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Macaroni McSpoon | Mike Stammer | Part One | Scott Hefflo | fiction | Lollipop
Macaroni McSpoon's Mike Stammer
by Scott Hefflon
illustrations by David Coscia
All I needed was an opening line.
That and bus fare. Once I had the opening line, the rest of the story would fall into place. It would probably get wedged, knowing my luck, and I'd think of some pretty witty one-liners while trying to dislodge it. I tapped my toes until I got a foot cramp. Ow. I even resorted to tossing confetti about the room, trying to gain that buoyant feeling of inspiration. Nothing. Nothing but a room littered with little pieces of paper and the thumpings of the downstairs neighbors yelling for me to quit jumping around. I'd like to imagine they think I have a wild sex life, but they've never seen me with company, so I doubt their opinions are flattering.
In Search of Something
What I really craved was action and adventure. I'd rented the movies, so I was pretty sure I could pull it off. I'd been practicing. Sometimes I'd lean against a lamppost and smoke cigarettes as if waiting for someone or something intriguing. I'd squint above the smoke at people, then immediately feign disinterest and detachment. I got pretty good at it too. The most difficulty I had was when someone asked me if I knew the time. I froze in my tracks. This was difficult considering I hadn't been moving in the first place. When directly confronted by the mundane, I was ill-prepared. Should I stare icily into my antagonist's eyes and tell them to mind their own business? Should I, with cool nonchalance, tell them, "Yeah, because I own a watch"? Should I adapt to the situation at hand and simply tell them? These scenarios, plus a few sketchy ones involving teenage girls, a vat of rubber cement, and a giraffe, tumbled through my brain. I mumbled something about not knowing myself, and hurried away. I think I scuttled, but I'm not sure.
I tried to work on my sneer, but I always looked more like a rabbit than a dude-with-a-really-bad-attitude. It gave me a facial tic as well. Truthfully, I rather like the tic. I think it adds character. Developing a wicked chuckle gave me quite a hard time. I finally found the sound I'd been striving for; that kind of rumbling post-nasal drip thickness in the back of the throat. I've almost gotten it so I don't have to pinch the bridge of my noise every time I laugh.
Producing the Plot
That's when she walked into my life. She actually walked into my shopping cart in the produce department, but I'm still reaching for that dramatic introduction. But there she was, none the less and none the more, before me in the produce department in that family-owned grocery store, in a somewhat quaint neighborhood, in the small, yet industrious, city I call home. Not all of it, obviously, but enough so that my rent inspires me to get odd jobs to meet ends. But I get ahead of myself.
I stared into the deep pools of her blue eyes. Actually, they might have been green, but they were deep. Deep as... well, they were just really deep. She stared into my eyes with obvious intrigue and the aloofness that comes with cleverly masked secrets, a checkbook balance with a number before the decimal place, and specially marked packages of name-brand breakfast cereal. She had saved her proofs of purchase, I could see that.
She broke the ice. "Do you have a problem, dweeb?" she asked.
"Do you believe in fate?" I inquired with manually-arched eyebrow.
"No," she answered frostily.
"How about destiny?" I continued.
"No," she answered coldly.
"Neither do I. What do you say we go to the nearest bar and drink entirely too much while you tell me what's troubling you?"
She hesitated, her lush lower lip trembling.
"Also, it might do us good to not stand in the pile of ice you dropped. And don't look now, but we're being watched by a sinister-looking man wearing dark sunglasses."
She spun around to spot our darkly-clad peeping Tom, slipped in the puddle from the ice that, even in this over-refrigerated produce department, had melted, and landed in my outstretched arms.
"I got you," I said, in a breathy-but-manly way.
And off we went.
Introductions All Around
So there we were at the bar. Sitting there. Trying to think of something to say. Trying to break the... silence. It had us wrapped like one of those itchy sweaters your half-blind grandmother knits for you each Christmas. Uncomfortable silence. Prickly silence.
"Are you OK?" she asked.
"Yeah. Sure. Fine. Swell. Why do you ask?"
"Well, you were squirming and tugging at the collar of your rather poorly-knit sweater as if the fibers were fine-grain sandpaper slowly chaffing your skin raw and red, exposed to the brutal outside elements. At least that's what you were mumbling."
"Oh," I replied, for lack of anything more insightful to reply.
Again we lapsed back into the uncomfortable silence, this time without the monologue. The jaded bar wench with mouths to feed, a mortgage to pay, and a disturbing amount of facial hair took our order: a Seabreeze and a Jack on ice.
"She likes Jack," I thought to myself, smiled to myself, and nodded agreeably to myself, "but let's keep this between us."
"So why don't you tell me your troubles?" I asked, cleverly linking this scene back to the previous scene in the produce department.
"Well..." she began, and then all hell broke loose. Well, not hell really, but an argument at a nearby table.
"You'll tell your goon to stop breathing down my neck if you know what's good for you!" a wild-eyed man in a shabby suit leapt to his feet, shouting at the sharply-dressed man who remained seated.
"I'm in a smoky bar of ill-repute, drinking highly alcoholic fluids. I don't work out, I don't eat right, and I've been having trouble sleeping at night. So no, I don't know what's good for me. And Rocco, stop exhaling on the back of his neck. It's icky and it makes me wonder about you. Come now. Sit. Let us discuss our situation."
"I'm sorry, you were saying?" I said to her as the scene diffused itself.
"Well," she began again, "do you know the man sitting at that table?" she asked, looking out the corner of her eye across the room.
"What, the guy with the false eye, the grime-stained ball cap, and the T-shirt that says My other shirt's a Ralph Lauren'?"
"No, the other guy."
"The guy in the suit with his fly down and pee stains on his pant leg trying to pick up the transvestite carrying a poodle with a lip ring?"
"No, the other guy."
"You mean the guy with the Hawaiian shirt, flip-flops, and a hard-on juggling fresh-cut limes, much to the bemusement of onlookers but not the one-armed bartender with enough tattoos on his one arm to make a roomful of bikers envious?"
"No, you dolt, the sharply-dressed guy in the somberly pinstriped suit from the commotion who remained calmly seated when the other jumped up and complained about Rocco's heavy breathing."
"Oh, him. No, I don't," I admitted.
"That's Tommy TuTune, one of the most ruthless mobsters in this small, yet industrious, city. Beneath that calm, agreeable demeanor lies a man with no scruples, no law, and the tendency to flub the words to My Way.' I suspect beneath that disagreeable demeanor there lies the warm heart of an uneasy man who enjoys long walks on the beach, fine wine, a little dancing, and curling up in front of a fire with a good book, but no one's ever seen that side, so that's purely speculation. That man walked into my life two weeks ago, bought my family's failing business, turned the front room into an innocuous-looking barber shop, turned the storeroom into the headquarters for his illegal doings, forced my little sister into marrying him, got her strung out on strong, European coffee, stranded her somewhere in the Caribbean with no money, no passport, and a bad case of sun poisoning, framed my brother for the murder of a man in a nearby barbershop thought to be a front for the bloody Hound Gang, sued my parents into bankruptcy for selling him a business which failed to provide adequate handicap accessibility, and terrorized my small, bedroom community by driving really, really fast up and down the streets where we live and where small children are no longer safe to cross without the assistance of heavily-armed crossing guards hired at great expense from the nearby prison. Then the next day he had the nerve to ask me on a date. I've spent the last twelve days in mortal fear that he's going to ask me again, and this time I won't be able to refuse."
"That's terrible," I said with conviction, "Everyone should know the words to My Way.' And to try to intimidate a young, upstanding-yet-currently-seated lady such as yourself with such brutish tactics is just, well, brutish."
Her eyes softened, gently caressing my face with their warm gaze. Or perhaps the booze was beginning to kick in. It's sometimes hard to tell.
Things Start to Happen
A band prepared to go onstage. Like college students moving into a shoe box dorm room, they lugged their equipment to the stage. Post-long hair musicians from the looks of them, now resigned to playing requests in stinking beer dives in order to pay rent. "Damn the electronic music movement!" I thought, grinding my teeth like I used to in my sleep when I was really young. "Another decade of Zeppelin songs, Gimme Three Steps,' and Born to be Wild' to endure."
I looked at her.
She looked back at me. I kept looking at her. And she kept looking at me.
"What are you looking at?" she finally asked.
"You," I replied. Because I was.
She tilted her head and smiled at me. But that could've been because she'd downed three more Jacks on ice and couldn't keep her head held straight anymore. It's sometimes hard to tell. It was time to find out what was really going on.
"What's really going on?" I asked nonchalantly.
"Well..." she began, and then all hell broke loose. Well, not hell really, but an awful lot of feedback from the PA system.
"Check-one-two. Check-one-two," someone announced from the stage. I have no idea what he meant.
"We're TBA, the hardest working band in this small, yet industrious, city. Come see us later tonight at The Coco Puff, then a quick slot between Finger Skating and Nilly Nally and the Nincompoops at the Laugh-A-Lot Lounge, then a last minute show headlining the Brim Fest at Mad as a Hatter. Tomorrow night, we're playing three consecutive sets before the mainlining band, Euphoria, at Tracks, then we'll be in the lobby of the new SoNee® googleplex playing during the closing credits of the new Steven Seagull film, Under Siege: A Walk in the Park, 'cause someone let him sing again. Enjoy your night, tip the bartenders well, and stop throwing things at us."
"I'm sorry, you were saying?" I said to her as the band launched into Cheap Trick's "Surrender," skillfully dodging various small, hand-sized objects.
She leaned forward and shouted over the music, "I don't even know you, but you seem like a Nice Guy. And you smell good."
Ah, my Nice Guy cologne works again. A fragrance designed in the early '90s when men were expected to be sensitive, think about other people's feelings, and all sorts of sissy shit. Unlike the jaunty, manly scents of the past such as Burning Village, Fuck Me You Slut, and Canoe (never did understand that one), Nice Guy explored feminine sides, provided a steady, solid base with a playful head of garden-walking, cabin getaways, and rainy-day lovemaking on the kitchen table. There was a silvery streak of mystery and danger when worn in smoky, alcohol-drenched environments, but it always maintained a confident yet agreeable scent, the best genuinity money can buy.
She, on the other hand, stunk of Jack Daniels. I was getting rather aroused.
Rather than respond, I smiled and let her talk more about herself.
to be continued...