Archive for June, 2009

Killer Karbo

The first house I lived in when I moved to Minneapolis in the mid-80s was a 1940s, 2 bedroom rental for $300., in “Nordeast” Minneapolis. The landlady, Anna Karbo, was from some old country where they wore dark clothes, and cooked and ate strange parts of animals, I never knew which old country, but her accent sounded like all of them put together and all of them talking at the same time. Her son was known in his youth as “Killer Karbo,” a local wrestler in the time when wrestlers wore baggy-kneed tights and loincloths with a strap over one shoulder. He was the retiring type, so I came to the conclusion that it was his mother, Anna, who was the real Killer Karbo. I do an impression of her that won’t quite come across in print, but trust me, it’s good. I’ll do it for you sometime as a special treat. In fact, everyone I know that knew Anna Karbo does an impression of her, she was that much of a phenomenon! She was like the complete opposite of Marilyn Monroe, but equally as magnetic in a macabre way – magical, really.

My brother and sister-in-law originally found this strange furnished rental house built behind another house, and they lived there for a couple of years. The house could barely be seen from the street at night unless a porch light was on. This was a surefire way to trick the Domino’s pizza delivery guy into a free pizza after it was undelivered in 30 minutes, an art my brother perfected until they figured out the secret location and passed the word to the pizza nazis.

In this corner, weighing in at less than 98 lbs., Anna “Killer” Karbo lived in the nicer house in front of the rental. The house smelled like moth balls and so did she. Perhaps that lingering scent was from the polyester wigs that she sported. She had three, and though she would wash them quarterly and hang them on the clothesline next to a giant threatening-looking hook to pull the clothes line down to her diminutive level, she was still a certifiable stink head. I have photos of those three wigs on the line and the evil looking hook because it tickled me so. I’ll show them to you sometime as a second special treat.

She was as close to a cartoon character as I’d ever met in human form. Part Boris Badenov, part Marvin the Martian. Her helmet-like wig covered the top half of her face and her thick black-framed safety goggle glasses took care of the rest. All that was visible from there down was an odd little slanted mouth that muttered odd little slanted words. She was a fashion maven for the stretch pant set, bright orange elephant pants, red and blue striped blouses, white acrylic oversized sweaters… she was a fantasy in man-made fibers. Add to all of this to her platform orthopedic shoes with nylon knee highs and you’ll start to see why she was synonymous with the word “Killer.”

Perhaps what endeared her to me was the way she always thought my name was Dutch not Dodge. I tried to explain this to her once, and only once. I clearly said, “Dodge, “ then she said, “Dutch,“ then I slowly said, “Dahhhhhd-ge” and she said, “Duuuuuutch.“  Well then, Dutch it is. Or maybe it was the way she’d come right up behind you and follow you into the rental house like a polyester clad poltergeist. She was frightening enough as it was, and surprise appearances only added to the guttural horror. It was something I never got used to, like a head wound.

I supremely enjoyed the way she used to pretend she was weeding outside our windows and would stand there looking in at us. She’d make a visor with her hand and peer in, her wig tipped back a bit from her scalp, hair-packed nostril prints unmistakably evident. I’d look back at her like a stunned monkey might, but was met with a wrinkled vacant stare, well, who could tell with those telescopic glasses?

I had a delicious fantasy that the nasty neighbor’s barking Dobermans who would sit on their doghouse roof and growl and bark at us in our own rental house, day and night, would break loose from their yard and tear her to tiny hyena bits. I’d imagine this fantastic rainbow of shredded polyester against the varicose vein blue sky, the tattered, dirt-streaked sweater the dogs would carry off to play tug of war with, big buttons catching on the weeds that were never pulled, the lone stray ortho platform thudding on the ground after it‘s final flight. It would be indubitably beautiful. But she was Killer Karbo, and nobody would mess with her, not even vicious dogs that were trained to go for the throat, she had no throat anyway, her head sat directly on her sternum, and the wrinkles were like an armor dog guard, those dogs were no match for her, no one was.

Obviously her husband had lost the match and died many years back. Now this fact may sound poignant and sad, but you didn’t know Killer Karbo, and if you did you might think, “What a lucky bastard to have gotten out of that one.” IF she hadn’t been the one to help him get out of it. One could be suffocated with a wig OR polyester – that stuff doesn’t breathe. There’s no telling the countless ways one could dispose of someone with a wig and a simple tool. If anyone could do it, Killer Karbo could.

I remember the day that roofers were working on the rental house, all the windows were open and Killer was doing her rounds and making sure she was being bothersome enough to speed them along. One of the roofers was trying to make polite conversation with her, and he asked her what her husband did for a living? To this she replied quite loudly, “He was sick! He was sick!” then walked away. This struck me funny, and still does.

Not long after this began what I like to call, “The Tampoon Diaries. “ The two houses shared the same sewer line, but when the sewer would back up it would always end up in our basement. One fine day Killer came careening like a roller derby queen over to the rental house after the sewer had spewed forth once again, and after we‘d called Rotorooter ourselves because she was off buying more moth balls and wig juice. It was the same old song she always sang, “YOU put the tamPOONS down the toilet, it‘s all YOUR fault! YOU make this happen with your tamPOONS!” Well, after a time or two, I got tired of hearing the old tampoon tune, and I’d never put one down the toilet to begin with, so I knew it wasn’t my fault. I knew damn well that it was the wads of polyester floss from her wig washing, but how could I prove it? The friendly Rotorooter man arrived to work his special magic, and Killer walked in right behind him – scared the nozzle off of him too – and she started in on the tampoon tune from the top. After a few more choruses of this, the Rotorooter man – my hero! – said, “They’re not called tamPOONS, they’re called tamPONS, and there aren’t any in the drain pipe. The only thing I found was a wad of what appears to be, fur. The reason the sewer backs up is because you need a new sewer line and each house should have its own sewer line to get up to code.” That should’ve ended it, but Killers never quit and quitters never kill, or however the hell that goes – and she just had to get one more tag in, “I don’t care, you don’t put the tamPOON in there anymore!” I thought I showed tremendous self control by not searching under the layers of polyester for her would-be throat and suffocating her with her own babushka, which she wore while her wigs were drying on the line. Get the hook! I should have hung tampons next to her wigs to send her over the edge. (For Steely Dan fans that would be called “Gas lighting Anna.”)

We were close to the perfect tenants, but like a bad horror flick, the relentless incidences of unfair accusations and ridiculous, yet comedic, scenes tallied up and cheap rent or no, I knew we would finally have our fill of antics at the Killer Compound. The Wigged out Queen of Nylon came barreling at us on full bore out of mid-air – almost like the Matrix guy, but with a cane and a bad, squalid wig – for the last time one day, and we had to “cut out the Karbos.” As we packed the last of our belongings and were pulling away, Killer, in a blaze of orange and red, came tottering after us asking the eternal question, “Why you don’t want to live in my little house no more?! “Why you don’t want to live in my little house no more?!“ What else could I say but, “He was sick! He was sick!”  As we turned the corner and I glanced in the rearview mirror one last time, I swear I saw Killer Karbo with her wrinkled fists clasped high above her head, in the universal sign for “winner.” I’ll show it to you sometime as a third special treat.


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