Mr. Emm’s Bucket

One particularly memorable Monday morning, a bleary-eyed, blood-shot sun dragged itself up and over the nagging Camden Town horizon of London’s Metro, spreading its meager, lemon-curd warmth on the prematurely-balding pate of Mr. Emm, a middle-aged, mid-level advertising manager at the firm of Chilblains and Doolap. Plopping into the bright yellow breakfast nook of his compact brownstone, he was anticipating his regularly-scheduled tea and muffins in his, as the French would say, normally bien existence.

Having woken in his usual manner at his usual time, he’d rolled back the sheets and, like a good homo sapiens, sat upright to find a bucket where his head should be. As to the who, what, when and why of how it came to be there, he was at a loss, but as to its where, he could, with the solid determination of a seasoned cartographer, say it was definitely on his head. Being of a normally cheery disposition, he noted that the bucket was snug, but not uncomfortably so and summed the situation thusly: “If a bloke’s got to go around with a bucket on his head, it should bloody-well fit like a glove.”

Donning slippers and robe as on every other day, he shuffled to the bathroom and, locating the sink, gazed mirror-ward, thinking to wrestle his usual shock of unruly hair into submission, but raising brush to hair, he heard a dull thud, reaffirming that a washer-man’s accouterments was indeed occupying him á la tête. Bracing himself against the sink like a ballerina on her barre, he soaped and razored his chin, wondering if his hair-trim scheduled for later in the week should be canceled. Satisfied with what of his ablutions he could complete, Mr. Emm folded his towel squarely, hung it on its rack and shuffled to his wardrobe.

In the hallway, his wife shrieked.

“It’s a bloody bucket, is all,” he told her as calmly as if he was wearing a bowler hat.

Despite his apparent lack of concern, his wife, thinking as hard as she might, could come to no explanation as to why the man she’d shared her life with for fifteen years should end up with his head in such a device and was seized with fears of how his present condition might affect his role as the family’s sole bread-winner in these dangerously troubled times, mortgage payments, utility bills and their daughter’s upcoming university tuition to name the most obvious financial commitments feared of falling into arrears. Eavesdropping on her parent’s conversation, charming Zoonie, the sole and blessed culmination of their marriage, heard the words “bucket” and “head” yet no portion of her teenage mind would allow the notion that those two words related in any way to her father’s physical person let alone in tandem, or more correctly, in vertical and adjoining relation to his head. Had she an inkling of what awaited her at the breakfast table that morning, she would have crawled back under her covers to sleep a thousand days. Then again, having an interest in theater, in particular, Japanese Kabuki, she might have gladly fallen upon an authentic tonto knife in ritual, samurai-like suicide. Unfortunately, there wasn’t one in the house.

Concluding it might be some youthful prank spawned in her husband’s university days, Mrs. Emm tried to remember if today’s date coincided with any fraternal ceremony he had ever spoken of, but Mr. Emm shunned that notion.

“Nothing of the sort,” he said, accidentally nicking the bucket on the corner of the bedroom-door molding. Skirting his wife and any further allegations, he felt his way to the dressing closet where he fitted himself in argyles, garters, crisp suit pants, white shirt, suit-vest, a red tie with thin gray horizontal lines, gold tie-clasp and black, mirror-shined shoes. Draping his suit jacket over his arm, he made his way downstairs, relying on the railing more than usual, pledging to maintain his pluck and make the most of his current encumbrance. As if any meal with her parents let alone one where her father insisted on wearing a bucket on his head throughout was a form of evil, Chinese torture, Zoonie rolled her eyes and slurped her cereal.

“A young lady doesn’t slurp her cereal,” her mother reminded. Zoonie slurped louder and rolled her eyes wider, tossing daggers at her father, the living, breathing evidence that her parents were indeed out to make her the most mocked adolescent in British history.

“Look at this, will you, dear?” Mr. Emm said, holding the Guardian to his chin, squinching his eyes and contorting his neck muscles to peek out from under his bucket’s rim. “The American Vice President’s former corporation is in litigation in their Supreme Court and the Vice President and judge hearing the case have gone duck-hunting together. That’s American justice for you.” He snapped the paper like he was shaking dust from a rug and added wistfully, “And, it confirms the value of doing one’s work from an undisclosed location.”

Zoonie wished someone would confine her father to an undisclosed location.

Thinking that her husband ought to be more concerned about his own predicament rather than American Vice Presidents and duck hunts, Mrs. Emm summed her sentiments thusly: “Another muffin, dear?”

“No, just the same, I’ve got to get on to work,” Mr. Emm said, standing to wipe his mouth with the napkin from his lap, instead, running it across the bucket’s embossed brand name, Plungent Technologies. “We’re finalizing a big account today and I’ve got to be in top form.” Shoving his chair flush with the table, he tipped two fingers in salute on the ‘P’ of the red, blue, and silver label. Bending to kiss his wife made for an awkward moment, but not so nearly as when he attempted the same with his daughter.

“Ow,” Zoonie winced, throwing her hands up and thrusting her head to the side like a boxer parrying a punch.

“You get off to school right now, young lady, or you’ll be late,” her mother scolded. Zoonie didn’t see Mr. Emm’s paternal smile, hearing only, “Study hard.”

“Study hard and don’t have a bucket on your head,” she said, grabbing her coat, hat and satchel and skittering out the door.

“Perhaps we should call the plumber that fixed the washer hose?” ventured Mrs. Emm, ending her question with a tonal up-swing sufficient to leave the final decision to her husband.

“It’s a bucket, not a washer hose. This is a mistake of some kind that I’ll have under control well before your luncheon at the Ladies’ League,” replied Mr. Emm, thinking of his predicament in terms of a parcel misdelivered to him instead of his neighbor, Mr. Pimm, or a Mr. Emm in some other part of the city.

“I’ll fix something nice for dinner,” Mrs. Emm replied, clearing the breakfast dishes, hoping that her reference to a wholesome evening’s respite would make a noticeable difference in the increasingly uncertain world. “Will you be okay then?”

“It’s a bucket, not another Middle East conflict,” Mr. Emm said, emphasizing his positivity with a wink no one on earth could have possibly seen. Feeling for the doorknob, he made his way down the front steps, using the handrail and descending carefully to the curb, counting the steps as he went, “One, two, three, four, five.”

Walking the several blocks to the Underground, away from his wife’s strained gaze and his daughter’s pained emulations, Mr. Emm allowed himself to introspect further upon his predicament. Habituated to popping off Beatle songs in times of strained reflection, he swung into Maxwell’s Silver Hammer until he realized the fatal phrase of hammers coming down on heads left him with the dreadful thought of a silver hammer crashing down on his bucket, causing irreparable damage to its contents. He might have lingered longer in this wicked day-mare if it hadn’t been for a dog barking at his feet, the canine’s yapping bringing Mr. Emm back to his senses.

“Scat!” he yelled. Surprised at the boom of the voice roaring out from under the bucket and the dog moved away warily.

Descending into Camden Town station for the London Underground, Mr. Emm felt like Jacques Cousteau about to enter an underwater cave. To Mr. Emm’s surprise and good fortune, the bucket gave him the canine-like ability to hear his train approaching a good ten seconds before anyone else, allowing him, with deep-sea diver precision, to maneuver to the lip of the platform before the other commuters garnering a double-seat all to himself for the morning migration.

Claiming the extra personal space like a poker player gathering up his winnings, he was beginning to believe his luck was changing and all this head-nonsense would soon turn in his absolute favor. Digging into the Liverpool lads’ musical treasure trove once again, he imagined himself carrying a weight, carrying a weight a long time, but the suggestion put a kink in his esprit so he shifted his thoughts to a tune that left him admitting things were getting better all the time. Oblivious to the gawks and glances of fellow travelers, he finalized his new confidence by elongating his syllables about things get-ting-so-much-bet-ter-all the-time. Screeching into Victoria Station, the train spat its riders from their climate-controlled cocoons into London’s heavy blanket of grey light, Mr. Emm thinking as he exited that, across town, his darling Zoonie would be settling into her homeroom meditation.

Checking that she had everything she’d need for today’s lessons, Zoonie was interrupted by a classmate’s unwanted query. “Was that your father on the telly this morning wandering around the Underground with a bucket on his head?” Zoonie looked about for an undisclosed location she could confine herself to.

At the firm of Chilblains and Doolap, news of Mr. Emm’s bucket moved up and down the hallways and cubicle aisles like a tsunami making first landfall at receptionist Regina’s desk, its shock-waves moving with tidal velocity from her front and central location throughout the building. After fending an initial barrage of queries, Mr. Emm adroitly focused every fiber of his being on preparing for his all-important afternoon presentation. Performing well would mean locking in a well-deserved and long-anticipated promotion, yielding top-notch collegiate options for Zoonie, presently considering a career as a ninja assassin that would begin with killing the next person involved in the apparently worldwide plot to get her laughed out of Saint Helena’s Academy for Girls.

His co-workers’ curiosities quelled, Mr. Emm arranged his morning to be bereft of commands, requests and conversations save one compliment from Jason, the office boy. Wheeling his postal cart with all the youthful pluck necessary to banish life’s indenturing foibles, Jason proclaimed, “It’s a very nice bucket, sir.”

Lunch-time came in like Gilbert and Sullivan and went out like Oscar Wilde. Mr. Emm serenaded his noon meal with the Fab Four’s Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, recounting how one Desmond had a marketplace barrow and that said love-interest, Molly, was a singer in a band. Desmond’s ob-la-dees, ob-la-das sent the young man to a jeweler’s for a ring and, presenting it to Molly, induced further ob-la-deeing and ob-la dah-ing whereby they wedded, moved to the suburbs, begat children and lived happily ever after. Hoping the song might similarly turn affairs for him and his bucket, Mr. Emm’s brain popped into business power-mode. “Sell, sell, sell,” he chanted like a Gregorian monk, envisioning attending his daughter’s Oxford graduation. When the presentation-hour arrived, Mr. Emm scooped up charts, overheads and his self-confidence, he and his bucket smarting a path to the boardroom.

“Manley,” Mr. Chilblains said, flanking Mr. Emm in the hallway.

“I’m ready to chip the biscuit into the bucket…er…cup, Mr. C.”

“Might I see you in private a moment?” Mr. Chilblains said, ignoring Mr. Emm’s positive missive. Quick to oblige, Mr. Emm followed his boss into the men’s room.

“Manley, what in the name of Charles Dickens has gotten into you, or more precisely, what’s gotten onto you?” Mr. Chilblain queried, his toupée quivering like a furry animal digging a burrow, its hind quarters arching in the air.

“I woke this morning with a bucket on my head,” Mr. Emm said, “and have held firmly to the belief that it would disappear some time today in a manner similar to its extraordinary appearance however, the moment of its vanquishment having not yet arrived, nonetheless, I assure you I am prepared to lure Universal Bucket…excuse me, Universal Biscuit and Food Conglomerate, to our stables.”

“The reputation of this firm rests upon your shoulders, Emm…very much like that damned bucket,” Mr. Chilblains intoned solemnly, placing an executive arm around Mr. Emm’s shoulder. With a perfunctory ‘ahem,’ Mr. Emm gallantly straightened his power-cravat and, with Mr. Chilblains’ supportive wishes, puffed out his chest and sallied forth to his mission.

Filing into the boardroom, Mr. Chilblains took his seat, fingers crossed, but as Mr. Emm began his presentation, Mr. Bellend, the CEO of Universal Biscuit and Food Conglomerate, abruptly set his water glass down on the polished wood conference table, ignoring the coaster placed there for that purpose.

“What’s with the bucket, Chilblains?” Mr. Bellend asked in his usual accusatory tone.

“It’s nothing, Mr. Bellend,” Mr. Chilblains assured the pompous CEO.

Ignoring the interruption, Mr. Emm set his charts on the rim of the easel, steadying himself for his brilliant exposé, readied to let heave the most capable and persuading advertising sales pitch of his life. The flawless presentation boiling in his brain would impress the coldest executive had it not been for everyone’s preoccupation with Mr. Emm’s medieval headdress. He might as well have had his fly open, or as it is said in London’s artistic circles, “The Victoria and Albert Museum is unveiling a new exhibition.”

Summing up his well-rehearsed pitch, Mr. Emm said smoothly, “With Chilblains and Doolap in your corner, Mr. Bellend, Universal Biscuit’s success is in the bucket…I mean ‘bag’.” To emphasize this critical point, Mr. Emm lifted his foot to stamp the floor and raised his fist to slap the table, but his bucket shifted, and missing the table all together, lost his balance and listed severely, like the Titanic in its death throes.

At this worst of all possible moments, Mr. Emm sneezed, the rupture echoing in his bucket like a hand grenade exploding underwater, causing Mr. Emm to cry out, lose his balance and fall to the floor where he lay writhing like a bobby-tasered Tin Man.

Mr. Bellend exploded. “What kind of a mockery is this?” he demanded, standing.

“There’s been a mistake,” Mr. Emm said from the floor. Steadying himself with his arms and sliding his back up the wall, the bucket shrilled against the whiteboard like a flock of screeching water birds taking flight, causing Mr. Emm to moan like a wounded water buffalo.

“Indeed,” Mr. Bellend said huffily, grabbing his hat and turning on heel to leave.

“Mr. Bellend, I can explain,” Mr. Chilblains said. “We can work this out.”

Mr. Bellend reached for a cigar and the doorknob simultaneously. “Explain my ass,” he said, whirling his bulbous frame to point a cigar-wielding finger in Mr. Chilblains’ face. “A man of my stature proposes placing his company’s assets with this firm and you and that…that asshole have the nerve to present me with this?”

Mr. Emm squirmed on the floor.

“It makes a mockery of everything Universal Biscuits stands for.” Mr. Bellend shouted, shoving the cigar in his mouth and biting down like a pit bull on a poodle’s neck. “Biscuits are a serious affair, god-damn-it.”

“Mr. Bellend, give me a minute to explain,” Mr. Chilblains said.

“Is this your idea of a joke? Are you trying to embarrass my biscuits? What the hell’s gotten into you and this buffoon of a marketing person?”

“Mr. B., I mean, Mr. Bellend, we can work this out, I promise,” Mr. Chilblains pleaded, the dollar signs in his eyes fading like unmanned ships drifting out to sea.

“That…that…ape has a bucket on his head. Who does he think he’s dealing with?” It was a rhetorical question. Mr. Bellend didn’t wait for an answer. “I think I can get some straight work out of Munsey, Munsey, Munsey, Sons, Sons and Sons.”

“Mr. Bellend, Mr. Emm is our top man. There’s been a mix up. If you are willing to rethink your position we can take your biscuits to the top.” The elevator doors opened and Mr. Bellend stepped in.

“Shove my biscuits up your ass,” he said as the mirrored doors clammed shut, leaving Mr. Chilblains to suffer the reflection of his impoverished image in the mirrored glass.

In the boardroom, Mr. Emm was on his feet. Still cranially-constrained, he pulled at the offending object like the central figure in Alexander Dumas’ Man in the Iron Mask.“This…damn…thing…has…got…to…come…off…n-n-n-now.

Straining like Hercules pulling down a pair of five-foot diameter marble columns, the bucket remained snug as an Egyptian’s sarcophagus. Attempting to spin his heavy-duty headgear off, the motion served only to strain his neck. Mr. Emm had just sat down when Mr. Chilblains came in, face wedged between an irritable throat constriction and a massive, pulsing forehead vein, neither of which Mr. Emm was privy to.

“Do you know how much money you’ve cost this firm?” Mr. Chilblains asked acerbically.

“I swear I’ll make this right, Mr. Chilblains. I’ll give Mr. Bellend a call in the morning. Certainly by then this…situation will have worked itself out,” Mr. Emm said like a man sentenced to execution trying to re-assure himself of an eleventh-hour reprieve.

“Oh.” Mr. Chilblains stormed out.

“You’ll see,” Mr. Emm called after him, turning his neck from side to side to work out the sprain. Picking up his visuals and returning to his cubicle, he was about to burst into a dampened rendition of John, Paul, George and Ringo’s Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey when Regina, the central receptionist, appeared like Dickens’ Ghost of Christmases to Come.

“Mr. Doolap wants you in his office.”

“Thank you, Regina,” Mr. Emm replied. “I just have to…”

“Now.” she added sourly.

“Tell him I’ll be right in,” but Regina was already away, failure, like leprosy, driving the untainted to flight.

Mr. Emm clapped his hands. “O-kay. Chilblains smoothed it out with Doolap and Doolap wants to discuss an interim plan. Fantastic,” he told himself convincingly. Passing Jason on his way to Doolap’s chambers, Mr. Emm’s janitorial chapeau was again complimented.

“It’s really a very nice bucket, Mr. Emm,” Jason said, his forced cheerfulness that of a man watching his best friend being led to the gallows.

“Manley, come in. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable,” Mr. Doolap said in a voice as flat and unfeeling as a measure of new asphalt through one of London’s posh suburbs. Mr. Emm maneuvered to the requisite chair in front of Mr. Doolap’s desk and eased himself into it. Some years ago, Mr. Emm had taken a workshop in which he learned to use the plural we in moments such as this.

Mr. Emm cleared his throat and began. “What can we do for you, Mr. Doolap?”

Mr. Doolap thought Mr. Emm was referring to himself and his bucket.

“Manley,” Mr. Doolap replied, leaning back in his chair, clasping his hands behind his head and staring at the ceiling as if he might find the words for which he was searching imprinted up there. “Over the years you’ve been a great asset to Chilblains and Doolap.” He removed his hands from behind his head, leaned forward, opened a box of cigars and took one out, not offering Mr. Emm to similarly indulge. Clipping the end, Mr. Chilblains stuck it in his puckered mouth and flicked the lighter on his desk. Thrusting the severed end into the fire, he sucked on it, puffing until a plume of acrid, blue smoke with Mr. Emm’s soul in it wafted into the air. Leaning back again, he returned his gaze to the ceiling. His vision obscured by the bucket, Mr. Emm was like a man in a compact sedan that can’t see to pass a wide-bodied lorry. Thinking Mr. Doolap might have exited the room, Mr. Emm harrumphed, the amplified echo resounding in his bucket. Mr. Doolap continued. “Everyone has been grateful for your years of hard work and dedication.”

“It makes a man feel good to know his efforts are appreciated, Mr. Doolap,” Mr. Emm said to the air about him.

“What I’m trying to say, Manley, is,” Mr. Emm leaned in, “the tide has turned for you here. You’ve become a…” Mr. Emm, was thinking this was the announcement of his long-deserved promotion and was tottering in his chair like a nine-pin anticipating its gravitationally-induced fate, hanging expectantly on Mr. D’s final word, “…liability.” Mr. Doolap further qualified the intent of the meeting with, “In short, Manley, we’re letting you go.”

“But Mr. Doolap,” Mr. Emm blurted and stood, leaning on Mr. Doolap’s desk to keep his shaking legs from collapsing under him. “My career is Chilblains and Doolap. It’s in my blood. I… I am Chilblains and Doolap. I was on the fast track,” this last statement being a slight stretch of how his time at the firm had actually gone, having been promoted only once, from lower to mid-level management, in nineteen years.

“Very sorry, old boy,” Doolap said. “Due to these economically-down-turned times you’ll be receiving a gold-plated watch in the mail.” It was all Mr. Emm could do to maintain his rapidly diminishing focus on his former employer, the bucket on his head and the dismissal shaking him to his core.

Mr. Doolap blew out a cloud of grayish-blue smoke again. “Of course your files will remain confidential. Do not attempt to remove anything from your office except your personal effects. Thank you for your efforts and the best of luck in whatever new venture you choose. Human Resources will cut you a severance check and Security will see you out of the building.” Mr. Doolap pushed a standard release-from-work-with-non-competition-clause under Mr. Emm’s nose. “Read this and sign it.” Slapping the intercom, he barked, “Regina, come in here and take a memo.”

“What is this?” Mr. Emm asked, dazed.

“Read it,” Mr. Doolap ordered, as if he’d just lost a million pounds of revenue, and he had.

“I…can’t,” Mr. Emm said.

“Maybe if you took that damn bucket off your head.” Mr. Doolap said.

“No, Mr. Doolap, I mean, I never learned to read.”

Mr. Doolap shook his head. “Well, that’s grounds to cover our asses if you try to sue. A man who can’t read can’t be a Chilblains and Doolap man. You obviously lied to us during selection, and that nullifies any unemployment compensation and retirement benefits.”

Irrevocably maligned in person and pocketbook, Mr. Emm signed the release like a man scribbling a Scotland Yard confession. Passing Regina at the door, notepad and pen in hand, he heard Mr. Doolap begin his dictation: “To all employees of Chilblains and Doolap: As of today, Mr. Manley Emm is no longer an employee of Chilblains and Doolap and furthermore, if anyone sees him on these premises or gives him access…” 

Mr. Doolap’s words faded from Mr. Emm’s bucket with each sad step down the hallway. Clearing out his desk, Mr. Emm felt like a Mayan temple-worker prodded to build pyramids ’til he could no longer stand only to find himself between two security guards hell-bent on his further mortification.

“Five minutes, Mr. Emm,” the taller, thinner guard said.

Lost in the horrific image of his beloved Zoonie’s higher education morphing into an eighteen-month dental-assistant program, Mr. Emm didn’t answer, picturing his daughter with a six-year-old’s teeth clenched to her tender hand. His dignity evaporated before he even realized its passing. He would’ve licked the tiled floor beneath him for it to be yesterday again. He would’ve sucked pigeon droppings off the Peter Pan statue in Hyde Park if it could’ve changed the last thirty minutes. No longer a man with only a bucket on his head, his psyche was a ruptured sewer main having opened a jagged and gaping fault-line in his ego leaving a deep, dark hole in his financial future. At thirty-nine years of age, in four words, Mr. Emm was screwed. 

Boxing the length and breadth of his Chilblains and Doolap career, he imagined himself a modern Samson ripping out the confining walls around him and bringing the entire structure crashing down. What he opted for was a memo, written by Jason who was instructed to present Mr. Emm’s severance check. Tears in their eyes, Mr. Emm spoke and Jason wrote:

Employees of Chilblains and Doolap, I make my exit with fondest memories of this hallowed firm, but also with a profound sadness, trusting each of you will continue to push onward and upward in your endeavors. Wishing you the best of luck in everything, may you one and all find the good fortune you seek. Making my humble exit, I remain, sincerely yours, Mr. Manley Emm, Former Assistant Senior Mid-Level Manager.

Jason held the piece of paper aloft while Mr. Emm leaned his head back to peek out from under his bucket and visualize the results of their combined efforts. With The Long and Winding Road playing as the soundtrack to his abrupt departure, Mr. Emm grabbed the memo, ripped it to shreds and tossed them in the air. Jason jumped back, respectfully giving Mr. Emm the necessary physical and emotional space to complete his review and subsequent tirade.

“Son-of-a-bitch,” Mr. Emm fumed, snapping his official Chilblains and Doolap fountain pen in two, tossing the pieces to the ground.

Observing this obvious outburst of littering, mayhem and misuse of company property, the guards interpreted Mr. Emm’s symbolic act of defiance as one of frank sabotage and thereby a terrorist threat. Having been trained and thoroughly drilled in anti-insurgent methods for just such an occasion, the taller guard had Mr. Emm’s face flattened against the wall and the rest of Mr. Emm’s person spread-eagled and immobilized while the other guard retrieved the pen pieces as further proof of Mr. Emm’s dastardly behavior. Forcing Mr. Emm’s arms behind his back, the guards launched him out of the office, down the hall and through the common areas to the elevators, Jason following, carrying the box of Mr. Emm’s office belongings in front of him as if it contained the axe with which Mr. Emm’s head was to be summarily removed from his person in short and swift order. Escorted from the building and released to the street, Jason handed Mr. Emm his things and stepped back into the building like a cuckoo-clock bird that’s done its job in bang-up fashion. Mr. Emm listened while the first guard read the legal repercussions should Mr. Emm set foot on the premises again. A taxicab backfired and Mr. Emm assumed its resonation in his bucket to be the last of his imploding ego, his anger fizzling into an overwhelming sense of failure.

Tipping his head back, Mr. Emm looked at his ludicrous reflection in the smoked-glass panes of the Chilblains & Doolap building while in the recesses of his mind he heard the familiar Liverpool lyric pertaining to the boy who’s going to carry a weight a long time.

Stop singing Beatles’ songs,” he ordered himself, kicking the sidewalk and collapsing on the curb into a sitting heap, vocalizing his self-contempt with, “Stop it. Just…stop…it,” reminding himself that in less than an hour he’d gone from senior mid-level management to unemployed sidewalk-sitter-with-a-bucket-on-his-head. “Rat’s ass, rat’s ass, Christ to Hell and Charing Cross,” he swore in vain, slapping the pavement with his hands and feet.

Now a man sitting on the sidewalk talking to himself and taking the Lord’s name and Underground stops in vain is one thing, but a man sitting on the sidewalk talking to himself and taking the Lord’s name and Underground stops in vain with a bucket on his head is quite another. Mr. Emm did not go unnoticed.

“You there,” a police officer said. “Stop yeh rubbish-talk and move along.”

“I used to work here,” Mr. Emm sobbed, finding his way to his feet and pointing at the towering and impersonal office building. “The bastards tossed me. Nineteen years and they sling me out like a side of cold beef.” Mr. Emm was hoping for some consolation from the officer.

“Well yeh can’t be yabbering yer fowl derisions hereabouts. If you persist, I’ll slap cuffs on yeh and haul yeh to the ‘Yard.”

“Go screw yourself, you tubby bastard,” Mr. Emm blurted, taunting the officer in a manner as to cause him to make good on his threat. In promised response, the officer’s billy-club made swift and forceful contact with Mr. Emm’s hardware-headgear, followed by the officer’s chin making solid contact with the top of Mr. Emm’s bucket, dropping the officer heavingly to the sidewalk.

“I say, look there,” a law-abiding passerby said, pointing at Mr. Emm as if identifying a well-known public criminal who was a heinous combination of the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Jack the Ripper. “That man’s downed a bobby.”

Several members of London’s business community stepped forward to do what they believed to be their civic duty, one woman loudly instructing them to, “Hold him fast whilst I fetch reinforcements.”

Surmising the rapidly deteriorating scene, Mr. Emm scooped up his cardboard-enclosed personal effects and, with a savage burst of adrenalin, fled the scene of altercation. Huffing, snarling, darting and dashing, he flailed against coat and cloak of London’s employed until making full-frontal contact with a traffic-signal pole, sending him instantly to the sidewalk where he lay as if his pounding heart had been pierced with a silver bullet meant for such a specifically loathsome creature as he. Lingering horizontally, Mr. Emm had what existentialists call an out-of-body experience, floating overhead, watching g himself from above like some dark and foreboding Ingmar Bergman film. His once solid world completely shattered, never in his life had he felt so disconnected from humanity. Then a man spoke.

“I say, gov’nuh.” A pair of men’s shoes bobbed from side to side within Mr. Emm’s limited line of horizontal vision. Shifting his box of belongings from the tuck of his right arm to his left, the smell of blood pudding, meat pies, bitters and ales filled his nostrils. “When yeh’ll be kickin’ th’ bucket, yeh won’t be havin’ far tih go, will yeh?” The shoes cackled and rocked unsteadily on their heels, holding that position like a surfer at the top of a wave.

Peripherally, Mr. Emm spotted two pairs of shoes stepping up a landing and into an establishment from which the aromas were emulating. Limping like a wounded soldier, Mr. Emm packed his person and effects into “The Boiled Boar’s Head,” removing himself from public eye.

It being of a late afternoon hour, the pub was filled with three types of cajolers regularly frequenting such establishments: those enjoying their spirits in an orderly fashion and making their way on to other engagements, those drowning their troubles in liquids that ultimately serve to reinforce the original obfuscation and those who make imbibing alcohol a rowdy affair, everybody and anything entering their periphery becoming fodder for their prankish social antics.

“Here’s a fellow with a lot on his mind,” one of the third types said, mocking Mr. Emm’s preposterous appearance in splendid blackguard fashion.

“Or at least a lot on his head,” a fellow reveler buffooned, giving Mr. Emm a tangibly inspired ribbing. . The bar was rapidly taking on the boisterous ambiance of a post soccer-match crowd. Stung from being the brunt of this line of joking, at the same time Mr. Emm felt spritzed with merriment at being included in the banter. Spotting an expanded waistline, white shirt and black-tie opposite him at the bar, he rightly assumed the bartender had arrived.

“See here, good man, I’d like a snifter of your finest brandy,” Mr. Emm said with as much aplomb as he could muster.

Someone in the background piped, “Ask ‘im if ‘ee wants a mop to go with ‘iz bucket,” and the barroom broke into a rousing rendition of Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. A swift and emphatic pat of someone’s hand to his shoulder nearly disrupted Mr. Emm’s delicate maneuvering of the jigger of de Valcourt Napoleon VSOP he was attempting to steer into his mouth. Steadying himself, Mr. Emm lifted the tumbler, leaned back like a Christmas goose being prepared for a holiday dinner, tucked the glass under the bucket’s rim and let the sweet aroma and soothing taste of the invigorating liquid momentarily erase all his troubles. This first brandy having effectively modified his demeanor, Mr. Emm ordered a second, third, fourth then fifth, conducting spirited renditions of Yellow Submarine, With a Little Help From My Friends, When I’m Sixty-Four, We Can Work It Out  and Penny Lane, ending with an encore of With a Little Help From My Friends. 

Brandy and Beatles proving a heady mixture, after several hours of reveling, Mr. Emm was poured into a coach with his address, exacted from his wallet, written on a paper and pinned to his lapel, whereupon he was delivered to his darling missus. Diagnosing his inebriated condition, she put him straight to bed.

Early next morning the phone rang and Mrs. Emm summoned her husband to entertain the caller’s entreaties, Mr. Emm picking up the phone and snuggling it between his ear and shoulder under the rim of the bucket.

“Monsieur Emm?” a voice on the other end of the line asked.

“That is I,” Mr. Emm admitted, the slightest sound, even his own voice, activating a nauseous pounding in his head.

“You may recall that we spoke last eve-en-ning in zee Boar’s Head. I am zee Frenchman zat wanted to know about your bucket. You were a beet gilled, I think you say here in your country.”

Having no recollection whatsoever of any such person or conversation, Mr. Emm called on his salesman’s senses, replying, “Yes, I remember.”

“I gave you my card,” the Frenchman reminded. “You put it in your left, suit-coat pocket.”

“Could you hold a moment?” Mr. Emm rummaged the pockets of yesterday’s coat and retrieved a white business card with simple black lettering that read: Monsieur Jean–Marie Teabag, Les Technologies Teabag Toiletical. “Monsieur Teabag,” Mr. Emm crooned into the receiver.


“What can I do for you?” the smell of financial sustenance overcoming the odor of stale brandy permeating Mr. Emm’s confined breath.

“You av an oo-nique situation, Monsieur Emm. I know cleaning products and in all my years, I av never zeen anything like it.”

“I’m just a man with a bucket on his head,” Mr. Emm said, trying to sound unaffected by the man’s astounding, if not bizarre, revelation.

“But zat iz where you are wrong, Monsieur.”

“A minor inconvenience that will work itself out presently.”

“Oh eet’s more zan zat, Monsieur. Eet’s a Berkman 147 Specially Ionized 29-H.”

“Eh?” Mr. Emm said, not knowing buckets from biscuits. Yesterday he’d have told everyone he knew biscuits. Today, he wasn’t certain of anything.

“But zat iz not ze peculiar part. Ze unusual zing eez ze serial number. It should not eg-zeest.”

“How do you mean?”

“Monsieur Emm, when bucket companies number and letter zare products zey do so according to date of production.”


“Your serial number eez for a bucket zat duz not eg-zeest. Yours eez for a date in ze foo-ture.”

Mr. Emm hesitated. “It’s a mistake is all.” Yesterday he was a man with a bucket on his head. Today he was being told his head did not yet exist.

“Eet’s sur-real-ee-stee-cly-synchro-nee-stique to find a man wif’ a bucket on his head, but eet iz sheer science feek-shun for eet to av a serial number from ze foo-ture.”

Ready to end the conversation, Mr. Emm gave the caller one more chance to make sense. “What’s your point?”

“Monsieur Emm, I would like you to come work for me. I am expanding to England and with you as ze figurehead so-to-speak, I sink we might, excuse ze pun, ‘clean up’.” Mr. Emm clarified his position with total silence. “Monsieur Emm, thees opportunity eez absolutely amazing for uz both. Who would av thought zat a man with a warehouse full of mops would cross zee Channel from Calais to Folkestone, wander into a London pub and meet a man weef a bucket on eez ‘ead?”

Sensing that perhaps something financially profound was within his grasp, Mr. Emm cleared his throat. “Good things happen to good people,” he said, discounting yesterday’s termination from Chilblains and Doolap and eating his last morsel of humble-pudding. Given all that had transpired during the previous twenty-four hours, was this at last the glimmer of hope within his misfortune? Maybe I’m holding a winning hand after all, he thought. I’ve a good head on my shoulders, inside this damned bucket. Laying the receiver down, he looked in the direction of the mirror, wondering how to string his wife along until he could be certain this wasn’t a brandy-and-Beatle-induced fantasy.

“Daddy?” It was Zoonie outside the bedroom door.

“Yes, pumpkin.”

“May I come in?”

“Certainly, cupcake. Come right in.”

“The door’s locked.”

Leaping across the room, he jammed a toe on the bedpost. “Oooooooow,” he yelled as he opened the door.

“Are you alright?”

“I most certainly am, dear.”

“I hope you don’t mind.”


“The face.”

“The face?”

“Despite being convinced you and mother purposely embarrass me in front of my friends, I’ve decided to show my support for all the work you do to provide for us, so I painted a smiley-face on your bucket.” Mr. Emm raised his hands to his bucket. “Do you like it?”

“Fetch the hand-mirror from your mother’s boudoir,” he said, and receiving it, positioned himself so he could see the visage reflected in tandem from the hand and wall mirrors, his bucket adorned with a prominent yellow and black smiley-face.

“Super,” he said.

“If you have to wear that bucket for the rest of your life, I want you to be happy,” she said.

Mr. Emm felt like a cripple who, told by his doctors he’d never walk again, had sprung to his feet and was dancing a jig. His resolve now clear, he grabbed the phone and agreed to meet Monsieur Teabag at the new London headquarters of Les Technologies Teabag Toiletical the following Monday.

For the rest of the week, Mr. Emm dressed in the morning as if he were off to Chilbains and Doolap though in reality he made a wander of London’s art and history. Passing Saturday and Sunday reading and choring, on the Monday next, Mr. Emm dressed and left the house as usual, his wife and daughter vowing to press on together despite whatever familial handicap the bucket might bring. Tramming the Underground and finagling a double-seat to himself again, he clung hopefully to the business card and address Monsieur Teabag had given him. Entering the imposing high-rise without incident, he made his way through mazes of cubicles to the main office.

“We weesh you to feel comfortable ‘ere, Monsieur Emm. You are ze figurehead and your dee-sire iz our bee-ding,” Monsieur Teabag reassured him from across a massive, wooden desk.

If Mr. Emm still felt like a man in a wheelchair, the wheelchair was now solid gold and turbo-charged.

Sales immediately soared, taking Mr. Emm along with Teabag Toileticals’ reputation and riches for an astoundingly successful ride. Several months in, Mr. Emm felt secure enough to tell his wife and daughter how he’d been let go from Chilblains and Doolap, how it was his further misfortune to be shunned and hunted like a desperate animal through the streets of London, how he serendipitously came to meet Monsieur Teabag to next morning be told of his fabulous turn of fortune and how, over the past several months he’d reforged their future and reclaimed his family’s dignity. Confessing his mistrust of financial institutions and investment firms, he admitted to stashing grand sums about the house. Mrs. Emm ecstatically forgave him, but later that day Zoonie, her friends over for a get-together, pulled open a pantry drawer to discover packets and packets of banded pound notes. Having filled coffee cans, the mattresses and even the window seat, places to stash his gains had run low.

Mrs. Emm advised her husband of the timely need to, “Do something with all this sterling,” and made an appointment next day for her husband to meet with a financial advisor.

Taking a seat across from the money manager and prepared to hear ways to increase his grand and growing fortune, the fiduciary administrator did not disappoint.

“Mr. Emm. You are already well off, but you could be fabulously-fortuned if you invested some of your wealth. Take a look at this.” He handed Mr. Emm a financial prospectus on global wheat futures and waited. “Well, what do you think?” the advisor asked.

“I don’t know,” Mr. Emm offered hesitantly.

“I didn’t ask what you know, Mr. Emm. What do you think?

Mr. Emm lowered the report to the desk.

“Well…you see…I can’t read. I never learned.”

The financier pushed his chair from his desk and removed his glasses from his face.

“Mr. Emm, you’ve obviously done well despite your social handicap, but do you know what you’d be doing right now if you had learned to read?”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Mr. Emm straightened himself up, leaned back in his chair, looked out the window to the streets of London far below and all the people scurrying to jobs that would bring nothing in their end. “Collecting a measly pension from Chilblains and Doolap.”