Wednesday, October 19, 2011


"There seems to be something wrong with this place," said the chubby, middle-aged man in the tweed cap who went by the name of Bill, sipping his Americano, gazing out the stained, dingy windows at the weed-strewn lot across the street, and the traffic of city buses and beater cars crossing his line of vision beyond. "Besides, it smells, like soiled rags and body odor and cayenne pepper."

"And the music sucks. What is this stuff? Merle Haggard on crack?" It was the obese troll, seated across from him, who had latched onto him in conversation at the bus stop and wouldn't shut up, just kept on and on with his incessant drone about the New World Order and Wall Street bankers somehow being in cahoots with the Freemasons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, gesturing wildly with arms flailing, following him down one sidewalk after another, across intersections completely oblivious to the Don't Walk signs, now seated across from him at the City Lights Diner.

Bill was wishing, by now, that the guy would just shut the hell up, or else keep stuffing his face with those greasy fries and oily triangles of toast that bore little resemblance to actual food, until he somehow exploded. That would shut him up. But hopefully not until Bill was well clear of the blast zone and resulting debris field.

"The Nuremberg Trials," the troll was spouting between shovel-fulls of ketchup-laden fries that rained small showers of salt crystals upon the table's crazed surface, "were just a sham, a cover-up intended to hide the truth and protect the guilty. Did you know the Nazis were funded by Wall Street financiers and corporate tycoons? Here, hand me that pepper shaker, would you?" The troll's shirt was stained with the remnants of previous binges.

Bill couldn't figure out how the guy could eat like that, but was fairly certain, as certain as knowing that the sun would rise the next morning, that he would somehow be swindled into picking up the big guy's check. "Yea," Bill muttered, "I heard something about that once."

"Yea, sure you did, that's what they all say, 'I heard that before.' But you ain't heard this before, I'll bet."

"Heard what before? About the Nazis and the bankers? Man, ain't you ever been to a library? I mean, other than to use the crapper and beg change off the readership." Bill was normally a calm and collected fella, but this moron was starting to get under his skin.

The troll froze with fork in mid-motion, in suspended animation halfway between plate and palette, the longer fries kind of vibrating with that pendulum-like motion, rivulets of ketchup beginning to slowly ooze down the square-cut fry ends, beginning to form drops that would soon, unless interrupted, spatter the tabletop with blood-like stains. He looked Bill square in the eyes, a penetrating gaze that seemed as if he'd just awoke from a long, long sleep, as if just regaining sobriety or sanity or coherence or whatever, like the real guy -- whoever he was -- behind the fat, street-troll facade had suddenly reappeared as himself, no longer in character. "I'm talking about the pigeons, out there on the street," he slowly and carefully spoke, almost under his breath so as not to be overheard by the two ladies in business suits at the table behind them, an air of seriousness out of keeping with his appearance, as if he were revealing some long lost secret of the Ancients, his voice somehow different, hollow and forlorn.

Pigeons, Bill thought. Damned pigeons. He could see, through the stained windows whose sills bore the evidence of deceased fly carcasses, a makeshift burial ground of the domestic insect population, pigeons on the curb outside the diner pecking at scraps of stale bread, tossing them up, watching them land like a disgruntled baggage handler tossing around an American Tourister. Bill wondered if the pigeons had some special technique to the way that they'd peck at a hard scrap, dislodging enough for one bite but in the same motion lofting the piece so as to land hard enough to structurally weaken it, wondering if athletic follow-through and the calculation of ballistic trajectories and differential equations of motion had anything to do with it, wondering if pigeons competed with one another like Olympic athletes competing for a gold medal, wondering if such thoughts even crossed the pigeons little pea-sized brains, as if other pigeons would rate the performance of their peers by holding up little signs with numbers. 9.75, almost a perfect performance. Probably not, he figured. Pigeons: rats with wings. Who would've thunk? "What about the pigeons?" Bill sipped his Americano, savoring the rich, sweet flavor that seemed out of character with the dinginess of the place, a characteristic he found common in other good coffee shops, as if an aura of the bohemian were absolutely necessary to producing a good cup of joe.

"Okay, here's the deal. But keep it under your hat. Or whatever you call that floppy British fag-looking thing." A mashed up bit of fried potato was lodged between the troll's incisors, that would appear and disappear as he spoke, like some child's game of peekaboo. "The pigeons, they're cybernetic. There, that's it. It just blows you away, huh?" The troll-like man just sat there, with the most excited look on his face, expecting Bill to hyperventilate or jump up and down on the table or some such nonsense, a shit-eating grin plastered on his face.

Bill sat there for several minutes, not speaking a word, just staring out the window at the traffic and the pigeons, thinking to himself about a conversation he had, years ago, that started out a lot like this one had, unexpected and purposeless at first but soon evolving into a discussion of the merits of armed robbery versus getting a real job, and the consequences thereof when his sense of adventure had gotten the better of him, consequences he didn't, at this particular moment, wish to relive in his mind but which served a secondary purpose as a warning shot across the bow. "Cyborgs, like little robot birds?" he wearily responded.

The troll hadn't touched his food for several minutes, just sat staring at Bill with his wide-eyed grin, the morsel of mush still clinging to his teeth. "Naw, not robots, not mechanical," he blurted out, uncomfortably loud. "They's biologic, blood and bones and bits. But they have their control module implants and their hypercardoid antennae disguised as feathers and directly convert biomass to electric fields. Don't you see?"

The waitress, with impeccable timing, so precise that it could have been orchestrated, at that moment brought over the check and laid it on the edge of the table, strategically placed so as to be positioned closer to Bill than the troll, as if there were some special instinct required of being a waitress, a sixth sense, an inner knowing, able to size up a party at a single glance and know with absolute certitude, within a nanosecond, who was paying the bill.

"Say, hun -- Jennifer -- look out that window and tell me if you don't think there's something peculiar about them pigeons." The troll alters his gaze from the name tag pinned to Jennifer's ample bosom and is now gazing excitedly into Jennifer's mascara-encrusted eyes, expecting her to share in his enthusiasm.

"What pigeons is that? Those right out there on the sidewalk?" She stood with hands on hips, school-marmish, an air of skepticism evident by the near smirk on her face, a lock of stray brown hair falling over her cheek in a manner that could have been accidental or entirely on purpose, a subtle, inner grace revealed. "They look pretty normal to me, same as they always are, begging for food and crapping on the tables and chairs, just like some of the customers. Why, what's wrong with them, anyway?"

The subtle insult passes completely without notice. "Yea?" The troll quickly looks out the window, then back at her, then out the window again, back and forth like he can't quite decide on the merits of his stance, as if this weren't a coffee shop in the city but a schoolyard argument.

"You folks want anything else?"

"No, that's fine, thanks." Bill grabs the ticket, sure he'd be stuck with the tab anyway and desiring to end this as soon as possible, just pay up and get the hell out of here, away from the troll and his ranting about robotic pigeons.

Before the troll could respond, she turned and hurried away in the manner of waitresses who want to purposefully ignore you, that selective gaze, her job being done here, the busboy will soon clear the table and they'll be off, followed by another party as unique yet ordinary as all the others, busying herself with straightening and wiping the counter and stacking menus in their little rusted holder by the cash register. The troll, he just follows her with his eyes while Bill downs the dregs and pushes his chair back with a screech.

"Okay, well, I gotta go, been nice chatting with you." Bill dons his jacket and heads to the register, the troll just sitting there, on the edge of his seat, as if frozen in motion, watching events unfold around him out of his control, as if he were suddenly invisible.

Bill nods his cap toward the table, the troll still sitting there, pecking at his plate of cold, greasy fries, and steps through the door, his exit marked by the ding of an invisible electronic chime, into the blustery autumn air. Outside, a loud truck zooms by, followed by several women in calf-length coats and heels, who ignore him completely.

Across the street, a person of indeterminate gender, wrapped in layers of rags, is cursing and muttering in some language entirely unintelligible while attempting to drag a bent shopping cart through the scrabble of the weed-strewn dirt lot. Bill stands there watching, mesmerized, fascinated. Pigeons, perhaps the same ones that had been, moments before, pecking at the sidewalk where he now stood, were fluttering across the street in a loosely organized flock, as about as organized as pigeons ever seem to be, and land, one by one, into the shopping cart, a cart-load of birds, city birds, rats with wings, the wrapped figure still struggling to drag the cart through the dirt, leaving little furrows of broken weeds behind the cart's wheels, a track mysterious yet familiar.

Bill, he looks back through the reflection of the street into the cafe's window and sees the table where, moments earlier, he had been seated, but it's empty now, dishes cleared, and the troll-like man, he's nowhere to be seen.

Reaching into his jacket pocket, Bill finds the transfer ticket just where he had left it, reassuring and comforting. Thrusting hands into pockets, he ambles up the sidewalk to nowhere in particular.

(Via AlphaSmart Neo)


Blogger Cameron said...

A pigeon on a table, for chrissake.

What's the world coming to?

7:52 PM  

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