then I have four windows.”
“And do you-“
“Yes, you push a button to make them go down. You can push a button to make the roof open too and you can push a button to heat the seats or to move them around.”
“Wow. That must be really nice you can warm the seats. Bus seats are pretty much always cold and they never open the roof unless there’s an accident. You can open the hatches in the roof of a school bus but not a bus like this.” The bus passed under some streetlights and Clement looked at the reflection of the person behind him. Then he turned around and looked directly at him. The man’s knotty hands were pressed against the window and the dim lights of the bus emphasized his prominent veins. One leg swung free and the other was wedged in the corner of the seat nearest the window. “Surprised you, huh?”
“Um, yeah. I mean, yes.”
“Don’t feel bad. It ain’t the first time. I bet you was wondering what some little kid was doing riding around on the buses this time of night.”
“Yes, I was.”
“That’s okay. I’m not a kid on the outside but on the inside it’s a different story.”
“I’m sorry. I feel like I-“
“Tut. You’re not the one dropped me on my head. People just assume that if your brain never growed up then none of you did.”
“But how do you know?” The old man laughed.
“I’m retarded; I’m not stupid.”
“I didn’t know people could say that anymore. I thought we were supposed to say mentally challenged or something.”
“If it’s you, you can call yourself whatever you want. Besides even retarded I’m probably smarter than you. You see, I know without even looking at my watch that it’s just about 3 o’clock. We’re almost to the end of the route and, since it’s just about 3 o’clock, the driver is gonna be shutting this bus down and locking her up.”
“Then what do we do?”
“Whatever you want to do. The driver usually goes home and has some breakfast and makes love to his girlfriend. I’m going to go home and go to bed by myself. Although if I was younger I could go home with a girl. I’d probably be pretty popular with the girls since I got fixed a long time ago and can never be a daddy.”
“How are you getting home if the buses have stopped?”
“My brother’s going to get me. He gets off work about 2:30 and then he comes by and gives me a ride home. Sometimes I sleep at his house. Sometimes I go to my house and feed the animals and then go to sleep. Sometimes I go to sleep and then get up and ride the bus some more. I’ve got a hamster and a real cute cat. She’s just like me. She got fixed when she was younger too.”
“How do you know the driver uh sleeps with his girlfriend?”
“Because I’ve got a nose. When he gets off the bus he smells like aftershave and stinky old man and when he gets back on he smells like Ivory soap. And he gets back on the bus real slow like he can’t imagine a worse thing he’s gotta do.”
“Maybe he just takes a shower anyway.”
“I’ve seen her picking him up. She has a pretty blue car with four big windows and then two littler windows in the back ones. She has to turn a crank to roll the windows down and I don’t think it has one of those heaters for the seats you were talking about in your car. No hatches in the roof either.” The old man put the straps of his bag over his shoulder and turned back to Clement. “What about you? You going home to some woman or to feed your animals?”
“I don’t know. My car is broken. That’s why I’m on the bus.” The driver pulled to the side of the road and parked. There was a yellow truck with hoses and lots of brushes on it and behind it sat a well-maintained but not quite collectible blue car.
“Well, now there ain’t any more buses till 5 o’clock. You’re gonna get awful cold sitting out here for two hours. It won’t even be light.”
“I wonder if the bus-cleaning people would-“
“Nope. I tried that one time and they won’t allow anybody to ride in the truck with them. I even told them I’d ride in the back with the brushes and they said it’s against the rules because it isn’t safe.”
“I’d ask you to come with me but I don’t know you and my brother gets pretty mad when I bring someone home from the bus and I don’t know them.”
“No, no, of course I can’t go home with you. Your cat might get upset, your brother would get upset and who knows what else.” The old man laughed.
“Nice of you to say that. Can you call somebody to come get you? A cab or some friend of yours?”
“Maybe I will. I’ve got a friend who owes me some favors.” The old man saw his brother at the end of the aisle and sped up.
“You take good care of that car with the warming-up seats and the roof that opens,” he said, squeezing Clement’s arm.
“Yeah. I will.” Clement climbed down from the bus, watched the driver get into the blue car and watched the old man get into his brother’s Jeep. “You know what? I’m going to call someone. I’m going to call my good friend, Jeff. Then Jeff can drive me over to his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s office and he can either sit in the car and wait for me or he can hold my hand while I go through the drawers to find the pictures that aren’t even there. And if there’s a gun in the desk then I’m going to shoot Jeff with it after I beat him to death. Because I spent the whole night out here when I could have been home eating Fiddle-Faddle and watching BattleStar Gallactica. Now where in the hell-?” In one pocket, he had a ten, a five, and three ones. In the other pocket was a bus ticket, three dimes, and seven pennies. “Holy crap! Where’s my phone? Oh Lord, whisper to me that I didn’t lose it somewhere and I just left it in the car. Please tell me that.” He looked in both jacket pockets again and his pants pockets. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’ll find a payphone and call Jeff. I don’t need speed-dial; he’s my old buddy, Jeff.” He looked at the change in his hand again, dropped it back into his pocket, and started walking.

The bus had stopped in an industrial area; the workshops, warehouses, and concomitant businesses were all shut for the night. Clement had reached 172nd and Mill before he saw the first lights spilling through the windows of places that were open.
“Geez, my feet are killing me. I didn’t know I was gonna walk a marathon or I’d have dressed for it.” He patted his stomach. “Easy, easy. You need some coffee and some food and you’re gonna be just fine.” He looked at his watch. 4 a.m. “You just have to find someplace to kill an hour then you can use your bus ticket and go home and what? Call into work sick for a start. Then find my old buddy, Jeff, and beat him to death with my shoe.” Ahead he saw the welcoming sign of a Shari’s and he limped through the doors and stood, swaying a little, beside the “Please wait to be seated” sign.
“That’s what I told him. I said, ‘I don’t care what your old girlfriend used to do. I’m not doing that and if you want to break up with me then that’s just fine.’ I happen to think some things are private and shouldn’t be shared with other people. I mean, don’t you think so?”
“What did he want you to do? “ The young woman wiping down the counter and the older one arranging pies in a glass case noticed Clement leaning on the sign. They stopped talking and the younger one came over to him.
“One for breakfast?” Clement looked around.
“Yeah, just me.”
“Expecting anyone else?”
“No. If that’s okay.”
“Doesn’t matter to me. I just asked because if you were expecting a lot of people then I’d put you at a bigger table. If it’s just you then you can have a double.”
“Could I have a table by the wall instead of in the middle of the room, please?”
“Whatever you say.” She winked at the older woman who had stopped moving the pies and had taken up the rag and spray for the counter. “You wanna be able to keep an eye on the door, too?” Clement heard the older woman snort.
“That’s not necessary. I just find that some restaurants have more of a draft in the middle of the room and since I just came in from outside I’d prefer to be warmer rather than colder.”
“Is it cold? What is the weather like out there?”
“Dark.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s funny.” Clement settled against the back of the booth and she was back with a menu. “We’ve got breakfast all day and we also have pies.” She licked her lips and rolled her eyes up as if the list was written in the air. “Banana cream, coconut cream, lemon meringue, cherry meringue, cherry rhubarb, blueberry rhubarb, strawberry, and peanut butter banana.”
“Are you ready?”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I want two strips of bacon, crispy, and two eggs over medium. I want them firm but with the yolk just a little runny so I have something to sop up with the toast. I do not on any account want sourdough bread so if you go back there and you’re out of whole wheat then I want hash browns instead and I want Tabasco sauce for the hash browns. I wanna start out with a big cup of coffee and some cream.”
“Geez, okay.” She put the order slip on the wheel above the pass-through and went back to wiping down the counter.
“So? What was it he wanted you to do?”
“Come here and I’ll tell you.”
Her voice became inaudible for a second then Clement heard the older woman say, “Ewww! I don’t blame you! I’d break up with him too.” The younger woman laughed.
“Well, he says his old girlfriend did it all the time and it isn’t any big deal.”
“Do you want to do it?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I don’t really want to break up with him and if she did it all the time then maybe it’s just me and I need to grow up.”
“That’s what we say all the time, isn’t it? Some guy will beat a girl black and blue and she’ll say, ‘Maybe it’s just me’.”
“He’s not like that. He’s really nice.”
“Well, it’s up to you.” Clement closed his eyes and let his weight sag against the seat and the window. He smelled the coffee and heard the chink of the mug as it was set down but he didn’t open his eyes. Some time later he smelled the rest of his breakfast but it became part of a dream in which he was chasing pigs and trying to put Tabasco sauce on their tails to keep them from flying away.

04
Feb
09

Russell Blair Is Swinging Through The Day And The Night And We Don’t Know If He’ll Ever Come Down

Russell Blair is swinging through the day and the night
And we don’t know if he’ll ever come down.

It was 3:45 and just an ordinary day
But things were gonna get weird in an unexpected way.
We went over to the playground, slid down the slides and climbed on things
Then I saw Russell Blair walking over to the swings.

Russell Blair is swinging through the day and the night
And we don’t know if he’ll ever come down.

The swing was a little high but he climbed on with a thump
Then he asked the teacher to show him how to pump.
She gave him a push, said, “Stretch your legs forward and pull back.”
She didn’t know how quickly Russell Blair would get on track.

Soon Russell Blair was swinging through the day and the night
And no one knew if he’d ever come down.

The teacher called the class to come over and line up
But little Russell Blair just continued to pump.
“I’ll take the class in,” said the teacher. “You’ll have to stay and wait.”
“I’ve got dinner at seven,” her aide said, “I don’t want to break my date.”

But Russell Blair was swinging through the day and the night
And who knew when he’d ever come down.

Russell’s dad came to get him and the teacher gave her report,
“I’m afraid if you check the attendance, you’ll see we’re one child short.
Russell is on the swings and we can’t get him to stop.
Please take this blanket for my assistant. I’m sure her goosebumps are starting to pop.”

Russell Blair is swinging through the day and the night
And who knows when he’ll ever go home.

Russell’s dad went to the playground and called, “Time to go home, son.”
Russell said, “Two more minutes, Dad. I’m really having fun.
I am a little hungry so you face north cuz I face south
And if you toss fair I can catch some Goldfish crackers in my mouth.”

Now Russell Blair is eating on the swing in the night
But can he drink before he has to come down?

Russell’s dad got a space heater and a super extension cord.
He plugged it in and dragged it next to Russell’s swing in the yard.
That’s how his dad made sure no matter how high Russell goes,
When he’s on the downswing he has a chance to warm his toes.

Now Russell’s tummy’s full and he’s got heat for the night
But if he falls asleep, he’ll surely come down.

When school opened the next morning, Russell’s swing was in the air.
We could see the rosy sunrise painting streaks on his black hair.
The cook came out and said, “Russell, this is a mistake.
We’re having peaches and sausage for breakfast plus your favorite thing- pancakes.”

Russell Blair’s been swinging through the day and the night.
Will it be pancakes bringing him down?

Russell said, “Save me some pancakes but you’re really out of luck.
I won’t come down unless you guarantee me the green truck.
Teacher told me yesterday, ‘Tomorrow, you’ll be first’
And I’ll stop swinging only if she brings the truck with her.”

It looks like Russell Blair’s been swinging through the day and the night
So when the toys came out he’d be first in line.

Russell’s teacher came to the playground and she said, “You goofy boy.
I can’t believe you’d stay here all night swinging for a toy.
I haven’t been here long and so I guess you never heard
That when it comes to kids and toys I always keep my word.”

And Russell dragged his feet then first the left then the right.
His teacher caught him when he stopped and slid down.
I saw him walking, swinging hands with his new teacher, his new friend.
He says he trusts her, no more swinging at night.

That’s the story of Russell swinging through the day and the night.
He’s eating and driving now.
That’s all.