Ring Out the Old

The Old Year, ripe with the stink of Thunderbird, sprawled back against the pilaster of an abandoned neoclassical bank. Most of the graffiti above and around him was indecipherable, but “nuke the faggots” stood out in block letters. Below, someone had added, “and the skinheads.”

The Old Year sang “Rock of Ages” off-key, frayed and guttural, with a glutinous flap added from his throat, a gargle through molasses. He held his pie-plate out to passersby, a gesture that suggested nothing like expectation.

He broke off in the middle of the hymn and shifted to a sing-song melody of his own, stronger, his voice clearer. He slapped the empty tin pie-plate beside his legs in rough time to the words:

Throw the old bastard a nickel,

Throw the old bastard a dime,

Throw the old bastard a quarter,

Cuz he is a victim of time.

“Goddam millennium friggin NO GOOD GODDAM city buildins fallin over useta be camels put em up camels an slaves…” his voice rising to a bellow then slipping inside until it disappeared.

The Old Year was cold, weak, wrapped in a torn blanket, a three-inch bedding of newspapers under his legs and butt. He could have shifted to the steam vent at the corner, but he preferred the internal warmth of the Thunderbird. And with only eight (seven?) hours left in 1999, he could freeze solid and it wouldn’t make a difference one way or the other.

A figure moved up near his feet. From The Old Year’s semi-recumbent vantage, the man – given the overcoat and outdated Stetson hat, it had to be a man – loomed like a giant, his face invisible within the nimbus of the setting sun behind him.

“Jerry?” questioned the man.

“You got money? Awww shove off. I’m outta Bird most out. Looka tha…” The Old Year held his bottle of wine by the neck and swung it side to side, a glass pendulum. “Wha ya want? Got sumpin? Gway.”

Jerry. Je-sus, what’s happened to you? Look, there’s maybe… somethin I can do?”

“You can climb a purple horse an FUCK OFF. Aint no Jerry.”

The faceless man fumbled under his overcoat to pull up his trouser legs as he dropped into a squat.

“It’s you. Jerry Walton. You think I wouldn’t know? We fired you, I gotta know. You got that one brown eye and one blue eye –”

“I GODDAM KNOW I GOT ONE EYE AND THE OTHER. You think I’m friggin stupid dont know which eyes I got? Where you goin? Heaven? You goin Heaven? There’s that Indian thing bout how we work outta that. Rein… re-chrysamthemnum. Where you dunt die just go over again an over. An over.”

“Reincarnation?” The figure leaned forward. Sunlight leaked around toward his features.

“Yeah, recarnation carnation. Once I member I was back in Egypt, allll way back. The pharaohs? So Chops Cheops 3150 BC aroun then course didnt call it BC had their own calendar but itd run off schedule an Niled flood when they wunt lookin fer it tappen. Big friggin mess water all over town. But they could – an they did –  floated the blocks up. Fer pyramid. Cheops pyramid. Camels hauled em! Pretty much bes year I ever was. Who you? You Jerry?” The Old Year raised his hand to cut the glare of the dying sun. It didn’t help much.

You’re Jerry. Jerry Walton.”

“I AINT NOT NO JERRY. Yer stupid dunt listen people. Know what I was last time? 1916. There was nothin not one goddam good thing happened 1916. Friggin waste inna whole world. Seven eight million people killed off in France. Just in France. I hadda keep the count bad parta the job. 1999 I can watch it all happen right here millennium. Next timell kick me inta middle of a century. Yknow how much a millennium? Every thousan years! I gotta wait thousan years an they wont anyway give it me nextime. Somebody else. Sucks sucks.”

The Old Year began to cry, the bottle on the ground, his hand wrapped around the neck. He picked it up, crying, took a swig, another, drained the bottle. He looked at it, his glare tight and almost clear, cried harder.

“You…?” asked the man.

“Me 1999 yeah. Right here. Til minnight. Yknow what? Millennium er not stupid goddam year ta be but dun wanna leave. Never wanna leave. Tha old way-old woman ya know her the nun? She was six years old last time now gotta disease an I wone know when she dies. An wuz gonna happen with Apple computers?”

“They got Steve Jobs back. The nun… you mean Mother Teresa?”

“Mother Tresa yeah….”

“She’s already dead. Couple years back.”

“Goddam. Shit. Buy me a Bird? Need more Bird. Time?” The Old Year tapped his wrist.

The figure hiked up his overcoat sleeve an inch. “4:27. I don’t know where there’s a liquor store.”

“Wuz wif you? You got on wool an you dun know where a booze store? I member somebody like you but hats wrong. Mean it swrong cuz it sright. Same hat from las time. 1916 hat. Din have Bird back there. Gin in trenches sneak it in get drunk heads blowed off. On guard duty. I wasn no Jerry Wharton. Wasn nobodys name just was. So mister man how you get through from then ta back here? Snot yer hat. Somebodys elses hat. Not Mother Tresas hat,” and The Old Year laughed, laughed until long snot strings hung from his nose.

“You are Jerry. Jerry Walton,” said the figure, “because we choose it that way. You have been Jerry Walton and you will remain Jerry Walton, now and always. And this time you won’t get fired. You are released, clear of title, into the millennium and through to whatever comes next – actually, Apple’s buying Next from Jobs.”

“Overpopilation too many,” said The Old Year.

The figure leaned forward and touched his fingertips to The Old Year’s eyes.

When Jerry Walton opened his throbbing eyes, the figure was gone. He stared into the afterglow of the sunken sun and felt a physical need, something his body craved. But as his vision cleared, the craving slipped away like gravel from the edge of a roadway.

Jerry rose up to his feet, wondering why he’d been sitting on a cold sidewalk at the end of the year, a section of newspaper hanging off the seat of his pants. Out of a job, for shit sake. That was hardly the end of the world, just another dumb distraction in life’s inevitable march.

Tugging the newspaper loose, he saw that it was the classified section. He opened it to “Help Wanted.”


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