another slop sink chronicle

Kevin Bartelme

ISBN: 978-1-887276-18-4 • LIST PRICE $ 12.95

In a comic romp through New York, Mr. Bartelme chronicles the hilarious escapades and misadventures of a pair of tile setters, Robert O’Rourke and his assistant Maurice, as they ply their trade everywhere from the sewer to the penthouse.In a series of vignettes, O’Rourke and Maurice encounter a whole panoply of characters who variously amuse, entertain, and occasionally torment them as they work their way through the kitchens, bathrooms, lobbies, and foyers of the metropolis, trying to maintain a certain equilibrium in the most trying circumstances. As craftsmen, they are obliged to maintain certain standards but their clients keep getting in the way with loony designs, goofy histrionics, and plain bad taste, which O’Rourke and his assistant must suffer gladly. At least until the check clears.

“Hilarious ! ” — Taylor Mead


THE DATABASE — Chapter 9

Master tile mason, Robert O’Rourke, and his assistant, Maurice, walked out of the elevator that had just borne them to the forty-fifth floor and looked up and down the deserted corridor. They each carried a canvas bag, one for tools, one for beer and potato chips. They had a long night ahead of them.

“I’ll be damned,” said O’Rourke, “but I can’t remember whether it’s to the left or the right. There’s something inherently disorienting about high-rise architecture.”

“There are only two choices,” said Maurice. “We can’t go too far wrong.”

It was a reasoned assumption and, indeed, they only went as far wrong as they could, making nearly one entire circuit of the floor before they came upon the offices of Media Clearinghouse Associates. O’Rourke pushed the buzzer. It took quite some time for a young woman in blue jeans and a T-shirt to open the door and scrutinize them with puzzlement and a little apprehension.

“Can I help you?” she said.

O’Rourke stared at the slogan emblazoned across her breasts: BUY ART, NOT DRUGS. “Well, I don’t know,” he said. “You seem to have your priorities confused…”

“We’re here to do the bathroom floors,” Maurice interjected quickly. “We’re the tile men.”

“Oh yes,” said the young woman. “Come in.” She conducted them through a small reception area strewn with copies of Backstage and Advertising Age down another narrower corridor which turned to the left, then the right, then the left again before they reached the restrooms.

“We should have left a trail of tile shards,” O’Rourke muttered. “We’ll never find our way out of here.”

“There’s coffee in that room to the right,” said the young woman.

“What exactly is this place?” said O’Rourke.

“Computers,” said the young woman. “The mainframe’s right down the hall.”

“No, I mean, what sort of business do they do here?”

“No idea. Something to do with polls and surveys. I’m just a temp in the word processing pool.”

“Amazing,” O’Rourke exclaimed after the young woman had taken her leave. “People working through the night on mysterious projects in a windowless, fluorescent labyrinth five hundred feet in the air. No wonder television is so peculiar. It’s made for them.”

“We’re the ones who are peculiar,” said Maurice. “This is normal.”

“Well, at least they still piss and shit and look at themselves in the mirror. Shall we get started?”

Maurice reached into his bag and handed O’Rourke a tall can of Midnight Dragon Stout Malt Liquor. O’Rourke popped the top and took a long draught.

“They shall pay through the nose for this, by God! A special high altitude tax!”

They had been working for a little longer than an hour, laying pink mosaic in the ladies’ room and discoursing on the merits of the Mexican mountains as opposed to the Mexican seashore, when they heard a commotion out in the corridor.

“Do I detect signs of life in the hall?” said O’Rourke who was on his hands and knees under a sink. ”Hold it down!” he shouted. “There are people trying to sleep in here!”

Maurice poked his head out the door and saw two young women engaged in an agitated conversation down the corridor.

“It just erased the whole file! What am I going to do?!” moaned one.

“It doesn’t erase anything unless you tell it to. It’s still in there somewhere. You’ve just got to figure out how to bring it back up,” said the other.

“They’re going to kill me!”

“You’re just wasting time you should be using to search for the file.”

Maurice left off his eavesdropping and turned back into the ladies’ room.

“What’s going on out there?” said O’Rourke.

“The computer is misbehaving.”

“Oh really,” said O’Rourke. ”The computer is probably suffering from withdrawal and in no mood to cooperate with the minions of Media Clearinghouse Associates.”

Maurice laughed. ”Maybe I should bring it a beer.”

“Right idea, wrong substance,” said O’Rourke. “Did I ever tell you about my friend Coriolanus Cheezowitz, one of the great, uncelebrated, master criminals of our time?”

Just at that moment, the young woman with the computer problem walked into the room and was startled to see two men drinking beer.

“You’re not supposed to be in here,” she said. “This is the ladies’ room.”

“Do we look like we can’t read?” said O’Rourke. “As you can see, the floor is being tiled. They couldn’t find any lady setters so the job has devolved on our humble, albeit male, selves. If your business is urgent, I suggest you use the men’s room next door. Have you ever been in a men’s room? You may find the experience quite thrilling. Working in a ladies’ room certainly titillates me. How about you, Maurice?”

“After all the times I’ve done it,” said Maurice, “I still find it very arousing.”

“There you go,” said O’Rourke to the young woman. “Give it a try. You just may enjoy it as much as we do.”

“Whatever you say,” said the young woman as she withdrew with a flirty smile.

“You can never go wrong talking dirty to women,” said O’Rourke. “Even if they slap your face and call you an asshole. I think she liked you, Maurice. How would she describe the episode to her girlfriends? ‘I met this cutest guy in the ladies’ room last night. What a cool dude.’ Something like that.” O’Rourke’s brow furrowed. “What was I talking about before we were interrupted?”

“Your master criminal friend,” said Maurice.

“Oh yes, Coriolanus Cheezowitz, the twisted genius of the Hoboken demimonde. When I first met Coriolanus he was an oil-burning junkie with a jones as long as the West Side Highway, cadging a few bucks from anyone he could and stealing the difference. His reputation preceded him like rolling ground fog. Everywhere he went, people fled in panic lest he contaminate them with his messianic babbling and his transparent cons. It hadn’t always been that way with Coriolanus though. He’d been one of those kids in school who are always fooling around with crystal sets and army surplus electronic junk. He’d read Norbert Weiner’s Cybernetics by the time he was fifteen and become a devoted enthusiast of control technology.”

“Who’s Nobert Weiner?” Maurice asked.

“My God, Maurice, don’t you know anything? Do you mean to tell me you never heard of Norbert and his Weinermobile?”

“I thought that was Oscar Mayer.”

“Listen, you clod, if it wasn’t for Norbert Weiner there wouldn’t be any mainframe down the hall and the nuds who are paying us would be in another line of business. The man was the founding father of computer science.”

“I see,” said Maurice.

“Don’t patronize me,” said O’Rourke. ”The arrogant ignorance exhibited by so many of your peers does not become you.”

“I am chastened.”

“And I am thirsty. Throw me another beer.”

Maurice pulled another Midnight Dragon from his bag and tossed it to O’Rourke.

©2002 by Kevin Bartelme


Kevin BartelmeKevin Bartelme lives and works in New York City. He is the author of  O’Rourke: another slopsink chronicle and The Great Wall of New York, and his latest, The Great Redstone, all published by Cool Grove Press. He is currently putting together a collection of short stories.
Kevim Bartelme