I’m used to seeing wild things roaming around my neighborhood. I live about a half block from the Chicago River and the river is a magnet for wildlife. Raccoons, opossums, muskrats, skunks, turtles, rabbits, ducks and geese are common sights along the riverbanks and nearby streets and alleys. There’s even a beaver living under the Montrose Avenue bridge.
None of these creatures poses a threat to life or limb. At worst, they can be nuisances. However, not all the wildlife in the neighborhood is harmless. A few years ago a mountain lion was spotted in Roscoe Village, in frightening proximity to children. The police had no choice but to shoot the animal.
And, recently, several of my neighbors saw a coyote loping down the middle of Eastwood Avenue, at about six in the morning. For a few days, the coyote sighting was the talk of the neighborhood.
“Coyotes are everywhere now,” one of my neighbors told me. “They’re as common as squirrels. Lincoln Park is overrun with them and the suburbs are being terrorized by packs of coyotes.”
“Jesus! That’s frightening. I didn’t realize coyotes were such a threat to people.”
“Well, they’re not much of a threat to humans. But they’re a real danger to pets. They prey on small dogs and cats.”
“Wait a minute. Are you telling me that coyotes kill and eat cats?”
“Coyotes love to eat cats. They’ll snatch a cat right off someone’s porch.”
A little later, I was in my back yard, enjoying a cigarette with my morning whiskey and thinking about what my neighbor had said about coyotes. I felt bad for the dogs that were taken by coyotes, but I had no sympathy, at all, for the cats.
I have a cat, a big greasy fucker named Otis, and he’s made my life a living hell ever since he showed up at my back door and weaseled his way into my household. I rue the day my misguided wife and children ganged up on me and bullied me into keeping the cat.
From the moment the cat muscled his way into my home, I was determined to get rid of him. But I had to be careful. My wife and daughters had, for some inexplicable reason, grown very fond of the cat. They knew I despised the son of a bitch and would immediately blame me if something happened to him. It had to look like an accident. I had to appear blameless.
I had almost gotten rid of the cat a few times in the past, but my plans never worked out. My best opportunity came when I nearly sold Otis to my dear friend Mr. Choi, who owns a very popular home-style Korean restaurant on the North Side, but the deal fell through at the last minute. Needless to say, I was hugely disappointed.
But I’m a patient man. All good things come to those who wait. When I heard about coyotes running wild in the streets of Chicago, I knew that my time had come. After all, how could I possibly be blamed if a coyote happened to run off with the cat?
First, I had to do a little research. I learned that coyotes are nocturnal hunters, most active for five or six hours after the sun goes down. They are also scavengers, attracted by the odor of rotting, rancid meat. They thrive on the most disgusting, maggot-ridden slop imaginable. They can smell the foul stench of putrid, decaying meat from a mile away.
A couple of days later, my wife came home from work a bit later than usual. “I just saw the oddest thing,” she said.
“What’s that, dumpling?”
“There’s a couple of Big Macs, a Polish sausage and a burrito on the sidewalk in front of our house.”
“That is unusual.”
“By the way, where’s Otis?”
“I let him out.”
“It’s kind of late for the cat to be out, isn’t it?”
“He’s a fat ass. He needs the exercise.”
I quickly discovered that luring coyotes is not that easy. Apparently Big Macs, Polish sausage and burritos are not disgusting enough for them. But I’m not a quitter. I can’t even spell the word advircitie.
Every day, as the sun was going down, I’d let the cat out and plant my coyote bait. I tried everything – lutefisk, corn dogs, turducken, haggis, Vegemite, gefilte fish, Chicken McNuggets, s’mores, slabs of Velveeta, cans of Franco-American spaghetti, bags of barbeque flavored pork rinds, and a lot of food-like products made by Hormel – but nothing seemed to work.
Still, I didn’t get discouraged. I was determined to get rid of the cat. I knew that as long as I kept trying, as long as I kept setting out bait, one day a coyote would come along and settle Otis’ hash, once and for all.
A couple of days later, my wife approached me with a puzzled expression on her face. “There’s something weird going on around here,” she said.
“What’s that, precious?”
“Otis, two skunks and a raccoon are eating this big pile of food that somebody left on the sidewalk.”
“Ah, shit. This is fucking unbelievable.”
“Yeah, why would somebody dump 20 pounds of tuna noodle casserole on our sidewalk?”
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Every Friday afternoon, I go to the Vet Center in Evanston and spend about an hour chatting with a psychologist named Dr. Betsy. When Dr. Betsy’s done with me, I like to hang around the place for a while, drinking coffee, making small talk with some of the guys, or just sitting in an easy chair reading a book or magazine.
I like the Vet Center. I’m comfortable there. I feel at ease.
The Vet Centers were established, by Act of Congress, in 1979, as community outreach programs to help Vietnam Veterans who were experiencing re-adjustment problems. After years of being ignored, Vietnam vets now had access to counseling that helped with PTSD, substance abuse problems, homelessness, employment issues, violent or suicidal tendencies, and other situations that plague combat veterans.
In 1991, following the Gulf War, Congress extended eligibility to the men who served in post-Vietnam hostilities. By 1996, the Act was extended to any veterans who had served in any war zone, going back to Korea and WW2.
I’ve been making the weekly trip to Evanston for about five years now. I keep going back because Dr. Betsy and some of the other counselors have helped me weather a few stormy episodes.
But the real reason I keep going back is because I like to spend time, even if it’s just a few minutes or half an hour, with my fellow veterans.
I don’t know any of the guys very well. We’re just casual acquaintances. Many of them seem like regular guys, working stiffs, family men, retirees, the kind of people you’d run into at the grocery store, corner tavern or bowling alley.
But some of the guys that frequent the Evanston Vet Center – and I say this with love, understanding and compassion in my heart – are fucking crazy. These poor souls may be physically present, right here on the USA, but some essential parts of them are still wandering distant battlefields.
One guy I run into at the Vet Center constantly threatens to get vengeance on people who have offended him or treated him shabbily. He’s got a long shit list and adds names to it daily. To hear him tell it, one of these days there’ll be a bloodbath in the streets of Chicago that will make Iwo Jima look like a brawl at a Serbian wedding.
The guy is in his late 60s or early 70s and, as far as I know, has never harmed anyone.
Another guy I see regularly is a Vietnam vet who sits in a corner and talks to himself. He doesn’t just utter a few phrases. He has long complicated conversations with himself, complete with hand gestures, song fragments, and snorts of disgust. Occasionally, he’ll slap himself on the forehead and say something like, “Serves your ass right for fuckin’ around like that.”
One old-timer brings his wife to the Vet Center, and they bicker constantly. I can’t say for sure, but I believe they have the same argument every time. Once in a while the husband turns to others in the room and asks, “Did you hear that? Did you hear what she just said to me?”
Most people have the good sense not to get involved. When he asks me the question, I usually say, “Sorry, man, I wasn’t paying attention.”
When I mentioned what I had observed in the waiting lounge to Dr. Betsy, she said, “PTSD. Some have it worse than others. The stress of combat on young, not yet fully formed minds can be devastating. And sometimes the damage doesn’t show up for years.”
As I was driving home from my Friday appointment, thinking about my fellow vets, an odd thought occurred to me. What did those old soldiers see when they looked at me?
“There’s something wrong with that guy. He never says shit to anybody, just sits in the corner, drinking coffee, reading a book or scribbling shit in that note pad he carries. I don’t trust him. He’s probably got a lot of nasty shit going through his head.”
“He’s got an evil look in his eye, too. I expect he’ll snap one of these days and do something stupid or dangerous. Best keep an eye on him.”
Maybe they’re right, maybe they’re not.
To the best of my knowledge, the lovely Mrs. Milo has never cut a fart. Although we’ve never discussed the subject, I’m sure she considers passing gas beneath her dignity.
Unlike my ragged and freestyle upbringing, my wife was raised properly, learning the basics of correct behavior at an early age. In her waspishly proper household (both parents were from Boston and of English descent) farting was, no doubt, frowned upon. That’s why if there’s any farting to be done in this family, I’ll be the one doing it.
I don’t recall ever farting in church, but I’ve cut the cheese just about everywhere else. I’ve flatulated in schools, hospitals, taverns, restaurants, pool rooms, government buildings, Marshall Field’s on State Street, elevated trains, board rooms and foxholes. I have released unpleasant fumes in many of these United States and on four different continents. And I’m not done yet. My bucket list includes the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid at Giza, Buckingham Palace, the Pentagon and Carnegie Hall.
I don’t mean to come across as sexist, but I honestly believe that women are not very good at farting. They can’t seem to get the hang of it. On the rare occasions when they have to let off a bit of steam, they fire away with wimpy little tootlets that barely qualify as farts. Worst of all, in my opinion, they don’t seem to take joy in the act.
“Millicent, my precious, did you by any chance emit a bit of gas in the last few minutes?”
“Oh, Harvey, this is so embarrassing. I was praying that you wouldn’t notice. This hasn’t happened to me in years. I hope you won’t think badly of me.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself, dumpling. Even the most refined and well-bred women are subject to an occasional lapse in dignified behavior. I’ll just fetch the room deodorizer, dear, and we’ll forget this unfortunate incident ever happened.”
Although there may be a few female gas passers in existence, men still dominate the arena. Farting, loudly, frequently and rankly, is a macho activity, associated with virile types like cowboys (see Blazing Saddles), firemen, lumberjacks, Navy Seals and, of course, bloggers. The editorial staff here at The Third City is a shining example of flatulent excellence, especially Benny Jay, who has eaten nothing but fried chicken and cheese grits for the past 20 years.
To prove my point, I’m going to release a partial transcript of the minutes of The Third City’s last editorial board meeting.
“Jesus! What the fuck was that!”
“Oh, lord, will somebody please open a fucking window!”
“Goddamnit, Rolando! Have the decency to give a guy a warning. Smells like a rat crawled up your ass and died.”
“It wasn’t me. It was that asshole Benny.”
“It wasn’t me, either. It was that bastard Milo. The fucker’s been drinking beer and eating beef jerky all morning.”
“Don’t look at me. It was probably that shithead Randolph.”
“You idiot, Jon’s not even here.”
“Well, what about that greasy new intern we hired. He looks like a nasty fucker.”
“Will somebody please open a damned window?”
As bad as that experience was, it didn’t rank very high on my list of all-time fart horror stories. The absolute worst happened to me when I was in high school, back in Gary, Indiana.
I was driving around with five of my friends in the 1959 Mercury I had recently purchased for $110. My friends, Dickie Kaiser, Dave Spurlock, Sandy Bordeaux, Kenny Woodside, Jim Krock and I had pooled our meager resources and purchased two cases of the cheapest beer in Gary. I think we paid four dollars a case.
We were having some good clean fun, just surfing the streets, drinking beer and listening to WLS. It was a cold winter’s night, so we had the windows rolled up. At some point in the evening, when we each had four or five beers sloshing around in our bellies, Dave Spurlock cut a monster of a fart, a fart for the ages. It was so loud that I thought one of the guys had set off an M-80 in the back seat.
A second later, the inevitable occurred and the other smelly shoe dropped. The stink that permeated the car was unbearable. It was dense, clinging and as putrid as the grave. The odor was a combination of everything vile – rotten eggs, rotten fish, dog shit, dirty sneakers and a backed up sewer. I doubt anything on earth smelled worse than that particular fart.
I almost lost control of the car. Dickie Kaiser had his head hanging out of the back window, vomiting up all the beer he had been drinking. I could hear Sandy Bordeaux gagging. It was a dangerous moment.
Somehow, through sheer strength of will, I managed to pull the car over to the curb. The guys tumbled out of the car, gagging, coughing, eyes watering and noses running. Jim Krock threw up the beer he had been drinking. I gagged and spat a couple of times, but was able to keep down most of the evening’s refreshments. It was touch and go for a while, but somehow Lady Luck was on our side and we all survived.
After blowing his nose and wiping his eyes with a handkerchief, Kenny Woodside said, “Good one, Dave. That was a hell of a fart.”
Dave had a huge smile on his face. He radiated joy and satisfaction. “I thought you guys would appreciate that one,” he said.
A few days before Easter, I began cleaning my weapons, sharpening the cutlery, shopping for mace and pepper spray, stocking up on first aid supplies, refilling fire extinguishers, and Googling the phone numbers of bail bondsmen and criminal lawyers in the Chicago area.
We were hosting the family dinner this year and I wanted to be prepared.
This is the first time we’ve celebrated Easter at our house in several years. We usually spend the holiday at my sister’s house in Northwest Indiana. I prefer going to my sister’s place because she and her husband are pretty well off and can afford to hire security guards.
I asked my wife, the lovely Mrs. Milo, how she was preparing for the occasion. She said, “I’m going to roast a leg of lamb, prepare carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy and a salad. We’ll have apple pie and ice cream for dessert.”
“Sounds great, babe. While you’re doing that, I’ll go down to Home Depot and get a chainsaw, a Taser, and some sandbags.”
I slept poorly the night before Easter. I kept having nightmares about previous holiday disasters.
I remember one Easter when my sister pepper sprayed her husband, Bill, when she caught him putting ketchup on his lamb chops.
I also recalled the time we had to take my 82-year-old uncle, Marko, to the emergency room when he threw his back out doing the Limbo with a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon balanced on his head.
Then there was the 4th of July party where all of the men decided to have a big dick contest and each of us put 20 dollars into a pot as a prize for the winner.
My wife was disgusted. “I can’t believe you pulled out your dick in front of everybody.”
“Honey, I didn’t pull it out all the way. I just showed enough to win the contest.”
Of course, I’m not blameless when it comes to holiday disasters. A few years ago, on Christmas Eve, I accidentally burned down my sister’s garage while demonstrating the proper way to perform the Sri Lanka Fire Walk.
Naturally, I was prepared for the worst when everyone arrived – daughters, niece, a boyfriend, sister and brother-in-law, and my Alzheimer’s-afflicted mother. Things got off to an inauspicious start when my addled, gray-haired mama asked, “How’s your furnace working?”
“The furnace is working just fine, Mom.”
She asked me about the furnace twice more in the next 10 minutes.
To my utter amazement, the evening went off without a hitch. There were no disagreements, arguments or fights. Except for my mother constantly asking about the furnace, and my wife and sister overindulging on Bloody Marys and nearly ruining the gravy, everything went smoothly.
Oh, sure, there were a few tense moments. When my brother-in-law started telling a long, pointless and boring story about the many and varied pleasures of philately, my sister began eyeing her purse, where she keeps her blackjack.
And when I took off my shirt, got a Sharpie, and began playing connect-the-dots with the scars on my chest, which, I explained, had come from the many knife fights I had been involved in as a youngster, my wife gave me her ugly, sleep-on-the-couch stare. I quickly put my shirt back on.
I suppose most families have holiday traditions, rituals that have been passed down through the years. The traditions may involve serving certain foods, gift giving, religious observances, songs and dances, relating family histories, or seating arrangements at the dinner table.
Our family has a holiday tradition, too. We just hope to survive.
When the dinner was over and everyone was preparing to leave, my mother asked about the furnace one last time. Then my sister thanked me for hosting this year. “Great dinner,” she said, “but things were kind of tame for my taste.”
“To be honest, I thought it was boring as hell.”
“There wasn’t a fist fight, or even a decent argument all night. It was like a dinner party at Martha Stewart’s house.”
“I know. It makes me nostalgic for the good old days.”
“Thanksgiving is at my house this year. Maybe we should invite Uncle Marko, or your friend, Bruce, he’s a loose cannon, or a few of those wild boys from East Chicago. They know how to liven things up.”
“Sis, that’s an excellent idea.”
Here’s a chapter from my novel, Wassermann Gardens, which will be available in a couple of weeks as an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and two dozen other sites. Hope you enjoy it.
The food situation had become critical. There was enough left, at one meal per day, to feed the islanders for three more days. Marlowe made a half-hearted attempt to convince some of the men that it was necessary to reduce the ration to a half meal per day, but nobody would agree and he gave it up. Even Kline thought it was a meaningless gesture.
“You really think it’ll make a difference.” He had been drinking heavily in the days after Vukovic’s death, joining Druliner in putting a serious dent in the supply of Island Lemonade. “Another couple of days won’t mean shit to anybody. If the helicopter doesn’t show up real soon, we’re all fucked.”
“Well, we’ve got to do something,’ Marlowe said, stubbornly.
“We’ve got to do something,” Kline mimicked, in a singsong voice. He was drunk, hungry and surly. “You’re becoming a real pain in the ass, you know that?”
“Okay, you two dumb asses just sit here and feel sorry for yourselves and I’ll…”
“What are you going to do? Have you got some sort of plan? Are you going to pull off a miracle and feed everybody with fish we can’t catch and bread we don’t have?”
Marlowe couldn’t think of anything to say, a rejoinder that would make them come around to his way of thinking. He knew that something had to be done, but he had no idea of what that would be. They couldn’t just sit and wait for the helicopter to come and make everything better. Yet, that’s exactly what they were doing.
When Marlowe left Druliner’s hootch, he felt helpless. He walked slowly toward the cliffs, drawn by the sound of the ocean. He found a boulder, sat on it and stared out to sea for a long time.
He thought about his first days on the island, when he was drugged, confused and frightened. His mind refused to accept the fact that instead of going home, after his tour of duty in Vietnam, he had been declared Missing in Action and quarantined on an island in the middle of nowhere for the rest of his natural life. Almost as difficult to accept was the fact that his body was carrying a sexually transmitted disease that was incurable and so contagious that his very existence was deemed an unacceptable danger to mankind.
Marlowe didn’t know how he had survived those first days. Many men didn’t. The suicide rate of new arrivals was very high. Marlowe had come close to killing himself several times. He remembered spending hours at the edge of a cliff, trying to work up the nerve to take the leap.
He also remembered the moment that everything changed. He was sitting on his cot early one morning, after a sleepless, anguished night, when Lester Cooper, a tall, thin man with a huge Afro and a bushy beard, walked into his hootch.
“Hey, man,” Lester said, cheerfully. “You doing anything right now?”
Marlowe didn’t answer. He hadn’t spoken more than 10 words in the weeks he had been on the island. The older islanders tended to avoid newcomers until they showed they would survive the initial shock of arrival. Nobody wanted to invest time or emotion into befriending someone who might be dead in a week.
“I’m talking to you, brother.”
“What do you want?
“I asked if you was doing anything.”
“Does it look like I’m doing anything?”
“No. Looks like you got some time on your hands. That’s good, because I need some help.”
“Help with what?”
“Digging shit holes.”
While Marlowe was sitting on the boulder, listening to the crashing surf and thinking about the past, he saw a familiar figure in the distance. It was Walking Bob, on his endless circuit of the island. Marlowe couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the gaunt, insane man who spent his days and nights just walking. He wondered if Bob was aware of the food situation, or of anything else that happened on the island. The man was so single-minded, so focused on his walking that Marlowe doubted if anything penetrated his wasted brain, other than his next footfall.
As Walking Bob drew nearer, Marlowe saw that he had developed a noticeable limp. It didn’t seem to impede Bob’s progress, but Marlowe felt a pang of concern. The only thing Bob did was walk. If something happened and he couldn’t walk, then what else was there for him?
When Walking Bob came within earshot, Marlowe called out to him, saying the only words that would elicit a response from the mad man.
“Hey, Bob, nice day for a walk.”
Walking Bob replied the same way he always did. “Moving target, baby.”
When Bob limped by, Marlowe returned to his memories. He recalled following Lester out to the latrine area, located on a hill just above the cluster of hootches where most of the islanders lived. The latrine was a trench, about four feet deep and 20 feet long. Several planks spanned the trench and the planks had holes cut into them so the men could sit in some comfort while taking care of their business. A sagging canvas awning had been rigged up above the planks to provide protection from the monsoon rains.
“What we’ve got to do,” Lester explained, “is dig another trench behind this one. We can fill in the old one with the dirt we dig out from the new one.”
Lester waited for Marlowe to say something. When he didn’t respond, Lester continued. “I can understand if you don’t want to do it. It ain’t what you call glamorous work. But somebody’s got to dig a new one. This here old one is just overflowing and nasty. It smells so bad that it takes all the pleasure out of a good shit. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a good shit in the morning.”
Without further conversation, Lester grabbed a shovel and began digging. He dug at a leisurely but efficient rate for about 10 minutes, before stopping to remove his tee-shirt, which was already showing sweat stains from the early morning heat. Then he took a smoke break, sitting on the grassy slope and basking in the sunshine. When he finished, he flicked away the butt, then, looked at Marlowe.
“Well, my man, what are you going to do?”
Much later, Marlowe realized what Lester had actually asked him. The question was asked in such an offhand manner that its importance didn’t register in his mind for several years. What Lester really asked was, “Do you want to live or die?”
Marlowe’s first impulse was to go back to his hootch. He didn’t want to be around people, didn’t want to talk to anyone. He didn’t even want to be alive. He felt dirty, unclean in the biblical sense. Like a wounded animal, he just wanted to return to his den and lie down in darkness.
When he still didn’t answer, Lester got up, dusted his hands, and grabbed the shovel. “Guess I’ll have to dig this shit hole by my own self.”
Marlowe was going to turn around and leave, but found he couldn’t take that first step. It was not in his nature to walk away when there was work to be done. His sense of responsibility battled with his need to hide away and wallow in misery. In the end, his devotion to duty overcame his personal needs. He decided to give Lester a hand digging the shit hole.
It took three days for the two men to dig the new latrine. They worked at an easy but steady pace, taking frequent water and smoke breaks. They didn’t talk much, Marlowe preferring to concentrate on the work. Lester, however, kept up a steady line of chatter, making odd, humorous comments or singing snatches of songs. At one point Lester decided that Marlowe was pushing the pace beyond his liking. “Slow down, brother. Ain’t no buried treasure here, we just digging a shit hole.” Marlowe laughed for the first time since he arrived on the island.
When they broke for lunch, Marlowe accompanied Lester to the supply shed, where they rummaged through the pile of C-Rations for something to eat. Lester picked up two cans and held them out for Marlowe to see.
“What does these say, brother? My eyes is going bad.”
“Beef stew and sliced pears in syrup”
“Good, long as it ain’t scrambled eggs or that nasty spaghetti.”
As they sat in the shade of the supply shed wall, eating their lunches, Lester asked, “You coming back tomorrow?”
“Yeah, might as well finish the job.”
“Glad to hear it. I’ll be here, too, but I’ll be a little late.”
“I got a schedule to keep.”
“What kind of schedule?”
“Tomorrow’s the day I go and check on my boys.”
That night, Marlowe slept well for the first time since arriving on the island. The next morning he was stiff and sore, but was back at the trench and digging at sunrise. A few of the islanders came by to watch Marlowe work. Some introduced themselves and made small talk. A couple of them even lent a hand, digging for a while before finding other things to do. Just before lunch, a scrawny, heavily-bearded man ran up to the trench, grabbed a shovel and began tossing dirt back in the hole that Marlowe had been excavating.
“Hey, what the fuck are you doing!”
The man giggled and kept shoveling dirt back in the trench. Marlowe realized the man was crazy and tossed a rock at him, being careful not to actually hit him. “Go on, get the fuck out of here!”
When Lester returned from “checking on his boys” and saw that Marlowe was still hard at work, stripped to the waist, sweating and streaked with dirt, he nodded in satisfaction.
“We’ll have this particular shit hole dug in no time,” he said, grabbing a shovel and jumping into the trench. “Be able to shit like gentlemen when we get it done.”
That’s how Marlowe learned to live. Lester showed him the way. He would play the horrible hand he had been dealt. He would take on responsibility. He would do the island’s necessary work, create a routine for himself, keep to a schedule and stay busy. He would be what he had once been, someone to rely on, a man who could be trusted to do his duty.
When Lester, eyesight gone and unable to do the work that kept him sane, went for a swim and never returned, Marlowe took over his chores. Every three days, he made a circuit of the island, checking on Lester’s “boys,” who were the island’s hermits, making sure they were still alive. His routine included checking the water pipes, tending to the guide ropes, helping repair the ramshackle hootches by filling sandbags and patching canvas tarps. He scavenged for driftwood on the beach in the afternoons and in the evenings used it for firewood to prepare hot meals. He made his own supply of liquor from canned fruit, although he eventually turned that chore over to Druliner, who showed more of an aptitude for the job. In the evenings he played cards or had a few drinks of Island Lemonade to help him sleep. He considered it a good day when he had worked hard enough to be tired and exhausted at the end of it.
When there was a job to do, whether it was taking a body to Easy Street or digging shit holes, Marlowe was always the first to step up and lend a hand. He took pride in his willingness to work, in his fidelity to duty. His identity, his sanity, his continued existence were all wrapped up in an image he had created simply to survive.
That’s why the present food crisis was so frustrating. For the first time in years he felt completely defeated. All the mechanisms that he had built to help him survive were of no use now. He realized that his schedules, his routines, his willingness to assume responsibility, his need to work, his obsession with keeping busy, were all foolish delusions. The bitter truth was that Marlowe, and all the islanders, were totally reliant on forces beyond their control for their very existence. The islanders couldn’t even feed themselves. It was a cold, hard fact and there was absolutely nothing that Marlowe could do about it.
The good times never last. Just when you think you’ve got life by the nuts, something comes along that makes you realize how naïve and foolish you’ve been. One day you’re on top of the world, the next day a piano falls on your head, or your wife leaves you, or your doctor says you need a liver transplant.
I’ve heard it said that a wise man hopes for the best but prepares for disaster. If that’s true, then I must be a real dumbass, because I never saw the shit storm coming.
My problems began a few years ago when a mangy bastard of an alley cat followed my youngest daughter home and weaseled his way into my household. I did everything I could to chase the flea-ridden fucker away. I threw rocks at him, squirted him with a water hose, and tried to run him over with my power mower, but nothing seemed to work. As a last resort, I was going to shoot him, but the cat was obviously familiar with firearms, because he ducked out of range as soon as he saw me come out of the house with my pistol in hand.
The cat was a tenacious son of a bitch. He wouldn’t take a hint. He just hung around my back porch, grooming his ratty fur, trying to pass himself off as some sort of respectable house pet. Eventually, he endeared himself to my wife and daughters and, against my heated objections, they adopted him. They even gave him a name, calling him Otis.
I expected the worst when I let my wife and daughters talk me into taking in the cat, and I wasn’t disappointed. In a short time, it became painfully obvious that my family cared more for the rotten bastard of a cat than they did for me. For example, when my eldest daughter, who lives a few miles away, comes to visit, she barely acknowledges my presence. Instead, she rushes straight for the cat, picks him up, cuddles with him, and showers him with baby talk.
“What a cutesy little kitty you are. How’s my favorite little guy in the whole world. Ooh, I miss you so much.”
And when my wife comes home, the first thing she asks is if I had fed the cat. She doesn’t seem to care to about my nutritional needs. It was plain to me that I had become a second class citizen in my own home.
A while ago I was sitting in Swillagain’s Saloon, sipping a few cocktails and brooding on this humiliating turn of events, when a guy came in and sat on the stool next to me. He was well dressed and wearing flashy jewelry, but I noticed that his hands were badly scratched and there were deep gouges on his face and neck. We struck up a conversation and, in time, he asked me what I did for a living.
“I’m a famous and wealthy blogger. How about you?”
“I’m a licensed cat broker.”
“A cat broker. I provide cats to pharmaceutical companies for medical experiments.”
“That’s interesting. How does someone end up in that line of work?”
“To get started, you have to get either a Class A or a Class B cat broker’s license. Class A licenses usually go to breeders, because they raise cats specifically for medical experimentation purposes. I’ve got a Class B, which allows me to collect cats from anywhere I can find them. I get cats at animal shelters, find them in alleys, and buy them from private owners.”
“What happens to the cats?”
“Let’s just say it ain’t pretty. I’ve heard all sorts of stories. Some cats get their spinal cords broken so they can be tested with paralysis drugs. Some cats get blinded so researchers can investigate their visual cortexes.”
“One guy told me they deliberately induce strokes in cats by blocking the arteries to the animals’ brains. Another thing they do to cats is anaesthetize them, open their skulls and remove the membranes which line the inside of the head. They let the cats live for a while to see if any cell regeneration has begun, then they kill them and remove their entire brains just to obtain a few nerve cells for study.”
“Very interesting,” I said, considering the possibilities. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”
Just then, the cat broker’s cell phone rang. He spoke in hushed tones for a moment, turned to me and said, “I’ve got to run. One of my contacts informed me that a crazy cat lady just died in Wicker Park and she’s got 93 cats. I’m going to see if I can make a deal with her heirs.”
“Well, it’s been nice chatting with you,” I said.
“Likewise,” he replied.
“By the way, can I get your phone number? I might be able to send some business your way.”
I’m having minor surgery this morning, so I’m posting a blog I wrote a few years ago. It has become a beloved family favorite and I hope you enjoy it.
There are people in this world that better hope I never get diagnosed with a terminal disease. If a doctor ever tells me I’ve got just a few months to live, there are a lot of rotten bastards I’m taking with me.
I’ve got a shit list, and it’s a long one. It goes all the way back to grade school.
I’ve been told there’s a phrase in the Bible that says vengeance belongs to the Lord. Well, I’m not much of a religious guy, so where does that leave me? Besides, I’ve got a lot of grievances. I can’t be certain that the Good Lord will take my side in each case.
No, if there’s any revenging to be done, I’ll have to do it myself.
A while ago, having discovered several new aches and pains, and realizing I wouldn’t live forever, I decided it was time to start settling scores. I was sitting at the kitchen table, making an enemies list, when the lovely Mrs. Milo came by and asked what I was doing.
“I’m making a list.”
“What kind of list?”
“I’m writing down the names of all the low-life sons of bitches I’m going to shoot, stab, strangle and run over with my car in the next few weeks. I’m also planning on chopping up a couple of these cocksuckers with a machete.”
“Milo, have you been drinking?”
“I may have had a smidgen of red wine with lunch.”
“Let me see that list,” she said, and grabbed it off the table. “Are you crazy? What have any of these people ever done to you? And why in the world is your brother-in-law, Bill, on this list?”
“My sister heard about my plans and asked me, as a personal favor, to run over her husband with a car. I said okay.”
With the possible exception of cats, human beings seem to be the only creatures to commit, and take pleasure from acts of vengeance. There’s something deeply satisfying about hearing that something terrible has happened to someone you despise, someone who’s treated you shabbily, abused you, and made your life miserable.
Just imagine how great it would be to find out that someone you truly hated — someone who embezzled your retirement funds, killed your dog or ran off with your wife — had come to a bad end.
Then imagine how much better it would be if you had personally caused this despicable person’s destruction.
Vengeance, after all, requires a personal touch. Random accidents don’t count as proper vengeance. It’s not enough that a person slips on a banana peel and breaks his neck, gets torn apart by a pack of pit bulls, or gets crushed by a falling piano. You have to be the person that leaves the banana peel on the sidewalk, lets the dogs loose, or drops the piano.
And, finally, the object of your vengeance has to know that you are responsible for his or her predicament. Ideally, in the moments before the ambulance arrives, there’ll be enough time for you to walk up to the bleeding, mangled victim and gleefully take credit for their misfortune.
“Hey, Mrs. Shimkus, you remember me?”
“Maybe next time you’ll think twice about giving someone an F in algebra and making him go to summer school.”
I was sitting at my computer, surfing legal aid sites, when I got a phone call from Benny Jay, my esteemed colleague at The Third City. He seemed agitated.
“Milo, your wife just called me. She thinks you’ve lost your mind. She says you’re planning to commit some sort of wholesale slaughter.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“I’m sure you’ve got your reasons. But I have to tell you that, in my opinion, this might reflect poorly on The Third City.”
When I explained my reasoning to Benny, he grew uncharacteristically quiet. After an awkward silence, he said, “Well, I can see your mind is made up, but while you’re at it can you do me a huge favor?”
“Put Hue Hollins on your list.”
“The NBA referee?”
“Yeah, I haven’t had a good night’s sleep since the bastard called that ridiculous foul on Scotty Pippen in game 5 of the 1994 playoffs.”
A couple of hours later, I got a call from my dear friend, Bruce Diksas. I believe he had been drinking. “Hey, Milo. You remember Carlos Rivera, the rotten fucker who hit a king on the river to beat my flush?”
“Consider it done.”
Just before I went to bed, I got a call from my sweet, gray-haired, 88-year-old mother. “Do you remember Mrs. Popovich…”
“Don’t worry, Mom, I’ll take care of it.”
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