Eight in the morning, which is really just one of those fabled hours, as far as I’m concerned. For a second, I can’t even remember what I’m doing here, and then I hear the terrible knocking sound again, and it all makes sense. I’m standing in the hallway, right in front of the door, hung-over like you wouldn’t believe and wondering what the hell I’m doing up this early. Because someone is knocking on the door. I tried ignoring it for something like twenty minutes, but it won’t stop.
“Is someone knocking at the door?” Arnie asks from behind me.
“Who is it?”
“Beats me, man—I haven’t answered it.”
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know—I’m thinking about it. It really doesn’t seem like such a good idea, though.”
“I don’t think whoever it is will stop until we open the door.”
“Open it then,” I tell him.
The knocking, it’s still going on, pretty much non-stop, and for a second I imagine this hand that’s all bloody and stuff, from knocking so long. What kind of a lunatic would knock that long? Probably someone that’s just going to try to kill me, which would be a really good reason to not open the door. On the other hand, I’m not going to be able to go back to bed until they stop knocking, and it seems like they won’t stop knocking until I open the door.
“Why don’t we check the cameras?” I ask. I have absolutely no idea how any of the technology in the house works, so it’s pretty obvious why I don’t check the cameras, but I’m confused as to why Arnie hasn’t. I just fall back on my prime excuse for why Arnie does or doesn’t do anything, which is because he’s an idiot.
“They’re not so functional at this time,” he says.
“What did you do?”
“I was trying to make a stop-motion Western movie starring nothing but a Barbie I found in the bathroom trash can, three pieces of old celery, and several rolls of electrical tape. I kind of…well, they won’t be back online until later, let’s just leave it at that.”
“So I have to open this door?”
“If you want to see who’s out there, yeah.”
I try to look through the peephole, but I can’t make anything out—probably a thumb over the thing. “This sucks,” I say, and reach towards the doorknob.
“It could be dangerous,” Arnie says.
I stopped my hand and looked at him. “No shit, man—that’s why it sucks. I mean, if it was just a bunch of penguins that were wearing vests made of hundred dollar bills, and if they just wanted to sing enchanted songs to me and then give me their vests, I wouldn’t be sitting here worrying about things. But it’s probably the Judge, waiting to kill me with some evil sort of new weapon.”
Arnie looked all confused for a second, which meant he had probably stopped paying attention somewhere in the middle of my last sentence. There was another knock on the door, and he immediately answered it. Jerk.
I readied myself to dive out of the way of whatever came shooting in, but nothing did. I’m not so good at readying myself for things like that, and my body wasn’t sure what to do next, so I lost my balance and kind of stumbled across the hall.
“Hi,” Arnie said.
He appeared to be talking to a friendly-looking old woman. She was about five feet tall, wearing a blue dress with pink flowers all over it. This didn’t make any sense at all. Why wasn’t someone trying to kill me?
“Hello, young man,” the old lady said. “I’m looking for an Arnold Jacks—the young man that owns this house.”
“I’m Arnie,” Arnie said. “What can I help you with.”
“Are you the same Arnie that dresses up in that ridiculous costume and runs around the city?”
“Actually, my friend Howie is the one with a ridiculous costume—my costume’s pretty bad-ass.”
She stepped back with a horrified look on her face, and that’s when I saw the pamphlet in her hands. I’m not sure what it said, exactly, but I knew what it was: one of those little tracts talking about how I’m going to hell for my ways. People have been giving those things to me my entire life, and although they used to scare the shit out of me when I was little (well, when I was younger, I guess I should say—I think we all know that I was never what you would call little), I stopped paying attention to them somewhere in my pre-teen years. If what those pamphlets said was true, everyone I knew or ever even heard about was going to hell—in fact, the only people going to Heaven were the dorks that passed out those pamphlets.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m all about going to Heaven, and I believe in Hell and all the other stuff in the Bible. But I didn’t see anything in there about how if you want to go to heaven you have to go around annoying everyone and condemning them to Hell. If I’m wrong, I’ll be as confused as everyone else, I guess—excluding the goofballs with the pamphlets.
“You shouldn’t use that kind of language, you know,” the old lady told Arnie.
And instead of shoving her out the door and into traffic, he said, “Sorry about that, ma’am.”
“I’m not the one you should be apologizing to,” she chastised. “You should apologize to Him.”
Arnie looked all confused for a second, and then looked at me. “Um, Sorry, Howie.”
“Damn straight you are,” I muttered, and started off back down the hall, determined to go back to bed.
“No, young man, I meant to our Lord and Savior. And you! You there, young man!”
I turned, against my better judgment, and looked at her. “Me?”
“Have you heard the Word?”
“Yeah, lady—heard it, said it, done it. Probably not the word you’re thinking of, though. I’m going back to bed.”
“But it’s almost nine!”
“Yeah, you’re lucky I don’t have you arrested for disturbing the peace.” I turned back around and went back to bed.
I woke up four hours later to find Arnie leaning over me, a worried look on his face.
“What the hell do you want?” I asked him.
“Man, she’s still here.”
“The old lady. Beatrice is her name, but her friends call her Bee.”
“That’s great that you’ve got a new friend—how about getting the hell out of my room?”
“I can’t get her to leave, man. She’s been here this whole time, telling me about how I need to change my ways and stuff.”
“You do need to change your ways, man—I fear for your soul.”
“That’s what she keeps telling me. And she says I need to change your ways, too.”
“Yeah, that’s just a bad idea all around—you try changing my ways, and I’ll kick you in the balls.”
“That’s what I told her—she said something about turning the other cheek or something. Listen, man, you gotta get her outta here—she won’t let me drink—she said that it’s the sweat of Satan’s hard labors.”
“What an odd way to describe a tasty brew.”
“Yeah, it really is.” He lifted the bottle of vodka to his lips and took a huge swallow. “Dude, come on, you have to get her out of here.”
“Just throw her out, brotha. It’s your house.”
“I can’t throw her out—she reminds me of my grandmother.”
“Man, your grandmother is a fetishist stripper in Vegas—how in the hell could this lady possible remind you of that?”
“My other grandmother—the one that disowned me.”
“Oh. You hated that bitch, anyways.”
“Yeah, but I always felt guilty about hating her. Look, just get this lady out of the house, okay?”
“What’s in it for me?”
He stared at me icily. I hate when Arnie starts getting facial expressions. See, he usually just has that same drunken-goofy smile on, indicating that no matter how crazy the world gets, at least you have your constant—Arnie’s drunk. When he starts using his facial muscles to actually express his feelings, that’s when things are going badly.
“What’s in it for you, my friend, is that I stay drunk enough to forget that you’ve been living here rent-free for over a year now.”
“You know what? I’m going to chase your old lady out of the house. Not because I haven’t paid rent—I’m almost positive we got drunk and signed some sort of legal document stating that the downstairs is actually mine—but because I don’t like the effect she’s having on you. Why you gotta bring up old shit?”
“Sorry, man—she’s getting to me.”
“Whatever. You should be ashamed of yourself—unable to throw an old woman out of your house.” I marched up the stairs, my naked gut leading the way, and found her in the living room, sipping from a cup of tea.
She turned towards me, a pleasant smile on her face. When she saw that it was me—not Arnie—walking in, the pleasant smile fell from her face like it was tied to an over-the-hill mafia boss in the river. I think it took all of her social graces not to just drop the teacup and burst into a flat-out run at the door.
I’ve seen myself naked enough to know how traumatic it can be, and although I guess I wasn’t technically naked naked, I was close enough: once you’ve seen a fat man’s belly hanging out over a pair of beer-stained boxer shorts, there is nothing at all offensive about a dick, you know what I’m sayin’?
“’Member me?” I asked her.”
“You’re a bit difficult to forget,” she said.
“Yeah, like a great piece of art, or a great bit of scripture.”
“I was thinking more like an ugly stain on the soul.”
Fuckin’ ouch, man. “Wow, I thought you Christians were supposed to be all nice and forgiving.”
“Even Jesus said that you sometimes have to knock the dust from your shoes and move on.”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you sure it was Jesus that said that?”
“Why, yes. Yes, I am.”
“Okay. Just checking. I didn’t want you quoting Paul at me or something, you know? If you’re gonna quote scripture at me, I only want the good stuff.”
“Your friend Arnold warned me about you.”
“Yes, he did.”
“Well, he’ll get a taste o’ the belt later, then, I guess,” I said, in my best Irish accent—which, for the record, is still really terrible.
“He said that you were cynical and negative. When I recommended he just try to turn the other cheek, he said that you would make fun of that one, too.”
“Pretty apt description, I guess. So do you make your own clothes, there?”
“You can hurl your insults at me all you want, Mr. McKay, but you will not soil my spirit.”
“Lady, I get enough booze in me, and I guaran-damn-tee you that I can soil anything on this planet. Besides, I don’t think your soul is as unspoiled as you let on—didn’t I see you screaming at a clerk in the mall once about a purse? Something about theft?”
She blushed. “That was my purse! I went into the store with it!”
“Sure, lady, whatever you have to tell yourself to sleep at night. Look, I’m going to have to ask you to leave now—thieves under the roof, and things like that.”
“What do you mean, ‘thieves under the roof?’”
“Looks like maybe you need to study up a little on your book of Obadiah, too,” I said, and lifted her from the couch. “And don’t try stealing my fine china.” I yoinked the teacup from her hand.
“Your-? Wait! No, I’m no thief! That was my purse! Don’t you dare accuse me, you…you…”
“‘Sinner’ is the word you’re looking for, I believe. Takes one to know one, don’t rent a glass house, all that. Get out.” I guided her out the front door, waited until she turned around to get the last word, and then slammed the door in her face, just so she couldn’t.
“Holy shit, man, you were hardcore with that old lady!” Arnie cried from the kitchen. This guy, man. I’ve escaped with my life from situation after situation that I had no business escaping with my life from, and this is what he’s impressed with: throwing an old lady out of the house.
“Yeah, man, I’m a real hero.”
“Seriously, man—if I would have had to do it, she would have been in here for the rest of the day.” He gave me a thumbs-up and then knocked back about half a bottle of bourbon. “Ah, that’s better. So you saw that lady stealing a purse in the mall?”
“Nah. But it seems to me that the harder someone preaches at you, the easier it is to catch them in a sin. She’s too frail for murder, so I figured that accusing her of stealing would be my best bet.”
“Good thinking, man.”
“Yeah, I’m a genius like that. Hey, where’s Mandy?”
“Beats me, man—probably still asleep. The two of you hit it pretty hard last night. I came down at like four in the morning and yelled at you to keep it down because people were trying to sleep.”
“What happened to you, man? You used to be cool.”
“You were playing a tuba, man! What was I supposed to do?”
“Grab a trumpet and join in.”
“Yeah, right—last time I did that, I got a lawsuit brought against me.”
“With that Elizabeth chick.”
“Sorry, man—didn’t mean to bring up a sore subject. Just so you know, though, I don’t think it was the fact that you had a trumpet—I think it might have been something about where you tried to put it.”
“Water under the bridge, live and learn, all that crap. Listen, man, I’m going to go up and get some sleep before we go out tonight—between you and the tuba and that old lady beating on the door, I’ve only had like three hours. Hey, is ther really a book in the Bible called Obadiah?”
“Beats me, man. I stay out of God’s business and he stays out of mine—we have an understanding.”
“Wow. Nice job alienating yourself from the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“Yeah, whatever. Can you go away now? I have some Hot Pockets to eat.”
“Later.” I watched him climb the stairs, tumble down, and then climb them again.
I turned on the PS2 and kicked back to do a little gaming before I had to go out to work.