James LeCuyer

 

 

(USA)

 

 

 

Mechanical Man

It has been a long voyage, with many failures, places we never visited, people we failed to meet, and at the end, we are quite broke. But we agree it was worth it. We stood on the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen Harbor, drank amazing amounts of wine, and made love with delightfully liberated Danish girls who thought Americans from California, from Oakland of all places, were exotic. This was right after the famous closure of the Port of Oakland by the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Lucky timing on our part, for an anxious world had needed a powerful statement from America, and we were its lucky representatives

« Drink! » we said.

World revolution is in the air. Women are in many beds. We are young and heroic, our hopes for world peace exceeded only by our lust for soft caresses.

We are Bobby and Herby and Jerry and me, Harry. Bobby is the most indifferent to the charms of Europe, but very charming himself, especially with attractive females. Herby, the shortest, is satisfied with whatever comes his way. But his red hair and freckles invariably won the hearts of many big, buxom, blue-eyed Danish females. Jerry was quite unsuccessful, in his own opinion, having “scored” only twice. After a false start or two I fell in love with Florence, who charmed me with her enthusiasm for life, for good food, and for me. We decide we might marry, and we promise we will see each other the following summer. I shall travel back alone just  for her.

It’s clear why we four wound up in Copenhagen, not for statues or museums, but for amorous adventure. Why does any young man travel? Well, some travel for work, others to do research, a few to see what they’d never seen. We traveled for sex! And I would return for love. I shall make Florence my wife. Damn the laws of nations that get in the way of true love! Up with kissing.

We dock and the three others disembark while I straggle behind with my luggage, two large travel bags, two plastic sacks of gifts, and three fishing rods. The ship’s gangway lead directly on to four motorized runways, something like flat escalators. I’m sure there’s a special name for them I think as I stumble along with my various things. The others race ahead of me, eager to see friends and family, while I keep dropping things. I am overloaded and no one will help me.

“Wait!” I shout as a fly rod slips once again from my hands. I sweat to keep up. They can’t resist hurrying on as I huff my way along the runways.

I am two or three hundred feet away from the passenger ship when there is loud cracking sound and a great roar goes up from the crowd, and everyone begins to run past me. A door on the lower deck of the ship has broken open as if slammed with a sledge hammer. It hangs from wrenched, bronze hinges.

“The Mechanical Man! The Mechanical Man!”

Astonishing. Florence mentioned him, but I’d paid her comment little attention. Another Danish marvel, like Holger Danske, the sleeping hero of Denmark, who will return to save the nation if he’s truly needed. So far, through two wars, he has slept peacefully and Denmark remains a relatively contented nation.

From the broken door emerges a stringy, rather ordinary fellow, not someone made of metal. Skinny, in fact, but he must have enormous strength, as well as an enormous reputation, for the crowd continues to run away. He has no shirt, a rather thin chest covered by a Jockey undershirt, and, except for steel teeth, nothing apparently mechanical about him. He is unshaven, has tattoos over his arms and neck, and looks more like a bum than someone powerful enough to break through a ship’s door.

As he walks briskly toward me, he brings his knees high up toward his waist and shouts his name as if warning people. “Mechanical Man. Mechanical Man. Make way for Mechanical Man.” His eyes are blank, almost white, focused straight ahead. He seems to me to be merely a little crazy, possibly autistic, and not very dangerous but I too turn and try to scurry from him. What do I know? The explosive exit from the ship had been frightening. The crowd of shouting, screaming people slows me and after a few steps I’m unable to move.

He continues toward us. We shrink back. When he passes a small, huddled group, someone sticks out a foot and trips him. He falls curled into a fetal ball.              Another shout goes up. « He’s down! »  Followed by a scatter of laughter as he lies there apparently helpless, making no effort to protect himself, though I imagine he could crush a hundred men like those who are kicking him. Seeing no response, others lean down and hit him with the flat of their hands. They attack him and laugh, striking with heavy shoes about his head and kidneys.

“Stop!” I run toward Mechanical Man and try to pull them off. But am I doing the wrong thing? Perhaps he deserved this for some reason. Still they will surely kill him. Two men begin striking me as I try to pull them back. Then Herby and Bobby and Jerry rescue me and form a bodyguard around Mechanical Man and me.

I hold his hand up and feel his pulse. It has the steady beat of a normal man, in a wrist of flesh and bone like mine. After a minute or two, he stands and looks at me as if he is about to thank me, but says nothing nor focuses on me but stares past me and over my head. He seems unchanged!   He has absorbed many blows that would surely have killed an ordinary man. He strides off, shouting his name as before, lifting his knees, hurrying on toward the mass of passengers. They huddle in fear around the Customs booths, behind which black uniformed Security Guards, pistols and shotguns drawn, wait for whatever else might happen.

I shall write to Florence about this strange adventure. She’ll know what to make of it. Though she has never seen him herself, she claims that he is a Danish marvel, and could not, despite his extraordinary strength, be told from an ordinary man, nor would he harm anyone. I helped him partly because of what Florence had told me, but maybe he is actually dangerous. Most likely his reputation is based on some kind of fakery, the broken door on the ship merely part of his humbuggery.  Whatever he is up to,  it seems he will not hurt us ordinary humans, is perhaps programmed not to do so.

But is he mechanical at all? If so, he is amazingly lifelike. Still, he was kicked viciously and punched and suffered nothing, no blood or cuts or bruises, had merely gone down, stayed there, and risen, once I and my friends intervened, to continue on his path. How could any human being remain unscathed after such a beating?

Though I am astonished, I can make nothing of it. There must be an infinite number of factors that might illuminate the meaning or purpose of this Mechanical Man story, but what are they? What factors would bring illumination? Why is he here at this moment? What have I to do with him?  I touch him.  I take his pulse.  I try to protect him.  He is neither grateful nor ungrateful. That’s about all.

We have elements of travel, and lust, and love, and youth, all enhanced by the appearance of this so-called Mechanical Man, and all great elements for a story, but no story. Wholeness, Harmony, and Radiance are missing. The love story is far removed. There is some violence, but it is irrelevant. The details of the incident are far too sketchy. Very little happens, and questions of what might happen next, the so-called hook, go unanswered. Mechanical Man has so little character we can’t tell if we sympathize with him or not. And what do we know of the narrator, except that he is a lustful young man who has fallen in love?

We might imagine ourselves in such a situation, being a member of a crowd where someone or something apparently dangerous is coming toward us, and we might imagine our response, but what that might be is not within the purview of the story. Puzzling and unsatisfying to say the least.

It seems that such events more often than not happen in the world by chance, and only a fool or liar would try to make sense of them. Someone who spends far too much of his allotted time at a computer or typewriter and will write about almost nothing at all.

 

A Brief, Perilous Trip Through Berkeley

Harry got down on the floor and faced the baby who lifted his tiny pink hand up to claw at Harry’s glasses.  « Gluuu, » Harry said.  For the first time he completely understood a baby.

« Glagggg, » said the baby, Andrew, laughing.

Harry and Andrea had just come to visit her high school friends Toni and Tony, who had this seven months old baby named Andrew.  They were very proud of it.

The two, on hands and knees, their noses six inches apart, needed no words, just sounds, just a mutual rocking back and forth, reaching out, touching noses and fingers and the whole living room awhirl with lights and a Christmas tree all nicely decorated with flashing green and red lights, the two babies, one big one small, face to face, smile on smile, on the floor.  It would be a break of trust were Harry to speak baby Andrew’s name, or to use any adult word.

« Say, » Tony, the father, said to Harry.  « What’re you doing with our baby? »

Harry was deep inside the mind of Andrew.  This was not a conversation, but a soul to soul communion, and not a good time for a parental interruption.

« Would you stop? » the mother, Toni, said, her voice rising.

It wasn’t that Harry didn’t hear her, but he was too far away on the floor to respond.  She was standing legs like trees way up there in a different world.

Andrea said, « We better go. »  She tugged Harry up by the back of his belt.

« C’mon Dr. Spock, » she said.  « Time to go beddy bye. »

« What? » he whispered to her.  « But the two of us were getting along just fine. »

« You’re freaking them out, » she said, pointing at the parents who Harry had hardly acknowledged.

Reluctantly, he stood.  He waved at Andrew who looked up at him with a questioning little face.          « Glaggg gloog, » Harry said, turning to smile at Toni and Tony.

Andrea pulled him out of the house.

« I don’t want to leave him, » Harry protested.  « Look.  He’s crying. »

« I understand.  But they don’t, » Andrea said.  « They want you gone. »

« Who? » Harry said.

« The parents. »

« The parents of Andrew? »  Harry asked.

« Oh, for God’s sake. »

« But… » and Harry turned to go back toward the parents who stood arm in arm at the door of their little house stiff and staring woodenly at Harry.  He would explain.  He’d been sternly awakened from the wonderful space he’d been in with Andrew, a true friend.

Andrea laughed and pulled on his arm.  « C’mon.  They’re afraid of you.  They worried about their baby. »

« What?  What?  Did you tell them we’d just taken acid? »

« No, » she said.  « I didn’t have time. »

« Oh, say, » Harry said.  He shouted back at Tony and Toni.  « I’m really sorry, but we just took some acid, really fine Owsley acid,  and it was an honor to be with such an intelligent baby. »

Andrea let go of his arm and sat on the grass and roared and coughed, tears rolling down her cheeks.  « For heaven’s sake, now the whole neighborhood knows. »

« Let ’em, » Harry said.  He shouted at windows as he spun around.  « Hey, everyone.  Hey.  Hey.  Take acid and talk to babies. »

Tony and Toni slammed their front door loud enough for Harry and Andrea to hear it a half block away.

« They don’t like me, » Harry said, truly disappointed.  « And I never really met them. »

« It’s okay, » Andrea said.  « Where’s the car? »

Harry, a former teacher, had been attracted to Andrea for some time, since he’d known her at Oakland High.  She had an especially lovely Italian tan skin tone, and a lovely figure.  Finally, after a number of years, here they were wandering around Berkeley on acid, hand in hand, talking to babies, a former teacher with a former student.  Even young girls grow up.  Now he was in love, madly in love, as of this very moment.  He wanted to take off all her clothes right there on the grass, and his too, and rub against her, not do anything more, just feel her lovely breasts and buttocks thinking love love, rub rub.

The whole street danced around slowly with rainbow lights.  It was beautiful.

He had to try to be a little rational.  For whole moments he could think quite clearly, then a wave of swirls, not a dizzy feeling but the kind of whirling, bubbling energy that you might associate with dizziness, but was something else, Christmas tree lights, stars, cars going by, a street lamp circling above, and Andrea’s lovely skin, her ebony black Italian hair.   He rubbed her hand against his cheek.  « I love your hand, your shoulders, the smell of your hair, your red red lips, your teeth, even the inside of your left ear. »

« That’s nice, » she said.  She was a little behind him in acid time.

« Even that wax in this ear, » he said.  He kissed her ear.  She groaned free.

They reached the corner and stood under a honey colored street light.  Across Webster a door banged open and a tall, thin, bare chested man in salmon red pajamas rushed out across a dull, brick red porch and bent over on the neon green grass, possibly sick.  A barebreasted woman in a pink nightie and pink panties rushed out and kicked him so hard he fell forward on his hands and knees while she staggered back, almost falling.  The man, maybe Harry’s age in his thirties, got up and turned and slapped the woman down and stood over her for a threatening moment as if he were going to kick her before he raced back into the house slamming the door behind him.  She pulled herself up from the grass, shook her shoulders, pumped her arms back and forth, and went after him, slamming the door once again.

« Did you see that? » Andrea said.

« That woman kicked that man. »

« What? » she said.  « He slapped her. »

« But she kicked him first. »

« No she didn’t. »

They continued to argue as they walked down Telegraph toward the Berkeley Co-Op.  Another couple came toward them in the pedestrian walk, hands waving, voices arguing loud enough to be heard above traffic.  They sounded ready to fight.  But as they passed closer, Harry heard them saying, « It was wonderful.  Wonderful.  Bergman at his best. » They weren’t arguing at all.  They were excited about a film they’d just seen.

Harry sat on the curb and Andrea sat next to him.  They’d planned to go to the midnight movies, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, at the Telegraph Repertory Theater, but they couldn’t resolve the fight they’d just witnessed,  Andrea insisting the man had slapped the woman without provocation, Harry insisting she’d kicked him first.  They were arguing over an argument.

« Anyway, we don’t know what happened before they came out, » Harry said.  He was the teacher after all, the authority, twelve years older, and he had seen what he had seen.

« Ummm, » Andrea said.

They sat side by side pressed tight on the curb, hips glued together.  It was a great evening, even if they couldn’t agree on this one thing.  If they could just agree on who struck who first and most justifiably then they might go on to the movies, though they also had to find Harry’s car.  Harry was pretty sure he could drive if they ever did find the car.  He was sorry this disagreement had come up between them and it was very important to resolve it.  This was their first date and it had to go well.  Meanwhile he tried to move even closer to Andrea, more to touch her everywhere than anything else.  Their bodies were not part of this argument.

« He had no right to slap her no matter what happened, » she said.  She had recently joined Alta at Shameless Hussy Press, and was learning about feminism.

« But if she kicked him first, what about that? »

« She didn’t.  Even if she did, a man has no right to slap a woman.  Men are too powerful. »

« Okay, » Harry said.  « Say a woman tries to shoot a man, can he defend himself? »

« Nobody shot anybody. »

« I mean, just for example. »  He caressed the lovely bones in her spine and slid his palm around her bottom, warm against the chill sidewalk.  She lifted her legs over his thighs, her body accepting while her words kept saying no.  Lights from passing cars flowed by.

A Volkwagen camper gaily painted with flowers pulled up in front of them and the front passenger door swung open.

« Get in, » a man said.  So they got in.  They didn’t know him.  Apparently they’d been sitting in a bus zone and the man thought they were waiting for a bus and he could save them fare.

« Where you going, » he said.  Harry noticed that the driver was a little weird, even for Berkeley, a chubby balding long-haired man in a purple cape, a headband of blue leather with silver cardboard stars.  His face was round as a pie and glowing, as if sunburned.

« Hey, man, I’m Bruno, » he said, speaking directly to Andrea’s breasts.  « Where can I take you? »  .         Harry said, « We’re going to the midnight show at the Rep. »
« But we can’t go because we saw this man slap this woman, »  Andrea said.

Harry summed up their mutual positions, adding, « And we don’t know where we lost our car. »

« No worry.  Bruno here.  I’ll find your car.  Then we’ll go to the movie. »

We, he said.  That couldn’t be good.  Harry tried to remember where they’d been.  He recalled Andrew the baby then recalled that they had probably parked on the same block as the house where the baby was somewhere near the argument.  It all seemed hours ago and hundreds of miles away, but it had to be quite close, since they’d only walked one block and across one street.

Harry directed Bruno as he drove twice around Andrew’s block.  But Andrea insisted they’d parked one block farther up.  And it turned out she was right, and therefore she claimed to be right about the front yard fight.

« No, » Harry said.  He wasn’t going to give in.  This was a matter of who had the most facts, and who trusted who to tell the whole story.  He was older.  He was the teacher.

« It only happened a half hour ago, » Andrea said.

« What? »  Harry said.

« The argument? » Bruno asked.  His arms were wrapped around his steering wheel as if it were going to escape.  « You two are wasted. »  Every so often he would turn and stare at Andrea.  And smile.

« I can drive us to the movies and bring you back afterwards, » he said.

Harry was trying to think how to ditch Bruno.  It would be rude to just jump out at a stop light.  There had to be a scheme.  Then they found their lost car, and Harry said,  « We gotta get this fight between these two people settled before we can go to the movies. »   It was a delaying tactic, a feint.

Bruno’s chest expanded.  He took a powerful breath, hunched his shoulders, pulled his cape tight, and brought the Volkswagen to a halt at the corner.  « Where was this damn fight? »

Andrea said with some excitement, « Right across the street there in front of that yellow stucco house.  That’s where he slapped her. »

It was true.  There was the lawn on which the two had slapped and kicked each other, the red porch, the door the fighters had gone out of and in again, the very house where everything had happened so long ago.

« Wait right here, » Bruno said.  « I’ll settle this.  Don’t move! »  He parked and got out and strode, shoulders firm, cape flowing, across the street toward the house.  He looked back and shook a finger at the two of them huddled behind the front window of the van. Stay there, he mouthed.  His steps were strong, official.  However, he was very short, they could see now.  Bruno was short, fat, and longhaired with a bald crown.

He went right up to the door and began knocking.  They couldn’t hear anything from such a distance, but they could see Bruno’s fist enthusiastically hammering away.

The door opened.  Fortunately, it was the right house.  The same tall skinny man in his red pajama bottoms hovered over Bruno in the doorway, leaning against one side of the door and looking down at him.  It might seem odd to the fellow, Harry thought, that a stranger in a cape and headband pasted with cardboard stars might knock so authoritatively on their door in the middle of an argument.  A book flew out of the open door from the darkness of the house just past the head of the skinny man.  It cartwheeled down on the grass and died there covers outstretched.

Bruno turned and gave Harry and Andrea in the van a thumbs up.  As he did so, the young pajama clad man grabbed him by the cape and yanked him inside.  The door slammed shut.

Harry said to Andrea, « Let’s get out of here. »

Andrea said, « But Bruno… »

« Maybe we’ll see Bruno again, » Harry said patiently.  « Maybe we’ll come back.  Maybe we’ll go to the movies.  Let’s go to my place and think about everything. »

They never saw Bruno again.  Did he live or did he die, Harry occasionally wondered?  Was he eaten by the man in the red pajamas?

And Harry wondered too, from year to year, about baby Andrew.  Andrew, his true friend at that true moment when he was able to communicate directly with a sweet pure soul, before the fall, if not his, then perhaps Andrea’s, and surely Bruno’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Short bio

 

James LeCuyer was born in 1933 in Los Angeles, and lived most of his life in California, particularly in San Francisco and Berkeley and Tomales Bay north of the Bay Area. He has an MA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State, an MA in Education from UC Berkeley and an MA in Psychology from the Professional School of Psychology. He has published a number of poems and stories in various magazines and newspapers, has one book of selected poems, A Brick for Offissa Pupp, the title based on Krazy Kat cartoons of his youth. He worked as a commercial net fisherman all along the West Coast from San Diego to Bristol Bay Alaska, and as an English/Creative Writing teacher in Bay Area public schools. He served as Chair of the Northern California Book Awards Nonfiction Committee, and is a board member of Poetry Flash Magazine.  His next book, Duck Lessons, a series of short stories based on dreams and on his life, will be published in April 2014.  He is an avid environmentalist, has helped create several environmental/peace centers, and has tried to establish an environmental contest, Environmental Futures, for students and teachers in Bay Area schools. He’s old, but far from out.

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