Sunday, December 02, 2012


There’s a gentleman I used to chat with on occasion in the building I lived in. When I first met him, I was getting into the elevator in the lobby as he came whizzing downstairs behind me. I turned to look to see who it was and I was a little shocked at his appearance. But, only a little. Sometimes a homeless person or two from the area found their way into the building. It has a large basement that’s accessible from a back door near the alley behind it. They get in and sleep near the boiler, turn tricks or smoke rocks with their friends in the laundry room. After a few encounters with him, I realized he wasn’t sneaking in. He was letting himself in with keys and going to the same floor I lived on.

He definitely looked homeless. And even a bit scary. His wild, stringy, hair and rotting, teeth gave him the appearance of a withered, screaming skull wondering San Francisco’s Tenderloin. He always wore the same thing: A dark, down jacket with cargo pants and sandals. But even with his somewhat shocking appearance, visiting with him was always a pleasure. No one in the building besides me would have anything to do with him. But with me, he was always well spoken and engaging.

One evening, I walked into the lobby to see he and the landlord talking by the elevator. “It’s just beyond me how someone could knowingly leave the door open on the 6th floor. You guys have handicapped people living here. It’s cruel!” he told the manager. He then saw me, smiled, waved and trotted up the stairs and out of site. The manager recognized me and started grinning. “You know that guy?” He asked me. I told him I did and that we talked all the time. “Dude, that’s Maxon Crumb. Robert Crumb’s brother.”

It turns out my friend was Maxon Crumb, the youngest brother of artist Robert Crumb. An artist in his own right, he worked with Robert on his first comics when they were growing up. He’s lived in that same building now for over 30 years and has been able to make a living from the occasional commission or collector. After learning of his true identity, I lurked around the lobby and outside of the building for the next few weeks, hoping to bump into him again.

During one of those nights, I walked past the Thai food place near our building where I saw my good friend Pete tapping at me on the window from inside. I forgot that he had told me he’d be in town with his friends from L.A. He waved me in to join them so, I put off my stalking for another night and went inside.

The table was lively. Pete held hugged me with one hand and pointed to each of the guys at the table and introduced me to them one by one. I honestly don’t remember most of them but, it was one friend I remember most. His name was Oscar. He was amazingly fat and well dressed. Like an obese Don Draper. After taking my hand and saying “hello” he wasted no time getting back to being the center of attention. “So, anyway, there I was at the Roxy, surrounded by drug dealers, and my sister comes out from the bathroom...” This is all I remember from his story because no sooner had I sat down then I noticed woman sitting, facing us from the other side of the small restaurant. She was holding her menu in front of her and I could see that she had only two huge fingers. An fat, elongated thumb and pinky. She was pretty. Looked a little like Audrey Hepburn, but with claws. A waitress brought her a plate of spring rolls and a drink. I tried not to watch her, but I was curious. How does she eat?

As I watched, Oscar’s story progressed. Everyone at the table chortled and sipped their drinks. But I was still studying the woman across the room. She had taken one of her claw-hands out from under the table and quickly picked up a roll. It waved from side to side as she tried to steady it with her other claw. And, in a moment that is best describe as a freakish, coincidence, the roll dropped from her hands and into a small dish full of sauce - just as Oscar was finishing his story. "... So I said, ‘Shut your hole honey. Mine’s makin’ money!” The table erupted in laughter just as the women’s spring roll dropped into the dish and splashed sauce on her blouse.

Everyone at the table slapped their sides and rocked back and forth in their seats, laughing so loud that it attracted the attention of the woman I had been studying. She wiped her blouse and looked at us. Scanning my table, our eyes locked and I knew then that she thought that they were laughing at her. I quickly turned back to the guys. From the window behind her appeared flashing lights from an oncoming fire truck and ambulance racing up Larkin street. The bright lights caught an image walking towards us from across the street, I recognized the wiry haired silhouette immediately. It was Maxon. He ran towards our side of the street, bags in hand, rushing ahead of the oncoming emergency. Most of the people turned to see what was going on outside, including the woman I was now trying to avoid. That was my chance to escape so, I excused myself and went for the door.

With the lights and sirens blazing out front, I ducked out onto the sidewalk. I looked back to see if the claw-woman was still in her seat. She wasn’t. Relieved, I scanned the gathering crowd for Maxon, hoping I could save the night by catching him as he went into our building. As I looked through the people ahead of me, I felt someone grabbing my arm. It was her. The claw woman. And she was looking for a fight.

“Hey. What’s up?” She was about my height and pushing her face into mine. “So, you and your friends think you’re pretty fucking funny, huh?” I tried to say “No” but could only shake my head. “Funny. You’re not laughing now are you, faggot? You and your pussy friends like to laugh at me in there when you’re all together, but you’re just a scared fag-bitch when you’re alone with me.” I tried to pull away and explain. “Look, you have this all wrong. They were talking about something totally unrelated to you and your...”

“My what? Say it! Say ‘Your HANDS!’ Say it!”

Her two, giant, deformed fingers slid down my arm and reached over and around my wrist. They reminded me of that last scene in the 1950’s film version of “War of the Worlds” when the aliens hands, which looked exactly like hers, pulled themselves across the floor of the downed UFO. It was now obvious to those watching that we were having a situation about her hand and that I was the instigator. She shook her head at me in disgust, let me go and walked back inside to her table. I sulked away toward the crowd, holding my sore wrist in embarrassment.

The fire truck and ambulance were parked in front of the building across the street. The EMTs wheeled out a woman on a stretcher. There was an oxygen mask on her face and her arms were flailing to and fro. She was wearing a pink sweatshirt that was pulled midway up her torso, exposing her large, white, belly underneath. Every time she reached up to pull it down, an EMT would grab her hand and put it back at her side. Feeling her embarrassment, I put my hands in my coat pockets and shoved down towards my belt. I wanted to help, but still rattled from my claw lady encounter, I decided to stay put. Then, out from the crowd, sprang a familiar face. It was Maxon. He ran up to the poor woman on the stretcher, pushed the EMT’s hand aside and pulled her blouse back down over her belly revealing a print of a giant lobster wearing and chef’s hat with “Joe’s Crab Shack” emblazoned across the top.
Artillery Magazine: Killer Text on Art