Not Long Tales … October 15th, 2019

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4198)

10.

Mr. Eyeballs

Curtis Marshall was the father of two young boys, a contractor, avid Philadelphia Phillies fan and great proponent and propagator of practical jokes.

He loved to create a setup that surprised trusting victims with a payoff ranging from foolishness to horror, and then to stand back and howl with laughter at their naivety.

At a barbecue-rib-and-corn-on-the-cob night, he once replaced the toothpick container down at the Reynolds Dining Hall with his own toothpicks, which were covered in maple syrup. For a solid hour he observed folks grossed out by the sticky pick, casting it away in disgust. Finally an employee noticed his giggling, and he was confronted by the manager and asked to leave.

Curtis was always surprised at what you could get away with as long as you looked like you knew what you were doing.

For instance, one busy Saturday he set up a table at a local shopping mall, with a big banner with the drawing of a deer, reading “Free Doe Nuts.” Sitting out for all to enjoy were small, dark-brown, round doughnut holes. Curtis thought it was absolutely rib-splitting to offer these to people in the mall, and while they popped them in their mouths or were chewing on them, he explained that they were actually Doe Nuts—testicles taken off a deer. Reactions were absolutely explosive. Some people spit, others cussed, one little kid spewed—and finally Curtis was reported to the mall manager and had to hustle away with his table and Doe Nut holes, security on his tail. At no time did it occur to any of the participants that does were ball-less female of the deer species.

More recently, he got in trouble with the Health Department. At the ladies’ restroom of the movie theater, he replaced the liquid soap provided with a product known as Blood Soap. It came out looking like regular soap, but as you washed your hands it turned bright red and appeared to be blood. Curtis sat directly next door in the men’s restroom on the pot and howled with laughter as he heard the women screaming. When it was discovered that he was the culprit, the Health Department filed a suit against him for disturbing the peace, or something or other, but it was thrown out of court.

Curtis Marshall was certainly committed to the art of the practical joke. He had pulled so many on friends and family that it had gone from humorous, to quaint, to finally—with all in agreement—flat-out annoying.

They got together to hold an intervention over his practical jokes. After an hour or so of him protesting that it was innocent, a way for him to enjoy life, they countered by informing him that if he wanted to continue to be a part of the family—or even married, for that matter—he had better stop practicing what they deemed “a spiteful wickedness.”

Discouraged, he nodded his head. But the next morning, he decided on one final escapade. It needed to be a big one. He decided he would even spend some money.

He rented a post office box at one of those strip-mall stationery stores under the name of Stanley Morton.

Next, he needed to find a private investigator. Having no idea on how to go about such a task, he asked a couple of friends. Finally Jerry, one of his work buddies, happened to have a card from a young man who had passed through the office, trying to drum up business for his foundling company. He was an investigator. The name of the company was Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis had to chuckle at the silliness of the name and decided it would be perfect for implementing his coup de gras of laughables. So posing as Stanley Morton he called Mr. Eyeballs. Curtis asked the young proprietor to do a job for him.

What Curtis—pardon, Stanley—wanted was for the private dick to follow a man around to see what his activities were, because Stanley was planning to do some business with this fellow and feared he might be dishonest. Curtis—Stanley—explained that he would send Mr. Eyeballs a picture of the individual he wanted to be scrutinized.

Well, Mr. Eyeballs said he could do as requested—he would give four full days of bloodhounding the activities, but it would cost five hundred dollars.

Curtis winced a bit at the expense but figured the payoff would be worth it. He agreed and sent Mr. Eyeballs a five-hundred-dollar cashiers check, along with the name of the fellow he wanted pursued—Curtis Marshall—and a picture.

Curtis, who had stopped all other practical jokes in honor of this magna cum laude, was nearly beside himself with anticipation over the arrival of the report.

One week passed. Two weeks passed. In the middle of the third week, Curtis decided to call Mr. Eyeballs back—as Stanley—and ask what the holdup was. The young man was apologetic. He explained that he was new in the business, wanted to do a fine job, and was still typing up the final draft. He was holding it in his hands and would put it in the mail immediately. Curtis, under the guise of Stanley, was agreeable.

Two days later, when Curtis checked the mail at the stationery store, there was a manila envelope waiting for him. He grabbed it, raced to his car and opened it, pulling out the stapled report.

It had a preamble:

Being asked my Mr. Stanley Morton to investigate Curtis Marshall to determine his honesty and virtue, I have come to the following conclusions.

Mr. Marshall made quite a few stops at the ATM.

I have found through my studies that two visits a week is commonplace. Mr. Marshall sometimes made two a day.

(Curtis just laughed. It was his practice to never carry extra cash, but to take out of the ATM whatever he needed for the moment.)

The report continued:

I also discovered that Mr. Marshall made frequent trips to the library, and following him into the establishment, it seemed to my mind that he spent an inordinate amount of time whispering to the librarian.

(Once again, Curtis had to burst out with laughter. One of his favorite targets was the librarian. He would ask her for books that did not exist, and then be disappointed that the library was unable to fulfill his wishes.)

Still more report:

Three times during my four-day investigation, Mr. Marshall made a stop at the back door of a small mom-and-pop restaurant called The Rib Shack.

He huddled with a man in an apron, exchanged some cash, and hurried to his car, carrying a small bag.

(Curtis smiled. He loved the ribs at The Rib Shack, but he didn’t like the way they cooked them for the common people. So his buddy, Mickey, always fixed a quarter-rack of ribs for him just the way he liked them. Curtis picked them up three times a week, on the down-low, so nobody else would know.)

Mr. Eyeballs was not finished. The report also cited that Curtis Marshall picked up his two children at school, always arriving early, and seemed to be watching the other children as they departed.

(Now Curtis was feeling a little nervous over the report. It was true that he went to the school early—for two reasons. Number one, he wanted to make sure he was never late so as not to keep the kids hanging. And number two, he used this as his private time, to think up…well, usually to think up new practical jokes.)

Finally, Mr. Eyeballs cast some doubt on why Curtis Marshall spent so much time in his garage at night, working on some sort of project. Getting close to a window, Mr. Eyeballs was able to determine that there was a lot of rock and roll music being played, some smoke coming from one of the open windows, and—well, it was all just very brash.

(Curtis resumed his laughing profile. He loved loud rock and roll music. He wife thought he had quit smoking three months earlier, so the garage was his only safe haven. And he was trying to learn how to be a carpenter but finding that he was not very good at measuring or cutting.)

At the bottom of the report, Mr. Eyeballs had placed, in large letters, the word CONCLUSION.

“If I were surmising the life and times of Curtis Marshall, I would say that perhaps he’s involved in selling some drugs—maybe on the high end—having an affair with the librarian, using the contact at The Rib Shack for distribution, trying to get young children started on smoking grass, while working in his garage, hatching a plan for some sort of criminal evil.”

Curtis finished the report and stuck it back in the manila envelope. He was a little disgruntled. It was ridiculous, but he thought it would be funnier. Instead, he felt affronted, even defiled. He decided this particular joke was a fizzle, and that if he was going to finish out the life of a practical joker, he would need a better exit prank. He would think about it.

As he was driving home, about five doors down from his house, he saw an old gold sedan in his neighbor’s driveway with a magnetic sign on the side which read, “Mr. Eyeballs.”

He was so surprised that he almost slammed on his brakes, but then thought he needed to be cooler than that. More controlled. Once he got home, he forgot all about it. Of course, he told no one about his disappointing and expensive adventure.

The next morning, on his way to work, about eight doors down on the right hand side, at another neighbor’s house, there was Mr. Eyeball’s car again, with the ugly sign. This time, Curtis noticed the paint was peeling on the door. He drove by very slowly so he could get a good peek.

The same thing happened that night—except it was three doors down on the left-hand side, in the driveway of his neighbor, Michael. There was Mr. Eyeballs’ car—right in front of everybody.

Curtis was unnerved. He needed to talk to somebody but couldn’t do it without exposing his foolish flub. So after dinner, as darkness fell, Curtis decided to walk out, go down the street and talk to Michael about who the visitor was with the golden sedan.

But before he could get to Michael’s house, driving slowly by in the other direction was that ugly gold sedan with the magnetic sign, which could barely be read in the darkness, but still was certainly Mr. Eyeballs.

Curtis turned around and hurried home, taken aback by the whole encounter. He peeked out of his front widow four, five—maybe six times that evening, and on two occasions, driving along at a creeping crawl was Mr. Eyeballs’ vehicle. What in the hell was going on?

A whole week passed. It seemed like every time Curtis looked around his home turf, there was the gold sedan either coming or going.

And then, something truly startling–friends and neighbors, who had frequently come for visits, ceased to appear. The Crawfords, three doors down, cancelled a barbecue that had been planned for months. Curtis had always tried to walk his neighborhood every day, but now each time he saw one of his friends and waved, they ducked their heads and hurried inside.

What in the hell was Mr. Eyeballs up to? Had the young man become too aggressive, following him to his home and warning the neighbors about these fictitious concerns?

Finally, Curtis decided to ask his wife, Carol, if she knew anything about the gold sedan driving through the neighborhood. She said no, but her eyes darted like they always did when she was lying.

Curtis went down to the police station and explained his concerns to the lieutenant. He surmised that he was either being persecuted by this stranger, or Mr. Eyeballs was perhaps planning to extort money by ruining his name among his companions.

The following Saturday, Curtis went to the doors of his neighbors—seventeen in all—and knocked. Half of them refused to answer at all and the other half refused to open up and allow him entrance. Skittishly, they peered through their windows at him, or made up some excuse for not being able to talk.

Curtis was losing sleep. He had to do something. It was completely out of control. The young detective he had hooked up with obviously had some mental problems and had targeted him for demolition.

Finally, two days later at the grocery store, he cornered his friend, Brian, in the meat section between the steak and the chicken. He maneuvered his cart to prohibit Brian from escaping and came right up into Brian’s face, whispering, “You are my friend. You are not going to lie to me. You are not going to avoid me. You’re going to tell me the truth. What’s going on?”

Brian looked at him nervously, his eyes flitting to the left and then the right. Brian leaned into Curtis and whispered back into his ear. “Leave it alone,” he said. “You’re in a lot of goddamn trouble. We’re all scared. The young man has us terrified. We can’t talk to you. He told us about following you—he’s discovered all of your sinister paths.”

Curtis couldn’t take anymore. He pulled Brian in by the shoulders and shook him. “You know me, man! You know me. What’s wrong with you?”

Brian took the opportunity to wiggle away, grab his cart and dart to the front of the store. Curtis was barely able to maintain his public decorum, chasing his old friend through the canned goods.

He gathered a few last things, remembering the gallon of milk and dozen eggs his wife had requested and headed to checkout. Brian was two people ahead of him, on the right-hand side. Checkout 6.

Curtis stared at him—a threatening glare. Brian finished paying, gathered his groceries quickly and headed for his car as Curtis impatiently waited for the cashier. He was pissed—done with being nice.

He raced his car home, but as he approached, he discovered there were cars everywhere. What caught his attention immediately was the one sitting out front—the ugly-ass mustard sedan with Mr. Eyeballs’ sign on the side.

All the cars were at his house and on his grass.

He parked as close as he could, leaving his groceries in the car, no longer concerned for the outcome of his Rocky Road ice cream. He scooted through his front door. There were his neighbors, sitting in a circle in his living room, and there was a young man in the middle—the one he assumed to be Mr. Eyeballs. He was through being courteous.

“What’s wrong with you all?” he screamed, turning in every direction. They all peered at him without flicking an eyelash.

“I ask you, what’s wrong with you?” Curtis demanded. “Are you actually listening to this maniac? He’s so stupid—so dumb—that he doesn’t even know that I—yes, I—am Stanley Morton.”

He turned to Mr. Eyeballs, shouting angrily,  “I set you up, you dummy! I gave you a fake name and you got taken in!”

The women in the room pulled back in fear as the men stood, ready to subdue him if necessary. Lunging forward toward Mr. Eyeballs, his arms were caught by two of his friends, Tommy and Jack. They held him as he tried to break free to attack his oppressor. Fully constrained, Curtis stood helplessly panting.

Mr. Eyeballs looked at him and said, “Gotcha. Or would it be better to say, ‘April Fool’s?’”

From across the room, Curtis’ wife shouted, “I kind of like hee-haw!”

With this, everyone burst into uproarious laughter.

Curtis, still feeling heat from his fury, looked around in disbelief. “This was a joke?” he challenged.

Mr. Eyeballs replied, “Yeah. But an expensive one. I plan on keeping the five hundred dollars.”

This brought a whole new wave of laughter. Curtis Marshall was embarrassed, angry, humiliated, bereft, nervous, suffering high blood pressure—and deflated.

Everyone stood to leave and quietly passed by, patting him on the back. A couple of folks even gave him a hug.

Curtis desperately tried to imitate humility. He didn’t want to be an angry loser. He didn’t want to act like other people had when he’d pulled pranks on them.

But the truth was, he felt exactly like them.

After everybody was gone and his wife kissed him on the lips, he headed out to his garage and turned on Metallica full blast. After fifteen minutes of hammering nails into a board (which would never be anything but hammered) he stopped and considered.

“This was not fair,” he thought to himself. “This was not a joke. This was…completely impractical.”

 

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