(Welcome to week three of the Friday Afternoon Serial. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read Chapter One or Chapter Two, we highly recommend doing so before delving forward into Chapter Three. Otherwise, enjoy. Pass it on. After the jump, we flashback to a simpler time.)
Monty Miggs is a bastard.
No, really. It’s true. Ask anyone.
Monty Miggs was born to a single mother in Langhorne, Pennsylvania on May 12th, 1974. The boy did not meet his father until he turned 10 years old. I know this because Miggs and I attended the same elementary school. Miggs graduated one year ahead of me. Miggs and I were best friends.
Monty Miggs’ father, it turned out, was a prominent divorce attorney who lived on New York City’s Upper East Side. He met Miggs’ mother, Molly, at the 1972 Republican National Convention in Miami. It was during that week-long event that the two of them got ripped on Highballs before banging the Nixon out of each other in a supply closet on the second floor of the Miami Convention Center.
Nine months later, Montgomery Cunningham Miggs was born.
Hooray for Tricky Dick!
Monty Miggs’ father is named Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Nathaniel Hawthorne offered Molly Miggs a king’s ransom in return for not having to raise his own son. In addition to being a notary public and a staunch Republican, it turned out Molly Miggs was also a Capitalist, so she accepted Nathaniel Hawthorne’s offer without the least bit of hesitation.
Money = game-changer.
By the time Monty Miggs was nine years old, he had already begun to ask the obvious questions: Who was his father? Where was his father? Why were there no pictures of his father around the house? Who was that strange man in the pinstripes who smelled like licorice and made the floorboards creak at night?
Molly Miggs explained that Monty’s biological father was a brave man who had been shipped overseas to fight the Viet Cong. But this explanation hit a snag when the older kids at
St. Stephen’s Elementary got a hold of it.
“No one,” they assured Miggs, “gives a shit about those Ho-Chi-Minh motherfuckers anymore. If your pop is still over there, he’s either half-dead or half-gook by now.”
Confronted with this reasoning, Molly Miggs decided there was no longer any point in perpetuating the lie. So she contacted Nathaniel Hawthorne, who arranged for the three of them to meet at the Bethesda Memorial in Central Park on a cold afternoon in March of 1985.
From that point forward, it was agreed, Nathaniel Hawthorne would always be a part of Monty Miggs’ life, so much so that in May of 1994 Nathaniel invited Miggs and I to spend the summer with him at his 5th Avenue penthouse on Central Park East. He also arranged for us to work as college interns at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s penthouse was located along a stretch of 5th Avenue known as Museum Mile. Tenants needed an ID card to enter the building. They needed a key to activate the elevator, and a pass code to gain access to the 12th floor, where Nathaniel’s penthouse was located.
The building’s doormen and security guards treated Miggs and I like sultans that summer. And we, in turn, treated them like a bird treats a statue.
We smoked pot in the stairwells. We pissed from the balconies. We passed out in vacant hallways, open beer in-hand. We were every bit the milk-white suburbanite punks other tenants expected us to be, and we wore that reputation like a badge of honor.
Nathaniel Hawthorne spent very little time at the penthouse that summer.
In fact, Nathaniel Hawthorne spent very little time in the country that summer – a fact he requested we not share with Miggs’ mother.
When Nathaniel was at the penthouse, he enjoyed drinking muscatel and listening to old Randy Newman records. He enjoyed chess and crosswords and watching classic movies with the lights out. And whenever Nathaniel Hawthorne was soused to the gills, he enjoyed nothing more than loosening his tie and challenging Miggs and me to a good, old-fashioned wrestling match.
“I may have a bum wheel,” Nathaniel would say, tugging on his slacks, “but I can still whip my weight in wildcats.”
Miggs and I rarely knew what the fuck Nathaniel Hawthorne was talking about. But he had a 10-gallon way of saying things that made even the most ludicrous suggestions seem completely logical. The man was a liar and a cheat, who made his fortune by convincing high-ranking officers of the court that six was nine and up was down; that New York City’s white-collar misogynists were little more than victims of their own ineptitude, which – while true – didn’t make them any less accountable.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was 6’5 with gray, thinning hair and flushed cheeks. He led with his chest and walked with an ivory cane – the result of severe arthritis in his right knee. He had pores the size of potholes across the bridge of his nose, and at close range his breath burned like bay salt.
Nathaniel worked long hours and, more often than not, he was absolutely miserable.
But none of that really mattered to Miggs and me.
We thought Nathaniel Hawthorne was the greatest thing since kitchen cabinets.
There was a large Persian rug in the center of the penthouse living room, which Nathaniel transformed into a ring during our impromptu wrestling matches. He’d push the furniture aside, then remind us to take our shoes off before “stepping onto the mat.”
Once we did step onto the mat, it was every man for himself.
Miggs only had one maneuver. He’d duck down low and try to cut Nathaniel out at the knees, knowing this was where the man was most vulnerable. Meanwhile, I’d jump Nathaniel from behind, one arm wrapped around his neck, the other wailing at his kidneys. Occasionally, Nathaniel would swat at me like King Kong swatting a B-1 Bomber. Otherwise, he paid me very little mind.
Miggs was the one Nathaniel Hawthorne was gunning for.
Nathaniel would wrestle Miggs to the ground, then sprawl across the boy’s chest and pound the rug, as if imitating a referee. “ONE … TWO …THREEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” Nathaniel would howl. Then he’d toss me aside, roll over and lie on his back, gasping for air.
“Always remember,” he’d say between gasps, “No matter how big you may think you are, there’ll always be somebody bigger.”
As far as Miggs and I were concerned, there was nobody bigger than Nathaniel Hawthorne. The man could truly whip his weight in wildcats.
That much I can assure you.
Five days a week, Miggs and I were stationed on the second floor of the Metropolitan’s Sackler Wing – dedicated to Japanese art with a concentration on Buddhist tradition and culture.
The Sackler Wing had eight sections, or chambers. The central chamber was known as the “Realm of the Buddha.” In the far left corner of that chamber was a 12th Century Buddhist statue known as the Bodhisattva Ksitigarbha … or Jizo, for short.
Jizo was 5’7 – six feet tall when standing on his gold-trimmed base. Jizo was crafted out of solid oak with gilded lacquer accents. He was bald with chubby cheeks and droopy ears. He was dressed in monk’s robes. He wore clogs.
In Buddhist scripture, Jizo was said to represent the path of righteousness. He made a solemn vow to empty the hells and rid the world of evil. He carried an orb for granting wishes in his right hand, and a six-foot staff to open the gates of hell in his left.
At the top of Jizo’s staff was a wide round clasp, three inches in diameter. On that clasp hung six metal rings, each representing one of the six realms of being in Buddhist thought.
The sixth realm of being is called Deva. Deva means God.
Miggs and I loved Jizo. We loved the idea that this cute little porker with coin slots for eyes was literally poised to rid the universe of evil. We loved the fact that he had a bad-ass staff capable of unleashing hell.
We loved just about everything about the little fucker.
So we decided to make Jizo our honorary mascot.
Being a mascot meant Jizo posed for pictures wearing Groucho Marx glasses, or holding a makeshift sign with the words “NO BLOOD FOR OIL!” written on it. Being a mascot meant Miggs and I would wait until after hours to take suggestive pictures of Jizo violating us (or vice versa).
It was during one of these amateur photo shoots that I happened to notice something curious about the three-inch clasp at the top of Jizo’s staff, or – more to the point – one of the six metal rings dangling from it.
This particular ring had a crack running along its surface.
It was a small crack, mind you … what a surgeon might refer to as a hairline crack. But it was a crack, all the same. And, having noticed it, I sensed the potential for mischief.
I had no choice. The ring was calling to me.
“Precious,” it hissed. “Presssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss-shus.”
The first month of that summer was fantastic. Nathaniel’s penthouse was located directly across the street from the Metropolitan, which made it convenient for us to hold parties after hours or nap on breaks.
Throughout June, Miggs and I were busy chasing girls.
We were busy hanging out downtown.
We were busy chasing girls who hung out downtown.
By the end of June we’d been working at the museum long enough to know what we could – and could not – get away with. We knew we could use the service phones to prank call the information desk. We knew we could stash duty-free bottles of vodka in our blazers. We knew we could smoke pot on the museum roof or nap in the basement storage rooms. We knew when and where we could wander during operating hours without getting caught.
The other interns came up with a nickname for the two of us.
They called us the Wanderers.
We wandered round and round and round and round and round.
I lost my virginity to a girl named Meghan McKenzie that summer.
Meghan McKenzie did not lose her virginity to me. She was a city girl in a city world, and –as such – she lost her virginity to a city man when she was 13 years old.
Meghan McKenzie had green eyes and gleaming teeth. She had sharp, glowing cheekbones that rose and fell like curtains when she smiled. She had long, straight strawberry-blonde hair that smelled like glistening apples. She wore pastel-colored sundresses and bug-eyed glasses. She wore open-toe shoes and earth-tone bandanas.
She used words like “whatevs” and “sitch” and “schedge” a great deal.
I loved Meghan McKenzie, or at the very least, I had the potential to love her. Still, our relationship (if it could even be called that) felt unbalanced, as if I was chasing someone who had no interest in being caught. The more affectionate I became, the more Meghan McKenzie dismissed me with a shrug.
But we did have the sex. Man, oh man, did we have the sex.
Looking back, I can’t recall whether it was the sex or the simple fact that I was having the sex that made the whole experience seem so memorable. Regardless, I was hooked. Hooked on Meghan McKenzie. Hooked on the sex. Hooked on the whole she-bang.
I spent most of July chasing Meghan McKenzie like a greyhound chases a rabbit.
Rabbits are swift and smart.
Greyhounds spend an exorbitant amount of time licking their own genitals.
I never stood a chance.
Meghan McKenzie was a full-time employee at the museum, which meant she ate lunch with all the other full-timers – most of whom regarded Miggs and I like southern country club owners regard black people.
The fact that Meghan McKenzie seemed so aloof only made her more attractive to me. On the rare occasion when she did show me the slightest bit of affection, it filled me up to the point where I thought I might burst.
Miggs hated Meghan McKenzie. He hated her green eyes and her gleaming teeth. He hated her sharp, glowing cheekbones that rose and fell like curtains when she smiled. He hated the way Meghan McKenzie’s hair always smelled like glistening apples. He hated her pastel-colored sundresses and her bug-eyed glasses. He hated her open-toe shoes and her bright, earth-tone bandanas.
Miggs hated that Meghan used words like “whatevs” and “sitch” and “schedge” a lot.
It’s true. He told me so.
Miggs never had an opinion about Meghan McKenzie one way or the other until her and I started having the sex. From that point forward, he was all “Meghan McKenzie this” and “Meghan McKenzie that.” Miggs was jealous and territorial and altogether transparent about the situation.
But I couldn’t have cared less. I was dick-deep in Meghan McKenzie’s vagina, and that was all that really mattered at the time.
Somewhere in the deep weeds of August, Meghan McKenzie went from dismissing me with a shrug to ignoring me altogether. We were no longer having the sex. We were no longer having the anything, to be honest. And Meghan McKenzie went out of her way to assure me that whatever it was we were having previously, we’d never be having it again.
And that hurt … a lot. So I drank … a lot.
In fact, I would go so far as to say Meghan McKenzie was probably the first time I learned to use alcohol as a coping mechanism. Obviously, it would not be the last.
I spent the final two weeks of that summer trying to mend my relationship with Monty Miggs. The Meghan McKenzie situation had created a major rift between Miggs and me. Miggs felt shunned, pushed aside like a plate of leftovers. This despite the fact it was his father who had made our whole summer in New York City possible (a reality Miggs reminded me of on a semi-daily basis). And Miggs was absolutely right, albeit in some kind of privileged, prep-school-kid kind of way.
That meant I was wrong.
I decided to make it up to Miggs by letting him in on a scheme I’d been plotting since mid-July.
“There’s a cracked ring on Jizo’s staff,” I blurted out one night, while Miggs and I were smoking pot out on the penthouse balcony.
“There’s a what where?” Miggs said, coughing up smoke.
“There’s a cracked ring on Jizo’s staff,” I repeated. “The chubby little Buddhist dude? The staff in his left hand … the one he uses to open up the gates of hell?”
“The statue?” Miggs said, furrowing his brow.
“Yes,” I said. “The statue.”
“There’s a cracked ring on his staff?” Miggs said.
“Yes!” I said.
“So what?” Miggs said. “Call Maintenance. What do you want from me?”
“I think we can steal it,” I said, without the least hint of sarcasm.
“On the staff?”
“In the museum?”
“You want to risk our entire internship and possible jail time over a 12th-century coffee coaster?”
“No … No,” I said, shaking my head. “It’s not just a coaster. It’s a sphere that represents one of the six realms of being in Buddhist thought … How many times have we talked about kidnapping Jizo and bringing him back to school with us? Propping him up in the corner of our dorm room? I mean, sure, that may have been a little insane. But this … this is a three-inch metal ring. It’s a glorified coffee coaster, for god’s sake. You said it yourself. Who would even notice it was gone?”
I could see Miggs was starting to warm up to the idea.
“But you and I,” I continued, “we’d always have something to remember our summer by. We’d always have something to remember Jizo by. And for the rest of our lives, we’d be the only two people on the planet who knew why that clasp only had five rings on it instead of six. You’ve gotta admit, that makes for a pretty cool souvenir.”
“And how exactly would we pull this off?” Miggs asked, turning his chair to face me.
“We wait until the staff party on Labor Day,” I explained, leaning in for emphasis. “That’s the last day of our internship, so we’ve got nothing to lose, job-wise. The museum’ll be completely empty that night except for employees. And most of them’ll be attending the end-of-summer party on the roof. We wait until the fireworks start going off over Central Park. That way we can be assured everyone’ll be distracted. We make our way downstairs. I’ll leave my work blazer in the Sackler Wing at the end of our shift that afternoon, so we have an excuse if Security – or anyone else – asks where we’re going.
“Once we enter the Sackler’s main chamber, we use our passcode to disarm the display alarms. There’ll still be people in the building, which means none of the motion detectors or other security alarms should be activated. Once we’re in, all we have to do is find the cracked ring and slide it off like a key from a key ring. Voila!”
“That’s it?” Miggs asked.
“That’s it,” I said, leaning back in my chair.
“Don’t you feel the least bit guilty about stealing the ring from Jizo?” he asked.
“We’re not stealing the ring, we’re liberating it,” I said. “But we absolutely have to keep this between us, because you’re right – if anyone else found out, this could land us in some major hot water.”
“You’re sure you want to do this?” Miggs asked, looking out across the park.
“Only if you’ll do it with me,” I said.
“OK,” Miggs said, passing the joint my way without making eye contact. “Let’s do it.”
Labor Day was a complete disaster.
Miggs showed up for work that morning with a flask of vodka buried beneath his blazer. By the time our shift was over, he was completely soused. He continued drinking at the staff party. And somehow, some way, no one seemed the least bit bothered by his behavior.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
During the first hour of the party, employees gathered round as Miggs regaled them with the story of his first day on the job – how he got lost trying to find his way to the Sackler Wing and ended up in the basement, asking a Korean janitor for directions. He recounted lunch breaks spent smoking weed on the roof, post-hangover naps in the underground storage rooms.
In fact, Miggs recounted so many of our secrets that I grew increasingly certain he’d spill the beans about our plan to steal Jizo’s ring.
But he never did. At least not then.
Ten minutes before the fireworks were scheduled to begin, I wandered the Metropolitan rooftop looking for Miggs. He was nowhere to be found. I waited and I watched, scanning the party for any sign of him.
So I disappeared downstairs, hoping perhaps Miggs had already slid out and begun making his way to the Sackler Wing.
I could hear the muffled boom of fireworks as I descended the emergency stairwell. Sudden bursts of light threw bright shadows across the breezeway as I continued north across the Great Hall. I zipped through the Egyptian wing, conscious of every creak and chirp I heard along the way. A Ptolemaic spree of hand-etched drawings crowded my periphery; zigzagging patterns of bronze and brown closing in on either side.
Ancient images sprung up, then receded as I hurried along the corridor.
Right at the sarcophagus tomb. Another right up the stairwell. One more winding right before I hit the second floor. Then a quick left, and I was at the entrance of the Sackler Wing.
No Miggs. No light. Not the slightest hint of white noise.
Buddhist-temple silence. Monastic-oath-type silence.
I approached Jizo’s platform – a pulsing, anxious energy coursing through my veins. I felt around in the dark until I located the display alarm. I crouched down and entered the passcode.
Incorrect … BEEP.
Incorrect again … BEEEEEEEEEEP.
My fingers shook. My jaw locked.
On my third attempt, I managed to disarm the alarm.
I slipped off my loafers. I rolled up my sleeves. I stepped onto the platform.
I ran my fingers along Jizo’s staff until I came upon the clasp. I fingered each ring on the clasp slowly, searching for the hairline crack that ran along the surface of one of them.
One … two … three … four … five … ?
There were only five rings.
I ran my fingers along them again, counting as I went.
One … two … three … four … fuck!
The sixth ring was gone, and so was Monty Miggs.
I did not return to the employee party that night.
Instead, I collected my work blazer and dashed across the street, assuming I’d find Miggs back at the penthouse. When I arrived, all the lights in the penthouse were off. There was a Warren Zevon record playing on the turntable, two opened bottles of Budweiser on the kitchen counter, and four lines of cocaine laid out on a cutting board at the far end of the dining room table.
There was a pastel-colored sundress lying in a heap on the Persian rug. There was a pair of leather sandals tucked beneath the coffee table. There was a denim handbag tossed carelessly on the couch.
There was a smell like burning rubber hanging over the entire apartment.
There was a lime-green bandana hanging on the bedroom doorknob.
I removed the bandana. I turned the knob. I eased the door open slightly.
There were two pairs of legs peeking out from beneath a checkered blanket. There was slow, heavy breathing and the rhythmic pulse of wood against wall. There was a 12-ounce soda can on the night table with a still-burning cigarette balanced on top. There was a makeshift metal coaster lying just beneath the can. There were slight bronze accents and a hairline crack running along the surface of that metal coaster.
There was a definite sense that Meghan McKenzie was not the only person in the room who’d just gotten royally screwed by Montgomery Cunningham Miggs.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
I left New York City on a Port Authority bus at 1 AM that morning.
I have not seen or spoken to Meghan McKenzie since.
I never confronted Miggs about the ring. And he, in turn, never acknowledged or apologized for anything that took place that night. We simply went about the business of living our lives, assuming if we ignored the unpleasant memory long enough, it would simply fade into the ether.
Spoiler Alert: Ignoring unpleasant memories does not cause them to fade into the ether.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
©Copyright Bob Hill