Truman Humboldt walked into the Neptune Clock Shop in downtown Neptune, Nebraska and firmly tapped the tip of his walking stick on the tiled floor.
“Uh huh, be right with you,” said the old man behind the counter who was busy dissecting the insides of an old clock and trying to make repairs. He stopped, wiped his oily hands on a rag and looked up.
“What can I do fer ya?”
“I was wondering if you might have a lobster clock for sale.”
“A lobster clock?” the old man asked with a quizzical grunt. “What the hell is a lobster clock?”
“Well, simply put, it’s a clock that looks like a lobster,” Truman replied, and he struck a strange pose with one arm straight up and the other out to his side to imitate the hands of a clock. “And the hour and minute hands look like lobster claws.”
The old man scratched at his head as he looked Truman up and down; he noticed that the 30-something man was oddly tall and skinny and that he had an odd face that looked sunburnt, and that his smile was very awkward. He noticed the long, stringy blonde hair coming down from atop his oily, pinkish head, and if it weren’t for the scraggly beard upon his face, Truman could have easily been mistaken for a very ugly woman.
The owner quickly scanned the walls of his small shop, looking at all the clocks he had hanging there, all ticking away in unison.
“No, sorry. I don’t have any lobster clocks,” the old man said, and he started going back to fixing the broken timepiece spread out on his workbench.
“Well, do you think you can order one for me?” Truman asked, a bit exasperated.
The old man put down his tools and sighed. He looked under his counter and pulled out a small white card and pushed it in Truman’s direction.
“Fill this out and I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t guarantee anything.”
Truman looked the card over suspiciously.
At the very top it said: SPECIAL ORDER REQUEST. Beneath that it asked for his name, address, phone number and nature of the request.
Truman filled it out sloppily, for he had terrible penmanship because he was always so shaky, and then he handed the card back to the man.
“Thank you,” Truman said. “I eagerly await your response.”
And with that he tapped the tip of his walking stick on the floor again, turned and walked out the door.
Truman holstered his walking stick, clumsily boarded his red bicycle, and started riding through downtown, his stringy blonde hair flowing behind him. He had a great sensitivity to light and the bright sun made him squint and that made it hard for him to see. He took a right at Main Street and pedaled up and across the cement bridge that went over the dirty rail yard below. He coasted down the other side and took a right on Corn Street. Truman lived at the very end of the block in a very small house painted red. He rolled into the driveway, set his bicycle against the chain-link fence that surrounded his small yard, and went inside.
Truman closed all the curtains and went into the bathroom where he went to work filling his bathtub with very hot water. He lit a few candles. Then he went into his modest kitchen where he sliced up some lemons and put cubes of butter in a small pot to melt over the gas stove top.
When the tub was nearly full, he turned off the water and poured in the melted butter. Then, one by one, he squeezed juice from the lemon slices into the water and threw the well-rung pieces into a trash bin near the tub. He clicked on the small CD player that sat on the counter near the tub. It played ocean sounds, nothing but ocean sounds.
Truman stripped off his clothes and dipped his lanky body into the scalding water. It hurt at first, but then his body got used to it. His body always got used to it. His hot lemon-butter bath had become a regular ritual lately and he thought he might be going absolutely nuts. He put a wet washcloth over his face and leaned back in the tub. He felt the heat penetrate his bones. He could smell the lemon in his brain. He could feel the butter making his skin oily and slippery. He stayed there in the tub like that for 24 minutes.
When he got out, he studied his naked body in the mirror. The skin that covered his odd bones was a burning red color. He tilted his head to one side and watched as the water dripped off his head, through his hair, down onto his bony, narrow shoulders, across his concave chest and over his somewhat bulging belly.
“I’m grotesque,” he said aloud to no one, and he switched off the light.
Truman walked into his bedroom and pulled out the third drawer of his lobster-decorated dresser. He removed his neatly folded lobster pajamas and put them on. He shuffled into the living room and plopped down and sank into his comfortable red couch, the pattern of the fabric being a mix of lobsters and the heads of bearded sea captains with big pipes in their mouths.
Truman watched only one thing: Seinfeld. He had the entire television series on DVD, and he proudly admits to everyone that he has seen every single episode at least 101 times. His favorite episode of all time? The Hamptons, of course. That’s the one where Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer visit the ugly baby couple in the Hamptons and Kramer snags lobsters from commercial lobster traps and they all enjoy a great lobster feast and George has a problem with “shrinkage” from being in the cold water and Jerry’s girlfriend makes fun of him and George exacts revenge by putting lobster in her scrambled eggs at breakfast because she’s allergic to shellfish — yadda, yadda, yadda.
“Hah!” Truman laughed out loud, as he watched The Hamptons for the 102nd time.
It was 6 in the a.m. when Truman arose from troubled sleep. He forced his body up and sat on the edge of the bed and looked out the window at the endless, boring view of the flatlands filled with seemingly endless fields of corn. He lit a cigarette with his lobster-shaped lighter and blew the smoke into the air.
“Why?” he asked aloud, “Why can’t I awake to a beautiful view of the ocean, instead of… This? Why do people even live here? Why am I living here?”
He sighed heavily, for it was Truman’s dream to move to Maine and live right there on the edge of the ocean and have his own lobster shack where he would serve the best lobster rolls in the world. And then he giggled to himself.
“And if they don’t order right, I will say ‘No lobster roll for you!’”
He stood tall and stretched. His bones popped here and there, and he walked into the kitchen to eat some breakfast.
“Today I will have Froot Loops,” he said in a high, quirky voice. He got out his favorite cereal bowl, the one that looked like a lobster, and poured the cereal in slowly, all the while singing: “Froot Loops, Froot Loops, Froot Loops.”
He munched and crunched and stared out the kitchen window above the sink.
“Damn it!” he suddenly yelled, pounding his fist on the countertop. “I don’t want to go to work today! I hate chickens. They’re so nasty.”
Truman had two jobs. The main one being working at the chicken processing plant where he spent all day breaking chicken necks and then placing the birds on a grotesque conveyor belt that whisked them away to other torture chambers.
“Snap, crackle, plop!” Truman queerly yelped. “Snap, crackle, plop, plop, plop.”
His second job was working part-time as a cashier at the Neptune Pop-In Shop Food Market. He didn’t mind the job too much, except for the fact he always felt his co-workers were laughing at him behind his back. Which they were. Everyone laughed about Truman Humboldt. He was the town oddball.
“Froot Loops, Froot Loops, Froot Loops,” Truman repeated as he wandered through the house not really knowing what the hell he was doing until he finally realized he needed to pull it together, get dressed, and ship off to the factory.
TO BE CONTINUED