Thursday, January 26, 2012
WAKE UP SNEEZING
I wear a canvas shopping bag over my head. The rain, like waves of storm troopers, sweeps through the streets. The makeshift umbrella presents a navigational problem. I lift the edge of the bag just far enough above my eyes to narrowly avoid stepping into the path of an onrushing garbage truck. Like the wild-eyed bulls that careen through the streets of Pamplona, the stench transport is oblivious to everything in its path.
Murky, mud-laced water splatters my trousers. My middle finger springs into action (a knee-jerk response) and already the day is off on the wrong foot. I hurl some choice obscenities at the Salad-Shooter from hell. The driver eyes me through his side mirror. I jerk the bonnet back over my face, in case his buddies from the Teamsters come looking for me.
Embarrassed by a large, accusatory wet spot in the worst of all places, I grab the handle of the nearest door. The wind propels me inside. Once the bag is off my head, I suspend it strategically in front of my crotch. I case the joint. Ah, yes--the Mystery Book Store. A quiet, brooding little place. Smells like an attic.
The woman behind the counter is young--probably a student. Her hair is short, witch black. Razor straight bangs lick her eyebrows. She wears pasty white makeup and thick brown lipstick. Glancing up from the book she is reading, she says, "Is there a particular mystery I can help you with?" Her manner is genteel, a bit exaggerated--a diaphanous swan sculpted from a block of ice.
"Yes," I reply. "Why did the chicken cross the road?"
"Because the light was green."
"What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
"Much softer than that of one foot stomping."
"Okay, then...how about the meaning of life?"
She searches for her place in the book. "I figured you'd get around to that one. Einstein said the only thing that matters is whether the universe is friendly."
Resisting the urge to challenge her on the capitol of North Dakota, I retreat to the bookshelves. So many mysteries in life, and now I am faced with about a thousand more.
Scanning one wall, I lose track of how many times "murder" and "death" appear in the titles.I go for broke and select a paperback titled Death Is Murder. I flip through the pages, periodically casting a wary eye upon the dark circle between my legs that shrinks with glacier-like speed.
How long have I been standing here? Is she watching me? Of course she is--I'm the only refugee in the place. What the hell, buy the damn book. On my way to the counter, I reach for my wallet and absentmindedly drop the shopping bag to the floor. The girl glares down at my pants.
"Hey, you one of them sick muhfuggahs man?" (Out of nowhere, she has developed a Brooklyn accent.)
"N-no," I say. "Th-the rain!" I whirl to face the plate glass window, but the storm has subsided, sunlight glinting off the last rivulets trickling into the gutters.
"I get all kinds in here," she says. "I got pepper spray in my purse."
I lay the paperback on the counter. "I'll take this one and be on my way."
My hand clutches the doorknob when she calls out. "So...what if we knew, ya know?"
I turn, "Beg your pardon?"
"The game would be up, wouldn't it? The end of THE MYSTERY."
I smile. She returns to her reading. This is where I came in.
Outside, I breathe in the clean, sweet air. My trousers are nearly dry, and at last I carry the bag containing the book at my side in a manner befitting its original purpose.
Funny...one day you head for the corner market and the next thing you know you're jostled about like a pair of stained jockey shorts in the spin dryer of life--disjointed, as on a morning when you wake up sneezing.
Two sullen looking men in brown leather jackets scrutinize me as they pass by. They glance down at the bag. They glance up at my face. I jerk my head around to get another look at them, only to catch their eyes shooting bullets back at me.
Universe, let's be friends.