An Off-Kilter Lens

Those of you who read My Safari Through The Asphalt Jungle might have noticed a particularly intriguing detail.  A sentence of graffiti I discovered spray painted on a wall that read, “A lifetime of distorted judgements -Elbow Joe”.  Of course this got me to wondering who this man might be.  I think the beauty of imagination is that everyone has a different lens with which they view the world.  Our life experience, our humor, our morality, our religious beliefs, any and all of these things effect how we interpret what goes on around us.  It also effects what we create.  That sentence and that name may get filtered into your synapses in a completely different way than my own, and I think that’s nifty. Below is a quick character study, my answer to the question: Who is Elbow Joe?

Via Paul Goyette

Elbow Joe’s foreshortened limbs hang crooked from his shoulders. Just weak little hands where the bend oughta be. No one knows why he was born without elbows, it just happened that way. In fevered dreams he sprouts wings that allow him to soar. If he had those who would give a crap about the rest of it? Once a week Elbow Joe gnaws on the marrow bones of bats, believing somehow it will change his lot in life. Bats are powerful creatures. They’re highly sensitive to their surroundings, keen observers of human nature. All those bullshit associations with Dracula have done them wrong.  No, they are intuitive, able to see through the common man’s illusions. Bats should be praised not maligned.  But they are misunderstood, just like Elbow Joe.

People turn away when they see him coming. A lifetime of distorted judgments. Doesn’t matter. Gives him a wide berth, so Elbow can observe all the little details folks try to hide.  Like the balding salesman with freckles littering his flesh. See how his Adam’s apple bobs up and down any time the junior high girls pass? The salesman eats his ham and cheese on rye, wipes mayo from his chin and scratches his balls. His right hand settles in his crotch for just a moment too long.  Yeah, that son of a bitch is just the kind of guy Elbow Joe hates.

People never look up as Elbow Joe shuffles awkwardly through the door, not the waitress snapping her gum, nor the dough-faced old guy dunking his teabag. The woman doesn’t look up either.  Not because she’s the kind that turns away.  No, he doesn’t believe it, not about her. Every Tuesday she sits in the window with her coffee mug.  She tilts the cream in stirring with a small spoon. As soon as the metallic tip scraps the bottom of the cup, something cracks open inside her.  He can see it in her eyes.  A heart chilled from too much longing. As she waits for the sadness to pass, Elbow Joe half expects frosty breath to enter and exit her lips.  What makes her numb? He almost asked once.  But it wasn’t time just yet.

In a book Elbow Joe had read once it said Native Americans believed bats were powerful symbols of rebirth. Thousands of them stay hidden in the belly of mother earth emerging each night. A kind of regeneration. Yeah, it made sense.

The woman shudders, and asks the waitress for a refill. Elbow considers offering her his jacket, but remembers how peculiar it will look to see him slip his damn stiff sticks out from under it.  Not today.  But soon maybe, after a few more bats.


So what do you think? Does my interpretation resonate with you?  Perhaps when you look through your own lens Elbow Joe is a whiskey-voiced blues singer who never made it big, or a professional bowler with an odd swing.  Think about it, leave me a message and let me know. Who is Elbow Joe?

Postscript: I’ve read your wonderful comments.  I’m flattered that you liked my character study. It seems in hindsight I should have left you with a new character and a new line instead of assuming you would want to rewrite Elbow Joe.  So, if any of you happen by to read this post here it is: “Quit squirtin’ lemons in my eye. – Flappy Zooks” Who is Flappy Zooks?

About Madame Paradox

Heidi David is a writer and freelance producer. She is the author of an as yet unpublished novel, THE FLYING JEWEL; the tale of a traveling circus where the price of admission is one's free will.
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10 Responses to An Off-Kilter Lens

  1. Steve David says:

    Elbow Joe is the creation of a incredibly imaginative writer.

  2. mommyshorts says:

    I love that Elbow Joe has no elbows. And once you read your post, how he could he possibly be anyone else?

    • Thanks. So glad you liked it. I guess as strange as it was it worked for you. I figured people would tell me the lack of elbows thing was too obvious. But I think it may only be obvious inside my cracked lens 🙂 Names that describe the opposite traits appeal to me, you know, like Happy the clown who’s always crying, stuff like that.

  3. Peter Wilkin says:

    Elbow Joe used to wash dishes,
    up to his elbows in leftover fishes
    in a hotel kitchen on the Lower East Side.
    He worked long hours and God knows he tried
    to socialize, to communicate
    but, since she left, his mental state
    crumbled and he lived alone
    in a dingy bedsit with a dog called Bone.
    Kept himself to himself, never talked.
    Looked down at the pavement wherever he walked.
    Crushed by a level of emotional pain
    that saw him, one night, walk out in the rain.
    Depressed and unable to take any more
    he suddenly stopped by a huge, black door
    and, shaking his aerosol, he began to cry
    as he wrote these words, two-feet high
    on the door: ‘A lifetime of distorted
    judgements.’ Still weeping, he aborted
    his original plan to walk back to his flat.
    Early next morning, with Bone faithfully sat
    by his master’s body, a passer-by
    had the shock of his life as he spotted this guy,
    a crumpled heap, sprawled on the floor
    in a pool of blood next to the door
    that bore his last words – couldn’t take any more
    of the tortuous voices inside his head
    and, arteries severed, lay motionless … dead.

    • Peter, I am not a big fan of the word awesome. But that is just so many shades of awesome I can’t help myself. What a great interpretation. I love it. Thanks so much for sharing it here.

  4. KarenG says:

    What an entertaining blog you have here, will add to my sidebar. Love the title Madame Paradox!

  5. fungible says:

    I’m with mommyshorts. Asking for our interpretation of Elbow Joe after reading yours is tough — no more blank slate between the ears, just your well-crafted character study. I do remember, though, that before I read this tasty description, I was imagining him as gangly, all elbows, therefore incredibly awkward, both physically and socially, or as you mentioned, a blues singer or the inspiration for a blues song. Whatever I thought though, this is better.

  6. Tina Toler says:

    I love your description of him! Mine is different. When my youngest son was 2 he broke his arm so now it is slightly deformed at the elbow, which is what I imagine with Elbow Joe. I picture him being tall and lanky with an arm that doesn’t hang exactly right. I can almost see the people around him staring and pointing at him without knowing him. The woman drinking coffee doesn’t notice he has an infliction and for that reason she stands out in his mind.

    Ha ha, this is why I am not writing tonight. I’m not very creative this evening, but that’s my thought. Perhaps tomorrow I will have a better version.

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