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by Richard Tornello

In The County Of Erzatz


Richard Tornello


By Richard Tornello




IN the County Ersatz, in the subdivision advertized as Your New Home Town, within where nobody was what they seemed to be, on the corner of West and More West was the Buckgrabber Coffee Shop.  There Hei sat at the coffee shop table listening to Mr. Cleveland Morephatt, a huge lump of a human being, drone on about his acquired goods, how his wife refused to purchase another watch for him because he had 340 watches already, so his daughter bought him the one he really wanted. “See, look at this Rolex,” he said, and thrust its face into Hei’s face all the while immune to the signals Hei was putting out facially. Signals a blind dead man, from any place on this or any other planet would have understood. Cleveland Morephatt kept droning on, addling brains within hearing distance, and making mob homicide a possible legal defense.


Hei declutched his mind from the flatulent exuberance exhausting before him. Flatulent  exuberance was the only phrase Hei could come up with.  Hei unfocused his mind from the continual, nonstop verbal mugging, a monologue presented of Mr. Morphatt’s expansive wealth and good taste.  Or, Hei thought with a slight bow to charity, it was quite possibly, to compensate for something missing in that large lump’s poor life. But that would be giving Mr. Morphatt the benefit of the doubt. And Hei did not feel up to offering charity, especially an offering to that church this morning.  


Missing, I could be missing from this place and that man would corner some other poor individual, present that person with this very story that I’ve heard a million times. Only the object of desire changes, and why do I listen? Because, Hei well recognized, this is the only empty seat in the coffee shop. And no regular patron wants to share space-time with him.


Coffee, that reminds me, this morning at home. Hei retreated, his eyes fogging over and self blinding as if he needed cataract surgery; his ears shut as if filled with concrete:

Hei recalled he was sitting at the kitchen table, an old chrome metal and Formica topped, an ancient piece of furniture picked up from a second or forth hand as it were, dealer of furniture for the down and out, recently moved and needed a place to put the morning breakfast food on other than a board held up by cinder blocks, a-la-college days, for a decent price. Hei had also purchased a red and white checked cloth to cover it as he felt it was rather apropos for a building with a false colonial facade.


On the table was an empty glass, water had been in the cylinder of silicon earlier but he consumed it along with his heart medicine. Coffee, yes coffee is what Hei craved. And he remembered that there was a slight breeze. Hei had opened a window a crack, just a hair to let fresh air into the room. That light breeze pushed a perfume of stale cigarettes and old coffee up to his nose like a bad offering. Hei didn’t smoke, nor did the woman he was living with. Funny, he thought, I don’t smoke; she doesn’t smoke. Where did that come from?  The coffee is fresh and the garbage was put out earlier. Just to make sure Hei walked over to the gray silvery colored plastic garbage receptacle, pushed the hinged lid away enough to see that the liner stuffed deep inside was bereft of any content that in any conceivable fashion could smell like stale cigarettes and old coffee. Strange my nose must be playing games with my brain again, smelling things that are not there from pasts forgotten.


Hei was up so he continued walking past the pantry making a slight left hand turn and continued down the hallway toward the front door. Maybe some fool dumped his garbage on the street. He’d seen it before only a few days ago. Rotten garbage and who knew what could be responsible for that odor seeping into the house. No matter where he had lived, from the best of places to this forgotten no-place of a place, some people were just a level above social retardation in their behavior. 


Walking down the hall Hei passed the paintings and drawings on the wall. He smiled to them as if they were old friends. And in a way manner of fashion, each one was an old friend, each holding a memory of some thing, or somebody or somewhere another than here, doing or being other than here. So yes in a way he agreed with himself, they were old friends, friends who never talk, just hang there, hanging through time as if there was no time, and there he was back then doing what, a vacation there, a business trip somewhere else, or the family meeting for a funeral, something like that.  And he had to smile. And the painting in the present was itself in the present and past at the same time.


Hei thought about the paintings he had given to his children. They were given up to live a new life of their own with family/strangers. He missed them and yet was happy their new caretakers were enjoying their company. And since they were family both the new caretakers role and the art, he was sure that each piece of art held memories of time and space for them too. He hoped they smiled as He did when they viewed them.


Hei continued his stroll down the hallway, opened the door, and stepped onto the stoop. The house, a row house, now officially a marketing ploy called townhouse, sat in a subdivision of plastic siding and glued wood construction, of plastic pipes that rattled and banged as he never experienced in any dwelling previous to this, was ground level and not a ‘grocery lugger’ of many stairs. The twelve-foot ceilings, a bitch to heat and cool, were a nice addition and in the long run, helped a bit to compensate for the cheap quality of the build.  The ceiling height, the entrance, and the over all internal floor plan reminded him of the brown stones in Manhattan.  But best of all they allowed him to hang his art collection.  And all that, in combination with the fact that it was not a huge house with acreage to be cared for, allowed him to justify the cost and the location and in the end, the move. 


A down side to all this was light. Light was a known killer of art. The bifurcation in desire to see and the desire to preserve was a constant battle, overcome only by changing the display in a somewhat unscheduled manner.


Standing on the entrance way, He inhaled deeply as he looked around. No cigarettes, no coffee grounds on the pavement, no garbage, just jet exhaust.  Yes He could smell the burned odor of jet exhaust, but no cigarettes. He inhaled deeply again.


The wind was blowing southward which meant the jets would be taking off away from this place.  The wind was pushing the burned jet fuel southward. It was faint but still discernible, flowing from the airport his way.  At least the “heavys” lifting off would be in the other direction as they lumbered into the sky clawing for altitude, their computers set to conserve fuel, a balance between flight and crashing, wings slightly bent upward from the mass of cargo, human and otherwise, fuel and just plain dead weight of the craft itself. He wondered if one of those would ever flame out and crash into the subdivision. Hope I’m not home when it happens. The insurance would more than make up for it. How morbid and he laughed to himself. 


Cigarettes again, why that smell, now at this time? No one was allowed to smoke here, there or most anywhere these days. In fact movies were now being made without smokers even if the film related to the past where most everyone did smoke. Ah, political correctness run a muck. I must be hallucinating again, my nose and my brain working against my sanity, and something about coffee and cigarettes.


And then the memory of her came up from who knows what set of brain nodes.

She, Debbie, started him on coffee. She made the best coffee Hei had ever tasted every morning before he went to work and she to law school. Hei was hooked. Sometimes they would argue a point, yelling making points and counter points, and then to have them shattered by some obscure logical legal fact only to be countered by another one, both drinking coffee and she with a cigarette. Hei didn’t smoke cigarettes. A joint every now and then, but not tobacco, besides, it was her apartment so she did what she wanted.  Occasionally he attended class with her, calling in sick to work. He enjoyed the lectures and even participated. The professor thought he was a regular student. 


He stopped seeing her. There were too may odd things that made a continuing relationship difficult. It was nothing bad, just not compatible with his specific appetite, the details being no body’s business. He remembered that he had heard she dropped out moved to California and then she disappeared from his life. He still wondered about her when the memory connected.


All this occurred in the time as Hei stood out on the stoop smelling the jet fuel. It’s amazing what that stuff could propel, He thought. He turned and walked back through the hallway and looked at his old friends on the new right side of the wall. Hei headed for the coffee pot, poured himself another cup, black, no sugar and inhaled the aroma. He let the cup sit and cool down just a bit so He could flavor the aroma again and then take a taste. Coffee like pizza when too hot scalded and the taste was lost. Hei sipped, then he took a swallow, sat back into the backrest of the chair he was sitting on, turned to the windows facing the postage stamp of a back yard and watched the squirrels and blue-jays duke it out for the peanuts he had made as an offering to the concrete frog-Buddha god on the deck.


Then still putting off the motion to go to work, Hei turned and grabbed the book “The Golden Ass”, off the shelf. He read a few sections. It had taken a while to get into the story, written as it was in a style of ancient Rome, but he began to enjoy it. He appreciated the possible assumption, not mentioned in the liner notes or the end notes,  that it appeared that many of the Grimm’s tales were re-makes of Roman fables with even older origins.


And then the old three wishes trial came back to his head, a game he played with himself to see where it could lead. Today, in this case, He wanted to be able to read speak and write in any language old current and possible future, thinking that if a genie existed, breaking the laws of current physics as they are understood, then his first request was not out of bounds.  And his logic held and followed a course of action that would be entirely possible. The other two would have to wait until some other time due in part to the necessity to clarify to said genie specifically what was being wished for. 


Hei took another sip of coffee and laughed to himself at himself. Now it was time to go to work, the joke of the day being played out.  He climbed the stairs to his office on the second floor, stepped over the sleeping speed bump of a cat, lifted the shades, and woke the computer up. Once there with the computer screen light shining in his face, he decided he wanted to go out to the coffee shop and mingle with some of the regulars. If they had left for their jobs, the coffee shop would then usually be filled with the mommy brigades, women either with toddlers or uncontrollable youngsters who needed a smack across the bottom. Even a light smack on the bottom was not PC and might cause irreparable harm and mental anguish, oh my. What did it matter anyway? He’d be old or long dead by the time one or two of these spoiled brats became mass murderers.


Some of the moms were eye candy. It was worth it.   


Hei got into his truck, drove through the subdivision, stopping at all the stop signs, which are only a suggestion in today’s world rather than a command, got beeped once for doing so, flipped the offending driver the finger, smiled to himself and drove on. He parked the truck and locked the door physically. It was an old pickup.


The truck was exceptionally clean and almost new appearing metallic green paint, belaying its true age, but it was old. It made not nice rotational metal arguments in the cold start ups. It wanted to move to Florida.  But once it warmed up, it seemed content and got decent mileage. It had no electronic door commands. The windows rolled down with a crank-arm, which was much to the surprise of his young granddaughter one day asking, “Paw-Paw what are those?” pointing to the cranks. “How do I get the window down?” That was like the day the kid discovered a rotary phone he had laying around and hit the holes to make the “buttons” work. It too was old.


He walked in to the coffee shop, looked around and groaned. Cleveland had the only open table and chair…


In the County of Erzatz…





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