by Kelly Jameson
For one thing, Rick had always wished he’d been named Carl. Or Helen.
For another, while he’d often dressed up in his mother’s high heels, bras, fake pearls and earrings as a boy, he’d never wished he’d grow up to drive a medical waste-hauling truck, the color of which reminded him of his mother’s odious lipstick.
He drove the truck now, headed east in Edison, New Jersey, then waited at a red light. It was raining. He felt fat. Listless. Huge and small in his life at the same time. Like a marble thrown into a sand storm. He just didn’t believe in the things he used to believe in. That women’s underwear could look sexy on a man. Stilettos. Gleaming plastic pearls. All the dreams of a pale, blonde, overweight boy.
Now he was a forty-two-year-old fuck. His brain and his body atrophied from stultifying routine, sameness, dullness, he felt like mechanically separated chicken, which was basically pulverized carcasses, dark meat, bones, beaks, and brains.
In addition to hauling medical waste, Red-Bag Rick was an artist, a recovered methamphetamine addict, and a failed hip-hop master of ceremonies. A bag of mmmmmmeat. Just a bag of big, old, fat, stupid white meat. Ah, he’d be dead in twenty five years anyway, if he lived that long.
The light turned green. He started to move and a sedan ran the light in front of him. He hit the horn, swerved. “You mother fucking asshat!” he yelled. “Chicken dick lickin’ fartbag!”
Then to himself, “Shithead asshole dick licker fucktard loser, hauling around rotting diseased meat! Mother fuckin’ titty suckin’ two balled bitch!” But he remembered how he hated it when he talked so disgustingly to himself.
The extra-large ‘Just My Size’ rose-colored women’s underwear he wore beneath his jeans chafed the creases of his round hairy thighs in the summer heat. He blasted the AC. His worn Nike sneakers sat on the floor of the passenger seat while he worked the truck pedals in size 12 shiny, black heels. Blackness…as an artist, he was always attracted to it.
He wanted to look elegant, after all, while hauling around blood swabs, amputated limbs, placentas, syringes, scalpels and used bandages. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” played softly on the truck stereo. Rick raised his voice and sang along, loudly and passionately:
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide,
No escape from reality
He’d already been to the hospital, hit the loading dock, collected the big red bins and bags, and driven away, the hospital employee spouting something about health and biohazard risks. Whatever, douche bag. There’ll always be hospitals and waste and filth, Rick thought. Nobody gets out alive. Rick was a positive, upbeat kind of guy.
He stopped at Wendy’s, downed a bacon double-cheeseburger and some sea salt fries, washed it down with a ginormous Coke, farted, and then, in an abandoned parking lot no one used anymore, picked through what he wanted to keep for his sculptures.
This time he’d hit the mother lode of amputated little toes and kidney stones, perfect for the wall mural he was creating in his living room, using meat glue. For three whole years he’d been on the lookout for the perfect appendix but so far he hadn’t found one that was just right. He’d immediately discarded the idea of using a gallbladder. Gallbladders were ugly and he didn’t like them.
He’d already coated diseased tonsils that looked disturbingly like George Burns in shellac. They sat on his coffee table next to his issues of Mad Magazine. Most people didn’t know that shellac was a varnish-like, clear to orange or red-colored substance produced by the lac insect of India. In certain seasons of the year, the insects swarmed trees, settled on branches, penetrated the bark, sucked up the sap and absorbed it until they fed themselves to death (called the feast of death among indigenous peoples). Each female lac bug deposited about 1,000 eggs before dying.
Rick was also building an incredible small-scale Empire State Building in his dining room using glitter, Hannah Montana cat litter, discarded IV bags and gloves, scraped tissues, scalpels and lancets, and experimental carcasses (some probably with radio-isotopes), food rejects, hankies and sheets from patients who’d had communicable diseases, blood pressure gauges, and batteries. It was fucking cool.
He hoped Donna with the big breasts would like it. She lived in the unit across from him. She was a big, curvy, black-haired bitch who liked to wear leather. The kind of woman who grew balls when she drank vodka. His kind of woman. She wore too much black eye liner and painted her fingernails and toenails black and listened to heavy metal music even though she was in her forties. He often fantasied about licking her toes.
Rick had actually made a late night visit to a landfill where it was rumored that someone had thrown away perfectly good bags of body parts and found some great stuff for his art. That was one of the great things about Jersey: the number of toxic landfills and the lax enforcement for dumping and cleaning them up.
He drove his truck around now to the back of a large thrift shop that wasn’t open and parked. His friend Herman Bottabum worked the store. Herman had one arm. In exchange for giving Rick the latest and greatest from the thrift store, Herman got to pick through body parts to see if there was something he might take a fancy too.
Herman had a lot of tattoos. He needed an arm that was tattooed. Herman had a potbelly, a comb-over, and looked like Donald Trump on crack. He slipped a latex glove over his one hand and pawed through the parts now. Nobody else was around.
“See anything you like, fucker?” Rick asked. Then, “What do you have for me today?”
Herman dipped into a medical bin and held up a detached skinny white arm that looked like it had belonged to a lactose-intolerant elderly man on a low-fat chocolate pudding diet. He set it back down and pulled out another one.
“Got a size 26 pink prom dress with lotsa ruffles, a glass eye, and some rusty golf clubs.”
“You’re holding out on me,” Rick said. “What the hell are you going to do with an amputated arm anyway? You’re not a doctor. You can’t reattach it.”
“Gonna put it in a big bucket of formaldehyde, you big fat fucker. I can do whatever I want with it.”
“No you can’t. Not really. It’s not yours. If it was truly yours, you could keep it without worrying about the police wondering where or how you got it. People can keep parts removed from their own bodies if they wanna. Shit, I’ve heard of
women who wanna keep their uteruses,” Rick said. “People who take tonsils and appendixes. Sometimes even feet. If you do get caught with it, don’t tell anyone where you got it.”
Rick looked at the rejected body parts and thought of his love life. “You know, I get rejected for all the wrong bullshit reasons.”
“What, like ‘cause your fat and you like to wear women’s clothing and haul diseased body parts for a living? Because you drive a truck full of human waste while wearing black high heels? Whoever gets rejected for the right reasons, dick licker?”
Rick wore the heels now. His feet hurt. But he only wore them in front of certain friends. “Mmmm,” Rick said, thinking about how later he would use meat glue and shellac to piece together a severed foot, vintage Barbie dolls in sunglasses and peep-toe heels, and some empty cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to make a collage of himself.
Later, after Herman had taken a beefy severed arm tattooed with the word “Mom” and a red heart, and Rick had taken the size 26 pink prom dress and the glass eye, he was back on the road, thinking about how every day for the last twenty years had been pretty much the same, how his triglycerides were too high and his bank account too low. About every single meat-laden greased-up heavy fatty oily fucking day. Him, sitting his big fat ass in the truck and hauling medical waste away from hospitals like JFK Medical Center in Edison.
Who am I and what does it all mean? he thought. Then, I think later I’ll use Bulls Eye Spray Shellac, which is durable, fast drying, and clear, on the amputated digits and toes and make a necklace. It doesn’t require a brush to clean up either.
Rick felt a shit coming on. He drove a while on the highway, stopped at a rest stop, and took a big satisfying dump in the restroom. Then he got back on the road. He didn’t want the truck to be too heavy. That might arouse suspicion at a roaming weigh station and get him in real trouble. Lotsa people didn’t know that a ripple in the roadway could be caused by heavy trucks sitting there and pushing down on the asphalt. And he didn’t want to end up being pulled over by a cop on a random police spot check and then see the governor spotlighted in the newspaper wearing rubber gloves and displaying illegal medical waste from one of his trucks. He had to protect his art.
Rick decided he’d stop off to see Roger, a man everybody thought suffered from body dysmorphic disorder. Roger had been involved in a scandal where a hospital admitted taking his money for amputating one of his healthy limbs. The healthy limb of a psychologically disturbed man who had nothing physically wrong with him. Roger didn’t really have body dysmorphic disorder. He’d admitted to Rick that he suffered from a condition with a name he couldn’t pronounce where people schemed to get one or more limbs amputated in order to get off sexually. The first cut is always the deepest, oh yeah that feels soooo good …. Rick knew what it was. He’d read about it. Apotemnophilia, defined as self-desired amputation driven by the patient’s erotic fantasy of possessing an amputated limb and overachieving despite being handicapped.
Sometimes Rick stopped at Roger’s house and let him paw through the limbs in the back of his truck in exchange for dinner. Rog got around pretty good. He slapped burgers on the grill, and beer cans in hand, they wolfed them down while watching Jeopardy in Roger’s TV room and calling each other faggots when they got an answer wrong, which was often.
“You ever find a severed penis?” Roger asked, burger grease dripping down his impecunious chin and shining on his slender, weak fingers.
“Plenty of fingers and toes but never a penis,” Rick said, squirting more ketchup on his burger. “Hey, next week I’m taking my first vacation in years. Going to the National Museum of Health and Medicine. Wanna go with me?”
“Why the fuck would I wanna go there, faggot? Where is it anyway?”
“In a concrete annex of a 1950s bomb shelter at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. They have a glass case with the bones of the amputated right leg of Union General Daniel Sickels in it.”
Roger sat up in his chair. “No shit?”
“No shit. He was struck while on horseback by a 12-pound cannonball at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863,” Rick said. “After his shattered leg was sawed off, Sickles sent the leg and cannonball to the museum in a coffin-shaped box with a card inscribed ‘With Compliments of Major General D.E.S.’ He visited the museum on every Gettysburg anniversary to view his remains for years.”
Roger licked his lips. “That’s fucked up. What else they got?”
“Stuff like mummified Siamese twins, a dissected human ear, a gangrenous human foot.” Rog looked like he was going to jizz in his pants. That was Rick’s queue to leave. “Thanks for the burgers and beers.”
“Call me if yer goin’ to that museum next week.”
“Roger that, Roger,” Rick said, thinking about how he’d like to see the exhibit of the giant hair ball they’d taken out of a 12-year-old girl’s stomach. The girl had eaten hair for six years before doctors surgically removed the ball from her stomach.
Back in his truck, Rick slipped off his sneakers and socks and put his heels back on. He wasn’t yet ready to wear them in front of one-legged Roger.
He was tired. Another few hours and it was dark. He drove on, high-heeled feet pumping the brakes and pedals like a sweating, sequined Liberace during a packed concert. He was in Pennsylvania now. It was a moonless, cloudy evening. He eventually found the dump and illegally rid himself of the waste he didn’t want to keep. Then he found another truck stop, pulled over, and slept like a baby.
In the morning, the bright sky oozed sunshine like pus from an infected wound. On the way home, Rick did something out of character. He stopped at a small amusement park. He’d passed it before several times but had never stopped. Make memories that last a lifetime! He rode a roller coaster. A water flume. Went inside the funhouse. Ate funnel cake and cotton candy and popcorn and drank his fill of sugary lemonade while the sun beat down on him like a masochistic lover. It felt good.
He was standing in line to get a snow cone when he heard a huge explosion and was knocked to the ground.
People screamed and ran in all directions, like paint on a Jackson Pollock canvas. He heard someone say something about the chicken nugget plant next door exploding and bursting into flames. He and others were covered in something goopy and warm. Mechanically separated chicken? Before they dyed it to look like actual chicken, it was pink, oozy, and looked sorta like cotton candy pumped from a tube. Rick had driven by the plant many times before; the plant processed chicken nuggets and marinated chicken breasts sold at fast-food restaurants, some of which Rick had no doubt eaten on his many drives. Soon, worried relatives, journalists, and curiosity seekers crowded the parking lots of the plant and the amusement park while police tried to hold them back from danger.
Rick was covered in mechanically separated chicken parts and lying on the ground near the funhouse. The snow cone booth was on its side, blue and red syrups upended and running in bright, sticky streaks on the hot concrete. Sirens sounded. Chaos abounded. People ran from him.
He wasn’t hurt as far as he could tell, just concussed with terror. The air around him seemed to be all white. Distorted and heavier, like something you saw in the funhouse mirrors. A teenager in a Justin Bieber T-shirt, shorts, and sneakers ran by him, his dark, curly hair covered in chicken carcass goo. Rick could see a great bilge of black smoke up in the blue-eyed sky. Well, I’m still alive. Alone, but alive.
He tried to stand up and that’s when he knew. He couldn’t. He was a dull horrible white man with a dull horrible job, separated from his dull horrible leg. He looked around. There, on a green, wooden park bench sat his white, white leg, alone, rejected, jagged, chunky, ripped, bloody, and torn, under a sun that was like an enemy. Red-Bag Rick heard the screams of people on the rollercoaster as it roared by above him, twisting and turning on its metal track, its riders still unaware of the explosion. They don’t know yet about the toeless black hills of old-man sorrow.
He thought he saw General Sickles’ leg marching toward him. Wiggling toes emerging from the blacktop. Silicone breasts jog-bouncing in the sky. A glass eye looking down at him from a cloud. The hand of a severed arm with a “Mom” tattoo and red heart giving him the finger.
Carnival season is up and running! Admission is free! Red-Bag Rick, pink prom dress queen of chicken parts, popcorn, pizza, pickles on a stick, and split limbs, was another suicide that was never recorded.