Monday, September 8, 2008

A Private Moment with Mountford

There are tears all down the front of his dirty undershirt, because as is often the case Mountford is upset. There are also tears down the front of his dirty undershirt, because he believes in getting as much wear as possible out of a garment. The tears leave wet and salty spots and release a strange animal scent from the fabric. The tears allow a surprising number of hairs to poke through, and expose sad patches of sallow skin.

He cares on some level of course, for he knows that a man who has made an enemy of...well, everybody, is never truly alone. There's a terrible risk of exposure, that some cunning paparazzo with a telephoto lens will capture those deep underarm stains when Mountford stretches his apish arms above his head while standing in front of the french doors; that this man who never leaves his palatial estate without a hat will be caught showing his true colors (a sort of sickening yellow). True, said paparazzo would be swiftly and fatally dealt with, but if even one person saw such a thing the damage to Mountford's psyche would be incalculable.

Perhaps he courts this exposure and subsequent pain as a masochistic act. Or perhaps he is simply tired and wants to unwind in a horrible t-shirt and boxers. As a sort of human being and a kind of American, doesn't he have the right to his slovenly leisure? Isn't that what we all aspire to? Stained undergarments and threatened dignity?

Mountford limps over to his favorite recliner. The hamstring injury he suffered in Singapore has been playing him up again. For the thousandth time he curses the aim of his doublecrossed business partner, feels the spiky durian slam into his back and send him tumbling over a second floor balcony at the Raffles. Fifteen years later he still can't eat the damn things though he has several crates flown in at great expense during the season. It's a point of pride.

The recliner receives his slight body. His bony ass nearly pierces the well worn seat. His fingers reflexively scratch the armrests, pulling up flecks of cheap and cracking leather. It's something of a miracle that there's any left to scratch away, but Mountford has always had an instinct for pulling the meat from a carcass.

The tears have stopped flowing now, and the ones that made it to the horrible undershirt have begun to dry already. The upsetting thing has passed from his mind so quickly that he is having difficulty remembering what it was. He's almost certain it had something to do with money, but all he remembers now is the petulant rage, the deep but transient sense of loss that comes with losing .0000001% of his fortune.

He reaches for the television remote and begins to flick through channels, pausing at any black and white image, trying to turn it into a rerun of Sergeant Bilko with the sheer force of his will. It was his favorite program, and airings were once plentiful. Now it never seems to be on. A newly hired assistant once suggested he watch Top Cat instead, claiming it was the same thing but "better, because it has cartoon cats instead of that weird guy with the fake glasses." Mountford attempted to drown him in the bidet, only pulling back at the last minute because the paperwork involved with an accidental death of this sort was more trouble than the deep satisfaction would be worth.

But again today Phil Silvers remains elusive. A fantasy begins to form in Mountford's head. He goes into broadcasting, creating a cable network that resembles the UHF channels of his youth: F Troop, Bowling for Dollars, a sea captain who hosts an afternoon cartoon show on the weekdays and a monster movie double feature on Saturday, a farm report every morning, a prayer at sign off, and of course his beloved Bilko. It would be a relic from the past brought lovingly back to life in the present age. it would be his cultural legacy.

For a moment it shines before him like a tawdry and pathetic jewel. Then it winks out, Mountford's interest having abruptly ended when he realizes that most likely there would be no money in it. He's through with labors of love. Labors of avarice are so much more rewarding.

He continues to flick through the channels for another twenty minutes, but finds nothing worthy of his attention. Eventually he dozes off, awaking an hour later with a stiff neck and a foul taste in his mouth. He rises and lopes upstairs, where a very fine suit awaits his attention. Enough of this lollygagging.

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