Be sure to check out "Here Comes the President!" in the VISIONS section. Or simply click here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2FgEfFK5Jyg. Either way America's tomorrow begins today... brought to you by The Society of Suicidal Optimists.
"In five minutes you are not going to believe what I've told you."
...let's skip the details. I don't really think it matters how much whiskey was involved or what words passed between us. Suffice it to say, later that week, Richard and I, along with a case of beer, were parked across the street from the house on Jarvis.
The house looked darker than its neighbors. None of the lights were on, though a faint flicker could be seen through the windows. I told Richard about the candles I saw, thinking the guy'd been planning something romantic.
"Then we came on the right night," Richard said, "Looks like he's expecting company again."
"You want to turn on the radio?"
"I don't think that's a good idea."
"If we keep it low it won't be a problem."
"Not right now, okay?"
"I'm just bored is all. We've been here like 3 hours."
"Yeah, well, we can always leave."
"No way. Grab me another beer, will ya?"
"Sure." As I was reaching in the back, fumbling with the case for two cans, Richard start slapping my side.
He said, "Dude, dude, dude!"
Cursing, I rolled back to the front. Richard pointed down the street. A woman in stiletto heels was clopping along the sidewalk. She wore a long black dress that looked painted on and a thin trench coat. Her hair hung past her shoulders, shimmering under the sodium street lights. We watched her turn and head up the walk to the house on Jarvis.
"I just lost my boner," Richard said.
She knocked at the front in what looked like a planned rhythm. When the door opened I told Richard the man I'd met was the one answering. The lady in black and the man chatted for a second, but we were too far away to hear what they said. At one point, though, the woman pulled her coat to one side, showing off how her dress was slit up one side going all the way to her hip. Even from where Richard and I were we could see the whole shape of her leg, like a milk white silhouette against a black background. The man nodded then ushered her into his house. The door closed.
Before I could think twice, I was climbing out of the car. Richard scurried after me, straining to be loud and whisper at the same time, "Hey! HEY! What are you doing?"
"I want to see what happens," I said. We crept around the outside of the house. Finding a window that looked in on the living room, we took opposite sides, doing our best to peer with the least amount of ourselves showing.
The woman sat on a couch. In the candlelight, her dress made her seem invisible, more parts than a whole person. Her arms and exposed leg floated in the darkness. Her face a hanging mask. She sipped from a wine glass and seemed to be holding back a smirk. The man entered pushing a cart with a blue sheet across the top. He offered her something in his hand. She took it, put it in her mouth, and downed it with a sip from her glass. She then stretched out on the couch, tucking her dress aside to expose as much of her leg as possible. The man left the room and came back with a tank. He slipped a mask onto her. He turned a knob on the tank, and I could hear a faint hiss. The woman went completely still.
Richard poked me. I swatted at him to leave me alone. He poked me harder and I punched him in the shoulder. He grabbed my arm, and I turned saying as quietly as I could, "What?" He mouthed OVER THERE, pointing to a dark corner. I took a chance, leaning out further to see what he could. All I managed to see were a pair of eyeglasses reflecting the candlelight. But it was enough to know someone else was in the room, watching what happened.
By now the man had pulled the blue sheet off the cart. He snapped on a pair of latex gloves. He picked up a marker and a measuring tape from the cart. Measuring the woman's leg, he put dots on her every few inches. Setting those aside, he picked up a cannula, using it to pierce her through one of the marked dots. Then he got a drill from the cart along with a screw and what looked like a long thin rectangular metal plate. He fitted a screw through one of several holes in the rectangular plate, fed the screw through the cannula, and proceeded to drill the screw into her thigh bone.
"Is it that simple?" Richard asked.
"Don't know. Doubt it. I don't know."
"Cuz if it's that simple, my cousin can shut the fuck up. You know what I'm saying?"
We watched the man repeat this process. The only difference being the remove and reinsertion of the cannula to guide a new screw; and the occasional dabbing of blood as it ran down her leg in rivulets. Eventually, the woman had a pair of metal rectangular plates, jointed at her knee, screwed into her leg bones. The whole time she'd barely moved, save for a few squirms I couldn't (and didn't) want to know the full extent of.
Richard wanted to leave, but I wanted to stay, see if she woke up. The man took off her mask. He wheeled the tank out of the room then came back for the cart. Draping the blue sheet across the top, he whistled a tune softly to himself.
"Is that... is that The Merry Old Land of Oz?" I asked.
"I like that song."
"It's not bad."
The man pushed the cart away. He headed towards the kitchen. The woman stirred on the couch.
"See. She's fine," Richard said, "Let's get the fuck out of here."
"Goddammit," a voice from inside the house. Richard and I froze. The man walked back into the living room. He pointed back towards the kitchen, "I just had a guy out here the other day, and the sink is still clogged." He sighed, "Guess I'll just have to call the plumber again."
"Oh fuck this," I said and headed back to the car. Richard followed quickly. Back in the car I said, "With my luck, I'm the guy that's gonna have to come back out here. So you know what? I quit."
What Goes Down...
"You stay alive, baby. Do it for Van Gogh."
My boss calls me up after I'm finishing for the day, says he's got a client wants a rush job. Boss tells me, "Guy says it's a real emergency." Then, more importantly, adds, "And he's willing to pay double." It probably isn't as important as this
rush guy thinks, but I know better than to get between my boss and quick cash.
Nine times out of ten the problem is simple. However, when people don't know the solution it seems impossible to remedy. That's the real secret of most businesses: trusting people to be ignorant. Talk to an accountant, a mechanic, a tailor, it all comes down to that one thing. As long as people don't know what to do they're willing to pay someone who does. And truth be told, you can't expect everyday people to know everything.
So I shrug (which is weird considering I'm on the phone and by myself) and say, "Dan, don't worry about it. I got this. Tell me where he's at."
I'm not going to lie. Rush jobs have a side perk. The people who beg for them, especially if they turn out to be a real emergency, like a flooding basement, are always super grateful. I once stopped a garbage disposal from projectile vomiting out this one lady's kitchen sink -- foul black shit just shooting out of the drain. Let's just say some innuendo ensued that got her husband glaring. So I always have fun, one way or another, on rush jobs.
I get sent to this brownstone on Jarvis in Roger's Park. The house is a nice looking piece of real estate. It's the kind of spot anybody would hope to settle down in some day. I can even see my future kids drawing on the sidewalk, while my wife and I sit on the porch thinking, "We did all right."
Stepping out of the fantasy, I go up to the door, ring the bell and knock. No answer, though I can hear someone walking around. Repeat the process. The door opens. There's a man standing there looking dressed like he's auditioning for the cover of GQ.
"You're here to fix the sink," he says. I nod. He ushers me into the house.
Night is coming on, but this guy hasn't turned on any lamps. There are a few candles burning, so I ask, "Power out?"
"No," he says in this tone like I'm stupid for asking, but I let it slide. I'm starting to think he's got a romantic evening planned and needs whatever fixed before his friend arrives. I can appreciate that kind of emergency. So I cut to the chase, "Where's the problem?"
"This way." He leads me straight back through the house. I follow him into the kitchen where he points to the sink. There's about three inches of scummy water sitting in the basin. I ask him what, if anything, he's done to try and fix it.
He says what I've found is an average response. Basically, he ran the water, noticed the sink filling up (says it's been draining slower and slower for months), stopped the water, ran it some more then paused, glared at the drain for ten minutes, and finally, after a few shabby efforts, he phoned for help.
First things first. I go back to my van for a bucket and my tools. Already I have a rough idea what's probably wrong. When I get back the guy is standing near the sink, arms folded across his chest. I don't want to be here any longer than I have to, so saying nothing, I plunge right into things. Use the cut off valves to turn off the water, open the p-trap, drain the water out of the sink, and check the trap. Sure enough, there's so much black scum coating the inside of the p-trap a half inch opening has scum-shrunk to a pinhole. I turn the water back on and clear the trap by rinsing it out at the sink into my bucket. Sludge plops out in solid chunks sparsely furred by strands of hair. Once the trap is cleaned, I put it back in place and run the water. It drains alright for a few seconds, slows, and slightly fills. So, long story short, I have to pull out his trap arm and do my best to funnel the sludge that comes out into my bucket.
It takes about forty minutes to be sure everything is working alright. Seems to be. I tell the guy to keep an eye on it, phone if it becomes a problem again, then give him the bill. He takes it with a smile. Rush jobs are the only time people don't usually get pissy about the bill.
So I'm getting ready to leave, putting my tools back in the van, when I remember I got to empty the sludge water out of my bucket. I'm about to pour the bucket out in the gutter when I notice something glitter in the filth under the street light.
Figuring this is some jewelry lost down the drain -- guy just didn't know about it or how to get it -- I reach in to grab the stuff. Turns out to be a handful of metal pieces. None of it looks special, so I pour out the water, making sure to pour slow in case there's more.
See, we got this guy at work, Richard, who likes to collect the odd bits he finds in pipes. Some people don't want things once they've been down a drain, and I guess he hates to see things go to waste. Like he's got a whole assortment of kids toys he snaked out of toilets the parents didn't want back. What he does with them all I don't know. Somebody told me he uses them for some kind of art, but whatever. So long as he isn't fucking any of it who am I to judge... maybe not even then. Anyhow, I gave him all the metal I found in my bucket.
About two days later he came in with the bits and shows me this rod with a serious of long pins through it. I go, "That's pretty clever man. You make it with all that junk I gave you?"
Richard shakes his head, "No, man, not really. This is what it is. I didn't make it. I put it back together."
"So what is it?" I asked, now feeling real curious.
"It's a rod and surgical pins. Like for when you have a broken bone."
"I'm not fucking around. You can ask my cousin. I showed it to him, and he told me. He works over at Children's Memorial, has to do this to skateboarders all the time. It's for holding fractures together."
"Son of a bitch," I said.
We probably should have left it at that, but...
COMING SOON! PART 2: Pipe Inspectors
Sometimes morning does not come after midnight. The dawn, already aware of the what has become inevitable, avoids
bringing the light.
The defeat of the French in the Franco-Prussian War brought the proclamation of a new German Empire in Versailles in 1871. When William I ascended to the new imperial throne those who assisted in the German victory soon found themselves greatly rewarded. Of them, only one received his honors in a discrete ceremony, lest word get out that the emperor had showed him any favor.
History does not remember the Baron Ivar Metzger because some truths are so dark, they blend too perfectly into the shadows in which they are hid. While it is known that he fought under Crown Prince Frederick III at Wissembourg, Woerth, Sedan, and the Siege of Paris, no real details survived the battle field. The little that is told sounds like a recipe for nightmares and is often disregarded as rumor.
However, he did receive lands in Ostpreussen outside Konigsberg. Yet, some could not deny the impression that his award seemed like a banishment, especially the Baron Metzger. In order to defy his polite exile, Ivar Metzger set about planning the construction of a manor to rival any palace yet to be found in the empire.
Months passed with only a few boards rising here and there. Two years saw the completion of a handful of disjointed portions. By the end of five something resembling a building stood in the woods, but it did not display an ounce of elegance. Twilight seemed to constantly hang over its roof, born from the twisted disgust of a failure endlessly surviving abortion.
Within its walls Baron Metzger stewed over the failure that housed him, known throughout the empire as Ivar’s Flophouse. Over time he developed the intention to undertake a new venture.
Artisans from the surrounding area, many the best in their field, began to disappear. Jewelers, gold and silver smiths, painters, and sculptors all vanished without a sign. Rumors trickled about that the Baron Metzger kept them locked in his house constructing the means by which he could escape the embarrassment of his home. Other stories whispered through the walls of the Baron’s manor. Strange tales of human grotesquery masquerading as entertainment, for the hideously debauched added fresh spice to the nightmares Ivar Metzger already inspired.
Then no word came from the manor. No servants came down to collect supplies for the coming winter. Those who had occasion to pass the house said the windows were always dark and that an unwholesome stillness surrounded the grounds. This exaggerated the already wild tales circling the manor, and consequently led to the decision that an investigation was in order.
Konisberg organized a collection of respected citizens who then marched straight to the Baron’s front doors. After several minutes spent debating who would knock, the group discovered the door already unlocked and easily opened. Many would never recount what they found within, but what perhaps they witnessed can be summed up simply by this: Nicholas Silberschatz went into the house a steely young man with hair as black as pitch and emerged a twitching mess crowned by a grey mane.
The only story they could not keep to themselves was that of Metzger’s heavenly stein.
Recorded in the Baron’s own private journal, recovered by the investigating party, was the record of how he “employed”the best craftsmen he could find. Locked away in a dilapidated wing of the manor, they toiled night and day producing the finest sculptures, jewelry, and arts each of their trades could offer. Sometimes they blended styles such as when a marble sculptor combined efforts with a gem cutter to make a bust of the Baron with eyes as fiery as Ivar’s own. They produced wonders even they themselves thought were impossible to make with human hands. Any one might have redeemed the Baron’s name and erased all mention of Ivar’s Flophouse, however, the Baron’s greed compelled him to keep all these treasures for himself.
On occasion he sent one or two items to William I and Crown Prince Frederick III, but only to keep them pacified when rumors of Metzger’s more unsavory indulgences surfaced. Towards the end, an idea struck the Baron during a night of orgies and absinthe. Remembering stories his grandfather used to tell him as a child, Baron Metzger commissioned all of his craftsmen to fashion for him a stein in homage to the holiest of chalices, Christ’s own grail.
The evidence, from drawings found in the craftsmen’s workshop, suggests that two attempts were made before a cup was completed that met with the Baron’s approval. Those who went into the manor that fateful day found the completed piece clutched in Ivar’s hands. Every finger had to be broken in order to remove it from his clutches. No one who saw the stein could hope to deny its magnificence. Curves of gold and silver in angles of geometric perfection carried the eye through a concourse of dazzling gem stones that sparkled like colored stars in even the faintest light. Artists had painted angelic figures between the jewelry and metal in a paint no one could identify and which all swore contained an unearthly radiance.
As to the occupants of Metzger’s manor, only one phrase would be whispered, “Struck down, as if by the hand of God.” No marks of violence or signs of disease could be found on a single one of the bodies seen that day. All appeared to have died in the same instant, many in the midst of one act or another, as though no hint ever struck a single one the end was at hand.
For months the vessel, which the Baron had dubbed his “heavenly stein,” lingered in Konisberg. The local inhabitants kept it in a sealed case, not daring to even look upon it despite its beauty. When word of its brilliance reached the capital the stein was sent for at once, so that the emperor could behold this marvel. It never arrived.
Some believed that the men sent for it could not resist taking a peek, and when they beheld it were so consumed by a lust to possess Metzger’s heavenly stein they stole it. However, they were eventually found on the road to Thorn in Westpreussen. The report claimed they appeared to have all dropped dead in mid-stride. No signs of violence or any hint of illness were apparent. The stein could not be found among their belongings.
Stories began, much as one might expect. Any mysterious death became attributed to the stein. There were occasions where wealthy collectors genuinely displayed Metzger’s heavenly stein, however, every such instance was marked by the death of the collector and many of those who viewed it. It would vanish from one set of hands then appear in another. The French called it the rectification of a great wrong, namely their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, by almighty God. Once the stein left the German Empire and cleared the country estate of Donatien Alphonse du Motier -- a wealthy playboy known well in France and abroad for his extravagant tastes --of every living breath, the French ceased such claims.
The heavenly stein crept across the English Channel with James Edward Pierce. From what is known about Pierce, he was a professional thief of some skill. However, on the 3rd of December 1898, inside a grimy London flat, Pierce was found dead. The coroner could find no cause of death, though the fact of his demise could not be denied. The police discovered no stein.
Little is heard about the stein and its whereabouts for a number of years after. Stories circulate about soldiers encountering it during the first World War, many of which have an air of truth. Rumors from 1921 put it on board the Carroll A. Deering -- a schooner found off the coast of North Carolina with all hands missing -- before becoming involved with a number of strange deaths in New York over the course of the ‘20s. By the beginning of the second World War, Metzger’s heavenly stein is thought to have been en route to Alaska. After that there is no clear sense of its possible location.
The only solid clue comes in 1968 when it is known to have been scheduled for delivery to Howard Hughs, but the plane meant to carry the package vanished in the Nevada desert. Throughout the seventies there is an endless list of sightings that can only be described as the juvenile fiction of feeble minds. Stories about the Nazis hunt for the stein and sinister cults devoted to the mystery of the Metzger’s heavenly cup have been thoroughly rejected by all serious researchers.
However, here at the start of 1980, it seems time to come to the point. You did ask me to explain the gift I gave you this past Christmas. Well, friend, let me tell you: It is Ivar Meztger’s heavenly stein. Don’t doubt it for a moment, as you can tell I’m rather well versed in the history of this particular item. Moreover, I can promise that it is responsible for all I’ve said here. Consider us even.