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Fridays With Roy: A King Exiled From The Busy Bee

By Barry Gifford in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 27, 2015 5:25PM

No two ways about it: winter is here. But as Barry Gifford demonstrates in his latest installment of Fridays With Roy, what's cold on the page can warm the heart. This story, like the others from a work in progress tentatively titled The Cuban Club, has a peculiar sentimentality underneath the weirdness. Not least because it name drops the Busy Bee Restaurant, one of the most fondly remembered vanished eateries in Chicago history. So read "King and Country" and check out Hal Wigoda's lovely video tribute.

King and Country
by Barry Gifford

In January of that year a monumental blizzard hit Chicago, forcing the city to shut down for four days. Virtually all businesses closed except for a few neighborhood bars and liquor stores. Only police, firefighters and emergency services remained available. Residents were advised not to try to drive; the only way around was on foot.
Roy was thirteen and by the night of the second day cabin fever compelled him to venture out to visit his friend Jimmy Boyle, who lived a couple of blocks away. Wading down the middle of Ojibway Boulevard through the hip-and even chest-high drifts, Roy encountered a man coming out of Beebs and Glen’s Tavern carrying two fifths of Murphy’s Irish whiskey, one under each arm.
“I’m goin’ to Peggy Dean’s house and I’m not comin’ out for a week!” he shouted.
Just before Roy reached Jimmy’s block another man came toward him, also struggling to make a path for himself. He was wearing a purple turban and wrapped around his body were layers of different colored robes, rags and rugs. The man’s barely visible face was brown and bearded. He was pulling a two-wheeled cart laden with what Roy assumed were his belongings, piled high and covered with more rugs and pieces of material. As Roy and the man approached one another, Roy could see that beneath his robes, which reached to his ankles, the man was barefoot.
“Ah, I saw you from afar!” the man said to Roy, and stopped in front of him.
The man’s eyes blazed like blue moons in the darkness.
“You look like a king,” Roy said.
“I was a king in my own country,” replied the man.
“Aren’t you afraid your feet will get frostbite?”
“I come from a strong and powerful people who walk in the footsteps of Arphax, he who lived more than four-hundred years and paved a fiery path. My feet are like unto fine brass, as if they burn in a furnace. My servant Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years through a hostile and terrible land. Though I hath cometh out of prison to reign again am I also he who becometh poor.”
The man began to move forward, dragging his cart.
“What’s your name?” Roy called after him.
“To know me,” said the man, “you must first solve the mystery of the seven stars.”
When Roy got to Jimmy Boyle’s house he told him about the biblical character who said he’d been a king in his own country.
“His name is Morris Jones,” said Jimmy. “He used to be a fry cook at the Busy Bee on Milwaukee Avenue. He went batshit about a year ago and started tellin’ everyone he was the son of God. He lives under the el over there. My father gives him a buck or two when he sees him.”
“Is he dangerous?”
“He carries a carving knife under his robes. He took it from the diner. Elmer Schuh, who owns the Busy Bee, let him keep it to protect himself.”
Roy did not see Morris Jones again until the following August. It was a boiling hot day and Morris was sitting in the back seat of a police car parked in front of the el station with his hands cuffed, wearing his purple turban. Roy asked a cop standing next to the car why Morris had been arrested.
“He carved up a dog and was tryin’ to sell the parts to passengers gettin’ on and off the trains.”
“Is that against the law?”
“It is when you’re not wearin’ nothing but a turban.”
“He was a king in his own country,” Roy said.
“He should have stayed there,” said the cop.
The next day Roy told Jimmy Boyle about his having seen Morris being arrested, and what for.
“He was naked?”
“Except for his turban.”
“I don’t think Morris would ever hurt anyone on purpose,” said Jimmy. “He always gave me extra bacon whenever I went into the Busy Bee with my dad.”