There used to be an uppity health-club in this building, but now it’s all been hollowed out, even the carpeting is gone. The old club logo is still on the doors, but there are handwritten signs taped over it that say “Rummage Bonanza! Today Only!”. I am thrilled.
It is hardly a Bonanza. Whatever the hell a Bonanza is…I think I remember getting all-you-can-eat shrimp there when I was younger. Much younger…because I don’t eat shrimp anymore. Never have…. cept at Bonanza. Whatever the hell Bonanza was. Then the meal at Dr. Chen’s house that almost killed us, all of us. Then no more shrimp. Not ever. Anyway.
There are tables around the outside of a big empty room the size of an elementary school gymnasium. Maybe an underfunded public one though. Each table has a lurker. Maybe a dozen lurkers total, all hoping that one of the four people shopping here might buy something.
I walk table to table, going clockwise, and keep acting like I just noticed something at the next one. This way I can ditch out on each lurker just before I think they are going to try to talk to me. One lurker starts talking right away and I can’t escape, she is old with too much skin. She says “Hello I’m negotiable.” and turns away to look busy a second later.
That’s fine by me. ‘Hello Negotiable, I’m Not Real.’
I don’t want to negotiate with her anyway, she’s selling the sort of shit the ladies who work at the bank would buy for their aging mothers to smooth over the pain when they shovel them into one of those pre-death communities staffed by sadistic chain-smoking whores who tell the world(people in taverns) that they are a Nurse.
I don’t want to buy anything that puts me within one or two random associations of those broads.
The next table has a bunch of rocks…little ones…harvested locally no doubt. They grow in driveways. Cheap gravel driveways. But they have become “value added” rocks by the big pink lady sitting there gluing little metal animals to them. She wants two bucks a piece. What the fuck?
The next table doesn’t have a Lurker, and I don’t want to look at the goods because I see a lot of clothes and a lot of mugs. Fuck mugs.
My friend (I came with a friend by the way, but he gets his own stories, later on) is finally catching up, but he stops to look at something. Then he starts talking.
I’m still in the lead.
Tables 7, 8 and 9 all have old records and beer signs and old board games and toys. Nobody says anything about being negotiable and their prices are insane. Fuck them.
I have enough music, and fuck toys. Beer signs? Why.
I look up and there’s my friend, chatting it up with the cane-toting haggard guy at the last table. I don’t despair, I guess it wasn’t a race anyway. I shrug out loud and step up beside him, pretending to know all about the array of high priced old bills and coins the guy is peddling. Once I mutter “oh wow” and I mean it. I’m wondering why he’s selling a $20 bill for $2,500 in a place like this.
My friend is chatting him to hell and back. I tune in to hear the old leather croaking away about the features and functions of the $5,000 table top slot-machine he is trying to sell. He’s talking about it being multi-player. Amazing.
I start to notice how bad it smells in here.
Then I feel an itch. Something about this guy. I can’t really see his face though, he’s got an old looking trucker-hat balanced atop a bunch of rusty steel-wool hair, and his face is covered with bristles. He looks homeless, but I doubt it. His eyes look so sad that I start to feel sad. I can tell he’s had some terrible health problems. I can tell the worst is coming. I feel more sadness. Sadness can be stacked, like slices of cheese can be stacked. It doesn’t matter what you are stacking it on. Crackers, bread, or my gut. My gut feels hollow and I stack on the sadness, I get hungry for cheese too.
I look down again at another array of coins. On some rolls of pennies (priced at $20?) I see what my Interior Wise-Man was trying to say about all that sadness. The label reads:
Robert “Bob” Bellin
I manage to keep thinking about cheese somehow.
When I look up, I am covered with bumps. I was sweaty in my coat before. Now I’m as cold as all of that sad cheese. I look a ghost in the eye. The sad Ghost Eye with its many million slices of cheddar and swiss and mozzarella melting out all over.
I carefully analyze the voice. I can’t detect it. This can’t be him.
Robert “Bob” Bellin. It IS him. But it is not Him anymore.
Whose arcade I grew up in.
Where every quarter I had before I turned twelve or thirteen was swiftly spent.
Where once a neighbor kid had hastily dispensed $20 bills to Jeff and I…getting rid of what he’d stolen from his grandma…allowing us to spend another six or seven hours buying candy and playing games.
We let that kid fry when he was caught. Denied it to the angry parents who knocked at our doors, and let him be punished all alone. We did a lot of terrible shit to that kid, and later we found out that he was adopted, and he’d seen a horror that I have chosen to remove from this paragraph out of respect for him.
How high is that stack of cheese?
I want to talk to Bob. The guy watched me grow up. I watched him open failing businesses all over town, one after another. I watched him somehow hold a chair on the city council for about ten seconds. Nobody on the council liked having a guy show up in a flannel shirt with a soft-pack of Pall Mall’s sticking out of the pocket and try to be all ‘political’. Then he vanished. I wondered where he’d open another doomed little random-ass store..
I could trade stories with him and brighten him up. I really could.
We meet eyes repeatedly.
“Care for any cheese?”
We’re done here. We buy nothing.
Walking out, we talk about who we just saw and how we didn’t say anything, but we wanted to.
We couldn’t do it though, maybe the cane put us off?
Driving away, it’s like both of us are just stuffing our faces with cheddar in a reckless gorge. But we were driving away in a sweet-ass Jaguar, so we didn’t keep the mood for long.
The sun beats the hell out of the whole world around us, snow is going away.
Spring is coming.