Sunday, July 24, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Finis)

As Murphy neared the end of his time in reform school, he had acquired a reputation as -- paradoxically -- both feckless and fearless; keenly intelligent, in a rough untaught sort of way; and above all observant -- people would joke that he might have made an excellent Private Eye. Yet to all appearances, he nursed, neither that, nor any other ambition.
One day the head of the entire reform school -- Director Miller himself -- unexpectedly called young Murphy to his private office.
Murphy knocked; heard nothing; knocked again; let himself in.
The Director, hands clasped behind him, stood before the broad expanse of windows, his back to the room, his dark shape a shadow in the light. The blinds were down, though slightly canted; whether he was peering out through the slits, or sightlessly consulting his own private reflections, was not readily apparent. In any event, he now turned.
“Door behind you please.”
Murphy shut it.
“You may sit down.”
He remained standing.
Not pausing to take notice, the Director launched into what he had to say. “So, Master… Murphy: you have been with us for some time.”
“Sentence almost served, sir.”
“Yes. Right.” He frowned, and consulted his thoughts. Murphy stood silent.
“Bit of a weakness for automobiles, eh?” resumed the Director, attempting to strike a jovial note.”
“Yes sir.”
“But you won’t go ‘borrowing’ any more of them, once you are out.”
Murphy was silent. The Director looked up sharply; then resumed his discourse. “You’ve built a certain reputation here, during your stay.”
Murphy did not contradict.
“Deserved, I have no doubt.”
Again silence. Commentary seemed uncalled-for.
“Pluses and minuses, the good with the bad. But on the plus side -- a keen eye.” The Director himself fixed a gimlet orb on the young man standing there; Murphy shrugged.
The Director went on.
“There is always call -- always a market, for a keen eye.”
Murphy said nothing, yet considered this well; the idea was new.
“Keen enough -- plus perserverence -- name your own price, y’know?”
Murphy did not know; but he would learn.
“And the fact is -- the fact of the matter -- I could use a keen eye, just about now.”
Murphy said nothing: but now, not from reticence, or tact: he truly had no idea what this man could possibly mean.
“A keen eye and a good observer: who observes, without being observed.”
Murphy could not really parse this. As part of the furniture, he had never been really observed, or taken notice of; though, occasionally, nabbed red-handed.
“Who can observe, yet who, observing, can keep his own counsel: sharing his observations only with the appropriate employer.”
These words meant nothing; Murphy’s mind was alive with moths.
“Who knows the value of observation, and of discretion; for observation is of no value, unless discretion can be assured.”
Moths crazed by the echoes of reflections of flame.
“You are, I suspect… such a man.”
“Yes -- a man, I say -- for you have outgrown your short pants! You are coming in to a man’s estate: and there, there are those who would befriend you.”
“Further your career.”
(Now leaning forward confidentially.) “Lend an ear, lad. I have -- your Director -- as your Director: I have concerns.”
“About, well, for instance: the teaching staff. Your teachers. Competence and preparation and -- all that. Personal matters, too -- personnel, matters, ” correcting himself; and, meeting no response, he continued with grim light-heartedness. “Staff and all that. Custodial, and, as remarked… educational. Your…geography teacher, for example. Mrs. … what is her name, now…” And, meeting no help, he himself supplied the answer. “Mrs. …. Miller. I believe that is her name.”
“Yes, sir; Mrs. Miller, sir. Geography. -- Any relation, sir?”
Suddenly flustered, histrionically outraged. “No! No relation. None at all. Common name, that -- Miller. Common as … dirt…” The expression seemed connected with bitter reflections. “Common as… the dirt in the courtyard. Anyone might be named that.”
“Yes, sir.”
Forcing forward. “Anyhow -- this Mrs. … Miller … she is good friends with the mathematics master, I believe -- is that not so?”
A certain suggestion about the shoulders, though they did not actually shrug.
“Exchange -- the occasional joke, the old office gossip, that sort of thing; and perhaps, the occasional box of candy? Or flowers?” And, getting nothing: “The occasional… kiss?”
Murphy was now the bronze statue of Murphy, standing unseeing unhearing forever, where pigeons might nest.
Suddenly both practical and conspiratorial. “There’s something in it for you, Murphy. And -- by Beelzebub! -- you need a bit of something, you do.”
“Nothing to it, really; just keep your eyes peeled.”
Massively nothing.
“Of course -- got to back it up, you know; can’t go on just your say-so; wouldn’t stand up. But I’ve got a… little present for you, which you may keep, when this job is over. A tiny camera.” Nothing. “Fits in your palm.” Nothing, nothing. “And a little dictaphone….”
And suddenly that Nothing burst, like an ulcer, like a bubo -- like the original cosmological bubble that gave birth to the world. As Murphy, rearing, roaring, leapt over the desk, his arms suddenly strong with the strength of ten -- straining and screaming and strangling at the throat of this man.
I don’t do divorce cases! I don’t do divorce cases!!!”

It took all within earshot, to pry the lad off.
For this, he was not beaten, nor even admonished; but summarily escorted from the premises, and expelled, legally a week short of expiration.
Municipal records are silent on his further career.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part XII)

So Murphy, so Murphy: do you then remember, when first you learned, to play the clown?
And indeed, in very deed he does.
That afternoon -- the day long dragging -- in the ill-lit classroom: where learning was a stranger, and the long rod ruled.
A sudden whim, or inspiration -- he crowed, he clowned.
And by the class was -- crowned. For all his classmates laughed, and clapped, at this unanticipated bright bird of paradise -- or purgatory -- appearing suddenly in the grey sky; and joy was unconfined.
He was the toast of the reform school. Several inmates, previously near-strangers, offered him a fresh or only half-smoked butt, in appreciation.
For all that, he was severely beaten. But it was worth it. -- After all, he was beaten daily, in any event; but for one brief instant, life had been… swwwwweeeeeettt ………….

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part XI)

In later years, he would recall that day: the man’s red blood, mingling with the boys’ pale tears, yielding something much better than either.
He still did not know, what thing it was; but he would speculate, and contemplate: as he drew the rich dense smoke, now deeply into his hungering lungs. These same sweet smokes, for which he used to be beaten, which he used to either filch or do without out: a pack might now be had, for little more than a quarter, with a respectful tip of the hat from the shopkeeper; decorated, to boot, with the tinted image of a dromedary, and a pyramid, so pleasing to the eye; progress, of a sort.
(Meanwhile, offstage, out of sight: other boys, and other orphans…)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part X)

After that, there were no more visits for a long time.
And yet one day, a friar appeared, in rude monk’s robes, uninvited.
And proceeded to the courtyard (past staff too astonished to effectually protest); where the boys were glumly going through the motions of their half-hour court-ordered fun.
And beheld them and -- with a moan, fell, splat, down flat upon his face, upon the cobblestones; words failing him. He could not preach; could barely pray.
For-give us….!” he cried; and was perhaps somehow injured in that fall: for he bled from his hands; from his feet did he bleed; and he bled from his rib, from a ripe red gash… rivulets among the stained sad stones… bleeding like brooks, like… like bubbling, trout-stocked streams… where the fishermen stride, in boots hip-high -- beaming, laughing, hoisting their catch -- like fountains, like spindrift, like waterfalls … As the boys, knowing nothing, knew something yet better than ever they’d known…
And as that small seed -- smaller than a mustard -- was planted, amid the tares, amid the trees ….

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part IX)

This cheerful visit having somehow failed of its intended effect, the institution finally, and reluctantly, went for “the strong stuff”, and invited a priest.
He was a small man, with apple cheeks. And a strawberry nose; and ruby lips. -- Not nearly so distant as his Protesting predecessors, he seemed to feel a real and genuine rapport with the boys. Well -- with some of the boys.
He spoke, in a general way, of -- this and that. All the while scanning the room.
And his words, indeed, though not memorable, were at least, by the echoes of tradition that still lingered in them -- said, whether or not meant -- still somehow encouraging: and some of the boys leaned forward; and some, their lips did part.
These, the priest noted particularly. As did he the auburn curls; the well-turned calf; or the dim-filmy-glittery eye…
You; and you; and you. “Come see me; by all means, drop by and see me; in my private quarters. Stay as long as you like. Discretion assured …”

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part VIII)

Somewhat embarrassed -- for, even though the taxpayers were not out a penny, the church having waived its usual fee, still the effect on the wards had not been all that might be wished -- the orphanage called in a substitute: this time a man from that soft and molded body, that the Anglican persuasion has taken on our shores.
“Well well well!” he said, pleasing his plump pink lips, as the shivering wastrels huddled beneath his gaze. “What a fine collection of young gentlemen we do have here!” He beamed, pleased; expecting their reflected pleasure; but met only bewilderment. -- In somewhat sharper humor, he went on. “I have -- very good news, for you all here. Your future is -- quite bright.” (Bewilderment among the boys.) “We are all finally emerging from very hard times -- a terrible great Depression, that has left many of your fathers -- well, many of your betters -- seriously on the downside in their brokerage accounts. And some people are actually…. “ (his lips pursed a bit, as he pronounced the unpleasant vocable) “…unemployed. And on the dole; which the better people pay for. -- But that… need not be your lot.”
The boys supposed this must be good news; but were not sure. They were unfamiliar with the concept of “joblessness” -- never themselves having held a paid job.
“Good news!” he proclaimed, regaining his joviality. “Good, very good news indeed. The nation is reviving. Like flowers in the spring, investors are once again raising their hopeful heads. The wheels of commerce are spinning once again -- banking, insurance, financial instruments of every variety and kind. We see evidence of this in our own congregation, on every side. Why -- to venture no further than the sales of yachts…. Mmm, in any event: There is a very great need, boys, a great need indeed, spreading throughout the land. A need that you -- and only you -- can well fulfill. The servant problem is -- “ Here he frowned, and seemed to recede into private, incommunicable reflections. “… frightful; simply frightful. -- But our trial and tribulation, is your benefit and boon! Be it doorman -- footman -- bootblack -- butler … why… the possibilities are endless! -- Indeed,” leaning confidentially forward, “some of my… Predestinarian friends….” (a private joke, beyond the ken of present company) “some of them might even spy in one or the other of you --“ -- and here indeed, he suddenly looked around, as though calculating -- “one destined or predestined for such higher office as chef, or major-domo, or concierge in one of the better hotels…”

Monday, July 11, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part VII)

            Murphy’s period in the orphanage  antedated these dark days of political correctness, by many years.  Hence it was comparatively uncontroversial, to invite to that institution, a man of the Christian cloth,  without inviting, for equal time, likewise a rabbi, and an imam -- nor a Buddhist, nor a Hindu, nor a Zoroastrian, nor a Wiccan, nor a devil-worshipper (of the latter sect, City Hall already was well-staffed).  Yet we must confess, that the results were not  in every instance  happy…

            The municipal authorities arranged for a Protestant divine -- the choice seemed least controversial -- to drop by and give a little lecture to the boys.
            The man that was sent, by rights should have exceeded expectations.  No mere hedge-preacher, nor street-corner hawker of Bible bits:  he was an ordained minister, with an advanced degree from a respected seminary, of Calvinist inclinations, where he had imbibed and absorbed  the hard high truths  of Predestinarianism;  who regularly held forth, of a Sunday, from the high carved pulpit of a splendid church, to the unanimous and murmured approbation, of bevies of successful businessmen, and their well-dressed wives.
            He curtly nodded acknowledgement to the servants who admitted him, and was reverently ushered to the main hall;  where the boys waited, respectfully, anticipating they knew not what -- such a visit was unprecedented.
            The man approached the lectern;  adjusted the microphone;  tapped his notes into alignment  with a gesture that, many years later, Murphy would recall with rueful irony, as he slowly tapped his Camel-pack;  cleared his throat emphatically, re-set his spectacles… and gazed around the room.
            And… continued to gaze, but…
            “I am sorry,” he said, hastily turning to the now whispering employees, and packing up his notes in confusion.  “I have nothing to say here.  These boys are all damned.”

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part VI)

            It was one of Murphy’s clearest memories of the school.
            It was Lady Day;  and a plate of seed-cakes had been set out on a table in the drawing-room for the boys, who were soon to file in, under the guidance of the Mistress, and each gratefully take just one.   Displayed and waiting, in the empty room:  yellow in the sunlight  slanting, through lozenges of green and amber glass…
            But that Murphy, nimbly and previously, had managed to slip in through the window  and gorge on them, famished and ravaging, stuffing his hunger, jamming into his pockets such pieces as he could not rapidly dispatch before detection.   The sweetness of it, the lunging hunger;  and the shame.
            -- So bogus.  The place was state-run -- they were lucky if they ever got Christmas, let alone “Lady Day”.   What “seed-cakes” even were, he couldn’t tell you;  probably read about them somewhere in a book.   The place had never any library, let alone “drawing-room”;  and as for the windows, they were grey and dusty, and (for obvious reasons) always locked.
            It was one of Murphy’s clearest memories of the school.

Murphy: The Early Years (Part V)

            Murphy, small of shoulders, bowed of head,  shuffles up to the office.
            “Ma’am I?  -- ‘scuse me, ma’am.”
            (Looks up sharply.)  “Murphy!  Young rascal.  What brings you here.”  (Softening a bit, though;  the boys seldom show up spontaneously, voluntarily.)
            “Well I -- no-one else to ask, ma’am.  I just got nobody, no, not one person, in the whole wide world.”
            Definitely softening, and settling back -- almost reflective.  “So… What’s on your mind, young Irish scamp?”
            Awkward;  fumbling for words -- then finding them.  “Well I -- I just wonder what --  what it is, really:  that makes me so bad.”
            She frowns;  is silent;  purses her thin lips.  “I reckon it was just… a bad seed…”
            “Bad seed, ma’am?”
            She purses further.  “There are two seeds in the spirit -- two of them, and don’t you forget it.   You just happened to get the bad one. “
            He is silent, not understanding;  and yet, and yet … yet beginning to understand.
            She decides to level with him.  “You know -- you were conceived in iniquity, by a very bad woman, with a very bad man.  But bad as she was -- he still should have stuck by her;  made an honest woman of her, or near as anybody could with material like that. -- But he skedaddled, soon after soiling your young mother’s bed.  He was a coward, and a welsher, was your dad.   And the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
            Had he ever known the man, this might strike Murphy like a blow;  but he had never known the man.   “So… I guess I was just -- born to sin;  that right?  Just plain -- simmered in it, ‘fore I was ever even born.  That so?”
            (Somewhere  her heart smarts her;  yet she must be stern in the truth.)  “That is so, Master Murphy.  You were born in sin, like a squid in ink;  and will certainly be damned.”
            Since this prognosis seems only to confirm the daily burden of his present life, it daunts him less than one might think.  He simply verifies.  “So:  no hope, is there.”
            “No;  none.  -- Well… there is… Jesus;  but he is not for the likes of orphans, or reform-school boys…”

Murphy: The Early Years (Part IV)

            Sometimes, by himself in a room,  his eyes would turn inwards;  thoughts would buzz around his head like flies.
            He did not belong here;  so it seemed.  And yet -- he definitely belonged here.  They had sent him here, and he was not allowed to leave.
            He was in the place, but not of it.
            Slowly, he began to leave it, through a tiny hole in the back of his brain.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part III)

            “You been thinking those bad thoughts again.”
            “Better tell ‘em to me Murphy.”
            “Better tell me or I whip you good.”
            “Yes’m.  Reckon you’ll whup me either way.”
            (The keen and screwed-up eye.)  Was that a smart remark?!  -- Why I’ll--“ (reaching for the switch.)
            “No’m -- not smart.  A really dumb remark -- I see that now.”  (Trembling as he spies once more, the instrument of his sharp distress.)  “But a true one, ma’am. -- Can’t help it, ma’am.”  (Wincing, wincing;  shriveling beneath the blows.)  “Can’t half help it.”  (Wincing deeper now -- wincing even beneath the wincing skin.)  “Gotta find some’n, someth’n, help me help it….”
            (Furious)  I’m helping you!”
            (More in sorrow)  “No’m.  All respect, ma’am, but -- no, you’re not helping, not helping at all.”
            (The blows fall thick and fast -- herself almost at liquefaction, as in a dream -- while young Murphy shrivels, dwindles, to but a tiny remnant of his former self.)

Friday, July 8, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part II)

            Murphy was never alone in the empty corridors.  Always there was the echo of his footfalls:  sometimes on the heels of his steps, sometimes slightly in anticipation, leading him on.
            “I know you’re there,”  he said.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Murphy: The Early Years (Part I)

[Here begins a memoir  of Murphy’s Golden Memories,  a time-capsule of boyhood,  from his hazy lazy crazy days at the reform school.]

            “You been bad.”
            “Yes’m, I know’m.”
            “You know what that means.”
            (Incredulous.)  “ ‘No-ma’am’?!  You don’t know by now?  --   It means you get whipped.”
            “Yes’m.  I know’m.   Reckon that’ll happen.  Happens alla time.  But I -- just don’t  -- know what it -- means….”