The Weird Story of Chuck and his Folks
At 55 years of age, midlife crisis has been hitting him hard and has become a permanent and nasty fixture in his life as he sees the 60s coming crashing down on him. Everything that needed to be achieved has been achieved, yet there is an unsettled feeling of unfinished business. A big house, three luxury cars, a successful restaurant, money in savings, stocks, and bonds, flying his own small airplane for pleasure and yet a family life that is just average and evolving without excitement.
For neighbors, friends and family, Chuck is living the perfect American dream. A 6 foot-2 tall man, Chuck maintains youthful look and demeanor. He looks 15 years younger, a situation that is often source of problems as he looks for excitement outside of the house in material and flesh, believing that he still has what it takes to be a player.
Chuck has three children, two that he likes and one that he barely tolerates. The youngest one, 6-year old Broom (discuss or expand this character by clicking on the link) was an accident of nature, one that neither he nor his wife Megan apparently planned. Well, may be not! Chuck suspects his wife got bored doing nothing five years ago and allowed it to happen. He recalls that long before Broom’s birth, Megan stopped having sex with him completely for a good three years. Then all of a sudden, here appetite for love making returned with a vengeance. Horny as he was, Chuck never questioned Megan’s own re-discovered lust. He never thought that instead she may have another idea in mind. For now, that the her mojo is back, he would get from her whatever he could in bed before the well dried again. Beside, with Megan at 49 what are the chances she would get pregnant again? Not a chance, he thought.
For Chuck, Megan’s apparent sexual crave was a welcome change in pace in an otherwise boring family life, so boring that he has been looking for excitement elsewhere. Before their sex life showed signs of resuscitation, life was about the restaurant, his two boys Billy, 16 and Sal, 18, Sunday church, and the occasional visit to the Golden Grass, a strip joint in Mawah owned by his friend Fat Willie. For Chuck, Church and Golden Grass are not necessarily contradictory. As long as Megan is not aware of it, or remains blind to his ungodly visits to Golden Grass, God would be fine. “The big man up there is too busy. He surely has more important business to take care of rather than minding of mine,” he always thought. After all, he was convinced God would appreciate the money he graciously gives to the church every now and then, as well as the cash he secretly gives the young Sisilove Wilson the dancer. Sisilove once shared with him that she was an orphan and has been working at the Golden Grass to save and pay for her school. Her dream was to become one day a dental hygienist. Giving money to her was like charitable donation, for a worthy cause, so to speak, one that God would consider a worthy Christian gesture. That was in his mind, yet the reality is that over the months, Chuck developed a crush for Sisilove. She was young, exactly the age of Sal, and showed feelings and emotions that made Chuck forget about his constantly nagging wife. Sisilove was also gorgeous and with her soft voice she could make Chuck drop $300 each time he visits the Golden Grass. Sisilove was hired by Golden Grass five months ago to replace the aging Fateema. Originally from Houma, Louisiana, Fateema used to be the star of the show here, and Chuck had a brief affair with her in the early days. When she began to ask too much, he managed to bail out of what could have been a hairy situation. She moved on and dated several men, to finally settle with Louis the Bouncer. Louis was a heavy drinker and passed away six months ago from a liver destroyed by excessive Bourbon drinking. The death of Louis was very hard on Fateema. As a result, she began drinking heavily and has become erratic, angry and less able to perform. Once the star of the show, the long-legged black beauty could no longer retain existing patrons, let alone attract new ones. Competition from the newly opened Poodle Weed pub in nearby Winnipesaukee was fierce. Less than three miles away, Poodle Weed was established by three business-savvy and aggressive women who knew the strip joint business in and out, since they came from Nevada where they ran a network of such bars. Here in the northeast they were on a mission of expanding their business empire of selling necked women, plenty of booz, and gambling and they were good at this. Fat Willie, the owner of Golden Grass had no other option but to seek a new star dancer and fresh attitude to stay afloat, and Sisilove was just that. Chuck was into women but did not act on it as much as he often bragged to his friends. He always had a big penchant for all sorts of ladies, regardless of their marital status and race, but daily life prevented him for going the extra mile. Although he never thought of hurting Megan’s feelings, he never believed that having secret affairs was such a big deal. It was just play. Given his status of a clean-cut businessman in the town of Coffeeneck where his restaurant attracted local power brokers, from politicians to businessmen and clergymen, he never had any problem meeting women, yet a tiny powder of decency in his heart prevented him from straying far too far. His look helped in attracting ladies and he believed not acting on it was just a waste. He was always cleanly shaved, nicely dressed, generally wearing the latest of fine Italian suits, featuring some of the best Swiss watches. His restaurant was designed in his image. Always extremely clean.
As a father, Chuck was a mystery. At first, he got along very well with Billy and Sal. They were planned and as such provided no unexpected strains, even during the most difficult times when Chuck started his restaurant. Both Megan and he knew what their roles were and all went fairly smoothly. In fact, the two boys were a welcome distraction to the difficulties of running a start up. Playing the occasional baseball catch was an acceptable thing, as long as Chuck could go back at the closing of the restaurant to check if Muhammad Al-Khartumi, the cleaner from Sudan managed to exterminate all the bugs he may have noticed during the day. That would also be also an opportunity for Chuck to say good night, his own way, to Marietta or Sophie, the waitresses at the closing of their shifts.
But when Broom was born, Chuck’s fatherly habits changed. In his early 50s now, the semi-loving yet caring father saw Broom as a big deal distraction to his lifestyle. Now that the other boys are older, he thought in his little brain that his life as a womanizer would reignite in a big way and Sisilove would be part of it. But no! The damn Broom brings more unwanted responsibility, total distraction.
Chuck had mix relations with the boys. Billy and Sal used to bring him joy but now they have their own buddies and are busy doing their own teenage things. In contrast, Broom is the pain in his neck. Although very well mannered, polite, and showing good critical thinking, the young skinny Broom could not get his father to provide him with the right attention a young boy of age generally needs. Playing the usual games or ball was not something Chuck was willing to do at that age and the extent of his attention to his son was to take him to his restaurant, the Bon Appétit, and hide him in the kitchen, despite local laws that ban children from such busy working area. Chuck would particularly get angry when he would have to take care of Broom on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is because these were the days he could see Sisilove after work. Now he has to drive Broom back home and find an excuse to leave the house to spend two hours at the Golden Grass.
In the restaurant, Chuck was the master. He no longer cooks but focuses on all the business aspects of running a restaurant, including making sure that the health inspectors are well handled and well fed. Cleanliness is something near and dear to Chuck’s heart. And it is also about outward looks that he and his boys should project. Always walking straight, a nice hair cut, clean hands and fingernails were part of the basic rules that are required in the Wozniak household. But look is just one aspect. Chuck had a maniacal attitude toward dust, insects and bugs. Any time he determines that something was not clean; he would loose his temper for a long period of time as if he were a different person, a sort of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hide thing.
As in the case of Broom, the brothers Sal and Billy also spent a great deal of time at the restaurant. The oldest Sal was hanging out around the kitchen when his father was the cook and long before a chef and a full cleaning crew were hired. Observing his father operating in a cramped kitchen, it was one minute about mixing the right ingredients and spices and the next minute about exterminating the annoying ants appearing behind the sink. Not allowed to cook, Chuck allowed Sal to hunt and kill anything that can be considered a health hazard by the Coffeeneck town inspector. For Sal, the job was so fun that 15 years later he became a professional bug exterminator with his own business to run.
Billy was younger and was the next one to hang out in the restaurant. But as new laws were enacted banning the presence of children in kitchens, Chuck was forced to find regular patrons willing to keep an eye on the mild mannered Billy while the father was teaching the newly hired chef how to cook some of the locals’ favorites. One such patron was Father Seamus Ashby. The priest came to the restaurant every night and enjoyed watching after Billy. Some say that the Father may have gotten a little more than simple enjoyment out of this chore. Spending months with Father Ashby has had a lasting impact on young Billy, who 12 years later decided to join the seminary and embark on a lifelong spiritual journey to become a priest.
Chuck and his youngest son Broom could not have been as different as individuals. While Chuck’s excessive cleanliness made him enact strict hygiene rules in the restaurant and at home, Broom showed interest in all matters of biology, putting him squarely in contradiction with his father’s principles. One day while in the restaurant and after seating a party of two, Chuck moved toward the kitchen abruptly grabbing the tiny hand of little Broom. Taking him to the back of the kitchen where the trash bins were located, Chuck pointed the finger at a brown and thick cockroach that was busy eating in one corner of the room and said to Broom “Let me show you where a dirty, nasty cockroach should go.” And then he approached the poor little beast and stepped on it, crushing it to instant death. Shocked, Broom was about to cry when his father turned to Muhammad in utter anger yelling at him for having allowed such abomination to happen. The screaming was so overwhelming that Broom quickly forgot about the flattened creature and observed the screaming scene occur before his eyes.
The crushing scene in the restaurant did not deter Broom from pursuing his interests in all that is bugs. His curiosity led him to learn about trees and plants and about animals and insects. His attraction to biology helped him excel in school, becoming several years later a well respected young entomologist at the University of Oshkosh.
Years have passed and the Wozniak boys followed different paths. Billy became a man of god and the Church was home. He settled in the town of Brisbane as the priest of a local church. Life was challenging as the congregation began to shrink as a result of the various scandals that have affected the church over the past years. Father Ashby, his mentor of the early years, was arrested for pedophilia and no one knows if Billy received the Graces of the father in ways never intended by God.
Sal owned a rather mediocre and poorly managed bug extermination business. All he had was an old beat up van with a collection of extermination equipment and old buckets of chemicals only he can identify. With the exception of bug extermination, Sal apparently has not learned a bit about his father’s teachings on cleanliness. Sal, for many, is the embodiment of disgust. A heavy beer drinker, Sal is as dirty as the animals he perceives to be dirty. His life took the wrong turn and he never managed to build lasting relationships outside of his direct relatives. His life was about serving the town’s most obscure restaurants and other public establishments, making a few bucks here and there to fuel a nasty drinking habit.
Broom was the brain in the threesome. From a skinny boy, he turned out just fine, the physical image of his father, but that’s where the resemblance ends. He always disliked his father’s attitude toward other living beings. As a professor of entomology, Broom began a research program aimed at finding ways to save endangered insects from disappearing as a result of climate change. His research program, funded by some of the world largest pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness giants attracted enormous funding, bringing wealth and success to the young Wozniak. Broom was considered the defender of the endangered bugs and made a very good living from it.
As adults, the three brothers had good relations with one another. At least once a month, they met at what used to be their father’s restaurant, now owned by an aging Muhammad who introduced East African dishes to complement the usual American cuisine. Proud of his heritage, Muhammad could not help it but expanded the restaurant’s name to Bon Appétit Khartoum. Although warned by his lawyer that such a move would kill the business, Muhammad managed to keep customers coming and expanded even further now that he introduced curiosity food into the menu.
Bringing their mother there, the three brothers used these monthly sessions to reminisce about the old days and share thoughts on current events. It was Broom that always paid the bills, but the checks were always heavily discounted courtesy of Muhammad. Most of the time, the drunk and broke Sal would ask Broom for money. And often he would get some. Tonight the discussion was all about the unfolding presidential elections, with Sal, unsurprisingly siding with the Republican McCain, Broom with the Democrat Obama and Billy and Megan as usual neutral and without opinion.
It was four years earlier that Chuck Wozniak passed away. Leaving behind the least loved one on the most successful path, the most loved one on the least successful path, and Chuck’s legacy was mix. But as much as some believe that life starts at conception, it does not necessarily end at death, as a few tend to believe. And Chuck’s experience will not end at the burial ground. For Chuck, the underground experience was short lived, so to speak. His soul wandered here and there, voiceless, incapable of being heard and unable to influence anything on the other side, where life continued to evolve as usual but without him. From within his coffin, Chuck’s soul managed to leave and wander freely, observing what his children have become. He was lukewarm to the fate of Father Billy, but hated the outcome of Sal’s life. Despite selecting a job that dealt with roaches, Broom was a source of pride. Even beyond the graves, the deceased Chuck felt pride. Ironically and even six feet under, Chuck continued to hate bugs. His body laying there was a feast for countless insects. Although he did not feel bodily harm, his soul was in pain in seeing his body disseminate and disappear slowly by the very creatures he despised and killed all his life. What a disappointment, he thought. “Such a nice and well-maintained body and nothing left of it, what a waste!”
But Chuck’s wandering soul is in for a bigger surprise. That is because God had a simple plan for him, one that will challenge him above and beyond anything he has faced before or anything he has heard of when he was among the living. Chuck’s entry into the heavens was a little too premature, and his soul’s aimless wandering will soon end as if another purpose in this life-and-death scene was forming again.
It has been two years since Chuck passed away. His body no longer exists and has long decomposed. But his soul has been floating around, visualizing the living world, hearing and understanding those who are still alive. But one day in a warm summer night, it all stopped. Chuck’s wandering state came to a sudden halt for what could have been a day, a week, a month, a year, or an eternity. It could have been a second too or a decade, who knows, who keeps track? And Chuck’s soul reignited as if something exploded in his brain, or what’s left of it. Slowly he began to see things again as if a curtain was being lifted and the light was gradually entering the dark room where he was. Yet Chuck sensed that there was a difference this time. In his previous wandering experience, he saw the living world from up above. Today though, as he awoke from a seemingly long sleep, the world this time was above him, as if he were close to the people, even almost being part of them. Chuck did not get it at first and was not worried about it. It was yet another experience God is putting him through and nothing more dramatic than that. What was dramatic this round was his inability to float around. He recalled being able to go from place to place without any limitation or inhibition. He guessed that was what a soul was all about. Space was no longer relevant. He could be in one place at some point, and then 500 miles away in a matter of a fraction of a second. But this time, Chuck felt that moving was a monumental task, and required a big effort. And the pace of movement was painstakingly slow. What’s happening to me? asked Chuck. “I feel stuck.” Another curious thing was that humans looked unusually big. In his previous state of wandering, he could see them from up above as a colony of ants. He could mingle in between them like a ghost without being felt, but he was always drawn back to the heavens where he could see the living down there. Even when he was close to them, men were not so impressive. Now, they look like giants.
Quickly staring around him, Chuck noticed he was in a poorly-lit alley in the middle of the night. He instantaneously recognized the back alley of what used to be his restaurant, where the trash used to be dropped. Two men were there smoking cigarettes and chatting. He did not recognize them, but they were clearly a new generation of immigrants speaking some kind of African or Arabic dialect. It turned out they are Muhammad’s newly imported young cousins from Sudan. Feeling that his new physical status of someone watching from the bottom could be a problem, Chuck prudently moved with enormous efforts behind the trash bins and walked along the wall so as to remain unnoticed. Taking advantage of an opening at the back door, while the two were conversing and smoking, Chuck entered the kitchen where two Sudanese women were busy cooking dishes with unrecognized smells. Muhammad was also busy nearby preparing American dishes. The food smelt good, something familiar certainly, and so he felt the need to get closer. The urge was uncontrollable at first, as if it was not him and that his mind and body were impossible to control, being attracted to the food. But the smell of spice was too overwhelming.
Squeezed against the wall in a far corner of the kitchen, Chuck observed Muhammad taking away a large plate of a Caprese salad and a sample of the Sudanese goat stew out of the kitchen and toward a table in the main dining room. Chuck did not know his wife and three children were the lucky recipients of the food but the smell was so nice that nothing else mattered. Approaching the Wozniak family, Muhammad shouted happily “here’s the salad, good folks but I also want you to sample the very first Mushala stew my wife and sister-in-law are making. You are the first ones who will sample it and so I expect nothing less than complete honesty. In return, your entire meal today is on the house.” And Megan replied “oh no Muhammad, we cannot get you to cover the entire dinner, four mouths to feed are too many. But you can count on me to try your new stew.” After tasting the Mushala, and as curious as he has always been, Broom asked Muhammad if he could see how the stew was being prepared, and somewhat competitive Sal asked if he could join as well. Agreeing, Muhammad replied “the Kitchen is yours and feel free to say hi to my lovely wife any time you feel like it.” Accompanied by Father Billy, Broom and Sal headed to the kitchen, spent about five minutes with the busy cooks, complimenting them about the new dish. Turning around to leave the kitchen, Sal slowed down a bit, and then stopped abruptly. “Muhammad you’ve got a problem, buddy. I can see a massive cockroach over there at the corner. I would hate if you get caught by those nasty health inspectors these days. You cannot even bribe them anymore.” And Muhammad to reply, “oh my god, what should I do? I went through this kitchen over and over again in the past two weeks and they keep coming?” “Hey, don’t sweat it, man; let me get rid of this one pronto. I have the right stuff in my van.” But Broom did not share his brother’s plan and interjected fiercely. Approaching the cockroach, Broom screamed “Sal, forget it, this is the most unbelievable thing happening here. This is a species that was believed to have disappeared long long time ago. There is no chance in the world I’ll let you kill it. It needs to be protected and so I am taking it to the lab.”
For about 10 minutes, the two brothers argued and fought over the right course of action, with Sal favoring extermination and Broom insisting on protecting the little beast. Furious, Broom managed to make the stronger case since he is the one who always loans money to his looser brother, but yet he agreed to let Sal inspect the area, hoping he would find another one of those rare roaches or better yet a colony. Watching from below, Chuck did not know what to think at first, but he began to realize that he has now taken a physical form and he is the cockroach subject of this intense exchange among his children. For a few minutes, Chuck hoped they were talking about something else, but quickly realized he was indeed transformed into an insect he used to take pleasure killing when he felt Broom’s fingers lifting him and putting him into a jar donated by Muhammad. “What a bummer? I am a cockroach, Sal wanted to exterminate me and Broom saved me?”
Chuck was in an incredible predicament. From a human being with wealth and good looks, to an ugly looking insect in the worst situation, and who found safety with his least preferred son. Taking a quick glimpse of his new self while in the jar with its reflections, Chuck did not like what he saw. He was big, thick, heavy and brown. His many tiny legs did not measure up with the massive body they carried. Despite being unable to fly, he noticed he had some sort of wings. Worthless wings. He did not know what they were for, but that’s the secret of evolution and may be the reason why that species went extinct. His eyes appeared to be placed at the end of two thin wires or tentacles at the top of the head and the only noise he could make was a strange, unattractive and menacing hissy sound. Chuck noticed that even as an insect, he was making a lot of unusual noise that he could not control. When he walked on a hard surface, in particular, as it is the case now on a glass surface, he made quick thumping noise because the bottom of his feet were covered with a natural substance that looked and felt like hard plastic. Chuck also had an acute sensitivity to movements around him. The location of his eyes on top of thin and highly flexible tentacles meant that he could see everything, in front, back and sides. Anyone approaching him would be immediately seen regardless of where they come from. This is the first time since his soul wandering era that he felt able to monitor more than he could take. What a bad place to be.
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