Sunday, November 12, 2006

the Problem with Bess or Super Mutant Animals Fight Terrorism

by Michael Orbach

I wasn’t that surprised when the cat grew wings. I mean I had seen that before in the airport, dogs growing flippers, birds growing hands, cats growing wings weren’t a new thing. It was old hat. After all, it was a tabby so the wings, the mottled brown variety you see on most common birds actually fit in rather nicely. Alright, I won’t lie. People weren’t happy about it flying all around the rafters and sometimes sitting atop the custom lines meowing at the security guards. It wasn’t actually a meow but some sort of strange sound, like a meow mixed with a power drill.

But me, I didn’t mind it at all. I guess I kinda even liked it. I had found the cat before it grew wings and I named it Bess. I suppose I have to explain something. Ever since those terrorists tried to blow up all those planes in England nobody’s allowed to bring any more things on to planes. I mean anything, not drinks, not clothes, not suitcases, even babies need to be cryogenically frozen until you get back. It’s pretty embarrassing but many times people need to get naked before they get on the plane. But hey, it’s all part of national security, so you gotta understand. So one more thing like a cat with wings pisses the hell out of them.

I’m a janitor at JFK airport in New York. I get there pretty early in the morning and I stay pretty late at night. I’ve been working here for so long that my boss lets me sleep in the airport. Well, not really in the airport, but in an abandoned air cabin in the back of the airport. I usually take a cart down there when I’m ready to go to sleep and I usually watch the sunrise through the panoramic view of the pilot’s seat. It’s a pretty good life.

People were friendly in the airport, even with all the warnings and the like. I liked my boss and I liked the cat. I liked watching the sunrise and I liked hearing the planes always taking off and landing; I liked the sound of the air traffic control tower sending out signals every minute of every day. There was only one person I didn’t like and he was my fellow janitor. Gerald.

I didn’t trust Gerald.

Gerald was a little skinny guy who lived somewhere out on Long Island. I don’t trust Long Island either for that matter. Gerald had these really little beedy eyes that I could never tell what he was really looking at. I also hate to judge appearances but Gerald looked slimy. I could never tell what he was up to and he always looked like he was up to something. For example, once I found him cleaning the men’s room in the duty-free area. I confronted him right there on the spot and said that that was my job. The first-floor men’s room was my sole responsibility, I told him.

“First come, first serve,” he had said with a mean look on his face.

And then to make things worse, when I opened the door to the men’s room the entire place sparkled. He’d been using a different type of cleaner, brighter that I’d ever seen. It could’ve been radiation. Someone could’ve sat down on the toilet and gotten cancer. That was a no-go, he was encroaching on my territory. But then after a few more incidents, our rivalry had been easing off. I’d been noticing something about Gerald. You see, some people kept on thinking they could still bring things on airplanes like clothing or Gatorade. Some people even thought about bringing oven cleaning fluid. The security guards would always stop them and make them dump them out in the waste-bin. It wasn’t a pretty site, you never knew what brand of clothing these people were wearing, Nautica and Ralph Lauren shirts were always catching fire.

But it wasn’t so bad, but it was really bad when the bins started glowing. That made me nervous. I’d always be called over and have to take them to the Central waste-bin a huge dumpster that the garbage men would pick up everyday.

So one night I was called in by the security. A heavy-set woman had brought an entire lot of Estee Lauder cosmetics with her, which was an obvious no-go. I put on my full-fledged HAZMAT uniform with the huge plastic helmet and walked to the Jet Blue terminal (since Americans were only allowed to fly domestically, it was the only air terminal in business). Some people gave me some looks as I stomped past the baggage check but everyone knew I had serious business. The woman was upset about her cosmetics and a wave of disgust passed through me as I saw how carelessly she handled them. Didn’t she understand national security, I wondered? Didn’t she know that Estee Lauder cosmetics at certain temperatures, combined with certain highly explosive chemicals, along with an electrical charge, could be a lethal weapon? I snatched them out of her hand and the rest of the people began cheering for me. I had a sacred duty. The security guard patted me on the back as I left. I made sure to remember to wash my HAZMAT suit where his hand touched me.

As I took the waste basket out to the Central waste-bin I noticed something.

The central-waste-bin was gone.

In its stead was a trace of glowing green spots. A trail! I thought. Someone is compromising out national security! I raced after it, following the trail is turned color, from green to orange, to red, my own national security colors raising as the colors changed. The Estee Lauder cosmetics spilled this way and that way, but my safety wasn’t a concern here, it was the entire world’s.

I followed the trail until the remains of the departure section of Terminal One. The departures section had been bulldozed years after the first terrorist attack. I never went there. I was always afraid of the ghosts of old passengers who never could arrive at the airport and had died circling endlessly around the airport. But my fears couldn’t get the best of me, not now, when so much was at stake. An eerie glow emerged from the terminal and I heard the sound of a cat’s meowing. I raced there. I threw down the waste-bin I was holding, I would need my hands and mind free, something was amiss.

And then I saw it.

Gerald was standing above the central waste bin, the bin, glowing and bubbling, filled with green liquid. The liquid burped and splattered over the concrete floor as Gerald, his eyes wide and demented, mixed the evil liquid with his company-owned mop.

“What in the lord’s name are you doing!” I yelled at him.

He didn’t answer me. Hovering right above him was Bess, her wings languidly pushing the air down. Even more horrifying was what was next to him, cages and cages of confiscated animals. From hamsters to golden Labradors all nervously crouching in their cage. Until then, I had never noticed how well his evil grin matched his yellow jumpsuit.

He suddenly seemed to realize that I was there.

"We must fight terrorism with super mutant animals,” he said, saliva hurtled from his mouth into the cauldron of the central waste-bin and my shoes.

“Is that what you’ve been doing this whole time?” I asked. “Was this whole janitor work just an excuse for you to conduct your mad experiments on confiscated animals and hair gels!” My voice was rising then, I was angry, but he didn’t seem to hear me. He only continued.

“Terrorism can only be stopped by super mutant animals. If we had an entire army of stupid mutant animals we could stop anyone!”

I saw Bess’s eyes, sad yellow eyes looking at me. Or maybe they weren’t sad, they looked pretty ambivalent, but I knew what I had to do and for once, one thing was entirely clear to me and I said it.

“You can’t stop terrorism by creating more and more super mutant animals, terrorism needs to be stopped by mutual understanding and common grounds as well as compromise and United Nations protocol.” It wasn’t really true though, I thought some terrorism could be stopped by super mutant animals but not all terrorism, the exact breakup I wasn’t so sure of.

But it didn’t matter, Gerald wasn’t listening. He had taken a gerbil and dumped him in the broth. The gerbil came out, half lizard, half gerbil, half nineteen forty-five television set, its lower half a mess of scales, its middle, fur, and its head, a black-and-white monitor. I knew that reason wouldn’t work with Gerald so I did the only thing I knew would stop him.

I walked over to Gerald and punched him. Really hard.

Bess let out a loud meow and landed on my shoulder. The hamster looked around for a minute before settling down on the rim of the lid and flicked on Leave it to Beaver.

It was one of my favorite episodes.

After that things went back to normal. My boss was pretty happy with me, we had figured out where all the mutated animals and where the waste was going; he had actually been worried that terrorists were taking the waste to make more and more bombs, but once he found out that it was Gerald trying to create an army of super mutant animals he was quite relieved. Gerald was put on indefinite leave and I nearly got a medal from the State Department. And I thought things were over by then. But there still was Bess.

The problem with Bess was that she didn’t stop growing. I hadn’t noticed it at first, but she had been growing steadily. When this whole mess with Gerald ended she was about two feet long, which while big for a cat, wasn’t that noticeable. But the next day she was bigger, at least another foot in length and height. Now this never happened before. And a cat with wings is an okay thing at four feet, but by twenty feet the people starting the getting antsy. It actually flew after an airplane once. My boss says that was a big PR mess for the airport. It also ended up sleeping on the runways and once it even tried to scratch itself and nearly knocked over a control tower.

Eventually they had to call in the National Guard but that didn’t really do anything. They fired off some rounds and attempted some combat maneuvers but the cat yawned and swatted them off. Bess did the same to the Marines. Finally they called in the air force and took the battle to the skies. My boss was pretty apologetic.

“I’m sorry, she has to be stopped. It’s a matter of national security,” he said.

I couldn’t really argue with him, but all the same I was going to miss Bess. She was still playful even at three stories. She’d usually take off in the morning and knocked over a Tuscan milk truck for breakfast.

The airfight was a mess. F-16’s and tigerhawks were swirling all around trying to hit her. They kept on launching missiles that went off course and hit other F-16s. Gerald even tried to go up in an old WW2 plane he had bought years ago. He even asked me to help spin the propeller. Bess gave as good as she got though, she took down a number of those planes and even ate some of the pilots. Eventually though one missile hit Bess in the leg, I saw her hurl up in pain, shocked as to how this all happened, forget to flap her wings and fall to the ground crushing some jets under her. She landed on the runway all curled up cute like she was going to sleep. I was the first one there and she looked at me sleepily with one eye open. I guess she wasn’t in that much pain. She looked at me once, her big yellow eye wide open and then she closed it for the last time. I was told that the marines eventually came back in tanks to make sure she was dead but I had gone back to my airplane by then. I had said goodbye.

Things were really quiet after that. Gerald was back on the force and my boss was right sorry about the whole mess, he kept on apologizing to me but I told him it was alright. Gerald felt pretty bad also. He bought me a small kitten on his first day of work and promised to never step on my toes and take my bathrooms again. He even had his wife make small basket for the kitten to sleep in. I named her Sam and I keep her in the cockpit of my airplane and I make sure she doesn’t go out when I can’t watch her. Sometimes she curls up on my lap when I sit in the pilot’s seat. But other than that, things are pretty much the same.

Sometimes I dream about Bess, her shadow a giant shape falling over the airport as she flies up farther and farther her wings beating to her own drum. I hear her meowing loud and I finally know what she’s saying. She’s saying “so long suckers!” And up she flies.

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