Thursday, September 27, 2012

Based on a true story

“How do you lose a time machine?” Burt was trying to remain calm, upon hearing the unthinkable.  The time machine.  A gift from Herman.  He’d had it with him since the 1930’s.  Not that that mattered.  Burt was born in 1921.  The year was 1984.  Burt was 23 years old.  He’d done a lot of time traveling.

“You know that was one of the originals, right? It was the January 8th ”, Burt Lamented.  How could Marilyn be so careless.  “You’ll be the ruin of me, woman,”  He said with a little bit of a grin as he pulled Marilyn close, moving her out of the way of his best friend, the bottle of Gin.

“Listen, when I saw Duvall coming, I panicked.  I’m pretty sure we can get it back.  I put it in your friend Boomer’s pocket,” Marilyn hoped.

“I hope so too,” Burt said, reading Marilyn’s emotion, “Want some gin?”


Herman Johnson was born in 2321.  He invented the time machine in 2361.  He did a double feedback loop trick on himself and created a couple of traveling companions that were also him at different ages.  Boy was he surprised by this every time he introduced himself to himself.  The original Herman Johnson had been injured in one of his first time travel experiments leaving him with a slight limp.  All the others had a surreal way of gliding when they walked.  Johnson was sure that it had something to do with dicking with the time/space continuum, but he really had no good explanation, so neither do I.

Once he perfected the machine, He waited for a year before doing anything.  Then he went back to each day after the invention (in reverse order) and grabbed the time machine off of the table.  That’s how he collected 365 of them.  Also, how the sperm whales went extinct. 

Next, he went back to himself at age 16 and explained how time travel worked to himself.  “Inside this here Zippo lighter is a time machine.  The date stamped on the bottom is the date this machine first left its own time.  The 16 year old Herman Johnson casually looked at the bottom of the Zippo to see the date “Jan 2, 2362”.  “Uh huh,” he said, hardly interested.  Old people gave him the creeps.  Especially old people that were him. 

“Anyway, this is the second copy of the original.  It’s yours.  There’s an instruction manual on a chip inside the lighter.  Do whatever you want, but kid …”

“Yeah,” young Johnson replied without looking up from the lighter.

“Go easy on the whales, would you,” Johnson looked serious.

“Whatever gramps,” insisted young Johnson.

When Marilyn lost Burt’s lighter, well she didn’t really lose it.  When she dropped it into Boomer’s sport jacket pocket to save herself from Robert Duvall, she was sure she was going to get it back.  She thought her friend Laura knew them pretty well.  Also, she was pretty sure Janer knew them so it seemed like a safe place for the time machine. At least, temporarily.

She had been so disoriented after coming back to 1984 that she was forgetting things.  And the headache.  Time travel had no ill effects for most, but for Marilyn, it was like getting really shitfaced – complete with hangover.  When she bolted the scene at the outdoor beer garden last-night she thought ditching the lighter was the safest course of action…  Now what would she do?  She had to face the music and tell Burt.  His lighter was one of the original time machines.  The story was that Richard had made several time machines, but only one worked.  He was never able to get any of the others to do anything but light cigarettes.  He did not know why.  That’s when he decided to just gather a few hundred of them from their past.  For some reason, the January time machines worked the best.  And the first 10 or so used way less whale oil than the later incarnations.  Any time machine after September was too expensive to even run.  But if you did use it, you were likely to get some nasty burns holding the thing during travel.  No matter how bad it got though, Every time machine, all the way to the despised December 31, 2362, always always lit a cigarette flawlessly.  That’s because they were Zippos as well as time machines.


Burt woke to the sound of frantic knocking at the front door.  Who the hell could that be?  What time is it anyway? Where am I?

Burt was at Dr Johnson’s house.  The year was 2012 and he was 52 years old.  Also, he was a hobo.  Johnson was his lifelong friend who had told him he’d be out of town a few days and asked Burt if he’d watch his place while he was gone.  Yeah, it was charity, Burt knew.  But he wasn’t going to pass up a chance to sleep inside.  He was so filthy though that he had slept at the kitchen table so as not to mess up any of Johnson’s nice stuff. 

Stretching his old bones and looking around, he saw that the table was now a slobbery greasy mess.  Great.  Burt was going to have to shower and clean his clothes or he wouldn’t be able to clean up the mess he’d made. 

Another frantic knock reminded him what woke him at this early hour. Burt had no intention of answering the door.  It wasn’t his door.  Besides, then he’d just have to clean off the door handle.

Then he heard it.  The voice he thought he’d never again hear.  The voice from his real childhood.  Marilyn’s voice.  “Rasson!  Let me in.  I know you’re in there.  Herman told me.”

Too surprised to be overcome by the emotion, Burt hobbled as fast as he could to get the door and see his wife.  He had to take a couple of breaks to get his wind back on the way.  He really was in sorry shape.

Opening the front door, Burt was stunned.  This must be some sort of trick.  This can’t be Marilyn.  She hasn’t aged at all in 20 years.  Oh wait - the time Machine.  Of course … No.  Wait,  There’s a little grey poking from under the nurse’s hat.  Maybe some light creases around her eyes.  Oh lord, she’s gorgeous.  Burt wanted to take some time to weep at the senseless loss.  As he scanned her from head to toe, his sense of dread and utter regret increased to unbearable levels.  Good thing the Dr’s liquor cabinet was well stocked.

“Gin?”  He asked, then immediately regretted it, seeing her frown.  How could he be so foolish.  She always drank vodka.  No wait.  Not at 8:30 in the morning.  “Sorry, I um …”

“Coffee would be great,” Marilyn said, always helpful.

“What are you reading?” Burt asked, pointing to the mystery novel Marilyn held, wanting to avoid whatever the point of the visit was.

“Never mind that.  You want some coffee?” Marilyn asked as she walked past him into the kitchen.  

“Ewww.  What happened in here?” she said upon seeing Burt’s mess.

“No coffee, hon.” Wow.  Old habits die hard, “I’ll just stick to my morning Gin,” I mean they really die hard.

“Yeah – you might need it.  I think Butch and J are going back,” Marilyn just wasn’t one for small talk.  Burt didn’t know what she was talking about.  “Going back” could only mean one thing, but it was forbidden after the thing with the cats.  Besides where would they get the whale fat?

“You know there’s a Chico’s in Japan,” Marilyn said, answering a bunch of Burt’s questions all at once.


“It will be good to get back there,” Butch was reminiscing as he drove Dr Johnson out to Chico’s west. They had just left the original Chico’s and had to meet Richard at the newer location. 

“We’ve got to make a quick stop in Japan first,” Dr Johnson said quietly, looking out the window, not wanting to see Butch’s reaction.  Butch didn’t say anything, but the Dr. swore he could hear Butch’s grip on the wheel tighten as he took in this news. 

“You sonofa …”  So they were really going to go to Japan to get the whale oil they needed for the trip to 1927.

“Butch.  It’s clean stuff.  Marilyn vouched for the guy we’re meeting.  She’s had him keeping the stuff over there for years.  It’s some of the good old stuff.  Japan is just the safest place to keep it.  You remember the Blubber raids of 1987, right?  We didn’t know how far it would go.  Marilyn took a few tons of the stuff from the warehouse and shipped it to our contact in Japan.”

“Not that son-of-a-bitch Takashi?”

“Of course.  Whatever went on between you two has nothing to do with what is going on now.  We need him and I don’t care what you think of him, he’s pretty good,” The Dr. could see that Butch was softening a little.  In this game you couldn’t keep everybody playing nice all the time, but there were some people you could always count on.  Butch knew Takashi was one of those people.

“Believe me, If I could think of any other way, we wouldn’t need to do any of this.  If you’ve got any ideas, I’m open.  How are your synthetic time machine juice experiments coming along?”

“Yeah, just twist the knife, doc.  Feels good,” Butch said.  He had been working on a safe alternative to blubber for fueling the time machines since the blubber raids and the Duvall trials.  So far the result had been a lot of dead kittens.  He had been working with a sharp kid from the veterinary school to see if they could find some sort of way to reverse the effects of the juice.  So far, no luck. 

“No, I guess it’s just real honest to goodness blubber for now.”

“Stop worrying Butch.  You know Takashi.  You remember how he was before you guys had your little falling out, right?”

“Yeah, pretty good,” Butch joked.  That’s better, thought the Dr.  If Butch Lightens up a little, maybe we can save Marv.  And Lenny. 

As Butch brought the old Buick to rest in the parking lot of Chico’s West, a voice from the back seat made both men start with shock and exasperation, “Hey mind if I come with you fellas?”

“Eek!” Both men shrieked as they turned to see a fully dressed Charlie McCarthy sitting between them.  He was, as always, dressed impeccably.  Black Tuxedo, top hat, monocle over his eye and everything.  He was missing a shoe though.

“No fucking way, monopoly guy!” Butch started, but he didn’t understand how dangerous Charlie could be.  Johnson had had a couple of close calls with the dummy and knew the inherent dangers of offending the soulless chunk of wood.  Placing his hand on Butch’s shoulder to get his attention,  Johnson said,  “Charlie,  do you have a spare set of clothes in Tokyo?”  Johnson’s play was that the teleporter did not allow clothing and Charlie always insisted on the finest dress.  It backfired on him a little though.

“Well, Johnson, I’m sure you know my cousin Mort.  He’s over there doing his one man show.  They love him over there.  I personally don’t get it.  But The Snerd is big in Japan.”

“So you don’t mind going back to 1927 dressed like a farmboy?”

“Oh you’re funny Johnson.  No I will not wear Morty’s clothes, but he begged me to visit him like 6 months ago and I left one of my wardrobes at his place.  I just need to call him and he can drop the suit off at Chico’s for me.   Besides, I’d love to see Edgar again,” Charlie said, taking an eyedropper and dripping a little water on his cheek so it would look like he was crying.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's Chico, not Leonard

"Kid.  Kid.  Hey.  Kid!"

"Huh, what," I jumped out of my table saw daydream to see one of the owners trying to get my attention.  It usually took about 10 minutes at the saw before I was off in la la land, dreaming of bigger things.  Even though my fingers were a fraction of an inch from a steel blade spinning at 10 million rpms or whatever, cutting through wood like warm butter, I was bored.  I was thinking about Renaud and hoping he made it out of his uncle's evil clutches.  I still had about 90 minutes before lunch when I would seek him out and learn if he survived.  But right now Rick was bugging me about something.  As I gracefully hit the kill switch on the saw with my knee, holding the panel in place while the blade slowed to a stop, Rick waited impatiently, arms crossed.  

"What?" I asked, all professional and stuff.

"Follow me until I figure out what happens in this scene," Rick instructed.  The truth is he had no idea why he was stopping me from working to follow him.  Of course I was racking my brain trying to think if I'd done anything I could get into trouble for.  Are they firing people or something?  I just didn't know.  To this day I still don't know because I haven't written it yet.

Rick's Office was about 8 feet from my table saw so that's not where we were going.  What could this be?  I was getting really worried as I followed Rick out of the building and toward my car.  Oh crap, he's firing me for some reason and I still haven't finished my plaque for Chico.  Wait.  My lunch is still in the refrigerator.  I wonder if he'll let me go back and get it.  Where the hell is he going?  Because I was still drawing a blank as to the meaning of all of this, Rick kept walking past my car and toward the street.  It was a dead end street, lined on both sides by industrial businesses and ending at some foam rubber manufacturing plant or something.  As we walked toward the foam rubber plant, a few laborers from various buildings, stood around watching us, leaning on pipes or some sort of machines and stuff.  Finally I asked Rick where the hell he was taking me.

"Where the hell are you taking me, Rick?"

"Huh?  What?  Oh yeah, this is fine.  I need to ask you something?"

"Out here?  I mean, what's wrong with your office?"

"It could be bugged," Rick said, quickly shifting his eyes left and right.  His left and right, not mine.  

"Uh ... Right.  Ok, so I should probably get back.  Those panels aren't going to saw themselves," I was now wishing he was firing me because this was weird and creepy.

"Wow kid, you better get back to college, your English ..." As we stood facing each other in the middle of the street, I could see Rick was struggling to say something, but also those miscellaneous industrial worker guys were subtly inching toward the street trying to divine the meaning of this most unusual happenstance.

"Did the narrator just start using awkward funny words," Rick asked.

"Believe me.  He does that.  It'll stop in a minute," I convalesced.

"So anyway," Rick started with a whisper so faint I had to lean close to hear and got a big whiff of his coffee breath.  At least he didn’t have B.O.  A lot of the guys at the shop did. "It has come to my attention that you and BoomBoom know a, uh, friend of mine"

"No shit!?  Cool. Who?  And, uh it's 'Boomer'", So he wasn't going to fire me after all.  But what the hell? 

"Let me bum one of them smokes," sweat was now running from the left side (his left) of Rick's hairline and gathering at his brow.

Rick took a deep breath as he lit the cigarette and smoked about a third of it in one pull, "I just want to ask a couple of questions.  That's all"

"Fire away, Rick.  I mean ..."

"Ok, so - That kid you guys know.  The one who almost got killed in that fire downtown.  Where did you meet him?"

"Janer?  Well, I guess down in the old market.  They're always down there.  So?"

"And, um.  The guy that saved him.  The big kid.  You know him too?"

"Janer?  Yeah.  He doesn't talk much, but he seems mellow enough."

“So, um when’s the last time you’ve seen them?”

“Not since …” Now it was my turn to be evasive.  The last time I saw Janer was at the movie theatre.   I had inadvertently started a debate when I said I thought the best actor in the best movie was Robert Duvall in the Godfather.  J said Duvall was actually better in some movie I never heard of and then somehow, Janer disappeared.  We joked that they must have phoned home or something, but yeah it was weird.  Nobody had seen them since then.

“Since ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’,” Rick finished.

“How did you …”

“Did you and Boomboom meet a couple of girls downtown a few nights ago?” asked Rick, upping the creepy ante.

“It’s ‘Boomer’.  If you mean downtown ‘literally’ then yes we did.  Just this waitress girl Laura and her friend.”

“The friend.  Her name was Marilyn?”

“Yeah.  That’s the one you know?  Well we don’t really know her.  In fact she got up and left in a big hurry when …”

It didn’t really mean anything to me at the time, but now some things were starting to fall into place.  Boomer, Laura, Marilyn and I had been sitting at a table outside the dinner theatre.  We were all having a pretty good time people watching.  We’d make up imaginary conversations for people walking by or we’d say what we thought they were up to, etc. 

Then off in the distance I noticed a peculiar character.  So I pointed him out.  He was wearing shades, but it was nighttime.  He had on a close fitting sharkskin suit and was walking our direction in a hurry.  He looked just like Robert Duvall.  So nodding in his direction, I said, “Uh oh, looks like somebody’s in a hurry to deliver bad news to his boss,” referencing Duvall’s character in the infamous “Horse Head” scene from ‘The Godfather’. 

Just like that, Marilyn got up, threw some cash on the table and left.  We tried to stop her, but she was gone before we could see where she went.

Then this Duvall lookalike comes right up to our table, sniffs around for a second and turns and goes back in the direction he came from, talking into the inside of his wrist about something.

The three of us look around for a few seconds until I say, “Told ya.”

But now, with Rick asking me about ‘Rocky Horror’ and Marilyn, I wonder what is the connection with Marilyn, Janer and Robert Duvall.  I gotta get back inside and see what Boomer remembers about the other night. 

“You have something.  I need it back,” Rick was accusing me of something.

“No I don’t.  I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“Na-Na, uh, I mean ‘Marilyn’ told me she gave something to you.”

“Na-Na?  Maybe she gave it to boomer.  She kept getting us confused.  She was all, ‘So boomcube, what is it that you do?’  she asked like 5 times.  Then she said she had ‘whale lag’.  She was totally bizarre.  And hot.  You know, for an old lady.

“Old?  She’s like 26,” Rick argued/confirmed.
“Well yeah.  26. That’s old to me.”
At this, Rick started staring off to the left, his left, trying to work out some puzzle.  Then, his features changed.  It looked like a wave passed through him, relaxing every muscle.  Also, I suddenly noticed he had a serious case of body odor going on. 

“What just happened Rick.  Also, you don’t smell good.”
“Who are you?”  Rick asked me.

“Alright.  I’m going back to work now,” I had had enough of this. 

As I turned to go, smelly Rick grabbed my arm, “Wait.  I’m just pulling your leg.  Of course I know you,” But he was now acting nervous,  “Huh-huh.  Just a little joke.  That’s all.  But yeah.  Probably you should get back to work.  And hey - Could we keep this little conversation between us, Boomcube?”

“Sure.  Yeah.  What conversation?  Ha-ha,” I decided I’d better get Boomer and my lunch and get the hell out of there.   Renaud’s story would have to wait because I was never going back to the little cabinet shop.

“What the hell, Cube,” Boomer asked as we pulled away from the shop for the last time ever.  Some flash of light caught my attention.  Boomer was lighting up a smoke with a fancy Zippo I’d never seen before.

“Where’d you get that?”

“I don’t know.  It might be my dad’s. I found it in his suit jacket pocket when I wore it the other night,” Boomer explained casually as he flipped it closed and threw it on the dashboard.

I grabbed it, inspecting it for a moment as Boomer waited for whatever story I had to tell about why we just quit our jobs.

“Your dad’s name isn’t ‘Burt’,” I said.

“No.  I think that’s my dad’s lighter’s name, though …”

"Ok, I'll buy that,"  I said as I tossed the time machine back to Boomer and recounted to him the strange behavior of Rick, the cabinet shop owner.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Adios Muchachos

"Just go, Richard.  Enjoy your night off.  I'll be fine until Penny gets here.  You know that."  It was strictly against hospital regulation for any of the nurse's stations to be covered by less than 2 people at any one time.  Even late into the night, when it was typically quiet.  Supposedly, if a patient needed some sort of immediate assistance, someone had to remain at the desk to monitor all the other lights and beepy things and stuff.  

This rule was routinely broken.  Marilyn had worked this same desk, same overnight shift for around 20 years.  She knew she could handle the shift alone.  In fact, the policy had only changed 3 years ago when there was an incident down on floor “C”.  Before that, Marilyn was alone for almost 15 years, 4 nights a week.  She never had any problems.  Plus she was able to catch up on her reading.  She could knock off up to 3 books a night if the sick people behaved themselves.  She was currently reading the latest in a series of crime novels.  “Wrong Way Murder” was the 5th of the series of murder mysteries, cleverly named to approximate traffic sign instructions.  The Cover illustration of the books had the title as it might appear on a scary road sign. 

Penny was Penelope Jackson (She was not related to Dr Johnson).  She had just hired on about 3 months before.  This was her first nurse gig.  Sweet kid, Marilyn thought, if not a little goofy.  Marilyn always claimed to be a confirmed bachelorette, but that never stopped Penny from trying to set her up with her Dad’s old loser Army buddies. 

“I don’t have time for a fella,” Marilyn would always reason, talking like she was from the 1930’s or something, I have my books and my cats that take up all my time,” which kind of explained it all. 

Marilyn also had a secret.  The real reason she could never marry.  I can’t really say what it is right now because it’s a secret, but I can tell you that it involves Dr Johnson, Burt Rasson and Robert Duvall.  Yes, the movie actor.

Richard was also a new addition to the hospital staff.  His job was to stay at the nurse’s station until Penny got there.  He was not actually a nurse.  He was a somewhat distant relative of Dr Johnson.  Dr Johnson understood there were many times at night that Marilyn was alone, but once the Human/Cat/Frog man checked in, Johnson insisted that his distant "cousin", who had been looking for work, come and keep Marilyn company.

“My stars, Herman Johnson, that is about the most unnecessary thing you’ve ever done for me,” Marilyn protested.

“I’m doing it for me.  I have never seen anything like this Johnson case, and I don’t know what that kid is capable of.  I don’t know how much of his mind is still his.  Man, I’ve really got to stop stalling and get out there and find that guy who invented that anti-freeze stuff!”  Explained Mr. Windypants (Marilyn’s secret name for Johnson).

“Oh I get it.  You do know I’m a cat lady, right?  I think I can handle the college boy”, Marilyn reminded him.

“Well I’d rather not take any chances, Raspberry,” Johnson’s secret code name for Marilyn (Because she was actually married to Johnson’s lifelong friend, Burt Rasson.  Oh crap.  Well, that’s only part of the secret).

Penny had never been this late before.  At least not without a phone call.  Normally, Richard didn’t mind.  But he was supposed to meet his “girlfriend” for their 2 year “anniversary”.  Judging by the quote marks, it looks like Richard may have a secret or two as well. 

This night he was pacing like a caged animal, frequently glancing up at the wall clock like a caged animal that could tell time.  “Just go.  You’re driving me crazy,” Marilyn urged again, “Believe me, I can handle it.”

“Are you sure,” Richard’s eyed brightening.

“Have fun, and give ‘her’ my best,” Marilyn said.

“Why you gotta say it like that,” Richard queried, a little bruised by the sarcastic tone.

“Go!”  Marilyn insisted.

Richard was big into fitness so he always took the stairs instead of the elevator.  It’s strange then that he failed to notice the crumpled up, mutilated body of Penny at the bottom of the stairwell.  It was only because he was in such a hurry that he disregarded the crimson heap as some forgotten refuse from the lab.  “Not my problem tonight,” he thought as he nimbly leapt over the girl, the big iron door to the outside slamming behind him, shutting out the horrible noise of catlike wailing coming from somewhere in the ventilation system of the hospital.

“That can’t be good,” thought Marilyn at the sound of furball, scratching and mewing his way through ventilation just above her head.  She glanced up from, “Reduced Life Ahead,” in time to see the glowing red eyes of the evil fuzzy wittow kitty, glaring down at her.

“Let’s do this,” Marilyn calmly suggested, setting down her book as lightning struck in the distance signaling the beginning of the most violent storm in the history of ever.

“Ahhh maybe not.  This one looks ready,”  thought Furball and Lenny as Furball slowly backed from the vent grate, deep into the system, as quietly as possible.

“I can’t believe you’re afraid of a little old lady, Oh mighty Furball,”   Came Lenny’s mocking voice, now a constant companion inside Furball’s head.  Somehow, the lab “accident” enabled some sort of one sided psychic link between Furball and Lenny.  Furball had little control over his thoughts or actions anymore.  And the previously mild-mannered college boy was “One sick puppy,” as furball would have put it if Lenny would get out of his head.

“It’s no use,” realized little Charlie McCarthy.  The front door to Chico’s was simply too big for him to open.  He’d have to wait until some other sad sack came along and opened the door for him.  He better come soon, too.  It looks like one hell of a storm brewing to the southwest. Charlie was not in the mood to get wet. 

Then Charlie saw a figure approaching, but judging from that buttery smooth gait, it could only be the ever cheery, Herman Johnson.  No way he’d go to a place like Chico’s.

“Need a little hand there, Charlie,” As their comedy sketch usually began …

“Not in the mood tonight Doc, could you just let me in,” Charlie said to the continued utter fascination of Johnson.

“Have it your way, Mick,” conceded Johnson as he walked into Chico’s and immediately saw where he needed to go.  Charlie followed him in. All of the pouters in the room who had casually glanced to see who was coming had to do a double-take as they saw the impossible walking motion of Charlie McCarthy.

Charlie squeezed up to the bar next to a couple of sad-eyed regulars.  He said nothing.  He didn’t have to.  Chico brought him a tiny little beer and walked away without a word.  The whiners on either side of him resumed the defeated sunken posture thing, occasionally wiping at their eyes.

Johnson found Butch and nodded over to the “Cathy room.”  Since this was the original Chico’s, “The Cathy Room” was what used to serve as the private poker game room when it was Donny’s place.  It was now the only place in the joint where talking was tolerated.  The poker game kind of died out as soon as everybody realized they all had these very excellent long, sad poker faces.

“What do you want, Johnson?”  Butch was not real friendly. 

“I need you to come back with me,” Johnson started.

“What?  Back where,” Butch was confused.  What could this asshole need?  Johnson just looked back, watching Butch without saying anything.  Then Butch understood.

“No effing way, Herman.  Besides we don’t have any more of the …”
“I can get some.  Marilyn.  She still has some,”   Said the good Dr.

“Marilyn?  How?  I mean, I’m not going, but how did she get the stuff.  Not Japan!  No you can’t trust those guys.  It’ll be shit.  And it’ll get us – you killed.”

“I’ve got to try, Butch,” Dr Johnson getting a little misty.  Maybe this depressing place is getting to me, he thought.

“Well, where are you going anyway? Does Duvall know about this?”

“... And he doesn't have to either.  I'll tell you what.  I'll even let you pick the place if you come with me,” Johnson was playing a risky card.  Maybe he was in the right room.

“That’ll be 1927, of course.  Is Richard ready?” asked butch as he grabbed his hat and left the bar with Johnson.

The time machine was a handheld device that Dr Johnson’s only relative invented.  His name was Richard and he was from the distant future.  To fuel his device, he killed the last female Sperm whale on the planet effectively forcing the species extinct.  At the time, his reasoning was that if his device worked, he could go back to say, the 1970’s and get all the Sperm Whales he needed.  He was a scientist, not a historian.  Even though it was the future, there was still no lubricant/anti-freeze agent that came anywhere close to the stuff made naturally by sperm whales.  Not many people know this, but time travel generates a tremendous amount of friction.  Without the proper lube/cooling you’ll burn up in “No time” as the old time travel saying goes.
Since the United States banned “the killing of whales just so’s you can load their fat into your engine” in the 1970s, guys like Janer have been hording whale oil, using it only in time travel emergencies.  This was one such emergency.  True story.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

The plaque

If you started at the cabinet shop as a 100’s smoker, you ended as a king size smoker.  There were 2 breaks during an 8 hour shift (not including lunch).  The first one was 2 hours into the shift.  The second, 2 hours after lunch.  If you smoked 100’s, you couldn’t easily get 2 cigarettes down before break was over.  So everybody smoked king size.  The bad logic of it all never really occurred to anyone.  We all just wanted to get 2 smokes in on one break. 

If you didn’t smoke, you just sat there staring off into space, inhaling and exhaling with no smoke in the process at all.  Bo-ring!

There was no whistle or bell that I recall that signified the beginning of break.  The notification would sort of sweep from the manager’s office outward with the sense of the room getting quieter as machines were shut off.  If you looked up from your machine, you’d see people pantomiming the action of breaking a stick in the air.  This meant “Break”.

I always smoked the soft packs because even though I gave up on the 100’s, I still wanted to get a little more for my money and the soft pack cigarettes were roughly 1/32 of an inch longer than the boxed smokes.  Bargain.

The shop dumpster.  This was the coolest thing about the shop.  It was the sort of thing you always see parked in people’s driveways for spring cleaning.  It was filled with scrap wood.  For the most part, management didn’t care if you scavenged around in there for something you might want.  They encouraged creativity, and let us use shop resources from time to time for small personal projects.

Of course there were a few who abused the dumpster privileges.  They would throw away perfectly decent big chunks of wood or several feet of crown molding, just to pull it out and take it home.  

“What are you doing in there,” Boomer asked as I dug through the shop dumpster one break time.

“You’ll see,”  I said, all mysterious like.

“Smoke?”  Boomer said.

“Yeah – just a minute,”  When I found what I was looking for, a nice squarish piece of oak paneling, I penciled “CUBE” on the back, set it over by the table router/shaper and went out for my ultra smooth Winston King size …

“Ah, nothing like a lung full of smoke on top of a lung full of sawdust,” Boomer observed as all the smokers sat on the curb of the west side of the building.

A few workers absentmindedly pinched and squeezed at the day’s new splinters in their palms.  I brushed some of the sawdust off my jeans and said, “So I think I’m going to make a little plaque for Chico’s bar.  Just kind of a ‘no hard feelings/sorry we talked all loud and stuff in your bar’ sort of a gesture.”

“Place is a freak show,” Boomer laughed, “They all just sit there like zombies.”

“No – not right!”  Suddenly Renaud was jumping into the conversation.  His thick Creole accent making him difficult to understand.

“You been to Chico’s,” Boomer asked, very surprised.  Chico’s had been a neighborhood bar called Donny’s for years.  Boomer could never remember seeing anyone from outside the neighborhood, let alone, from Haiti, in there.

“No, not Chico’s.  Renaud not wallow in self-pity.  Renaud know Zombie though.  Big Zombie population in Haiti,” but when he said “Haiti”, it sounded like “Hi-80”

“Well I don’t think Boomer here meant the clientele of Chico’s eats your brains.  Or did you Boom…”

“No!  Zombies not Joke,” Renaud insisted, attracting attention as a small curious crowd began to form, causing the sky to appear to darken in an ominous sort of way.  Now Renaud’s face was mostly covered in shadow as he began to tell us why he left Haiti.

Luckily for all of the cabinet shop workers, Renaud’s narrative was in first person but strangely, much easier to understand than his regular choppy English.  As Renaud recounted the horrific events of his childhood in Haiti, his audience visualized with 100% accuracy, the events he described.  It was as if they were watching a scene from a movie …

My Mother Was a Teenage Zombie, By Renaud Delacroix

When I was a small boy of about 8 or 9 years old, my best friend in the world was Jaybee.  He was a schoolmate of mine, but in the times when there was no school, I would run the long road to his farm from my parents’ farm.  It was about 4 miles, but I thought of it more as 50 miles.  I knew that someday I would be a great marathoner because I could run 50 miles in 45 minutes.    

I had a strict curfew of 5:00 P.M.  Papa m always got home from his work at 5:30 and if I was not home by then, I had better not come home at all.  Manman m was a little easier.  So as long as I returned by 5:25 or so, there was not a problem.

Sometimes Jaybee and I had to do Olympics at the field by his home.  This was where we ran events with others and gave out medals to winners and signed autographs for our fans.  This was our most favorite pretend game and we usually lost track of the time.  One day, while I was receiving the gold medal for the fastest human ever to beat a tiger in a footrace, I noticed that the sun was dropping below the tree line to the west.  I began to panic because I knew this meant it was already 5:00 PM.   If I ran my fastest, I would only get home in time to receive a violent beating from papa m.

Jaybee saw my fear and had an idea, “You could take the forest shortcut,” he said.

“Jean-Baptiste!  Are you crazy?  Manman m says that’s where the zombies live.  I must never go there,” But I was already considering taking the risk.  I knew I could get home in about 15 minutes if I cut through the forest. 

“Zombies are not real, Renny.  I can’t believe you think so.  I run through the forest all the time.  I never seen any zombies.”

That settled it.  I would go through the forest and get home before papa m.

I have never run faster.  Even though Jaybee convinced me that there were no zombies, I still was not sure.  Each hill I climbed through the thick vegetation I thought would be the last one before I could see the clearing.  I had run for 12 minutes and still no sight of the familiar area that my home is in.  Finally as I crested one last knoll, I saw the clearing and village that I knew so well.  I had about 200 meters to go before I was safely out of the forest when I was being thrown into the air, a rope around my ankle as I set off some trap left obviously by hunters.

I screamed for help and thrashed about, but it was useless.  There was no help coming and even if they did, I would be late for dinner and I would have to explain why I risked going through the forest. 

I hung there for I don’t know how long.  The pain in my ankle deepening.  Throbbing to numbness.  I tried to climb up myself and get a hold of the rope for relief, but it was no use.  As darkness fell, I became cold and scared.  Would I survive the night hanging from a branch, with my home in sight but no one to rescue me.  I began to cry.

Then I became silent.  For a greater fear than not being rescued settled on my mind as I heard approaching footsteps.  What if there are Zombies out here?  Twisting toward the direction of the approaching zombie, I saw the occasional glint from a flashlight illuminating the trees all around.  I was then immensely relieved.  I don’t know how I knew, but I did not think zombies carried flashlights.

“Need a little help nephew?” It was my uncle.  We never really talked to him because he lived in the forest.  He was the apprentice to the witch doctor who lived in the woods.   He was strange, but I was happy to see him.  He took a machete from his belt and swung it at the tree, severing the rope holding me aloft.  I curled up to avoid breaking my neck as I fell to the forest floor. 

“Thank you uncle, but I am very late.  I must go now,” I attempted.

“Oh no, I cannot leave you alone in the dark, little one.  You must come to my place and spend the night.  We will tell your parents when we get there”

The last thing I wanted was to go to uncle’s house.  It was scarier than the forest.  Manman m always said, “Stay away from uncle you.  He practice dark magicks.”

“I will be fine.  I will just go now,” I began to run, but uncle grabbed the back of my shirt and I could not get free.  Then, I twisted out of the shirt and took off.  But the damage to my ankle slowed me and uncle caught me again.  This time he rubbed some magical powder on my elbow and I began to get tired.  I saw dreams with my eyes open.  I thought oh no, uncle is making me a zombie.

“What the hell are you guys doing?”  Break’s been over for 10 minutes,”  Oops.  Looks like we all got caught up in Renaud’s tale, “Get back to work you lazy so and so’s!”

So we got up and made some cabinets until lunch time.

To be continued …