Friday, January 02, 2009

Sunday Scribbling #144: Poorer, los pobrecitos


I’d hooked up with him outside the downtown library. Couple of gorphs gave us a pair of bus transfers about to expire. By the time we left the town meeting, we’d impeached the asshole president, rescinded the vagrancy laws, voted for chartreuse M&M’s, and come out unanimously for the old Elvis stamp, instead of the pretty boy stamp tapped by the postal yokels.

We headed down St. Mary’s Street to Convent, and crossed the bridge over the green swill they like to call the river.

“You spell your name ‘Charles,’ right?” said my companion. “I’ve seen you write it.”

“Correct,” I said. I had no clue where he had occasion to see my handwriting. I couldn’t have made ‘Charles’ out of the scrawl myself.

“So, what’s with the ‘Sharl,’ man?”

Latest nosey bastard. I lied: “My mother was French. What about you? Where’d you scare up the name Ris?”

“Dye my mother used on our clothes. She liked that it was short and to the point.”

“I believe the dye was called Rit.”

“My mother couldn’t spell for shit.”

I said, “Admittedly a tough call,” but I was already rethinking the bus ride. Air conditioning was one thing, but air conditioning for imbeciles was another.

“Rit, huh?” he said. “Like that Clark Gable in Gone With the Wind.”

We came to the corner of Convent. I slowed my step—maybe the transfer would expire if I walked slow enough. The 8 could be counted on to run late, and I’d never known one of its drivers to cut me any slack on the two hour grace period. If the ride fell through, I’d excuse myself and opt for a nap at the Saint Anthony Hotel. The second floor lobby had enough mildew to scare away their own staff.

Convent Street dead-ended into the stop on Navarro, a perfect little wind tunnel in the shade of two high rise towers. Half a block further sat the Municipal Auditorium, an old Spanish Revival relict in the oasis of Auditorium Circle, once rumored to have been an island. Bygone downtown royalty used to row over, plant gardens, escape the nearby predatory shadow of the several city blocks known as First Baptist Church.

My dyed friend eyed the two benches on Navarro, both smothered in pigeon shit, as if Jackson Pollock had come back as a gray bird and picked up where he left off. I sat right down on the iron bench; I’d long ago given up any hope of keeping bird shit off my back side. Mr. Ris struggled to maintain the bum’s fiction of being well-heeled, a difficult proposition when you counted bus transfers as a part of your revenue stream.

“There’s usually a corner of the concrete bench that they miss,” I said. “What’s there just seems to blend in better.”

He eyed the corner and smoothed down the back of his unlaundered jeans with his hand, like some demur debutante’s little fidget before sliding onto a banquette at L’ Etoile, the fancy uptown eatery of my adopted people. I had no idea if there were banquettes at the place. I make it up as I go along. If there aren’t any, there should be. I’m sure Mr. Hemingway would agree.

“You’re probably right to hesitate,” I said. “You purposely sit in bird shit, it’s just downhill from here on out.”

A small Toyota pickup truck pulled up along the curb in front of us. Two boys in teal-colored knit tees and Panama hats, towing a big plastic tub of water, always three days behind the pigeons and their rampant graffiti. They hauled out their pressure sprayer and started in at the corner, nary a by-your-leave to the two constituents standing by. Wind out of the north did a fine job of soaking Mr. Dye and me.

I walked over to Mr. Spray. His associate was standing upwind, in the flimsy shade of a palm tree across the street, blowing bubble gum bubbles half the size of his face.

I had to give it to Mr. Spray; he was a dedicated employee of the City of San Antonio. He done ‘em proud. The man standing at his left ear deterred him not at all from his duties as custodian of the streets. I’d seen Westside chicas derail a squadron’s worth of utility workers, but not so my humble fleabag self in baggy khaki pants.

“Sorry to get in your way!” I shouted, into the horrid din of the washer. Blasts of shattering noise, followed by windy silence.

Mr. Spray gave me a look that confirmed my suspicion that, given a double-aught shotgun in his hands, rather than his standard water nozzle, there would have been one less meddlesome citizen roaming the streets of San Antonio.

“What can I do for you, sir?” said my teal-resplendent civil servant. It was my experience that at some point in the 1980s the word ‘sir,’ rolled around in the right mouth, designated a variant of the human species just this side of vermin. Or maybe that side of it.

“My colleague and I were wondering just how one might go about gaining such fine employment as yours with the local constabulary.” I knew the word constabulary would throw him off, or piss him off. It did the latter.

“Fuck off, old man,” said my civil servant.

“Hey, Chuck. 8’s coming,” said Ris behind me, committing the unpardonable sin of a familiarity with my name he had no right to. Chuck, my ass.

I stepped up onto the bus behind Mr. Familiarity, waited for him to find a seat on the back banquette, and darted out the door, just as the bus pulled off. Good Rit-tance, asshole, I thought, and waved to him as he passed by. My transfer would work just as well on the 14, one block down.

The keys I’d purloined from the Toyota truck of my civil servants clunked nicely in the bottom of the trashcan at the corner of Navarro and Pecan, though there was not a chance my demolition buddies up the street would hear it.

We three kings…

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28 Comments:

Blogger anno said...

No poverty of interest, nor lack of lively detail here: if you hadn't already gotten me with the "sharl" man, the Ris and the sir, and the debutante's fidget, and all the usual smart-ass slant found here in your world, I would have swooned for "my dyed friend eyed..." Rich words, and fun to read.

8:46 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

anno: Glad you enjoyed the rant. Such a curmudgeonly piece of fiction; I stumbled over it during the time off, kept wondering what fed this particular nastiness: I know walks around downtown certainly fed the settings. And I even have notes for more, good heavens. I was tempted to think this might be the next big project, but where's the love?

9:56 PM  
Blogger alister said...

Here’s the love. I love this style, I love this stuff, man, all of it! The chimayo jewel, the optimist diamond, this on-the-road little sparkler... Proves a girl can wish and get what she didst pine for, sing for: get that ice or else no dice! But each one of these is like a book that kills me a bit to be done with it, like a lotta little funerals. Just shoot me now. Really. I’d rather die fast and happy.

missalister

1:51 AM  
Blogger Rob Kistner said...

how wonderfully and bitingly 'out there'...

2:26 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Ms A: Gun control, little darlin'. No one packin' here, but I'm glad you're enjoying the closet sale. They's more. Glad to hear your voice, now that all the tires are back on.

6:30 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Thank you for the visit and the words, Rob.

6:31 AM  
Blogger gautami tripathy said...

Feels so cynically true..if you know what I mean..

For richer and/or poorer

8:49 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

GT: Not sure about the "true," but 'Sharl' was all about the cynical.

9:00 AM  
Blogger jsd said...

quite a wonderful rant...and there never does seem to be a safe bench to sit on in SA town.

11:22 AM  
Blogger paisley said...

nothing quite like a bit of revenge, eh????

11:44 AM  
Blogger Jules said...

Great story! Became very interested when I read, "San Antonio."

Hey, I was totally amazed about the keys. I felt cheated that I missed that particular moment while paying attention to the escape from Mr. Ris.

Happy New Year!

1:34 PM  
Blogger Maria said...

this narrator is wonderfully cynical, and i love this juxtaposition of the scarcity of his means and the wealth of his vocabulary and ideas!

2:51 PM  
Blogger Granny Smith said...

Lively and curmudgeonly written scene! I'm glad the transfer was still good for the #14 bus. I was only sorry that this post wasn't longer so that I could absorb more of your clever monologue.

3:35 PM  
Blogger Devil Mood said...

This is excellent!
They may have nothing but they're kings of bums. :)

5:41 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

jsd, Glad you liked. At least they keep the avians off the buses.

8:28 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

paisley: The man's a sod, and a sod without principles at that. Throw him a teal shirt, panama, and bag of Mi Tierra pralines and he's happy to give up all for the art of guano graffiti removal himself. Proud he clearly ain't.

8:30 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Jules: Glad you stopped by: he purloined those keys right under my nose as well. Sneaky sod.

8:31 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Maria: Thanks for stopping by again. 'Sharl' and Ignatius O' Reilly go way back to Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Belle Chasse, both of them expelled by the perpetual helpers in fourth grade. Go figure. Let's just say the theologies did not mesh.

8:34 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

GS: I'll pass your praise on to the sod; he left notes in my hard drive for "expansion" of the story. I'm not sure I've got the fortitude to hop the 14 with him or not.

8:36 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

DM: Seems apt, excerpted from Mr Stevens:

The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month's newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

8:40 PM  
Blogger present said...

I love the setting, random conversation and miscomunications. He showed Mr. Spray, and good.

12:14 AM  
Blogger murat11 said...

present: He did at that. Glad you enjoyed the doings.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Tumblewords: said...

This is a most delightful piece, biting and rare. The humor is wonderful - the whole piece is just flat out remarkable - a great read! Love it...

12:54 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Tumblewords, thank you for your very kind words. Life in Tres Leches on the dark - well, semi-dark - side.

1:15 PM  
Blogger Tammie Lee said...

I feel safer in the wilds of Montana than in that town.... ;-)
that would be a 'big project' if your character came round to the love...
if anyone can do it, you can!

6:39 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

Remember, Tammie, 'Sharl's' town is the one in his head; geographically, it's the very same one I wander around in. Safe or not, Montana is most assuredly your home "town."

9:04 PM  
Blogger San said...

Brilliant. Rit-dyed. A rhythmic rant with the energy of a Pollock (or a persistent pigeon).

Those keys were destined for the circular file. Mr. Spray will have to buy his own transfer. Or depend on the kindness of strangers.

4:04 PM  
Blogger murat11 said...

San: He'll hop a ride on one of the boats in the green swill. And BTW, they're "filling" the river here in Tres Leches as we speak. Yearly tradition: "drain" the "river" and then "refill" it.

4:15 PM  

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