In these great tales of accidental devotion, Citizen Jim shows his love for Chicken Sheets in some very strange, very dangerous ways. Every time Citizen Jim visits Chicken Sheets she is overcome with both joy and fear, for she loves this violent, abusive man more than anyone on the world!
But if Citizen Jim stories have anything to teach us, it’s that sometimes the most beautiful and meaningful relationships we have the good fortune to experience are also the most violent and abusive.
Included in Book 2 of the Citizen Jim Stories:
Up to My Old Tricks
In which Citizen Jim arrives at a local restaurant and alienates the waitress with his special way of showing love to Chicken Sheets.
No Pets, No Reps
In which Citizen Jim tries to be supportive of Chicken Sheets’s career…Uh oh!
Against the World!
A lone troubadour parks beneath Chicken Sheets’s window to serenade her with soft hits from the 70s…Oh, brrrrroooother!
The Trouble with Afternoon Naps
Chicken Sheets has her afternoon slumber interrupted by Citizen Jim, a taser, and a swaggering guy named Howie.
Stop Making Sense
To make Chicken Sheets’s day better, Citizen Jim goes to a lot of trouble. Maybe way too much trouble.
Viktor’s Revenge (Scroll down to read now.)
Citizen Jim tries to lift the black cloud from above the head of Chicken Sheets—but only makes enemies of all her new neighbors.
Citizen Jim tries to lift the black cloud from above the head of Chicken Sheets—but only makes enemies of all her new neighbors.
Something had gone horribly wrong.
My quiet, idyllic living space was lately neither quiet nor idyllic. Whereas I had once wondered if any other tenants occupied Columbia Towers it was now obvious that there were many other tenants. And not just many other tenants–the vilest, noisiest, filthiest people alive had apparently been herded into a giant cattle trailer and prodded into the various unoccupied one-bedroom apartments within the building.
Not only that, but Freda was gone–along with her delicious cooking. I’d had little else to eat besides raw egg noodles and oyster crackers since Freda had left. (I would guess with the help of Lance, a tuxedo-clad chimpanzee who’d always delivered my meals. I imagined Freda and Lance throwing skillets and pot holders and aprons and soup ladles into a giant mahogany sea chest before stealing out under cover of the night. I cursed both of them every time my belly rumbled.)
Though there was nothing to do to keep the walls and windows of my apartment from vibrating as the people who lived above me chased one another around with cap guns and danced the tarantella in steel clogs, I did have an excellent way to block the noise.
Yes, I had an iPod and I wasn’t shy about using it. This, of course, almost got me murdered one night.
Well, kind of.
It was a rare evening when I was feeling especially ambitious and confident. Because of this I decided to look up information on the Internet regarding how to boil water. After watching several confusing tutorials on YouTube I called my friend Little J. She was not only naturally gifted at the art of boiling water–she’d also mastered boiling dense cuts of beef and certain types of fish. (She was very close to perfecting what she called a “boiled egg,” though I could hardly imagine such a thing.)
Next to Little J, Freda was a third-rate fry cook.
Alas, tracking down Little J was as likely as slicing a potato open and finding the face of Christ inside it. Her secretary–”Big Jeanne,” as she was known–could only say for certain that Little J was not in Juarez working as a cat-wrangler on a popular Mexican soap opera called “El Pobre Grito Más.”
Well. When Big Jeanne and I hung up I knew to be expecting a parcel of jumping beans delivered to my door sometime in the near future.
I had put my ear buds back in, jamming out to Shostakovich’s Fourth Symphony, grinding and grooving to the third movement while watching a pot of water on the stove. Five minutes passed. Ten minutes. Fifteen. Then I had the eerie sensation of being watched. I glanced out my kitchen window, thinking the neighbors might be staring at me while sitting on the couch they kept on their porch. However, there was only one man on the neighbors’ porch and he was staring at the ground, bent double over the banister puking out his guts.
I turned around and screamed like a nun getting goosed by a drag king. Citizen Jim fell to the floor as if he’d been shot, curling into a fetal position. I snatched my ear buds from either side of my head.
“It was just an idea, a very stupid idea, I now know,” he said after I stopped screaming.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked.
Citizen Jim rolled onto his back and looked up at me. “I said I was sorry!” he yelled.
“You did not–and what for?” I asked.
“Nothing, now!” he said. “Just help me up off this floor, you awful beast.”
As soon as he was standing up, Citizen Jim ran to the door of my apartment and flung it open. Into the hallway he shouted, “Pipe down you fucking mo-rons–this ain’t the county jail!” He slammed the door then opened it before slamming it a second time. “What the hell happened to this place?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine,” I said. A crash sounded above our heads, followed by hysterical laughter and three or four more dull thuds.
Across the hall someone was playing Def Leppard (1983’s Pyromania) at approximately two-thirds the volume of an actual Def Leppard concert. “Oh my God!” Jim yelled, covering his ears and squeezing his eyes shut. “Next to Cabaret Voltaire, they’re the worst band ever to come out of Sheffield!”
I couldn’t stand to see my best friend in the whole world suffering so much preventable pain. So this time I flung open the door and marched out into the hallway. I used both fists to bang on the door of apartment number two, then stared defiantly at the peephole on the door. I wanted the person on the other side to see in my eyes all the hell I was about to raise.
“Let me know if you need my help kicking ass and taking names,” Jim said, then he closed the door, I thought in an attempt to muffle the sound of “Rock Rock Til You Drop.”
I wouldn’t have been more shocked when the door to apartment number two opened had Lance the Chimp been standing before me in a cocktail dress instead of a tuxedo. The old man who answered was stooped over with age (and near-drunkenness, I could smell), his blue jeans sagging at the crotch. He was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of two bare breasts at what should have been chest-level right above a simple and cryptic message: “Lick it!”
I leaned toward him and said, “Could you please turn down your music?”
He must only have heard the word “music” posed as a question. “It’s Def Leppard!” he yelled back. “Best damned record ever made!”
I started motioning with my hand as if I were twisting a knob. “Can you turn it down a little?”
“You’ll hear it better if you leave your door open!” he shouted. “My stereo won’t go any louder–I’ve had those speakers since nineteen and seventy-two!”
I knew this conversation was not going to evolve to anyone’s satisfaction, so I waved and turned around. Of course I had to bang on my apartment door, as Jim had locked it earlier. “Let me in, you buffoon!”
“Are you alone?” he asked.
“Open this door!”
“What’s the password?” he asked.
I was completely out of patience. “I’m calling the police!” I shouted.
All noise and movement in Columbia Towers stopped at once, followed by the sound of running feet and two or three toilet flushes. Then it was so quiet you could have heard an ear mite fart. This did not go unnoticed by Citizen Jim, who unlocked and opened the door.
“That’s right, you noisy bastards!” he yelled over my head. “This crazy bitch down here who lives all by herself in apartment – ” he paused and turned around before continuing: “apartment number three, the one with the white door and the red welcome mat and the iffy-lock–she’ll call the police on all y’all’s asses! She’s done it to me so many times I’ve lost count!”
“Why’d you lock me out?” I asked, shoving past him. “So much for helping me kick asses and take names.”
“Hey, I was gonna help you,” he sulked, stepping inside and gently closing the door. “Take names, I mean.”
“Really? It seems like you were trying to get me killed,” I said.
“You don’t appreciate a damned thing I do for you,” he said.
Their fear dissipated as soon as Citizen Jim and I began arguing, my upstairs neighbors began stomping around again. Within seconds the iconic guitar lick that begins “Photograph” by Def Leppard sliced through what little remained of the short-lived–but blessed–quiet.
“What is it I’m not appreciating this time?” I asked, inspecting my fingertips and leaving the room to fetch a pair of nail clippers.
“What do you appreciate, ever?” Citizen Jim said. “All I wanted to do was cheer up my heartbroken friend and give her a new reason to live. But that damned crypt-keeper Viktor had to ruin it!”
I walked back into the room. “I’m a little lost,” I said.
“No shit! That’s why I was trying to help you. I’ve never seen you so out of whack over a stupid girl. I wanted you to be happy and get you back into whack,” he said. “Now I just wanna whack the snot out of you!”
“What’s Viktor got to do with any of this?” I asked.
“I placed a very specific order for who I wanted to live in this building with you,” Citizen Jim said. “I wanted a hoarder, a pot dealer with a monitor lizard, a crazy war vet, a lady with five or more cats, a boy hairdresser, and a hot lesbian heiress with a degree in Comparative Literature from Vassar.”
“Oh, is that all?” I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Well, I thought about asking for a drunk writer, but no apartment building needs two of those,” he said. “Not that you’re even a real writer.”
“Not that I even drink, you mean,” I said, my amusement gone in half a second.
“Ho ho–not yet, anyway,” he said. “I give you two months.”
I ignored him. The hot lesbian heiress might have been nice, but that wasn’t the point. “Thank you for trying,” I said. “But I guess Viktor couldn’t manage such a detailed request and decided to make due with what he could find.”
Citizen Jim parked himself on the Union Jack footstool and pouted. “Oh, shut up! You don’t have a clue!” he said. “This is Viktor’s revenge, is all. Lousy rat bastard!”
I didn’t even want to know what that could possibly mean. I threw up my hands and said, “I don’t even want to know what that could possibly mean.”
“Listen. You’re always yakkity yakking with people you don’t know and then they tell you crazy things–I just wanted that for you,” he said. “So you could use those characters to write away your pain and sadness.”
“What pain and sadness?” I asked.
“You know–all the pain and sadness you’ve been feeling since you got dumped by Miss Crabtree,” he said.
“Who?” I asked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
But I did. Oh, boy, did I ever!
Citizen Jim smiled. “That’s what I’m talking about–Chicken Sheets is on the loose!” he said. “Wah hoo!”
“That’s me–on the loose! Footloose and fancy free!” I said, grimacing and raising my hand for a high-five.
That wasn’t true at all. I was busted into a billion little pieces.
“Were you cooking something when I got here?” he asked.
I shrugged, a little embarrassed.
Citizen Jim walked into the kitchen. “I see you’re trying to boil water,” he said, cocking an eyebrow at me. “You think you’re ready for that?”
“Evidently not since it’s just been sitting there,” I said. “I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t boil earlier because I was watching the pot. But I don’t know what’s wrong, now. Guess I’m just not cut out for cooking.”
Citizen Jim examined the stove top then smacked himself on the forehead. “Jesus jumping on a pogo stick!” he swore. “You gotta turn the burner on under the pot, you fool!”
Now it was my turn to smack myself on the head. “If only Little J would return my calls.”
“What’re you bothering Little J for? She’s a very busy woman,” said Citizen Jim. “She doesn’t have time to hold your hand through remedial water-boiling classes!”
“I know–and I’m glad she got that cat-wrangling job down in Mexico,” I said.
Citizen Jim nodded. “Uh-huh. That’s what Big Jeanne told me Little J wasn’t doing, too. Oh well–you’ll just hafta ask Freda.”
“Fat chance of that–Freda’s gone,” I said. “She used to stay right across the hall, you know.”
Citizen Jim slammed a fist into his palm. “Oh, if I ever get hold of that damned Viktor!” he said through clenched teeth. “I hope he didn’t get rid of Lance.”
“I think Lance left with Freda,” I said.
“God damn it!” Citizen Jim shouted. “Lance was my only chimpanzee friend in the world! We were going to open up a detective agency together in downtown Birmingham!”
“I’m sorry, Precious Lamb,” I said.
“You oughta be! This is all your fault!” Citizen Jim said. “You and Viktor probably had my disappointment all planned out. I can just hear you, now: ‘Let’s make sure Citizen Jim never gets anymore of Freda’s fried chicken and never solves any mysteries with Lance.'”
Citizen Jim walked to the door and opened it, shouting, “Don’t do anything stupid like blow up the building while everyone’s asleep!”
“I love you,” I said. “Thank you.”
He ignored me and walked out. “And don’t knock on people’s doors and spray poison through the keyholes like you did in that last building you lived in,” he continued at the top of his lungs while he made his way down the stairs.
I immediately dialed Viktor to ask if he would install a few extra locks on my door, but he was already knocking before I could leave a message.