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David Pollock

Winston Beak

Soon as I turned eighteen I stopped dying Easter eggs with the old lady, figured it as good an age as any to quit. I'm thirty-four now, still living with mother, and it's become a common belief between the two of us that she's dying and neither of us know how or from what. She eats once a day, hair's thin and she rarely speaks and when she does it's obvious she's dying because she's crude and mean-hearted.

And today, late March, I came downstairs for my breakfast, ham sandwich with the yellow mustard I like, and I said to her, "Today I'm going to buy a shirt to show my support for Winston Beak. I heard on the news this morning that they're selling them up at Veterans' Stadium. It's becoming a vendor's paradise, they say. There's a stand on the other end that's selling French-hating stuff."

She was dying Easter eggs, vinegar scent, and looked over her shoulder. I knew the look, bug-eyed, jaw slung open, skin wrinkled and discolored from years of stupid smoking. "You have to work, Felpman. You want to go back to Wawa?"

"I'm not working at the goddamned Wawa," I said.

"So are you going to work?" And she made like she wanted to stand, and in my heart I believe she could have, but she slumped back in her seat, stretched her legs and picked a hardboiled from the dish filled with tap water and set it in the wire dipper. "Do you want to sit down and help me?"

"I can't color any goddamned Easter eggs," I told her. "I have to go to work. You said it yourself."

I left the kitchen, took the ham sandwich with me and got my racing jacket from the closet. Goddamned son of a bitch, I thought. Got mustard on my sleeve, licked it off and said, "I'll be back before work."

"I'll leave some eggs," she said.

I would dye them at night, when I knew she was sleeping. It's one thing to do what your mother wants you to, then it's another to do it when she can see you.

It took me twenty goddamned minutes to get up to the stadium. There was a line of traffic on the Schukel that made my eyes want to bleed. I listened on the radio for updates on the Beak trial, and when I heard the repeat stories on headline news about how Mr. Beak was said to have been in tears on the court steps the night before, I wanted that shirt more than anything.

He was said to have been impassioned with rage and sadness. He'd been keeping a log every night, and when he was found innocent, for his only crime was exploration, the next episode of his television show would be on the exploitation of the romantic sciences. He was a scholar and a philosopher. "How can I study passions of the female flesh," he'd said, "if I cannot include youth in my diatribe? Were not the greatest poets -- Rilke, Rimbaud and Rudabekker -- profoundly pro-youth?"

I agreed with him, though Rudabekker was the only one of those "poets" I knew. He had one good poem, "Mr. Sells Races Big Blue." Big Blue was a motorcycle, Mr. Sells was a teacher by day, but had a darker side at night, and he raced bikes. One night he raced Big Blue up into this place called Urchin Square, because there were urchins there who liked to watch the motorcycles go down this slope called The Gambler of Urchin Square. Mr. Sells was tired from work, and as he went down The Gambler, like lightening, the poem said, children's voices went through his head. The one I remember: "One day I'll grow to be like my cousin, Dear Tyler," or something, "who once beat the cops in that race from the Armory." The speed got to his head. The teacher curved off the slope, flipped like a coin and broke his neck. The urchins were quiet, but one urchin punched another in the shoulder. An urchin is a schoolboy. This was a great poem.

Veterans' Stadium was crowded, the Phillies were playing an afternoon game. Today was Dress Up Like the Philly Fanatic Day, and I saw two fanatics yelling and pointing at the Winston Beak vendors. They let alone the French haters, who were burning berets and stomping on Jerry Lewis tapes.

"My daughter's thirteen," said one fanatic, voice muffled by the huge green mask, "and I would not want that sleaze in the same mile radius. Or half a mile even."

"He degrades women," said another, and that was all.

There were two Winston Beak vendors who sat side by side behind a long table, selling the shirt I wanted, hats, posters featuring Winston's round shining head, his little eyeglasses set low on his nose. And above, a banner which said: "Free The Working Scientist."

"I want to buy a tee-shirt," I announced, stepping right in front of the fanatics, who moped away, into the stadium. "I need to show my allegiance to the lady's man."

"You can do more than just buy a tee-shirt," said one man who had a mustache, a handsome cowboy type, and he wore a blue jumper. "I'm in charge of the clipboard. Why don't you sign it?"

"I don't want to sign a goddamned clipboard," I told him.

"It puts you on the mailing list," said the cowboy in the jumper. "You'll get updates on the Logs of Winston Beak Show, and if he's found guilty you'll be emailed the logs he keeps in the big house."

The other sat in front of the money box and smiled at me in a way I didn't like, and I know why I didn't like it either: he was trying to make me think they were in on a joke I couldn't know anything about and was probably the butt of.

"Listen," I said. "I just want a goddamned shirt. I've got to go to work in an hour. I can't afford," I told them, "to stand here talking to you monkeys."

"Let me ask you this," said the wise ass with the money box, "sweat or tee?"

My mother of course was going to chew me a new one if I showed up with a short sleeve and it was hardly even spring. I didn't care. I was buying the goddamned shirt for work anyway. Be damned if she ever went with me.

"Tell me something," said the cowboy, "are you really a supporter of Winston Beak?"

I was becoming suspicious.

"You watch the television show?" he said, tapping the clipboard with a pen tied on a string. "Every night? You tape them?"

"What do I tape?"

"The episodes," said money box. "You know, on a VCR."

"I just want a goddamned shirt," I said.

Didn't have a VCR, didn't want one. I never liked television because the old lady liked it too much. Day in, day out she sat in front of the goddamned thing, drinking diet sodas. She used to smoke until she saw that some old friend named Clarice had a lung taken out, and mother quit cold turkey. I liked to drink now and then, I never liked to smoke, so when she quit her habit she came after me about drinking, even though I was hardly having a beer a day. I hound the bitch about her television, that's my thing. But at eleven every night, when she's in bed, I watched my favorite show. She got up once in the middle of the night, had to piss and she heard his aristocratic voice beaming on about secretaries. I remember the episode, remember it well. Dear Winston Beak pacing in front of his loveseat and golden fireplace, speaking of the different kinds of this varied breed of woman, the way they do their hair -- some tied back, some luscious and down -- and the different reasons women become secretaries, how some bitches need the job to support their families, and how there are some temp workers who just need extra cash -- students and richies. Winston Beak preaching on about how it's unfair to compare the sexual behaviors of different kinds of secretaries because they're like apples and oranges. I agreed. It seemed to the ladies' man that the richies and students liked to do him in the office, they used the "workplace" as a playground. The life secretaries, on the other hand, were always happy to go on a date with Winston Beak, married or not, as long as it was outside of the office. My mother came into the living room "This is trash," she said. "Not in my house. Why don't you have a diver, dear, then go to bed."

When I got home, the old lady was laying on the sofa and doing this thing I'd caught her doing before. Never had said anything about it. She held a celery stick in between her two fingers and brought it to and from her mouth like she were smoking it. Standing in the doorway with my Winston Beak short sleeve shirt in a black plastic bag they gave me at the vending table I couldn't resist. Stomped into the living room, stomped down my shoe. She was watching Smugglers' Blues, Le Anderson and Robby Plumb in Hawaiian shirts, busting up drug rings.

"Look at you," I told her, "you're a waste. You mine as well smoke. You mine as well."

"You better not have one of those shirts," said my mother.

"Not in your house, right?" I said. "They're selling them right outside of Veterans' Stadium, before a game. It's America, mommy," I said to her.

And she reminded me I had to go to work, told me I drank too much, dipped her celery in some peanut butter and tuned back into her "story," as she called it.

And in my room I had some kind of experience. You see, I tried the shirt on and looked at myself in the mirror in my bedroom, which was vacant with just a mirror and a bed and some dust, and the shirt was black, short sleeved, in pink letters: WINSTON BEAK IS A SCIENTIST, NOT A CRIMINAL.

And I was reminded of another Rudabekker poem I didn't know I'd remembered so well until now when I realized I was following a martyr, and it strengthened me to know that by doing so I was a martyr as well, or something.

The poem turned out to be called "Taste the Suffering," and here's the part I remembered that I didn't realized I'd remembered:

He stood so bravely, this tough and holey

Scarecrow, looking out over this field, scarce,

Holy. Ruff, ruff, where is that diamond, the dog

Howls, the scarecrow turns, no longer scarecrow.

I was out the door for work, carrying my racing jacket over my arm. Part of my brain probably wanted the old lady to see the shirt I was wearing. When she spoke she was sharp and bitter -- true -- but what made it worse was how breathy her voice was, something calming. "Felpman, turn around. Are you wearing that trash to work?"

"Listen," I said to her, "I'll be damned if you ever go to work with me."

"When you come home have a diver with me," she said.

And then I was out the door for good. And it was going to take me twice as long to get to work because there was another goddamned accident on the Schukel. Well, goddamned. I put the radio on and listened for more updates on Winston Beak, and I began imagining, I couldn't be stopped, my head just went off full gear.

Didn't I see myself at the plant, dressed in my new shirt, standing up for the right to experiment? "Isn't there a problem," I heard myself asking my coworkers, "when the law, instead of assisting its citizens, hinders them in doing their jobs?"

The first one I'd see would be Mike R., supervisor. Sunlight twinkled on my dash. Mike R. lingering around the punch clock, making sure I was going to be late again. I could see it in his eyes, true, just imagining it, that hard stare, and he thought it was a bit funny, too: "You're going to work at Wawa again, baby boy."

He wouldn't expect my shirt; he'd expect the company fit, turquoise button-down and slacks. Today he'd have to deal with a more political statement. "What are you wearing?" he'd say.

I'd respond, "You and my mother. Both of you want to keep a good man down. I stand for justice, I stand for the right to experiment for scientific purposes. Winston Beak is a romantic scientist. He's not a criminal."

The old bastard would be amazed, he'd step back wondering, Where did Felpman learn to speak so intellectually, but he would be so awed he'd say nothing, and I would not have to tell him that I had heard the man himself speak those words.

And Jimmy and Terrence from the boiler room, Sexy Kim from the front desk, Lawrence Cadivide and David Himp from upstairs, executive office, they'd gather around to see what was going down.

Then David Himp, fat mole, he'd step forward, waving his finger around. "We're taking that shirt away from you, Felpman. You're wearing the company fit, just like everybody else. There's been a spill in the boiler room. Get cleaning."

Then the horns started beeping. I was pissed, getting kind of hungry. The ham sandwich wasn't sitting well. Thought I'd have an egg sandwich, then I remembered I'd probably have a diver when I got home. The goddamned horns wouldn't stop beeping. I turned the radio, no news of Winston Beak, but I listened to The Strokes, which were the worst band ever.

"Get a move on, goddamned, whatever, paramedics," is what I yelled out the window because I couldn't stand that some of us could potentially loose our jobs for being late. And today was the day to show the plant where my voice was, with my shirt and all. I kept yelling. They just needed to get the goddamned bodies off the rode. Did it occur to anybody, I wondered, how I would get something to eat before work if I was caught up on the goddamned Schukel.

Now there was a girl in the car next to me. She had a nice silver Toyota, which is a car I'd like to have, and she was looking at me funny and laughing to her friends, which were a guy and a girl in the back. They were all three of them wearing bandannas, and the girl driving was wearing sunglasses. No one was in that front passenger seat, so it looked like she were chauffeuring these people around. And this reminded me of a Winston Beak episode I'd seen just last week. Winston had been speaking about the tendency of certain women to be "subservient," and how this could be good or bad, depending on how the woman looked at her position. For instance, some women were "subservient" because they felt they had to, but didn't really want to. Other women, the good ones, were this way because they wanted to be. "Nothing is better," Winston Beak had said, "than a woman who is eager to serve, for by serving others she is serving herself."

 

 

When I got home that afternoon, the old bitch was on the sofa again, this time watching some game show, and she must have gotten up at some point during the hour I was gone because she'd changed into jeans and a shirt and she was sitting up. I came through the door. She went, "Ohhhh, you wore that trash to work."

I grabbed my shirt and said: "That's right. Company fit, mommy, company fit."

And when I went into the kitchen to get something to eat, seeing as how I never had the time to and got fired anyway, I could tell she'd been dyeing some more of those goddamned Easter eggs because the room smelled of vinegar. And on the table was her display in a great big Pyrex glass bowl, pastel-colored eggs, and in a little side bowl full of tap water were two white hardboiled ones she'd left for me.

"Why are you home early, Felpman? Going back to the Wawa?"

"I'm not working at goddamned Wawa," I said. "I'm putting the radio on."

"They're not saying anything about the trial until it's done, and that could take weeks. Sit down and have a diver with me if you're not going to dye the eggs."

"I'm going to dye the goddamned eggs," I told her and sat at the table.

She went to the fridge, took out a carton of milk and poured two glasses. She brought them to the table and sat across from me.

"Do you want to use one of the eggs I dyed? I know you like the colors, dear."

"Yeah," I told her, "I like the colors."

She made my diver first, took an egg that was colored pink on top and yellow on bottom, cracked it, folded the shells up in a napkin and dropped the hardboiled into the milk. Some spilled over and tinkled down the glass. "Here you go, dear," she said. Some of the color from the egg, that had sunk through the shell, it got mixed up in the milk and discolored it just a bit. I had my diver like I always like them. Take a sip of the milk, nibble the top off the egg, then break the egg up with a fork and swirl it. It's messy, so I do it over a saucer, and when I'm done what's in the glass I'll drink up whatever fell out.

"You know," I said, "nobody at work, nobody I talk to all day drinks a diver."

She grinned a little and cracked an egg for her own drink.

"Winston Beak has divers," I told her. "I heard it on E!"

"We're the only people who have divers, dear," she said. "The only two people in the world."


David Pollock will be completing his MFA in fiction in May at The New School. His story, "The Children's Hour" will appear in The Crucifix is Down, which is to be published by Red Hen Press.

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