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He was just pushing for the weekend. Just pushing produce. Pushing crackers. Pushing Kombucha-brand iced tea. $3.69 for a bottle, get in line. Don't look at the clock, get in line. Face those cookies, get in line. $13.88, sir. Credit or debit, sir. The minutes ooze by like the Jell-O chocolate pudding from a punctured single-serving cup. Gotta clean up that mess. Push it behind those other pudding cups. Push it. Get in line.
"Loud Sex and the Occasional Fishstick"
We'd been living in San Francisco for a few months. It was bliss and it was agony. We piled the fishsticks in the shower in order to let them thaw. Exactly 111 at a time. The number was important, but for reasons we didn't understand. At dinner, he would say something to me. I'd cram my mouth full of fishstick and scream "fuck you" at him. His face now peppered with flecks of the breaded foodcraft, we would consummate our strange love like birds of paradise. San Francisco -- oh Jack, it's just like you said it would be.
Waking up. Rolling out of bed. Got to go to work. I eat a modest breakfast of leftover pizza and bread. Then I hit the street. The buffet where I bus tables isn't far: just up the General Westmoreland Boulevard past the Tsar Mart. I reach the front door 80 seconds late.
"You're late," says Rhonda, my boss. She's third generation Czech-Chinese and rarely smiles.
"What's the special, Rhonda?" I scream.
"Salisbury shrimp," she replies, vomiting on the floor. I don't panic. I straighten my ten-gallon hat and stare at the vomit, which has begun to form the shape of a face. A beautiful face. A face I have only seen four times before.
"Crisis and a Cat"
"Don't move," said the cat. "Struggling will only make the relish thicker."
The idea of a talkin' kitty wasn't astonishing to me. After all, I'd come to expect anything after discovering that mysterious condiment factory in the woods. Anyways, even if I was astonished there sure as hell wasn't any time for awe. I was up to my neck in minced sweet pickles, and as far as I was concerned, that gray tabby was my only ticket out of a deceivingly delicious death.
"Grab onto this rope, Dirk," said the cat, lowering down what was actually several tattered sheets tied together in thick knots. I climbed with all the strength I could muster. I'm eternally grateful this incident hadn't occurred a year earlier when I still had legs. That would have made the climb to safety nearly impossible.
At the top of the "rope", I grasped the steel grate of the catwalk. I coughed hard, releasing many ounces of relish from my lungs.
"Thanks," I said, gazing with admiration at my feline rescuer. "I'll name you Boots."
"Okay," said the cat.
"Aviation: A Revelation"
Marva said she’d always wanted to fly. I wasn’t about to stand in her way. After all, that would only interfere with the delicate takeoff procedure.
I’m not going to beat around the bush about all this. I’m not like that any more. The fact is, she flew that day. Right up into the clouds, don’t you know. She flew like the canary escaping the coal mine.
To be honest, I never thought she’d go airborne. Chasin' the wild blue yonder was easily the most ambitious of her various dreams. First it was regional croquet champion, then substitute parade marshal and now this.
I may not have a Master's degree in divine providence studies, but I know a miracle when one stimulates my sensory facilities. Seeing my Marvie soaring into the sky-colored firmament looming indifferently overhead with Icarus-avenging gusto made me believe in my own dreams again—dust off the old dream box, as it were. But night was falling, and my arms flap their best at 1:27pm.
Jason was a public servant--following in the footsteps of his hero Todd Stewart no doubt. I never respected him for it, but, looking back, I probably should have. After all, he introduced me to my first and third wives, saved my life on several occasions, and got me that flask with Bronson Pinchot on it for Armistice Day. If I'd known hindsight was 20/20 back then, I might have considered doing things differently.
Jason wanted me to keep him company at the regional medical center. I wasn't about to deny a dying man what was ostensibly his final wish. Anyways, I had years of being a complete asshole to him to make up for. But as I sat there ladling watery oatmeal on his third degree burns I realized I could do him one better.
"Do you remember when we used to go on the road trips, J?" I asked before taking a generous chomp out of a hospital-issued root beer popsicle.
"I do my friend," Jason replied, coughing up bits of charred internal organ. I forgot he wasn't supposed to talk. But at least he didn't have a brain freeze.
"What do you say, old pal? One more time?"
If Jason could nod he would have. But instead he just clenched his eyes shut and quivered his head a little. I guess this is lava beast victim for "yes."
On the way down to the car, I accidently "put Jason out of his misery." How was I supposed to know the air outside the quarantine ward would tear through his immune system like a bag of hot knives? The warning sign that said so was covered up by my sweatshirt. Now I'm being charged for involuntary manslaughter. No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.
"Great sauce, Larry!" I said, licking my lips. "What's your secret?"
Larry's cheery demeanor suddenly became surly and accusatory.
"You wanna know my secret, do you? Well that would require me to betray certain confidences I've spent half a lifetime building and that..." he said, prodding my chest with a piping-hot, sauce-covered wooden spoon, "I cannot and therefore will not do."
"I see," I said humbly, wiping the savory, burnt sienna concoction-in-question from my blouse.
"With all due respect, I don't think you understand," Larry continued, his voice now gradually increasing decibel-wise. "You wanna know where my loyalties lie? Well, I'll tell you:
"First and foremost, I'm a human inhabitant of the planet Earth. Second, I'm an American. Third, I'm a citizen of the great state of New Mexico. Fourthly, I'm the father of six children--four average, two exceptional. Fifth, I'm a widower. Sixth, I'm a god-fearing parishioner of the Atheist Reform Church. Seventh, I'm a card-carrying member of the International Projectionists Guild. Eighth, I serve as social chair for a local adults curling club. Ninth, I'm a collector of rare hobbyist periodicals and catalogs. Tenth, I play the vibes at the annual Founders Day mixer. And eleventh, but certainly not least, I'm an aspiring sauce magnate."
After that, Larry just nodded a quick, curt nod and hobbled out of the grounded hot air balloon basket. I sympathized with his perspective, and accepted that I, his son's oncologist, had no more right than anyone else to breach the tasty barriers of his gastronomic charisma. I couldn't help but smile as I licked from my forearm a molassescent globule of the very condiment responsible for my ultimately unpleasant encounter with Larry Van Hanssen.
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