February 23, 2011

Sometimes I Don't Know If I Should Keep Going Or Not. Please Don't Answer Like A Sycophant

The opening of "Edwin Musick Falls Apart"


"You've said that before, Dad. You've said it a hundred times before. You always say the same God damn thing every time we watch this movie. You see this movie a hundred times and a hundred times you say the same God damn thing at the same God damn place."
"All I'm saying is Bing Crosby wasn't wearing a jacket in the scene where they walk into the church, and then two seconds later when they light the candles inside he's got a jacket on. Where'd the jacket come from? It’s just another one of those things. People don’t look at it, but pick any movie and there’s cameras in mirrors and microphones overhead and everything. Pick a movie. They screw up all the time."
"And every time you see that shit you say the same thing in the same way every fucking time. Where did the salt shaker go on the table? Why are there no shadows if it’s late afternoon? Why do they have Eddie Collins batting righty in the Black Sox movie? Same thing every damn movie. I don’t know why I come over to watch this shit with you. I really don’t”
“I like it when you come over to watch movies.”
“Yeah but when are you going to come up with something new to say about it? You repeat yourself over and over."
"You don't think it's interesting?"
"Actually Dad? It's fucking boring."
"What about the car you can see in that John Wayne movie? That western where they're going all over buttfuck looking for that girl?"
"I know. I know all about it. You pointed it out to me every time. He shoots the buffalo so the Indians won’t get any meat from it and then there’s a car. I know. We’ve seen it a hundred times, and every time we see it you have to tell me about it all over again. I already fucking know there’s a car. I already fucking know Bing Crosby’s all of a sudden wearing a jacket in the church." The son lights a cigarette.
Edwin Musick pushes four or five peas onto his fork with his fingers. He’s almost done with his plate. He wishes his son would go home already. “And you shouldn’t be smoking those things.”
“Right, Dad.”
“They killed your mother.”
“I know it.”
Everybody said when his wife died twelve years ago he’d fall apart. They had no idea how right they’d be. They should have included his son in that falling apart.
Sometimes Edwin thinks his son is really a prick.
Here he is retired and his wife is dead. There’s never anything to do and it’s hard for him to get around. His son comes over and doesn’t like anything. Then he stinks up the place and goes home mad. Every time. Talk about saying the same thing every time, Edwin thinks, what the hell about that?
“Well, people bought this shit back then,” he points at the screen with his fork. “Now he’s going to take these punks from the street and turn them into a choir because he’s a priest and a fucking genius too. One day they’re stealing turkeys and the next day they’re on the stage with a famous opera singer – who it just so happens he went to high school with. People ate that shit up.”
His son sits behind a cloud of blue smoke. Silent and shaking his head. Watching him point the silverware at the TV, the ceiling, at him. It’s not that he hopes he dies or anything. He’s not that much of a prick. But sometimes he can’t see the point in the old man staying around anymore.
“You could slap a movie together in a few weeks and make a ton of money back then. People didn’t care. Look at Casablanca. They didn’t know it was going to be such an icon. They didn’t know what they had. They just slapped it together. They couldn’t get the people they wanted in it. And when they first come in to Rick’s first Greta Garbo is sitting on one side of her husband and then she’s on the other side from one shot to another.”
“Ingrid Bergman.”
“That’s what I said.”
“You said Greta Garbo.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Dad, you said Greta Garbo is sitting on one side and then the other.”
“No I didn’t. It was Ingrid Bergman.”
“What the fuck ever.”
“What I’m saying is people didn’t care. And now we see all these mistakes and we think, Jesus how stupid were they? But I’m saying people didn’t care. They wanted to be taken away. Swept away and lost. It was the start of the dumbing down of the country. Once the movies started talking and then dramatic radio died people stopped reading. Nobody reads.”
“Dad you know you just now did that other thing again.”
“What other thing?”
“You said ‘nobody reads.’ The way you said ‘nobody reads.’ You say it exactly like that guy in that Peter Sellers movie.”
“Sellers is standing there with an apple and he’s an idiot and he just comes out and says he can’t read. And this guy he’s talking to goes ‘nobody reads.’ You just said it with the exact same voice. You always do that.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Oh come on, Dad. You say movie lines all the time. You don’t even know you’re doing it any more.”
“I do?”
“Yes you do. Either that or you’ve fucked me up with that shit now too. Somebody says something and you say a movie line. Fucking fits perfect but it’s from a movie. It used to drive Mom nuts.”
Edwin takes the last piece of white bread and wipes off the whole plate. Folds the slice and puts it in his mouth all in one. His son closes his eyes. More head shaking. He swallows. “Your mother was a saint.”
“She was.”
“I’m saying yeah.”
“I can’t get out to the grave though. I haven’t been myself lately.”
“It’s okay Dad. They don’t let you put flowers up any more anyway.”
“They used to. Cemeteries used to mean something.”
“Jesus I remember the whole family would go out on a Sunday to my grandma’s grave with flowers and they’d weed the plot and make borders around it with black dirt.”
“And people would cry all over again. Pound the ground and wail and everything.”
“Yeah. Okay. I guess that part was pretty stupid.”
“Yeah. You done with your plate?”
His son puts the cigarette out and gets up. Takes the plate and silverware off the TV table and walks it all into the kitchen. Edwin listens to the water running over the plate in the next room. On the TV screen Bing Crosby and that little Irish actor who was in every movie ever made are sitting at a table eating a stolen turkey. The sound of the water reminds him of the water moving through pipes and into the radiator of his house when he was a boy. His mother always had a fake tree at Christmas. And he’d say “Ma I want a for real tree.” And his mother would say “when you have your own house you can have a for real tree.” Then he grew up and had his own house and they always got for real trees. And his prick of a son would stand there and say “Daddy I want a fake tree.” And he’d say “when you have your own house you can have a fake tree.” And the little prick grew up and puts in fake trees every Christmas. Only he doesn’t have any kids so there’s no one to bug him about a for real tree.
Funny the things the sound of running water does to you when you’re falling apart.
“You sure you can get upstairs alright?” His son came back from the kitchen and asked.
“So now who is repeating themselves? You ask me the same question every time. Every time the same way. Wise guy.”
“Alright then, who the fuck cares?” He wasn’t serious. That’s how they talk. “Is Anna coming in tomorrow?”
“You need me to pick up your room? Clothes all over the place?”
“It’s fine. Honest I don’t understand why we hire a lady to come clean up and then we make sure the house is cleaned up before she gets here. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I know,” he lights another cigarette. “But that’s how goofy the world is, right Dad?”
The blue smoke billows out between them.
“And you’re stinking up my house.”
“You lived with it for thirty years.”
“And I hated every minute of it. Now go away.”
His son gives him a small kiss on the cheek and goes out the door, already pecking away at his cell phone.
“You smell like an ash tray.”
“See you next week Dad.”
It takes him a while to push the TV tray out so he can get up out of his chair but once he gets started he picks up a little speed along the way. It’s not hard to walk, just hard to get started walking.
Pick up the place so the little Polish lady can come in and pick up the place, he thinks. Every week the same shit.
And every week he has to make sure the porn magazines are put away so she doesn’t think he’s some kind of pervert. Get the socks and shorts up off the floor in the bedroom. Spray the living room with air freshener so he can get the damn cigarette stink out of the furniture. What the hell does he need her for, he wonders every time. It’s a good thing his son is paying for it because if it was up to him, he wouldn’t.
Of course his son left everything in the sink and can’t be bothered to put anything in the dishwasher. So he opens it up and sets his knife and fork in the holder. Sets the plate in the rack.
Bent over like that, his left eye slips out of its socket and falls into a dirty glass sitting next to the silverware. He reaches down to retrieve it and pokes his hand on the tip of his steak knife pointing straight up from the holder. How many times has he told himself not to put the damn steak knives face up like that?
He starts to bleed.
He gets the other hand digging around in the holder while some kind of clear liquid starts to drip from the empty eye socket. He closes that eye lid. Nobody ever told him his socket would leak something the consistency of shampoo every time his glass eye fell out. He figures maybe he probably should have asked.
“If my glass eye falls out will a viscous liquid seep out of the socket until I put it back in?”
“Why yes Mr. Musick I’m glad you asked that. In fact you’re absolutely correct.”
“And what exactly is it that’s dripping out of my open eye socket doctor?”
“I have no idea. I’ve never heard of that before.”
“Yes but you just said I should expect it.”
“Well, does it happen when your eye falls out?”
“Why yes. Yes it does.”
“Then you should expect it.”
He keeps digging around for it amongst the dirty dishes.
It happens a lot.
One time he was at the bar waiting for a table in a restaurant with his wife. They were both having martinis. And it so happened that he cocked his head just right and at that moment the eye fell right out into his drink.
He went in to get it but pulled up the olive. And if his wife didn’t stop him he would have popped the olive in his eye socket by mistake.
Because he can’t see very well out of the one eye he has left anyway. So when it falls out he has to shoot his hand around to find it. God forbid it falls on the floor some day and just rolls off.
It’s all because the glass eye is the wrong size.
It’s always been the wrong size.
He just didn’t want to bother the guy who fit him with it.
So it falls out sometimes. He figures it’s no big deal.
He finds it next to a spoon that was used for the soup at lunch and so it’s a little smudged when he finally gets it in his fingers.
He rinses it off in the sink, and slides it back in.
Without his wife around sometimes he puts it back in a little crooked. It doesn’t matter. The little Polish lady’s never looked him in the face in all the time since she’s been cleaning for him.
He looks down at his hand and sees a stream of blood glistening across his palm. It’s a pretty deep cut. He balls up his hand into a fist to put pressure on the wound while he walks into the bathroom to get a bandage.
He can never seem to find the bandages.
When his wife was alive she always made sure there were enough of them. And whenever they got low she would be sure to replenish them. The one thing he could never figure out was that she kept changing where she put the box. And it was never in an obvious, convenient spot. It was always under the towels or mixed in amongst the boxes of whatever stuff people have stuffed under the sink. So you had to root around between the sanitary napkins and the toilet paper and the bottles of calamine lotion that were twenty thousand years old. Why there were still sanitary napkins under the sink was a question he couldn’t answer.
Maybe the little Polish lady. Who knows.
Anyway that’s what people probably meant when they said he’d fall apart after his wife died. Nobody there to stop him putting an olive into his eye socket.
The bandages aren’t anywhere. Maybe there aren’t any.
The phone rings.
“Edwin? Edwin? Is that you?”
“I’m Edwin. Who are you?”
“It’s Joe. How the hell are you?”
“Joe who?”
“Joe. Joe from Taylor-Morgan. The broker. Oh come on, Joe. For Christ’s sake.”
“I’ll be a son of a bitch.”
“Why not? You always were.”
“What the hell are you doing on my phone? You’re not still working for those crooks are you?”
“Oh Christ no. I retired five years after you did. We both got out in time. That place went under a couple years ago when everything went to shit.”
“Yeah I read that. Too bad for Morgan’s daughter. She was one hot piece of ass.”
“She was already fifty when you retired. What the hell?”
“Yeah well they got a name for that now. Mothers I’d Like To Fuck. It’s all over the internet.”
“Yeah okay. Yeah. She was hot. But how the hell are you? Jesus it’s been years already.”
“I know.”
“How are you doing?”
“I’m okay. I haven’t been myself these days. But I can still drink you under the table.”
The voice laughed. “I’ll bet you still could. I fall asleep after two beers now. But here’s your chance to show me. I’m going to be in town this weekend and I’d like to buy you a drink. You pick the place and the time. I’m buying the first two rounds.”
“Good. Then you can fall asleep and I won’t have to spend a dime on your ass.”
More laughing. “Sweet bloody Jesus you haven’t changed a God damn bit.”
They agree to meet at Spencer’s, a restaurant up at the interstate. Joe knows exactly the exit and Jesus everything is so built up around there now, isn’t it?
They hang up. Saturday at six thirty. And that’s that.
Doesn’t change the fact that his mess has to get picked up before the lady who picks up comes in tomorrow, but it’s something to look forward to. Have to find a way to get there. That could be a problem. His prick of a son will just moan and groan about having to drive him and pick him up somewhere. Screw him, he figures he won’t even ask him. Call a cab. Call a cab to get there and call a cab back. Money was never the problem. He used to be a broker. A big time broker. Back when brokers made money for their clients instead of just selling what the house had too much of. Like Joe said.
It takes a while but he gets up the stairs and picks up the three pairs of socks on the floor. Can’t let the clean-up lady think he lives like a slob. Even if he lives like a slob.


“This is the big thing here in this country. People are a scared of everything. But I assure you, there is no really such a thing as al-Qa'ida. That is invention of the CIA.”
“Yeah. Of course.” Edwin looks across the top of the seat at the young man with the beard and the little white cap made obviously not around here and wonders whatever did he do to deserve this particular cab driver.
“Peoples in America only know one language each. They eat unclean food and have sex in graveyards. This is why I do not want to be buried in a grave here in America. To be lying next to strange womans in the grave. My father would come back from the dead and kill me. He would kill me very hard.”
“That’s interesting.”
“America is a silly country. Everybody is fat. They are a scared of Islam and think every man from there with a beard has a bomb hidden in his haik. Peoples in America say we are all the same from there, never mind the country exactly. People here think the Middle East is all the way to India.”
“Yeah. Geography is a challenge for some people.”
“Do they know where is east or west? I listen to directions from peoples in my cab and I don’t understand them. They think the sun sets in the North. What is education in America? Nothing. Mathematics, literature, science, astronomy, physics, even black holes, this is all in the Qur’an. You can be sure.”
“And the truth is there is no such a thing as al-Qa’ida.”
“Got it. You’re right by God. What a bunch of idiots.”
“You can be sure.”
“Then again you’re dressed in a sheet driving a fucking cab taking me to a restaurant by the highway, and you’re pounding on and on about how stupid America is like I’m not even actually sitting here.”
“Oh no no no no no. I am not being insulting. America is a beautiful country. Very beautiful. Very rich. No no no. I make a lot of money here. There is freedom here. There is no freedom in my country. There are no jobs. This is why young peoples are very angry there at America.”
“So you live in a failed state and it’s my fucking fault, right? Your rulers keep the oil money and it never gets down to the street and this is my fucking problem? It’s my fault?”
“No no no no no. No no no no no.”
“Listen. When I stop being your fucking excuse for living in a shit hole we’ll talk about it, okay in the meantime just get me to my fucking restaurant please and do your fucking job maybe?”
“Mister is very angry with me.”
Edwin can see his pearl white teeth smiling up at him from the rear view mirror.
“I just want to get to my restaurant.”
“Have you ever eaten North Africa cuisine?”
“There’s a cuisine in North Africa?”
“Oh yes. Very much. Morocco, Tunisia, and my country in Algeria. Excellent dishes. We invented much of what you eat here. The better things you eat here. I am from a very, very old city there. Annaba. Very ancient. You know this place?”
“Oh sure.”
“Excellent, excellent food. Many restaurants and cafes. It is wonderful. And I even know of a place you can get pizza.”
Yeah and that’s a good reason to go to Algeria.
He gives the driver his fare plus twenty percent for a tip because he can’t remember what the books say you’re supposed to give a cab driver. This makes the driver very happy and he shows his pearl whites all over again.

and then blah blah blah...


Petunia said...

Um, can you send me the next installment? Seriously.

sybil law said...

I *know* you're not calling *me* a sycophant.
I love it. I would say otherwise.

B.E. Earl said...

Truthfully, it started to lose me until Edwin said "Nobody reads", then it suckered me back in. I love movie quote people. I'm a movie quote person. In fact, I just wrote today about a couple of conditioned responses I have, and one of them is from a film. Weird, huh?

But back to the story. I was digging it, so I want some more. Please.

RW said...

"started to lose me until..." THAT'S what I want!!! Never want to lose anybody. Not for a second! Thanks Earl.

Brian said...

I like the second chapter better than the first. It's tighter. But they both have potential.

RW said...

The very weirdest thing? The conversation in the cab is almost 100% to one I had coming back from a business trip in 2006. Almost to the word. Both ways.

SK Waller said...

You took me from laughing to gagging to scratching my head to laughing again in such a short span of time, it'll take another read to find any gaps you may have left in your suchers.

flask said...

i guess i probably get called sycophant. i noticce, though, that your readers all know what a sycophant IS.

well, it's grittier by far than the reading material i choose when i'm choosing; hard-boiled anything noir isn't what i usually pick up. or even, actually, soft-boiled gris.

but i came to this here blog because i found your other one by accident and liked the way you string together a sentence, and i like the way you move that dialogue and those characters.

i'd be interested to see where they go.

Brian said...

The conversation in the cab is almost 100% to one I had coming back from a business trip in 2006.

That doesn't surprise me. It feels very natural, in the cadence two such people might actually speak. The dialog between the father and son is good, but reads more like something out of a writer's head. I bet if you read it out loud a few times you could edit to make it sound more like the cab conversation.

RW said...

Brian yes as only one of the first few drafts I expect detailed changes to come in. However you should know that my ear, and what I am listening to and trying to mimic, is decidedly eastern quadrant of the US. I go into gas stations and convenience stores in the morning and I listen to people and try to get their cadence and the way they use words. I have to say it's different from the Rockies out. From the plains east people do talk like this. But, yes, no draft is ever final. I see some quirks that bug me too.

Faiqa said...

I loved it. And I know that conversation in the second part happened. I hope you said what Edwin said, too. I'm not sure why, but I checked out a little during the part about the fake Christmas tree. To *me*, it felt like it might belong somewhere else in the story, not there. Otherwise, yes(!!), more please.

RW said...

Faiqa - the conversation in the cab is an amalgam of one I had with a driver from Turkey, and also the concerns of the grand mother of my very good friend Monsoor (who is from Karachi).

Your approval is icing on that cake...