The Clog

You might call this entry a “Fantasy”, but I like to call it a “Feel Good” story. Either way, it’s a mini escape, and perhaps a bit of “food for thought”. Enjoy, xxoo.

They had always had access; access was easy. It had been a not-so-secret secret for decades. The tunnels were intricate, yet direct. Once under the main source, it was a vertical climb up to the White House kitchen, where stealth moves were required to sneak beneath tables, alongside blazing hot stoves, towards the massive mother-load. The pantry was easy to raid. Entire loaves of bread could go missing, without anyone noticing. They were careful to avoid leaving a crumb trail, and the growing rat family stayed healthy and happy.

Every few years there was a turnover, and the food staples would change. The rats were overjoyed that the prior host was finally gone, as there had been a severe shortage of starches and junk food for far too long. Eight years to be exact. The new tenants were a welcome supplier of white bread, processed crackers, and yellow cheese. To top it all off, there was a delightful supply of fast food to be pilfered from trash bins. Fries, burger buns, and the fried chicken were absolutely irresistible. The rats gained weight, and within a year, a few had become too fat to get through the tunnels. This was when a disaster occurred. Two of the rats got jammed inside the mainline to the kitchen, causing a major back up. They needed help, and they knew just who to call. Sure, they’d risk losing the two fat buddies, but collateral damage was a burden they’d simply have to shoulder. The boa constrictors resided in the sewers of the surrounding city. Long ago, an escapee from the zoo had mated with a female who was let loose by a lousy pet owner. They had bred, and now the family of snakes had countless cousins, all living within the under water system of Washington D.C..

As the oversized elderly rat informed the snake boss of their “clog” problem, the big boa gathered his extended family around. Eagerly, they slipped away into underground tunnels with ease, until they reached the trapped rats. After devouring the “blockage”,  the boas swiftly continued along route towards the jackpot. Upon arriving in the kitchen, they glided in silence behind the walls towards the pantry. By now, it was late, and there were workers busy stocking shelves, so they decided to bypass the kitchen and check out the second floor. Silently, they headed up a narrow opening behind an ancient dumb waiter, and emerged onto a dim upper hallway. In the stagnant air, the snakes detected a strong scent of chicken. Slithering along dark red Persian carpets, they felt their way against plastic gilded moldings. It was well past midnight, when the lead snake paused, startled by an electronic pinging sound. He slowly headed towards the noise, which was coming from behind a door. A weak stream of light seeped through. The smell of chicken filled his nostrils. He waited there for his partners to catch up. They gathered by the base at the door, contemplating how to flatten enough to slide beneath it. Aligning themselves, the five snakes pressed together as one.

Silently, they burst through, and into the bathroom where they saw a large fat man in a white hotel robe, hunched over on a gold toilet. His eyes were closed,  as he ate KFC from a box on the shelf. While chewing loudly, he hummed in a monotonous tone, gripping a phone in his free hand. He was too busy to notice the snakes heading towards him. Suddenly, one gripped each of his legs, and wrapped tightly around the limbs, as the other three slid up behind the toilet, winding effortlessly around his thick neck. In unison they began to squeeze. The giant lurched forward, and tried to yell, but no sound came out, other than a loud belch. A half- eaten chicken leg dropped to the gold tiled floor, followed by his cell phone, which shattered into pieces. His heavy head flopped down, a stringy yellowed hairpiece flapping forward over a distorted face. Large dirty dentures clattered to the floor. The man’s stomach bulged, and he let out a long fart. The snakes untethered themselves, and snatched the remaining fried chicken. With that, they seamlessly slipped under the door. Making their way down the halls, they passed a few of the rats along the way, and shared a swift knowing glance. With a low hiss, they headed towards the exit tunnel, disappearing back into the underworld of D.C.

Liquidation

Carefully pushing antique wire framed eyeglasses up the narrow bridge of his nose, Leonard scoured the online estate sale listings. Selecting only the most upscale of neighborhoods, he perused photos of items until he found gold. Not just any gold, but liquid gold. Vintage liquor cabinets, bar carts, or wine cellars. Any of these would do. Making notes in a well-worn leather binder, he beamed with excitement at the possibilities that lay before him.

It was a peculiarly cool weekend in April that brought, to his delight, the advent of two simultaneous sales. Conveniently, they were happening within a mile from one another, and both offered magnificent potential.

He took his time as he dressed in his lucky shirt. A burgundy silk button down with small gold buttons. It had been a well-received gift years ago from an older wealthy woman in Vegas, with whom he’d had a sordid affair. That was a lifetime ago, but he still associated the shirt with good fortune. Looking into the mirror, he combed back his silver hair with a bit of Brylcreem. He smiled with pride, admiring his pompadour. At least he still had a full head of hair, unlike most men of his age. He had taken good care of himself, considering the set backs life had thrown his way.

The walk-up apartment was small, but tidy, and dimly lit. Leonard prefered low lighting, as it camouflaged the ever evolving lines on his face. He had been quite a handsome man in his prime. He liked to believe that his striking good looks had only gotten more “intense” with time. He picked up a bottle of his best French cologne, and dabbed a bit along his neck and wrists. Inhaling the rich fragrance, Leonard sighed with delight. The scent always took him back to his days in Paris. Picking up the leather binder, along with his keys, he headed out. Locking the door with a deep breath, he turned on his pointy leather boots, and quickly walked down the stairs. Along the avenue, a crisp breeze lifted his already tall pompadour to new heights. He liked the attention it attracted from the ladies passing by. He moved swiftly towards his destination, filled with sweet anticipation.

2799 Willow Avenue was the first stop. It was a delapidated old mansion. Apparently, the family had lived there for generations. However, a sudden tragedy had forced them to give up the property. Leonard entered the foyer, barely acknowledging the woman who greeted him. Making a beeline for the dining room, he headed straight for the majestic bar against the far wall. Dark mahogany carved wooden shelves stood fully stocked with various bottles and glassware. Leonard rudely pushed past a few fellow shoppers who were admiring a set of club chairs. He rushed behind the bar, with a cardboard box in hand, laid it on the bar counter, and started filling it with bottles. He did so methodically, shelf by shelf. When the box was full, he shouted out to whoever was listening, “box, box I need another box!” A couple of boxes were tossed in his direction, and he rapidly filled them with all of the remaining bottles on the shelves. Leaving it barren, only glassware and a few sundry items remained. At checkout he tried his best to be charming, and after some bargaining, got it all for a steal. Since he wanted to go on to the next sale, he asked if he could store the purchased items there until his return. The saleswoman noticeably rolled her eyes, mumbling, “of course Leonard, of course.” He smirked with satisfaction.

56 Hummingbird Drive turned out to be a much smaller home, but still very fine, and just waiting for his entrance. Again, Leonard rushed in, took a hard right, and went straight to the small bar by the fireplace. Not as grand as the first location, he still found about 14 bottles of alcohol, ranging from gin to a fine cognac, albeit slightly cloudy looking. He boxed these up, and took them to the check out. Again, he sweet talked the ladies, and paid a nominal price for the stash. He took the goods out the door, and headed back to the first location. At this point it was far too much to carry, so he called a cab, and waited outside with the 3 boxes of bottles.

Finally home, he lugged the boxes one by one up the stairs, and dragged them into his humble abode. Taking out the bottles, Leonard lined them up one by one, on the narrow kitchen counter, organizing them by types of liquor. He smiled with delight as he examined some of the rarer items he had scored. When he was finished, he picked up an old fashioned rotary phone and dialed. His hand trembled as he stuttered into the mouthpiece, “Hello, hello, Lucia? It’s me, Leonard. I’ve got a haul for you.” He paused, listening intently to the voice on the other end of the line. He ran his fingers thru his thick silver hair, smiling and closing his eyes. “Yes, yes, I got the white chartreuse you’ve been searching for.” He held is breath for her reaction, which was better than he had anticipated. He laughed out loud with excitement. “Yes, I’ll bring it downtown, along with the gins, some good ones, I think, as well as a fine bourbon. I did you proud, ma’am. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.” He hung up the phone and started whistling aloud as he sorted through the bottles, selecting 7 particular, and after a pause, adding an 8th. He placed them carefully into one of the smaller boxes, and headed out once again. Leonard rode in the cab down towards the avenues, the box of bottles next to him, secured by the seatbelt. It was getting dark by now, and the rain had started to fall. The streets shone black and slick ahead. As they reached the run down warehouse district, he yelled at the cabby to pull over in front of a dimly lit façade. On the dark wall, a tiny window appeared, lit with a soft red light. He paid the driver, got out, and carried the box up a few steps. At the window a woman’s face peered at him. She told him to come in, and suddenly a door opened.

As he entered, it was so dark, he could barely see. Soft music drifted from afar. As his vision adjusted, he saw the woman motion to him to follow her down a long corridor. They entered into a lounge with a long bar, lined with empty stools. A tall thin woman with a platinum bob, wearing a shimmering white velvet gown approached Leonard. As she got nearer, it was clear that she was much older than he had first thought. She reached out a well-manicured hand, “I’m Lucia. Finally we meet face to face. Let’s see what you’ve brought for me.” She peered into the box, and motioned him over to the bar. Reaching inside, she carefully unpacked the various bottles, and lined them up along the spotless counter. They sat side by side on the black leather barstools, and he waited patiently, as Lucia examined each bottle with a keen eye. As she traced a long fingenail over labels, it was evident that she was pleased. She gasped at the last bottle, the coveted white chartreuse. He smiled, “I told you, didn’t I?” “Yes, you did well, my friend. You will be compensated generously, and I will await your next delivery with eager anticipation.”

With that, she reached down into a small purse slung low around her slender hips, and pulled out a roll of cash. She discreetly counted out two thousand dollars, in hundred’s twice, then once again for good measure. She placed the rolled up bills in his outreached hand. He curled his fingers around the warm money, and tried to remain cool and collected, even though he was trembling with excitement. She took his arm and offered him a drink. “Perhaps a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion?” Why not, he thought. After a pause, her eyes lit up as she caressed the rare liquor sitting in front of them, “perhaps we should share a thimble of the white chartreuse instead!” He agreed, and she called over to the barmaid to bring her a shot glass. She cautiously opened the beautiful vintage bottle and gingerly poured a minuscule amount of the pale yellow liquor. She lifted the glass towards Leonard’s lips, and he took a tiny sip, savoring the heady herbal flavors. She followed his lead, closing her eyes as she took a delicate taste, her full pink lips barely touching the glass. Suddenly, Leonard’s breath got caught in his throat, and she too began to gasp for air. Her eyes grew large with fright, and he stared back at her unable to speak.. Simultaneously, he slumped forward onto the bar face first, and Lucia slid elegantly down to the floor, a pile of velvet surrounding her body. The barmaid and another girl ran over, but it was too late. Both of the bodies lay there motionless and pale in the dim light. The barmaid picked up the bottle of white chartreuse, took a calculated whiff from the opening and gasped. A toxic fume caused her to choke. Apparently, it had been refilled with poison. In fact, shortly after this tragic happening, there was a report that the Willow Avenue estate owner had indeed poisoned his wife, shortly before killing himself. Although the source of the poison was never determined, it was strongly suspected that he had given her a toxic cocktail, moments before her sudden death.

 

 

 

Chameleon

Silently, I sit. Eternally waiting for something, or someone, to happen. My thick-skinned, firm body, rests motionless. Self control is my strength. I move one eye, then the other. Nothing. Nobody. I am alone. Time passes, as it always does. Finally, I sense movement. A tiny leave shivers, ever so slightly. I dart an eye in its direction, glancing at the surrounding greenery.

It’s nearly time. Something is about to happen. I wait. With stealth motion, I peer around myself, noticing that I’m a bit too bright to blend in. Swiftly, I shift my muscles, triggering a deeper shade to sweep over my skin. There. I’m hidden. Listening, I hear nothing more from the leaf. I wait. Waiting is my virtue. Patience you can call it, but for me, it’s a way of life. Waiting. I know it’s worth it. Again, I hear a barely audible sound. Tiny feet delicately treading on a branch. Exquisite. The sound has come closer. 

Now is not the time to make my move. I slow my heart rate to the brink of death. Completely undetectable, I close my eyes, and I wait. I listen as the tiny footsteps move around in the foliage right across from me. It’s time. With one eye open, I spot the miniscule spider as he cautiously makes his way along a very thin twig. I prepare myself. It’s time for something to happen. I breathe. And, it’s done. My tongue has been unleashed. I’ve swallowed the spider. Gone in an instant. He didn’t even see it coming.Chameleons have the ability to see and perceive the intentions of others. With sublime patience, camouflage and cloaking capabilities, these incredible creatures exhibit unparalleled powers of adaptation. The chameleon knows precisely when to make the right move.

Velvet Toast

The gold foil tipped cigarette, stained with lipstick, smoldered in an overflowing ashtray. Soft blonde waves of hair cascaded across her face as she softly fell back into the burgundy velour sofa, which swiftly enveloped her small frame. Slender stocking encased legs shimmered in the candle light. One metallic sandal lay discarded on the persian rug, while the other remained partially strapped to her delicate foot. The floor vibrated with bass music from the club below, mixed with din of a crowded room, occasional loud shouts, and the intermittent sound of breaking glass. With a quiet click, a door was opened. A man slipped into the room, wearing a tuxedo, dark hair slicked into a pompadour. Cat like, he moved across the room, towards the woman on sofa. As his eyes adjusted to the candlelight, he could see that there was nobody else here. Had he locked the door? He swiftly doubled back to be sure. Carefully trying the handle, he found it secure. Taking out a pack of cigarettes and a tarnished lighter from his pocket, he lit up a smoke. The flame briefly illuminated a scowling expression on his face, and the sparkle of his green eyes flashed in the dark. Taking a long pull, he dramatically exhaled towards the ceiling. Tiny beads of sweat were starting to emerge across his tanned forehead and upper lip.

Crossing the room, he reached the sofa and stopped. He stood over the blonde who was passed out cold. Her cigarette now just a faint fading ember in the ashtray. The pale blue sequined gown had slipped off of her shoulder to reveal creamy skin glowing in the low light. He reached his hand slowly towards her, running his fingertip over her bare shoulder and up the side of her neck. She stirred. He swiftly pulled his hand away, and stood there watching her. She continued to doze. Obviously she had over indulged. It didn’t help that the heroin was back in fashion, and she had been dipping into it again on occasion. He was pretty sure she was nodding off, and not just simply drunk. He sighed to himself, shaking his head. He looked at his watch and sat down in the chair across from her. As he jabbed out the cigarette in the tray, it overflowed, ash and a few butts scattering accross the mahogany table. A few minutes passed and he checked his watch again. The sound from below started to fade and within the next hour, it became quiet. Silence came over the room, other than the soft breathing of the woman.

Now, he stood up and walked towards the sofa again. He took a look down at her with pity, gently running his hand over her soft locks, pushing the hair out of her face to expose the delicate alabaster features, dark lashes and crimson lips. He let go, and her platinum waves fell once again covering her face. He took a step back, paused to look at his watch once more, and then leaned down to the corner of the velvet sofa. He took out his lighter and held it to the loosely fraying edge by the floor. The flame started small, and eased its way up the seam, as it reached the arm of the sofa it began to smolder, but suddenly a larger flame burst forward, and then another, until it suddenly burst into an angry fire swiftly devouring the sofa…he blinked as he watched for a few moments, then turned and quickly walked towards the door, making a stealth escape. Taking a back stairwell to exit the building, he stepped out into a dark alley. It was quiet and damp outside. A gentle rain was falling. He looked up at the building to see a window flickering with firelight. Taking his cigarettes out, he lit one, taking a long pull. He exhaled. He muttered one word. Bitch. With that, he turned on his heels and headed down the dank alley into the distance until he was just another shadow in the dark.

Calzones

Rene had just turned 18, and was living on her own in Boston sharing a grimy one bedroom apartment with a mentally unstable roommate, but that’s another story altogether. It was the early 80’s, and although some people might have been benefiting from Reaganomics, Rene and her friends were definitely on the other end of the spectrum. They scraped by to pay a meager rent in the roach infested one-bedroom apartment. Not having much job experience, Rene set out to find herself a restaurant position. Maybe she could work as a waitress or hostess. Even a dishwasher. At this point, anything would do.

Someone recommended she try the North End, where there were plenty of small Italian cafes and restaurants. So, she decided to go check it out on foot. Walking through the quaint neighborhood, she saw a handwritten sign in the window of a small place called Café Pompeii. There were a couple of guys sitting at a small metal table in front, smoking and drinking espresso. They gave her the once over, and she looked down at the ground while walking in. She was very shy and awkward at 18, and extremely self-conscious. She forced herself to stick to the plan. Inside, the place was classic Italian, from the red and white checkered tablecloths, to the counter case with its shelves full of fresh pastries. The cafe also offered some of the best gelato in Boston. She quietly asked the girl at the register if she could apply for a job. The girl told her to have a seat, and she could get her an interview immediately for the waitress position.

Rene felt her heart beat faster, as she flushed with nervousness. Of course she would wait for the interview. She was excited and scared, since she had never actually waited a table in her life. But, she needed a job, and how hard could it be anyway?

A large masculine looking woman sauntered over. She introduced herself in a husky voice. Elena was the house manager. She asked Rene some brief questions about her experience. She seemed to understand that this was to be her first time waitressing, and told her she could have a day of training. She said that the job was pretty simple, and she was sure that Rene would catch on quickly, since she seemed to be such a smart girl. Not like the last girl, who was, according to Elena, a total dimwit.

Elena showed her the menu, and explained the system, pointing up the ceiling where there was a table number correlating with each table on the dining floor. Rene must have had a worried look on her face, because Elena quickly emphasized that after a while, the numbers would become second nature,  but until that time, you just needed to look up to make sure you had the right order. Rene was hired to start immediately.

The next day she got up extra early, put on her makeup, along with the requested black pants and top. She hopped on her bike and rode across town, taking side streets to avoid traffic, all the way to the North End. She locked her bike in front of the café, so that she could keep an eye on it. It was her only means of transportation, and she was fearful of ever losing it. Looking up, she noticed storm clouds rolling in. In her excitement about actually making some money, she had forgotten to check the weather report.

As she entered the café, the place was buzzing. There were already customers at tables, most of them men. Loud conversations overlapped. Mostly in Italian. Elena motioned her to hurry up and put her backpack behind the counter, since they were already backed up. As Elena briskly pushed by Rene, she told her go take an order from table #6. Panicking for a moment, she looked up to the ceiling to find the number #6 table location. She looked down to find a table shared by two older Italian men. They gave her the eye and smiled as she walked over. Caio bella, che carina. They chit chatted, but she had no clue what they were saying. They seemed to be ordering, but she still didn’t understand. They asked for “doo caltz” and she had no idea what this meant. Just as they were starting to get annoyed, Elena intercepted with a quick offering of fresh bread, and grabbed the order form to scribble down 2 calzones. Rene tried to breathe and just focus. Elena barked at her to get to table #3. She had to look up again to the ceiling, and as she searched for table #3, Elena yelled at her to follow-up with table #6, then go give bread to table #9. Rene started getting flustered. She felt dizzy from looking up and down. The place was loud and customers were glaring at her. Mostly men, with the occasional younger woman. One of the men started calling her stupid in Italian “stupida”…this she could understand. She felt the tears welling up in her eyes. No, no she didn’t want to cry! Her face turned red as she walked over to the counter to compose herself.

She sniffed, and looked up to see a tall dark-haired, handsome man standing behind the counter reaching for her hand. He told her he wanted to talk to her and she needed to follow him. His name was Arturo. He was the owner’s son. As she walked with him, he told her he knew that the first day would be hard, it always was. He led her by the hand through the small café, past the mural of Naples on the wall, to the far left side, where just below the painting of Mount Vesuvius, was a door. He opened the door, waited for her to go in front of him, then slammed it shut and locked it. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She looked around a dark large room painted black. There were two pool tables where a few young men were arguing over whose turn it was. The air was laden with smoke and smelled musty. There was music playing from a juke box in the corner, and a few guys sat around on leather sofas deep in conversation. She couldn’t understand a word, since it was all in Italian. Arturo led her through this room. As they walked through, 2 large dobermanns ran around them once, pausing momentarily to sniff her leg, and continuing their rounds. Arturo opened another door, this time he entered first. She looked inside to see a large 1960s painting of a naked woman on the wall. The woman had a huge blonde bouffant hair-do and was barely covered with a fur wrap. She forced a come hither stare under baby blue lids, along with her parted hot pink lips.

As her eyes shifted down from the painting, she saw an older man with thick grey hair and a mustache, easily over 70, seated at a large elaborately carved wooden desk. He smiled at her and told them to come in. He dismissed Arturo with a hand gesture, and Rene felt a twinge of fear come over her, as she was left alone with this stranger. His name was Joe. He told her to come over to sit by him. She obliged. He pulled her close to him on a chair and put his arm around her in a fatherly way. He proceeded to tell her that if she wanted to stay here, she would want for nothing. If she ever had a problem, he would take care of it. If she needed any money, all she had to do was ask. He offered her full protection. She was really not sure how this all happened so fast, since she had been such an epic failure as a waitress. But, he seemed sincere and very convincing that she was worth it to him.

She got quiet, and really didn’t know what to say. She was young 18. Naive. Maybe another girl would have jumped at this opportunity, but Rene felt uncomfortable with it. He told her to think about it and let him know. She said ok. He pressed a 100 dollar bill into her hand and closed her fingers around it. He then picked up his phone and called Arturo, who reappeared to take her back to the restaurant. By this time, it was getting late. She continued to try to wait tables, and actually began to get the hang of it. The kitchen staff began to leave, since the place was closing now. Elena told her she just needed to help reset the tables for the next day. As she set up the last table, she realized that everyone had left, and she was suddenly all alone in the dining area. She could hear the rain coming down and she looked out to see her bike being pelted with raindrops. The street looked black and slick.

Music was still playing. It was classic Italian romantic music, which she hadn’t really noticed until after the crowd had died down. The soft mandolin and vocals were a relief to her ears. Her mind drifted as she laid down the last utensils and straightened the tablecloths.

Finally, it was time to go. She took her backpack from behind the front counter, and set it on a chair. Pulling out a rumpled jacket, she put it on. As she brushed her long hair into a ponytail, she heard the back door opening. A man cleared his throat and she looked up to see Joe heading in her direction. Tesora? Where you go?  Why was she leaving him, he wanted to know. She told him she needed to ride her bike home, and it was getting late. He was carrying a bottle of champagne and two glasses. He told her he wanted her to stay and have a toast with him. She started to feel trapped. No, she said, she had to go. He insisted and came closer to her. He touched her arm and told her he needed her to stay. She reached for the door, and looked out into the rainstorm. He asked her why she was going to leave him. He just wanted to spend time together. Something propelled her to rush out the door to her bike. He stood in the doorway, watching her fumble with her bike lock. The rain was torrential, and within minutes, she was drenched. Wiping the water from her face, she pulled up the hood of her jacket, awkwardly glanced at Joe, then hopped onto the bike and rode away in the downpour into the dark streets of Boston.

Occasionally,  Rene looks back at that moment as a missed opportunity, but ultimately, she knows in her heart that she probably dodged a bullet.