Expiration Date – Snippet 12

Expiration Date – Snippet 12

BOOK TWO

Get a Life

Father got a lot of amusement out of lighting firecrackers, throwing them at our bare feet and making us dance when they exploded. He had it all his way one Fourth. After that we ganged up and made him take off his own shoes and stockings and do his dancing on the lawn while we three lighted firecrackers at his feet.

–Charles Edison,

The New York Times,

September 26, 1926

CHAPTER 12

“And what does it live on?”

“Weak tea with cream in it.”

A new difficulty came into Alice’s head. “Supposing it couldn’t find any?” she suggested.

“Then it would die, of course.”

“But that must happen very often,” Alice remarked thoughtfully.

“It always happens,” said the Gnat.

–Lewis Carroll,

Through the Looking-Glass

The sky was still pale with dawn when Solomon Shadroe turned his old gray Chevy Nova left from Ocean Boulevard onto Twenty-First Place and immediately turned left again into the parking lot of his apartment building. From long practice he was able to do the maneuver smoothly, in spite of the car’s rear end swinging out wide. The locator pins holding the rear axle to the springs had broken off long ago, and so the rear axle was no longer parallel to the front one; when driving straight ahead down a straight lane, the car was always at an angle to the center line, like a planing blade moving along a level board.

The three-story building dated from the 1920s, and had once been a hospital. The rooms, were mismatched in size, and over the years he had cut out new windows and doors, laid two new floors across the elevator shaft to make three closets, and hung new partitions or torn old ones out, so no styles matched and no hallway and few rooms had the same flooring from one end to the other; but rents were low, and the place was shaded with big old untrimmed palm and carob trees, and the peeling stucco front was largely covered with purple-flowering bougainvillea. Any tenants that stayed long, and he had some who had been here for a decade or more, were the sort that would generally do their own repairs; the old-timers called the place Solville, and seemed to take obscure pride in having weathered countless roof leaks, power failures, and stern inspections by the city.

Shadroe parked on his customary patch of oil-stained dirt, clambered out of the old car, and limped ponderously to his office, pausing to crouch and pick up the newspaper in front of the door.

Inside, he turned on the old black-and-white TV set. While it warmed up he listened to the birds in the trees outside his office window–the mockingbirds seemed to be shrilling cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger, and the doves were softly saying Curaçao, Curaçao, Curaçao.

Curacao was some orange-flavored liqueur, he believed. He couldn’t recall ever having drunk any, and it probably wouldn’t complement a cheeseburger, but for a moment he envied all the people who had the option of choosing that breakfast, and who would be able to taste it.

He sighed, picked up a cellophane bag, and shook half a dozen Eat-‘Em-&-Weep balls–red-hot cinnamon jawbreaker candies–into a coffeepot, filled it with water from the faucet he had piped in last year, and put it on a hot plate to brew; then he lowered his considerable bulk into his easy chair and unfolded the newspaper.

The front section he read cursorily–Ross Perot was back in the presidential race, claiming that he had only dropped out three months ago because Bush’s people were supposedly planning to wreck his daughter’s wedding; “Electrified Rail Lines Would Energize Edison’s Profits”; a Bel-Air couple named Parganas had been found tortured and killed in their home, and police were searching for their son, whose name Shadroe didn’t bother to puzzle out but seemed to be something like Patootie, poor kid; country singer Roger Miller had died at fifty-six–that was too bad. Shadroe had met him a few times in the sixties, and he’d seemed like a nice guy. He was about to toss it and pick up the Metro section when he noticed something in a little box on the front page:

fans searching for “spooky” from old sitcom

Attention Baby-Boomers! It worked for Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver and Gilligan’s Island, didn’t it?

Plans are afoot for another reunion show!

Led by independent television producer Loretta deLarava, fans of the situation comedy, Ghost of a Chance, which ran from 1955 to 1960 on CBS, are searching for the only elusiveand, some would say, the only indispensableactor from the old show. They’ve been unable to locate Nicky Bradshaw, who played Spooky, the teenage ghost whose madcap antics kept the dull-witted Johnson family hopping. In the thirty-two years since the show’s cancellation, the “Spooky” character has taken a place in pop mythology comparable to “Eddie Haskell” (Ken Osmond, Leave it to Beaver), “Aunt Bee” (Frances Bavier, The Andy Griffith Show), and “Hop Sing” (Victor Sen Yung, Bonanza).

Bradshaw, godson to the late filmmaker Arthur Patrick Sullivan, had been a child actor before Ghost of a Chance propelled him into millions of American living rooms, but he left showbiz in the mid-1960s to become an attorney. He disappeared in 1975, apparently under the cloud of some minor legal infractions on which he was due to be arraigned.

The police have had no luck in locating Bradshaw, but deLarava is certain that Spooky’s many fans can succeed where the law can’t! DeLarava wants to assure Bradshaw that most of the charges (all having to do with receiving stolen goods–for shame. Spooky!) have been dropped, and that his salary for doing the Ghost of a Chance Reunion Show will easily offset all lingering penalties. Andshe adds with a twinkle in her eyewho knows? This reunion show just might develop into a whole new series!

There was also the telephone number of a Find Spooky hotline.

Solomon Shadroe put down the front section of the paper and, with a steady hand, poured some of his Eat-‘Em-&-Weep tea into a coffee cup. The dissolved candies gave the stuff the bright red color of transmission fluid. After a long sip he chewed up a couple of fresh ones out of the bag. The jawbreakers, and the tea he brewed from them were all he had eaten and drunk for seventeen years. He never turned on the light when he went to the bathroom here, nor in the head on his boat.

Heavy footsteps clumped overhead, letting him know that Johanna was up. He reached across the table for his long-handled broom and, squinting upward to find an undented section of the plaster, thumped the end of the broom against the ceiling. Faintly he heard her yell some acknowledgment.

He put the broom down and fished a little flat can of Goudie Scottish snuff out of a pile of receipts on the desk. He twisted the cap until the holes in the rim were lined up, then shook some of the brown powder onto the back of his hand and effortfully snorted it up his nose. He couldn’t smell or taste the stuff anymore, of course, but it was still a comforting habit.

He glanced at the three stuffed pigs he had set up on the empty bookshelves in here. They weren’t burping right now, at least.

Can she find me, he thought. I live on water . . . but she lives right over there on the Queen Mary. I make Johanna do all the shopping, and anyway deLarava wouldn’t be likely to recognize me these days. And she’d have a hard time tracking me–when I do drive, my car always points off to the left of wherever I’m really going. Still, I’d better take some measures. It would be hard at my age and in my condition to find another slip for the boat, and it’d probably be impossible ever again to get out to the Hollywood Cemetery and visit the old man’s grave–though even now I don’t dare sweep the dust and leaves off the marker.

When the knock came at the door he clomped his uninjured foot twice on the floor, and Johanna let herself in.

Shadroe inhaled. “Draw me a bath, sweetie,” he said levelly, “and put ice in it.” Again, he drew air into his lungs. “Today I gotta start re-wiring the units, and then I think I’ll re-pipe the downstairs ones so the water’s going north instead of south.” His voice had gone reedy, and he paused to take in more air. “If I can find the ladder, I think I’ll rearrange all the TV antennas later in the week.”

Johanna brushed back her long black hair. “What for you wanna do that, lover?” The seams of her orange leotards had burst at the hips, and she scratched at a bulge of tattooed skin. “After the painting men the other month–your tenants are gonna go crazy.”

“Tell ’em . . . tell ’em November rent’s on me. They’ve put up with worse.” Gasp. “As to why–look at this.” He bent down with a grunt and picked up the front section of the paper. “Here,” he whispered, pointing out the article. “I need to change the hydraulic and electromagnetic . . .” Gasp “. . .fingerprint of this place again.”

She read it slowly, moving her lips. “Oh, baby!” she finally said in dismay. She crossed to his chair and knelt and hugged him. He patted her hair three times and then let his hand drop. “Why can’t she forget about you?”

“I’m the only one,” he said patiently, “who knows who she is.”

“Couldn’t you . . . blackmail her? Say you’ve put the eddivence in a box in a bank, and if you die the noosepapers will get it?”

“I suppose,” said Shadroe, staring at the dark TV screen. It was set on CBS, channel 2, with the brightness turned all the way down to blessedly featureless black. “But nobody thought it was . . . murder, even at the time.” He yawned so widely that pink tears ran down his gray cheeks. “What I should do,” he went on, “is go to her office when she’s there”–he paused to inhale again–“and then take a nap in the waiting room.”

“Oh, baby, no! All those innocent people!”

Too exhausted to speak anymore, Shadroe just waved his hand dismissingly.

 

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