The Skeleton in the Taxi

The Division Head in the private school where I taught was very adamant.

“All this stuff has to go, Pat.  Everything you don’t use in a year should be cleaned out.”

I looked around the Middle School lab and began to make mental notes of what needed to be tossed.  The chemicals, of course, had to be disposed of in Hazardous Waste bags.  The old equipment that had been sitting in the cabinets before I came to join the faculty was outdated and clearly obsolete.  Technology had changed the nature of a school science lab in just a few years.  Sure, we would always use test tubes and beakers, but old dusty kits of projects whose educational value was obscure, had to go.

It was then that my eyes fell on Seymour.  He hung, silently, on a metal rack facing the student tables.  I felt sorry for Seymour, he had his own special corner of the lab to himself for decades.  He had to go.  His educational potential was spent.  For years, the students (mostly 8th grade boys) would abuse him.  And, he was helpless to prevent this bullying.  Someone stuck his thin finger into his nose.  Another someone placed his hand over his pubic area.  His toes and feet had suffered being stepped upon by the passing students for years. More than once he was found by me to have something between his teeth that was either obscene or downright goofy.  Sometimes, I thought it was funny, but other times I would just shake my head and return his hands to his original position…by his side, like a doorman of an apartment building of this wealthy part of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Seymour, you see, was a skeleton.  Not a real skeleton, mind you, but a plastic model colored to look real.

But, he had to go.

I just couldn’t see myself putting Seymour out with the rest of the detritus.  No, I had formed an attachment of sorts with him and I couldn’t put him curbside like so many girlfriends had done to me.  He deserved better.  I went to the Division Head and asked if she would approve the purchase of a new skeleton.  She agreed.  I then popped the question.

“Could I have Seymour?”

“Whatever,” she said, not looking up from her paperwork.

I called my wife and broached the subject.  She asked, rather directly, if I thought we had room in our one bedroom apartment for a life-sized skeleton.  I thought about it.  She was right.  On the one hand, it would be an interesting conversational piece over wine and cheese.  On the other hand, once the conservation ended, having the likeness of a dead person standing quietly in the corner could be a little off-putting.

Now, my son, Brian, lived in Binghamton.  He was in sixth grade and attended a public school.  I knew public schools were always having budget issues and within minutes I had a plan to have Seymour continue to “live” on in upstate New York.

I called Brian and asked him to check with his science teacher to find out if he would appreciate such a donation.  He did and the teacher did so it was a done deal.

Now the problem was to get Seymour out of the school and across town to our apartment for the eventual trip to Binghamton.

I hailed a taxi and told the driver to hold at the front door while I went back into school to fetch the bones.  I came out the front door pulling Seymour like a prom date on an IV drip.  I placed him next to me on the rear seat.  No trunk for Seymour.  That was a little to “mob” like for an educational tool.

The driver kept eyeing me through his rear view mirror.

“So, whose your friend, pal?” he asked with a smirk.

“Seymour,” I said.

“Hey, Seymour,” he said.  “Had a bad day, I see.”

I pushed the plexiglass sliding door closed.  I didn’t want Seymour to have to deal with off-handed remarks from a cabbie from Queens.  Knowing that my boney friend only had a view of the East River and the north tip of Roosevelt Island for many years, I decided to point out some of the interesting sights on the way home.  It’s about time he saw the city.

“Look, guy, there’s the Metropolitan Museum, this is Fifth Avenue.  Remember the song, “On The Avenue, Fifth Avenue?”.

Somewhere halfway across Central Park, he nodded off.

Seymour’s head tilted to my shoulder.  I put my arm around his bony back and held him tight so he would survive the sharp turns of the taxi.

The driver turned his radio volume up.

Harry Nilsson was singing “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me.”

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The Maltese Stylus

I looked out of the port-hole and saw the contrails of 757’s heading east, toward LA or Frisco, most likely.  So, good for them, I thought, let them get somewhere fast.  Me?  I’m happy right here, in the small cabin of a tramp steamer heading straight into Nowheresvilleport.  Once I get there, I’m heading for nearest tattoo den to do something sexy, some design scratched into my flesh with a (hopefully) clean needle.  I would get something edgy, something that yelled “dangerous”, something that would set me apart from all the others and would be bold enough to show through the manly hairs of my chest.  I was leaning toward something…some image…some icon that would make lesser men stand back as I disrobed in the Turkish baths of Perth, or Rio, or Dkakarta…or even East Orange.  The image on my chest had to tell the guys in the shadows that stilettos would not help them, nor would knives save them from my lethal hands.  I thought of how a tat of Patti Page would go down in Macao.  Or perhaps a scary likeness of Donny Osmond.  I even gave a moments thought of having a naked Lady Ga Ga on my thigh, with her “delicate” parts covered with reproductions of Nixon/Agnew campaign buttons.  But, even I couldn’t go that far.  Even I had to draw the line somewhere.  I guess I would let Mingo, the bald albino tattoo artist from Dar es Salaam to make the final choice.

But I digress.

“Here have another”, I said, as I pushed the quart of rum across the rusty flat metal plate that served as our table.  Boris and I shared the “berth”, if you wish to call a 10′ x 10′ steel walled room a “berth”.

Boris was on the run…just like me, but from what, he never said.  Once after six bottles of Bud Lite, he broke down and mumbled something about failing the Revolution in Russia.  He seemed hurt when I told him that the USSR fell apart in the early 1990’s.  It was free-market now, I told him, no more black market in Levi’s.  He didn’t talk to me for a week, only mumbling something about Stalin during our frequent games of Canasta.  I warmed to Boris and he warmed to me during those long months at sea.  He taught me how to break the grasp of a black bear, kill it and declaw it with a dull Swiss Army knife.  In turn, I taught him a few new needlepoint stitches he wasn’t aware of.

He jumped ship on an island off Shanghai.  I hope he finds his revolution, or whatever it is he’s seeking.  I even hope he found a boat to get off that island.  And, I hope he didn’t get hurt jumping ship.  It’s a long way to the water or the dock when you jump off the ship.  I suggested he use the gang-plank but he smiled his brown-tooth smile through his thick back beard…and jumped.

I, on the other hand, would jump ship further along the line.  I didn’t care where as long as I couldn’t be found.

Not after what happened in New York City.  Not after what I did.

The sordid origins of what brought me to the South China Sea are now safe to reveal.  Safe, yes, even though I found myself with a new cabin-mate after Boris limped along the wharf and disappeared into the Asian western Pacific fog.  I had just completed my nightly stroll around the deck of the steamer.  When I returned to my berth, my new friend was sitting on the empty hammock that once held my Russian comrade.  Her name was Lisa and she was a defrocked nun.  I know that when a priest makes a serious transgression against the Vatican, they defrock him…priests wear frocks, see.  And I also know that a nun sports a habit…but I didn’t know what they call a “fallen nun” like Lisa.  Dehabited?  I don’t think that’s right.  She never told me what she did or thought she did to warrant fleeing a convent, in Paraguay, of all places, but it must have been pretty sinful.  I caught a glimpse of that sin when, after six shots of rum, she pulled up her black habit hem and showed me her ankle tattoo.  It depicted Justin Timberlake chained to the glass pyramid outside the front door of the Louvre in Paris.  You know the building.  Designed by I. M. Pei and was featured in The Da Vinci Code.

But I digress.

I revealed to Lisa my problems.  She heard my “confession” and was very forgiving.

I am, you see, an addict.  An addict of the worst sort.  I have sold my soul to feed my addiction and I know I will pay dearly when Old Scratch comes to collect his reward on the day when I should be taking the up escalator…and not the down non-stop elevator to hell.

My addiction?  Games.  Small games.  It started out with big games, but with changing technology, the games got smaller.  I was hooked on Scrabble on Facebook, Candy Crush Saga, Words With Friends, Pet Rescue Saga, Spider Solitare, Lost Bubble and worst of all, Angry Birds.  When I got deeply involved in these sordid activities, the devices got smaller.  I had a problem.

My fingers are thick and fat.  On a standard QWERTY keyboard, it’s not a problem, but when the keys are as small as ink blots, my problems got serious.  When I would text a friend, my message would be: “meet me at Joe’s bar @ 5” but what came out at the other end was “make my erasure large and hold the mustard” or “xkyjoihg kjnost kdjkkjdid, ow?”  Now that might mean something in a country that uses a language root far removed from any known by linguists today.

So I had to find an a solution  My scores in my beloved games plummeted.  I began to lose friends.  My Klout score fell faster than a greased brick on a Triple X ski slope in the Alps.  My Twitter followers walked away like I had herpes.  I was doomed to a lifetime of failure and loneliness.

Then, there at the counter of a Duane Reade drug store in Manhattan, I saw the answer.  It was a stylus.  Small and narrow like a ladies ballpoint pen.  It was only $5.00 so I bought one.

It helped.  My scores went up but not earthshaking enough to satisfy my craving for love and respect.  And, then the unthinkable happened.  I put my stylus down for four seconds to sip my Latte at my local Starbucks.  When I finished wiping the foam from my lips, I looked down.  It was gone.  Some geeky kid snatched it as he brushed against my table.

I was now in despair.  I went back to Duane Reade.  They were sold out.  I ran from store to store, darting in and out of at least twenty DR’s in the four blocks I covered.  Nothing.

I was finished.  I walked past a few sleazy bars and topless joints.  How was a cold beer going to help me know?

It was then when I felt him next to me.  I never saw him approach.  Never felt him sit so close.  I looked over at him.  He was wearing a goofy green plastic derby hat.  Then I remembered it was St. Pat’s Day here in N.Y.C. and he was clearly far off the parade route on Fifth Avenue.

I started to get up and put some distance between the two of us, when I felt his hand on my forearm.  He didn’t say a word for a very long moment, then he held out something that grabbed my interest…big time.  It was a small stylus.  It was of a green hue I had never seen before.

Its been said by some that there are 28 different shades of green in Ireland.  Others may argue.  But this looked like the 29th shade.  There was something strange about it.

“Here,” he said. “I hear you need one of these.”

“Who…”

But I never got to finish.

“It may be small, it may be green, but the spirits of the Old Country have been watching you.  This, dear Paddy, is your pot o’ gold.  It was hand fashioned on the island of Malta by a group of gay ex-priests, exiled from Old Erin by the Bishop of Cork.”

As soon as he placed it in my hand, he was gone.  What just happened?

I walked home, and on the way, by some weird bit of fate, I found a Duane Reade stylus like my old one.  I took them both home with me,  like I had just scored a 2 for 1 in the hooker department.

I sat down and began playing my little addictive games.  I won.  I scored the highest.  I blew the challengers away like a leaf-blower on steroids.  I was on top again!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  Just to check things out, I tried a few unimportant games with the DR stylus and it failed me.

I was making a name for myself.  I was gaining fame among the small gamers of the world.  But, the very fame and love I so desired, began to turn dark on me.

Groups began to form.  People stopped playing me because they knew I’d win and win big.  Some hacker found out my street address and crowds, small at first, began to gather across the street and look up at my apartment window.  The crowds grew larger until the street was blocked.  I began to get hate email.  The hacker had gotten into my email.  I was kicked out of Twitter for posting child porn, something I did not do…it was the hackers.  Someone even breached my WordPress blog site and began posting nutty, goofy and inane blogs in my name.

One afternoon, a brick came through my window.  Someone had made their way to the roof of the adjacent building and threw it at my window.  It nearly killed my Ficus tree.

I went down to the laundry room and took a few hallways that led to the back door.  I pushed it open, ignoring the alarm in the supers apartment.  But the crowd had anticipated my move.  Screaming people were all around…so I ran for my life.

The mob gave chase and from the side streets, more and more people were joining the mass of angry gamesters.  I made for Riverside Park.  But it was looking hopeless for me.  Even a few winos who were sleeping on park benches joined in the chase.  I was clutching the green stylus in my right hand like a relay runner with a baton.  Dogs were snapping at my ankles.  I began to pour on the speed with all the energy I could muster.

Then I saw them.  Ahead of me, blocking the walk, were about 25 NYPD.  Their guns were drawn and the squad cars were positioned to block any way for me to get by.  Each officers gun was pointed to my left shirt pocket, where I had pinned my Ozzy Osbourne concert button just this morning.

I was running full speed at the drawn guns.  I glanced back and saw several hundred hate-filled people screaming my name:  “Death to Paddy the Cheater!” was all I could make out.  There were some references to my grandmother, but I couldn’t make them out.

I had to do something.  The glocks were set to fire.  The crowd was closer on my heals than the dogs.  So I did the only thing possible.  I turned sharp left, leapt over a flowering scrub and fell down an embankment to the edge of the Hudson River.

I threw the stylus into the pristine waters of that grand old river.

In the resulting chaos, I managed to escape.  I took a lady’s arm and grabbed her dog’s leash and pretended we were typical Upper West Siders, just out for a stroll along the West Side Highway.  I dumped her and the dog on 91 st Street.  She seemed stunned by the whole thing, but as I ran off down Broadway, I heard her call out to me:

“Will you call me?”

“So, here I am, Sister Lisa.  That’s my story.  Now what’s yours?”

She dabbed a drop of perfume beneath her wimple, and opened a box filled with chess pieces.  Big, wooden chess pieces that I could get my fingers around.

As I opened with the Pawn to Queen 4,  an old crab man on the west edge of Staten Island pulled up his crab cage.  Clutched in the third pale white claw was a green stylus.  The crab man took it out and clipped it to his flannel shirt.

Now, maybe I can text my son in New Jersey, he mumbled to himself.

Styluspic

[The Irish stylus is on the right.  Notice the subtle difference in color.]