By R. D. Flavin
© 1996 by R. Schiff. Used
for blubbering, it came as a shock to his girlfriend when Charlie wept
the first time he ate White Castle hamburgers in New York City. She'd
them in Brooklyn and presented the sack to Charlie, still warm, some
minutes later. The sight of a grown man crying over a forty-three cent
mini-hamburger almost made her laugh. Not knowing whether Charley was
a culinary epiphany or in need of a root-canal, she charitably chose
to giggle at her boyfriend's sobs. With the first bite, he was
The following rude discovery of a squirt of ketchup on every "slider,"
was too much for Charlie to bear. He'd spent the last two years
slider-less Boston, away from his native Chicago -- home of the
bastion of White Castle restaurants in the country -- and looked
to the experience with ardent anticipation. The use of ketchup was an
apostasy, a violation of trust, and a disgrace to the noble lineage of
the direct heir to the first "hamburger," as premiered at the St. Louis
World's Fair in 1904.
as Charlie saw it.
you loved ketchup?" Vicki asked, after hearing why Charlie was so upset.
Ghost, no!" he screamed at his girlfriend.
for ketchup on the sliders, did you?"
Vicki snapped back. "I just asked for a dozen hamburgers and you got
they gave me! Can't you just scrape off the ketchup or something?"
forward to White Castles for two years and all his friends and family
Chicago were more than just a little aware of his need. Every letter or
phone-call contained some reference or lament about sliders. One by
they'd grown bored with hearing his complaints and offered to mail
some "frozen" hamburgers, but he had to refuse. The offers were much
but frozen sliders are shipped sans pickle, which don't take well to
And, quite simply, the thought of White Castle hamburgers without
made Charlie angry.
not as angry as the forced presence of ketchup.
of a White Castle hamburger comes from steam-grilling, chopped onions
pickles! Period!" Charlie opened the lid of the trashcan and threw away
all of the hamburgers. "I know some people who won't even accept cheese
on their sliders!"
Castles! No!" Vicki protested, her hands rising and framing her face.
Charlie, the image was one which combined elements of Munch's 'The
as well as Macaulay Culkin in HOME ALONE. The absurd conjunction
a smile to his face.
grins! I saw it!" Her arms encircled his torso and she pulled him
to her fiercly. Kissing him quickly, beforeb his good humor
Vicki got back more than she thought she would. All she wanted was to
topics from hamburgers to anything else. His grip on her hip tugged her
towards the bedroom door and when she looked into her boyfriend's eyes,
they'd lost their murky frustration and cleared to a stark stare of
This was the "Charlie" she'd fallen in love with! Confident and hungry!
shoes and let's go get a sandwich and play some pool..."
date, five years before, they'd had Chinese and played pool. She'd put
on a flower-print dress, rather than her usual attire of "art-black,"
Charlie still had on his three-piece suit from a job-interview, a
of hours before. The Moo-Shu pork was messy, toothsome, and she beat
three games out of five at pool. Charlie and Vicki ended up
a cheese and sausage pizza, rather than sandwiches. In the first
game, Charlie won with several impressive shots -- the next three
losses to his girlfriend reminded both of them of ol' times.
LIFE SUCKS, DEATH SWALLOWS. Charlie, still very afraid of all the
denizens of New York City, thought the poor unfortunate who displayed
sign was just another odd-fellow destined for an ugly end to an
unremarkable life. Squeezing her hand tightly, Charlie guided his
past the small crowd which had formed around the sign-holder, down the
stairs and into the subway station.
day at work," Charlie said, adding a quick kiss on Vicki's cheek.
to see someone about a job this afternoon?" she asked.
the interview because I've got a couple of loads of laundry to do,
up the apartment, and make sure that dinner is ready by time my honey
home from a hard day at the office..."
replied, giving Charlie a good-bye kiss. "No fish and nothing with
you," he called to her as she pushed through the turnstyle.
Vicki shouted over her shoulder.
to find work," Charlie moaned to himself, as he watched his employed
blend into the crowd.
she'd accompanied him from Chicago to Boston because of his transfer
promotion, leaving behind family and a rich personal life. Charlie was
impressed when she began to take night-classes in marketing, and after
his company downsized and he lost his job, he was thankful for her
and the job-offer in New York. Thankful, but also a bit jealous.
up the subway stairs, all the suits and skirts mobbed past him on their
way to work. He could almost hear their thoughts, ridiculing his
At the top of the stairs he paused, glanced up at the blue skies of a
day, and took out his cigarettes.
take one of those," a brusk voice rang out.
It was the
with the sign. The crowd around him had scattered, moving on to the
sidewalk-oddity down the street. Charlie saw at a glance the dirty,
lines of his face, the several layers of clothes he wore, and noticed a
few bulging bags at his feet -- more than likely, everything he owned.
A bum -- probably crazy.
Charlie said, holding out his smokes and instantly regretting it. The
grabbed the entire pack and filthy, stubby fingers removed a handful,
returning the pack to Charlie.
The name's Gizzy, what's yours?" the bum asked, coughing afterwards.
he saw the bum's mouth fill and overflow, and "Gizzy" spat brown,
phlegm at Charlie's feet, nearly striking his shoes. The gelatenous
quivered on the sidewalk like it was alive. Charlie felt sick to
your name?" the bum probed, showing what remained of his teeth in a
parody of a smile.
day," Charlie replied, turned, and walked away as fast as he could. He
heard Gizzy call after him, but pretended to be lost in his thoughts.
later, safely at home in his apartment, Charlie took a deep breath and
began to stare at the wall. After nearly an hour, he admitted to
that he needed a job real, real bad. And a drink...
He took out
bucks from a nearby ATM and found Gizzy still standing outside the
They found a bar on the next block and got drunk. Well, Charlie got
-- Gizzy, as Charlie soon figured out, had been drunk for several years.
"I'm home!" Vicki announced, and then spying the mess in the kitchen,
pans filled the sink and the stove was covered with grease and some
red-stuff. The kitchen floor appeared the hardest hit; an
of onion and garlic skins, massive amounts of what looked like grated
cheese, and lots of tiny, black specks, Vicki guessed resulted from the
useless scrapping of burnt garlic toast. She didn't know whether to
and scream or collapse and cry...
an inebriated voice from the living room. "We're having Italian
she said tersely, hanging up her jacket.
Charlie asked, a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
Vicki answered, looking at a countertop filled with loose pasta which
have seriously resisted going back into the box.
across the couch, wearing only boxer-shorts. The television was on, but
the sound was turned down. In the middle of the coffee-table was a
bottle of Wild Turkey and several volumes of their encyclopedia, all
and faced down. Both ashtrays were filled and had spilled
At this point, Vicki was leaning towards yelling and screaming...
for last night and the White Castles," Charlie said. "It wasn't your
She sat down in a chair, feeling an overwhelming urge to take hold of
Wild Turkey and finish it in one long, deep, really-stupid
Vicki resisted the idea.
the corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and the district office
and found out that New Yorker's put ketchup on all their sliders,
the cheeseburgers!" He was sincere, focused, and a couple of
away from passing out.
the district office wanted me to believe White Castles in some other
come with ...mustard..." Charlie closed his eyes for
then continued, "And, like I care..., these New Yorker's won't even put
pickles on their cheeseburgers unless you tell them to!"
so!" she gasped. The Wild Turkey was getting harder to
A quick, smooth unloosening of the top later, Vicki took a small pull
the bottle. She still wanted to yell and scream about the state
the kitchen. "Is that all you did today?" she asked, taking
sip of Wild Turkey.
END' is coming any day now..."
Vicki knew for sure, at that moment, was the conversation was going to
end REAL soon, as Charlie was very close to passing out. Still, her
got the better of her, and she asked, "Who's this Gizzy?"
The guy at the subway with the 'LIFE SUCKS, DEATH SWALLOWS' sign. I
that's a cool saying, don't you?" Charlie's eyes began to close.
"The bum --
got DRUNK with a New York City-bum? Why, Charlie! I'm so,
proud of you..."
say more, but he was gone. Head back and mouth open, Charlie was
someplace other than the trashed apartment with the nightmare
Taking the bottle of Wild Turkey with her, Vicki went into the kitchen
and began to clean. Later, when the apartment was reasonably scrubbed
swept and she wasn't so upset, then she'd wake Charlie up and lose it.
an embarrassed, hung-over, and slightly groveling Charlie walked Vicki
to the subway, holding her hand and chanting, "I'm sorry... I'm so
over and over again. Coming after the surprise morning back-rub,
the delicious coffee and toasted blueberry muffin served in bed, she
wished Charlie got himself into the dog-house more often. And then she
saw the bum and scratched the thought as a bad idea. Gizzy had a new
-- it read: THE END IS BEGINNING.
his spectacular other! Hello!" the bum shouted.
her shoes, making absolutely sure they both matched, and Charlie said,
"That's 'significant' other..."
down the subway stairs, Gizzy's voice followed with, "From angle,
and vicki scowled. He was back in the dog-house. She went
to work confident that when she returned home, the apartment would be
a healthy, hot dinner would be waiting, and Charlie would be at the
to greet her, flowers in hand and poetry on his lips.
was met by a smiling Charlie, chicken stew with potato-flour dumplings,
and a mixed-greens salad. During dinner, he admitted, "I thought
about buying flowers or maybe writing you a little poem...
to let you know how sorry I am about trashing the kitchen yesterday..."
expect you to go through all that trouble," Vicki lied. The
stew was comfort food and yummy, but she'd looked forward to
Charlie always bought the cheapest, saddest, half-dead flowers, and she
began, taking a slip of paper from his shirt pocket, and unfolding it.
"Here's something I was fooling with:
We've followed each
through times good and bad,
Thousands of miles, yet
When our eyes meet..."
around the kitchen table, and planted a big, wet kiss on her
lips. "Thanks," she said, "that was sweet. But, if you had
a day-job, I might advise against quitting it!"
not supportive!" Charlie pretended to growl. "It's a good thing I've
a job-interview tomorrow morning... Once I start working again, I
won't have to put up with this abuse!"
squealed. "Boyfriend's going to get a job! Time for the
to the regret of their downstairs neighbors, they thrust their noses
into the air and danced around the kitchen. The celebration
far into the night, and was continued from the kitchen, into the living
room, but was most joyously solemnized in the bedroom. In the middle of
the bed was the most pathetic bouquet of flowers Vicki had ever seen in
"So, am I
of the dog-house?" Charlie asked.
kiss me," she replied, pulling him close.
few days, while Charlie went to the first interview, and two
he noticed that Gizzy's signs showed a steady decline in both message
materials used. At first, the signs were made out of
but then Gizzy began to use sheets of notebook paper, and finally any
he could find. The messages continued on an apocalyptic theme: ALMOST
END, GETTING THERE!, THE END?, and ALMOST...
and WAY relieved when he was finally offered a job. Though the
wasn't as stiff as he could have hoped for, the perks, benefits, and
plan were above average. He started the job immediately and began
traveling with Vicki to Manhattan every morning. Their life settled
a productive, fun, and peaceful routine. It was Vicki who first
that they hadn't seen Gizzy and his signs outside the subway station
'THE END' finally got here for him," Charlie commented.
awful!" Vicki replied, jabbing a finger hard into Charlie's arm.
anything by it!" Charlie protested, rubbing his sore arm. "Maybe
he pulled the numbers in the lottery or hit the ponies... I
imply I thought he was dead..."
to... Everyday the newspapers printed stories of one
after after another, and they both knew his death was a real
Gizzy and his signs were soon forgotten.
weeks later, Vicki was working late and Charlie stopped in a local
for a quick bite. It wasn't that crowded, but the service was
The manager was talking on the telephone, the cashiers were chatting to
each other, and the cooks were playing 'frisbee' with old
of Big Mac buns. Charlie felt his temper begin to flare. Suddenly, a
hand dropped on his shoulder, and from behind Charlie heard, "Hey, does
someone wanna' take care of my friend here?"
Charlie stared at Gizzy, dumbfounded. The voice and the face were
the same, but he had nice clothes on! Gizzy was alive, neatly
and ...smiling! "I thought I'd break in my new dentures with a
Pounder with cheese," Gizzy said, tapping his new teeth with a stubby,
but clean, finger.
Good to see ya'!" Charlie gushed, shaking hands with the (apparently)
something hot and sit with me," Gizzy said, pointing to a table near a
agreed, bought a Big Mac with extra sauce and fries, and joined
"What have you been up to?" he asked right off. "I thought
might have happened to you..."
my sixty-fifth birthday and I'm getting Social Security," Gizzy said
Birthday!" Charlie said, taking a large bite from his Big Mac. "Have
ever been out-of-state, Gizzy?" he asked, still chewing.
the country has Big Boy restaurants -- you know, McDonalds stole the
for the Big Mac sandwich from Big Boy, right?"
thought about it..."
overview of the growth of 'fast-food' chains in America, from White
to Wendys. The asides, like Bill Everett (the creator of Marvel's
Sub-Mariner superhero) drawing the first Big Boy comic book, or the
reason behind the commercial failure of Burger King's "works-bar" where
consumers could really "have it their way," seemed lost on the
He'd never even heard of Hardies...
you again, Chuck," Gizzy managed to say, while Charlie was busy
his french fries. "Maybe, I'll see ya' around... Good luck
with the new job. Sales, isn't it?"
Take care, now..." Gizzy got up, put his tray on top of the
waved, and left the McDonalds.
wait to tell Vicki.
couch, his feet on the coffee-table, and told his story to Vicki.
It took a long time to tell, because periodically Charlie would have to
stop and adjust his socks, as he had a big hole in one of them, and his
toes would occasionally stick out.
a check every month and is off the streets -- that's good news," Vicki
said, after hearing about Charlie's run-in with Gizzy. "I'm glad
he didn't wind up another statistic or fish-food in the East River..."
agreed. "The thing with the signs was apparently just his way of
having fun. I mean, he wasn't some Born Again, millennialist, NIXON
FROM THE GRAVE wacko... He knew when his checks would start..."
about the street, that some recommend ACTING crazy, because people will
leave you alone... Do you think that's what Gizzy was doing?" she
Charlie scoffed. "It's never worked for me..."
that..." Vicki chuckled softly to herself, as she watched her boyfriend
begin a foot-puppet version of Oliver Twist. "It works..."
C. 2002 by R. D. Flavin
to Flavin's Fictions