Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Life on the Other Side of the Universe
We interrupt this regularly schedule blog to bring you this special program. The program featured in this spot will return tomorrow, same time, same channel. First a word from our sponsor, Henway.

Thank you for tuning in to Uncle Bob's story hour. In this segment Bob tells why Christmas isn't his favorite holiday. We're not talking Scrooge here. Uncle Bob grew up in a foster home. To be succinct, it was a wonderful childhood. My foster parents were blue collar. Step dad was a beef boner at a small meat packing house and mom was a short order cook and housewife. To make things complicated, I also had a real mother who visited me regularly. It would take too long to explain the arrangement. Perhaps in the future. Dad was 2nd generation Polish from Northern Minnesota. Mom was Yugoslavian, arriving here at age 4. The two were polar opposites. Dad could cook better than Mom and often did in his basement kitchen. Frequently overheard remarks from my Dad were, " Aw you're full of shit." ...And she was. A few examples; Mom wanted to side the house with aluminum (beer cans);she could be found in the basement burning money in the incinerator; and she would disappear at Christmas.

The role model I had from my parents, (three mothers/two fathers) is perhaps the reason why I have married three different women. There's the Slav mother, my real mother(who was a saint) and my adopted Native American mother(likewise a saint). My step dad held everything together working in a cooler all his life and putting up with the likes of Mom. My real father was a worthless shit who gave my mother an engagement ring, a baby and left town-in that order. I've never met him nor had a desire to find out about him.

Twenty four years ago, at Christmas, I left my wife of 16 years. In 1984 I had three children, one who was younger than my 3 year old granddaughter, a 5 year old son and a teenage daughter. I raised them with the help of an unknown legal arrangement at the time called joint custody. I'm surprised my children aren't self destructive from the week on/week off schedule. Included here in the list of saints is my current wife who helped fill the void of mother. In 1984 I was heavily into drugs and alcohol. So was my wife. Things weren't going well. I felt like my brain was being pulled through my nose. To make things worse, I had a crazy girlfriend.

Christmas is normally hectic. When you're divorced it becomes an orgy. The kids have multiple parents/step parents, grandparents and two households. I can remember my youngest standing in a sea of wrapping paper saying, "Is that all?" When I was young my real mother would arrive with a mountain of presents. Piled next to the fake fireplace was my mountain of presents and the small hills of gifts for my step-sisters. I was a selfish shit, too. I wouldn't share anything One Christmas,I wore out a train set running the engine until the transformer burned out.

I could go on. You'd be running for the bottle of an alcoholic drink of choice to forget this story. Take my word for it. Christmas was and still is a journey in a weeks time from the South Pole to the North Pole. My present wife's birthday is 3 days before Christmas. After Christmas is our anniversary; We were married in small Claims Court for tax purposes. Various other relatives were all born about the same time. As I write I have to pick up a birthday present I spaced out because of bad weather, crowded stores and a frozen trunk which bent the key to my ignition making it near impossible to start my car. Woe betide me.

This, then, is an excerpt from Dog Stories dated December 20,1996. It is titled The Albatross Man at Christmas

The crash on the front door at 15 minutes before opening time at first startled me. When I dusted myself off and stood up my ire was peaking. "Gol darn these idiots! Don't they know we open at 10 am?" I went to the front window to identify the source of the noise. I could see the top of someone's camouflage hat and what looked like feathers on either side of the brim. He was sitting on the cement stoop. I figured that in a few minutes he'd continue on his itinerant ways and I wouldn't be forced to tell him, "Stop blocking the door."
Get the heck off my doorstep!

At opening time, I unlocked the door. To my dismay, there he was. "Morning," he says. I try not to pay attention. There are always many things to take care of in the opening sequence. Unlocking certain cases, turning on lights, checking the radiators were just a few examples. As I returned to the entrance way, the Albatross Man was turning off his headset. It saved me the trouble of telling him we don't allow noisy radios in the store. I think he read my mind. Perhaps this was an established routine for other stores he visits.

I grimaced when he undid his inner coat and zipped up his pants. Although he was a small man-not more than 5'8", he sported an ample gut that hung out under his red T-shirt and peeked through his partially open trousers. I rehearse a description in case I have to call the police. Small man, partially bald with a five day beard , peanut head, large stomach, camouflage clothing and a hat with feathers on it.

That's when I noticed he was wearing a seagull under his belt. At first, it looked like the comical dead rubber chicken from the old vaudeville days. The bird's feet were bright pink and the head knocked against his leg as he walked. My non reaction to all this was a wonderful statement of a lack of intelligence. I can only say I haven't reached enlightenment.

Is that a dead bird under your belt? I ask. He replies, Why yes, it is. Take that thing out of here! He does so- promptly and politely.

I walk to my office and look up the non-emergency number for the First District police station. When I come out of my office, I see he's proudly holding up a fist full of money. It was a none too subtle way of saying, I'm not a vagrant. The next customer walks in the store. Did you know there's a dead bird on your doorstep? she says.

I reply, It belongs to that man. pointing to the Albatross Man in the back of the store. The female customer understood with a quick look. I grimaced at each step he took. Anytime he touched something, I winced. I'm thinking there are dead seagull germs all over the place. When the Albatross Man asked a question no words cam out. He just pointed with his fist of money and grunted. That there piece of leather is $9*.95, I tell him. I add sir to the end of my reply. It's like pulling a sliver out of your tongue.

In my imagination, I may still have to manhandle him out the front door. I think about a recent business trip to Manhattan. I'm in a deli. There's an elderly gent with a wire, two wheel grocery cart trailing behind him. The soup Nazi behind the counter tells the gent not to walk through the line of customers waiting for their knish or bagel and coffee. The old man balks. The counter clerk swears. The old man swears back. The clerk takes him by the elbow and tosses him out a side door. Like a home movie, my mind switches to a popular Mexican restaurant on National Avenue in Milwaukee. There's a man standing in the shelter of the restaurant entrance way waiting for a bus. Evidently this scene has been repeated in the past. The employees of the restaurant grab the gent. There's a whole lot of posturing on both sides. Swearing ensues. I glance at the man's left hand. He has no fingers. Mr. No Fingers gets tossed out to the middle of the busy thoroughfare. He holds up his left hand as if to give them the finger-except that there's no finger . It's great entertainment while eating one's chile relleno. But I have digressed.

The Albatross Man makes his way slowly through the store. Much too slowly for my taste. Like the cartoon character, a dusty, smelly, cloud hangs over him. The cloud is dead seagull. Actually not an Albatross but an immature mundane seagull found all over the Great Lakes. As he steps up to the front counter I ask, Are you ready to check out? Two grunts and a head shake mean yes. I forget what he purchased because I'm distracted by his dirty hands. The total is $37. relief, satisfaction and guilt follow. It's my first sale of the day. The Chinese say that your first sale will tell how your day will go. My guilty conscience says he won't eat today., because he spends all his money. He hands me 37 one dollar seagull tainted bills. All remorse disappears.

As I package the Albatross Man's goodies, he begins the reverse process of getting dressed. Then the Piece DE Resistance.
I glance at his feathered camouflage hat, now clearly in view. The feathers I see are more than just feathers. They are the intact wings of the juvenile seagull, ripped from the carcass and pinned to either d=side of the cap. If you forget for a moment his Pee wee Herman like appearance, he could be the mythical figure of Mercury. When he exits, he forgets one garment. Oh no, I moan. He'll be back! The next customer walks in and asks, Do you know there's a dead bird stuck beak first in a hole in a wooden post in the adjacent parking lot? I respond with a disgruntled No!

There's no place to bury a dead bird in downtown Milwaukee. Everything is paved with asphalt and concrete. I toss the bird and the man's clothing onto a snow pile next to the building. I'm hoping the rat population will take care of the remnants.

For the rest of the winter, through many snowfalls and frequent snowplowing, the seagull and the shirt move their way around the parking lot.

Oh by the way...What's a henway . About three pounds, is the answer.

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