No Easter #2: The Monster on the Box
Gene settles into his new life as a janitor, and the unexpected appearance of a 700-foot-tall monster in Japan causes the crew to question its origins.
When I returned to work after Thanksgiving weekend, word was going around that I wasn’t exactly the Paul Bunyan of the cleaning industry that they had hoped I was going to be. My two-hour lunches had done a lot to sow unrest among the staff. Since he couldn’t fire me, Mealy, the foreman, decided to keep me working with him. He was my direct superior now. From here on I’d be smelling his stink more than I smelled any other.
For the first couple of days he was one of these “do-what-I-say-and-we’ll-get-along-great” types but by the end of the week, I’d won his confidence and we started fucking around a bit. He hated drinking alone. He told me he was a “self-made” man, whatever that meant, and that his dad was a fat alcoholic who never gave him a thing. It was not surprising then that Mealy was also a fat alcoholic who jammed his wife and two kids into a trailer in some backwoods section of Long Island and got five-dollar blow jobs from crackhead hookers on his lunch hour. The fact that he’d managed to move a bus stop or two over the city line into Nassau County was success enough for one life. Above all, he was dependable. He’d take that happy-hour stratagem right with him to his grave.
By the Friday after Thanksgiving, me and Mealy were pals. We both shared a disdain for work and a near-constant thirst for alcohol. He was a racist and a louse, but if it meant a lighter work schedule for me, I was willing to humor him.
“How much do braces cost?” he asked as we crouched on our knees spreading tile cement on a bathroom floor.
“I dunno. ‘Better part of two G’s I’d say.”
“Shit.” He was wounded by my assessment. “Braces, broken legs, new transmissions…. You know what it costs just to buy a pair of sneakers for your kid that the other kids won’t make fun of?” I shrugged my shoulders, not too interested in his bourgeois problems. “Fuck this floor,” he declared. “Let’s go to lunch.”
On Fridays (and sometimes Thursdays or even Mondays or Tuesdays), lunch meant beer. After a stop at the deli, we retired to the basement, where Buffet Guy sat munching Doritoes in front of the TV. Mealy killed one fast and continued his tale of woe.
“The other day I punch in, Pontulio tells me some kid put his head through the same showcase window I spent all day Thursday repairing. Lunchtime comes an’ I got this pain in my back I never felt before. So I fix the showcase—I gotta go get the glass, blah, blah, blah—again it takes all day. So I’m on my way home, I’m on the Meadowbrook—Carle Place or some shit—and boom! My ball joint breaks. I gotta walk to the exit, call a tow truck, blah, blah, blah. Two and a half hours later I’m halfway through a steak and my wife tells me Joey needs braces.” He wiped the sweat from his brow and cracked a can of Bud.
“It’s a dog’s life,” Buffet Guy offered.
“If it was a dog’s life I’d be giving myself a blow job right now,” Mealy shot back. “But at least I keep some partyin’ money, right? At least I’m not like Murphy. Do you know his wife comes and picks up his check? He’s fucking pussy-whipped! You ever see his wife? I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick.”
“Someone talking about me?” Murphy asked, entering the room with his barrel and broom. Murphy was your average short, fat, bald guy who went through ’Nam and never talked about it. Not because it fucked him up or anything, but because he didn’t respect us enough.
“Ain’t nobody talking about you, Murph,” Mealy insisted. “You get that little piss puddle up there on the third floor?”
“Yes, I got the piss-puddle,” Murphy answered.
“I’d hate to have to fire a man right before Christmas,” Mealy chuckled. Mealy loved to bust Murphy’s balls any chance he got. Mealy was a man who had been ignored all his life and now that he was in a position to make people listen to him, he took full advantage of it. One of the reasons Mealy despised Murphy so much was that Murphy took pride in what he did. He was a positive-thinking individual. He even taught catechism to second graders on the weekend. Mealy had a more sensible attitude toward work—scapegoat others for your mistakes and steal anything that isn’t chained down.
John thundered down the stairs carrying chips and a soda, screaming, “HEYYYYYYYY! HOOOOOOOO! HEYYYYYYYY! HOOOOOOO!”
“Cheetos and a Sunkist for lunch?” Mealy asked.
“What the fuck you care what I eat for lunch? Them Big Macs you eat will kill you a lot faster than this shit.”
Mealy shrugged, picked up the remote and scanned the channels—home-shopping, football, Christmas sales, Korean programming, the religious right, an entire program devoted to car wax, Bette Midler, anti-theft devices, swimwear, mothers of rape victims, junk bonds. None of it held his interest for more than a second. Murphy walked over to the grinder, placed a pair of safety goggles over his quarter-inch thick glasses and began sharpening his gum scraper.
As I watched the sparks bounce off Murphy’s chest and face like fireworks, something in my gut died and its soul exited through my mouth in the form of a loud sigh. Mealy stopped chewing his food and looked over at me. “Are you Jewish, Gumellis?” he asked. “Gumellis—is that a Jewish name?”
“No offense,” I said, “but being here is like slow death.”
“What do you want, a medal?” Mealy asked.
“A medal would be a start,” I said.
“A motherfuckin’ commemoration!” John suggested.
“Gimme a fuckin’ break,” Mealy grunted as he pulled himself out of his chair and walked over to the work bench.
“Never mind the statue, I want a motherfuckin’ trading card,” John announced, upending his bag of Cheetos and dumping the last bit of orange powder into his mouth.
“My card could have a picture of me ‘in action,’” I suggested. “I could be wiping a wall and my hand would be a blur.”
“My card could have a picture of my dick sticking in some shorty,” John laughed.
“You guys are young yet,” Mealy said as he tinkered with his carburetor—a little pet-project he used to work on when he was supposed to be doing something else. “Life gets a lot easier once you realize it ain’t worth shit.”
“Yo, look at this,” Buffet Guy called out, pointing to the TV.
“What the hell is that?” Mealy asked.
“I dunno,” Buffet Guy answered.
Mealy stopped playing with his spare part and Murphy switched off the grinder. We all moved closer to the TV to get a better look. The footage was difficult to make out. It was an amateur video of a large fire. In the corner of the screen it read “CNN Today.” There were explosions, and there appeared to be something in the middle of all the mayhem.
“We bombing the towel-heads again?” Mealy smiled. “Turn the sound up.”
Buffet Guy touched a button on the remote and the volume bar crawled across the screen. I could make out the sound of repeated explosions, followed occasionally by a high-pitched crackle and what sounded to me like an anguished moan. It repeated again and again. A crackle and a moan, then more explosions. The CNN newsman gave a running commentary over the picture.
“…the attack lasted for only twenty-five minutes, but as the video footage clearly shows, the devastation was extensive…”
I remembered the news report I’d seen the week before about a “Loch Ness-like” monster that was photographed by Japanese fisherman and wondered if this could be it. Whatever it was, the beast on screen suddenly razed a whole row of Tokyo high-rises with its fist. Were it not for the poor quality of the footage and the CNN logo in the corner of the screen, I’d have thought we were watching a movie.
“Look at that sonofabitch!” Buffet Guy exclaimed.
“Looks like Murphy’s wife,” Mealy cracked and Murphy winced.
“What you are seeing on your screen is actual video footage from Tokyo, Japan where just forty-five minutes ago today it is said that a creature, reptilian in appearance, emerged from the Pacific Ocean and began laying waste to everything in its path. So far, neither the Japanese government nor the Pentagon has confirmed the existence of a creature of any kind, but some sort of being was reported by hundreds of witnesses and is clearly visible in this videotape footage. As to what it is, we are not quite sure. No organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. We go now to Steve Rudy, our Japanese affiliate…. Steve, what exactly is happening in Tokyo?”
A young reporter wearing a CNN windbreaker came on and tried to make himself heard over the loud wail of sirens.
“Hello? Okay. As you can see behind me Bob, the scene is absolute chaos. The attack came at about ten PM this evening. Nobody seems to know what to think at this point. I myself saw the monster. It looked something like a dinosaur, and used its arms, feet and its mammoth tail to destroy several luxury high-rises in this densely populated section of Tokyo. Some reports say it even breathed fire. That is unconfirmed. Whether it was actually a living creature or some new strategic weapon is also unconfirmed. There is only one thing we are certain of—something has attacked Tokyo with a vengeance that, as one eyewitness commented, hasn’t been seen in this country since 1945. There is no accurate casualty count yet, but from the looks of things it has to be enormous. As far as our reports say, Tokyo is the only city reported to have been hit tonight, and the ‘monster,’ for lack of a better term, returned to the sea approximately twenty minutes after surfacing...”
The picture broke up and the image on the box switched back to the anchorman sitting at his desk.
“We’ll hear more from Steve Rudy live in Tokyo as soon as we can reestablish contact. Please stay tuned to this network for the latest information on this horrible disaster…”
The screen cut from the newsman to a commercial featuring two talking rolls of toilet paper. For a moment there was a strange silence in the basement as we all looked at each other with puzzled expressions.
“Big deal,” Mealy muttered. “Just a buncha gooks. There’s so fuckin’ many of ‘em as it is. They’re a buncha crybabies.”
“But c’mon,” pleaded Buffet Guy, “that shit’s fucked up. I mean… is that fucked up or is that fucked up?”
“It’s gotta be bullshit,” I said. “Maybe there’s a new movie coming out or something. Schwartzenegger saves Japan from some Communist lizard.”
“What makes you so damn sure?” Mealy asked.
“You’re gonna sit there and tell me a lizard the size of the Chrysler building just stepped on Tokyo?”
“If that’s what the man said, that’s what I believe. Could be terrorists, right? Or maybe it’s something they sent back from the future.”
“I’ve had more intelligent conversations than this with my breakfast,” I said. “You’re telling me someone built a time machine and put a dinosaur in it?”
“I’m just sayin’ you don’t know.”
“It sure as shit ain’t from no future,” insisted John. “If it’s from anywhere, it’s from space. We ain’t got no shit like that here, not even in a million years. Even the weirdest shit we got—elephants, zebras… mo’fuckin’ gila monsters—they don’t come close. But space… anything can come from space ‘cuz who the fuck knows what’s out there?”
“I dunno about space,” countered Mealy. “If he’s from space where is his ship? You think they wouldn’ta seen that coming? I still say the future. You know what I think, I bet sometime down the line the Japs probably took over the world. I mean, everybody knows they’re gonna anyway, right?”
“Man, Gumellis is right, you sure are a stupid sonofabitch. There ain’t no such thing as the future—not at least until it happens and then it ain’t the future no more.”
“First of all, don’t call me stupid. I’m the foreman and you’re just a cleaner, so who’s stupid? And second of all, there’s a lizard bigger than a house stomping on Tokyo and you’re gonna tell me there’s no such thing as time travel? I bet in the future monsters walk the earth annihilating human life, so the world’s best scientific minds get together and send one of them back in time to destroy the Japanese.”
John got up from his seat in front of the TV, walked over to his locker and checked his hair in the mirror. When the other guys weren’t looking he took off his hat and revealed to me a large spliff sitting on top of his head. He pointed to the elevator, a sign we should meet there for our daily toke-up on the roof.
“Why the Japanese?” I asked. “Why not the Canadians?”
“Because the Japs probably invented the fuckin’ thing, Gumellis,” Mealy spat back. “All right, enough of this shit. It’s almost one-thirty. Whaddaya think, the world stops ‘cuz a buncha gooks get mushed by a dinosaur? There’s bathrooms to mop! Lunchrooms to sweep! Let’s go!”
“A monster! A motherfuckin’ monster!” John kept repeating as we stole an elevator ride up to the roof. When we bypassed Rupert, the machine’s rightful operator, on the first floor, he started ringing the bell and cursing.
The car lurched when we reached the top and John rolled the door open to an overcast afternoon. It was the end of fall and the wind was blowing hard, lifting all the newspaper pages, leaves and empty potato chip bags into the air and holding them there, suspended.
“So c’mon,” I snickered as John searched his pockets for his Zippo. “Do you really think that thing is from outer space?”
“I dunno,” he laughed, “I was just saying that. Fuck if I know what it is. Could be any fuckin’ thing. I just said space ‘cuz Mealy said the future.”
“It’s just too ridiculous for me to even think about,” I admitted between puffs. “Then again there’s not much left that surprises me. I’d like it to be true.”
“You know,” John said, accepting the spliff from my fingers. “I think if it did turn out to be from space… I dunno… I think it would change a lot of things. The world an’ shit. People’s consciousness.”
“I know what you mean, but I doubt it. This is the same species that brought you concentration camps and atom bombs. I can’t picture them all joining hands at the mall and singing ‘Amazing Grace.’”
“Ain’t that the truth.”
The door to the roof opened and John held the joint behind his back. “Whodat?” he called out.
“Oh d-d-da, oh…” Rupert took one look at us and went back to his elevator.
“That’s no good,” John groaned, sucking on the joint. “That motherfucker’s a snitch and a half.”
“Damn… I tell you, whenever I start puffin’ herb, I start analyzing shit. It’s almost like I get smarter, you know what I’m sayin’? I mean look at this shit… helicopters and planes… sky scrapers… it’s like The Jetsons.”
“Damn sure is. It’s like we ain’t but shit.”
“Man, if that monster shit was true, that would be something,” John said. “Space. I love space. Star Wars—any of that shit. I tell you, if I watch Star Wars even to this day, I get tears in my eyes, you know what I’m sayin’?”
“I know, I know.”
“The Force, yo.”
“It’s the closest thing to a religion I’ve ever had.”
“Me too. Me too.”
“What would you do if a flying saucer came down right in front of us and a door opened and these green dudes leaned out and said, ‘We’ve been watching your planet for centuries and we’ve decided that you two are the only cool dudes on the whole thing.’ And then they sorta looked around real quick and said ‘Let’s go get fucked up.’”
“Oh shit,” John chuckled.
“And then we just flew around in space getting stoned with these green dudes. They’d have all these weird Martian drugs.”
“Yeah, weird shit. They’d be giving us bugs and shit to eat. Thirteen-legged Martian centipedes and shit.”
“Would you eat ‘em?”
“Did Adam eat apples? We could even fuck with ‘em and shit. We could bring ‘em some cockroaches and make ‘em eat ‘em.”
“Yeah. We’d be asking them, ‘You ain’t getting off, dude? Must only work on humans… try this—’ and we could tell them to lick Rupert’s butt cheeks.”
“Shit, we bring Rupert along just to bug ’em out. He go, ‘T-t-take me t-t-to your leader.’” John’s face went all spastic as he did an impersonation of a cross-eyed Rupert and now I was laughing. “Shit, we’d be fuckin’ green Martian bitches with ten asses. Then I whip out my huge fuckin’ cock and they’d be calling in scientists to do tests on it. X-ray it and shit. Them green bitches would be buying me cars and shit.”
We both had to piss. I went to one corner of the building, John to another. As I watered the roof tar, the billboards and the buildings buzzed like bugs in my eyes. Somewhere on the other side of the world a reindeer was shitting yesterday’s meal into the snow and calling it a day, not knowing how lucky it was to have never met us.
“Yo ‘Mellis,” John yelled to me across the roof, causing me to piss slightly on my boot.
“Why you suppose it don’t get cold in November no more?”