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The Rooms on Rampart

Fiction © Copyright 2017  by Sara Jacobelli

New Orleans

Late 1970s

The Rooms didn’t have a name, just a hand-lettered sign, “Rooms.” Other weekly rooms on the street had names: “Uncle Mike’s Place” “Sunset Inn” “OK Corral.”  The Rooms on Rampart had rules.  Guy who ran the place, Pete, wouldn’t rent to women, insisted one man to a room. He made signs on cardboard and posted them in the lobby and hallways. No cooking in the room. No booze. No drugs. No fighting. No guns. No knives. No sneaking broads up to your room. I done enough time, I know how to follow the rules and mind my business.

Rooms were eighteen bucks a week, head down the hall.  Soon as they got there, Shorty and Dave broke the rules: Dave rented the room and snuck Shorty in. They’d only have to pay nine bucks a week, long as they dodged Old Pete. Pete had this way about him, reminded me of an old giant snapping turtle I saw at a roadside stand out in Kraemer.  When he talked, he bobbed his head, sniveled, cleared his throat.  Had this window in his door so he could stick his turtle head out, see what was going on.

Pete had the best spot in the building: one-bedroom, kitchenette, and a TV. He got all that for collecting the rents, kicking out deadbeats, breaking up fights, enforcing the rules. Shorty and Dave were jealous of Pete’s sweetheart deal. I met these two sitting on the front stoop smoking.

Shorty said he was from Chicago, spent his life riding the rails. Dave said he was from Bakersfield. Shorty was short of course, and skinny, clothes too big, shifty dark eyes, pock-marked face.  About forty but looked sixty. Dave was younger, taller, bright green eyes, reddish-brown hair, freckles. Shorty looked like a hobo. Dave at first glance could pass for a regular working guy. You looked twice, you could tell by his raggedy teeth and sallow skin and the desperate look in his eyes that he was a man on the edge. Type that would follow around the Manson Family.  Shorty drank MD-2020 but Dave scored speed whenever he could. Both claimed to have done hard time. Both were full of shit. I been in the joint and I can pick up right away, by the way a man walks and moves, the way his eyes take in his surroundings, I can tell whose done hard time and who’s talking outta his ass.

“Where you taking the bus to fella?”

“The fuck you care?”

“Don’t gotta get surly with me, Mac. Just making conversation.  They call me Shorty. You know what churches give out free food?”

“Right down the block by St. Jude. I don’t bother with it. Pete don’t like cooking in the rooms.”

Shorty smoked his hand-rolled Bugler. “This here’s Dave, my running partner.”

Dave ignored me and picked up an almost-new cigarette he found on the sidewalk. “Bus stop’s the best place for these here.” He held up the cigarette like it was a diamond ring. “People drop em when their bus comes.” He giggled. “Hey, you notice you never see no baby pigeons? You see growed ones all over the place, you see dead ones, but you never see no God-Damned baby pigeons?”

My bus came.  We get a lot of strange ones in the Rooms but these two gave me the creeps.

***

Shorty and Dave brought a girl upstairs, a big-eyed teen-aged speed freak with scraggly black hair and Olive Oyl eyes.

“Old Pete ain’t gonna want her up here.”

“Fuck Pete.” Shorty was the boss. Dave grinned his evil grin.

Olive Oyl leaned against Shorty. “You said you had some shit.”

“She OD’s, the cops come. Nobody wants cops here.”

“Whyn’t you mind your own business, Mac?”

I shut the door to my room. I could hear Shorty talking and Dave and the girl giggling. Then they shut up. I figured Dave and Olive Oyl were shooting speed, Shorty was drinking Mad Dog. A radio blared Mama got a squeeze box she wears on her chest, and when Daddy gets home he never gets no rest. Sounded like Dave was screwing Olive Oyl; the mattress squeaked and they banged against the headboard. There was a framed picture on the wall of a sailboat on a blue-green sea. I looked at the painting before I fell asleep, dreaming I was on that boat on that sea. My room was much better than sleeping in abandoned buildings or the Ozaman Inn.  I was hoping for a steady gig in the Quarter mopping floors or washing dishes.  Life was doing me pretty good and I didn’t want them bastards to ruin it.  There’s guys in this town desperate enough they’ll kill somebody for a hundred bucks.

Old Pete said he had nothing but his Routine and he loved his Routine like a man loves his woman. Coffee, cigarettes, newspaper. Lunch at the Clover Grill or the Tally-Ho. The track. Back home to the TV. We had some drunks in the Rooms.  Whiners. Deadbeats. Not much trouble. Once in a while a lonely old guy would die in his room and Pete always said the same thing. “Well, you never know. You never know.”

We didn’t have much trouble til those two showed up. Shorty and Dave.

Shorty and Dave wouldn’t shut up about Pete’s apartment.  Kept hatching up ways to get rid of him, take over his job. I kinda liked Pete. Had this fridge in the hallway, stocked it with popsicles in the summer, then gripe that everyone stole them. But he kept stocking the fridge with more popsicles.  Me and the other roomers, Lucky Dog Daigle and  flower-vendor Moonbeam, we raided that fridge. A popsicle tasted just right on sweltering summer nights, specially when you couldn’t scrape up enough quarters and nickels for a sno-ball or a Dixie beer.

“Could put poison in his coffee cup. Just move into his crib, collect the rents. Have us a good ole time.” Shorty picked his nose, inspected the booger, wiped it on his dirty jeans.

Dave pointed a bony finger at me. “That one there’s listening.”

I brushed past them and opened the heavy front door.

“Hey Mac!”

I turned around. “Did I tell you the story bout the time they sent me to the loony bin up in De-troit, on accounta I kilt a man?” Dave took his knife out of his pocket and flicked the blade open and shut, open and shut, glared at me with his Charly Manson eyes.

“Pete’s all right. Let’s you pay rent a day or two late.  These rooms are two bucks cheaper than Mike’s next door. I don’t got no problems with Pete.”

Shorty rolled his Bugler, leaned against the stair rail. “Don’t seem fair he’s got that place with the windows and the TV.  You come in on our plan.” He nodded in the direction of Pete’s door. “We’d collect the dough, split it three ways. No telling what he’s got, we could pawn.”

******

Old Pete died in his sleep three days after winning twelve hundred bucks in the Trifecta.  I moved into Pete’s apartment. I collect the rents, send the California landlord a money order every month. Never told him I raised it from eighteen smackers to twenty-two.

I got rid of Shorty and Dave, with a grand left over. Wash dishes two days a week, spend the rest of the week at the track during the season. When the track’s closed I play bourre’ and knock rummy over by Johnny White’s. Waitresses at the Clover Grill and the Tally-Ho pour my coffee soon’s I walk in the door. Might treat myself to dinner at the Steak Pit on Bourbon Street and drinks at the Bastille on Toulouse. I’m gonna ask out that cute waitress with the nice ass that waits for the bus in front of the Rooms. Take her to the movies over by Canal Street.

Old Pete. Good Luck and Bad Luck in the same week. That’s life for you.

I put the sailboat painting on the wall in my new bedroom.  You need a room to rent, you come see me. I kept Pete’s signs up. Just make sure you follow the rules.

 

 

***************

Song Lyrics: “Squeeze Box.” The Who. 1975, https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/who/squeezebox.html

 

Picture Credits:

Rooms sign: “Greek Islands Rooms.” Dreamstime Stock Photos:  https://tinyurl.com/y9rr8yvx

“Sailboat Painting” by Jennifer Branch: https://jenniferbranch.com/PaintingWatercolor/Art-Tutorials/Sailboat-Painting-Tutorial.html

 

 

 

 

 

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The Adventures of Joe Blade (unlicensed) Private Eye!

bogart

Author’s note: I wrote this in 1995, and lost it for many years. It’s a very politically-incorrect Private Eye Spoof set in 1990s San Francisco. I found it recently, while going through boxes of old papers and stuff to get rid of. The writing is a little rough, but hey this was written twenty two years ago. (I cleaned it up a tiny bit–but not much. If I rewrote it that would be cheating.) It’s still a nice memory piece of my days in North Beach before San Francisco was completely taken over by super-wealthy stuck-up techies. This was written right around the time I was the editor and a regular contributor to the now-defunct zine The Dagger. Shortly after this, I went to work as a reporter for the AVA (Anderson Valley Advertiser) in Boonville, CA. Mark Heimann and I teamed up as investigative reporters for several years.  In 1999, we moved back to New Orleans, Mark got his P.I. license and we worked together as private investigators for a few years before Hurricane Katrina.    SJ 2017

The Adventures of Joe Blade, (unlicensed) Private Eye

Fiction (Written in 1995)  © Copyright 2017 by Sara Jacobelli

San Francisco

1995

Chapter One

“The Big Fish”

(Heaton Fenton gets a new name and a new career!)

I rented a depressing windowless dump in the Tenderloin on Hyde Street. So this is San Francisco. Big Fuckin Deal. Started drinking in neighborhood dives Bacchus-Kirk and the Overflo. It was a miserable rotten rainy January. My unemployment checks would run out on February 1st. “Fuck,” I said, taking a drag on a smoke while walking down Powell Street. “It’s like knowing when you’re gonna die.” Picked up a free paper called the Learning Annex, flipped through the pages while sitting at a grimy lunch counter. “Get a new career!” “Take a class!” I stubbed out an unfiltered Camel.

“Tuna on toast. Whole wheat. Black coffee.” I ordered. “Yes, yes. Coffee, coffee” said the old Chinese broad. What can my new career be? I wondered. All I’ve ever done is: cab driver, bartender, bouncer, heroin addict, alcoholic, pick-pocket, second-story man, drug dealer, prison convict, security guard. Hmmm, what do they got here? “Be a screenwriter.” Nah, can’t spell, got that dyslexia thing. “Underwear model.” Nah, beer belly. “Cake decorator.” No way. Sounds too fruity. It’s gotta be something the babes go for.”Run a day-care center.” Fuck no! I hate screaming brats. They’d probably run a background check on me and find out I owe all that back child support. What else? “Be a clown at children’s parties.” Ditto. Here’s one! “Learn to be a real Private Eye. Attend a one-day seminar with licensed Private Investigator Sam Black, author of “Be Real Nosy and Get Paid for it!” Only $49.95. “Hey, that’s it. That’s me. I can sign up for this here class.” I emptied my pockets. “Only twenty bucks left. Can’t really afford it. Uh, fuck this Sam Black dude, stupid yuppie. I’ll bounce a check on em.”

I took a gulp of coffee. “Let’s see, now all I need’s a new name. Heaton Fenton’s a lousy handle for a Private Eye. Hmm. Sam Spade. Taken. Sam Black. Ditto. Hey, sweetheart, can I take a look-see at them there white pages?” Flip. Flip. “Lemmessee,  Antonio Anzollone. Nah, too ethnic. Barry Baggot. Too wimpy. Heh-heh, here’s one. Joe Blade. Macho. Sexy. Easy to spell. Got that dyslexia thing. Hope this dude’s got good credit. That’s me, Joe Blade. Private Dick.”

“Well!” The cute blonde with the big boobs sitting next to me split, gave me a dirty look on her way out the door. “Hey, I ain’t talkin nasty or nothin, honey, I’m a Private Eye. It’s my New Career.”

“Very nice. Private Eye. New Career.” The old Chinese broad plopped down my sandwich and refilled the coffee.

“Oh fuck.” I looked around the dingy, forties style diner. “Soon’s as the cases and cake start rollin in, I’ll be eatin at the–what’s that joint fifty stories up? The Cornelius Room? Cornelian Room? Whatever.” I crunched on potato chips.

I paid the tab and swiped the buck tip the blonde left. “This here’s for you, babe.” I put the dollar under my coffee cup.

“Thank you very much! Good by! Good luck, Mister New Career!”

“It’s BLADE! Joe Blade!”

“OK. Bye Mr. Joe Brade! You come back soon! I’m Mae, Mae Wong!  Welcome to Mae’s Diner.”

I headed toward Market Street. Stopped and listened to a fat black dude sing some dynamite blues. “The thrill is gone. . . oh yeah, baby.”

I walked past the chess players and incense sellers near the cable car turn-around. “I need a fuckin trench coat. Like Bogart. Sam Spade. William Powell. The Thin Man.” I marched to Union Square and walked into Macy’s like I owned the joint. Might as well get the best. I selected a grey London Fog, it fit like a glove. Found the perfect dashing black fedora. Slunk out the door without paying. “Hey, my career’s movin right along. Tomorrow, I’ll take that class. Then–before you know it—I’m on a case.”

*****

That night I hung out in North Beach. Shot nine-ball for ten bucks a game at Gino and Carlo’s. A hot, young red-head sidled up to me. “Whadda-you-do?” She winked seductively. How else do you wink?

“Can’t tell you, babe. It’s a secret.”

She wiggled. Ran her hand along my neck, tickled my ear with her finger. Jesus Christ. I was glad I kept the trench coat on.

“Sounds exciting. Can I have some money for the jukebox? Do you like classical music, like the Stones and the Dead?”

“Yeah, sure. My stones ain’t dead. Heh-heh.” I gave her two bucks. I knew I had to win the pool game. I was down to three dollars and would have to back-door it if I lost. I watched her squiggle through the crowd. “Hey, play some Coltrane while you’re at it.”

“WHO? Hey, Mister, I’m twenty-three. I don’t know EVERY has-been sixties rock band.”

“Hey, Casanova, your turn.”

“Right.” I stuck a cigarette between my teeth. I slammed the balls into the pockets. Twenty fuckin three. Great. I’m forty-six. It’s depressing being exactly twice as old as some babe. What am I gonna do? Invite her to my one room cell with the Murphy bed, black and white TV and no cable? She’s probably never even SEEN a black and white TV.

I slurped my Budweiser. I finished it and crushed the can. I decided to switch to gin. Sounds more Bogart-like.

“Hey pal, ya won.” The dude handed me a crisp ten-spot. “I’m surprised, you seemed distracted. The name’s Sergio.”

We shook hands. “I’m Joe. Joe Black. I mean, Joe Blade.” I pocketed the ten. “Guess I should get some card’s printed up, so’s I can remember my fuckin name,” I mumbled. Seems like ever since I became a Private Eye, I couldn’t stop mumbling.

Yeah, I’ll have some business cards made. Soon’s I can afford a phone. Blade. Joe Blade. Private Eye.

*****

maltese-falcon

Photo Credit:  “Bogart Wearing Fedora.” Hub pages. http://tinyurl.com/z95rhfs

“The Maltese Falcon.” Misterio Press.  http://tinyurl.com/jmogr92

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Did I Mention I got an Honorable Mention???

year-in-pot

My short story, “Nine Dead Dope Dealers” just received an Honorable Mention in the Mystery/Crime Category of the 2016 Writers Digest Popular Fiction Contest! I will post info on how to read the story here,when I find out.  (And I’m thrilled to have won something, but oh the cool prizes I missed: Grand Prize was $2500 in cold hard cash and an all- expenses paid trip to the Writers Digest Conference in NYC, and books, etc. First Prize was $500 in cold hard cash and some books and other stuff.)

Nah, I didn’t win any money or a free conference trip, but I won  a copy of the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market 2017 and my story will be promoted in the Writers Digest Magazine (both Print and Digital Versions).

So, I can’t complain. It was a fun story to write, and I felt like I was revisiting the old San Francisco crowd.

***********

Photo Credit: “The Year in Pot” NBC News. http://tinyurl.com/zc2vhbc

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Little Silver Jukeboxes

silver-jukebox

    Fiction    Copyright © 2016  by Sara Jacobelli  

  

“Seems to me that a man, don’t know how to treat a woman, he deserves to lose that woman. Seems to me that a woman, being treated shitty by a man, she should leave that man.” Hanover tapped his spoon against the side of his coffee cup.

“Will you stop that tapping?” Casey drank her orange juice and flipped through the paper. “Lookit the prices of these rents? A thousand a month? Who could pay that?”

“Seems to me that, a woman, if her man’s beating on her, she should leave. You know. Even if it means living in her car. Or the library. Lotsa homeless folks live at the public library. Seems to me it’s better to be homeless than dead. Just saying.”

“Seems to me some people talk too fucking much.”

The waitress held her coffee pot in mid-air above their cups. “Refills?”

“Yeah. Sure. Lemme see the sports section.” Hanover grabbed the paper. “Saints are bums again.”

“No more coffee for me.” Casey stood up. “My car broke down, can’t even make it out of the driveway. And if you think I’m sleeping under the overpass and taking a bath at the library, you really are senile. Like your wife says.”

“You don’t know my wife. My wife.”

Casey went outside to smoke a cigarette. The waitress leaned over the counter. “That one don’t know Gwen died?”

“She never knew Gwen. Just heard me chat about her right here, sitting at the counter. Every Sunday.”

“Thought you two was good friends.” Marie stacked plates and wiped down the counter.

“Nah, never seen her outside the diner. We just talk, joke around. I always tease her, tell her her old man don’t know how lucky he is. Hate to see a pretty girl cover up black eyes and bruises with make-up and sunglasses. Hate to see it.”

“Hanover, you’re a pretty observant fellow.”

“When I was a kid, my mama useta get beat like that. She took us all down to the Greyhound station in the middle of the night. Would you believe? Would you believe he marched right down and dragged us all home? He beat her so bad, she never tried to leave again. Never. And it was my fault. I told her we should leave. Take the bus to Disneyland, that was my Big Idea.” Hanover tapped his spoon against his coffee cop in a steady beat. “You know, Marie?”

“Hmmm. Yeah, Hanover.” Marie pulled out a small mirror from her apron pocket and attempted to tweeze a wayward eyebrow.

“I always said, I always said, ‘Life woulda been different.'”

“What?”

“If mama and us kids left him, life. My whole life, woulda been different.”

“Well, you turned out alright. You met Gwen, got married. You know. What more do ya want, Hanover?”

Casey came back in and sat at the counter. “Those little silver jukeboxes? What happened to them?”

“Oh honey,” Marie said. “Nobody played em no more so Moe took em out.”

“Oh. I played em. Used to play all kinds a songs. Willie Nelson. I love his songs.”

“Yeah. Sure. You played love songs for me.” Hanover pulled a twenty out of his wallet to pay the bill.

“You wish, old timer.”

“Seems to me, that a man who don’t treat his woman right, seems to me he don’t got no complaints if she walks right out that door.”

“Moe hiring here, Marie? I could wait tables. Never done it, but I could learn. Only had two jobs in my whole life. Worked at McDonald’s in high school, and I did telemarketing for a while after I got married. One a them places they call boiler rooms.” Casey made a face. “He made me quit. Said my boss was hitting on me.”

“Moe don’t need no waitresses, but he could use a dishwasher. Jesse quit just yesterday.”

“I washed plenty dishes in my time.” Casey grabbed a napkin. “Hanover, you gotta pen?”

“You gonna wash dishes? Now, that’s a good start. I washed dishes when I got outta the army. Sure did. Now it seems to me, if a young lady can’t afford an apartment, she could rent a room somewheres. Miss Betsy down the road rents rooms. Rents rooms to single ladies, she does.”

Casey wrote her name and number on the napkin and gave it to Marie. “Maybe you could put a word in for me with Moe.”

“Sure honey. I can do that.” She went to wait on a family of redheads who sat at the corner table by the window.

“My wife Gwen, she always gave good advice. One time she told me, she said, ‘Hanover, you sleep too much. Don’t just sleep in on your day off, get up and accomplish something.’ So I did. I built me a garden shed, a garage, all kinds a things. Built a canoe for the kids and they bout wore it out. Built em with my own bare hands, I did. Built something every weekend, til the damn heart attack slowed me down.”

“Your wife calls you Hanover? Don’t you even have a first name?”

“First name’s Dick. She hated that. Said she wasn’t gonna stand at the back door and yell, ‘Dick! Dick! Time for dinner, Dick!’ So it’s always been Hanover.”

“You should have me over to meet her sometime. Play some cards, order a pizza.”

“Yeah. Sure. Seems to me, seems to me you gonna be mighty busy, with this here new life you’re planning.”

“See ya later alligator.” Casey touched Hanover on the arm.

“In a while, crocodile.” Hanover watched her walk out the door and cross the street to the bus stop.

Marie rang up Hanover’s bill and brought him his change. “So, whatcha got planned for the rest of the day?”

“I don’t know. Funny, isn’t it Marie? Life coulda been different.”

“You gotta be careful you don’t spend too much time alone, thinking about stuff like that. Ain’t healthy. Sitting there in that house with nothing but Judge Judy on the TV for company. Go join a bowling team, go over by St. Cecilia’s and play Bingo, why dontcha?” Marie pulled out a file and began filing her nails. “Go date one of them old ladies at church.”

Hanover stood up. “Just saying, life woulda been different. If she coulda left him.”

“Yeah. Well. And I coulda been a beauty queen, honey. And I’m slinging eggs and grits at Moe’s.”

************

Photo Credit: “Jukebox.” Pixabay Copyright-free images.

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Cool Summer Nights

big-sur

Fiction   ©  Copyright 2016  by Sara Jacobelli

The cabin is in Big Sur. Tucked in the woods. After a long day of hiking and a hot shower it’s so warm and cozy to sit around and drink hot chocolate by the fireplace. There’s no TV in the Big Sur cabins but who needs TV when you got a view like this? Of the sea and the sky and the woods. You can even see whales. Smells like a fairy tale must smell. Clean, but with a bite to it. I bet there’s fireflies too, on late summer nights. I think they have fireflies there. I’ve never been there.

I’ve never been to Big Sur. I’ve never been to any cabin in the woods. I’ve never been hiking. I’ve never seen whales.  I found this picture in a magazine in the day room. Tore it out, stuffed it in my pocket. I make up stories inside my head. There’s not much to do in Juvenile Hall. The days are long, really long. I call them Same Days. One damn Same Day after another. The nights are even longer.

I’m sixteen and I’ve been here for three months, two weeks, four days, six hours, and twenty nine minutes. I stare at the clock in the day room a lot. There’s a TV in the room, but I hate it. They have this stupid point system, where you earn points by being good, but you lose points by doing bad stuff, like fighting or swearing. So, whoever turns the TV on loses points, but if you’re just sitting there and you watch it you don’t lose any points.

What’s really stupid about the whole system is the stuff you get to do, say when you earn a couple hundred points, it’s all stuff I can’t do anyway. Like you can buy candy bars from the commissary, but you still gotta have money on your books. Which means you gotta have family or someone on the outside to go buy money orders and put money in there for you. I don’t have any one to do that. You can also earn the privilege of making a phone call, but I don’t have anyone to call. So there’s no reason for me to earn points. I just keep pissing them off and breaking the rules and losing points. Right now I’m down to negative one thousand, two hundred and fifty.  Who cares? I sure don’t.

I don’t care about the stupid TV because all the girls in here watch is soap operas. I hate soap operas. All they do is gossip and dance, there’s a little radio they dance to. One of em earned enough points to get to buy a stupid little radio. Her aunty put some money on her books so now she’s got a radio. The other thing they do is fight. I don’t care about gossiping and dancing but I sure do love to fight. I’m little but I’m tough. I’m fast too, and I’m sneaky as Hell. My daddy taught me to use my fists when I was little. When I went to middle school, it was a real rough school with a lotta gangs and shit and my daddy gave me a knife, taught me how to use it and told me if anyone messes with me and I think I’m gonna lose that fight just stab em. My daddy’s a pretty cool guy. I know I’m lucky cuz he taught me how to survive.

I did pretty good in grade school. I got by with Bs and Cs but the funny thing is, I coulda got all As because I loved to read and write and draw and all that shit, but I didn’t want anyone to know it. I wrote an essay one time about Martin Luther King and it won a prize and I got twenty five dollars. I split the money with my daddy but we didn’t tell Mom. She woulda bought pills with it. The principal wanted me to read the essay out loud over the intercom. I wouldn’t read it. The kids all started teasing me about being a goody-goody til I said, “I just copied it out of a damn book so I could get the money.” And they left me alone after that. And I was careful to drop those grades.

Then in middle school I quit doing the work and started skipping classes a lot and then skipping school. One thing about school was I made some money there, playing cards and shooting dice and selling weed and white crosses. My mom does a lot of speed, so I used to swipe some of her little white pills and sell em. There was a lot of fighting in school too. I didn’t mind it if it was one-on-one but sometimes you got jumped by gangs and that was really fucked up. My daddy used to box and said anybody who can really fight, they gonna fight one-on-one. You gotta fight in a gang, then you can’t really fight.

So I had no choice but to stab this bitch. They jumped me in the bathroom. The bathrooms were too dangerous to go into anyway, I used to sneak out and go to the diner down the street if I needed to use it. But I took a chance that day. The walls were covered with all this gang tagging and half the doors were pulled off the stalls. One of the sinks was pulled off the wall. Girls I didn’t know were drinking beer and laughing and smoking cigarettes and weed. It turns out there was a rival gang in there from another part of town looking for someone from the East Side to jump. Just my luck it’s me, and there’s a lot of em and they’re older and bigger than me. So I fought back the best I could and remember what my daddy said before he went to prison, what he said about the knife. See I always kept a small knife in my pocket.  Just in case I had to fight for my life. So I stabbed this girl. There was a lotta blood, like when Jimmy Messina got a nose bleed in third grade.  I fucked her up good but she didn’t die or nothing. Daddy was glad, the last letter I ever got from him said, Don’t end up like me.

They ain’t figured out what to do with me yet. I thought they’d make me go to school while I’m in here. I wouldn’t even mind cuz I’m so fucking bored. But they said I can’t go to classes in juvey until I go to court and get my sentence. Don’t know when that’s gonna happen. I only talked to a public defender once, for about five minutes when I first got here, but he never came back.

Most of the wardens here are women. I call them wardens like in the old movies, or guards, but they say were supposed to call them counselors. There’s a man who works here in the front office, he’s about thirty-five or so and he wears a wedding ring. He always smiles and winks at me, touches me on the arm. He grabbed me one time and told me that he could call me into his office and we could spend some time alone together. I said, “What’s in it for me?”

He said, “Little girl, don’t be stupid. I could let you use my phone, you could call Legal Aid, maybe you could get outta here. Self-defense, you could plead self-defense.”

So I’m thinking about it. They won’t let me write to my daddy cuz they said prisoners can’t send letters to other prisoners. There’s a girl here who said the best way to do it is to put a letter for him in another letter, like I could write to my mom and slip a letter for daddy in there. She could send it on to him. That sounds good except Mom is so wasted all the time she’d fuck it up for sure.

I remember seeing this movie where the guy who was the hero said, “You always gotta have a Plan B.” I figure this world’s so crazy you need a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C.

So I’m making all of these plans, while everyone else is watching soap operas and gossiping and dancing.

Plan A: Fool around with that man guard from the front office and call Legal Aid. Or maybe get that guard to drive me outta here.

Plan B: Escape from this joint and run away to that cabin in Big Sur. Even if I gotta hurt somebody.

Plan C: Kill myself.

I keep that picture in my pocket and I think about that cabin a lot.  Drinking hot chocolate by the fireplace.  Those cool summer nights on the porch. That clean clear air. The whales in the ocean.  I sure hope there’s fireflies. There’s gotta  be fireflies.

******

Photo Credit: “Big Sur.” TripAdvisor.

 

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King of the Road

 

faded-box-cars

man-wearing-hat-silhouette

Fiction  © Copyright 2016 by Sara Jacobelli

(Note: The narrator is a young man in his late twenties.)

 

People ask me about my family and I just say. I’m an orphan.

I felt safest in the blanket forts we made, a nightly ritual of pushing the two sets of bunk beds together. The smell of stale blanket, stale kids, spilled milk and crumbled cookies always made me feel more secure, as if the noise and fighting couldn’t get to me. I’d gather up all my toys, stuff them in a pillow case: Legos, little cars and trucks, plastic dinosaurs, army men and pirates. When it was time I’d grab the pillow case, which also held a canteen of water and a roll of pennies, and run away. A cartoon character careening down the road, singing my favorite song. This old timey song Mom liked when it came on her Oldies radio show, “King of the Road.” Third boxcar, midnight train, destination, Bangor, Maine. No phone, no pool, no pets, I ain’t got no cigarettes. Mom taught me those words when I was three years old, sitting on her lap. She’d ruffle my hair and say, “That Roger Miller sounds like a nice man. The way he sings those words. Don’t you think so honey?”

I grew up fast. Seen more shit by the time I was seventeen than most folks forty years old.  Had a woman tell me one time I’m an Old Soul. I’m a grown man now, with a red Camaro sitting outside, the car keys in my pocket, a wallet stuffed with credit cards and cash. A tank full of gas. I can leave. I can go anywhere. I love my freedom.

But at nine I didn’t know how to leave, or where to go.  I was the oldest, it was my job to protect Mom and my brothers. The boys would look at me when Pop went crazy. He yelled at Mom, hit her, called her a bitch and a whore, threatened to burn the cabin down with us in it, to shoot her and shoot us kids. He’d threaten to leave and we’d whisper, “yes yes yes yes just leave” under our breath, into Davey’s soft stinky stuffed animals because Davey was the youngest and still had stuffed animals. Mom would say, “Go!” and Pop would open the door and stand there. Sometimes he’d open the car door and sit in the driver’s seat smoking and glaring.  He’d slam the door and start the car up and drive down the dirt road, then spin the car around and drive back.

We’d close our eyes, not four boys really but one, hope without hope without hope that when our eyes opened he’d be gone. If he was gone for good it’d just be Mom and us. Mom would sit out front on the little porch and make coffee on the camp stove because the cabin stove never worked. She’d light a cigarette and turn on her radio and let out one of those long sighs and we’d gather around her like fire flies and say, “You don’t need him, you have us.”

But that never happened. We’d open our eyes and he’d still be there. Six feet two inches of whiskey breath and Camel cigarettes, beard stubble and bleary-eyed anger and a hatred behind his eyes I never could figure out. “We’re just kids, leave us alone,” I always wanted to say but never did. Whenever I’d open my mouth to say something to him, or even to scream, my mouth filled with sand and nothing came out, you could hear nothing but Mom crying and my brothers sniffling. He’d pull us out of our blanket fort one by one like scrawny cats and smack us around, but we were too little and skinny and not much of a challenge. He’d get bored and drop us on the floor and go after Mom.

I always thought we were better off in the apartment, at least the neighbors called the cops sometimes and Mom got a break for a few minutes while he talked to the cops. They never arrested him. It was always the same routine. “You know how women are,” Pop would say. “You know how they are.” And the cops would look bored and their radios would squawk and they’d drive off.

I’m lying about that orphan bit. I have one relative left.  He’s in prison. I hope he rots there. When I hear he’s dead, I’ll stop in a tavern and toast him with a Jameson’s. Not that cheap shit Seagram’s Seven he drank. I’ll hold the glass up and say: Good fucking riddance.

People ask me about my family and I say. I’m an orphan.

Leaving isn’t easy when you care about others. Me, I don’t get tangled up with folks. I like going to bars. I like the temporariness of life in a bar. You meet someone, you drink, you become friends or enemies or lovers to the sound of the jukebox. Doesn’t matter. Doesn’t last. You leave.

I might meet a woman now and then, but I don’t stay. I’ll enjoy her warmth and her smile and her smell. Sometimes one will even say she loves me. And that’s tempting. I see those couples in cafes eating French toast and planning vacations. But that’s not my life.

I’m always ready to hit the road. No boxcars. I drive my own car.  No wife, no family, no pets, no house. And I like the old fashioned sound of the radio and those stations that still play those old tunes, whether you’re on the highway or on a lonely country lane. King of the Road. That’s me.

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 “King of the Road” lyrics and music by Roger Miller. 1965.

http://tinyurl.com/gwyb9cm

http://tinyurl.com/zmmvhh8

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0934563/

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Photo Credit: “Faded Box Cars.” Wikipedia.org

http://tinyurl.com/zgd2xe8

ClipArt. “Man Wearing Hat.”

 

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The Recruiter

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© Copyright 2016  by Sara Jacobelli

At first I thought he was one of the dads. Dads nowadays are so involved, you know, compared to our fathers who just went to work and went out drinking and playing cards and shooting pool and figured taking care of kids was women’s stuff.

He was just sitting there, staring off into space. Figured his kid was playing on the swings or slides. Then this girl runs up to him and I think it’s his daughter. She says something to him, hands him what looks like several pieces of paper and runs over to a parked car. She jumps in the car and the driver, a woman, starts the car and takes off.

Must’ve been her mother in the car. The funny thing is, he doesn’t react at all. Just stuffs the papers in his briefcase.  So then I figured it’s not his kid. He’s not watching and waiting for his kid on the playground. He’s just sitting there with his briefcase.

Then I figure he’s one of those people who lost his job and is getting up and going to work and pretending he still has a job. You hear about them. The displaced folks. Funny thing is, I can’t figure out where folks like that get their money. You get on a bus, you get off the bus downtown and buy a coffee and a newspaper, you go to the movies and you go to lunch. That all costs money. Maybe they get unemployment.

Then I think maybe he’s got brain damage.

Or maybe he’s waiting for a woman.

I have a lot of time to think because I’m always walking dogs. I walk Rich People’s Dogs for a living. I make between forty and a hundred bucks a day, depending on how many dogs I walk. And  I charge extra for the wiener dogs, you ever walk one and you’ll know why. I walk them and I play with them and I feed them and yeah, I scoop their poop. You gotta, The City gives you big fines if you don’t.  I don’t mind scooping the wiener dogs’ poop but the Great Dane, whoa. Those are some big logs. But all in all it’s not a bad way to make a living and it’s all cash too.  Beats waiting tables. And the people-watching is fun. Just wish I made more money, living with four roommates and taking the subway from the Bronx gets pretty old.

That’s how I started watching this guy. I call him Bond, like James Bond. Just Bond. I figure maybe he’s a spy. Or maybe he’s having an affair with some exotic woman.  They’re both married to other people, and they rendezvous every day in this park. That’s their bench. They meet, go to a hotel. Someplace expensive like the Plaza or the Waldorf. Order room service so no one sees them together. Me, I’ve never stayed in a place that fancy. Never had room service. They sure don’t have it at Motel Six.

Funny thing is, I never see the woman. I pass by with my first dog in the morning and he’s there. I pass by with several more dogs at noon and he’s still there. I pass by in the late afternoon with more dogs and there he is. I see him again at my last round after dinner, when I take a trio of wiener dogs out for their evening stroll.  It’s always just him.

So last night I got up my nerve to approach him. Used the wieners as an excuse. I let Suzi off her leash and she ran wild in circles while I try to hang on to Stella and Sylvie. I run up to him and ask him if he can help me catch Suzi. He grabs her and hands the squirmy sausage dog to me.

“Thanks! She’s a mess. I don’t want to get fired for losing a dachshund. I need this job.”

“I bet you do.” He has a slight accent. Can’t put my finger on in. Canadian? Australian?

“You must be a fellow dog walker. But I don’t see any critters.”

“No. No critters.”

“Are you a nanny then? Never seen a male nanny before.” I pointed at the shrieking kids on the playground. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

He shook his head.

“You’re a devoted dad then. Well, good for you. It’s nice to see a man take his kids to the playground. Dads nowadays are so involved.”

“No. I don’t have any kids. If you must know, I’m what you call a Recruiter.

“For jobs? What kind of jobs?”

“It’s like this.” He motioned me to move closer to him. I attempted to sit on the bench and untangle the wiener dog leashes while they yapped their hearts out. “I keep an eye out for kids under ten that look smart. Smart, fast, agile. Ten’s too old, by then they just want to play games and watch TV. We don’t want them playing video games, for Christ’s sake, we want them designing the games.  I give them a brief IQ test. They turn in their answers, and if they are what I’m looking for, I recruit them. With their parents too of course. Then the whole family moves into our Compound, out in California, and the kids go to work.” He sipped his coffee and winked at me. “One bright kid, say seven or eight or nine years old, can be trained to be better at software development, video game and app design, even IT security, than any adult. We used to recruit at the colleges, then the high schools, then junior high. But the playground is by far, the best spot I’ve found.”

I looked at the snot-nosed kids chasing each other around the playground. “How much can one like that make?” I pointed to a chubby boy in a striped shirt using a stick to draw in the dirt.

“Two, three hundred grand a year, easy. His parents, they’ll never have to work again. They’ll never have to pay rent or buy food either. Everything’s provided for at the Compound. Medical, dental, vision care. They don’t need a car, we have everything delivered, or we can take them in our bus. They don’t need to pay for summer camp for the kids or a family vacation, we’ve got it all there. Swimming pools, bowling alleys, movie theatres. When they get old they just stay there and move into our Assisted Living Center. We’re even working on a way to use the old folk’s brains somehow. There’s theories that when the memory fades, you can actually reprogram the brain to perform new tasks. Like a second childhood. We might be able to get the old folks to design more apps, who knows?”

“Do you give any finder’s fees? If I find a smart kid and you hire him or her, do I get a percentage?”

He opened up his briefcase and took out a business card. “You just get a flat fee. Two thousand, if the referred child passes all the tests, the parents sign the life-time contract, and the while family moves into the Compound.”

Two thousand a pop! Dollar signs started multiplying in my head.  I looked at the card. “That’s you?”

Mr. Harrison

The Recruiter

GOOGLE

 

“That’s me.”

The wiener dogs were getting hungry so I left the park to finish their walk and bring them home and feed them. I’m always looking for more ways to make money. If I find a few smart kids every month, I can ditch the roommates. Maybe get a little pad of my own in the Village. Take taxis instead of riding the subway. Eat sushi instead of off the McDonald’s dollar menu. Things are definitely looking up.

Fiction (or is it real???)

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Photo Credit: “Briefcase.”  Pixabay copyright-free images. Public Domain. https://pixabay.com/en/briefcase-handbag-bag-case-luggage-1316308/

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