THE GARBAGE MEN AND THEIR MUSE
A 'Daria' fan fiction by Brother Grimace
This one's dedicated to Kara Wild, the foremost Helen-centric writer in Daria fandom. There's a scene that I wrote when I was thinking of your reaction to Jake... I think you'll like it. Now, on with the story!
Garbage day. William J. Ullman IV and Robert Walls had been riding the pickup route together for the Twin-Counties Consolidated Sanitation District, Inc. on this side of Lawndale for the past three years. No big. Nothing unusual, nothing special.
Except for Thursdays.
Today was Thursday. Thursdays were special. Thursdays were the day they ran past the Morgendorffer house. Oh, yeah. The Morgendorffer house, just before seven-thirty, no matter whether it was raining, or snowing, or the sun was just coming over the horizon.
Two years ago, last September. The second Thursday of the month. Windy day, overcast, slight sprinkles. That's when garbage pickup on Thursdays became special.
That was the day Will and Old Bobby first laid eyes on Helen Morgendorffer.
Beforehand, it was a decent gig. Once you joined the union, pay was twenty-three bucks an hour, plus full benefits, (the dental plan ROCKED!) your birthday counted as an extra personal day that you could take whenever you needed, and best of all, they front-loaded your vacation days at the beginning of the year so you could plan ahead. (The last Director tried to switch over to a new vacation plan; 3.69 hours of vacation time was added to your book every pay period, and you could only take your vacation after your original date of hire. He got canned three weeks later.) Starting pay was still a damn good seventeen-eighty - and they put you on the medical/dental plan right away. The deductible was only fifty bucks. If you signed on with TCCSD, it's because you knew somebody.
Will was pulling down union pay, and he only worked part-time. He knew somebody. The Regent at Lawndale State University had planned to slide a football player named Sherman into the spot, but he rolled his eyes at the Regent and walked out of his office at the offer. He got killed in a freak accident a week or so later, and the Regent's ex-wife mentioned Will's name at a luncheon. She wanted him to have some decent spending money and some different experiences than the usual artsy kids got. Besides, she wanted Will to stay in shape - no 'dorm gut' for him, especially since he was an art major, and spent as much time as he could indoors with his paints and canvas. Anna Josephine Cardeau was French Canadian, an especially frisky forty years of age, with a face and figure of a woman fifteen years younger - and plans for the extraordinarily talented eighteen-year-old. Getting him to enroll at Lawndale State University instead of an Ivy League school wasn't easy, until his family found that LSU had a world-class arts program. Before that, the furthest down the list they'd let him seriously consider was a place called BFAC.
The Regent didn't have a problem with the suggestion. He didn't have to pay alimony, because Anna probably had more money when she was twenty than he'd probably ever have in his entire life, and every now and again, she slinked into his office, nostalgic and playful...
'Old Bobby', as the boys called him jokingly, was in his mid-forties, a fireplug of a man. He was barely five-five, two hundred pounds on the dot, with a barrel of a chest, arms that looked like he could crack a walnut in his elbow joint, and chocolate skin that was touched in several black spots by the results of adult acne. His hair was cut short but neat, and he didn't even seem to care about how his hairline was receding. His forgettable brown eyes, however, occasionally danced with a faraway light that made him seem not so ordinary; he was the Jerry to William's Tom.
When Will showed up for his first day, Old Bobby took a liking to the nineteen-year-old right away, even though he was 'tall, skinny, and pretty enough to be a prison prom queen - better not get into any real trouble before you go home back East, boy!' Will shot back by reaching into his ever-present backpack for a sketchpad; when Old Bobby asked what he was doing, he said that he needed to sketch out some simians in their natural habitat and this wasn't an opportunity to be missed.
Old Bobby threw it right back, with diction that threw him for a loop. "Long, straight hair. Lots of body hair. Thin, straight lips. Now, who in this room DOESN'T immediately exhibit those specific simian body characteristics?"
Will flinched for a brief moment. He was easily one of the most handsome young men in his high school, with dark hair, cerulean eyes that held tiny gold flecks, and a face that reminded EVERYONE who saw him of a young John F. Kennedy. His looks, while ensuring that he'd NEVER gone a single weekend since his sixteenth birthday without a date (he just didn't think about girls during the month before a semester's end, so he could actually have time to just paint without being bothered), also made sure that he didn't get taken seriously about a lot of things. He still shuddered when he thought about the day he told his family that he was seriously considering doing a three-year turn in the Army, and he could do some work as a cartoonist for the 'Army Times'...
Several quite erudite comments flashed through his mind for a response, but something else pushed them aside; he looked Old Bobby straight in the eye and said, "Your momma."
They stuck him in a truck with Old Bobby, who just couldn't stop laughing.
Years later, he ended his retelling of his first day by saying, "I guess I said the right thing."
They did their entire route in two and a half hours (one and a half to two on light days, four on heavy or bad-weather days), and spent the rest of their time talking and going over whatever interesting tidbit one or the other had come up with the previous day. If it had ever crossed their minds to do a talk show, they'd have put Regis and Kelly on the street.
The secret to the boys' success at finishing up so fast? Old Bobby drove his truck through his route like a he was flying a Huey into hot LZ's in the Mekong Delta. 40 to zero - Billy hopped off. Dump the trash. Drop the cans back in place. Screw the lids. Hop back on. Zero to 40. Switch often as needed. Repeat until done.
Will almost didn't make it through his first month. He only kept going because he wasn't going to see the looks on the guys' faces when he went in to pick up his last check. He didn't know if that was being brave, being cowardly, or being a putz. The guys watched the way he worked, and knew that he wasn't going out like a punk. Who cared if he looked like a Chippendale? - the kid could do his job, and he didn't bitch. He kept going through sheer willpower, and lost twenty pounds. Old Billy slowed it down to 25 at the beginning of the kid's fifth week, and Will came into the commons room that Friday to find a coffee mug with a Warhol of the Campbell's soup can on it in his mug's spot. The kid was okay.
After working with Old Bobby for a full school year, Will could press one hundred pounds more than he could the previous August, put on twenty pounds of solid muscle, and had a good deal more stamina. Anna was so happy after her visit to Will's apartment before he went home for the summer that she sent a case of Bollinger's to Old Bobby's home, and spent the weekend bounding around the Regent's house like she was seventeen and frolicking through her aunt's Marseilles summer home once again.
Old Bobby donated it to the 'Take Back The Night' fundraiser auction sponsored by the Lawndale Divorced Women's Empowerment Circle. He had a sense of irony.
It was the way she stood in the rain that caught their attention.
They were about a third of the way through the route when the pile of boxes at the curbside caught their attention. "Someone's moved into the Shyres' place," Old Bobby noticed, slowing down. "I guess they moved in over the weekend; look at the way the squirrels have gotten into the trash."
"Do we have to pick up every little piece?"
"In this neighborhood? Boy, if we were over in Crewe Neck, they'd EXPECT it!" came the response. "That's why you're pulling down what you do, boy. Get your gloves - I'll help you."
The truck pulled to a stop, and Will narrowed his eyes at the feel of the stinging droplets of rain. "I hate it when it rains like this," he said, grabbing at a box and flinging it in the back of the truck. "So, the twins moved, right?"
"Stop thinking about every little piece that comes along," Old Bobby barked, the memory of the identical pair of tall, buxom, chestnut haired teens still fresh in his head. "They both changed over to USC when their mother got transferred to Edwards Air Force Base. I bet they're all happier, though, because they can probably afford to put Mr. Shyres' mom into a home or something. They both got full rides in pre-med."
"Does the grandmother still write that evil poetry?"
"Yes, probably," was all Old Bobby would say on that topic. Will had the sneaking suspicion that somehow, he'd been invited in to read some of Mrs. Shyres' poetry, and the schizophrenic's work bothered him.
It had come up one day at work that Old Bobby was a poet of no small talent. Will asked if anyone had any of his stuff that he could look at, and was confused when the commons room filled up with laughter...
Old Bobby never wrote down or saved his poems. 'Poetry is the same as a flowers from a garden,' he said, when Billy asked him about it. 'Enjoy it in the moment, and then, let it go. There are fewer things as sad as going over a poem again, and again, and again. Enjoy them, and if you must - if you have to - take one and press it in a book, because it has a personal meaning to you alone. There will always be more flowers, and some will actually be beautiful.'
When Old Bobby talked like that, Billy understood why they called him that. Old soul; somebody who'd seen a lot. Old Bobby would have gone over big in the sixties.
Old Bobby probably did go over big in the sixties.
"Lexus, Range Rover - they're not hurting any," Bobby said, looking over the two cars in the open garage before turning back to his work. "Microwave lasagna - a lot of it - pizza boxes, diet soda - cheeseless pizza, lots of cosmetics boxes, Viagara prescription slip, another one for birth control, fish sticks in -"
"Is that peanut butter sauce?"
"I think it's supposed to be... no wonder the squirrels made a mess here. Diggie bags from Chez Pierre and Casa Alejandro -"
A smile. "Doggie bags."
A raised head. "What'd I say-?"
"I didn't know you used little bags to make holes in your backyard."
"Oh, shut up. Empty vodka bottle, empty gin bottle, empty jar of olives, one, two, three different types of tampon wrapper-"
"Be thankful they don't use pads. Three new women in the house - not really close. Four different types of toothpaste - two brand name, one specialty, and one generic. Mailing wrapper to 'Waif' - probably that double-sized 'School Year Fashion Preview'. I have a niece. Clothing tags from Cashman's. Clothing tags from Smarty-Mart."
"They don't have one of those here yet- the closest one's in Middleton."
"Whatever. A half-done letter to some kid in Peru. Lots of scratched-out beginnings to short stories... hold on..."
"What is it?"
"A little over-the-top, but not bad, if you can get past that," he said, stopping to read the pages. "This 'Melody Powers' stuff isn't that bad, if she can dial it back a bit-"
It was then that they saw her. She walked in, what to the guys, was slow motion.
It's an unwritten rule, fostered by television. Time slows down for a man when, for the first time, he sees a woman that will play, and eventually become, an important part of his life.
Every woman that's special first appears to move in slow motion, as though time and fate and God wants that man who sees her to remember, to build a memory, to etch an image of such a woman indelibly upon his soul...
And this was such a woman.
She had hair the color of wheat, cut just above her shoulders, and wore an entirely appropriate walnut-brown business suit and a golden-brown silk blouse over what, from the way she moved, was a very feminine figure.
Even so, there was a way to the way that she moved that spoke one word: control. She was in control. This was her world - and if the world didn't realize that, then the world was in for one hell of a wake-up call. Even the way she lifted her to the rain, the way she wiped the droplets away as if to say, 'How DARE you strike me!' made her seem more imperial and more desirable, even if she immediately seemed all but unreachable...
And then she looked at them.
She noticed them.
After Helen had driven away, Old Bobby was the first to speak.
Nature, put away your tools from her
And craft no more, perfection is for fools
The children who desire but unaware of what
I know my mind.
Once and perhaps and forever beautiful
And flawed - therein you entrance me
Of flesh - one day you might see me
Your sight is balm to soothe my day.
He didn't know that, months before, Will had taken to carrying a pocket-sized tape recorder. About saving obvious works of art, old man, well, we'll just have to agree to disagree... Will had already filled up thirty-five legal pads with the extemporaneous poems that just erupted from Old Bobby, and he'd already planned to spend the coming summer categorizing the poems and putting everything on disk.
And from that day on, Thursdays became special.
Will and Old Bobby became experts in all things Morgendorffer.
The garbage men had found their muse.
Five years later, Jane Lane walked through a crowded aisle in the Beechman-Taylor Art Center of Boston Fine Arts College, looking over the entries in the annual 'May Display' of works by outgoing graduates of the program.
Nothing special here, kinda plain there... somebody needs to keep better ventilation going in their studio, if this is their idea of art – hey, look at that. Someone's planning on going directly into the greeting card-art business...
Jane found herself locked in place as her gaze fell upon a very interesting canvas. Very interesting... and very familiar...
The canvas depicted an idealized Helen, painted as emerging from the front door of Schloss Morgendorffer in a manner strongly reminiscent of Botticelli's 'The Birth Of Venus', her usual business suit replaced by flowing robes of the same color as her favorite suit – albeit covering her so as to exhibit... well, a depiction of her figure that Helen would never take offense to – well, never in private. A conch shell of pearl and golden swirls held close to her ear replaced the ever-present cell phone, and although the scene depicted a rainstorm, the droplets of rain seemed to take pains to avoid the woman and her barely-visible aura...
The waiting Range Rover was now the chariot of Apollo, with an aura similar to Helen's about the heads of the stallions as they trumpeted a greeting, wisps of flame coming from nostrils and eyes. Just behind Helen, a two-headed Jake stood, with one doe-eyed head weeping and extending the right hand out for her, while the second head, it's eyes curiously shaded from view by shadow, spewed forth a burning U.S. flag from its mouth, holes burning through it like acid as it wrapped around Jake's throats and made it's way into the darkness, where a decaying hand and forearm in Marine Corps dress blues came forth and held the end of the flag like a leash. A brilliant red dummy cord held a pacifier connected to Jake's left wrist, with a gin bottle leaking the same liquid the pacifier was filled with on the floor, and a. Roman-era dagger was in Jake's left hand, albeit held with the blade pointed away from Helen. Jane suppressed a shudder as she saw the way the second head was tilted towards Helen's back, where a thin, wispy abstraction that might have been the shape of another man seemed to be a part of Helen's halo, positioned behind her, directly between her and Jake... and it held a conch shell as if it were mirroring Helen.
The upstairs windows were both enlarged to ridiculous extremes. In one, a radiant child-goddess was seen looking towards the sun, and rain refused to fall upon that window. Three young women surrounded her; one tried to block the sunlight falling on Quinn, yet her own face remained in shadow. The second one was perfect in every way, but had no face, and the third wore a brilliant, yet hooded robe that hid a face that was more beautiful than any other in the painting. Just outside and above the window, three young men held weapons as if trying to fight the rain; one was falling from his perch, another shrieked as lightning struck his weapon, and one actually seemed to sneak a peek at the girl in shadow.
Jane looked closer at the face of Quinn, it was smiling as it seemed to look out into the distance and the sunlight that lit the horizon, but at the very edge of her right eye, so small that one had to look close to see it... a single tear was forming. Jane followed the gaze, and saw a figure just at the horizon; looking closely, she could see that the figure was carrying scrolls...
She turned her attention to the other window – and drew back in shock. The rain was falling heavily across the second window, and as she moved back to study the images, she saw herself – a perfect representation, without embellishment, and the only thing well lit in the room. She sat on the edge of the bed, while a second figure – one wearing Doc Martens boots and holding a pen that dripped acid that ate through the floor, but otherwise shrouded in darkness - sat next to her. The two figures shared what had to be a roll of cookie dough as the ceiling-mounted TV displayed the unmistakable opening graphic of Sick, Sad World... In a mirror aside the bed, the reflection of Daria, a spectacularly beautiful image WITH glasses on, could be seen opposite the shadowed figure, and the door to the closet was also seen. Strangely enough, a series of metallic plates (by the reflection) covered the entire area of the doorframe, and the plates seemed to all swirl in towards the center like an iris, or the aperture on the –
You've got to be kidding. There's no way they could mean that. Someone's really reading too much into – how would they even know about that poetry...?
One could also see several bodies in the garbage cans aside the house – on what has to be Daria's side, Jane thought wryly. One could see a hand clutching a gum wrapper that flittered in the wind; the unmistakable image of a leg in cargo pants was visible, as was an arm adorned by a tribal tattoo...
"Well," Jane said, standing up when she realized that she was standing entirely too close to the painting. "All right. Someone's been paying attention to mi amiga and the family..."
She read the information sheet next to the painting. "Oh, I've got to meet this guy," she said, a smirk on her face. "If nothing else – he owes me tips on how to stay hidden and study your subjects in this kind of detail..."
8 November 2006