Review of “Randolph’s One Bedroom”:
“The book, for me, wasn’t so much about Randolph as it was his state of mind, specifically how he dealt with the everyday oddities of his world. The truth is stranger than fiction, and where Randolph lives, pretty much everything is strange. What I think I loved most about this story collection was that none of the characters were all that out of the ordinary. We are surrounded by the bizarre every single day, and we, like Randolph, have become unaffected by the goings on around us. If we didn’t insulate ourselves in this way, we would all be mental by now. When I see some of the things my own neighbours do, I swear my husband and I are the only normal people on the block. That’s a stretch, all things considered, but then we think, hey, they probably think we are weird, and they wouldn’t be that far off base. That’s really the whole point of the book I think: it’s an abstract look at society’s various psychological tics. Randolph’s cursing pet parrot is really the only thing predictable in his entire world, well, that and he never gets any mail.
In our first story, ‘The Neighbour’, Randolph confronts the neighbour living overhead who is making a lot of noise while screaming at and berating her ceramic garden gnome. Of course, instead of knocking on the ceiling or going up and knocking on the neighbours door, Randolph decides that climbing the dumpster and looking in the old woman’s window is the better option. The funny part is not that the woman is having an altercation with a garden gnome but that she freaks on Randolph for being a peeping Tom. After that, we join Randolph at the local Marmuck’s coffee shop where he works as a barista, and if you’ve ever worked in a retail setting, you know there is no shortage of morons and freaks to accost you all day long. We’ve disappearing mochas, Pastors who claim the frozen bodies of Neanderthals do not exist. Nope sorry, there is no frozen mummified body in that hole. You are not seeing one because it doesn’t exist. We’ve also got Randolph’s small enclave of dope smoking friends, which is kind of ironic when you think about it. In Randolph’s world, hallucinogenics aren’t really necessary. Not in a town where the local grocery store is staffed with monkeys because they don’t want minimum wage. All the monkey’s want is good dental benefits.
As for the technical stuff, there were some fiddly editorial issues, mostly with the participle phrases, but nothing too distracting. If I had to compare this book to something, I would say this is pretty close to a written version of Steve Dildarian’s ‘The Life and Time’s of Tim’. This is the stuff cartoon sitcoms are made of. The stories in this collection are subtle, and even though, to some readers, they might seem like ‘every day in the life of ordinary’ on the surface, they actually represent a very abstract view of the world. I liked that, a lot. To me, these stories really put forth the suggestion that we are all a bit off and all a bit off in our own little worlds.
13. Ice Blended Coffee Based Flavored Beverages
“Welcome to Marmuck’s, sir. How may I enrich your beverage based dining experience today? Would you care for one of our specialty seasonal drinks?” Randolph asked the teenager sporting the bright purple dog collar and attached black leash standing at the register.
“Yeah, ummm… dude… lemme see… have you got any of those, ummm… blendy things?” the teenager asked slowly, staring at the menu board hanging on the wall behind and above where Randolph was standing.
“Yes, sir,” Randolph assured him. “Those are in fact our currently offered specialty seasonal drinks. We have a wide variety available, as you can see from our menu. I’m sure you’ll find one that appeals to your individual tastes and unique palate.” Every now and then Randolph liked to entertain himself at work by speaking in as indirect and haughty a way as he could, and today was one of those days. It helped, too, that he happened to be scheduled with the store’s manager, Lucas, and the store’s assistant manager, Dave. He knew that speaking this way would both please and annoy Lucas. Please him because it was how Lucas himself spoke, and how he preferred his employees to speak, and annoy him because Randolph knew that Lucas would never quite be sure if Randolph was speaking that way because he ought to, or simply to take the piss out of him. It also, to Randolph’s mind, had the added benefit of confusing Dave.
“Dude—woah. I just want some whip cream and caramel, man,” the teenager replied, holding up his hands as if in protest.
“As clearly indicated on our menu board, sir,” Randolph said as he pointed to a section of the board’s upper right area, “our whipped caramel topped ice blended coffee based flavored beverage contains both of those ingredients, as well as being espresso based.”
The teenager stared at the indicated section and blinked a few times. His eyes met Randolph’s and he said, “Okay, sold. Gimme one of those, dude. Fuckin’ let ‘er rip!” He slapped a five-dollar bill down on the counter and Randolph ran the transaction through.
“Very good, sir. Your total comes to $3.15. Would you care for anything else today? Our employee handbook states that the caramel-filled chocolate brownie is an excellent accompaniment to the beverage which you have just ordered,” Randolph told him dryly.
“Nah, that’s gonna do me to do ‘er,” the teenager answered as he pushed the five dollars on the counter towards Randolph.
Randolph nodded and called loudly over his shoulder, “One whipped caramel topped ice blended coffee based flavored beverage, please!”
Lucas, who was standing at the blenders on the back counter behind Randolph, said, “I am right here, Randolph, there is no need to yell. What size would the young man like, please?”
Randolph turned to look at Lucas, and then turned back to the teenager and asked, “What size beverage would you like today, sir? I have totaled your transaction at the price of the central of our three sizes. I apologize deeply for my assumption. Is that in fact the volume of blended liquid that you would like to consume today?”
“Fuckin’ fine, man, fuckin’ fine! Just hurry up, okay?” the teenager responded.
Randolph turned again to face Lucas and asked quietly, “Did you get that?”
Lucas nodded and began making the drink. As Randolph finished running the order through the cash register and handing the young man his change, he could hear the last of the ice being scraped out of the large push bucket behind him. ‘Here it comes,’ he thought, and logged his employee number out of the till in preparation.
When the blender had finished whirring behind him, Lucas handed the teenager his drink with a brief, “Thank you very much, sir” and in the same breath said to Randolph, “Randolph, log out of your till and retrieve Dave from the back room. This ice bucket needs to be filled and you are the one who needs to do it. Dave can take over for you on the register.”
Randolph grunted and heaved the large ice bucket out from under the counter. The word ‘bucket’ didn’t really fit the device Randolph thought, it was more of an enormous cooler mounted on the kind of rotating wheels that one commonly finds on grocery store shopping carts. Empty it was fine, easy to push and easy to maneuver, but filled with ice the thing’s weight quadrupled and guiding it from the huge ice machine in the storage area through the narrow back room door, around the corner near the toilets, into the work area, behind the other staff without bothering them, and then finally into its place under the counter where the blenders were placed was a nearly Herculean task. Randolph had no doubts as to why he was the designated ice gopher that day—when working with management peons like him could always expect not to be treated fairly. ‘At least Loreen has us take turns,’ he complained inwardly as he pushed the ice bucket along the workspace and through the swinging door that separated it from the store’s lounge area. He avoided a nearby table, rounded the corner, and then punched the code into the lock on the back room door. As he swung the door open he pulled the ice bucket back enough so that the door could clear, then pushed the thing into the back room and allowed the door to swing shut behind him.
“Dave! Lucas wants you on the register!” Randolph called out. He opened the lid to the ice bucket and then pushed it into the corner next to the mammoth ice machine.
“Okay, going,” Randolph heard Dave reply from somewhere behind the stacks of coffee beans, tubes of caramel, sacks of chocolate mix, and the other boxed paraphernalia that the store needed to run. He slid the door to the ice machine open, grabbed the large plastic shoveling tool, and began laboriously scooping large amounts of ice into the empty ice chest. Moving robotically and keeping his pace even, Randolph didn’t bother to look over as Dave slid past behind him and moved out into the front of the store.
Minutes passed as the ice mounted in the bucket, forming little mountains of roughly similar ice cubes that spilled down in steady avalanches that in turn became a smooth layer of continuous ice blocks on the bottom of the movable chest. Eventually it was filled, and Randolph slid the door of the ice machine shut, replaced the shoveling tool he had been using on its hook on the wall, and then closed the lid on the ice bucket. He squeezed between it and the ice machine, opened the back door and kept it propped open with his left heel, then heaved at the large black cooler and got it rolling, carefully adjusting the angle of the wheels in small increments so he could position it to fit through the door without having to make more than one try. As he pulled the device through and again let the back room door close under its own weight, he noticed that all was not well at Marmuck’s.
A very large and very frightening man was at the cash register with his left hand clenching Dave’s shirt in a tight bunch, their faces so close that the man’s long, bushy brown beard pouring off his chin was covering Dave’s nose and mouth. The man’s right arm was angled up with his elbow tight, and Randolph could just make out that he was holding some kind of tool pressed tightly against Dave’s jugular vein.
“Give me the goddamn money!” the man yelled, yanking Dave even closer with his left hand as he did so.
“O—o—okay, I just need to open the register…” Dave’s voice quivered as he spoke from under the man’s beard. “Just let me… let me… ah, ah, achoo!”
The force of the sneeze actually made the assailant temporarily lose his grip on Dave’s shirt, a look of surprise crossing his face. That surprise was soon replaced by disgust, however, as the man wiped the ends of his beard with his right hand, giving Randolph a clear view of the weapon he wielded—a long ice pick.
“You got your filthy snot all over my beard!” the man screamed as he reached for Dave again and once more got hold of his shirt. “I’ll fucking slice you for that!”
“I’m so sorry!” Dave protested, managing to keep his face bent back and away from the other man’s head this time. “Your beard was so itchy, and some of the hairs were actually in my nostrils, and I just couldn’t help it, I mean, nobody can control when they sneeze! It was an accident you see… oh, please don’t slice me, I don’t need any more slicings…”
“Shut up!” the man cut Dave’s blabbering short by a sharp poke into his neck with the ice pick. “Or I’ll shove this so far into your neck that it goes up your asshole!”
Dave’s face was a sharp mixture of shock and confusion, and he mumbled, “Up my asshole?” as he struggled to get the till open, punching in his employee code again and again in his state of panic.
“Just the big bills! No ones or fives!” the man yelled, still holding the ice pick menacingly at Dave’s neck.
“All our big bills are in the little safe under the register,” Dave said quietly. “I can’t open it without a key.”
“Where’s the fucking key?” the man said, looking around the room and taking in Randolph standing frozen behind the ice bucket for the first time.
“I have it… it’s on a belt loop on my pants,” Dave informed him.
“YOU!” the man thundered, pointing his ice pick briefly at Randolph, “Get over here and get that safe open or he’s fucking gone!” As soon as his order was given the man returned the ice pick to Dave’s throat and twisted it cruelly, causing Dave to yelp in pain like a kicked dog.
Randolph nodded and silently slid out from behind the ice bucket and walked carefully over to the work counter, taking in the shocked look of the few customers in the store as he did so. Everyone was stock-still, watching the scene unfolding before them with faces that expressed deep fear, nervousness, concern for Dave, but also a tinge of excitement and voyeuristic pleasure.
Randolph was involved, however, and had no room for objective observations. His primary concern was getting the man out of the store as quickly as possible without any hint of further trouble or injury to Dave. He stepped behind the counter and moved very slowly and deliberately over to the register, keeping his eyes on the man as he did so and holding up his hands in a subconscious gesture of compliance and peaceful intentions. As he reached the till he noticed out of the corner of his eye that Lucas was crouched on the floor whimpering, making slight and stealthy movements towards the open space under the blenders where the ice bucket usually sat. Randolph noted that tears were streaming from his eyes, mixing on his chin with a layer of drool that flowed from the edges of his mouth. Randolph couldn’t make out much of Lucas’ lower half, but the smell told him that Lucas had shat himself again.
“Come on already!” the man bellowed, following Randolph’s gaze to where it was now focused on the floor. “Forget about him and get that goddamn safe open!”
Randolph snapped back to what was happening in front of him and took the keys en masse from Dave’s belt loop, pulling the entire ring from the holder that was snapped onto Dave’s pants and stretching the attached cord out as far as it would go. He found what looked like the safe key as he remembered it, hoping it hadn’t changed since the time when he was a shift supervisor. He tried the key in the lock and it fit; turning it, he cautiously opened the safe door and pulled out the wad of twenties and pair of hundred dollar bills that had been placed there for safety reasons upon receiving them from customers. With eyes wide and a look of absolute docility on his face he offered the entire bunch to the man.
“Is that it?” the man asked, still holding Dave tightly and keeping the ice pick at his throat.
Randolph nodded, and in that instant the man released Dave, grabbed the pile of money from Randolph’s open hands, and took a moment to see what the contents of it were.
It proved to be a pause that he could ill afford, though, because Dave lost no time in seizing the tip jar, raising it high above him, and then bringing it down in a tremendous smash onto the man’s head as he turned to flee from the store. The force of the impact caused the glass jar to shatter violently, sending shards deep into the man’s head and knocking him out in an instant. Blood sprayed from his wounds as he collapsed onto the floor, and the coins and few bills that had been the jar’s contents similarly flew off in all directions.
“Yaaaaaarrrrrrrr!” Dave threw back his head and shouted in triumph. His eyes wild and feral, they darted around the room, taking in the shocked customers who most certainly hadn’t seen that coming, Lucas still in a blubbering fetal position in the space under the counter he had managed to slink into, and Randolph standing next to him with his hands still outstretched and a passive expression covering his face. Dave then leapt over the counter top and began gathering up the scattered coins from the floor, leaving the man to continue oozing blood as each pump of his heart pushed more crimson content into the rivulets flowing from his wounds.
For everyone except Dave time had come to a standstill, and for a few long seconds his retrieval of the former contents of the tip jar was the only movement in the room. None even seemed to breathe. Then, finally awaking from his trance, Randolph announced to no one in particular, “That’s the second time he’s done that!” while Lucas broke out into an audible sob, his head buried in his crotch, and wailed tremulously but voluminously, “Free drink coupons! Oh, God… Randolph!! Free drinks for all! Coupoooons!”
“Join the Brown Baggers Party! Fighting today for your freedom now!”
Randolph blinked and read the sign again. It was nearly 5:30 in the morning and he could barely see the flier posted on Marmuck’s’ front door, granted, but he was sure that there was something amiss with its wording. He shifted his body to the left to allow more of the light from the streetlamps on the corner of Staleworth Parkway and Mantonian Avenue to shine on the paper taped to the door and read it again in its entirety:
“Are you sick and tired of politics as usual? Ready for a brand new change? Ready for a return to the good old days? Then join us at our BIG meeting in the Convention Center downtown Friday! We’ll show those fat cats in government what the people can do! One-day membership is just $35!
Join the Brown Baggers Party! Fighting today for your freedom now!”
More tape on the bottom held a large brown paper bag affixed to the flier, but that made about as much sense as the rest of it. Randolph decided to try and figure it out later; it was always difficult for him to think that early in the morning, and anyway Loreen was sure to arrive soon and unlock the door so that he could begin his opening duties: brewing an urn of coffee, warming up the espresso machine, and of course arranging the display case with the day’s pastries. There was enough on his mind already, Randolph thought.
A minute or two later a car pulled into the parking lot and honked a brief greeting at Randolph before parking in the rear near the bright blue dumpster. Loreen came striding up a moment or two after that, juggling the store keys and her car keys in one hand while holding a large tumbler in the other. “Get that coffee brewed quickly, Randolph,” she said, positioning a brass-colored key into the lock, “it’s cold as all get out today and I need a pick-me-up.” She stopped suddenly as she read the flier posted on the door in front of her face, directly at eye level. “Lucas isn’t going to like this,” she continued. “Take that down and put it in the back room, please.” She pushed the door open and then hurried to the back to switch off the automatic alarm system, leaving Randolph to turn on the interior lights and begin his normal rounds.
Twenty-six minutes later, at exactly 5:58 a.m., a rotund middle-aged woman in a red overcoat began beating on the door excitedly. “Cofffeeeee!” she screamed as she pounded her mittened fists on the door, the long braids on either side of her Nordic winter hat swinging wildly in some kind of primal rhythm.
‘Ahh, Deborah,’ Randolph thought. ‘Wouldn’t be a morning shift without her.’ He walked over to the far end of the work area, exited through the swinging door, and headed to the front to let her in. “Good morning, Deborah! Beautiful weather today, don’t you think?” Randolph said, beaming a cheesy grin at her.
“What weather?” Deborah retorted. “Do you have my coffee or don’t you?”
“Let’s see… a medium mocha, right?” Randolph asked, knowing full well that that wasn’t Deborah’s usual.
“NO!” she bellowed, taking off a mitten and throwing it to the ground. “I want a medium brew coffee with just a tad of hot water. A tad!” She threw her other mitten to the ground in emphasis then immediately bent over and picked both of them up.
“Won’t take a moment,” Randolph said, and returned to his station behind the cash register before quickly placing a cardboard sleeve around a medium-sized cup and filling it seven-eighths of the way with brewed coffee, and then finally adding a touch of hot water from the tap on the espresso machine. He placed a lid on top and handed the drink over to Deborah before punching in his employee code on the register’s computer screen and totaling the purchase. Before he had even spoken the words, however, Deborah had the exact change counted out and placed on the counter next to where Randolph had set her drink.
“There you go,” she said, pointing to the money. “You know, I’ve been wearing these mittens on purpose just so you remember me. Try and remember my drink, too. I want it ready before I even get here.”
“Won’t that cool the drink down?” Randolph asked, scooping the money into his hand before separating the coins into their respective bins in the till. He noticed that once again she hadn’t tipped.
“Not if you add a tad of hot water!” Deborah insisted. She took her drink and waddled over to one of the deeply cushioned easy chairs near the windows, settling contentedly into it before rooting around in her purse and producing a number of fliers and brown paper bags. Over the course of the next few minutes she carefully affixed a paper bag to the bottom of each flier and then, pulling herself up heavily from the depths of the chair, she set about placing one on each table in the store before leaving the rest in a pile on top of the newspapers stacked near the front door.
While she was doing all this Randolph watched with a bemused smile. He knew that Loreen would insist on all of the fliers being removed, of course, and was pleasantly awaiting what was sure to be an outraged reaction from Deborah. He didn’t have to wait long; about five minutes after Deborah had finished her rounds and returned to her throne near the window, Loreen came out of the back room with the second, third, and fourth cash drawers carefully piled in her arms. She took one look at the fliers placed carefully in the center of each table and furrowed her brows noticeably. Swinging around into the work area she placed the drawers in their appropriate slots in the cash registers and then saddled up next to Randolph and whispered in his ear, “Just what is all of that crap on the tables?”
“More fliers like the one on the door, by the looks of them,” Randolph whispered back, trying to hold down a laugh as he spoke. “And Deborah was kind enough to also place a big stack on top of the newspaper rack.”
Loreen sighed and said, “Okay, look. I’ll deal with Deborah and you clean up all the fliers. Just leave them in a pile in the back with the one you took off the door. I’m sure Lucas will want to see everything.” She plastered on her most peaceful smile and moved around to stand in front of where Deborah was now quietly enjoying her morning coffee. “Deborah, good morning. I’m Loreen, the shift supervisor, as you know,” she began.
“I know who you are!” Deborah interrupted, keeping her eyes squarely on the drink in her hands.
“Good,” Loreen said, careful to keep her voice conciliatory. “And you probably also know then that Marmuck’s doesn’t allow any kind of social, political, or religious material to be distributed anywhere within its stores’ premises.” She gave Deborah a small smile and waited a moment before adding, “And so Randolph here will now clean these up and place them in the back. Just store policy, you see. Marmuck’s Corporation is of course strictly neutral in all these matters.”
“Well what about freedom literature?” Deborah snarled, still avoiding looking at Loreen.
“That too, I’m afraid,” Loreen said sweetly.
“What about my rights? I have free speech in this country, you know!” Deborah shot back, aiming her words into the lid of her coffee.
“You certainly do, and that’s wonderful,” Loreen said. “But you can’t distribute any written material in here, and you know that your free speech and leaving leaflets around are two different things—completely.”
“Well, freedom isn’t different!” Deborah said angrily and heaved herself onto her feet once more. “And I won’t stand for having my rights trampled on! Good day to you, Loreen, good day to you FOREVER!” She angrily slammed her knit hat back onto her head, threw herself into her red overcoat, shoved her hands into her mittens, grabbed her drink and headed for the front door. “See you tomorrow!” she yelled on her way out.
Finally able to express his own free speech Randolph burst out laughing and then walked into the seating section of Marmuck’s to gather up the fliers. Loreen simply sighed and headed back behind the counter to check the temperature on the brewed coffee urn and weigh out a few more filters full of ground beans for the rest of the morning.
As he gathered up the papers from the tables and newspaper rack, Randolph took the time to read each one. It appeared that there were three different types of fliers, each with a unique message from the Brown Baggers Party. One of the fliers read like the one that had been on the door earlier that morning, and the other two went like this:
“The Brown Baggers Party cares about you! We care about what happens to you and what happens to your money. We’re committed to fighting those ridiculous taxes you always have to pay for all those services you don’t need. We want YOU to keep YOUR money! Join us downtown at the Convention Center for our BIG meeting Friday! One-day membership is just $35!
Join the Brown Baggers Party! Fighting today for your freedom now!”
“At the Brown Baggers we’re against everything you’re against! We’re mad as heck and we’re not going to take it anymore! And neither should you! If we all join together we can really show them who we are and what we want. And you know what we want—it’s the same as what you want! Join us downtown Friday at the Convention Center! One-day membership is just $35!
Join the Brown Baggers Party! Fighting today for your freedom now!”
After reading the group’s other two fliers Randolph knew no more about the point of the whole thing than he had after the first one. But whatever the Brown Bagger’s platform was or wasn’t, they certainly seemed determined to make a lot of noise. Which he was sure would be fine with Lucas, just as long as the noise wasn’t made inside a Marmuck’s. Still, there was something odd about the apparently groundless anger of the group; not quite odd enough to prick Randolph’s curiosity to the point that he wanted to head downtown for their meeting Friday, but enough that it gnawed slightly at the back of his head.
As Randolph made his way home that day, squinting his eyes against the bright afternoon sun reflecting off the blanket of white that covered the landscape, he was still wondering just what the Brown Baggers were all about. Walking along Mantonian Avenue he happened to spot another of their signs plastered onto a streetlamp and decided to investigate. Nearing it, he could see that the content of the flier was the same as one of those that Deborah had distributed at Marmuck’s that morning—the money one, in fact—but also that the brown paper bag taped to the bottom appeared to have something in it this time. Stepping across the piled snow to get closer to the streetlamp, he opened up the paper bag a bit wider than it already was and peered inside. After a reflexive step back, Randolph forced himself to look down at the contents again and confirm that it was what he thought it was: a large pile of vomit, frozen solid by the subzero temperatures. ‘And it looks like he had tacos,’ Randolph thought, wrinkling his eyebrows in disgust. ‘Wonder if anyone’s mad as heck about that?’ Turning away, he walked back to the sidewalk and continued his commute home, sniffling a little against the bitter cold.
Contents of RANDOLPH’S ONE BEDROOM:
1. The Neighbor
2. A Missing Small Mocha
4. The Progress Review
5. The Tip Jar
7. A Discovery
8. The Message
9. Guts All Over the Parking Lot
10. The Slush Mat
11. Buntle’s, Too
12. Halfway to Aberdeen
13. Ice Blended Coffee Based Flavored Beverages
14. The Iron Tarp, Part I: For the Record
15. The Iron Tarp, Part II: Countdown
16. The Iron Tarp, Part III: Hardcore Espionage
17. The Garbage Run