The Death Delivery
Now, I know that they say that you should save the best for last but in this case I'm opting for Freytag's pyramid (the traditional dramatic structure in literary and cinematic works):
Dénouement, resolution, or catastrophe
In the case of this memoir, I've done a decent job of following the outline. The first entry served as the exposition as it set up the rest of the entries; everything between then and now would be the rising action; this entry will serve as the climax; then three of the remaining four stories will serve as the falling action, with the ultimate Dénouement having both a resolution and a catastrophe.
Alright...so, without further ado, here we go with episode ten.
The day started out like a typical weekday afternoon at the deli: I showed up to work, got cracking right away, and did what I had to do. I was told I would be going on a delivery later on and that the butcher--let's call him Herbert--would be driving me and so I looked forward to it.
Little did I know that a piece of my innocence would be lost as a result.
I was excited as we loaded up the two gigantic boxes of groceries into Herbert's car because I had never been to this particular residence before and it sounded like a decent place. Plus, I enjoyed Herbert's conversation and company, despite his idiosyncracies (you remember, right? The talking to the meat in the refrigerator and such?)
So off we went. Herbert started jabbering away and I, ever grateful to escape the store, listened in good spirits, as we drove down to the highway. We didn't actually have to get on but we needed to cross over it to get near the apartment complex. Herbert eventually reaches the service road on the other side of the highway and begins to make the turn onto the street...
...and slams the brakes.
There were cop cars and ambulances everywhere. I remember counting at least two of not three of the latter and at least five of the former.
"Who died?" Herbert offered with a creepy butcher chuckle.
I didn't know what was going on but I DID have a silly, naive thought that makes the future twenty-eight year old version of my cringe.
"Gee...I wonder if that's the building I'm going to be delivering to!?"
Eventually, we were able to get close enough to the front of the building to see that, yes, indeed, it was.
Herbert helped me to unload the two boxes on to the street and then he started bullshitting with one of the cops; I was on my own from that point on.
Naturally, neither of these boxes weighed less than thirty pounds. I did my best to carry them both but they were so gigantic I could barely see over or around them; I was lucky I made it through the open doorway instead of smashing into the metal frame.
Don't worry though--that luck lasted another two seconds when the bottom box ripped open (thirty pounds in a cardboard box with no reinforcement at the bottom!) and all of its contents went rolling around in every direction. The lobby was mercifully empty save for a few cops and EMTs who just glared at me in disdain and dull disbelief.
As quickly as I could, I scurried about trying to round up the escaping groceries like a palsy shepherd rounding up his excited flock.
Seriously--if knuckle-fuck was in the Oxford English Dictionary, a snapshot of that moment would be right next to it for elucidation.
Anyway, so I manage finally to get all of the groceries back in the box and I realize that I can no longer lift said container off of the floor as its bottom was destroyed. After removing all of the goods (due to a lack of foresight on my part), I folded over the four panels as best I could, replaced the items, and then set about dragging both boxes.
Do you know what happens when you try to drag sixty pounds worth of groceries in two shitty cardboard boxes?
The other one rips.
So now I'm waiting by the elevator with a box that's all fucked up on the bottom and another one splitting at the top.
And then I smell it.
At first, it was just a wang--something unpleasant floating in the background. I looked back at the cops and EMTs and no one seemed to notice it.
"Is it just me?" I thought, again, naively.
The elevator returns to the lobby, the door opens up, two cops walk off, and I get on, attempting to drag the groceries inside before the doors could shut and likely crush both the boxes and what was left of my young spirit.
I press the button for the floor I had to go to and the doors shut.
It happened almost immediately.
I took a deep breath (as a result of my exertion with the boxes) and almost gagged. Whatever faint scent had wafted down to the lobby had clearly come from the elevator. The stink was overpowering...like a skunk's shit bespattered ass...or like something died.
Third floor passes.
Or like someONE.
(You know both the thought and the result that are coming.)
"What if someone died? That could be why all of the cops and ambulances are outside!"
"Oh fuck...what if the person died on the floor I'm going to?"
The doors open and I received all the answer I would need. My gorge rose instantly and my eyes watered like I had just been kicked in the balls. I sucked in my breath and tried to hold it. Then, when I thought I was going to pass out, I did my best to breath only through my mouth (you know, the way most Knicks fans do?)
I was moving on autopilot as I dragged the boxes out of the elevator and onto the carpeting of the sixth floor. I looked down at the paper I had brought with me that had the apartment number and building address on it and looked to the right. The apartment numbers were increasing and I needed a lower one. Shuddering, I looked to the left and sat a gaggle of cops hovering outside of a door.
"Oh Jesus...what if the apartment I'm delivering to is right across from the one with the smell?"
You already know the answer.
I think that, at first, I thought it was THE apartment I was delivering to but I realized that the woman had just called right before we left and that there was no way such a response could have been mounted by the police and medical crews in such a short amount of time.
And so I sucked it up, dragging the two boxes closer and closer to what I imagined could only be some sort of portal into a shit-laden hell hole where every rotten, putrid, decaying odor seemed to mingle and fornicate to create this deadly, wicked, heavy aroma that was taking over the entire floor (not to mention my lungs). Ignoring the cops' quizzical stares as I drag my mangled boxes, I finally reached the apartment...DIRECTLY across the hallway from the quarantine zone.
A well-put-together older woman opened the door and let me in. She was probably in her sixties and had that air of class about her that comes only with good breeding. I don't mean to imply that she was haughty or snobbish in any way--quite the contrary. She had a quiet elegance about her--something that existed in polar opposition to the absolutely horrendous reeking odor that was penetrating the sanctum of her apartment (which had a PHENOMENAL view of the water, for what it's worth).
I didn't want to ask and was fortunate not to have to--she began to explain what had happened almost immediately. Apparently, the neighbor across the hall (I don't remember if the person was male or female, not that it matters) had died and noone knew...
(See--that's bad. Let's graduate to worse.)
...and by "no one knew" I mean no one discovered the body for SIX WEEKS...
(deeper still down the worse mineshaft)
...and the apartment was sealed shut, like a crypt...
(bottom level: we've arrived at the worst)
...and so the body essentially decayed and cooked, since the six weeks occurred during July and August (did I forget to mention that it was a sweltering summer's day?) and the heat in the apartment was trapped and thus continued to rise, which served only to amplify the decaying process that the body was undergoing...
...for six weeks...
...in July and August.
Rest assured, fair reader--the smell that escaped from that apartment after they opened the door was and remains, to this day, unspeakable and nigh indescribable. Approximations can be attempted but nothing would really do the horror of it justice.
And so I collect both the money for the groceries and my tip and I return, shaken, to the car. Herbert was sitting inside listening to the radio.
"Whoa? Whatsamatta Mattyboy?" he asked.
I explained what happened, in great detail.
"Oh..." he said, pulling the car out and beginning the drive back to the store.
Looking out throught he window with a gaze not unlike that of a survivor of a terrible calamity, I begin to lose myself in my thoughts about the horror of what I had just experienced and its impact on me as a person.
Then, he began talking to me...
...as if nothing had happened.
"Matty my boy, you've gotta listen to me, listen to Herbert when I tell you that YOU are a good-looking young guy, okay? You are going to wind up having sex with A LOT of lucky, lucky ladies..."
I turned and looked at him, agape, with a look of dull disbelief.
"...that's why, you gotta promise me, that, no matter WHAT, you'll ALWAYS use a rubber. I'm SERIOUS Matty. ALWAYS. USE. A RUBBER. A good looking young guy like you?"
He nodded in self-assurance.
"LOTS of pussy."
I'm staring at him blankly at this point.
I don't even think I blinked.
He smiled at me.
"Don't worry though--old The Butcher has got you covered. If you ever need any condoms you just tell Herbert (he might've even said "Uncle Herbert"...I probably blocked that part out though), okay? I've got tons--tons of 'em, so if you ever need, you just tell me how many you want and they're yours. Okay?"
I haven't moved my stunned face away since this conversation started. Apparently he thought I nodded.
"Okay, good! And, Matty? Seriously--you will be rolling in pussy."
He reaches over and pats me on the arm in atta'boy fashion.
I finally turned my eyes back to the road in front of us, the putrescent scent of rotten defecation caked to the inside of my nostrils, as I tried to figure out whether or not this creepy but possibly well-meaning old man just made a pass at me.
I desperately wanted to take a shower...but, at long last, my naievete was finally dissolving and I knew that doing so wouldn't accomplish much. Sure, it might get rid of that god-awful stench that was hanging on to my nose hairs for dear life...but it wouldn't wipe my soul clean of the stain it received on that dark, terrible day, thanks to my first close encounter with both death and Herbert's creepy avuncular obsession with prophylactics.
I probably would have just curled up in the fetal position beneath the shower head screaming "UNCLEAN! UNCLEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!" at the top of my lungs while hitting myself atop the head with a bar of soap.
Some days you're the dog, some days you're the fire hydrant.
At least he didn't make a comment about my creamy hamstrings.