Bennie Rosa ~ Micro Boy Never Loved Christina

It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” ― W.C. Fields

We might deny it, but most of us don’t like who we are. Maybe we pre­tend we’re some­one else. Maybe we don’t know, or, maybe we just don’t care.  Take me for instance. My name is Carl. But it wasn’t when I returned home from work that hot June day in Troy Hills; it was Frank, Frank Stanley.

~

I’m no genius, but it didn’t take one to fig­ure the pow­er was out. I knew my con­do would be an oven, and it was, so I grabbed a Schlitz Lite from the dead refrig­er­a­tor and dragged a kitchen chair out to the bal­cony. I need­ed some air.

Just as I tried to take a deep breath, the wind came up and I got a mouth­ful of sand for my trou­ble, prov­ing beyond a doubt that keep­ing your mouth shut, in gen­er­al, is a good idea, not that I’ve ever put much stock in good ideas.

Oh, and my can of Schlitz Lite, it tast­ed like shit, so I threw it as far as I could into the park­ing lot below.

Boris Yemenski, the short stocky Russian with the pen­cil mous­tache who ran the con­do com­plex, ran past my bal­cony, hold­ing his arms up.  I want­ed to whine about the pow­er out­age but he ran too fast.  He flexed his gun tatts with­out break­ing stride.

I could see Mrs. Mannering flail­ing away on her bal­cony, push­ing about sev­en­ty in her half-opened kimono that flapped in the wind like a Japanese flag of con­quest. She kept point­ing at the steel curlers in her hair and wav­ing at Boris to come up and fix her sit­u­a­tion. Her dull yel­low hair looked like wet straw and her skin was thin and crispy like fried cel­lo­phane. She usu­al­ly wore very tight dress­es.

Before I knew it, she dis­ap­peared into her con­do and so did Boris. I didn’t see him after that. Management can often be a com­plex sys­tem of trade­offs and com­pro­mis­es, but I had con­fi­dence in Boris.

The storm arrived. My three girl­friends that lived along the riv­er, Justine, Josie and Jewel, were all being shak­en like rag dolls by spoiled chil­dren. Even trees can become girl­friends when you haven’t had a date in a long time.  I won­dered if Boris was enjoy­ing him­self. Something sharp hit my face.

A trick­le of blood came out of my right cheek and down the front of my shirt.  I looked around to see who threw it.  The minute I real­ized the wind did it, I decid­ed to take it like a man. I impressed myself with my grace under fire as I wiped the blood away, keep­ing my fin­ger on my cheek. I must have looked pre­cious.

All the lights came on, and went off again. Boris still had time.  I start­ed think­ing porno­graph­i­cal­ly about Mrs. Mannering. Her skin became soft and firm, her breasts became larg­er and pinker. Her hus­band worked the night shift at the Walmart on Heath Place.

I could hear Sol Stein’s deep boom­ing voice next door.  He was blow­ing word bombs at his son Billie to study hard and make some­thing of him­self. Even I knew it was point­less. It was the same speech I’d heard myself, years before, by my own Sol. It was point­less then.

My can of thrown beer had some­how land­ed on the roof of Sol’s new SUV, his pride and joy, the shiny black one with the Tech Package. For a split sec­ond I con­vinced myself that I threw the brew for Billie. I made believe I was Billie’s hero and that I could save him.

The roar­ing wind muf­fled the rest of Sol’s mono­logue, but not the slam­ming of the door.   I knew Annie Stein was plead­ing with Billie to stay.

At most, the whole death scene took five sec­onds. I’d heard gun­shots before, so I ducked behind my bal­cony wall and watched Billie became an instant mem­o­ry, unbe­knownst to Billie.  The pass­ing storm buried Billie in dead leaves and garbage. Hard to know why, but the last thing Billie did was embrace the left front tire of Sol’s pride and joy. Maybe they’re right. Maybe we are what we dri­ve, after all.

I decid­ed not to waste my time con­sol­ing the Steins. I did­n’t like them any­way and I was pret­ty sure the feel­ing was mutu­al. Besides, I could hear the cops’ canned con­so­la­tions, so why both­er.

The Steins once told me to leave Billie alone and stop giv­ing him bad ideas. I told them how to raise him right. They told me to be the Jew I real­ly was and to stop hid­ing from the truth. That was the last con­ver­sa­tion we ever had, because I thought I’d dis­cov­ered some­thing new, that there were hyp­ocrites every­where, which turned out to be a good place to hide for a while.

When I legal­ly changed my name from Stanley Frankowitz to Frank Stanley, I became Frank Stanley, and that was that. The air con­di­tion­ing came on.

When I woke up the next morn­ing, I found myself guilty. Somehow, I killed Billie myself. Somehow, every­thing changed right then.

I dropped my last moldy bagel into the toast­er and hoped for the best, fol­lowed by a lame promise to myself to enjoy my morn­ing despite the slideshow of death that kept shuf­fling and reshuf­fling itself in my head. It wouldn’t quit, even when I went back to the bal­cony to see if it had all been a bad dream. But there was Sol, in the park­ing lot, clean­ing the Schlitz off the roof of his SUV. He was stand­ing on the chalk out­line of Billie’s head.

I went back inside and Googled myself, any­thing to stop the slideshow. And then that loop start­ed all over again.

It took a while, but I final­ly found myself. I was num­ber 68 of 12,761. I was on page four. Then I read my mother’s fake maid­en name and the loop stopped.

~

Like most home secu­ri­ty com­pa­nies, ‘Tracers’ was a scam. The day I was hired by ‘Tracers’ as a Programmer, I had ‘opt­ed out’ of shar­ing any of my per­son­al infor­ma­tion. To be on the safe side, I plant­ed a mark­er in my data in case they didn’t com­ply with their promise of con­fi­den­tial­i­ty. Sometimes it’s bet­ter to be stu­pid than naïve.

Pete’s Open-Door Policy, Peter Browning, CEO of Tracers, went like this: My door is always open but I’m not, so come on in.  What angered Pete was­n’t that I walked in unan­nounced or that I angri­ly threw a print­out of my Google ID on his desk, it was that I replaced his face on the twen­ty or so screens in his office with my own Personnel Profile.

What’s that?” asked the CEO.

It’s me… Pete.”

So?”

I opt­ed out of shar­ing my per­son­al data.”

Pete speed-dialed Personnel. “Cut Frank Stanley’s last check and have it ready for him in five min­utes. He’s on his way.”

As he end­ed that call, he looked up at me and smiled. The streaks of sun­light that came through his win­dows made bro­ken dia­monds across his face and grey streaked hair. “You know what your prob­lem is Frank?” I refused to answer. He wait­ed and wait­ed and wait­ed some more.

Values Frank, you’ve got val­ues.” His white teeth glis­tened in the sun­light as he smiled at me and extend­ed his hand from behind his desk. I smiled back and walked out.

Charlie and Mike met me at Payroll and hand­ed me a card­board box with my stuff. They were the two Security Guards who escort­ed me out and made believe they did­n’t know me. I tried to think like they must have been think­ing at that moment, but I could­n’t.

I was free now, except for one thing. That damn loop came back!

~

There were still a cou­ple of weeks left before the new school year would start.

Ten years hadn’t changed any­thing. New York City smelled the same. I didn’t get why the hope I was feel­ing felt like anger. But then I got it right away when I passed a head-phoned man walk­ing up the stairs at the Union Square Station. For no appar­ent rea­son, just the sight of me must have pissed him off. He told me to go fuck myself.  I thanked him for his feed­back and con­tin­ued down the stairs.

As I wait­ed for the train to take me back to Brooklyn, I tried to guess what the ‘L’ in L Train stood for. ‘Loser’ became my only choice when I real­ized that jour­neys back are nev­er mul­ti­ple-choice.

The hiss­ing of the clos­ing doors sound­ed final. I looked up at an ad above the doors. It showed an old­er man and maybe his grand­daugh­ter walk­ing by them­selves on a snow-white beach. The cap­tion read: ‘Don’t let your retire­ment stop you from enjoy­ing your life.’ The sky above them was a blue I’d nev­er seen before. A palm tree bent away from the water.

It was now me and my back­pack, rid­ing an emp­ty sub­way car, hold­ing on as the train picked up too much speed and start­ed rock­ing like a laun­dro­mat wash­ing machine.

The old man from the ad was walk­ing towards me, but he kept look­ing over his shoul­der at the young girl wob­bling her way towards him in the careen­ing train. She held her arms out aim­ing her­self at him.

The screech­ing train jolt­ed to a stop and the doors flew open. When I looked around, the two of them were gone.

The sign at the Saratoga Avenue Station was dec­o­rat­ed with that col­or­ful, con­fi­dent graf­fi­ti, the kind they now call art even though it isn’t. I could see from the plat­form that the old neigh­bor­hood was still filthy and nec­es­sary. The fly­ing white horse was now full of bul­let holes, but still fly­ing above the gas sta­tion, now aban­doned.

The heavy thump­ing beat com­ing from Camacho’s Latin Music Store gave every­thing a pulse and the scream­ing sirens cry­ing wolf gave it a voice.

Everything I owned was in my back­pack. The weight of it pushed me down the ele­vat­ed sub­way sta­tion stairs faster than I want­ed to go. Three Puerto Rican Billies sur­round­ed me at the bot­tom of the stairs. One of them squeezed my back­pack like a man­go. As a cho­rus they asked me if I was Jewish. I told them no and they laughed and asked me for mon­ey. I thanked them for their request, but would they like to die because I kill for dope. They flicked their cig­a­rette butts at me and walked away.

As I walked, the smell of plan­tain chips fry­ing in ran­cid oil hit me hard. Then the stench of rot­ting garbage and backed up sew­ers took over, it was fresh. I wit­nessed what hap­pens when you take recy­cling too seri­ous­ly as the scav­engers ate the garbage and the drunks drank the sewage.

I turned the cor­ner and there it was, 945 Dumont Ave, which used to be 945 MLK Boulevard, which used to be 945 Ithaca Ave.

A busy­body woman in curlers, no com­par­i­son to Mrs. Mannering, was yelling at the top of her lungs out of a 4th Floor win­dow at maybe her son to stop talk­ing to hood­lums and go to work already before they’d fire him. She looked at me to see if I agreed.  My pre­tend­ed neu­tral­i­ty was weak and no match for her eyes and the smile on her face which thanked me for agree­ing with her.

Right away I remem­bered that it didn’t take much to live there, or die there. But I didn’t have a coin to flip to see which one was mine. The buzzer that lets you in was on per­ma­nent buzz, so all you had to do was push, which I did. I should have known bet­ter.

I couldn’t tell where he was from, but after some sign lan­guage like open­ing a door with a key, the dirty t‑shirt land­lord gave me the key to the dump I was about to call home. The sound of my foot­steps echoed off the stone walls like bad acid trip ele­va­tor music. The one lyric to the song was on the wall. ‘Micro Boy loves Christina 4eVer’.

Apartment 202 caught me by sur­prise. I’d for­got­ten about Alex. He used to live there with his moth­er.  He moved back to Poland after she killed her­self. Not that I was an expert on the sub­ject, but since then I’ve learned that peo­ple die all the time.

202’s brown met­al door was stuck shut. I kept hit­ting it with my shoul­der.

A young black kid was run­ning up the stairs. He gave me a smirk of approval.  I smirked back and told him to go fuck him­self. He grabbed his crotch at me and glid­ed up the stairs, four steps at a time. I couldn’t fig­ure out why his foot­steps were silent.

~

Principal Marcia Kaplan hadn’t aged grace­ful­ly, but her arro­gance must have dis­cov­ered the foun­tain of youth.

Had I known it was you, Stanley, I wouldn’t have hired you. But since it’s too late to do any­thing about it right now, I’ll have to live with my deci­sion, for now.”

Marcia, if I can call you Marcia, I can teach these kids. I know I can.”

No.”

No what?”

No, you can’t call me Marcia. You can call me Principal Kaplan. Familiarity breeds con­tempt, and so on.”

The pen­cil she was stab­bing the air with broke as she stabbed her desk with it. Her arro­gance had mor­phed into road rage, not easy to do when you sit­ting behind a desk. She pumped the brakes a lit­tle.

Tell me, why did you change your name Stanley?”

Well, your name isn’t Principal Kaplan, is it Marcia? Why should I call you some­thing you’re not, Marcia?”

That goosed her. She stood up and rearranged her black out­fit and curled her fin­ger at me.  She hadn’t changed and the Intermediate School 242 that used to be Junior High School 242 hadn’t changed either. And although I thought I knew the answer already, I was about to find out if stu­dents had changed.

She fast-walked me up to my class­room where the stu­dents had already made them­selves com­fort­able. As the door opened in front of her, she poked her head in.

Class, I want to intro­duce Mr. Stanley. He’s your new Homeroom teacher. Please make him feel wel­come.”

Marcia was still pret­ty strong. She shoved me in from behind. A loud fart came from the back of the class­room and many of the stu­dents laughed, a few did­n’t.

Yep, smells like Stanley,” said a female voice from the back.

Kaplan slammed the door.

They all had smart­phones which they held like cru­ci­fix­es.

If you’re going to throw stuff at me when I turn around, do me a favor and wait a sec­ond so I can take my self­ie with you first.”

Nothing came next. I sat on my chair with my legs up on the desk while they played video games with each oth­er. I ignored them. When it was time for them to go to their next class, I ignored them. As they walked out, a few of them tried to look at what I was doing on my phone.

On my sec­ond day I found my way into their social media. For a while, my meme was anony­mous. Then they got it and they were good with it. In fact, a few of them thought it was pret­ty fun­ny and then a few more want­ed to know how I did it. These were the nat­u­ral­ly curi­ous ones. Maria, Maria Gomez, was one of them. She was bright, inquis­i­tive, pos­i­tive, and every­one’s friend. I fig­ured out quick­ly that gain­ing her trust was crit­i­cal. She qui­et­ly spread the word that they need­ed to give me a chance to prove myself. It worked. Even the die-hards gave in but it took a full two months, which put them behind in the school cur­ricu­lum.

I made sure I told them as often as I could that I would nev­er betray their trust, no mat­ter what, but, I had to prove it.

Then we flipped roles. They taught me their Family Rules. Rule #1 — Every mem­ber of the fam­i­ly had to be avail­able to all the oth­ers 24/7, not the fake 24/7, the real 24/7. So, I made myself avail­able to all of them when­ev­er they need­ed me.

Curriculums, not the rea­sons for why they exist, have to be fol­lowed. I worked the cur­ricu­lum into our social media. At first, they snapped to it but ignored it. But when I turned it into a video game called Beat the System, their test scores zoomed to the top of all the oth­er class­es in the school, they actu­al­ly beat the sys­tem or cur­ricu­lum or what­ev­er you want to call the thing that was intend­ed to keep them down. People took notice. Marcia thought I had taught them how to cloak their cheat­ing.

Unfortunately for Marcia, the stu­dents actu­al­ly start­ed learn­ing. Unfortunately for me, suc­cess breeds con­tempt.

Dejuan Howard earned his liv­ing as a PE teacher, but, earned his favor by snitch­ing. He was the self-appoint­ed hall mon­i­tor that spent all his free time, includ­ing lunch breaks, roam­ing the hall­ways and look­ing, for oppor­tu­ni­ties.

The School Policy of ‘No open win­dows for the safe­ty of our stu­dents’, could not, under any cir­cum­stances, be bro­ken. What we need­ed at that moment was air. The stu­dents could­n’t breathe, let alone think. So, I decid­ed to open the win­dows.

In case any of you are plan­ning on jump­ing out of these win­dows, please don’t.”

The two-cough warn­ing from Ersie Jefferson made it clear, the snitch was look­ing. Everyone ignored the snitch but knew exact­ly what was com­ing. I saw him. I was in the mid­dle of a Social Studies les­son on the Declaration of Independence. In less than two min­utes Marcia in red appeared at the door, doing her fin­ger curl.

And don’t for­get stu­dents. At the same time that George Washington, the Father of our coun­try, was declar­ing that all men were cre­at­ed equal, he was wear­ing den­tures made from the teeth of his own slaves.”

Can I see you for a sec­ond Mr. Stanley?”

Certainly Marcia. Excuse me for one sec­ond class.”

Mr. Howard, please take over while I speak to Mr. Stanley in my office.”

The smirk­ing snitch glowed.

At that point in the school year, my six-day sus­pen­sion was the end of my career. So, I walked home as the texts poured in. The one that made me feel the best was the one from Maria. It was uplift­ing and kind and thanked me for stand­ing up for all of the Family mem­bers and that they were all behind me. I thanked her for her kind­ness.

I felt fun­ny walk­ing home. The heat wave in the city smoth­ered every­thing. There was one win­dow in my apart­ment that could be opened. It led out to the fire escape. Unfortunately, there was no fire and there was no escape, so I wait­ed for more words. None came.

Two hours lat­er, a text came from Ersie. It said that Maria had been killed by a speed­ing taxi as she crossed Saratoga Ave. ‘She was tex­ting you, Mr. Stanley, and not pay­ing atten­tion to the traf­fic. She was killed just before send­ing you the text.’

I texted the Family that I was on my way to Maria’s home. I knew that no mat­ter what I would tell her par­ents it couldn’t be heard. The death of a child is deaf­en­ing and unfair. The tears of her friends could­n’t con­sole Sixto and Soledad, Maria’s par­ents. Everyone told me it was­n’t my fault. But, the look in Sixto’s eyes became a weapon.

Marcia fired me in her office. None of her words made their way into my brain except ‘you caused this’ and ‘irre­spon­si­ble’. Those words I knew.

As I passed the fam­i­ly in the hall­way, I turned off my phone. I could­n’t look at them.

~

I didn’t like it much, sit­ting on a park bench, get­ting rained on, off and on.

You should lis­ten to him, you know. He’s got some­thing impor­tant to tell you,” said an old man in a Mets cap who had stopped in front of me. He point­ed his umbrel­la at a near­by tree.

That bird, the lit­tle red one up there in the tree. His name is Silhouette.”

Then he sat down next to me and intro­duced his Chihuahua. “His name is Cupcake; in case you’re inter­est­ed.”

I’m not.”

Looking up at the sky didn’t work. The dog gave a low growl, which was amus­ing since he had no teeth. I tried the sky strat­e­gy again.

I bought the ash­es of Somerset Maugham years ago at a Flea Market on Pitkin Avenue, tripped out in India and found myself sell­ing dig­i­tal Christmas lights to Tibetan Monks in the Himalayas. To this day, mind you, to this day I have no idea how I got back home.” He shrugged off his own words. The dog growled at me again.

What’s his prob­lem?”

Nothing. It’s just that you remind him of some­one. He’s seen a pho­to­graph of this per­son for his whole life so he thinks he knows him.” He paused for a sec­ond and cupped his hand over his mouth and whis­pered to me like we’d known each oth­er for­ev­er. “But he does­n’t real­ly know him. But, I have to agree, there is a resem­blance.” He very gen­tly pat­ted the dog’s head and said “He’s ok baby, he’s ok.”

He con­tin­ued on. “I spread the ash­es on the heat­ing rocks of a Brighton Beach shvitz and inhaled as much of it as I could.  But in case that would­n’t work, I kept some in a shot glass in my kitchen cab­i­net as a back­up. I thought that if I put it in a glass of warm tea, one day, and drank it, I could chan­nel Maugham, when I final­ly got around to writ­ing my nov­el, which I nev­er did, by the way.”

Why?”

Why, because after I drank that glass of tea, I debat­ed with myself for twen­ty-three years about whether or not drink­ing his ash­es was the same thing as can­ni­bal­ism.  Couldn’t fig­ure it out, so, well, here I am, still debat­ing… But if I do, I’ve got the title for it. It will be called ‘Sanity as a Second Language. The User Manual.’ He nod­ded slight­ly as if he agreed with his own inde­ci­sion.

I had a feel­ing he wouldn’t stop.

My sto­ry can­not be stopped. It’s like this rain.” And right on cue the rain start­ed again. He opened his umbrel­la over both of us. “It feeds my flow, which is an out-of-con­trol riv­er. It goes on for­ev­er, what­ev­er for­ev­er is.” He caught his breath. “You would think that by now I would have fig­ured it all out, being the bro­ken-down piece of shit that I am. It’s unfor­tu­nate, though. Too many things to fig­ure out when you get old.”

I thought I’d final­ly reached my lim­it, so I stood up to leave. But the old man gen­tly pulled me back and hand­ed me what looked like a plain white busi­ness card. It read ‘Murray The Bitch, F.B.A.’

What’s an F.B.A.?”

Freelance Bullshit Artist. I’m a sales­man. I cre­ate it and sell it. For instance, for you, here’s what I would tell you.  You can’t feast on life if your dessert is regret. And I’m sure you’re think­ing to your­self, that’s bull­shit, which it is, but maybe not. And that’s my point. The truth is I can’t stop lying. So, no mat­ter what I tell you, even if I tell you it’s a lie, you’ll still want more.”

Listen, I lie to myself all the time. I don’t need any help from you.”

Actually, you do”, insist­ed Murray. “You’ll see. Oh, and in case you want to know, I’m also on the web. Actually, I used to have my own You Tube Channel until they delet­ed it, which is too bad real­ly. No mat­ter though, because now I live in the Dark Web under the alias ‘Jack Webb in Drag’, not drag­net.  All Jack want­ed were facts. Not me.  Why, because facts are bull­shit. All I want are lies that sell, the hell with facts. So, if you’d like me to reg­u­lar­ly lie to you it’ll cost you a flat $15/Month, which is my entry lev­el Plan called UB, Unlimited Bullshit. Want anoth­er free sam­ple?”

No.”

Ok, remem­ber, that every­thing I’m going to tell you is bull­shit.  So, here you are, sit­ting on this bench and I decide to sit down next to you, right?”

Yeah, so?”

Then I told you about my jour­ney through my Hindu Hell and my can­ni­bal­is­tic ten­den­cies as a neo­phyte writer, right?”

I couldn’t respond because I became par­a­lyzed by my bore­dom.

O.k., lis­ten care­ful­ly because this is the crux. Are you sure you’re lis­ten­ing?”

Yes.”

O.k., Cancer is noth­ing more than a man­i­fes­ta­tion of Schopenhauer’s Will. That’s right. It’s the force that’s every­where, all the time.  Everyone gets some of it, but some peo­ple, for what­ev­er rea­son, get an excess amount because that Will has a mind of its own?  Example, no one is immune from insan­i­ty which arrives like thun­der from with­in and when it arrives it can’t be stopped. So, what hap­pens when insan­i­ty fights can­cer?  Simple, you have Communism in a no-rev­o­lu­tion takeover. Everything works for the good of the peo­ple. So, if you die, so be it.”

So what?”

Murray answered.  “Exactly. Because Communistic entre­pre­neurs like myself con­trol their own des­tinies, for the good of the peo­ple of course.  The sam­ple I just gave you was a teas­er. There’s more, in fact there’s always more. And, if you doubt me, remem­ber this. Once you become a sub­scriber, it will be, I promise you, all about you! So, just keep that in mind. You will be your own addic­tion, and you’ll nev­er be able to get enough of your­self, which is cov­ered by the fee. You will become the dope of you.”

~

Eternity can come in many sizes. Mine came in a two-week pack­age of bore­dom and self- pity, not to men­tion iso­la­tion. I talked to no one, includ­ing the old man and his chi­huahua, who hap­pened to be walk­ing by my favorite bench in Betsy Head Park. No telling what would come out of his mouth.

Hey. Hey you, Murray, I’m ready to be a mem­ber.”

He gen­tly stopped. “If you are, remem­ber, that every­thing I’m going to tell you is bull­shit.” He held up one fin­ger and added, “But, includ­ed with your UB are ‘free’ nuggets of what is known as The Truth. However, there’s a kick­er. The amount of Truth will change from time to time.”

I could­n’t tell if Cupcake was nod­ding in approval or just breath­ing hard. Murray want­ed to talk about Add-Ons.

The per­cent of Truth you get depends on the lev­el you’re buy­ing. Your basic UB, Unlimited Bullshit, comes with a stan­dard plus or minus ten per­cent Truth. But you can buy up to one hun­dred per­cent Truth if you choose, but even I have to admit, it’s a lit­tle pricey. And the truth about the Truth is that it’s nev­er revealed. And, if you recall, even Truth is bull­shit.”

I recall.”

OK, are you ready?”

I am.”

I took out my last ten and five and hand­ed them to Murray. He would­n’t take it and smiled with a qui­et “Don’t wor­ry about that now.” It took him a while to sit down on the bench and put Cupcake on his lap.

O.K., there was a time when I was my own Rorschach Test. I lived in a world of robot memes. No mat­ter where I went, they sur­round­ed me.  When I left the Himalayas, I found myself in Plato’s Cave. Shadows of Reality are Greek for bull­shit. By the way, it’s actu­al­ly in Turkey not Greece, the cave I mean.  Did you know that Turkey exists in dual but sep­a­rate par­al­lel dimen­sions?  One exists in the pre-dawn apoc­a­lypse and the oth­er in a total­i­tar­i­an agnos­ti­cal­ly reli­gious state of semi-democ­ra­cy.  Is it Troy or Gobekli Tepe? Who knows, but my point is that I saw trac­ers from my inner bitch direct­ing me away from the real me which was dead or did­n’t exist, take your pick. And did you know that these things die as soon as you think about them? That fast.” He snapped his fin­gers in my face.

Ok Murray, who the fuck are you?”

Who am I? Good ques­tion. I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the Fourth Stooge, that’s who I am. It was Moe who chris­tened me Bitchy. Don’t let any­one tell you that Shlep was the Fourth.  I met Moe at a Think Tank in Santa Barbara where we were both sub­merged in a vis­cous liq­uid of Hollywood Showbiz urine and raw sewage from San Quentin.  Believe it or not you can actu­al­ly think in that shit, but don’t ask me how. Anyway, we were final­ly flushed out of there and we found our­selves in the Cemetery State known as Popularity, as defined by the Wikipedia Encyclopedia of Illiterate Excuses. And what I learned from that expe­ri­ence is this; I should have tak­en Moe’s slaps, not as Hate from an Asshole, but as Love from a Corpse.  So, I left that ceme­tery as a mist in the twi­light and start­ed my own career as a Freelance Bullshit Artist. Does that answer your ques­tion?”

After I answered “Yes”, I walked home shak­ing my head like an old Chihuahua.

~

He had a truthy way of deal­ing with ques­tions that weren’t ques­tions. For instance, I decid­ed to ask this, since he said it would be all about me;

What’s worse, know­ing the Truth or deal­ing with it?”

The Cult of The Ignorant is pop­u­lat­ed by the Goat People of Stupidia. I learned this in the Sudan where a local trib­al chief­tain bought my ass on the black mar­ket, which, by the way, is not restrict­ed to black­ness. He believed I was a white shaman in a reverse dream sequence of nev­er-end­ing fan­tasies fueled by drugs, intel­lec­tu­al pom­pos­i­ty and lin­guis­tic slights-of-hand. The Truth, which for you is now Thirty Percent, is that as a slave to him I learned the true val­ue of free­dom — which, by the way, ain’t much, despite what you’ve prob­a­bly been told.”

What I’ve already learned is that free­dom has no val­ue and nei­ther does truth. They just are.”

Exactly, because Freedom is Fear. The only Freedom you will ever know is and can only be, Experience,” Texted Murray.

I’m pret­ty sure I know Fear.”

No, you don’t.”

Oh yes I do.”

I was in denial once myself, when I lived with a cult that believed in Vegetarianism as a way of life. They sac­ri­ficed their chil­dren to their Great God, Algo Rithma, who pre­dict­ed with great accu­ra­cy when and where each child would die by the hands of their par­ents.  So, their mantra, which at that time was ‘Eat a Carrot, Kill a Kid’ took hold of me for ten years until I actu­al­ly real­ized that they had it all wrong, back­wards in fact. It actu­al­ly was, and this end­ed my denial, which is where I am right now, ‘Eat a kid, Kill a Tree’. My Maugham Smoothie was my val­i­da­tion.”

And you denied that it was the right thing to do?”

No, I was in denial that it was part of Schopenhauer’s Will and that I had absolute­ly no say, per se, in deny­ing it. See?”

Not real­ly.”

Well, take my lat­est self-hack for exam­ple. I’m going to build a giant phal­lic sym­bol out of Legos and start a new Fund Me cam­paign for Phallic Freedom of Thought. And what, you might ask, is Phallic Freedom of Thought?  It is the pro­mo­tion of an intel­lec­tu­al envi­ron­ment where­in you will be able to think and live phal­li­cal­ly with­out reli­gious, gov­ern­men­tal or social recrim­i­na­tion of any kind.”

Sounds pret­ty use­less.”

Well, we all do it in any­way.  Why not do it with­out fear or wor­ry?”

I thought you said Freedom is Fear.”

Being free isn’t always desir­able. We’re all hooked on Will as our per­ma­nent addic­tion any­way, so, metho­d­on­ing our addic­tions with a lit­tle fake free­dom is o.k. My Fund Me cam­paign is just a minor inter­ven­tion, just a minor diver­sion real­ly. And, of course, a few extra bucks nev­er hurt.”

~

Sometimes, the sound of laugh­ter can either make you sick or make you won­der why you didn’t get it.

I was sit­ting on my rusty fire escape when I heard it from the fire escape above.

It was Murray and Cupcake.  The old man was laugh­ing and his dog was lip-sync­ing.  They were like an old mar­ried cou­ple fin­ish­ing each oth­er’s thoughts and mouthing each oth­er’s words. No won­der they were laugh­ing.

That you Murray?” He kept laugh­ing.

We were just dis­cussing how easy it is these days to make a buck. A man has to earn a liv­ing you know. No get­ting around it. Look at me.  I sold my TV, bought a lap­top, got a smart phone, changed my look, got sub­scribers and now look at me. I’m liv­ing off the land.”

There’s no land in Brownsville.”

Oh yes there is.” He raised his left eye­brow. “It’s the land of where you real­ly live, that is, of course, if you choose to live there. You can GPS your ass or live in the big Strip Joint in the Sky get­ting lap dances from the Grim Reaper, that’s where. Ever see a nine­ty-three-year-old Brooklyn Jew in skin­ny jeans?”

Nope.”

Take a good look.” He stood up and showed me his trendy jeans, elec­tric orange sneak­ers and tight-fit­ting T- Shirt that had some­thing writ­ten on the front in large black let­ters. “See?”

What’s it say?”

He point­ed to the words.  “It says, ‘Nothing but Net Bitch’.” He very slow­ly crawled back through his win­dow and into his apart­ment.  I had no idea that he lived right above me, in 302, the apart­ment I grew up in.

He poked his head back out of his win­dow and said, “It was a gift from my so-called friends.”

~

I found out soon enough that his ‘so-called friends’ were most­ly The 369.

Who they were didn’t mat­ter much, to them or any­one else that lived in the build­ing. Most of them hung out in front of Murray’s place, a few in front of the build­ing. As far as I was con­cerned, I had enough stuff to wor­ry about so I nev­er gave them much thought.

They were most­ly young men and a few girls, and if rep­u­ta­tions mat­tered, they were sup­posed to be ruth­less. They had a lot of mon­ey from what­ev­er they did. Was killing includ­ed in what­ev­er? Probably.

At first, I could­n’t fig­ure out why they tol­er­at­ed me. All I knew was that their friend­ly nods felt good. Maybe it was Murray. Maybe it was the Family. One thing I soon real­ized was that it wasn’t dumb luck.

By July 4th my inde­pen­dence and free­dom ran out. I ran out of mon­ey and food. I couldn’t pay my rent.

Then things start­ed appear­ing at my door, like food in card­board box­es. A loose twen­ty, usu­al­ly tucked in there some­where, or some­times fold­ed into a paper air­plane, in case I need­ed some enter­tain­ment.

~

I couldn’t accept the gifts. I left them with a note thank­ing them for their kind­ness.

I ambled around the Super 3 like the unpro­fes­sion­al shoplifter I was. The own­er wasn’t fooled for a sec­ond and slammed me up against the chichar­ron rack. The roll and lunch meat fell out from under my shirt.

Call the cops Frankie. I’m sick of these ass­holes steal­ing every­thing I’ve got. I’m sick of it.”

Frankie the secu­ri­ty guard at the Super 3 was an off-duty moon­light­ing cop that had worked the neigh­bor­hood for a long time. He pulled the own­er aside and whis­pered in his ear.

The own­er picked up the roll and meat and shoved it in my chest. Then he told me to get the fuck out and don’t come back, ever again. I didn’t say a word and I didn’t apol­o­gize. Hunger equal­izes every­thing, includ­ing humil­i­a­tion. I’d nev­er tast­ed any­thing that good before or since.

I decid­ed to go to Murray’s for dessert.

I had a friend once,” said Murray as his eyes teared up. “His name was Carl. We drank schnapps togeth­er. We orga­nized Unions and even joined the Merchant Marines togeth­er. But he decid­ed to die first and I’ve been wait­ing for his phone call ever since.” He paused for a minute. “You may be Carl and I can’t take the chance that you aren’t so allow me to put a lit­tle schnapps in your tea and give you a wel­come home hug.”

He poured some whiskey in my tea and we spent the rest of the after­noon talk­ing about the dif­fer­ences between law and jus­tice and about the last man to actu­al­ly think one com­plete­ly clear thought, Socrates, who by the way, accord­ing to Murray, was­n’t as smart as peo­ple thought he was. But, his one clear thought, ‘noth­ing to be pre­ferred before jus­tice’ was pure genius, but the rest of his so-called phi­los­o­phy was­n’t much.

When you live in the Dark Web,” said Murray, “you’re home­less. This is a fact that can’t be denied and every­one who lives there, well, they’re all home­less. It’s actu­al­ly a require­ment for liv­ing there. It only asks for one thing, your Social Security Number. Then you get the Code of Life.”

~

Whenever I could­n’t sleep or when­ev­er I felt the sor­ri­est for myself, I some­how found myself in Murray’s apart­ment. As usu­al his door was wide open and there were a few 369’s hang­ing out.  One of them, I found out lat­er it was Micro Boy, was sit­ting next to Murray on his old worn-out brown cor­duroy sofa. They were hav­ing a Rap Chat, tap­ping out the beat on the sofa. It went some­thing like this:

 

Murray — “Tell me why you die.

Tell me why you die.”

Young Man — “The Truth Bitch

The Truth Bitch

The Truth Bitch”

Murray — “All I do is lie about the Truth

The Truth ain’t shit.

This shit’s got­ta go.

This shit has got to go.”

Young Man — “Tell me bitch, I ain’t shit.

I ain’t shit and I’m crazy.

I love her and I’m crazy.

Crazy kills babies.

Crazy lives till you die.”

 

That con­ver­sa­tion went on for anoth­er thir­ty min­utes. They could see me stand­ing there, lis­ten­ing, but it did­n’t mat­ter.  The young man got up, kissed Murray on the top of his head and said.  “I feel you Bitch, I feel you.”

Murray answered. “O.K., but don’t fuck with me.  You feel me now?”

The young man did­n’t answer right away, but after he thought about it, he smiled and said, “Yeah, I feel you.” As the young man start­ed to leave, Murray pulled him back, gave him a hug, slapped him on his ass and sent him on his way.

Everyone, except for one guard, left, because they could see that the old man was tired. I hung out for a while. Murray sat back down and closed his eyes. He slept deep and free. I kept an eye on him for a while and thought about how much I loved teach­ing chil­dren, like he did.

When Murray final­ly woke up, he said, “I’m going to call you Carl from now on and all of my so-called friends will also call you Carl. Why? Because Carl would have liked that.” He fell asleep again. I left the front door open, as always.

~

August is tech­ni­cal­ly not a month, and here’s why.

It was August 11th, and Murray’s door was closed, that’s why. I knocked on it loud enough to wake the dead, which, in this case, turned out to be Bertha Sexton, Murray’s next-door neigh­bor.

If you’re look­ing for Murray, don’t waste your time.  He’s in jail. The old fool.”

Thank you, Bertha.  I found Cupcake bark­ing in front of my door.”

That dog’s as stu­pid as that old fool, maybe stu­pid­er.”

The Legion Street jail was in the back of the Police Station. I talked my way in to see Murray, who looked hap­py to see me. He grinned out a big smile and flashed gold braces that cov­ered his den­tures. Some kind of a code was print­ed on them.

He looked like he need­ed a straight man, so I vol­un­teered.

I point­ed to his mouth and said, “What the hell is that?”

It’s The Code of Life, which is now my mes­sage to the world. As soon as you see it you imme­di­ate­ly get it. But if you don’t, well, then you’re not one of my so-called friends.”

He whis­pered it in my ear. “Now you know, Carl.”

The cops released him to me, pend­ing fur­ther inves­ti­ga­tion. There had been a sting oper­a­tion on The 369 and Murray got caught in the net. None of The 369 said they knew him and that he just hap­pened to be walk­ing by.

As we left the sta­tion there were reporters wait­ing.  Murray flashed The Code of Life smile and point­ed to his mouth with a peace sign. We got on the bus that took us home and when we got off the bus he paused for a moment and gen­tly put his fin­ger on my chest. “Don’t ever believe that FDR was a Fellow Traveler. He force-fed America gold-plat­ed gag-proof geese that were cooked in the heat of bat­tle, not the one from WWII, but the real one called Economic Instability, false work for fake mon­ey to cure a sick­ness caused by greedy cap­i­tal­ists who jumped out of win­dows and land­ed on pil­lows filled with coun­ter­feit for­tunes.”

We walked home slow­ly from the bus stop. “Come have lunch with me and bring You-Know-Who. I miss him.”

I retrieved You-Know-Who, Cupcake’s new alias, and gave him back to the old man and when I did, the old mans’ eyes smiled. We ate soft-boiled eggs, Gruyère cheese tri­an­gles, the kind that came cov­ered in foil, pumper­nick­el bread and but­ter and, of course, hot tea.  It was good. I was hun­gry again. I left Murray’s door open when he fell asleep. I didn’t want to look back.

~

With the new school year approach­ing, Tweets poured in from the Family want­i­ng me to teach again. More stray twen­ties from some­one kept find­ing their way under my door. I need­ed answers.

Murray was sit­ting on his cor­duroy sofa in his under­wear and Mets cap. He was reread­ing anoth­er fad­ed copy of The Daily Worker.

He laughed out loud as he read it and looked up at me over his read­ing glass­es. He said, “The silence of the deaf is the sym­pho­ny of the blind. Slowmo Livin’ said that. Of course, that wasn’t his real name. His real name was Shlomo Levin. I changed it for him to pro­tect the inno­cent.  He lived right here on Strauss Street and he was a very smart man. He was a Yiddish philoso­pher, smarter than Socrates actu­al­ly. He told me this once: ‘Give me a good piece of Gefilte Fish and I’ll tell you the cor­rect time.” He’s gone now, but he was a very smart man.”

He stopped his mono­logue and returned to his read­ing. I read the back page while he read his mem­o­ries.  It was a full-page ad for a Trade Union Meeting of Furriers in the Garment District.  Whoever went to that meet­ing was prob­a­bly dead by now.

Murray looked up at the ceil­ing. “It’s easy to Stalinize a Rockefeller bum. All you have to do is throw him a dime and promise him hap­pi­ness and secu­ri­ty.” He closed his eyes. “In 1938, Stalin and Gandhi had a bro­mance, a lit­tle-known fact. It devel­oped rapid­ly from there and they had an ille­git­i­mate son named Murray.  Want some tea?”

Yes”.

I learned how to brew tea in Cambodia when I was part of a Kibbutz in Phnom Penh. I was hired as a Cultural Envoy for the Cambodian Government, by Slowmo, believe it or not, who had been con­tract­ed by the Cambodian Government to uncon­fuse Confucianism for the peo­ple, the Cambodian peo­ple that is. The Chinese weren’t con­fused, because they invent­ed it, which I’m still not total­ly con­vinced of. Anyway, I was sup­posed to start the first Cambodian Kibbutz. And I’ll tell you this, Kibbutz’s not locat­ed in Israel are hard enough to estab­lish, but in Cambodia, well, you can just imag­ine. Then, for what­ev­er rea­son, we thought we could home­stead in Angkor Wat which had been des­ig­nat­ed at that time as a Dead Zone. Well, we suc­ceed­ed for a while and besides learn­ing how to brew tea we also learned how to cry in Tongues. I even­tu­al­ly left Cambodia when a com­ic, who shall remain name­less, did USO Shows for all Jews left behind in Concentration Camps that had been con­vert­ed into Kibbutz’s by the Russians. But then, as fate would have it, his bird became par­a­lyzed and his mind froze when he lost his shtick, more com­mon­ly known as the abil­i­ty to make peo­ple laugh. And when he start­ed his own Cable Show, Demolition Derby for Washed-Up Catskillians, the same thing hap­pened to me.  I did­n’t have any shtick to lose but I used to have what is known as san­i­ty. I lost my san­i­ty to a girl named Sheila who twist­ed my arm to become a Catholic. She lived some­where in Indiana. When I final­ly told her no because I was a Hindi of the low­est caste sweep­ing up cow shit and call­ing it my plea­sure she cried like a baby and kicked my ass out into the street, a full twen­ty feet to the curb mind you. I call it Demolition Derby, Murray style. ”

He took a breath but kept star­ing at me, like he all of a sud­den rec­og­nized me. I went along with my new iden­ti­ty and slept well that night. In the morn­ing when I woke up, I found anoth­er twen­ty under my door with a note attached to it. It read:

Carl,

Thought you could use this.

My so-called friends are work­ing

on your sit­u­a­tion. I antic­i­pate

good results.

Murray

P.S. Great to have you back”

I did­n’t see much of Murray after that. Occasionally I would pass by his door to see how he was doing and would usu­al­ly see him Rapping with dif­fer­ent kids, tex­ting on his phone or read­ing his Daily Workers. He looked frail and sad­der. Cupcake was­n’t around any­more.

~

The sum­mer went by hot and slow.  I got by some­how with help from friends and ‘so-called’ friends.  Two weeks before the school year was sup­posed to start, a grass roots cam­paign start­ed to have me rein­stat­ed to my old teach­ing posi­tion. There were stu­dent protests in front of the school and in front of Kaplan’s home.

Maybe Kaplan and the Board had had enough. They offered to rein­state me if I would relent in my use of social media to teach. I told them ‘no’ and walked out of her office. The stu­dents some­how knew I declined her offer and cheered me as I left. Over the next few days, the protests grew.

I kept to myself as much as pos­si­ble as the new school year approached. Two days before the school year began, the heat forced me out on my fire escape again. There were low mur­murs com­ing from Murray’s place so I went upstairs and saw a small group of his so-called friends who had gath­ered around him. When I entered, the crowd put their arms around me. I looked at Murray and knew he was dead.

~

If you’re free, you should be afraid, accord­ing to Murray. I felt free and afraid. That’s why I legal­ly changed my name again. I was now Carl, offi­cial­ly. I bitched about every­thing to every­one.

Maybe, just maybe, I became a con­sul­tant to the New York City Board of Education on their New Ventures in Education Through Social Media. Or, maybe I became a liai­son to the Dark Web. Or maybe we’re all Thirty Percent Subscribers. But, as long as we can make our own deci­sions, we can decide for our­selves who we are and who we want to be. That’s Freedom, Murray Style.

~

Bennie Rosa has been writ­ing short sto­ries and poet­ry for many years. After a career in the busi­ness world, he decid­ed to put all of his efforts into writ­ing. His works usu­al­ly reflect the events of the day and his social com­men­tary tries to offer an alter­na­tive per­spec­tive for read­ers to con­sid­er. Writing is cre­at­ing, accord­ing to Bennie. Creating is Living.