Friday, June 5, 2009

Wakin Up McClawenstein

Honestly, I don't know how I get myself in these situations. There I was, just tryin to be neighborly by helpin a guy carry a package, and I end up passed out. Right now, you may be askin yourself what kind of weird, diabolical situation I woke up in. What kind of trap had McClawenstein laid for me and how would I get out of it? Also, what should you have for lunch? That doesn't go along with the other questions very well, but it's still probably something you're asking yourself right about now. The answer is tuna salad. You should have a tuna salad sandwich for lunch. Maybe even a tuna melt. With fries. Or coleslaw. Whatever you do, though, don't have the meatball sandwich. It's Friday, after all, and you're gonna have to go back to work with sauce stains all over your tie or blouse, and then you'll be sleepy, not so much from the meatball sub, but because you're unable to eat a meatball sub without drinkin a vodka tonic. You've never been sure why this is. Your dad used to always say it was because your family had a mixed heritage. But after some research, you discovered that you were English/German, which has nothing to do with meatball subs OR vodka. So you began to expect it was just an excuse for your dad to knock back a little vodka at lunch, which was totally understandable because he had himself a tough job as taster down at the old vodka and meatball factory. You know the one, Grandma Genoavich's Old Time Vodka and Meatball Combo Meals. They ended up getting shut down, you know. It turns out some people, after two meals, forgot which part to microwave, and they'd chip their teeth on the frozen meatballs, then drink the hot vodka, causing all their teeth to explode and send fragments flying all through their houses and heads. But, despite working at the vodka and meatball factory as a taster, your dad would still wander down to Papi Luiginik's Fresh Meatball Subs and Vodka Tonic Place of Relaxation every day for lunch and dinner. Your mom, at her wit's end, tried to lure him home by making meatball subs and vodka tonics every day for lunch and dinner, but when he didn't show, she would announce, "Well, somebody's gotta eat all this!" And your poor, saint of a mother would hint about her vodka allergy and her vegetarianism and so you, in an attempt to please her, would try to eat and drink it all, just hoping she would smile at you and your dad would come home and you would be a happy family again. But it was not to be. Your poor dad keeled over at his tasting desk one day, face full of meatballs like tiny, sauce covered hamsters devouring his face. Your poor mother, heartbroken and lonely, would turn to pool boy Renaldo to ease her in her time of need. But Renaldo would soon be launched into space because of his secret life as an intergalactic spy. There, he would be bombarded by cosmic radiation and return home able to change his shape at will. He then discovered his parents murdered in their sleep and vow revenge, turning to life as a super hero, for which he would need to move to a large city and take on an innocuous job like reporter or photographer because superheroes, if they're not incredibly rich, always have to work for a newspaper. Finally suffering a break with reality, your mother would would vow to rid the world of vodka, meatball subs and space rays. She apparently planned to do this by bombarding the food and drink with the space rays and then devouring them all. When last you saw her, she weighed eight thousand pounds, was covered in liver spots and parts of her flesh crawled around on their own, looking like two puppies fighting in a sack made out of silly putty. Wait. Wait a minute. I think I've confused you with a person I made up just now. Sorry 'bout that. Still, you should have the tuna salad for lunch.

I spose you'll be wantin those other two questions answered now. Well, the nefarious trap I found myself in, or on, I should say, when I woke up was this: a couch. That's right, I woke up on a couch. It was orange and green plaid with some frilly stuff around the edges and a couple of stains that looked like eggs, but they could have been boogers. I sat up and looked around. It seemed like I was in a grandmother's living room. Everything was wood beads and frills. There was a record player, but no tv anywhere. Over in the corner, was a glass fronted hutch filled with tea sets made of delicate bone china, roses painted all over 'em. There were two oak end tables with brass lamps setting on 'em and, right in front of me, a glass bowl filled with spice drops and ribbon candy.

Then I heard his voice behind me. "Well, look who decided to wake up," chimed Dale. "Good morning sleepy-head."

I looked behind me and there he was, wearing a pink, frilly apron and carrying a tray with what smelled like coffee and looked like fresh cookies. I was utterly lost. This was either a very clever trap or everything had gone topsy-turvy on me.

"You look confused," he said as he sat on a bench, "let me clear things up. Coffee?"

"Yes, please," I murmured. Never turn down a free cup of coffee.

"Would you be willing to tell me what you know?" he asked as he poured.

So I did. I told him I knew about his accident as a kid and how that led to a life of crime, culminating in his being the regional meth distributor for Clan Platypus. I told him about his deadly gas and his network of operatives in the 99 cent stores.

He gasped, "Oh my god, the slugs..."

"That's right," I declared, triumphant, "the slugs! They're working for us now."

"Oh no," he melted in his chair, "I'd forgotten all about the slugs. Oh, this is going to haunt me forever now."

"What do you mean?" I was still suspicious.

"Oh, dear. Oh," he began to fidget. " got it mostly right, I have to admit. I'm not proud of it, but there was a very dark time in my life and I'm still dealing with the consequences, it seems. But, you see, Pat," he looked me in the eyes, "I'm retired."


"Yeah," he went on, "I paid my debt to the Clan, and I've retired. They have a very nice 401(k) plan and it's really set me up for life."

"Wait, what?" I was confused.

"That's how it works with the Clan," he explained, "you pay your debt and they funnel half that money into a 401(k) for you. When you've paid everything off, they turn the investment account over to you. They're very efficient that way."

"Really?!" I was taken aback a bit.

"Really," he said flatly.

"How long ago was this?"

He put a claw to his face, "Let's see...about three years now, I guess."

"But, wait, what about the slugs?"

"Oh Pat," he laughed, "slugs are slow. I sent that group out about, oh, I guess it'd be eight years ago now. I had so many things going on at the time, I guess I plum forgot about them. I hope they're not too mad at me."

I was at a loss for words. for probably the first time in my life, I had nothing to say. So I sat, drank my coffee and listened to McClawenstein explain that he was in Super Villain therapy now, in a group he goes to once a week. It helps him deal with his "issues", whatever that means, and he's working on getting "closure" on his evil deeds. I felt like I was on Oprah or something. Any moment, I expected Tom Cruise to come running out and jump on the furniture. Then he started to cry.

"You don't know what it's like, Pat," he sobbed, "living life as a freak. I never fit in! I was never man and never crustacean. Always living halfway between the two. Wanting the comfort of the sea and yet trying to live a normal life on land. You could never understand that kind of pain. I needed something to dull it. I know, meth was a bad idea. A really, really, bad idea. But what else could I do."

"Well, I dunno about that," I said, scratchin the back of my head, "I may be able to relate a little. I mean, I didn't exactly have a normal childhood, either."

"Unless your half man, half sea creature, I don't think your weird childhood is in the same leagues as mine," he seemed like he was gettin a bit angry.

"Well sir," I explained, "I ain't never told no one but Douggy this, so I'd appreciate it if you'd keep it to yourself. I was raised by harbor seals."

He stopped crying entirely. "What?"

In for a penny, in for a pound, I guess. "Yeah, I was raised by harbor seals. My real parent was down on the boardwalk late at night, out for an evenin stroll, I guess. They didn't see the sign tellin 'em the boardwalk was closed for repairs and I guess they was payin too much attention to the moon or each other or whatnot, and they just musta not seen the giant hole. So they fell in and drowned, but I was rescued by a harbor seal named Ackucucuck. That's seal language, you see. Well, Ackucucuck had just lost her baby to a shark and was a bit broken up about it. She saw my fall as a gift from the great seal in the sky. she took me on her back to seal island where she taught me all about fishing and layin on rocks. Later, I had to learn the seal wrestlin techniques. By then, though, I kinda suspected somethin was wrong. I mean, seals ain't got no thumbs, and I didn't have a protective layer of blubber to keep me warm.

"Then one day, this science boats came along and spotted me. They gibbered somethin at me in their human language, but I could only respond in seal. I guess they decided to tag me and study me with the hope of bringin me slowly back into human society. They'd visit about once a month and bring me stuff like clothes and shoes and whatnot.

"After that, word started to get around about the 'seal boy', as they called me, and more and more boats started comin. The good thing was, it scared off all the sharks, but the bad news was it scared off all the fish, too. The seal elders had a meeting and decided that I had to go with these strange creatures that looked like me so that the hunting would return.

"It was a sad day when I left my adoptive mother Ackucucuck behind. I think about here from time to time, still. Once a year, I go out to the coast and go fishin the old fashioned way, just to keep my skills up in case this whole 'human' thing doesn't work out."

Well, I guess my secret's out now.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Me and Dale Learn New Things

I got this neighbor named Dale. Me and Dale been neighbors neigh on six years now, but we never talked that much. I been busy doin my thing, and I assume he's been busy doin his thing, too. Of course, he could very well have been sittin over at his house, lookin at my place, his chin tremblin like a newborn Chihuahua puppy, just wantin a little human contact, but too shy to say anything to me. Could be carvin up old ladies, too, for all I know. The long and short of it is, Dale and I ain't done much talkin until today when we happened to meet each other at the mailbox. He was strugglin with a giant package that looked like someone was shippin him fresh elephants, and I offered to help.

We was takin a break on the road when we got to talkin. I inquired about the package, tryin not to sound too nosy, and he told me it was somethin for his job. He said he got a package like that two or three times a week. When I asked him why he was tryin to carry it all on his own, he told me he had some helper up until about two weeks ago, but they left to pursue other opportunities. I told him that was too bad. Then we was quiet for awhile.

I was rootin around in my head for somethin to say, but all I could find was ridiculous stuff about robots wrestlin bears, and I didn't think he'd be interested. Meanwhile, he asked me, "Did you get new glasses or somethin, Pat?"

Every time I'd seen Dale, I'd been wearin the same old glasses. I been told by my nephew that they're old fashioned, bein horn-rimmed, tortoise shell rims on a long chain around my neck, and they may be ugly because they're held together by a combination of duct tape, JB Weld and sheer determination, but they sure worked to keep stuff out of my eyes while I was sanding. I didn't really need glasses, you see, but safety glasses is expensive and I picked these up down at the Goodwill for fifty cents. With the money I had left over, I bought myself a cup of coffee and a Tuesday newspaper. This was on a Thursday, I recall, and I wanted to relive the excitement that I felt before finding out that I, once again, did not win the powerball. I guess the moral of the story is, even if they're very distinct, sometimes people just won't notice you're wearin glasses. I do the same thing, sometimes. I went four whole years without noticin my sister was married and had a baby. Honestly, I don't even know what order the two came in. I tried doin the math on it once, but math ain't my strong suit and, by my calculations, the baby was born 3 1/2 months before my sister was born, but it was certainly born into wedlock. Like I says, I ain't too good at math. Either that or my family has a much more interestin history than I give 'em credit for.

I bring all this up with Dale and we start talkin about how easy it is to miss stuff, even on people you see regularly. It's right about this time I start to notice that Dale ain't got no thumbs. So I ask him, "Did you always have no thumbs, there Dale?"

"I used to have thumbs," he said, "when I was younger. There was an accident."

"Is that the same accident that made you all red?" I was tryin to be tactful, but I don't think I was successful at it.

"Yeah," he responded, "can we talk about somethin else?"

I felt bad for the guy. "Sure, Dale, whatever you say. What line of work are you in?"

"Distribution," he said bluntly.

"That's great," I told him, "what is it you distribute?"

"Can we change the subject?" he asked. He was gettin pretty dodgy and I was runnin out of things to talk about.

So I asked him, "If a robot wrestled a bear, who would you put your money on?"

"Pin or tap-out?"

"I dunno, does it make a difference?"

"It sure does," he said, "bears have large bottoms, so they're very hard to pin, but robots are notoriously good at submission moves. So, if it were a tap-out situation, my money would be on the robot, but if it were a pin situation, my money would be on the bear."

"Huh," I humphed, "I never knew those things. Where'd you learn all that?"

"You see a lot of weird stuff in the carnival, man."

All rested now, we carried the package the rest of the way to his house. As he opened the door, I caught a glimpse of a couple of black light posters hangin on his wall. I started to piece things together.

"Dale," I told him, "we been neighbors six years now, and I don't even know your last name."

"McClawenstein," he said, "Dale McClawenstein." Then he held out a hand to shake and I saw that it was actually a lobster claw. Now, one time, I had a rhino in my livin room for a whole month before I noticed, but I ain't never felt as unobservant as this.

As I shook his hand, he asked me, "You know, Pat, now that you mention it, I've never learned your last name, either."

"O'Neil," I told him, "Pat O'Neil."

"Wait..." he looked wary, "You're THE Pat O'Neil?"

"Well, I wouldn't say 'The' Pat O'Neil. Just google it, and you'll see that I'm really just one of many Pat O'Neils worldwide. It's a pretty popular name. Well, good talkin to ya, Dale, I gotta get going."

"Wait," he gently grabbed my arm with his claw, "we both know what's goin on here. I think we need to talk."

"Well, that's mighty neighborly of ya," I told him, wondering how on earth I was gonna get out of this, "but I got some weldin to do at home and some light paintin, plus, I got that friend I gotta call to ask about the bear/robot fight tonight. He's gettin it on pay-per-view, you should come by..."

He didn't release his claw. He did release a whompin butt bomb, though, and I felt very, very sleepy. Then I blacked out.