Gizzy's Apocalypse
By R. D. Flavin


© 1996 by R. Schiff. Used with permission.

     Not one known 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 bought them in Brooklyn and presented the sack to Charlie, still warm, some twenty 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 having a culinary epiphany or in need of a root-canal, she charitably chose not to giggle at her boyfriend's sobs. With the first bite, he was betrayed! 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 in slider-less Boston, away from his native Chicago -- home of the greatest bastion of White Castle restaurants in the country -- and looked forward to the experience with ardent anticipation. The use of ketchup was an unthinkable 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.
     Well, at least as Charlie saw it.
     "But, I thought you loved ketchup?" Vicki asked, after hearing why Charlie was so upset.
     "Great Caesar's Ghost, no!" he screamed at his girlfriend.
     "You didn't ASK for ketchup on the sliders, did you?"
     "Of course not!" Vicki snapped back. "I just asked for a dozen hamburgers and you got what they gave me! Can't you just scrape off the ketchup or something?"
      He'd looked forward to White Castles for two years and all his friends and family in 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 one, they'd grown bored with hearing his complaints and offered to mail Charlie some "frozen" hamburgers, but he had to refuse. The offers were much appreciated, but frozen sliders are shipped sans pickle, which don't take well to freezing. And, quite simply, the thought of White Castle hamburgers without pickles made Charlie angry.
     Though, apparently, not as angry as the forced presence of ketchup.
     "The subtle tastes of a White Castle hamburger comes from steam-grilling, chopped onions and 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!"
     "Cheese on White Castles! No!" Vicki protested, her hands rising and framing her face. To Charlie, the image was one which combined elements of Munch's 'The Shriek', as well as Macaulay Culkin in HOME ALONE. The absurd conjunction brought a smile to his face.
     "The Sad Guy grins! I saw it!"  Her arms encircled his torso and she pulled him to her fiercly.  Kissing him quickly, beforeb his good humor expired, Vicki got back more than she thought she would. All she wanted was to switch 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 want. This was the "Charlie" she'd fallen in love with! Confident and hungry!
     "Put on your shoes and let's go get a sandwich and play some pool..."
     On their first 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," and Charlie still had on his three-piece suit from a job-interview, a couple of hours before. The Moo-Shu pork was messy, toothsome, and she beat Charlie three games out of five at pool.  Charlie and Vicki ended up splitting a cheese and sausage pizza, rather than sandwiches.  In the first game, Charlie won with several impressive shots -- the next three straight losses to his girlfriend reminded both of them of ol' times.

     The placard read: LIFE SUCKS, DEATH SWALLOWS.  Charlie, still very afraid of all the denizens of New York City, thought the poor unfortunate who displayed the sign was just another odd-fellow destined for an ugly end to an otherwise unremarkable life. Squeezing her hand tightly, Charlie guided his girlfriend past the small crowd which had formed around the sign-holder, down the stairs and into the subway station.
     "Have a good day at work," Charlie said, adding a quick kiss on Vicki's cheek.
     "Don't you have to see someone about a job this afternoon?" she asked.
     "I cancelled the interview because I've got a couple of loads of laundry to do, straighten up the apartment, and make sure that dinner is ready by time my honey gets home from a hard day at the office..."
     "Whatever," she replied, giving Charlie a good-bye kiss. "No fish and nothing with cheese, okay?"
     "Right, ...love you," he called to her as she pushed through the turnstyle.
     "Love you too!" Vicki shouted over her shoulder.
     "God, I've got to find work," Charlie moaned to himself, as he watched his employed girlfriend blend into the crowd.

     Two years before, she'd accompanied him from Chicago to Boston because of his transfer and 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 degree and the job-offer in New York. Thankful, but also a bit jealous.
     Trudging back 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 unemployment. At the top of the stairs he paused, glanced up at the blue skies of a clear day, and took out his cigarettes.
     "Hey buddy, I'll take one of those," a brusk voice rang out.
     It was the guy with the sign. The crowd around him had scattered, moving on to the next sidewalk-oddity down the street. Charlie saw at a glance the dirty, profound 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.
     "Help yourself," Charlie said, holding out his smokes and instantly regretting it. The bum grabbed the entire pack and filthy, stubby fingers removed a handful, before returning the pack to Charlie.
     "Thanks...  The name's Gizzy, what's yours?" the bum asked, coughing afterwards. Visably, he saw the bum's mouth fill and overflow, and "Gizzy" spat brown, tobacco-crumbed phlegm at Charlie's feet, nearly striking his shoes. The gelatenous mass quivered on the sidewalk like it was alive.  Charlie felt sick to his stomach.
     "I didn't catch your name?" the bum probed, showing what remained of his teeth in a horrible parody of a smile.
     "Have a good 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.
     A few moments 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 himself that he needed a job real, real bad. And a drink...
     He took out fifty bucks from a nearby ATM and found Gizzy still standing outside the subway. They found a bar on the next block and got drunk. Well, Charlie got drunk -- 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, added, "I think..."
     Dirty pots and pans filled the sink and the stove was covered with grease and some mysterious red-stuff.  The kitchen floor appeared the hardest hit; an assortment of onion and garlic skins, massive amounts of what looked like grated parmesan cheese, and lots of tiny, black specks, Vicki guessed resulted from the useless scrapping of burnt garlic toast. She didn't know whether to yell and scream or collapse and cry...
     "Hi hon'," came an inebriated voice from the living room.  "We're having Italian tonight!"
     "Spaghetti," she said tersely, hanging up her jacket.
     "How'd ya' guess?" Charlie asked, a tinge of disappointment in his voice.
     "Just lucky...," Vicki answered, looking at a countertop filled with loose pasta which must have seriously resisted going back into the box.
     He was sprawled 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 half-empty bottle of Wild Turkey and several volumes of their encyclopedia, all opened and faced down.  Both ashtrays were filled and had spilled over.  At this point, Vicki was leaning towards yelling and screaming...
     "I apologize for last night and the White Castles," Charlie said. "It wasn't your fault..."
     "Correct..."  She sat down in a chair, feeling an overwhelming urge to take hold of the Wild Turkey and finish it in one long, deep, really-stupid gulp...  Vicki resisted the idea.
     "I called both the corporate headquarters in Columbus, Ohio and the district office here, and found out that New Yorker's put ketchup on all their sliders, including the cheeseburgers!"  He was sincere, focused, and a couple of minutes away from passing out.
     "The girl at the district office wanted me to believe White Castles in some other cities come with ...mustard..."  Charlie closed his eyes for half-a-second, then continued, "And, like I care..., these New Yorker's won't even put pickles on their cheeseburgers unless you tell them to!"
     "Say it isn't so!" she gasped.  The Wild Turkey was getting harder to resist.  A quick, smooth unloosening of the top later, Vicki took a small pull from the bottle.  She still wanted to yell and scream about the state of the kitchen.  "Is that all you did today?" she asked, taking another sip of Wild Turkey.
     "Gizzy says 'THE END' is coming any day now..."
     The only thing 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 curiosity got the better of her, and she asked, "Who's this Gizzy?"
     "Oh, you know...  The guy at the subway with the 'LIFE SUCKS, DEATH SWALLOWS' sign. I think  that's a cool saying, don't you?"  Charlie's eyes began to close.
     "The bum -- you got DRUNK with a New York City-bum?  Why, Charlie!  I'm so, so proud of you..."
     She wanted to say more, but he was gone.  Head back and mouth open, Charlie was someplace other than the trashed apartment with the nightmare kitchen.  Taking the bottle of Wild Turkey with her, Vicki went into the kitchen and began to clean. Later, when the apartment was reasonably scrubbed and swept and she wasn't so upset, then she'd wake Charlie up and lose it.

     The next morning, an embarrassed, hung-over, and slightly groveling Charlie walked Vicki to the subway, holding her hand and chanting, "I'm sorry... I'm so sorry," over and over again.  Coming after the surprise morning back-rub, the delicious coffee and toasted blueberry muffin served in bed, she almost 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 sign -- it read: THE END IS BEGINNING.
     "It's Chuck with his spectacular other!  Hello!" the bum shouted.
     Vicki studied her shoes, making absolutely sure they both matched, and Charlie said, "That's 'significant' other..."
     As they hurried down the subway stairs, Gizzy's voice followed with, "From angle, ...it's SPECTACULAR!"
     Charlie grinned and vicki scowled.  He was back in the dog-house.  She went off to work confident that when she returned home, the apartment would be immaculate, a healthy, hot dinner would be waiting, and Charlie would be at the door to greet her, flowers in hand and poetry on his lips.

     That night, Vicki 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...  Something to let you know how sorry I am about trashing the kitchen yesterday..."
     "Well, I wouldn't expect you to go through all that trouble," Vicki lied.  The ckicken stew was comfort food and yummy, but she'd looked forward to flowers.  Charlie always bought the cheapest, saddest, half-dead flowers, and she loved it.
     "Okay," Charlie began, taking a slip of paper from his shirt pocket, and unfolding it. "Here's something I was fooling with:

   We've followed each other, through times good and bad,
   Thousands of miles, yet still we smile,
   When our eyes meet..."

     Vicki rose, walked around the kitchen table, and planted a big, wet kiss on her boyfriend's lips.  "Thanks," she said, "that was sweet.  But, if you had a day-job, I might advise against quitting it!"
     "Now, that's not supportive!" Charlie pretended to growl. "It's a good thing I've got a job-interview tomorrow morning...  Once I start working again, I won't have to put up with this abuse!"
     "Cool!" Vicki squealed.  "Boyfriend's going to get a job!  Time for the 'Snoopy Dance'!"
     Together, probably to the regret of their downstairs neighbors, they thrust their noses high into the air and danced around the kitchen.  The celebration lasted 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 her life.
     "So, am I out of the dog-house?" Charlie asked.
     "Shut up and kiss me," she replied, pulling him close.

     Over the next few days, while Charlie went to the first interview, and two follow-ups, he noticed that Gizzy's signs showed a steady decline in both message and materials used.  At first, the signs were made out of box-cardboard, but then Gizzy began to use sheets of notebook paper, and finally any scrap he could find. The messages continued on an apocalyptic theme: ALMOST THE END, GETTING THERE!, THE END?, and ALMOST...
     Charlie was happy and WAY relieved when he was finally offered a job.  Though the salary wasn't as stiff as he could have hoped for, the perks, benefits, and 401K plan were above average.  He started the job immediately and began traveling with Vicki to Manhattan every morning. Their life settled into a productive, fun, and peaceful routine. It was Vicki who first remarked that they hadn't seen Gizzy and his signs outside the subway station for awhile.
     "It looks like 'THE END' finally got here for him," Charlie commented.
     "Hey, that's awful!" Vicki replied, jabbing a finger hard into Charlie's arm.
     "I didn't mean anything by it!" Charlie protested, rubbing his sore arm.  "Maybe he pulled the numbers in the lottery or hit the ponies...  I didn't imply I thought he was dead..."
     He didn't have to...  Everyday the newspapers printed stories of one street-tragedy after after another, and they both knew his death was a real possibility.  Gizzy and his signs were soon forgotten.

     One night, several weeks later, Vicki was working late and Charlie stopped in a local McDonalds for a quick bite.  It wasn't that crowded, but the service was terrible. The manager was talking on the telephone, the cashiers were chatting to each other, and the cooks were playing 'frisbee' with old middle-sections of Big Mac buns. Charlie felt his temper begin to flare. Suddenly, a heavy hand dropped on his shoulder, and from behind Charlie heard, "Hey, does someone wanna' take care of my friend here?"
     Spinning around, Charlie stared at Gizzy, dumbfounded.  The voice and the face were the same, but he had nice clothes on!  Gizzy was alive, neatly dressed, and ...smiling!  "I thought I'd break in my new dentures with a Quarter Pounder with cheese," Gizzy said, tapping his new teeth with a stubby, but clean, finger.
     "Gizzy!  Good to see ya'!" Charlie gushed, shaking hands with the (apparently) ex-bum.
     "Grab yourself something hot and sit with me," Gizzy said, pointing to a table near a window.
     Charlie cheerfully agreed, bought a Big Mac with extra sauce and fries, and joined Gizzy.  "What have you been up to?" he asked right off.  "I thought something might have happened to you..."
     "Well, I had my sixty-fifth birthday and I'm getting Social Security," Gizzy said proudly.
     "Wonderful! Happy Birthday!" Charlie said, taking a large bite from his Big Mac. "Have you ever been out-of-state, Gizzy?" he asked, still chewing.
     "Sure..."
     "The rest of the country has Big Boy restaurants -- you know, McDonalds stole the idea for the Big Mac sandwich from Big Boy, right?"
     "No, ...I never thought about it..."
     Gizzy got an overview of the growth of 'fast-food' chains in America, from White Castles to Wendys.  The asides, like Bill Everett (the creator of Marvel's Sub-Mariner superhero) drawing the first Big Boy comic book, or the real reason behind the commercial failure of Burger King's "works-bar" where consumers could really "have it their way," seemed lost on the ex-bum.  He'd never even heard of Hardies...
     "Nice to see you again, Chuck," Gizzy managed to say, while Charlie was busy finishing his french fries.  "Maybe, I'll see ya' around...  Good luck with the new job. Sales, isn't it?"
     "Good guess!"
     "Not really...  Take care, now..." Gizzy got up, put his tray on top of the garbage-can, waved, and left the McDonalds.
     Charlie couldn't wait to tell Vicki.

     He sat on the 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.
     "So, he's collecting 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..."
     "Right...," he agreed.  "The thing with the signs was apparently just his way of having fun. I mean, he wasn't some Born Again, millennialist, NIXON RISES FROM THE GRAVE wacko... He knew when his checks would start..."
     "I've heard advice about the street, that some recommend ACTING crazy, because people will leave you alone...  Do you think that's what Gizzy was doing?" she suggested.
     "Acting crazy?" Charlie scoffed.  "It's never worked for me..."
     "I wouldn't say that..." Vicki chuckled softly to herself, as she watched her boyfriend begin a foot-puppet version of Oliver Twist.  "It works..."

The End.

C. 2002 by R. D. Flavin

return to Flavin's Fictions