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Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2007

Fistful of Fruitcake

ART KUMBALEK

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I’m Art Kumbalek and man oh manischewitz what a world, ain’a? Listen, I’m still on special reporter assignment to research the whereabouts of the future, so I’m short on the wherewithal to pony up an essay for you’s this week.

I thought to take a look-see over by the Uptowner tavern and charm school, where today is always at least a day before tomorrow and yesterday may very well be today. The future may be hiding out there. Problem is the Uptowner tavern isn’t open yet, so I figure to swing by my favorite George Webb open-24-hours restaurant where a guy like me can get a jump-start on girding his loins in preparation for the day’s daily shit-storm to follow. Come along if you want but you leave the tip. Let’s get going.

Bea: Hey there Artie, what’s your pleasure?

Art: How ’bout you shovel me a nice scoop of the blackest, thickest and cheapest cup of whatever you’re calling plain-old American coffee today. And when I say thick, I mean the kind of coffee you could sculpt, if you were so inclined.

Bea: Coming right up. You want a spoon or a putty knife?

Art: Give me the knife, Bea.

Bea: No problemo. So Artie; what do you hear, what do you say.

Art: I was at the drug store the other day looking for a birthday card for my buddy Little Jimmy Iodine, and I thought I’d get one that was little more serious than the kind I usually send him— you know, the sad-eyed bull dog wearing a party hat on the cover and the inside says, “In dog years, you’re dead.”

Bea: I’ve sent that one.

Art: But cripes, Bea. The serious cards all read like a Sunday school teacher wrote them, what the fock—they go on and on yapping about the “gift of life” ’til I’m ready to puke, I kid you not.

Bea: They can get bit sappy, that’s for sure.

Art: “Gift of life,” give me a focking break. I tell you, the one I got sure didn’t come from some fancy boutique.

Bea: Is that so?

Art: No sir, ma’am. Seems the “gift” I got was marked way down on discount in the discontinued bin—all sales final. If it was really such a great gift, how come I can’t return it for a better one, or at least one that fits me better, like a life where I make a million bucks a day for sitting around doing nothing.

Bea: Couldn’t tell you, Artie. But I’m glad you mentioned birthday cards. I’ve got to pick up a Christmas gift somewheres for my landlady after my shift.

Art: Just stay away from anything the sales clerk refers to as “unique,” Bea. You might be biting off more than you can chew.

Bea: How so, Artie?

Art: I knew this guy, one time he’s in New York City on a little business trip and he stops in one of these out-of-the-way back-alley antique shops they got all over the goddamn place out there. He’s thinking he’d like to pick up something a little “unique” for the Mrs.; so she doesn’t suspect that he may be banging his secretary “like a screen door in a hurricane,” if I may borrow a lovely simile I heard the other day. So he’s looking around and he finds a detailed, lifesized bronze sculpture of a rat. The craftsmanship is so amazing that he asks the shop owner how much it cost: “Twelve dollars for the rat, sir—and a thousand dollars for the story behind it,” the shop owner says.

Bea: Oh my. Art: Carve me out another cup of that coffee there would you, Bea? Anyways, so the guy tells the shopkeeper to forget about the story but that he’ll take the rat ’cause he’s never seen anything like it. Fine. Now, as he crosses the street in front of the shop, two live rats come out of a sewer drain and fall into step behind him. But the guy doesn’t think much of it, after all, it’s New York City—you get nervous when you don’t see rats, what the fock. Bea: So I hear.

Art: But every time he passes another sewer drain, more rats come out and follow him, so he picks up his pace ’cause now he’s got a case of the heebie-jeebies. By the time he’s walked two blocks, at least a hundred rats are at his heels and people begin to point and shout. He walks faster and faster and the rats keep coming out from sewers, basements, alleyways, abandoned cars. Thousands of rats, Bea. He starts to panic. He sees the Hudson River at the bottom of a hill two blocks away and he runs as fast as he can. And now, it’s not just thousands, but millions of rats behind him. You never read about this in the papers, Bea?

Bea: Not that I recall.

Art: So he’s racing towards the Hudson with millions of rats behind him. What’s he going to do? He comes to the edge and he jumps up onto a light post, grabs it with one arm and hurls the bronze rat as far as he can into the river. As he watches, drenched in perspiration, all the rats scramble over the retaining wall, into the river and drown. Naturally the guy’s all bewitched, bothered and bewildered. He makes his way unsteadily back to the antique shop. “Yes sir,” says the owner. “I see you’ve come back for the rest of the story.” And the guy says, “Forget about it. I came back to see if you had a bronze politician for sale.”

 Bea: Oh, Artie. You had me going there for a minute. Art: Anyways, I got to run, so thanks for the coffee and for letting me bend your ear there, Bea—utiful. Bea: My pleasure, Artie. Always nice getting talked at by you. Take care.

(It’s off to the Uptowner, if I see you there, then you buy me one ’cause I’m Art Kumbalek and I told you so.)

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