Monday, December 27, 2010


He had an idea for the New Year and he knew he could make money. He rented a sky blue pickup truck and stuck signs on the doors that read:

Pick Up and Hauling, Day or Night
No Grief Refused.
Reasonable Rates
Telephone 1-800 NO-GRIEF

He drove around the neighborhoods for weeks. At first people peered through their curtains or went in the house when he slowed down, but one day a small woman in her seventies waddled down her front walk and asked him if he could take the memory of her dead husband. After six years, not only did she not miss him, but he was haunting her house to the point where she couldn't find anybody else, and she had to admit he wasn't, if you asked her ninety-six year old mother, a very nice man to begin with.

The Grief Man smiled and she wrote a check. He put the dead husband memory in the truck and drove off slowly, partly out of a sense of honor and hopefully, so the rest of the neighborhood would see that he really was serious and write down his phone number.

Of course the woman got on the phone and the word spread. Within days his phone was ringing off the hook. He could barely fill his orders. A man wanted to get rid of his son's drug addiction, another man wanted to be relieved of the embarrassment of wearing a hairpiece, not the hair piece mind you, the embarrassment thereof. A child called. It seems the kid down the block got a tan cowboy hat and he got a red one when all he really wanted was an I Pad. He couldn't throw his red one away because everyone would know. Parents called in droves to rid themselves of the worry of what to do about leaving their children alone. Alcoholics called at all hours of the day and night. The back of his truck reeked with alcoholic grief going into withdrawal without people. Then there were the sick, the elderly and the fleeced, who lost their entire savings to illness or inscrutability. The Grief Man left them at the curb with cherubic smiles. A single mother wanted traffic removed. A fish cutter said he never wanted to see another fish. A fast food worker wanted the smell of French fries removed forever. A set of twin women in their forties wanted to rid themselves of their likeness.

The Grief Man took credit cards. The Grief Man bought two cell phones. He didn't need to advertise. The Grief Man could barely fill his orders. The Grief Man had to rent a warehouse.

A woman from Pembroke Pines, Florida said she was too hot. A man from Pulaski, New York said he was too cold. The Grief Man agreed to take heat and cold via overnight express. A Chicago banker wanted the entire New Year removed and the Grief Man devised a way to do it on the installment plan with balloon payments. Best he could do given such short notice. The banker agreed. A Las Cruces, New Mexico woman, wanted slipperiness taken out of satin sheets. Children with dead pets called from all over the world. A little girl from Adams, Massachusetts wanted a sun fish she caught, cleaned and buried in the back yard the summer before, to be put back in the lake. A therapist from Los Altos, California wanted to know if the Grief Man could remove the need, "To talk it all out." A man who said he represented a large government agency he refused to identify, called regarding the elimination of war and poverty, but left no return phone number.

The Grief Man got rich. He picked up a too-late Eminem record collection, sixteen truckloads of Brittney Spears supermarket Musak and one volume of poetry by Robert Service, four hundred thousand truckloads of used Harry Potter videos, a four by eight mini-storage unit full of 1960s memories and stadium-size tonnage of books about the uselessness of the sixties. The Grief man couldn't fill the number of orders for the removal of grief over the Martin Luther King and Kennedy assassinations, but he managed to put a dent in it.

So it was, on New Years Eve at 11.57 p.m. that he drove his truck up to the side of his house, full of last minute pickups ; cockroach problems, found money, winning lottery tickets, missed chiropractic appointments. He felt exhausted, but happy. He gazed wearily at the Christmas tree aglow by the fireplace in the adjoining living room. He sat down at the kitchen table and opened a beer. He watched the smoky gas escape from the top. He picked up the bottle and brought it to his lips, when the phone rang. He paused to wonder who it could be and he promised himself he would not answer. He listened to the phone ring, one two three rings; he wanted to drink his beer. He picked up the phone.

It was the little boy of the red cowboy hat. The Grief Man wanted to know what he was doing up at that hour and the boy said he'd been to church and the minister told him to be grateful for what he had instead of always wanting what somebody else had and could the Grief Man return his red hat? The Grief Man hesitated for a second before obliging. After all, it was the New Year and this was a little boy. Little boys don't always understand what, or why they do what they do.

The Grief Man looked at the nice hot chocolate that he hadn't even sipped. . Now he had to go out and get the red hat, but before he could get his coat on, the other phone rang again. The kitchen clock read 12.09 a.m. It was the New Year. The woman on the phone was crying. She said she was Susan of the Susan and Sylvia twins. She said no one recognized her without Sylvia and would he please, please return her to, at least, a shadow of her former self.

By 12.20 a.m. the phones never stopped. The fast food worker said she needed the smell of French fries on her skin to feel alive, the alcoholics wanted their drinks, parents wanted their children to go somewhere, anywhere, so they could be alone, the cold man from Pulaski couldn't stand sweat, the hot woman from Pembroke Pines couldn't stop shivering, the banker called to say the balloon payments on the removal of New Year had given him no place to begin, nor end, and the widow called to say she discovered the Grief Man's phone number on the refrigerator door and it reminded her that she needed to cry, but she couldn't remember what for, so would it be possible, to return what it was she had forgot to remember, immediately.

Thereafter the Grief Man's phone never stopped ringing as he drove frantically and forever into the night of nights, the forwarding of calls jamming his truck phone, his ears, his very life; the calls to the Grief Man waxing toward a hopeful dawn.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Giraffe’s Christmas

Whipping down 17th Avenue, in my Levis and sweat shirt, I spot a giraffe lying next to four trash cans. It’s a beautiful giraffe about four-feel tall. Someone has thrown away this giraffe. It leans against the trashcans, rear legs buckled and long neck limp and hung over. I inspect the giraffe and I see it has both eyes. Its cloth nose is sewn back on and its ears are still in place. I see small holes where the wire for its hips has worn through.

This is sinful. This giraffe needs a child to love it, even in the shape it is in, so I pick the giraffe up by its tail and neck and slip down the street, careful not to be too conspicuous. A few houses down, I decide to prop it against a tree, but I’m not sure if the people in the house have kids. I try to remember where children live. As I prop the giraffe by the tree, I hear a car bearing down on me. I scoop the giraffe and keep walking, which is good because the car pulls right into the driveway.

I remember the new baby around the corner on 6th Street where bushes line the house and the father smokes cigarettes outside the front door. It would be nice for the baby to have this giraffe, even if it doesn’t really know what a giraffe is. Father and Mother can take the baby out and show them the giraffe. Magic is what little children need. I love my giraffe, but I know what must be done.

I sneak up to the drive. A small palm tree, with spurs looms to the right and a line of hedges runs down the front of the lawn to the left. I sidle-up under the short palm tree and prop the giraffe’s neck in a spur. I stuff the body upright underneath and it stands proudly in its great giraffe jungle night. I am so pleased to know this Christmas Eve that someone will find a giraffe in their yard by morning. I slip across the street. As I walk off, I hear the baby start to cry and wonder if the baby suddenly knew the giraffe was there. I slip down 17th Avenue.

Christmas morning I wake-up in the dark. I lie in bed thinking about Laura. I’m not feeling quite myself. I get out of bed and pull the covers over Laura’s right hip. It’s raining and I worry immensely about the stuffed giraffe under the palm tree. I sit in the big chair, in the dark, looking at the Christmas tree lights drinking my coffee at 5:52 AM. I know the four-foot fuzzy giraffe outside the baby’s house is getting very wet. I am worried. I wonder if I can find a raincoat for the giraffe.

That night I walk in heavy blue sweatshirt, Levis and my black running shoes. I find the giraffe by the palm tree; its head slipped one notch down the spurs. I lift its soft head and hoist it’s behind up a notch so it remains regal. It’s dry. It has survived the rain.

Every day I check on the giraffe. Laura has gone north to work. She didn’t call last night. I sit in the early morning dark drinking my Bustelo coffee and staring at the Christmas tree perched on the bookcase. It’s almost New Years.

It’s cool, very cool and I’m up for a long walk, but that night when I start walking my heart begins to pound coming down 17th Avenue to 6th. Maybe the giraffe had been tossed out. At the corner, I glance to my right and see its left hind leg sticking onto the sidewalk and his long neck reaching into the palm tree to its full four-foot height still attached to a palm spur. My giraffe survives.

I am so pleased. Above, Orion has just passed the zenith. There’s Aldebaran and to the North, Pegasus gallops silently and where Cassiopeia should be, spotted clouds sweep the sky. I listen to sound of this night. I breathe it simply and as clearly as a glass of water. I know I shall never hear this night again.
The next morning I wake up alone. Laura is still up north. I take a pillow out to the couch where the Christmas tree is lit. I’m mesmerized by the light. I take the brown woven comforter from the back of the green chair and lie on the couch. I’m afraid I won’t sleep, but soon doze off.

That night I skirt the corner and ease-up on the house. When I reach the drive, I see the man sitting on the top step of two by the front door. He wears a dark shirt and white slacks. His hair is dark, full and curly. He stares at me. The Giraffe is gone. We stare at each other for a few seconds. I walk on. .The giraffe is GONE.

For a few days I harbor an empty place in my heart. Where could it go? Who took it? Did the man out front toss it out after Christmas? Did he know I put the giraffe by his palm tree? How could he do it? Every giraffe deserves a Christmas. This is HIS Christmas.

Laura arrives late on New Year’s Eve. When I ask her why it took her two and half hours, she goes crazy and runs around the house screaming, “It’s the driving, driving, driving. The cars! The crazies out there. On Christmas and New Years and every day. She’s shaking. I walk out to the living room and stare at the blank TV screen. She calls me back to the kitchen. We hold each other. We stay home for New Years. We sleep. I awaken early worrying about the Giraffe.

Late that afternoon I bake the small organic turkey with a dressing of spices, kumquats, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, dates, onions and carrots. I make cranberry sauce with orange peel. We hold hands before eating our dinner. We have vanilla bean ice cream dessert. This is our ninth News Year together.

I convince myself I must get on with my life without the giraffe. That night I take my evening walk. Orion is just rising and the weather is cool. I loop the neighborhood and for a nice change I slip down 17th Way toward 5th Street. A long row of one floor apartments with a connecting porch lie to my right. Trees line the sidewalk in front. When I pass the first apartment, I see a flash in my right eye. I stop.

There in the first crag of a fat Banyan tree sits the giraffe. His button eyes sparkle. Nearby, I hear a child singing.