Mister Clean, or Why I Am Always Early

Mister Clean was a merchant marine and a soldier of fortune. We called him Mister Clean because he looked just like the famous advertising image on the cleanser.

His arsenal was quite impressive to a runaway punk like me. He had all sorts of spy equipment to show off in his studio above the bank he said he might rob one day, but more interesting of all were the weapons such as poison darts for which he had the poison, and blow guns made with such things as ball point pen casings. While displaying his array of equipment, he was wont to suddenly grab a knife and throw it across the room, where it invariably sunk deeply into the thick cork target, sometimes piercing the wall behind it. That usually led to a full display of his knives along with a lesson on their right balances and how to throw them properly. He said his favorite pastime at sea was to practice his knife-throwing, sometimes competing with his mates.

Sailing, spying and fighting were not his only skills. Mister Clean loved to recite a long poem on love he had composed on a full roll of toilet paper to a young lady who had spurned him. But he did not love women who disagreed with him. Apparently he had had some bad experiences with the fair sex. He spoke often of stealing a boat, changing its lines to avoid detection, and building a trap door in it which he would use to feed disagreeable women to the sharks.

Needless to say, Mister Clean was a rough character, a tough guy, if you please. He liked to walk determinedly into a seedy saloon, slam his fist down on the end of the bar, and issue his standard proclamation:

“I am Mister Clean and I’ll take any of ya on, one at a time or all together! Any takers? Step right up and I’ll mop the damn bar with ya! Otherwise I’ll have a double whisky and beer chaser.”

He looked like he meant it, staring anyone down who dared to doubt it. Standing a bit over six-foot tall, lean, muscles bulging everywhere, armed always with a knife and sometimes a gun, he not only looked but was the part. As far as I know, there were never any takers. I tried the belligerent tactic once and was soundly thrashed with fists and pool cues, although the next day I was praised for putting up a good fight – I was glad I was drunk when I took the beating.

Tough as he was, Mr. Clean was a virtuous man in the classical noble sense of virtue, inasmuch as he was loyal and generous to his friends. For instance, when I was broke one winter day, he gave me an expensive, full-length black-leather coat right off his back along with twenty dollars and advice how to negotiate with a local prostitute, my first and only, so I could buy a decent meal and also have heartwarming company thereafter; make sure you go to her place, he counseled. He had not prepared me, however, for the alarm clock which she looked at every five minutes in order to announce how many minutes of my allotted time were left. Neither did I expect her to read a magazine and chew gum during the process. I guess I deserved it for being so cheap.

Speaking of clocks, it was Mr. Clean who taught me to be punctual. Shortly after he and I became friends, I promised I would meet him in front of a restaurant on December 24th, at noon sharp – he liked that word, “sharp.” It was only 12 degrees, and I was forty-minutes late. The restaurant happened to be closed that day, but Mister Clean was there, waiting in the doorway. He threw me up against the wall, put a knife to my throat, gave me a convincing lecture on the importance of keeping one’s promises and being on time, then gave me his handkerchief to wipe the trickle of blood off my neck. Since that day, Mister Clean has had a positive influence on my life. I am seldom late and almost always early.

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The last time I saw Mister Clean was down at the docks, after he had been in other parts of the world for some time. He was getting ready to sail off in a boat he had purchased, he said, with some insurance money due to him. He had a woman with him.


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