FU, THE MAN WITH THREE FINGERS
Look at him. Big giant sloth. Rambling up to me like he owned the entire f’ing planet. Where am I? Sitting here in front of a pharmacy. Could be the foot of the Andes. Does it matter? Don’t I have a right to sit? People have no respect for your privacy. People better learn. Or I’ll have to start ripping out some throats.
“Hey, look at this.” The giant sloth called Everest began to dance. To a tune as he sang, In my solitude you haunt me. With revelries of days gone by. In my solitude you taunt me. With memories that will not die. There was a smile on Everest’s face. Would have institutionalized a smaller man. Everest stopped dancing. He looked down at the panhandler sitting on the ground, his back leaning against the wall of the drug store. Didn’t look like he was having much fun.
Looking down his nose. At me. Could be a ski jump. He thinks he’s the Prime Minister. Thinks I am a flea. Like to squash me. Or make me jump through a hoop. Life ain’t no circus. So why is he smiling. Like the MGM lion. What’s he smiling at? The big goof.
“That’s called the waltz.” Everest smiled. “There are many versions of the waltz. Like there is of life. Some times we can’t recognize life. Sometimes we don’t know how to dance.”
The panhandler did not respond.
Why should I? What the hell was there to say. About waltzing. Who does the waltz? What is this? Some relic from those old black and whites in Hollywood’s golden age. Talking in metaphors. Where did that get anyone? Nowhere buy confusion.
“You got a name?” Everest asked. His face had slipped from his shoulders and traveled down toward the panhandler.
The panhandler looked up from the book he was reading at the large man looming over him. And the head that floated down near him.
It wasn’t a book. It was my ipod. Checking out my email. I’ve got to stay on top of things. Been corresponding. With Larry King. And the king of rock’n'roll.
The panhandler gestured to the shoebox beside him where a few coins lay. He expected to be paid.
No pay. No talk. I got bills to pay. I’m saving up for a vacation to Hawaii. You wouldn’t believe the bargains you can find on the net. If you’re willing to leave on a moment’s notice. I got the time. And then there’s my heating bill. Balanced payments. And now I’m still paying for warmth. In August. Or whatever month this is.
“Folks around here,” Everest continued, “call you Fu. Because of your Fu Manchu moustache. I doubt if any of them know who Fu Manchu was. Anymore than they know who Caesar is when they pour dressing over their salad. People are ignorant like that. Maybe they call you Fu because you’re Asian. Though you could be Indian. Even Mexican. Maybe Finnish. You know that the blood lines of the Finns go back to the Huns. Finns don’t like you telling them that. Huns aren’t crazy about it either.”
The panhandler took a deep breath and returned to his book.
Okay, this time it was a book. Highly recommended. The Art of War. A Chinese military treatise that was written by a dude named Sun Tzu in the 6th centure, B.C. I was adapting it to social situations. I’m not too big on social adroitness. Chicks. If you get my meaning.
“Or maybe they call you Fu, because there are so few of you,” Everest added. He chuckled. Pleased with himself. “Ever the individual. People always going on about individuality. Like it was something special. The opposite is true. There are no two things alike. I’d go so far as to say that it was impossible for two things to be the same. They’d have to occupy the same space. Breath the same air. Answer to the same calls. Nature’s and God’s.”
Everest waited for a response. There was none.
What do you expect? I didn’t know what the hell the fool was talking about. And why was he talking to me? Cause I’m sitting here. Only the sun has that right. I wonder if Sun Tzu had to deal with geeks like this.
“You’re not too chatty,” Everest declared. “That’s alright. I like a man who’s not always shooting his mouth off. Don’t trust a man who has an opinion about everything. Usually means that he doesn’t hold fast to any opinion. A mile wide and an inch thick as they say.”
I could see him looking at it. My hand. I’d lost a couple of fingers working in a bakery. They ended up in the meat pies. They fired me. If this fucker asks me my bowling score, I’ll f’ing pull his throat out. And the nose scratching jokes. And the jokes about biting my nails…
“What are you reading?”
The panhandler turned his book over so that Everest could read the title.
“The Dubliners,” Everest read. “Good book?”
The panhandler grinned. And went back to his book.
Okay, I lied. I like Joyce. Stupid last name for a guy. But the Dubliners weren’t a lot different than the geeks in this plaza. I could tell you a story.
There was a long period of silence.
“I used to hang out with Dylan,” Everest said. He waited for a response from the panhandler. When there was none, he continued. “They call that a brush with greatness. When us plebs have a passing relationship with the aristocracy of the world. That’s what famous people are, Fu. They are aristocrats. And we are fascinated by them. Their habits. Their loves. Their addictions. Their passions. Their tragedies. The Greeks started the whole thing. This preoccupation with the gossip of the days. All those gods. Like the folks on Coronation Street. You like soaps, Fu?”
Fu did not respond.
How’d he know that I wasn’t famous. Maybe not to him. But what does this giant goof know about famous. Maybe he’s gay. He think I’m going to do him?
“Human nature,” Everest continued. “That’s what soaps are about. Oh, how we love their tragedies. I’m talking about the rich and famous. We’re not too interested in each other’s tragedies. That my friend is a downer. No sir. You interested in your neighbours problems? That’s called being nosy. And you better not be interested in your neighbour’s passions. We call that, perversion. Both his passions and your interest. The common man is not interested in other common men. That’s why it took so long to have universal medical coverage. I’m not boring you, am I? I do tend to go on.”
Fu did not respond.
Everest cleared his throat.
Christ, he woke me up.
“But,” Everest continued, “you were asking me about Dylan. I mean Bob and not Thomas. I used to handle their gear. Bob and his band. Called the Band. Talk about imagination, eh? My, those boys had a good time. Girls coming out of the woodwork. Covered in butter. Not too many smart ones. But girls nevertheless. Mostly high school drop outs. Girls who couldn’t pass math. Well, who passes math anyway? Beautiful girls. With liberal views on life if you take my meaning. You know what I’m saying?”
There was a certain sadness in Fu’s eyes. Resignation. Defeat.
He’s going to go on like this forever. What did I ever do to him?
Everest smiled. “And I got some myself. Like the crumbs from the master’s table. There were a lot of crumbs. Girls would sleep with the hands that served the master, so to speak. You know what I’m saying. Of course you do. I guess I got arrogant. Forgot my place. Figured Bob and I were buds. I don’t know what got into me. I got it in my head to tell him to stop smoking. He was coughing a lot. I didn’t want the world to lose another voice to smoke. That’s what I said afterwards. But truth be told, it just got annoying. Coughing first thing in the morning. Right over your breakfast. Right over your corn flakes. Who’s know what could have been fired out of his lungs. And I was eating blue berries with my flakes. And in the middle of your afternoon nap, Bob would start hacking. And there was phlegm. Disgusting. Horking and snorting. Spitting. Well, you get the image. So I told him to quit the fags. And Bob looks at me like I’m from Mars and tells me to fuck off. In front of everyone. Later one of his people told me I was fired. Bob couldn’t do it to my face. Royalty doesn’t do that sort of thing themselves. It’s beneath them. I got other work. Frank Zappa for a while. That was one crazy fucker. He loved motels. Wouldn’t stay in a hotel. Had to be a motel. With a pink Cadillac parked out front. Like he might have to make a getaway. Rented one if he had to. Just to park in front of his motel for the evening. Crazy. The world just ain’t big enough for that dude’s form of crazy. But, I quit. Couldn’t work for a guy named Zappa. What kind of name is that? Zappa. Like something from a science fiction movie. Flash Gordon. I love the evil guy in those flicks. What was his name? Merlin? Maurice? Mandrake?” Everest scratched his head. “It was Ming. Emperor Ming. A relative of yours?”
Everest looked down at the panhandler. Fu continued to ignore him. To read his book.
I couldn’t believe that the guy wasn’t picking up on my signals. What did Sun have to say about situations like this? Take off the head and the body would follow. I should cut his balls off.
“I guess the Dubliners must be about people in Dublin? I’d like to write a book about the people around here. In the Six Points. What the hell would you call it? Etobians? Etobicokians? Six Pointers? Just doesn’t have much of a ring to it. Who wrote the Dubliners?”
The panhandler turned his book up.
“James Joyce,” said Everest. “Sounds like a happy name. What is he? Jewish?”
The panhandler shrugged.
The guy was an idiot.
“No, not Jewish. Irish. Sounds Irish. Bob Dylan sounds Welsh. He’s Jewish. Did you know that?”
The panhandler nodded angrily.
“I think he changed his name,” Everest said. “Why do you figure he would do that? Sounds like a cliché in show business. Folks are always changing their name to make them sound more memorable. John Wayne changed his name. Marion Mitchell Morrison. Cary Grant was Archibald Alexander Leach. Bob Dylan. Wonder what Dylan’s name was before he changed it.”
The panhandler looked up at Everest.
“Zappa,” Fu replied and went back to reading his book.
That felt good. Finally I had upstaged him. Or so I thought.
Everest looked down at the panhandler as if his feelings had been hurt. Then he looked around to see if anyone was watching and when he surmised that no one was watching, he grabbed the smaller man, raised him to his feet, off the ground, and putting an arm around Fu, began to dance a Fox Trot.