Saturday, May 13, 2006

The Slumberjack

Barko Zarzoor, like anybody else, wanted a decent living. He also wanted very much sleep. Tired, as he always was, he couldn’t get through a single simple task without blinded, yawn-induced, watery eyes (which put to rest early any lofty intellections he had of being a fighter pilot).

His eyes, of an uncommitted brown—like swirled, dirty water—were always so glazed and wet that those standing near him were animatedly nervous that they might ooze out and down his rosy cheeks if he were to lean forward. One could fancy them as the yolks of a sunnyside-up egg whose thin membrane, with the corner of a piece of toast, could be poked through, letting loose all of the goo to be sopped up and eaten with great delectation . . . but only someone who could fancy such things as that. His rosy cheeks, like his bright red lips, stood in spooky contrast with the rest of his skin, the hue of which was roughly comparable to that of a frog’s belly (a comparison which would offend the frog).

He was earning enough—with which a man of such very limited skills should be satisfied—packing fudge at a fudge shop called Fudge Shop. This was an important job for him to keep as he was now in his late thirties and had left an impressive trail of unimpressive jobs behind him, all from which he had been terminated, asked to leave, or physically removed. For the first time in his life, Barko had actually held a job long enough to rent an apartment and begin a responsible life.

But in keeping with his usual customs, he hadn’t been there for more than a couple of months before sleeping on the job—under the fudge table, behind the counter, and in the restroom stalls. The latter setting the scene for a very socially awkward close call:

Barko Zarzoor had gone to sleep in one of the restroom stalls, where he found it most comfortable to rest his arm and, likewise, his head on the toilet paper dispenser. His torpidity was such that even his dreams dealt with sleeping or falling asleep. This time, however, his dream had somehow turned from sleeping on a raft, drifting along the Mississippi river with a black man rowing and singing—with a rich and hypnotic baritone voice—a song about summer sun and catfish, to being on the same raft and river, but with the singing black man now an old white man bitching.

Now, perhaps it’s a primitive psychological defense mechanism, quite beyond our own understanding, dating all the way back to earliest man, which forces one to awaken when the human mind has had all it can bear of a disturbing dream, or perhaps it’s just something that naturally occurs when a crazy-assed old man keeps rattling the door of your sleeping chamber, repeating the words, “He’s just sittin’ there!” over and over to his grandson. Whichever it may be, Barko Zarzoor was waking up to see, through heavy and half-shut eyes, the old man face belonging to the old man voice. Upon realizing the full extent of the situation, Barko, who had been, just moments ago, too tired to lift his head, quickly shot to attention. The old man, now having come into focus, had his face up as close as he could to the door without touching it, and was peering through the thin space between the stall door and wall. Barko, even though he was fully clothed, instinctively pulled his knees together and crossed his arms over his lap.

“Ya sick? Eh?” inquired the old man through the door, “Just sittin’ there ain’t gonna help, ‘less ya got loose bowels. That what you got? Loose bowels? Eh?”

“No,” was Barko Zarzoor’s only reply, after thinking for quite a moment.

“You should quit monkeying around with the narcotics!” returned the old man, disgustedly, as if he had solved a mystery, adding, “Eh?”

“I’m not,” was Barko Zarzoor’s only reply, for lack a better one, and after as much thought as the first time.

“Narcotics ain’t nothin’ new. We had them in our day, they were called narcotics! Eh?”

Barko didn’t say anything this time, but instead waited for the old man to just leave, which he did, but not until after bringing his grandson over to have a look, pointing, “Look boy, look a’ that misspent life in there! Look at what fiddle-fartin’ around with narcotics’ll get ya . . . all strung-out on the thunder-mug at a fudge shop. Eh?” Barko, not knowing what else to do in this unfamiliar situation, nodded hello to the young boy who looked on, as if at a hideous side show freak, considering the appalling gravity of his grandfather’s words.

Barko Zarzoor saw the old man shake his head and finally leave for the door saying something no more decipherable than, ‘they’ll know what t’ do. Eh?’ Barko started to dismiss it as so much old man gobbledegook until it dawned on him that ‘they’ meant the authorities, and ‘know what t’ do’ meant what to do about him—the druggie on the toilet.

Barko, in piecing this together, sprang to his feet with an effectual application of speed that he never knew he possessed, and headed out the door and into the adjoining supply closet. After a brief passage of time, he heard his name being called by his boss, Mr. Hendersmart. Barko tried to change his appearance by removing his outer shirt and tousling his few and scattered hairs, fearing that the old man and his grandson would still be there. He emerged from the supply closet, carrying a broom and dustpan, affecting an air of business. He was relieved to see that the old man was nowhere in sight, apparently having left in anger.

“Barko, can you go check out the restroom?” asked Mr. Hendersmart, never imagining that he was sending Barko to go look for himself, “Some old man just came out of there saying there’s some drugged-up guy who’s been in there forever.”

Barko wrinkled his brow as if to suggest that now he had heard everything and set off on his mission. He came out, after enough time to have checked thoroughly, shaking his head as if this old man clearly had difficulty in distinguishing between his ass and his elbow.

“I know,” said Mr. Hendersmart laughing and also shaking his head, “I know, but we had to make sure.”

“And who’s on drugs?” returned Barko.

“Yeah, really!”

And they both had a wonderful laugh at the expense of an old man who knew what he saw. But underneath the laughter, Barko was concealing the haunting reality that his desire to rest his sweet head at work was going to have a direct effect on his employment. Barko resolved to find a job upon which he could sleep in heavenly peace.

At first he had no luck whatever in finding such a job opportunity, but at last he did when he saw an add in the newspaper for a Slumberjack. He thought it sounded like the perfect job for him, “Money for sleep.” he said out loud. He set about touching up his resume, casting light on the positive while trying to find positive in the negative, boasting that: I have never quit any of my twenty-nine jobs, and recently, while working at Fudge Shoppe, I had the pleasure of steering a young shaver from the dark path of narcotics.

After just sixteen interviews, Barko was told he could start right away. There was just the small matter of informing Mr. Hendersmart of his decision, and then taking his first steps into a more restful world.

Being a slumberjack seemed to do him good. He now had time for all of the little things that he had resigned himself to living without, like looking and sitting up. After only a few weeks, his hair seemed lustrous and full of bounce; his skin appeared healthily colored, with an even, almost brazen, tan across his once complexionally paradoxical visage; and his solid-colored eyes—now a rich chocolate brown—beamed with confidence, and looked straight ahead toward brighter tomorrows. He even became a regular in the social scene; ‘Hey there Barko!’ people would say, to which he would sharply reply, ‘Hey!’

Life seemed to finally be going his way; with plenty of rest, a new house and money in his pocket as well as in the bank. It wasn’t until several months into his tenure, after waking up in a puddle of pain, and with bruises on and about him, that Barko Zarzoor learned he had been the subject of a cruel and unusual experiment which tested the human body's response to painful circumstances during various stages of sleep. He covered his ears just thinking about it. “I can’t keep this job . . . this is not the thing . . . I’ll keep packing fudge or something, but I gotta get out of this place!” And that’s exactly what he did—after falling back to sleep for another three-and-a-half hour cycle, up from which he woke in even more pain, realizing that they got him again.

This was as much as he could take, and so he searched his mind for an answer that would end all of this madness. He left a note which he hoped would explain more clearly:

I can’t keep this job . . . this is not the thing . . .

I’ll keep packing fudge or something,

but I gotta get out of this place!

Evening found Barko Zarzoor back at Fudge Shoppe asking for his old job back, where he was sad to discover that Mr. Hendersmart had already hired a replacement (and he wasn’t bad looking).

Feeling bushed from a rough day of job-hunting, which consisted of one failed pursuit, Barko went home for a good night’s sleep. This would be the last time he slept in his home, as he was now unemployed and held no currency.

Through the following weeks, Barko lamented hopelessly, picturing himself gadding the streets, forlorn and writhing in the throes of destitution – his almost brown eyes glossy and on the threshold of oozing down his chalky, frog-belly-colored face; his thin hair, now even thinner, blowing in the merciless February wind. As God as his witness (and he wasn’t) he declared that he would never let that happen to him. So he did what any man of few skills, very little ambition, and much fatigue would do under the same given circumstances; he comfortably took to living amongst rats, rogues, and ragamuffins in a filthy alley behind a fancy restaurant

Barko missed his ceiling and walls, but he did so enjoy the restaurant’s leftovers, especially Fridays―Fish Night!

“Besides,” the languid Barko Zarzoor would say to his wife and eight children, “the hours are great, I don’t have to punch a timecard, and I’m my own boss!”


Blogger pee money said...

Your prose style satisfies both while held up closely and spied from afar.

8:32 PM  
Blogger evil ape said...

Pee Money, no offense, but what the hell's that supposed to mean?

8:55 PM  
Blogger pee money said...

What I mean to say is that Denny's writing works on both a macro- and micro-scopic level. First and foremost, the stories he tells are worth telling. That would be reason enough to praise them. But then, when examined on a sentence-by-sentence basis, they reveal a staggering complexity of wordplay and subtle psychological shading. It is evident that Denny Green is a master of both the story and the language with which he tells the story.

9:09 PM  
Blogger evil ape said...

I still don't know what the hell you're talking about.

9:11 PM  
Blogger bufafa said...

I do. Pee, your critique hit the proverbial nail on the equally proverbial head. I agree whole-

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