Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Oscar

Words have been changed and characters rearranged to limit liability to the not guilty.

Every sixty minutes at seven minutes past the hour exactly, Oscar would run naked through the house. He always entered through the front door, streaked through the living room, raced down the hallway, dashed in and out of each room (bathrooms and closets included), ran a quick circle around the island in the kitchen and exited through the mudroom and out the garage. If the garage door were closed, Oscar would mash the button and jog in place until the door raised high enough to dart under.

While Oscar’s hourly run was in and of itself perplexing, what confused us even more was that not one of us had the faintest idea who was Oscar or whence he came. Did he visit other houses on our street? The pure oddity of our visitor left us in an unusual position. Customarily, it is not appropriate to approach a stranger’s house (be it or not a neighbor’s), knock upon the door and inquire about nude persons that may or may not be running through said person’s home.

“Good afternoon, ma’am. I’m your neighbor from down the street, and…”
“Oh, yes, ma’am. Number 312, yes.”
“I’m sure you have seen me riding down the street. Yes, ma’am.”
“Oh, no, ma’am — we don’t even play baseball. I don’t…”
“Yes, ma’am, I see. I am very sorry about the window, but it really wasn’t…”
“If I may, I will ask my mother to inquire around.”
“Yes ma’am, integrity and responsibility are very important virtues for our young people, yes. As a matter of fact, I…”
“Of course, ma’am. I could not agree more.”
“Ma’am, the reason I came by is to ask if you have ever seen Oscar.”
“Well, you see, ma’am, I really do not know. I only know that he runs naked through our house every day.”
“Heaven forbid, ma’am. This is no prank…”
“Please, I assure you, I had no such intention…”
“Accept my apologies; I am sorry to have disturbed you.”
“Yes, I will have my mother…”
“Good day ma’am.”

So you see, the question of asking about the neighborhood was itself quite out of the question. The next, most obvious approach was to try to follow Oscar and see where he went. Now, I do not know if you have ever tried to chase a naked, fully grown man with a seven foot long beard as he runs down the street in broad daylight, but the folks around here do not take kindly to it. Frankly, we didn’t much relish the idea either. It is one thing to blissfully, obliviously ignore a naked person streaking past and quite another thing entirely to try to unsee a couple of children chasing a naked, fully grown man with a seven foot beard.

If we were not going to interview the neighbors and if we were not going to chase a naked, four and a half foot tall, fully grown man with a seven foot beard, then the next best thing had to be to setup a stakeout. I would watch the front door and keep a clear view up and down the street. Isaac would set up base at the top of the street and Jordan would keep watch from the bottom of the street. You will now be forgiven if you thought this a perfectly good and reasonable plan, for none of us expected to see Oscar floating gently down toward the ground, a parachute the color of the setting sun holding him aloft as his freely dangling loins taunted us with the ineffable and inscrutable ceremony of Oscar’s visit. No one expects a naked, four and a half foot tall, fully grown man with flowing red hair and a seven foot beard to parachute into their driveway, release and then run through every nook and cranny of their house. Indeed, faced with the blur of that buck naked, birthday suit clad, man coursing through our house, we were still caught by the shock of the parachute entrance to react in any significant way before Oscar was already tearing out the garage toward the end of the street. Curiously, as we watched him slowly fade into the horizon, the wind picked up and before I had a chance to snap my fingers the parachute caught the breeze and carried itself after Oscar down the street.

As you might imagine, my brothers and I were most puzzled. Did Oscar always parachute down? That seemed highly improbable — surely it would take more than an hour to get back into a plane, take off, circle overhead and parachute back down again. There was only one thing for it: stay in position and wait sixty minutes. We decided to take turns at the front of the house for the next round. I drew the short straw, so the first watch was mine. At five minutes past the hour, I would blow a whistle to call my brothers out and we would all fall into position. So it was that at 7:05 in the evening, the three of us resumed our triangular formation to await Oscar. The seconds dripped off our foreheads like icicles sweating. I was focused with such intensity on my watch that the explosion in the middle of the street nearly snatched the life right out of me. At 7:06:30 the sewer lid in the middle of the street shot straight up into the air and Oscar tumbled forward in a pop-off suit. Quick as a jackrabbit, he discarded the suit into the sewer just as the cover landed perfectly back in place. Thus we were left staring at the massive, yellow smiley face tattooed on Oscar’s posterior as that naked, four and a half foot, fully grown man with flowing red hair and a seven foot beard flashed in and out of our house toward the setting sun.

We had time for one more watch before darkness fell. We briefly discussed positioning a camera through the night to capture Oscar’s various entrances but just as quickly decided we had already seen enough of naked Oscar and did not need to further stain our memories with yet more images of Oscar’s pride. As before, we waited until the appointed time, and at 8:05 that evening resumed our watch in anticipation of Oscar’s return. We stood facing the street, no longer attempting to hide, standing in plain view in the middle of the driveway. Were it not for Isaac’s excellent hearing and quick wit, we might have missed Oscar’s entrance entirely. At Isaac’s signal, we swiftly turned around to face the house just in time to see Oscar release his grip on a hang glider and land nimbly on the roof, from which he performed a flawless backflip, his neatly braided armpit hair swinging like dreadlocks, landing before the front door and streaking inside.

There comes a point in the day when one can take no more of a naked, four and a half foot tall, full grown man with flowing red hair, a seven foot beard, a giant smiley face butt tattoo and armpit hair dreadlocks. After all, he would be lapping through our house every hour, all night long. We had given up closing bedroom doors long ago. Oscar could pick a lock in less than a second. Deadbolts didn’t stop him. Barricading the door slowed him down not in the least. In the beginning, once it had become clear that Oscar was an unstoppable force, my parents had begun trying to solicit advice from friends and family — but try as they might, they could not find a way to broach the subject of the naked man. My parents tried hosting dinner parties in a more casual effort to allow the subject of Oscar to occur organically in conversation, but Oscar’s hourly runs would prove as frictionless as my mother’s desserts find their way from table to tummy — Oscar could loop through the house, setting foot in every room, unseen and unheard by all except we privileged few with tickets to the never ending show. Gradually, we would come to accept that Oscar’s loins were intended for an audience of us and us alone.

My parents tried all the usual sorts of things that simple, hardworking, market fearing adults should try. They called the police.

“Yes, officer, fourteen inch toenails painted neon green with glitter.”
“No, officer, I assure you — this is not a joke.”

They called the city newspapers.

“Yes, tugboat earrings in both ears — quite large. The tugboats make a horn sound as he runs.”
“Well, no, we don’t have any pictures…the man is stark naked. If you could just come by the house…”
“What time? Any hour of the day; just be here at seven past the hour.”
“What? Yes, of course I am serious!”

They called animal control.

“Well, no, he is not technically an animal himself, but he does run with a gerbil in each hand.”
“Well the gerbils look quite distressed!”
“Their squeaks sound most concerned.”
“I assure you that being swung about in the hands of a naked man is not among the things Mother Nature provisioned for a gerbil’s recreational activities.”

They called the fire department.

“No sir, nothing is burning. Yet. Not at this exact moment.”
“Well, you see, the back of his neck, you see. Erm. His neck hairs to be precise. Well, the back of his neck is always smoking and the hairs are singed you see.”
“Something is burning them.”
“Well, as I said, not at this exact moment, but if you come by in just thirty minutes, I am sure you will see the smoke.”
“No, I am not threatening to start a fire!”

They called the FBI.

“I see. You’ve already heard about us, eh?”
“Nothing you can do? Nothing at all? Can’t even take a message, eh? Would just get thrown away as soon as I hang up, you say?”
“Would it make any difference to know that he has tiny tattoos of the Russian flag above his nipples?”
“None whatsoever, eh…”

At that my father gave up hope. For a time, my mother carried on. She called the local churches, the banks, the grocery stores. She called plumbers and electricians and contractors. She called the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the UN and the WHO. I do believe she called every non-residential entity with a phone number before finally collapsing against the cold, hard, unrelenting truth: Oscar’s naughty bits were inextricably intertwined with our lives.

My parents were nothing if not rational creatures, disposed to dispensing healthy portions of the scientific method at every opportunity (and to them, moments do not exist that are not opportune). Logically, if we could not rely upon anyone else, then from beneath our own bootstraps we must emerge prepared to do battle. Gods bless them, they did try so many things. If I recall correctly, my mother had the first idea: equip each of us with solar eclipse glasses and turn out the lights before Oscar’s next run. Mother handed out the glasses and we sat wrapped in the comforting embrace of darkness, eyes closed behind thick, dark lenses with the quiet evening holding vigil around us. Darkness, sweet and absolute, suddenly abandoned us without warning as the light of a thousand flares roared to raging life around the house, bringing Oscar’s frank and beans into perfect clarity and focus as he flitted gracefully, rapidly through the house. In the dark of the evenings, my father tried cutting the power to the house. Naturally, Oscar persisted, his whole body wrapped in a complex web of glow sticks. At that, my brothers and I did begin a short lived philosophical discussion on whether or no the glow sticks constituted a form of clothing; but we quickly tired of the question and are happy to defer it to consideration by future generations.

Among all the curiosities that surround Oscar: his arrival, appearance and routine, the simplest to explain (and not without coincidence the first question often asked of this simple narrative) is how we came to know his name; and for this we have but Oscar to thank, for every time Oscar opened the front door, he proclaimed in a sing-song voice “Oscar’s back” with the “ack” extended in a lilting sort of way, extended but not entirely detached from the “b” of its birth — the way a mother might soothe a infant on her return: all is well, worry not, sanity and security are restored. The answers to most other questions remain shrink wrapped in enigmas: how and where does he sleep? Does he have a family? What does he do each hour for the 58½ minutes not spent inside our house? How does he keep this up, every single hour of every single day for months if not years on end? What happens when he gets sick? Has he ever been late? Where did he come from? And why? Why? Why — by the unwritten, sacred names of all the unspoken holiness around us — why?

As it does, time passed. Like a sudden burst of sunlight severing the grip of an icicle from the roof, an idea smashed into my consciousness with the same abruptness as Oscar bursting through the doorway: why not ask him? For reasons that will soon clarify as they crystalize: attempting to start a conversation with Oscar proved slightly more difficult than my confidence in the idea suggested. One Saturday morning, as Oscar entered the living room, I braced myself for the unthinkable and managed to release a whispery “Are you hungry?”, which only barely managed to escape my lips before Oscar reached the garage. Each conversation felt as a stained glass window being assembled from its shattered fragments. Our first dialog differed little from the rest except insofar as it was the end of the evitable.

06:07 — Are you hungry?
07:07 — Yep.
08:07 — Would you like a sandwich?
09:07 — Please.
10:07 — What kind of sandwich?
11:07 — Tuna…
12:07 — …fish…
13:07 — …no…
14:07 — …pickles.

At 3:07 in the afternoon, a tuna fish sandwich, on toasted rye bread, lounged upon the kitchen counter, waiting with a diagonal come hither slice down the middle for Oscar to return. Oscar took the sandwich and at 4:07 said “Thanks” as he passed. From that day forward, I left a tuna sandwich on the kitchen counter in the afternoons. Our conversations continued, Oscar replying a word or two per hour.

I asked:

“Do you enjoy this?”
“This is…”
“…the job…”
“…I was…”
“…born…”
“…to do.”
“Is the pay good?”
“Decent…”
“…Has per diem…”
“…Benefits…”
“…Travel.”
“When did you start?”
“A few…”
“…years ago.”
“What made you get into this line of work?”
“Great…”
“…exercise…”
“…Meet new…”
“…people…”
“…See new…”
“…places.”

So the conversations went for days or weeks, until (quite unexpectedly) I stumbled upon the question I should have asked at the very beginning. “So. Um. Oscar? So, why our house?” I paused, “I mean, this is great and all — don’t get me wrong — the gerbils really close the deal…but why choose to do this in our home?”

Oscar skidded to a halt in mid stride. He turned to face me and walked slowly into the living room. “Eh,” he said, “Sorry. Say that one more time?” “Well,” I started, “I mean, of all the houses in all the world, why ours?” Oscar scratched his head for a moment, his red hair somehow still flowing, “Why. Hrm. Yes, why, indeed.” From where I cannot imagine, Oscar produced a thick stack of papers. “Let’s see,” he started, thumbing through the papers, “Kilpatricks. 312 Maple. Full service package. Ordered on February 2nd. Full year, paid in advance.” He looked up at me, “This is 312 Maple. You are the Kilpatricks, right?” “Oh, no” I said, “You want 313, just across the street.”

Inside a blur of motion, Oscar had a phone in his hand and he was furiously tapping away at the screen. He lifted the phone to his ear.

“Jimmy, Oscar here. Looks like corporate screwed up again.”
“Yeah, the DF-10.75 package with full service add-on. Yeah, it’s 313 Maple.”
“Right, send the usual cleanup crew.”
“Ok. I’ll update the protocol.”
“Sounds good. I’ll start on them first thing tomorrow.”

At that, Oscar hung up and the phone vanished as quickly as it had appeared. He flipped through the paperwork, located a page and held that with one hand while the other produced a tongue depressor in a sterile package, “Lick that and swab here please,” he said to me. Dazed, I unwrapped the small wooden device from the plastic, gave it a lick and spread the ooze on the form where he indicated. “I’m very sorry about all of this,” Oscar said as the paperwork and tongue depressor vanished. “You know how corporate gets sometimes. Mistakes happen. Big wigs don’t think like the little wigs, and so on.” Oscar looked around, almost with a hint of sadness — though it was difficult to interpret his emotions behind the layers of clown makeup on his face. “Again, so terribly sorry about all of this. Corporate will be in touch to tidy things up here, hog tie any loose ends, wrangle any problems, etcetera.” Oscar walked toward the front door and said without looking back, “Well, good luck with…well, whatever it is you people do here.” He was gone, and I have never seen him since.

My mother walked into the living room later that evening and observed me — I must have looked glazed over, sitting on the couch and staring at the wall. “What happened dear?” she asked. “I have no idea. I mean, Oscar’s gone. Seems he won’t be back. Something about a wrong address. I had to lick some paperwork. I guess he wanted the Kilpatricks from across the street.” The color fell off my mother’s face like a mortar dropping toward the earth, “The Kilpatricks moved away months ago, dear. A new family just moved in last week.”

“Oh. Oh, dear my. Oh dear,” I said. “Should we…? Should we, you know, say something?”

My mother mused for a moment before slowly composing herself and turning toward the kitchen, “No…No, I think it’s best they figure this out for themselves.”

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