The delivery guy from Arturo’s Italian Restaurant had a sixth finger. It waved about like a little pink antenna. Horace always gave him a big tip and tried not to stare at it. They would link eyes and smile at each other. There was a tacit agreement not to stare at the unusual little digit —and to tip big…and move on. Every time that Horace ordered from Arturo’s he forgot about the delivery guy. The chicken parmesan was so outstanding that the gross-out factor at the door was but a minor inconvenience.
Besides, Horace had become a master at blocking out unpleasant realities like overdue bills, an angry ex-wife, chronic illness, lost friendships, betrayals, a heart that had been trampled on, a face that had been spit on again and again. This was life. This was the real world not the one you read about in books or saw on sitcoms. This was the world of Horace Pennebroker, professional failure. Well not really. But it often felt that way. No trophies. No savings. No friends. No prospects. Debt. Death around the corner. What was out there really but disappointment and doom?
Living underwater meant that every day the phone would ring ring ring with bill collectors from exotic locales Like Kansas, Florida, Oklahoma and Iowa all calling day and night (thank goodness for caller ID) trying to catch the rat … catch the rat…trap Horace and squish the roach. But Horace would crawl underneath his piles of dirty clothes and newspapers and avoid The Man for another day as best he could but The Man came after him every day and every day the bills piled up higher and Horace sank deeper and deeper underwater, swept farther and farther out to sea…away from the “living” away from “civilized people” away from the “educated people” he grew up with…the people with good jobs…he just kept sinking deeper and deeper into the muck. Twisting and twisting in black and grey seaweed and dirt, suffocating as the phone would ring and ring and ring and the last few air bubbles from his mouth would pop on the surface–until his head would quickly emerge from the bathtub and he would shriek– but the neighbors could never hear him because of the pounding surf.
Horace Pennebroker was an Entrepreneur. In other words, he had sunk all his money and then some into a failed start-up that just didn’t work. It was called Pooboogle.com and it was supposed to be a revolutionary search engine that would provide answers to basic existential questions–like Google–but for philosophers, academics and theologians. Questions like: Do I have a soul? Will I ever find true love? Is there a G-d? What really happens when you die? Is there a Heaven? Why did Margery Simpkopf dump me in 6th Grade?
The problem with Pooboogle was that the computer programmer that Horace had hired to design it had one basic philosophy of his own- a fool and his money are soon parted. 12 months and various beta versions later, Pooboogle.com was an unmitigated disaster (like Horace’s marriage) the “work” done by the computer programmer had been a sophisticated boondoggle. Pennebroker was now broke and broken and nowhere closer to answering any of the existential questions that tormented him.
With an angry letter from his ex-wife’s divorce attorney burning a hole in his coat pocket, Horace decided to hit the neighborhood bar. The bartender refilled Horace’s scotch and soda and proceeded to tell his joke,” so the wise old Rabbi formally announced he was retiring and his flock was beside themselves….one congregant pleaded, ‘Rabbi please don’t retire, I’ll buy you a Cadillac!’ Another grieving member cried, ‘Stay, stay Rabbi–I’ll give you my annual membership at the Golf Club.’ The Rabbi was impressed. Then Mrs. Schwartz yelled out, ‘If you stay I’ll fuck you Rabbi,’ The Rabbi’s face turned red and he replied, ‘Mrs. Schwartz, please think of your husband.’ ‘It’s ok Rabbi, when I told him you were planning on retiring– he told me,’ ‘screw the Rabbi. ‘”
The obnoxious guy next to him at the bar–total dick– was on his Iphone. “The water in Cancun is ab-so-lute-ly magnificent. The sand on the beach is pure white.”
Pennebroker suddenly needed air. He fished out a sad, lonely 20 and ran through the wooden doors of the bar into the street hoping for luck or something kind.
It was raining. A cold drizzle that suddenly grew stronger and stronger. At that moment Horace was reminded that he too was just one raindrop falling way too fast. One grain of sand on a beach. He was just a man and that he was imperfect and weak and silly and scared but that he was not alone. Pennebroker wiped the rain from his eyes and smiled and resolved to find a way out of this hole he was in. Somehow, something as simple as an unexpected rainfall had temporarily revived Horace Pennebroker and had given him what he needed most of all–hope.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere a giant delivery truck came quickly around the corner and splashed a giant, freezing cold mud puddle all over Horace, drenching him from head to toe in black, stinging water. The shock was so unpleasant and unnerving that Horace involuntarily fell to the ground, curled up in a fetal position against a nearby wall and convulsed in tears. Horace felt a sleepy darkness slowly start to crawl over his heaving, wet, shivering body as he pushed up closer to the wall for warmth and fell further and further into the arms of Morpheus.
“Rufus, Rufus, leave that poor man alone, come here boy…oh my goodness…Horace…Horace Pennebroker–is that you? ”
The voice was unmistakable. Of course, it was Adelaide Wilson– The love of Horace’s life in 11th & 12th grade.
“I swear Horace as I live and breath… what on God’s earth has you curled up on a dirty street in the rain on a day like this?”
“Lost my keys,”…mumbled Horace, red-faced. As he pulled himself off the ground his entire body twitched involuntarily. “Watchya doing round here Lai-dee?, asked Pennebroker looking her up and down.
“With mom…she’s finishing up a round of chemo at Memorial around the corner.”
“Sorry to hear that Laidee… is she going be alright?”
“We’ll see…the Doctors are amazing… but…well, she’s getting top care…how are you doing?”
“I’m great. Just dropped my stupid keys, tripped into a puddle, think I banged my head. Got all wet like a dope.”
“I see. Adelaide giggled. Horace, do you feel like getting a coffee.”
“I don’t know Lai-dee.”
“C’mon, you’re still my best guy aren’t you?”
“Always, Adelaide- You’re the first girl I ever loved.”
“What about that simply horrible girl before me–Margery Simpkins?”
“I can’t believe you remembered that–That was puppy love- Laidee-you were the first girl I ever loved loved.”
“Me too- I mean first boy.” C’mon let’s go… there’s a place to dry off around the corner…or if you want to take a shower –my apartment is a couple blocks away.”
Horace looked deeply into Adelaide’s one good eye. To Horace, she was still the prettiest girl he had ever known.
Adelaide took Horace’s hand and squeezed it tightly and then very gently moved the wet hair away from his dirt speckled face so she could give him a proper kiss that warmed them both.
Even Rufus the little dog wanted to get in on the act as he started to pull on Horace’s pant leg too.
Banner image: Adam Kluger art work – waiter.