Murphy’s Law was in full effect for me today (Saturday). Murphy’s Law is not quite Sod’s Law, nor is it exactly Finagle’s Law, although they all capture the same sentiment. The tenet of Murphy’s Law is “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” The older I get the more I seem to be bedeviled by this particular Irish legislation. I’m not talking about your basic bad luck, or the threat of danger from living in a country seized by an out-of-control virus and governed by chronic misfits. This is more like if there is a pigeon overhead, it will shit on my bald spot, without fail. Colonel Bat Guano is no longer a character in the Stanley Kubrick film Doctor Strangelove. Look, this is about light stuff, it’s not a matter of life or death. But it is the yin and the yang of the daily struggle that we call life so it deserves a telling.
I leave the apartment to do my errands on Washington Avenue, Brooklyn. Washington Avenue is where old Brooklyn meets new gentrified Brooklyn (the new part is winning hands down). It is the nearest commercial high street for me. I am halfway down the block when I realize that I am maskless. So it’s a return to the top floor of my building. Back on the street and it’s now raining hard. I specialize in those $5 Korean umbrellas, the ones that turn inside out the moment the wind picks up. The useless brolly winds up in the nearest trashcan. My glasses always fog up with the mask. The rain just makes matters worse. I can’t see a thing. I’m not only worried about walking into a bus. Shit, the Empire State Building could have been five yards in front of me and I would have collided with it head-on. I’m as blind as a bat.
Onto Washington Avenue, and my first stop is the newspaper shop. There is a large sign on the door, “No More than Two Customers Allowed in the Store.” There are two guys in there buying their numbers. People around here take the lottery seriously. I know I am in for a wait. I see an old codger finish up. But he doesn’t walk out. Instead, he checks his tickets against his handwritten list. It looks like an Enigma code deciphering operation. Finally he finishes up and then decides to slowly page through the Daily Gleaner, the Jamaican newspaper. There are five of us now standing outside, waiting for gum or the crossword. Finally there is a vacancy. But the shopkeeper steps up with a carpet and locks the door. He politely puts both of his hands together indicating that he needs to pray. Okay, I can live with that. Meanwhile the recently departed old geezer with the lotto tickets has found a mistake and is back banging on the door seeking justice.
“He’s praying,” I say.
“I don’t care if he’s getting fucking married, he screwed up my Pick 3 number,” in that bass baritone island accent.
Is there a possibility for bloodshed at the local tearoom? It is another twenty minutes before I get the paper. Eventually, I am off to the dry cleaners next door. There is a new lady behind the counter, not the usual Linda. It is Janet’s first day behind the stick and she is temporarily filling in for Linda. She is unfamiliar with the checking in and checking out process, which is really all the job is about. When the computer seems helpless, the only solution is to go through all of the hangers to try and identify my threads. I can’t even remember what I had dropped off the week before.
“It could be blue, it might be yellow,” I volunteer.
Janet is effusively apologetic throughout all of this and I am beginning to feel sorry for her. Especially since there is a line forming outside and I can already hear the muttering. After all, it is raining.
“At least you don’t have to pray,” I offer. This goes nowhere, and it takes a few minutes to extricate myself from that mess. But then I have to drop off the new items. Of course, poor Janet can’t get the computer to produce a ticket. So we go into the swapping personal info by hand routine. I write down my address and my phone number including the following information “a red thing and a green thing.” Janet can’t read my handwriting, which is Catholic school neat. “What is grun?” she asks. I feel like the bank robber in Woody Allen’s Take the Money and Run film…”no that’s gun, not gub.” Janet is becoming a little unhinged by the pressure and she seems to be losing it. We spend a few minutes while I find something green to point at. By the time I get out of there, the line outside has that impatient rock concert crowd feel to it. “Good luck in there” is all I am able to muster as advice for the surly others who are all giving me dagger-like looks.
Next is the Korean fried chicken joint. This is the weekly treat for my roommate Charlie and me. Not the Colonel or Popeye’s kind of fare, the Korean bird is doused in kimchi, mother-in-law hot. Mostly a take-out operation, now there are about fifteen people crammed into the two table seating spot, no masks and carrying on like Trumpers at one of his MAGA rallies. I can tell by the glowering of the workers that this is not going down too well. They know me, so by a series of semaphore signals, heliographing and sign language, I place my order from outside. Because I can’t see due to the rain and the mask fogging up my glasses, I can only hope that this is understood.
“Rather than get contaminated by the freedom lovers, let me nip off to the supermarket,” goes my thinking. All seems hunky dory. I’m waiting in the check out line, with my $15 worth of groceries. But the check out line has no rules. It’s about as secure as the Maginot Line. Customers are advancing from all quadrants. No twelve o’clock high here. The Mick Jones Clash song “Lost in the Supermarket” comes to mind. My turn is due and this bandit at ten o’clock comes out of nowhere with a massive cart filled with all of the daily specials and commits the unforgivable. He jumps the queue. I engage the intruder.
“Excuse me, I was next.”
“I was already here, I just forgot something,”
“No you weren’t, I’ve been standing here for ten fucking minutes.”
“Aren’t you the sore loser!”
The manager in a bow tie intervenes and not in my favor. I’m steaming now, doing a real Basil Fawlty self-righteous act, full of “buts,” splutterings and raised eyebrows. To no avail…the manager’s word is final. Managers have never been on my side, especially in banks and now in supermarkets.
Feeling that the world owes me a favor, I slog back up the street in the rain to the Korean Chicken World. They have misunderstood my order despite my best efforts at military signaling. Instead of ten pieces of fried chicken, I now have a wheelbarrow full of noodles. The wannabe Trump artists are ordering another round of Sapporos. I’m close to surrender. “Charlie will understand that the chicken is off and the noodles are on,” I say to myself in consolation.
My last stop is at the Yemeni bodega en route home. I like going to this shop, the brothers congregate there, for no apparent reason but to chew the shit. The banter is always entertaining. It has that real loafers’ corner feel to it. The six-pack of my preferred beer is naturally in the back of the fridge, so I have to remove all of the others to get to mine. And then the plastic casing that holds the whole megillah together gives way and there are cans all over the floor. “Murphy’s Law,” I grunt to the young Arab help. He stares back at me in bewilderment. Meanwhile, the nosebleed section is guffawing away.
I am now on the home stretch and thinking to myself that this experience has Hard Crackers potential. It needs that cherry on the icing for the consummate Laurel and Hardy cream pie fight climax. As I arrive soaked at the front of my building, I vaguely make out a U-Haul double parked outside. A young hipster is moving in to one of the done-up smaller apartments that were originally one apartment and have now been subdivided into two by the bloodsucking landlord. I have no sympathy for any of the parties involved here. These youngsters pay almost three times the rent that we pay, and they can’t have been working long enough to amass such wealth. Such a monthly cost would bust Charlie and me immediately. Some of these new tenants are barely old enough to shave. And now one of these brats has the elevator loaded to capacity with his shit. I notice a Lacrosse stick. There’s no room for me and my cartload of Korean noodles. I let him go up, knowing full well that he has to offload all his crap somewhere above me. So I draw the short straw again. A perfect ending, I couldn’t have scripted it better if I had tried.
I know that this is not the Gaza or even the projects, and this could be misconstrued as the whining of an older crank, small potatoes. I’m a low rent person and I love being on the streets in my neighborhood. I soak that stuff up. But in the right hands and in the right place, Murphy’s Law can break the best of us, especially during a pandemic. That’s life. For me, sod it. It was just a bad luck day in the midst of big trouble in the land.