Harvey strikes me as someone who would own a long-range precision rifle, or maybe a flame thrower. He is very white, with milky-blue eyes and large, wire-rimmed glasses. Brown Grecian Formula hair parted precisely on the side. Long-sleeve dress shirt tucked into black polyester pants, with tennis shoes and white socks. He looks fifty maybe, and he seems to be grinding his teeth there in front of my driveway.
He fixes a stare on me.
“Harvey, this is Ryan. ... Ryan, this is Harvey.” My mailman pauses to choke back a laugh. “Harvey here is Calhoun's friend. He's looking for Calhoun. You seen Calhoun today, Ryan?”
Calhoun is my freak neighbor, the guy who lives on my right, and I avoid him with every fiber of my cunning know-how. I don't want Calhoun in my life. I don't wanna look at him, or wave to him or engage him in any chit-chat, unless I wanna lose about ninety minutes of my day, unless I wanna get pulled into his gelatinous, greasy and tilted world -- Calhoun's world. But sometimes, of course, it's inevitable.
I meet Harvey's stare for a sec. “Haven't seen him.”
My mailman's walking away, crossing the street, his back already to us. “Maybe Ryan can show you around, Harvey."
Harvey's still staring, like a lizard training on an insect -- no facial cues, eyes unblinking, body frozen. “You think I'm some monkey brain?” he says, his voice high and sharp. “I don't need your Candy Land tour.”
He turns and walks away, and I holler, “Take care, Harvey,” saying it real nice and friendly, real neighborly. He stops and turns back -- his body stiff -- and stares at me with those eyes, just staring deep into mine, his fists clenching and releasing, over and over. His teeth showing.
I take a deep breath and wave him off, nice and easy, like I'm saying, Y'all come back now.
The next day, I'm sitting in Calhoun's living room, trying not to breathe through my nose, trying not to pick up his trademark scent of baby powder and boiled-egg-gone-bad. Calhoun's wearing his red threadbare sweatpants and the same old brown sweatshirt with all these smears and hardened crumbs across the chest. I sit there looking at Calhoun, eyeballing the belly hanging over his crotch, glancing at his light-brown, Bozo-the-Clown hair, looking at his enormous tits, and I'm thinking we're probably talking about 300 pounds.
Three-hundred pounds of jelly.
His voice is delicate and precious. “This is a nice surprise.” When he snickers, his tits jiggle. “Mister Wonderful coming to see little old me.”
“Well, I wanted to tell you about Harvey.”
“Harvey?” More jiggling. "You've met Harvey?” We look out front, and Harvey's got barbecue prongs in his hand, and he's waving down some kid on a bike. “Harvey likes me, doesn't he?”
I look at Calhoun, and he laughs.
“Problem is,” I say, “he's scaring the neighbors.”
Harvey now has the boy by the neck, and he's jabbing the barbecue prongs into the kid's side. I stand up and run my fingers over the camera in my pocket, watching them, getting ready. "You think you can keep him in your backyard?”
“Backyard?” He thinks about it, and his tits jiggle. “Have you seen the junk back there? The weeds, the overgrowth?” He snickers in silence, then coughs. “Silly Ryan.”
Harvey releases the boy and steps back, like a drill sergeant observing a recruit. Pointing his prongs down the street, he tells the kid to walk his bike back the way he came.
"Who is he?"
Calhoun's eyes have turned to slits, and his entire body is shaking and jiggling from that fucking silent laughter of his. "You want him?"
I peer out the window. Harvey is spearing leaves and trash with the rigid precision of a color guard officer.
"He a mental patient?"
“Mental patient?” Calhoun leans back and examines his overgrown fingernails. “I'm not sure what that really means, Mister Ryan. I mean, how really useful is the term, 'mental patient'?” He pauses and sighs, nice and happy. “But yes, you might say Harvey isn't very healthy.”
I sit there thinking, The fat fuck has a point. Hell, aren't we all just a tad mental anyway? Every single one of us? Just ready to snap? Ready to do something really fucking weird? Or bad?
We watch as Harvey orders an old woman to walk on the right side of the sidewalk until Calhoun, his chin up and eyes closed, says, “He should do just fine for my little upper-decking plans.”
Upper-decking? I crinkle my brow.
“Oh, please, Mister Ryan.” He gives me a sad voice, like I'm some charity case, and he's stretching the words in mock sympathy. “Please tell me you've heard of upper-decking.”
This is how someone ends up in one of County's plastic bags.
It starts when two guys are having a New Year's Eve dinner at Baker's Square. It's 6:30 or so, about an hour before the movie starts, and the big friend, Calhoun, is yammering really loud about how he caught this cheater at this Yahtzee tournament in Bakersfield, how he grabbed the cheater's wrist and whipped it back and forth, launching all these dice across the Veteran's Hall, igniting some kind of Yahtzee melee in which the cheater's daddy comes at Calhoun from one side with a folding chair and the mommy attacks from the other side with this glass tray of lasagna.
The small friend, Ernie, is sitting there shoveling banana cream pie into his hole, and he's hardly listening. The way Calhoun retells it to me, I'm figuring it's probably because Calhoun keeps spitting crumbs and God knows what else onto Ernie's face, and Ernie keeps saying things like, “You just spit again,” wiping crap off his nose and cheeks, and Calhoun just keeps going on about the Yahtzee thing, this big stupid smile on his face.
Until Ernie puts down his fork and yells, “You're spitting,” and yells it so loud the Baker's Square people go silent, and Calhoun suddenly shuts up, looking at Ernie, his jowls getting red, until he hocks up a loogie and launches it onto Ernie's face, nailing him right between the eyes, saying, “Now that's spitting,” pausing and then adding, “Little buzz killer.”
And they go nuts. Ernie coming over the table with his pie fork. Calhoun rolling out of the booth, pushing up and waddling for the door. Ernie going airborne and landing on Calhoun's back. Calhoun losing balance and crashing them both through the pie display near the register. Waitress pouring scalding water on them. Cook whacking Calhoun on the head with a cookie sheet. Cops showing up, taking statements, bringing them into County for the night, making them miss the movie, their New Year's Eve movie, for like the first time in eleven years.
Now, six months later, they're supposed to be all made up and forgiven, but for Calhoun, it's all a bunch of bullshit. He tells me he hasn't forgotten a thing, and nothing's been forgiven. Ernie ruined Calhoun's New Year's Eve routine. Ernie took his anger out on Calhoun, using his harmless food-and-spit spraying (no one else makes a big deal about it) as some kind of excuse to go ape on one of his best friends, on their biggest night of the year.
Calhoun tells you how he's gonna get Ernie back.
He tells you about upper-decking, and he tells you how he's gonna use Harvey as a decoy. He tells you how they're gonna come over to Ernie's for the season finale of “Scott Baio Is 45 and Single,” and right in the middle of it all, Calhoun's gonna excuse himself and saunter off to Ernie's hall bathroom. He explains how he's been preparing for two weeks, how he's been getting into “the rhythm of nightly deuces,” how he's gonna chow down lots of carnitas and beans for two days before and show up at Ernie's at 7:45 with a giant mug of creamy coffee. How Harvey is gonna distract Ernie in the TV room while Calhoun's in the can, gently removing the lid to the upper water basin of Ernie's toilet, pulling his sweats down and slowly navigating onto the toilet until his ass is practically falling into the exposed water basin, his feet planted firmly on the toilet-seat lid, his hands reaching to the sink counter and window frame for stabilization, and then (the exaltation) releases “a monster” into Ernie's upper deck, where it will either wreak immediate havoc on the flushing system or simply reside unnoticed for months on end. He tells you how he's gonna put the lid back on, tip-toe into the TV room with this innocent look and whisper sweetly, “What did I miss?”
You try to talk your neighbor out of it. You say he could get hurt up there on the toilet's upper deck. You say Ernie could “go psycho” on him if “the hit” goes wrong. But Calhoun's tits just jiggle with the silent laughter and he calls you “my little choir boy” and says, “That's what Harvey's for. Harvey will run interference.”
Oh yeah, Harvey's gonna run interference. You bet.
And then finally, you're thinking, Hell, a guy has a beef with another man, wants to upper-deck into that man's toilet, that's his business.
And so I butt out.
Two days later I'm nursing my fourth screwdriver of the night, staring at my old yo-yo but not really, when the doorbell rings.
It's Calhoun and Harvey. They're standing there in the darkness of my porch, giggling and staring at me, and I give them the What's-up? eyebrows, making a point not to smile.
“Little Scott Baio is forty-five,” Calhoun says, his delivery low and sing-songy, “... and still single.”
I move to close the door. “That's nice, guys.”
Calhoun slips a foot in the doorjamb. “And we're headed to Ernie's place to watch the little finale.” They're both snickering. “Care to join us, Mister Ryan?”
Harvey makes a weird noise, still smiling, and I realize he's got the barbecue prongs in his right hand. I glance at the prongs, then at Calhoun, then at the metallic-blue traveling mug that no doubt is filled with Yuban or Folger's Choice or some such shit. Calhoun lifts his sweatshirt just enough to show me the small chrome pistol tucked into his sweatpants, nearly enveloped by his body jelly, and I'm thinking, Maybe I wanna see this.
I reach for my keys and digital camera. “Chachi's still single, eh?”
I've never met Ernie before, but I can tell he's a neat freak. His little tract house is immaculate -- unspotted walls, shining linoleum, sparkling appliances -- and his slacks and shirt are neatly pressed. In the TV room, he's got five plates of food on the coffee table -- powdered donuts, a mound of marshmallows, some kind of Fiddle Faddle rip-off, cashews and big thick carrot slices. A plastic pitcher of red Kool-Aide is sitting beside a stack of 5-ounce Dixie cups.
Calhoun falls into the middle spot, right in front of the food. Harvey paces behind the couch. I sit opposite them in a fake-leather armchair that immediately sticks to my skin.
Ernie, this little guy with a crewcut on the sides and comb-over on the top, stands there with his arms folded, looking me up and down, taking his time. He glances at Calhoun, who's shoveling marshmallows into his mouth. “This guy one of your precious Yahtzee studs, Calhoun? One of your Yahtzee buddies with all the ladies?”
Calhoun doesn't look up. “Ryan?” His tits jiggle at the thought. “No, Ryan wouldn't know a Yahtzee cup if it hit him on the side of the head.”
Ernie makes a weird laugh and points at me, his nostrils flaring. Harvey joins in with a cackle, pointing too. Calhoun's tits are jiggling. I smile and nod, taking it, then motion to Ernie's 13-inch Zenith. “Let's get Chachi up on the tube, eh?”
Chachi is making a fool of himself. He's wringing his hands with some life coach, and the life coach is saying he's gotta decide what he's gonna do with his life -- commit to one of his girls or stay single. Around the perimeter of Chachi's compound, one of his estranged bachelor buddies from his wild-and-crazy days is trying to sneak in. Chachi needs to decide what to do, and the dramatic music they're playing in the background heightens the tension.
At which point, Calhoun pushes himself out of the couch and announces, “Potty break.” He grabs the People magazine off the end table. “Mind if I take this?”
Ernie glares at him. “You know the rules.”
Calhoun tosses the magazine back. “Fine.”
Okay, here we go.
I pretend to be engrossed by yet another GEICO commercial. Ernie sits across the room, staring at me.
“So you don't play Yahtzee?”
Still looking at the TV. “Me?” I pause. “Nah.”
Harvey springs up from the couch and walks toward the hallway, grabbing the prongs off the kitchen counter on the way over. He begins to pace in front of the hallway entrance, blocking anyone's path to the bathroom.
What a fucking idiot.
I force myself to stare at a Miller Lite commercial, and I think I hear the clank of porcelain -- heavy porcelain on tile, in fact. I glance at Ernie, and he's cocking his head, looking at the ceiling, listening.
Ernie gets up. “You okay?” He watches Harvey some more. “Don't worry, he'll come back.”
Harvey waves him off with the prongs. “Just stretching the legs.”
I try to focus on the TV, but I can't, so I look over and Ernie's staring at me. I give him my Beats-me look and go back to the TV. Ernie turns back to Harvey. “What are you doing with those prongs? Is that your thing, Harvey? Barbecue prongs?”
Harvey keeps pacing, keeps guarding that hallway entrance. “Don't worry about my prongs.”
Ernie's standing there watching. Hands on his hips. “Maybe I got a problem with some guy bringing prongs into my house.”
Harvey stops and fixes a stare on Ernie.
Ernie squints back.
I reach into my cargo shorts, pull out my camera.
A thunderous crash erupts from the bathroom.
My sister says I'm a psychotic. She says there's something wrong with a person if he's more interested in taking pictures during a crisis than turning the fucking thing off and actually helping, especially since I'm not some photojournalist or whatever. I say, Hey, I'm just here taking pictures, getting it all down, so I can look at it all on my iMac back at the house. I'm not trying to sell the shit or anything. It's for me, when I'm feeling bored or horny or whatever, and I've got nothing better to do than look at my crisis pictures and, you know, get that release. Something about looking at people in their critical moments that kinda gets me in the gut, but in a good way. So fuck, if that makes me a psycho, go ahead -- sue me.
Just sue me if you think there's something wrong with clicking off a few as Ernie grabs the prongs from Harvey's grasp and sinks them into Harvey's throat, and I get this great shot of the blood squirting out, just frozen there in mid-air. Just sue me if you got a problem that I'm cranking off a few shots when Ernie's getting his baseball bat from the den and he's yelling, “You upper-decking again? You upper decking again?” over and over, and his eyes are bulging, almost crossing. And kiss my ass if you got a problem with me crouching to get a wide-angle shot of Ernie kicking the door in, finding Calhoun perched atop the upper basin of the toilet with this stupid strain on his face as he fumbles with his tiny chrome pistol, and Ernie's saying, “You sit in my upper-deck, be ready for foul balls,” and Calhoun is refusing to dismount, maybe not realizing that I ain't gonna protect him, that this is not my business, that his little pistol is worthless in his trembling hands, that his buddy Ernie has gone off the deep end and is winding up right now, saying, “You go to my upper deck, you gotta be ready for an errant bat now and then,” and unwinds this monster swing, nailing Calhoun in the forehead.
Sue me if you got a problem with a guy taking a shot of Ernie standing there in the bathroom, kinda stunned at what he's just done, staring into space, with the bat hanging off his fingertips, Calhoun's body at his feet, in a mound, the pistol near his crushed head, and he's still panting hard, and you click off one more as you backpedal, getting ready to run the hell out of there and call the police, but only after you've put your camera in the glove box of your Cavalier, but still kinda pissed about the fact you didn't get the money shot, that shot looking down into the upper basin of that sick fuck's toilet.