CHAPTER FIVE – VLADIMIR AND THE MUNICIPAL GARBAGE DUMP
Hermano was on the streets again, down in bustling New York City, this time making his way along the hard pavements towards Gansevoort Pier, or pier 54. To find the place where that man Hermano Bellville had written his famous book about God and a great white whale. Hermano hardly knew why, it was like looking for an ancient temple lost in the rainforest. Except he still wanted to be a Shaman storyteller, a true artist and it was something about his great, great grandfather, even his great grandfather, and the past and stories. Besides, at least now with Jeb’s teaching and all that cowboy poetry, the spiny tree rat could certainly read.
Hermano read the names on the metal street signs as he went along and soon he was passing through Chelsea, and then the famous Meatpacker’s District of New York, wondering if all that meat got FedXed too and how many boxes they needed. Then Hermano started to see them, the river Piers, all numbered as well – One, Two, Three, Four and so on – and soon Hermano was scurrying along the Hudson river, the Pier numbers flashing by, keen to get to the end of his great quest, that had really brought him all the way to America, but to find that great Shaman book too. Then there he was at last, at Pier number 54. Though what did poor Hermano see now, but a huge sign saying this? – NEW YORK CITY MUNICIPAL GARBAGE DUMP.
Garbage dump? Was this the end then of Hermano’s great, if rather accidental journey from the heart of the Amazon jungle to be an artist? Not a fine meeting with a famous American writing gentleman in a tall top hat, to tell him the end of a Shaman story. Not a great white whale either, certainly not God himself. But a line of mechanised Garbage trucks and a load of rubbish piled all about. Hermano noticed too that most of the black bags lying everywhere had holes gnawed in them, like the holes he had made with his teeth in the FedX box, and that the garbage was spilling out onto the ground. It was as if this was suddenly the end of Hermano’s journey, his very destination, in fact, and somehow the end of all journeys too.
“But it’s terrible,” whispered Hermano bitterly, “what can it all mean?”
“Terrible, kid?” said a sharp voice. “Why you talkin’ terrible, buddy?”
Hermano blinked and looked about, since no one was there. But then he saw a huge, smooth black rat sitting on top of a broken garbage bag, looking like a King and gnawing a large fish bone in his paws.
“I wanted a story. But it’s just a trash dump,” said Hermano disapprovingly, his spines pricking up. ”It’s not even covered in vines and forest creepers. There’s nothing here.”
“JUST?” said the rat though, with shining, cunning eyes. “But where there’ trash, there’s plunder and profit, kid, for some anyhows. This place then is the real source of all my power and why I rule the dirty rats in New York City now. By keeping them fed and fat and happy on human garbage. The name’s Vladimir, buddy. My family are second generation Russian, from Siberia, but New Yorkers now. And what’s wrong with it anyhow? Smells just fine to me. Delicious.”
Hermano looked around mournfully.
“Yes, Sir, but this is where a famous human was once a tax collector,” explained Hermano quietly, “to make their human money. Pier 54. In truth, I mean. But he was also a great writer too, an artist. So he travelled in his imagination, like a Shaman. And if you can do that you’re always free, whatever the world does to you.”
The smooth black street rat raised a large black eyebrow doubtfully and Vladimir frowned.
“He wrote a book that I want to read about a great white whale and a man with a wooden leg called Captain Ahab,” explained Hermano. “But that’s really about God, or the fact maybe there isn’t one, except in our heads. Herman’s my namesake, because great, great Grandpapa made friends with a human. And like him I want to light a fire in animal’s hearts.”
“Light a fire?” whispered the black rat thoughtfully, his eyes suddenly sparking strangely.
“But I guess poor Grandpapa Raoul was right and all is change. So it’s all gone now,” finished Hermano sadly, wondering when they would finally cut down the last tree in the Amazon too.
“Naaaah,” said Vladimir though.
“No. I mean, I heard that story and its bunkum, kid. Your human Hermano wasn’t a tax Collector, at all, but a Custom’s Man.”
Hermano thought of that human female chasing after him and calling him an alien.
“And he didn’t work at Pier 54, though I think his relation owned all the land hereabouts. But I’ll tell yer a different tale, kid,” said Vladimir suddenly. “About two great ships that were meant to dock right here, at Number 54, from distant lands, but never even made it. The Lusitania and the Titanic.”
“Oh,” said Hermano, cheering up a little, that at least something exciting and important had happened here after all.
“The Titanic was the most famous God darn human ship in all the World,” said Vladimir gravely. “But it hit an Iceberg at sea one day in the Atlantic and sank, on its very first voyage, its Maiden voyage, drowning most of the humans on board. So I guess yer right, kid, all is change and everything alive dies. Which is why a dirty rat has to look to the future and thrive, in the world he finds himself in.”
“Oh,” said Hermano doubtfully, wishing things wouldn’t change at all and that he hadn’t lost his parents either, or his grandfather, however naturally. Hermano suddenly felt very alone.
“And the future’s mine,” said Vladimir greedily. “Just as the whole City will soon be mine. I’se got big plans, see, specially with this unnatural heat, to make sure that soon enough they’ll be garbage everywhere. Dumped on everyone’s doorsteps. Mayhem too.”
Hermano looked rather nervous. Mayhem sounded awful. Just as bad as Terror, in fact.
“You see, kid” said the black rat, looking around the municipal garbage dump. “The humans that work here are getting fed up with the holes we make in their trash bags, and the awful, yummy smell too. So they’re threatening to go on strike, for more money, and if they do that there will be no one at all to collect the rubbish all over the city.”
“Strike?” said Hermano, thinking of Felipe and the number three, “What’s that, Sir? Baseball?”
“The free and absolute right of any human being or any animal to withhold their labour,” declared the rat oddly. “So one day I’ll really make it. Live high up too. In fact, I’ve got my eye on an especially beautiful looking Gerbil I know.”
“But don’t look so disapproving, kid. I mean, look where they put their rubbish anyhow. In huge holes in the earth, or transported for money to other countries. And there’s so much bad stuff in it, plastics and metals, impurities and poisons, that they can never really destroy it, anyhow. I mean, in the ocean now there is an island of floating plastic the size of Texas, because plastic ain’t something called Biodegradable. So why not dump the stuff on the humans’ own doorstep?”
“But why, Vladimir?” asked Hermano sadly.
“To spread confusion, kid, and fear, because then you can take control, ” answered Vladimir, “Why’s a squirrel interested though?”
“I’m not a squirrel,” said Hermano, “I’m a rat too, Vladimir, but a spiny tree rat from the Amazon.”
“A rat?” cried Vladimir in surprise. “Well join us then, brother, and I’ll makes sures you never go hungry, no more. Come join me in my lair in Central Park Zoo.”
Hermano suddenly noticed that several other very large, smooth and ugly looking black rats had appeared, as if from nowhere, clearly Vladimir’s henchmen. But despite Vladimir’s invitation to join them, they were looking at Hermano as if they wanted to eat him, or throw him in the Hudson River.
“Thank you, but no,” said Hermano politely, thinking of cousin Cartel.
“You a coward then?” snorted Vladimir scornfully. “Don’t you have it in you to be a real dirty rat, kid, and be true to your nature too? You just spineless?”
Hermano wondered what his true nature was, but now he was feeling very unhappy in his own skin. With that there was a cry though and who should come racing toward Hermano but the Lady Customs Official from Grand Central Station? The human was holding a big net, and she didn’t stop to comment on the huge smooth black rats swarming around the garbage bins, or the rubbish littered all about. Instead she made a bee-line straight for the illegal immigrant tree rat. Hermano turned and fled.
“It’s garbage,” cried Hermano bitterly, as he raced along. “Stories are just garbage. Like God. The one about Herman Bellville wasn’t right either, or my great, great grandfather, and Jeb Cowpaw’s just a coward and a liar, and so am I, and not a shaman storyteller at all. I bet my great grandfather never even came here anyway, or made friends with any human beings, who eat up all the world anyhow, including the lobsters, and there are no heroes in the world. None. I wish I was dead.”
Hermano had stopped though, in the middle of a huge and very busy square and as he looked up now he didn’t see words. All the slightly autistic tree rat saw were numbers. There were thousands of numbers everywhere, on electronic billboards that seemed to be moving all the time, here in Time Square, in the centre of New York City. Hermano blinked and he seemed to get Vertigo again, there were so many numbers. But suddenly he felt a pain and it was as if he was falling. Except Hermano was being lifted into the air instead, and his twisted tail was hurting and he found himself staring into a horrible human face.
“I want it,” said a freckled face eight year old boy, looking greedily at the spiny tree rat, “I want it, so I’ve got it.”
Hermano realised in horror, as he started to wriggle, that the little boy had picked him up by his twisted tail and it hurt.
“Then the young Master must have it,” said a very old fashioned English voice, belonging to a tall man in a smart Chauffeur’s uniform. “A welcome companion for Hermione indeed.” Hermione, thought Hermano. Although I believe your father has invited a friend today for you to play with.”
“Hermione bores me, Augustus,” said the nasty little boy though, popping Hermano in his pocket now, “but I can have fun with this one, all right. Torture it day and night.”
Hermano was moving again, not quite packaged, but inside the little boy’s pocket, into a huge stretched white Limousine and out again, up the steps of a very grand building on New York’s Upper East Side, into a sparkling glass walled elevator and up into the air again. With the chauffeur Augustus and the little boy came a man too, as the doors closed, the boy’s father, in a baseball shirt and cap, holding a strange black oblong object in his hands, with a strap attached.
“Don’t bother me now, Junior,” the man was saying, as the boy tried to hold his father’s hand, “far too much to do, far too much money to make. Now they’ve made your dad Mayor as well, Junior, it’ll be non-stop from here on in.”
“I’m very pleased for you, Sir,” said the Chauffeur, beside them. “I mean, Mr Mayor.”
“Thanks, Augustus, buddy. Could hardly say no. But everyone knows the power of a true King of Social Media.”
“Yes Mr Sugarbug,” said the Chauffeur admiringly. “Of course Mr Sugarbug. The lord of the Internet itself.”
Thin faced Mr Sugarbug gave a huge grin.
“Think of it, Augustus, dude. Me. A mathematical genius, sure, a bit of a geek too, sure, but what do I know about people? I mean, I don’t even like ‘em.”
“No, Mr Sugarbug.”
“Yeah, I can create a programme, a platform, come up with an algorithm, a clever string of numbers, and think of ways I can seem to make folks talk to each other online. So I can really charge them all money for the advertising and all the devices they’re using. But politics, or anything really social? I ask you.”
“Yes, Mr Sugarbug,” said Augustus, “I mean no, Mr Sugarbug.”
“Well, Power and politics are really about money, Augustus, old pal, that every human wants and needs. So while they go on chattering and posting their selfies, and playing their games too, money I make gazillions of, day after day. After all, I’m the richest Man on the Planet now. I’m bigger than Google, Yahoo, EBay, Amazon and Alibaba put together. And that’s real social responsibility. It’s just what to do with the stuff, that’s the problem, Augustus.”
The mayor sighed.
“Yes, Mr Sugarbug. I mean, Mr Mayor. Problematic.”
They had stopped again though, the elevator doors opened and they were suddenly in the most extraordinary room. It was the 54th Floor Penthouse apartment, the most expensive building on the Upper East Side, in fact in the whole of Manhattan. The huge wall to wall glass windows looked out across the entire city, there was a fountain in the corner, which reminded Hermano of the Amazon and one of its temples, while there were gadgets and laptops, computers and iPads everywhere, but also toys strewn carelessly about the floor. On the huge Mahogany dining table though Hermano saw a sight that took his breath away. There, in a gorgeous gilded cage, a solid gold cage, in fact, half asleep on a bedding of cashmere pullings, was the most beautiful looking white-coated house rat, or groundhog, or mongoose, or something, that Hermano had ever seen in his life. Hermano was very embarrassed though, because while his dad looked out of the window and sighed, the nasty little boy had pulled Hermano from his pocket again. He was swinging the helpless tree rat right in front of the beautiful caged creature by his tail, as Hermione yawned and hardly looked at the mortified rodent.
“See,” said the boy angrily, “if you won’t play ball, Hermione, I’ve got another toy now. My very own ground squirrel. But what to do with it?” he added, gazing carelessly at his messy toys around the room. “Strap it to my model Super train, put it inside a Transformer, and make it climb the fountain, then drown it, or drop it from the 54th floor? I’m so bored.”
Poor Hermano gulped as the boy wandered over to a scale model on the table of something that made him gasp again. It was the Depository, his Depository, in the heart of the Amazon jungle, although now it seemed ten times the size.
“Scale, Junior,” said the boy’s father, coming up beside them. “Everything’s a question of scale, son. So always look down on the world, from a great height, and if you treat it like your toy, everything drops into place. Take my new, hyper modern, automated Brazilian Depository here. Fully self-functioning. No great labour costs. Servicing the whole world instantly, delivering things. And soon it will grow and grow. Think of all the furniture we can make too, Randy, from those goddam cut-down trees.”
Hermano looked up in horror. Then this was the very human who owned the modern Depository and Mr Sugarbug was going to make it bigger and bigger. Soon there wouldn’t be any Brazil nut trees left at all, or Graviolas, or kapoks, or anything else for that matter.
“Even more so now that President Silas Trunk is onside,” said the Chauffeur Augustus quietly, coming up beside his boss. “Now the big man doesn’t believe in Environmentalism, or Global Warming, or Mankind doing any damage at all to the Planet. Now he has decided that it just isn’t true, despite what all the scientists say. Because business is business and what Trunk Junior says goes, Sir.”
Mr Sugarbug nodded and grinned and Hermano scowled. The rat knew from his Brazil nut tree and the modern Depository that it was true. He knew from the mayhem of the city that it was true too. He even knew it from Max the Lobster’s tale. But above all Hermano could count, could see numbers instantly. So above all the tree rat knew, having seen all those people in New York, that even if it wasn’t true now, one day and one day soon it would be true, just as true as the fact in five billion years the sun would go out. Because if you double a thing, and double it again, and again, then all those buildings with them, or the people inside them, one day there would be more of them than trees themselves, or even the insects. The threat to the world was just a simple question of mathematics.
“But it is true,” whispered the rat desperately, although nobody heard Hermano, or was listening either. “And you can’t cut down the Amazon, because the rainforest are the lungs of the planet and besides, it’s my beautiful home and the animals are my friends, or some of them.”
But with that the lift door inside the apartment opened again and out stepped a little girl. She had red hair, long pigtails, huge eyes and freckles all over her face, and she was scowling.
“Hi,” she said, glaring at Randy, “I’m Toola Iceberg and I’ve come to play with you. For an hour. Though it won’t be much fun, because we’ll soon all be extinct anyhow..”
“Extinct?” said Randy, scowling at her, “Wos that?”
“A fact,” snapped Toola Iceberg, “Not an opinion, not something you can deny, but a fact. A fact, fact, fact. We are all eating up the planet so fast that very soon we’ll be extinct. An X species.”
Hermano looked up at her, hanging their in Randy’s hand.
“Him,” said Toola Iceberg immediately, “at least he’s gruzzly, like me I guess.”
“Gruzzly?” said Randy, as Hermano wondered rather irritably what it meant too.
“Sure. So what are you going to do about our imminent extinction, boy? I mean there are things we can all do, sure, each one of us. Each and every one of us. Right now. IF we wake up.”
“Nothing,” said Randy, with another scowl “I’m only 12 and I’m bored. D’yer wanna play or not”
“Not,” said Toola Iceberg, “I’m 15 and I’m going to do something. Right now. That’s a fact.”
With that Toola Iceberg stuck out her tongue, her freckles blazing, walked back into the lift and pressed the button, as Randy’s father shrugged at Augustus.
“The Map,” he cried though, “Unfurl the map, Augustus. Specially if Randy’s bored.”
The English chauffeur pressed a button and a huge map on the wall lit up. It was an old ink drawn map of New York City.
“Don’t mind about Toola Iceberg. Look Randy. Manhattan just a hundred and fifty years ago,” said the Mayor and as he pressed another button it changed, to show so many more buildings and skyscrapers. “But now look. That’s growth, Junior. Progress. Reach for the skies.”
Junior though was too busy twisting Hermano’s tail now, as the mayor pressed the button again.
“Now look at the world, junior,” he said. “Look at all the Cities, and not just New York. Mexico City, London, Paris, Rome, Beijing, Shanghai, Sydney. Growing and growing, on and on. The Planet,” said Mr Sugarbug, with another sigh, “look how many of us are on it now. Like dirty rats. Well, since Toola Iceberg is right, the only future now is up there, up in space,” Sugarbug added, turning to look out of the window, “which I’m addressing with my new space program to colonize Mars, why sweat it? Have fun while you can, I say. Wot else can one do?”
“Which reminds me, Dad,” said junior, with a scowl, “I ordered a new robot, online, on your Platinum Credit Card, but when the box came it was empty. Just bubble wrap and a stupid hole, with tooth marks. It was wet too.”
New Robot, thought Hermano? Then this boy had been the very reason Hermano had been FedXed to New York City in the first place. It all seemed connected and very strange.
“But Robots are boring,” said junior, glaring greedily at Hermano again, “not like live pets. I mean, they feel real pain. They’ve got nerves.”
TO BE CONTINUED