The Flying Babalooskis ~ Part 2

Mr. and Mrs. Babalooskis---children disguised as retired European circus midgets---meet the neighbors and are thrown a housewarming party that gets a bit out of hand. While this was written as a work of Juvenile Fiction, PART II's depiction of irresponsible lowlife behavior, drug use (far from glamorized), and underage drinking (semi-accidental) may not be suitable for some kids. PARENTAL DISCRETION IS ADVISED...

~~ A Fantasy of Revelry Run Riot ~~
 [NOTE: As noted earlier, this tale takes place way back in the 1990's...]
The apartment was huge. A large sparse main room, and a kitchen that was large too but oddly shaped, long and windowless like the inside of a semi trailer. There was no stove but there was a hot plate sitting on the long tiled counter, and an old white round cornered refrigerator. The whole place echoed like a cave.
The unit was "furnished" in some of the saddest and most beat up old furniture either of them had ever seen, and there wasn't much of that. There wasn't a picture or a nicknack anywhere. The manager had jokingly referred to this as the "early suicidal look" ........ But it did have a nice view of the central, Spanish style courtyard---nearly overrun by bushes and ferns and squat palms---and had a nice big skylight shaped like a pup tent in the ceiling over the bed. Hanging on a frazzled loop of shoelace in the shower was a pair of vise grips, which you had to use to use to get water. The man had conceded that this could be tricky at times, and promised them shower handles by the middle of the week-
"So you don't boil yourself alive in there. If you need anything I live down in #101, where it says OFFICE."
Beat, bored with everything and mainly concerned that they wouldn't blame him for the building's condition, but the Beverly Hills lawyer who owned the place ("Some day I think I'll go crazy and give all the tenants his phone number!"), he had hardly given them a second glance. This despite all of O.Z.'s crazy arm flapping- the exaggerated gestures whenever he spoke. And his accent that drifted from French to German to horror-spoof Transylvanian...
Jade cringed each time he opened his mouth, but she guessed it had made sense to try and pass themselves off as European circus performers. If they ever ran into someone who happened to know a few things about American circus companies, they could cover for any flaws in their story by saying that these things were done differently over there.
The main room had a bed that folded up into the wall, and came crashing down like some medieval execution device when you tugged at it. It was large enough that their sharing the same bed didn't seem markedly different than the times they had unrolled their sleeping bags side by side in the backyard. They slept soundly that night, oblivious to the 3 a.m. raindrops hitting the skylight and the loud threat-laden argument out in the hallway just before dawn.
The next day they went shopping for toys and groceries and a television. They arrived back home late in the afternoon, rumbling up the hallway and into their apartment.
"I'm sure glad you thought to buy this wagon, O.Z.!"
"Yeah, but what a hassle getting it up those stairs. This sucker weighs a ton even by itself! I still think it would be more fun to stay at that place with all the streams and that big four story waterfall in the lobby. God am I thirsty! Let's make that Kool Aid..."
"You're thirsty?" rasped Jade as she plopped down in a kitchen chair and took off her flea-bitten mink stole, fanning herself with it. She was wearing her Saturday and Tuesday outfit, having bought four complete outfits. She tore off her wig, then pulled the two grapefruit free of their sling through the neck of her blouse and set them on the table. 
She stuck her chest out at him, "Look! Instant mas-mectopy!"
"You're sick!" chortled O.Z. appreciatively.
They dug into the groceries, setting the jalapeno cheesedogs and the rainbow yogurt bars in the freezer and piling everything else on the counter by the sink. They had remembered to buy a pitcher and some plastic tumblers but had forgotten to get ice, and when Jade read the instructions on the can of drink mix she groaned.
"What's the matter?"
"This is the wrong kind! This kind takes a cup and a half of sugar to make.
Now we have to go a-a-a-aaaaaaall the way back to Safeways!"
"To hell with that noise! I'll drink milk. Or do you think we might be able to borrow some from a neighbor?"
"Good idea! I'll go..."
Jade hastily reassembled her outfit, putting on some more lipstick and a few ample squirts of perfume and went out, cup in hand. She knocked on the door of their closest neighbor, that chunky young blonde woman in the jeans and white tube top they had seen earlier in the day.
She hated to admit it but she felt more confident in her role without her friend along, not having to worry about him falling suddenly out of character, like calling the sales people Dude, or his obnoxious displays of wealth. He'd tried to tip the man in the t.v. department $50 to make sure the set would be delivered that same afternoon- "So vee can vatch zee Oop-rah Vin-free!"
She knocked again.
#.8 /// CANDICE
Candice Evertsen opened the door part way and looked warily at Jade, not altogether sure that she wasn't hallucinating. "Yeah?"
Jade beemed a smile at her and gestured with the white tumbler, trying for a blase, sophisticated tone, "Ah! Hello Dearie, I am Mrs. Babalooski, your new neighbor from number 349. And I was vondering, could I borrow perhaps a cup or two of sooker?"
Candice grinned from ear to ear. Babalooski? A cup of sugar? This was just too bizarre. 
"Sugar? I don't think we have any. I have some honey though. Come on in. My name's Candice,
by the way."
"I am Jadzia," trilled the midget, "But everyone calls me Jade."
Candice found herself instantly charmed by this ridiculous creature, possibly a hundred years old under all that white powder. The goofy, gap-toothed grin just melted her heart. Funny how some old people brought out such a strong impulse in her to mother them.
Jade entered. The place was dark and messy and smelled of cat pee and sweat. Sheets and blankets up over the windows. Milk crates full of pots and pans, paperback books, old-fashioned record albums. A mountain of laundry with a pair of scraped-up work boots on top, so big they might have belonged to Frankenstein's monster.
Candice stretched, yawning noisily, and headed for the kitchen, "I know I had a thing of honey in here somewhere."
Jade followed her in, "Did I wake you up?"
"Sort of, but I needed to get up anyway. I work nights, tending bar. A place called The Animal Shelter. My boyfriend usually gets home from work about now and wakes me up, but for some reason- Ah, there you are!" She handed Jade a plastic bear with a spout protruding from its head.
"This might work. We are making Kool Aid."
"Kool Aid? Yeeeeuck!" shuddered Candice.
"Well, we are all out of....... caf-fay."
"I was just about to make some. Fresh ground beans from Sumatra, my one extravagance. 
This stuff is da kine! You're not seriously going to drink that sugar water crap, are you?"
"Coffee does sound good," said Jade, who was particularly fond of cappacino with a shot of vanilla in it, "But my Osvald doesn't even like the smell of it. I could never get him to try it."
"Huh? He's never had coffee?"
Damn! What a stupid thing to say!
"Well no, of course he has! But in our part of Europe we don't...... I mean not since....... Vith the war and za bombs and all."
"Oh yes, I hear the shortages were something terrible," said Candice vaguely, feeling just a bit guilty at having lived her life untouched by the horrors of modern warfare. Or not exactly guilty but somehow spooked; Knowing that a given spot on the globe might luck out for only so long...
She tried to imagine what it might be like, the smoggy skies of her own city torn by wailing sirens. Not "The Bomb"- which was as abstract and unconceivable to her as being dead was (you see a funny vapor trail streaking across the sky and an instant later---without even noticing the transition---you are a gust of boiling atoms!); but the weighty thrumming drone of dozens of bombers. 
And then the aftermath........ Proud old buildings smashed like sandcastles; dead discolored bodies stuck in ghastly poses; bundled refugees pushing ricketty black baby strollers piled with their few remaining posessions down cratered avenues.
She shook her head, chasing away the gruesome images. "So coffee for us, and Kool Aid for your little ......... Uh, I mean, assuming that your husband is a..."
"That's quite alright, dear. We have made ourselves a fine career from being little, my husband and I. 'The Flying Babalooskis: World's Greatest Midget Aerialists!' We toured with Collander Brother's Circus up until 1980. Now we sometimes work in television. Not so much climbing for us. You have maybe seen us?"
"I think maybe I have," said Candice, who had been wandering around looking for something and finally found it- a tiny alarm clock that had fallen behind an end table.
She said, "Oh man, it's almost six! I wonder where the hell he could be. Do you suppose I could use your phone real quick? It's local..."
O.Z. continued unloading the wagon. Under the many boxes of toys were a hammer and nails and six large framed photo posters they had bought at the gallery at the mall. He dug them out. He slid a kitchen chair around the apartment, hanging a print up wherever the walls looked barest. Alternating the ones he had picked, of women in postage-stamp bikinis leaning seductively across Porsches and Corvettes, with the ones Jade selected-   teddy bears in atheletic outfits competing in the 1984 L.A. Olympics. The salesman had explained to them what a dynamite investment fine photography was these days. When O.Z. did return to his parents they would be glad to know that he hadn't just been throwing his money away on junk.
Standing on the chair next to the low-slung windows he had a deliciously dizzying view of the courtyard. It was easy to imagine that you were thousands of feet in the air. The dense mass of ferns and elephant ear plants below was the giant trees of some rain forest, and the irregular flagstone slabs of the patio were a patchwork of farms and pastureland .......... A secret world hidden inside the caldera of a great dormant volcano. High in the mountains of Nepal, it has remained undiscovered to this day, perhaps cloaked by some ancient mystical force. The soaring weathered walls of the courtyard looked amazingly like rock ....... All those windows sure didn't belong in it, but they could be the teleportals that this race of wizards uses to trade with different planets and eras and dimensions ....... Too bad their twenty thousand years of peace and prosperity was soon to be threatened, by an evil rogue volcanologist named Maldron Spektor-
What was this? A pair of wires crossing the courtyard and terminating just to the right of these two windows. He leaned over and peered through the dirty screen. Telephone lines? No, it was an old clothesline. The last of what had long ago been a whole maze of them, that none of the building's superintendants had ever gotten around to removing. 
O.Z. hopped down and unhooked the window screen, easing it into the room. He reached out and pulled on one of the wires. The pulley spun with a piercing shriek- feeding rusty cable out into the void. He rushed to the kitchen and began tearing through the bags, looking for toy aircraft. Did he buy that set of die-cast fighter jets, or had they run out of room in the wagon first? RATS! Oh well, tomorrow they could go buy a whole fleet of planes and spaceships! He heard the front door open.
Jade appeared in the kitchen doorway, her appearance so different from the girl he had grown up down the block from that for an instant it startled him. "Hey Jade! Check out what I found outside the window."
She gave him a wild desperate look that could only mean one thing!
Where was that stinking toupee?! He jammed it onto his head just as Candice came in with two mugs and a steaming glass coffee pot.
Jade perfomed an elegant curtsey, "Oswald, this is Miss Candice Evertsen from next door. She needs to use our telephone."
Candice clunked the pot down on the counter and said, "Holy Moly! Look at all these toys! It looks like Santa's workshop in here!"
No, thought Jade nervously, it looks like where a couple of brats had found a bag of money and gone on a spending spree! She stammered, "Yes, these toys-"
"Are for zee little ones! I am testing zem---each one!---for quality and for making sure has safety, before ve ship zem over to our be-luffed grandkidders back in old country," nodded O.Z. He inspected a section of model train track with the stern authority of a watchmaker.
Candice filled the two mugs and handed one to Jade. She shook her head, smiling, "You must have a lot of grandkids!"
O.Z. acknowledged this with a depraved leer.
"The phone's out there beside the good chair, Lovey," said Jade, referring to the old recliner that no longer stayed upright and had to be kept up against the wall. She tasted her coffee and added milk and honey. When Candice went out she flashed her friend a 'thumbs up'. He had come up with a reasonable explanation for all these toys without missing a beat! Maybe O.Z. would be all right at this game after all...
She called out to Candice that she could use their phone whenever she wanted.
O.Z. gaped at her. He hissed, "Are you NUTS?!"
"They can't afford a phone!" she whispered, "They're like living on cheap ramen and sardines every night. And it's not costing us nothing. Didn't Dave-the-manager say it must still be hooked up from when the last tenant had it?"
"That's not the point! We'd have to wear these disguises all the time, in case she drops by! And how would we ever explain something like that fort we wanted to build in here?"
She hadn't even thought of that! This was a much bigger screw up than any of the ones that O.Z. had committed so far. But the fact was that Jade liked Candice, who reminded her so much of the sister she seldom saw, and the invitation had just popped out. She grimaced, "Then maybe we can limit her to only certain times. Because we're so old and need to take a lot of naps."
"It's only a local call!" chimed Candice, who must have heard them arguing.
Then she was talking to whoever it was she had dialed, "Hello? Hi, is Byron still there? Maybe out in the- What? Oh God, not again! He called you that? Well he's sensitive, Mr. Gorkis, he doesn't take criticism very-" (even at this distance they could hear the explosion of tinny laughter and the faint buzzing of angry words-). "He did? I'm sorry he did that, Mister G. ......... Yes, I know .......... You didn't call the cops on him, did you? Because- Thank you! Yes. Thank you so much! No, if you already paid him I don't see why he would have a reason to ever 'darken your doorway again'- Hello? Are you still- Well same to you, buddy!"
It was pretty obvious what had happened. They went out into the living room. Candice was staring at the phone in her hand. She said faintly, "If he got paid then he's probably at the Taj Mahal..."
"Imagine that!" whispered O.Z.
"I think she means that bar we passed."
"Oh. That place."
They stood there, silently offering her their awkward sympathies as she continued to look at the phone. Finally she sighed and started dialing again- but stopped as the wall began to thump with a driving rock drumbeat, the song also echoing in through the windows. She hollared, "THAT YOU, BABES?"
The music stopped. There were sounds of cussing and thrashing about, then a door slamming. Byron knocked, tried the knob, and entered by opening the door a crack and sort of curling in around it. Six-foot, seven in a denim jacket that was frayed extensively around both cuffs, his cheeks two long slabs of acne scars. Crooked teeth. Long brown hair streaming everywhere. He hesitated a second, then stooped over and, engulfing O.Z.'s hand in his own grease-blackened one, shook it once---up, down---carefully.
He bowed in Jade's direction. "I'm Byron Brown. Candice's- uh, fiance."
He stood like that, stooped way over, until Jade dragged the wooden chair over from the window. He plopped into and sat with downcast eyes; as if he were uncomfortably aware of how lowlife and scary he must appear to them- these tiny old fashioned people his own parents age. He almost seemed to fear that O.Z. was going to start yelling at him to get a haircut and clean up his act! 
But it was Candice who lit into him, her voice steely and calm. 
"I talked to your boss a few minutes ago. He was in a real jolly mood. It seems you were fired today..."
"Fired?! That lying sack of dog-" he remembered his hosts and caught himself, "-biscuits. He didn't fire me!"
"Jeez, Byron! You can't go quitting your job every time someone insults you."
"I don't! How can you say that? It didn't happen just like that, with him making some little comment and couldn't handle it! I put up with a lot from him. But everyone has their threshhold. I do have a certain amount of dignity, you know!"
"Great! Run down to the market with your dignity and pick us up a couple of steaks and a pound of spinach and a can of Bugler and a bag of oranges."
"Yes, I'll admit it was bad timing. And believe it or not I know the importance of keeping a job. I'm not that same strung-out jerk I was a year ago! But I'm not going to stand there and be that twerp's punching bag forever! In the five months I was there I saw them come and go. Good mechanics, driven off by that maniac! In any reasonable society he would be the village idiot! They would let him jabber and rave harmlessly in the town square, not put him in charge of a dozen workers..."
He stopped, sighing mightily. It was bad enough going through this with her. Why did they have to be doing it in front of these two wizened smiling leprechauns? And what was that all over their faces?!
The Babalooskis sat on the end of their bed facing their two guests. O.Z. laced his fingers together around the front of his knee, cleared his throat and smiled gently, "A big goozel like you vill have no trouble getting a new job! If we vas still with the circus I would tell them to hire you in one second!"
Byron laughed with wild enthusiasm, "You were really with the circus? Incredible! Maybe that's what we should do. Run away and join the circus!"
Candice snorted and rolled her eyes irritably.
Jade said, "We could have used you putting up za tents! The Strong Man. Or maybe as a lion trainer!"
"A lion tamer," shouted Byron, "Far out! And what about my lady here?"
O.Z. howled, "Riding horses around za ring, in one of them suits mitt da shpangels and the feathered head-thingen! Or you could be aerialists! The two of you! We can train you!"
"Start our OWN circus!" tittered Jade.
Candice stood up and lurched toward the door. Byron called out, "What's wrong, Honey?"
She stopped, crossing her arms, "Wrong? Nothing. It sounds like your future is all mapped out! But back on planet Earth, Dave came by asking about the back rent, for the third day in a row. Now Dave is a great guy and all, but his own job depends on him getting the rent from the tenants. I had to promise him the full amount by Tuesday. That's four days from now! And now Mister Human Dignity here quits his job, and sits there laughing it up like he hasn't got a care in the world! Which you probably don't- having spent God-only-knows how much of your last paycheck on schooners down at the Taj! So you three can plan your circus, and I'll go home and try to figure out where the heck we can move to..."
She resumed her march toward the door. Jade jumped to her feet with her palms held up- "WAIT!"
She put an arm around O.Z.'s shoulder and crimped her other hand around his ear, whispering intently, her breath tickling his ear. How she knew it was his money and she had no right to press him for such a large amount, and she never would have---(hadn't she selected the cheapest, dustiest old posters that she could find at that art place, and almost none of the toys he'd bought?)---except this wasn't for her. And she would never ask him to get her another thing with his money, ever again!"
She hadn't needed to lay it on anywhere near this thick. He was happy to help her, or her new friends. But Jade had always been self-conscious about her family being on the opposite end of the middle class from his. While she would snack with him on stuff from the pantry, she always turned down his mom's offers to buy them both lunch at some fast food place, claiming she was looking forward to a big dinner, but plainly not wanting to seem anything like her folks, who were famous up and down the block for borrowing money and not paying it back---and a lot of other ugly behavior---that Jade had to bear the shame of. And now there was all this cash for her to feel funny about...
O.Z. went into the kitchen and fumbled around with something in the cabinet under the sink, then left the apartment whistling.
He was back in ten minutes, "I had a good talking with Dave. Is all taken care of!"
Byron didn't understand how this new arrival could pull so much weight around the building,
"What do you mean? You stalled him until when?"
"I took care of last month and this month. You yoost worry about paying in July."
Candice gasped, "You paid our rent?!! Why? Not that I'm complaining, but you barely know us!
I hope you realize it'll take us a long time to pay it all back..."
"Is not a loan. Is old European custom. To every ten years do a big good deed for a stranger."
"In the Air Force I was stationed at Ramstein for ten months," pondered Byron, "I never heard of that one..."
"Is secret, is why. Old European secret midget custom. You must tell no one!" said O.Z., not wanting everyone in the building to come putting the touch on him, "It is where from comes the legends of za little elves helping people."
Candice did not believe for a second that there was any such "secret midget custom", but figured they were just a nice elderly couple with a little extra money and a rare willingness to help others. A great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. She and Byron were farther along on rent than they had been in ages!
Byron started to reach for his back pocket, looking inquiringly at her.
She shrugged, "Oh go ahead. But you are looking for a job tomorrow. Hung over or not!"
"Then uh, speaking of old customs......... I think we should throw a good ol' housewarming party for our wonderful new neighbors here. I'll get a keg and some tequila, invite the whole gang!"
Candice grinned and shook her head, "That's just great! You guys all having a big bash while I gotta work! Are you sure it has to be tonight?"
Byron lunged from his chair, grabbing her in a fierce bear hug as if he could not endure the thought of her leaving! Candice laughed as he mewled pathetically-
"Oh please baby, angel lamb chop snookie wookie kittyface! PLEASE don't go to work! Oh my love, light of my life, my turtle dove .......... Please please please please just phone in sick! PLEASE, Baby!"
"Quit it, you nut! They need me to be there in about twenty minutes!"
"I don't care! I don't care! I need you HERE, myum-myum-myum-myum-" He slid his mouth across her cheek, giving it loud slobbery kisses, "No you don't! You won't get in trouble, you're too valuable to them! Hank wouldn't dare fire you! Oh my snooky-wookie sugar thing, myumm, myumm, myummmmmm-"
She ducked her head down and slipped free, "I'll try, but I'm about at the limit of my sick days here. If he sounds too mad about this I'll have to go in and act miserable and cough on people until he sends me home, and not do it again until October. One of us needs to hold down a job around here!"
"But not tonight! This is Oswald and Jadzoozia's house warming party! Welcoming them to the building, letting them meet our friends and neighbors."
"Good God, is that any way to repay them?" laughed Candice, "But you're right. We're about due for a major party. Now everyone be quiet while I call the Shelter and- Oh man, he's never gonna believe this! What did I tell them last time? Bronchitis? I better go with the old 'might be stomach flu or food poisoning'..."
After Candice used the phone a final time she went home to get spiffed up, and Byron took the wagon and went on a liquor run. The kids tidied up the apartment, stashing toys under the bed until they ran out of room, then hid the rest in the doorless closet in the little hall leading to the bathroom.
O.Z. marvelled, "Wow, a real party. One that isn't some stupid little kiddie thing with parents all lurking over us! This is gonna be cool!"
Jade shook her head, "Adult parties can be pretty boring, actually. They all get drunk and argue about the elections, or about what was the name of that actress who played the daughter on some bad t.v. show twenty years ago. Or they all start singing. It's ridiculous!"
"I think this is going to be a little more interesting than that."
They made some snacks, grilling the jalapeno dogs right on the surface of the hot plate, then cutting them into pieces, spearing them with toothpicks and piling them on a paper plate. 
Jade said, "You know, you and me can be pretty smart sometimes. We're really pulling this off! I bet if we dressed up nice and got some luggage, we really could b.s. our way onto a plane- go to New York or someplace!"
"We'll try it after our week is up here," said O.Z. He pulled the frozen yogurt bars from their box and arranged them on a plate, setting it inside the freezer section of the refrigerator and wedging the door open with the empty box. "There. Now they can help themselves..."
"I like how the smoke creeps out. What were you and Byron whispering about?"
"I'm not even sure. He said he wanted to bring some herbs over. I guess for the dip. He made this weird big deal out of it. How he knew that hip, show business folks like us can really appreciate good herbs. I said to bring the whole dang spice rack if he wanted."
"You're joking! You really don't know what he meant by 'herb'?"
"No, because he was talking crazy! Wanted to bring some killer skunks and his red haired Hawaiian buddy. I told him the Hawaiian guy was invited but not the skunks!"
"Those are all words for...." Jade pretended to suck hard on a tiny cigarette and pass it to him.
"Is that what he meant? OH NO!"
"Don't worry about it, it'll be funny! Don't you want to see a bunch of grown-ups talking backwards and stuff? It doesn't mean we have to do it..."
Candice brought over the biggest boom box they had ever seen, and the chairs from her dining room set. She had on her best butt-hugging jeans, wedge cork sandals and a little red v-neck vest that fit so snugly it was almost a corset. Her hair was put up nicely, but her eyes were rimmed in about three times too much mascara, and a splob of bright red rouge rode high on each cheek like a leech mark. Jade was sure that she---at ten years old---could do a better job of putting on cosmetics, but she said in her best grandmotherly tone: "My, don't we look pretty tonight!"
Byron came back pulling the wagon, the silver keg sitting in it like a fat bomb.
He led in a pair of winos carrying grocery bags packed with fifths of booze, and said, "This is No Toes and this is  Fifth Street Freddy. I told them they could come if they helped me haul this keg up the stairs. Hey? Where's that other guy? He had the bag with the cokes and the Bloody Mary mix!"
"Oh my gawww!" keened one of the winos, "Ernie snaked with th' mixers! He musta thought he had booze in there! HAW!!! Serves 'im right, the greedy snake! It's bums like that gives us bums a bad name!"
Someone found a station they liked on the radio. Screaming Jay Hawkins was singing:
"Shake your hip, bite your lip, shoot your mother-in-law...
Put on your gorilla suit, drink some elbow soup and have a ball...
Get it straight, don't be late, it's time for mad fun...
The Feast of the Mau Maus has begun!"
The party happened. 
Byron got the tapper working. Jessi, the enormous sleepy-faced woman from across the hall, who never seemed to look directly at you, wandered over in her fuzzy pink slippers and mint green slip, then three mute young Honduran men, who smiled with strained politeness at everything anyone said.
The guy with the t.v. showed up. Not a delivery man but the floor salesman himself, his shirt collar twisted around from when he had torn his tie off upon getting off work. He said, "Sorry I'm late! You were serious about that fifty bucks, weren't you?"
O.Z. nodded and discretely slipped it to the man, who 'slapped him five', then got two recently arrived members of Byron's motorcycle club to help lug the giant box up from his van parked out front. He found a beer mug and joined the party.
Time went by, and as each new batch of bikers arrived there was another round of hand shaking and back pounding. Some had girls with them, some in leather jackets and jeans, others in outfits that reminded the two kids of gypsies. Written across the backs of the gang's jackets, in elaborate gothic lettering, was:
So. Cal.
The man from the appliance store programmed the television for them.O.Z. was disappointed to realize that he couldn't get his favorite music video channelwithout a cable hook up. When people acted surprised, he added, "Not for us, of course.Ve're happy just hearing Frank Sinatra or the Ink Blobs on za Golden Age Radio Network. But you crazy kids like all that shtuff, so who are we to be poopers of this party?"
But Candice turned the set's sound all the way off and cranked up her radio showing them what she and her friends used to do for a primitive rock video effect...
It was an old color movie about the air war in the Pacific, which now featured a soundtrack by a 70's rock band. Fighter planes fought it out---seemingly in time to the music---spiralling down to the glittering water trailing great long gouts of smoke. O.Z. was skeptical at first, but then decided it was pretty good watching it this way. They were singing about "smoke on the water", and there it was! Who would have imagined?
He sat on the bed, in the middle of a dope smoking pack of military analysts from the motorcycle club. He didn't touch the marijuana, he knew that smoking anything was really bad for you, but did take the drink that somebody handed him. He could smell the liquor in it, but he was kind of thirsty and would just wet his lips with it until he could rouse himself to go get something else. What he really wanted was a Pepsi. For the most part he remembered to shout "Bravo!" or "Splendid!" instead of "Ooooooh, wicked!" whenever a Japanese Zero would disintegrate under anti-aircraft fire.
A skinny old man in a rayon Hawaiian shirt and a crusty flattop haircut stood next to the t.v. set squonking on a tenor saxophone- a long convoluted arpeggio that somehow went with what the stereo was playing and wove and looped and feignted like the dogfighting airplanes on the t.v. screen. This turned into a stream of random sounding notes that---defying all logic---twisted themselves into the opening bars of Somewhere, Over the Rainbow. Clear and sweet and .......... subtle.
"Wow," croaked someone in a small voice.
Jessi, still in her slip and eerily self-absorbed, stood behind the huge wooden reel---stolen years ago from the telephone company---that someone had donated to serve as the bar. Nobody knew who had appointed her bartender, suddenly she was just there.
Without a word she would dump some or all of the seven different kinds of booze into a tumbler, adding as much kool-aid as she thought the person needed. The way she poured and paused and decided which bottle to pick up next looked like witchcraft.
A second big contingent of Gents arrived. A pair of elderly ladies cut a swift departure when one of them launched into a joke with, "Now here's a filthy story-", but basically the Gents were on their best behavior.
Someone passed a spaghetti strainer around for donations toward another liquor store run. 
Already?? O.Z. dropped in two twenty dollar bills, saying, "Okay, but bring back some Pepsi Cola this time, dammit! And some Cheetos!"
O.Z., who was just finishing his third weak drink, could not figure out how he had ended up here, right next to the bar, sitting on one of these giant gaudy tassled pillows that had appeared from nowhere, at midpoint in a conversation with the mean-looking leader of the Gents and his two aides-de-camp...
His name was Skutch. A great big guy with massive arms oozing out the sides of his leather vest. His dense black beard splayed down into two long points. He wore a German U-Boat commander's hat.
Skutch looked around the packed room and grinned devilishly, "So you're the one who's throwin' this bash, huh? Hell of a whoop-de-doo!"
"Well, yesssss. But I never thought that all ziss many vood show up. You and your fellows are .......... friends of Byron's?"
The chapter president slammed down his mug and snarled, "Byron Brown is a fool and a wussie! I don't know why the hell we even let him stay in the club!"
"And why do you say that?" asked O.Z. cautiously.
Skutch glowered furiously at him, then laughed uproariously, "Aw, he's alright. I was just yankin' your chain!"
Relieved, O.Z. laughed too. It didn't seem like it would be safe to have this man mad at you. They all drank up, Jessi moving in ghostly silence to top off their glasses.
After a long pause O.Z. pointed, "That is a cool hat!"
"Why thank you! It's a Nazi submariner's hat," a woozy deliberateness had entered Skutch's voice and mannerisms. He pointed and grinned, "That's a nice toupee!"
They all guffawed at the absurdity of complimenting a toupee.
O.Z. bowed grandly, his arm across his middle, "You are most kind. It's a Nazi toupee!"
This unleashed a torrent of table pounding, drink spitting laughter! Each time they started to get it under control someone would say 'Nazi toupee' and they would all lose it again! Emboldened by this, O.Z. decided to go for the big yocks...
"Here is something for you! This is parted down the middle, see?"
Skutch made a stacatto snorting noise as he nodded encouragingly.
"So if I want it to be parted from side to side, I just go-" he twisted the hairpiece 90 degrees, so that his nose stuck out through where the ear should be, then threw his head jerkily forward and back like a deranged Muppet, the fake-looking hair flopping around ridiculously!
Total helpless hysteria ensued. One of Skutch's deputies rolled over onto his side and started inching toward the bathroom!
Skutch wiped tears from his eyes with a bandana and tried to catch his breath. With the exception of Jessi, who seemed wrapped up in her own version of what was going on (for some reason she was fanning Skutch with a large imaginary fan) they were all right in the palm of his hand. His success as a comedian coursed through O.Z.'s system like a drug! Acknowledgement of one's brilliance was a wonderful thing...
Jade was at the kitchen table with Candice and Byron. Byron was sobbing, shaking his head in wordless testimony to the fact that all was lost, doomed- eternally damned! People grabbed whatever they had come into the kitchen for then got the hell out of there. 
Candice's brow was a mound of furrows as she pressed his big gnarled hands between
her own small pink ones- "Come on, Babers! Talk to me! What's wrong?"
Byron pulled his hands free and clamped them to the sides of his face where his long hair hung down. He managed to say between sobs, "I'm such a loser-loser-loser-loser..."
"Why?" asked Candice softly, "Because you quit your job?"
Byron shook his head yes, then shook it no. "I'm thirty-eight years old," he gulped, as if this in itself was a good enough reason to be crying. "I worked there for all of twenty weeks. You know what I'm saying? I nuh-never..."
Candice pulled his hands away from his face and twined her fingers through his, "Look at me. You'll get a job. You have a trade, you're a mechanic!"
"Obsolete mechanic. A flunky. These new cars, all them little computers and stuff in 'em, it's all getting so crazy, y'know? And always taking orders from some damn kid ........ And now I gotta go talk to the parole officer again. Henderson. Smug little prick! He could really ........ And he knows it, too! Loves the power. 'Thumbs up! Thumbs down!!' ........ Like some friggin' Caesar! A-and anyway- nnungh! Bwwwuuaaaaaaahhh..."
And anyway it wasn't his job history or their rent or his parole situation. It was much more than that. It was hopelessness in the face of sadistic destiny, the suffering all over the world; A perverse God who will give you some horrible form of cancer right after you win a million dollars on the Megabucks machine. It was ozone layer depletion, overpopulation, car insurance companies, busted pull-tabs, colliding galaxies, Bambi's gut-shot mother and nuclear terrorism...
It was Byron Brown, coming face to face with that razor-edged wrongness at his very core, as he once again got all stupidly morbid and maudlin after three liters of beer. He sobbed, "I can't go on like this. I'm gonna go score some chiva and have one last big fix!"
"No, Sweetie! You've been doing so good! It's been almost a year..."
"I don't mean to party on. I'm done with that whole miserable merry-go-round! Just one giant shot and-"
"Don't talk crazy! You've got a lot to live for!"
"Like what?'
"Like me, stupid. Us!"
"You mean you ain't gonna leave me? But who could stand me?! I'm such a-" Byron looked at her in wonderment. He began to sob again, then lunged and threw his arms around her, moaning, "Oh my honeybunny sugar cookie snookie baby pink stuff-" and like that, but with none of the flippancy he had couched it in before.
Jade surmised that the crisis (if it had actually ever been a crisis) was over, and that it was safe for her to go to the bathroom. She got up, clapping her hands to the music, and weaved her way out through the partiers...
One of Skutch's deputies lay curled asleep under the overhang of the wooden spool.
The other came wobbling back and dropped clumsily onto his cushion.
"Jeez it's hot in here. I'm glad we're here next to the window. Some idiot has been in that bathroom for fourty-five minutes!" He addressed Jessi uncertainly, "Izzat your apartment across the hall?
The door was open so I used the one over there. The party is over there now too,
I thought ........ you might want ........ to know."
Jessi had bared her huge, bulging teeth at him in an expression that might have meant anything. She floated off out the door like a sleepwalker. Skutch, O.Z. and Spider---the deputy---went back to their conversation. 
O.Z.'s face felt hot and rubbery, and he knew it was the liquor. It was kind of confusing, but he could see how adults who had to be serious all the time might resort to this.
He had a bizarre thought, and chuckled, "You know what would be really gross?"
"What?" asked Spider and Skutch.
"Little packages of meat you put in your coffee. They call it 'Coffee Meat', see? Instead of Coffee Mate, that Cofee Mate stuff, it would be Coffee Meat. People putting-"
Skutch went off on another explosive laughing fit. He boomed, "Coffee Meat! God that is so ....... utterly ......stupid! You have this silly-ass quality that I-"  he groped dully for the words, "What I like about you is you're real, y'know what I'm sayin'? You see, I don't care if a man is a banker, or some stew bum, even a damned cop, but ........ but..."
O.Z. found the man's sudden earnestness a bit tedious, so in the manner of so many drunken conversationalist he went on talking about what he wanted to talk about. "And the meatniks could drink it!"
"Ezzac'ly! But what I can't stand is a phony, a sham! Like all these rip-off t.v. preachers. Or some shyster lawyer, who will twist the truth into whatever you want if you pay them enough! And they have the- the NERVE to look at me and my brothers like we're some kind of animals!"
"I mean picture it! Meatniks! They could play bongo drums made from hams, and wear hamburger patties on their heads for those, uh, beret things. And pork chop medallions..."
"But I am what I am, right? I may be a crazy, dope-guzzling male chauvinist lowlife thug, but I don't pretend to be some pillar of the community like they do! What you see here is what you get! Just like you, my tiny freind, don't even try to hide the utter stupidity of your thoughts, which any self-respecting man- Hey, wait a minute!"
O.Z. couldn't figure out why his new friend was suddenly staring at him like this, his expression darkening ominously. "Come on Dude, that idn't any worse than 'Coffee Meat'!"
Dude. It was then that he realized that he hadn't bothered to use his accent for some time now. Uh oh...
Fear drove all the lazy well-being from O.Z.'s brain as Skutch swelled up like a pressure cooker ready to explode, the anger seeming to emanate from his muscular frame in visible waves. No, this was not good! The bit of silence between two tracks on Candice's CD stretched into eternity...
A voice way off across the room crowed blearily, "Hey, it's Midnight! Happy Midnight, ever'body!"
Jade stood in the dimly lit hallway pounding on the door of the bathroom. A crowd was hooting and laughing in there but no one answered. The man with the saxophone was in there too- apparently using the shower for an echo chamber, blowing intricate bebop variations on the Grand Canyon Suite.
Jade swore. It was as if their whole house had been taken over by distructive idiots! Some bozo had scrawled KEEP OUT! and drawn a skull and crossbones on the door with a fistful of crayons. Which meant that they had found their way into-
She stepped back and peered into the narrow hall closet. Two of the Gents were tearing through their cache of toys in there like greedy children. She hollared, "Stop that! Those are not your toys! Those are for zee GRANDCHILDREN!"
One of the men gestured at Jade with an orange plastic sand shovel, "Who's this?"
"Beats the hell out of me."
Jade screamed, "Put those back, you hooligans!"
"Oooooh, Granny's jumpin' bad!" chortled the fat one, and kept digging through the toys, then held up a half-size rubber football and exclaimed, "Perfect!"
Skutch and Spider were on their feet, Spider still uncertain as to what was going on.
"Stand up, you fraud!" boomed Skutch.
Terrified, O.Z. stood up. "Vot is zee problem?"
"You're not from Europe! You ain't no Count!"
"I never said I vass no Count! If I has offended zee in some zay-"
"Drop the act, Shorty!" thundered Skutch. He batted the toupee from O.Z.'s head and grabbed a hunk of his hair and stood up, forcing him to his feet as well. "What's this? Huh?"
"You've got hair! Brown hair! You're not a little old man! I'll bet you're not even a midget!" He yanked upward on the boy's hair, "Stand up!"
"But I AM standing!" blubbered O.Z.
Skutch snarled, "Okay, so you're a midget. But you're still as phony as a flea market Rolex, you damned liar! And I'm gonna kick your crummy lying ass!"
"I don't think that would really be a fair match!" interjected Spider.
"Fair?!! He sits there conning us, playing us for a pair of chumps! Yeah, I'll be fair ........ 'Fair and equal treatment'. Isn't that what all you dwarfs and gorks and cripples and geeks are always squawking about, with your wheelchair ramps and your Special Olympics?! I'll do to him what I do to any sleazy rat who tries to run some game on me! You lying motherf-"
The nerf football caught Skutch square in the face, and more from surprise than from the force of it---he fell; twisting in vain for something to grab hold of; crashing through the loose screen and flipping out the low window like a sack of bricks!
His scream echoed briefly through the courtyard briefly then was cut short.
O.Z. and Spider stumbled over to the window, to see Skutch lay in the flattened bushes with a strange look of joy on his face.
Spider called down, "Are you all right?"
Skutch laughed, "Spider, my Brother! It's great to see you!"
He had always been quick to laugh, but it was an ogre's laugh; self-centered and cruel. His laughter was now full of innocence, of a joyous sense that all was well with the universe. Always had been, always would be. A zen epiphany. That his lifelong habit of belligerence and macho posturing had been about the most absurd thing a person could do, but this was okay too. It is what it is...
He got up, checked himself over briefly and whooped, "That was just amazing! You have to try that!"
Spider shouted down, "What do you mean 'try it'? Fall out the window?! You're crazy!"
Skutch sighed with deep contentment, "I have never been saner. Jump! I can't describe it, it's ......... Aim for that yucca tree like I did!"
"There ain't a whole lot left of it. You sure you didn't hit your head on something?"
It appeared that Spider might actually be going to do it (finally answering his mother's exasperated question "if your friend Skutch jumped off a cliff-") when the explosion hit!
#.15 /// INFERNO
Jade heard the blast and the door flew open. The bathroom was in flames, the walls and floor awash in burning chemicals. A dozen people rushed out past her, emerging from a roiling cloud of toxic smoke that caused a stampede for the front door. She saw her best friend start across the main room toward her- only to be slammed into the wall by a terrified man built like an NFL linebacker. O.Z. took a few random incoherent steps then gave up and just leaned against the wall, stunned.
A shirtless man strolled calmly out of the smoke, holding an ice cube to the tip of his nose. With his wide chest bearing a huge tattoo of a green dragon coiled around a blazing red and orange mushroom cloud, his bald head and soot-blackened face, and the dots of blood welling from dozens of small cut, he looked to Jade like a blacksmith from Hell.
He said, "You need to get these people calmed down. We'll get this put out, there's no need to bother the fire department about this, er ........ incident."
"You see? It's not as bad as it looks," he called out cheerfully as he and Jade went in with pillows to battle the inferno.
Flaming pieces of jars lay everywhere. Someone turned on the faucet, and with his finger over the tap was spraying down the buring goo on the wall. Buckets and pitchers from the kitchen were flung, until they got it completely put out. Dense foul-smelling fumes hung in the air, making their eyes run.
The hot plate (spirited out of the kitchen at the start of this covert enterprise) was a twisted piece of black wreckage. The blacksmith guy and one of the gents were staring up at a small jar the biker was holding aloft, looking through it at the 40-watt bulb in the ceiling. It was half full of an unsavory greyish/yellowish liquid- the fruits of their pharmaceutical labors. They looked at each other quizzically.
"Go ahead, try it!"
"Oh no no no no!" demured the blacksmith, "After you..."
They hesitated, then stumped out into the main room in search of a guinea pig
for Experimental Go-Go Sauce #32.
O.Z. staggered in circles. A blurry figure handed him his toupee and offered to help him but he skulked off, looking for a place to just curl up and groad like some wounded animal. He limped over to the deserted bar and flopped down across several pillows.
He intended to get up and go help battle the fire, but found himself listening as others accomplished this, as the last of the booze he had slugged down entered his bloodstream and the adrenalin surge from facing Skutch's rage wore off, leaving him very sleepy. "Coffee Meat" and "meatnik" didn't seem even remotely funny to him now...
Jade, sitting exhausted on the lid of the toilet, caught herself almost drifting off to sleep. Opening her eyes, she was startled to see a haggard woman in a GUNS N ROSES t-shirt licking some of the stuff up off the filthy floor.
"Did you ever think about getting some help for that?" Jade suggested.
"I found it first!" the woman snarled, cupping her hand around it protectively.
"Careful, there's glass," Jade warned her and left, too repulsed to continue watching this grotesque spectacle of self-abuse.
Out in the living area, Candice's radio had been knocked over, the cord yanked out of the wall during the tumult. The sudden quiet was calming. Most of the Gents were gone now, evidently not wanting to be around when the cops-
AND HERE THEY CAME! They weren't even up to this floor yet but you could hear them, thundering up the stairwell like a herd of buffalo!
It was all over now, Jade thought despondently. The police would soon figure out they were runaways, putting an end to their amazing odessy. And suddenly she realized just how desperately she wanted it to continue...
It had all been so wonderful, at least up until this past hour or so. The freedom of it, the way she and O.Z. had somehow managed to make this "circus midget" nonsense work, doing what they wanted, making friends, free from her mother's caustic taunts and smug bitterness, and from her dad's totally unpredictable fits of violence!
She couldn't bear the thought of being led docilely back to her old life; back to being gone whenever possible, or else holing up in the uncertain safety of her room until bedtime. They HAD to escape! They could grab the money and get out of downtown right now; regroup at some nice motel right on the beach, take a Greyhound up to Ventura to find her sister!
If only they could get out of here before those cops got up here! She ran for the kitchen.
O.Z. heard Skutch down in the courtyard, crashing around in the bushes and howling miserably that he couldn't find his Nazi hat.
Everything was happening far away and with liquid slowness. His limbs had gone on strike- they lie scattered around him like dumb tubes of meat...
He remembered lectures in health class about underage binge drinking and alchohol poisoning, and he knew that he was dying....... Which wasn't fair, because he hadn't even set out to get drunk. He had just wanted a Pepsi. He just wanted a Pepsi, and now he was dead...
And now something very big and noisy with many legs was coming up the hall.
Jade ran past him, "Hide O.Z.!"
"Gw'thah, Jaeeeeeeeee..."
#.16 /// HIGH WIRE ACT...
In the kitchen, Jade ducked under the sink--where hopefully she could both hide and protect the bag of money---and pulled the cabinet doors shut behind her. She knew now that they were never going to get away in time. Not with O.Z. laying there like a sick jellyfish.
And as they clattered up onto the third floor landing it was clear that whoever was coming, they were not the police!
She heard them pounding on people's doors all the way up the hall, screaming "Avon Lady!" and "Hey, wake up in there!" and laughing like idiots. And then the front door burst open with a volley of poorly-executed Tarzan yells and someone bellowing, "Tis a night of revels! These gallants desire it!"
She heard Spider saying that the party was over, and that anyway Berserkers weren't invited!
"I'll ignore that statement," one of them announced loudly, "Because us Berserkers are gonna show all you lightweights how to rock and roll until the broad day light! Look at you! You call yourselves loadies? You're all conked out like a bunch of old ladies that had their two glasses of sherry! This is disgraceful! Pathetic! This is- SLEEPIN' JESUS! WHAT'S THIS?!!"
O.Z. was still trying to remember how to turn his head so he could see these new arrivals, when suddenly they had shoved the wooden reel-table aside and were looming above him on three sides, staring down like menacing giants!
The one who had challenged Spider wore wire rimmed glasses and had a deceptively mild, boyish face. In fact he looked a lot like John Denver. Until he spoke. He repeated, "What in thee hell is THIS?"
"That's Mister Babalooski," Spider warned him, "an honorary Gent!"
"IT'S A DWORK!" shrieked John Denver as if in terror, "MY GOD! SOMEBODY CALL THE EXTERMINATOR- YOU'VE GOT DWORKS!"
O.Z. smiled up at them, his mouth a wavery line. The leader shuddered in revulsion and said, "The place is probably crawling with them! Check it out, men!"
His crew spread out, chanting, "DWORKS! DWORKS! DWORKS! DWORKS-"
He kicked the bottom of O.Z.'s shoe. "At least this one looks just about done for."
"Hey ponk, don't kick the man!" shouted Spider, "You think you're funny with this 'dwork' shit? He's a human being, damn you! He's not an it or a what! He's a he! A who! The same as me and you!"
"That's cute. My mom writes poems like that," smiled the Berserker blandly before pushing Spider out the window in attempted murder.
There was a loud crack like a giant celery stalk snapping. Skutch whooped hoarsely from down there, "Alriiiiiiiight! I knew you wouldn't let me down, Bro!"
He was drowned out by a high-pitched screaming as Jade was carried in from the kitchen by a big fat biker with a dim-witted grin on his face. Jade struggled ferociously, the satchel jerking wildly around in her fist.
The fat man drawled with bashful pride, "Uhhh, I found this one under th' sink..."
"Good Lord, the female!" exclaimed the leader, "This means there could be whole generations of them. I need to question this one. Bring it here."
Alarm cut a swath through the fog in O.Z.'s brain. He had to get up and save Jade! He managed to kick one leg, "Nuhhhh. You. Oh God..."
Jade bellowed, "You let go of me right now, or I swear you'll be in zee......... in zee joint so long you'll forget what zat yellow thing up in the sky is called!"
O.Z. groaned. Even as drunk as he was, he saw that she should admit that she was just a kid, pretending at all of this. This big tough guy might rob her, but he was pretty sure they wouldn't hurt a little girl, there was nothing big and tough about that.
But Jade was sticking to their story. She cursed them all as ignorant things, and began boasting about the mighty Babalooskis, their trapeze act's legendary place in circus history...
This was a bad thing for her to mention. Their cries of "Dworks! Dworks! Dworks!" turned to-
"Yeah, show us. Give us a circus!"
Someone pointed out the window. "Hey, we even got a high wire!"
O.Z. whimpered as Jade was passed bodily toward the window, screaming in terror, "Take muh-money. God sake just don't h-hurt-"
With a sudden burst of effort he somehow managed to totter to his feet.
But as the room began to somersault he was pitched forward, a vast sky-diver's distance that it seemed to take whole minutes to descend through ........... plunging toward his own shadow on the floorboards ........... which he saw now as a terrible dark void sweeping up to claim him, its borders swirling like the edges of a cape .............. like smoke ............. like one of those ink-blot tests for crazy people ............. a winged thing spreading its wings as it forshortened,
now far bigger than he was,
and finally it was boundless,
and evil flapping
[Note: To any motorcycle enthusiasts who feel I have been perpetuating unfair stereotypes about bikers (and to others who may believe such stereotypes), please note the word FANTASY in this story's subtitle...]


Down, down, we go

Dworks! Oh my!

- Joyce

Those Kids Are Trouble

Just like Marcie Donner

May Your Light Forever Shine

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