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The Ballad of No Name Joe – Dakota William Szaniszlo

Jul 23, 2021 | Fiction | 1 comment

It was probably around midnight, maybe later. I was out alone and had found myself at a local drinking hole which I had lately begun to frequent.
My state of mind was one that invited as many alcoholic beverages and conversations with strangers as possible; I had found that some of the deepest and most profound conversations of my life had been with people I had never met—neither before nor again after said conversation had taken place—and I was hopeful that I might have one such encounter this night. Unfortunately it seemed nobody else was much in the mood for talking, so I resigned myself to quietly sitting at the bar, trying in vain to match the drinking pace of the man who was sitting down at the other end.
Eventually, I must have piqued his interest, because he closed the multi-chair gap between us and slid me a foaming mug of stout, extending his hand.
“Nice ta meetcha,” he slurred slightly, “Folks call me Joe. Ol’ No Name Joe.”
He didn’t ask me my name. Instead, he just plopped down onto the barstool next to mine and continued drinking. When I thanked him for the drink, he merely grunted.
“Lemme tell ya somethin’ friend,” he finally spilled after a moment of silence. “Life’s rough. Yeah… real rough. Ya never know… Ya jus’ never goddamn know… Y’know?”
I nodded several times, silently encouraging him to go on.
“It’s like… it’s like once you’re down, y’know, once you’re really down… it’s impossible ta get back up. They make it impossible ta get back up. I mean, look at me. I ain’ a bad person, am I? I never hurt nobody. An’ yet they done everythin’ they can ta ruin my life, they—Listen, ’tween me ’n you, this story I’m about ta tell ya, it’s somethin’ ya can’t repeat ta no one. Awh hell, they won’ believe ya anyway. Hell, you prolly won’ even believe a word I say.”
He paused to gulp down the rest of his cheap beer. I gesticulated to the bartender to pour him another and, as the frosted mug was filling up, he began his story.
“Must’a been back in ‘85, maybe ‘84. I was workin’ security for a small company that dealt mostly in ‘media personalities’, y’know like musicians, actors, TV stars, that sorta stuff. Usually pretty mundane. Lower level celebrities, y’know? Though, I did get ta meet Madonna once. Real down ta earth, not like you’d expect. Anyway. One night, I was workin’ security at some dingy club in Pasadena for some two-bit lounge singer by tha name a’ Tony Clifton. Durin’ Clifton’s set, I was approached by a man, introduced himself as Bob. That’s all he gave, jus’ Bob.”
“Now Bob offered me a job—a cash contract, paid in advance. Right off tha bat somethin’ seemed fishy. I sorta figure he musta been some sorta talent agent or business manager, or somethin’ like that, prolly jus’ lookin’ ta get a bodyguard for one a’ his clients. Normally though, they woulda contracted through the company. That ’n the amount he was offerin’ jus’ seemed too good ta be true. But, I had jus’ heard ‘bout some a’ my coworkers bein’ approached by private contracts, ya see, lucrative ones at that. So I brushed it off ’n let tha cash advance get tha better a’ my best judgment. I know I shoulda said jus’ said ‘no’ right then an’ there, had nothin’ ta do with it, but I jus’ couldn’ let tha goddamn cash go!”
“So I took tha envelope he slid over, an’ he told me about tha job. ‘Security dropped out las’ minute,’ he said, ‘an’ it’s imperative’—that’s how he says it too, all official—‘imperative that we have a replacement. You will be securin’ tha private dressin’ room a’ Mr. Donald Trump at tha’—don’ look at me like that—looks like your eyes are ’bout ta fall out—this was quite a ways ’fore he was president. Back when he was jus’ a rich real-estate investor, only jus’ startin’ on becomin’ a TV personality. Honestly, I never even heard a’ him at tha time.”
“Anyway, he told me that Mr. Trump was very concerned ’bout his privacy. Said that while he was gettin’ ready for a interview, my job was ta make sure nobody entered tha room. Then he gave me a plane ticket, told me I would fly ta New York on tha red eye. Said a driver would be waitin’. He also said if I didn’ show, I would never work security again. I dunno why they didn’ jus’ hire someone closer, maybe scared a’ spies or somethin’. Well anyway, after tha show ended, I packed up a few things an’ headed straight for tha airport. When I finally got ta New York, sure ’nuff, there was a driver waitin’ for me, jus’ like he said.
“So I hop in tha backa this limo, an’ he drives straight ta tha Time Warner buildin’. Well, we pull around tha back, an’ there’s this other limo jus’ waitin’ there. This one with dark, tinted windows. That driver gets out ’n starts wavin’ me over.”
“Then, all a sudden, we’re rushin’ Mr. Trump in through an exit-door that had been propped open, through tha buildin’ ’n up inta his dressin’ room. Tha entire way he did damn well ta keep his face concealed by his jacket. An’ then he went inta his dressin’ room alone. An’ tha other driver, tha one who helped me cover Trump on the way in, well he left me ta guard the door on my own.”
“So there I was, jus’ standin’ around, wonderin’ why tha hell I was even there, when I notice tha door was open jus’ a crack. Ya see, I was so busy lookin’ out for intruders, I hadn’ even noticed that tha rug had got caught up in tha door jam as Trump was shufflin’ in. I went over ta dislodge it, but as I bent ta free the rug, I couldn’ help but peek in. I caught a glimpse a’ him sittin’ in fronta a mirror ’n quickly looked away, but… I couldn’ hold back my interest long.”
“He was jus’ finishin’ up shavin’ ’tween his eyebrows when I peeked back in. I watched transfixed as he covered up tha two moles on his cheek with latex ’n makeup, as he glued on tha blonde hairpiece, as he practiced scowlin’. Now, they prolly didn’ know this when they hired me, but I was born in New York, d’ya understand? I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, in fact. My first job was a bouncer at the Improv. Back in the late 70’s I musta seen him at least half a dozen times. So I knew without a shred a’ doubt that that man in that room in fronta me was none other than Andy Kaufman. I swear I’m not crazy. I can tell ya don’ believe me. But, I ain’ crazy, I know what I saw. I had heard tha rumors, y’know, that he faked his own death, but I never bought inta it. Least, not ’till I saw him sittin’ right there in fronta my own two eyes.”
“I musta gasped, or made some other sorta unconscious sound, ‘cause his eyes darted ta tha corner a’ tha mirror an’ I felt them lock onta my own. I jumped back an’ froze, hopin’ he hadn’ actually seen me. But, sure ’nuff, I could hear him gettin’ outta tha seat ’n walkin’ straight up ta tha door. I thought ’bout runnin’, but my body wouldn’ even move had I wanted. I couldn’ even breathe. He ripped open tha door, yanked me inta tha room, an’ slammed it shut behind me. I fell down ta my knees ’n jus’ looked up at him, loomin’ all menacin’ above me. But, as Donald Trump scowled down at me, I couldn’ help but seein’ somethin’ comical in it. ’Neath tha unnaturally perfect windswept hair, an’ salon-tanned skin, ’neath tha furrowed brow an’ pursed lips, I couldn’ not see Andy Kaufman.”
“So, rubbin’ tha back a’ my neck nervously, I chuckled an’ said, ‘I’m sorry sir, I didn’ mean ta. I didn’ see nothin’ I swear.’ But he cut me off ’fore I could even finish, spittin’ at me, ‘What’s so funny pal? You think up a joke or somethin’?’ ‘No, I jus’… I jus’.. thought you looked like someone,’ I start mumblin’, ‘tha’s all.’ His eyes flashed when I said that, an’ he grabs a walkie-talkie off his belt, slowly raisin’ it up ta his mouth. He clicked tha button in an’ said, all calmly, ‘Get in here, now.’ An’ then—Bam! Decks me in tha face with the butt a’ tha walkie-talkie, hard. Gave me this here scar.”
“Now, normally, I’m pretty damn formidable in a fight, but he caught me off guard an’ got on top a’ me, jus’ started pummelin’ me. He got his hands ’round my throat, pulled his face right up ta mine. ‘You’re fired,’ he growled, ‘you’re beyond fired, your life is over. You’re never gonna work again, not in this town, not in any town. No one’s gonna believe a single word you say!’ He starts seethin’ through clenched teeth, almost foamin’ at tha mouth at this point, ‘This set-up has taken a lifetime. I’ve dedicated everythin’. Everythin’! An’ I won’ let a little piss ant like you spoil my punch line. Jus’ you wait, jus’ you fuckin’ wait! This gag’s jus’ gettin’ started, an’ it’s gonna be glorious!’ At this point, his backup burst inta tha room an’ grabbed me. ‘Get him outta here’, Trump/Kaufman spat. Then he jus’ brushes himself off an’ walks right out tha door like nothin’ happened, straightenin’ his tie as he goes.”
“Well, they roughed me up a bit more ’n dropped me off in tha meat-packin’ district. Eventually, I manage ta get back home, thought tha whole thing was finally behind me, like a bad dream, y’know? But then, I was fired from tha security company. Then tha apartment dropped my lease. Couldn’ get nothin’ neither—no loans, no housin’. ‘Ventually I started beggin’, hoppin’ trains, livin’ like a vagrant. After a long while a’ that, longer than I’d care ta admit, I was finally able ta find some work—some decent, honest work—at a lumber yard in Rhode Island. That was steady work for a good while. Seemed they had pretty much forgotten ’bout me. Then one day it all started happenin’ again. I lost my job, housin’, car—all overnight. This was right ’fore he announced he was runnin’, y’see, so they musta been scared—thought I’d be a issue—prolly wanted ta make sure my credibility was completely ruined, or somethin’ like that. Those cowards! Sure ’nuff, they did a damn good job keepin’ me down. No matter where I go, they’ve found me, ruined things. But… I hearda a job I can get in New Mexico. Off tha books, y’see, at a chili farm. So… anyway, I jus’ need ’bout twenty bucks for a bus ticket ta get there, y’know? So… Ya think you can help me out with any extra cash?”
I silently slipped him a twenty, paid my tab—which, over the course of the tale, had become quite expensive between the two of us—and got up to leave. As I walked out, I could still hear him professing his gratitude, saying over and again, “God bless ya! God bless ya friend!”
I walked along the dim street, chuckling to myself in inebriated glee. As I thought back on his bizarre tale, I couldn’t help but laugh, because he was completely, one hundred percent right—I didn’t believe a word he’d said.


Editor's Note

Narrated mostly in first person, the conversational style of The Ballad of No Name Joe, invites the reader into the dimly-lit tavern, to sit on a bar stool and listen as the tale unfolds. No Name Joe is a Nemo-esque character, a nobody, whose enthralling life story puts the listener into a suspension of disbelief . The author walks away with his master stroke, the final twist; the reader is left to make sense of the account they just heard.

Dakota William Szaniszlo is a poet and writer from Tucson, Arizona with their first novel nearing completion. They have been featured in Canyon Voices Literary & Arts magazine and promise much more to come.

1 Comment

  1. Halina degnan

    Loved it


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