Previously: “Fog! It’s so good to see you!” I try to act like Stevie Wonder but she doesn’t buy it.

And now: I wish I could have said the same, but long-unforgotten memories of our childhood remained like a chalk-marked sidewalk hopscotch board on my still fragile psyche. Fragile you say? Well, not really, but even I need sympathy occasionally. And now with Ped, er Ginger, in front of me, I could use all the help possible. I’ll never forgive him, her!, for dressing me and the dog up in what was to be her signature mode of style – Liza Minnelli by way of Elton John, courtesy of Flavor Flav. Is it any wonder I’ve no desire to see her again?

521787035_584c188a04          One of three strong influences.

“Fog, what’s happening? How are Mom and Dad? How is Ahmed?” It wasn’t ’til many years later that I discovered she and Ahmed had had a thing going on. Still, my love for Ahmed withstood that little bit of crappy news and we remained friends. After all, as I’ve said before, he did have the best falafel I’ve ever had. Food is thicker than blood.

I tried to ignore her, but she wouldn’t give up – another trademark of hers. I had no way off the bus at this point and after she dropped her besequinned butt into the seat next to me, I was effectively trapped. I had to speak with her. “Everyone’s alive.” I muttered.

She knew of my feelings towards her and did not seem upset over my hostile brevity. “Good, good. And it is so good to see you. I’ve been carrying around a gift for you hoping to run into you some time. And guess what?, I did!”, she squealed. Like a little child, overly proud of herself, she thrust a package at me, “Here! For you!”

In my futile attempt at downsizing my life, she gives me something else to carry with me. Wonderful. Wrapped in plain, brown paper, I’m immediately suspicious. Only Canadian Viagra, mail-order Depends, and life-size inflatable “people” come that way.

“Open it, open it! You’ll love it!”

“No, no, that’s OK, I’ll do it off the bus when I can fully appreciate it,” and throw it in the nearest garbage can. I want no part of it. But she is insistent and I’m forced to reveal it’s tawdry contents. It has some weight to it and comes in one of those cheap cardboard boxes that aren’t good for anything. I slowly open it and pull out the gift but it’s further wrapped in cheap brown tissue paper. How festive! It’s a friggin’ snow globe. Worse yet, it’s a friggin’ snow globe of the Care Bears in Gdansk, Poland! What!? I’m speechless. Who the hell thought of this crap? And who the hell is going to buy these things? Scratch that last thought, I know who…Ginger!

3175404651_8e428a0142          The first of many. Help us all. Please!

“Ginger, I don’t know what to say,” and that is the damn truth.

“Isn’t it so sweet? It’s the first of a limited edition set. The Care Bears will be visiting the whole world and there will be a commemorative globe celebrating each country they visit. I knew you’d love it.”

Why she thought that I had no clue, but before I could say anything else, she kept going on. “Look at the bottom, look at the bottom, it’s autographed by Lech Walesa!”

I knew for a fact, or at least suspected, Mr. Walesa had nothing to do with this, but didn’t want to open that can of worms. So I just nodded.

But Ginger wasn’t over yet. “In every country the Bears go to, all the globes will be signed by a famous person from that country. Isn’t that great? I hear that when they go to Italy, Berlusconi will be signing them”

Well at least that could happen, He did have a lot of time of time on his hands or would very shortly. Will the Bears be taking part in one of his Bunga-Bunga parties in a globe? I kept that to myself. I had to get off this bus soon or someone would soon find someone with a snow globe buried in their head.

Previously: Next stop …off.

And now: Just my luck. This bus was filled with Amway acolytes, missionaries of some obscure Zorastrian sect, and worst of all a group of life insurance salespeople heading to a convention in Des Moines. So this was hell…on wheels no less! Remind me why I left Ahmed’s and its insanity. Oh, yeah, right, that stuff.

I could stay on the bus until my final destination, 2 and a half days away with this ship of fools or I could get off some five hours from now. It would be a test regardless of length of my intestinal fortitude and ability to keep mindlessly singing an Abba song. On second thought, that might just endear me to this substrata of American society. But then again, there hasn’t been much in my history to endear me to many with the exception of the increasingly dysfunctional crew back at Ahmed’s.

3975923366_b52635d39f           Oh, yeah. Good times.

I’ve decided to stay on the bus until I could endure it no longer. Wisely, I packed the latest book, number six I think and 2,300 pages long, of the Shame of Bones trilogy. I think the author decided to milk his original premise bone dry – hence the title and the number of volumes in this inaccurately described “trilogy.” With my iPad and this book, I should be able to tune out the world, or rather this damnable bus, until I reach my destination. I hope.

Settling in to my “luxo-comfort-travel-pedic” seat as the bus company portrays it, I turn up my music to the Tony award-winning score of Kinky Boots, just then realizing the influence Kippy has had on me. Great! Just great! Before long I’ll probably be humming the score to Sling Blade – The Musical. I’m on a bus filled with people more marginalized than me, humming a yet non-existent show tune. I’m so screwed. But then it got worse.

We pull into the bus station in some town with no other reason for being other than the bus needs to refuel there and feed its occupants with the latest offerings from Little Debbie. New passengers get on; I look up and oh, crap!, there she (he) is: my brother – Ped, so named for the size of his feet which I will not go into at this point. But he’s not known as Ped any longer. No, not since his operation, yes, that operation, she goes by a new name, Ginger Vitus. Yeah. He’s a tranny, but he’s my tranny even if I don’t want to see him, er, her.

6545400661_ba2c27e4f5  Sister Ginger.

I do have to hand it to her – she pulls it off well. She looks good. Not good to me, but for what she’s done. Tasteful but with just a soupcon of garish. She always did have style. And it looks like she’s been shopping at the theatre gift store since she is now the very embodiment of Kinky Boots. I try to avoid her (his) gaze but she sees me first and walks down the aisle to park her butt in the seat next to me. Didn’t I leave Ahmed’s to escape this stuff?

“Fog! It’s so good to see you!” I try to act like Stevie Wonder but she doesn’t buy it.

Previously: Why do I bother listening? Why do I hang around this place? Why? Why?

And Now: That was a damn good question. I had to get out of there and now. I didn’t care if Ahmad had the best falafel, everything else was about to do me in. So I booked.

But where would I go? Church? Not hardly. Not since Sister Mary Angela Bucco caught me screwing around with one of the Goldberg-O’Brien twins behind the sacramental wine rack. (That’s where the priest kept the good stuff.)  Which sister I can’t remember, they DID look alike after all. And what you’re probably asking is up with the Goldberg-O’Brien name? Yeah, Irish and Jewish. Go figure. Lust knows no boundaries and neither did their parents. Being a good Catholic and a good Jew, they had the best of both worlds: six kids by three sets of twins. Why buy retail, right? So church was out.

2701993985_e3e5065a57                                    And this is why.

So was home. I ran away four times and this time it looked like it was finally going to stick. Where to go?

I’d been to all the halfway houses, quarterway houses, and a few of the all-the-way houses. Suffice to say, I have an interesting history. I’m pretty clean now that Hostess is out of business. I was up to a five pack a day habit on Twinkies. You know when you’re doing the good stuff, Ding Dongs and Ring Dings, scoring Little Debbie stuff just doesn’t cut it. Thankfully, it never got that far out of control. Hey, I can stop anytime I want. All you have to do to realize that is look at my weight. It’s a strapping 165 lbs. of rippling flab on a 6’3” frame. Good metabolism I guess. Sorry, that went off a little bit. Just a little TMI for you guys, but understand I’m going crazy here.

I would normally have gotten into my car and headed out to parts anywhere. But due to the damage done during the PETA dust-up, that car wasn’t going anywhere. Hitchhiking was out of the question. The last time I did that, I almost wound up getting married to a Paula Deen impersonator. No, I won’t be thumbing it for a long time.

So that leaves the rails or the bus. The bus affords more opportunity to get off anywhere and quickly and I opt for that. It’s time to leave the driving to them. Them being a sordid bunch of rum-soaked, caffeine-addicted, chain-smoking, former long-haul truckers who maintain a modicum of civility. A very small modicum.

134402237_f62c730185                  My life is in their hands!

Buses are the one of the last bastions of true democracy. Sit anywhere but be careful where. It’s the United friggin’ Nations on wheels. And there is a hierarchy to the seating “plan.” It’s not really official, but it resembles your old classroom seating. The law-abiding, butt-kissers sit up front looking to curry favor with the “teacher”. It also allows them the opportunity to get off fast. Something to always keep in mind on a bus trip. If this is the way you roll, better get on first, because of those sentenced to this mode of travel, it’s as welcome as a fart in church. As you move down the aisle, the bus gets a little and then a lot messier until you reach the back of the bus where all the kids who sat in the back of the classroom now reside. Certainly more interesting and definitely more pungent. Always decisions to make.

These are the people I normally associate but in the interest of rapid escape, I choose the front of the bus. What a mistake!

64785450_35f9c29e36

Next stop…off!

Previously: It wasn’t going to be pretty. And that was before his scholarship idea.

And now: Not pretty at all. Truth be told, I’m not a big fan of anything Billy Bob, Thornton or other wise. That’s probably why I like Angelina. She got out when she saw the handwriting on her arms. But, getting back to the issue at hand – a musical of Sling Blade? Really? I’m still asking myself that. I can only hope that this too eventually will be stillborn and quickly forgotten. Kippy can be like a dog with a bone though. Who knows how long this insanity will continue? And then I ask myself, does it really matter? If not that, then something else. And sure enough, here it comes. The scholarship idea.

It seems like Kippy was watching an inordinate amount of crap TV, you know like American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance?, and my favorite, America’s Got Herpes. Kippy penguins over to me and offers in his best clandestine stage whisper, “Fog, you’re going to love this.”

4040171378_362068b127 Yeah, that American Idol.

No, I-am-not-going-to-love-this! No, not at all.

But he persists. “Do you ever watch that program, American Idol?

No, I insist.

“Sure you do. I know you like to look at all the girls. Old ones. young ones, skinny ones…”

“Yeah, yeah. Stop already.” He did have a point, but I wasn’t going there; restraining orders and all that. “OK, Kippy, what’s up?”

“Fog, I want to help the kids.” I hate to air dirty laundry, well no, not really, but that’s what got Kippy into trouble last time. No, it’s not what you think. He was just handing out strange treats at last year’s neighborhood Halloween party. Most people give out candy bars, Snickers, that kind of stuff, right? Not Kippy. He was handing out those little containers of faux coffee creamer, all flavors. For those kids he thought were too robust (his word, mine is fat), he was giving out packets of Splenda and Sweet ‘n’ Low. You see how some parents might get just a little bit upset? The cops came and told him that 1. he had to stop that; and 2. he had to be out of town on all subsequent Halloweens. He was a little bit crushed but then realized he could go to all the non-stop Rocky Horror Picture Shows he wanted to. And he didn’t have to buy anything for the sniveling little beggars. (Again his words.)

1517086501_336887effe Just one of the kids, I guess.

Sorry, that was too much but when I hear Kippy talking about kids I get a little worked up.  He continued. “Fog, look with all the cuts to school budgets, the music programs are getting tossed out. That’s not fair. We might miss the next musical genius, might be the next Brittany, er, Bieber. You know, what’s her, uh – his name? Never mind. My idea gets around those cuts. We won’t even need musical instruments anymore!”

Wait for it, wait for it, here it comes.

“Are you ready? This is so great. We’ll get the junior community college to start awarding acapella scholarships. Any kid with a voice can apply. Well, a good voice, we must have standards you know. Before long I can see this as a sort of farm club for Broadway!”

Why do I bother listening? Why do I hang around this place? Why? Why?

Previously: Good grief, I wish I had a blade so I could cut myself out of this joke. But, Kippy was serious.

And now: So Kippy really was serious about the Sling Blade musical idea. He went on and on about it for days. His ideas continued to careen between just plain silly to out-and-out, world-class, state-of-the-art, carbon fiber stupid. It was that monumental in its outrageousness. In keeping with that theme Kippy wanted to sign on John Mayer and Katy Perry for the music. Yes, this was getting completely out-of-hand in it’s ludicrousness. But then, Polly of all people steps in with an idea how they could do it on the cheap and reach a maximum audience. Polly? Really? Guess she ran out of Sterno.

4239946302_5b79b499d1     2608725369_14a8b377d7 Hey!…it could happen.

Polly, in one of her Sterno-induced, hallucinatory urban stumbles, wandered unknowingly into a cafe where they served caffeine libations exclusively. Being somewhat unaware of the proper protocols, she sat down at another’s table and started merrily hammering away on their unattended Mac. Before long, she was watching soft-core food porn and wondering where she’d be able to score some risotto. Not that she knew what it was, but it looked soft enough for her to eat, given her current dental condition. She was hooked, (yes, we all know how addictive a personality she has), and before long was tabbing back and forth and checking out every conceivable podcast she could find. But that, as all good things do, had to end. The computer’s owner returned and had Polly cruelly and emphatically reintroduced to the sidewalk. But not before she had the idea.

Polly as lucidly as possible shares her idea with us. “Put the friggin’ play on the www. interweb!” OK, so she didn’t fully understand the net, but it was a start. And we all had to admit there was more than a little merit to her idea. First of all, the production costs would be way cheaper. Score one for Polly. Secondly, we didn’t need union talent. Way to go again for Polly. Thirdly, and this is what attracted most of us, probably hardly anyone would see it sparing Kippy (and the rest of us) enormous embarrassment. Kippy loved the idea because he thought he’d be leading the vanguard in a whole new art form. It appears he didn’t know much more about the internet than Polly. We are not without mercy and decided not to tell Kippy he wasn’t the first, or second, or… you get the idea.

3823517383_2eb37048e5 This really shouldn’t be happening!

So, now Kippy is creating his list of investors, or “angels” as he calls them, to invest in this sure-fire theatrical hit. The rest of us all quickly pleaded financial hardships so Kippy could go hit up the unsuspecting yet hopeful “angels.” To quote Dante, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” It wasn’t going to be pretty. And that was before his scholarship idea.

Previously: Brilliant was right. In the same way a 15 watt light bulb is brilliant. This was not going to end well.

And now: Little did any of us towering intellects know that we would soon be needing a mouthpiece sooner than later and not just for resisting arrest.

Pops was down with the lawyer idea. He thought it might bring some here-to-fore needed class the pizzeria sorely lacked. F. Lee Bailey, Alan Dershowitz, and Johnny Cochran could not have brought class to this place, but, hey, I’ve crushed enough of Pops’ dreams to say anything about it. So, unbelievably, the resisting arrest scam was working. Look, it’s New Jersey, anything is possible here. And things were quiet. No PETA protests, Doris Day was happy with her new dogs, Pops was selling pizza and juris medicine in the back. It was too quiet. But we take our gifts where we get ’em.

6327151234_bd3c0dbf8a Not the caliber of lawyer at O’Shea’s.

Now that all that was humming along nicely, the drama reduced to a low, barely-discernible moan, I could go visit O’Shea’s and watch Ahmed polish his new glass, and finally indulge in one of his falafels. Life was good. Yeah, for the moment. I know I told you about O’Shea’s before, but it does have the best falafel in town. Town being Newark. Newark is out there, hanging on in the dark by its fingernails to the border, right across the river from New York City wishing it wasn’t in New Jersey. It had pretensions once, but now it’s come to grips with itself. It even at one time had its own theatre district. Now why you ask am I mentioning that? Well, what remains of the old and decrepit theatre crowd of hangers-on and former wannabees like to come into O’Shea’s and reminisce over their falafels and gin and tonics. It’s a strange crowd. It’s like watching outtakes from the old Mel Brooks movie, The Producers. Usually, it’s a harmless and almost amusing group of farts. Usually.

Tonight, we’re about to experience an out-of-body event, but I’m not sure whose body. One of the old-timers, named Kippy Sewell, creeps up to the bar next to me and signals Ahmed to join us. Us? I’m just sitting there nursing my falafel. I didn’t ask to join this but it looks like I’m into it.

“Hehnnn… Ahmed. C’mere.” hisses Kippy. Hissing is about all Kippy can manage after Tranks and Barry shook him down, literally, for an unpaid debt of some forgotten nature. “Ahmed, c’mere.”

Ahmed is deep into polishing the glass and doesn’t want to be bothered especially by the likes of Kippy. But Kippy is that rare bird seldom found in O’Shea’s – he pays his tab, so Ahmed reluctantly wanders over, but not before slowly straightening every bottle on the shelf behind him. “OK, Kippy, whadisit? I got glasses to polish.”

“Ahmed, you’re going to love this. You too Fog. But you’ve got to keep it on the down low.” You gotta give Kippy this – he speaks really well, enunciating each word as if in a Shakespearean play, only with hissing sibilance. You can take the boy out of the theatre, but… well, you know the rest.

Neither Ahmed or I are particularly interested in this, but boredom seeps in quickly at O’Shea’s so we listen. “What is it this time, Kippy?”

“I’ve just come across the most unique and original script of a play that I’ve seen in a long time. It is guaranteed to bring live theatre musicals back to the top. I’m looking for backers and you two need to get in on the ground floor. You’ll get rich!”

8318342482_5eb31fdb56 Yeah, it is a Broadway musical, but it looks more like the PETA protest.

Ahmed looks around and realizes there are more bottles that need straightening and departs for his shelves, leaving me with Kippy. I have to decide whether to make an excuse and leave, not finishing my falafel. Nope, can’t do THAT. So, I stay and listen to what Kippy believes will make us all rich. Looking back, I realize I can get a falafel pretty much anytime, but too late.

“Fog, do you go to the movies? Do you like movies? Musicals? Dance numbers?” Kippy says. “This is important.”

“No, Kippy, not really. The last movie I saw didn’t have sound.” I really didn’t want to indulge him, so sarcasm was my only refuge.

“Fog, I know that’s not true. I remember seeing you removing Polly from a Dana Delaney film festival. So there.” he hehnned triumphantly.

“OK, Kippy, shoot. I can’t hide the truth from you any longer.”

“Fog,” he always starts each query with your name. “Remember that actress with the big lips, Angela… what was it? Not Lansbury. No, no. Angelina, Yes, yes, Angelina… Jolie. That’s her. remember her? She was married to that weird guy who tattooed her name on himself. Well he made a movie that I’ll never forget.”

Oh great. He’s made a few. Which one and why? “OK, I’ll bite..which one?”

“Fog, you know the one. The one where he mumbles all the time.. Hmgnnhh. Right. Well, this script is marvelous. It’s a musical version of Sling Blade!”

2788022437_7cf29e2035 Hey, he does sing. Maybe it could work!

Good grief, I wish I had a blade so I could cut myself out of this joke. But, Kippy was serious.

Previously: “Pops, how’d you like to be a lawyer?”

And now: Pops was so deep into debt with Tranks, he had to just stand there and ask “What now?”

“Pops, you watch any late night TV? You know the stuff, meet girls, get rich, lawyers, that stuff?” Tranks asked. Barry in the meantime had brought a gift of corn dogs over to Pops as a reminder of what they had done together in the recent past. Barry was anything if not subtle.

11802394_8461416465 Corn dogs…yum? Not really.

“Tranks, look, I don’t know anything about lawyers. And Barry, by the way, thanks for the corn dogs, Polly loves ’em.” Pops did not pick up on the subtlety that Barry was pushing.

“Pops, this little joint would be perfect for a PI lawyer to operate out of. Cheap, seedy, bad food, and it’s got a bathroom. It’s perfect.”

I have to admit it, Tranks was resourceful. Certainly not above the law, but hey, who here is? He wanted to install one of his not-quite-bright minions as a personal injury lawyer in Pops place. If I knew this was on the level, I’d vote for it. Lawyers, even the bad ones (well, how do you make that distinction?) tend to class up the place. Or would in Pops’ case. However, I’m pretty sure this guy would not have passed the bar, at least not one without alcohol sold in it.

“Look Pops, it’s a no-brainer. We’ll take only those cases in which the perp has been charged with resisting arrest. Do you know how easy it is to defend those? I’ve come up with a fool-proof defense.” Tranks claiming something was fool-proof was an oxymoronic statement, right up there with political ethics. But since I hadn’t had a good laugh that day, I was willing to listen and suspend disbelief if possible. Afterwards, possible was not the operational word, “required” was.

“OK, Tranks, this’ll be good. Let’s hear it,” I offered.

“Fog, you do speak after all. I may have to hire you next. Anyway, this is the deal. Say, I decide I want to smash you in the face and I do it. And I get you good. Do you stop me? No. Why? Because I did it unexpectedly. You didn’t know what I wanted or was going to do. Same thing with the cops. Let’s say now that I’m driving a little on the fast side. Ehh, maybe a lot. Anyway, a cop comes up behind me and flashes his lights. I pull over and stop. The cop gets out and walks over. With me so far? Good. He asks the dumb question, ‘Do you know how fast you’re going?’ Well, yeah, of course I do, I was driving the damn car. Figuring he just wanted to talk I politely answered him and told him it was nice talking with him but I had to be someplace soon. And I drive off, leaving him by the side of the road. Aside from driving maybe a little too fast. I haven’t done anything wrong, right? But he gets in his car, puts on the lights, calls out for back-up and catches me further down the highway and charges me with resisting arrest.

4008096740_221b4763d0 Dramatic re-enactment.

“That’s where this whole thing works. Like me smashing you in the face, you didn’t know what I was going to do. So, how did I know what he was going to do? Did he mention he was going to arrest me? No. Could I read his mind? No again. So how the hell can he get me for resisting arrest when I didn’t know that’s what he was going to do. It’s brilliant, I tell you. I would have had to have known that’s what he was going to do in order for me to resist it. Brilliant. I thought of that myself.”

Brilliant was right. In the same way a 15 watt light bulb is brilliant. This was not going to end well.

Previously: Barry wasn’t kidding nor was the newly arrived Trank. OK, it wouldn’t have seemed possible but Pops turned even paler. Could anything be whiter than Pat Boone?

 And now: Well, yeah it could, but why go into that now? At this moment, Pops had to find a way out of this. He had tickets for the Cyndi Lauper Really Final Tour of My Career show that night and he never missed one of those. By his count, he had seen this show 53 times. Final tour…really? After Pops had a few, he would wax enthusiastically if not somewhat remorsefully how Cyndi, even in her younger years, was an overlooked and misunderstood musical genius. I don’t know… maybe he was huffing some Sterno with Polly too. But I digress, again. In the meantime, Tranks was humming happily, probably thinking about the mayhem he was about to unleash.

2564228353_bfc1736120 Polly’s “drug” of choice.

Pops looked at Tranks with wonder. I’d seen this look before and it in itself was a wonder. Pops had an idea out of this. I waited with an uneasiness to see what foolhardy thing this would be.
“That’s it!’ screamed Pops. “Let’s call Patti Page!” OK, we were all now wondering if Pops had lost it for good. Patti Page, wtf?

“Pops, what are you talking about?” we all asked. “What does she have to do with this?”

Pops, eyes gleaming with triumph answered, “When I came over to New Jersey, there was this song on the radio, ‘How much is that doggie in the window?‘ She must like dogs,  she loves animals, we’ll give ’em to her.” Ahhh, that was the song Tranks was humming mindlessly.

8343027767_85958a3247Patti Page wants to know how much the mutt costs.

As usual, when Pops has an idea, it’s probably based on a somewhat faulty historical recollection. And this one was no exception. “Uh Pops, you fool, Patti Page is dead.” snorted Polly gleefully between Sterno huffs.

“No, no, I see her on Entertainment Tonight, she’s still alive with all those animals.” Great, now Pops is channeling some screwed up TV show. Great. Just great. But, and I hate to admit this as it means Pops had had an influence on me, he might just be onto something. Thinking as Pops might, he was confusing Ms. Page with another singer of that time, Doris Day. And to the best of my knowledge and the internet, she was alive.

Fast forward a couple of days. Somehow or another, we were able to make contact with Ms. Day, a lovely lady of 91 and still a looker as far as Pops was concerned. He wanted to pack up a truck immediately and make the delivery himself. He had had the hots for her for years and he thought this would be a good opportunity to put his moves on her. Jeez, I thought the tyranny of testosterone died down at his age. Evidently not. But it was arranged, she agreed to take the mutts and give them all a home on her estate and that solved a couple of problems. Pops could keep his questionable vegetarian pizzeria open, he didn’t have to serve dogs on the menu, and Tranks got the dogs off his hands. Win, win, right? Yeah, right. No, not so easy.

2131086396_1e072e2d2c Doris Day wants the mutts.

A couple of weeks later, Tranks comes in with a new idea. Doesn’t he have any other place he can unload this crap on?

“Pops, how’d you like to be a lawyer?”

Previously: If Barry “took care” of Ahmed, I’d never have a falafel again. I had to get involved.

And now: Just what I wanted. Barry was not a favorite of mine. He was bad looking, but smelled worse. Just one affliction short of an unpleasant trifecta of human refuse. But he was there wanting his money. Well, not his actually. He was just the faceman, if you could call it that, for an even worse individual, Tranks. Yeah, like Cher he favored only one name but at least Tranks wasn’t in evidence.

This was not Barry’s regular time to come calling. So, if he was there which he was, something was up and it wasn’t going to be good. There was some good news in his presence…he didn’t want his money this visit. But he was there on Tranks business. Could this day get any worse? Uhhh, yeah.

It seems that the PETA dust-up was of Trank’s doing. He thought a diversionary tactic, such as the buffalo mozzarella cheese flap, would deflect attention from his real and much more miserable activity. Tranks was running a scam animal rescue operation. He and his gang of community college miscreants were rounding up dogs, there’s a good reason for leash laws folks, and advertising them as rescue dogs.  Hey, no overhead except for the dog food bought at Target. He commanded a high dollar for each one of these Sarah McLachlan represented pooches. Gordon Gekko once said “Greed is good.” Tranks paraphrased that to “Guilt is good.” And it paid off for a while until PETA got wind of it.

5305214442_56a5231e04 Gordon Gekko, not Tranks.

In order for Tranks to get his pups out of town, he had to stage a diversion, hence the Great Buffalo Mozzarella Protest. Damned if it didn’t work. But now Pops was branded as some heartless capitalist and animal hater. OK, he is a capitalist, but he loves dogs. Certainly not as what PETA portrayed him. That said, he wasn’t selling much vegetarian pizza these days. Thanks Tranks! But the diversion was just that for all involved. See, Barry was there to let Pops know what Tranks wanted from him now. An offer that he surely could not refuse was coming down the barrel of this gun and we were all waiting for the blast.

“Pops, Tranks likes you and wants to save you some money and make you some money. You interested?,” Barry coughed up. Those words were like music to Pops but it was the symphony he was about to regret.

Barry continued on with his phlegmy monologue, “It seems like Tranks is really missing his meat pizzas. He wants you to start offering them now.” Pops was suspicious with good reason.

From under his flour-crusted eyebrows, Pop looked at Barry and asked, “Why?”

Barry replied without giving away anything, “Because Tranks has come into quite a supply of fresh meat and wants you to start using it.”

“No, no, no, no,no!” Pop screamed. “No meat! No meat! Did you see what happened here with all those hippies protesting my pizza? No. No!”

“Well Pops, it ain’t gonna be that easy. You see, Tranks has to get rid of those dogs somehow and you’re gonna make them the specialty of the house. Get it?”

4895522092_c111398306 New specialty of the house? Stay tuned!

If Pops could have gotten any whiter, hard considering he was covered in flour, he would have passed for Pat Boone. This was not how he saw this day continuing. “Fog, son, help me with this. Polly, ahh, no forget it Polly. Fog, you, you gotta do something! Barry, you gotta be kidding right?”

Barry wasn’t kidding nor was the newly arrived Trank. OK, it wouldn’t have seemed possible but Pops turned even paler. Could anything be whiter than Pat Boone?

Previously on The Bruce: So the mystery of the envelope was solved; the mob was dispersed; Ahmed was back to polishing the same frigging glass; in short all was as it should be. But not for long. Barry came in looking for his weekly order of baksheesh.

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And now: For those of you out there who don’t know what baksheesh is, here’s a brief explanation. It’s thought to be Persian in origin and means a tip or some such gratuity. It more recent years, it usually mean bribery and that’s what Barry was looking for. And he was looking right at Ahmed and that damned glass. Ahmed was doing his best not to notice Barry which in itself would be an incredible feat to pull off. Barry is, how can you say this diplomatically, (something I’m not really known for), unusual looking. If while under the influence of any number of mind-altering substances, Ovaltine included, one could describe him as the illegitimate love child of a seven foot tall Jeff Goldblum, Sally Struthers, and A-Rod. If not under that kind of influence, that description is still pretty accurate, but nothing would explain the red hair. Don’t ask, but it ain’t my family!

Barry wanted his money, now. Ahmed feigning concern over his falafel grill, was still trying to ignore Barry. With Barry’s shadow looming ever larger, Ahmed was losing his battle. Finally, he gave in, turned and promptly dropped the glass he had been so dutifully polishing for probably 6 years. Well, all good things must end and a new glass started, right? And as far as ending goes, Barry was looking to end Ahmed right then and there. What were we into now?

“Ahmed, you haven’t been behaving. Why haven’t you been returning my calls?”, Barry wanted to know as if he didn’t know already. Barry knew and Ahmed knew he knew and couldn’t stall him any longer. For too many years, Ahmed had been paying Barry off and while I knew it was happening, I didn’t really know why. That was about to change. Dumb-ass me, I never saw the connection. Yeah, Fog Calamari couldn’t figure out some marriages were arranged and others, well, they were ARRANGED if you catch my drift. Only this one involved my half (and half-wit) sister, Polly. Yeah, the same name as our mother. Polly, my Sterno-huffing mother, gave birth to my sister fathered by cheating on Pops with some Electrolux salesman. Yeah, it sucked and in more ways than one. During one of her huffed-up binges, she decided to name her new daughter Polly as if it was the cutest thing in the world. In the family, daughter Polly was called Po as if we were prescient about her life to come. Hell, all one had to do to suss that out was to look at her mother. I didn’t learn this until many years later after I’d been calling Ahmed “Uncle” for the whole time. Now it was time for Ahmed to say “Uncle.” Karma, man.

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For a not small amount, Ahmed, who was later revealed as the Electrolux schmuck and father to Po, paid Barry to marry her. What Ahmed didn’t count on was Barry expecting a regular payroll check for his efforts. In Barry’s favor, he was kind to Po, but not particularly loving or faithful, but then neither was Po to him. Ah, love, right? Barry’s latest visit was due to Ahmed being more than a little late in his continuous dowry. Who knows how long Barry’s kindness would last without his stipend? This had to end now or sooner. If Barry “took care” of Ahmed, I’d never have a falafel again. I had to get involved.