SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
June 21, 2015

I Gotta Stay Away from that Bodega

 

At around three on Saturday afternoon I popped into the bodega across the street to grab a backup sixer in case of emergency. As I slid it onto the counter and the squat, perpetually angry Egyptian began ringing it up, the door behind me jangled open and one of those booming impatient types charged in. He slammed some money down on the counter beside me and shouted over my shoulder, “Gimme a pack of American Spirit Yellows! And as much coin change as possible!”

            “No coins,” the Egyptian grumbled.

            “Yeah, any coins at all. I gotta lotta coins. Valuable coins.” To prove his point, he pulled some from his pocket and began shaking them in his loose fist. “And I know you know what these are.”

            He suddenly seemed to be talking to me for some reason. I wasn’t much interested in talking to the asshole who’d just barged his way in front of me to get his fucking hipster smokes. I was just trying to pay for my damn beer and get out of there.

            “I got five silver half-dollars that aren’t Kennedys,” he announced proudly, still jingling the coins. “I called my uncle and he said ‘you got five silver half-dollars that aren’t Kennedys,‘ and I checked, and that’s exactly what I had. Here. I know you know what these are.”

            He poured four coins in my hand. I had no idea what they were, and wasn’t really all that interested. I still have a hard time telling a penny from a dime by touch alone. “And here’s an Eisenhower dollar. Feel how heavy that is.”

            “I remember how heavy they are. Really.”

            He put it in my hand anyway, and I gave all the coins back to him.

            “My name is Dr. Tim,” he said, still booming and talking unusually fast. Well, fast and getting faster. “And I’m running for president. I’m looking for a strong woman of color to be my running mate. I asked [former Brooklyn Borough President Howard] Golden to be my running mate, but he doesn’t want to be president. He only wants to save New York.”

            So this is how you’re running for president, I nearly asked. By shoving in front of blindos at the bodega so you can get your goddamn American Spirits and brag about your fucking coin collection? In retrospect I guess that would make him a shoe-in.

            “I’m a foot doctor,” he rolled on, his speech growing faster with each sentence. “Got an office over on Third next to the Chinese place. I’m Dr. Tim, and if you ever want me to give a talk, I’ll come to any event you might attend.”

            I reminded myself silently not to go to any events, in the off chance he might be following me. We both got our change and I headed for the door. He was right behind me, still spitting out the seemingly uncontrollable spew of language.

            “I’m an incredibly wealthy man thanks to my coin collection. When my father died he left me a box of coins. He also left me his class ring. It’s fourteen karat gold, encrusted with diamonds, with a ruby in the middle. I had it appraised and it’s worth a million dollars. When he died we all thought we got ten thousand dollars each, but I was the oldest so I got the coin collection. I told my brothers and sisters that if I ever decided to sell the ring, maybe I’d get a hundred thousand, maybe I’d get a million. But if it happens, if they wanted a fourth, a fifth, a sixth of it, whatever, it was theirs.”

            Thing about speed is, it’s much more fun and interesting for the people who are on it than it is for those who have to listen to them.

            He introduced himself again, and the words were beginning to run together. Throughout it all, I was saying nothing. We were standing on the sidewalk just outside the bodega. I just wanted to get home with the beer. He was making me tired.

            “I’m a direct descendant of William Shakespeare,” he offered without any prompting, then quoted a couple of the sonnets as evidence. “When he wrote ‘will’ and underlined it he was referring to William, the son he had with his dark lover, or dark-haired lover, or Italian lover, whatever. There are a lot of us descendants out there, but there have been enough generations that we don’t have to worry so much anymore. I just found my own Rose, and I wrote her a sonnet. A beautiful sonnet. I’d like to read it to you now.”

            “Umm.”

            “No, I’ve got it right over there in my car. Lemme go get it so I can read it to you.”

            “Umm, I should probably be getting home with my beer.”

            “Okay, I’ll read it to you next time I see you. Which way you headed?”

            “Across the street,” I told him, having no desire to give him any more specific idea where I lived.

            “Well, walk on the sunny side of the street,” he advised. “Or the shady side, whatever you prefer.”

            “I can’t tell the difference,” I muttered as I began tapping away, but I don’t think he heard me.

            “Solar power! That’s the answer! When I’m president, everything’s going solar power. And China!”

            I was already halfway across the street and he was heading toward his car and his sonnet, still shouting random presidential proclamations. “We’ll charge a thousand dollars for an open six-month visa! And we’ll . . . ”

            I went home and stashed the beer for later. The following morning about eight, I went back to the same bodega for yet more beer. Inside, a slurring drunk latched onto me, insisting he help me carry the quart of milk and the new sixer to the counter.

            “Okay, okay,” he said. Whether he’d started drinking with the sun or if this was just carryover from the previous night was unclear. “You got your quarta milk there, and your beer. That’s good, yeah.” He clapped me on the shoulder and was hanging in a little too close. As I dug out the money to pay the Egyptian, he at last backed off, but hovered near the door to open it for me as I turned to leave.

            After I stepped outside, though, he tagged along. I seemed to be on some kind of a roll.

            “Hey . . . hey, you like Metallica?”

            “Um, sure?”

            “Are Metallica the best, or what?” I guessed him to be about my age, and given the general musical tastes of the neighborhood, the sentiment didn’t surprise me at all. I wasn’t about to argue with him, despite the Residents shirt I was wearing at the time.

            Again we stood outside in the same spot I’d been the previous afternoon, as the drunk (who told me his name was Angelo) talked about Metallica, other cripples he had known (“He was in a fuckin’ wheelchair by the time he was sixteen, but still made pool cues, shot pool, everything!”), and asked a few questions about blindness. When I gently explained that I had to get the milk home, he hugged me and slurred in that way drunks do when they’re being very careful and trying not to sound drunk, “Anything you want, any help you need, I’ll take care of it in a fuckin’ heartbeat!”

            Then I went home again.

            Given the choice come election time, I think I’d cast my vote for the drunk instead of the asshole blowhard speed freak who shoved his way in front of me at the fucking bodega.

 

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