Oxhead and Horseface. The situation I was in wasn’t so different from Neopolitan ice cream, really. All those flavors in one container — chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. Vanilla? Who wanted vanilla? Did they run out of old men in cardigans to grind up at the factory? The list of things I’d rather eat is long and strange. Vanilla. Blech. But if you wanted chocolate and strawberry together like the gods intended, you had to put up with this depraved menage-a-trois. I wrote letters to the major Brands urging them to reconsider. I said I didn’t care what flavor they substituted. I didn’t care if they just left the vanilla portion of the carton empty. I’d rather pay full price for two-thirds of a product than pay for vanilla. The Brands didn’t budge. Eventually, I stopped sending letters and just mailed back block after uneaten block of vanilla ice cream. Sometimes I included little notes (e.g.: “Maybe you can give me my money back, but not the little part of me that died” and “Strange. I checked with Planned Parenthood, they insisted this was yours”). The Brands, it seemed, did not appreciate my point of view. Some correspondence with the courts followed. It’s not important. Vanilla prevailed. I don’t fight flavors anymore.
What was the point? The point was I didn’t like Horseface. But she and Oxhead were a package, so what I liked meant beans. Oxhead, he was a good egg. Straight and to the point. Earnest. But, Horseface. God damn. Where to begin? She was the blood on a clown suit. The makeup, the shoes, the jokes, the juggling — none of it mattered. All you saw was the blood. How did it get there? Who did it belong to? It was never the clown’s own. Which is kind of surprising between the physical performances, dangerous stunts and all that. Plenty of room for blood-gushing error. Yet clowns just did not bleed their own blood. Was it people blood? Animal blood? And, more importantly, why couldn’t the clown get the suit dry cleaned before the show? It was unprofessional. This is why some people didn’t like clowns. I didn’t blame them. Unprofessionalism is unbecoming. But I liked clowns. I just didn’t like Horseface. Horseface was no clown.
My distaste for all things Horseface advanced from an argument regarding the tattoos which were to give rise to her nickname: horses — sorry, Spanish horses — on both eyelids. She said it was a metaphor. I said I didn’t get it. And then told her it was a stupid idea. And how could anyone tell that the horses were Spanish — they would be tiny. Besides what difference would it make if they could. What the hell was the significance of a Spanish horse? She didn’t listen, obviously. Anyway, you don’t stop a woman like Horseface. The ink work was impressive though. Stupid, but impressive. Of course, I was right. Nobody got the metaphor. They just thought she was upset she didn’t get a pony as a little girl. Assuming she ever was a little girl. It was hard to imagine. Things snowballed from there. The name stuck.
She blamed me. I said easy does it. I wasn’t the one got two, ahem, sophisticated tattoos on my eyes. It was too late, though. The grudge was on. Maybe it was my fault. It wasn’t inconceivable. I was misusing prescription pet meds pretty regularly in those days. I had this cat, Pfc. Buttons, with a urinary tract infection. The illness ran its course before the script ran out. I took the rest of the pills because I was pissing a lot of blood myself at the time. I figured what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that. Apparently that only goes for geese. Doesn’t apply to people. Or cats. Or people and cats. I don’t know. The blood thing stopped, thank god, but I kept taking the pills. Made my extremities feel tingly. Sometimes I’d have spells, lose time for little chunks. It was okay, my life wasn’t very exciting. Pfc. Buttons didn’t fare so well as me. Just disappeared one day. Maybe I didn’t feed him enough or whatever. It was hard to keep an animal like that. My dependency amused Horseface.
Horseface was a spiteful nag. Maybe we both were. And although we despised each other, Horseface and me, we remained professional. More or less. That was why I went straight from the dumpster to Oxhead and Horseface’s. They ran a little mom and pop mortuary at the edge of town. Real family business. Must have been Oxhead’s parents’ originally, but that was a long time ago. Oxhead seemed like the kind of guy who didn’t have parents. Just flung into existence somehow. Like Paul Bunyan, only not a lumberjack. They did well for themselves, too. They knew people who knew people who knew dead people. Networking was always like that.
I needed to be cautious. Not about Oxhead and Horseface. Just in case anyone was watching, waiting for me to turn up there. I wasn’t stupid. I gave some kid a five to signal a meet for me. Real bratty kid, too. Kept asking why and tried, several times, to up the price. I didn’t budge. He took the five and did like I said, knocked on the door of the mortuary, asked if anybody wanted chocolate. Dark chocolate. For the children. Oh, the poor, delicious children. After that, all I could do was wait.
When I came to I found myself in a dumpster full of dead chickens. Or is it chicken? I hate second-guessing my grammar. I’ll waffle for hours on end about an irregular possessive plural or properly identifying a non-finite verb form. It’s a character flaw. But gerunds tend to matter a little less when you’re face down in dead birds. Maybe both ways are acceptable. I’m pretty sure it’s chickens though.
I wasn’t behind a Safeway or anything. I don’t want to confuse anyone. This wasn’t postdated grocery refuse; some three-day old pile of disassembled bird meat — breasts, legs, and thighs — all neatly wrapped up in plastic and styrofoam. That was a different breed of dumpster chicken. I dream that I woke up on that heap of rancid foodstuffs. I would be a different man. A better man. A man with possibilities. Instead I was buried among the birds fresh from the wrong end of the cockfights; a hot and sour soup of blood, feathers, mangled beaks, pecked-out eyeballs, and puss. And like each of those broken warriors, I was beaten and discarded. Or meant to be.
Clearly, I dropped a few notches on the food chain. I was dog food — still in the can maybe, but for how long? You don’t tumble out of a mass grave without getting the message, right? Somebody’s applecart was upset. But whose? Not the shill’s. Too small to even be considered small-time. The Bosses? The Bosses didn’t bother with messages. Messages were for messengers, they said. Had to be someone with fewer stripes. I started down the obligatory list of nicknames: Cheese, Ginger, Junior Mint, Nibbles, Nicky Two Sugars, Sam the Butcher, Teddy Nostrils, Teddy Toes. Of that crowd, Ginger or Teddy Nostrils seemed good bets for no reason other than they were both pricks. Ginger especially. He once knocked me through a plate-glass window for picking the sprinkles off his doughnut. Made me pay for the window too. It was worth it though. Everybody thought it was funny. Except Ginger, obviously. Teddy Nostrils was a different bag of cats. Though the cockfights weren’t exactly his flavor. Maybe that was the point. Maybe he had help. Nostrils always had help. Maybe I was reading too much into it.
I really didn’t know anything other than I was a long way away from where I was supposed to be. I didn’t have a lot of options, but then people who wake up in dumpsters of dead chickens rarely do. There were just a couple plays: the bluster and bravado Lazarus route — see who spooked; or bird dog it from the shadows and then play out the hand. It was a coin flip. I checked my pockets. Nothing — figured. Wait. Piece of candy. No. Not a piece of candy. I scraped it off my tongue with my tie.
One thing was clear: I wasn’t going to figure anything out from the bottom of a dumpster of dead chickens. And, whatever happened next, I didn’t want to wake up in a dumpster full of dead chickens again. Granted, it beat the alternative: not waking up in a dumpster of dead chickens. You know, if you wanted to be sunny about it. No margin for error now. I needed information, a push in the right direction. Only one place I could go.