Homer Finds The Rhythm
Tired windshield wipers kept time to "The Rhythm of The Blues" while Mary-Chapin leaked through rear speakers that had long ago gone on disability.
Homer Sleazak, well enough into his forties that he could easily touch fifty with his arms extended, sat at the intersection, seat belt wrapped snugly around his ample belly, and waited for the light to change. Last night's dinner, combined with the usual morning aggravations, seemed to be saying, "I told you so," to his upper GI.
Staring blankly at the stream of vacant people appearing and disappearing past his narrow field of view, Homer couldn't help thinking, there had to be a better way. A better day...a better place...a better life....
Fresh from his third failed marriage in fifteen years, he swore he was through with people forever. Not just women, mind you...people. All people. People, after all, were just too much like him. And if he'd had enough of one thing in his life...it was him.
One morning, while dressing for work, his last wife had told him that his name was a problem for her.
"What the hell kind of a name is Homer, anyway. How can I screw a guy named Homer. What'm I supposed to scream in my moment of fire engine passion (that was actually how she talked)...HOMER, HOMER, HOMER! I feel like I'm fuckin one of the Simpsons, for Christ sake."
"Homer is a proud old name," he replied in the usual sedate fashion that seemed to annoy everyone, especially wife number three. "It belonged to a famous Greek author, and besides...my great grandfather, Wally Sleazak, was named Homer."
"Wonderful, your great grandpa Wally was named Homer...that makes absolute, perfect sense. About as much sense as Sleazak. Just what the hell is a Sleazak anyway...huh, what...huh?"
Homer casually bent over and pulled up his socks. "A fine Polish name, that's what it is. And what the hell is a moment of fire engine passion; have I been missing something?"
"Everything, Homer...you've missed just about everything."
That's when he knew the end was near for wife number three. He swore there would be no number four.
The light changed and a large, souped up, overloud, black monster of a vehicle splashed by on his right. It shattered the serenity of his misery with throbbing blasts of Gangster Rap.
He was about to pass judgment on the useless merits of kids today when the Forest Green Jeep Grand Cherokee, complete with gold rubber trim, blasted its Cherokee horn for a full five second duration. Just a friendly reminder to Homer of his obligation, as leader of the line, to move on.
"Screw you, asshole," Homer said. He eyeballed the driver in his rearview mirror. Yuppie material for sure, if there is such a thing these days. Tennis at the club and double martinis for lunch.
"What's your friggin hurry. Don't wanna be late for your friggin self-important job. Get a friggin life will ya!"
It was absolutely frightening, this uncanny ability Homer had of summing up the totality of a complete strangers existence through just the simplest interaction.
Why Homer could wrap up everything you needed to know about any guy walking across the street just by the obnoxious tone of his laugh and the cheap cut of his suit.
He had rendered this particular verdict on countless occasions. It was number-one with a bullet on his hit parade of judgments.
Homer looked back to see the yellow caution light blink on. It screamed, "HURRY, HURRY, HURRY!"
Instead, he just settled back in his seat.
The Forest Green Cherokee blasted its horn again.
This time joined by a musical assortment of other angry horns.
Homer couldn't quite tell who the other horns belonged to, but he was certain that they were losers too.
Yep, that Cherokee is a born horn leader.
The driver of the Cherokee peeled around Homer with a roar and yelled something through the tinted glass. Homer wasn't sure, but he thought he could see the driver's lips mouth the word, "Asshole!" while he flipped the finger.
"Roll your friggin window down next time, loser," Homer shouted in his relaxed manner.
The Cherokee's place was now assumed by a quiet, metallic blue Toyota. A nice practical car in need of even more work than Homer's classic Chevy.
The Toyota's driver was a small mousey woman who, while clearly annoyed, was not the type to make a scene. She merely gave the universal sign of inter-motorist annoyance: slowly shaking her head from side to side as if to silently say, "Some people are just too pitiful to pity."
Homer grinned. He knew that, if push came to shove, he could eat her for breakfast.
"Breakfast," he muttered. That reminded him of another wonderful father/son moment he'd experienced that morning.
To be more exact, it was a step-father/son moment, and not even a legally obligated one at that.
The kid was a product of his first wife's second boyfriend, while married to her first, other husband.
It all seemed to make sense at the time.
They had met during Homer's hot shot agency days and she was seduced by expense accounts and tales of Hollywood glamour.
Homer was seduced by the fact that she was a gymnast in college...and in bed.
After he landed out on his ass, in the great agency wars of the eighties, she decided it was time to dismount, and moved on to the uneven bars.
She drank herself from one bed to another, until now, wife number one was somewhere in Alaska, rubbing noses with an Indian medicine man, teaching the healing powers of natural beetle dung, or some sort of shit like that.
Anyway, the kid was with Homer, and these days, it seemed, neither of them was overly pleased with the situation.
Homer didn't have any kids of his own, although he always thought he might make a good father.
Who was he kidding, he thought. The steady rain continued trickling down the windshield, and hustlers and bustlers continued slopping past into oblivion. Hell, he was probably too selfish to be even a bad father. He never even took care of a plant, let alone a pet, until the kid wanted a gerbil.
Now, there's a sad story, thought Homer. I mean, how was I supposed to know that the little bugger couldn't swim; not in a load of bubble bath anyway. I was only trying to make the kid happy.
"Put Bubba in the tubba Homa" the kid said. "I wanna see him swim."
The little furball sank like a stone. Have you ever tried to grab a wet gerbil from the bottom of a tub, full of Mr. Bubbles?
Actually, Homer found the whole thing pretty amusing until he pulled the plug and watched Bubba slip slidin away.
"Homa...Bubba...Homa...Bubaaaaaaa!" the kid screamed while they watched the Bubman's little gerbil nose disappear down the drain.
That wasn't the worst of it, though. The worst part was that every damn drain in the house started backing up. It seemed to be a very bad case of Bubba Block.
There was really nothing to do but call in the Roto- Rooter guy, and it was a little difficult convincing the kid that Bubba was actually gonna like it. "Sort of a funhouse twirl for gerbils," he explained.
Well, that was it for pets in the Sleazak household. Not even a goldfish after that. On top of it all, anytime someone ran a garbage disposal, the kid would run to his room screaming, "Bubbaaaaaaaaa!"
Yeah, things just started getting kind of weird between Homer and the kid after that.
Now, the kid was twenty years old, majoring in home Nintendo, or whatever had the most mega-bytes these days.
No school, no job, no nothing.
No-- Actually, that's not quite true. The kid had a five hundred thousand-dollar, six-bedroom house, complete with in-ground pool and Jacuzzi, all to himself.
"Great for impressing the babes," he said.
Homer had decided to avoid the day to day confrontations and moved some of his stuff into the small apartment over his mother's garage. When he had enough of the kid, he simply moved out for a couple of months.
It was a good trade off, he figured. The kid gets the house and the girls...he gets mice and his mothers chicken-kielbasa soup every night.
According to his mother, there were three essential requirements to maintaining life: oxygen, water and chicken-kielbasa soup.
While other families celebrated Fourth of July with hot dogs, hamburgers and watermelon, the Sleazaks were lighting the sparklers and slurping down the soup.
Now that's a childhood memory.
Mouse lady was starting to get impatient as the light changed to green again. Homer looked in the rearview mirror. He smiled and waved.
Several more of your aggressive types cut out of line and sped around. All of them had something to say, mostly unpleasant, while they glared at the maniac who refused to budge.
"Screw you, losers," Homer said with a devilish grin. "You don't like it when somebody else is in control, do you? Friggin control losers. I've got control now. I'm in the friggin control spot now. Nobody gets out of this intersection while I'm in the lead. This...is...a...very... important...responsibility. And I intend to give it all the respect it deserves."
The thought occurred to Homer, not for the first time, that he might be going over the deep end a bit, here. After all, what kind of nut holes up in the middle of a busy intersection and refuses to move; no matter how many losers he wants to teach a lesson.
Actually, he was starting to feel a little sorry for the Mouse Woman. She was becoming a lot more frantic, now. Probably going to be late for work, or something, he thought.
She looked like one of those types who had her morning routine timed to the last second. If she can't find her keys in the morning, forget it. Her schedule is blown for the day.
Probably has some jerkoff asshole for a boss, who's gonna give her grief for showing up five minutes late.
"I thought we had a deal Ms. Mousewoman. I pay you pig shit and you bust your ass. How else will the Missus and I be able to impress our loser friends with how well we're doing, while we pour the cheap stuff into the fancy labeled bottles."
"Yeah, real important," Homer muttered. "Try curing cancer or something, asshole. Better yet, why not get it."
Homer looked up with open mouth disbelief, which quickly changed to a broad grin of delight. He looked into the rearview and saw Mouse Woman screaming, red faced and wild, shooting him the double bird. Twin pistons pumping madly up and down...up and down.
"That away Mousey baby," Homer shouted. He clapped his hands together and gave her the A-OK sign. "Give it to the jerk. Let it go baby...let it go. Yeah!"
Actually, seeing her now, in this new light, Homer thought that Mousey possessed a sort of inner attractiveness. A gentleness of the soul...overwhelmed by the complexities of the world.
Maybe, I should invite her in. Show her how easy it can be to simply say...no thank you, I don't think so.
No-- Why should I screw up her life, too. Haven't I done enough damage to the collective human psyche?
The light turned to yellow...then red.
Mouse Woman dropped her head onto the steering wheel and flailed her clenched fists into the air. Behind her, angry horns continued to blow.
Homer watched while she slowly lifted her head and slumped back submissively into the Toyota's bucket seat. She appeared to be settling in for a very long haul.
"Sorry baby...red light," Homer said quietly.
Actually, Mousey reminded him a bit of wife number two. The only real one of the bunch.
Homer thought he could have actually been something with number two. She had really helped him see things clearly. He guessed that was why he got scared and tried to screw it all up. But, she wouldn't let him, no matter how hard he tried.
She convinced him he could write beautiful poetry, and so he did.
She told him that he could see into a person’s soul, right into their friggin soul, and see the truth inside.
He thought about the trip to the Vineyard when she took him bike riding to the cliffs of Gay Head. She showed him how a sunset could set his mind on fire with feeling.
She took him to an autumn forest and taught him to smell the colors.
"Geeeez, I wonder who gets stuck raking all of this stuff," he had said.
She laughed and threw piles of wet muddy leaves at him.
"Stop!" he had shouted. "There could be decomposing raccoon in that muck."
He bent over and started shoveling it at her through his legs, doggie style. She screamed hysterically and threw herself on top of him. They tumbled to the soft forest floor and made love for an hour.
He remembered being lost in that moment, having no sense of anything else in the world. He didn't care if someone stumbled on them. They would have to find their own perfect heaven.
Although, he did recall looking up, once, when a helicopter passed over head. He'd wondered what his bare butt, sticking up through the forest trees, must look like from three hundred feet.
No-- Nobody loved...knew, or taught him more about living, than number two.
Then, finally, he did manage to screw it all up.
He had convinced her, after long hours of heartfelt conversations, that marriage was the thing for them...the beginning for them.
But now, he knew...that it was really the end for them.
First, there was the kid. Not that the kid bothered her at all. No, she loved that kid. She could make him laugh. She could make him smile.
What she hated, however, was the beast that he brought out in Homer. And she could never understand why.
She also felt marriage was front loaded with obligations and responsibilities. It was suffocating him. It was suffocating her...and she left.
She never looked back...but Homer did. Homer always looked back. Still, he was happy to let her go. Happy for her. He loved her that much.
Homer imagined that she lived in a small country town somewhere, painting or writing, uncovering the underlayers of life for the rest of us. He thought some day he might read about her in the New Yorker or the Sunday Times Magazine, once the rest of the world caught up.
Some years later, the knock came to his door. It was her sister. He had met her only once before. She handed him the suicide note and simply shrugged her shoulders.
She had tasted the beauty… yet swallowed the pain, it read.
She had made the world an offer, and the world apparently said, "Thank you, but we don't think it's quite right for us, at this time."
She thought she might try something else for a while. The fit was getting a bit snug in the hips, besides...she always wanted to see "Disney Land".
Homer stared at the note for days, trying to make some sense of it all.
Even the kid knew enough to stay away. Homer appreciated the gesture. He didn't want to deal with a homicide. Not just yet, anyway.
He blamed himself. He blamed the kid. He blamed the world.
In the end, though, he just blamed her.
The world was tough, but you had to be tougher, he told himself. You give in...you lose. It's a mean street where winners survive and losers...just lose.
What right did she have to demand something more?
He could still hear her voice echoing, that night in the smoke filled coffee bar, "It's up to each of us to demand the life we want, and then we better make damn sure we do everything we can to make it happen. Anything less is a failure."
"Everyone else...is a loser," he whispered.
The sound of bumpers, connecting loudly, caught Homer's ear.
It was Mouse Woman. She had backed up into the car behind her and was cutting her wheels sharply in a mad attempt to get through the intersection.
A small strand of thin, mousey hair had fallen into her eyes and she blew at it, desperately trying to push it away.
The light turned to yellow...then red, and Mouse Woman roared into the intersection, herking and jerking, horns blasting everywhere, as she jockeyed her way through the horizontal hoard of opposing traffic.
"Have a nice day, Mouse Woman,” Homer said. A small tear welled in his eye. "Have a nice life."
Though he thought that she probably wouldn't.
The police car pulled up to the intersection amidst a cacophony of blaring horns and angry curses.
A dozen cars backed up to the next block. Across the street, curious bystanders huddled under dripping umbrellas and saturated awnings to watch the drama unfold.
Two police officers begrudgingly stepped out of their squad car and turned their collars up to the slashing rain.
The younger of the two men smashed his palm down onto the overheated hood of the dated Chevy.
"Come on buddy, what are ya asleep in there or something?"
The older man shot his partner a look and merely shook his head. He tapped on the driver's side window and asked politely if he was having some sort of car trouble.
The man inside didn't answer...in fact, he didn't move at all.
"I think this jerk is drunk or something," said the younger cop. "Jesus, it's only nine fifteen in the goddamn A.M."
The older cop ignored his partner and continued to knock on the window, a little bit harder now.
"Sir...sir, are you alright in there," the officer said. He tried peering through the glare cast on the windows.
The younger cop banged on the hood again.
"Yo asshole...Helloooo! Wake up!"
The older cop moved quickly, pushing his partner in the direction of the squad car.
"Quick, go get the jimmie bar...and you better call the paramedics. I think this guy is sick or something."
"Yeah," the younger cop muttered. "Sick in the head."
The older cop jimmied the lock and yanked open the door. He was greeted by a rush of foul air and he gasped, reflexively
Inside sat a man, about forty eight-fifty years old. His tie hung loose and crooked on his blue oxford shirt, which was mostly covered with vomit. The collar was stained with the salty residue of dried sweat. His charcoal dress slacks were also stained. The mans final salute to the world.
The face was grayish blue, tongue protruding slightly, with a single strand of something hideous hanging from it. The eyes were wide open, staring sightless at the slapping wipers. The expression on the face seemed to ask, "Why?", yet, there was just the hint of a knowing smirk.
The younger cop slowly ambled back and said, "The paramedics are on their way...UHGH...! Jesus Christ what a stink."
"Tell them not to hurry," the older cop said. He took his hand away from the dead mans neck. "He's gone...looks like a heart attack."
"You mean he was right here, in the middle of this intersection, dying...all this time...in the middle of friggin rush hour. How long was he here?"
"Dunno. The dispatcher said some woman called to complain about a lunatic holding up traffic, about eight thirty or so."
"So he was here forty five minutes to an hour...dying, in an old Chevy?"
"Yeah...not very pretty, huh?"
"Man...what a loser," the younger cop said.
The tow truck driver whistled a familiar tune while he finished hooking up the abandoned car at the head of the intersection. He wiped his forehead with an old gray hanky and looked up past the tall anonymous buildings. The clouds were finally breaking and a golden stream of sunlight spilled from a passing patch of blue.
"Looks like it's gonna be a beauty of a day, after all," he said happily to no one in particualr.
The man continued whistling and jumped into the truck. The light changed to green and the old Chevy was finally removed from the intersection. Its wipers were silent, frozen on the drying glass.
Traffic once again flowed freely.