"I didnt know that when incense and Brylcreem fumes combine, they cause a chemical reaction. The resultant boom set fire to my eyebrows. ...."
the price you pay
words by mike morgan
When Im in the pub and the phone is for me, I cant say Im too happy about it. Like the time that Abdul Knickerknotter called me. I first came across Abdul in the pub and the only reason I ever got into conversation with him was because he had quite a peculiar name. Unfortunately he also had diabolical halitosis. And he had this rather nasty way of clearing his throat loudly after farting even more loudly. He then would go into this song and dance routine about his persistent bronchitis, which was nowhere near as lethal as his bad breath, which also paled in comparison to the rancidness of his flatulence. All in all, its safe to say that Abdul Knickerknotter had some pretty revolting personal habits. Oh, and his palms sweated a lot too, and he was always shaking my hand telling me what a pleasure it was to know me.
So when I asked Abdul Knickerknotter about his name, he let loose with a ten-star ripper and the beer and shot glasses stacked behind the bar came crashing down. This was followed by a paroxysm of coughing, sweaty brow wiping, a gushing sigh which wilted my moustache, and a hand brushed through a greasy mop dolloped with Brylcreem.
Im Irish, he replied.
Thinking that some kind of bad bar joke was coming next, I was astonished to find out that he actually was Irish. It turned out that in Cork, Abduls father, whose real name was Gunther OFlannery, had a soft spot for bawdy folk songs that were not meant to be heard by small children or dogs. Whenever Gunther was knocking back a few at the Puddenham Arms, hed stick this song on the Victrola and wheezily sing along to Abdul the BulBul Emir, much to the indignation of other Puddenheads (the regulars down there). Thus his nickname, Abdul. For those of you not familiar with this traditional ditty, heres a verse:
The fair Grecian maiden a sad vigil keeps
With a husband whose tastes have turned queer...
She longs for the dong
That once did belong
To Abdul El BulBul Emir
Gunther was also a worrier. He worried so much that the Puddenheads would always say to each other, Whats old Abdul got his knickers in a knot for? In fact, on the day that poor baby Abdul was born, Gunther worried himself and the missus straight into the hold of a Norwegian freighter bound for Zanzibar and both were never heard of again. Baby Abdul was left in swaddling clothes at the door of the Puddenhead Arms. The regulars were beside themselves. No one was willing to become a parent unexpectedly, which to me sounded at odds with Catholics and their bonkers notions of sex and having children. Anyway it was decided at closing time that night to raise the child communally in the pub. He was baptized Abdul Knickerknotter in memory of his dear old worrying stowaway dad.
Naturally, it took a whiles for Abdul to get all of this out, and I was dying from noxious gas inhalation. But by then Id had a few so I figured, Who else would like a good old joke about the old country other than an original citizen from the old country. So Abdul, I said, God was bored one day, and he started fucking around and was so tickled with his new invention that he ran off to find Saint Peter. Pete, says God, hows this for fucking kingdom come? God points to the heavens below and theres this bluish orbiting globe. Its a real winner, God warbles on. It spins around, its hot in the middle, cold on the ends, and everybody gets along. Life down there is fair to everybody. Im fair to everybody. Over the eons, Peter had seen enough God monkey business backfire, like the sun, which originally was meant to be a gigantic orange beach ball and the moon, a supposed gigantic slab of Stilton cheese of the pongy sweat sock Gorgonzola variety. Peter noticed a green flash every time the globe turned. Whats with the green thing? he asked. Thats my favorite of all the places, replied God. Its full of poets, writers, drinkers, rebels, blabberers and believers. Thats not fair, says Peter. Yeah says God, wait til they find out who their fucking neighbors are.
Abdul lifted his left cheek and let fly with another doozy. This one blew the Yingling Lager neon light clean out of its socket. Then he glared at me, slammed his coaster down on top of his half-full pint of Guinness and stomped out. I assumed that I had insulted his Celtic heritage. I didnt know how since the butt of the gag was the English. But theres no telling with some people. Maybe he was religious and didnt like the idea of Jerusalem Slim using four-letter words. Or maybe Id just lost the knack for telling jokes. I didnt spend too much time worrying about it. I went across the street to the bodega, run by a Morrocan in a fez whose name also happened to be Abdul, and bought a stick of incense. Back in the pub, I lit the incense and stuck it under a pile of copies of this hideous rag called Lurch Magazine, produced by some egotistical wankers who come down to the pub way too often and who are under the delusion that they can write. I didnt know that when incense and Brylcreem fumes combine, they cause a chemical reaction. The resultant boom set fire to my eyebrows. The only upside to the whole disaster was that the Lurch Magazines were incinerated too.
People in the neighborhood started to ask me about my eyebrows.
What brows? I asked, raising the part of my face where my eyebrows used to be curiously.
Your brows, they said.
Theyre not your brows theyre my brows, I replied. Bamboozled by this answer, most people stopped asking me about my eyebrows. For those that persisted, I carried on about my other bodily parts. I thought that rhyming bad humor would make them go away or at least stop them from making fun of me. So Id say things like:
Counting both feet I have ten toes
Theyre not lady toes theyre men toes
And I keep them as mementos
In the middle is my carcus
And I always dress my carcus
In the best from Neimann Marcus
But people are hard to figure out, which is a reason why I spend a lot of time in the pub, and many thought that there was something wrong with me, like bats wrong. That bald older guy with the bad teeth and the funny accent, pretty young girls in the pub would whisper to their hipster male mates, hes very strange. He scares me.
Ive lived my whole life with people who could probably beat the living shit out of me being scared of me. So I just notched it all up to other imaginary fears that most Americans seem to have, like being scared of gigantic sea monsters lurking under the deep waters in the Sea of Japan, and the world really being flat. I gave up trying to understand others a long time ago. Thats why Im down at the pub a lot.
Like I said earlier, Im not too happy about the phone ringing for me in the pub. So naturally when it did that day six months later, I wasnt too happy. It was Abdul. Not Abdul the Moroccan shopkeeper but Abdul Knickerknotter. It took me forever to remember who he was, but during the course of the conversation, where my eyebrows used to be got itchy. Suddenly it hit me like a low blow to the solar-plexus. It was smelly Abdul. Smelly Abdul was still in the beginning phase of throat-clearing and muffled baffs, so when all of that palaver was over he said, Good joke. I was flabbergasted. It had taken Abdul six months to get the Big Unum joke.
Ive got one for you, he said.
Shoot, I said.
How do you make an elephant fly? he went on.
I dunno, I replied.
First of all, you get a gigantic zipper, said Abdul.
Now I have to tell you, I thought that was pretty funny. I made the fatal mistake of laughing. Abdul took this as a gesture of friendship. Ten minutes later, he was in the pub. My luck was turning sour.
When I write I dont like to use big words like those putzes at Lurch Magazine do because thats just show-off smarty shit. But Im going to use a whopper now. My olfactory senses were assaulted when Abdul Knickerknocker walked into the pub. It was summertime and the owner of the pub was saving on electricity. He didnt have the air-conditioner on. Instead he had affixed a gigantic palm leaf to the ceiling, rigged a string to it and connected the string to the big toe of the left foot of Abdul the deli-owners son, who was named Abdul Junior and whom the pub owner had hired at the whopping salary of fifty cents an hour. Employing a sporadic spastic kind of kicking action, Abdul Junior was able to get a little air circulation going. So it was pretty fetid in the pub and when the other Abdul walked in (not to be confused with the other two Abduls), I fainted from the nauseous odor. When I came to, Abdul (Knickerknotter, not Abdul the retailer or Abdul with the toe/betel leaf job) was leaning over me. I fainted again. When Id finally recovered, Abdul Knickerknotter had left.
If I havent already told you, I dont like getting phone calls in the pub. So when the phone rang for me a few hours later, I didnt like it. It was Abdul (the smelly one, not the store owner or the underpaid child laborer).
What do you call a Jewish discotheque, he wheezed down the phone.
Youve got me, I said.
A Synagogo he said. I was quite honestly surprised. These were two pretty decent chestnuts that Abdul had in his repertoire.
Look Abdul, I said, you cant keep calling me in the pub, I dont like it.
Why? asked Abdul.
Because I dont like getting calls on the telephone in the pub, I said (which is true, I dont).
Then Ill come down, said Abdul.
No! I shouted.
Why not? he asked.
Because you make me woozy, I said.
I was about to find out that Abdul Knickerknotter was also hard of hearing. Because you think Im a floozy, he shouted back What do you think I am? he roared on, some kind of bum boy, an arse bandit. Ill have you know Im the son of one Gunther OFlannery and he rattled off another verse of Abdul the BulBul Emir:
When Abdul had finished he turned to the Greek
And laughed when she shivered in fear
She swallowed his pride
He buggered the bride
Of Abdul El BulBul Emir
Abdul, I said. You cant come down to the pub and you cant call me. So far Ive lost my eyebrows, fainted twice, set fire to the pub and gotten beaten up by a Lurch editor who I always thought was scared shitless of me. Its not worth the price of two lousy jokes.
Lousy....Lousy shmousy, you no good louse! Abdul bellowed down the receiver. Youre just another one of those snobby pricks that hate the Irish. Why dont you put a sign up in the window of the pub Irish Need Not Apply. You bald-headed bigot.
I didnt know what to say so I slammed the phone down.
I told my good friend the bartender that if theres ever a phone call for me in the pub, please tell whoever it is that Im not there, because I dont like getting phone calls at the pub. So the next time the phone rang in the pub and it was for me, the bartender dutifully said I wasnt there. But the other party wouldnt hang up. So the bartender gave up and handed me over the phone.
Abdul, I yelled, Enough...Fuck off!
This is Sergeant McCluskey at the 78th Precinct. Do you know an Abdul Knackerknitter?
Its Knickerknotter, I said.
No, it says Knackerknitter on the suicide note, the cop said, the suicide note that Abdul Knackerknitter left addressed to you.
Its Knickerknotter, not Knackerknitter. Knickerknotters not dead? I whooped, hardly able to contain myself.
Knackerknitter...Yes Im afraid he is. He appears to have expired from an overdose of laughing gas and smelling salts.
Its Knickerknotter. He might have been dyslexic, I said, and what did the note say?
No, hes not dyslexic. It says here hes Irish. Anyway the note, well I think its some kind of obscure joke, said the cop. It says, Whats the difference between pea soup and roast duck? You can roast duck. Goodbye cruel world, Im off to join the circus. Signed Abdul Knockerknatter. PS - Tell that anti-Fenian bastard Morgan at the pub to stick it up his fucking keister. And tell him this too...Old Irish fishermen dont die. They just smell that way.
Look, I said. Its not Knackerknitter and its not Knockerknatter. Its Knickerknotter. And I dont hate the Irish.
Im sorry but Im dyslexic, said the sergeant.
Thats odd, I said, I couldve sworn that McCluskeys an Irish sounding name. Anyway what do you want from me? Its not my fault that the smelly bugger offed himself.
Well it appears that this Abdul bloke left you his only possession, a false nose and a giant pair of rubber eyebrows, said the cop.
My brows, I asked, or your brows? The cop sounded confused and hung up.
Since that day, I have never received another phone call at the pub. I just dont like it when that happens. I come down to the pub to get away from all of the craziness out there. Some people might think this is a bad habit, but I dont. I gave up caring about what other people think a long time ago, like all those pretty young girls and their goateed hipster boyfriends, with their Buddy Holly glasses and their waffle-iron brothel creeper shoes, who nudge each other and whisper that Im bats. Lifes too confusing to worry about them or unnecessary interruptions like phone calls. Coming down to the pub is one of the days few pleasures. It shouldnt be something that other people get their knickers in a knot about. Its none of their business. During this quality time for me, I dont like to get disturbed, which is why I dont like to get telephone calls in the pub. Plus, I like the aroma of the pub. It smells right.
(illustration: troy dockins)