Monday, April 26, 2010

The Melancholy of Mr. T

And to think that my catchphrase came from a Rocky movie. “I pity the fool.” What a joke. Sure, I hammed it up for the crowd, my neck laden with gold chains that I rinsed every night in ultrasonic cleaner. I am not a rube. I know the score. I can speak eloquently if I so choose. “Don’t give me no backtalk? Jibba Jabba?” What a bunch of manure. Pure poppycock. But it paid the bills most handsomely. So I went ahead and glad-handed about, distributing my business cards reading: “Next to God, there’s no greater protector than I.” And to think I became known for merely growling at a feeble nitwit named Murdock. How many would suspect me of even being able to use a nominative-case first-person pronoun correctly in a comparison, nonetheless be able to construct a passive sentence without ending it with a preposition, or even knowing what any of these concepts were?

But I digress. I find myself dreaming my dreary way into the subjunctive mood again, as if I were able to even attempt such a farcical (not to mention fruitless) essay into the realms of imagination. No. I am grounded, witlessly and boo-hoo serious, in reality—or whatever is passing for reality in this papier-mâché world that I find myself cutting through with dulled left-handed scissors. I still receive the occasional peremptory knock on the door. Usually it is nothing more than some door-to-door salesman trying to inveigle me into some Ponzi scheme, or once in a while a scared child burdened by an unwieldy amount of boxed cookies. (In such cases I will usually offer some succor by purchasing a goodly amount of their sundry items, lightening their load some, and, I hope, putting a spring back into their capitalism-weary step.) Today was different though; as I pulled on the doorknob jerkily to pry the stuck frame from the jambs (this often happens in the wintry months when moisture collects in the air just as fireflies do on soft summer nights) I was cognizant of something strange wafting its way to me from between the sill and the lintel there on my doorstep. (I mention this only to distill any notions that I might have been prepared for this odd visitation. One would be wise to think more of Scrooge sensing the aura of Jacob Marley in the dead of the night, as if recalling vaguely something preordained, something oneiric that’s only alit to the subconscious preening of the mind’s mustache.) Soon I was to find out why this wayward sensation flushed its way through my limbs.

One often knows (at least it has been my experience) when one is about to enter into a (dare I say) climactic situation; and this was the case on this occasion. Standing on my stoop, wiping his muddy wingtips on my doormat (which reads—for all those interested in such things—“I Pity The Fool Who Enters Here”) was a diminutive, greasy-haired creature in a cheap suit that did not fit him very well: a bit long in the sleeves and the pants, the lapels flapping a bit too far down on his breast for my liking (though I do admit I have a most particular and peculiar taste when it comes to such things.) I often feel odd around those of a small stature. It is as if I am hovering over them, or even lording over them, with my unusually prodigious physique. This emotively restricted way of partaking in the call-and-response of verbal interaction is not one of my most preferred methods, as you may well have already sussed out. I immediately felt off kilter. A snarl was crawling around on my lips. I tried to squelch it down, but to no avail.

The startled miniature man made a few motions of shocked aggravation, and then collected himself—after, I must admit, a slight roar had most likely been emitted from me—enough to utter, “Mr. T, I presume?” His voice was high-pitched, but bold and self confident. Now, let me just impart to you a small caveat here: When people whom I do not previously know approach me in this manner I will usually respond most charmingly (and with I hope more than a dash of wit), “Not me. I get that a lot. It must be the haircut. But he’s uglier. And he stayed in school,” after which I will usually growl in my famous way. It usually at least produces a laugh, and the sound of laughter is balm for the wounds of my soul.

This case was different though. For some inexplicable reason this jockey-sized individual in his off-the-rack suit had temporarily cast some sort of spell on me. (I know how this sounds, but it is the only way I can convey the feel of this hypnotic trance-like state that I came to be enmeshed in, or at least held captive by.) He merely responded with a sly smile, biting his lip a bit, and then quipping, “Nah. You’re him. You’re ugly enough.”

I was speechless. The look on my face must have been one of vacancy and bewilderment.

He began to harangue me in a beseeching petulant tone. “So. Mr. T, if that’s okay. If I can call ya that? Well. Anyway. Mr. T, just wanted to know if I could jaw your ear about some very lucrative deals that it just so happens I am at liberty to offer you. And we’re talking those kinds of deals that come only from H-O-Lee-Double U-O-O-Dee! The land of dreams, of stars on the sidewalk, gilt streets and silver curbs and champagne flowing in the gutters, of riding high and happy on the express train of life, of Learjets and fortune and fame. A place where you, my good man, belonged once, and, I dare say, can, I most absolutely and unequivocally believe, belong to once again.”

I was awestruck by this man’s speech. It was quick and familiar. My powers of resistance were momentarily suspended, like a child with Williams syndrome, and I bade the munchkin-like man to enter, though of what I said to him at this juncture I cannot venture a guess. I recall him sitting on a divan in my living room, while I sat across from him on a rattan chair. We both were drinking tea, so I suppose I must have offered him this delicate treat at some point. (And my tea is always a treat, as I am known around these parts for my excellent brews of everything from jasmine green to silver needles to monkey-picked oolong.) We sipped. He chattered at me. I do not remember speaking, but I may have made some sort of verbalizations at some point. This tiny individual was very garrulous, and quite the charmer. He would have done well at a social gathering—a born mingler and a go-getter from the word go. I was certain there was some of the old Sammy Glick in him. He seemed to even sweat beads of oleaginousness from his social-climbing pores as he sat there on my divan and went on about movie deals.

“So T. I mean, if I may call you by the familiar. Hey. We can talk guy to guy here, right? A little tête-à-tête among amigos, si? You know, a little down-to-earth, no-bullshit chewing of the proverbial fat. Shit. Man, I just wanna show you I’m on your side here. T? We are, us two, on the level here. See? I’m gonna show you all I got. I am going to, here right now, in a manner of speaking of course, lay it all out for you plain and simple. Because I, Judson Mayweather Fort, am most certainly hereby swearing to you that I am hereby a plain and simple man. I am at your service. I’m only here asking—and I wouldn’t be here asking if this weren’t the case—that case being that I am most definitely looking out for your interests and concerns, as uncommon a thing as that may or may not be in this here business we both have had our swim out into the deep end of, um, in this here situation, well, let me just tell you, I am offering you a deal the sweetness of which can not, will not, and should not ever be measured, by yours truly T, on anything but the scale of, how shall we say, the up-and-up, of which I am most definitely on.”

I was stumped by so much hot air, and was rendered unable to articulate more than a gruff sigh. He took this as permission for him to continue.

“Now, T. Let’s get down to brass tacks. Let’s put the mustard on the hotdog. Shit and get off the pot. I’ve got something here for you that’s going to crank a few more miles out of your, well let’s just say on-screen persona, and also, I might add, put a mite more than a lot of cabbage in your pockets. I know what they say, if it’s too good to be true and all that hooey, but just listen. I promise you’ll thank me.”

At this point he was unstoppable. I had come out of my trance a bit, but decided that any action on my part would be superfluous, and so let him continue his rambling.

“T. Let’s just say somebody came up and offered you a load of payola to do a very small, easy thing for a very short time. And let’s just say that that somebody was Dune Entertainment. And let’s also just say, let us just suppose for the sake of a whim, that this somebody was making a movie called The A-Team Movie. Now. I know how all of this sounds, so just hear me out. Okay, T? Just give an ear to what I’m about to say, and then if you’re not interested, if you think I’m pulling your chain—or chains—then you can just tell me to go get lost, or to go fuck myself, or whatever, and I will walk away and leave you be.”

I nodded in his general direction and sipped my tea.

“So my good friends over there at Dune have so generously given me, Judson M. Fort, permission to offer you the sum of $___ to make a cameo appearance in their movie. Yes. T? You get it. I’ve gone and flown my ass all the way out here from sunny southern California to make you this offer, and all you’ve got to do is fly all-expenses-paid back out with me to do a little catch-phrasing and growling in front of the camera. Come on T. T? Sound like something you’d be interested in?”

He coughed into his hand a little at this point and lay back on the divan. The word “squirrelly” came into my head. I believe that I know why. I am always suspect of “deals” like this one. I’ve been ensnared in a dozen too many of them over the years, and this smarmy Judson Fort person seemed to be trying to connive me into some sort of scam, of which I had the utmost confidence would parlay into some sort of windfall for one Judson Fort.

I set my teacup down on the marble-topped table between Mr. Fort and myself. I began to make some joke about my pteromerhanophobia, but thought better of it, and instead gazed at the silvery specks of light cascading down the spiraling bands that festooned the chains of my pendant light fixture, which was directly above Mr. Fort, and which had—for some reason unbeknownst to me—attracted my attention. Neither of us spoke for a few moments (though noticing a thing like time going by was difficult, to say the least.) I’d been holed up in that house for too long. Having this strange intruder bolt his way into the circumstances of my life was impinging on my privacy, on my sense of self, and was causing my decision making process to become corrupt, derelict, and unsteady. Everything was dots and dashes, ones and zeros, ways of comprehending that did not want to be understood. The hairs of my Mohawk, every last teetering follicle, were gushing forth in song, their little voices smacking of things saccharine and innocuous, things I thought I no longer cared for, the sounds of ease and contentment—things I felt too poor to let myself afford. I thought of things dire: of bombs exploding under army jeeps, the blades of helicopters whirling like a hundred swords come for my head, alligator suits and cigars, faces too good-looking to look at for too long, idiots in aviator goggles and wedding dresses, cut-off army fatigues and overalls, cars crashing through walls. I thought of the crisp thwack a cold bottle of soda makes when you snap off the cap, and the way it smokes from the top with a whitish tail curling around itself until it is nothing except emptiness.

I looked over at Mr. Fort. He was calm. His suit was billowing out from him in unnecessary folds of low-quality cotton fabric. He looked as if he had it made. His wavy slop of hair was slicked up and back above the high round hemisphere of his forehead. A curious roseate hue played about his features, as if he’d been dipped in a sunrise. I’ve never seen eyes so sure of their purpose, so serene and detached. There wasn’t a worry he couldn’t shoot down and hold hostage for a pretty penny. I didn’t want him to be a part of my landscape. I stood up. I thought of John the Baptist’s head on a platter, of Dostoyevsky in front of the firing squad, of Pafko at the wall, of moon landings and starving children in Haiti.

My fists were loaded with gold rings. I pitied this fool, just like all the other fools, and I at once, suddenly (it came on like a sneeze) knew what it all meant. I knew the deeper significance of this rote catchphrase that I’d been mechanically saying on and off for the last three decades. I looked at this Judson Mayweather Fort, and I pitied him, which was different from empathy or mercy, or a mere kindness given from one stranger to another stranger; those were all things I understood. I don’t think I’d ever given myself over to this true emotion of pity, and I must tell you, I did not care for it. It seemed the basest of all currencies. It did not help anything. And above all else, well, I’ve always been a sucker for wanting to help, to offer myself to do whatever it is that I can do to make this rented place where we all do our brief span of existing in a little more cheerful. Doing something seemed of the utmost importance. Action was needed. I raised an eyebrow. I cocked my fist. Out the foyer window a bird chirped and brazenly sang over the catcall of terror surrounding it, and above the harsh biting wind that tried to smash the bird’s infinitesimal home it had made in the universe out of existence. I had nothing left to do. I do not remember the sound of the ambulances. I do not know if I left on my own free will. Volition was beyond the scope of my powers. I am done making excuses. Nothing will pardon the necessity of my actions. Thy will be done. I pity the fool.