Seeing Things

Twist and Twain 2022 India

Ribak knew that the only way he would calm down would be to lie down. He walked the short distance to his house, and without undressing got into bed, shoes, and all. No matter how many times he told the colored kid to paint the entire tire, not just the outside, the kid never listened.

Ribak’s mind was finally taken off the colored kid when, just before sleep came, he saw Abraham Lincoln playing ping-pong with Tweety Bird. He awoke lying on his side facing the wall — its graying paint flaking — he saw a push lawn mower, an Edsel, and the Dionne quints in a playpen next to the Golden Gate Bridge.

I won’t live long enough to see everything this room has to offer, thought Ribak. With each shadow or light or as the paint peels further there are new and different sightings. He rolled onto his back, looked up at the knotty-pine ceiling and saw Colonel Sanders raising a clenched fist and was overcome with a feeling of personal satisfaction. I won’t see it all, but I’ve seen more in this ceiling in the past two years than anyone else could see in twenty years.

Ribak’s sightings weren’t confined just to his bedroom, which he no longer shared with his wife Lana of twenty-two years. Last year she had taken their savings, cashed in their bonds and took the best car on the lot leaving for parts unknown with their sixteen-year-old son, Bentley. He remembered their encounter earlier that last week when she had just gotten out of the tub and walked into the bedroom in an amorous mood. Lana, as was her habit at these times, wore only a red turban and matching spike heels.

He yelled, “Stop. Don’t move!” with such fierceness that she did what she was told thinking he was running for his pistol to kill whatever it was near her. Instead, Ribak appeared notebook in hand, and recorded Moses holding two Alka-Seltzer tablets with the Ten Commandments from his Sighting in her stretch marks. That was the final straw. For years Lana had put up with Ribak’s quirks, but in the past two years he’d gone overboard and instead of appreciating her gourmet meals that everyone else raved about, Ribak would sit with his pad and record sightings in soufflés, paella, salmon Kiev, and even her morning omelets.

He saw things everywhere and prided himself on being the only one to have sightings in traffic lights. In only three months he had logged over a hundred sightings–and only on red. What if he allowed himself the luxury of green and yellow? He was on his fifth logbook and saw himself as a real comer — soon to be a giant in his field—the best. It was just a matter of time, he thought, before he would go public and be recognized for his genius.

After all, everyone sees things in clouds and coats draped across chairs. “Hey look. Isn’t that cloud shaped like Nevada?” Or. “Check the sleeve on the coat? Is that Uncle Murray’s nose or what?” But Ribak knew his sightings appeared where others wouldn’t consider looking. In Lo, his tiger cat, he logged amongst thirty-six other sightings —the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria pulling into the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and, in Behold, his calico, he sighted the Crucifixion and a black hole in outer space.

Gary Ribak lived for getting off. And only two things got him off—his sightings and buying garbage and selling gold, which is how he thought of his used car business.

Ribak got into the business when he was fourteen and bought his father’s ‘34 Buick for twenty-five dollars. That was the amount the dealer was going to give his father on a trade-in for a new car. Ribak washed and waxed it, scrubbed the inside, and aired out the cigar smoke. He fixed the broken taillight and put in new spark plugs. He parked it on his front lawn with a For Sale sign. In two-days he sold it for sixty dollars to his next-door neighbor.

By the time Ribak was sixteen he was making more money than his father and he quit school. At eighteen he joined the Air Force and was sent to Biloxi, Mississippi where he was, of course, assigned to the motor pool. Within two months he was the Sergeant in charge and soon established a car rental business using the Air Force’s fleet from jeeps to Staff cars. Soon he added chauffeur service, a shopping driver as well as both a night and day tour of the area, plus regular runs to New Orleans. Ribak came to know every hot spot, jazz and otherwise—including whorehouses and crap games. His delivery and pick-up service to these places added another twelve airmen to his payroll that numbered in the thirties. He had an endless supply of drivers and by offering all services gratis to the Supply Officer he had new cars coming in fairly steady.

Ribak almost reenlisted but instead sold his business to a group of five noncoms for big bucks and left to open his own car lot. The noncoms lost the business in less than three months due to internal bickering and mistrust, and all ended up getting kicked out on bad conduct discharges with two doing some pokey time.

With his mustering out pay added to the money received for selling the business plus the major bucks Ribak had made, he arrived home in style in a new Lincoln Continental that he got from the noncoms as part of the sales package. He reacquainted himself with Lana, an old girlfriend who was now selling real estate, and they got married and spent their honeymoon in New Orleans where his friends with long memories treated him like royalty.

Upon their return, Lana found the perfect location for Ribak’s used car business and they bought a house a short distance away in an up and coming neighborhood. Both turned out to be good investments.

Lana didn’t mind Ribak’s Sightings—she found them fascinating. He on the other hand thought her hobby a bit pedestrian—but said nothing. Lana collected telephone voices. “Helllllu,” “Yah,” “Hahlo,” “Your dime,” and hundreds more. After she spoke to someone who had an interesting phone voice she would call back, record and catalog it. She used a cross-catalog system—alphabetically by name and also by greeting.

“I have one hundred and fifty-seven variations on the simple ‘Hello’”, she told her husband. “I’m getting ready to go Guinness on this one alone.” She had tried to help him with his Sightings but all he would allow her to do was look at them, or for them, after he pointed them out. “My work has to be totally my own discovery,” he said. “Whereas, yours can be found by someone else and collected by you and it is legal—mine cannot. I am not making light of what you do, but there is a hierarchy and that makes for a chasm between us, as related to our avocations.”

The first time Ribak said this to her, Lana responded, “Ribak, I’ve just had a Sighting.”

“Oh, really. What is it?” he scoffed.

“I looked at you from behind and saw a broomstick up your ass.”

 

Ribak’s Pre-Owned Car Emporium’s business had fallen off recently. Two of his sales had been involved in and mechanically at fault in multi-car collisions that killed one person, hospitalized six and caused massive traffic jams, as reported by the local TV and press.

He handled this business setback well. He devoted more time to his major passion. During this trying time in his business life Ribak felt he outdid himself. The skin of a chicken (uncooked) revealed Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic— he steamed window of his microwave showed Lady Godiva riding a hot dog—and Ribak knew he could bring this next one to the finals—The World Series of Sightings. In his freshly vacuumed carpet, Ribak saw the mattress room of Plato’s Retreat with all its tangled daisy-chained bodies. Championship city — here I come, he thought.

 

“You sold my husband a bad car. It almost killed him,” the kindly looking gray-haired woman said. “We trusted you and you sold him a bad car that put Joseph in the hospital.”

So engrossed was Ribak in writing down the Bobby Bonds home run swing Sighting in the woman’s hair that he barely heard her words. Finally, he snapped out of it and stood. Towering above this woman, Ribak, with his bulbous nose, cheeks freshly shaved, lined with purple veins close to the surface looking as if they were ready to escape his face at any moment, said, “Mrs. McEnroe, how nice to see you. Did your husband get the card I sent him in the hospital?  If not, well, you know the mails. What can I do for you?  Here. Sit down.” He offered Mrs. McEnroe his swivel chair, but just before she sat down he Sighted a package of oysterettes and a flamingo on the seat. Showing incredible restraint, he withheld the urge to dive for his journal.

“You sold us a bad car and now my husband is in pain and the car is totaled.”

“You need a new car; don’t you, Mrs. McEnroe?”

“Yes, but the insurance company gave us only half of what we paid for the car and we don’t know what to do.”

For the first time in months Ribak felt stirrings of the old business adrenalin. “You know, I’ve sold you folks cars for over ten years and they have always been fine cars. I don’t know what happened with the last car. You know, it was my mother’s, God rest her soul, and if it was good enough for her, I thought for certain it would have been good enough for the McEnroe’s.”

Ribak guided her to the center of his used car emporium as they spoke and stopped in front of an eight-year old Chevy that he had just finished resurrecting. As Mrs. McEnroe was signing her insurance check over to him, he momentarily allowed himself a gloat at being the best in two fields.

I am a double giant, he thought.

Mrs. McEnroe stalled the car twice before she was able to get it off the lot and as she turned the corner, just missing a school bus, Ribak froze for a second and felt a shiver run through his body. In that instant he knew what a wet sheet on a clothesline being whipped by the cold wind felt like. He snapped out of it and became elated as he looked at Mrs. McEnroe’s skid marks on his lot and saw in them a coonskin cap and a jar of capers. He whipped his book out of his back pocket and scribbled away.

That night, Ribak, in bed, watching the evening news, saw pictures of Mrs. McEnroe’s Chevy in a tangled heap and a stretcher with a covered body being wheeled towards a waiting ambulance. He gave a shudder and had the feeling he was an ice cube in an aluminum tray. He knew just how the ice cube felt.

Ribak lit a cigar, and after turning off the TV, lay in bed with the bedroom door open to the living room. He watched the shadows from his fireplace dance across the knotty-pine ceiling. The flames from his fireplace acted like a projector, mesmerized Ribak. He saw both McEnroe cars in the dancing shadows—along the corners of the ceiling in the knots. He saw their cars burst into flames and then he saw houses, and then houses in flames, and then he saw his own house. He watched in amazement as if he were set on fast forward— seeing Sighting after Sighting. They were coming so fast he couldn’t have written them down if he had his book. Ribak puffed his cigar, wide-eyed and awe-struck by the Sightings in the smoke that swirled around him. He knew what the crackling wood felt like being consumed by fire. He really knew.

 

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