I wrote this after yet ANOTHER evening with our most precious friends Terry (T.Wiggles) and Tommy (Digger) when Tommy ordered a burger with no ketchup, no mustard, no pickle, no mushrooms, just a big slice of onion and cheese. I love you, my friend. This one is for you.
You’re SO particular.
By: S. Scott Bullock
He HATED it about himself. It had caused him nothing but pain, sorrow and embarrassment his entire life. For as long as he could remember his particular peculiarity had made his life a miserable lot.
When he was a baby, as he was later told by his overburdened mother, he sat in his highchair and kept his mouth clamped shut. Jar after jar after jar of every kind of baby food on the market was spooned toward his mouth but he would have none of it. His mother became so distraught that she begged his pediatrician to intervene.
“He won’t eat.” She had cried to the doctor. “No matter what I try he just won’t eat. He only wants the bottle.”
Then the doctor had said to her.
“Just keep giving him the formula. It’ll give him what nutrition he needs right now. And I guarantee you, he’ll eat other things when he’s ready and gets hungry enough.”
His mother had given up then. She just kept giving him the bottle until he was so old that he no longer drank from it using the nipple. He would just twist off the cap and drink from it like it was a bottle of beer.
Then, when he was in grade school and his palate had accepted a couple new food items, he would sit in the cafeteria while all his classmates were eating bologna sandwiches from home, or hamburgers and mashed potatoes from the hot lunch line, and he would drink his warm apple juice, eat his carrot sticks and lower his head as they all laughed at him and made fun of what he was eating. They called him Bugs Bunny and Juicy Apple Jerk. He felt ridiculed and isolated and he also felt completely responsible for it. Those grade school days planted seeds of self-loathing deeply into his psyche and each passing year of ridicule and rebuke watered and fertilized those seeds until the clutching, clinging vines that grew from them chocked his every thought.
High School lunchtime was hell. College lunch time was hell. Dinners with family, dinners with friends, breakfasts, lunches or dinners with anyone, anywhere, were hell.
‘You don’t eat thus and such?!?’ They’d say. Sometimes through a laugh. ‘My God. EVERYBODY eats thus and such! How could ANYONE not like thus and such? You’re SO particular.’
And on and on it would go. The never ending astonishment, befuddlement and bemusement from his friends, family and acquaintances. The litany of one-liners and long-form jokes made at his expense. And he knew he was solely to blame. His list of ‘thus and suches’, the list of foods he didn’t eat, or couldn’t eat, or hated to eat, was longer than the Nile. He hated damn near every form of nutrition known to man.
The things that he loved to eat, could be counted on one finger and the things that he liked to eat only took up the other four at most.
Seafood was the most appalling to him. He couldn’t imagine eating something that swam in its own filth. Something that breathed its own excrement. The very smell of frying fish would send him to the nearest toilet where he would vomit until he was empty and then stare at the swirling mess until he regained control of his thoughts. The idea of eating animal flesh sent him into a world of horrifying imaginings. Slaughter houses with blood soaked floors. Bovine carcases being skinned, dismembered and run through grinders. Sheep and pigs and goats being eviscerated and hung on meat hooks. He CHERISHED animals and thoughts of ‘processing’ them (as the euphemism goes) was all too much for him.
Every time someone sat next to him chomping on a cheeseburger, those thoughts rose up and stabbed at his mind. The burger eater would inevitably say something like ‘You’re staring at my burger. You wanna bite?’ and behind his eyes he’d see the piston gun punching a lethal hole into a steer’s head. ‘You’re only eating carrots!??!’ the burger eater would follow up with. And then, ‘You’re SO particular dude… you need help.’
All of this made it nearly impossible for him to dine with anyone. And because of that, he began to create a life of sectional solitude. In all other venues, other than eating ones that is, he became gregarious and fun-loving. He was the life of the party (never eating and staying well away from any buffet table.) He’d join his friends for plays and concerts. He went to movies and sucked it up if one of his friends was eating popcorn. Popcorn was vile. It smelled like motor oil and dead house plants. He always kept a cologne scented, cloth handkerchief with him and when a smell overwhelmed him he’d put it up to his nose, telling his companions that his allergies were acting up and his nose was running. If one of his companions at the movies bought a hot dog, however, all bets were off and he’d have to make some excuse to leave before the movie started. Thankfully that had only happened a couple of times in the past several years.
He had managed, by his late thirties, to completely compartmentalize his socializing. And the dining compartment was always securely closed. That was his alone. He ate alone. He never wanted to have to explain his peculiarity again and he needed to avoid those damn odors at all cost.
The thing he ate the most of was carrots. In all forms, raw, cooked, mashed, shredded and chipped. He kept bags and bags of frozen ones in his oversized basement freezer. He ate so many carrots in fact that his skin had a slight orange tinge to it. That skin tint was the object of many jokes from his family and friends. They started calling him Ginger and that pissed him off royally. But he was NOT about to stop eating carrots. He needed his carrots like a rock-star needs his heroine. So he bit the bullet and smiled or chuckled when one of his family or friends called him Ginger.
Ginger, otherwise know as Leonard Collins, sat at his kitchen table reading the morning news on his laptop. The microwave dinged and he got up to retrieve his apple juice. It was in an over-sized mug that was shaped like an erupting volcano. A souvenir present from his first (and only) girlfriend. The mug held at least three cups and Leonard had only nuked it for forty seconds. He liked his apple juice warm. Not cold. Not hot. Warm. And he reveled in the idea that he didn’t have to explain that fact to anyone. Just as he ate alone, he drank alone. Like a good alcoholic does.
He sat back down and read further. Robberies, murders, violence, missing persons, political unrest, bombs, beatings and mass shootings. How ugly the world had gotten. How very sad that the news was filled with such horror and that all of us started our day reading about it and taking it into our thoughts. Leonard felt that news like this infected us with sorrow and hopelessness. Did we really NEED to hear about it all. Did it aid us in living our lives to hear of murders, states away or countries away? He figured it WAS important to know of local goings-on. If something was amiss or awry in your own town, you needed to be aware. In the local section of his cyber-newspaper he saw that there was one armed robbery at a local ATM, two home burglaries a few blocks away from his home, and a local missing woman. His stomach rolled over at the prospect of crime coming into his quiet, bucolic town, but he knew it was inevitable. Evil was crafty and persistent. You had to be ever vigilant or it would slither into your home and suffocate you in your sleep. So much evil in the world, he thought, so much evil. His cell phone rang and he jumped out of his reverie. He looked at the phone screen. It was his brother David. Leonard pressed the accept key.
“Hello ugly.” Leonard said smiling. He loved his brother dearly but he loved teasing him even more. “People still running away from you in terror on the street?”
“At least I’m a normal color, Ginger.” David said parrying.
“Oh, ha ha. That one just never gets old, does it?”
“Lenny.” David said seriously.
It was a tone Leonard knew well. It was David’s ‘dead mother’ tone. When their mother had died in a car accident while Leonard was away at college, David had called him. Leonard had run down two flights of stairs to get to the communal pay phone in the lobby of his dorm. He had picked up the phone, out of breath, and said, ‘Hey ugly, what’s up?’. ‘Lenny.’ David had said back then. ‘Mom died’. David used this tone whenever conveying bad news, so Lenny girded his spiritual loins.
“Shit.” Leonard said. “What’s wrong, David.”
“We’re not going to the concert tonight, Lenny. Cathy is messed up over her cousin’s wife.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You read the local don’t you?” David asked.
“Yeah.” Leonard said shifting in his seat. He felt like he was about to be quizzed and he didn’t like being quizzed. “What about the local?”
“Did you read about the missing woman. Daneetra Hutton?” David was beginning to sound annoyed as well as troubled.
“Yes I did. It’s very sad. But what has that got to do… oh…wait… is that Cathy’s cousin’s wife?”
“You MET her, Leonard. Don’t you freakin’ remember anything?” David’s vocal demeanor was no longer troubled, just annoyed. Leonard was not only a ridiculously picky eater, he also had the memory of an advanced Alzheimer’s patient. A fact that pissed David off royally.
“I did?” Leonard managed. His mind was doing the cartwheels it always did whenever he was trying to figure out if he had forgotten something important.
“At Cathy’s brother’s wedding? The pretty black woman?” David said pissed.
“At Cath…but I didn’t go to that wedding. I was sick. I had the flu. And my back was out.” Leonard’s voice sounded like a little child’s responding to an accusing parent.
“Oh. Shit.” David said, only slightly contrite. “That’s right. There was food involved. You weren’t there.”
“No. Dave. Really. It wasn’t the food. I was sick and my back was out.” Leonard was almost whining.
“Whatever.” David dismissed him. “Anyway, Cathy won’t stop crying and she won’t get out of bed so we’re not going tonight. And tomorrow’s car show is out too because everyone is meeting at Cathy’s aunt’s house to make flyers or some such shit.”
“Please tell Cathy how sorry…” Leonard began, but was abruptly cut off.
“Yeah. Take care Leonard. I’ll talk to you later.” There was a beep and then David was gone from Leonard’s phone.
Mark Daygen opened his eyes and felt sudden, excruciating, pain. It shot through his head like a well aimed arrow. He sat up in spite of it. His bed was soaked in sweat and smelled of snubbed out cigarettes and spilled booze. He reached over to his bedside table and felt around for his smokes. He had closed his eyes after the first bolt of pain and was keeping them tightly closed now. It helped. But only a little. He lit a cigarette, swung his legs over, and sat on the edge of the bed. He knew he’d have to make his way to the bathroom eventually. He had to piss like a champion thoroughbred and he needed aspirin bad. But not right now. Right now he would sit here with his eyes closed and smoke.
After ten minutes, he took the last drag off his cigarette and cautiously opened his eyes. A fresh bolt of pain shot through his head. Goddamn hangovers. What the hell had he drunk last night? Tequila? Vodka? Gin? All of the above? He had no recollection. Last night, like so many nights in his life, was hiding behind a black curtain. A curtain stitched and sewn with each drink he drank and each bottle he finished off.
He needed a drink now. That would cure him. He needed the hair of the dog. Shit. He needed the whole damn dog.
He snubbed out his cigarette in the overflowing bedside ashtray, pulled his body upright and stood. The pain in his head erupted and his stomach turned over. He barely made it to the toilet before his gut let loose of the remains of last night’s drinks and dinner. When he had emptied his stomach he dry-heaved three or four more times. His hands slipped on the scum that covered the filthy toilet rim as he pushed himself away from the bowl. He stood up and moved to the sink. He turned on both taps, rinsed his muck covered hands and hand-fed himself mouthfuls of water. First spitting them out to clear his mouth, then drinking them in to rehydrate his desiccated body. He looked up after the last swallow and caught his reflected image in the medicine cabinet mirror. He looked at the beast staring back at him and actually flinched. His eyes were two green olives floating in buckets of blood and his skin was sickly gray. He stuck his tongue out and saw that it was covered and coated in a thick white paste made up of vomit and neglect. His teeth were yellow and pitted. He hated to brush his teeth. A quirk. One of his many. He hated to brush them so he seldom did. He compensated for the smell by swishing copious amounts of mouthwash several times a day.
He rinsed his face and turned off the taps. He opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the bottle of aspirin. The damn thing was empty. How the fuck did THAT happen. He threw the empty bottle into the ring-encrusted bathtub and left the room. It was at that moment that he remembered the events of the past night. Last night he had gotten rid of the bitch. Disposed of her as it were. Last night he had done her one last time, one really good last time, and then disposed of her. Then he had gone out to celebrate. That was it. He had taken his well earned pay and spent half of it on booze and lap dances.
He looked around at that moment as a new panic gripped him. His money. Where was the rest of his money? He saw his sloughed off 501’s laying in a heap at the foot of the bed and went to them. He bent over and another bolt of pain shot through his hung-over head. He didn’t notice. He was too focused on his money. He stabbed a hand into the front right pocket and pulled it inside out. Nothing. He stabbed into the other front pocket and felt, with great relief, metal and paper. He pulled it out. It was cash folded in his silver money clip. He ripped the bills from the clip, a clip engraved with a naked woman holding a dagger to her privates, and began to count it. He got to a thousand and stopped.
“Two-thousand left?” he said aloud. “I fucking spent five-hundred last night?! Shit.” He shoved the money clip back into the pocket of his jeans and pulled them on. He needed a drink and he was going to get one.
It was time to eat and Leonard was starving. It was also time for the walk of fear. He HATED going down to the damn basement. It was dank and moldy and smelled like soiled underwear left overnight in a bucket of fetid water. But it was the only place he could keep his huge freezer. And the freezer was where he kept the majority of his food, and he would be goddamned if he was going to make anything ELSE about his food, ANY more of a problem. So he went to the basement.
Leonard opened the basement door with a creak worthy of a Hammer horror film and felt around the wall for the light switch. The fluorescents sputtered and crackled and eventually lit with their characteristic green glow as he stepped onto the top stair. Leonard Collins grabbed the handrail as Mark Daygen grabbed the shot glass off the counter at his neighborhood bar. Mark downed his fifth tequila shot as Leonard downed the basement stairs.
The tequila was starting to take the edge off his headache. He figured that shots number six and seven would get rid of it completely. He motioned for the bartender to come over and pointed to his empty glass.
“Fill it.” He said pulling another bill out of his money clip. It was a twenty. “And keep them coming till this is used up.
Leonard reached the bottom stair, and as he stepped onto the basement floor he recited his ‘basement mantra’ aloud.
“There is nothing to fear here. There is nothing to fear here. Nothing is here to fear. Nothing is here to fear.” His stomach clawed at him, growling with hunger as he walked toward his freezer.
Mark lifted the shot glass to his crusted, cracked lips and downed the shot in one swallow. He slammed the glass down on the bar imagining himself a gunfighter in a way-out-west saloon. The bartender turned toward him startled by the sound.
“You don’t have to bang the glass.” The bespectacled, diminutive, bartender started tentatively. “You just have to say ‘hey’ or ‘bartender’ and I’ll come right over. You’re the only one in here.”
Daygen suppressed the nearly impossible-to-ignore urge to leap over the bar, grab this faggoty cum-bag by the throat and squeeze the life out of him. Slowly. While grinning. With joy. Instead he spoke calmly and with the slightest of smiles.
“Okay then.” He said barring his yellowed teeth in a grin. “Hey, Bartender. May I have another of your delicious tequila shots?”
The bartender picked up the tequila bottle and walked over.
“This is the last of your twenty dollars.” He said pouring.
“That’s fine.” Daygen said still smiling the phony, frightful grin. “I won’t need anymore.” Daygen downed the shot and rose from the barstool.
“It’s been swell, Pookie.” He said wiping the wet from his mouth. “Maybe next time I’ll buy you a drink and then bend you over the bar for a good one.”
The bartender stepped away from Daygen and reflexively reached toward the under-bar. Two metal baseball bats were under there just in case a patron got out of line. And it looked to the bartender that this patron was about to get out of line.
“Don’t bother with the bat, Sis.” Daygen hissed. “I’m outta here.”
Then, as he was half in and half out of the exit door, he turned back toward the frightened bartender.
“And be sure to tell Marco that he really scrapped the bottom of the fucking barrel when he hired your faggoty ass.” With that he was gone and the bartender was alone in the dark, dank cave that was “Marco’s Bar On Forth”.
Daygen reached into his pocket and pulled out his money clip. He looked around cautiously before pulling the money out and counting it. He had managed to spend another hundred this morning. He was now down to Nineteen-Hundred and change.
“I’m burning through this too damn fast.” He told the gum-stuck sidewalk. “Too damn fast when I only get it once ever three months. I’m askin’ for more next time. Shit. I’m askin’ now. I’m goin’ over there and tell him I want more NOW.”
Leonard took another deep breath, gaining more control over his fear. He stepped closer to his freezer. He was going all out today. More than just carrots. He was going to prepare the very best part of his frozen stash. One of his ‘secret’ meals. With nobody staring at him. Nobody saying to him, ‘you really gonna eat that?!?! Eww yuck. You won’t eat a burger, but you’ll eat that?!? Ewwwwww. You’re gross.’ His meal was going to be a long time defrosting so he needed to get it out of the freezer and onto his kitchen counter ASAP.
Daygen stood on the back porch and began to pound on the door. This is where he always met the little weasel. This is where he delivered the package and picked up the money. But it was weird being there during the day. Too much light. Too much fucking light. He calmed his nerves with a swig from the small mouthwash bottle he always carried. He spit out the spent wash on the porch boards and banged on the door again. He realized that it really didn’t matter that he was standing here in broad daylight. He wasn’t carrying a package, so he wasn’t doing anything illegal. He was just standing here and knocking on a certain weasel’s back door. He caught site of something foreign in the puddle of mouthwash he had spit out. It looked like a kernel of corn. Or maybe… Oh shit. Was that a tooth? Had he spit out a tooth? He bent down to get a closer look as the door swung open. It was the weasel.
“OH MY GOD!” The weasel yelled putting his hand to his mouth and looking around terrified. “What are you doing here. Get inside. Hurry. Get inside.” He grabbed Daygen’s arm and pulled him through the door and into the kitchen. Daygen yanked his arm away.
“You touch me again.” Daygen said picking up a butcher knife off the kitchen counter. “And I’ll cut off your dick and feed it to you.”
The weasel put his hand to his mouth and spoke through his fingers.
“Why are you here? What do you want?” He was whispering and tears were collecting in the corners of his eyes. “I don’t need a package now. Not for another three months.”
Daygen put the knife down on the counter and moved to the fridge. He opened it and looked inside.
“Jesus, Dude.” He said with an ugly chuckle. “Your freakin’ cupboard is bare. You need to take a little trip to the ‘Stop & Shop’. Don’t you have a beer or nothin’?” He turned toward the man.
“I’m serious weasel. Do you got any booze?”
“I told you not to call me that.” The man said backing away.
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I meant MR. Weasel.”
“Why are you here?” The man asked.
“Why is there air?” Daygen said grinning his yellow toothed grin.
“What?” The the man said wiping a tear from his cheek.
“I want more money.” Daygen said poking a finger deep into his left nostril. “I want more money for what I just brought you and I want more money for any more I bring you.” He pulled something out of his nose and began rolling it between his finger and his thumb.
“This was NOT our agreement.” The man said, pouting.
Daygen took a step toward the man and flicked whatever he was rolling between his thumb and finger at the man’s chest. The man lept backwards slamming into a cupboard. He grabbed the back of his head and began to quietly weep.
“This wasn’t our agreement.” He said through childlike tears. “Not at all our agreement.”
Daygen stepped even closer. His face was now inches from the man’s.
“I want another thousand now.” Daygen began. “And then thirty-five hundred for all future packages. This is non-negotiable.” He leaned in and kissed the man’s forehead.
“Your breath is horrible.” The man said quietly. “The money is downstairs. In the basement.”
“Go get it.” Daygen said grinning.
“Please come with me.” The man said. “I don’t like it down there.”
“You’re shittin’ me, right?” Daygen’s grin widened into a rotten toothed smile.
“Down here, through here.” The man said moving toward the basement door.
As Daygen moved toward the door he knocked into a butcher-paper wrapped parcel on the counter. It was frozen solid. It did three spins on the tiled counter then careened to the floor.
“Shit.” Daygen said. “What the fuck is this?” He picked up the package and put it back on the counter.
“Dinner.” The man said holding the basement door open. “It’s defrosting. The money’s down here.”
Daygen walked toward the man and followed him down the stairs. The florescents sputtered on and Daygen saw the dreary room in full light. The man walked over to a metal, mechanics case and opened the large bottom right drawer. It was full to the top with money. Daygen could see fifties and twenties and even hundreds neatly stacked and still in their bank wrappers.
“Holy shit.” Daygen whispered, staring at the cash.
“Here is your thousand.” The man said holding the cash bundle of twenties out to Daygen. “And you’ll get thirty-five hundred for the next package. But one thing.” The man’s face changed from slightly frightened to deadly serious.
“And what’s that?” Daygen asked reaching for the money.
The man handed the cash over and took a deep, dramatic breath.
“You were foolish and lazy with the last package.” He said exhaling slowly. “She was a local. AND a distant member of my family for heaven’s sake.”
“You said you wanted a nigger this time.” Daygen said turning away. “You said you wanted a nigger woman and you wanted her fast.”
“Firstly.” The man said frowning. “I do NOT use that ugly word. And secondly, I said I wanted her in a weeks time at the latest.”
“What’s this table for?” Daygen said pointing to the large metal table at the back of the basement.
“Did you hear what I said?” The man asked.
“Yeah, weasel. I heard you.” Daygen said still facing the table.
“MY NAME IS NOT WEASEL! IT’S LEONARD!” Leonard said shoving a taser into Daygen’s side and pulling the trigger. “LEONARD! YOU BAG OF SHIT!”
Daygen collapsed to the floor flailing, the bundle of cash sliding across the room. Leonard dropped to his knees shoved the taser, with all his might, into Daygen’s crotch and pulled the trigger again. Daygen screamed out, his body stiffening in a rigor of pain. Leonard pulled the trigger over and over again, until Daygen fell silent. Unconscious.
“The table is one normally used by mortuaries. For burial preparation.” Leonard said to the unconscious Daygen. He stood up and walked over to the metal cabinet again. He pulled open a large drawer and took out a coil of yellow nylon rope. He returned to Daygen, tasered him one more time in the chest, then began to tie him up with practiced perfection.
“I don’t use mine for that, however.” He said finishing the last knot. “I use mine for…. well… you’ll see soon enough. Up close and personal.”
Leonard climbed the basement stairs and closed the door behind him. He walked over to the counter and began to unwrap the butcher-paper covered package. Under the paper were thick layers of plastic wrap and beneath those was a severed head. A black woman’s head.
“I still don’t recognize you.” Leonard said pinching the severed head’s nose. My brother is not only ugly he’s silly too. I never met you.”
Leonard put the head into one of his double sinks and began filling it up with warm water.
“This’ll defrost you faster.” He said smiling. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll have a breast or a thigh, but tonight you’re going to give me my most favorite meal in the whole wide world. Brains. Brains in black butter. And on the side…lots and lots of carrots.”