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One Penny Fictions: Read’em and Weep

Lunch with the Folks

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Another lunch with the folks. 12:35 and boiling hot with a mild breeze that only pissed me off because it cooled the sweat on my T-shirt, chilling me. I climbed out of my car, locked it, a quick mechanical thwip, thwip ejecting from my black Volkswagon GTi, and dragged my ass over the melting parking lot towards the smiling doorman stuffed in a beige suit and top hat. I was late and had absolutely no clear idea as to why I was here. My wobbly mind wondered if it had something to do with the e-mail that was sent to me by an unknown source at 5 o’clock in morning. Entitled “Be Born Again” it contained the following cryptic message: “Naturally, in nature, disasters strike no one who is prepared.” I headed into Prestos, my final thought: Here comes another natural fuckin’ disaster.

       Sometime somewhere between the door and the lobby I must have fell into a time machine because I found myself landed in the early twentieth century. Prestos’s decor was pure Titanic chic and I could practically hear the screams of the damned and the drowning. The walls were covered with large flowers on faded yellow wallpaper, fake gold sconces clung to the walls in fifteen foot intervals, and a thick red carpet with a river of footsteps crushed into its center snaked toward the dining room. Everything was awful; a counterpoint to my neon lit night. The maitre d’ informed me that my party had already been seated and with a wave of his hand he leads me down toward the dining area, “Zis way, zir. Follow me.”

       The carpet’s soft anti-gravity feeling reminded me of last night and buying drinks for girls I didn’t know and snorting lines off the back of toilet seats. I smacked my lips. My mouth tasted like chewed rib bones and dried seaweed, flattened and brown, and I had this horrible feeling that I was going to choke. I wanted to spit or throw up so I stuck my finger in my collar to get some breathing room and forced down the lump in my throat. I knocked my shoulders back and slurped up the sopping wet saliva of polite conversation soaking the ballroom-sized dining room and this steeled my nerves. It was familiar territory and I knew how to use it. And I would. This luncheon would require full concentration and commitment.

      My family was seated at a round table by the window, which worried me. Window seats usually meant something big. Or something bad. My mind flipped through its mental planner searching for birthdays and anniversaries and as usual the pages were dog eared and blank. I switched to “Plan Two” and did a quick mental search of all possible excuses as to why I forgot to bring a card or a gift for whatever it is we are here for and I couldn’t seem to settle on anything and I gave up trying. The maitre d’ pulled out my seat and I sat down, surrounded.

       I tried to break the silence and smiling said, “I got stuck in traffic. Those damn tour buses are taking over the city….”

       “You know” my brother Frank broke in, his finger lifting Ghandi-style, “‘Life is a race, where some succeed, while others are beginning….'”

       “Yeah, Frank.” I said. “Spare me the quote. I know how it ends: ‘Tis better late than never.'”

       Frank leaned back tucking his yellow Saks tie into his blue double breasted pinstripe by Ralph Lauren and then, inhaling a deep breath, he folded his arms across his chest careful not to wrinkle his suit and I knew an attack, gooey and jellyfish-like, was coming my way but before the hammer sparks could fly Frank’s Ericsson bleated out a tinny version of Edvard Greig’s In The Hall of the Mountain King. Without taking his eyes off of me Frank let it ring through the first sixteen bars, smiling. I thought again of the e-mail. Could it have been Frank? He was a prick like that. The ringing stopped. Frank picked up the silver knife from off of his crisply folded white napkin and dug the blade into the white table cloth. He spun the knife idly and watched the triangular prisms of light flash across the table top. A full three minutes of this passed before he sent a quick three word text message reply. Wagner came on again and with a smug smile he excused himself from the table. As he walked away he looked at me over his shoulder and flashed me a grin that said–this ain’t over.

      “We’re glad you could make it, honey” my mother said while cooling herself with a handmade fan she bought from a boutique in Hong Kong. It was made of rice paper and adorned with an intricate design of a fiery red dragon coiling its way through wispy trees and bamboo shoots. I stared at it mezmorized by the illusion the softly moving fan created of a dragon snapping its wings. The dragon’s motion blurred my vision and concentration. Just beyond the flying dragon I discerned my mother’s red on black Michael Korrs with the gold Yin Yang necklace. The themes were too solid and hurt my head. I needed Zen serenity. I needed to chase the dragon.

      A memory snapped me out of my funk. I recalled the glossy pages of some big name magazine, G.Q. or something, which had proclaimed that the Far East was all the rage. But I was so fucking over it. In fact, I was sick to death of those tour buses taking over the city, turning cultural monuments into cheap pin-up whores; I was fed up with all of those flashing, popping cameras shooting at everything and nothing; and I was pissed off at those goddamned smiles; those wide, too toothy Asian smiles. “Dah-ling,” my mom interrupted my mental rant, “why don’t you be a dear and take off your sunglasses?”

      Cursing my bad luck, I snapped off my Blue Blockers and fumbled them into the inside pocket of my corduroy blazer, worried that my cover was blown. How the hell could I forget to take off my sunglasses? I must be in worse shape than I believed. The Fear grabbed me by the nuts. I whipped the menu up in order to shield my face, hoping to hide the grizzly truth: I was wasted; too fucked up to be anywhere near polite conversation. I slid down into my seat and darted my eyes suspiciously around the table hoping to christ that they were not blazing red and swimming in goo like laboratory fetuses in a pickling jar. No one seemed to notice. Satisfied, I lowered my eyes and returned my mind to my number one concern: the reason as to why we were here.

      Slowly, ever so slowly, I lowered my menu and peeked my eyes over the top. My heart thudded as I scanned the table and noticed that no one brought gifts. No cards either. I tried to think of ways to broach the topic when my father asked about work.

      “Listen up: Did you get that message I sent you?”

      “Yeah, that e-mail about nature or something? It was kinda weird.”

      “No, no email,” he said sipping his Perrier, “a text.”

      “Oh yeah, that message,” I said taking out my cell phone and noticing that my father’s message for the first time. There were thirteen other unanswered messages. Without reading my father’s text I pressed “Delete All” and then sighed deeply as I felt the carbonated fizz-pop release of stress bubbles bursting and floating away. Ahh….

      “So what do you think?”

      “Uh…I say…go for it.”

      “Really. How do you think the board will take it? You know how that shark, Faber, is.”

      “Yeah, don’t worry,” I said. “I am on it,” but the only thing that I could think of that I was on was a bad diet of pills, powder, and Pernod.

      “Well then, push it through first thing in the morning.”

      “I –”

      “–already took care of it,” Frank said, re-seating himself. “The format is perfect now and I’m just waiting for the final word to come through. I finished it last night and sent it along. Don’t worry I cleaned up the mess.” He let this last word hiss in space as if a whole had been blown in the side of our safe little family space shuttle. Yup. We were a regular Jetson’s space-aged family.

      “Good job, Frank” my father said.

      I decided to play along, smiling and nodding to lord knows what but agreeing with ardent vigor nonetheless. With this new turn of events the cruise control function in my mind decided to take over and this allowed me to think back through season six of The Discovery Channel’s “Snake Charmers Series.” A list of the various ways that were suggested to kill snakes appeared. Frank was a snake and in this situation I liked my chances with the “Texas Boot Heel.” That was the best method for large poisonous bastards.

      “I just figured we would take it to’em early,” Frank said. “This way we can break for the back nine just after lunch. Beat the crowd.” He said this with a wink. Can you believe it? A wink.

      “You sly little codger….” my father said raising his glass of Taittinger in salute.

       “And listen to this,” Frank said leaning forward into the table, his voice low and his eyebrows high. “The network loves the commercial pitch and is going to push it through. Cheevers was pleased. Just one thing though, Paul was late and got short with the director. Story is he was high on something and throwing stuff around. I heard he was on the cocaine.”

     “That’s not like Paul,” my father said, crunching his eyebrows into a steeple. He ran his hand through his black to greying hair, combing it over like a slab of pavement and even though the news was bad, he remained eerily calm. His skin was unseasonably smooth, a fact, he maintained, that was due to his strict diet, Pilates classes, and robust sex life. This last one, my old man’s sex life, was a well known topic in the company and among the richy rich gossip circles. I imagined my father the hero of hen parties. But, whatever. The truth was that the too taut angles and hollow cast of his cheeks gave away the multiple plastic surgeries he had done in high end chop shops in Europe. I started to zone out on his stubble when he snapped up straight in his chair, the steeple crashing. I jumped back into my seat, a little too on edge. He pointed a pistol shaped hand at me and I shot my hands up around my ears in the “I surrender” position, he seemed not to notice and cruised the pistol passed me and pointed it at Frank. “Call Cheevers and tell him Paul’s done. That’s it. Fired. We’ll go with Steve.”

       “Good call” Frank said, banging the table with one hand and pulling out his cell. With lickedy split finger action the text was written and sent. 

       “Steve?” My head swung wildly between my father and Frank. “Come on, man. Steve isn’t half as good as Pauley.” As soon as it came out of my mouth, I felt the cold slippery cod slap of guilt, a blow that was both ancient and officious, but, like the cod stocks, dwindling in modern times. Why? I had just left Pauley crashed out on my couch watching The Discovery Channel’s “Inside North Korea” with a whale sized pile of blow in front of him, his teeth grinding down to pebbles. “I mean come on. That’s weird for Pauley. Give him another shot.”

      “Too late, son. This business waits for no one. You know that. Paul is out. Period.” 

      “But, Pauley is a good guy…”

      “Listen. We want good workers, not good guys.” He had that anchorman delivery: a nail gun staccato which hammered everything home as if it was a sturdy unchangeable fact. Butt fuck fags, right? I meant, but fuck facts. Ah. Losing it. 

       “But….”

       “Listen,” he said. “Period.’ Steve is in. Paul is out.”

       “Darling, we’re going with Steve,” my mother said snapping the dragon shut. She plopped a blue veined hand on my wrist and I knew that it was useless to push it any further. She reached over and fixed my younger brother, Jack’s, black hair. Jack didn’t even flinch; he just stared at his Gameboy Advance, bottom lip twitching occasionally, a series of zaps and beeps wafting up from the machine to do his talking for him. 

       “Well then let me deal with it, will ya’?”  

       “Like you dealt with the Faber account?” Frank asks.

       I turned to face him but the sun flashed through the window, blinding me momentarily. I hissed like a vampire and brought up both arms to cover my eyes. I yanked my Blue Blockers out of my inside pocket and shoved them on. “Look, Frank, I told you already, Faber….”

        “Listen. That is enough of that Faber account crap,” my father interrupted. “The account is in the bag; it’s ancient history now.”  

        Frank nodded along. “That’s right. As Dwight D. said, ‘Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.'”

       “Quite enough,” my mother said punctuating the point. She reached over the table and pulled off my sunglasses placing them next to my wine glass. “Let’s have a toast. To the future.” 

       “The future” dad said raising his glass of Taittinger.

       “The future” Frank said. A wide crocodile grin ate up his face. He didn’t move his head, but I think I saw his eye slither towards me in its socket. “And besides, we got other business to attend to.” 

        I raised my wine, but said nothing about the future. The fucking future? my mind spat. The thought of it made me want to lash out at someone and I turned towards Frank to resume my defense of the Faber account, but my rant was scooped out of my mouth and slapped to the floor as the waiter materialized at my side, pen nib poised on notepad. The sight of him sent a shiver through my body and I repeated to myself: Breath. Try. To. Act. Cool. Without thinking I ordered the wild mushroom consomme garnished with a pate a choux pastry stuffed with morels, chantrelles, and truffles. For my main course I got the gourmet smoked duck salad that my father recommended and which the waiter suggested showcased the fall colors, wherever they had disappeared to in this infernal heat. My father and Frank kept it simple and ordered seared cajun lamb chops with a side dish of fresh steamed vegetables and garlic smashed potatoes with sautéed onions and peppercorn gravy. My mother ordered a Waldorf salad with all organic vegetables and followed this with sushi wrapped avocado and a bowl of jasmine rice. Jack got a cheeseburger and fries, which my mother ordered for him. And a glass of ice cubes, no water, put in an Ice Age II: The Meltdowncup that Jack had brought with him from the Cinema 12. The cup had a cartoon picture of a large but friendly looking Mastodon who was winking and hugging a cocky looking saber toothed tiger. The tiger was giving me a thumbs up. 

       I turned to Jack and asked him in a low whisper how he was doing but he just stared at the on going drama in his lap. I watched him play for a bit thankful that I could duck out of the conversation for a few minutes and try to regain my cool. Jack’s fingers moved in a blur and I was amazed at the smooth execution of jumps and high kicks and the awesome destructive power of secret weapons. There was an endless stream of pitfalls and monsters, but he eluded them all. Nothing touched him. 

      I thought back to Frank’s eerie “other business” comment and wondered if it was some kind of clue. It seemed more and more certain that sent me that damn e-mail. Just the sort of shit he would get up to. I tried to put the pieces together: we were here for something big. A business merger, perhaps? A new five star client? What ever it is, I felt like I have won a big victory and straightened up in my seat. I was cool again.

      The waiter arrived with another round of drinks and Jack’s Ice Age II cup with all ice cubes, no water. Already the heat was melting the ice cubes and little crackles and pops danced out of the cup and mixed with the beeps and zaps. Without looking away from his game Jack reached out and brought the cup to his ear, listening to the cracks and pops. He smiled. Then put the cup back on its coaster and resumed playing his game. My mother stared across the room fanning herself, dragon wings flapping, while my father and Frank were going on about Tiger’s chances at the Masters. 

      And the conversation swirled from golf to business to movie stars and back to business and I guessed this was us enjoying ourselves. I lost the thread again and zoned out on the Ice Age II cup and the large cartoon mastodon giving me a thumbs up and the winking saber tooth tiger and I had this vague thought about the improbability of two such territorial animals being pals. My mind drifted over topics of ice ages and secret weapons and how the world was tourist trapped. I shook these tangle of thoughts from my head and slipped my Blue Blockers back on and gazed out the window. A tour bus pulled up in front of the Jackson Memorial and a crowd of Asians jumped off the bus and huddled around it, reading the plaques, snapping their cameras, and then, within minutes, they were herded back on to the bus by the tour guide and it disappeared down the road burping and farting a trail of black exhaust.

      Our food arrived. 

      Fear, cold and substantial, sloshed through my bone marrow and a smile as limp as licorice spread over my face as the waiter placed the food in front of me. Everyone dug in. I took a few sips of my soup but could only choke down a few spoonfuls because the soup’s alien texture slipped down my throat in thick lumps like green cow snot, so I gave up. I turned to the duck salad but it felt like I was eating raw intestines and Gortex. I gave up and run my fork through the salad pushing the green peppers under the lettuce. I had visions of Hiroshima and a documentary I saw on the Discovery Channel of Ed Gein’s kitchen. Pools of sweat popped out on my forehead and beveled my upper lip. I chugged back a full glass of wine and tried to shake the horrible images when I noticed that no body was eating–they were staring at me with their jaws hanging slack, their forks and knives hovering over their food.  

       “What is it?” I said my blood turning cold. I fingered the half bag of coke in my pocket and a cool wave of comfort tickled my spine. Everything was poised like a spring trap. 

      The ice snapped from Jack’s cup–crackled and popped. I jumped in my seat and let a loud, incoherent “Blurgghll!”

      The table next to ours turned and stared.

      I wiped my forehead, waiting.

      “Are you okay?” my mother asked finally. “You don’t look so good.”

      “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine,” I said waving my hand. “Really. I got this ingrown toenail and the sucker is really biting into my skin.” I tried to deflect the conversation onto something else and I ordered two more glasses of Pernod and jumped up from the table telling everyone I needed to clean up a little, back in a sec. I wove my way through the tables of people primped up in their Sunday best and towards the restroom, which was empty thank fuck, and squinting against the bright white marble walls and the florescent lighting I slammed my way into a bathroom stall and break up three huge lines.

       And on three: one, two, three: Ahhh….

       “You look better,” my mom said. 

       “Yeah, much better,” Frank threw in as he sat back and tossed his napkin on the table, huffing.  

       “Yeah, I feel better, I just needed to splash some water on my face, that’s all. The pain was horrible, but my toe is fine now. I bit that little hangnail bastard right off. And man, this damn heat isn’t helping either.”

      “Its not the heat,” Frank said pointing a thumb out the window. 

      “What is that supposed to mean Frank?” 

      “That it isn’t the weather that is your problem.”

      “Yes it is. I’m hot. And I got this damn hangnail.”

      “No, you…what are you saying?”

      “That I am hot and feeling a little off.”

      “Stop it boys,” my mother said. But I was enervated with confrontational coke energy and I turned to my mother and said, “No, no, no. Not this time. This isn’t going to stop until Frank tells me di-rect-ly what the fuck he means. So what is it, Frank? What do you want to say to me, Frankie? Big guy. You want to give me another pearl of wisdom? Another quote from some fossil from our past? Something about ‘If you can’t stand the heat then….”

      “It’s you I can’t stand,” he said slamming his hand on the table. “Just look at you. You look like shit. Your clothes are not tailored and you in no way match. The ass of your pants is almost worn through for heaven’s sake–” 

       “That’s it Frank? My fashion offends you?”

       “–and that horrible excuse of a scent you’re wearing practically ruined my meal; you smell like a damn bum. And your eyes! Jesus Christ, what were you doing last night? Where you with…Pauley?”

       “And what if I was, Frank?”

       From the table next to me I heard the forks and knives clinking on bone china and I shot a look over my shoulder that told them, in no uncertain terms, to fuck right off. I snapped my head back to look at Frank, raising an eyebrow. 

      “Oh, I dunno. Nothing really I guess, Nothing like a blue head for a friend,” he paused then squared his cufflinks. “It’s only one-thirty and you’ve slammed back five, six drinks already.”

      “Seven.”

      “And you haven’t done anything, anything, on the Faber account in months. And that was an easy gig. Jesus. Just tell the truth–you haven’t done a damn thing to help us out. You’re just out to help yourself.”  

      “Oh, so that is what this is all about, is it? Getting credit for the Faber account? Go ahead, then, Frank, take all the credit. What do I care?”

      “Exactly, what do you care about?”

      “What does that matter, Frank? You just want all of the credit…”

      “Well, ‘Giving credit where credit is due is….'”

      “Oh Jesus, Frank. Go to hell.” 

      Frank spun in his seat and faced my father, “This is stupid; a waste of our time. Enough of this trying to be nice crap. Just give it to him.”  

       Silence fell over the table. I looked at my mother but she was gazing out the window and fanning herself. My father was drinking his Perrier. Jack beeped and zapped. 

       “What? Give me what?” I said looking around the table.

        “What? Give me what?” I said looking around the table.

      After a long hard minute my father reached into his grey Lagerfield sports coat and pulled out an envelope which he slid across the table towards me. It had my name on it, embossed in gold.

      I stared at the envelope knowing full well what was inside. I snatched the envelope off off the table. This was it–the reason why we were here. Running my fingers over the surface I wondered if this was the way it works when we die? If there was this long hard silence followed by a big burst of laughter from somewhere off to the side and then some form, some God-thing or whatever, appears and slides an envelope in our direction with our name embossed on it, apologizing for having made such a monumental decision for us?

      “Yes! Level thirty-six,” Jack said his voice flat and non-committal. Everyone turned to look at him, but Jack didn’t even raise his head to find out what is going on. I couldn’t believe that everyone had forgotten me and this situation so quickly. Jack just kept on playing. Beep, beep. Zap, zap.

      The table next to ours erupted in a torrent of laughter and it cut through my nerves like an iceberg from an Alaskan glacier. I floated the seas alone, charted unknown waters.

      “It was a tough decision son, but listen, it had to be done.”

      “Open it,” Frank hissed while admiring his cuff links.

      I ripped open one corner of the envelope but something held me back. I didn’t want this. Not here, not in front of Frank–I couldn’t hand over such a simple victory.

      “You know what, guys?” I said standing to leave. “I’ll get back to you.”

      As I walked away Frank threw a victorious wink my way, “Naturally.”

Written by One Penny Profiles

July 23, 2008 at 12:58 am

3 Responses

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  1. you must keep writing! you have a gift!

    stript

    July 28, 2008 at 5:44 am

  2. Thanks for taking the time out to read Stript, I appreciate it. I have moved my site to:
    thejunkdrawerneedles.wordpress.com

    Come over and read some more stuff.

    Thanks,
    Wellum Hulder

    One Penny Profiles

    July 29, 2008 at 10:29 pm

  3. i like the description of the doorman. “stuffed into a beige suit.”

    littlepeace

    August 26, 2008 at 9:02 pm


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