The Unemployment Diary Part 4: Hobos & Dead Birds
Second Full Week, Unemployed
I warmed up the car this morning at 8:45, drove Rochelle to work, stopped into Wal-Mart for squirrel food, then straight back to my PC to file for unemployment claims, work on some writing, try and figure out how the hell to get a job, and see if Willie Raylan will mosey on downstairs to have another conversation with me.
I’m listening to the Howard Stern Wrap-Up Show on Sirius/XM on my computer while I put effort into being without a job and looking for another one. Mostly due to my love of Howard and the decline of broadcast radio rock n’ roll playlists, Rochelle and the girls bought me a year subscription to Sirius satellite radio several Christmases ago.
This turned into an annual present and at some point we thought, “sign up for life, a better deal.” So the subscription has been paid in full for a while now and even if unemployment makes me homeless and mining my nostrils for green gold on the street corner, I’ll have satellite listening privileges in perpetuity- or at least for my perpetuity. If I have access to a computer or a satellite receiver, that is.
Willie has come downstairs to my little computing nook this morning. Since last week’s brief conversation, he has not responded to my requests to speak, aside from a single bark.
Now, I don’t consider myself an idiot. I’ve seen this scenario in lots of movies. Dog speaks to Man privately, man gets all stupid and drags other people into a room, tries to talk with Dog, Dog is mute, assembled people consider Man a crackpot and walk away.
In fact, there is a name for it – “Mr. Ed Syndrome,” named for a television program about a lovable but irascible horse named Mr. Ed that would speak only to his mild-mannered, goofy owner, Wilbur. At the horse’s urging, the two would get into crazy adventures, usually late at night and in other people’s homes. When the authorities showed up, Ed would go predictably mute, and Wilbur would goggle at the police, who would then beat him severely and drag him off to a drunk-tank. The program was immensely popular back in the mid 60s.
On top of mild depression and suffering from the malaise of being out of a job, I refuse to have Rochelle think that I’ve earned a trip to the short-stay unit of the Jones Psychiatric wing of Berkshire Medical Center. So I’ve either got to get Willie to speak to Rochelle organically (we’re laying in bed and Rochelle makes a joke and I laugh, then turn to Willie and say, “Hey, that sure was a knee-slapper, Willie! What do you think?”) Or maybe I’ll just resort to secretly videotaping our next conversation.
I tossed the peanut to the squirrel that caught it on the bounce, gave me the sideways, cocked head squirrel expression, and then ran back into the yard.
“What would you do, Wilson?”
“I’d run after him, and if I caught him I would bite him.”
“You don’t really mean that. You’re a great dog- uh, canine. You’re probably just trying to play with him, right?”
“No, I would bite the hell out of him if I had the chance. I’d bite him good.”
Sunday, March 20
The spring solstice, the equinox, whatever, makes its appearance at 7 o’clock this evening, they tell me. The heavy (inches) of snow that have covered my yard since mid December are finally, mostly, melting away. The ground underneath looks withered and pale, like a limb after a cast is removed.
So much for the spring solstice. It’s been snowing for an hour now and there is almost an inch on the ground. I’m pretending to work (translation-write my galvanizing masterpiece) downstairs in front of my PC, but really all I’m doing is checking my email, listening to satellite radio and trying to find humorous jpeg files of hobos for a story/blog submission idea.
It’s not really easy to find a funny picture of a hobo. Apparently the majority of the internet world thinks that being homeless is no laughing matter. If I don’t secure gainful employment soon, I may find out first-hand when I’m living under the bridge– “Hey, whaddaya know! Ain’t that the smart ass been writing about hobos? Get ‘im, boys…”
I hear meowing outside of the kitchen door. I jump up and let Esteban inside. He darts past me into the kitchen with a fine powder of snow hanging to his dark coat. He looks like a shaggy black and white cookie. He also looks like he’s got something in his mouth. My mind tries to accept what I am seeing. At first I ridiculously think that it’s some kind of gray Coney Island foot-long hanging out of either side of his mouth. And then- oh yes- a bird.
The cat does a fast slink through the room (can’t stay and chat Rod, I’ve got some contraband to store), shoots down the back hall and up the stairs. I lumber after him. If the bird is dead I’m going to have to find it hidden somewhere in the house, probably in my underwear drawer next week, unless I can catch him before he hides it. If the bird is alive, well it will be a merry carnival straight out of hell – a frantic flapping of wings around the house as the bird collides with window after window, dancing pursuit cats and all of us stumbling over deaf Willie, me with a capture towel in my hand, knocking things off of shelves.
The chase takes me upstairs, through the rooms, looking under beds, then through the connecting hall where I see a flash of black go down the front stairs. Este finally drops the bird behind an upholstered chair in the living room. I pick up the dead bird in a towel, run out the kitchen door in my socks into the snow, and using my towel as a sling, launch the bird body into the far reaches of the backyard into a snow pile. If the bird is not dead, just doing a passive resistance thing, this won’t be too good for him – it’s cold and crummy, and Este will be around to settle up accounts later in the day. If he is dead, not much better. I’ll mistakenly frappe his desiccated corpse with my lawnmower when better weather rolls around. So what’s the lesson here? Cartoon bird = Tweety, Sylvester and that nice old lady that owns him. Real bird = horrible death at the hands of a cat and a human.
Back to the PC. Where was I? The hobos, that’s right. Yes, definitely fun to say, not so much fun to be.
The phone rings. Caller ID tells me that John A. Bunt is on the line. For several years after my father died, I’d see that listing flashed across the handset screen and for one crazy second think that I was going to get to talk with my dad. Of course it’s my mom calling, who- like a lot of widows- never had their phone listing or other contact information changed, partly as a security measure and partly because they were unwilling to give up one of the final links to their spouse.
My mom is 85 and is still (along with Rocky) uppermost in my mind and heart. Throughout her life she’s sacrificed any and everything for her kids and given them more love and affection than thought possible in the whole world. She expects nothing less in return. Especially from the baby of the family, her Roddy. That’s me. Her aging, 53-year-old baby, her little Mouse, or Bunny, or whatever the fuck she always called me!
The answering machine kicks in after two rings. As I scramble to pick up the receiver, I hear my mother on the machine “Rodddddy. Rodddddddy are you there? (Exasperated sigh) Forget it. You never pick up this–”
“Mom. Mom, I’m right here.”
“I’ve been calling and calling!”
“I was at the gym, mom.”
We chat about nothing in particular for the better part of an hour. She’s calling from my hometown, where she still resides. Sometimes she repeats bits of neighborhood gossip from our previous conversations – “Joey Willets died. You remember Joey Willets, don’t you?”
“Yes, he was the drunk, right?”
“It was so sad, Roddy. He was in the morgue, and nobody would claim him.” (Like Joey was a big, dead, winning lottery ticket)
And on it goes. There’s a rhythm to our conversations and I don’t mind that she repeats some of the stories. It’s just like a television series, “Previously on Hometown Gossip…”
I hang up the phone and then realize that it’s now 12:16 p.m., time to grab a bite and hit the gym. Gee, didn’t get a lot of writing done this morning. I vow to return to the word-making machine later in the afternoon…
The Old Farmer’s Almanac says that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. Here in North Adams, this year March came in like a rhinoceros and is going out like a wildebeest. More specifically, March came in like a snowy, Mafia button man on crack and is going out like a nasty pedophile, creaking away from an angry mob in his stainless steel walker. The weather is just plain forbidding. We’re due for a break, a little warm-up…
Click here to read The Unemployment Diary from the beginning…