The bedraggled holiday tale continues.
I woke up tasting blood and link sausage. The air was thick with the stink of burnt toast and gunpowder. Kernels of broken glass covered the tile floor and then I felt the jab of a shoe in my left kidney.
“You alive?” someone asked.
I pulled myself up on my elbows and felt a shooting pain in my temple.
“Unfortunately,” I said.
Two hands slipped in under my armpits and hoisted me upright onto a hard, swivel seat.
“You don’t look too bad,” the skinny guy said.
“We got to move on,” said the fat guy. “Cops say that the gas lines might have got damaged due to the explosion.”
As Laurel and Hardy led me outside through the broken and smoldering remains of what used to be a decent waffle joint, it all came back to me. I came here with that homeless lunatic for a late breakfast. Things were just fine until our waitress brought him raspberry syrup.
I suppose every man has his breaking point, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse letting a bad childhood memory ruin coffee and flapjacks for everyone else. It certainly doesn’t give you permission to blow up a jukebox with a vintage German hand grenade.
Then again, I did hear him clearly ask for strawberry.
“You hate America? That why you go nuts on this place?”
The cop who asked me this kept licking his bushy mustache. It was hard to focus on what he was saying and it was just plain nasty.
“You part of some sleeper cell that only works holidays?”
I kept quiet, knowing that any answer would give him an excuse to yell louder. He would never understand that this was all a horrible mistake and that I should be back in Carytown, whistling “Winter Wonderland” with an armful of gift bags. It would sound so much worse if I tried to explain that I met the guy in a Starbuck’s bathroom and felt sorry for him.
“Ever been to Cuba? Real nice this time of year. Sunny. Real sunny.”
It was clear the guy was trying his best to break me, but I just stared at him blankly. I stared at him and his stupid mustache exactly like Rocky Balboa stared at Drago during the final fight of “Rocky IV,” completely detached and unemotional. It drove him crazy.
Drago turned to greet a new cop who strode over through the maze of fire trucks and squad cars.
“This the guy?” the new cop asked.
“Yup,” said Drago.
New cop looked me in my Rocky stare and said, “I want you to realize that in ten seconds a window of opportunity is going to open and you will have your one and only opportunity to tell the truth. If for any reason I discover that what you tell is not the truth, you’re going to find yourself in the middle of a crap storm so huge that it will make Katrina look like a delightful afternoon sprinkling. Understand?”
I nodded because I figured that I had nothing to lose. The truth is the truth. If that couldn’t set me free, nothing would. So I spilled it.
I told them everything from meeting the old freak in the men’s room stall to picking him up on Cary Street to driving him for a late waffle breakfast. I told them that I didn’t remember much of the mealtime conversation, but most of it had to do with livestock, an old woodshed and buckets of raspberry syrup. I told them he asked me for money for the jukebox and then made a scene when he found that there were no Mac Davis songs. I told them that he jumped up on the counter, gave an angry speech in Klingon and then removed his left leg, which was made of hollowed out wood. I told them he reached inside, pulled out an old German potato-masher grenade and hurled it into the jukebox.
I told them I saw him wiggle his nose, wink at me and then disappear in a cloud of sparkly confetti. I concluded by explaining that I ducked under the counter, the jukebox exploded and then I just blacked out.
New cop was a statue. He stayed absolutely still and quiet for a good minute until he started blinking and shaking his head.
“Oh well,” he said.
“What? That’s how it happened,” I said.
“Have fun at Guantanamo,” new cop said.
“No! I told you the truth,” I pleaded. “So help me… that’s exactly what happened.”
New cop got right up in my face. His breath smelled of cinnamon, which I was thankful for.
“You’re a liar. The men’s room at the Starbuck’s in Carytown doesn’t have a stall. It’s designed to accommodate only one person at a time. See you in 25 years, freedom-hater.”
The next day I was sent to a crowded, sweaty Cuban prison and suffered endlessly. I continue to suffer to this day, imprisoned without proper legal representation or the ability to communicate with my family.
So where’s the Christmas Miracle in this story?
Nowhere. Sometimes weird, unfortunate things happen for no reason. That’s life. Suck it up.
Illustration by: Robert Ullman