396. Joelysses Returns

It was midsummer before Joel cleared customs and the Austrian courts. Kidnapping charges were dropped once his whole ordeal was understood. Interpol issued a warrant against Burrito for international fraud and mayhem. However, since Joel had no picture of Burrito, a vague description was all that made it on the poster.

“Well, he’s about my height and build. His hair color is roughly the same. He wears glasses but has no facial hair. This is silly! I can find his address when I get back to Turtle Town or we can set up a sting at the coffee shop. It’s a sure thing. I guarantee it.”

“Misseur Joel, theeees man you describe sounds like yourself. He is your height and weight and hair. No?  He looks like Christopher Columbus, No? Have you maybe a need to speak to our psychiatrist? yes?”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I am a bank board member and belong to a university foundation. I am upstanding in many community measures and I play the sousaphone. I do not need to speak to a psychiatrist. That’s an absurd notion. I’ve been victimized and I will not stand for any further invalidation.”

Joel landed a few days later at Dulles I A. He was thrilled and grateful to be home in the land of the free. His Roman galley slave days seemed a lifetime ago. The only rowing he’d do now would be at the gym after his spinning class. Yes!! God bless the U.S.A.

He hired a driver for the 90 minute ride home to God’s country. Somehow he’d find justice. His heart raced with revenge. If he could go directly to Burrito’s home or the coffee shop immediately, he would. But it was late by the time the limo dropped him off at the Elderberry Manor. He paid the cabbie and walked toward his door, noticing a mango colored sash across his storm door. On it was printed “Free Joel” in large silver letters. “Oh my,” he uttered. “I’m a celebrity now”, as he fingered the silver script.

As Joel pushed the door open, his family and closest friends let out a scream. “Who are you?”  “Call the police!!” “Get the hornet spray and Joel’s Glock.”  They did not recognize him in his wild Nebuchadnezzar stylings– wild beard and dread locked hair, no glasses, and the green leather Austrian lederhosen. “No, wait. It’s me. I’m Joel.” Only when his cat sniffed and snuzzled his grey and blue wool leggings did the mob relent. “It must be Joel because Muffy only did that to Joel.” Instantly the tension broke and much revelry and celebration commenced, carrying on through dawn, breaking a variety of Elderberry Manor rules.

The next morning an unfamiliar security guard knocked on Joel’s door with a sheaf of citations.  Joel answered the door eventually, not sure if he was in Czechoslovakia or Austria or home. He saw a strange man on the other side of his sashed storm door that read backwards and upwards, “leoJ eerF”, and he wondered what language that meant something in… leo jeer F?  ‘Mock the freakin’ lion?’ What on earth did that mean? ‘Must be mojito brain’.

“Excuse me, Sir. Joel is it? Yes, uh we got a lot of complaints last night about the revelry and celebration, both of which are strictly prohibited by the covenants and testaments of Elderberry Manor that you signed and agreed to abide by upon acquiring this unit.”

“Officer, I can explain. I was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see. Just a few weeks ago I was kidnapped and forced to row a Roman warship as a nearly naked galley slave….”

“I see. Nice lederhosen.  Um, would you like to talk with a psychiatrist? ”

“No, and I’ll thank you not  make that offer again, son. I’ve been through a lot lately and I don’t appreciate all these offers for psychiatric intervention.”

“Who else made a psychiatric offer, if I might be so bold?”

Clearing his throat very officiously, “Ahem, the Ambassador of Austria.”

“Okay, then. Well, if you’ll sign these citations, it is not an admission of guilt but a promise to appear in court before the magistrate.”

“Who is a personal friend of mine, by the way”, Joel muttered as he unconsciously signed the papers, ” Officer, what is your name?”

“B.S. Friendly. Some call me B.S. Some call me friendly.”

“I’ll just call you finished. Good morning.”

Officer Friendly tipped his fake cap to Joel as he took his fake citations with him. Along the way he peeled off the rest of his disguise and make up, revealing none other than Burrito Special. He disposed of his costume, wig and accessories in a dumpster near Orrstown, and then waited patiently for Joel at the coffee shop. It was a Thursday and he knew Joel would be loaded for bear and revenge.

At precisely 8:30 Joel burst through the door and stormed the coffee nation table.  He was foaming with anger. “I don’t know how you did it, but I know you did it. Somehow you switched my river cruise for a death barge and nearly killed me. Why, if it hadn’t been for the courage of my fearless crew, the Minnow would be lost.”

“Joel, it’s good to see you. Are you alright? Would you like to speak to a  psychiatrist?”

“No, no, Hell NO!! I want your head on a  platter. Vengeance will be mine.”

“Whoa Buddy! Have you forgotten our last meeting?  Back in May when I warned you not to go to the Danube. Remember, I had you sign a release of harm form so that I could not be blamed for acts of terrorism or organized crime in the Czech Republic?”

“No, I don’t because I didn’t. And just wait till Interpol comes here and arrests you,  you maniac!!”

“Joel, I don’t think that will be necessary.” Pulling a legal form out of his breast pocket and unfolding it. “See here? You released me from all liability back on May 28. Isn’t that your signature?”

“Uh, yah, uh, di, ah, no. I don’t know how you did it, but I will hunt you down and all that horrible music you subjected me to, and I will destroy it all. It was cruel torture, inhumane.”

The sulky barrista turns up the house music, the Stones singing “Paint it Black”.

B.S. “You mean like this?”

Joel, “Yes, precisely. Hideous, make it stop.”

“I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door I must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black”

B.S. “Verushka sends her love”.

Joel, “I knew it!!!”




395. EX Stasis

A plan, Joel needed a plan. A strong one that would free all his fellow rowers along with him. He felt a Messianic calling upon him. It was Day 6 of his opiated journey. Surely, drugs must be involved in this excursion. Nothing matched up to reality as he had once known it. Maybe LSD had been slipped into his martini on the airplane. Maybe Nextstasy. He knew the KGB pharmaceutical arsenal had all sorts of hallucinogenics that could be used to warp minds. Maybe that was it– he’d been drugged into a mental Matrix behind a rusted Iron Curtain; this was all hallucinations. Yes, of course, a bad dream.

Redhead beauty Harley in leather and heels plays with whip“Crack!” spat out Verushka’s whip, its leather breeze inches from his face. “Ve vill be taking short rest in Bushkilviatney for giggles and vodka. You vill get ten minutes of leave from the galley for stretching your veek capitalist legs. Do not attempt funny beesnis.”

Six Days on the Danube and here was the first opportunity to escape into daylight. But how? He was weak and pasty from his sunless existence. He had only a soiled loincloth and his pride to cover him. How could he lead a Spartacusian revolt in this condition? Nothing came to mind over the mindless blaring of the Kinks’ Lola from the upper deck. ‘Who chose these mind numbing songs?’ he wondered. ‘What sick mind would torture another human being to this degree?’ Suddenly it all made sense. “Burrito did this. These are all the sorts of songs he listens to, that unwashed villain of Coffee River. I don’t know the how, but I am certain now of the who.” Vengeance swelled as Joel’s ventricles tangoed with his auricles. Or is it oracles? In any event he felt as perky as a mother of three in new yoga pants. He shouted in Latin “EX SPANDEXIA!”, which he thought translated, “get me out of here”.

Soon Viktor unlocked the prisoners and called each by his number to keep a tight inventory. “Thirty four, you are free to go.” Joel knew that Varushka hadn’t factored in the shackle and unshackle time involved in their ten minute breather. It had to be fifteen minutes since Viktor started fumbling with his keys. “I’ll have at least 25 minutes to implement the plan I still don’t have.”

The slave mob was ushered rudely outside into the bright sunlight and down the gangplank to a muddy bank where a herd of mules was watering. There had to be 40 or more. Joel knew the fates were on his side now. The noises, the smells, the movements, all brought Sheila to his fevered mind. “What would Sheila do? I know– she would rescue me and carry me far from danger, just like in the Grand Canyon. Oh, Sheila! My mixed up equine love! I don’t deserve you. Rescue me, I need you in my arms, Rescue me….”

Discreetly Joel passed the word, “Hopamule” to all his fellow astonished prison mates. The sun was high. Viktor and Verushka sat beneath an old olive tree swilling peasant turnip vodka. Time slipped away from the evil pair of sadists as their brains were turned and nipped by the potent turnip liquor. “Veektor, sing me Barry Vite songs.” Their lusty looks were lost behind drooping eyelids as yet another Ruskie plan was ruined by vodka.

Joel assessed the situation and shouted, “Now. Hopamule, men.” He led the way by jumping on the back of the closest mule which began to honk and bray, but he would not let go. 47 other galley slaves leaped onto the herd like locust onto ears of sweet corn. Each slave rider was suddenly elevated  to the rank of full kernel in the army of hope. Unfortunately the mules would not move. They stubbornly drank, brayed, shook their heads and generally misbehaved, but not one of them moved.

“Captain, oh Captain, what now?” Joel’s men asked. Joel felt the pressure to lead; he knew what Burrito must feel every Thursday, trying to bring order to the orangutans in the coffee shop. “Heavy is the crown that crests the royal bean”,  he said to no one in particular. From behind a bush the mule herder emerged. He yelled something very Czecho Slavic as he waved his arms furiously. No one understood until a distant salt quarry whistle blew and the mules all turned to plod in that direction. Apparently they had been on a union negotiated water break and now were returning to the quarry.

Joel looked back at the olive tree where Viktor and Verushka snored in drunken slumber. “Half my problem is solved, but how will I ever get home?” As the mule team plodded in return to the open salt mine, Joel noticed the lilting sound of Smetana rushing toward him on a welcome breeze that smelled like freedom. A circle of costumed peasants were dancing for the entertainment of another cruise ship anchored there on another river, possibly the Moldau. ‘Could it be his original PEECL cruise he had so proudly booked back in America?’ he wondered. ‘ What are the odds?’

The River Boat Lazy Lion was nearly empty. All its well heeled passengers were taking pictures of the peasants dancing the turnip harvest dance. Joel commanded the mulers to halt. “Dismount. Follow me, men.” Using only hand signals he had learned in ROTC back in the ’60’s, Joel led his slave platoon cleverly around the clearing where the dance was in full rutabaga swing. As one body the forty eight former galley slaves boarded the Lazy Lion and took over. In the blink of an eye they cast off, overwhelming the many staff who were preparing midday finger foods for their guests.

Joel and another former galley slave took the presumptive captain hostage and forced him to rev the engines into top speed, “Get us to Austria if you value your life”, Kernel Joel commanded. “Once there we will scale the Alps and jump border fences on motorcycles ahead of the Nazis. The hills are alive with the sound of music….”

“Um,  sir, I think you are conflating several old movies into your own personal narrative,” uttered his nameless right hand man.

“Nonsense, Ensign. Just get me to the church on time. I have a score to settle with a Burrito in an American coffee shop!”

yes, to be continued again… I know, it’s torture.

394. Captivated

On and on the miserable crew rowed through mist and fog for their meager barley gruel.  Joel was weary. This was not what the brochure had promised, not at all. He had not listened to the Supreme Leader of Coffee Nation’s haunting words of warning at their last meeting… “Don’t drink the Danubian waters, my friend. You will surely die.” He had thought the Burritoman was mad then. Now he had to reconsider everything. Could the Nation be behind this awful experience? Impossible, absurd. He must be delusional, that’s all. Dehydrated.

For the past four days he had rowed and eaten and slept at this wooden seat with a hole in the middle for latrine needs. His beard had grown shaggy. Shackled to his oar, “Thirty four” his only identity, he wept dry hopeless tears that rolled down his cheeks like some exotic sports deodorant/antiperspirant. Injustice hung in the fetid air, buzzing like a rusty harmonica played by Nelson (Not Willie Nelson, no. Make no mistake, folks. Nelson, like the great admiral of yore.) Mandela in 1978. Image result for nelson mandela picturesSo wrong on so many levels. Yearning for freedom, longing for justice, producing nothing but callouses on dirty fingers and palms. “A slave rows in airless obscurity while his free master sails into bright glory”, Joel muttered into sweaty duct tape to his fellow enslaved rowers. Forty years of practicing law, he thought, and he knew nothing of injustice like this. His ears had been deaf to cries coming from below the courthouse decks he danced across.

Every day a different song played above the galley slave deck. Today it was On the Road Again by Mr. Willie Nelson. He could hear Varushka dancing a Russian two step with Viktor, around and around above his aching head in a slowed down NASCAR ellipse. He prayed against the peeling duct tape on his lips, “Please God, make it stop. I will do anything you ask of me. Just no more. My very musical soul is atrophying. Please, anything. I beg you!” He tried to override the pedestrian music overhead with memorized pieces of Bach and Beethoven, Britton, Copeland… nothing could shut down the thump, thump, thump country western beat of weathered Russian feet against mildewed European oak.

For the past four days the song of the day played on an endless, maddening loop.  After the shove off song of Highway to Hell, day two featured the mercilessly unrelenting L.A. Woman until Joel contracted an L.A. Migraine, which is the equivalent of all the residents of Los Angeles having a migraine at the same time. That’s 18.68 million people in the greater L.A. area. Scientists estimate the radioactive power of such an event as equaling the dynatonnage of all the hydrogen bombs ever exploded on earth and in space. Possibly equal to the original Big Band sounds Joel longed to hear now. Just a moment of Benny Goodman would be a salve to his ruptured eardrums. If Joel ever got out of this predicament, he vowed to hunt down every copy of L.A. Woman and destroy each one with a propane torch. “Mr. Mojo Risin” was welded, tattooed, and wood burned into his mind despite all his defensive efforts. He would melt down each vinyl copy into “Mr. Mojo Raisin”. He would go to the World Court and reopen the Geneva Convention on torture rules. Surely he was being waterboarded at a sick musical dry cleaner’s operation in the Czech Republic.

Day 3 was dedicated to the Beatles worst song ever– Your Birthday. The infantile lyrics blasted non stop as Varushka stomped along with the beat. Apparently it was her birthday. “Ypa, ypa, ypa, nostrovia!!” Joel rowed on, wondering if he would ever celebrate another birthday. “I would like you to dance. Take a cha-cha-cha-chance.”

“No thank you. I don’t want to go to your party, party. Dear God, where did I fail you? Where is my Ravel, my Brahms? If you won’t consent to kill me, can you strike me deaf at least? Even Ulysses allowed his men to plug their ears with wax when they sailed by the sirens. Am I so much less than Ulysses’ least? Why do you allow this Jobian exercise to continue? Kill me, please.”

When night came and the oars were racked up, the prisoners slept where they sat all day, only now they could lean forward on the oar pediment with weary arms folded as a pillow of flesh. Rest would not come, though, only terror at what musical torture lay ahead on Day 5. When would it end? How?

Slits of sunlight shot through the gaps of the deck boards above like lasers. Joel’s fear and self pity yielded to raw sousaphonic rage. He had had enough of this bestial river cruise. He longed for a mirror to see if his chin held a Kirk Douglas cleft because he was feeling like Spartacus. Ready to lead a slave revolt. Until  this moment he had settled for picking only the low hanging fruit that life offered him. But here, at this momentous intersection, he felt giraffe like, wanting only to nibble tree tops. He would not stoop again for any man or god.

— to be continued.

393. Blues, Stay Away from me

Doug Sahm on the Victrola, well, Pandora on my laptop, but I like the old timey sound of the former technology. Long, long ago I recall hearing Doug sing “Is Anyone Goin to San Antone?” on an FM station, back in the day when FM meant more cool and less commercial. I liked his sound then when I was 16 or so. It fit with Dylan and the Dead. I bought his album Doug Sahm and Band, and lo and behold there’s Dylan and David Bromberg, and many other performers I admired all jamming together. They all knew Doug. I liked that they liked one another. It was a fraternity without Greek letters, hazing or keg parties… just good tunes.

But the point of this post is not fraternal good will nor the Blues; it is instead as old as the first book of the Bible…envy. Joel the intrepid lawyer of Coffee Nation is in Europe this week and next on a musical riverboat cruise. Not the Blues, mind you, unless you count The Blue Danube. No, he is cruising along the Czech waterways from Prague through thousands of sleepy waterfront towns whose names I am afraid to pronounce, following a very urbane schedule of classical music and gourmet food and drink along the way. He’s expecting Smetana, Dvorak and Mahler, champagne, prawns and caviar, but wait…

“Viking cruises?” I inquired.

“No, actually it’s another line that is smaller and caters to the boutique crowd, such as myself, who require the finer things in life. The ratio of guides to passengers is 4 to 1.”

“That’s amazing, Joel. So if your boat has 50 passengers, then you must have 200 staff, is that right?”

“Oh heaven’s no! I mean 1 to 4. Good Lord, we’d sink with your numbers.”

“Now I understand Viking uses drones and border collies to direct their passengers around Europe. It’s a big cost saver.”

“Well, I think you are exaggerating as usual. In any event I’ll be missing from Coffee Nation for the next two weeks. (Long silent pause.) What? No good byes? Not a single hug?”

“You are dead to me, Consiglieri. Go. Do what you must.”

Joel slinked away from the coffee shop like Judas on his way to the High Priest. (Well, that last sentence was for an overly dramatic effect and not in any way to be taken as truth.) He actually walked out like a man in suede Hush Puppies going on a wonderful vacation of a lifetime.

What he did not know was that I had managed to hack his email account with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines, PEECL, to switch him over to a competitor shuttler of schmucks, Angry Huns Adventures, AHA. It’s run by former members of Monte Python’s Flying Circus who create a lifelike atmosphere of pirate slave ships for the bored traveler who has seen it all. Milquetoast Masochists Magazine gave it five stars. Once the guests register they are taken into custody on false charges and shackled to an oar below the deck of an old R0man warship. It’s so real that often satisfied passengers rave that it is almost too real when their hands begin to blister and they must eat rancid food and contend with real river rats. Oh it’s great pistachio flavored panache for the discerning palette.

I can picture it now as a long black car meets Joel at the Vaclav Havel Airport.Image result for russian mafia driver pictures

“You are Joel, yes?”

“Why, yes, I am. And I am very eager to begin my all inclusive musical river tour of the Danube. It’s so exciting for a sousaphile such as myself. Do you play an instrument, Boris?”

“Shut up and get in car, Meester Viseguy.”

“But, but, there must be some mistake. I, I, uh, no need to be so hasty and rude, Big Fella. Hey, I paid a lot of money for this suit. Give me back my Panama hat!”

Once inside the shuttle limo, he is blindfolded and handcuffed. His human rights and all hope checked with his bags in the trunk for the next two weeks. Behind a double layer of duct tape he buzzes harmlessly to himself, “I am a United States citizen, a veteran and a lawyer. I know my rights.” But it’s only so much buzzing in the back seat of the newish Moskvich as Boris weaves into downtown traffic and finds the Lugubrious Lady Star just about to cast off from the ancient quay.

Bound hand and foot, taped lip to earlobe, Joel had to hop like Lowly Worm onto the Death Ship, Lugubrious Lady Star, flying the black and gold flag of the Angry Huns Adventures. He was forced under the deck into the dim and desperate galley of 47 other would be passengers; given the number 34; and henceforth ceased to be Joel.

All the other 47 wild eyed passengers were likewise duct taped and shackled to an oar. Clearly he needed to get to the U.S. embassy and file a complaint. He had to call his VISA platinum card representative and stop all payments. He had to find his way back to America and Coffee Nation. “Crack” snapped a moist leather whip expertly wielded by a large woman named Varushka in a forest green KGB outfit, short skirt and tall black boots.  Blood red lipstick outlined her snarling words.

“Comrades, you vill row or you vill taste the vip.”

Joel struggled to raise his hand.

“Number 34, you have question? Untape his disgusting capitalist mouth, Viktor.”

“Ouch. You don’t need to be so rough. Madam, I believe there has been some sort of mistake. I booked a musical tour of the Danube with Par Excellence Euro Cruise Lines and I think I’ve been somehow mistakenly placed on your loading list. Now, I’m sure it’s just a paperwork oversight… and what is a ‘vip’?”

“Silence, maggot. Ve make no mistakes. You vere mistake not ve. Viktor, tape again.”

The hopelessness was heavy  in the humid air below deck as 48 shackled prisoners began to row in unison. Viktor beat time on a conga drum.

Varushka called out the speeds, “Cruising speed, Viktor.” As Viktor pounded out the rhythm, Varushka cracked her whip above the shackled prisoners’ heads. “You vill keep the beat or else be the beat. Capichenakov?” she threatened.  As the old wooden ship creaked and shuddered against the river’s current, a strange music blared on the deck above. Joel thought he was hallucinating at first, then he realized he’d heard this song before. It was AC/DC singing “Highway to Hell”.

“Oh dear God, kill me now”, he buzzed into the back of the duct tape. “This must be the cruise ship on the River Styx. I should have stayed at Coffee Nation.”

–to be continued.