For Richard’s Birthday


(Richard Brautigan’s birthday is 30 Jan. This story was published in The 23, a newsletter of the Brautigan Library, Volume 4 Number 2 and in the BIRTHDAY BOOK COLLECTION of 30 Jan 94, a book of stories written for Richard Brautigan’s birthday. The Brautigan Library collection has since been transferred to a Burlington, Vermont public library. And so it goes.)

“Soulman, you eats that chicken like a rich boy. Look here, this was half a chicken, same as you eatin’. How many bones you see there? No more than a dozen. Now look at what you doin’ there, you throwin’ away half that chicken. Rich people throw away food like that because they can. Poor man eats all he can because he don’t know when he eat next. That’s how I know Soulman was raised a rich boy. Look at all that food you throwin’ in the garbage!”

Suileman Festoon looked at Junior. Suileman looked at the pile of skin, bones and gristle on his paper plate. Suileman looked at the smaller pile of clean-picked bones on Junior’s plate.

“You must have a steel asshole to eat that shit. I was taught not to give the dog chicken bones because they’d splinter and cut him up inside. How the hell can you eat that?”

“The big bones I don’t eat, those are the ones that can mess up your insides. Everything else chews right down,” Junior laughed. “Soulman, it just chews right down. The little chicken bones are good for you, make you strong.”

Junior coughed. Junior puffed on his pipe, lighting it. Suileman was seated next to him on the sidewalk in front of Twinny Pillows, Inc. They had eaten their lunches in the sun during the half hour lunch break from work in the pillow factory. Twinny Pillows, Inc. was owned by twins, Seymour and Sidney, and occupied two buildings.

Suileman Festoon worked in the Factory/Warehouse Building. He loaded rolls of fabric onto shelves, spread fabric on a long table for the Cutter, cleaned up, and brought bins of cut material to the fifty or so women who worked as Sewing Machine Operators. Suileman’s Factory/Warehouse Building chores were considered undesirable work by male Twinny workers. They said a man would go crazy from listening to the Sewing Machine Operators all day, that’s why the Cutter wouldn’t talk to anyone.

Junior worked in the Filling/Shipping Building, in the Filling Room. Junior pulled chunks of scrap cotton from bales and loaded the cotton into the Filling Machine. The Filling Machine chopped the cotton to bits, blew the chopped cotton through a pipe and into pillows held at the end of the pipe. The Filling Room looked like it was full of smoke but there was no smoking in there. The air was full of cotton dust. Junior wore a small surgical mask when he was in the Filling Room. Sidney had told Junior that the surgical mask was required by law.

A few minutes remained of the half hour lunch break. Junior smoked his pipe and paged through the Daily News. Suileman read a paperback.

Junior coughed, then coughed harder, Junior spat a bright red blob onto the sidewalk. Suileman stopped reading the paperback.

“Are you alright?” asked Suileman.

“I’m okay, got a little touch of ‘osis.” Junior wiped his eyes, looked at Suileman. “What you readin’?”

“‘In Watermelon Sugar’ by Richard Brautigan. Brautigan is amazing, he uses words like paint to create new worlds and he’s pretty funny.”

“Soulman, you eats like a rich boy and you reads like a rich boy. Poor man uses words for words and paint for paint.” Junior laughed. “Workin’ man reads the newspaper to stay up on things or studies the things he need to know to make a livin’. You paintin’ the world with words and that never gonna put a nickel in your pocket.”

The whistle on the roof of the Factory/Warehouse Building blew.

Suileman picked up his plate of chicken bones and scraps and walked to the garbage can. Suileman looked down at the bright red blob Junior had spat on the sidewalk. He wondered if it was lung blood and what “‘osis” was.

Suileman walked back to the Factory/Warehouse Building.

“Four more hours,” thought Suileman.


Suileman’s Christmas


“Suileman! Suileman Festoon!” yelled the fat ugly woman.

“I’ve never seen this fat ugly woman staring at me before in my life,” thought Suileman Festoon in a rush.

Suileman was crossing West Thirty Fourth Street on Seventh Avenue in New York City. The fat ugly woman stood dead ahead blocking his path.

“You got the drop on me,” confessed Suileman. “Who are you?”

“Janice Goodman.”

Suileman hadn’t seen Janice Goodman in seventeen years. She was a friend of Suileman’s ex-wife. The years had not been kind to Janice.

“Janice, how are you? It’s been a long time.”

“Do you remember Mike Kagan?”

Suileman had graduated from high school with Mike Kagan. They hadn’t been friends particularly, but there was no animosity.

“He died of cancer. Do you remember Lily Shoengold?”

Lily Shoengold was a friend of Janice’s that Suileman had met a few times. Lily was a wild kid, her parents sent her to a private reform school for crazed young ladies who can’t keep their pants on. Lily had run away from home thirty times by her sixteenth birthday.

Suileman nodded.

“She was found dead in a car in Astoria with her throat cut. She had a seven week old baby. She left the baby at her apartment.”

“That’s terrible,” Suileman sputtered.

“I ran into your ex-wife about four years ago.”

Suileman hadn’t seen his ex-wife in eighteen years. About sixteen years ago, Suileman heard from a mutual acquaintance that Suileman’s ex-wife was using IV drugs. Suileman had not thought of his ex-wife in years.

“I only spoke to her for a couple of minutes because her lover didn’t like me.”

“Why do you say ‘her lover’ and not ‘her boyfriend’ or ‘her husband?'”

“She’s gay. She’s been gay for years.”

Suileman stared at Janice.

The spell broke.

“I’ve got to run, I’m late. You look great,” lied Suileman. He leaned over her bulk and kissed Janice’s cheek.

“Happy holidays!” said Suileman as he found a way around Janice Goodman’s body and ran north on Seventh Avenue.

My Father’s Pants


When I was a child, I wore my father’s pants. Not the ones that my father wore, the pants he used to wear.

My grandmother could sew. She would sew new crotches into jeans, or patch shredded knees. Grandma sewed my father’s old pants down for me and I started wearing them at about age nine.

My father’s pants had large reservoirs of material, tucked inside the leg from the cuff to the hem at the knee, and folded up in pleats at both sides at the waist.

Grandma did my father’s old white shirts down for me. There was a flap of material between the elbow and the shoulder. It looked like there was a long sleeved white shirt under a short sleeve white shirt. I asked Grandma to put the extra material on the inside and she did on a few shirts but she sewed most of them the other way. She seemed to like her way better.

I was invited to Patty’s birthday party in the early sixties at age eleven or twelve. Patty was as old or a little older.

My parents were old friend’s of Patty’s parents, and I grew up calling Patty’s parents “Uncle” and “Aunt,” and she was my cousin Patty. At the time of that birthday party, I’d known she wasn’t a relative for a few years.

I wore my father’s white shirt, with a tie, and my father’s pants to Patty’s birthday party.

Patty’s party was a barbeque in the backyard at her house. 45 rpm singles and waltz records played on a portable monaural record player. I didn’t know any of her friends.

I looked like a dick and being dressed like a dick wasn’t helping. I was different. If I had been a smoker at that time, I would have been chain smoking. If I had been a drinker then, I would have been drinking shots. You get the idea.

My first realization that things at other peoples’ homes could be different from the way things were at my house was at age ten, when I met Joe Derslag.

Riding my bicycle around the neighborhood had been a daily activity for a couple of years, ranging further and further from home as I grew older.

This time I was riding my bike and a friend was riding his bike, and my friend knew Joe Derslag. Joe lived in Auburndale, near the LIRR train station, about a mile from my house. His mother worked, Joe was usually home by himself until seven o’clock. My friend said he hadn’t seen Joe in a while and Joe is funny, he wanted to go and we went.

I was wearing a colored t-shirt with a pocket, and my father’s pants. We got on our bikes and rode to Joe Derslag’s house.

Joe’s house was a two bedroom garden apartment. He was home.

Joe’s dog answered when my friend rang the bell. The dog was named Rover. Rover was barking.

“Cuth thit out Rovah chu thupid dog!” someone yelled inside. Rover yipped once and stopped barking.

Joe Derslag opened the door. “Hey how sha fuck are chu?” said Joe to my friend.

“This is Suiley,” said my friend.

“Hi Suiley,” said Joe. Joe turned and walked into the apartment, my friend and I followed.

The living room was a mess. Joe had been sitting in an armchair, drinking a soda and smoking a cigarette. Joe was about eleven.

“Chu want a thoda? Chu can have one,” said Joe to my friend. We walked into the kitchen.

“Chuth one,” said Joe, looking my way.

“We’ll split it,” said my friend to me. We walked back into the living room.

Joe sat in the armchair. My friend and I sat on the couch. The television was on with the sound turned low. We looked at television. Joe talked to my friend. I talked to my friend. I talked to Joe.

In a little while, Joe said to me “Hey my dog Rovah can thing. Give me a quartah, I’ll thow chu.”

“I don’t have a quarter,” I said. That was a lie. Why give Joe Derslag a quarter?

“Thumon, dont be a thcumbag, give me a quartah, ish threally cool.”

“I don’t have a quarter, c’mon, what’s so cool?”

“Shere’s got to be a quartah around shere shomewhere,” said Joe. He went into the bedroom. My friend and I stayed in the living room.

“What is he doing?” I said to my friend.

“Who knows, Joe is funny,” said my friend.

Joe came back holding a quarter.

“Shand now Rovah, sha thinging dog!” announced Joe, with a big smile. “Thumon Rovah, thome shere! Thumon Rovah!”

Rover came to Joe. Joe smiled and petted the dog’s head. Joe grabbed Rover at the base of the tail with his left hand and lifted the dog. Rover yipped. Joe looked at me and smiled. Joe held out the quarter.

“Sha thinging dog!” yelled Joe.

Joe inserted the quarter into Rover’s anus with his right hand and let go of the dog with his left hand.

Rover howled. Rover bent his back legs, sat on the floor, and moved forward on his front legs. Rover was howling and rubbing his asshole on the rug.

Joe Derslag was in a fit of laughter. I was in shock. After listening to Joe laugh by himself for a little while, my friend started to laugh, and then I started to laugh.

Rover howled and rubbed his asshole on the rug. Joe fell on the floor. Joe was laughing and holding his sides. I sat on the couch, wearing my father’s pants, laughing.

I thought Joe was different.

Time passed. I outgrew my father’s pants and had more interaction with people from other backgrounds. Different became usual.

One recent mid – September Sunday, end of the summer, sunny and beautiful day, driving west on the Long Island Expressway, I saw a love tap in traffic on the eastbound side. Two guys in a sedan were tapped on the rear by somebody in a compact. The guys got out of the sedan, checked the back of the car, no damage. Both cars were in the center lane so more and more vehicles were stuck behind them. The guys reached into the sedan and came out with handfuls of cupcakes and sandwiches. They pelted the compact with food, reached back into the sedan for more food and pelted the compact some more. Horns blew. After three or four volleys, the two guys jumped into the sedan and drove away.

I thought they were different.

The Big Bang, Life, Entropy and Suileman


“More and more, my life is as I decided it would be,” spoke Suileman Festoon. He was sitting alone at his kitchen table, talking to himself over breakfast. Most of Suileman’s kitchen table talking occurred in outward silence, somewhere between his ears or so he thought, but this pronouncement came right out loud. “Yesterday’s conclusions became today, and tommorrow is mine to do with as I will. I examine my life and see my past determinations carrying along to the present, shaping the present in the image of my past verdicts. Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Har!” Suileman noticed that he was sitting at his kitchen table, talking to himself and laughing aloud, again.

Suileman took the last sip of his coffee, got up and put his mug, bowl and spoon in the sink.

Suileman switched on the radio, walked to the window and looked out.

“If you are a male in good health, and between 40 and 50 years of age,” said the radio. “Call me, Norma, at Hoffman LaRoche Laboratories.” The radio gave the phone number but Suileman did not write it down or commit it to memory.

Suileman sighed. “Sorry Norma, I’m not your lab rat today. I could use some money, I’m running low on cheese.”

The radio played.

Suileman put his hand in his pocket and pulled out 3 crumpled one dollar bills and approximately another dollar in change. “I wonder how the lab rat business pays. Har! Sometimes I invent the future, and sometimes I discover the future as I go along, naming things after they hit me in the face. Perhaps things are now as I decided yesterday things were to be, but I’ve forgotten what I’d made up my mind about.”

Suileman walked out his front door.

“Alright Mr Festoon, your application and medical history seem to be in order. Next we’ll need a urine specimen. The nurse will give you a container for a stool sample, those are in the little bags over there, and you can bring that to the lab tommorrow. Here’s a urine cup, use the restroom over there.”

I guess I got the job, if they weren’t interested they wouldn’t want my piss, thought Suileman. He took the cup.

At home, Suileman focused on the stool specimen container with a near meditational intensity of purpose. The solution he implemented involved lifting the seat, then covering the toilet bowl with plastic wrap. In the end, he had what he hoped was an acceptable doody in captivity. Winning ugly was still winning.

He went to bed happy, and fell into the Water Dish Nightmare.

The Water Dish Nightmare began when Suileman was 9 years old. His mother had gone out to pick up Grandma at the store, and left Suileman home watching “Dr Jeykll and Mr Hyde” on TV.

When the movie ended, Suileman got some medications from old prescription bottles in the medecine chest. He emptied capsules into a cereal bowl, and crushed pills with a spoon. He took a pinch of hamburger from the refrigerator and mixed the powders into it.

Suileman had a 10 gallon terrarium in his room. In the terrarium were wood chips, a food dish, a water dish, and a box turtle. Suileman had named the box turtle Elmer, for Elmer Fudd.

Now Suileman removed Elmer from the tank. “Stop I beg of you, no man can go against the laws of God and nature, you can not go on with these experiments!” Suileman offered the hamburger meat and Elmer took it. “It is unholy, you must cease my dear Jeykll!”

Suileman put Elmer back in the terrarium and got a favorite comic book out of his dresser drawer. His mother came home a little later.

The next morning, Suileman looked in on Elmer. Elmer was head down in the water dish. Suileman dropped to his knees and pulled the turtle out.

“Live live live live please live, God I’ll change, I’ll do anything you want, I’ll be better please please let Elmer live, let him be alive God and I’ll be different I’ll be good please let him live, let him live, let him live!” Suileman screamed in his mind. Suileman knelt and held the turtle in his hands, staring at it. After a long wait, Elmer poked his head out. Suileman nearly cried. He put Elmer back in the terrarium, stroked his shell and left for school.

Suileman returned home that day and went right to the turtle’s tank. Elmer was head down in the water dish. Suileman took it out, held it, prayed, and nothing happened. After a very long time, Suileman put the turtle back, as far from the water dish as possible.

A week later, Suileman’s mother told him Elmer was dead. She said she had noticed a smell, checked the terrarium and found Elmer dead. She asked if he’d remembered to feed it. She asked if he had noticed the smell. Suileman lied. He felt numb.

The Water Dish Nightmare began that night.

In the Water Dish Nightmare, Suileman and Elmer were both face down in the water dish. They were the same size. The turtle spoke in a horrible drowned gurgle: “Thanks for killing me, Suileman. You did it for nothing, you killed me for no reason. I loved you and you killed me. It was no accident or you would have told, but it’s a secret because it’s murder. You are a murderer. I loved you and I thought you loved me but you killed me and now I hate you. I hate you and I’m going to get even. I’ll come sometime, someplace, without warning, for no reason and I’ll get you. You can’t give me my life back, you murderer, but I’ll get even. I loved you and you killed me and I hate you and I’ll get you, you killer.” The turtle was much larger than Suileman. Elmer turned his head slowly and fixed Suileman with his gaze. A single underwater tear rolled down the turtle’s infinitely sad face.

Suileman opened his mouth to explain and choked. He couldn’t breathe. He was drowning.

The turtle mouth opened terribly slowly and moved near. Suileman struggled for air, desperate now. The turtle mouth was huge and closer and closer.

Suileman woke up choking for air.

If you were there and you asked him “How old are you Suileman?” right at that moment, what do you think he’d say?

Suileman got out of bed feeling exhausted. He showered, made coffee, dressed and went to work.

There were 100 subjects for the study. Suileman was in group B-3. He asked what group B-3 was doing, and the answer was that there were 4 groups testing compound B, B-3 was the third and please sit down in a chair over there.

Joel Onderdonk introduced himself. He was wearing a white lab coat. He said it was a 30 day study, they were to come in from 10 til 4 every day, including weekends. The subjects were to fill out questionaires at 2 hour intervals.

“Sounds boring, I’ll bring my tax returns tommorrow,” thought Suileman.

Joel remained standing at the front of the room while a pretty girl in a lab coat came around with the medication cart. She checked Suileman’s name on a list, and gave him two capsules and a cup of water. The capsules were blue and green. Suileman swallowed them.

The girl in the lab coat went around the room. She pushed the cart out the door and left. She was back a moment later with another cart, empty except for 4 large stainless steel bowls.

“Here’s a treat for you,” said Joel. “During the course of this study you can have all the marshmallows you want, but you have to keep track of every marshmallow in these Marshmallow Diaries.” There was some laughter. Joel held up 4 composition books. “You write your name, the time and how many marshmallows in the section of the diary for that day.”

Suileman felt strange. His head expanded and contracted as he sat. Joel’s voice developed a wah wah sound. He felt warm. The room seemed to breathe.

Suileman stayed up late that night, and went to bed after the movie. He was asleep almost instantly, and he dreamed the Water Dish Nightmare. He awoke soaked with sweat and choking. The Water Dish Nightmare was vivid, more real than Festoon’s waking life, and the Water Dish Nightmare came every day now.

The blue and green capsules did not make Suileman feel strange anymore. He looked forward to taking compound B each day. By the end of the third week, Suileman noticed he was irritable at the end of each day, and got up feeling anxious in the morning. He ate marshmallows, and logged the marshmallows in the B-3 Marshmallow Diary.

Day 30 went by fast. Suileman handed his last questionaire to Joel Onderdonk.

“So that’s all?” said Suileman.

“There’ll be a follow up questionaire in two weeks and Personnel will call you sometime after that. Personnel can tell you about plans for future studies.” Joel smiled. “See you around Suileman.”

“That can’t be all, it can’t! How can you stop the study just like that?”

Suileman held Joel’s left arm. Joel looked at the security guards standing just inside the door. The security guards moved toward Joel. Joel turned to Suileman.

“Come on now Suileman, it’s time to be going. Are you going to cash your check now?” Joel looked at the clock. “It’s time to go.”

“It’s not time to go, I need to see someone, please. Listen to me.”

“Problem, Joel?” asked a security guard.

“No no, Suileman is just leaving.” Joel looked at Suileman with glittering ice chip eyes. “Goodbye.”

Suileman sagged. He looked at the security guards. He walked out the door.

Suileman arrived at his front door. From inside he heard a familiar gurgling underwater voice.

“Welcome home Suileman Festoon.”

Mungo Jumbo or Nothing Exceeds Like Excess


Mike from the deli phoned first thing Wednesday morning. His name isn’t really Mike, he has an Egyptian name, but I don’t know what it is, and he answers to Mike.

“Hi Suileman. One of the guys from your company cashed his check here and you stopped payment on it.”

“Hi Mike. There were two checks stolen Friday afternoon, Mike. I stopped payment on them Monday morning.”

“You protect yourself when you stop payment on the checks but I cash checks for everybody at your company all the time. I already cashed the checks for this guy, he got five hundred dollars from me for the checks.”

“Mike, one of the checks was made out to Gilda Gold and the other was made out to Mohammed Abdullah. How did the same guy cash both checks with you?”

“Suileman, you know perfectly well that everybody at your company works with another name so they don’t pay the tax. Nobody’s name matches his check.”

“I don’t know anything like that because it’s not true. We’re an honest company, for the most part, and everybody has to pay tax. That’s America. What I’m saying is that Gilda is a jewish girl’s name and Mohammed is an moslem man’s name.”

“Gilda is a man’s name.”

“Not in this country, no. Gilda is a woman’s name.”

“Maybe he’s a faggot. Everybody at your company works with another name. I cash this guy’s check like I do for everybody and I’m out five hundred dollars.”

“Mike, I can’t see how you thought both checks could belong to the same guy and the checks are for two different people. Who did you think this guy was?”

“He’s a short black guy, I’ve seen him around for a week or two, I know he works for you. I have him on the videotape, I’m rewinding it now, that takes a while.”

“Who did he say he was, that he could cash two different checks?”

“Lets not play games, Suileman.” Mike sounded testy. “I’m out five hundred dollars because I cash this guy’s check just like I cash everybody’s check at your company. I have a fair way out of this, listen to me for a minute.”

I was getting testy.

“Mike, I won’t cover the checks. They were stolen, that’s why I stopped payment. My bank charges me fifteen dollars to stop payment on one check so it cost me thirty dollars. The checks were stolen from me.”

“Suileman, I’m out five hundred dollars but I’m not asking you to give me five hundred dollars. The fair way is we each pay half. That’s only good business.”

“I’m not going to do that. Call the police on this guy. I’ll help you catch him.”

“The police don’t do nothing about five hundred dollars. This guy is a crackhead, you’re never going to see him again. So what happens? I’m out five hundred dollars because I cash a check for a guy from your company? Nobody at your company has his right name on his check. You think I don’t know that? No hard feelings, but if you won’t pay half, which is the fair way, then I have to report you to the I.R.S. No hard feelings.”

“No hard feelings? I’m not hiding from the I.R.S., they know all about me. You run an unlicensed check cashing service out of your deli. You charge more to cash a check than you are legally allowed. I could report you to the New York Department of Finance but I want to help you catch the guy instead. Do you report the money you make cashing checks? You should take the money you lost out of the profits from cashing checks. That’s the fair way. How do you run a check cashing business where you don’t check IDs without taking a risk? Lets catch this guy. Did you report this to the police?”

“You’re never going to see him again. How do you know he gave you his right address and Social Security number and everything? You are being foolish, the I.R.S. is going to cost you a lot more than two hundred and fifty dollars. You could have each of your guys with the phoney names give thirty dollars, it’s worth it to avoid the I.R.S. Why do you want to do this the hard way?”

“Mike, I can catch this guy. I’ll go to the police with you or help you any other way I can. I won’t pay for stolen checks that I stopped payment on.”

“Suileman, you can’t catch people like this. You’re never going to see him again. If you won’t pay, I have to call the I.R.S. on you. No hard feelings, I’ll wait until tommorrow at two o’clock. You get him into my store by two o’clock and you don’t have to pay, I’ll take care of him.”

“I can give you any pay that this guy has coming to him, that’s fair.”

“How much is that?”

“I don’t know. Let me check it out, I’ll call you back.”

There were three new faces at work Klaus, James and Gerald Mungo. Klaus was white, James and Gerald Mungo were black. James was over six feet tall. Gerald Mungo was five foot five. Gerald Mungo had been out Monday, came in Tuesday, and called in sick today. I found Gerald Mungo’s application and called the phone number.

“Hi, this is Suileman, I work with Gerald Mungo. Is he in?”

“Gerald Mungo is not here. I’m his aunt. Do you want to leave a message?”

“Please tell Gerald Mungo that Bob from work called, we’re short of people tommorrow so I want to make sure that he is in at nine o’clock. He can call me tonight or I’ll see him first thing tommorrow.”

I talked for a little while longer on the phone with Gerald Mungo’s aunt and confirmed the address on his application.

Gilda Gold walked into the office. She looked around, leaned toward me and whispered “Gerald Mungo stole the checks. Chauncey saw him cash them at the deli.”

I gave Gilda a xerox of Gerald Mungo’s application and told her to bring it to Mike at the deli.

Thursday morning, Gerald Mungo called in sick.

Jon took the call. Gerald Mungo said he was sick to his stomach and throwing up. Jon told Gerald Mungo that we were very short – handed so he should go home, lay down, feel better and try to come in at noon.

One o’clock and Gerald Mungo called. I took the call.

“Hi Gerald Mungo, how are you feeling?”

“Listen Suiley, the office called my house about the stolen checks. Mike at the deli is coming here with a couple of guys or the police are coming here. You have to have picture ID to cash a check so I couldn’t..”

I cut him off.

“I didn’t make that call. That was probably Mike at the deli. Mike says he has you on videotape cashing the two stolen checks. He probably called you to talk about that. I’m real short – handed at the office, I called and spoke to your aunt to make sure you were scheduled to work. How’s your stomach?”

“Do you have Mike’s number?”

“He doesn’t have a phone, it’s a deli.”

Gerald Mungo sounded upset now.

“What should I do?”

“If I was Gerald Mungo, I’d go talk to Mike at the deli right now, before he shows up at your house with the cops. He just wants his money, work it out with him.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that now.”

Gerald Mungo hung up.

I pictured Mike at the deli calling Gerald Mungo as soon as Gilda gave Mike the xerox of Gerald Mungo’s application: “He’s not there? OK, let me leave a message for him: You stole my money. No hard feelings, but I’m going to come there and kill you. I’ll call the cops and have you arrested if you don’t pay me right now.”

Gerald Mungo made it to Mike’s deli in twenty minutes. He gave Mike fifty dollars, promised to bring more the next day. Gerald Mungo cried and carried on.

Mike wanted Gerald Mungo in his store by two o’clock, Gerald Mungo arrived at twenty past one. I wondered what Mike did to make Gerald Mungo cry: “OK, I won’t call the cops. We’ll do this the fair way. No hard feelings. You steal from me so I cut off your hand. You treat me like I’m an asshole so I chop out your asshole. You fuck with me so…”

Gerald Mungo had Fifty four dollars and thirty cents pay coming to him. I deducted thirty dollars for the stop payment fees on the two checks and sent Gerald Mungo’s last paycheck to Mike at the deli.

Gilda told me that Mike at the deli was feeling sorry for Gerald Mungo.

Gerald Mungo was last seen in the office on Tuesday, the day before this began for me, sometime mid – morning, talking to Gilda Gold. They were dicussing the two checks stolen from the office Friday afternoon. Gilda said that everyone else got their checks but hers and Mohammed Abdullah’s were missing.

“Somebody would have to be pretty stupid to steal paychecks,” said Gerald Mungo. “You have to have ID or a bank account to cash paychecks.”

No hard feelings.

High On Life


Suileman Festoon sat in the dark, at his kitchen table, and stared into space. He sat so for some time.

Suileman spoke aloud: “I’m high on life and I can’t come down.” Suileman’s mind flew, like an accidentally freed parakeet, flying out of an open kitchen window.

Suileman was sitting in his van, waiting for the light. Bam! The van was hit from the rear. If Suileman had been smoking, he would have put his cigarette out on the windshield. Suileman was bounced around, but physically undamaged. He put the van in park, got out and walked to the back of the van. No damage.

The driver of the car behind Suileman’s van leaned out of his window. “Shwat shappened?” asked the driver.

“You hit me with your car, you stupid fuckin retard, that’s what happened!” yelled Suileman.

“I shought my foot wash on sha brake, I’m shorry, it musht have shlipped,” said the driver.

Suileman looked at the driver. The driver’s skull had a distinctly mongoloid shape. Suileman realized the driver had mongolism.

“I just called this guy a stupid fuckin retard,” thought Suileman aloud, in spoken English, in his mind. The mental voice sounded like a lone actor, screaming in an otherwise empty theater.

“Be more careful.”

Suileman Festoon continued to sit in the dark at his kitchen table and stare into space.

Suileman said aloud, again: “I’m high on life and I can’t come down.” His mind traveled like a mouse, racing from under the refrigerator into the space between the stove and the wall.

Suileman was having dinner with his parents.

“Pass the peas,” said Suileman.

“Please pass the peas.”


“Not sure. Please pass the peas.”

“Okay. I should have said ‘please pass the peas.'”

“So say it.”


“Say please pass the peas.”

“I did. I said ‘please pass the peas’ a minute ago.”

“You were talking about saying ‘please pass the peas’ but you didn’t actually say ‘please pass the peas’ to anyone. Say it.”

“I said it. What do you want?”

“I just want you to use good manners. Saying ‘please pass the peas’ is good manners.”

“I agree with you. Why are you doing this?”

Suileman attempted to sit down and found himself already sitting on a chair, in his kitchen, in the dark, at the table.

Suileman walked to his bedroom and got back into bed. His mind sailed, like a helium filled balloon on a string, slipping from a child’s fingers on a sunny afternoon in the park.

Suileman remembered playing intersection roulette. It was late at night on the downtown streets, and he’d blow a red light and go thru an “open” intersection at 40 miles per hour. Sometimes there was another vehicle going thru the intersection, sometimes not. Suileman did this on about twenty occasions for six months until one night Suileman was tagged by a bus. The bus caught Suileman’s automobile on the back bumper, breaking a tail light and wrenching the bumper out. Suileman didn’t slow down. Later, on the night that the bus tagged him, Suileman was in the same bed he lay in now, looking up at the same ceiling and thinking in spoken words aloud in his mind: “I’m going to die. Do I want to die right now? This is Suilecide.” The spoken voice in Suileman’s mind sounded like Darth Vader’s speech, shouting in a vacant shuttle bay on an intergalactic cruiser.

Suileman stretched out, made himself comfortable, and fell asleep.

Morning came. Suileman awoke. He walked into the bathroom. Suileman took a piss, inspected what was left of his teeth in the mirror, took a shower, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and shaved.

“I’m of the scum and debris that gets caught in the skimmer on the gene pool on this planet,” thought Suileman Festoon aloud in his mind.

Suileman dressed, left home, and walked down the street to the luncheonette on the corner. He sat on the only available seat at the crowded counter. A blond fellow wearing glasses, Dan or Dean or some such, was sitting on the next stool. Suileman had a nodding acquaintance with him, so Suileman smiled and said “How’s it going?”

Dean or Dan looked into his coffee cup and sighed. “Not so good. I got a call from home this morning and my niece is going to die, she’s dying.” Dean or Dan started to cry. “My father was on the phone, and he’s a brick, a tough guy, and he was crying. The whole family is torn up over this. I’m sorry, I’m making a fool of myself and I hardly know you.”

Suileman looked Dean or Dan in the eye. “It’s okay. My grandmother is 90 years old and just about all of her peers are dead. The longer you live, the more that happens. Even at my age, half of the people I grew up with are dead. We were six kids in my family and now two of my brothers died in car accidents, and my sister was murdered. If I make it to my grandmother’s age, everybody will be dead. The only way out is feet first, we’re all going to die.”

Dean or Dan had stopped crying. His face was red, and he looked shell – shocked.

“Yeah, I see what you mean,” said Dean or Dan slowly. He got up and handed the check and a few dollars to the cook. The cook rang up the sale and handed Dean or Dan his change. Dean or Dan put the change on the counter.

“You’re gonna be alright,” said the cook. “It’s gonna be alright, brother.”

Dean or Dan managed a smile. “Thanks. I’m gonna play some pool, it’s always time for pool.”

The cook picked up a pickle spear, squirted honey on it, shook some pepper on it and popped it in his mouth. “Mmmmmmm,” said the cook.

Dean or Dan laughed, waved and left.

“I’m Doctor Doom, the messenger of death,” thought Suileman aloud, in spoken words, in his mind. The mental voice sounded like Walter Cronkite in free fall, shouting into the rushing air. “Why couldn’t I comfort that guy or at least take his mind off his troubles? The cook could handle it, he was great. I delivered a nightmarish rendition of ‘Whoopee We’re All Gonna Die.’ Because I’m totally literal and I walk around in a coma. I am the slop that gets caught in the skimmer on the gene pool,” concluded Suileman Festoon.

Suileman’s mind meandered like a paper boat, navigating along the gutter on three inches of runoff.

“Meet up with Bob’s friend at 20th and Broadway at 10 AM,” said Suileman to himself aloud. He glanced at his watch. 10:20 AM. He looked at the street signs. Eight blocks away.

Suileman made a bee-line for the pay phone on the corner. Bob’s friend answered on the second ring.

“Hello, I’m Suileman Festoon, Bob’s friend.”

“Good morning, how’s it going?”

“I’ll be at the corner in about seven minutes. How will I know you?”

“Blue ’88 Dodge Reliant with handicapped plates. How will I recognize you?”

Suileman attempted to think, first of a description for himself, then of anything at all. He couldn’t.

“I look like a character,” Suileman said.

Suileman spotted the car, nodded to Bob’s friend and got in.

“You do look like a character,” said Bob’s friend.

Bob’s friend got out of the car at Mexicana Airlines at JFK. The Dodge had a pedal bolted to the floor, so that the gas could be operated with the left foot. The standard gas control was a bare metal bent post on the right, the pedal itself was all that was missing so the car could be driven in ordinary fashion.

Suileman was driving home.

“I should stop at the bank, this thing has handicapped plates so I can park anywhere,” said Suileman aloud to himself.

Suileman pulled into the bank’s parking lot. No parking space available. Up front was a handicapped spot. A car nosed into the handicapped space while Suileman was enroute. Suileman looked at the car’s rear tag. Regular license, not a handicapped plate.

Suileman pulled up behind the car in the handicapped spot, blocking it in. Suileman got out of his car at the same time the other driver got out of that car.

“Everytime I go to the supermarket, there are pigs like you blocking the loading zone and the handicapped parking!” yelled Suileman. “You are one of the most inconsiderate people in the world, how the hell do you park in the handicapped spot without handicapped plates? Do you know that it’s a fifty dollar parking ticket if they catch you, and I hope they do, you worthless bum!”

The other driver was an older man. He had the car door open, and he was leaning against the car with both hands.

“My handicapped permit is displayed on the dashboard where it’s supposed to be, asshole!” yelled the older man. He reached into the car with one hand and brought out two aluminum crutches. “Fuck you, who the hell are you? What’s wrong with you?”

The older man slammed his car door, got on his crutches and headed for the bank.

“Fuck you. What’s wrong with you?” yelled the older man over his shoulder.

Suileman spoke aloud: “I’m high on life and I can’t come down.”

Inside the bank, the older man, on crutches, was directly behind Suileman on line.

Of course.

Suileman’s Big Score


“It hasn’t been much fun tonight Suileman, but please don’t spoil it. Don’t make it worse, okay?”

Her words rattled in Suileman’s mind like a game from a box of crackerjacks, where you try to roll BBs into little indented dots. Suileman walked halfway home before he realized his car was parked down the street from her house.

“School has educated me but I have yet to gain savvy, to become street smart and worldly wise. I embarass myself because I don’t know people. I am naive and self-conscious. I made her uncomfortable. An appropriate word or gesture, probably some simple obvious thing, and tonight could have been perfect. I am too stressed, too dishonest, too convoluted, too tense. No. I’m just not hip. I need to get hip.” Suileman thought this in spoken words in his thoughts. The mental voice was not his body’s speaking voice. Suileman did not know or wonder whose (or what’s) voice talked aloud in his head.

Suileman walked for 6 blocks to the girl’s home. He paused and looked at the vacant windows.

Suileman got in his car and drove for 11 blocks to his place. The curb scaped his front tire hard as he pulled in.

Suileman fetched himself a beer. He turned on the CD player. Someone had left a CD in the player (not Suileman, he’s too fastidious) and as Suileman looked for something to which he would listen, the Velvet Underground began playing.

Suileman sat down and took a swig of his beer.

“This is exactly what I’m looking for,” the voice in his mind said. “Lou Reed is the antithesis of my unhipness, my awkwardness. Everything he does is cool, he’s perfectly hip. I need what he’s got, but what has he got exactly?”

Suileman sipped beer and pondered. He got up and pissed. He fetched another beer and drank that.

Suileman began to sing along: “I’m waiting for my man, Twenty six dollars in my hand, Go to Lexington one two five – Hokey Smoke Bullwinkle, that’s it!” Suileman stood up, thinking at a breakneck pace.

“Experience! Lou Reed went out and lived on the edge whilst I’ve played it safe for the vast majority of my life to date! Experience! Danger! The edge! One cannot know by singing along, one must experience! I must experience!”

Suileman looked flushfaced and euphoric, waxing expansive at the top of his emotional roller-coaster.

Suileman rose, got the rest of his cash and put it in his wallet, went out the door, climbed into the driver’s seat of his car, started the engine, put it in gear and rolled down the block. His demeanor was that of a man on a mission.

“From my window I seen the road, but I never knowed where it goed, til I set my feet upon it’s face, to make the walk I take my pace. Gargh!” Suileman spat sloppily out of the car window.

There was parking on the street at Lexington Avenue and One hundred twenty fifth Street. Suileman parked under a street lamp. He rolled up the windows, checked that the other doors were locked, got out and locked his door. “No more playing it safe” said the voice.

Suileman walked for a couple of blocks. He saw three young men on the stoop of a tenement. They appeared to Suileman to be drug addicts. Suileman’s evaluation was based on a few people he knew peripherally in high school, and what he had gleened from “Manchild in the Promised Land.”

Suileman approached them. He spoke to them.

“Hi guys. What’s up?”

They looked at Suileman.

“What’s up? Who’s straight?”

They looked at each other. One wearing sunglasses said “Do I know you?”

“No, I haven’t been around, you don’t know me.”

“How do I know you ain’t a cop?”

Suileman shrugged. “I’m not a cop.”

The two farthest from Suileman stood up. One said “Come up here and talk. Not cool to talk in the street, man.”

“Sure, man.” Suileman walked up the steps. Sunglasses followed him.

They all stood in the doorway. The door was open.

“How do we know you ain’t a cop, man? You got a gun?”

Suileman laughed. He held his arms away from his body and waved. “No, I don’t have a gun.”

Sunglasses took a gun out of his bottom right jacket pocket. The three moved close to Suileman.

“C’mon, get up the stairs, move.”

Suileman went up the stairs with his heart pounding.

“Keep going, move it.”

They were on the roof.

Sunglasses pushed Suileman. “Give me your wallet. And that watch.”

Suileman passed over his wallet and his watch.

“Take off your clothes and give them over here.”

Suileman took off his jacket, shirt, and shoes.

“The pants too, man. Now!”

Suileman took off his pants and reached into his pocket for his car keys. One of them hit him hard across the face.

“Don’t do anything I don’t tell you to do. Nothing! Lie face down there.”

Suileman lay face down on the roof. Gravel dug into his cheek.

“Lets throw the motherfucker off the roof.”

Suileman had to piss, he had to evacuate his bowels, each breath was a wad of fear in his chest, there was a rushing sound in his ears. They kicked him in the sides a few times. They talked to each other about what they ought to do with him.

Sunglasses put the gun to the back of Suileman’s head.

“Say goodbye, motherfucker.”

Suileman soiled his briefs.

“You stay right there, don’t move a muscle for an hour, you move any sooner than that and I will kill you. Don’t speak, don’t move, hardly breathe for an hour, not one second less or you’re a dead man. I’ll be watching you.”

They left. Suileman lay on the roof, feeling each point of gravel under his body, conscious of the feces cooling on his ass. He lay there, aware of each passing second and utterly miserable.

“I’ve got to get to the car, but I have no keys. Maybe they threw the keys away around here somewhere,” Suileman dreamed as he lay on the roof.

Eventually, Suileman got up. His wallet, his clothes, his shoes and his keys were gone. Sore ribs, a swollen cheek, a few scrapes, nicks and cuts. His body was functional. Nothing was broken, everything hurt.

Suileman walked down the same stairs he had climbed earlier. On the fourth floor, a man’s voice suddenly yelled in an apartment. It sounded as if he were next to Suileman. Suileman panicked, ran down the stairs, out onto the street, and back to his car.

It was early morning and full dark. There were people on the street. No one approached him. He did not look at anyone.

The windows were up and the doors were locked. Suileman looked at the trunk lock. There was heavy rust around it. He could see the darkness of the trunk thru the space at the left side of the lock.

Suileman bashed the lock several times, cutting his hand. At last, the lock fell into the trunk. Suileman felt the latch within the rusted hole, cutting his fingers.Both hands were bleeding when he got the trunk open.

“The seat unlatches and folds down, I can open the latch, get in the back seat, then start it with a scewdriver in the ignition. Then home, providing I have enough gas. I’m alive, I’m alive!” said the voice in Suileman’s mind.

Suileman leaned over to unlatch the seat. He couldn’t reach it, so he climbed into the trunk. The remnant of the shit in his underwear squished unpleasantly. Suileman couldn’t hold the trunk lid up and manipulate the latch at the same time, so he propped up the trunk lid with the jack. Suileman bent down and leaned forward to work the seat latch. The jack dislodged and fell into the trunk. The trunk slammed. It was completely dark.

“I’m alive, I’m alive!”