Bob Marley was dead to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Rita Marley signed it. And Rita Marley's name was good for anything she chose to put her hand to. Bob Marley was as dead as a doornail. This did not stop some people from listening to his music.
It was in those days of our long and harsh journey from the warm oil drum fires on the outskirts of Old Master Crocker's row houses that we began listening to Bob Marley's music. It was on account of a new associate who wandered into our midst. A dark skinned midget of dramatically reduced proportions had come into our ragged company and presented himself as anything but our undeserved salvation. He produced a curious, worn-out cassette tape of the music of Bob Marley and when we asked if we could meet this man of seemingly great vision and clarity, we were told he was no longer amongst the living. Our diminutive friend warned us that sometimes Bob Marley's ghost would haunt those of wealth and privilege but for us there was no concern. Bob Marley's ghost was on our side in the struggle.
"If ye play yer cards right, ye may convince Bob Marley ghost to place a haunting upon one of our oppressors and cause him to deliver up holiday food and merriment."
"However do we accomplish this, oh stange and friendly little person of color?"
"Call to him in silent prayers once you know the intended target of his holiday haunting. When you feel you have made contact with Bob Marley's ghost, then light this hand-rolled cigarette I bestow upon you now. It will help you attain a greater connection with Marley. Do this only when you are certain, for Bob Marley does not like to play parlor games. He just likes to see everyone have a nice Christmas, even wretches like ourselves."
"This must have been a great and glorious man in life who now stalks the living during the holidays causing them to give up cheer and culinary goodness to those who would otherwise settle for a bowl of applesauce that a young girl had perhaps placed a mouse in as a joke upon our misery. Tell me, friend, do you know what lies out beyond the horizon to the west?"
"There are two cities I know well enough to tell you tales about, but beyond that, I know not what lies to the west. I know of the city of St. Louis and of the city of Cincinnati. I have seen other cities from a distance, but these are the only two I can weave tales about."
"St. Louis? This sounds like a holy place. Are there men of God there who will bring kindnesses to wear as bandages for our suffering?"
We could tell by the look on the face of our miniature companion that the answer was not one we would like to hear. This St. Louis he spoke of was like any of the other places we had passed on our journey. There was no warm hearth to welcome us. There would be no sugar cookies served with warm milk and a blanket to protect us against the onslaught of night. Wherever we went, there was only more suffering, more emptiness and more tales of ghostly dreadlocked prophets who sang pretty songs about trios of birds.
The midget's name was Ricky Racketts and he would stay with us for three days. He told us that our journey had taken us to a place known as Tennessee and that he knew of a few safe houses where they knew of Bob Marley's ghost and took kindly to the idea of helping downtrodden strangers. It was dangerous to seek kindnesses out on the road we travelled, but Ricky Racketts knew the area and played it well. There was a small white house at the end of the next street. It had been built by Jimmy Carter, who had once been President of the United States. Fate had not shined kindly on Jimmy Carter. He was now the oldest man alive in America and he worked day and night building houses for those who would otherwise live in the streets. We would not meet Jimmy Carter on that day, but we would meet the humble folk who lived in the house he had built for them.
"Who goes there?"
"A friend of Bob Marley's ghost who seeks shelter and kindness for friends who have undertaken a great journey."
"Do you know the password?"
"Very good. You and your friends may enter. We have made a large pot of split pea soup. We also have a large amount of pot."
We entered the house, which appeared to have been constructed in much haste by a madman, causing us to wonder about the mental and emotional state of being of the one hundred and seventy year old carpenter. The split pea soup was served to us in great splendor. The bowls we were given were chipped and cracked, but they were made of ceramic, a luxury we had rarely known in the past. Once we finished the soup, a sickly young boy named Tommy Tubuggles produced a tiny tin which our host described as an "after dinner smoke."
There were over thirty regular inhabitants of the house and another fifty intermittent residents who came and went with the changes in the seasons. Tommy Tubuggles was the infirm son of Tobias Tubuggles, who stood in a role of leadership amongst the people for it was he who convinced Jimmy Carter to build the house. Tobias was not a happy man who rejoiced in life, for his son felt great pain and suffering. His son had once been taken by a master and placed in front of a coke oven for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. This torment lasted four years, from when Tommy Tubuggles was three until he was seven and his master grew weary of the activity. Only a positive flip of a coin had kept Tommy from being walled up inside the coke oven when it was abandoned and concealed behind three feet of reinforced concrete.
Since the flip of the coin had kept Tommy from being entombed with the coke oven, the master's holiday party needed a different kind of entertainment to keep the wealthy and privileged guests happy. Tommy was hung with ropes from the ceiling with his shoulder's bearing the weight of his seven year old body as the good people attending the party used a clawed hammer to increase Tommy's level of pain and suffering in the name of their own amusement. In the end, all of Tommy's boyish toes were removed with the clawed hammer and a raffle was held to determine which distinguished guest would wear his toes as a necklace. It would be a powerful reminder for hapless rapscallions to shy away from any form of backtalking to their masters.
"Bob Marley's ghost becomes enraged when he hears about people having their toes amputated," Ricky Racketts told me in hushed tones.
"Who won the toe necklace?" I asked our host.
"A Lord Cabot Eulridge."
It became clear to me at that point. I knew for whom I would summon the great power of Bob Marley's ghost. It was time for Lord Cabot Eulridge to be taken down a peg, or at the very least, have a good scare thrown into him. Mr. Gonsalves, the gentle manservant of Lord Cabot Eulridge, would not be happy to see us return but it was inevitable. We would return to his luxurious estate and bring with us the ghost of Bob Marley.
I discussed my plan with Jonathan and Twist after most had gone off to their slumbers. They were more interested in discussing why all the residents of the house wore conical hats when they turned in for the evening, but I was not interested in that topic. For the first time in my life I felt like I had a mission and a purpose. Lord Cabot Eulridge would meet the ghost of Bob Marley and I would not rest until I made it happen.
"Tomorrow is the third Sunday of the month, my friends. You know what the means. Our master will allow us to bathe in the clean water of his gymnasium locker room. When was the last time our new friends had the benefit of such luxury?"
"Old Master Crocker only lets us bathe in the underground sewers or, when he is in a good mood, his retention pond. We would welcome the sensation of clean, warm water on our rotting flesh."
"Then you will accompany us tomorrow, and after that you will take with you on your journey one of our bravest lads. He is known as Donald Fagen and he fears nothing in this cruel world of ours. Thanks to the care of a nanny in the house where his mother worked as a prostitute, servicing men each day, he is able to read at a second grade level."
"I am sure he will be an excellent addition to our pathetic little gang." Both Jonathan and Twist were in agreement. This Fagen could be of use to us, and we would embrace him as one of our own in the shadow of the aching night that hovered over us constantly.
Donald Fagen had an angry streak and it was obvious to us that he will not willing to submit to his proper lot in life. He had little respect for the wealthy and privileged, while most saw them as worthy of respect and admiration. Fagen was an angry young man and it showed in the music he played on a guitar with only two strings and in the collection of stolen wallets he kept in a filthy box marked "Repairingations."
"Long have I dreamed of settling things with Lord Cabot Eulridge," he told us in a singsong fashion behind a gentle strumming of his two-string guitar. "The time has come. I have been waiting for you blokes to come into our camp. All I need is a plan."
"Our plan, good street urchin, is to put Lord Cabot Eulridge face to face with the horror that is the ghost of Bob Marley. While his lordship dines on roast duck with all the trimmings and gives the leftovers to his dogs instead of to the starving people of his lands, he will know it is to be his last meal, for unto the night that falls will come the ghost to rap upon his conscience."
"Summoning of the ghost of Marley is dangerous business. You need to understand the width of what you attempt. For the likes of one such as Eulridge, we will need more than one ghost. It is your lucky day, I must hereby note, because I also know how to summon the ghosts of Dwight D. Eisenhower, William Howard Taft and Franklin Pierce, as well as Frank Purdue, but only if absolutely necessary. They will assist us in our worthwhile endeavor."
"You know much of the world of ghosts, Donald Fagen."
"My mother was a whore in a house of privilege and excess. She was shunned by even her own kind. The other prostitutes were ashamed of her, for she could only lie with fifty men per night while most of them could easily handle a hundred or more."
"We are most sorrowful in the light of your mother's bout with frigidity."
"Thank you. It is not easy to be the son of a woman whose womanly delights dry up after only fifty men have penetrated and filled her with their hateful and manly exasperations. It is not an easy thing to live with."
"Did she not have other talents to make up for this severe shortcoming, good Fagen?"
"She did not and thus you see the source of my great anger."
"Ride with us to the lands of Lord Cabot Eulridge and teach us of the summoning of ghosts. You are one of us now, Donald Fagen and we will be forever at your side in the days to come."
"The days grow bleaker, just as this house built for us by Jimmy Carter grows bleaker. Each day this house becomes more and more bleak, for I know I have unfinished business that does not go away when I remain in silence here eating of animal feces and the saplings of birch trees."
"You must be willing to walk until your shoes fall off and then keep walking until all the skin has absolved itself of the sole of your foot."
"Aye, I am willing, but I will take it further and you will be ensconced to keep the faith when you hear of my glorious vow for the cause. I shall walk until not only have I worn off the flesh from my feet, but I shall walk until my bones become chalky and brittle and these bones that comprise my legs have fallen away into dust, leaving me alone in a jungle of industrial concrete with only the gangrene infected remnants of my pelvis to keep me standing erect."
Dickens' America: Chapter Three
Dickens' America: Chapter One