Birthday Boy

With the store empty and two minutes left until closing time, Duffy jiggled the keys in his hand and looked anxiously out the front window. Two drunks were speaking loudly, staggering inches away from his car. Sure, it was only a 2013 Hyundai, but it was low mileage and almost paid for. The scragglier of the two men slipped and banged his head on the hood, causing his companion to erupt in spasms of laughter.

Duffy rushed to the door, yelling "Get the fuck away from my Elantra." Both men turned around, and the one who had been laughing shouted back a hearty "Fuck you!" before kicking the fender and sauntering off. As he watched the drunks fade off into the night, two weirdoes walked in through the door that Duffy was holding half open.

How many times had this scene played out in the past? Trash comes blowing in off of the street right as you're getting ready to lock up. Closing time was the most dangerous time of the day, and Duffy scurried back to the counter where he could be closer to his gun.

The shorter of the pair was a small framed elderly woman with a glazed look in her eyes and a lavender streak in her unnaturally black hair. Her makeup had been applied with a trowel, and her short skirt revealed more leg than Duffy cared to see. "Hi!" she said brightly, giving him a wink and waiting for him to respond. Duffy nodded his head. No danger here.

The other individual in the store was a freak of an unknown type. At first Duffy had thought the creature, hunched over a walker, was wearing some sort of burka, but on closer inspection this turned out not to be the case. The garment was a robe, black silk reaching down to the floor, so oversized that the person inside appeared to be lost. And over the head was a sort of velvet hood, also black, with slits cut out for the mascara-laden eyes.

"Can I help you?" asked Duffy, hoping to expedite their visit. He didn't really want to help. He touched his gun for comfort, and flicked off the switch for the open sign, killing the outside lights.

"No, my friend, no help from you today," said Foxy Grandma in a sing-song voice. She followed two feet behind as the figure with the walker edged past the gin section and into the vodka, making a beeline towards the bourbon. A bejeweled hand with silver fingernails pointed to a lower shelf, and the old woman plucked up a quart of Jim Beam Black.

"I'm going to need to see some ID for that, compadre."

"Oh no, my friend, it's for my companion here." She hugged the covered figure, and Duffy heard a high pitched giggle come from inside the hood.

"Well, the law says that your companion here is going to have to show her face and her ID before I can sell you anything. And try to make it snappy - I'm ready to close."

"My face is my ID," said the muffled voice, as two fluttering hands appeared to slowly lift the hood.

"Oh my God no," said Duffy, momentarily frozen by the visage before him. And then his voice rose. "Get out! Get the hell out of here! Take the booze and go. Just beat it." As the two headed for the door, Duffy twisted the cap off his own bottle, swigged heartily, and shook his head in disgust.

* * * * * * * *

Michael fell out of bed on the morning of his sixtieth birthday. Oh screw me, he muttered, wondering if any new part of his body was chipped or bruised. He thought that he might just stay there on the floor until somebody found him. He had bumped his bad knee, the one doctors had been urging him to replace for years. Odd to wonder why he never chose to have surgery for that.

There were half a dozen vials of pills on the bed stand for when he arose. That was enough motivation to get him to try, but not enough to make him complete the effort. Why bother? Michael raised himself up far enough to drag down one of the pillows off of the bed, and then lay back down against the sky blue carpet. It was nice down on the floor, really, sort of like camping out, and he leaned up once again to pull down a blanket of weightless warmth. Exotic cookies would be nice, he thought, fine ones prized by foreign lands (such as Nigeria's Chocanoodas), but acquiring them would take more effort than he was willing to expend.

Michael felt a dream tugging on him and decided to follow. His new world was full of cotton-candy colors and the laughter of children. A cheery Paul McCartney song was playing through the loudspeakers in the never-ending park. No, wait. It was Paul McCartney! He was performing on the long and elegant mahogany promenade stage. Michael made his way effortlessly through the crowd, and soon found himself gazing at a wonderful carousel with rainbow-hued fish and high-kicking donkeys. A small female child with long golden hair reached up to hand him a white plastic cup of French fries. Michael smiled sweetly at the girl, who was dressed in a wondrous gauzy white gown, and asked her for ketchup.

"You may have no condiments," she told him, a furrow appearing on her seven year old brow. "They are forbidden to you now." And then the little bastard threw a Big Gulp on his trousers.

Michael woke in wet pajamas. Once again he'd forgotten his Depends.

* * * * * * * *

Now just where on God's green earth were his teeth? Had he mislaid them around the house once again? Honest to god, he thought, will I ever learn to keep a spare pair in my dresser? Michael considered showering and shaving, but then he thought about breakfast, and breakfast sounded so much better... He swabbed himself off with a coral colored velour washcloth, which he then tossed into the trash can beside last night's socks.

Maria was Michael's morning person, in charge of getting him off to a happy start each and every day. Lately her job had been getting increasingly difficult, as her boss's behavior became ever more erratic. Playing a role somewhere between a mother and a maid - though always dressed frothily as the later - Maria had been with Michael for the better part of fourteen years, ever since the horrid year of his big comedown.

Maria greeted Michael as soon as he hobbled up to the fringe of the dining complex. He had made quite the racket getting there, with his moans, groans, and shovel steps. "Happy birthday, honey," she said, before giving him the once over, and shaking her head in disapproval. "My goodness, Michael, we are really going to have to fix you up a bit this morning..."

"I hurt my knee real bad, Maria," said Michael, who, with exaggerated effort, made it to the chair that she had pulled out for him by the classic PacMan table. "Real bad. It hurts. Could I have some sausages, and some French fries with extra ketchup, please? Lots of ketchup, the good kind that sticks in the bottle. And a large orange juice, extra good."

"I'll let the cook know to start rattling his pans, Michael. Oh, and we're almost out of Grey Goose, so I'll have to use Absolut for your OJ." Maria did the little petticoat twirl that Michael so adored, but the look she gave him showed her obvious distaste. "You've got a birthday visitor, honey. Maybe you want to put in your teeth before I show her in."

"I can't find them."

"Well I'll keep my eyes peeled. Maybe you left them in the game room again. But Michael, why don't you at least put on one of your wigs? They make you look so much younger."

"I don't want to wear a wig," whined Michael. "I'm sixty years old today. I've decided that it's time for me to look more distinguished."

"But your hair is so, uh... irregular, Michael. Don't you want to look your best for Ms Minelli?"

"Liza!" Michael shouted excitedly, rising up from his chair and falling straight to the floor, where he began to bawl. "I'm old, I'm old, I'm really really old. Old old old old old old old old old old old."

You're a goddamn pathetic freak is what you are, thought Maria as she helped him back into an upright position. "I'll have the doctor come by as soon as I speak to the cook. He can take a look at that knee and you'll be just as good as new." Her face was in a frozen smile as she left, and she vowed to steal an ashtray before the day was through.

"Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ouch ouch uh oh it hurts." Michael said to no one in particular.

Two perky eyes and a pixie haircut peeked around the kitchen door. "Sounds like somebody in there has a big ouchie."

Michael squealed when he jumped up, and Michael squealed when he fell down. "NOW IVE BUMPED MY HEAD! AND I ALREADY HURT MY KNEE! LIZA! Ow ow ouch ouch ouch ouch. Ahhroooo!"

"Calm down, Mikey. Liza will kiss it and make it all better." The former dancer made a wobbly beeline towards Michael, landing an elegantly spiked heel on the palm of his outstretched hand.


"Sorry," said Liza, plopping down to take a seat by Michael, her leather skirt riding high on her once vaunted thighs. "Clumsy me."

"Ooh ooh oh oww oww ouch. Oh man. Ouch ouch ouch. I'm dying."

Liza opened her enormous purse and pulled out a platinum flask. "Have a swig of this and you'll feel like living again. Come on, it's a... Michael! What happened to you?"

"My knee has been hurting real bad and I..."

"No. Your nose."

Michael slowly moved his trembling forefinger to his face, and when it should have touched something, it did not. "GAHHHH! YIIII! OH NO OH NO OH NO!"

Michael's screams were loud enough to bring Maria running back into the room. "What is going on now, Ms Minelli?" she asked, fearful of hearing the answer. There were two idiots on the floor and it wasn't even eleven-thirty.

"I don't know," said Liza, moving her hands like a symphony conductor. "His nose came off. When he fell. I think it rolled under the refrigerator."

"My nothe... my nothe...," sobbed Michael.

Liza pulled a flashlight out of her enormous purse, and put her face to the floor, shining the rays underneath the Kenmore. "Here. I think I see it. Anybody got a coat hanger? No, wait a minute. I've got one in my bag." Within moments she had dislodged Michael's nostrils from their dusty alcove. "Here you go, sweetie. Do you know how to put it back on again?"

"No," Michael said sadly, shaking his nearly hairless head. "It'th not thuppothed to fall off." He paused for a dramatic shiver, and would have sniffed his nose if there had been one on his face. "Litha, I'm really deprethed. I'm getting old and falling all apart. I with that I could juth die."

"Michael! Don't ever let me hear you say such a thing again. You are not like this." Liza kissed him softly on the neck, and arose with the nose. "We'll wash it off here under the faucet and it will be like brand new."

"But I don't know how to put my nothe back on!"

"Not to worry," said Liza, rummaging around in her bag. I've got scotch tape, the invisible kind. Right now I want you to sit back and have some of my pills. They'll make you feel a lot better."

"And I've got you an extra big glass of orange juice," said Maria, popping back in the room right on cue. The three laughed and laughed, as Liza proceeded to do a fine job of taping Michael's nose back into place.

Maria had another surprise. "I found your teeth right where I expected. In the game room, stuck in a big old caramel apple."

"YAY!" shouted Michael. "Maria, bring me a wig. It's time to be beautiful again."

Liza cheered. "You know, Michael, for us, beauty is not an option, it's a duty. It's something we owe the world for all the world has given us. This guy, I believe it was Dudley Moore, once told me, describing all that's important in the world, 'Justice, Truth, Beauty, but the best of these is beauty'. Now I have got a new lip color that you just have to try..."

* * * * * * * *

"Oooh, that was fun," said Liza, twisting the cap off of the Beam bottle. "Here's to beauty, forever and ever."

"Beauty's our duty," sang Michael. "Our duty doo dah dee, oh yeah girl."

"Great hook, Michael! I think you've got another hit!"

"I think I'll have another hit," laughed Michael, lifting his hood to take a swig from the birthday bottle. "Told you I could get it for free, hee hee. The people love us, and they always will. Now let's go ride fire trucks."


2005 Mark Hoback