Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
He had a haircut only a repressed pedophile would recommend. He could talk about anything with a glib assertive air of authority but his opinions were based on bold internet leaders, newspaper headlines seldom the article, book jackets, never the books. He often pondered in a voice of angry passivity. And yet he had an over-abundant charisma similar to an echo in a deep cave when you shout help. His substantial ego made him believe he was a born leader. His self-pleasing persona sought credentials of some great exploits. The reality is he never did anything great but that was no obstacle to his undeserved self-confidence exemplified by an assumed power over his acolytes [all four of them], never needing to defend a position as no one dared to challenge him when he ranted of matters epic and miniscule in perfect posture conforming to his Mother’s stringent voice, “Proper posture sends a positive message of confidence which the world respects.” He articulated with a sense of surety that was as attractive as the frosting on a generous slice of chocolate cake and as nourishing if you don’t mind the adverse effects of a sugar rush.
He smiled. A smile closer to a grimace, a pleasure evoked by others’ discomfort, the epitome of schadenfreude. He took his time, scanning the small group, not in patience but intended affect. His moments of connecting with each individual, eye contact required, were establishing his position of unopposed leader with the obedient followers. Not obedient as in cowering but as a fervent choice of belonging to such a select alliance with a particular inane mission uniquely determined by the Guide.
The Guide. No one knows if he created that moniker or his ardent clique but it stuck. That is what he now comfortably calls himself, Guide, to ensure an experience of probity to the select four, and perhaps inconsequential to the infamous them, the unidentified others. He spoke to the group using an extended vocabulary evoking mother memories, “Learn a new word every day. An extensive vocabulary reflects intelligence which the world respects.” She maintained he say the word and the definition (in perfect posture, of course.)
The first word was egregious, appalling, terrible, awful, horrendous, frightful, atrocious, abominable, abhorrent, outrageous, egregious. Although his usage of such an extended vocabulary was awkward, seldom gracefully flowing as if inherent.
“Be not deceived. Governments are not changed. Only personalities perpetuating wars, disease, drugs, profits from mass delusions remain roiling in the ruts long since ossified as a way of life.” He stopped and nodded with a half smile intended only for his amusement...”Or as a way of death. We, you and I must deal with the minute moments of our existence and own each and every specific encounter. You cannot effect broad changes until you alter the picayune. You have been granted the finite gift of energy. Waste not such by seeking answers to errant queries,” he ranted. “The terror of the past must be entombed, rotting in the lye of eternity as a built-in obsolescence.” He shuddered as if exorcising uninvited ghosts, “There is no future in staying in touch with yesterday!” Paradoxically he sensed a vibration from the past as a visceral approval from Mother. But rather indulge in Mother’s massage he stopped his maternal musing, looked at each with a polarizing energy of affection and demand.
“You each have dedicated yourselves to arduous training and spiritual understanding of our commitment. Be resolved, determined, focused in such a way as a sclerotic self-demanding modus operandi ensuring you of our success. Notice I said you and our. Contradiction? Perhaps. But also the spine of your our intended...”
He paused. Not in search but for influence resulting in each individual of the group to be more alert, more dedicated as Guide continued.
“The spine of, if you will, your dissolves gratefully into the all-encompassing our. Our calling, our pellucid mission evolving to your individualized of, yes, your/our commitment.”
He nodded in a gentle arrogance of having fulfilled his intention perfectly, unintentionally avoiding clarity while mirroring his image to the attentive individuals as they nodded in grateful compliance feigning comprehension.
It was after eight long silent seconds of palpable energy when he leaned back and spoke softly. So softly as a me-and-you intimate, whispered secret that each in the group had to emphasize their attentiveness when he said, “You, we, will succeed, flourish in such a way as to impact our intended target far beyond even our salubrious expectations. Be aware...” And that smile again. “Be aware that if for some reason, and it will be a reason specifically attuned to each individual’s effort, If for some reason...” The grimace of a smile more pronounced. “If for some reason the particular individualized mission falters, fails, collapses, misses exactitude due to the miscarriage of your singular manifestation, I promise, this person connecting with you in this moment, as your chosen, Guide, an oath...” that smile as he flashed images of a righteous bad guy from an old movie...”Your malfeasance may very well be the cause of your adverse, toxic existence, such shall it be.”
Surprising tears filled his eyes with a loving emotive poignancy. He whispered, “I know nothing of God’s mercy as the God of the establishment perpetrates power with illusory rewards. Have no doubt that as much as I have been your gratified Guide, gestating within is an awaiting implosion which can anesthetize antagonists. You have committed and I am proud of each and every one of you. At this point...” His smile. “There is no exit.” He mumbled, “Sartre would be proud,” [Having read the title of his play, ‘No Exit’ but not the play itself.]
The group comprised of each individual soaking in a resonating quiet of pride to have been chosen, trained, and specifically directed by the Guide.
He looked at each of the four present with a paternal demand. Guide spoke: “We have faced the atrophied wall of government, of society, of rules and regulations rather than elucidate and support freedom and growth, asphyxiate the masses to decline choice and as such, only fools living under the delusion of freedom behave as unconscious puppets manipulated by the string pullers.”
He contorted his features in excess as he shouted in a kind of pain intended to stop a meandering mind. “At least one shooting in which four or more people die or are wounded occurs in USA every day! We can no longer ignore the demons we think we left behind which in fact are never left behind. You must do the work to cognize them into being naught but an anomaly, extant errata. You cannot dare not deny the presence of the demons but you must deny their affect effectively.”
The attentive four sacrificed understanding on the altar of belonging to an unnamed secret society as followers of the Guide.
“Be present!” He demanded. "Be answerable to a question long since overlooked. No, our mission, our commitment is not to challenge the nocuous infamous forces of rule which have historically proven to be impotent in achieving organic significance...” He paused aware that his emotional heat was threatening the presentation and decided to give it air in a tremulous raised voice. “Leave the big picture to the blind masses who protest in vain as they simultaneously obey, but no, not you, not us, not our individualized moment-to-moment lives. We must own every moment. Never cede our power to the malodorous infamous them. Be aware. Be conscious. Be at one with our commitment.”
He paused for effect and it worked as he shouted rhetorically, “What is our commitment?” Then in a lasered heated whisper that could melt a sprinkled vanilla swirl, “Take charge,” he proudly rankled. “Take total charge of your life, now and yesterday and tomorrow. What does take charge mean,” he demanded? “Simple,” that crocodile smile again, “Any intrusion on your balance by any person requires that you, we, each of us hold those individuals accountable.“ He stopped, as if listening to what he just said, satisfied, altered his voice to an assertive decibel count louder than previous, an abrasive tone which could scrape enamel off a vacuous tiger painting, “Define your purpose!”
The silence lasted for seven seconds until the stillness became oppressive. Guide panned the group with his awaiting petition. “Define!”
Ellen stood, pushing the chair back with her ample butt, unbuttoning her tight jacket ensconcing breasts panting for air. She nodded before she spoke as if granting self-approval. “It’s simple. To no longer ignore, let slide, permit negative behavior inflicted on us, as individuals, to go unimpeded, unchallenged, demanding we do not lose our bearing, and do what it takes to...”
She closed her eyes for two beats then opened them emanating an efficacious conceit, voicing an almost secretive belonging, her voice of scorching intensity, “Balance will be restored.” She looked at Guide urgently wanting affirmation. He nodded in a neutral, verifying gesture. Ellen wanted more but understood that the Guide’s nod was adequate as she buttoned the jacket fumbling over breasts resisting confinement and sat, her butt almost knocking the chair off its axis.
Guide spoke to others, “Define uninvited, intrusive, opprobrious behavior which demands an individualized response.”
Russell, all of 5 foot 4 inches, hair slickly covering a growing bald spot, immaculately attired in a three-button suit, striped tie, shoes shined to frighten off any smirch who dared, glistening white-on-white teeth too-perfectly-aligned, popped out of his chair as if ejected by a thrusting vigor. His voice was an aggressive high pitched whine. “If the perpetrator is rude, mean-spirited, misrepresenting, liar, cheater, any of these dubious attributes of behavior shall not be ignored.” His smile was an earned muted applaud of esteem knowing he nailed it when he distinctly said, accenting every word, “Balance Will Be Restored.” He looked at the Guide for endorsing corroboration. The Guide’s eyes warmed as he nodded which was a sufficiently suitable response for Russell who muttered in his high pitched whine with a slight lisp, “Yes, thank you,” and with a ram-rod back straight as the metal ruler his father used to forcefully hit his round-shouldered torso coldly reminding him, “Bad posture ensures failure,” he situated on his chair which should have been labeled smug.
Guide was comfortable with his intuit sense that they were, indeed, ready. His voice was of such a timbre, the tone of stone-hard resolve, “Specify the target, the detailed deleterious offense, your intended action to, yes...” And his voice matched the intense intention, “...to balance the impinging behavior of said reprobate.” He scanned the group and stopped at the woman whose entire energy was an open embrace saying choose me. Gide directed, “Specify!”
Florentina, all of her six foot lushly framed body not so much stood rather raised her torso as if it was beige wheat blown by a gentle breeze. Her voice was velvet basso, words flowing past her sinuous lips almost dripping down the generous cleavage of profuse promise. She would have been an ideal prototype of a cheap detective novel. She spoke as if driven by an impelling force bypassing the need for a conventional breathing pattern.
“The convoluting limitation of a particular man, in a loud, angry, insulting voice accused me of misandry. He’s a writer. I had to look it up. Hatred of men. He labeled me as a contriving bitch giving him mixed messages. Just because I grabbed him tight from the back while riding furiously through the canyons on his Harley believing I was holding him for more than security as he weaved through the curves at high speeds. He was good but not good enough. Because I would not fuck him. If he had any perception beyond his misplaced dick of a bike he would have realized I am an androphile. Attracted to men, yes, but not this particular boorish creature whose definition of fore-play is a coarse move to my pussy, not to this example of a male seeking a position of rectitude long since lost on his rowdy thrust of lust which was not only bereft of the grace of compliance from yours truly but insulting as he accused me of being a cold bitch of a dyke.”
Guide in a neutral tone and quieted energy muttered, ”Dyke on a bike, infantile, unoriginal.” His voice advanced, “And your plan?”
Florentina’s body shivered in barely visible movement topped by her smiling generous mouth but vengeful eyes, “He parks his bike in the driveway by his house.”
“He hates the color pink.”
“I will pour thick pink paint, inundate his total bike in pink. Punk-pink his motorcycle which he confuses as his seductive dick. Now they will be a matching pair. I promise to fulfill our oath,” and then as if resonating an affirmation of glorious identity, “Balance will be restored.”
Guide nodded, his eyes smiled evoking a subtle shiver of Florentina’s generous body as if she had an orgasmic experience. She sat, closed her eyes, adjusted the skirt which slid over her dampened thighs.
Guide softly refrained, “Pour pink on his motorcycle. How mundane. How banal.” And then smiled as if he scored the winning goal. “There is value, there is meaning in banal as a balancing factor. Indeed!”
Florentina basked in Guide’s banal approval. And the other three all muttered support, “We will go with you.” “In the middle of the night.” “I’ll buy the paint.” “There’s a brand that’s almost impossible to remove.” “Tomorrow because I’m doing a cleansing tonight.”
Guide nodded and reminded, “Governments, wars, disease, drugs...they remain redundant entities. The only change are talking heads and tired slogans but the results are always the same claustrophobic determinations imposed on the masses. Even voting’s a sham offering choices of column A or B, no m-s-g thank you. I remind each of you, you are living your life. You determine if an incident, an individual or occasionally individuals, impose on your existence. Insignificant, inane, trifling, frivolous are all but labels to describe when the moments of your life are forcibly shifted awry, askew, amiss, out of true alignment, labels to awaken you, labels to demand...demand what!”
All four chanted simultaneously in perfect harmony, “Balance will be restored.”
Guide cut through the celebratory accord with a stern caution. “Do not betray in believing that group support, that a clustered alliance of balance in itself deserves accolades. Be careful you do not fall into the abyss of a ludicrous pilgrimage of Buddha’s hair.” He paused knowing they would not understand the reference. Satisfied in the secretive key of translation endowing Guide with the paltry power, he continued as if granting infinite favors to each. “Every year,” he intoned, “80,000 pilgrims on the shore of Myanmar’s Indawgyi Lake during the annual festival of the floating Shwemytitzu Pagoda, which is said to contain Buddha’s hairs. 80,000 attending, paying exorbitant fees for water, food, places to pee and poop, based on what? Hairs of the Buddha. Hairs from the shaved head of Buddha? Nostril hairs? Arm-pit hairs? Chest hairs? 80,000 create ludicrous, absurd, senseless meaning from a farcical myth squandering granted breaths, flouting their forfeited balance on the altar of what?” A celebratory smile as if granted the keys of a dubious victory. His voice was a deceiving seductive tone, “80,000 pilgrims sacrificing their beinghood on the altar of a pubic hair!”
He shook his head slightly, his features seemed to metamorphosize to a cloudy day threatening rain. He closed his eyes, breathed deeply eight times, emitted a relieving “ahhhh...” opened his eyes, features again adjusting as if he was floating on a river of a cool summer breeze.
Looking at each, eye contact of course, brought Guide present with the mission. “Specify the target, the detailed offense, your intended action to balance the behavior of said reprobate.” Gide directed to the three who have not as yet shared their incident. “Specify!”
Stanley Marmelstein stood with careful balance as one leg was considerably shorter than the other. His presentation was an overt lack of authority with a thin frame often challenged on a windy day. His entire presentation was of a persona of someone who left the room without a hall-pass. But his voice had a surprising resonance demanding attention.
“It wasn’t fair,” he insisted, “I paid eight dollars expecting twelve change but the clerk Mavis, name-tag, gave me two dollars maintaining that I gave her a ten rather than the twenty dollar bill I distinctly handed to her. I objected, she insisted, we called the manager, Mr. McInerny, who of course supported her claim as Mavis Jameson has been working in Ralph’s market for three years and has never been accused of anything other than supporting each and every customer in care, kindness and consideration, unquote. They made me fill out a form which he read my name in a vitriolic tone, Stanley Marmelstein, as if it gave him visceral pain assuring me with a cynicism that at the end of her shift if there is an additional ten dollars unaccounted blah blah blah as if I was the bad guy and he even had the temerity to suggest I not utilize their services in the future. Mavis Jameson cheated and I am being punished. The market is only three blocks from my apartment and I am labeled persona non grata.” He concluded in a hurt, angered voice, “That is totally not fair!”.
Guide, alert to Stanley’s repression, sensing words not yet uttered, “More, Stanley?” he nudged in a velvet tone. Stanley shrugged in discomfort. Guide edged him further, “You are in a safe place, Stanley. There is more to be shared, correct?”
Stanley reluctantly blurted, “When I walked away they were laughing at me and I heard him say to her, ‘..gimpy Jew’...gimpy just because one leg is shorter but it has not stopped me from living a full live and Mavis tittering, ‘Those people and money!’” Stanley’s exhalation of involuntary breath was audible but in sharing he was surprisingly relieved.
Guide in a supportive pitch asked simply, “Intended action to balance the behavior of said reprobates?”
“If I thought I could get away with it I would shoot them both. Not kill them just in the thigh or shoulder.”
“Do you have a gun?” Guide asked.
“Yes, for years now. Ever since the apartment in Three-B was broken into and Mrs. Freiberg was assaulted and raped. She was sixty-eight years old, always kind considerate to her neighbors. When I went on vacation she picked up my mail. What kind of animal would do such as thing! I have a gun. I took lessons. I’m good. I know how to clean it, too.”
“More, Stanley?” Guide gently encouraged.
“I almost wish those goniffs would come back and try and break into my apartment. Believe you me they would have what is coming to them, poor Mrs. Freiberg.”
“Have you used the gun?” Guide asked.
“Only in the practice range.”
“I feel like such a fool.”
“More,” Guide gently demanded as he knew there was more.
“Like a bad movie,” Stanley admitted, “I stayed crunched in my car, a new Chevy, until Mr. McInerny came out, it was the end of his day, actually it was close to midnight, hardly anyone in the parking lot. I opened my window. No sound. New Chevy. And I aimed my finger as if a gun.” Then Stanley made a noise indicating firing.
“How did that make you feel, Stanley,” Guide asked?
“I liked it.”
“He got in his car and then Mavis, the clerk, Mavis ran out, ending her shift, trotting to his side he lowered the window and she bent over and kissed him and then ran around to get in his car and they drove off. They were, are having an affair and they have the nerve to call me a gimpy Jew.”
“And now, Stanley. Intended action to balance the behavior of McInerny and Mavis degenerates?” Stanley’s emotions were moving toward slow boil, his body inadvertently rocked back and forth. He mumbled incoherently.
In a snap of whip voice Guide commanded, “Let it out, Stanley.”
“I am still burning from being made to feel as if I was the cheater and banned from shopping there. Gimpy Jew. It’s not fair!”
“No, Stanley, it is not fair. The world is not a place for fair, which is why we address the need to balance wherever needed.” He turned to the group. “Suggestions for Stanley.”
Florentina was quick to respond, “I say shoot those pig bigots in the arm, in the thigh, the butt, wherever, they earn to be burned.”
Russell joined, “I’ll drive the car, not your Chevy, just in case.”
Ellen sighed, “Count me in.”
Guide spoke, “Understand the nature of such action. You must ensure that you are successful. Success means execute balance and not be identified. If you are i.d.’d and arrested then balance will not be restored.”
Russell, who was an efficient man, “We will observe for a week or more until we’re secure in the plan.”
Ellen whispered imitating words she heard on a TV detective series, “We’ll case the scene.”
Florentina enthusiastically intoned, “I can be a decoy if necessary."
Ellen asked, “Is there such a thing as a silencer, so when you shoot those swine it won’t wake up some sleeping homeless dude by the garbage pin?”
By this point Stanley was almost shaking in gleeful anticipation. “Yes, I also have a silencer but I have to get closer to the target.”
Florentina seductively choired, “We’ll make like two midnight lovers too drunk as we amble arm in arm closer and closer to the departing racists.”
“Sounds like a plan.” Guide nodded. Then to Stanley, “Are you ready to do what has to be done?”
Stanley stood, bracing himself in a lean towards his longer, stronger leg, “I am ready.” He declared!
Florentina stood in a proud stance of her formative body, asked directly, “Tell us Guide. Do we have your support?”
Guide let the silence reverberate for seconds and then, “Many years ago, many many years I was in the Congo, sent on a secret mission to rescue two anthropologists being held by the Tutsis. Trudging through the rain forest with complicated sunshine as a tribe of Hulus blocked our way and threatened annihilation...I made a gesture and tens of thousands of white butterflies descended. Like falling snow, inundating the Hulus spears. They fell on their knees and in fear of my power, looked away. We walked through the grove, mission accomplished.”
The group were all on edge awaiting more.
Guide looked at each and then in a triumphant voice, “Be successful in your mission and...” He repeated “And what?” with a dare of a grin.
They responded in perfect harmony. “Balance will be restored.”
Camden Herald: Last night the manager of Ralph’s Market, Mr. William McInerny and employee, Mavis Jameson were assaulted. They received gun-shot wounds to their thigh and shoulder, not critical but it will keep them out of service for many months. The perpetrators have not been found or identified. The Police are continuing their investigation.