Saturday, November 18, 2006

NaNoWriMo--50,000 Word November Novel or BUST!!

Posted by Picasa NaNoWrimo is National Novel Writing Month. It is a once a year challenge to inspire the uninspired to sit on their fat duffs and write a 50,000 or more word novel in 30 days. It is designed as a motivational mechanism and as a way of bringing together the world's writer wannabe's and allowing them to commiserate communally via their WEBSITE. http://www.nanowrimo.org/

This is where I will be posting my NanoWrimo novel as I create it. I will update it every few days until I finish it at the end of the month. These are my words and my works. Copyrights and such yaddy yaddy etc...etc...

CURRENT WORD COUNT TOTAL--45,300 words

DAYS REMAINING OF THIS MADNESS--5


***** SAM’S DAY OFF *****


Nearly two hours before dawn on a cold November moonless night, there is light where there should be darkness. Where a hand should be invisible to a groping set of eyes, one can see the hand, lightly lit and as curious as it ever was.

Big City lights have removed the mystery in most places from this imponderable darkness. The hands are just hands before faces now, in places no longer mysteriously dark. The lights are here to assure us of this., spreading throughout the dark landscape of Big City like a gospel of light and shining her molecular message door to door.

Big City from a vantage point above most rooftops on a cold clear night in November, is a well-lit wonderland of neon, fluorescent, and incandescent light plus colored filters and brightly painted walls and well-lit signs. You are left wondering while drinking bag wine high up above her looking down-- while admiring her majesty and her glaring carnival-like brilliance-- how in the world did she get this lit?

These lights have all been hung by hand. Each light a compilation of enormous labor, over time, driven by the fear of darkness, and the knowledge of light itself.

Much fear has been conquered with the flip of switches.

The clock is ticking.

It too, is lit for all to see.

It reads 4:45am.

Like holes in a woven blanket held to sunlight from a dark place, Big City is a mass of its own twinkle and sparkle and glow in a deep dark shadow of obscurantism and apathy. The most brightly lit things the least enlightened, it seems at first look. The prison in the distance. The freeway shopping mall. The Tip Top Tavern titty bar with its enormously bright neon pair of beer pitchers (jugs?), outpouring non-stop neon frothy head behind a parapet

Smaller sparkling/twinkling distant glows hold stories in their shine, as light streams through time telling us tales .and spotlighting our humanity.

That window holds a small boy dreaming.

That streetlamp holds a stickball game cut short by caring mother’s cooking.

That car a baby screaming its first newborn baby scream.

That neon scrawl an illicit night not home..

That dull blue glow a storefront, often burglarized by bungling boys on drugs with worse intentions..

Those porch lights....

Those worrisome conical porch lights everywhere, spreading their worry all over Big City. They are the bright vanguards of bad things feared. They come at the first signs of dark foreboding evenings. They wait till dawn to disappear. They are the true dark manifestations in a well-lit atmosphere. Their light represents the darkness within the hearts and minds of Big City residents. The porch lights say “we are afraid”. The porch lights give us all away.

There are signs everywhere. Signs of progress and signs of explanations. Signs of destinations and signs of things. There are signs to help you get on and signs to help you get off. Signs all well-lit in white light well-meant, lighting up the dark moonless night and helping you to see your hand before your face.

In Big City, lights rule the darkness as a placeholder for daylight and a surrogate for some things we all fear. We all fear differently, but we all rely on light in combat of darkness like faith in a scary situation.

Faith is also believing in the light switch. Faith is believing in the true light forthcoming every morning at dawn. Faith is believing that the darkness is temporal, a simple condition broken by the rising of the sun. Faith is believing in incandescent or neon or florescent ingenuity. Faith is a porch light not turned on.

Faith was invented anew by the likes of Franklin and Edison and all the curious others. Faith is held aloft by archaic sects with modern machinations.

Faith is believing in what is illuminated. Faith is believing in what is too dark to see.

Faith, it seems to me, is a contradiction. Faith is like a well-lit Big City late night day on a dark and moonless night.

-2-

Big City shares its dark spaces filled with light with sound. The noises never cease in the well-lit darkest Big City nights.

Angry drivers and dogs and Harley Davidson motorcycles and sirens and wailing women and laughing revelers and slamming doors and the constant humming in the power grid, are all ingredients to be heard this very night. If light is akin to life is related to faith, then sound is an agreeable companion or a nosy neighbor or a distant cousin, confirming everything in grumbles and whispers and shrieks and bangs and clanks.

Tonight there are subway trains being shifted in their stations. A very distant gun shot resounding within the fear-lined walls of many woken. The rarified roaring of freeways and highways like an ocean at its roughest shores. The nearby nuisance of a crying newborn in a household now stirring and newly lit. A dirty man lying in sand long left over from sandblasting beneath an aging train trestle, snoring.

And yes, I know this man.

This snoring man is Sam.

Our Sam. Smelling of Southern Comfort and bad body odor. Wrapped in whatever warmth discovered last night in a drunken stupor. Passed out where he last lay last night, arms wrapped to the chest to hold in some darkness and retain some warmth, an aura of a fallen man aglow around him like a dead angel in a dumpster.

You would step over Sam if you were walking and you found him in your path. You would think to walk around-- then change your mind. You would think, “Why bother?” and simply lift your legs a little higher, spread them a little further, and you would continue on.

Sam would be a dirty, foul reminder of where you are going, what you have to do, and why you do it even though you really hate it so. Sam keeps you working. He keeps you on your toes. Stepping over Sam is really good for you, you would tell yourself, if you found Sam laying in your path.

The sound of snoring can only be heard sitting or standing next to Sam. Big City is too big to cause a ripple with a snore. A snore is an unnoticed happenstance in a city full of snoring. A million snores a day. That’s what Sam is up against. Asleep and still competing. Snoring and now mumbling.

“Mimi”.

Snoring within the confines of his stench. Sand unstuck from reddened cheeks and falling in whispers back to sand. Tossing and turning in turmoil, is our Sam.

“Mimi.”

Another lost sound in the well-lit quiet noisy darkness.

“Mimi.”

There. You heard it because I made you pay attention.

- 3 -
.
A Rolex watch is on the arm of Sam. Not on the wrist, but pulled up and cinched around an indented forearm marked by this expensive instrument of time. A gold band leaving images of railroad tracks in the soft flesh near the bony elbow. A hidden commodity marking the man and telling time.

Ticking imperceptibly.

As if 2000 dollars for a watch were nothing to shout about. As if a snore were worth much more. As if the noisy, well-lit city held all the glory and the real gold. and treasure. The truth so valuable. The din of it all costing trillions and billions more.

4:57 now.

The dawn still waiting back in other places. There would be an hour and more, before the sky filled blue anew.


If you were sitting next to Sam, listening to him laboriously snoring and taking in his smell in the well-lit moonless night, you would have heard it like a far-flung ringing of a church bell, only muffled and small and coming from Sam’s Rolex on his well-tracked arm.

An alarm was sounding, waking Sam with a startled, lost look of terror and recognition. He was here now. He had slept here then. Then carried over until now, and here he was. (It was entirely too early for such esoteric silliness and Sam was sure he was still quite drunk.)

Time to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.

There would still be time.

That, my friends, Sam was mostly sure of.

--4--

Big City held millions of people. The edges faded into lots and fields and litter-strewn fencing that ran away from Big City like spokes in a mangled wheel. In its center, Big City bulged in places and in others stood standing tall. The weave of roadways were most apparent from the vantage points within its confines, from the tall towers of glass and concrete and steel-- some with rotating roofs that served coffee and some with offices that served its citizens.

Big City was never an idea but simply an occurrence with consequences. Big City was a cause and Big City was an effect. Humans created it and yet clung to it like it created them. Big City was a mother of sorts, and a machine. A form of refuge and a means of maintaining itself through its needy existence.

Big City was like many other big cities. Dull and shiny and darkly well-lit in its quiet cacophony.

You could say it held many contradictions within its wall-less confines. It was a container for the passage of time marked by human timepieces.

It was a Rolex on a bum.

At 5:25 in the pre-dawn well-lit moonless night, Big City was an explosion of possibilities and chance encounters and notorious routines and boring human escapades.


Moppers mopped. New lovers found their socks and headed home.. Watchmen watched. Police policed. Bakers rolled their dough and counted their change, and insomniacs counted minutes on their clocks. There were connivers conniving and sweepers sweeping. Workmen working late were still working early.

Big City was a sleeping giant in a fairy tale of sorts-- of course-- but she was indeed alive and alert and relevant and modern and breathing fine.

But now Big City-- to me, and to those of you still with me-- was scaled down in focus to a Rolex watch ticking tacitly on the indented forearm of a snoring bum.

Tick tick tick tick...

Remember Sam?

It’s his day off.

And I am going to tell you what happens to him.

--5--

Surrounding Sam sleeping in the sandblasting sand still laying in tiny drifts atop a large concrete block in the
pre-dawn well-lit darkness, were more than several large piles of clothing tattered and dirty and darkened by grime and slime, wrapped around the lifeless limbs of sleeping human beings. A snort here. A grumble there. But not a single snore as a declaration of a profound life in the Big City by anyone except a sleeping, loudly snoring Sam. These were human beings draped in discarded layers of Big City’s surpluses hiding from Big City’s citizenry by sleeping beneath piles of cloth deep and thick enough to muffle the fact that they were living beings with needs and wants and things. By resembling the discarded and unneeded and unwanted, these men and women hoped to somehow disappear. in large piles unseen and unheard. and uncared--for and unnoticed and therefore unmolested.

Don’ t look at me. I am simply a pile of something you didn’t want Please step over me and don‘t look at me, please..

By my count there were nine of these scattered like random leavings from a herd, ruffled and wadded like dirty clothes piles long neglected, surrounding a snoring Sam and in no way mindful of Sam’s sad state amongst their affairs.

Sam was one of them, yes, though, not quite one of them. Sam was different. Sam seemed to have a reason for being. Sam seemed to have a spark that these other piles lacked. When Sam was sleeping beneath the train trestle with this roughly wadded crowd-- which was not all that often-- things had a way of getting started. Sam had a way about him that got things started. Things started while Sam was around, and settled down long after they ended, which made Sam legendary in the often confused and confounded minds of these piles of unwanted leavings.

At 6:23 on a moonless well-lit night, Big City seemed to crack an eye and look around. The sun was nowhere to be found. You couldn’t see it but you could feel it happening. Big City reached out blindly and hit the SNOOZE button and went back to tossing and turning- not quite sleeping but not yet enmeshed in a new day. dawning either.

The fact was, day was not quite ready for the dawn. The well-lit city was cloaked in dark shapes hiding in light places. and faith was waiting for awakenings. Porch lights worried and signs were everywhere, while sounds were heard like shrieks and bangs and clanks.

It might have been a clank that actually caused Sam to sit up and look around. It might have been a dream. But at 6:24 on a moonless well-lit night, tucked up beneath a train trestle laying in sandblasting sand and surrounded by the leavings of Big City’s citizenry, Sam sat up and looked around.

“Fire. Fire. Fire.” ran through Sam’s mind like a useless mantra..

“And a beer.”

Sam took time to orient his mind. Things were thought that belonged in the haze of dreaming and alcohol. Wild things like jumping from this concrete block to the rooftops of several flat roofs far below.

“I could fly if I just could.. God, I need a beer.”

Sam gathered wood while waiting for his mind to clear. It never fully really seemed to, during these days. These days to Sam were like a blurry dream and a motion picture television Sunday morning rerun. These days were like a fast life lived beneath the water, or a car chase in slow motion. Days like these were a constant reminder of things lost and things not yet discovered. Searching for a hidden stash of wood, Sam let this day start in fuzzy detail and inconsistent constancy.

It was only a pile in a conical form, and it was rough and ill-conceived, but it was a start. The pile lit with a flash of fire from a small and expensive--looking lighter, and Sam blew on the burning wad of paper to enlarge the heart of the flame and warm his goodly nature to a level that left his life worth living.

“Fire is the elixir that quenches the thirst of the cold and the shivering,” spoketh a shivering Sam.

“Fire on ice is a hole waiting to happen.”

Crackling joined the grumbles and the clanks and echoed eerily between two large chunks of concrete. The snaps and pops of pitch pockets in wet wood were reminiscent of childhood winter familial feelings and ski trips in Vermont.

Nine piles of wadded humanity remained unfazed by the newly flickering firelight. The flickers of flame danced and swayed for an audience of one.

A man named Sam. A simple bum in a tattered set of woven keep-me-warms who watched their ardent orange gesticulations and cornered them with proffered frozen palms.

The heat gathered in Sam’s extremities, like a collection of good deeds, and sought the source of the soul of our Sam, the way a good deed should.

“Heat is life,” thought a slowly thawing Sam.

Light is life, is what I thought.

Who is telling this tale, anyway?

--6--

The fire grew with Sam’s additions. More light was added to the mix. A hand before the face was an orange-toned hand with life-lines and fingerprints and scars and calluses and ground--in dirt and grime and slime. These hands fed the flames more wood. These flames climbed this wood like liquid vines and clambered higher still.

Sam was now standing and happy to be living as his shadow grew behind him and his feelings overpowered him.

“Mimi”.

Sam would think this thought a lot.

“Mimi“.

The flames clamoring to the chin and backing down. Sam smelled the singe and took it all in.

Sam thought, “A shave, of all things, “ as he began to laugh.

As 6:38 came and passed, the sun was now an inkling on the horizon. If you thought about it long enough, it would show itself in bright warm golden flashes. It would not be your own idea but your premonition that would coax it out of hiding. If you expected it, it would show. The sun was good like that.

It always showed. It always came.

Faith held forth that the sun would always shine. The sun was light. Light is the life I am trying to convince you you are privy to. while you are living. Without light you have fear and with that fear, darkness.

On a well-lit moonless Big City night, the darkness was now giving way to lightness. Sam was warming to the leaping flames striking flashes of more light like lightning through a woven blanket held before the sky.

Sam’s laughing and this lighting left no doubt that there was crazy fire in the air. Things were getting started. You could tell. You could feel it. There was magic to be found in Sam-surround that came with pyrotechnics..

Sam grew animated.

“Alright everybody, rise and shine!
Up and Adam and Eve!
Get up! Stand up! Stand up for your rights!
Wakey wakey little snakies.
Bim Bom! Bim Bom!
It is the sunrise, not the advent of day that one should worship, if one should wake in the dark.
Aaaaooooga! Aaaaooooga!
Come on boys and girls, you’re burning daylight!
Oh my God! Look at the time!
Time to get up sleepy heads!
Barroom! Barroom!
Eeee eeee eeee eeee eeee...”

Sam was doing his best to raise an alarm. Nine wads were doing their best to hide beneath the thickness of their unwanted cloth, and the sun was now throwing its first finger to the skies in a jubilant pronouncement of its arrival once again.

The time of that miracle was 6:46 am on a cold November morning dressed in frost.

A bald and mostly toothless head emerged from a hole in a wad. This was the Laughing Man. Sam had woken him and made a funny. This had made him laugh.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw haw ha ha haw

There are laughs and then there is laughter and a head. With the Laughing Man, the two were separate and sometimes equal. At times the laugh is all you heard. Sometimes the head is all you saw. Sometimes the mostly toothless hairless head and the laugh emerged and merged and melded into an event you noticed and analyzed in a mixture of fear and cheerfulness; while the crazy, mostly toothless hairless head laughed on and on and on like an echo repeating itself in a chamber of horrors that you got in free for.

For Sam it was the whole package. A laughing, mostly toothless hairless head with a laugh that affected all it came in contact with, like good music in a dome or silence in a quiet place.

The flames flickered against a backdrop of concrete blocks and trestle tracks above and flat rooftops below. The flames were an inverted, dancing moment cloaked in orange. The world seemed afire while the Laughing Man laughed, his head out of a hole in a wad and Sam pronouncing daylight officially on its way (in a moment if you would all just wait for it.)

Eight wads of undesired garments and a ninth a head sticking out of a pile of rags.

A bum by the name of Sam in a posture of great reverence like Elvis or Jesus filling noisy silences with impromptu profundities. and silly gnomic nonsensicalities.

“The world is not flatter than a pancake.”

“You cannot knot a knot.”

“There are more than seven wonders. I wonder where they went?”

“Devine is for degrape, which grows on denial...”

Stuff like that.

And the Laughing Man was certainly getting a kick out of all of it, to be sure, as was apparent by his laughter.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw haw ha ha haw... and so on and so forth...

(I suppose you too, would laugh, too, if you were there.)

--7--

With the light came the noise. Big City didn’t wake with a whisper. It woke with a clamor. Engines started. Tempers rose early. Garbage cans were dragged across rough pavement. Sirens resounded, and boom stereos beat their drivers to their jobs-- the bass so deep it pressed against the sides of thought like activated anti-lock breaks on ice in a blizzard. Big diesels rap-rap-roared. in deliverance of backdoor rendezvous’ with vendors of all stripes and sizes. The bread was getting spread around town. Subway trains clacked and clattered as they ran around in circles or back-and-forth like an autistic toy full of sleep--wiping people reading the news and sipping lukewarm coffee.

One just clattered overhead. No. Maybe roared and clattered is what I meant to say? One just roared and clattered overhead. “One just rhythmically roared” works well as well..

Laughter ceased to make a mark in the world as the din of the metal wheels and straining steel and echoing clanking over--ran the verbal antics of Sam and the almost maniacal laughing of the Laughing Man. If you were a wad of unwanted cloth piled beneath the tracks high up on a block of concrete on a bed of old sandblasting sand, you would roll over and grumble for mercy and wrap your hands around your ears. This would be the tortuous part of your existence. This would be the time to swear and curse. This would be a good time for a drink. and if you were lucky enough to have hid a half of undrunk last night’s bottle in your wad of ruffled collected clothing, you took a long swill here and now and were thankful for the gut warming flavor and unsavory momentary relief from being woken by a train running over your inebriated head.

Wads of unwanted cloth swelled and ruffled in this ritual. Hidden humans swilled and satiated beneath their mounds of wadded unwanted garments like burrowers in a mood to stretch themselves without showing themselves.

The Laughing Man ran plain out of breath and settled down to catch it, sipping all he had in his possession, a drop of Ripple fumes and the odor of his own existence.

Sam stood with his fingers in his ears, looking less Jesus-like or Elvis-like and much more apprehensive.

Like a ringing in a banged-up ear, the noises settled and faded finally, and then disappeared completely. The train had left the trestle and was gone. The din of Big City fell like a silence on Sam and his friends. The din was softly harsh and full of discord. But it was silence for the here and now.

Sam was back like a sage on fire. He had picked up a staff and had kicked the coals and fed the flames. He looked like Moses standing in the burning bush. He looked important, as if important things were things to say from scratch.

“This is it! This is all there is!
This is all there ever was!
All of this is all there ever will be.
All there will be always was!
Don’t you get it? Doesn’t that make, like, total sense?
You are streaming in time.
Your life is but a swim in a cosmic sea.
You are an event starting and stopping.
Your are in it but you are not IT.
You have free will but can you free Willy?
All there needs to be always was, but all there was need not be.
Are you paddling yet, my friends? Or simply wading?
Put your hands in the air if you feel you are afloat on a boat!
DO YOU WANT TO SINK OR SWIM?”

There were no hands or takers. The Laughing Man had pulled his head beneath his wad of ruffled unwanted clothing and become a wad. There were nine wads now, lacking in movement.

“There is life and then there is nothing.
Do you want life?
Are you living?
Are you alive?
Does the heart beat beneath your sternum?
Does blood run its course beneath your skin?
Do you feel things? See things? Hear things?
If the answer is yes, it is time to wake up my friends! Rise and shine. Get up. Stand up.
Come and feed the fire that burns within you.!
Hallelujah!
Amen.
Alhambra in a jug...”

Sam liked his own bullshit. You could tell. He was now skipping and bouncing around the concrete block covered in sandblasting sand like an orangutan in shoes. He was be--bopping and hopping and kicking over piles of wads and revealing human forms hidden in each like nuts in a strangely soft colored clothing shell. Forms that resembled humans but lacked a human drive inside were cracked and excavated. Forms that needed filling out with pens of colored optimism were scribbled on and drawn outside the lines.
Sam was relentless in his musings. Adamant in his kicking and prodding. Animated in his approach to early morning wake up duties like a dire dog in need of a let-out-to-pee.

“...Smoke on the water.
Fire in the sky.
Hot dogs on a stick!
Who’s your daddy?
Where’s your Momma?
Rock good-bye babies!
Badda badda bing!”

From space you would not know what was transpiring in Sam‘s domain. You could only think-- “What on earth?“

From nearby-- perhaps looking down through your legs as you walked across a train trestle-- you would see what would have looked to you like the aftermath of a bomb blast. Bodies moaning and writhing on the ground. One frantic man in tattered woven clothing attending each victim in turn, circling around the top of the concrete block like a boxing paramedic., jabbing and parrying and checking for vitals and now a duck and a victory dance, Rocky style., all the while speed talking in bits of intellectual acumen laced with large bits of crap like an ineffectual intellectual heaping tall-piled plates of wisdom that were destined to be shat on and dropped to a dirty floor.

Believe it or not, Sam was like that. A man in two worlds at once. A contradiction as odd as toilet doilies with a spectacular vernacular and a diction to fill a latrine

If you took Sam at face value you could buy a used motorcycle and a soda. If you took him seriously you could herniate severely. If you took him home you could consider your day a dumpster day, as Sam would take your time and trash it with his rambling, babbling, sometimes nonsensical, excitable ways.

So be very, very careful that you don’t take Sam home.

Not on days like these.

--8--

Nine newly revealed humans stood their ground and hid their intentions with unwanted clothing clung to parts of them while Sam tugged and flounced at each and every one of them. Nine dirty, tired, reddened faces reeking in havoc of habituated have-to-do’s, all grimacing and feeling tormented and gripping their jaws tight and squeezing eyes to slits and holding on to what they only moments before once had-- warmth and anonymity and cozy comfort of an almost earthy nothingness, wrapped in piles of ruffled/wrinkled layers between themselves and almost everything else.

Now here was Sam, pulling this away from them like a madman picking lint balls from a sticker bush, ripping from them the sanity of their insane moments within themselves and all the while coaxing and coaching them as if today were the day of the very big game.

Six men and three women. Some of society‘s most crestfallen, dunderheaded and dumbfounded. Sam working them over and up and down.

“Come on you cheesy grin full of cheese puffs, get your sorry ass up and live a little! Time is wasting away!”.

The Laughing Man. Not laughing now. A bald man by affliction and toothless by gum or crook. The look in the eyes was crazy hinting on absurdly/ridiculously mad. Skinny of frame and bony to behold, The Laughing Man had one screw loose and the others all missing in a life someplace long forgotten. “If it happened, it were funny!” would be the motto of the Laughing Man-- if he had thoughts to consider mottos after all..

“Come on you hacking chest bag full of phlegm and inspiration! I need your eyes today. I need that look you get when you light the world aflame.. Where is that gorgeous girl I once bought a pack of Marlboro 100’s for? I’ll buy you a carton if you score for me today., whadya say?”

Betty The Smoker could choke a puff out of a filter left for dead beneath a pair of cowboy boot toes. Betty had the butt-eyes of a desperately addicted puffer. She could spot grains of tobacco leaf in a driveway full of dandelions. and collect it and roll it up and enjoy it. She was that damn good.

Betty had a hacking cough that sounded like a garbage disposal chewing down old celery stalks and a spoon. At 41, Betty looked all of it doubled minus a few days in rehab years ago. Betty had Einstein’s hair and her grandmother’s decayed skin in puffy pouches all over her self. Her fingertips were the color of bad urine and her teeth were the color of feces smeared on yellowing linoleum. Betty had the intellect to be a team player , though. She could spot a pack of Marlboro 100’s in a crowd of playing card decks with her eyes squinted closed down to slits and wrinkles. Betty was a handy one to know, on days like these. Betty The Smoker was a winner.

“Fred! How are ya Fred? How are the missed free-throws? Are you up for the big game today, Fred? Are ya gonna make me proud? Big money is on you being the one today, Fred. Hear that? Big money. Big big money!”

Fred was Fred. He was tall and goofy and Fred fit him thusly. Fred had always been Fred and Fred responded best to being called Fred. Buddy or Pal or Big Guy only made Fred ignore you. Big money made Fred look at you with a head tilt and a piercing set of inquisitive eyes.

“Big money?”

“Yes, Fred. Big big money. So big you’ll need more pockets. So big you’ll need a wheelbarrow!”

“Big big money?”

“Yes, Fred. Big big money.”

Fred was pleased. At 6-8, Fred had an advantage in a busy city. He could see over crowds and over fences. Fred was ready and willing for the big bucks. Big big money drove Fred like the clarion call of his ex-wife June.

“Jugs Judy! My over-inflated sack of siliconized chest candy. How the hell are ya?”

“Fuck You, Sam.”

“OK! Not today! Today I’m paying cash and for you I’ll throw in a manicure for what ails ya.. You gotta be in. You’re an old hooter. Come on Jugs! Be real!”

Jugs Judy had been a stripper for years. An addiction to breast enlargement surgery and its subsequent pain meds had led Jugs down a path that led her here. Pain meds and alcohol and more pain meds and more alcohol and finally age and an encroaching ugliness and Jugs had found herself saddled with silicone monstrosities she couldn’t afford to feed. They hung on her chest like massive bags of bag-filled bags of skin They weren’t pretty. And they wouldn’t stop bouncing around.

“Alright, Sam. You are always good for a laugh. Give me a fiver.”

“In time, Jugs. In time.! How the hell are ya Slappy ? How’s your slap happy pappy? You in this week? You in for cash and prizes and trips to Bermuda with your shorts? Whadya say, Slappy? How much to make you happy?”

Slappy had a habit of striking himself across the right cheek with his right hand. Imagine a fly that won’t stop alighting on your cheek, Several years of driving you nuts would drive you nuts. You would simply and automatically slap at it out of an unhappy habit. A slappy, unhappy habit. that would be like a tic of the arm that never stopped ticking. It would drive you to drink. It would drive you out of your mind. It would drive you here, to be known as Slappy.. You would smile at Sam and slap yourself silly. Sam was such a windbag full of humorous tornadoes. You had to be in. What else were you gonna do?

“I’m in. This week, I’ll win.”

“That’s the spirit! Way to go Slappy! Now I’m happy! This is all gonna be a dream! How are you Stomper?”

Sam was moving along like a politician, shaking hands, soliciting favors and making promises.

Stomper could not dance but he loved to jump around a lot and grin.

“I am good, Sam. Sam I am good”

Stomper was a small man and not old, at all. Maybe 25 if you counted his lies. Stomper was born with feet that grew the size of several pairs of shoes. Stomper’s shoes were humongous and a sight for amazed eyes. They were donated to him by a charity set up solely for shoeing Stomper‘s huge feet.. The charity was a one and only and only one old lady named Nonny in a daisy emblazoned van. Nonny had been shoeing Stomper since he was nine or ten, when Stomper first set his then size 15 feet in her fertile backyard, stealing her garden growths and stamping down her flowers. Stomper was pure street born and raised like a stop sign or a curb. The streets were Stomper’s stomping grounds, hence the name Stomper.

“Good to hear it Stomper. Good to see you. Nice shoes by the way.”

“Thanks, Sam.”

“You are most welcome, Stomper.!”

You and Him stood holding hands before Sam as he faced them. Think matrimony about to happen only in a surreal setting under unreal circumstances. A bum marrying two who would not say “I do” because they had vowed to only speak in each other’s presences alone. You would talk to Him and Him only. Him would talk to You and no other. You and Him were thusly called, because nobody actually knew what they were called. Sam simply followed suit and called You You and Him Him. What was a man to do?

You was tall and lanky and resembled a sitting vulture. Her nose was long and her head hung silently forward on a long neck. Her hair was black and pulled back as tight as one could pull it and then wrapped in a rubber band off of a driveway newspaper. There were no breasts to speak of, and You would not have spoken of them had she had them. Only to Him would she talk of such things. Only to Him would she talk at all.

Him was short and round like a bowling ball. You wanted to stick your thumb in his mouth and two fingers in his eye sockets, and roll Him down an alley. You didn’t want this for Him. She loved Him. It was evident in the way she stared admiringly at the top of his freckled head (for had Him had more hair, it would have glowed an orange-red.)

Sam simply stared at the two while joining his hands to theirs.

“Welcome aboard. You and Him are very much appreciated. I hope you do well.”

On these days, Minus was a plus. Minus was not a midget but he was small. He topped out at 4-10 and weighed about 80 pounds. Minus had been fast-tracked to be a jockey in his jockey-father’s jockey business. But Minus fell off horses, loved vaginas, and gave himself a mini-beer belly at the ripe young age of twelve. Twenty years later, Minus was falling off bar stools and even more in love with vaginas and still packing a little pot above the peepee. Minus claimed he could find a woman by closing his eyes and sniffing like a hound. Sam was grateful for this quality in Minus. A good nose was hard to find.
Minus stood at attention with his hand raised in salute of Sam. Sam said nothing in return, raised his hand, and saluted back to Minus.

Minus held his chest proud, militarily, looking like a turkey, for as long as it held air.

Sam was amused but weary of these exchanges. He wanted to move on. One final exchange and he would hit the streets running. A wad in a pile, unmoving and unnerving.

“This must be the new guy,” thought a disconcerted Sam. “Lord have mercy on the new guy and me!”

--9--


Don’ t look at me. I am simply a pile of something you didn’t want Please step over me and don‘t look at me, please..

Sam knocked. (Well, OK. He said “knock”.)

“Knock knock knock?”

There was not a rustle in the wad.

“Hello? Is anybody home?”

Not a swelling of fabric.

“Are you decent? Can I come in? Hello?”

“He’s shy“, said Minus. “He won‘t come out much.”

“Nonsense!” said Sam. “He‘s just frightened, is all.”

Sam lifted up a layer of dirty/filthy/unwanted things, looking for a way in.

“Hello? I am coming in to have a word with you. Hope you don‘t mind and don‘t bother to clean. I am not looking so spiffy myself today.”

Sam disappeared beneath the grimy/dirty pile of unwanted things. He was now part of the last wad uncovered on the sandblasting sand beneath the train trestle high up the plane of Big City. Nine recently exposed men and women moved in on the pile and watched the struggle as it unfolded before them in subtle twitches like a rat in a hat on a head.

Nine destitute souls gathering in one curious, conical focus. Every stare a stare at a twitching pile of clothes. Minutes passed. Cars started and left their driveways and got lost. Mailmen opened and shut mailboxes spanning generations. A baby made the journey from birth canal to be hung upside down to be made to cry. Dogs started to bark in the distance and grew tired of it and stopped. Just when the pile stopped moving at all, Sam’s head popped out and the first breath he took was a bit of a gasp.

“He’s in!” Sam announced to a well-lit crowd of onlookers..

The Laughing Man resumed his maniacal laugh.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

There was a pathetic version of a cheer.

Big City would be the field of play today, and let the best bum win.

--10--.

The newbie turned out to be a Chester. Chester’s thing was his name and his mother’s insistence that he keep it. Chester’s mother’s father had been a Chester, and his father before that. The trouble was The Molester, which came into consciousness about the time that Chester did.

Chester The Molester. Just a kid’s way of dealing with scary people and things, but it was almost instantly Chester’s nickname before he could even write it. Chester The Molester. I mean, imagine, having this name pounded into your head by school yard bullies from your earliest memories onward? Chester The Molester. The nerdy, bespectacled kid who molested you. Ewww!

You too wouldn’t want to come out of your wad without a stupor, and this was Chester’s main contention.

Having never actually been a molester was also part of the equation. Chester feared the arrival of The Molester within himself. “If you name it, it will come“. That sort of neurosis .

Which meant touching sex was taboo. All sex.. Even his own, which stood out often like a cannon-fired preacher and begged and begged. (Think about that disturbing set of circumstances for a chew or two if you will. A life of dry spells broken by the occasional wet dream. Ewww...)

But Chester was a bright man, and he knew what he was up against. Being asked to join the fray was a chance to live again, if only for an afternoon. He could win this thing. He had pent up energy to spare. Chester would take the gloves off. He’d unleash the beast within.

“Grrrr!” said a bespectacled Chester. “Grrrr!”

--11--

Big City’s porch lights dropped out of the playing field one by one as the sun bounced and spread its rays of hope into more and more dark corners. Lights of signs were turned off and traffic took on the chattering of the trains in a sound-off competition resounding on and on and on. In Big City, a steady din was silence and true silence would unnerve you if you thought you actually heard it.

Betty The Smoker was already down on the streets looking for road scores at intersections-- tossed out butts that went out before their time-- and Fred was scanning great distances from his harrowing height while he stood midstream in the human traffic that flowed around him. Fred looked like a man on a soap box with nothing to say. His sharply squinted eyes were out for big money-- no-- BIG BIG money, and he was spending it already in his towering mind.

Slappy was happy to be on a mission of sorts. It gave his mind something to focus on, which reduced the late day swelling considerably. Fewer slaps meant more sleep, less booze-- a welcome paradigm shift and a quarter of all that ailed poor Slappy. Some say Slappy could cut his arm off and reduce his affliction. That, thought Slappy, would be silly. Talk about cutting off an arm to save a face. No. Slappy simply practiced a softer approach. If he could reduce the frequency and the severity of his arm tics, he’d be fine.

You and Him were holding hands and whispering to each other. As the only tag team couple on Team Sam, they felt advantaged. Their only disadvantage that they would not talk to others by some long ago pact not talked about.

In whispers to only each other and secret transferences of character and nuance, the two concocted a scenario in which they actually won. You and Him. up on a pedestal. Like a wedding cake bride and groom, they imagined. Imagine that!

Thusly settled, You and Him sat down on an inner city bench and stuck their tongues in each others mouths for a time. It looked like a vulture eating a bowling ball to some. To others, just a crime.

Stomper felt the key was going there and coming back. If he could just get there and come back in a spiral, he was bound to win. With big feet slapping the pavement, Stomper searched for a bus that would take him to the fringes, out where corn still grew, out on the edges. From there he would come back here. He would be methodical and logical. He would take his methadone.

Jugs Judy would haunt her old haunts with her implants in tow. Those places were bound to know something. They always knew. The dressing (or undressing) area of a strip club held few secrets. It was all there laid bare. Who was zooming who? Who knew who and just how well? What to put on a groin pull? Erstwhile connections and complimentary observations from behind open doors. Jugs Judy would take the glory this cold November day. But there would be no running.

Minus was another matter. Minus had no plan. Minus had always followed his two inspirations. His penis and his nose. They led basically to the same place, most times-- a very large lonely woman.

Minus had a sit down and a think with a drink in this regard A very large lonely woman would simply not do this time. Not today.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw... was out there somewhere too.

Sam was sizing up Chester. A man in his forties who wore mittens and sported thick glasses strapped to a tangle of common brown hair. A man with a slight stutter and a nervous sweat and a button that said “Don’t worry, be happy” on a collar curling and crusting up.

With squeezes of assurances to Chester’s flaccid shoulders, Sam gave his peppiest of talks in bold, inspiring slogans.

“Be strong.
Be relentless.
Never give up.
Never give in.
Never stop seeking
Never stop searching
Ask the milkmen and the mailmen
And the cops on the corners
Be one with Big City
Let her come to you in intuitive messages
Find her core and her body will be there
Be strong
Be relentless
Never give her up to being lost!
Now go get her... Chester The Protector!”

Chester ran from Sam to nowhere in a hurry. But he got there fast, leaving Sam to contemplate his next move.

Money.

Money was part of the game. Without money, no one played. There was no fun. Money was fun hence the term, funny money. Sam pulled out a silver flacon and uncorked it for a sip. These days were filled with moments rife with possibilities and indecisions all reliant on luck and a silver flacon filled with sips to steel the soul.

“Mimi.”

Sam washed this thought down, and swallowed hard. Big City was a very big city indeed.

--12--

Nearly 8:00 am and Big City had a nice jazzy beat going within her confines. The sounds of the day were an old, pre-war jazz, syncopated and up tempo. Perhaps the clear, moonless night and the frosted glass awakenings had sped up the early morning populace? Perhaps the people all heading to work were late because they refused to answer to their own alarm settings? It was cold, after all.

I’m not going out there dressed like this!

But here they were. Flowing through time and across Big City streets amid the heckles and the harassing vendors and the traffic that refused to yield and the slow walking habits of outsiders. Here they were on their way to work, like a race against a clock without a finish line. One hand almost always filled with something-- a purse, a brief case, a bag, a double-sized cup of latte mostly foam. One hand freely swinging.

One hand freely swinging free to a jazzy beat unseen, unheard but felt within the confines of Big City.

If you were to focus on just these free--swinging hands, you would see the beat yourself. Not the beat itself, for sound has no reflectivity in light. You would simply see the beat as it swung like a metronome in the hands of strangers.

Sam had worked his way into the thick of moving human things-- the morning rushing droves of office workers in their upscale mass. This was upscale citizenry in upscale territory on the way to upscale applications. This was the suits and the skirts all clean and smelling fine. This was the daily hair spray and the extra spritzes of underarm deodorants. This was hungry power-lunchers on diets and aging men on minoxidil .hair programs.

These were people who made nothing but made money. They simply moved money around and took some as a fee. Everything in their working lives were based on “points”. Their idea of fair play was to give more points than you were asked to pay.

Sam knew these people well. He knew they were the cash carriers in Big City. If you needed money you came to these people and simply asked. The trick was not to be asked to give it back.

Fred stood tall and at one end of the street. Big, big money attracted him to play this game of stand and stare. If he could see her he could win. Big, big money was a spot he could not afford to miss. Big big money was a 1982 Cadillac and a 2006 27 inch TV. Fred was going to keep an eye out, surely, and win as big as he.

Sam had a different set of plans than Fred. He would join the ranks of these people and get inside their heads. If he could get in there without being recognized,, he could squeeze out a dollar and some change. Getting in there was the ticket to fortune in these parts. Getting in there was what Sam set out to do.

“Excuse me, sir! You sir! In the pin-striped Armani-- nice tie, by the way. You look like a man of means. I think perhaps you out of all these people can comprehend my situation.”

Sam is walking and talking and trying to stay with the Armani man, walking backwards at times and occasionally utilizing the Ali shuffle.

‘You see, I’ve got stock in OMEBA Enterprises.. I’m in big, but I’m cash poor. And I was wondering if perhaps you might possibly... could you maybe... probably...just perhaps... just spare some change so I can get a copy of the Journal. Four bits, sir, a dollar bill and I can...”

“Hold on to OMEBA. Rumor has it they are splitting.”

Sam stops. What did he just hear? Splitting? When?

“Ma’am! Ma’am! Miss? Excuse me, miss. I was just wondering...”

“Get lost, freak!”

“Now what kind of an attitude is that? Hold on a minute. That’s an incredibly horrific, viciously rotten attitude to take on this fine day. Do you realize that I could be your boss someday? I could be the man of your dreams? I could be the man who would give you the respect that I am sure you deserve..”

“Respect?”

“Yes, respect.”

“Then respect my privacy. Freak!”

Sam is a persistent one in these endeavors. He clings to the conversation and sidles along with the woman.

“But that’s just it, see. I don’t want any of your private parts. I just want your sympathy. I want to tell you MY story. I want to tell you why I am here, how I got here and where I am going. I want to sell my soul to you for a buck and some change and...”

The woman had turned into a building and was gone.

Heading upstream was a woman in furs. Upstream meant money and no job to get to. The fur meant money or a good picker at the Thrift stores. This woman looked warm and fuzzily rich. Sam put on airs, and went after her money like a snake oil salesman on a payday.

“Oh pardon me, my fair lady. I can tell by that air of grace you have about you that you are a charitable, concerned citizen championing great causes. Bazaars. Thousand dollar dinners, political affiliation parties, subscriptions to public television, canned food drives, affordable housing symposiums, soup kitchens...”

“We do what we can.”

“I knew it. I knew it all along. I said to myself, I said, Sam, now there’s a woman who cares about a man in my situation. There’s a woman who will take the time to hear me out. Am I right?

I am right, right? I’m not just chasing some rabbit down the wrong rabbit hole? You don‘t think...”

“Leave me alone or I will call the police. If you are hungry, someone will feed you.”

“But that’s just it, see. I don’t need food. I just need a bit of money so I can take care of something. Something I’ve been meaning to do all month. Something truly warm and wonderful and truly special.”

“If you want to drink yourself to death, that is your concern. I will have no part of it. Now leave me alone or I will call the police. And I mean that, young man.”

Sam stops.

That woman deserves a raspberry award, and Sam gives her one-- an erect, vibrating tongue and two thumbs inserted into ears while eight fingers wag..

Tough crowd today.

--13--

Sam had a way of eventually finding a groove and getting what he needed. A dollar here. A quarter there. His best marks were the younger crowd. Those who hadn’t been milked for too long. Those who hadn’t seen their nickels insulted face down in a gutter as vomit one too many times. Those who still believed in their newfound youthful ideals. Those who equated saving the world with small local deeds, like giving a cajoling bum a dollar or a fiver.

Those people.

And Sam had a knack for finding them.

“There you are! I thought that was you.. You know what I did with the last dollar you gave me? I split it with a friend and we both bought a can of soup. We collected wood and warmed our soups and had one of the best meals we’ve had in quite sometime. You got a spare dollar on ya so we can maybe have a repeat of that grand night? Just a dollar. It is absolutely amazing what a dollar can buy these days. Have you ever heard of a dollar store?”

“What dollar?”

“Yes, young man. Just a dollar. You would be feeding two very hungry souls with that dollar. You can spare a dollar I am sure of that. I mean look at you! You are obviously on your way up in somewhat of a hurry. You have corporate CEO written in your future, I can tell.”

And the beat would go on.

Bouncing down the avenue like Jugs Judy’s bouncing boobs, who were on their way to a club almost next door to the well known Tip Top Tavern titty bar.

A grayish place with a cinderblock facade and a wooden hand-built plywood awning, this was Jugs Judy’s old haunt-- like a nightmare that paid in cash-- called simply Naked Girls.

Unlike the Tip Top Tavern, Naked Girls had never had a reputation or a clientele. It had never had red velour stapled to the walls and it had never had a strobe light or a disco ball. Like a generic bottle offering all the relief of those more expensive established brands, Naked Girls offered what the other guys offered but at scaled back prices. You saved because the owners saved. But you got top-notched services in their bargain bottom basement. Which is where Jugs Judy would be headed..

If she could just find someone who knew, she’d be spending it in no time. The trick was to catch the girls sleeping. Sleeping and not screwing. You never got between a girl and a negotiated agreement. Jugs Judy knew this. She had been in those rooms before, and in those scenarios often.

Jugs Judy was a hard woman in some ways, and a soft one in others. Soft of flesh, soft in the chest, yes, but that’s a given. You don’t have rock hard abs when you are lugging around a pair of abalone boobies, that’s for sure. You don’t try to jog. You don’t do anything that would upset the delicately balanced. nature of your accessories. If you went huge like Jugs Judy had done, you were limited in your choice of physical activities. Drinking and doing Vicoden and shuffleboard and screwing (but only on your back.) No more bowling, no more ping pong, no more doggy-style adventuresome stretching in pairs (or other such strenuous sports.)

Jugs Judy had put her own limits on what her life could carry out. Sort of a last ditch effort, and a personal affront. But she had a name for herself now. She wore it on her chest. Jugs Judy had a name that made her a named entity in the world. A known personality. Something that was entirely absent back in her A-cup days when she first initiated this romp by running away from her mom and dad.

The Laughing Man was no laughing matter. He was seriously attending to details. He had been lucky before, and had scored on a streak. If he could just get that luck fomenting again, he’d be buying cherry pies and banana sundaes for the rest of the week. The Laughing Man had a humorous plan.. He wouldn’t tell you about it but he’d sure laugh if you asked. He was going to the highest places in Big City. From up there he’d look down. By looking down, he was sure to win.

“There was nothing funny about winning“, thought the Laughing Man, “unless you thought about it.”

Stomper was on a mission to get to the outer edges. Buses had trouble justifying trips “out there” to where there was virtually nothing.,

“Our next stop, a corn field and a cow.”

See what I mean?

By getting close to the edges on a bus and then going it afoot, Stomper felt he was a shoe-in and had the upper hand with his amazing feet walking all over the competition. Stomper knew the puns and knew the looks and knew that he was something of a special sole, and a size 24 to boot. With a map held in his lap holding a donut, Stomper guestimated the center of Big City and used his fingers like a compass. What he was after was Big City’s furthermost outermost point, which was further than he thought. But Stomper would be rational and logical. He would spiral in on methadone. This was really really going to work.

You and Him were still benched and enjoying each other’s company. They whispered things and shared things and smiled at things only the two of them were privy to. Their affection was such that no one bothered them or stood near them or even looked their way if they could help it. Theirs was a personal, solitary and conjoined romance where the world was not welcome, nor invited, nor hardly even noticed. If they were to do well today they would have to change their tactics. Their current strategy had them sitting on a bench. This may or may not produce the results Sam was looking for.

Only time would eventually tell what these two had in mind. You see, You and Him were not about to let anyone know their current plans or let anyone else in on their secrets. You and Him--as I’ve already mentioned-- spoke only to themselves.

Fred was still Fred and standing and staring. Fred had a fail-safe plan. Fred had a plan he was working on as he stood and stared, with great fortitude and a serious glower. It boiled down to location location location, according to Fred. (He should write that stratagem down. in case he forgot it.)

Where Fred was at right now seemed like a good place to start. If this didn’t work, he would move somewhere that would. This made so much sense to Fred, he was surprised everyone else didn’t see it. (Fred was smart beyond his means, that’s what he often told himself.)

So there Fred stood, a foot over most, glowering like a human tower staring downtown, going for the big big bucks, his arms folded, his shirt wrinkled. Human traffic splitting off and simply flowing around him.

Betty The Smoker had a pocket full of road scores. She was ready for the days’ events to start happening to her now. Her idea was simply to wander around town, keeping her eyes peeled, her sharp eyes focused. If a butt was as easy as a butt was to see, than a human being would be much easier.

“Just keep my eyes peeled-- cough cough, “ Betty The Smoker thought. “Just keep my eyes peeled., and I can win this thing.”

Minus fell off the tree stump he had been drinking and thinking on and caught himself with his back. It was a move he had learned as a drinking kid in school, and it saved his elbows from sharp smacks and kept his head relatively unscarred. From this position he could see the world from a different angle.

“The world,” thought Minus, “was much brighter than I had remembered.”

Minus was dumbstruck for notions and thunderstruck for a girl named Sue. But Sue would not do. Not today. Today was a day unlike those other days. The woman he sought today, was not a prize for his possession.

No.

Today was a day for giving those desires away. Today was a day when those desires were for tomorrow. Today was going to be that kind of day. After all, this was for Sam. And Minus looked up to Sam the way a small man would..

Chester was knee deep in a Thrift store donation clothes bin looking for what he had in mind. Without sex as an aphrodisiac, Chester had learned to make do with rum filled-paper sacks and paper backs.

“A good mystery was as good as the mysteries of women“, Chester often told himself. “And a good mystery wasn’t any good if it didn’t have a trench coat and a deep--throated dame with money in distress in it-- at least in the good parts.”

Chester was peeling up the layers of Big City’s unwanted and unneeded clothing and trying to find a coat that matched his new style. If he was going to win this thing, he’d have to look the part. A trench coat and an era hat, is what Chester sought. A trench coat and a way of holding his cigar-- if he’d only learned to smoke.

It was hard to say if luck was running out on Chester--there were layers left unearthed in the Thrift store clothing donation bin.. If a trench coat was not in the mix today, perhaps an over coat would do?

Slappy reminded himself of where he was at by slapping himself harder than his normal slap. This brought crowds of eyes buzzing around his reddened cheek and stirred up more impulses.

“Damn them. Stop this buzzing. You’re making me worse. Stop. Just stop. Just stop.”

Slappy slipped into a shop and grabbed his pockets to steady the impulse and give his cheek a moment to stop stinging. The place was full of greeting cards and stuffed bears with hearts emblazoned in as any ways as a stuffed bear could tolerate. The owner of the shop was a bear herself, all fuzzy and warm and full of gratitude and happy birthday wishes and get-well-soon dears. Her name was Alice and Alice was following her passion into bankruptcy.

“You need something, sweetie?”

“No, ma’am,” said Slappy. “Just looking.”

Slappy tried to look. His cheek sent pounding waves of pain across his head like delayed concussive waves. A brave moment hit Slappy and he faced the nice woman who stood there, smiling. “You got any aspirin?”

“I do in my purse. Would you like one?”

“I would like several, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll get you several, sweetie” said Alice, and Slappy was a happy man for a short moment in time.

Sam had a pocket that jingled and jangled like a sock full of quarters. He had another pocket that was full of wadded one dollar bills. His best approach this morning had been the intimidating-walk-backwards-in-their-faces-and pick-on-their-expensive-attire-until-they-cracked approach. The more ridiculously expensive the attire was, the more Sam knew he had them on the ropes. If you were wearing two thousand dollars worth of power suit and anniversary tie, and a bum knew this, you had trouble saying no. I mean, think about it. The guilt would be horrendous if you felt it.

“I can’t give you a dollar because I spent it all on my suit.”

“I can’t spare a quarter because my suit was sixteen hundred bucks.. And how do you know my tailor?”

--14--

Big City consumed the morning commuters within its walled-in spaces and the streets thinned out a bit. The sun percolated skyward and the frost that laced the windows and lawns and handrails across glossy metal roadway bridges was all but thawed. If you paid attention to such things, you would have felt the rhythm within Big City slowing down and quieting by notches on a dial. It was very much like life was controlled by “The Hand and Knob” at these junctures in human time. You could almost see IT reaching down. The slightly rotating wrist. The clicking dial. High speed syncopated jazz OFF, lower speed, sultry jazz with a small radio playing country and a boom box rapping in angry angst, ON.

9:25.

Like all anthropomorphic entities, Big City had mood swings that were well described by the music that seemed to accompany them. A jazzy early morning commute. A sultry flamenco later morning lull.. A bit of sad country twang while a traffic accident bled all over the 409 interchange. Heavy Metal traffic snarls and some Folk in the park with a Frisbee and a dog. Beethoven at the bank withdrawing funds and Beethoven’s fifth for those about to drain their life savings to start an enterprise. And of course it was Classical in the elevators, like most places. Or The Beatles in a boxed-set while you stood in line for your mail.

Big City played circus music and Latin salsa and Jamaican reggae. Big City was a disc jockey sampling from all sources. If you had seen it somewhere else, Big City could show you it in several variations. If you had heard it somewhere else, Big City could play it for you here.

Sam had traded his pocket full of quarters in for one dollar bills, which he had swapped for fives, and then upgraded to twenties. Sixty dollars in three twenties neatly folded away in a sock and three ones and a dime. Not a bad morning’s work, if one were so inclined. All it took was a bit of motivation and some back pedaling and a spiel--one that perfected itself with each customer over time. You also had to have an intimate knowledge of your customers’ inclinations and their donating trends (and of course, a willingness to be turned down..)

Big City provided for its inhabitants by providing a venue to wheel and deal. Big City was not a means to make money, but a methodology housed within a structural premise, covered in wood, concrete, glass and steel. You came to Big City because it had a habit of creating cash within its confines. You didn’t come to Big City because Big City printed twenties and passed them out while you waited in line.

Sam knew this. He knew he had to exert to receive. This had been a trait of his father’s., and his father’s father’s. You got back what you put out in some shape or form.. Effort was a fact of life. Without effort, there was darkness and a hunger and a diminishing existence. Sam was an exception in the crowd he was running with, and this Sam knew.

And he was trying to accept this.

You only did what you could possibly do. You only resolved what was resolvable. You only made things right, that could somehow right itself. If Sam had a secret hidden strength within his character, it was this knowledge of the facts.. You could bend a supplicating entity to your way of thinking. But you had to let go down the line. And the nature of things took you to task and reset every natural inclination with an ease that bordered on sleep-tasking.. Nature simply yawned-- readjusting itself-- once you were gone.

Jugs Judy held her bosom near as she climbed down a set of stairs. One hand wrapped across her chest, one hand clinging to a failing railing leading to a dank and dismal underground sexual den and snack bar and make-up room and showers. This time of day held mostly working girls no longer working and the occasional passed out clientele, but for the most part, if you stuck your head inside a room, you weren’t likely to be greeted by a bum in the air. or a pair of flailing legs or a sloppy dingily dangly thing. or a crotch

This time of day you would have to tread lightly and have a cup of coffee handy, if you planned to get what you thought you wanted--which for Jugs Judy, was pertinent facts. Jugs Judy had a ton of questions in her mind that needed answers and a few that needed asking just today.

“Have you seen Mimi?”

“Do you know Mimi?”

“Do you know anyone who knows Mimi?”

“Is Mimi still alive?

--15--

Jugs Judy took her time in the ladies room. She powdered her nose and wiped her backside and stole what paper she could find. . She “released the girls” and let her skin relax. from the straps that dug in her flesh and never let up. She did this all slowly and with intentional hesitancy while she waited for old friends to come in and pee. These were old girls who were still plying and trying. These were old friends who would give her pertinent information-- without charging her for their services. These were old friends she used to swap vaginal ointments with-- for crying out loud.. Old friends she hadn’t seen in quite sometime. Jugs Judy spent extra time this time in front of a mirror, something she hadn’t done much of since she was retired physically from the business by two goons who had seen enough.

“My God! Would you just look at me now!”

Time had eroded Jugs Judy’s youthful hay-girl romping visage and supplanted it with worn.. Her face reminded her (and me) of Kansas country corn after the harvest and after first rains had beat it down. Black moldy unidentifiable crud ringed the bottom half of her eyes, and furrows dug across her forehead and made a V-line toward the tip of her nose. Jugs Judy’s hair had been dyed so often that it was now the color of copper-- the true color of a new penny in a pocket. Not red or auburn, or “Irish Setter”, but the color of a kid’s coin collection dipped in acid and spilled out onto the counter to dry.

Her legs were still skinny and long and these were no longer the salable assets they had once been.-- long ago before surgery and more surgery and more surgery had altered her balance and the way she carried herself.

Now her legs had monstrous boobs to contend with. Now her legs seemed too skinny for the job at hand.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man. Filling half an elevator with glee and heading up to look down.

Stomper finally found the furthest most point from Big City’s center and stood there like a soldier of fortune without a dime, stamping around to keep his wits about himself and his sense of humor too.. It was cold out in the field sharing space with unprotected expanses, but he would soon be moving on. As the wind tussled his golden locks and as his size 24 feet anchored him into where he found himself now, Stomper did what he did best-- he simply stomped around, lifting the legs at the knees, raising one of the two special shoes made specially for his super-sized soles, and then letting it drop into the fertile earth, where it thudded softly and almost disappointedly, considering the size of the source..

“Pfoof!”

And then the other.

“Pfoof!”

Not at all the thunderous stomp one would have expected.

And after a few warm up stomps and a morning swill from a bottle of Jim Beam, Stomper started forward in what he imagined in his street-smart mind to be the world’s largest spiral ever walked by a biped on the planet earth.

Fred was starting to spin too, but not in a good way. Standing and staring had caused his lanky limbs to fill with extra blood and leave his brain too high and dry. The dizziness came over him like a washing machine had been thrown inverted and running atop his head, and his eyes were swimming in sudsy visions of thinning crowds with slowing paces. If you weren‘t at work by nine, you were either late or out meandering.

The meandering crowd outnumbered those late for work by a factor of a mob to a line at the cinema. .

Fred was feeling crummy and went off to sit down. Even the best laid plans had “developments”, and these would have to be adjusted for. Sitting down from such a high height as Fred originated from, required forethought and some aim. You just didn’t “sit” down, when you had that far to go. Fred found a railing that was of reasonable proportions. He bent his knees and held his temples and squatted to a sit. The blood was slowly finding that it had someplace else to go. Fred’s heart pumped and his eyes closed involuntarily. His world-- a lonely, spinning place-- collapsed momentarily inward like an old volcano’s inner landslides, or like an enormous wad of unwanted clothing back at his place where a dream really was a dream.

Betty the Smoker was on her third pack already.

“One long drag per fag“, was one of her favorite mottos. Her acute eyesight was now ready for its task. The nicotine levels had been raised substantially in her brain, and with this great sense of calm and satisfaction, she could raise her eyes from the undulating earth,. meet the world at eye to eye-level, and begin her search in earnest.

“O Crap!” and a startled gasp. It had really been awhile. Betty The Smoker had not looked like this in months. Even her neck had been surprised, the nicotine-soaked mind directing the neck to hoist the head above its canted well-grooved notches.

Like a Bassett Hound looking straight up at a passing cloud, it was an odd position for Betty The Smoker’s head to take. Both in its physicality and in its intended purpose--to look into the faces of people. To meet their gazes head on. To separate one face--Mimi’s face-- from the faces of the masses.
The meandering crowd now in the streets of Big City had no malice for Betty The Smoker. But Betty The Smoker was still afraid.

She was a sight to see in their meanderings, of course, like a tree or a planter-box or an A-frame sign advertising hot dogs, coffee/tea. and 99 cent “zoomers” which you were supposed to go in and ask about. The meandering crowd met her acutely gazing vision with looks of their own. Who was this mad old hatter with hair like Einstein’s and skin like a corpse and why was she so interested in me?

Betty The Smoker trembled with fear but held her head high. She could win this thing, she thought-- fishing around in her coat pocket for a butt to draw sustenance and courage from, and lighting it with one of her road-scored Bics-- if she could just tolerate the looks.

Minus was still laying on his back-- lips to mouth of a square brown bottle-- staring at a white, floating set of ass cheeks in the sky. They were everywhere, these temptations. Brightly back-lit like these clouds or hidden maliciously in things like billowing dresses or unredeemable pants suits or escorted by hulking men who cast ominous shadows over everything fine.

There would be time for finding Mimi in a moment, Minus thought. It’s not everyday a cloud rolls by with curves like that. You had to stop and smell the roses. There was a time for every purpose. You had to take it easy. You had to make your hay, while the sun doth shine..

You and Him were gazing into each other’s eyes on a bench in Big City beneath a maple tree. You stuck her tongue playfully in Him and retracted it teasingly. Nobody wanted to see this spectacle, so nobody looked.

--16--

Sam-- like Minus-- had taken time to stop and stare, but unlike Minus, his clouds were less like floating ass cheeks and more like drifting passages of time. This month here. That month there. A year accumulated in a cumulus nimbus in the distance. The clouds were not so much resemblances but passing, floating feelings., and the sky itself was often acknowledged by Sam as a comforting, omnipresent overlay to Sam’s unfurling moments as a human being.

The sky remained a permanent, gentle presence. The fact that it was always there was reassuring to Sam-- like the thoughts that roamed inside his mind-- and though laying on his back in a patch of grass was part of the plan for the day, part of what was on his plate. and scheduled long ago, there were always the disconcerting matters that blew around like attention--seeking short-stringed kites, hard to not notice, dancing precariously close to limbs of trees and power lines and communication towers.

Mimi.

There were always the sobering, pressuring thoughts about Mimi.

“Have you seen Mimi?”

“Do you know Mimi?”

“Do you know anyone who knows Mimi?”

“Is Mimi still alive?

They came at Sam like gusts of wind carrying particles of dust and sand and scraps of post it-notes. They blew from all directions all at once. Sam could not turn his back on these thoughts for they traveled in the sky Sam so heavily admired. They swirled in front of Sam like dust devils, goading him into the center of them, daring Sam to test their windy voracity and texture with his bare soul exposed They floated over Sam, pressing him downward and into seeking shelter. If Sam could sail, these thoughts would take him over there and bring him back. If Sam could float, these thoughts would carry Sam away and show him scary things. These thoughts were maliciously ubiquitous, and blowing all around Big City, on a cold clear morning in November, playing with Sam’s mind, toying with his sense of peace and happiness, driving him to the streets in a hunt for what he thought he sought

“Hey Sam! Is that YOU? That is you, you old codger! Hey, Sam, Hang on a second! Sam, now where the heck do you think you are going?”

Barney!

Barney was a reason for Sam to find his feet and test his legs. Barney was a relentless soul with needs and wants and a one-way personality on a two-way street. Barney was a medium man with a small sense of propriety and a relatively big mouth and teeny tiny ears. His hair grew on his head in a curly point and his cheeks were spider-veined in red like a man about to explode from the inside out (from “stress” Barney claimed) and his clothes were universally nondescript and pleasantly ironed with sharp creases and plaids and pockets and collars.

“Hey Sam! Where’ve you been, buddy? Hey, slow down, would you? Now just hold on. Sam? Sam!”

Barney had set an angle on Sam’s direction and matched him shoulder to shoulder by the corner. Sam’s determined and quick-paced strides were not an easy match for Barney, and it made him huff and puff as he tried to talk to Sam

“Sam, buddy. Boy am I glad to see you!”

“Not now Barney. There is someone I need to see.”

“Oh, come on, Sam! Just one. Just this once. I’ve got money saved. If I could score big with you this once, I promise, I’ll do good by a lot of people.”

“I’ve got no secrets, Barney. Read the papers.”

Sam speeds up. Barney can’t keep his own pace up, and stops to catch his breath.

“Secrets, Sam? You’ve got all the secrets! Damn, Sam! Hey, come on!”

Giving Barney the slip was like giving your mailman a Christmas gift--certificate. Very little effort was required and the peace of mind garnered was well worth what it took from you. Barney had a story as long as anyone’s, but Barney was an open book full of I’s. I this and I that. Sam had run from Barney many times before, for the same sordid reason. Barney was a taker. He took what he could get. He made promises and promised to deliver, and took from you some more. If you spent much time engaged with Barney, you actually felt tooken, like there was less of you than there had once been at the start. Barney thought that “give and take” meant you gave and he would take, and Sam felt that a garbage can in an alley with a lid was a reasonable place to hang out to avoid a loss of self.

Something about being in the metallic solitude of a 40 gallon can that made Sam appreciate the intricacies of life and all the ants that came with it. For ten silly minutes, Sam simply waited while ants crawled up and down his backside like a watermelon rind. And he recited this odd little ditty to himself as he hunkered down.

There are days
when a cool breeze
plays a small part,
and laughter lets your life go light.
And those you please, and
other places,
possibilities,
are commuters
in a grander scheme
and I know God
and God knows what
I seek.....








--17--

Jenny Joule was a girl-next-door to your next door neighbor. If you were a young man, she was the girl you alternately pined over and resented while you grew. The “Jenny Did’s” drove you nuts while you were trying to grow up, and the way her breasts and hips fit together as an ensemble drove you crazier. Jenny was an attractive do-gooder. An angel to masturbate over. A beautiful person in both connotations at the same time. Both got you in trouble as a young man. One way or the other, Jenny had you beat. As a young man, you fantasized about getting even with her, and you told nobody.

If you were a young girl, you simply thought Jenny was faking it. Nobody who looked like that really wanted to help the homeless and protect the species-- whatever species-- it had to be an act. You couldn’t believe how Jenny had snowballed everybody. You couldn’t believe she could look so damn good in a prom dress, when all she did was spend her life in the service of those who couldn’t.

When you watched beauty pageant contestants wax on and on about service and community, you thought you were seeing a Jenny Joule on TV. You never knew if what you were watching was sincere, but with Jenny, you eventually got it. Jenny started and ran a homeless shelter at the young age of twenty two. She procured finances.. Trained volunteers. Cared for the homeless that she served, and kept reasonable books. Five years down the timeline, Jenny was a player that shared meals with the elite.. From Governors and Mayors down to City Council members and Chief’s of Police. At 27, Jenny was a semi-famous philanthropist in the Big City landscape. At 27, Playboy had made her an offer, which she promptly refused. Jenny Joule, after all, had a heart behind her beautiful bosom. And a will as formidable as a testicular mules‘.

If you saw inside her humble house, you saw Jenny with a man. If you were Sam-- out of a garbage can and up a wooden power pole-- you saw much more than that. Sam liked to look in on Jenny from time to time. Jenny was a beautiful person and Sam had admired her many times before, but always from a respectable distance, and always on days like these.

Guys like Sam had no business with girls like Jenny. Sam knew this, and Jenny would too. A telephone pole across the street and under the cover of an evergreen growing tall alongside it, were sufficient for a peek. A peek at an angel with a great pair of legs. A peek at something Sam knew would help him in his quest. A peek at something that had been eating at Sam, in relief.

Sam knew that someday he’d meet Jenny in the real world-- in the flesh. But for now, he was happy to be twenty feet up a creosoted power pole, hidden in Ponderosa needles, loving everything that Jenny stood for and represented, even him.

Sam pulled his flacon out, and took a sip.

“It could be worse, “ Sam thought, putting the cap back on and pocketing the silver antique with a careful certainty. “I could be dreaming this.”

In the fantasy, Chester wore a trench coat, an era fedora and smoked a cigar. In reality, Chester was dumpster-diving in a Thrift store donation bin. Chester had been in the metal box for over an hour. In that time, he had discovered that cool trench coats were hard to come by., but not impossible, or in this case, unattainable.. As Chester peeled up the second to the last layer of unwanted clothes in the large metal bin, a trench coat had arrived. Tossed in along with a matching pair of pants and dresses that were of no immediate interest to Chester. Like a gift from God, the coat came in good condition and smelling of a family Chester could only fantasize about. Wood fires and home cooking and Glade air freshener and dog flea powder. Heaven on earth.

Chester grabbed the coat and the matching pants and climbed out of the bin. If he were to be the one to find Mimi, then he needed to look the part. At least with a trench coat and a matching pair of pants, Chester stood a chance.

That my friends, is what Chester thought.

Jugs Judy was about to take off all her clothes and put them back on again a second time. She too, had been waiting all this time. An hour had gone by, and she had talked to no one.. She had preened, pruned, powdered and repowdered, and taken several dumps.. If Jugs Judy were to get the information she sought, she would have to talk to someone. Of this she was sure of. With nothing to go on, Jugs Judy had nothing but her nakedness. And this nobody wanted, anymore.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man. He had been sitting on a rooftop--observation tower all this time throwing somebody’s discarded popcorn at passers--by sixty stories below, and somebody looked up like they had taken one to the top of the head.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...


You and Him were cramping up. The tongue can only lash so long. The lips can only part in periods. The hands can only grope and cling to others briefly in the greater scheme of things before they tire. For over an hour, the two had been consumed by the flesh of each other. Him’s bowling ball head was the red of a faded red balloon. You’s carefully pulled back hair had rogue strings of hair hanging in it, and the bench they made out on had been cleared of people for fifty feet in all directions.

The two of them talked. What they said could not be heard, for they talked only to each other. What they said though, had a gist. The gist was this--

“This isn’t working.”

Stomper had been climbing fences and crossing fields for an hour. His dedication to his task was amazing, even to himself. There were moments when he contemplated taking roads and stealing bicycles and finding buses and heading back to his unwanted wad, but those times were broken by the act of climbing barbed wire fences with his toes without getting his big feet hung up and himself flipped over on his nose. With every successful fence, came a renewed sense of his own agilities. And Stomper thought “wow.”

Slappy had been in Alice’s card shop all this time. He had received aspirin, sat down for a spell and been observed.

Kindly Alice had inquired about Slappy’s tic, and a nervous and still recovering from a head-ache Slappy had reluctantly told her what he suffered from and partially why. Or why he thought why. Which was not why, at all.

Slappy had a neurological malfunction that could be repaired with a surgical snip or two. Slappy felt like it was psychological, due to something he had done. The tics had arrived in his teens, right after his first sexual attic tryst with the family’s maid, and this of course, was his guilt manifesting itself in a punishment. According to Slappy.

The tic was as much in the cheek as it was in the arm and slapping hand. Slappy felt a tormenting itch. The itch of a fly alighting, and walking cheekily around. Slappy held off for as long as he could take it, and then he slapped. The itch would be gone until it came back again, which, without alcohol, was a matter of minutes.

The secret sexual affair lasted nine months and three days. With each passing climax and shuffle down the attic stairs, Slappy’s affliction seemed to gather strength over Slappy, and his parents grew increasingly concerned. The maid was sent off pregnant to make financial room for Slappy’s doctor visits, and Slappy felt his new world tumbling down.

Slappy was sure he already had the reasons for his affliction-- and could tell no one then-- and ran off to find his maid. The maid had moved back to her family’s and Slappy was on his own-- just over sixteen, no longer a virgin but a pup in the world. Slappy discovered garbage bins and aluminum cans and alcohol and a guilty life spent wandering.

Alice listened with a motherly grin. Such a silly boy. Though no doctor, Alice felt she had a cure. If not a cure, at least some springy relief. Alice left and went back in her stockroom, and returned a few moments later. What she had was a belt, a leather wrist band, and a bungee cord.

Slappy said he’d let her hook him up but it wouldn’t work. He would rip the cord off when he just couldn’t take the itch. And he’d be back where he was now. Slappy in Big City. Looking for Mimi.

Minus found himself staring at the crotch of a cop. The cloudy ass cheeks were long gone, and the sun had broached the top of a large oak he noticed through the dark blue slacks. The crotch was female, Minus observed, with longish thick legs leading there. The stomach was flattish, but with the hint of a pouch. The badge was probably riding high on the upper side of her breasts and out of his view.
“Perhaps I’ll just lay here quietly?” Minus thought.

A hand gathered material on Minus’ tiny chest. The next brief moment was a blur. The crotch view was gone. The blue ass cheeks from the underside. The swell of the chest from the underside. All gone.

When Minus got his vision caught up with his new reality, he was standing and staring at a stern-looking woman with intense eyes of agitated fury. Minus had been lifted and set standing on his sitting--stump, where this whole nightmare had started.

“Remember ME?”

--18--

The intense faces and returned stares of Big City strangers burned holes in Betty The Smokers courage like they were snubbing out their cigarettes in her inner core. The place within Betty The Smoker that created her feelings-- made her shake or feel secure-- smoldered like a couch cushion burning hot heat quietly, a small festering glob of glowing disastrous, unobserved flame.

But give Betty The Smoker credit. She held her gaze and never strayed. Occasionally, a face would look away and Betty The Smoker would “he he” to herself as if she’d transferred her emotions to another.

“Take THAT!”

The fear was a growing anger now inside of Betty The Smoker. The kind of anger that lashes out in small, innocuous ways like imagined gamma rays or flying ninja darts. Betty even felt like sticking out her foot and tripping someone, but then what? Run?

Betty The Smoker coughed and hacked and puffed on a new butt she pulled from her coat pocket. No. She would not run. She would remain here and take the best stares Big City residents had to offer. She was on a mission for Sam. And she really really really wanted a pack of brand new cigarettes.

Fred’s standing and staring was going quite differently. In fact, it had settled into a ball and climbed inside a wad. Fred had returned to his pile of unwanted cloth and pulled them over his head. He would rest awhile, in the safety of his dreams. Big big money would wait awhile, Fred was pretty sure. Money was a pool that the gifted simply dipped from because they knew the source. Money was not a finite pile in a secret place, but an endless stream that replenished itself like a fountain..

Fred would stay here and think things through. Perhaps his plan had shortcomings after all. A new plan was needed, and new thoughts required. If Fred were to ever see the big big money.

Jenny was throwing her boyfriend Kenny the Want Adds from the paper. They flipped under his chin before landing in his lap. Sam was up a wooden power pole hidden in the needles of a Ponderosa Pine. He had a small pair of binoculars pressed up against his laughing, squinting eyes.

“Atta girl, Jenny. Give him hell!”

“Here,” said Jenny. “I’ve got to be down to the shelter early. Someone broke into the kitchen last night. Do me a favor and look for a job today. You being here all the time is starting to get on my nerves.”

“I told you. I’m waiting for a call.”

“Well wait while you are in motion. Go look for a job. Between the two, you’ll get yourself off the couch and I won’t resent you being here while I am working sixteen hour days.”

“Fourteen. And that’s your choice. You’re a volunteer, remember?”
“I run that place and I do a damn good job. It pays the bills around here, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“I’m not stupid.”

“Of course not, Kenny. But lately I’ve seen more motivation in some of my homeless. You can’t just sit in a state and wait for something to happen.”

Kenny grew silent. The lost--argument kind of silent. Sam giggled like a man up a tree where he shouldn’t be. This was good. This was really really good. That guy looked like Jenny had put him in his place finally. Good. She’d given him too much slack. for far too long.

“Stick it to him, Jenny! Tee hee!”

Sam climbed down the pole the way he came up. He had made his belt into a loop and placed his feet within the loop. The belt forced the feet to bind against the pole and enabled Sam to climb down with the alacrity of a coconut gatherer and the grace of a shoe salesman.

“One more thing before I go,” thought Sam. He ran to Jenny’s door. Rang the bell. Dropped off a red box shaped like a heart-- chocolates-- and ran like hell.

“Tee hee! Tee hee!” thought Sam as he ran away. Life was just one grand big adventure today, and Sam was having a ball.

“Who the hell was that?” asked a disgruntled Kenny.

“I don’t know.”

Kenny bulldozed his way to the door and opened it. There was no body there!

Jenny had moved to the window and simply looked out. Off in the distance, she saw a man running.

“It’s Sam!”
Kenny saw a man too. “Get the hell outta here! You bum!””

In the kitchen, Jenny and Kenny convened. Kenny was holding the red box shaped like a heart, and he was crushing the bottom corner of it, infuriated.

“Who the hell was that?”

“That was Sam! Sam’s back!”

“Well, whoopty doopty! Sam’s back. He probably just got out of prison. If I catch that mongrel around here again, I’ll break Sam’s back. Who let him out of the funny farm anyway? Someone you hang out with?”

“Stop it Kenny. You’re acting childish. If Sam comes back by here, you invite him in, do you hear me?”

“What the hell for? He’s a bum, Jenny. Let him go to your shelter and leave us alone.”

“Because he’s SPECIAL.”

For Jenny, this was enough of an explanation to satisfy her need to explain what she does or feels to anybody. When people don’t get it, she simply moves away from them. If they follow her, she moves further away than that.

Kenny was a pressure pot with a faulty lid. He would boil for awhile, then blow his top. Sitting down at the table and making himself a bowl of cereal, Kenny mumbled childish, hurtful feelings while he hid behind the box.

“What’s so special about a guy who can’t keep his shit together? He probably stinks like a fish.. Not to mention drinking like one.... YOU KNOW YOU TREAT THOSE PEOPLE BETTER THAN YOU TREAT ME! They get waffles and I get what? Corn Flakes! This whole thing is beginning to suck and this cereal sucks!”
Kenny counter pointed his argument by tossing his spoon. At a wall, mind you, but the effect was the same. Jenny moved further away from Kenny. In fact, she moved to the other room. Thoughts were strumming in her busy head. Thoughts with a discord and a fiery new tune. Crescendo came and went and left a decision in Jenny’s mind. She moved back to the kitchen, where Kenny still stewed.

“I want you outta here by the time I get home. I mean that, Kenny.”

“Yeah, right.” Kenny never lifted his obstinate, angry gaze to meet Jenny’s

“I mean it with all my heart, Kenny. This is my house. And I want you outta here. Today.”

Some short silences get lengthened by the severity of their implications. This was one of those. Kenny knew he was up against a precipice, and he had no where left to go.

“You‘re serious?”

“I am dead serious.”

“And go where?”

“I don’t care. You’re a heartless human being. And I am sick of you.”

--19--

“I didn’t do a damn thing!” stuttered Minus to a cop.

“You tied me up and you climbed out the window.”

“I did?”

“You did.”

“I don’t remember. I must have been drinking.”

“It was ten years ago you little tiny dweasel.”

“Ten years? I was just a kid.”

“You were old enough.. My husband found me after I’d been missing for a week..”

“You were cheating on your husband?”

“No! Stupid. I wasn’t married then. That’s how we met. I was passed out and almost dead on a bed with my Yoo-hoo hanging out like a taco in the bushes.. He came and rescued me. I guess he saw something he liked because he came to visit me in the hospital almost everyday. We got married a year later, you dweasel.”

“You were... you were fat then. I remember you!”

“I was a monster. And you, you son of a bitch, took advantage of me. You gave me Snickers candy bars you little pervert!”

“I was trying to be nice.”

“You were trying to get in my pants. And it worked, too. God, how I hate you for that. I ought to run you in for disturbing the universe and just plain making a skinny little runt out of yourself. You’re already drunk, ain’t cha?”

“I’m not drunk.”

“You’re either drunk or on your way. I can smell ya over my horse.”

“You’re a cop, now? How...”

“Well, duh! You think they’d let me ride around on a horse in this outfit if I were just some Jane who asked politely? I worked my fanny off for this job. And my husband helped me. I see you haven’t made much in the way of progress in your puny little existence.”
.
Minus tried to puff up like a cat or a pigeon to impress upon those calling him puny that he wasn’t quite so. It was of no use, though. Minus was smaller than tiny. He was no more than half of a small man.. There were no tricks that could change the way he took up space in the world. Four foot ten. Eighty pounds with a pot belly. Standing on a stump that people sat on like a stool, trying to stretch on his toes to look eye to eye with a woman who was glaring at him and holding him up by his shirts in a bunch at his chest.



“Hooo--weee you got some monsters there, woman.. Who did your work?”

“Albertson.”

“On fifth?”

“Yep. That pervert.”

“How in the hell do you tote those girls around, anyhow, girlfriend? You got some special trailer?”.

Jugs Judy was finally going to get to ask around. Well, OK. At east ask somebody. This woman in the mirror with her was an older girl, but still not Jugs Judy’s vintage. This girl came in late and is hanging on now. Black of skin. A big afro. Tits that looked like she was hiding softballs in her chest. Legs that were beginning to marble and a growing ass.

“You ever hear of an old crazy lady named Mimi?” Jugs Judy asked.

“Why? She got something to do with your titties being so damn big?”

“No. I am looking for her. There is money in it for anyone who can find her. I can cut you in.”

“If I know a woman named Mimi and I tell you, you’ll cut me in on a reward I can collect for my own self? Girlfriend? What kind of a fool do you take me for?”

“So you know her?”

“An old gal named Mimi?”

“Yeah.”

“I know her. Crazy lady, right? Walks around town talkin’ to herself all the time? Collects things in bags which she hides everywhere?. What cha’ll want with that crazy bitch?”

“I get paid if I find her. I could sure use the cash.”

“You get paid cash to find that crazy as a loony? That’s crazy! Who’s pulling your leg?”

“No one ain’t pullin’ my leg.. S’truth, woman. I get a hefty chunk of change for finding an old woman and that’s a fact. I do it all the time.”

“If you do it tall the time, then whaddya need me for?”

“’Cause I don’t know where she is! God, woman. Are you that daft?”

“You wanna catfat right here, girlfriend? Cause I don’t let people diss me that way. Not some big-tittied bag of silicone, that’s a fact.”

“Man, I am trying to get you some cash that comes to you standing up. I don’t want no catfat with no Naked Girl sistah.”

“Sistah? Whatcha talkin’ ‘bout? How are we related, you white old big-tittied bag’o’bones?”

“Girlfriend, Naked Girls is my old humping grounds. I laid myself down for fifteen years here. Non friggin’ stop. I had regulars coming to see my stuff everyday!”

“Well, why on earth didn’t you say so, sistah? What you want to know?”

Chester was in need of an era fedora and a cigar. Standing in front of a mirrored window outside a lingerie shop with his newly salvaged trench coat and his trousers that fit too loose around the waste and a bit too short about the length. But that’s OK. He could pull them up. What was important now was the rest of his ensemble. If Chester could just find a cigar and an era fedora, then he could get answers to his very probative questions and find Mimi and save the day.

“Look at me” thought Chester. “I am no Molester now.”

“Look at that man out the window!” thought several women at once. “Eww!”

When Slappy now had the urge to strike himself, the bungee strapped to his belt and wrist kept him from doing so. He could, with effort, pull the bungee taught and mildly tap his cheek with the tips of his fingers, just hard enough to alleviate the feeling that a fly was writing arabesques on his cheek. He was walking down the sidewalk like a new bum in an old neighborhood, light on his toes, actually striding at times, in a mood to whistle as his hand occasionally bounced back from his much maligned cheek, leaving no marks of red angry guilt in hand prints of pain.

He would simply pull taught the cord and tap his fingers on the diabolical invisible fly.

“Pure genius,” Slappy thought.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man. Out of popcorn but entertaining his self with peanuts and wadded garbage and pebbles. Sixty stories was approximately six hundred feet, thought The Laughing Man. That was funny. Bald heads were bonus points. Hitting one was funny. You could tell by their reactions when they were struck. It was funny. Sixty stories up a high rise on a viewing platform void of viewers at the moment, The Laughing Man had the world at his finger tips. He let it go and watched it fall. It fell until it disappeared. You saw its wake in the look of strangers. The way they reacted to you. The way they ran from what they never saw.

And it was oh so very funny

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...


Stomper had stopped stomping momentarily to take a rock from his shoe. He had traveled over five miles on foot. so far. He had crossed over thirty fences. Fourteen roads. And one farmer. The farmer had threatened salt rock but you got the feeling the farmer didn’t own any. Just a shotgun full of lead. Stomper had jumped one of his thirty fences without touching it. The flight had been a graceful one.

“Stomper,“ thought Stomper, “flew!”

You and Him had realized the error of their ways and set off on a walk toward Center Square. Center Square had been the location of two Mimi sightings out of the last three that they had been privy to. They had decided to play the odds-- as odd as they were themselves.-- and this had actually made good sense.

Fred had simply gone back to bed and was not really doing anything significant with his life at the moment.

--20--

Jenny had been upstairs in her modest bedroom, gathering clothing to wear to work, making up her face and having obsessive thoughts about what to do with Kenny, whom she loved but knew was extremely rough around the edges. Kenny was a two by four trying to be a picture frame, Jenny knew, and this endeared her to him. But he was also taking advantage of her kind nature, and this she was resenting immensely. There had to be a give, or Kenny had to go. He had come far in a short time regarding his manners and the way he saw the world, but he had a long way to go. If only there was someway to make him see? Could a two by four be hit over the head with a two by four?

Jenny looked amazing trying to look prosaic. She could not help it. She grabbed her coat and headed down the stairs, stopping to address Kenny, who was sitting at the table staring at his soggy cereal--which he wasn’t eating because he had long since thrown the spoon.

“If you need some boxes, there’s some in the spare bedroom. Don’t take anything from the bathroom except your razor, I paid for everything. And leave me your key. I don’t like the idea of having you out on the streets with my key in you pocket.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“You’ve left me no choice.”

“I’ve left you no choice? What the hell am I supposed to do?”

“Understand.”

“Understand what? That some sleazebag bum has got the hots for my girl? The guy is leaving you chocolates, for crying’ out loud. If I stood around and just let that happen, what kind of a man would that make me?”

“It might make you compassionate. Understanding. Kind. Caring. Concerned. And Sam is not a sleazebag. He‘s Special.”

“Yeah, right. And I’m a brain surgeon.”

“Hardly.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

“You’re not a brain surgeon.”

“Great. That’s just great. OK. So I am not a brain surgeon. But you’re the one who wants to throw away a perfectly healthy relationship, just because some bozo--boozer--bum wants to bring you chocolates.”

Some arguments have big finishes and slamming doors. Some are left resonating for awhile in the heated air as both participants personally and quietly wish this wasn’t happening to them. Good people don’t yell and sound stupid. That’s for those other folks. As this argument was left in Jenny’s court, a decision had come across Jenny’s mind and she presented it, though without much thought.

“If you care about me, find him.”

“What? Find who?”

Find Sam. And bring him to the shelter. He’s one I know we can help.”

“Let me get this straight... You want me to find one guy in this city?”

“Just go out and find him. You saw what he looks like.”

“There are millions of people in this city.”

“If you want me to rethink throwing you out, then you need to show me how much you care. Finding Sam would go a long way toward showing me that.”

“Damn, woman. You sure get some funny notions in that head of yours.”

“Bring Sam to the shelter and it’ll at least show me that you care. You’re not working right now. If I threw you out, we’d probably be taking care of you anyway.”

Now THAT was a finish that deserved a closing door. Jenny left Kenny sitting there, and he threw the paper at the spoon.

There are very few things in life that will settle a mind and reassure the insecure notions that run amuck within ourselves as well as a playground swing. The tall ones within a sand pit, with black rubber seats that wrap around any width of sitter like it was designed for them to be the sole sitter, leaving no one feeling too fat or too skinny, with galvanized three--inch diameter poles and a border-- that sits just beyond the record holder’s mark for the swing long jump-- made of painted wood with a wooden cap spiked down with twenty penny nails.

The to and fro alone, with your feet dragging, is enough to dissolve most issues as well as a monastery chant or an hour long massage or a night under the beer tap.. The momentum--gathering kicks and the lean-backs and the immeasurable taking--you--backs you get from swinging with your hands on cold chain remembering your childhood days doing the same thing (and your coat tail flapping and the apexes making you weightless and the looks you get from others.)

How could you not feel better?

Sam agreed with me on this and found himself on such a swing just half a mile from Jenny’s doorstep. Sam had worked himself up into the realm of chain-slack and had toned his swinging down. Chain-slack meant a jarring ride and the possibility of chain pinching skin on gripping palms.

Chain--slack meant you pushed too hard (and pulled too hard) and needed to mellow out. Nobody stuck with chain--slack for very long. You either mellowed out or you fell or spun. That was the universal rule. Sam knew this rule.--he had been a kid once, too-- and after he exercised toe-drag for one revolution he found himself nicely vacillating in free--swing mode.

Mimi was a worry that needed swinging out. So was Jenny. Why was she arguing with that guy, anyway? He sounded harsh when he yelled at Sam. Harsh and angry.

“Hey Sam? Is that you? That is you, you old devil! Hey come on, Sam, now just hold on a second!”

It was Barnie. Of all times and places. One--way Barnie while Sam swung back and forth.

“Where’ve you been, buddy? I’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Not now, Barnie. I’m thinking.”

“You’re on a swing, Sam. You’re swinging...”

“I’m thinking!”

“Oh come on, Sam. Just one. Just this once. I’ve got money saved. If I score big with you this once, I promise, I’ll do good by a lot of people.”

“Go away. I’ve got nothing for you, Barnie. Nothing.”

“Oh come on, Sam. You don’t have to be like this. I don’t want much. Just one, Sam. Just one.”

“Go away.” Sam was worked up and into chain--slack again. Barnie was persistent

“Just one score, Sam. Just one. Then I’ll go. I’ll do right by everybody. I promise, Sam. Please?”

With every swing cycle Sam had something to say.

“You helped yourself.”

“You blew it all.”

“You kept things you should have shared.”

“You were greedy, Barnie.”

“Greedy.”

“Now go away.”

“I was younger then, Sam. I’ve grown up. I’ve thought, Sam. Pondered everything. Oh, for Christ sakes Sam.! I’m a married man, now! I’ve got responsibilities.”

“Right.”

“Responsibilities.”

“Go back...”

“...and work hard then.”

“Stop looking to me...”

“..for the easy way out.”

“And congratulations.”

“I can’t do it, Sam. Please. I need a score.”

“A score?”

“What for?”

“You ever sort mail at the post office? You ever work at a bank and have to deal with hundreds of people a day all coming to your window and wanting something from you? I can’t take it anymore, Sam. You can understand that, can’t you? I mean look at you... I need a score.”

“A score?” Sam is mulling this back and forth. Sam could understand the pressures of teller work. The monotony of mail sorting. He really could. Finally, he has an answer.

“Where’s Mimi?”

“Mimi?”

“Yeah. Have you seen Mimi? I asked around last night but she seems to have disappeared again.”

“I don’t know, Sam. You know how she is. She gets around.”

“Find Mimi and I’ll give you the best I have to offer.”

“If I find Mimi, you’ll help me score?”

“The best I have to offer. Which isn’t like the old days. The Feds have put a clamp down on much of what I used to get And don‘t tell Mimi I am looking for her. She spooks easily.”

--END OF CHAPTER ONE--






------Chapter TWO-------


--21--

If you saw the red brick building from any side other than the inside, Way Home looked like a three story red--brick box with minimalist windows and nothing much adorned to indicate affiliation or purpose. You could. imagine inmates housed inside, or a sweatshop where new cloth-rolls rolled in in the dark of night in big blank trucks by big scary men mulling about in dark shadows smoking cigarettes and where fabricated shirts and skirts-- sewn by scared, sweating women-- were boxed and sent packing. You could imagine porno filmed here with their fabricated boobies and bookies housed here counting their chits and calculating odds and taking bets on phones with black leather cases. You could imagine all sorts of sordid imaginings about this red brick three story flat-roofed box, developing personal, oh so put-out theories about how your imaginings were allowed to happen in Big City in this day and age and what about the mayor?, shaking your head in weary wonderment that it could go on at all.

A three story red brick flat-roofed box in Big City could carry a conversation by the clueless for an hour, perhaps longer, with each supposition requiring countless how could they?s and countermanding I told you so’s.

“I heard they house crazies in there.”

“Someone told me that Czechoslovakian girls are kept in there until they become hookers.”

“The Mafia runs that place. It’s got its own restaurant and shooting range.”

But it was not so.

Way Home was a three story red-brick box with a flat roof discreet by design and unostentatious by a desire to not intimidate or offend the people on both sides of the aisle. Way Home was built to serve the needs of Big City residents and not serve them up all manner of problems in the process.. Its design kept in mind how much better it was to quietly fit-in to the Big City cityscape and make no effort to glamorize the plight of those who stayed here or flaunt its mission in front of the understandable concerns of those who lived nearby.

There was a simple front door and a sign above it that marked Way Home for what it was.--

---Way Home.---
Offering Food, Shelter
Kindness And A Way Home
All Are Welcome, Always

A homeless shelter.. A shelter for battered women. A shelter for wayward miscreants. A shelter for the temporarily dispossessed. A hostel for curious travelers too poor for hotel accommodations. A space between fighting men and women. A place to not drink, dry out and stay dry when it rained.

If you needed a place to stay in Big City and had no means to pay, you were directed here. The police knew Way Home well. The cab drivers knew the way to Way Home well as well, and carried Way Home cards in their taxi cab visors. Churches kept maps on how to find Way Home for their roofless, uprooted, sometimes lost parishioners.

Jenny’s mad, crazy, idealistic dream had realized in ways not usually realized by dreamers. who lacked her stamina and stubbornness. Way Home was like a red-brick boxed representation of Jenny’s heart and soul sitting staunchly on a solid corner of Big City and shouting to the world-- “I mean what I say!”

When “put up or shut up” was presented to Jenny, she put up three stories and 19,000 square feet. Single rooms. Bunk rooms. Family rooms. Rooms all over. A commercial kitchen. A cafeteria. Counseling offices. Nurseries. A swimming pool. Jenny went to every source of loans, grants and foundations extant and created her life’s ambition by not accepting anything that countered this ambition. She either turned you around to her way of seeing things, or she turned around herself, turning her back on you, and moved on down the line.

“A young woman on a mission” was her mission statement, and now she had created what amounted to be the most humane three story red-brick box in Big City history. Housing up to 900 people in a busy peak season night. Feeding about half that many everyday.

When you looked around the hallways and sitting areas and mingling areas of Way Home, sure you saw despair and depravity, disillusionment and dispossessed spirits. Of course you did. That’s why Jenny let them in. But you also felt the comfort that was offered to these people. You saw the relieved looks on once frantic faces. You saw children who were warm and washed behind the ears. Street people who were scrubbed and had their sores treated. Spouses afraid of spouses housed in dignity while things were sorted out. You saw Foster kids with places to play. Mothers with places to nurse their newborns. Even a small animal kennel for the temporary housing of pets whose owners had nowhere else to take them.

You also saw a staff of volunteers that were paid in mostly gratitude and knowledge that a difference was being made under the bright light of Big City. (Porch lights and street lights and well-lit signs were little help to those who needed shelter from well-lit Big City nights. A dark, safe, quiet place to sleep was a hard to find oasis in a well-lit Big City space where lights were used to ferret out the homeless looking for sleeping spots and bits of unwanted discards from Big City trash.)

When Jenny arrived on the scene of last night’s crime, her heart sank but her will floated to the surface and climbed upwards like a June bug or a June thermometer. What she had heard was that she had a ransacked office and a ransacked kitchen. What she had encountered was a permanent staff member with a look of bewildered anger and optimism, who looked like a mid-wife with a prominent mole on her chin and a desire to be of service to someone.

This was Kathy. Loyal and sincere and a strong worker with ethics and good side-kick attributes. One of Jenny’s most leaned-on humans on the planet. A single ex-mom (with one dead son) and a devoted helper. An olive-skinned, black-haired tomato sauce specialist with dubious claims to an olive-orchard heritage from the old country, somewhere on the boot.

Kathy hit Jenny straight up, giving her no time to duck..

“Jenny, what the heck took you so long?”

“Sam’s back.”

“Sam’s back? Already?”

“It’s been about a month. So yeah. He‘s right on schedule.”

“Do you think we can get him in this time?”

Jenny had slowed to open the cafeteria kitchen office door. She stopped to tell Kathy her latest personal gossip.

“I hope so, or I am out one boyfriend. Kenny and I had it out this morning. I told him to bring Sam in, or I am throwing him out.”

“You didn’t!?”

“I did.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I am serious.”

“No way!”

“You would have loved it!”

Jenny started back to her task at hand and twisted and turned and opened a door into an office that looked blown up and over by a devilish wind. What she saw momentarily took her breath from her. Papers and books and drawers all heaped in random piles on desk and floor like somebody wanted her world turned upside down and found this place to do it. As if somebody was looking for something and cared not for the aftermath. The place was in disarray to the point of a match. Jenny stepped in and simply shook her head at what she saw.

“Oh, my God.”

“Don’t touch it.” Kathy cautioned. “The police haven’t been here yet.”

“What?”

“They’ve been swamped. They said they’ll send someone out as soon as they can.”

“That’s not good enough, Kathy, you know that.”

“That’s what they said. “We know this isn’t good enough, but we’re swamped‘.”

Jenny sighed. On days like these, what else could you do? She looked at Kathy and in a commiserating tone, knowing that Kathy was going to take the brunt of the workload because of this, simply lamented.

“They just won’t make it easy on us, will they Kathy?”

--22--

Kenny was running on fumes and fuming. He was caught up in Big City traffic looking for Sam and agitated and about to run out of gas. The city was mocking him with its own angry noises, and Kenny could do nothing but inch forward like a dragon in the mud, blowing smoke out of every orifice. He smacked his steering wheel with his palm and joined the stagnant, angry fray with a statement of his own--

“Son of a bitch! COME ON ALREADY!”

Jugs Judy heard the honking the moment she emerged from the dankly dark downstairs of Naked Girls. She had been primping and preening and chatting for well over an hour and she was looking about as good as she was capable of looking, considering the massive wads she sported on her chest and the intense shredded-skin wrinkles her face sported like an old scrotum. Her coat was proudly curtained back, showing off her huge sewn-on attributes, and she was consciously aware of how they were perceived as they heaved in waves like water in a wash-tub you were shifting or like children in a backseat trying to rock the car.

The honkers were honking at her honkers.

This is what was basically going on. Her chest displays were a hulking treat for bored drivers in need of a giant giggle or two. A pair of giggles-- that’s what Jugs Judy flaunted.

Giggles that jiggled. That’s all Jugs Judy had in this world.

Giant giggles that jiggled.

Well, that and a name she could sport for herself in the confines of the mostly downtown area of Big City.

“Jugs Judy“. The jiggle giggle.

It had a certain ring...

Her destination was Central Square where Mimi had often been spotted coming and going in unpredictable yet predictable patterns. Getting there would require tolerating the massive heaving of her bosom, though, as Jugs Judy had no cash. It would require steeling herself against possible back strains and muscle pulls and a possible slip on greasy asphalt and concrete. It would require tolerating the playful, bemused honking at the heaving bags of foreign substances she chose to carry and even paid good money for. It would require lots and lots of walking.

Jugs Judy would have to walk there amid honks and waves and heaves and sways in patterns of her own making.

Stomper was stumped. A spiral was a master stroke of geometric certainty. But out here... this far out.... without GPS or a satellite photo or basic navigational knowledge of the sun and stars, a spiral was a hard form to maintain. How much inward motion verses circuitous slanting? How much forward striding per sideways sidling? Where is there water, and how long till lunch? Can a bus drive in a spiral?

If Stomper had one thing going for him, it was his stride. His size 24 feet rolled him forward an extra six or eight inches with every step. Viewed from the side, Stomper’s head bobbed up and down a full four inches as he strode across fall fields emptied of their crops In old and still standing corn fields, when viewed from a short distance at a height just above the top of crops grown just for their seed, Stomper looked like a young man skipping and perhaps even skipping rope, though Stomper carried no rope and walked just fine.

Stomper stopped to tie his shoes. This would give him time to think. The day seemed to be going in circles already, and he wasn’t really getting anywhere other than hungry. If his plan were to be successful, Stomper was thinking he’d have to cover more ground. At the rate of spiraling he was achieving, the ground would soon be covering him

Minus felt like he had been chewed up, swallowed, regurgitated, and then eaten by offspring. The policewoman’s mandibles had been jawing at his eighty pound quivering mass for twenty unfed minutes straight.

“A Snicker’s Bar would shut her up,“ thought Minus. “And maybe she would put me down.”

“...and little shits like you take it from them You squeeze it out of them and leave them with nothing. Oh sure, you get yours, alright. You get all you can handle. But you take too much in the process, and you leave them feeling lost and alone and are you aware of that, asshole? You leave them all alone. Are you aware of that?”

“I won’t touch them, I swear. All of them!”

“Huh? Is your brain as small as your pecker? Seems I remember there was no pecker there, just the thought of a pecker when you screwed me over and tied me to that bed and left me there to die without even thinking about how I might actually feel about all of it. Were my feelings unimportant to you, no good peckerwood? Did you think you could just tie me up and hope some guy came along and married my fat ass? Is that what was running through your mind? Is that what you were saying to yourself as you snuck your bony little tiny ass out the window? Huh? huh?”

Minus had one hand held tightly to his nuts. and prayed he’d simply pass out. What else would get him out of this? He stared into the jaws of death and listened to them jabber.

And my oh my, could they jabber!

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man had run out of garbage and peanuts and pebbles and was now chipping at the building, trying to dislodge chunks of hardened lime that flew straight down when tossed from six hundred feet. The big ones now had names-- “Big Bertha” “Terminator” “The Big Labowski” “The Rock.”

The early daylight lit these fragments and kept them visible for much of their falling and The Laughing Man tried to guess their timing as he saw the tiny people passing on the sidewalk below.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...


Fred was bunched up in a wad and looking for a way out like a dog under a blanket. He was just tossing cloth into the air and hoping to see daylight. Big big money was out there somewhere while he wasn‘t out there at all. Fred knew, quite sensibly, that if he wanted to get his fair share from the money stream, he needed to be out there panning it.

You and Him were walking and enjoying each other’s company. They held each other’s hands and giggled as they went their separate ways around poles and trees. Him always led You back without letting go of You. Him was a leader of You when it came to getting around. If You was mislead, Him would gently tug on You and bring You back to a better way. A better way always meant having You follow Him. If You followed Him, You was never lost or frightened.

You was Him’s watchdog, when it came to eating. You knew what was good for Him. You could keep Him healthy and leading You forward. This is what You did for Him, to help them both out. You had a nose on her like a vulture. Carrion and cold slaw and coca cola were all smells You knew well. You was trusted by Him to separate the good from the bad straight out of the can. Him loved his cold, hardened French fries, and You could find them for Him.

Both whispered something to each other’s dedicated ears. nobody but You and Him would hear this. You and Him were like His and Her towels. They came and went as a set. Without His towels, Hers was just a towel and vice versa. Without one, you had neither-- at least as a concept.

You and Him had Central Square on their itinerary for today. The way they were going, they would get there in an hour. Him was pulling You at a get-there-today pace. You was slowing Him down, and finding them both snacks. You and Him were a sub-classic case of symbiosis. Unlike a bee and a flower, You and Him were desired elements of a functioning unit, to be sure, but not a biologically imperative one.

Slappy’s brain stopped its painful buzzing as time wore on without a significant slap The fear of people‘s eyes alighting on the cheek that was nearly always red had also greatly diminished. Slappy‘s face had taken on a normal hue in no time and his right eye no longer flinched at the simple thought of tolerating another slap to the cheek.. All this had been changed by a bright thought brought forth by a kind woman in a card shop that sold happy thoughts and bears with hearts.

The bungee cord had introduced a new dynamic to Slappy’s daily mix. The face tickle... The odd looks... The slapping tic...

Now there was only the bungee bounce-back and then the slow but strenuous tug to tap the itch Everything was different with the bungee. Kindly Alice was a genius, Slappy was sure of that. A woman who had vision. A woman who could see things others could or would not care to see.

Betty The Smoker was having a day of epiphanies and ovate smoke rings-- standing on a corner and staring into faces as she sucked on butt after butt of road-scored unsmoked street-scored tobacco, blowing rings and scuds and dragon snarls, her staring growing daringly more stern with each passing stranger. She looked right at people and tried to see what each held fearful within themselves. A fear of heights. A fear of others knowing about this. A fear of others knowing about that. A fear of simply being discovered as a fearful person. A fear of being looked right through like a wisp of smoke and being seen as fearful and fearfully inconsequential. Betty The Smoker hadn’t this much fun in almost fifteen years.

And the thing of it was, people were afraid. She could see this as they turned away from her, time and time again. Her face would gaze straight into their gaze, and they would turn away. The palpable fear was now their fear and was no longer something to be frightened of. All this time, she thought, it had been her. But it was them. They turned away. They were the ones who would not meet her in the streets. They cowered and moved away as if meeting her would cause such terrible pain.

So here she was, running out of cigarette butts and not caring for the first time in a long time, mainly mesmerized by her own ability to stand firm in her place in the world, to make those others move around her, to look away, to be in fear of her and feel her stature in the masses of human frailties so evident today.

With hair like Einstein’s and skin like her deceased grandmother’s, this was almost too much to consider real. There was no rhyme nor reason for this fear to be turned away this way. How could this fear be manipulated like a vision in a mirror? How could fear-- this fear or that fear-- be turned back to where it never came from to begin with?




Walking along-- perhaps a wee bit of stagger in his swagger--was Sam, singing “If I Were a Rich Man” and trying the occasional toe-tap move in sudden outbursts of Fred Astaire wannabe fantasy.

“I would deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle deedle dum...

All day long, I‘d widgy widgy woo, if I were a wealthy man...”

Sam seemed rambling and ambling, but still quite able, walking along within the confines of Big City like a Big City participant, happy and at ease and slightly touched by the fruits of a bottle’s vapor.

The world had lightened up the load it had piled on Sam’s shoulders. The world had lessoned its squeeze on Sam the man in its middle.. The world had brightened up and cast a ray or two of warming, welcoming sunlight into the dark corners of Sam’s disposition. The world had become an amphitheatre, and Sam wanted to hear it echo.

“Helloooooo?” Sam asked. “Helloooooo?”

Then a moment came when a Don King look alike leaped from behind his newsstand like a linebacker leaping over a cow, spotting Sam and barreling down on him like a runaway barrel on a steep incline, heading right at an unsuspecting Sam like a barrel that just leaped over a cow and coming full tilt like a linebacker about to crush Sam in the ribs with a bear hugging, screaming, maniacal sounding “AAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGGHHHHH!”

“AAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!” said Sam too as he bear hugged the massive bear hugging Don King look-alike newsstand vendor and the two stood on the sidewalk-- like two men who had lost their minds-- both screaming “AAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHH!” in long drawn out guttural choruses of nonsensical, manly passion.

“AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!” the big man screamed.

“AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!” screamed Sam, standing on his toes.

“AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!” screamed the newsstand vendor.

“AAAARRRRGGGGGHHHH!” Screamed a delighted Sam.

And so on and so forth. This gong on until both men were thoroughly winded-- which was long enough for a distant crowd to gather just to stop and stare.

“God damn, Sam! How long has it been?”

“Four weeks three days.”

“You remember shit like that?”

“I remember. I had just got back from London. I told you about the pigeons on the statues.”

“Oh that’s right! The pigeons... The statues... Not much changes with you, does it Sam?”

“Just the way the wind blows, Wiley. The way the wind blows.”

Wiley could take Don King in a scrap, easily. He had George Foreman‘s size. He had the chest of half a rum barrel and the agility of a man who played basketball for an hour everyday after work with the young bucks and their flying elbows and no-foul-unless-you-fall rule and young, pretty girls often watching and rooting for the old fella.

Wiley had been selling news since he was young-- which had been quite awhile if you added it all up-- and the news flowed through and around Wiley like he was six o’clock. If you wanted to know what was going on in the world, you tuned into Wiley and you listened to him carefully and respectfully. Wiley knew local news too-- from the local neighborhoods of Big City-- and he knew these bits and pieces because he asked a lot of questions and put two and two together quite easily in his mind..

“Let me have a good look at you, Sam. Damn. You’ve put on a pound or two. But you still look like a bum! Sam, why don’t you clean yourself up. Shave that crap you got.--is it burnt?-- growing on your face, there..”

“Oh come on, Wiley. It’s my day off.”

“It’s always your day off, you big knucklehead. Where‘ve you been this time? Moss-cow?”

“Tokyo.”

“Tokyo?”

“Yeah. Tokyo. I bought myself a hapi.”

“You bought a happy? Yeah. What color?”

“Blue. Imagine that. A blue hapi.”

“A blue happy? You are pulling my leg, dear Sam boy. And I ain‘t shakin‘ it.”

Wiley had realized that his money was unattended and began retreating back to his newsstand box.

“I wouldn‘t lie to you Wiley. I dined with a geisha in my hapi. Ate raw fish with these little pointy sticks. Bought fourteen thousand microchips with all them little squiggly things going this way and that. I even sang karaoke with the heads of Mitsubishi-- “I wouldn‘t have to work hard.... la be diddle deedle doodle deedle diddle doodle dum...”

Mmm, boy, Sam. Sounds to me like you should have stayed happy with your geisha, pokin’ sticks at fish and hobnobbing with cars. What're you doing back here, for, then? Are you crazy like the rest of us”

“It’s my day off. And I am looking for Mimi.”

Sam had his flacon out and its cap off and was taking a small sip. He offered it to Wiley and Wiley smiled, shook his head no, and took money from a man in need of gum.

“You’re always looking for Mimi. And it’s always your day off.”

“Have you seen her?”

“No, Sam. Not too recently. But I haven’t read about her in the papers, neither. I guess that counts for something.”

“Mark my words, Wiley. She’ll be in your paper one day. There will be a building named after her. A library, maybe. An orphanage.”

“Mimi famous? Mm, mmm. You’re too much, Sam. Too much. I don’t know who is crazier, you or the rest of the world?”

Sam took another flacon nip. He picked up a paper and pretended to try and focus on it.

“That hurt, Wiley. That really hurt.”

Wiley laughed.

“You haven’t gone all soft and sensitive on me now? What are you-- a momma’s boy now?”

“Maybe I have, Wiley. Maybe I have. Hey look at the time. I’ve gotta run.”

“You’re not leaving already? You just got here.”

“I gotta find Mimi. She could be in trouble, in which case, I gotta find her.”

“Now hold on, there, Sam. I’ve got something new I want to show you. That is, if you’ve got time on your day off.”

Wiley had reached beneath his counter. He struggled to pull something large and metallic out from under.

“I keep it with me all the time, now.”

“In case of hold-ups?”

“No, no, no. Don’t be silly. In case I get in the mood to play.”

Wiley had brought up a saxophone, dented and full of tales and sweet notes and sour. dreams.

“Let me play something for you I just learned..”

“One sour note and I am outta here.”

“Now just you listen here.”

Wiley humped up his brawny shoulders and filled his rum barrel chest with Big City air. Sam backed away like a man frightened by the unknown in a box. A god awful sour note, like a flatulent spare tire leaking through tight slits, shredded inside of Sam’s head like the tire was in there with him.

“I’m outta here.”

“Now just you hold your horses. I was just warming up.”

“You keep practicing, Wiley. Someday soon, you’ll be on the Ed Sullivan show. I swear.”

“Why you two-bit bum!”

“Practice, Wiley. Practice.”

“Get outta here, before I play some more.”

Wiley humped up his shoulders and blew, this time, one long, melancholy note that Big City swallowed up and digested as its own.

--23--

Chester was having a hard time keeping his pants up. They were too big in the waste and too short in the length. They needed a rope, and a rope seemed in short supply. Chester thought the best way to get a rope was to simply ask for one. He was, after all, dressed to ask questions. A trench coat and matching slacks-- sans the era fedora-- was an acceptable outfit for a detective on the streets of Big City. A trench coat and slacks were fine, as well, for a mission to find Mimi..

“Do you have a rope” seemed like a reasonably acceptable place to start, thought Chester. But if Chester released his pants from the grip he had on a folded bit of waistline, they simply fell..

“Who would answer me then?“ thought Chester. “Who? Answer me that!“

And wouldn’t it figure-- Chester's sex was in stand out mode again. It ached and pined like a full bladder with a distinctly different set of alleviating directives It pointed and pleaded. It throbbed and twisted Chester's words like it was directing Chester looking nervously for a date.

But Chester was a man-- and now a detective-- and not the molester everybody tried to make him out to be. He wasn’t looking for a date. He never was. He was looking for Mimi. He was helping Sam. He was annoyed by his erection, and that was all. Chester was not ever going to be a Molester. And that was that. Which meant touching sex was taboo. All sex.. Even his own, which stood out often like a cannon-fired preacher and begged and begged.

The only thing holding Chester’s pants from cascading to the floor, was a mindful and determined Chester. Chester the Upholder. Chester the Determiner. Chester the super heroic man with the will of steel and the fortitude of a fortress made of steel.

Chester was indeed a self-imposed determined man, in marvelous ways, with an amazing power of will and self-control. Chester knew all this. He gathered himself by the thoughts of such. He could handle all of these distractions while he entered the bakery and did what he needed to do. He could keep his pants up, ignore his sex’s impulses, and simply ask for rope. Chester was a man on a mission, a man on a quest, and this was his first test for the day. Chester needed a rope, of course, before he could find Mimi.

The woman behind the counter looked foreign and kind.

“If I had a rope, I could...” Chester tried to query the woman.

“Excuse me? I not understand.”

“If I could use a rope, my pants would be better off...”

Chester pulled his trench coat open to show her his pants. He did this without realizing what he was presenting.

Chester’s Chester.

“Your pants off?” asked the woman.

“I need a rope for my pants off,” Chester tried. It seemed like good simple English. He tried to demonstrate how they would fall if he let go of them. The robust woman moved forward and leaned over to see more of what this situation offered. Chester should not have released the fold of waistline he had held in his hand for quite sometime. Things fell down from there for poor Chester.

All the way to the floor.

Chester had just met Bettina. Bettina from Hungary. Bettina’s English was not ok but her libido was fantastic. Bettina didn’t understand Big City men. She was a ripened purple plum just waiting to be picked, a ripened orange just waiting to be squeezed, an olive full of oil; but most men only wanted donuts. That’s all they seemed to come here for. Glazed and unglazed. Old-fashioned and full of cherry filling. So Bettina’s fantasies were created while getting up at three am, twisting twisty glazes and dipping maple bars and pouring yellow custard out of a bakers’ decorating bag and watching porno on videos while she worked.

And here was Chester. A man with a staff, looking for a rope? What was a hungry Hungarian to do? She had no panties on. She had no one in line. This man had come on into her shop and dropped his pants. She had seen this on the TV before. She knew her favorite part.

She rushed Chester by leaping over her counter in her skirt, knocking creamers and straws and napkins and business cards to the floor and colliding into Chester’s chest and lust with an old world passion. Passion that came from Istanbul by camel caravan and sweltered in the sun. Passion that ripened in olive groves for centuries. Passion that grew with the seasonal grapes and was stomped into wine. Passion that intensified like a war of the world. Passion that intensified like another world war. Passion that would cross the sea and end up in a donut shop, climbing atop a bespectacled Chester-- like a molester-- mounting him with a single stab of ass that found his piercing staff, throwing herself onto him and taking Chester’s untested sex into the history of her soul. Chester could feel a strong swell stirring. Chester could feel a wet dream coming on. Chester could do nothing but hold on to the hammering hips of a hungry Hungarian, and hope she didn’t rip the dang thing off.

Chester’s nightmare became a dream. Bettina became a real event with unintended consequences. Her boobs were cut loose to Chester and Chester took one in his mouth and suckled it with a newfound fondness for boobs He took the other nipple in his mouth. This too, tasted like a dream.

Donuts were shaking on their shelves. A fat man eyeing donut holes for a dollar a bag skipped the impulse to buy and simply watched. Bettina took in Chester like a frisky, naughty naked nun cutting loose on a bishop. Everything was building to explode.

Everything did. Chester. Bettina. The man in the window. Everybody secreted something in a moment of pure abandonment and amplitude. It was a moment of unrepentant pleasure. It was a moment that smelled of white sugar and grease.

Bettina fell into Chester’s chest and the two of them caught their breaths and clung to each other’s satisfaction and held this moment for quite sometime as Bettina let his sex toy shrivel in her like a passing fad.

The fat man at the window moved on.

Chester’s eyes had blurred by orgasmic lust on a donut shop floor. Chester’s glasses had been knocked off. But Chester saw the world anew and he sniffed in the new smells as well as old familiar donuts and a whiff of coffee.

“This is great,” said Chester to himself. “This is frigging fabulous..”

--24--

When people talk to themselves you often wonder if something in their brains lost the grip on the fact that you don’t need words coming out of your mouth to transfer them in your head. Your head can do this without your lips just fine. I mean, think this thought-- “I am hungry.”

Could you do it without saying it aloud? I sure hope so. Because if you couldn’t, you’ve just read 23,000 words by sounding out each one, and I sure hope you live alone.

But some people feel better when they hear themselves prattle. The act of prattling to oneself is an energy release-- quite often pent--up anger-- in need of open air.

Take Kenny, for instance. He was still in his car, almost out of gas, and talking to himself. He was not singing to the radio. He was not rehearsing his lines for a play he was in. He was simply venting through his mouth.

“Just find him, he’s one I think we can help.”

“Just find Sam. He’s one I think we can help.”

“Just find the bum, he’s one I think we can break in half..”

“Just find that son-of-a-bitch so I can have my house back.”

“What the hell are you looking at?”

Sam was looking in a window. Sam was knocking on a door. Sam was squirming like a bladder-filled desperate child, because Sam had to pee. Sam was in a neighborhood distressingly void of thick bushes and dark spots or hidden corners. There was no place here to go. Another block or two, maybe, but then it would be too late.

“Damn the way I look and smell,” thought Sam. “Come on lady, I know you are in there. Come to the door..”

Bang bang bang went Sam’s fist on painted wood.

“Please, lady. Come to the door! I won’t hurt you. I need to use your bathroom!”

Sounds of clicking door chains and locks were heard and Sam stepped back. The door opened four inches and a chain pulled taught. Sam was speaking to a nose and half a face. That half seemed pleasant--a woman in her forties-- but frightened.

“I am very sorry to disturb you, ma’am. And I know I look rather frightening in these clothes. But if I may, could I please trouble you with the use of your facilities? As you can see (Sam is dancing a bit) I am in dire circumstances and would simply like to relieve myself. I would be forever grateful and in your debt.”

“Go Away. Or I will call the police.”

“Oh please. I mean you no ill-will. I simply need to use a toilet for my functions. I have a wee bladder sometimes, it seems....”

“Go away.”

The door was closed and Sam heard the clicking of locks and dead bolts.. The permanently closed assortment. Sam danced back out into the street.

Sam turned his dancing into a sprint. There was a French restaurant just down the street, with valet parking and flaming menu items and a big green dumpster out the back that smelled of vomited wine.

In the front door Sam stormed and then slowed to a waft of breeze.. He was walking like a gentleman now. His thighs pressed together and his ass cheeks tightly squeezed. One hand resisted the urge to grab his guy. The other pointed him to the little man on the big door.

The men’s room. That way.

“Excuse me,” said a snotty voice connected to a man in a suit. “Can I help you?”

“Excuse moi. Serai ti’l possible de me sirvir des toilettes?” asked a genuinely polite Sam.

“No.”

“No? You’re joking, right? I just gotta pee, man.”

“No. You may not use our restroom. There is a public restroom somewhere outside. Now if you please. Before I call my boys.”

The eyes of the maitre d’ showed Sam two big thugs sitting and playing cards in a corner booth. They belonged to this place like broken--tooth hounds belonged in junkyards.

“Well then. I see how it is. Thank you. Thank you very much. Now if you don’t mind, I think I’ll do my business elsewhere.”

“That would be wise.”

That’s what Sam set out to do.

--25--

Big City alleys could be scary places. They held Big City problems like crack and smack and prostitution. They held hellions and guns and knives and nooks and crannies and garbage cans and blowing litter and excrement and urine and broken glass.

You wanted shoes in a Big City alleyway. And a buddy or two. You wanted a cop around the corner and an ambulance at the end of the block-- just in case.

Sam’s bladder and a bit of conservative decency led Sam pinch-legged down this boxed-in canyon of human degradation and trash removal and here Sam was, his bladder teeming with painful time constrictions, his mind perking up to the acute level of in--hospitability, his feet tapping the greasy asphalt testing the surface in case a run was on the menu and a necessary fare.

Fight or flight follicles were standing up and taking on Sam’s rear guard just in case.

Sam’s heart was beating loudly in his chest, like a frog hopping around inside an empty metal barrel.

“katunggggg. katunggggg. katunggggg, katunggggg...”

“Shhh!” said Sam, talking to his heart. ”You’ll bring out the organ thieves...”

Sam moved deeper into one of the darker of Big City’s narrow spaces.

“I’ve got a gun...“ Sam whispered to the wind. “I’ve got a gun...”

Sam had gone on far enough. He was finally and mercifully alone. He unzipped his fly. He pulled out his guy. He let nature take over from here.

“Ahhhhhhhh...”

Need I say more?

“Oh, what a relief and damn the splatter on the shoes.” said Sam. “Ohhhhhhhh...Ooooooh Ahhhhhhhh...”

“There should not be a little girl’s face in that basement window,” was Sam’s last urinating thought.

The girl let the curtain fall back into place and was gone. Sam put his guy back in its holster.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I hope we didn’t scare you.”

“Hey! Hey YOU!”

Sam jumped in his own skin.

There was a man in the alley. He was backlit and big. There was an all black big figure in the head of the alley, with the light at his back. There was a BIG unidentifiable man in the head of the alley, blocking Sam’s way home if he cared to take it Sam zipped up his pants. No use being caught out in two situations at once. Sam thought quick on his feet, and ran to pick up something rolling on the ground.

A mostly smoked cigarette.

“Road score! Beat you to it!”

Sam laughed a maniacal Laughing Man laugh.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The figure was stoic and unmoved.

Sam reached into his coat pocket and then shook back out two hands, one at a time, like he was shaking off water or shaking blood back into them, disclosing to the backlit hulking figure that they were empty. He began to hum simulated voodoo-hoodoo music and drew attention to his thumb-- by staring at it with eyes wide showing lots of eye white-- which then spontaneously lit on fire as if by magic. The dark alley and the burning thumb made Sam seem mysteriously magical and special-- yes, I said special-- and weird.

Sam lit the mostly smoked cigarette he now held up to his burning thumb and put the cigarette in his lips. The dark figure hadn't budged-- good.

“At least he wasn’t trying to kill me” is what Sam thought. Sam was acting like a man caught in the spotlight and fidgety. Only Sam was outstandingly maniacally fidgety, like a man caught in a spotlight and under scrutiny by someone who wanted to do him harm.

Sam rolled the cigarette into his mouth and shut it, as if he had swallowed the burning butt, and a great big goofy smirk was forced upon his lips. Smoke spewed from his nostrils and then Sam pinched his nose as if the world just smelled too horrific for our Sam. Smoke then spewed from Sam’s ears in tiny straight-lined spouts like streams of steam from a whistling teapot. Something really had gotten into Sam. This was either a goofy man or a man possessed. Sam began to twirl and spin like those old Indian dancers you watched on reruns as a kid, smoke pouring out like dragon contrails from four orifices now. Sam was a condor in a tornado and now a fighter jet in a dishwasher and now an inconsolable twirling lawn sprinkler and now a geisha dancer who swallowed a wolverine...

“Hey. You’re not dangerous or nothing, are you?”

It was Kenny! Jenny’s Kenny! And he was not in the best of moods.

Kenny had caught Sam in his rear view mirror and gotten his car parked while it still ran and ran back to catch Sam in an alley. This was it. This was where the big showdown would occur. This was where Kenny made peace with Jenny and kept his seat on the couch. Kenny would bring Sam into the shelter and Jenny would find Kenny indispensable and a great provider. Kenny would provide Sam, would he not? There was no time to set nets or traps or chase Sam into a cage. Kenny would have to do this the hard way. He would have to catch Sam by hand.

Sam was now doing Steve Austin’s plane on fire.

“She's breaking up. She's breaking up.!”

“Hey now, buddy. Take it easy. I have to take you down... so...”

“We’re going down! Write your mother’s! Say your prayers! I can’t hold her! I can’t hold her! She’s breaking up! She’s breaking up! Ahhhhhhhh!”

Sam did the smartest thing he could think of in that situation. He crashed his plane into a pile of garbage cans. There was a large CRASH of cans, like the sound of lots of cans crashing. Then Big City silence. Kenny crossed his arms the way a disenchanted father would at his kids during a sleep-over. He couldn’t believe he was even here, and he couldn‘t believe his girlfriend had a thing for this Sam-nut and he couldn‘t believe his luck in finding Sam this early in the day..

“Jesus H. Christ.” was what Kenny thought to say about it all. This guy was a loony in the wrong land.

“Yes?” responded Sam.

“Yes what?”

“You called. You called my name.”

“Called? What are you talking about?”

“You said ‘Jesus H. Christ’”

“So?”

“So, I am Jesus H. Christ. I’m back and boy am I pissed.”

Kenny shook his head and wiggled his hairdo.

“You’re an idiot. And I hate your guts.”

Sam needed to move the process along. It was getting ugly in places. Even dire. Perhaps lethal. The situation was getting much too serious, at any rate. There needed to be less talk and much more magic and noise.

“Hey, have you seen this trick? I think you’ll like this one. It’s very subtle, so if you blink, you might miss it.”

Sam began to hum the big--top circus tune. The one where everybody lined up in the middle of the three rings and bowed before you got sent home. That one. Using lots of “nanas”.

“Na na nana nana nana nana nun nun, na nana...”

Sam was doing a one man act all by himself. He aligned four garbage cans in a row by scraping their grinding-metallic bottoms across asphalt in horrific echoic alleyway eardrum tickling madness while Kenny crept in like an unsure volunteer-- but also still watching Sam like a curious on-looking passer-by.

Sam then placed three cans on top of the four-- the beginning of a pyramid of clanking, crashing cans while Kenny moved even closer to his catch and Sam did his best to keep up the appearance of a show. The loud tinny din settled in with Sam still humming the circus tune and Kenny creeping in like a wildlife amateur trying to lasso something lucrative.

Now grabbing two cans... Sam placed them with much fanfare and noise on top of the three on top of the four, and then did the noisy final drag of one final can. This one had trash on the bottom third of it. It looked heavy and disgustingly dirty, like it held pig scraps mixed in with milk cartons and empty boxes of Chinese food. Sam mimed that it was heavy. It was a good mime. Kenny even stopped his stalking completely just to watch Sam mime the topping of the great pyramid and the lifting of the final can. It was a silly moment you just had to stop and stare at.

Oh no! Sam can’t get the beleaguered can to the top of the pile.!

Oh no! It is too heavy for this silly Sam!

Oh no. He’s come this far and needs just one more!

Sam tried, but he just couldn’t quite get it there (Kenny actually suppressing the desire to step in and help) but he was oh so close!

Sam put down the can with a loud crashing bang and looked at Kenny.

“This is the tricky part“

.Sam’s eyebrows lifted and fell. Sam’s eyebrows lifted and fell several times more. He picked up the can and played the struggling man with the can again while Kenny grew short-tempered and impatient and angry..

“Those eyebrows were mocking me,” thought Kenny. He had to step in. He had to take this moment in time, seize the day, and do something and say something and stop all this silliness right straight NOW!

“Oh for crying out loud! Would you quit fooling around? You’re going down...”

Suddenly, and with garbage dumping all over, and all over Kenny, Sam brought the garbage can intended for the top tier down over Kenny’s head, over Kenny’s shoulders, over Kenny’s big and scary-looking hairy arms, then Sam grabbed the handle and spun big Kenny and the oozing can around and around to dizzy Kenny down, and then Sam released Kenny and the can into the pyramidal pile of cans sending the cans all crashing down on Kenny with Kenny sloppily sprawling like a man just spun and tossed.

Sam ran like hell out of the alley and into the big open expanses of Big City’s confines, not looking over his shoulder and sometimes skipping and not running-- still humming the circus tune-- skipping, running, humming, and hopping some too.

Kenny was a massive tangled and ego-bruised pile of garbage cans and garbage out of cans.

“You‘re a dead man, Sam. I swear to God. You‘re a dead man.”

--26--.

Three police vehicles pulled in and ramped themselves up the sidewalk with their lights flashing. They jumped out of their cars and rushed to the aid of a man who was rushing toward them. This was a bleeding balding man with one hand held up on his bleeding balding head. The other hand was pointing upward-- way upward, skyward, and The Laughing Man stopped laughing.

“Uh oh.”

This was not funny. The Laughing man tossed his last handful of tossables and preempted any further unfunniness by running like hell.

Another pair of police trousers somehow connected to black shiny shoes had just kicked Minus in the nuts. This policewoman’s arms had grown weary and her voice-box dry and painfully hoarse and her mandibles were aching and her memories on fire and her 80 pound four-foot-ten perpetrator was shutting down his senses in front of her like a man. This policewoman did what any self-respecting woman-- who had been tied up naked on a bed for a week, approaching death and airing out her yoo-hoo for all who came to see-- would do.

Katunggggg!

Crushing the pair and splitting the pair and driving the point home to the navel.

Minus woke up and passed out-- all by one swift kick-- and stood up and fell down and silently screamed in his own screaming mind while his stomach tossed his nuts back down and grew queasy and threw up and his body writhed like a pitch-forked snake and his eyes blurred grass blades into vomit and his toes curled and the pain overran his thoughts which scrambled like he had just been pithed like a Halibut bound for sushi. Every pain imaginable within a millennium came to visit the soul of Minus and left a card and Minus thanked them one by one as they went away, as slow as the tide, one by frigging one like the ring tones in his scrotum.

“That’s for calling me chubby,” said the Policewoman, who walked away herself.

Stomper had turned inward. Not toward Big City in a hasty retreat of his giant spiraling search for Mimi, but inward within himself. The meditative bobbing and striding of his walking had evened out the brain waves that normally crashed upon his rocky shores and had delivered him a peaceful surf to wade in while he walked.

Stomper had had the life of a lifetime, at his young age, and in comparative terms. Not all good. Not all bad. Just unusual in the contemporary, classical sense of what constitutes a life in that he had lived it all unsheltered. from the storms of Big City city life. If it transpired within the confines of Big City via human interactions, Stomper had been there watching what went on Armed robberies. Drug deals. Beatings. Shootings and shooting needles. Stomper had seen it all. And all of it from the vantage point of a disadvantaged child living and growing up around the streets of Big City.

Living on the streets had been like watching Hollywood movies all day long everyday, tuning-in here today, there tomorrow, slipping out of situations by simply backing out without fanfare or running like hell with his enormous feet serving him well and his fitness keeping him in the game and out of trouble.

Stomper had stayed relatively and remarkably out of trouble ever since that day 19 years ago when his mother had dropped him off at his Aunt’s house and run to California when he was six, two weeks after Stomper’s Aunt had run off to California leaving Stomper standing in front of a locked empty rental’s door for just about a day until an obstinate landlord shooed the big-footed boy off by stepping on his toes and yelling at him.

Learning had been a series of trials for Stomper. Learning to barely read. Learning to feed himself. Learning how to leap tall fences in a single bound..

In these rare moments when Stomper’s mind felt at ease with life and his surroundings, and danger was nowhere on the horizon, and walking induced mild waves of peacefulness, Stomper felt quite happy to be Stomper. Stomper was a sure-footed traveler in this adventure called life, and Stomper could feel the breeze on his face and smell the raw earth in his nose and this was good.

A spiral from the outside in was the best route to take to find a missing soul within the confines of Big City, and Stomper had the serenity of mind right now to walk this path, hunger or no hunger.

Eating with your arm bungee-tied to your belt so that your hand had to stretch the bungee with effort to reach your mouth was something Slappy had to work on. Cold, discarded fries were fed to the mouth one by one, each fry an exercise for his bicep, each dry fry requiring a sip from a cup of melted ice and watered down coca-cola. (which needed the stability of a hand without a tic, in case you wondered. A cup of anything in a hand that involuntarily sped toward your face unannounced was an impracticality not worth considering.)

Slappy fought his apparatus with calm acceptance and thankfulness. He had had sex with his parent’s maid without asking or telling. This is what the punishment was.

“This is what I’ve been missing!” thought Chester. Bettina had locked the front door and put up shades and fed Chester donuts and gone after him again and again and again.

“You are the great Molester!” cried Bettina.

“Yes!’ cried Chester. “Yes!”

“No.” said Betty The Smoker to a man with a stare. “You have to look away.” The man held his gaze. Betty The Smoker grew alarmed. This had been going on for quite some time now, all of a sudden. The man had a stare that consumed air. Betty The Smoker hacked and coughed. In a contest of staring willful enterprise, Betty The Smoker, was staring at her match.

You and Him were looking for discarded, unwanted food in street-side litter cans supplied by Big City community groups and a responsible city council. You had let go of Him and was leading Him from can to can, handing Him things to hold, sniffing through things with her vulture-looking nose, pocketing things of interest like broken kids’ toys and coming up with parts of several partial sandwiches and some fast-food hardened fries and a half-licked all day sucker with a couple of hours left to suck on it.

Him put in his mouth what You indicated was worth putting in there and nothing more. You had a gift for sniffing out what would make you sick, and Him was grateful for You’s gift as he had not been made sick by bad food since You lit up his life almost nine years ago.

You made sure Him got enough nourishment and Him kept You on the right path. The two were quite a pair. You and Him. Imagine You and Him without each other? You alone. Him by himself. A sad contemplation.

Fred had a new plan for the big big money. He would get on a bus and ride around in circles. This would cost him the price of bus fare, Fred realized. This would cost Fred all he had. But you had to take chances and you had to make investments if you wanted to score big. You had to be willing to pay, if you wanted to earn. There were laws of the universe at play here. Laws as immutable as gravity and as profound as biology.

Fred knew these laws, of course, and they knew Fred.
Sam had run from Kenny and had run up to a stopping bus.

“This bus go by Benton?” Sam called out to the driver through the door. The bus driver nodded.

“Good!” said Sam, now climbing aboard. “Where the rich people live!”

--27--

The back of the bus-- ever been there? Rosa Parks made history once, long ago, by avoiding there. But these days aren’t the same as those days. The back of the bus is where the oddest of balls now gathered. Where the gang youth clamored and clambered. Where the mischievous managed to stake out a zone. Where the oddly anointed sat in belligerent certainty. Where the struggling couples hashed out their differences through angry censorship and muffled, poignant curses. If you were looking for diversity and an amusing time to pass, you went to the back of the bus. As far back as you could find a seat. The further back the better. The back of the bus was where things unusual or interesting or simply entertaining transpired and kept you listening in. The back of the bus was like a sit-com and a soap and a stand-up act, drenched in diesel smoke.

Sam went to the back of the bus because he felt he fit there best and there he sat.

Smiling.

“I don’t like this.”

“Mabel..”

“George. We don’t belong here..”

‘”Mabel...”

“I told you we should have taken a cab.”

“A cab is expensive.”

“We deserve it. We deserve a cab. We’re not like these people.”

“Mind your manners, now. Or I’ll tell them about your papa!”

“Tell who?”

“Them!”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I would!”

I know you would. But I don’t care. You know why I don’t care?”

“Because I brought you up right. I raised you up good, that’s why.”

“Because I’ve got my dignity.”

The bus slowed down to pick up a passenger.

“And I know that I’m better than all of this, do you hear what I’m telling ya?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“Don’t you say that George. I hate it when you say that!”

Fred-- our beloved Fred-- all six foot eight of him, climbed aboard the bus, ducking down and slowing down forward progress by paying for his fare in nickels and pennies.

“Look what they’re letting on now. This is ridiculous.”

“Mabel...”

“I’m not going to just sit here...”

“Mabel...”

“I’m not going to stand for this!”

Mabel stood

George pulled Mabel back in her seat. Being forced to sit stood Mabel’s ire straight up like a spitting cobra.

“SIT DOWN, Mabel!”

‘THAT’S WHAT YOU SAY. THAT’S WHAT YOU ALWAYS SAY!”

Once again, the back of the bus had become the center of attention. Heads were turned and the driver was chuckling in his rear view interior mirror. The bus pulled away from the curb, revved its engine and then
once again slowed to a stop. A couple-- apparently retarded and flashing bus passes and enormously happy smiles-- climbed aboard and sat down behind the driver

The bus’ doors shut, and the diesel roared.

“George. You’ve got no right to do this to me. You’re a cruel, cruel man.”

“Mind your manners, now.”

“What? What did you say?”

“I TOLD YOU TO BE QUIET. NOW PLEASE! LET’S HAVE SOME PEACE HERE!”

Sam stuck his head between the couple and looked them both up and down.

“Ahhh, isn’t that nice! There’s someone for everybody.”

--28--

When the phone was brought to Jenny by a giggling Kathy, she was knee deep in getting lunch on the table for about four hundred folks. The ransacked kitchen had lost supplies and pre-sanitized pots and pans. Everything needed to be washed again and lunch had to be made out of what had not been taken.. Asking volunteers to go above and beyond without going with them was anathema to Jenny’s make-up and here she was, worn out and stressed out, dealing with the lunch crowd after having just made up large vats of macaroni salad, some with chunks of ham and some with crumbled bacon and some without for those who eschewed chewing meat.

Jenny wiped her hands on her pants and took the phone from Kathy, who was anxious to see her take this call.

“Who is it?”

“It’s Kenny. He sounded pretty hot.”

“Thanks, Kathy.”

Kenny was on his cell phone on a Big City street corner. He looked cleaned up but in no way clean. Jenny spoke first, while Kathy eavesdropped by simply leaning up against a wall.

“Hello?”

“You won’t believe what just happened to me.”

“Kenny. Where are you?”

“He threw a garbage can over my head.”

“He who? Sam?”

Jenny giggled.

“I had him cornered in an alley, and he threw a garbage can over my head.”

“How is he? Did you talk to him?”

“Jenny. He threw a garbage can over my head. Are you listening to me?”

“I’m listening. But what you are telling me is not what I expected to be hearing from you right about now.”

“For Christ's sake, Jenny. The guy threw a garbage can over my head. He doesn’t want my help. Or yours.”

“Don’t give up that easily on me, Kenny. I’m working my tail off here for these people. The least you can do is bring Sam in. Or would you like to come down here and join your friends, here? They say the atmosphere is lousy but the food is good.”

Jenny hung up on Kenny. She did this with a modicum of amusement and an eye for dramatic effect.

Kenny was left standing on a corner, holding a dead signal, smelling like pig slop and sour milk and empty boxes of Chinese food..

“Ahhh... SHIT!”

Jugs Judy was tiring and perspiring and heading for a bench to rest her chest and stop the swaying for a spell. Walking for Jugs Judy was like dancing with another. You had a rhythm you had to stay with or you stumbled and tripped yourself up. You didn’t want to be known as Jugs Judy the booby, the girl who had gone so big she could no longer be graceful. A girl had her reputation to think of, and that one wouldn’t do. Imagine being known around town as the girl who falls down? Imagine people slowing down just to see you stumble?

Jugs Judy was hard and soft and proud. You kept up appearances. Or you died.

There was no middle ground.

Jugs Judy sat on a bench by the side of the street and placed one leg over the other, lady-like, blue veins and all. She lit her one cigarette for the afternoon-- a replacement for a lunch-- and held it in as delicate a fashion as she was able., her two fingers in a line with her wrist, the filter pinched by her upper segments of her fingers and her ankle hanging loose and relaxed in front of her. Her big hair poofed in the light breeze and her gaze fixed on a billboard down the street a block. There was a girl in a bikini carrying a laptop. Jugs Judy thought she read “Lap Dances” and wondered if that was right.

Jugs Judy was not a dumb woman but not a bright one either. School was a difficult thing for her as a child, for reasons having more to do with home life than with brains or academics.. Extra-curricular shenanigans with older neighborhood boys had supplanted home life and algebra. and spelling and Saturday morning cartoons. She got her love as a child, alright. And she gave it up to get it. Jugs Judy was a textbook classic case on how she got from where she was to sitting here.

An over the top and down the backside hooker and stripper, thinking of lap dances with nostalgia and longing.

“I used to be really good.” Jugs Judy told herself.

It had certainly been a few years since she had given a good one.

This was the first time this had ever happened to Chester. This was the second, third, fourth, and fifth time as well. The sixth was on its way, but this too, had never happened to Chester. The unresponsive apparatus, laying in its bed of hair doing nothing and stubbornly ignoring all pleas to the contrary. Chester was uncertain of what to make of this. Chester was uncertain of how to feel. Chester was fumbling to discover this new place in his life where a naked woman lifted and dropped his flaccid sex with her finger, shaking her head like a doctor pronouncing the patient dead, watching it fall back to its hairy bed unmoved.

Chester could only hold his head up while laying down and stare at it until his neck began to ache.

“Wait,” said Bettina with hungry loving looks of lust, “I have a good idea.”

--29--
.
Sam had his belt off and had made a loop with it and had slipped this loop around his feet again. This device was taught to him in boy scouts, long ago. If you were lost and had to climb a limbless tree to find your bearings, your belt would act as a climbing aid. Little did the scout master know how this particular bit of survival knowledge would be put to use by a dirty, smelly half-drunk man in a wealthy neighborhood full of all manner of manors in one of the poshest and most exclusive areas within the confines of Big City, and greatly would he be surprised.

By disallowing his feet to separate beyond the limits of the belt loop, and by biting this belt bight into the rough texture of a power pole, Sam was able to easily hop thirty feet up this forty foot pole, get himself comfortable standing there like a lumberjack or a linesman for a utility company, pull out a flacon for a sip, pull out a pair of binoculars and train them on a third story window where an extremely attractive and fit late thirties female could be made out getting changed into a white tennis outfit, her hair pulled back into a ponytail, a stylish sweat band slipped over the clear-skinned forehead, her make-up set light to go with sports, her bra strap visible like a crooked line and then repaired beneath her tennis top.

This kind of thing really made Sam lust after this woman. The way she took care of herself and the details she just naturally handled without fanfare or drama. The way she kept her body fit and her mind active. All of it. Woo! Sam really loved this woman. If you looked into his heart you would see it filled with goo. He knew this woman like he had loved her forever. Sam even knew her schedule, and he looked at his watch.

“Better hurry, darling. You’ll be late for your tennis match.”

“They say the atmosphere is lousy, but the food is good.

They say the atmosphere is really lousy, but the food is good.

They say the atmosphere sucks but you can eat crap, people.

They say the place stinks to high heaven and is full of bums and damn, I‘m getting hungry.

What the hell are you looking at?”

Kenny had managed to get his car headed toward a gas station and was waiting for one final light to let him get there-- which was a good thing considering his fuel line was now rapidly emptying itself of gas.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man. Hairless and mostly toothless and still maniacal was going down in a service elevator while uninformed, uniformed police officers roamed the look-out platform looking for signs of a perpetrator. Guns drawn, eyes on the defensive, one of the officers noting how clean the platform looked and commenting on it.
“This cement floor is spotless.”

Stomper had taken to picking up rocks and throwing them at signs. He was on the side of a road now, on a nice course heading across an arc-section within the circumference of a circle which centered itself right on Central Square. He was bobbing and striding and chucking stones, breathing in the fresher air out here and the raw earth smells, missing the signs for the most part in his tossing-- not caring-- happy to be throwing out here at all. Every now and then the kawanggggg of a hit sign would light up his smile and he would skip a step or two like a child before shifting back into bobbing and striding once again. Food and water were becoming issues--here it was almost one o’clock-- but Stomper had been without such things before. He didn’t die then and he wouldn’t die now. Not if he was this happy simply chucking rocks.

There were moments in time when Stomper felt like he could say out here. Out along the fringes where the elements were. Out where Big City lights faded into massive patches of darkness and where the smell of dung was a healthy smell and the smell of life not masked in odors of rose and lavender and musk and vanilla and strawberry and banana and peppermint.

“I could stomp grapes,” thought Stomper. “I’d be a shoe-in for that job.”

But Stomper knew that these feelings never lasted. The thick of things were far more interesting than these thinned-out areas where “humans per one hundred acres” was a possible way to make a measurement. Watching a man get struck by a lamp in a bar was a far more interesting event than watching a cow get tipped by a bored teen-ager in tennis shoes. Big City held it occupants hostage by their own cantankerous activities, it seemed to Stomper. And he loved that. No, thought Stomper. Big City is the life for me and he broke out into song.

If you wanted to know what was inside a refurbished four story colonial manor you could do what Sam did. You could let yourself in by stealth and cunning through the back. You could learn the schedule of its beautiful, light-haired female occupant and then watch from a nearby pole as her BMW pulled elegantly and richly backwards onto the street from a ground floor garage, glistening in well washed onyx black waxed in turtle wax and shined with a shimmy and a chamois, the sexy driver twisted at the waste and looking both ways before shifting into drive and heading off to play tennis with the girls. You would hide yourself up in a pole, thirty feet from where she would drive unknowingly right beneath you, and then you’d climb down and tippy-toe your way from bush to bush until you found an open way into a downstairs, backroom servant’s kitchen, where you’d raid the fridge and drink milk straight from the container.

You would then walk around the place like you had been there before--like you lived there-- landing yourself on a comfy looking recliner and clicking the on button on, on a remote, settling into your very favorite chair while you stared at a large screen high definition TV, channel flipping like a pro, and then you’d call out to no one there--

“Honey would you get me a beer?”

This would make you laugh like it had made Sam laugh. It would spur you on to click off the TV and see what else this hugely-sized, well appointed house with the leather and the teak and silk and the wool, had to offer.

You would look at the walls and note the paintings. Medium scaled depictions of beautiful things in odd and ugly places. A rose growing from a sidewalk crack. A rabbit in a sea of upscale human legs--all looking like the upscale downtown legs of money folk on their way to their offices.

A cow standing in a drive-thru lane ordering from a speaker.

A fully-adorned Christmas tree planted in a garbage can in an alley with presents all around, all with bright red bows and cards with scribbled names on them, names like Sam and other names he knew.

And the one that shook Sam to the core-- a beautiful young girl’s face looking out of a basement window, her eyes wide with the wonderment of children of that age, looking up and over at a bum-- a man not unlike Sam-- who is urinating on her doorstep. This one made Sam sit down where he stood, where no chair sat, and stare.

“How is it, she could have known?”

--30--

Bettina came out all dressed in white. She wore a short white skirt, a white medical frock buttoned just so and white stockings held up with a white garter belt and white spiked shoes and a white nurses cap with a big red red-cross emblem silk-screened across its front like a math problem awaiting numbers. She had washed herself and perfumed herself and had taken all the store-bought labels from everything she bought and then put the costume on for the first time since it came in the mail wrapped in brown two winters past, hoping it would still fit. Though too snug for comfort, Bettina felt squeezed nicely by her costume, and strutted around her donut shop like a well-glazed tart looking for a bit of old-fashioned sugar.

Chester reacted to this with an idea of his own. He pulled his pants over his bare butt and failed sex, climbed into his trench coat and began strutting around himself, like a mysterious man of danger and intrigue and secret agent stealth. Bettina threw a leg up on the counter and gave the come hither look. Chester tipped his non-existent era fedora and complied, coming hither toward Bettina’s nursing nuances. He shifted his eyes side to side as if looking for eavesdroppers. Certain that the coast was clear, he raised an eyebrow like a man with a microfilm.

“Hey baby. You got a rope?”

Betty The Smoker had been out-stared. A man with no scruples whatsoever. The deeper Betty The Smoker stared into the soul of this man, the deeper he stared back. This man had a name and a history, but Betty The Smoker would never find it. He had a family where he was from, and a wife and kids to go home to, but he did not share this information with Betty The Smoker while he returned her intense stare. with an intense stare of his own.

Sometimes in life, the competition can be fierce. Sometimes this competition occurs in odd and unexpected places. Not far from a railway trestle overpass-- where wads of unwanted clothing are piled like hives on sand left over from sandblasting and a man named Sam slept last night--- a hacking super-smoker by the name of Betty The Smoker coughed and hacked and took on The Unknown Starer and lost in an epic thirty minute battle that no one saw.

Betty The Smoker had unceremoniously backed down and wandered off, her soul seared by a stare much deeper and darker and more penetrating than she imagined her stare could ever be. Here was this man, coke-bottle lenses on black eyewear and hair like a gargantuan fuzzy pencil topper with a matching black outstanding mustache and sideburn trim, coming out of nowhere and tormenting her into submission with just his eyes.

It had ashened Betty The Smoker’s grave features-- with her hair like Einstein's and her skin already deceased in spots like her dead grandmother’s-- even more. It had sent her back out into the streets with her head down and her mind no longer on a search for Mimi and a new pack of Marlboro 100’s, her eyes now darting around nervously like they had once been just yesterday, her pockets filling with tiny bits of tobacco and its nicotine clinging to larger bits of butts. Betty The Smoker had been shut down in the prime of her new day dawning, and The Unknown Starer had just been goofing around, waiting for his wife to get her hair done down the road

It was a victory that had no winners and one sore loser who would hack and cough. It was a primal moment in a big, cold Big City downtown neighborhood-- over coming a staring loser who was lost

Him grabbed You by the hand and directed her onward toward Central Square. It was not far, Him decided, and a plan had been hashed out between the two and was in need of sticking to. These were moments when You would blush and get all gushy with warm gooey feelings of Him. Him my hero. Him my savior. Him my lord.

Sometimes You wondered what got into Him, on those days when he didn’t seem himself. But not too often. You loved him for the rock he was for her and the way he kept her rolling toward goals and hopes and dreams. You even liked the shape of Him. He was built like a rock, a boulder, something you could lean against that wouldn’t budge in a storm. But not so fixed that he was immovable and static and boring. Him was a rolling stone, baby. A massive floating log. A bowling ball in a well waxed lane.

You followed Him the way a child follows its father in a crowd. You held on and was pulled in tow like a segment of a greater entity. And in this case, in the oddly convoluted and introverted and exclusionary world of You and Him, this description appropriately fit. A greater entity. You and Him. One isolated organism with two brains and both sexual organs in one form. The form of You and Him. Now snaking through a tourist crowd like an anaconda would. Undulating arms and parts moving in a unified serpentine slanting motion as a species all its own. Led by a bald red head with nickel-sized freckles. Followed by a tall and lanky rear, flat of chest and long of beak.

Jugs Judy had made ten bucks while sitting on her bench. She flashed her titties to two male tourists who used their flash and got bright pictures. Sixty seconds, she told them. Ten bucks, Sixty seconds. Then you had to move along or rape would be screamed and rape would be hollered.

The two young men went five and five. They could not believe their luck. The biggest titties they had ever seen, and they were going to get a chance to take some photos and send those photos home.

“Are they real?” asked one while the two men swapped places.

“Of course they’re real.” Jugs Judy said. “Just look at the nipples. That‘s how you tell”

“Lordy, lordy,” said the other guy. “Lordy lordy lordy.”

Sam continued to peruse the woman’s manor and stopped to comment at a mirror. The man in the mirror was not a man who belonged in these environs. Sam knew this. He was not an unrealistic man. He knew where he stood in life. And he knew how he got here. Everything Sam did was orchestrated by Sam, and Sam was not one to be pointing fingers.

“Ahhh, Sammy boy. Look at you. You’re a bum, man A bum.”

Fred was still in a bus riding around and around. The deep-throated diesel growls and the swaying motion and the irregular rhythmic starting and stopping and sporadic turning had put Fred in a mood to close his eyes. Fred dreamed his monetary dreams and filled his mind with riches. In Fred’s world at this very moment, the sun was a warming influence on his face and a room full of golden trinkets where he lay. In Fred’s world, Fred was now king of the humble with enough gold to throw up in the air just because it was fun to do so.

Slappy had arrived in Central Square. He was the first one to arrive there from the wads, but this was no consequence worth saluting. There was nothing he wanted or needed here. There was no Mimi. There was no shelter from the sun available, nor seat for sitting, nor space for simply walking around. There were crowds here who consumed all of this, gathered here to hear a man speaking about changes. Changes for the better, he promised. Changes that would only come, if you supported him.

Slappy was all for changes. Good changes occurred when kind thoughts brought on kind ideas. I mean, look at Slappy. All bungeed up and not beating himself up over anything anymore. The redness was now gone on his cheek. The buzzing headaches also gone. All had been reduced down to a stretching tickle by a kind woman named Alice who sold cards and lots of bears with hearts.

But not the tic.. The tic was a neurological issue that could simply be fixed surgically by an incision and a couple of snips. The change would be just short of profound for Slappy. In fact, instantaneous. But this change required a change in Slappy’s most innermost thoughts, the thoughts he shared with almost nobody, the thoughts that kept him from seeking and finding a surgeon who could simply cure him in an afternoon. This denouement was not looking possible for the moment if you were clued in to what Slappy thought. Slappy had his guilt that he clung to like a favorite story. You could reason with Slappy and he’d think you were crazy. You could explain to Slappy how two things can coincide, that synchronicity was not necessarily complicity, that you could not infer cause and effect just because two things appeared to be intertwined within the framework of time. Slappy would just laugh at you and call you nuts. He knew where his affliction was spawned-- he had been the one who was there. And for now, the bungee was a change that Slappy could really rally for. As silly as he looked with a bungee strapped to his belt and tied to a leather band strapped to his wrist, and as innocent and harmless as this contraption was.

The Laughing Man had spilled out on to the streets and was dancing crazily between three police cars and simply doing what he did best.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

--31--

Sam had found himself three stories up in a master bedroom, beautifully decorated, like a bedroom in a magazine. Sam took a moment to take it all in. This is where she slept and did those things she did. This is where she bared herself. This is where Sam saw himself making love to her on the billowing bed. This is where he told her that he loved her and cherished her and worshipped her, and where she told him that she loved him too.

On a top surface of a dresser, Sam reached out and plucked a pair of grandma reading glasses and put them in his jacket pocket. They were the kind that sat on the end of your nose and helped you read small things. The kind old people wore and it made them look appropriately adorned because they were old.

Mimi would need these, Sam told himself. I better give them to her when I see her next. Sam went padding through the pockets of men’s clothes laying on a chair. He found a wallet. He pocketed this in his jacket too and checked his watch. Sam had been here long enough. It was time to go. If he were not gone soon, she’d be back and he’d want to stay. He couldn’t let this happen. Not on days like these.

Leaving this well apportioned and tastefully decorated manor was not something Sam did easily. There was so much comfort here for Sam to leave behind. That chair and that TV. The full refrigerator full of food. The well stocked liquor cabinet. Her. She would be back and Sam would be gone. The thought was tormenting to Sam, who was a busy man to begin with. He would not see her again until much, much later. This he knew.

Sam jogged almost a full block before he reached a spot where taxis ran. He jumped around and up and down yelling “Taxi! Taxi!”

Taxis came and veered around Sam and headed down the street. Sam tried everything to bring them to a stop. Jumping up and down and whistling with his fingers... Waving his arms in the air like a crazed football fan... Empty taxis taking fares did not want Sam inside of them.. Sam was a bum. He looked like he stank. And lord knows how much money he had to pay his fare.

Sam agreed with the thought process displayed by these drivers. He understood where they were coming from. He held no malice for their opinions of him. He simply jumped in front of one. The driver swerved and hit his breaks. Words were cursed, and Sam did not wait to hesitate. He jumped inside the taxi and greeted the driver with a happy smile.

“Hi!”

The driver had no choice but to deal with Sam, and his first choice was of course, to make his fare.

“Hey, can you pay?” asked the driver.

Sam looked in the wallet he scored. He pulled out a hundred dollar bill.

“I’ve got a hundred,” said Sam.

“Where to mister?”

“To the park, downtown. Where the poor people live!”

Central Square had a smaller, sister square about a block and a bit diagonally down the road called Diablo Park. If Central Square was jammed with people, the thing to do was move down a block and carry on there. Street musicians needed people to ply their trade and earn their wages in their cases, but a square jam-packed with people for an event of any large sort, was a recipe for disaster. Police came to you and asked for licenses and permits or simply shoed you off while crowds were focused on other things. Sure, it was a scene, but it was a bad scene for those who used the streets to earn their bread. You were a corrupted enterprise. You played second fiddle. You were drowned out by larger, more raucous causes and diatribes. The thing to do was simply move yourself down, and this is what Charlie had done.

Charlie was a light-skinned African American very dark white man with African and Irish/English ancestral roots. He was part slave owner and part slave, he said, so he told himself what to do. Charlie hailed from New Orleans improper, he liked to say, and grew up in the groove. Music was cut into Charlie’s brain, and music is what he played.

A saxophone best expressed Charlie’s disposition. It was sullen and melancholy and heart felt and full of soul. It wailed for the masses and cried for the poor man who blew through her reed. It wasn’t glossy like polished gold, but it shined in the hearts of others, and that’s what mattered to Charlie.

Charlie was not a homeless man but he was not a comfortable man either. He cared for his elderly parents from three marriages-- meaning six people. They were all in their eighties now and all refusing to give up living so Charlie could pocket his earnings and spend some dime on women.

Charlie blew six days a week and rested his lips on Mondays.. Mondays were for chewing gum and eating syrupy foods and doing laundry. Mondays were for making deposits and rolling up coins into tubes that banks would take. Mondays were Charlie’s paydays, and the day he did the grocery shopping and paid the bills.

But today wasn’t Monday. Crowds were gathered downtown on a workday to hear a politician speak. Crowds from other cities-- tourists-- were here for a pre-winter peek at Big City life. Charlie was having a good day in the way of tips and accolades, and Charlie’s case held silver coins and dollar bills and even a couple of hand written checks.

Arriving like a stubborn bee in a car was Sam, fresh from a taxi, buzzing and dancing in stage left and making a fool out of himself as he stumbled and wallowed toward stage right. If you were an innocent bystander simply watching the spectacle, you saw a bum stepping in on the limelight scratched out by Charlie’s soulful musicality.

Charlie spit out a nasty note and a laugh and put the saxophone down. Sam was a known extravaganza at times, but the dude couldn’t dance

“How’m I doing? We’re knocking ‘em dead, right?”

“Sam. If I start losing customer’s because of you, I am gonna wrap these big hands of mine around your throat and strangle the life out of you.. You understand? No fooling around.”

Sam was in a mood to fool around. Being strangled by Charlie seemed a far enough fetched notion that Sam never bother to entertain it. The ignore button got pushed in Sam’s lightly inebriated mind, and Sam’s feet made the effort to settle down while the energy shifted into a different gear and poured forth in projectile pronouncements from Sam’s lubricated mouth.

“Thank You. Thank You! Those in the front rows there, step right up and pay the man! Those in the back row-- you there, and you there, please be patient, you’ll get your turn. There is room for everybody's nickel here, so don’t fret. And if you do fret, step right on up and play us something. We’d love to hear you!”

Crowds that are reminded of themselves tend to get self-conscious and disperse. Charlie knew this, from years and years of playing to them. You built up a small crowd slowly, and then this gathered size in easy, unhindered developing moments, as more people meandered in and stayed awhile than those who left. When a pleased participant tossed you a coin or a dollar bill, it reminded others of your profession. They felt obliged, many of them, to give you something before they left.

But when you made them self aware as a mass in a square, they lost their singularity and along with it, all the singular guilt that came along as baggage. People would then slough off in groups without paying, and you‘d have to start the whole process over again..

But Charlie had other matters he wanted to discuss with Sam. Private matters. Pressing matters that really mattered to Charlie.

“Hey Sam. Sam! Come over here, man. You’re scaring all my customers.”

Sam wandered over, a bit Charlie Chan-ish in his wobbly walk.

“I had ‘em! Charlie, I had ‘em!”

“Come closer, Sam. I’ve got something I want to tell you. In private, like...”

Sam stepped even closer.

“Did you see the looks on their faces?”

“Closer, Sam. Come on. Don’t embarrass me.”

Sam moved even closer.

“You want to tell me something?”

“Come on Sam. Move this way. Over here.”

“What is it, Charlie? Is it about my dancing?”

“Closer. Come on. Quit fooling around. I’m serious.”

“Go ahead, Charlie, I can take it.”

Sam offers Charlie his ear to whisper in. He’s that close. Charlie whispers.

“I’ve got to go to the bathroom.”

Sam stands up straight.

“That's it?”

That’s it. You wouldn’t mind watching my stuff for me now? I can trust you, can’t I? That’s my rent money you’re looking at, now.”

“How far do we go back, Charlie?”

“Not far enough. But I am going to trust you this time, so maybe I’ll trust you next time, or maybe not. It’s up to you. Now look after my stuff, because I got to go real bad.”

“You go maestro. I’ll look after everything while you’re gone.”

Charlie came back to his case and grabbed all of the paper money he could grab in a hurry He shook his head as if to say “I hate to do this, but I just got to.”.

Sam understood. It was one of the laws of the streets. You looked after your stuff, or you lost your stuff. It was that simple.

“Just so you don’t go getting too thirsty,” Charlie said as he headed off again. A tad noodle-legged and in a hurry. The man really had to go..

Sam waited patiently while Charlie ambled off. The toilets were on the other side of the square, a long way off Sam knew it would be a few minutes before Charlie returned. And these nice folks had nothing to listen to while he was gone. Sam did the only thing a friend to all would do. He picked up Charlie’s piece, wiped the microphone clean with his shirt sleeve, and began to blow. Just a few exploratory notes at first, like he was checking the brass for flatness and sharpness.

Then Sam blew for real. The ragtime tune that sprayed from the saxophone Sam held seemed ethereally out of place here. It seemed out of place and otherworldly. It surprised you like a mountain lion on a freeway or a bear in a swimming pool or a cluster of crop circles on a field of wheat. That tune couldn’t have come from what was seen before them. . Not from Sam. Not this bum. Not the way he presented to the world, with his ragtag ragged coat and his greasy, grimy woolen slacks. Not his ragtime. Not this jazz.

But there it was. There he was. There they were. The ragtime riffs that tapped you on your rhythmic ragged shoulder and asked you for a dance.. There went your toes. There went a flexing knee. There you saw it and heard it for yourself.

Sam played a Dixie-land Jazz number straight off of a Mississippi barge selling moonshine and gambling and girls. He didn’t just play it, he surprised the crowd by hitting them over the head with it. One minute, they were gathering their things and preparing to move on, the next they were assaulted by some good old southern hospitality concomitant with well blown vibrations out of an old, brassy, historic era that bounced along on its own lofty existence like a sparrow on its flippy-flippy wings. This was improvisational Dixieland jazz that flowed out of Sam incongruently with Sam’s lot in life, for this was a foot-stomping, hell-raising jazzy diatonic, histrionic collection of saxophone riffs worthy of a stalwart studio microphone. Sam lit up the square with a tune that danced inside your ears until your toes were tapping happily-- and as your toes tapped, so go your legs-- and the next thing you had was a small crowd of people dancing and clapping to Sam’s improvisational hellcat melodies and Sam had stood up on a large cement planter and he too began to drive a foot straight down into the planet, demanding that it dance along with everybody else

This old jazz filled the air like a festival spilling over, and Sam put down the brass just long enough to spill out a few impromptu words of made-up conversational beat like a beatnik from the south where true grit was a food and watermelon grew wild in the summertime!

Gonna leave this here city.

Gonna take my momma home.

Gonna leave this here city.

Gonna leave the girls alone.

Gonna sell my soul to Gypsies.

Gonna go on the open road

Cha cha!

And Sam went back to making music with his lips and his heart and his soul all blowing into a reed and flying out his fingertips. The crowd that Sam lost Sam won back in greater numbers as the ragtime tune pulle people from their daily lives and dragged them into the mix. Sam let it all hang out and strutted like Mick and danced like Daltry. and had the crowd all up on their dancing shoes like a button had been pushed. As the energy of the crowd gathered momentum like a brooding storm, Sam took this energy and ran it along his borrowed brass and out its orifice in one long final shrill-filled thrilled-filled shrilly scream...
And then Sam pulled the sax away and took a bow as the crowd erupted like a thundershower and drenched the moment with applause.

Coins, dollar bills, and even coupons, began flooding into Charlie's saxophone case, as Sam--the musical bum-- took bow after bow.

“Thank You. Thank You. Donate what you can. I am indeed your honest to God, starving artist in desperate need of your assistance. For those of you who need receipts, see me after the days celebrations. Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!. Thank You!”

Charlie had returned and was now moving through the crowd with serious intent on his face.

“Excuse me. Pardon me. Excuse me.”

Sam was still thanking donors as they trundled past.

“Thank You. Thank You. Peace brother. God bless.”

Charlie had a beeline on Sam, and was now getting a little pushy with those he needed moved.

“Sam. Hey Sam! I saw Mimi.”

Sam just had his attention snared like a beetle in a fish-net stocking.

“You saw Mimi?”

“Just on the other side of the park. I saw her. She was heading the other way.”

“Down that way?”

“Yeah. I would have stopped her. But you told me not to. I remembered what you said.”

Thanks Charlie. Here’s your brass. I gotta run. I put some money in your coffin. I’ll see you later.”

“In my coffin? Now just you never mind your manners, Sam!”

--32--

Sam couldn’t dance, and Sam couldn’t run. Oh sure, he could stomp a foot and toss around a saxophone and keep a beat and put one swiftly moving foot in front of the other, but he looked out of place trying to move with speed and he looked like a man not accustomed to it. The elbows wouldn’t stay tucked in and the bottoms of the feet splayed out too far side to side for any real forward momentum to transpire. Oh sure, Sam was moving along at a faster clip than had he walked... I’m just saying, Sam was no runner. His efforts were taking him around touristy folks and across Diablo Park and his thoughts of finding Mimi perpetuated these efforts as he reached the street on the opposite side of the park and thought about direction while he doubled over and gasped for air.

And like almost all men in their very late thirties confronted with intense physical exertion and finding out how ill-prepared they now are for it, Sam had these thoughts while he heaved and hacked and gasped and spit out lung phlegm.
“Damn. I’ve got to get myself back in shape.”

Mimi had gone toward Central Square, Sam gathered, by the direction he was pointed by Charlie. Central Square was about a long block in that direction. There was a short cut through a strip of park near that direction.

“I can do this,” thought a slower breathing Sam. “This is for Mimi.”

Sam started with a trot and went from there. He turned a trot into a desperate sprint. His jacket coattail flapping and his arms a-pumping and his hair blowing back by his own manufactured wind. Sam looked like a fugitive running away from something, running away from something in his tawdry, dirty past, running away from something in his tawdry, dirty clothes. Those that saw him coming gave him wide separation from themselves, fearing the random shots that may be fired at Sam from behind, fearing Sam for what he looked like he may have just done. Sam ran and ran and ran as his head starved for oxygen and his legs ate what was left. He hit a strip of green grass and trees and tried to run through. There were few people there but this was not the problem. The problem was that Sam had been tackled from the side, blindsided and knocked down violently, his wind knocked out of him completely and a large man landing on top of him like a linebacker sacking a quarterback, and Sam blacked out when his head hit the earth with a sickening thud.

Sam’s body shut down into sleep mode as it tried desperately to reboot itself.

The man on Sam was a very angry Kenny. Kenny had spotted Sam and tracked him down. Kenny was a man who actually could run, and Sam was quite easily caught. By the time Kenny had struck Sam and brought him down, Kenny had been running for long enough. The adrenaline was pumping in him. The anger at having to be here pumping in him. The thought of losing Jenny-- the best thing that had ever happened to him-- pumping in him. Kenny grabbed Sam by the throat and squeezed it tight.

“Now just hold it. Hold it right there or I’ll tear your head clean off! I want to talk to you.”

Sam was ignoring this. Sam was pretending to be passed out. Sam was an actor doing an amazing job in this regard. Sam appeared to be trying to have his way with Kenny again, and Kenny wasn’t go to fall for it.

“Jenny told me to bring you to the shelter. And that’s what I am doing. Now I want you to listen to me.”

Sam was not listening.

“I’m taking you down, do you hear what I am saying? You’re going down with me and that’s where we’re going!”

Kenny wanted a response and got none. He slapped Sam’s cheek. Nothing.

“Hey! Hey knock off all of your horseshit, you understand? I’m not buying into any more of your bullshit. You hear me?”

Sam didn’t hear him. Sam didn’t even appear to be breathing.

“I said, do you hear me? Now just knock this shit off. Sam. Come on Sam. Open your eyes!”

Sam could have had exes for eyes.

“Sam? Goddamn it. What are you trying to do? Sam! Quit fooling around! This isn’t funny. Sam?”

Kenny grabbed Sam by the cheeks and squeezed them to open Sam’s mouth. Sam was an unresponsive bum in a strip of park full of trees and grass and witnesses Kenny tried to listen to Sam’s chest, to hear breathing that he couldn’t get to make a sound. Sam was dead. Sam died. Sam had been killed and Kenny had killed Sam.

“Hey Sam! Sam? What’s going on? What are you doing to Sam?”

Can you believe i?. It was Barnie! If Barnie was going to get something from Sam, he was going to have to do something quick.

Kenny knew to do nothing but run away. And Kenny could run. He did turn though, and offer up this explanation.

“I was trying to help him. I swear. He needs help and I was just trying to help the guy. I was just trying to do the guy a favor.!”

Kenny turned and ran for his life. Barnie had no idea what to do with Sam’s.

Mouth to mouth. It had to be mouth to mouth. Barnie had seen this done on television many times. He had no choice but to try or go on working off his tail while his wife rode him like a storefront unicorn.. He lifted Sam’s neck from behind with his shaking hand and opened Sam’s mouth. He put his quivering lips over Sam’s and blew. One breath in and Sam’s breath exploded. It was harsh and almost violent and life sustaining. Sam erupted into a fit of coughing and choking and coughing and gasping and sucking in air. It had worked!

Barnie had done mouth to mouth and saved a life. Barnie wanted to run home and tell his nagging wife. Barnie wanted to run down to the bar and tell the boys. But first, there was something Sam possessed that Barnie felt he was owed. Now was probably as good a time as any to get it.

“Sam? Sam, are you OK?”

“Is he-- cough cough-- gone?”

“You mean the guy who did this to you?”

“Yeah. Is he gone?”

“Yeah, he’s gone.. I scared him off. But are you OK?”

“Good.”

Sam rolled himself over and stood himself up .He swayed like a drunk and tried to find his equilibrium which he seemed to have misplaced.

“Because Mimi is out there.”

Sam began to stagger off. Barnie was a bit confused.

“Hey Sam. Wait. What are you doing?”

“Not now, Barnie. Mimi is out there.”

“But I just saved your life, Sam. You owe me one.”

“You know the deal, Barnie.. You want your score so bad, split up and help me find Mimi.”

“But Sam. You were dead. I brought you back to life. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”

“Find her Barnie.”

“You know how those people are, Sam. She could be anywhere.”

“She was just here, Barnie. She was just right where we are!! Damn it! She was right where we are standing!”

“I didn’t see her, Sam. I saw you though. That guy tried to kill you. I saved your life!”

“Split up and help me find her, Barnie. I’ve got no time for this!”

Sam has gathered balance and locomotion and has started to pull away from a flummoxed Barnie who is not a mobile man.

“OK Sam. Jesus. Hey wait up. Sam? Hey Sam!”

Jugs Judy had somehow survived the assaulting stares and the whooots! and ahh ooohs! and hot damns! and honking horns and made it to the outskirts of Central Square before stopping and staring at the massive crowds that gathered there.

“Whoa!” thought Jugs Judy. This doesn’t look much like my kind of crowd.”

There were security personnel scattered amongst the mostly privileged masses who had taken time out from busy business schedules to offer support and hear a man promise changes coming down the line while standing at a podium and shouting into a microphone. Jugs Judy tuned this guy out and noticed the balloons. She couldn’t help herself. She was wired this way and there was no going back. A quick comparison of size left Jugs Judy feeling large and whole and sufficiently sized and consciously worthy of a celebration of her own.

Stomper had completed one half of one spiral arc and was whistling happily to himself while his stomach grumbled and a thirst for water nagged at his throat and mouth. Just ahead was a farmhouse and a well with water, for absolutely sure. Stomper would simply stop there and ask for water and maybe a block of cheese.

Stomper was like those holy men on a quest for enlightenment, though Stomper knew better for himself. The only lights that Stomper would turn on came with switches and were paid for by others, and the only quest that would hold Stomper’s attention for more than a day or two, was the quest for his father. Stomper wanted to know what kind of a man bred a son with size 24 feet, and was it true what they said about men with big feet? Stomper had a ravenous hunger and thirst for paternal patterning, with its passed-down knowledge and resonant comfort, and it kept him verily walking forward everyday like a holy man but not quite like a holy man too.

His mother he could give a damn about. She had left him in a rush to run away. She had never come back to look for him as he grew all alone-- not that he knew of, anyway-- and she had normal feet, he knew, from the one picture she left with him when she dropped him off so many years ago. The picture was a tattered, faded glimpse of her and a simple bit of Stomper’s sole possessions. Stomper never cared for it enough to cover it with protective plastic or anything else. It simply chafed and faded over time, a symbol of Stomper’s feelings for the mother that abandoned him. Stomper’s mother was not enough of a thought that haunted Stomper to wrap in plastic. She was simply an event that friction would wear out over time, with Stomper an indifferent witness and a woeful caretaker of her fuzzy, rending memory.

But the thought of one day finding his father and tossing back a few, was something Stomper wished for everyday. This long walk in a spiral that Stomper was on, was deeply influenced by this nagging loss of the essence of a dad. The spiral was a dual event-- a search for Sam’s Mimi, with its hefty reward, and the search for his father, with even heftier ramifications. Thusly, Stomper soldiered on. His big feet lifting his spirits as they floated across miles and miles of fields and fecal fertilizer and pungent earth, like pontoons across the distant peripheries of Big City seas.

Chester could not believe the smell of sex that filled his very essence. This sixth time turned out to be the last time for the moment, with soreness taking over pleasure in Bettina’s and Chester’s sexes and the climactic finish a dry sort of heave with nothing behind it to push the feelings skyward.

It was time to quit and introduce themselves. This had gone on long enough without names being exchanged or brief biography’s thrown in to round out passing thoughts and uttered quips.

“I’m Chester., by the way. What’s your name?”

“Chester The Molester?”

Chester swallowed hard.

“Yes.”

“I am Bettina. Bettina the big-butt baker.!”

Bettina laughed. Chester felt his sex slip out of her, and drizzle on his thigh.

“You are beautiful.” suggested Chester.

“You have a very big penis.” said Bettina. “Like a movie star.”

“I have never done this before.” said Chester.

“You are like Robert Redford in that movie.” said Bettina. “The Natural.”

When Minus was finally able to roll over and stand himself up, the world seemed like a big scary place all of a sudden. People came across as huge for the first time in Minus’ memory. Enormous. like giants. Big, mean and scary, and all capable of delivering the swift kick with their huge feet to Minus’ swollen gonads. Gonads that bounced together in painful and gentle clacking knocks that ran through a pain-amplifier before reaching his pain-saturated brain. Ow... Oww... Oww.. Hoochie coochie...

Minus had swollen, massive balls. They were balls he’d had dreams of in prouder days. They were the goat’s balls he coveted in his waking dreams-- but never feeling like this! Minus felt sexually debilitated. Minus felt like his future progeny were now deformed. Minus felt like gently walking slightly doubled over toward a distant pink-painted hot-dog stand that sold crushed-ice snow cones for the breeding impaired.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man was dancing on the rooftop of a police patrol car, stomping dents into the hood, and daring the six officers who were sixty stories up, to look over the edge or come down.

END OF CHAPTER 2


------------CHAPTER THREE--


Way Home was not unusually busy this cold November day, but the addition of a ransack in the middle of the mix made work at Way Home twice as entailed and twice as difficult. Administrative tasks were mired in loose papers in a pile and cooking for hungry expectant people took more time, as everything had to be rewashed before being used and food items that were torn open had to be deemed contaminated and tossed. Even the trays and dishes used were rewashed before piled with an impromptu meal and handed out to familiar and new faces alike.

When the phone rang and Kathy was directed to take the call by a volunteer, an interruption in services occurred. When it turned out to be Kenny-- speaking so fast and furious and incoherently that Kathy could do nothing but offer to go retrieve Jenny, services took a turn for the worse.

Jenny tucked loose strands of harried hair behind her ear and took the phone from Kathy. It was an almost incoherent Kenny. He was hyperventilating on the other end.

“Hello?”

“I killed him. I killed Sam!”

“What?”

“I killed Sam. With my bare hands.”

“Slow down Kenny.”

“I killed him. I murdered him.

“Kenny, do you know what you are saying?”

“I killed Sam. I tried to bring him in like you wanted but he wouldn’t listen.”

“So you killed him?”

“I didn’t mean to! I was trying to hold him still. So he would listen... so I could talk some sense into him!”

“So you killed him?”

“No.. I mean, yes! I mean I was just trying to bring him down like you said.”

“Kenny. Where are you? I am coming right there.”

Jenny hastily wrote down something on a piece of paper as Kathy approached and knew immediately something was wrong. Jenny would not stop moving to stop to talk. Her face said it was something serious and Kathy read it perfectly and asked in earnest.

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Kenny said he killed Sam. I am going to meet him near the square. Take care of things here while I am gone, would you please? I’ll be back when I can.”

“Killed Sam? Wait! Jenny! What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. Just take care of things here for me. I’ll be back when I can.”

Betty The Smoker reached to the earth and plucked up another winner. A cigarette with maybe six or seven good puffs on it. She placed it in her pocket and kept her eyes down, scanning the gutters as she walked along well-traveled streets with her eyes leveled to where the feet of passerby's were all she had to deal with.

Unable to grasp what had occurred to her this afternoon, she refused to think about losing and went naturally back to cowering-- focusing on what she sought which gave her solace and satisfied an out-stared mind and kept her feeling sane within herself. A butt. A flat butt. A rolling butt. A butt with a length of rolled tobacco long enough to call a cigarette. They were everywhere. You just had to keep your head down and your eyes keenly focused. You had to be aware. You had to have basic knowledge of the habits of smokers. You had to know the vagaries of wind and the idiosyncrasies of traffic signals with their bored, waiting drivers. Betty The Smoker knew these things without knowing how or why she knew them. It was like nature granted her an unusual set of instincts, befitting her very own unusual set of extenuating circumstances, like nature got it right for once, granting special powers to a life that from the outside, got it wrong.

Betty The Smoker’s mind still held memories of sitting on her grandma’s porch, and sharing a smoke with a woman who would die at 47 from emphysema and a broken life.

Betty was seven and was learning smoke rings from a Grandma who kept her lonely life peopled by sharing a smoke on her porch with whomever she could rope into having a seat and sitting a spell. Betty could blow smoke rings at such an early age that by the time she was twelve, she had a three pack-a-day habit which she couldn’t afford and which deprived her mind of needed oxygen and lent itself to drifting off into the ether lands of fantasy and shoplifting and time in a school for naughty young girls.

Grandma came and got Betty released several times and brought her back to her paid-for house and sat her down on the rickety old porch and the two told each other horrendously personal and sadly tragic tales and laughed and coughed and wheezed together, blowing smoke rings, scuds and dragon snarls while Betty’s momma plied her trade in the background on her back and hopped from mobile home to mobile home looking for a place to hang her oven mitts-- and in the end, when Betty had made it to adulthood and stunted her growth and ruined the chemical balance within her assaulted body which did things to her like blister her skin and fry her hair, Betty found herself homeless and in need of nicotine which she found in ample supply by scanning the gutters and streets with her sharp eyes always on the look-out and her yellowed fingers filling her pockets.

Betty The Smoker would only live another year, but for now, she was here and taking up her space with a purpose as meaningful as many, her focus far superior to many more, her place in the echelons of her craft, somewhere near the vaunted ceiling of road-scoring, street-side nicohead elite.

You and Him were well within hearing range of Central Square. A man was shouting in a microphone. There was clapping and cheering and signs of communication filling the side streets that led up to Central Square as well as parked cars and ticketed cars and cafes that bustled with spill-over from the days’ event.

You and Him heard bits and pieces of a speech that concerned itself most earnestly with the fate of the middle class. The middle class were losing ground. The middle class were feeling the pinch. The middle class were getting hit from the top and squeezed from the bottom. The middle class were a dying bracket in a bleaker future filled with welfare and exorbitant wealth, unless you voted for the speechmaker who had a plan. to save the middle class. The middle class were the backbone of America. The middle class would save us all.

You and Him just looked at each other and said some things and headed toward where they heard the promises coming from and held each other’s hands while Him lowered his bowling ball head sometimes and made room for the two of them when necessary. “Mimi might be hanging around these people”, they were thinking. “Let’s go take a look.”

Slappy was here, hanging around with these people, and he too was on the look out for Mimi. In his red plaid shirt and his Ben Davis work pants, Slappy almost looked like a plumber taking a long lunch and coming to the rally. Almost. A closer look would reveal the threadbare fabric and unwashed stains and odd contraption keeping his hand from reaching his jaw which was feeling better and better as the day wore on.

Jugs Judy was also here. She had pulled her coat over her enormous breasts and was trying to be as inconspicuous as someone with her chest could possibly be..

Stomper had approached a farmhouse and was coveting water. The driveway was a good quarter mile perpendicular to the direction Stomper was needing to spiral, but his dehydration had become close to serious and his hunger dire. He would knock on a door, ask for sustenance, and continue on. the circling course he had set for himself with renewed vigor. An extra half a mile out of his way would only add to the strenuousness of his quest and fortify his stoic aspirations. Only five or six hours into this thing, and Stomper was already seeing huge dividends being paid out to his mindset and his spiritual awakening. Another day or two of this, and Stomper saw himself as a Yogic Zen master, full of voodoo powers like walking on the water and wine making and slowing the heart to a stop and tolerating a thousand safety pins while being hoisted up a flagpole. All this walking and whistling and humming and simply paying attention to the sound of one foot stepping, and Stomper had achieved the first level of awareness and was ready for the second.

A bit of water and maybe a block of cheese, and he would be on his way. Maybe he’d practice doing some Kung Fu moves while he left this place and headed back to the main road? A kick like this! A punch like that! A heeya! A hai karumba! Who knew? The world was indeed a mystery full of unfurling answers to far flung riddles one must merely think about while walking, and this was the most amazing thing of all.

Jenny had found Kenny and had allowed him to lead her to where he purportedly killed Sam. In Jenny’s mind, something wasn’t remotely right about this whole murder thing, and while Jenny would admit to being at unease over having to come down here and deal with Kenny, she wasn’t fully sold on his tale of mayhem and murder either..

Walking with Kenny to where he supposedly killed Sam had taken bits and pieces of her infamous will.. A big part of her didn’t even want to be here, inconvenienced with playing her part in this tragic-comic charade. If she could just roll her eyes the way a smart woman could, and head back to her work, then she would not have to have these feelings that were making her feel impatient and grumpy. One way to avoid feeling agitated, Jenny knew, was to avoid the agitation. Simply turning your back and moving down the line had worked for her before.

Part of Jenny intuitively knew, though, that Kenny wasn’t bright enough to wholly make up something as ludicrous as this. There was something more out there that Jenny needed answers to. There was something more out there that Jenny could possibly pull an intervention on and save another day. Besides, Sam was out there. Dead or alive. And Jenny had wanted to bring Sam in for over two years now. Sam was Jenny’s Moby Dick. Sam was Jenny’s great white whale.

Kenny stopped walking and was now standing and pointing at the ground like a man pointing out a lost golf ball to his wife

“Right here. He was right here. I choked him. He stopped breathing, and he died. Right where we’re standing.”

Jenny actually smiled. “Well he’s not here, now.”

“I know. I can see that. But I am sure this is where it happened. Right here.

Jenny pointed in a random direction.

“What about over behind those trees? Maybe you killed him over there?”

“I’m the one who killed him. I should know where the goddamn scene of the crime was!”

“Well he couldn’t have just got up and walked away.”

“Maybe somebody moved him? I don’t know. Maybe that guy who saw me do it called an ambulance or some...thing?”

Something had caught Kenny’s attention.

“Oh shit.”

“Kenny. What is it?”

“That’s the guy who saw me. That’s he guy who saw me kill Sam.”

It was Barnie. He was sitting red-faced against a tree, trying to recover from trying to keep up with Sam. Jenny saw the man Kenny was pointing out and started to walk toward him.

“Hey wait! You can’t do that.” said Kenny. “I am a murderer, and that guy is the only witness.”

“He’s the witness? Then why isn’t he down at the police station, looking at mug shots?”

Barnie was a man whose life had tired him out to the point of resting. Just the act of sitting down on a patch of grass and leaning against a tree was a welcome change of pace. The world wanted too much from him, Barnie surmised. The world was a taker. It took from you what it needed, and you had to give it up. You couldn’t hoard what the world wanted. You had to share. The world was a rough and tumble place that you couldn’t much argue with, even if you disagreed.

Barnie noted Jenny walking in his direction. Barnie was a man and Jenny was a very notable woman. Barnie locked his eyes on Jenny’s swaying body parts and felt quite lucky to be sitting here and seeing this without his wife here to throw an elbow and lament

There was a man behind this beautiful woman, following far enough behind her to be shielded by the woman who was swinging her arms and walking swiftly, heading this way. There was a man who may have been stalking this woman, directly behind her and possibly after her! She didn’t seem to know this man was there! In fact, she seemed to be staring right at a disconcerted Barnie who was staring right at her and having thoughts of a manly nature.

Picture this, because this is what Barnie was picturing-- Jenny, walking towards Barnie, her parts jiggling and looking good. Her eyes locked on Barnie’s like he was the only man in the world. Barnie’s mind thinking thoughts that led to romantic interludes, the peeling of clothes, beaches and sunsets and no children down the line. But there was a man stalking this woman! Barnie thinking heroic thoughts for the second time today. Barnie starting to sit up straighter, sucking in his gut.

Then the stalking man stepped to the side from behind this gorgeous woman who had only eyes for Barnie, and Barnie recognized him instantly. He was the killer of our friend Sam, and he too, was looking right at Barnie.

You too, would run like hell.

Barnie was a chubby, flabby man who avoided physical activity like he was allergic to it. Perhaps he was? The act of trying to run brought on a fit of wheezing and masses amounts of sweat on Barnie’s face and neck. Barnie had run about thirty yards and nearly collapsed, before Jenny overtook him and cornered him while Barnie hid behind a narrow tree and amply sweated like a man in a sauna stuck on overkill.

Barnie could do nothing but hold on to the small tree he hid behind, wheezing and pleading. “Please. Please leave me alone. I’m a married man, now. I’ve got responsibilities.”

Jenny could do nothing but attempt to show her kind nature. by bending a the waste and grasping her kneecaps. “Well, good for you.”

“My wife, see, keeps my paychecks. So I... I’ve got no money.”

“I am so very glad to hear that.”

“I have no health insurance. I looked into it, but our budget wouldn’t allow for it at this time.”

“Well, at least you looked into it. Some people never even bother to do that.”

Kenny had closed in and was an enormous hulk of a man compared to Barnie, who was better described as smallish and rotund.

“Please, Lady. I’ll have a heart attack. I’ll die.”

“You can’t die. You’ve got responsibilities.”

“But that guy is a murderer. I saw him. I saw him do it.”

Jenny looked dismissively at Kenny.

“Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s a nobody.”

Kenny had stepped up and caught the gist of what he thought was the conversation, and piped in.

“Yeah! What happened to the body?”

“The body?” Poor Barnie was confused.

“Yeah, what happened to the body?”

“Whose body? I don’t know what you are talking about.”

Jenny stepped in to clear things up.

“Sam’s body. This big oaf here, says he killed Sam. If Sam’s dead, there must be a body.”

“There’s no body. He... uh... I saved Sam’s life. But he would have been a goner if I hadn't of come along. I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation and I saved him. Now leave me alone or I’ll... I’ll... scream.”

Barnie took a deep breath and screamed anyway.

“Help! Help!”

“Now just cut that out!” Yelled Kenny, his temper rising. “If Sam’s not dead, then I didn’t kill him, right?”

Jenny rolled her eyes. “Oh wonderful logic, Kenny.”

“He tried to. He tried to choke Sam to death. He had him like this...” Barnie mimed the wringing of a neck. By the looks of Barnie’s miming, the neck was turned into a play dough snake in a matter of seconds. “And was squeezing him like this... He was squeezing Sam’s neck so hard his head nearly exploded-- you should have seen it. He would have been a goner if I hadn’t of come along just in the nick of time to save him.”

Jenny was quietly amused, “So if Sam’s not dead, where is he?”

“I don’t know. We went into the city, then we got split up. Sam could be anywhere.”

“Oh great.” said Kenny. “That’s just great“

Jenny kept her focus. “Where does he usually go?”.

“Beats me. You know how those people are, they just wander.”

Jenny knelt before Barnie to calm him down. Having Kenny glowering behind her wasn’t helping any.

“Look, we’re trying to help Sam, not hurt him. I run a homeless shelter not too far from here. We want to bring Sam in and see if we can get him back on his feet.”

“Back on his feet? But he knocked him down and tried to kill him.” Barnie had pointed at Kenny the way a victim would point at the accused in court.

Kenny answered the way an accused would, full of excuses and misdirected motives. “I was just trying to hold him still so he would listen to me. The guy threw a garbage can over my head.”

Jenny laughed. “Oh stop it, Kenny. Nobody cares about that.”

“You probably deserved it.” said Barnie bravely.

“Why you fat little runt...”

“Kenny, stop it.”

“But did you hear what he said?”

“I heard him. And he is right. You probably deserved it.”

“I deserved it? I deserved it? I deserved to have garbage dumped on me because I was trying to do a loser a favor?”

“Maybe if you just weren’t so insensitive all the time? Maybe if you paid attention to other people’s needs, and what others think and feel? You treat people as either your friend or your enemy. And your friends aren’t anything to be proud of, by the way.”

“My friends work hard.”

“Your friends are callous and callow.”

“My friends simply call a spade a spade.”

“Your friends only know how to USE a spade!”

“My friends can use a hammer too!”

“Your friends couldn’t hit the nail on the head with a thought if it was their very last thought, which is quite possible.”

“Your friends are all drunks and bums and homeless freaks who can’t hold a job.”

“Keep it up, Kenny. You are about to become one of my closest friends!”

Barnie had snuck off. These two had issues which they were focused on and working out. And Barnie wanted no part of someone else’s domestic dispute at this juncture in time..

Kathy was a capable surrogate for Jenny’s energy within the red-brick walls of Way Home on any given day. When Jenny stepped out, Kathy stepped up. Kathy never had the will nor the vision to build a vessel of hope like Way Home was, but once it was in sail, Kathy could take the helm and steer her just fine. She answered phones, dealt with issues, made decisions, and provided guidance and courage to her volunteers and shelter seekers alike.

Never one to take a day too seriously, Kathy maintained a level of cynicism and humor that appealed to people and appealed to Kathy, who found herself quite funny in spots, and often laughed dismissively at her own place in the drama of all things.

If you had a uniform on you were not exempt, and if your teeth were too damn white to suit your face, you especially got Kathy’s sharper side in larger slices and felt the slicing of her cutting wit like a naked man in a broken glassy sea.

Kathy had just given instructions to several volunteers on what to do with the bags of food that had torn packaging, and had just shifted the bedding priorities of three of her dual purpose rooms, and was now on the phone trying to replace such necessary staples as potatoes and corn meal and sea salt and crackers.

“I don’t care how you do it. There are people starving out there, and we need potatoes!”

Two police officers strode in holding their belt buckles and Kathy hung up the phone.

Speaking was Officer White. “Excuse me. Are you a Miss Jenny Morgan?” He was reading from a card.

Kathy‘s first thought, of course, was murder. Sam‘s murder by her best friend‘s boyfriend. This was on its way to becoming extremely messy. “Jenny’s out right now. Umm. Oh my. Umm... Can I ask you why you’re here?”

“Your kitchen? We have a report that it was vandalized?”

“Oh. The kitchen. The kitchen? We called you about that this morning!”

“Yes, we’re well aware of that, ma’am. And I am sorry. Deeply sorry. But we’ve had bigger fish to fry, you understand.”

Kathy gave Officer White one of her old world looks. Or perhaps it was one of her “what planet are you from?” looks? It was hard to tell the two apart. To his partner, who had said nothing up to this point, Kathy vented.

“Tell your friend here, that what we do is important. And if he wants to find humor where there is none, then he can do it on his own time. The kitchen is this way.”

Mimi had somehow slipped from Sam and melted into the world like a “Where’s Waldo” walrus. Sam’s eyes darted over the cityscape like a reflection from a shiny silver button. His eyes looked in odd places, like up the side of buildings, in the tops of trees and underneath buses and bus stop benches. Sam was beginning to think this day was not going to be a good day for finding Mimi. The thought saddened him and disheartened him, and drew him to his flacon until it was nearly empty once again.

Sam circled around a familiar block and sought a familiar face. There were moments in many of these days when Sam grew despondent for large periods of the day. Dark clouds came and settled in and it rained and stormed inside of Sam, and then the sun would find a way to sparkle in those dark places and so would Sam. As he approached Wiley-- still selling his newspapers and magazines and gum-- he had a fleeting feeling his day had failed, and it was time to go.

“Any news Wiley?”

“News? (gestures around him)I got all the news a man could want, crowding me in.”

“No, about Mimi.”

“If you are looking to find her showing up in the newspapers, boy, I don’t know Sam.”

“So she hasn’t come by here while I was out looking for her?”

“No Sam. she sure hasn’t But I see a lot of things no newspaper will ever publish. They never talk about the comings and goings much. They don’t seem to know about all the little stories that go on around here all day everyday.”

“Thanks, Wiley.”

Sam has sucked the last from his flacon, and surprisingly, has pulled out another.

“You’re sounding pretty good there, Wiley. I even recognized the tune. There’s no feeling yet, but hey, no squeaking either!”

Wiley leaned over the counter and looked deeply into the motivations of a sliding man. Sam returned the stare, but you could tell his heart was not in for a long contest here. Sam simply blinked and tried to smile.

“Where are you going Sam? You know? What are you doing to yourself?”

Sam had to blink his eyes to clear his head.

“Going? Doing?”

“Yeah Sam. I mean, what are you creating for yourself? And where is all this taking you?”

“It’s my day off Wiley. And I am looking for Mimi.”

Kathy was once again on the phone, this time, attempting to calm down an irate woman who had a vagabond issue in an upscale retail location.

“Look. I know they are not like you and I. Yes, I understand that. But they are people. Not animals. Not things. People. Look, I know they bother some of your customers, but.. look, I'm trying to do my best here. I am sure you are trying to do your best. I bet that many of those people you want arrested are just trying to do their best too? They are doing the very best they know how. I can assure you of that... Look... can’t you see that we are all in this together? Yes, together. We are all on the same big ship and we are all created equal and if the ship sinks, we all go down, even you.... Look, I don’t mean to imply...”

Kathy listened, then pulled the phone from her ear and let the woman rant into space.

Officer White had entered. chewing gum and smiling whitely with a gleam going that put porcelain in its place. His hair was sprayed into perfect form. His uniform creases aligned and uncrossed by wrinkles. Even lint was picked off the dark blue polyester by the subconscious flicking of perfectly manicured fingers.

Following Officer White in, was his much darker partner, a black cop who seemed embarrassed by his partner’s persnickety perfection and odd demeanor.

Kathy had had enough. “You got a problem? Here. I’ll let you talk to an expert on problems. Someone who can do a whole hell of a lot more for you than I can!”

Kathy shoved the phone into Officer White’s ear, said nothing, and waited. Officer White did his best to remain poised and in control, and his partner, known by the nickname Luke, folded his arms and stood aside and watched another episode of the show he had been assigned to keep an eye on, just six weeks ago..

“For me? Uh, hello?” White seemed to stand at attention, making himself appear more officious and humorous and proudly absurd. “This is Officer Bradley White. BCPD. How can I be of service? Yes ma’am. Officer. I’m a police officer. Yes ma’am. That’s right. A police officer. Yes ma’am. umm... Now just hold it a second. Let me get this straight. Are you complaining?”

Whooboy.

“Well, yes, ma’am. I do understand. No ma’am. Yes ma’am. We’ll get someone right on it. We’ve been swamped today, ma’am. Yes. Very busy. Yes, ma’am. I appreciate you paying your taxes. I pay my taxes too. Yes ma’am. I will. Yes ma’am. In the mean time? Well, I suppose you could give the guy a quarter....”

There was no more conversation. White smiled brightly, amused and pleased. His partner Luke just shook his head and melted into whatever mindset he found handy that excluded his partner. Kathy took one long look at Officer White and decided that she wasn’t going to ask him out anytime this lifetime.

And as she looked her sparkling boy wonder in the eyes., she asked-- ”So what do you want?”

White read his best line. “We think we found your man.”

“Man? You found me a man? You ARE a good cop. Is he a doctor?”

“Who ransacked your kitchen... last night? Remember? You called it in?”

“Let’s have it then. Was it one of our own?”

“Fraid so.”

“Was it one of the drinkers? Or one of the lunatics? Or was it one of our more sedate ones? The lobotomized ones? Or of the ones who drool for quarters?”

“Well, now, ma’am. I don’t quite know how to answer that. From what I’ve gathered, this guy’s no ordinary bum. This guy’s different. The way folks tell it round here, they say he’s pretty special. A young drifter by the name of Sam. Every hear of him?”

“Sam? Sam stole our potatoes?”

“Folks say he was hanging around outside half the night. Said something about him having a little shin-dig high up on a bluff somewheres...”

“But Sam is dead. One of your kind killed him is the way I heard it...”

“No he’s not.” It was Jenny at the door. “He’s probably more alive than any of us. And if you two gentlemen would be so kind as to find him, I would greatly appreciate it. I want to press charges.”

“Yes ma’am!”

Sam was not moving, nor was he breathing. He was as still as a body could be without being proclaimed dead. The eyes weren’t blinking, there was no chest heaving, no twitching, no rapid eye movement, just a fixed stare. Next to Sam was another man, his face as white as a sheet of paper, and he too was as still as one could possibly be, not seeming to breath at all, his eyes blankly staring out at a crowd of people who had stopped to stare back at him.

Sam lifted his arms in one robotic movement and was now posing as Jesus, his arms outstretched, his feet nailed together, his head supplicant and staring at his bleeding breast... and then Sam spoke, in a whisper, to the man in the white face paint.

“Have you seen Mimi?”

The man next to Sam did not move at all. Not a twitch.

“Charlie the saxophone player-- you know Charlie-- saw her awhile ago heading over toward Central Square. I’ve been around the whole are more than three times. Nothing. Has she come by here? You would have seen her had she come by here, right?”

The man in the white face paint refused to budge. He said nothing, and made no motion to acknowledge Sam. Sam kept his voice down to a whisper, but he kept on talking to this man who would not move.

“This is great. You mean people come by here and give you money for doing nothing? I love this! What a concept!”

A curious crowd looked in on Sam and this frozen man with the white face paint and the black top hat and the tuxedo with overly long coattails. They saw a bum trying to be a frozen man, and moving his lips. They saw a frozen man, being annoyed by the bum, and not moving at all.

What a show. This was funny. This was great. This was entertainment worthy of a couple of quarters... now come on, kids, we have to go...

This statue mime-- who was known as Roger Dodger while on the streets and Rogerio when home with his live-in boyfriend Solomon, was pleased. Sam may have been a nuisance but he was a funny nuisance, remaining perfectly understated and playing along with the gag of the moment, which in this case was simply perfect stillness.

As the coins were tossed and the crowd thinned down, Roger felt the timing was right to make a move. He moved once, in a robotic movement much better than Sam’s had been, and was now pointing down the street with one arm while looking at his watch held up by the other.

“That way? asked Sam. “How long ago?”

Roger would not budge. He had said enough. Sam could only guess at the answer, and this he tried to do. Roger was looking at his watch. That meant time. But how much time? Some time? Was it some time ago? Sam could only know that time was passing and that Mimi was out there, and he needed to find her. And time was definitely being wasted standing where he stood.

Fred was still wrapped up in going around and around. After a nice nap, Fred had stretched out his six foot eight lanky frame and cracked his neck with audible pops and cracked his long fingers and sat up straight and began trying to spot Mimi in the passing groups of people who seemed to walk in cloisters like small herds in a Big City jungle From way up here, Fred could see over cars and down alleyways and into the fronts of shops over their sale signs, and this made Fred feel like he imagined he’d feel, years from now, when he had finally made it and was sitting in an African safari bus with other wealthy tourists, looking down at the great wilds of Africa, the water buffalo and the kudu and the lions and elephants and giraffes.

And Mimi.

No not in Africa, but turning a corner just back there. That corner right back there! Fred had to act fast. He pulled on the rope that dings the bell and the bus driver looked back and saw Fred ding and then he saw Fred waving his ludicrously long arms in the air, and the bus driver thought this was hilarious-- he’d never seen arms so long-- causing him to take his time getting over to the curb to let Fred out, who was now almost two full blocks beyond where he had seen Mimi and in no shape to run.

Fred simply lowered his head way down and hopped off the bus and then put his head down again, upwind to a cool breeze, and started walking. He had the legs of a cheetah, he told himself. Or more like a giraffe. He would catch up with Mimi if he just kept himself moving rapidly, letting his legs make up ground with the greatness of his striding.

Stomper about this time, was knocking on a farmhouse door. He would simply ask for water and a block of cheese, he told himself. Then he would go.

The woman who answered the door at Stomper’s knock looked Stomper up and down and paused on his feet.

‘You got oars for those?”

“I got a Johnson that'll drive ‘em both,” Stomper answered back. He had heard them all

“You could bury your grandmother in the box that those shoes came in.”

“I bet you can swim like a duck, can’t ya boy?”

“Holy Jesus! Was your daddy a rabbit? Your momma screwing thumper?”

And on and on.

Each one had a retort that applied to different age brackets and personality types and Stomper had learned the best responses for each. “I got a Johnson” was for middle-aged woman who looked like they would know what a Johnson was, but looked like they might be afraid of someone who actually mentioned one in their presence, fearing the hidden animal within men-- which fit this woman reasonably well.

And it worked too. There were no more mentions of Stomper’s feet in their conversations. Not one. In fact, the woman never mentioned his feet again at all. Once she had him set down at a table putting food and powdered lemonade in front of him, her life story became the focus of all her attention. It was all about how she had been squeezed out of Big City life by a husband who loved the land and not the concrete and steel. How money kept her visits down and then how they stopped altogether. It veered into how things could have been different, but things just weren’t meant to be that way, it is what it is, it was what it was, there was no going back but if I had a chance to do it all over again...

Stomper listened with half a heart while he wolfed down cheese sandwiches and fresh pie and washed it all down with bitter-sweet lemonade.

“Sacrifices“, Stomper thought. “You had to make sacrifices.”

Jenny and Kathy were both hard at it, back at Way Home and trying to get on top of a crazy day. Things were finally starting to click again. Food had been reordered. The kitchen had been cleaned and sanitized. Jenny’s office had been at least picked up and all the paperwork placed in cardboard boxes to be sorted over time. The two had been working side by side for quite sometime, and Jenny had felt the need to confront Kathy about something that she felt that sat between them.

“Yes, what is it Kathy?”

Kathy hated these confrontational encounters with her best friend.

“Come on, spit it out.”

“Why.... Why are you going to let the police arrest Sam? You know he didn’t break into the kitchen last night.”

“Because I want to talk to him. The police can find him. They have the manpower and the training. We don’t have either, and no time.”

“But Jenny. They’ll put him in jail.”

“He’s a bum, Kathy. It’ll be like vacation.”

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

The Laughing Man. Bald and mostly toothless, had six police officers with their guns drawn, standing beneath a tree in a small park, staring up like coon hounds and unsure of what comes next. Do they shoot him out? Or call for back-up? There were six of them standing there already, trying to arrest an unarmed man at the top of an Elm tree. What could a few more do? They tried shaking the tree. That didn’t work. They tried pepper spray. That fell harmlessly short of stopping this crazed laugh they’d been listening to for the past half hour. They could call in the fire department, but that would mean they’d have to hear about it at next summer’s annual Frisbee golf game and picnic.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

Not only did this crazy nut have them over a barrel, he drove them crazy with it.

“Now looky here. Why don’t the two of you just go out and catch yourselves some real criminals. Don’t you be wasting my hard earned tax dollars on a harmless little vagrant like Sam. Even if he did get into a little mischief. The man’s got troubles. Just like you and just like me. But I know one thing for certain. The man has got a heart that would choke most men to death. You understand what I am telling you?”

Wiley was giving Officer White and his partner Luke the what-for. Their first mistake had been stopping to talk to Wiley. Their second mistake, had been to ask about Sam.

“But sir...”

“Don’t you ‘but sir’ me! There is crime happening all over this city right now and you’re both in my face wasting my time and your time and I am paying for it up both canals in a rowboat! Now why don’t you two go find yourselves a dead body somewheres, then go find the guy who killed him like good detectives are supposed to? Now get outta my face! I’ve got news to sell, and it sure ain’t pretty!”

Jugs Judy was a block or so away from the maddening crowd that had gathered to hear a man speak about what the future held for all of us. She was looking into a small compact mirror repairing a few breaches in her make-up when a small, elderly figure walked in and out of her mirror like an extra in a scary movie. The figure had the gray black wild hair and was about the right size and configuring and seemed to be carrying the trademark handbag with the shoulder strap that Jugs Judy had seen several times before.

It had to be. It was... could it be? Now where was it that she saw her?

Looking into a mirror reverses everything. Turning suddenly and seeing everything reversed again was a disorienting act, and Jugs Judy took several long moments to try and piece what she saw together. Was it that streaming crowd? Or that one over there? In a panic, Jugs Judy started to run, took about nine steps, broke a heel, flew head over them, and landed with an unheard thud just off the sidewalk into a patch of uncut grass, blown leaves and litter, her breasts heaving around her chest and quivering to a stop one up by her shoulder, one down near her waste. The sky was a cool blue with small wispy clouds floating through, Jugs Judy noticed. And there was no pain.

Perhaps she would just lay here awhile and settle down? Perhaps she’d just lay here awhile, and sort it all out? Jugs Judy sat upright and scrambled to her feet. No way in hell was she going to tolerate this.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE ALL STARING AT? GET THE HELL OUTTA MY BUSINESS, YOU GOT NO RIGHT!”

When Barnie approached Wiley’s newsstand, he had no idea what had come before him. Wiley was a big man with Don King air, and Barnie was not. He was small and rotund and pasty with pinkish cheeks.. The nervousness was evident in the amount of sweat that dripped from the tip of Barnie’s nose.

“Excuse me, sir. I am looking for a woman named Mimi. And I was wondering if...”

“You’re looking for Mimi? Mmm, mmm, what is this world coming to?”

“I beg your pardon?”

Wiley reached across his newsstand table in an athletic motion and grabbed Barnie by the front of his coat. “Let me see your hands!”

“My hands?”

“Your hands!”

“Wait a minute, What’s this all about?” Barnie held out his hands.

“Now open your coat. Go on, open it.”

“Hey now, wait a minute, mister.”

“Open it!”

“Hey, what are you doing?”

“I said, open it!”

Barnie did his best to get his coat open. It had been barely buttoned.

Wiley looked around inside Barnie’s coat a moment and then thought about what he saw.

“So you are not a cop. And you’re not a drunk. That’s interesting. And you don’t do manual labor. You wouldn’t be connected to my buddy Sam by any chance?”

“Sam’s my friend. I’m helping him find Mimi.”

“I see.”

“He promised me he’d help me with some investment advice if I found her. We made a deal.”

“Investment advice? Sam?” Wiley had let go of Barnie and stood up straight. He towered over Barnie and cast a shadow across Barnie’s face.

“I’ve got money saved. I’m looking for a sound place to invest it to bring me an ample yield, with minimal risk to my wife and I. I’m a married man, now. I’ve got responsibilities.”

“And Sam is supposed to give you that advice?”

“Oh yeah, the guy is incredible. He’s got some of the best inside scoop I’ve ever heard. Don’t ask me how he knows, he just does!”

“Boy, ain’t you something?” Wiley crinkled up his tall brow like a concerned sage and leaned toward Barnie, who stepped back half a step in fear and apprehension. “Look, I don’t know who you are or what your business is, but I know a fool chasing a fool when I see it. And I am gonna give you some advice that you may not like, but it is real because it comes from the heart. Sam is a wonderful person. Strange, but wonderful. But he is a BUM. B-U-M bum.! And if you think he’s some diviner with all of the best kept secrets on how to make it in this world, you are a fool! Now get outta here so I can finish reading my paper. Go on. Get!”

Barnie started to get. He was all prepared for it. Getting was what Barnie really hoped to accomplish. But then something inside him shifted, and he stopped, turned back, and faced this big man in front of him. “No. I want to know if you’ve seen Mimi.”

Barnie wiped his sweaty face with a handkerchief.

“I mean, if you know anything....”

He dabbed his forehead with his handkerchief.

“Anything at all?”

Wiley stared at this man for a provocatively long moment, making Barnie wonder if a can of whup-ass was about to be opened. To his relief and Wiley's credit, Wiley gave in to the demands of the little man. “OK. I’ve got some news. But I don’t think it’ll take you very far. Go down that way two blocks, turn right, go straight two blocks and see a guy named Foot, who will be sitting on a stool on the corner.”

“Right. See a guy named Foot... Foot? Hey, wait a second. Just what kind of a fool do you take me for?”

“You’ll see...”

“Foot?”

“Yes. Foot.”

Barnie felt he had pushed this man far enough. He stepped backwards several steps, turned, and started on his way,

“Foot. Right. Down two blocks, go right. Down two blocks. Right. See a guy named Foot. On a stool On a corner. Gotcha.”

Kathy was sitting down in a chair for the first time all day, doing nothing, with her feet up. Jenny approached her and hit her shoeless soles with a rolled up pile of papers and smiled and teased her.

Hey, what do you think this is, a rest home?”

“I am on my break, OK?”

“You want to hear the latest?”

“I want to hear everything. Juicy. Not juicy, everything.

“One of the old guys out in the cafeteria says that Sam is possessed.”

“You mean ‘dispossessed‘.”

“No. He said possessed. He said that Sam was a wealthy man who became taken over by a demonic spirit which led him into the streets to find a crazy old woman named Mimi. That once he finds her, he snaps out of it and goes back to where he came from.”

“Back to where?”

“He didn’t say. But he said that Sam was probably the reincarnated spirit of some Goddess he called Mariah Caranina. He said Sam comes out into the streets as an act of attrition for his sins, and the sins of man, and maybe even something we all did in a past life.”

“Oh.”

“That’s what I thought, too.”

“I like the one where Sam is the new Messiah. Christ, we could use a good man like that around here.”

Barnie had followed Wiley’s directions down to the last Tee in Foot. There he was. On the corner selling paintings that he had lined up against the wall of an insurance office with some leaning against poles of signs and a vending machine and a couple of parking meters. Barnie lost his fear as he realized that this man named Foot had no arms. The man was slightly tall and very thin and had two stumps at his shoulders and was wearing thongs on his feet presumably so that he could slip easily in and out of them.

Barnie was amazed that a man like that could paint at all. As he approached, he watched this man called Foot take money from a couple who had one of his smaller paintings held between them like either their purchase was so universally dear to them that neither could bear to part with it, or perhaps they simply didn’t trust each other? Who knew? Who really cared? Foot was an amazing man, painting and selling paintings, supporting himself in innovative ways while those with all their parts took advantage of the bleeding hearts of others. It made Barnie feel proud, momentarily, that he sometimes held a job. It made him think of choices he had made, and his place within the system.

Barnie watched Foot the whole time he was meandering up to talk to him. He then figured he’d pretend to look at paintings as a way to break the ice. That one is nice. That one-- a rose inserted into an open gas tank of a car-- looked familiar.

“Hey! Those are Mimi’s drawings!“ Barnie flew into a righteous rage of epically small proportions. “What do you think you are doing? You didn’t draw those, Mimi did!”

Stunned and shocked, and crawling up a wall with his back against it to stand, Foot took a defensive posture and prepared himself for kicking and biting. "You have no business with me. What I do is my business!”

“You’re a crook. Do you know that?”

“I am no crook. I have permission.”

“Boy, wait till I tell Sam. You’re in big trouble, mister. Big big trouble!”

“No, I am not in trouble. You’re in trouble. Big, big trouble!”

Foot kicked Barnie...

“Hey. What are you doing? Now cut that out.”

Foot was kicking Barnie on every side of his shins he could get to. “You leave me alone. You have no right. You don’t know anything.”

“I know a thief when I see one. Ow! Cut that out!””

“I am not a thief.” Foot elevated to a kick to the backside. Barnie responded with a wrestling move of his own. He leaped and grabbed Foot, as if to pin his arms, and tried to squeeze him and lift him in the air.

“You are a thief, a crook, and a liar.”

Foot had a move to counter. “I am not.” He bit Barnie’s ear.

“Ow!” Barnie took Foot to the sidewalk mostly because he fell down himself. The two wrestled and tussled on the ground as Foot had his jaws a' snapping, and Barnie did what he could do to hold Foot’s dangerous head. away from him like an episode of Wild Kingdom “Are too.”

“Am not.”

“Are too”

“Am not. I’m a capitalist!”

“Oh, is that so?”

“Yes, that is so.!” Foot did something unexpected. He slipped out from underneath his own jacket and released his arms from where they were strapped and hiding. With these free, he had the upper hand on Barnie, plus he shocked the crap out of him.

“Hey, what the...”

As Barnie got his head pounded on by very slight and ineffectual hands and arms, Officer White and his partner Luke stepped in and pulled them both apart..

Chester and Bettina had been separated for almost half an hour. Bettina had put on a fresh baker’s outfit and Chester had found a rope and got his pants to stay up and his trench coat back on. Bettina had rummaged around in the back and produced an era fedora, properly crinkled and lightly moldy and just what Chester needed to finish his ensemble and give him the air of mystery and infallibility he needed to get his questions answered. The trouble was, Chester had forgotten what the question was. His mind was full of new questions. They crowded up against one another like a pack of dogs at a door with a bitch in heat outside or a mailman or a street full of squirrels. Chester let them out one by one as Bettina cleaned up and prepared the shop and Chester chewed on maple bars and drank his second cup of coffee.

“You ever done this before?”

“Ooh! It has been such a long while!” said Bettina.

“You ever been married?”

“Ooh! Once. Very long ago. I was married to an older man. Not a nice man. Not like my Chesterpoo!”

“You know when we can do it again? How long it takes, I mean?”

“Ooh! Chester. You are such a rascal!”

You and Him were meandering through the crowds of Central square with their hands firmly clasped together in their anaconda fashion. Mimi was short and hard to see, so Him suggested to You that they part the crowds in sections and criss-cross through as often times as necessary to see if Mimi was among them. They spotted Slappy several times, who seemed to be entranced by the speaking man at the podium. All he did was stand and stare, taking steps forward whenever the gap opened for him to do so, and saluting in an even odder way than before. Him and You had been around weirdness their whole lives, and this new Slappy infatuation was no event worth marking between themselves.

Slappy had heard men talking before, but not with this much clarity. The man was talking about taking responsibility for oneself and healing what ails us by facing the nature of the roots of the causes head on. He was talking about righting past wrongs. He was talking about others who had been in bed with others in the past. It all made perfect sense to Slappy, and the more this man orated, the closer Slappy found himself to the orating man.

Minus had taken a cone full of ice and dumped this cone into three layers of plastic bags. In the first bag he had tied a knot and then checked it for leaks. He added a bag, tied a knot, and then added the third bag. Three bags seemed like sufficient insurance with a back up and another back up, and then Minus shoved this whole wad down his pants and shuddered and shivered and eased it up against his swollen glands. Walking like this was problematic, and Minus sat down at the nearest outdoor bench and decided to just hang out for awhile.
Fred stood out in the back of this crowd like a man in a kindergarten class. You could lose your entire family to this crowd, but you could never lose Fred. He was certain Mimi was somewhere near here, and he stood and stared like a totem in a mall, hoping to get a glimpse of the top of her gray-black crown, which would lead Fred right to the big big money, and a trip to Africa, and maybe an apartment in London and a Jaguar and a pair of nice loafers for his tired and swelling feet.

If you were Charlie you were back from your lunch break and feeling well fed and fat and happy. You would be tasting the bologna in your mouth as you worked up a little spit and licked your lips. You would be sitting by yourself, your saxophone case just recently opened and emptied of all tips except for a few starter coins and dollar bills because you wanted to give the crowd an idea of what the case was for in case they didn’t know. You would start out playing something very melancholy, slow and sad, until your stomach settled, and you would welcome Sam approaching with a nod and feel content that he had settled in the grass near your feet and leaned against a short wall.

Sam was glad he had rediscovered Charlie today. He had been walking in a spiral, trying to find Mimi, and he had centered out his spiral to no avail. The woman was a mysterious one and at times, like trying to find a wandering child in a toy store who followed no set patterns or logic, who just wandered., sometimes turning one-hundred-and-eighty degrees two or three times on a single original impulse, as if the memories of where one wanted to go were too short and distractions too plentiful.

Charlie blew blue note after blue elongated note around a worn out Sam. Sam grew calm and pleased, his mind fuzzed up by alcohol and tiredness and emotional undulations and more walking than he was normally accustomed to. He leaned his head back and crossed his feet and closed his eyes-- the first such moment he had taken on this cool and clear November day since he had woken with the appearance of the sun-- and thought of yesterdays where this much peace came easy and without apparent costs and quite often if not almost daily.

Sam let his mind bounce along old and half missing stepping stones and landed in the opaque spaces within his thoughts in peaceful splashes and ripples and reverberating waves. Hills and streams and white-tailed deer and jack rabbits and train tracks and BB-guns and skipping stones and baseball cards in spokes and kissing crushes behind bushes and catching frogs and sunsets and cool mornings up early for the bass and catfish were always present within Sam’s reminiscing. These places were a hallowed space where Sam could go not tethered to his problems present now. These memories were like dipping pools on scorching afternoons, or hot springs on snowy mornings, or an ocean calmly crashing against a mildly canted strip of sand while you lay in its vicinity and simply heard its song.

If you looked at Sam sitting against this small concrete wall, his clothes greasy and dirty and old, his hair and face looking sooty, his shoes worn at the toes, his socks from different drawers and different eras if one were honest, you would never imagine the peaceful memories Sam conjured up in his mind that belonged to him the way a scar or a freckle or a birthmark belonged to you.

If you got in there with him, you would think he were lying-- that what he imagined were stolen, plagiarized, illicitly contrived and full of wishful fantasy...

There was simply no way. This wasn’t Sam. This was not how Sam felt. These were not Sam’s adventures and Sam’s thoughts nor his hopes and dreams. They could not have been. Look at him. I mean look at him! These memories could not belong to this man. The incongruity is too stark. The disparity too real. Show me something painful. Show me something hurtful. Show me something horrible that would explain what I see here. Where was Sam a victim? Where was the trauma so great Sam was unable to proceed? Where was the PAIN?

Charlie’s wailing saxophone tried to depict this pain you would be looking for. His crying notes just begged for painful memories. The lament in his warbling reeds and valves were the deep down aching of human frailty. They were a cry and a call and a clarion tune that felt like the pain you would be looking for-- if you were able to get inside of what Sam thought-- and not find.

Charlie could play this emotion through him and only mildly feel it himself. You need not be in pain to express an artistic depiction of that pain. Sure, you had to have feelings. But no, you didn’t have to lose your loved ones to play melodies and tunes that sounded like you had.

Sam was thinking of a time when he was about twelve and his mother came home with a package and Sam was certain it was for him. Within the bag were colors. Lots of colors. Over thirty tubes of oil paint with great sounding names and a handful of fine brushes and a roll of canvas requiring stretching and framing.. Sam’s mother had dumped them on the kitchen table and called Sam to her. She had indeed brought this home for Sam. But Sam had no gift. He could not paint. He could not draw. He could not mimic the amazing talent that his mother had.

If Sam had a childhood pain, this was it. Sam lacked talent in a thing he so coveted. The connection between what he saw and what he could recreate was tenuous and choppy. He knew that what he was seeing in his mind’s eye had beauty and merit. But what he saw on canvas as he tried to paint those visions down, had none. It was the visual equivalent of a stutter, and Sam gave up his painting one year to the day from the day he started. He had no talent for it. It pained him to no end. It did not lead him to this place, on this day, under these conditions, though.

Charlie played long and soulful notes that hung in the air like Betty The Smoker’s smoke rings and wandered like Stomper in the fields. Some notes laughed like the Laughing Man and some stood tall and still like Fred who stood and stared. Some notes jiggled and heaved like Jugs Judy’s massive chest, and some notes just lay low like Chester’s newly over-used penis. Him and You were in these tunes like a pair of inseparable lovers, with Minus being heard in the high pitched parts as a man in pain, and Slappy being the tapping beat in the back. You could feel Barnie’s desperation in what Charlie played, and at times, Wiley’s certitude and wisdom. There was a pleasant stillness at times, like Rogerio at work as Roger with a white painted face. And the parts that felt lost and distant and unattainable and unreachable and insurmountable and impossible and just plain sad, belonged to Mimi. Out there somewhere with a small army of eyes all searching for her. Out there somewhere like an apparition, gaining in stature by her very illusive nature., like a rumor that has spread or a story that had been told too many times by too many people.

Just an old woman who eluded Sam and made him sad and left him here while Charlie played, taking in the day and listening to Charlie blow, picking stickers from his socks, placing blades of grass between his teeth, and resting a bit.


--CHAPTER4--



Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...



.--CHAPTER 5--

Six police officers were conferencing around a tall Elm tree in a small park some distance from Central Square in the later afternoon. Perhaps only three hours of daylight remained on this cool November day in the brightness of Big City sunlight reflected off the chrome and glass and polished steel that gave the city its afternoon dazzle..

On the top of the tree, was The Laughing Man. So called because of his insane personality, which was almost primal, and his laugh, which was definitely primal. The Laughing Man had a name and it turned out to be Steve. He had a last name and it turned out to be Stewart. He had a wife and she turned out to be dead. And he had a mama, and she was on her way. And as it also turned out, The Laughing Man’s story turned out to be the saddest one of all.

His story was sadder than anything Charlie could play on the saxophone this day or any day. His story was much more tragic than death, more tragic than one would ever want to encounter in a lifetime. And as much as The Laughing Man ran off at the mouth, laughing at anything and everything and taking life about as serious as one would take a pickle in a shoe, his story was no laughing matter.

The Laughing Man had been known as Steve to his friends and family for over forty years and Steve-o-reeno at times, when they were in playful moods.. He had had a wife who loved him, a mother who adored him and relied on him, no living father and two adorable children. At 41 he was diagnosed with testicular cancer and presented himself for chemotherapy and was given a reasonable chance for remission-- but not a great chance for an outright cure. His wife had ferried him back and forth to these sessions and had taken on the bills with a part time job and had somehow brought the kids along at six and seven and all was looking survivable and doable until the day Steve heard the news that he was mostly cured.

With his hair now gone and his body wracked and torn from the chemo and his wife and kids in tow, Steve had insisted on driving the clan out to celebrate with ice-cream in the middle of winter, and that was that.

The unseen ice on the road and the ice-cream on Steve’s nose and in Steve’s lap and the laughing of his wife and two children and the sudden braking into a slide and the side of the road without a guard rail and the rolling rolling rolling of the car were the only real memories Steve now carried with any kind of vivid recollection and clarity. The laughing of his family was stuck inside his head like a stuck cd playing in a barrel. His wife dead. His two boys paraplegics both, and Steve’s memory gone from a cheekbone crushing impact that took most of his teeth and left him a week comatose.

Steve stopped being Steve and was taken home by his mother, where Steve drove everybody crazy and just wandered off daily until he was found by the police and returned and occasionally left out to fend for himself. Steve’s children had been placed with their godparents who could handle their physical needs and Steve’s mother did the best that she could for over a year until Steve had fully become The Laughing Man with all new memories and a whole new outlook and set of habituations which didn’t include her but included antagonizing the police. instead.

And now here he was, at the top of a tree, his momma pulling up in her four door sedan she drove carefully amid the flashing lights of three police cars, one with the hood dented in like someone had danced all over it.

Hoo hoo hoo haw haw haw ha ha haw haw...

“God damn that son of mine!” Steve’s momma thought. And then she put her hands over her face and cried and cried.

Three hours or less before sunset and Stomper had made a decision. He would head back to Big City on a Bus, get back to the shelter that he knew, and start again tomorrow. It had been a great day so far, insofar as days go. All that fresh air and walking and thinking and not thinking and breathing in the heady earth and the cow dung and the rotting vegetation still left in fields to be plowed in early spring. Tomorrow could quite possibly be another great day, Stomper thought. If he just made it similar to today. The trick was now to find a bus that ran this far out onto the edges of Big City. The trick was now his next great quest. And he had better hurry.

Minus had burst his bags. Cherry red water ran down his pants legs and stained his socks. Minus had been trying to board a bus the moment it had happened, . As debilitated as he was, Minus figured he could ride around and look for Mimi, maybe get lucky and salvage a horrible day. If all days were like this day, Minus thought, he’d never get up again.

American Indians often went back inside their teepees if they stubbed their toes on the way out of them, Minus knew, and now he understood why. A bad day was a terrible thing to spend outside of bed, and much more painful. One could avoid the worst of a bad day by simply staying within safe covers. What could happen to you if you never got out of bed?

Minus backed off the bus and simply walked back to his wad. He ruffled up some unwanted cloth and changed into other unwanted clothing and simply stayed there. Tomorrow would come soon enough.

Chester was now king of his castle. He had a crown on his head and a red velvet robe draped on his back and tied to his neck. He carried his staff in one hand and pranced around the donut shop and chased his fairly cherubic maiden who was giggling in another language and covered in donut sugar and quite happy to be enthralled. The locked doors and sheets hung over porous blinds and powdered-sugar ass prints on every horizontal surface told a story that one would want to hear about. if these two were talking. Where did Chester get that extra burst of energy? When will they both go home? How long will this all last? Can Chester make a donut? What about the cops outside the door?

“GUN!”

Poor Slappy had found himself in the middle of an attempted assassination attempt. He had been knocked down in the process and had been sat on and trampled on by many many people all trying to get to the assassin, who must have been near him. Bodies clawed and groped at him at the bottom of a melee, and all Slappy could do was try and breath. Get his breath out and back in again. Relax. Don’t fight the weight or the crushing pain. Just breath, It would be over soon, The man with the gun would be apprehended and then it would be over. Just breath. Out. In. Out. In. And moan loudly so they knew they were hurting you.. They might not know you were down here. Moan loudly. Breath.

Pass out.

Jugs Judy had taken her ten bucks and spent six of it on jug wine.

“Jug wine for Jugs Judy“, she garbled, as she headed home.

The crowds today had not been kind. They laughed and pointed. They made unflattering remarks. about the way she looked, and they didn’t hoot and holler. Today was a day like any other. Too old to make them care, too big to stop the stares. Half a jug of wine and a bus ride, and the day would soon be tomorrow. Jugs Judy would chat with Minus for quite sometime, sharing jug wine and white lightening and stories of swollen balls and kicks that found their marks, and then it would all be over. The sun would set. The lights would all come on. And Jugs Judy and Minus would greet the others with slurry helloes, and fall asleep early

Betty The Smoker had picked up enough coins during the day to buy herself a lighter and a bottle of Ripple. She had a pocket full of smokes and was an hour away from home if she walked straight there. The sun would be setting soon and it would be getting below freezing. Instincts turned Betty The Smoker homeward and pushed her forward like a hungry dog. She lifted her eyes and walked. And walked. And walked.

Him and You had seen the melee that surrounded the shout of a gun. They had been watching the speaker and had noticed Slappy not ten feet from the stage. They had seen one of his twitches and then had heard the yell “Gun!” Bodies had piled on Slappy and no other gunman had been accosted. There was a misunderstanding occurring here. You and Him knew this. So You and Him simply left., Him pulling You by the hand in a hurry, his head down and parting parties of people like a snake in high grass.

The two of them would take the bus back near where they slept and tell no one of what had occurred. Slappy had been arrested, and had been thrown handcuffed into the back of a police car, a fly walking crazily in circles across his cheek..

You would peel another twenty from a pile of twenties she had hidden near her wad. She would buy her Him a bottle of Jack Daniels, and You would sip it from Him’s mouth. They would eventually crawl back into their wad, and shut out the day.

Fred was holding out. He was sure he was on to the right spot with the right plan and that he would be the one who found Mimi today. If he just held still and focused his eyes on a fixed point, Mimi would arrive. Every now and then a young child approached him and tried to give him change. Fred would put out a palm, and take the money gladly. Kids were so much kinder than their parents.

Fred would fail. He would stay late, get cold, and catch a bus back home. On the way he would stop and buy a bottle of Ripple, and crawl in after dark. His wad would rustle for a few short minutes, and then it would stop for good. Fred would die of a heart attack within his pile of unwanted clothes this night, and not be found for several days.

Barney was already home. His day out looking for a new job had ended, and he had simply driven home. He had spent twenty minutes telling the police what he knew about Sam and his whereabouts and the history that they had had, and the two officers, Luke especially, had found him an amusing interview and driven him to his car.

Foot was allowed to take up his place on the sidewalk up against the insurance building, if he apologized to Barnie and he did. He too was grilled about Sam and was found to have amusing answers that made little sense. Sam lived nowhere. Sam came from nowhere. Sam slept mostly nowhere. Sam paid for the paintings-- that Foot sold that were painted by Mimi-- in large amounts of cash. Sam had supernatural powers. Sam knew things he had no business knowing.

Officer White and his partner Luke had given up for the afternoon and returned to the station. They had reports to file. Paperwork to fill out. Stories to tell to their buddies near their lockers.

Sam had fallen asleep. Charlie’s saxophone and the afternoon sunshine on his face had settled his mind into a slumber as deep as a sleeping child’s. Dreams of carving turkeys and baseball games in uniforms and hot dogs roasted over fire pits on pristine beaches danced around his sleeping mind and pleased his soul. Christmases filled with toys and birthdays and his father’s laughter and his mother’s smiles and a younger sister who teased him and tugged on parts of him and who had moved away to Europe and who he missed. There were slingshots and bow and arrow sets and BB guns and hot wheels and bicycles and go carts and ponies and boats with pontoons.

When Sam dreamed he smiled, and he was smiling as he slept. Charlie blew a squeaky note and pulled his saxophone down. He raised his hand to shield the sinking sun. Was it? Could it be?

“Well, Hi Mimi. How are you?”

“What the hell is wrong with him?”

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