The Judas Calf

I may have posted this before. But today, I thought it appropriate.

Patrick Burne stood in the study of the old house. The enormity of his task was beginning to sink in. The restoration work would take months to complete, and more importantly, tens of thousands of pounds. Money that he and his wife Laura had not entirely budgeted for.

They’d bought the house knowing that it needed a great deal of work, but they were young and positive and had high hopes of making this the sort of home where they could raise their children.

It had previously been owned by an old Jewish man who had died with no family and had made no will. After months of correspondence with the Solicitor who was looking after the old man’s estate, their offer had been accepted and eventually they completed the sale last week.

The house was sold to them exactly as it had been when the old man had died. It was furnished with old and not very valuable furniture. It even had food still left in the cupboards.  It needed re-wiring, central heating, double glazing, a new kitchen and bathroom and a few walls knocking down here and there.

Patrick sat himself down at the old man’s writing desk and started to rummage through the drawers. Mostly old receipts, but there was an old brown folder in the middle drawer. On the outside it had three words written on it. “The Judas Calf”

Patrick opened the folder and began to read.

My name is Joseph Weissman and I need to tell my story. I am an old man now and my time on this earth is coming to an end, but I must tell someone what happened during those terrible years.

It was a very long time ago and I was only twelve years old, but I can still remember the last day I saw my father.

The winter of 1943 was harsh. In our huts the temperature could be as low as minus twenty at night, and not get much warmer during the day. My two younger brothers slept with mother. All fully dressed and huddled together to keep warm. I slept cuddled up with father. We were allowed two blankets per family. So mother and the boys had one and father and I had the other. We were not alone in that hut. There were at least another twenty families like ours, all cramped together in a wooden hut no bigger than forty feet by twenty.

They called it Belzec.

We knew that there were two camps. The one where we and many more like us lived. Then there was the second camp. We were told that the other camp was the work camp, where things were much better.

Working meant food, food meant strength and strength meant life. The two camps were connected by a tunnel, or “tube” as my father would call it. Everyday hundreds would go through the tube to the second camp to work. But they never returned. Their place in our camp would be taken up by train loads of new arrivals.

There was a man in our hut called Demetri. He was friendly with the guards. His job was to take the chosen “workers” through the tube every day . He would tell them how great life would be once on the other side in Camp two. They would follow him. He would be laughing and singing and getting them to join in. But everyday he was the only one who came back. My father hated Demetri. I never knew why back then. He seemed like such a nice man. Then one day Demetri never came back. His place was taken by another man in a hut next to ours. He did and said the same things that Demetri had said.

Then one day he came into our hut very early. It was still dark outside. He had guards with him. He told all the men to get ready as they were being chosen to work in the other camp. My mother cried as she said goodbye to father. He kissed all of us and then got in line with the other men and made his way to the tube. I was happy for him. He would be working at last and being fed and getting stronger. I was sure that soon we would all be joining him. But I never did see him again.

Because father had gone one of our blankets was taken away. So every night all four of us would cuddle together under  one blanket to try to keep warm.

Two weeks later we were woken early by the guards. We were told that all the women had to leave to go to the work camp. I remember the screams. Some mothers had to be dragged away. My mother seemed to be resigned to her fate and smiled at me as she kissed us goodbye. I told her not to worry and that she would be with father and soon we would join her. She told me to look after my two younger brothers and not let any harm come to them. I told her that I would always protect them. She left and was gone.

There were now more than sixty children in our hut. I was one of the oldest. I was very popular with the other children and would always try to make them laugh and do magic tricks that father had taught me. They trusted me.

One of the guards was called Karl. He would talk to me everyday. He would tell me how great things were in the other camp and how well mother and father were doing. He told me that we would all be reunited with our parents soon. He asked me to help him organise the other children. He said because they were so young and silly he would need someone like me to lead them through the tunnel.  If I helped him with this he promised extra blankets and rations for me and my brothers. I agreed. It was cold and my two brothers were hungry.

The next morning I had all the children ready early. They were looking forward to seeing their parents again. When Karl arrived they were singing a song that I had taught them. The only children left in the hut were my two brothers. I followed Karl into the tunnel and we sung loudly. They were so excited, soon they would be back with their families.

After a very long walk in the dark and dimly lit tunnel, we arrived at the exit. There was a strange smell in the air, a sickening smell that I remembered from working for a short while in my uncle’s abattoir. In front of us were large grey buildings with no windows but with a door at each end.

Karl told me to tell the children to run as fast as they could and enter the buildings. They are shower rooms he said, they must be nice and clean when they meet their parents. I told them to run. Run as fast as they could and get themselves clean. They ran. They entered the building and the guards closed the doors. Karl took me back through the tunnel. He said I had done an excellent job and he would need me to do it again from time to time. He promised that because I was being so good my mother and father would also be given extra rations and a much better place to sleep. I was happy.

I did this job for Karl about once a week from then on. My brothers and I were well fed and given new clothes and blankets. I could never understand why some of the older boys hated me so much. I was doing them a great service.

One day I took over three hundred children through the tunnel. All were singing and laughing eager to meet their parents once again. I was happy, I was doing a good thing.

When I returned that day my two brothers had gone. Karl told me that because I had done such an excellent job he had decided to re-unite them with mother and father. I was so happy I cried.  Karl said it wouldn’t be long before it was my turn.

But my turn never came. The camp closed the following year. I and three other boys were loaded onto a train and told we were going to another camp. Karl said our families were waiting there for us. We travelled for three days in a big carriage that smelt of urine and sweat. I heard a loud explosion and lots of gunfire. When the carriage door opened there was an English soldier standing there with his gun pointed at us. I thought he was going to shoot us all. Instead he gave us chocolate.

Eventually I ended up in England in a home for boys. I never knew the truth about my family until many years later and that’s when it hit me. Hit me hard. Just what I’d done. Thousands of children had followed me. But please, please believe me. I never knew.

In abbatoirs they have something called a Judas Cow. It is the cow that leads the others into the slaughter house. It is the only one that survives. It does this job day after day. I pray to my god each day.

Please forgive this Judas Calf.

Patrick Burnes dropped the folder. Tears were streaming down his face. He was a Catholic. He also began to pray for The Judas calf.

Advertisements

Bar Stool Preacher ( Part 3, Final)

Can I remember the last day I saw Mike? You kiddin me? How the fuck could I forget it?

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For the best part of two years Me and Mike had our routine. He’d come in and sit on his usual stool. I’d serve him up his large Jamesons and he’d knock them back. When I noticed his glass was empty I’d fill it up. This would go on all night. Around midnight I’d stick on the cable channel and we’d watch “I Love Lucy” or sometimes episodes of “Bilco.” I’d laugh out loud at these shows and if I was lucky Mike might crack a smile. At four in the morning he’d pay his tab, slip me twenty bucks for keeping the bar open and then he’d leave. That was our routine. Until the day everything changed.

It was a Monday and it was four o’clock. There was no Mike. At four thirty there was still no Mike. When the early evening crowd came in around five thirty there was still no sign of Mike.

The guys were concerned.

“Where the fuck is he? What if he’s had some kinda accident or somin? We should call someone. The cops maybe?”

I was also worried but could see how ridiculous that would be.

“And say what? That a guy who we think’s called Mike and works maybe on a local Construction site. Hasn’t turned up for his glass of Jamesons today. Anyone know where he lives?”

There was a silence in the bar. Everyone shaking their heads.

“You see. Not one of us knows a goddam thing about him. So what chance do we have of finding out where he is?”

The atmosphere in the bar was strange that evening. No one really said much. One by one they left and by eleven thirty the bar was empty. I could have shut up for the night but I was hoping that maybe, just maybe Mike would turn up. Every Monday for almost two years I’d closed the doors of the bar at four in the morning. Tonight, with or without Mike, would be no exception.

The next few hours passed slower than a snail carrying a sack of concrete. Eventually with the clock showing just two minutes to four I opened up the till and started to cash up. I took out the notes, counted them and put them into a small brown envelope ready for banking later on in the day. I turned round.

“Jesus H Christ Mike, you scared the living crap out of me!”

There he was. Sitting on his usual stool, looking at me with those big blue eyes.

“Where the fuck you been Buddy, we’ve been worried sick aboutcha.”

“He did what he always did. Shrugged his shoulders and sighed.

“Couldn’t get away. But I’m here now. How about that Jamesons?”

“Yeh sure Mike. No problem. After the scare you just gave me I think I’ll join ya.”

For the next few hours we did what we always did. I talked, Mike listened. But I noticed he kept looking at the clock on the wall. It was as if he was expecting something or someone. At seven forty five he stood up.

“Time to go. Wanna join me for some breakfast?”

Wow this was a first. At last I’d get to find out where he went, maybe find out where he lived. Get to the bottom of this Bar Stool Preacher.

“Yeh sure Mike. Where?”

“Little place I know, not too far away. You’ll like it.”

“Okay. Let’s go.”

I locked the door and stepped outside into the bright daylight. It took my eyes a few seconds to adjust. Mike was waiving down a cab. It stopped and we got inside. Mike gave the guy fifty bucks

“Brooklyn Bridge Park. Hurry.”

“Really Mike, you wanna go all that way just for breakfast?”

“Sure. You’ll like it. Trust me.”

The traffic wasn’t too bad for that time of day. Most traffic was heading towards Manhattan and not away from it as we were. Mike spoke quietly.

“I won’t be coming into the bar anymore kid. My work here is finished and now I gotta move on. It’s been good to meet ya.”

My heart sank. I didn’t know him well but he felt like the closest friend I’d ever had. I struggled to find the words to say.

“That’s too bad Mike. But never say never. Maybe come back sometime in the future?

“Maybe, maybe.

We were soon across Brooklyn Bridge and stopping at the park entrance. Mike told the driver to keep the change. We walked into the park and stood on the pier looking across the river at the beautiful skyline of Lower Manhattan. It was a glorious morning. Mike kept looking at his watch.

“You okay Mike, you gotta get going or something?”

“No, I’m fine just for a few more minutes. Like the view?”

“It’s the best view ever, you wanna know why Mike?”

“Sure.”

“Cos I know that at the bottom of those two magnificent Towers is a little bar that I call home.”

Mike was standing behind me. I felt his hands on my shoulders.

“Listen to me very closely kid. Stay here. Do not go back. Not for any reason. Understand?”

I turned round sharply to find out what the fuck he was talking about. But he was gone. In fact there was no one within fifty yards of me. I looked back at the skyline. It was 8.46 and a plane crashed into the North Tower.

So when people ask me if I can remember the last day I saw Mike. I say yeh, I can. It was the day that changed the world. By the end of that day, Tuesday 11th September 2001, Jimmys Bar was gone. Destroyed in a carpet of dust, concrete and debris.

Oh and by the way, did I mention about my Dad. The Dad I never knew, the Dad who disappeared when I was four? His name was Michael…..

Bar5

Bar Stool Preacher ( Part 2)

We had our fair share of tourists visit Jimmys. Mostly British and Irish. They seemed fascinated by this tiny American bar surrounded by giant skyscrapers. I’d take their picture at the bar and point to one of the stools.

“Joe Louis came in here every day. He used to sit right there!”

Another favourite of mine was to tell them that Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman used the bar all the time while they were filming Midnight Cowboy. All complete nonsense of course. I remember one English couple saying the bar was “quaint”. The bar’s been called many things over the years but quaint? No way. It always smelt damp and if the drains were blocked up it could smell a whole lot worse!

But back to Mike. He became a regular over the next year or so. Three days a week. Usually Monday, Wednesday and Friday. You could set your watch by Mike. At one minute to four he wasn’t there but sixty seconds later he was sitting at his usual stool sipping his first Jamesons of the day.

Yet, after all that time the only things I knew about him were his name and his profession. And, to be honest I kinda doubted both of them. I read a book once by a guy named Anthony Robbins. He was one of those self-help gurus who said you could do anything in life as long as you had the right attitude and motivation. I remembered one of the chapters was about “open” questions. These were questions that you asked people to gain information. Questions that couldn’t be answered by “yes” or “no”. I decided to try them out on Mike, but in a discreet way.

Mike was sitting at the bar one evening and in walks Billy Mac. He sits himself at the bar.

“Hiya Billy. Usual?”

“Yeh thanks.”

I pour him his drink then try the technique.

“Where you going for your vacation this year Billy.”

Open question.

“Maine. Two weeks in September. Gonna eat me some of those huge lobsters they got up there.”

I turn to Mike.

“You hear that Mike? Billy’s going up to Maine for his vacation. Where you going this year?”

Open question.

“Nowhere!”

“Ever been to Maine?”

“Nope!”

And that was it. Even with the “open question” technique I got nothing from him. I never tried it again. Figured he just wanted to keep himself to himself.

I began to notice certain things about him. He always wore the same clothes. Black padded jacket over a blue check shirt. Denim jeans and work boots. He always had two day stubble on his chin and his hair never grew. He never used the rest room. NEVER. He’d sit on the same stool for twelve hours drinking Jamesons and never once got up to take a leak or have a dump. How weird is that?

But he kept coming out with his profound statements.

One night Irish Dan was complaining that he never seemed to get a break in life. Good things always seemed to happen to other people. Mike sat up straight in his stool, knocked back his Jamesons and took a deep breath. The bar fell silent. We knew we were in for some of Mikes words of wisdom.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”

Everyone nodded. The guy was right.

Usually by midnight it was just me and Mike in the bar. I’d be doing all the talking and he’d be doing all the listening. I’d try to engage him in conversation but the man was as tight as a clam. I was bored and decided to flick through the TV channels. I stopped when I came across some obscure cable channel showing back to back repeats of “I Love Lucy.” It was one of my mom’s favourite shows. Mike looked up and smiled as if he was remembering something from way back. I seized the opportunity.

“You like this Mike. You remember this from back in the day?”

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with those big baby blues.

“Maybe. Maybe.”

Here’s another strange thing about Mike. Everyone liked him. Now, no one knew him or anything about him. But everyone liked him. When the early evening crowd came in after work around five thirty the first person they said Hi to wasn’t me. It was Mike. You’d hear things like. “Hi Mike” or “Hi Mikey” or “Evening Buddy”. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE said hello to Mike. Mike never said Hi back. Just looked up and nodded. Guys would also buy him drinks. I’d serve them their beer and they’d say.

“Get one for Mike” or “Large Jamesons for my friend in the corner.”

Once again he’d just look up and nod his head.

Three nights a week he’d stay till four in the morning. Pay his bar tab, slip me twenty bucks, then leave. But where did he go? Where the fuck did this guy live? Did he go straight to work or have breakfast somewhere? Was he married? Did he have kids? I’d known the guy for well over a year, spent hour after hour with him, considered him a friend, and yet I knew absolutely nothing about him.

It would be another year before I knew any more about this Bar Stool Preacher!

Bar5

Bar Stool Preacher

A short story in three parts.

I tended bar at Jimmy’s. Corner of Washington and Cedar. Couple of blocks away from the big money places. Not that any of that money came into our bar. Wasn’t that kinda place. It was mainly construction workers that drank at Jimmy’s. We had a pool table, a juke box and a TV up high behind the bar. Apart from a few tables and chairs and a dozen bar stools, that was it. Nothing fancy. We didn’t do food. No kitchen. But we let the guys bring in their own stuff as long as they washed it down with our beer.

I came to Jimmy’s in June, 98. I grew up in Boston. Never knew my Dad, he disappeared when I was four. Mum never spoke of him, so neither did I. No point. Why talk about something you’ve never had. Mum raised me best she could, but I was always a bit of a handful. I got in some scrapes and petty crime but nothing serious. When Mum passed in 96, I was nineteen. I took the eleven hundred dollars savings that she kept in the gravy tin, put a few things in a bag and left Boston to see the world. Eighteen months later I’d only got as far as New York. I walked into Jimmy’s Bar looking for work. He took me on there and then. Even let me have the backroom to sleep in. After a while he trusted me enough to run the bar on my own. After six months I rarely saw him at all. Maybe once every couple of weeks. The business was worth nothing, but the land it stood on was worth a fortune. Jimmy was just waiting for some developer to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Till that day came, he left it to me to tend bar.

I opened when I wanted and I closed whenever the last person left.

As I said, our regulars were mainly workers from the nearby construction site in Greenwich Street. They were tearing down some old buildings and planning to put up new fancy condos.

Can I remember the first day I met Mike? Of course I can. It was November 17th 1999. Why can I be so exact? Because it was the day after my twenty first birthday and I was nursing one mother of a hangover. The lunchtime trade had gone and the bar was empty. It was four in the afternoon. It would now be quiet until around five thirty when the same old faces would come in to have a few beers before heading home. There were times when some never made it and had to sleep it off in the back room. It was THAT kinda bar. I was clearing one of the tables and when I turned round he was there, sitting at the bar. I hadn’t heard him come in which was strange as this guy was big. Six five and around two hundred and fifty pounds. He was wearing a black padded jacket, blue denim jeans and work boots. He had short dark hair with a few specks of grey. Difficult to say how old he was. Could have been any age from thirty to fifty. He had stubble on his face. Two days growth I’d say. I walked back behind the bar.

“Sorry, didn’t hear you come in. What can I getcha.”

He looked up at me and I know this is gonna sound kinda weird but he had kind eyes. See, I knew it would sound weird. But he did. Big… blue… eyes.

“Jamesons. Straight. No ice. Large.”

I poured his drink and watched as he swirled it around in the glass. Staring at it all the time. Then he took a sip and sighed. I tried to make small talk.

“So. Haven’t seen you in here before. You work in construction?”

He looked up at me as if he was trying to make sense of what I’d just said. Then he nodded.

“Oh yeh. I’m new. Construction. Yeh, that’s it. I’m in Construction.”

“The site in Greenwich Street?”

Once again he took his time.

“Yeh. Greenwich Street.”

After that I left him alone. He obviously wasn’t the talkative type.

An hour later and the bar started to fill up. I better re-phrase that because I might be giving the wrong impression. It was a small bar. As soon as  there were twenty guys in there it was full. They were all big guys as well, wearing big heavy clothes. So although it was filling up there were probably no more than a dozen guys in there!

I knew them all by name and I knew what they drank. So serving was easy. That’s why there was only ever me behind the bar. I was in complete control. People came and went and by eight o’clock there were only four of us left. Me, Louis, Billy Mac and the new guy Mike.

Louis was reading aloud from a magazine.

“Hey, listen to this. It says here that seventy eight percent of Americans believe in Heaven.”

I noticed Mike sit up and down his drink. He looked over at Louis.

“Statistics should be used the way a drunk uses a lamppost. For support not illumination.”

He gestured for me to re-fill his glass.

It was the first words he’d said in almost four hours. But it was smart, clever and somehow profound. I liked it. I have to admit I didn’t really understand it but I liked it.

By eleven there was just me and Mike. He’d drank best part of a bottle and a half of Jamesons but looked completely sober.

“What time do you close?”

I smiled.

“Whenever the last person leaves.”

“Well I aint planning on going anywhere yet.”

“In which case I aint planning to close up yet.”

For the first time in seven hours I saw Mike smile. He left the bar at four in the morning. He’d sat on the same stool for twelve hours and drank two bottles of Jamesons. Yet walked out as sober as a judge.

Now you’re probably wondering how I knew his name was Mike. Well, I didn’t but I was a skilled bar tender. Asking someone straight out what their name was could be seen as being intrusive, nosey and the kinda guys that came in this bar were the kinda guys that didn’t like nosey people. So I used a technique that had never failed. Let’s say some guy comes into the bar for the first time, he has a few beers then leaves. He comes in again a few days later, keeps himself to himself doesn’t offer up any information. The third time he comes in. I begin to pour his drink before he gets to the bar. I then say.

“Hiya Davey, good to see you. Usual?”

I’ve just pulled a name from nowhere. He looks at me as if I’m mad.

“Who the fuck’s Davey? My name is Bob!”

Bingo! I now know his name. I say something like.

“Sorry Bob. You look just like another one of my good looking regulars called Davey.”

I give him his drink and then continue with something like.

“So Bob, hard day?”

Suddenly we’re talking and he feels at home. I tried it with Mike. He didn’t come in for three days then just like before he was there, outta nowhere. The first name that came into my head was Mike.

“Hiya Mike, didn’t see you come in. Jamesons?”

He nodded.

“Yeh thanks.”

I thought maybe he hadn’t heard me call him Mike. So I did it again.

“Large, straight, with no ice. That’s right Mike?”

“Yeah thanks.”

Fuck me. What were the chance of that? Of all the names that I could have chosen I’d got his name right first time. Unbelievable!

He stayed until four again that night. Once again the last to leave. He paid his tab and then slipped me twenty bucks as a tip.

“That’s for you for keeping the bar open.”

Twenty bucks was a good tip back then.

“Thanks Mike. When you next back in?”

He shrugged his shoulders and left. He came back two days later. Same time, four o’clock, and sat at his regular bar stool.

“Hiya Mike. Good to see ya.”

I poured him his Jamesons.

“Thanks.”

George Bush was on TV giving a speech about American morals. Mike tipped the drink down his throat, sat up straight on his stool and took a deep breath. I knew he was about to say something. He did.

“I honestly believe that no one from Texas should ever be allowed to become President. One day people will think of that man as a joke.”

There were six or seven people in the bar and it fell silent. Now there are two rules in a bar. Never discuss politics or religion. I waited for someone to speak up. No one did. Instead they all nodded in agreement.

Mike then continued.

“This man who insists that core moralism is what drives him will bring this nation to its lowest moral standing in history.”

He pushed his glass forward and gestured for me to re-fill it. I did.

After that. Everyone called him the Bar Stool Preacher.

Bar5