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"I didn’t 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 I’m in the pub and the phone is for me, I can’t say I’m 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, it’s 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.

“I’m 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, Abdul’s father, whose real name was Gunther O’Flannery, 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, he’d 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, here’s 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, “What’s 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 I’d 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, ‘how’s this for fucking kingdom come?’ God points to the heavens below and there’s this bluish orbiting globe. ‘It’s a real winner,’ God warbles on. ‘It spins around, it’s hot in the middle, cold on the ends, and everybody gets along. Life down there is fair to everybody. I’m 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. ‘What’s with the green thing?’ he asked. ‘That’s my favorite of all the places,’ replied God. It’s full of poets, writers, drinkers, rebels, blabberers and believers.’ ‘That’s 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 didn’t know how since the butt of the gag was the English. But there’s no telling with some people. Maybe he was religious and didn’t like the idea of Jerusalem Slim using four-letter words. Or maybe I’d just lost the knack for telling jokes. I didn’t 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 didn’t 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.

“They’re not your brows they’re 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 I’d say things like:

“Counting both feet I have ten toes
They’re not lady toes they’re men toes
And I keep them as mementos”

or:

“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, “ he’s very strange. He scares me.”

I’ve 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. That’s why I’m down at the pub a lot.

Like I said earlier, I’m not too happy about the phone ringing for me in the pub. So naturally when it did that day six months later, I wasn’t 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.

“I’ve 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 don’t like to use big words like those putzes at Lurch Magazine do because that’s just show-off smarty shit. But I’m 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 didn’t 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 I’d finally recovered, Abdul Knickerknotter had left.

If I haven’t already told you, I don’t like getting phone calls in the pub. So when the phone rang for me a few hours later, I didn’t 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.

“You’ve 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 can’t keep calling me in the pub, I don’t like it.”

“Why?” asked Abdul.

“Because I don’t like getting calls on the telephone in the pub,” I said (which is true, I don’t).

“Then I’ll 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 I’m a floozy,” he shouted back “What do you think I am?” he roared on, “some kind of bum boy, an arse bandit. I’ll have you know I’m the son of one Gunther O’Flannery 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 can’t come down to the pub and you can’t call me. So far I’ve 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. It’s not worth the price of two lousy jokes.”

“Lousy....Lousy shmousy, you no good louse!” Abdul bellowed down the receiver. “You’re just another one of those snobby pricks that hate the Irish. Why don’t you put a sign up in the window of the pub ‘Irish Need Not Apply.’ You bald-headed bigot.”

I didn’t know what to say so I slammed the phone down.

I told my good friend the bartender that if there’s ever a phone call for me in the pub, please tell whoever it is that I’m not there, because I don’t 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 wasn’t there. But the other party wouldn’t 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?”

“It’s Knickerknotter,” I said.

“No, it says Knackerknitter on the suicide note,” the cop said, “the suicide note that Abdul Knackerknitter left addressed to you.”

“It’s Knickerknotter, not Knackerknitter. Knickerknotter’s not dead?” I whooped, hardly able to contain myself.

“Knackerknitter...Yes I’m afraid he is. He appears to have expired from an overdose of laughing gas and smelling salts.”

“It’s Knickerknotter. He might have been dyslexic,” I said, “and what did the note say?”

“No, he’s not dyslexic. It says here he’s Irish. Anyway the note, well I think it’s some kind of obscure joke,” said the cop. “It says, ‘What’s the difference between pea soup and roast duck? You can roast duck. Goodbye cruel world, I’m 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 don’t die. They just smell that way.’”

“Look,” I said. “It’s not Knackerknitter and it’s not Knockerknatter. It’s Knickerknotter. And I don’t hate the Irish.”

“I’m sorry but I’m dyslexic,” said the sergeant.

“That’s odd,” I said, “I could’ve sworn that McCluskey’s an Irish sounding name. Anyway what do you want from me? It’s 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 don’t 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 don’t. 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 I’m bats. Life’s too confusing to worry about them or unnecessary interruptions like phone calls. Coming down to the pub is one of the day’s few pleasures. It shouldn’t be something that other people get their knickers in a knot about. It’s none of their business. During this quality time for me, I don’t like to get disturbed, which is why I don’t like to get telephone calls in the pub. Plus, I like the aroma of the pub. It smells right.

(illustration: troy dockins)


A native of South Africa, Mike Morgan has lived and written in Brooklyn, NY for the last 20 years. He is a founding member of Lurch Magazine and serves as one of its Senior Editors and Contributors. In addition to these duties, he has been and continues to be at the heart of a thriving literary, art and music scene and is a regular at Freddy's Bar, where he is often found discussing global and local affairs, rock and roll, various New York sports teams, and whatever books he happens to be reading at the time.

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©2005 Mike Morgan • Smokebox
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