One of my all time favorite Oingo Boingo songs – it never ceases to make me feel good! Working on some stories today, but I have a doc’s appointment this afternoon, that may postpone my posting till tonight. Till then, just sit back and enjoy the music. ;)
What feels like a lifetime ago, I was an assistant manager at a pawn shop. It was a pretty stressful job, but nothing stressed me as bad as the day I had to call 911.
This sweet little old lady came in one afternoon, while I was the manager on duty. She was a bit frail looking, but dressed very nicely, a sweet smile, but eyes that looked far sadder than I had ever seen eyes look. She hesitantly came up to the counter, and I approached with an easy smile and calmly asked if I could help her. I expected she was there to find something that had been stolen – we had that happen far too often; grandkids would steal their grandmother’s jewelry and pawn it for a quick buck, and it was always hard to break the news to the grandmother that we’d have to get the police involved to get them back their things. Like I said, stressful job, so I was already mentally preparing myself for the speech I’d given a thousand times at least.
I asked her gently if I could help her. She smiled, and reached into her purse. She pulled out a collection of really beautiful looking jade jewelry.
“I was wondering if I could get a loan on my jewelry,” she said quietly, her eyes cast down, refusing to meet mine.
Fuck. This was worse than I was prepared for. The problem was, my shop, hell, most shops, won’t lend on jewelry that isn’t gold, silver, or diamonds. It’s too hard to verify that it’s real, and unlike Pawn Stars, we didn’t have a TV network flying in experts to verify something’s worth. As it was, I had already gotten in trouble that week for giving too much money to a young mother pawning a very cheap wedding ring set, in order to buy diapers and formula for her kids (yeah, I know, classic sob story, but her very hungry looking, smelly infant had me convinced there was a glimmer of truth to it).
I looked at the jewelry, and swallowed. I could probably give her $20 for it. That way, even if it was plastic and not actual jade, I wasn’t going to be out so much that I couldn’t cover it out of my own pocket if need be. But I didn’t want to insult her. I could tell be the tremble in her hands that this was breaking her pride, and I’d be damned if I contributed to that.
“How much are you trying to get?” I asked cautiously.
“I was hoping, maybe $300?”
Fuck. There was no way. No way at all, that I could get her that kind of money.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I really don’t think I can help you with this. We don’t have the ability to test jade, and we’re very limited in what we can offer you.”
“Please,” she said, looking up with tears in her eyes, “I’ve tried every other shop. I need the money, please. They’ve raised my rent and I can’t afford to move. Please.”
F U C K.
I sighed. There was no way. But…
“Let me call my boss,” I said, “And see what we can do.”
I spent the next 15 minutes or so on the phone with my boss. He wasn’t a bad guy, but he didn’t want to take it in at all. We argued back and forth, and finally, we agreed that we could go as high as $75, but no higher.
I came back to her, and as gently as I could manage, I told her that the best I could manage would be $75.
Her face paled. Her mouth gaped. And then suddenly, she twitched, her eyes rolled back, and she fell over with a brief convulsion. I leaped over the counter and tried to get a response, but she didn’t seem to be breathing. I jumped back up, grabbed the phone, and called 911.
She was gone before they got there, I’m pretty sure. They still tried to resuscitate her, as they wheeled her out on the gurney and into the ambulance.
I was in a state of shock. It wasn’t until about a half hour later that I’d realized she’d left her jewelry on my counter, along with her ID. I contacted the police (non-emergency) and they sent an officer to gather her things.
I never found out if she made it or not.
Three weeks later, I turned in my resignation.
In cancer she found
an enemy more worthy
of her hate than me.
Week Thirty is upon us, and though I’m a bit late, I had to throw my hat into this challenge from the ever lovely Thain in Vain!
This week’s prompt? A man steals a large sum of money to pay a debt to a loan shark. He saves his ass from a beating, but is haunted by the nature of what has done.
Here is my entry – “Babies from Candy”
I have a problem. I gamble. Poorly. I ran up a lot of debt to very dangerous people. When Alphonse visited me the first time, he made it clear what would happen if I didn’t have Sal’s money the next. The fingers on my left hand, still in a cast, reminded me.
I was dead. I knew it. I work at a non-profit. I barely make enough to survive…which was why I gambled. Trying to bring in a little extra dough. My early successes got to my head, I got in too deep…and, well…broken fingers.
Then came Mrs. Candace McAnley. The old biddy was loaded; her husband was some kind of tycoon before he’d died. She always came in with a pitifully small check and a huge attitude.
“For the babies,” she’d say with a sniff. Her donation to our children’s cancer organization was so small, we’d joke she could have donated an extra nickel if she hadn’t wasted the money on the paper for the check. When she stopped coming, no one cared.
I noticed, but only because she irritated me. So haughty. So uppity. Then she came back. Different. Fragile, doddering. Not the Mrs. McAnley who would waltz in like she owned the place. No…she came back weak, shaking. Her hair had fallen out.
Ah. Cancer. It’s probably wrong of me, that my first thought was it was about time it hit someone who deserved it. Then I looked in her eyes. I saw the pain, the anxiety, the fear for her life. I knew that all too well. My fingers throbbed in sympathy.
Her hands trembled horribly, holding the check.
“Here,” she managed with a soft, broken voice, “For…for the babies. Be a doll, and finish it out for me, will you?”
She didn’t wait for the receipt, as she’d always done. Just turned and made her way painfully out the door. I looked down. My heart nearly stopped.
It was huge. The exact amount I owed to Sal, huge. The payee field, blank. She’s asked me to finish it out for her…
I slid the check in my pocket, and went home. All night, I tossed and turned. I tried to rationalize, tried to reason. The kids my charity helped were almost all terminal. The money would keep them alive maybe a little bit longer, but I would definitely be dead without it. Mrs. McAnley died the next day. I took the check to the bank. Got the money.
“Two-hundred fifty thousand,” Alphonse said. My hands were slick with sweat. Sal nodded, and Alphonse took the briefcase back to the Cadillac they’d pulled up in. Sal chewed on a fat, rancid cigar, staring at me.
“That’s a lot of scratch for a dope like you,” he said, finally, “Where’d you get it?”
“Does it matter?”
“Guess not. We’re square, kid. Come see me again some time.”
He turned. Got back into his car, and left.
I fell to the ground, and cried.
Today, my friends, I am going to tell you another story of my near escapes from Death. That winged reaper has danced a scintillating tango with me since I was a child, coming close, so close, but never quite touching. I’ve already written about one of these times, in my near miss through strep throat. Here’s another memory.
My 1979 Camaro Berlinetta was not my first car. That honor went to the 1943 Volkswagen Bug that I had used, abused, and ultimately, well, blew up. With the death of that little German War Machine (ah, to be a stupid punk teenager and not realize the implications and power of names), I had decided I wanted something newer, but still affordable for the shoestring budget of an odd-job working teenager. I also wanted something cooler, and as the Dead Milkmen would be happy to endorse, fewer things are cooler than a bitchin’ Camaro.
Alas, this Camaro was more rustin’ than bitchin’, but I didn’t care. I didn’t care that the power windows were broken. That the AC was broken. That the heater was stuck on permanent full blast. That the interior of the car was stripped of everything, including insulation, down to bare metal. That the tires were all bald as hell, and the whole care rust brown. From actual rust, not paint. No, what I cared about was speed – and boy, let me tell you, that Camaro could fly. Even if you did had to open the doors at every stoplight to keep from getting heatstroke in the summer. I drove that Camaro for a good year, despite its scrap-heapitude, and you know? It was fun. Fast and loud and broken, which fit my punker/thug reputation.
The second summer I had it, my best friend and I landed a shit job working at a tree farm in the mountains of Colorado. Our job was pretty simple – we arrived at the farm, and took the trees that were dug up already, wrapped their roots in burlap, and loaded them on a flatbed for delivery. We were usually the only ones on site – the migrant workers who dug up the trees did so early (to beat any heat of the day) and our boss usually showed up at the end of the week to verify the count of trees we’d bagged and give us cash for our paycheck. Anyway, it was late May, almost June. We got up to the tree farm around nine in the morning, and the weather was fucking gorgeous. T-shirts and shorts weather, the way a day in late May should be. We were a bit miserable to say the least – the work pretty much required jeans and flannel shirts, so we were hot and not happy about it. We got to work, bullshitting about this and that. Then around one in the afternoon, the temperature dropped a good 20-30 degrees in minutes.
This put me on edge, instantly. My car was not ready for winter conditions. Basically, a death trap sled in car form. I turned to my buddy and said, “Dude, if it starts snowing, I am off this fucking mountain.” He bitched because he wanted to wait for the boss to show up with our pay, and I told him he was welcome to wait in the snow, but I would be getting off that mountain. He agreed, reluctantly. We kept bagging for a half hour, when this big, fat snowflake came drifting down between us.
“Seeya!” I said, and got up and went to my car. My buddy followed, jumped in, and we made our way down the dirt road to the mountain highway that would take us back to the city at the base of the mountain.
It took us about five minutes to get to the road. In that time, around 4-5″ of snow had already fallen. It was crazy how hard it was coming down; the windshield wipers on the not-so-bitchin’ Camaro were almost worthless. Every time they’d swipe one direction, enough snow would fall that the back swing would build it up against the base of the windshield, and the wipers would become worthless in minutes. So every few hundred yards, I’d have to stop and get out, clear the snow from the backswing, and keep going. To make it even more fun, the roads were getting slicker and slicker, so that it was a bit like driving on the ice level of Mario cart. Except on a mountain, with no little helper in a balloon/cloud with a crane to help drag you back on track. To make it even more fun, the freakin’ heater? The one stuck permanently on that turned my car into an Easy Bake Berlinetta for the previous year? It gave out as soon as we hit the paved road.
So there we are, slipping and sliding in my deathtrap Camaro down the mountain, and after a few wild fishtails I finally get the car to stop so I can clean off the windshield again. I was sick of getting out of the car, and had resolved to fuck with the heater controls to see if I could get it to work, so I told my buddy it was his turn to get out and clear the windshield while I did so. He obliged, opening his door and stepping out of the car. Except he didn’t get out. Instead, he slammed the door, and began scrambling over me as if he had opened the door to a prison shower scene and he was dressed in clothes with pedophile written all over them. He was screaming and in a blind panic, clawing at my door handle, and he opened it, causing us both to tumble out. I started yelling at him, asking what the fuck his problem was. He was whiter than the falling snow, catching his breath. Finally, he grabs my hand, and escorts me gingerly around to the front of the car.
Now, I know this is the internet and people are prone to exaggerate here, but I am telling you the honest-to-God truth: my car had stopped a scant few inches from the edge of a 200+ foot drop into a gorge. When my buddy opened the door to step out, he literally put his foot into empty air, had looked down, and nearly passed out before scrambling over me, screaming like a little girl. I was instantly struck by a wave of dizziness myself. My buddy refused to get back in the car. He said he’d rather freeze to death. I wasn’t so anxious either, but I didn’t want to try to hike my way off a mountain during a freak blizzard. Thankfully, a big rig truck came down the highway as we were debating what to do, and the trucker gave us a lift down the mountain.
My dad and I went back up a week later, when the snow had cleared, to get the car. A plow had pushed it even closer to the edge, enough so that my dad didn’t even want to attempt to drive it, since it still had some ice underneath. We hooked a tow chain to the front, pulled it free, and I drove it home.
And traded it in that week on a newer, less death-trappy car.
Howdy all! This week, we have an interesting task in the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. We’re to write a six word story, a la the famous Hemingway anecdote.
I’ll be honest. I find five hundred words to be tough, so this is near impossible. Here’s my best attempt. “Strangers.”
Married, twenty years. Strangers, last ten.
Better late than never! Here is my entry for Turn-A-Trope #5, Opposites Attract Revenge!
“Jack! What are you doing…”
Jack walked past her before she could finish, his palm raised in defiance against her words. He glared at Susan, his ex-girlfriend, then over to the guy he’d just caught her kissing. Doug Harlen, football star, athlete, and in general, complete jerk-ass to anyone who didn’t play sports or drive a really nice car.
Jack did neither. He wasn’t a jock at all; his skills were far more brainy. A computer whiz, a Grade A scholar, a musician. If you could call playing the tuba music. And his car? A beat up old pick-up truck he’d inherited from his mentally deranged uncle. He wasn’t the lamest kid in school, but he wasn’t far from the bottom, and guys like Doug couldn’t be more different.
He had to laugh. It was comical, really. When he and Susan had started dating, no one talked to her but him. She was in that awkward stage that some girls hit, a late bloomer who had yet to bud but desperately wanted to be with someone, anyone. Jack never let himself believe that he was her first choice, but he wasn’t bad looking, truthfully, and he was kind to her. And honestly, she hadn’t been his first choice either, but they’d been friends since the start of middle school and had always gotten along.
That is, they had until she’d finally blossomed.
They hadn’t seen much of each other, that summer. She was away on vacation for a month in the middle, he was in camps towards the end. When they finally got together, man, how she’d changed! How was it possible that in three short months, she could develop so quickly? Gone was the flat chested, doughy girl he’d been dating. In her place, a real stunner. Curvy, fit. Even her hair seemed wavier.
Of course, it became immediately apparent that she was no longer interested in a boy like him. She began flirting, heavily, with every guy she’d see, where she used to never make eye contact. She became rude, dismissive of him, where she used to be sweet and a little clingy. Yeah, she’d blossomed, alright.
Blossomed into a real asshole.
Not too long after that, she’d dumped him. First for a higher chair band geek, then working her way up to the penultimate opposite of all that was Jack. Doug Harlen. At first, Jack had been hurt. It wasn’t so much her dumping him that stung. Well, maybe a little. in truth, she really wasn’t his type, and he had been realizing that more and more every day. What stung, though, was her choice of guys. Doug freakin’ Harlen. He ached for justice. For revenge. So Jack went to ground. Started to plan. He was nothing if not a thinker, and a skilled one at that. And after a while, it became clear. Perfectly clear. A path to revenge so sweet, he could almost taste it.
It took work, of course. Revenge wasn’t going to be easy, not this one. He started working out, getting fit. Talked his mom into getting him to a good dermatologist. Got a haircut, some nicer clothes. Fixed up the beater truck, did some bodywork, gave it a paint job. Looked nice, real nice. And he did a lot of reading. A lot of research. A lot of investigating. Soon, Jack was turning heads himself. A slew of girls who never would have given him a second glance were all but throwing themselves at him, but he didn’t care. His focus was singular. Images of Susan and Doug swam before his eyes, and he refused to let that go.
Susan noticed. He could tell. Could see the way she started looking at him, that same look of desire and ambition that had bloomed in her eyes when she left him. Her glances towards him became longer, more flirtatious. She made sure to bend over near him, showing him her now ample cleavage, or the curvature of her feminine rear. He pretended not to notice, and that made her all the more flamboyant in her attempts to get his attention. Of course, it is no doubt what led to her being “accidently” discovered by Jack, in the back of the band room, with Doug. It was time for his revenge. Stalking past her, palm raised. He stared intently at Doug. He could see her face flush with desire, the thought of Jack ready to fight Doug for her affection. Doug got to his feet, his eyes narrowed, his hands clenching and unclenching. Jack walked right up to him, nose to nose. Breathing hard.
And then they kissed. Long, deep, passionate. Doug’s hands sunk into Jack’s hair, as his own found the football star’s impeccably tight end, and drew him closer. Susan let loose a confused gasp, stumbling back and falling to her ass on the band room bench. Doug and Jack broke their kiss, and turned to her.
“You see, Susan…you weren’t my first choice, either. Doug was. He always was. So when you dumped me for him? I felt terrible. Decided to try out this dating app…for guys. Who like guys. And who should I see there? Turns out, Doug’s been tired of living a lie for a long time. And I’m just his type.”
Doug blushed, and shrugged bashfully. Jack leaned in to him, pulling him close.
“You may have dumped me for the football star,” Jack said, as they walked to the door, “But you? You got dumped for the band geek.”
Where runs the warhorse when his time has come?
When his barding’s gone and his reins retired,
When sounds the beating of a different drum
Than the ones of war, that had once inspired
His gallant service to a noble knight,
With whom he galloped to honor, glory,
In deeds of skill, chivalry and might,
Inspiring many a young man’s story
Of bravery, mastery, battles fought,
And many a lass’s dreams and song
Of ancient days when true knights sought
To prove their mettle with courage strong?
To Elysian fields, where the sweet grass grows,
To await his knight, when the Trumpet blows.
This weekend, the valiant steed of a dear friend, the knight to whom I am squired, passed on to the Elysian fields. I am not a horseman, myself, being massively allergic to those noble beasts, but I know too well how strong the bond between man and his animal friends can be. Fare thee well, Luke, and be ready for your next ride.
As much as I hate to, I am going to have to concede defeat. I just can’t manage to find the time on my weekends to do the writing that I want to do. I can manage a short post or two now and then, but I just stay so damned busy during my “days off” that I almost can’t wait to get back to work on Monday where I can have a little down time. Crazy, huh? So I’ve decided to relax my self-imposed rules, and let myself have the weekends “off.” I may and likely will still post from time to time on them, but I’m just not going to beat myself up about missing word counts and the like.
Now, that doesn’t mean I am going to slow down during the week. I still plan to write, lots, because honestly, it keeps me sane. But weekends from here on out are going to be spotty, both reading and writing.
Few things can match the sheer brutality of a breezeless summer day in Georgia. The sun beats down with unrelenting fury, merciless in its quest to see us mortals wilt, and neath the wicked lash of its rays all surfaces become ruthless irons beneath the feet. The air, sodden with moisture too oppressed by the sun to feel inspired enough to fall, and too laden to drink the heavy sweat that beads upon the brow of man. The sweat lingers, then, a shining, shimmering second skin, unable to cool, and thus it turns it’s frustration to making it’s wearer share in it.
This is not a world for modern man, whose body yearns for the chilling breath of an air conditioned coolness, a frosty respite from the harsh reality of a summer’s heat. How, I wonder, did we last so long as a species beneath this and wickeder climes? How did the men who walked this land even a hundred years past endure this oppression? And more importantly, the question I ask above all others?
Where the fuck is my A/C repairman?