by Arnold M. Herr
More on Rupert Barnyogurt’s last ride:
Mickey and I managed to dislodge Rupert Barnyogurt’s suet-filled body from under the piles of shlock behind the counter at Megalopolis Book Shop.
Much of the garbage, the books, the rocks, the assorted car parts, including a four-cylinder Nissan engine, had all been stacked higgledy-piggledy and shored up with two-by-fours and milk crates and threatened to collapse before Rupert triggered the landslide that ultimately did him in.
We hauled him the length of the store, through aisle 2, then veered off to cross-aisle H, turned left into sub-aisle 3B, picked up the San Diego Freeway – oops, wrong turn – we backtracked along 3B to the Valley of Despond where we merged with the southbound traffic – a caravan of cockroaches were headed toward one of the store’s seven non-functioning refrigerators - and finally propped up Rupert just inside the back door. I went up the street to get my van. This was very heavy work; even if we had had two additional guys and a barking dog, it wouldn’t have made it appreciably easier.
It was quiet outside and I pulled the side door of the van close to the back door of Mickey’s book shop without being observed.
Or so we thought.
Mickey was the first to notice the movement in the shadows near the corner of the building. He shrieked, but it was a manly shriek. When I turned, I recognized Patio Bob emerging from the gloom. Bob was wearing a filthy trenchcoat, but no fedora. Instead, he was wearing a yarmulke. Wherever Patio Bob felt tired, that’s where he would call home. But given a choice, however, Bob preferred to sleep on patios. Other people’s patios, since he didn’t have one of his own.
This particular night, he settled for the alley outside the bookstore. As near as I can figure, during one of Bob’s lucid periods, he was in the home improvement business working for contractors who built patios, decks and hot tubs. He took a liking to patios; maybe it was the sense of family, nourishment, contentment and well-being that they conveyed that made them so attractive to him.
But this evening was not one of Patio Bob’s lucid periods. Mickey was trembling, but I was at ease despite Bob’s sudden appearance. In the harsh light I could see Bob’s eyes rolling independently of one another and he was grinning.
Me: How goeth the Grand Poobah of the Most Estimable Order of Weenie Waggers this fine evening?
Patio Bob: We goeth well.
Me: I notice that we speaketh as “we.”
Patio Bob: The imperial “we,” not the tapeworm “we.”
Me: I take comfort in that, Bob.
Mickey (still supporting Rupert’s weight): Glrrch.
Patio Bob: Mr. Tsimmis appears to be heavily burdened.
Me: Aye, and there you have it, Patio Bob. Our dear friend Rupert Barnyogurt hath imbibed a bit too heavily and we, his faithful companions…
Patio Bob: …like Tonto…
Me: Yes, like Tonto…anyway, we have charged ourselves with the responsibility of seeing Mr. Barnyogurt safely home to his…
Patio Bob: Commendable.
Mickey: And we are duly honored you think so. Maybe you could cut the palaver and give us hand loading him into the van.
Patio Bob: Nothing would please us more, except for perhaps a bottle of muscatel.
Me: Ah, sadly we have no convivial beverage with which to reward you. But Mr. Tsimmis will be pleased to grace your palm with a double sawbuck with which you may purchase SEVERAL bottles of muscatel.
Mickey (to me): I will??
Me (to Mickey): Give him the dough.
Mickey fished a 20-dollar bill from one of his four wallets and unhappily handed it to Patio Bob.
Mickey (to me): You’re pretty generous with my money.
Patio Bob held up the currency to the light to check its goodness and then held it to his nose and gave it the shmeck test. It must have passed, because he very carefully folded the bill to the size of a square dime and slipped it into the watch pocket of his jeans with a satisfied look on his face. Then he helped us load Rupert into a passenger seat in the back of my van.
Patio Bob: What’s this thing he’s wrapped in?
Mickey: An old curtain.
Me: We didn’t want him to get chilled.
Patio Bob: He does feel a little cool to the touch.
As I was closing the side door, Patio Bob stopped me with a stern look and a firm grip on my arm. Uh oh.
Patio Bob: Just a moment. You forgot to buckle his seat belt. You wouldn’t want him to get hurt.
Me (relieved): You’re right Bob, I’m getting careless.
I almost added that Rupert Barnyogurt was beyond getting hurt, at least in this plane of existence. But I held my tongue.
Mickey locked the back door of the book shop as I climbed into the driver’s seat. I watched Patio Bob retrieve his bicycle from the shadows of the building and pedal off into the night, visions of cheap wine before him.
I inched the van onto Melrose and headed toward the neighborhood south of Paramount Studios. It was an old cluster of streets where handsome old ficus tree roots were lifting the sidewalks at crazy and dangerous angles, and lovely jacaranda trees were dropping their sticky purple flowers on parked cars. Large, regal homes were interspersed with crummy, modern apartment buildings that featured overblown names such as Le Chateau Ritz and the Cravenwood. Another was named Condo del Bondo, but that was actually located down on South La Brea near all the auto body shops and nowhere near Rupert’s residence.
It was between two and three in the morning and quite dark as Mickey and I scoped out the scene. We had the remains of the recently departed Rupert in the back of my van, wrapped in a large fragment of the gold curtain that had once hung at the old Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. I was silently praying a cop wouldn’t pull us over for some minor traffic violation and I was torturing myself trying to remember if both my headlights were working and if the taillights were illuminated. I drove slowly and signaled for every turn.
When we turned into Rupert’s street, we could see that his next door neighbor had her sprinklers turned on; she was watering the gravel lawn.
Rupert’s place was one of the grand old mansions that once lined these streets of old Hollywood. His however, retained all the charm of a festering goiter. The paint covering the stucco was blistering and flaking. Rupert didn’t give a fiddler’s finoo about what the exterior of the house looked like. He didn’t much care much about the interior either, for that matter. All that concerned him was whether he could stuff all his holdings into it. And he was pretty successful in getting it all in, at least when viewed from the street. Quite a bit had overflowed out onto the patio at the rear of the house and into the back yard. There was a ’51 Nash Ambassador out there, sitting on four flat tires. Rupert once told me he used to sleep in the car occasionally – the seats folded down into a bed – but he started using it as a storage locker and was eventually crowded out.
I grabbed a flashlight from the glovebox and Mickey and I yanked Rupert from the side of my van and strong-armed him up the driveway to the front door. I had taken the keys from Rupert’s pocket before we wrapped him in the musical curtain and now I used them to unlock the door. We got him inside without being observed. Rupert was big and heavy and it was a chore shlepping him in. As Mickey and I stood inside the closed front door catching our breath, I remembered the last time I had been here. It was several years earlier...
Next: Amateur bookbinding with Elmer's glue and a microwave oven, and the odyssey of Rubert Barnyorgurt's body continues.