Mensdorf Time

My father’s heirloom watch hasn’t lost a second in almost fifty years. He is right to swear by it. Unfortunately, he isn’t so right to trust the watch’s previous owner. You see, it has also been five minutes early for almost fifty years. In his mind, this makes every other timepiece the world over five minutes late. I once tested him on the subject.

“Big Ben?”

“Late.”

“Really?”

“What gives the English the right to decide the world’s time?”

“I don’t understand.”

“They build a giant clock they’re all very proud of, and rather than adjust it when they find it’s wrong, they go and take an empire. Now the entire world runs on their time. Typical english arrogance.”

I knew not to argue when it came to the English, but couldn’t resist another timepiece inquiry.

“Last Thursday, the pope said he’d speak at 11:00 a.m. by my watch, he did. Is he a liar or unpunctual?”

“It’s not a sin to build up anticipation.”

This may not have been much of an issue, save for the fact that for the last thirty years, he has run the car battery factory in our home town; all the while, demanding every worker’s punctuality by his watch. before long, the town, most of whose citizens either work for or depend on the factory for their own clientele, had adjusted to the schedule. Coffee shops and markets were opening five minutes early to accommodate the workers and schools entered session early to allow for a smoother collective commute. And rather than adjusting their signage, it just became common knowledge that seven o’clock meant six fifty five.

I can’t imagine another place either breeding or otherwise collecting a person like my father. Think of it. One man’s stubbornness has caused people moving to Mensdorf in order to grow old together to have five minutes immediately added to the rest of their life just by crossing the city limits. Those born in the city who move out -which is to say those receiving high marks in school- will have five minutes unceremoniously stolen from them. Not much of a reward. As for me, the trade was well worth it.

***

“So, how long has it been for you two?”

“Eight years.”

“Wow, that’s an impressive span for a father and son.”
“Not terribly uncommon.”
“Even so, I’m proud to be here to see the reunion.”
“You’re the one that insisted that I do this.”
“Yeah, and I’ll grant you, it might be a trainwreck, but you know how important this could be for all of us.”

The cafe had emptied of its harried, yet well groomed lunchtime crowd, and was newly alive with the cacophony of local students and artists. I had deliberately timed my father’s arrival to coincide with theirs. This way, I would look almost saintly in comparison.

My girlfriend, or something along those lines, Meredith, sat across from me. She seemed even more nervous than I was, fidgeting with almost every physical object within an arm’s length. I had a sense that if she thought that she could run metaphysical objects through her fingers to take her mind off of what was to come, she’d have reached for the nearest glance or quarrel.

In fact:

“So, why are we only staying in Berlin for two days? You know how long I’ve wanted to explore this place.”

“Oh, you know that we only convinced him to meet us here last week, and had to book the train early. We were coming anyway; and if we couldn’t get him out here, we couldn’t justify the lodging for another day.”

“I know, but we can adjust the trip. I just wish you’d take the fact that all of this is new to me into account.”

“New to you? I’ve been to this city exactly once, when I was ten with my mother. She guided me by the collar to some cathedral to pray, and then straight back out.”
“Oh, which cathedral? I’d love to see it.”

“I chose not to remember at the time, and have never regretted it.”

“Can we ask your dad?”

“He doesn’t know we went. My mother had found me with a girl somewhere in the wheat fields outside of town. I don’t know if her mind was somewhere sexual, or if she found our truancy hauntingly embarrassing; but she couldn’t bear to have me confess to our local priest. He was a talkative fellow. So, she went to a place where she knew every priest was high-ranking enough to never step foot in our town. I wonder how Julia’s family kept quiet.”

Meredith’s unprecedented interest in my childhood was disconcerting, but I knew the worst was yet to come.

A tap came to my shoulder and I was greeted in my native German.

“Son.”

“Hi, how have things been?”

“Same as ever.”

“Good.”

“Is it?”

“Are you happy?”
“Work needs to be done, and I am doing it. What work are you doing?”
“I’m tending bar.”
“Is that something you studied in Denmark?”
“I don’t know if you’d call it studying, but I’ve become quite practiced.”

“hmph.”

“Who is this?”

Meredith, leaning almost halfway across the table with her ears perked, had finally been able to comprehend a sentence and almost gleefully interjected.

“I’m Meredith.”

“Hello. I’m Ambrose. Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“What is your relation to my son?”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. My German is no good.”

My father -whose first name I had only heard on three occasions in my life- mimed the question admirably.

“Uh. Girlfriend?” Her discomfort with the response skewed the answer closer to “fiancee” than “friend.”

“I’m going to assume you were behind our meeting. My son is as stubborn as I am.”
Meredith glanced at me.

“I caught ‘going’ and ‘son.’”

“He knows this was your idea because I’m too stubborn to have done it.”

My father looked at me. “What did you say?”

“I was telling her what you said.”
“Oh. She seems nice.”

I was incredulous. I’d never seen him be personable before. He continued:

“English?”

“Yes.”
“hmph.”

“You just said she seems nice.”

“Gentlemen, I can understand some of what you’re saying.”

“What did she say?”

“But that was in German.”

“That was German?”

“Sort of.”

The two of us laughed together. This was also new. Meredith joined in but wasn’t sure what the joke was.

The next thirty minutes went by surprisingly quickly. Meredith shared her ambitions, Ambrose -still strange to say, or even think- listened and encouraged them; after some translating on my part. I was able to understand the man outside of his stern Mensdorfer persona. At least a little more than I knew during any of my twenty eight years. As the afternoon came to a close, he stood up and said:

“I would like to stay, but I have to catch the train back home at 7:05.”
“Mensdorf time?”
“What do you mean?”
“Nevermind.”
“You two should come visit sometime. We have made significant improvements to the factory. You should see our new west side loading bay. It is truly a wonder of the modern age.”

With that, my father shook my hand, kissed my romantic something or other on the cheek and strolled out of the cafe. It was surreal. He felt human. After a moment passed silently, all I could really think to say was:

“So, uh, I guess she’ll have a grandfather, after all.”

A Hermit’s Dilemma

Today was an alright day. Got some groceries. They can stay on my floor for a while. Talked to a person. Made a fool out of myself, drove home in a cold sweat. It’s a step forward, I guess. Her name tag said ‘June.’ Latin origin? All calendar names are. Funny, she didn’t look Latin. Pretty excited to try HEB brand rising crust pizza. It had better be a step up from Kroger’s for the 75 cents extra.

-chirp-

What is that? The smoke alarm? I have a smoke alarm? If I were worried about burning to death, I’d have stopped smoking in bed after that one episode of Law and Order. The battery must be dying. Damn. I’ll have to leave the house tomorrow. I don’t know, maybe I’ll just live with it. Two days in a row seems excessive.

-chirp-

I wonder if Amazon sells batteries. It wouldn’t be the first time they’ve surprised me. Remember when I realized they sell books? Who would buy books and have the internet at the same time? Dumb move, Amazon. Let’s see… D- B-A-T-T-E-R-

-chirp-

Yes, I get it. New battery required. So loud. I think my ears are bleeding. What an asshole. Maybe if I turn the TV up really loud. That dick next door can deal with it. How often does he have people over? Where or why does he meet them? I can’t imagine keeping a place ready to not induce vomiting in a stranger all the time. People are weird.

-chirp-

Should I tape a shirt or something over it? Oh, this is a good episode. The husband did it. I wonder why Dad left. I vaguely remember them going to counseling once in a while. I would have liked to sit in on a session or two. Would answer a lot of questions. Plus, it would help to have the cause of everything there, I think. Got ’em! Jack McCoy is such a good detective.

-chirp-

I wonder if Dad had killed Mom instead of just leaving, how he’d have done it. Probably run her over with a car. Like in the intro to The Simpsons. He sure did love cars.

-chirp-

These seem to be getting closer together. Don’t censor me, alarm. Just because I think about something that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t mean that I don’t have the right to think it. Okay? I don’t need you, you’ve never had a fire to alert me of. Why do you exist if you aren’t going to do the one thing you were made to do?

-chirp-

Maybe he’d have just knocked her out and left her in the gara-

-chirp-

This noise is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.

I guess I understand, fire alarm: to wonder if anyone would notice if you just disappeared, to question whether you’ll ever be given the chance to prove that you deserve to exist. I’d want someone to come along and make me matter, if I were you, fire alarm. In fact-

-chirp-

-squirt-

-strike-

-crackle-

-alarm-

Library Raider no. 1- Sara Reins’ Handbook of Etiquette

Greetings,

I am writing to you from the basement of the Leftwich County Memorial Library with torn trousers and singed sport coat from the number of sprung booby traps that now lay behind me. Notebook in lap, I my back is against a false bookshelf that once hid a real, far more spectacular bookshelf.

Upon this bookshelf sits a collection of some of the most dazzling and gaudy books these old eyes (transplants- I am quite young, for my age.) have ever seen. First hand accounts of wars, renaissance, and, in one case, the Renaissance Wars between Il Bloods and Il Crips sit as far as the (transplanted) eye can see.

Neither this discovery, nor my recent discovery of Snapchat, are the reason I am writing you tonight (Though, I cannot resist the urge to enclose several meaningless photos of myself.). I write to you now, because, on this shelf, lies the most perplexing work of literature I have ever come across.

In all appearances, Sara Reins’ Handbook of Etiquette and Appropriate Behaviour is just like any nineteenth century book of courtesy, available at any deceased robber-baron’s estate sale. However, upon closer examination; it appears that the rules found within apply to, and only to modern day western culture. Even more unsettling, is the fact that it references objects and ideas unheard of outside of the author’s lifetime (including Snapchat).

My great fear is that no one may believe me upon hearing this tale, and my greater fear is that this is all just a hallucinatory response to the noxious gas that was released in death chamber number six of my quest. For this reason, I have decided to transcribe and share an excerpt from this book to serve as either proof of this marvelous relic of a mysterious life, or of a record of this absolutely fantastic acid-like trip.

 ***

           On the subject of the dap:

In a situation in where a handshake is appropriate; one may choose to offer a closed fist, to be met with another closed fist as a substitute. By these means, a person acknowledges the friendly circumstances of the meeting, and exhibits his or her knowledge of current youth culture. This process is commonly referred to as the dap.

A gentleman’s dap should be firm, as to not convey weakness, yet not too tight, as to emulate a punch (which is a decidedly more aggressive maneuver).

A lady’s dap is treated with the same rules as a gentleman’s. A concept that should feel more foreign to me, as I am a nineteenth century woman.

When offering a dap, do not begin with a flat hand and close it on the way to the point of contact. This will confuse your dapping partner, creating a situation in which one person is offering a dap, while the other is accepting a handshake. In this situation, it is incumbent upon the respondent to alter his or her hand position to synchronise the proceedings. A hackneyed comment about one of the participant’s whiteness will usually follow, but shouldn’t.

***

 As you can see, this is something of an odd revelation, to say the least. I simply must collect more information about this Sara Reins character at once. Perhaps, I will even discover the strange origins of her insight. Or whatever happy active ingredient lay in death chamber six’s fun fumes. I will keep you updated at every turn.

                 Your dear uncle,

                                 John H. Brokaw- Library Raider