Rooch and Ba lived in an apartment on the third floor of Church Avenue with their father who was very old and very sick, but more importantly, very boring.
Has anybody told you that living with a boring person is no big deal? If they told you that they said wrong. Their idea is not having enough to eat or being in a house that’s cold, that’s a big deal, but being bored, that’s on you. Just be interested! But they say that because they didn’t know what it is like to live like Rooch and Ba did with a father who was boring. Because when you live with a father who is boring he makes your life boring and that means you don’t even care if you have enough to eat or your house is cold because you don’t find your life interesting enough to hold on to. Sure you do hold on to it, because you have a body, but your heart flies far, far away, or maybe it falls so fast asleep you don’t even remember what it is to have a heart, you’re so bored.
That’s how it felt for Rooch and Ba in the apartment on Church Avenue!
Rooch and Ba would sometimes go to Bohack’s to get things for themselves and for their Dad: lightbulbs, athletic support for his phlebitis, shaving cream, bananas, eggs, Arnold’s bread. They were afraid to talk to anybody because they didn’t want to bore other people, and they were sure they would because they bored themselves. But the check-out girl, whose name was Anapatapika Mahendi Bowdis (and although it is a long name you don’t have to learn it or worry about it as she figures no further in this tale) told them if they find their father boring they can get a strange father.
How do you do that? asked Ba, wondering. And Anapatapika (ok, so I lied, she is in this a bit more than I said) told them there were circulars in the area of the store between the door to the outside and the door to the inside, an inbetween place full of the smell of the radiator and the melted snow from outside, a place of colds and flurries, and damp circulars advertising guitar lessons and lost dogs and strange fathers.
And they picked one and called the number, and left a message. “This is Jeff. I’m not here right now. But let me know who you are and what it is you want.”
“Strange father.” whispered Rooch.
In the middle of the night Jeff came. He was dressed strangely — boots up to his calf and one of his eyes was fake and his hair was fake, he was very tall and very fat, and he had long hairs growing from his ears and nostrils and big crazy hairs jutting out from his red eyebrows. “Ho ho where is the old king?” “We don’t have a king, we have a father.” “Oh ho we call it king now. I am the new strange king.” And he made old Dad take off all his clothes and kicked him in his rear end and he fell down the stairs and started crying and Jeff took the stairs two at a time and kicked him more and he ran down the street.
Things were interesting with Jeff! He threw away the clock and brought in a Jeff Clock — it didn’t have numbers it had shapes and in one place it had another little clock, and the food was mushrooms that grew from books that he wrote in his own language, and there was a lot of standing on the podiums taking the Postures of Gratitude and the Postures of Forgiveness and Screaming the Seven Incomprehensible Screams, and then having to say up for hours and hours — I’d say thirty six or forty eight but that would be Old Clock thinking — and for Old Clock Thinking you have to eat a live chick! — to comprehend those screams and make up the words that those screams would mean something in although they didn’t.
The Stranger King was a Bad Strange King
And a Bad Strange King Was He
And Rooch said to Ka and Ka Said to Rooch
He’ll be the death me, lord, lord
That king’ll be the death of me!
But what are you going to do with a Strange King? I don’t know if you’ve ever had a strange king but they make things feel strange that you don’t even know could be strange. Your hand is strange. Your eye is strange. The things you feel are strange. The words you remember are strange. Your own mind is strange.
Whatever happened to Old Pa they asked Anapatapika once when they were performing a tiny ballet of a far off land — (and don’t worry yourself about what it really was — you can’t imagine it — it’s too strange! Suffice to say it wasn’t quite a dance, but it was a special way of moving the body, the hands, the feet, the eyes, and the Strange King would sit on his chair, which was old Pa’s bed, the hospital bed from the medical supply store with the railing — smoking, watching, criticizing, dreaming of other worlds, other kingdoms) and she said — he’s my father too. He’s everybody’s father. He has to be our father because the old fathers, well, they’re dead, and he humiliated the bodies before he buried them and took Polaroid pictures, and if you look at the Polaroid pictures you will think — that man, that can’t be my Daddy, nobody who would let that happen to him could be my Daddy, so I guess Jeff is my Daddy. It ain’t no thing. It’s no other way.
“Don’t look at the Polaroid.” said Rooch. “Don’t look at the Polaroid. Just wait our time.”
And they waited their time, though how long it was — years? weeks? minutes? — I couldn’t tell you because of the Strange Clock thing — that didn’t have numbers, it had a mouse, it had a zither, it had a heart — but it came time that Jeff was drunk and he said “my girls will do anything for me! They will do anything! They will lock me up with my favorite girl, Ba, in the boiler room.”
Put me in the boiler room!”
And they said ok. They locked him in. But just as the door was closing and Jeff was in that boiler room — Ba slipped out. And then Jeff said “And they’ll let me out.”
“Ba-da-boom ba da boom
Let me from this boiler room!”
But they pretended they didn’t hear.
And Jeff said
“Ba da boom ba da boom
I’ll kill you if you don’t let me from this boiler room!”
But they pretended they didn’t hear.
And after a few days he was just scratching at the door and whining
And they hear him say
“Let me out let me out
I’ll be nice to everyone here on in
I promise you I will.”
But they don’t open the door.
And then more time and no more scratching and no more whining.
And Jeff the Strange King he was no more.
“Oh but I’m glad.” said Rooch to Ka.
“I almost forgot what it was to feel normal.” said Ka to Rooch.
“I almost forgot there was such a thing as normal!” said Rooch.
And they hugged each other.
It was in the paper when they took those girls out of the apartment on Church Avenue, social services did, with no strange king, no boring Dad any more, just three girls, Rooch, Ka, and Anapatapika (look she made it this far in the story after all!) blinking in their potato sacks, arms and legs like toothpicks, bad teeth, huge eyes, clear they didn’t need a king or a Dad or anyway to teach them to be strange because…
We’re strange enough!