“Self-contained mechanical implants are made of a series of interlocking plastic blocks with a spring-loaded cable passing through them. They are easy to operate, but mechanical failure can occur.” Dr. Nick Chopper
My buddy bro Bip Enois Boone found this here tinsmith’s… uh… objet d’art… wedged head down in a piney knothole behind a Ouija board and a pile of cookbooks and used Geographics in a dusty back corner on the bare wood floor of Schmuck Brothers Antiques second level on East 125th Street.
You can’t hardly miss the old-fashioned place, if you look for odd stuff, because Schmuck’s, founded in 1929 still expands, earflaps and all as they say, is with a big red lettered artsy fartsy sign across on the north side of the street. A four-story façade with a fire escape that needs paint and caulk bad on the front, on a spot of hot sidewalk next door to the one-story blue mini-mart, where you can purchase rolling papers, magic chant candles (which is what I had sent Bip after to begin with), a fist of musk incense or a foil of French ticklers.
So, though we are in the same latitude as the famous black Harlem, Bip and I are not exactly used to wander around at that better-known end of our “opulent” street.
The butt end of East Harlem, the heartless dead zone between roadway and river, is our place, our village, and it gets on for us different than the cultured masses. At this end, our piss-poor riverside promenade of shed condoms and crushed glass, where we walk with our sneakers and tread sandals we can kind of feel through our toenails the Haarlem River tide beneath the pavement.
We are a bit out here; with our fortune telling and cut bait business, a ways beyond the local renaissance. This is our homestead, the hot lot Bip and I last left off before we left off to leave with the white tide -- and where Bip heads off to after he made his lucky find on his humid day at Schmucks. We are well beyond the Metro North station, and beyond the newly repolstered Apollo Theater, much further in a line east than the Duke’s Sugar Hill A-Train station.
Yeah, it is sweet and always another adventure around here, but black or white, our end of this street gets burnt burritos packed for beans. We’ve got no enterprise redevelopment and no x-presidential cigar humidors. Instead, we’ve got us warehouses of second-hand foam mattresses and a lot of citizens in need of some urgent maintenance; and I don’t mean any more screw around and procreate with the neighbors.
We’ve got junk dealers that clutter up the sidewalk with crap from ruined buildings, a dead booth with colored phone wires that trail out hagglerly, a set of burgundy terra-cotta breasts that sits all by itself without even Bip’s thoughts of animal caress as he passes them by, and there is stood there for the last four months some wrecker’s discarded Corinthian wood column up for commission sale, too damned expensive if you ask me from the business perspective, a hollow wooden drum set there like a prosthetic for a one-legged giant.
Bip marches past the corner gas station with red Pegasus signs and trucks and gypsy cabs in and out all the time with their steel nozzles shoved in, quickly and efficiently they spit gas into the vehicle tanks and it is all noisy with industrious Arab talk. And there is Bip’s uncle Sam, and they wave each other on with Uncle Sam to stretch his backside to wield a tire iron, up against the noon glare, and Bip holds up the tin peter like a triumphant Bojangles with a whole other kind of baton.
Like I say to the tourists; this here place is a family 'geographology of generations', a term I got out of a book on head bumps I found in a garbage pile over near the school, and Uncle Sam’s is a place to stop by for a quickie plug when you got a low one, with his plywood signs painted “Tyres and Fats Fixed Five Bucks,” out behind the metropolitan bus depot. He’s always got a lady friend, or three, Uncle Sam does.
At the Reverend Solomon Bigwurn Gospel of Redemption Church, overlooking the community scene with their sharp eyes catered to the frayed children’s clothing stacked on the cardboard thrift table while they suck smears of grease off their chicken fingers, like totemic raccoon pecker bones, two old ladybirds this afternoon sweat their biblical gossip in the doorway. The church, one of our many fine philanthropic institutions to serve the recycled poor, is a tatter of unrelated masonry boxes stacked together, painted five colors for no obvious reason. The ladybirds knowingly look at each other, barely move their anciently seared flesh in the heat. They say nothing. They smile with remembrance of lays past when Bip trundles past their roost, his newly found ornament held out arms length in front of him like a broken flashlight filled with angry carpenter bees or the randy hood ornament off a junk billionaire’s limousine.
At the 2nd Ave. traffic light, drivers get halted for a spot of relief. In daylight a dollar buys a plastic bag of two peeled oranges from Ella Mae, our shrewd street vamp, who supports her tubercular mother and four rats. As Bip passes she eyes the tin dingus with a mother’s survival lust, she spys a good thing for business. She whistles loudly through her teeth as she runs at him. But Bip pushes on, a heroic guy with a mission. He all but ignores the jiggled mass of breast and belly that attempt to alter his path, with her hip-wave attempts to con him with her bag of oranges, with their pale-white rinds cut corrugated. She bounces into his face, as intended a distraction as she clutches for the prosthetic. Like a true Olympian, Bip smiles proudly. He holds the hot dinger aloft, out of the reach of Ella Mae’s cow cow grasp.
With the same or similar dollar you could purchase one bottle of fake Poland Spring water from the twisted man, our next-door neighbor on the East End. Ella Mae’s ex, her old man we don’t talk with because he always runs away when Bip wants to be friendly. The spastic fart walks and breathes all day, hawks murky river water between the idled vehicles on that corner -- we think the fumes is sick to his head. We suspect he eats roasted cats. Our black cat Friskie has gone.
Then the street, before it gets over to our place, turns into concrete and steel and jumps over us up in an elevated tangle that branches and accelerates the propulsion of vehicles on their way out of Manhattan on the Harlem River Drive north, on the lift bridge to Randall’s Island and the Triboro to Queens, or over to the South Bronx past the trimodal, or down the flank of Manhattan on the FDR ribbon, runs south alongside the East River. A dry ejaculation of traffic congestion that is a weather roof above our humble place.
We have a front-yard view of a large gray and white mound of emergency road salt, a city mountain as big as three stories that reminds us always of the cold seasons predicted ahead. Behind that you can feel the occasional wake of tall-stacked tugs that churn slowly at the rear of fuel oil barges pushed to their South Bronx depots. Past the wake bob of single-mast sailboats out richly larked like broad-winged white garbage gulls… or the buzz of cigarette boats that shove their brightly pointed noses -- powered balls-out against an Atlantic tide as they hump our lazy green-gray effluent on their way north.
At Schmucks, Bip had not looked for anything much; he was just being lost, like a solitary savage hunter buried in a depth of old-growth concrete jungle and curios, but when he found the tin peter as he did by luck, seemed to fit perfect the bottom of his day, which means the part of his day that was not exactly the top.
Well, Brother Bip walks out from under the shade of the overpass and grunts, it means, he means, “Richard, check out this big dick.”— and ever since people have been asked us about the object. “What made it? Where did it come from? Who was it used for? Is that yours? Does it have a motor?”
We get used to this, and the tin peter gets to be integral to our business. It isn’t a hammer, we tell right up at no cost. We make a sport to answer before you have a chance to open your mouth. Anticipation is difficult, but we want to anticipate everything and to be specific like all good dowsers of the afterbirth. We assure everyone it is no toy rocket, though it does look sort of like a space shuttle that wants to get off the pad on the booster. Not a thing ever saw like the swashbuckling roids of Buck Rogers to suck down Nirvano gas with WIlma.
To be exact, we got us here a tinsmith’s folly, a mockup dick, we mean a handcrafted prick made of soldered tin about 17” long with a very well fashioned head on it (quite realistic, from Bip’s anatomical comparison to an Alabama black snake), the slightly rusted hollow tube about 1-3/8” in diameter, with two perfectly spherical twin balls about 4-7/8” in diameter, but no scrotum sack. “We can’t have everything,” I explain to Bip, “but you can use that there white plastic grocer’s bag with the red letters that say, ‘I luv NY,’ if you really want.”
You see, I’m one of the few people who know Bip wanted to be a structural engineer and design the tallest building in the free universe with an electro-generational windmill on top, but with the juvenile diabetes and the dyslexia and the acid and the electro-ejaculation and the other deficits, mental and monetary for a poor kid from the Red Hook projects, and particularly after the Bellevue detox, he never had no chops for the complex math. His designs, drawn in carpenter pencil on paper bags, don’t float majestic above the city skyline as much as zoom like an errant cloud of bad gas sucked from below the sidewalk into a hornet nest. I don’t want to say nuthin’ unpleasant, you mind, no need to hurt any best friend’s emotional intelligence like that and all. So this here palatial estate of ours we with affectation call Piddlewood U, beneath the road, is like the closest Bip’s ever got to higher education. I let him play with my used books, you know, but he prefers to make things with his hands and teeth.
I suppose that is why he spends three rainy days messin’ around. He hacks out and hammers together pieces of avocado crate wood to look like hearts. He stuffs the box with rusty steel wool pads and what looks like dried catnip and strips of cut-up six-pack plastic and his dentures. On three sides he tacks fur from a stiff fox pelt that he’d wanted to convert into a hairpiece. Nice red fur it is, even if it is stiff. I’m curious why the change in plans and keep my eye on the bald spot that slowly gets sunburnt. Bip may be smart and all but don’t have sense to wear a panama like me. He writes on the exposed wood with a broken piece of red lumber crayon, “SNATCH.” I stay real curious until I see him play intromission with the peter and the box. All questions are answered in time.
Like for our answer business. During the day we set the tin peter, and now with it the lovely heart box made of avocado crate wood, out in the front yard on the wire spool table with our magic candles, and when you all pass by, the questions begin. Bip and I sit there and drink our cold green tea and look deep into your watery eyes, at least if you stop and sit. Or we trace our fingernails across your upturned palm. Most of you, lost in your desire to get out of here, drive by in your gussied rigs and don’t even know we are patient here to provide answers, bait, and tackle. If you do stop, Bip flips the flaccid poker cards and I answer questions.
We try real hard to run an attractive establishment. We burn sandalwood and sage beneath the blue canvas while the radio chatters in the background. Bip keeps his pants on these days and don’t put them on the stray black dog’s head no more like he used to. A few seaworthy props, a bloomin' sacofricosis here and there for decoration, and always the chance of a sweaty Corona salvaged from the outdoor bait fridge hooked up to the street light for power. The world is obviously full of a bunch of questions that fly around like fat junebugs, and Bip and I like to keep ahead of the cosmic clamor.
If you squint it looks, in reverse sort of, like an oversize bug spray pump. An antique flit gun. Or with a bit of inexpensive imagination it looks like a mutated two-headed opium pipe for people with very large lung capacity.
Just last week there was Mary Ortega asked about her baby. At first we were both puzzled by this. I look at Bip’s flat nose. He looks at my whiskers. Mary Ortega sits on the schist boulder with the wild grape vines and her long checkered skirt, her dark-haired little angel sucks her tittie. Asks about her baby. I say, “But Mary, you have your baby there with you, and little Jose´ looks busy.” Bip points at the wiggling legs of the fat baby. Bip does not talk much since the throat accident when we was at Madison Square Garden. Nowadays he does a lot of point and ogle with his blue eyes, though he does gurgle a little. So Mary says in a whisper, we can barely hear her and we have to move closer the second time to the spool table. We lean over with our elbows on the rough-cut wood. She says very lowly with a streak of black hair that hangs over her thin lip, “I mean the other one.”
“The other one?” we says as we sit up. We get caught out in our own anticipation business. Suddenly worried she is be on talk about some sort of alien abduction breeder program. Too close to home we feels. So Bip in a flash of genius, in a flurry of pure inspiration grabs the two twin spheres of the tin peter up off the spool table, the oversize balls, one grasped in each hand. He holds the rusty cock up to his forehead. It sticks up from his head and his bald spot -- a ruddy brown unicorn antler. Eyes roll. Mary watches. Jose´ pauses a wiggle in mid bespew. Bip begins to jerk his loins like he’s tangled with an electric eel. Flexes his arms in muscular spasms. Jumps around in the dirt yard with zydeco music on the radio. Clutches onto the game, I lean over again, only further this time around the spool table. I squeeze my forehead with concentration. Tip over the edge. Bang my knee. In a serious tone I flutter my eyelids softly and whisper back to Mary Ortega, “I see your little one basks in a field of lambs up in Heaven with the sweet baby Jesus as a little playmate.” Bip jumps a few more jerky steps in the dust. Tangos a-clicket with chickens. Nearly collides with our bait fridge. He teeters then stops his jigg. Mary laughs. I laugh. The baby sneezes.
For this we get two bucks.
We get about the same for a half pint of clam snouts.
Wholesale, answers are cheaper. We don’t pay for them like with fish bait, and since Bip brought home the tin peter, business has picked up. Life is grand here on the East Side.
So we got to use the tin peter, not only as a sexual curiosity or prose thesis but also as a magic tool for the difficult-answer business. We wait for the customers to get a lukewarm beer out of the fridge, or to settle on purchase of chicken necks for crab, and then we show them the cards lain out on the spool table and tell them about the enchanted prick. Bip has stitched a cover out of denim he cut from a pant leg the stray black dog didn’t piss on, and it looks kind of regal with a wire ribbon bow. We tell the prospects how the magic tin peter can tell their future if they rub it just right. For twenty bucks, of course, a good rub is worth the money.
Once they sit down at the spool table, pull up a bucket or a used chair and sit down and ask their special question, then Bip jumps up, pulls off the cover to reveal the majesty of the rusty pride, sticks out his tongue like he is to have a seizure. Grabs our tin peter and pushes it against different parts of his body and jumps around like he wants to dork an elephant, but not really… I don’t think he ever done it for real, you know, and while they are distracted, with Bip's grunts, jumps around and act like a wild beast tamer, I answer their questions.
And Mr. Gasgnu Farpwale, the mortician from Valhalla, come to us after he see our website that Jack Haley put us up to, and he complains, “I feel like a man who has been asleep somewhat and under someone else’s control.” And we nods our heads in unison. “I feel that what I’m thinking and saying is not for myself.” And we nods again and I speaks for Bip because he feels better when I do it. So then Bip whips out the metal pecker from its wrapper and slaps a wad of banana-yucca milt cream on Mr. Farpwale’s fist an’.… We can’t go any further to relate these events lest there be little children in the bushes.
The black dog watches the organic process with much curiosity.
Mr. Farpwale before he gets finished with his session has paid us out a full forty dollars. He manages two limp wee twenties, one at a time. He sets himself off that afternoon, puts his cool reflector polarized aviator shades back on his mug, a slit smile, set out beneath the shade of the highway, the steady rumble of overhead trucks and buses, dons his derby, with the idea to found his own hermetic celibate coitus interrupt us religious community in Montana and change his name to El-Hashish Mudkick El-Bazoom. You may have heard him preach on the Midwestern CB late at night.
It could be a large-gauge hypodermic needle for zoological hypos.
J. Lipps is our local stamp collector, and when he ain’t over at the post office dumpster diving, he hangs out about our establishment playing with his tweezers. He knows a lot ’bout exotic stuff. I hands him the tin peter to see if he can figure it out.
“Look, see here,” I reaches him the magnification glass, “it says very clearly indented on the bottom of this ball, ‘MADE IN TAIWAN.’”
“Yes, I see, Richard. But I thought they were into miniaturization?”
“It could be little.”
“What? How could that be? A miniature of this size?”
“Who says this is people pecker?”
“You don’t suppose it’s the Jolly Green Giant?”
“I think that dude’s hung like a bean pod.”
Lipps smacks his lips as he eyes down the barrel, “Yes, well, this is kind of straight.”
“Bip and I look it up in our Kama Sutra.”
“Yeah, you know, with pictures.”
“We don’t see nothin’.”
“Well, my, if it is inhuman, as you suggest,…”
“…and it is miniaturized, well… goose liver, a Cyclops?”
“We agree, Lipps, it has to be one of those… those one-eyed giants.”
“Can you imagine the size of the jock strap?”
“It don’t have hair for a Sequoia.”
“You know, one of those hairy guys hides in the woods.”
“Oh, you mean Susquash.”
“Yeah, one of them.”
“And not large enough, either.”
“Even if it is tiny.”
“I will say, with a cannon like that you could piss across a thousand rivers.”
So me and Bip and Lipps at sunset look out across the lazy flow of the Harlem River as a pair of F-16s fly over.
It could be a duplex chilihedron, androgynous knockers with pert stamina of a blooming Amaryllis.
And the psychic interviews get crazy and weird and Bip groans weary limps to the left more than to the right when he dances around in the yard and hoists the tin peter up in the air like it is one of those photon proton artillery projectile devices the government uses to shoot down spaceships. So’s we tell buxom Lucy Breedlove, our local builder babe, that she has a titanium implant in her nose the size of a chickpea an that she should get vacuum therapy to take it away, and she freaks when Bip puckers his face. She screams out, “You bastard, Bip. I’ll give you a fuckin’ implant up your slimy corpora cavernosa!” Bip don’t like spelunker or foul language, so surprised at this frankly too erudite speech, he retreats into the murky shadows behind a steel bridge column. “I’ll have your bloody eattocks on a paper plate before you suck on my nose!” Not everybody is just ducky when they get news from the beyond. “You chicken-pecked baboon merkin-biting womb-envied goat milker! I’ll amuse myself in my own way!” Which is about what anyone would be expected out of the mouth of Lucy Breedlove as she shoves her lump hammer back into her toolbox.
And the word is getting around pretty good. You would think we had the Virgin Mary’s mysterious picture flickered on a glitter billboard, there are so many people that show up for answers. Those that desire miracles. Cripples and lepers and bassonists that want to play with our candles. All those good-looking hookers from Andrew Jin’s Pool Hall, anxious to do us lap dances on the couch, some pretty racy broads. I tell Bip, “You got to watch where they put their hands, Bro.”
Though I got one complaint. Bip’s interview in the NY Observer we could have done without. Sometimes too much is a bitch-ana-half. There is nothing like respectability by the strong arm of gossip. Suddenly we had everbody and their mother come round to witness Bip sparkin’ and they ask questions. Is this the end of the world? Is Elvis alive in the Everglades? Why ain’t they gonna make no more Camaros? Can you rewind? Do you gotta feel-good bong? What is that burnt smell? It gets to be a long span from when I could smoke my pipe and peacefully down a jar of Thunderbird.
And to park is a problem. Fewer lovers on our lane. Tourists gawk, bump, grind, rubber-band on the FDR. Atchee Moses, the local stud cop, and his buddy Ronnie Yinjing are hot. Too many accident reports. OUr gig cuts in on their loan shark action. We help out, you know. Our overhead is a real stank bear.
But, why complain? We is havin’ repeat business and new business. A busload of Japanese arrive. They buy out a two-year stock of reels and rods, which isn’t much more than a dozen. We don’t think business can be any better. We are thankful to have us the tin peter.
Despite his stagger incidence Bip and I agree it is a mighty powerful draw. Then we start to talk about we save up to buy us a rowboat for to go on the Haarlem River. Go after shad and stripers or maybe start a ferry service. Or get a houseboat for south in winter. But we do not know what exactly is to come at us. The next day is not always the same as the last day. Even when it is, we don’t want it. The next ten minutes of any time can suck.
It could be a trombone morphed into the staff of life.
One day a short guy with a flattop head in a black suit with a black limo with black-tinted windows, a big-eared money guy, a proctologist we think at first because of the way he eats his cigar, comes down from Westchester, up near the Tappan Zee. Buys thirty-eight bags of strawberry-scented dough ball bait (asked for forty, but we ran short.)
Then when he sees Bip finger the tin peter he offers us three hundred bucks. We says to him, “Why you so interested in our business?” Says he is the pooh-bah from some secret men’s club. “Yeah, well, so?” We don’t get many politicians at our end of the street and we don’t quite know how to talk to them without being kind of insultin’ I guess. Crisp, newly minted bills he shows us. Right there out in the sunlight with the cicada buzz in the locust tree. Salty perspiration clots up my hat brim
But we say, “No. The tin peter ain’t for sale, Mr. Pooh-Bah.”
He laughs, “The name is Bambino, Monorchid Bambino. Bambino is the name. Me and my boys, well, we’ll assign a voodoo onto you if you don’t unhand MY prick.”
And we ain’t got us here just one more hot day with the rumble of cars and trucks overhead to shake the bejeebers out of our gray steel beams, but a damned situation in a brew. His prick, he thinks. His prick. And I says, with Bip now I see him gets himself all excited, and the red veins in his nose kind of throb like humping centipedes, Bip charges around in the dirt yard with his wave of the the tin peter, a regular scabbard rattler, in the background behind Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino who curiously munches on a strawberry dough ball. “You can’t voodoo the voodoo, mister,” I says.
“These are not bad,” says he, “have you any dental picks?”
“What you want a toothpick for?”
“I think I caught a berry seed,” says him as he winces and twists his mouth up sideways.
“I ain’t got none of those, but you can have a fish hook.”
“Let me observe the phallus while you fetch.”
“No way, buddy. You keep up this shit, Bip is gonna bop you in the noggin.”
Then, right in front of us, in front of our home, at Piddlewood U of all decent places, right in the middle of our business, the short guy, Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino, starts to fuss up; there he is, acts like a colic Napoleonic bastard with a tantrum. Ears flap.
He bitches and moans and jumps around and shakes his little fists at us. There for a bit Bip and I think maybe he is an epileptic proctologist and not just a normal tickly sort of one. We start to feel bad for anybody stuck on the end of his scope.
Then we blink, and for a split second he resembles a used truck salesman we know in Brooklyn. We were sorry we bought that piece of shit vehicle. Next thing we think maybe he is under cover from Immigration. That’s when Bip runs and ducks down behind the upturned car that lays on its backside, the Mustang the marine salvage guys hauled out of the river the week before.
I look over, and the tin peter is sort shivers there in the air like a radio antenna twisted around to the exhaust pipe where it don’t belong. The car is still clogged up with rotted fish and brown glop and smells real lousy. Then Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino calms down a little bit and stands there and looks at us not move any more than usual people. Leer. Bip peers over the car chassis so you can see his eyebrows and just make out pupils. None of any of us blink at this point. I huff my ass back down on the chair. Pooh-Bah pulls out a leather bag.
He offers five hundred dollars, like we is to dicker. But neither Bip nor I take it well when this asshole steps forward with the bills and, not looking, he kicks the black dog asleep in the shade of the spool table. “Not so good luck you kick the black dog,” we say.
And Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino, he say his grandfather, a tinsmith upstate, somewhere around Simian Valley, built the tin peter for the secret men’s club and that he has been looking for it himself to put it back where it belonged for forty-eight years.
“Your grandfather must have been a wonderful man!” we exclaim.
“He was, indeed,” admits Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino. “He was a tinsmith by trade and could make anything out of tin.”
But we don’t believe this patter and we tell him, “Piss off, Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino!”
He say the whole men's club can’t get it up without their tin peter, and all their mistresses are want to sue them for loss of services.
“Yeah, right.” We don’t take to these sad stories, and the tin peter does not tell us otherwise. I grin, I give him the finger, a big one I throw out there after I suck on it, but we don’t give him dick.
Too much of this hand signals back and forth and him spits in my face. Bip throws the contents of the night pail. Mr. Bambino wipes his suit off with an embroidered hanky, little purple and yellow petunias in the corner I see, and then he gets back into his automobile.
Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino and his chauffeur in dirt-haste cut away north up the Hudson River Drive. Mr. Pooh-Bah Bambino looks particularly pissed right after Bip sticks the tin peter in his own mouth and makes gurgle noises with his throat. Actually, Bip ain’t made any noise but a gurgle for a few weeks now.
When you blow in the end of the tin peter it whistles, so Bip does a little of that, too.
And that was the afternoon I’m sat on the retaining wall beneath the lift bridge and look out towards the corrections department dock to contemplate my belly button and pick out a skeeter trapped in the hairs. I say to it, like, “This is where it all began, Little Buddy.”
I tell Bip that the tin peter had to belong to the Tin Woodman, you know, from that wizard movie. I’m the intellectual between us, you can realize, I read the tip sheet and the Old Farmer’s Almanac when we can find it used and all. I try to keep Bip up on his toes with new speculations, our lives being all of a minor peotomy to coincidental events. Bip looks at me with his big eyes and grins. I can see his crooked teeth around the edges. And he makes wanger-wax motions with his closed fist in the open air.
I know by this Bip means the Tin Woodman must have hammered a lot of metal on his best day.
So we sit there for a while and feel small and jealous, but it does not last longer than it takes for us to cut a mess of squid. Then I say, “You know, if the Tin Woodman was to look for his heart all that time in the movie, I wonder how long he’s been lookin' for his privates?”
But then I get confused and I can’t remember whether the Tin Woodman looked for his heart or his brains or a squirt from an oil can, and I wonder if the wizard movie ain’t really all about some sort of confusion between body parts. But I start to get the headache and tell Bip this thinking part of the business relationship is hard work. So we clean up the mess from the squid and pack the flesh in baggies and set them in the freezer and throw a few scraps to the hens, and we tuck the tin peter in its warmer and then wrap it all up tight in a garbage bag, and we set it on the top shelf of the fridge with the heart-shaped snatch box next to the night crawlers and red wigglers—we do have some freshwater customers—and Bip goes into his cardboard box with the stray dog and I get in the hammock and night happens.
Next morning we figure the Tin Woodman must have had his heartless revenge, because the door of the bait fridge is ripped right off its hinges. It lays upside naked in the street along the curb. Along with a brand new fire-axe we never seen before but figure it will come in handy. There is no sign of the garbage bag bundle or the tin peter and we seem to miss most of our bunker and squid.
Bip finds the snatch box in the gravel behind the refrigerator. The way it got mussed up in the fracas, it seems to be eating a cantaloupe. Bip looks depressed all slouched over, with his chin bumped to his chest and his Adam’s apple squeezed up like a gypsy accordion.
We don’t got no other answer than the Tin Woodman, and without the tin peter we got no clues. And we were asleep there right with the stray dog and heard and seen nothing. Not even a bark, not even a whimper. What use is a dog that don’t bark? A bit pissed, we are sad the rest of the morning. Bip acts sullen and tries to jump a few times in the yard with the snatch box. The stuff falls out and the dog eats it. Bip gets morose. He doesn’t dance around for any customers, even after I show him a broomstick he could play with. Just not the same. Blow on a broomstick ain’t the same even when Bip tries hard.
We tell Herman Siss that the black queen upside on the spool table means his mother Tara is going to die next week and that he got a bad case of syphilis come in the mail, ’cause the whole mysterious fiasco of the missing tin peter kind of squats on our dreams of business expansion with the rowboat on the Harlem River. The whole thing puts a terrible mood on our answer business.
We are consoled to imagine, like I tell Bip at lunch, right after he hands me the Geographic with the picture of a tusked walrus on the cover, that I imagine the Tin Woodman can go back to reproduce tin babies now.
“I think we should go find that shithead with the one ball up in Westchester,” says Bip. “Can you drive the fucked up truck or do we take a bus?”