We are trying to do the right thing, that is most of us are, as in nine in ten of us are. There is one in every group… Truth is, we’re now a hoard and most of the problems we face are those of our outpaced growth. The hoard wants what the hoard wants which is what every good corporation or bad cancer wants, it wants. The one in ten follows the herd algorithmically.
Nine of us just want a happy day, or life as it turns out to be. All of us want to eat and care for our families but Uncle Fred could give a hoot about anything but eating. He, Uncle Fred, runs a muffler repair shop or is a CPA or something like that. Maybe he’s a podiatrist. He has a full sized lot just out of town and although he isn’t old he hates everything. He’d start an undertaking business if we’d let him. Most of us don’t much care about him either. But he is family. So we try. Bless his poor little heart.
Most of us don’t want anyone to suffer. Long as it’s out of sight or hearing Uncle Fred figures it’s tolerable. Most of us would mail a sandwich to Bangladesh if we thought it would do any good. We might mail some money instead though. But we’re not out standing on some streetcorner with cardboard placards or spending valuable Wednesday night for hours in a folding chair listening to the minutes of last month’s meeting. We don’t want to be in charge or be humble charges. We’d like to pat our well fed, happy, healthy children on the head and tell them to run and play. Uncle Fred figures someone’s got to take charge or the whole enchilada is going down the river Styx in hell aflame. Thing of it is most of us just want to watch the beautiful breeze ruffle the leaves in the astounding day. But Uncle Fred wants to start a war. He knows he’s right.
Most of us are helping with the paper plates and such. We use them seldom and recycle them as ordained. Uncle Fred enjoys watching the crows tear at them for nothing. He likes to think they’re starving. Imagine that, a crow starving, they’ll eat garbage. Aunt Agnes is starting to come over to Uncle Fred’s way of thinking, something is out to get us sure, if not the weather then the tectonic plates or the crows. She’s not really related, just by marraige, but figures there might be something to the whole telekinetic plate thing and she’s been sounding the concept on sister Rita, who worries about stuff too and would just as soon not get into it too much as she has nightsweats some times. She also thinks Uncle Fred might be right about the squirrels too, just what is all that scampering about anyway.
The BB gun is safely stored away. Some of us understand what use a tool is meant for and are not about to let Uncle Fred start a war with the crows or slaughter some squirrels. Betty offers Uncle Fred a big slice of cake now and then and he’s quiet for awhile.
Betty knows Uncle Fred doesn’t give a hoot about the squirrels or what goes on on the other side of the world. She knows that if you keep digging a hole you don’t end up in China.
We all like Betty, she makes good cakes and everyone gets some. She doesn’t boss anyone around. She’s homely, in a way but far beyond luminescence beautiful in a way too. She sends her sandwiches by the refrigerated cargo planeful in her dreams and shares the same lovely sunsets and the happy laughter of the very differently clad innocents of that very different side of the globe. Were it not for the water between them she would visit again and again and make sandwiches fresh every time. Travel is anethema to predjudice.
Uncle Fred has seldom traveled, Banff, twice. He didn’t notice anything funny about them. They did talk funny. Still he always kept in mind that they were foreigners. The cake has not settled down Uncle Fred. He’s not happy. He has so much stuff he rents a large storage unit to keep it all in, two actually, but that’s not common knowledge. We have all seen his boat though. He can stand up and fish in it, and not because he has to. He figures Betty is just too nice. He figures some homeless will stab her. He knows she gives out blankets to the homeless in town. He figures the homeless can scrounge up their own blankets or buy one from him at his outrageous prices. He figures there are homeless everywhere, they’re like a plague. Betty figures there are homeless everywhere, they’re a global problem. She thinks it sad that someone would be without a home or a blanket. She doesn’t have a storage unit or two, it’s common knowledge. She has a clean small place in the neighborhood, it might even be an apartment. She doesn’t think the squirrels will make off with the basket, she just keeps the lid closed. Aunt Agnes double locks her doors and keeps the phone close against the homeless. Rita locks her doors, so does Betty, it’s only prudent. Sometimes Uncle Fred sits in his darkened kitchen, the door unlocked, the BB gun close at hand daring the sguirrels, or the homeless to come in. He’s funny that way.
Uncle Fred has several BB guns, it’s well known. Some are locked in the storage units, some are close at hand. There is even one in the boat. It makes Uncle Fred feel better to have his own so he can puff out a little steel ball any time he likes and he does like to puff out. Roy knows where his own supply of steel balls is and can get to them should he need to. Betty doesn’t own the implement but admits that if the rats were around she’d be glad Roy had one. She worries Uncle Fred will break a window or put someone’s eye out but trusts that brother Roy would do what’s needed.
Aunt Agnes makes a mean cake too, and everyone enjoys it when she does. She is beautiful too. She started out that way and keeps it up. Why she is with Uncle Fred is anybody’s guess. She sometimes helps Betty and Rita with the cake but skips the homeless blanket thing. She might get the cooties, the homeless are not only vicious and unattractive but rife with cooties and scourges and scrofulas and such. She knows a good joke about giving CPR with a hankie and a couple of swift kicks. Rita and Roy, they’re married, both have their own thoughts on the homeless. They both think it’s a shame but Rita thinks it’s the needle and the bottle and Roy thinks it’s everything, everywhere and always but not all the time. He respects Betty for passing out blankets and points her out to them when she’s serving cake. Uncle Fred has one of those crinkly mylar blankets in his go bags which he keeps in his kitchen, boat and storage units.
Uncle Fred thinks he should estrange himself from the family. He figures he’d do alright with just his go bags and stuff. He could make his own cake, and blankets too for that matter. Maybe not as good, heck maybe even better. If he was on his own he’d never get the cooties, which, it is widely known, started in the homeless, the crows, rats and squirrels and crossed over the species gap and became virulent. On his own, or with Aunt Agnes, they’re married, he figured he’d be alright. He has an ample stock of little steel balls and would even eat squirrel if need be. But never crow, no sir, no crow. Uncle Fred will never eat crow.
Betty is a vegetarian, same as Hitler. She doesn’t have the same disposition and is not addicted to methamphetamines either. She’s just trying to do the right thing, bless her heart. She has a glass of wine now and then and holds nothing against anyone taking a toke. She had tried it, when younger, but hates to be robbed of beautiful memories. Bigfoot may exist, as Uncle Fred figures but Betty believes that if he did he’d be a peaceful vegetarian, unlike Hitler. Betty wonders if where she flys her imaginary planefuls of cake, satisfying fresh sandwiches, warm blankets and much needed medical supplies they believe in Yetis. Roy has a Yeti. Best darn bike he ever owned. Pat, he’s homeless, has an old Peugeot, best damn bike he ever owned. Pat, has some cake, when it’s offered, and when he wraps the blanket Betty gave him around himself he keeps an eye on the bike. He cleaned and greased every single ball bearing in the thing, they were pitted and about the same size as bbs and they all rolled around smoothly together in their well greased races, best damn bike he ever owned.
He was there. He mucked about for months in the mud. He wasn’t the noble homeless vet fighting his way back to affluence and sobriety, to a pegboard tool silhouetted tablesaw shop with a grey flecked epoxy garage floor and a suit, tie and weekly membership and he wasn’t a razor crazed greasy string haired rager in fatigues hopped on shoplifted blue mouthwash and willing to take a leap over the pharmacy counter. He just was what he was, one step after another. Pat was glad he wasn’t there any more, and he wasn’t all that happy being here now. Pat didn’t like being a sterotype. He just was what he was, one step after another.
Uncle Fred keeps a bottle nearby, sitting in the kitchen in the dark, figuring he’s right and that the moon landing was filmed in a warehouse just outside of Bakersfield trucked in from Culver city. The flag is the give away.
Uncle Fred has a nice little tractor he drives around his yard. It’s all shovels and sythes elsewhere. This touches Betty and reaches Rita and Roy and even Aunt Agnes now and then. It devastates Pat. He’s seen the work being done, helped even. Angus has read widely. He knows it just is, and sadly, may always be. Uncle Fred could give a flying squirrel.
Angus is often startled by Uncle Fred. They are neighbors, we all are. Angus is always startled when Uncle Fred fires up the little tractor to mow his yard and blithely directs the clippings wherever they may, be it his own or Angus’s or Roy and Rita’s yard or the sidewalk and street. Uncle Fred just cavalierly soldiers on, beer bottle in one hand, cigar in the other, knee on the little steering wheel puffing grass clippings and the occasional rock whither they may insofar as striking poor homeless brother Pat as he pushes his Peugeot by, it has a flat, the grass clipping sticking to his jeans, the little rocks merely stinging his leg. Uncle Fred, Uncle Fred. What to do about Uncle Fred, he is family after all.
Uncle Fred figures he’d hire a homeless if he could get one cheap enough, even Pat, if he could pass a test. Nobody gets another chance, or a lucky break. He’d worked hard to keep the muffler business, or the podiatric practice, or the accounting firm or whatever the hell it was going after his father had given it to him. He could use a good worker though, if he could get one under the table. someone subservient but tidy, like a French maid. He could use some help holding up the catalytic converters as he welded them up. They’re heavy. Or entering the unending bits of numbers in the fat double entry books, it’s interminably boring, a homeless could be trained as a drudge, maybe, but no overtime or health care, in fact best to just 1099 them or pay in untraceable cash at the end of every day. Or tidying about the den, dusting the television, bringing him his slippers, drink, cigar, whatnot, yes one of those really short French maids in frilly, lacy skirts. If he could get one cheap enough.
Angus would point out that it would be slim pickings, not the actual interesting character actor, which was spelled Pickens, but the actual starving, living in a dead animal skin draped over scanty sticks hovel were we born into another place or time. Angus doesn’t want to run the show, he fears the heavy sword and fragile thread. He is happy here, now, reading his history books, not living under a hide hut and smokey fire. Angus postulates that Uncle Fred, even with his two storage units and boat wouldn’t last more than a month come the apocalypse. Uncle Fred would run out of pork chops and frozen white corn niblets and the fricasseed squirrel thing wouldn’t work out as they are lean and irregular in their movements and Uncle Fred would find them difficult to plunk and skin and even more difficult to coerce Aunt Agnes to prepare, much less a haughty French maid. Brother Angus posits that Uncle Fred wouldn’t do all that well without that jolly green giant growing his niblets and the plasticine wrapped slabs. Angus percieves we all are doing alright as we are, him reading his history books with their macabre tales of purges and garrottings, incendiary devices and rhetoric and poor fragile souls huddled together hungry in rotting pelts over small cold fires. Angus has been known to send a dollar or two to the other side of the world to help someone buy a goat or some chickens. He rides his bike most days to work. Angus thinks the world of Betty. She figures he’s okay. Angus also proposes that startling others by sitting in a darkened kitchen, drinking and puffing behind the goulish eerie red glow of a cheroot is unseemly in a neighbor.
Problem is ….