Thursday, March 12, 2009
Welcome to an on-going work of meta-fiction and gonzo journalism reminiscent of the late Hunter S. Thompson.
Brought to you by one of Durham's very own.
Some language and situations may not be appropriate for younger readers!!!
Follow this link to Chapter One.
Chapter Two, "Charity"
So I pissed on a cat once, but that's probably the worst thing I ever did. I've never intentionally caused someone actual emotional or physical trauma.
I think I've done charitable things, I know that I've done things where I've gotten that warm, fuzzy, post-charity feeling anyway, I'm remembering what it feels like right now... I just can't immediately remember anything I've done to warrant it.
"Hey Chuck!" I holler. "I've done nice things though, right?" The fact that I'm talking to my hobo friend who's taking advantage of my hospitality should be enough, but I still feel like there are other things.
"Sure you have, Geoff. Hell, just last night you let me have more than my share of the free trivia night beer. That was nice of you."
"Yeah, but I'm talking about bigger things, y'know, charitable things" In my mind I'm constructing an Albert Schweitzer size list of good deeds that I've just somehow forgotten, I just need a little memory jog, I swear!
"Well... hmm.... there was that Gypsy you took in for a while, remember that? That was charitable."
I do not want to remember the Gypsy.
"I told you never to remind me of the Gypsy again!"
"Well, I'm sorry dude, It was the first thing that came into my head. Seems to me that if you don't want to remember that kinda thing, you shouldn't take in vagabonds in the first place"
like raaaaaiiiiin... on your wedding day....
"Riiiiight Chuck. So when am I getting this month's rent?"
"I'll have it by next Monday, dude."
It's always next Monday. It's been next Monday for the past 3 months. I just wish occasionally he'd switch it up and make it next Tuesday, or maybe in a fortnight, but that's primarily because I wish more people would use the word "fortnight".
So fine, there was this Gypsy.
One night, about a few months ago, I went down to my local watering hole, The Green Room. The Green Room is one of those fantastic places where you can swear that globalization and McDonald's and TGI Fridays never happened. This is not merely a statement of the fact that it is locally owned and independently run, this is also a statement that it is an absolute shithole. You can pretend that massive global chains never happened because it is miraculously a successful bar regardless of the fact that is falls well below the bar of cleanliness and structural soundness that massive chains so expertly have raised over the past 50 years. The whole place smells of old men, Old Spice and Old Style (which is surprising, as they don't serve it). When it rains, they have to set out an antique, claw-footed bathtub underneath a hole in the ceiling so that the place doesn't flood. The pool tables, which I imagine were once a lush green, are now the color of swiss cheese that's been left in the fridge for 4 to 5 years, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the hepatitis patients I see at the hospital contracted their condition by having the audacity to sit on the toilets. In case you need further reasoning why I come to this marvelous place, we come to the genesis of this whole story: they've got a shuffleboard table.
Shuffleboard is an amazing, amazing thing. #1, nobody plays it, so it's easy as hell to get a game in, even if the bar is packed, and #2, people are fascinated by the fact that you do play it. It's one of those things that became immensely square in my father's generation, and thus it is not my father's game, it is my grandfather's game. I love my grandfather, I hate my father, you do the math. I imagine it's somewhat like how über-feminist types can sit down and get some good knitting in, even though the last generation's feminists fought long and hard to make sure that their daughters would never have to do something as obviously degrading as knitting; I'm not sure though, because I do not understand feminists of any generation.
Step up to a shuffleboard table, and toss the disks back and forth, just to warm up, and you'll find yourself the center of a crowd of younger sorts, wanting to know what you're doing, and how to play. I find meeting women at a bar somewhat imposing, partially based on the fact that the number of women looking for sham-intellectual, slightly overweight guys with 'creative' facial hair is not a large one. Women who are interested in being taught a game fill a much larger subset of the population. The night in question was no anomaly.
Within a few minutes, I had begun a game with three new folks: a couple and a single friend of theirs. This, by the way, is the perfect set-up. You play gents versus ladies, and let the couple sit at the far end of the table while you play in turns. It allows long periods of rest between actually playing the game that are ripe for conversation and flirtation. The young girl in question who was at my end was slightly inebriated, bubbly, and more than happy to tell me all about her hopes and dreams. She, by the way, was a member of a traveling Gypsy cast.
Now before throngs of Roma start beating down my doors for using an ethnic slur against them, I should add that she was not, in fact, a member of a transient ethnic tribe portrayed so expertly by Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp. Instead, she was a member of a traveling Rennsaisance Faire troupe. 'Renn Fairs', as I would soon learn, are a type of carnival where the carnies dress up as people from the 16th century. They bash each other with blunt swords, play instruments called 'lutes' and sell overpriced ribbons and wool caps to local rubes. I don't know if you've ever met carnival people, but they're a dirty little folk, with grabbing hands and shifty eyes. They speak in their own patois, and will generally try to rip you off if you make the unforgivable sin of walking within 20 feet of them.
My natural reaction when finding myself around a group of carnies is to run like hell. However, this girl in question was cute, and not a half-bad shuffleboard player. The fact that the entire bar was filled up with her fellow Renn Fair cast didn't leave me anywhere else to go, plus she was the only one who was fewer sheets to the wind than Drake's Armada.
The whole "gypsy" notion was not helped, I might add, when she introduced herself as "Nastasia", and I later found out that the name on her driver's license was "Stephanie".
She introduced herself as a tattoo artist at first, something no doubt intended to pique my interest, even though it was a mere half truth. This was before "Miami Ink" and its ilk of reality TV shows revealed that tattoo artists as a whole are in fact as interesting as your average hairdresser or interior designer. There was still that illusion that tattoo artists were a dangerous and mysterious corner of society, one step away on the fascination scale from being a loan shark or someone who ran numbers. I asked her the standard gamut of things one asks tattoo artists, what was her best piece done (full back piece of an eagle), has she ever had to tattoo a neo-nazi (never), what was the most ridiculous thing she's done (knuckle tattoos that instead of reading something normal like "hate" and "love" instead said across both hands "fish" and "chips"), By this time, I was a pull of whiskey (off her illicit flask) and one and a half beers drunker, so while she did become moderately less fascinating, she did become a bit more attractive, which made up for it.
Besides, there were all new avenues of conversation to follow! Tell me all about the Renn Faire! Who's the biggest asshole among the production (one of the guys who sells turkey legs and tankards of beer), does anyone ever get hurt during the duels and joust (one bruised clavicle, but that's it) strangest group of nerds to arrive (a group of Trekkies who roleplayed that the Enterprise was sending an away mission to a primitive planet), etc. etc. More than enough conversation to lead to more drinks, which in turn led to a shared cab ride back to my place, which led to clothes being removed, which led to a good amount of mediocre drunk sex.
Early the next morning, your industry standard awkward-post-one-night-stand-
mildly-regretted-by-both-parties-conversation transpired. I announced that I really needed to go get my car and get to work, she said she really needed to get back to the Faire. We both made mention of how busy we both were going to be over the next week, but maybe we could go out and get some dinner? Sure, sounds good, but oh! I forgot to give her my phone number. Oh well, I guess it won't happen, and besides, if she really wanted it, she would have pressed me to give it to her. It was so perfectly stock it might as well have been scripted, and we both knew what we're saying to each other between the lines. "That was fun, let's not do it again"
So imagine my shock when I returned home after work to discover her sitting in my living room, drawing up new designs to hang in her tent.
"So... umm... hi" I stammered out.
"Oh, hello." She replied.
It was strange. It was like a real-life version of the Jedi mind trick. She didn't wave her hand across my face, but she simply acted with complete confidence that absolutely nothing was wrong, and so in as much, nothing was wrong, at least for those few seconds.
"You hungry? We could go get some tacos..." I said with the cool nerve of a man who knows a good taco stand, far from my house and close to the fairgrounds where I hoped to dump her off.
"Thanks for the offer, but I think I'm going to go eat with Thor from the Faire."
I stood shocked. A few minutes of conversation transpired where I soon learned that Renn Faire workers have a lot more in common with carnies or gypsies than I ever had imagined. They travel with the 'Faire' from place to place all summer long. Unlike your standard gypsy, they don't have brightly decorated caravans, but instead, camp out near the fairground where these events are held. As a result, a key skill for all Renn-Faire workers to develop is meeting locals, in order to have the occasional night with access to a shower and a soft bed. This made some sense to me. Happily, she seemed showered, rested, and hopefully out of my hair.
"Oh, okay, well, see you... around... then?"
"See you!" She cheerfully quipped. The strangeness of the situation started to dawn on me as I walked back in the house, but by then she'd already left.
This had to end.
When she came back from her dinner with the Norse god, I confronted her and asked her why she was still there, in fact, why she was returning, rather than staying the hell away.
"I'm confused here, I thought it was clear that last night was.... fun, sure, but all the signs were there that you didn't want to continue this, I mean, do you?"
"Oh no, not really."
"So... why are you here?"
"Well, I figured I could either spend the remainder of my two weeks in a field in a tent, or staying at a rather nice house."
"But... that's my house!"
"Well yeah, but I earned a stay didn't I?"
"For a night, maybe! Plus, I resent the implication that I'm your john!"
"Well, I could continue 'earning' it if you'd like." Mind you, she didn't say this in any kind of sultry, seductress way, more like she was offering to give me a discount on a living room set.
"Look, I don't want to go down that road. Last night was lovely, but I really would prefer you not to stay the entire two weeks, I've got enough unwanted company at my house."
"Fine, but I have a feeling you'll change your mind."
And so she spent the evening again, this time with less athletic nudity and more doing laundry while watching Law & Order reruns. I am gratified to know that even gypsies love Arthur Branch.
Upon returning home after work the next day, I discovered the "incentive" she was alluding to with regards to me letting her stay.
She hexed the washing machine.
The washer had some kind of an occult design on it. Not a pentagram, but something pseudo-Celtic and equally creepy, complete with candles burned down to the nubs. There were bits of string tied to the washer and to the piping around it, I can only imagine in a strange attempt to draw and quarter it. The best part though was the dead chicken. It was obvious that she was going for the voodoo finisher to her pseudo-magic (I imagine she'd prefer "mageick" or something.) But instead of going the proper route and getting a live chicken and killing it, it was quite obvious that this was your industry standard Perdue chicken from the Kroger that had been unwrapped and thrown in the washer. (It even still had the giblet bag.)
I discussed the problem with the Iguana before she returned.
"How do I talk some sense into this woman?"
"Well, you already tried sense, didn't you. Seems like your only recourse now is the law."
"I'm not going to call the police. It seems a bit of a cop out to call the man. I mean, I should be able to keep her off the premises without resorting to that, shouldn't I?"
"I dunno dude, she was talking about bringing over her pet llama tomorrow."
"Well what the hell should I do?"
"I dunno dude, I don't think anything short of armed police officers or magic is going to keep her away."
"Chuck, you're a genius."
"So you're gonna call the cops?"
"Nope, gotta run, dude, I'm not sure how much time I have."
There's a little shop on 9th St. that sells odd nick-knacks and incense. I collect elephants for my home, and I had heard that there were fantastic ceramic ones for sale there. The first time I visited, little did I know that I was walking into a scene from a Kipling novel about the heathen wog. The place was tiny, with rugs hanging on all the walls, various shelves with odds and ends, sticks of incense, jars of mysterious substances, carved heffalumps and various other mysterious non-wholesome items. There was an old, bearded, somewhat smelly Indian man sitting cross legged on a stool in the corner of the room. He was muttering to himself and smoking a hookah. I wouldn't have been surprised if there were a monkey jumping around inside, but sadly there wasn't. That time I paid for my elephant and got the hell out, but this time would be a little different.
The gypsy returned later that evening. No llama, but some strange variety of rat in tow. Perhaps it was a ferret. I was standing triumphantly, Indian man next to me, muttering.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"मिश्रित दही मक्खन आटा और पानी की एक फर्म आटा तक बनाई है..." The Indian muttered
"I'm putting up a shield around my house to keep freeloaders out."
"You can't do that!" She shouted.
The ferret gurgled.
"Oh yeah? Watch me!"
"सुनहरा भूरा और जब तक एक पत्थर पर सेंकना..."
She made a defiant gesture as if to walk towards the house, but actually acted like she was bouncing off something invisible about ten feet from the back door. She even did a halfway decent Marcel Marceau invisible wall for a couple of seconds before resigning herself to the "fact" that she wasn't getting in.
"You can pick up your stuff over there, it's not inside the barrier"
She gathered her things, and walked off, thankfully, completely out of my life (so far).
I asked the Indian man (I suppose I should say for the sake of I'm-not-a-racist at this point that his name was Vishal, though he still gave me the creeps) what on earth he had been muttering.
"It was my family's naan recipe. I figured it would take me long enough to recite it for your person there to get the idea."
"You, sir, are a genius." I gave him his payment and promised him I'd come by the shop and buy a rug sometime. A promise I really should keep, I suppose.