Lucas Cumiford's creepy tale of a jogger's encounter with a subhuman Can Man
Sometimes, while running around the dirt path, he scares up the wild beasts that prosper in this darkness. Innocent little cotton-tailed bunnies frequently hop across his path, right before they hop hop hop away for the safety of the shrubbery. And then there are the bigger, meaner, nastier things he sometimes comes across. There are critters that look fluffy and harmless, something you would innocently decorate a baby's crib with, like the skunks. Then there are animals whose appearance is not deceitful in the least, beasts with nasty fangs and teeth, such as the raccoons and the coyotes. The coyotes wisely run away from the jogger, the raccoons sometimes don't, and the skunks never do. He is more frightened of the raccoons and the skunks. And finally, there is the Can Man.
The jogger has never seen the Can Man's face, but he has seen his slinking shadow rummaging through the weekend's garbage, gaining his life's nourishment through the refuse of humanity, a garbage-sucking vampire. There used to be two Can Men working this same park, one on the northwest quadrant, the other staying more toward the south. One of the Can Men had a little flashlight that he pilfered through the garbage with, the better to see the aluminium and plastic windfall. But the other Can Man has no light. He is apparently able to mine the aluminium mother lode in complete darkness. This evolutionary advantage has allowed him to survive - he is the last Can Man standing. The light-wielding Can Man, on the other hand, disappeared into extinction a few weeks ago, perhaps being sucked into that very darkness he was trying to fight off with the flashlight. Now there is but one Can Man, and one only.
The jogger chuckles as he ponders the prospect of a Can Man turf war; two Can Men colliding on the feeding grounds like a pair of massive bull elk locking their deadly horns at the edge of territorial boundaries. He pictures them swinging giant, metal-filled Hefty bags at one another, as the air echoes with the resounding crash of metal on metal. By the law of the Can Man, the first one whose bag breaks and spills must retreat. The one left standing with no rupture in his Ruffie, however, now has rights to all the park's aluminium, glass, and plastic loot, and also has dibs on whatever Can Ladies might be scrounging around in the garbage at 4:30 AM. Such is the Can Man in his autumn rut; first he chases off the rival Can Men, then mates with the Can Ladies to create little can collecting babies. The circle of life for the Can Man.
Lost in this distracting reverie, the jogger almost does not see the shadowed figure on the dark path as he rounds the corner by the parking lot and lopes along the dirt trail between the basketball and tennis courts. The figure is hunched and huddled over; to the jogger it is just another shadowy shrub among many. So when the Can Man and his heavy bag of recyclables step backward into the path, the jogger just barely avoids a collision.
The jogger yells out "Get a real job!" and a few other satisfying epitaphs as he jumps out of the Can Man's way, nearly straining a ligament. The jogger expects an "asshole!" "dumbshit!" or at least a "watch out!" to be thrown at him, but instead the Can Man emits a strange sound that is half hiss and half snarl, something like the cross between a leaking tire and a horny tomcat.
The vocalization is barely human. The jogger has never been intimidated by these sneaky little garbage collecting vermin, but now he feels frightened, though not enough to turn around and bolt for home, like one of the little bunnies making for the safety of the bushes. It is only the Can Man, after all, and what harm can such an insignificant rung on the social ladder be? All the same, he turns to take a different way home, heading for the path that cuts behind the gym down at the other end of the park.
He is ready to enter the shadows beneath a stand of eucalyptus when the Can Man again pops out into his path, and this time the jogger cannot avoid him. There is a head-on collision, followed by the crunch of cheap metal. The Can Man loses his grip on his plastic bag and barrels over backwards into a grassy spot, where he lands sharply upon his rump. The jogger stumbles forward and takes a few awkward, unbalanced strides, but manages to remain on his feet. As soon as he has regained balance he turns back to help the Can Man (that is what responsible people do), but the Can Man is already on his feet, scooping up drinking receptacles in a frenzy and forcing them down quickly into the depths of his plastic bag, as if he fears the jogger has evil designs upon his stash. At the same time there are strange slurping noises coming from the Can Man's direction. It doesn't yet occur to the jogger that the Can Man is consuming the residual contents of the soda cans he has found baking inside grimy metal dumpsters, where the syrupy goo has been fermenting among germs, flies, roaches, rats, and maggots. The jogger does not make this connection because something so disgusting is unfathomable.
"Are you all right?" the jogger shouts testily, in a tone intended to convey concern, but that mostly gets across his complete annoyance.
The Can Man seems to have already forgotten the incident, so fixated is he upon slurping up the gooey innards of the delicious aluminium fruits he has plucked from the trash. The jogger almost moves on, but then the word "lawsuit" pops into his head uninvited, and he realizes he had better go through the motions dictated by civility.
"You okay, man?" he repeats. In his mind the word "sir" cannot be applied to species such as the Can Man, apparently.
"You ripped my bag," replies the Can Man in a scratchy, hissing squeal that has a little slurp and a lizard like lick at the end of it. "Good thing I double bag, but now I have to get another one. I don't know how I'll manage that."
The jogger is somewhat confused by this. Surely the man is not so destitute that he cannot afford another plastic bag? One would think that the Can Man would buy them by the roll, like everybody else does.
"Sorry about your bag," the jogger replies, but his insincerity leaks out around the edges, kind of like the Can Man's punctured Hefty. This lowlife fiend has tried to tackle him twice, and trash bags are almost literally a dime a dozen, so why should he be overly concerned about the little garbage picker's loss? What's he going to do? Call the ACLU?
"These are really good bags," the Can Man slurps, not so much lamenting the bag as celebrating its wonders. "Triple-Ply Extra Strength with flexi power grip drawstrings." He recites the bag's merits as the jogger might call off the attributes of that sexy, sleek German sports car that is eternally just out of the range of his bank account. "This is the best bag ever made. You ripped it."
The jogger desperately wants to remind the Can Man about who had tried to tackle whom, but he doesn't particularly want to start a fight over a bag. Once, while running through this same park, a four-year-old child with an ice cream cone had run out of the playground and nearly tripped him. In the process the child had lost his ice cream cone in the dirt, and so the jogger had immediately run over to the concession stand to buy him a new one. The accident had not been his fault, but you don't fight with little kids. You don't fight with pathetic Can Men either, when you are a responsible person.
"I'll buy you some bags," the jogger offers magnanimously. "I have an extra roll at home that I will bring you."
"Are they Triple-Ply Extra Strength, like this one?"
The jogger thinks for a moment. "I don't know," he says with a smile he hopes the Can Man cannot see in the dark. Who the hell really knows what kind of garbage bags they have? They're just garbage bags; you fill them up with trash and throw them away. He always bought whatever was cheap.
"They have to be Triple-Ply Extra Strength," the Can Man repeats. "I can't work without them."
The jogger just wants to be out of here. His jog is already ruined, and he won't make his mileage this morning, which sucks when you are a responsible person and you keep a close tally on your exercise. Any tiny deviation from strict self-discipline is enough to put him out of sorts for days. So, in order to avoid any future such infractions, he will have to appease the Can Man. His Chamberlain to the Can Man's Hitler, except it's Triple-Ply Extra Strength at stake instead of the Sudetenland. He would promise trash bags made of pure silkworm shit to escape the weird encounter with this gnarled, shadow-hugging man whose breath smells like aluminium mixed with rotten syrup.
"All right," the jogger relents. "I'll bring you your triple-ply, whatever, and I'll leave them right here by the trash can tomorrow morning."
The jogger sees the Can Man's head shake, and as his eyes adjust to the darkness he can almost see the Can Man's face. The trash collector is mildly Asiatic in appearance, which doesn't surprise him, but his eyes are a little too big, and not slanted in the slightest. His eyes are so big, in fact, that they are insect-like. He looks like one of those bug eyed comic characters in a Japanese graphic novel, except that he is darker skinned, has dirtier clothes, and doesn't have pink hair.
"That won't do," the Can Man replies just a little too smugly. He is definitely getting a thrill out of complicating the jogger's strictly regimented life. "I only want one bag, and you can't leave it here. You have to go to a place out off the dirt road and leave it there. There's a cluster of bushes at the place where the road turns to the north. They are the only bushes there. Throw the bag inside of them, and don't do it at night. It has to be in the afternoon. And put some of your own garbage in it. Fresh garbage."
The conversation is becoming increasingly more bizarre, and the jogger has had just about enough of it. "I'm going to leave the bag right here," he says, flipping the proverbial bird to the grim specter of lawsuits. "And I'm not going to leave anything in it, either. I don't know why you need my garbage, but you're not getting it. That's my final offer. I think I'm being too nice already. Remember that you hit me."
The Can Man begins to flit about nervously, like a bee trapped in a mason jar. He bounces back and forth between the trashcan and the fence several times, while holding his arms out at a forty-degree angle from his sides and keeping his flattened, down turned palms parallel to the ground. It looks like some sort of voodoo witch doctor's dance. The jogger cannot help but think of the Walk Like an Egyptian video, and he almost loses it.
"I have a lawyer," the Can Man confesses in a conspiratorial whisper slurp.
These words decrease the jogger's bravado considerably. Again he finds himself at a loss for what to do. Maybe this pathetic can-licking imp from the nether regions of some twisted, alternate reality really does have an attorney. Maybe there is a Can Man division of the ACLU that fights for the rights of all can-collecting scum buckets. Would that really be such a surprise? He listens to conservative talk radio, and he knows there are plenty of lawyers for dirt bags like these, and not enough for hard working citizens like himself.
Not much more can be said after this.
The sky is beginning to lighten, and the Can Man is getting fidgety. Why is he shading his eyes with his hand? the jogger wonders. Poor little fucker looks like he's in pain.
"Okay," the jogger relents again, more exhausted by this encounter than if he had slogged through a one legged hopping marathon through the mud. "But remember that I have my own lawyer, and he's pretty good." This is a lie. In the jogger's philosophy, responsible people do not need lawyers, because justice always prevails for the honest man.
The Can Man nods and then slinks away quickly, lugging his bag stuffed with aluminium loot like some kind of creepy, bug-eyed Santa heading for the chimney of a house full of bug-like, mutant children. The jogger turns and jogs homeward, but after five or six strides he looks back nervously.
The Can Man is no longer there. There is no cover high enough to conceal him, and the only building in the park is the gymnasium, which is a hundred yards away. All the same, the Can Man has disappeared, perhaps slinking down into the bushes with the bunnies. The jogger wonders how he let himself fall for such a load of crap. Oh well, what does it matter? Humor the guy; bring him his stupid Triple-Ply Extra Strength with flexi grip. What could it hurt?
It is late afternoon the next day when the jogger drives out on the dirt to where he was directed by the Can Man. The dirt road starts at the end of pavement, which is about a half mile from the park. The dirt road is really an extension of the main subdivision thoroughfare that has not been paved over yet, but will be soon. Civilization is creeping eastward. The jogger wonders if civilization is good, bad, or neither for the likes of Can Man. He hopes for the second, but knows his shitty luck dictates that the first will be more likely.
Near the north swinging L-bend on the dirt road he finds a place to park on the shoulder, but it is a tight squeeze. The jogger hurries, fearing that a big pickup will come barreling down from the north and bulldoze his responsible little sub-compact hybrid down the hillside.
To the east he spots the clump of sumac bushes described by the Can Man, and moves as quickly as possible toward them. But the way to the rendezvous is filled with high, spike-seeded blades of dry yellow grass, and the jogger soon finds his socks filled with irritating burrs that prick through to his skin and make him itch.
He presses on toward the sumac grove nonetheless, and when he arrives he tosses the Triple-Ply Extra Strength flexi grip bag into the middle of it, as directed. The jogger thinks that the little clump is the Can Man's home, because the seven or eight foot high bushes create a perfect screen from the road up above. But he sees no sign of the irritating little garbage buzzard, or his massive collection of refuse. The only sign of life is a foul smell that has to be biological in nature. An odor like putrid meat wafts up from the middle of the sumac grove, but there are other secret ingredients mixed in with the stink, like an unholy parody of the Colonel's eleven herbs and spices. There are also piles of tiny bones at the foot of the bushes, and although this frightens the jogger at first, he immediately recognizes that the bones are too small to be human. It is more likely that this is the lair of some predatory animal. Whatever the case, he doesn't want to stick around. The place reeks, and it is full of itchy, prickly plant life. So after throwing the bag over the tops of the bushes he beats an itchy retreat back to his car.
The jogger stops to pick up beer on his way home. Along with being responsible, he is mostly a very self disciplined man, but he believes that once in a while it is all right to let loose. When he gets to the store he notices for the first time in his life that almost all of the beer is in either bottle or cans. After what he has been through he is in no mood to recycle. The way the Can Man slurped up the gooey remains of aluminium drink receptacles couldn't be good for either the bottle, or the can. So he decides on the Heineken mini-keg, thinking that this container might be more awkward to lug to the recycling center. "Stick that up your Triple-Ply Extra Strength," he mutters capriciously.
Shortly thereafter the jogger arrives home. He draws a beer and gravitates toward the computer. After a few whimsical moments surfing through some sports blogs and soft-core porn, he launches Google and for no logical reason types in the words 'Can Man.' Perhaps he is a bit giddy from the beer buzz.
What comes back, mostly in indecipherable foreign monkey speak, are web sites from countries spanning the globe from Albania to Zimbabwe. The jogger ignores these links and clicks on the only selection that is in English, which happens to be a Wikipedia article. The jogger is amused that there is a Wikipedia article about a subject he just made up on a whim. He reads on, his curiosity piqued.
The Can Man belongs to a legendary race, or perhaps species, more properly known as "latramemes." Latramemes are a part of folklore across the planet, being encountered in the mythical tales of the industrialized nations, as well as those of the most primitive, remote corners of the globe.
"Someone made all this shit up," the jogger thinks, "someone who hates those garbage digging shit heads as much as I do." This conclusion shores up his belief that the Internet is 99 percent crap, but still he reads on.
While it has never been proven scientifically that Can Men are more than garbage and recyclable collectors who operate mostly during the predawn hours, they have achieved legendary status as a subspecies of humanity that is on a slightly lower and less threatening level than other mythical creatures, such as vampires and werewolves. All the same, in certain cultures Can Men have strong taboos associated with them, and are reviled and oftentimes persecuted, especially in areas with high levels of poverty and a low literacy rate. In some countries there have been intermittent pogroms issued against them, although most of these have been carried out in strict secrecy by militia groups with no official ties to governments. There are unconfirmed reports that dictators such as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin included Can Men in their mass deportations and executions, but the latramemes did not survive transit to the labor camps, and there are no documented records of their presence there, just as there are no physical remains of any Can Man holocaust victims.
The jogger is still interested, but no longer amused. He cannot believe that any government would take such pathetic little vermin seriously enough to waste effort rounding them up. He reads on.
The history of the Can Man precedes the advent of the aluminium drinking container by several centuries. Legends from the advent of recorded history, from the time of the Babylonians, speak of nocturnal beings that creep around in bone yards, pottery shard heaps, and other human rubbish piles, salvaging a living from the refuse of human society. Some of the more bizarre legends even suggest that the Can Men arise from the very vapors of decaying garbage. Being mostly despised or looked upon in contempt by homo sapiens, latramemes have generally been avoided, principally due to the widespread belief across human cultures that a latrameme can inhabit another human's body in order to continue living. It was often believed by the ancients that the latramemes' superficially human form was merely a shell for a disembodied orphan spirit living within. These entities were not usually considered to be on the same demonic level of power and malevolence as vampires, for instance, but in the eyes of primitive cultures the very fact that they took possession of humans more than justified the persecution that was leveled against them.
In modern society, the latrameme has largely disappeared from folklore; although even today groups exist that claim to have proof of the Can Man's existence. There are a number of outlandish websites, mostly from underdeveloped countries, that strain the limits of credulity with attempts to reveal the existence and activities of this nocturnal creature. But the Can Man has mostly now disappeared; perhaps hidden among the multitudes of 'legitimate,' fully human can collectors that take advantage of the profusion of recyclable material that is the by-product of a modern economy.
The jogger thinks this is all a pile of rubbish, and he is very pleased with this little pun as the liquor takes effect. Soon he has crossed that thin line between relaxation and exhaustion, and he settles his hard working, productive, responsible self down for a well-deserved slumber.
Two days later, on a Saturday morning, the jogger hears a sharp knock upon his door. He looks through the peephole suspiciously, fully expecting the usual Jehovah's Witnesses or scouts selling their typical array of candy and coupon books. He doesn't intend to open the door for either. When he sees a badge menacingly aimed at the peephole, however, he decides it might be prudent to open up.
Two plainclothes officers are standing in the doorway. They are typical, nondescript, plain clothes policemen, manufactured from the same mold. The jogger lets them in because he has nothing to hide. He is a responsible person and a law-abiding citizen. But when the most nondescript of the pair barges rudely past and begins to strut shamelessly around his living room, he begins to feel a little upset. Not worried, mind you, but upset, because he hasn't done anything, and the laws of justice dictate that the police won't mess with you if your conscience is clear.
Neither one of the two offers a hand in greeting, and neither one smiles. "Do you know this man?" the second nondescript officer asks without any opening formalities, as he holds up a picture.
"No, I don't know him," the jogger answers quite truthfully, "although I have seen someone that looks a lot like him in the park where I go jogging in the morning." He is thinking of the first Can Man, the one with the flashlight. "But it's always dark when I go, so I might be wrong."
Nondescript Number One is picking up items on the jogger's coffee table and turning them over, as if one of the porcelain flamingos there could be the crucial piece of evidence relating to the man in the picture. To make it worse, the officer doesn't even put the items back in the right place. He is obviously making a statement that he doesn't care about the jogger's interior décor; because where the jogger is going interior decorating is irrelevant. The jogger begins to become angry, but still doesn't want to say anything that will arouse false suspicion. His eyes are nervously following the detective around the living room when the intruder looks up very quickly and stares directly at him, as if to monitor his reaction to this rude manhandling of his personal effects. "Yeah, what of it?" his smiling eyes say.
"When was the last time you saw him?" asks Nondescript Number Two.
The jogger shrugs. He has not kept track of the days, because up until recently the presence of garbage collecting lowlifes in the park has not made a big blip on his radar screen. "I don't know," he answers. "Maybe two or three weeks."
Nondescript Number Two allows a pronounced dramatic pause, puts his hands on his hips, then turns his head and bites his lips. He has assumed the Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short Three Amigos pose, the jogger thinks without much merriment.
"This man is missing!" The officer with the picture announces with exaggerated indignity.
There is now another dramatic pause. The jogger wonders if "Strategic Pauses During Interrogation" is a Police Academy course. Officer Number One muscles in closer during the calculated silence, fully expecting that the jogger will either break down and confess, or try to make a run for it.
The jogger only shrugs meekly. His face reveals no fear, only bewilderment.
Officer Number Two now becomes a little agitated, and impatiently throws down his Aces.
"We found your fingerprints on a garbage bag that was left at a site where we suspect a human body was dropped." Nondescript Two pauses again, to let the words hit home.
"I... I don't know what you expect me to say," the jogger replies. "I don't know what you are implying. I don't know the man in the picture, I only see him when I jog, and I have no reason to hurt him."
"Let's cut the crap!" Officer Number Two growls, but the man is not exactly frightening, just a bit pathetic and slimy. "What are you doing in the park so early in the morning anyway?"
"I told you, I jog," the jogger answers a trifle testily. Stealing a glance at the detective's donut stuffed belly, he thinks that the concept of exercise is evidently something the detective cannot comprehend. Then, all at once, the idea occurs to him that this must be some kind of sick practical joke set up by his fun loving coworkers in recognition of his approaching birthday. Just because you are a responsible, gainfully employed person doesn't mean you can't have a little fun, after all. In fact, valuable contributors to society are the only ones who should be allowed to joke around and laugh. Scummy Can People, on the other hand, should be required by law to keep permanent frowns on their faces, because laughing and frolicking when you are such a miserable leach on the human race means you have accepted your stinking lot in life, and your right to wallow around in it. Then the jogger remembers that he teepeed Wilson's car exactly one week ago to the date, while Wilson was inside the local skate rink, taking hockey practice. This must be payback. Oh, that crazy Wilson. He won't get away with it.
"So early?" Nondescript Number Two asks, still relentlessly pounding the jogging angle.
"I go to work at 6:30 AM," the jogger answers with a bit of snooty smugness in his voice. "What time do you want me to go jogging, 6:29?"
"Why don't you jog in the afternoon?" Nondescript Number One butts in as he fingers a crystal figurine of the Empire State building. He is eyeing the jogger with suspicion that goes beyond being a potential murder subject. What really bothers him is what kind of man collects girly knick-knacks like these, for God's sakes? As far as he is able to discern, there is no woman living in this house. He tries the word "queer" on for size in his head, and finds that it satisfies him. A murder motive then occurs to him out of the blue; perhaps this disappearance is the result of a gay lover's quarrel. It's a possibility, he thinks, remembering something about George Michael getting caught having sleazy sex in a park with some random truck driver or janitor.
The jogger shrugs again, in response to the detective's asinine question, still thinking this must be some sort of a joke. "Do you want to arrest me for jogging in the morning?" he asks, extending his wrists in handcuff position. "It's cool outside in the morning."
"Then how do you explain your fingerprints a mile away from where you supposedly jog, fifty yards off the road, on a garbage bag that is sitting on top of a pile of animal bones and human hair?"
The jogger is tempted to invent a plausible sounding story, because he realizes how stupid and unbelievable the truth will sound. But catching him in a lie wouldn't do at all, and the jogger suspects these officers are trained to detect liars, just as they are trained to create those intimidating pauses that are supposed to drive you crazy and make you crack. He doesn't exactly know what their angle is, so he tells them the real story, in complete detail, including the part about the can sucking.
"I've never heard such bullshit in my life," Nondescript Number Two says when the jogger finishes describing his encounter with the Can Man. "But I've got to hand it to you; that was well rehearsed, and very imaginative." Meanwhile, Nondescript Number One is holding up a smiling Tony Gwynn bobble head. He grins like a child as he makes Tony's head jiggle up and down. Big fat smiling Tony seems to be enjoying the interrogation as much as the cops are. The jogger is now angry at this unjustified invasion of his privacy and the unauthorized fondling of his collectibles, as well as Tony's happy complicity in this sinister plot. "Are you guys allowed to do that?" the jogger snaps at Officer Number One.
"Do what?" Officer Number One asks dumbly.
"Pick up all of my stuff like that," the jogger grumbles. "Don't you need a warrant, or something?"
Nondescript One slams Tony back on the end table much harder than is appropriate or polite, then turns around and holds his hands up in the air as if to say "Don't shoot, I surrender!" The look on Officer One's smug face seems to say, "All this crap will be state's evidence pretty soon anyway, and then you will be my bitch."
"I can tell you watch a lot of TV," Officer Number Two says, and laughs. "You know your rights." He moves two intimidating steps closer to the jogger. "Why don't you just come clean with us? We've been surveying that bone pile for days. Not only have we not seen anybody out there who meets your description of the so-called "Can-Man," we haven't seen anybody out there, period. The only sign of humanity around that trash heap was your fingerprints. Lucky for you, we can't take you in because we haven't found a body. Not a human body, at least; I guess what you sickos do out there with animals is really not something the homicide unit has the manpower or the money to dive into. Anyhow, even though no body means no crime, everything fits. I've been in this business a long time, I've been through this scenario dozens of times, and all the signs point to foul play. Tell the truth, come clean right now, and we'll try to have the judge go easy on you."
"I didn't do anything!" the jogger shrieks. When was the punch line going to be delivered? When was he going to hear the "Psyche!" or the playful "Gotcha!" This couldn't really be happening to a responsible, law-abiding citizen like himself.
"If you're not going to arrest me, why don't you just leave?" the jogger snaps. "I don't think I have to put up with this."
"Whatever," says Nondescript Two. "I know I'll be back soon, with all the appropriate paperwork. I just thought I would spare you the grief. The wait is the bitch, you know. The suspense is going to kill you, scumbag."
"How nice of you to care," the jogger replies. Responsible people should not take any shit, and he isn't going to put up with these asshole detectives any longer. He shows them to the door. Nondescript One tries to make off with Bobble Head Tony by putting him in the pocket of his fake tweed sports coat, but the jogger spots the attempted petty larceny in the nick of time, and holds his hand out.
"Whoops, forgot I had it," Number One says with a mean scowl. The detective knows that pretty soon the jogger will be licking his toes as the supreme power in the universe. He puts smiling Tony back on the table, and Tony bobbles his head in appreciation; blissfully ignorant of all criminal activity, hunger, famine, natural disasters, or other woes on the planet.
Days pass. The jogger has long since called his lawyer, and now exists in a perpetual state of confused limbo. He is too scared to answer the phone or the door, but also finds staying inside to be agony. He paces around like a coyote in a cage, unable to achieve any kind of comfort in this agonizing state of uncertainty. His immediate instinct is to run. The reptilian part of his brain screams at him to bolt south of the border. At night he can see the lights of Mexico from his home. He can be over there in minutes, and he knows people down there; respectable, responsible people who know other not-quite-so-respectable and responsible people who can hide him, for a price.
But the non-reptilian part of his brain, the part that still exercises logic, reason, and restraint, will not let him take this way out, not yet. Of course, he now realizes that this part of his brain is just a thin veneer of window dressing that means nothing in the grand scheme of survival, but it nonetheless keeps him paralyzed, stuck in his tracks, reminding him that he is innocent, that there will be vindication and justice, that Nondescript Number One will be disciplined for feeling Tony up without consent. "Bullshit!" Reptile Brain cries out. The two halves of his brain remain in deadlock and the jogger does nothing either sane or rational.
Nothing includes not even bothering to go to work for a few days. He doesn't feel like working anymore, and this is strange for the reason that one, he is a responsible person, and two, he is one of the few oddballs that loves his job. But now his brain is bogged down like a drunken sloth, teetering dangerously high in the rainforest canopy with one paw clinging precariously to a brittle limb. Although he would like to affix a correlation between his mental state and legal situation, the truth is that they are not connected. He is changing. Both his work ethic and clarity of thought have disappeared. Dishes are building up in a sink that has always been way too tidy for never having known female hands. The only thing he has the energy to do is to go out every morning for his donut run. He no longer jogs; the only running he does now is for donuts. But when he brings them home he only licks the icing off the top of the pastries and leaves the bread untouched. He is deeply disgusted by this behavior, and by other uncharacteristic, decidedly irresponsible behaviors on his part, but he cannot stop them. Could all of this really be symptomatic of jail anxiety? He tells himself that it is, but a faint whisper in his cloudy head tells him that anxiety about being locked up is not the whole story, and may have nothing to do with it at all.
About a week after the uninvited visit of Nondescript One and Two, something occurs that helps him gain a little bit of clarity about his predicament. It is early in the morning on garbage day, and he is up and about already, pacing restlessly and watching the clock as he waits for "El Senor Donut and Taco Shop" to open down the street. He has managed to make himself some coffee and has thrown in enough sugar to almost float the spoon on. In the past he has always taken his coffee unsweetened. As he slurps down the syrupy mixture, he hears a loud series of thumps coming from the street, followed by the crash of cheap metal. His immediate thought is that the police have finally arrived to bring him in, and they are taking up sniper positions around his house. Strangely, after an initial lump in his belly and brief seizing of the bowels, the thought does not overly trouble him. Instead, it brings him a strange sense of relief, and makes him ask the incongruous and rather inappropriate question of whether they have donuts (with icing) in prison, and if there are heavy curtains in the cells, because sunlight hurts his eyes now. Any kind of bright light hurts. But in spite of these possible complaints he knows he will go peacefully, because he is scared of the alternative. So he opens the blinds just a sliver, and squints at the faint, soft splashes of light that are rising up from the eastern sky.
Outside on his street, digging through his garbage is the Can Man. The Can Man is proudly carrying his Triple-Ply Extra Strength with flexi grip. It is full of metal that he has pilfered from the blue recycle bins along the street, in complete defiance of the bold "WARNING" sticker on the side of each receptacle. The Can Man seems happy as he lifts up an almost empty can of Mountain Dew (the jogger went through an entire twelve pack Saturday night), and downs an eighth of an inch of gooey, slimy, germy sweetness that has clung tenaciously to the bottom.
The Can Man looks very haggard, the jogger notes as he sees him plainly in the light of a street lamp. The contentment that comes from the sweet, slimy, trash retrieved morsels cannot mask the gauntness and shriveled up appearance of his skin and face. The Can Man is dying, the jogger realizes. He does not understand why this thought scares the hell out of him. He is powerless to react to this fear.
As if he can hear the thoughts in the jogger's head, the Can Man now looks up toward the window through which the jogger is spying. The Can Man knows he is being watched, but is unconcerned. He winks at the jogger, and pumps his new bag up and down triumphantly. There is a brash aura of defiance about him as he continues to toss aluminium cans and plastic beverage bottles into his sack, as if he knows something that makes the WARNING stickers completely irrelevant, and even silly.
Then he is gone, slipping behind a tree and somehow managing to slink away through the shadows just as the rising sun begins to paint the thin layer of clouds overhead with a dull, uninspiring shade of orange.
The jogger closes the blind and sits down on the couch. He remains there for what might be seconds, minutes, or hours. He doesn't really know, and he doesn't really care. His body goes completely numb. He cannot feel, think, read, or focus on anything, but neither will he fall asleep. Finally he goes into the kitchen and eats handfuls of dry Fruit Loops straight out of the box.
That afternoon his lawyer calls with the good news.
"You're off the hook," the attorney explains with triumphant jubilation in his voice, his self-congratulatory tone implying that these good tidings of great joy are entirely of his own doing. "The supposed dead man that the cops had you murdering showed up this morning. They spotted him digging through trash cans in the parking lot right across the street from the police station."
There is nothing but baffled silence on the other end as the jogger tries to figure out what all this means. "Good," he manages to say in a whispered tone.
"You feeling okay, buddy?" the lawyer continues. The lawyer is also the jogger's golfing partner, and he expects more enthusiasm than this. But the lawyer cannot see the jogger's slumped shoulders and blank face, so he presses on. "Anyway, the police were baffled, and a little angry too, I think. They had you down for a whole phone book full of unsolved crimes. They were very short with me on the phone, and weren't giving out a lot of details. But you're off the hook, my friend."
There is a long silence on the jogger's end, followed by a feeble "Thank you." Then the jogger hangs up.
These days, the jogger is no longer a responsible person. He has lost both his house and his job. He noses around through alleyways and parks, grubbing for those precious aluminium gems that you, responsible person, so nonchalantly toss into the garbage. At first the passersby who have known him in his prior life make comments about his Job-like fall into destitution. The softly mouth words to one another like "gambling," "alcohol," "women," sometimes even "boyfriend." Some of them remember that the jogger never put a "Yes on Prop 8" sign on his lawn, like the rest of them did. In time, however, these old acquaintances don't see him out and about anymore, because the daylight begins to gradually weigh harder upon him, to the point of being painful. As this aversion to light grows gradually more intense, the man that was once the jogger only emerges at night or at very early dawn, keeping company with the coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and other ill tempered nocturnal beasts of tooth and claw.
These days, on the few occasions when he is seen on the street, he is usually cursed or mocked. Kids laugh and throw things at him. Women with babies in strollers go out of their way to avoid him; joggers swerve abruptly to the other side of the street to get out of his way, sometimes throwing themselves dangerously close to traffic. Even bold little yap dogs give him a cursory, frightened yip and then go scurrying for safety.
He doesn't care, because he isn't like them anymore. He knows secrets; he knows things he never could have imagined or conceptualized before. He has been reborn; he has crossed the threshold into a new kind of existence. He is the Can Man.