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August 20, 2007
Coney Island Prophet (The Man Who Came To Dinner Challenge)

Coney Island Prophet

Vim, vigor and vitality… virtues to be desired by anyone, especially someone having accumulated seventy-five years and still breathing the air-apparent of New York City, were embodied in the little man.  Even his slight limp could not detract from the swagger he projected and his cane was more prop than tool. 

The swirling breezes caught the man's long, white hair and forced it to dance in rhythm with a universal downbeat. I watched his approach as he stepped off the bus, and wondered why the man had chosen to disembark here.  This part of the lower east side held little in the way of museums or shopping, apart from the occasional obscure book store pock-marking the storefront landscape.  The longer I watched him the more I grinned.  Perhaps grandfather is meeting his ‘niece’ for a brief interlude of slap-and-tickle. Go get ‘em, Pops!

As the old man approached my hotdog cart, he stopped abruptly, looked around and produced a note and wire-rimmed spectacles from his breast pocket.  Briefly, he examined the slip of paper and once again looked around. 

“What are you lookin’ for, Pops?” 

‘Pops’ took off his glasses, stared at me for a second, and walked towards my cart, the Spirit of Pawtucket.  “Young man, why do you call me ‘Pops’?  Perhaps I remind you of your long-deceased father, and it is your desire to recall his life through me?”

“No, sir… not really.”  I found his German accent disconcerting.

“Ah!  Well, then, when you ask what I’m looking for, are you speaking metaphysically, or are you genuinely concerned about my immediate welfare?” Pops now assumed the posture of a clergyman delivering his homily, fingers intertwined at his chest and sad eyes searching for my soul.

“Well, neither… I mere—“

“Oh… then you wish to sell me a sandwich, and you were inquiring as to which selection I would be unable to resist?” 

“Sure, if you want…” This dude is crackers!

“Aha!  Now we’re getting somewhere!  Well, tell me Mr. Sandwich-seller, what varieties of sandwich can you offer me today?  A corned beef on rye or perhaps a nice turkey breast with gorgonzola on pumpernickel?”

“Uh, no.  I only sell hot dogs.” 

“Yes… well, would these happen to be turkey-hot dogs, perchance?”  Pops was running his hand along the counter now, periodically checking his palm for dust.

Here we go… “No, I don’t think so, I think they’re pork, like every other hot dog in Manhattan.”  Why me? Why do I get all the Bellevue rejects?

Now Pops rubbed his chin with his fingers, giving the appearance of a man torn by a dilemma.  “Well, this is a problem, Mr. Street Vendor, you see, I’m Jewish, and I keep to my dietary restrictions.”

 “Would it help if I told you they’re Kosher wieners?”  Yank, yank. 

“So the premise is mitigation?  You overcome my objection with a proposal satisfying my underlying ethical problem without discernibly changing anything, at no additional cost to yourself.  I see… well, tell me, is it true?  Are they authentic Kosher pork wieners, the only ones made anywhere on this planet?  If so, I’d like to buy all you have, and any others for which we can negotiate a price!”

A taxi horn broke the silence, somewhere up the block.  I took out a notepad from my pocket, scrawled a few words on it and handed it to Pops. 

“Moscowitz Deli-- two blocks over, on the corner.  You can’t miss it.”

Pops held the paper in front of him, thought for a few seconds and replied, “Young man, you’re not much of a businessman and your penmanship is atrocious, but you seem to possess a kind soul.  It has been a pleasure sharing a few minutes with you, if not a sandwich.  I wish you well.”   From his breast pocket he withdrew a business card and handed it to me.

With that, he walked away, offering no opportunity for rebuttal.  I read the card as I watched the man’s already diminutive form get smaller and smaller.  There must be something to this relativity thing.  Nice to meet you, Professor Einstein.  




posted by Bob Church at 07:06 PM | in:
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August 20, 2007
Chatham's Ubiquitous Dream

This is the opening thoughts of a story set in 11th-century Britain.

Chatham's Ubiquitous Dream

Night had fallen... bereft of splendor, no hounds abay, lunar stillness abounding.   Scant light crept over heather patches, revealing their multitudes as the close-cropped, gorse-thatched heads of homely children.  Summer's breezes had taken wings, warming other climes; leaving in their absence only subtle, vague remembrances of sweltered August midnights.  Reminders of winter’s proximity were everywhere in evidence.  Robert of Chatham reclined against his pack. Placed beneath shield and mace, it provided support for his weary back.  Too long in saddle would do that to a man... any man, truly, but more so one of his advancing years.  His fingertips positioned themselves against each other, hands supported his chin as he sat—motionless; an unconscious response to years of conditioning, countless hours of waiting for combat in service of a master he would never meet.  One unaccustomed to his habits might have thought him in prayer; it would not have been unseemly to presume it.  Such was not the case this night; all his thoughts were of her. 

Solitary was his concentration.  If ambushers overtook him as he sat, so be it. Tonight, he would not move to repel it.  If wolves ripped out his throat, he would not take up sword against them, so long as her memory cast even faded recollections upon him.  His eyes, yet closed, could see her as clearly as if she stood in elegance before him, calling to him.   Her arms outstretched, clad in fine blue silk, her long gown shimmered even in lowlight moon.  Loveliness, thy name is Arica... royal by nature if not by birth, virtuous beyond reach of all but him.  Wretched fate put miles upon miles between them. Robert silently cursed all who kept them apart.  Before his God he vowed to find the path to her. Steadfastly, he summoned all powers to act as guides.  

Somewhere in the night, his vigilant guard breeched, he was summoned to Morpheus.  The dreams began.  She beckoned to him from some faraway place, a shadowy nether- land of dreamers and lovers.  There, she gently took him by the hand and guided him deep within her soul, to a place where no one could ever threaten them.  Renewal through her was his only wish.  No thoughts exclusive of her could find haven in his mind, and sublime feelings of warmth overcame him as he slowly claimed her as his own.  Their ritual dance of love swayed rhythmically to the beat of their hearts, ebbing and flowing as channeled energy gave rise to passions only they knew.  Crescendo rose and fell, again and again, as Eros carried them deeper and deeper, oblivious to all but their ardor.  Then, as he heard her cry out, his eyes opened to the dawn of a new day.  Though his sleep had been fitful, he was nonetheless invigorated, and his journey could continue.

posted by Bob Church at 10:32 AM | in:
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August 20, 2007
Because it's early Monday morning and I was bored...

...I took it upon myself to give you the insider's view on a life spent wandering around the planet trying to figure out why.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times that I’ve lost chances to do things because other people said that I wasn’t able to say what was on my mind well enough (without going to great lengths to add a few details to make whatever I had to say more interesting).  But I’ll try... I think I'm required to do so as one of the prime tenets of my membership in the Amalgamated Assemblage of Bullshit Artists-- inflict as much damage as possible upon the retinae (is that the plural of 'retina'? I really should find out some day) of anyone foolish enough to attempt to gain a little insight into the window of my soul. It is a barren place, I warn you, so make sure you take plenty of fluids if you should undertake the journey.  

Ever since I can remember, and this goes way back, too, probably back to my earliest days of being a kid, back when I used to like to go down to the corner drug store and buy those little things of flavored syrup that came inside a pouch shaped like a tiny Coke bottle, only made of wax instead of actually being a glass bottle—I think they did that so that kids wouldn’t get hurt when they bit the tops off and sucked all the goop out of the inside.  I can’t remember what flavors they had, but I remember that my mom got real mad when I ate the bottles, because they stopped me up tighter than a lid on a jelly jar three days after Aunt Lucy caught cousin Jeannie Rae eating jelly right out of the jar and slapped the taste out of her mouth!  I don’t think they have too many corner drug stores anymore, but you know that, so I won’t take up a lot of time telling you about how sad I feel that we don’t have any more corner drug stores, especially the ones with the soda fountains... the ones where a kid could steal a quarter from his dad when he was drunk and passed out at the kitchen table with a wad of bills and change laying there that he’d won playing Liar’s Poker down at the bar where he spent the day because he was pissed at his boss and didn’t feel like going to work and my mom had to go downtown and haul his sorry butt out of Hoff’s Tavern or the Blue Lady Lounge or The Bus Stop Bar so that he could get belligerent and refuse to eat and they’d have a big fight where she’d stomp out of the room and go upstairs and cry and I’d steal his change after he’d finally passed out and go down to the corner drug store to get a vanilla coke or a cherry phosphate then take the change and go to the movies across the street at the Fox Theater, where I’d sit in the front row of the balcony—the section where us kids weren’t supposed to be, but we’d sneak in when the usher was escorting that fat lady down the aisle—and make fart sounds by putting our hands under our armpits and flailing our elbows up and down real quick, before the usher started getting complaints about all the giggling and finally came up and made us go back downstairs where all the kids were supposed to sit.  Those were the days... 

Anyway, ever since I can remember, I’ve had to go the long way around the block to get what I want, or at least, what I thought I wanted at the time, even if it wasn’t really what I needed, know what I mean? Who among us can say that somewhere along the line he didn’t fall prey to some foolish bauble that got in the back of his mind and tried to bore its way out, constantly reminding him that it was totally necessary to obtain at all costs, even if his father said he couldn’t have it? Hell, especially if his father said he couldn’t have it, because then it became a mission. I can’t have it, huh? Bet me I can’t have it... I’ll get it if it takes every cent I can steal from you. In those days, telling a reasonably-intelligent boy of thirteen that he couldn’t have something was roughly equivalent to walking up to him and saying, “Bubba, I’m going to be working a little late tonight, why don’t you go into my bottom dresser drawer under my Field & Stream magazines and find that envelope where I keep those two twenty dollar bills and take them and go down to Dave Cook’s Sporting Goods and buy that catcher’s mitt that I told you not to even think about.”  Yea, I knew he’d beat my ass, but a whipping with the belt was a fair price for the Wilson A2000 Yogi Berra Model, I mean, it wasn’t like he’d actually kill me or anything like that, even if he would threaten to, the next time I did anything like that, which would probably be no more than about three days hence... I never said I was a rocket scientist. Oh, he’d make me do enough chores to earn the money back from him, but in my house I found that it was easier to get forgiveness than permission, so rather than do without something I really, really wanted, I normally took the path of least resistance right to that dresser drawer. Admittedly, as time passed, he moved his stash around, but give me an hour or so and I’d manage to find it. 

Anyhoo... never let it be said that I wasn’t industrious.  I was a workin’ fool when I was a kid... from the minute I awoke until the last few seconds before I fell asleep (and, if other folks can be believed, for a fair amount of time after I went to sleep, too, such was my capacity to describe my dreams whilst still actively involved in one... hell, it’s been suggested that from the quality of my speech while dreaming, I’m actually capable of combining more than one dream in the same performance given the right circumstances, which normally involve the periods of time directly after either a two-day drunk or some other highly-charged emotional outpouring such as getting shot at or laid, although in all honesty, if I might be so indelicate to admit, I prefer the latter to the former, me being a lover rather than a fighter if you get my gist... I honestly wish I could stay awake to hear what I say when I’m dreaming; I think that might be worth the price of admission in and of itself, not that I’d really charge anyone to watch me sleep. Who in his or her right mind would actually pay good money to sit and watch someone sleep in hopes that he’ll have a juicy dream and start telling about it?  That’s just plain dumb... although I guess I could have them pay a nominal fee before I go to sleep and then refund it if they didn’t get a dream worthy of the price of admission. But how would I know if they tried to rip me off and insist they get their money back even though I did spew out some tidbits of inspirational quality?  I guess I’d have to video tape the proceedings, just in case.  I admit, I wouldn’t want to be the one who has to review the tapes, though.  Who would want to just sit and watch tapes of himself sleeping, in hopes of catching someone in a lie just to rip me off and save four bucks?  Do you think four bucks would be too much to charge?  I don’t, not if it was a good dream. I mean, folks pay a lot more than that to see a lousy ninety-minute movie, so why should they bitch about paying four measly bucks to watch me sleep for six or eight hours in hopes of being treated to a masterpiece? How much does a good video camera and tape player cost? I don’t mean one of those cheap-o models, if I’m going to do this, I’m going to go top-shelf and buy a Sony or one of those other Jap-sounding brands because when my guests come over to watch me sleep I don’t want them to think that they’re watching some rank amateur who doesn’t know what he’s doing.  Maybe I’ll even fly to Hollywood and take a course in dream-directing and cinematography so that I can make sure to focus the camera angles to get my good side... although that might be difficult because I tend to toss and turn a good bit when I sleep, especially if I’m drunk or sick which, I’m told by a bevy of ex-wives, tends to happen a good bit of the time, but that’s really beside the point, isn’t it?  Would you take the word of five or six world-soured, antagonistic floozies over mine, knowing from the git-go that they each had her own particular axe to grind? Well, I’d certainly like to think you wouldn’t, but I’ve been fooled before—even by my closest friends— sad as that may be to contemplate.  Just when you think you can count on them to stand by your side through thick or thin, they turn on you just because you stole a little money off their coffee table or drank all their beer while they were out of town... if they didn’t want you do that, why did they leave their keys laying around so that you’d be tempted to run right down to the closest hardware store and have their house and car keys duplicated? I ask you, is that any way to treat a close friend? It’s not like I meant to fall asleep with pork chops cooking on the stove... if they drank beer rather than whiskey, like as not that wouldn’t have happened at all. I can’t be held responsible just because they didn’t have the foresight to get adequate homeowners’ coverage that would cover more than one house burning down in the same calendar year. Next thing you know, it’ll be my fault that I wrecked their car, too...) 

Now, where were we before I got sidetracked?  (to be continued... maybe)    

posted by Bob Church at 06:25 AM | in:
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