Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Chip off the Old Block

The  Mission denizen I think of as Ward Cleaver had the worst breath in the world –like a milliion bodies turned up in a mass grave, mitigated only by the the fumes of the grape- smelling pipe he clasped between his brown-stained corn nut teeth as he bounded down  the stairs leading to the breakfast breezeway each morning.  Never smoking this curving, bell and horn-shaped device inside the Mission, he seemed to have a bottomless bag of tobacco at the ready, suspended from his waist on a swinging bright orange cord.  “What's for breakfast, fellas?”  “Sweet dreams, Pals? Sandman kind?”  Ever enthusiastic to inform you of a new scripture learned or thriftshop deal on sneakers he'd found available, he'd thrust his face and body into a group of men exchanging cigs or into your very face with the enthusiastic energy of some nerdy Dad filling in for the North Wind in the school play because Scooter Mulligan was having his tonsils out.

His exhailations were so extreme, they could your melt off your eyebrows and teeth enamel as he hissed  out stuff like “According to one Hebrew translation when it says “In Ruth when Naomi tells Ruth to “uncover” his feet, she was giving him head, like going down on him.”  Then he'd put his hands on his wide hips and squeal out an unearthly gigle like a Tasmanian Devil or a cartoon elf.  “I kid you gentlemen not. They weren't all solumn ceremony  and hot sand then, buddies!”

This need to shock with unorthodox scriptural arcana clashed with his dress and demeanor, the faded plaid shirts and baggy khakis, which made him look like a chemistry professor who might fade into the dusty classroom background of testubes, workbenches and periodic tables.  His hair was daubed  and stiff with Brylcream-like substances.  His voice emanated from an innocent bygone era of cheeriness, somehow.   Thus the paradoxical death breath conjured visions of zombies.  I pictured him going off to work each morning in a stationwagon paneled with real wood and a squirrel-powered flywheel.  His vocabulary included things like “Jeepers!” “Studying hard, fellows?  “Don't be late for supper.”  “Look both ways today!  And stay out of Mr. Jobel's lot—he's been digging for pirate treasure with that nutty homemade metal detector and the ground is full of dangerous holes.”

 And to his son, whose presence made the couple the only Father/Son homeless team I've been aquainted with,  he constaintly came out with varient of  “A chip off the old block,” or “the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as old friend Newton's noggin found!” 
And how old was the guy?  Everybody at the Mission pops out of some time-dimensional hole in the reality fabric, so nothing would surprise me.

You expected his son--you wanted his name to be Beave or Scooter or Biff--but was actually Storm Rider, to say things to his old man like, “Gee, Pop!  Sure is swell of ya to show me the ropes here at the mission,” or Gosh Dad! You promised we could go to the baseball game if I made up my bunk like you said!” 

Ward would pack his grapy pipe, coax an ember into being, exhale a puff into the early morning chill: “Organize your pack according to first priorities, and then we'll go rummage for old shoelaces and springs,  kiddo.”

“Gee, pop, that's swell.  I am sure am glad I've got good an old man like you.”

Actually, Storm Rider was a son who showed no trace of his father's 1950's
speech or demeanor save the sulphurous breath.  A shambling, dead-eyed zombie who spoke of nothing but martial arts, edge weapons, techniques for breaking people's fingers,  gouging eyeballs and violent computer games, he had so much greasy hair hanging in his face it's a wonder he hadn't died in traffic years ago.

But Ward seemed oblivious to his son's goblin/changeling aspects. “And son, next week we'll take a hike over to the ball game then after that we'll chech out the haunted crop maze they've got out by Rd. 23.  Sound like a “neato” time?”

“Whatever, fucking A.” said Stormrider. [I tranlated this as “Sounds Fab, Pop! Can I invite Eddie and Two-Bit and Aggie?']

One morning as we all exited the cafeteria we found Mondo, a short, heavily muscled Mexican schizophrenic-- who slept most nights on the street with a heavily layered, years' long accretion of filthly blankets--staring at the ground.  Mondo is one of the Mission's familiar crazies who, with his long scraggly black hair, and beautiful but staring eyes, follows a predictable medication cycle:  in early evening as his bloodstream thins out chemicals or hormones sizzle,  Mondo is likely to begin a crazy hopping twirling dance from one side of the street to another, shouting “Mother fucking bitch!”  “You looking at me!  I”M FUCKING TALKING TO YOU!  TOLD ME TO LEAVE ME ALONE!--all the while pistoning the air with compact arms that beat in and out of vacuum holes on all sides of his bobbling black head.  Frightening and fascinating, no one seemed to worry about it or try to stop him.

By morning the cycle began anew after a period of calm and Mondo's even alowed to eat breakfast –sometimes the disciples let him in the back door, in strict defiance of the rules from above-- until his arms flailed about too  much and he  unintentially clipped someone's ear.    This morning, however,  we found him staring at the ground near his feet, standing perfectly still.

“Would you look at that?'   Several disciples and guests gathered round.  Right in front of Mondo's feet was a seemingly scorched area of concrete as if a powerful torch or engine had played over the ground.  In the middle of the scorched area were impressed two bare foot prints clearly visible against the black, spiky burned concrete.

“Somebody disintrigrated this guy,” said Mondo.  A flying saucer or some kind of demonic death ray from above.”

“Death ray,” shit,” Richard,  more heavily tatooed on the face than would seem possible and still permit facial movement.  “Someboy sprayed painted their feet and jumped out of the circle.”

“Then where's the footprints leading away?” asked Millhouse, a diminutive bespecatled character named after his Simpsons' look-alike.  

“Let's examine this rationally, boys,” said Ward.

His son murmered, “Death conversion level-5,” if you ask me.  “Maybe level-6 if he got the right spell from Mistress Mordant.” 

“Are you serious about that shit?” I asked, but Stormrider only gave me the Death Eye.

The argument when on for several minutes, and while I'm a skeptic, I had to admit the thing was spooky.  Mondo began his morning cycle and began punching the air, twirling and growling and moving off toward his spot at the center of the moonscape where he'd sit on an overturned shopping cart and watch the morning sun and scream wordless execretions the orange orb as it rose behind the overpass.

One morning Ward and Stormrider came back from a report of their visit to the Halloween corn maze.  “It was quite the challenger,” said Ward. 

“You definitely need to devote a couple hours to finding your way out,” said Stormbringer.  And bring some kind of weapon.”

“Now, son—I don't think that's necessary.”

“Well, when we got out we could hear the most bonechilling hoarse yells coming from inside the maze.  Sometimes they got closer, sometimes farther, sometimes you couldn't hear them at all.  Once or twice it sounded like a child was in there crying.  Finally, the people who ran the maze called a couple of cops and they when in there.   Then it drew down dark and a chopper with a spotlight started buzzing overhead.   Then it got time for us to get back.”

A few days passed, and each morning the black scorched area grew fainter under the onslaught of the Disciple's hose.    Eventually, just the bare outlines of a few toes could be seen.”

“Mondo's been gone a few days,” was  phrase that made the murmering rounds.  I made my morning walk across the moonscape past the shopping cart where Mondo had sat.    The sun rose silent each day.   The shopping cart lay unattended.  Then one morning I saw a squat figure kneeling in front of the cart facing the east.  A low rumbling built into a harsh growl, and hands raised Mondo began his obscene roar against the rising light.  I thought I might have spotted straws in his hair as I passed him on my way to work.  I didn't know whether I was glad or disturbed. 

Who are these men?  Where are their mothers and fathers who used to press their chins into their infants' heads tenderly but firmly enough to feel the sutures in their warm knitting skulls while they rocked them on their laps, murmuring the million translations of "I love you."  How from there to howling horrid defiance of the rising sun, hopelessly, cluelessly mismatched "Fathers" and Chips off the Old blocks, talking of pressure points and instant brain death techniques?   Are some of them lost in the Halloween crop circles, thrusting futile gestures at the sky while the spotlights glare horribly down?

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