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Clowns to the Left of Me; Jokers to the Right

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					Clowns to the Left of Me; Jokers to the Right
By D.E. Fredd

September 1-3, Labor Day Weekend

Tina says she’ll drive me the round trip to work in Auburn until school lets out next
summer. I’m due to get my license back by then anyway. Lenny’s okay with me and his
wife hooking up every morning even though we went out for a few months after high
school, which was nearly fifteen years ago. Aside from gas and ten bucks each way for the
trouble, I told them I’d baby-sit on weekends if they wanted to party or shoot pool. I’m
dead if they take me up on it because they’ve got two boys, three and five, who are
wacko. Little Justin locked everyone out of their trailer and lit the gas burners last
January. Tina had to get Earl Horford to break down the door, which cost three hundred
to fix. Sometimes Lenny Jr. sits in the road and will not move. The pre-school makes
them take pills so the teachers don’t go nuts worrying if they’ll hurt the other kids.

I was working tire installation at the Biggie-Mart. When I had my third DUI they
switched me inside to selling appliances. Bernie Biggs owns three stores, and the one I’m
at just north of Auburn is the best in Maine. He and his wife are as friendly in person as
they are on their TV commercials. When Bernie wants tires put on the company cars, he
always asks for me. He hired me fourteen years ago even though I’d just done thirty days
in prison. He also didn’t fire me when I was convicted of driving drunk two weeks ago.
They are my family so I’m trying like hell to shape up. I will miss tires. Of course the
only driving I’d be doing is moving a car off the rack into a parking space, but Craig
Bevins, my section manager, thinks it might come back on him if I scraped a side panel.

Appliances is a better career move anyway. There’s so much to learn. I don’t mind dressing
up either, and I’ll be working inside and not dealing with Maine winters. The downside is
that Lenny and Tina have already been hinting they could use a microwave. Maybe one of
the new 400 series GE makes could slip out of the stockroom into the back of their van.
That’s all I need —no license, no car or job and another stay at the Cumberland County
Correction Facility.



September 16, Sunday

The parole people are making me attend a drunken driving class for six weeks and go to
AA meetings, but how am I to get the twelve miles from Wilton to Livermore Falls if I
can’t drive? My probation officer said, “Ask family or friends.” It sounds simple, but I’ve
got no family and my friends are drunks too. They have the driving classes on Tuesday
and Thursday in the courthouse basement. Lucky for me the AA meetings are in the
Livermore Methodist Church just down the street on Thursday nights so I can kill two
birds. I’ve hitched a ride twice and barely made it each time. Old Sam Rossi, who lives in
the trailer behind mine, has offered me his grandson’s mountain bike. I’m taking him up
on that. I can pedal my way until the weather turns fearsome, which can happen as early
as November. After that I’m cooked.
September 28, Friday Afternoon Heading into the Weekend

Tina makes me uneasy. She’s showering, washing her hair and paying attention to her
clothes when she runs me to and from work. She was a slob when we went out many
moons ago. She tells me things aren’t working out that well with Lenny. For one thing the
kids are screwed up because he made her do all sorts of drugs when she was pregnant; that
and the fact that everyone in his family is really perverted. Because she has to stay home
in case the school calls, she doesn’t have any women friends to tell her troubles to. There
are only six units out of fifteen in our mobile home park that are filled. Aside from mine
and hers, it’s all old people who are mostly batty so she’s lonely.

She is very touchy feely, and I think she’s coming on to me. I’m really not tempted because
she’s let herself go since the kids. Besides, I’ve got my eye on a woman who works in the
credit office. Most of them treat us floor people like dirt, but the two times I brought a
customer over to her window she was very polite. She’s not married so I wonder what’s
wrong with someone like her who’s over thirty, looks pretty and is nice. If I could drive,
I’d follow her around but that’s out right now.



September 29, Saturday Night

Lenny and Tina invite me over to play Texas poker. Sam Rossi hobbles over too, but he
has to be back home by nine to watch America’s Most Wanted, even though it’s a repeat.
After he leaves things get very raunchy. Lenny keeps pushing beers at me. “What’s one
stupid beer? If you get drunk it’s a two hundred foot walk home.”

I finally take one to shut him up. Then he starts betting crazy stuff. He’ll let Tina “do
me” if I throw a microwave into the pot. When I won’t go for it, he says I’m insulting
him. By this time he’s gone through a few six packs and, if it weren’t for him having to
piss every three minutes, he’d be dangerous. He starts feeling up Tina in front of me and
pulls down her tank top to show me the merchandise. She’s had plenty of beer as well, not
that she needs it to come on to any man. Lenny gets the video camera out and wants me to
tape them while they go at it on the couch. I tell him I’m dizzy because I haven’t had a
drink in so long. There’s some truth to this because after three beers the room is a bit out
of focus. While they’re screwing on the couch, I say I’m going to be sick and go outside. I
stick my finger down my throat and puke up a mess of beer and cheese nachos. When I get
to the dry heave stage, I see a naked Lenny and Tina back lit in the doorway laughing
their bare asses off. At least I’ll have something to contribute to the next AA meeting.



October 1, Monday at Work

Even though I’m in sales I don’t get commission. A customer comes and asks me or Bobby
Bowman questions. The tricky part is when they want my opinion. I’ve read Consumer
Reports and other magazines plus, on my off-time, I use the computer in the town library
to see what others have to say about it. But there are some brands that offer a bigger
rebate to the store so I’m torn between being truthful and turning a better profit.
Fortunately, most of the things we sell are decent. What they really want me to push are
the service plans; I get a small commission on those.

On an average day, for example, a couple comes in and decides they want the Maytag
washer that’s on sale. I check out back to see if we have it, then write up a slip and escort
them over to what used to be called the Credit Department but got changed to Customer
Service. That’s where they pay by credit card, write a check or whatever. While they’re at
the window paying, the washer comes out on a dolly ready to be loaded into their vehicle.
I don’t handle money.

There are three windows for the cashiers. Paula Foley is the senior one. Since she’s
nearest the sales floor, she handles most of the action. We get along fine. She’s in charge
of the personnel files as well so, when I first got hired, she interviewed me and wanted to
know about my record. I was straight with her. I’d broken into my high school a few
weeks before graduation and trashed the place along with Eddie Hogan and the Kilroy
brothers. The cops showed up because we were too stupid to think the place had an alarm
system. I’d led them on a merry rooftop chase which they defined as resisting arrest. They
took my diploma away. I couldn’t pay the fine so I got forty-five days but only had to
serve thirty because of good behavior. I got my GED in jail. Paula said Mr. Biggs was all
for giving people chances, but to keep my nose clean. That was twelve years ago. I think it
helped that I asked her to take twenty-five bucks a week out of my check, sending it to the
school scholarship fund as a way of making up for the damage I’d caused. Anyway, she’s
been like a mother-figure to me, including yelling at me for my latest trouble. It’s the first
time I ever heard her swear when she called me a “goddamn asshole moron,” but I
deserved it.

The second window is a relative of Mr. Biggs. It might be his grand-niece. Sandy came
three years ago as a temporary summer replacement while she was on her college break.
The person she was filling in for never came back, and she never went back to school. I
think she hates her job. She hasn’t said two words to me and, when I have to go to her, she
takes my paperwork as if it came from the bathroom floor.

The last window is manned by Mildred Fraley; everyone calls her Dilly. Although it says
“cashier” on the sign, she is the store accountant so we try not to bother her unless it is
very busy. She’s in her mid-thirties, which is a few years older than me. She always wears
bright colors. Paula says she was very close to her parents. She lost them a few years back
and is having trouble coping. She belongs to the Methodist church my AA meetings are
in, and I see her name on quite a few of the committees pinned up on the bulletin board
in the vestibule. It’s a good bet Paula has told her about my troubles both now and from
way back. When I was in tires, I figured I never had a shot with her because she went to
college, and I was grubby most of the time. Now that I’m indoors and wear a necktie (even
though I don’t have to) I’ve been thinking of asking if she wants to have coffee during her
break.



October 4, Thursday
My drunk-driving class is a farce. There are ten of us, and I’m the only one who has made
all the meetings so far. There are two high school girls who sit in the back, poke one
another and giggle at some inside joke. One class that dealt with traffic statistics was
interesting, and we had a state trooper who spoke about the accidents he’d seen and how
he had to notify the parents or loved ones. After that we watched videos and wrote an
essay about the times we drove while intoxicated. We have two more two-hour classes next
week, but the teacher clearly has nothing to fill up the class time with. We can’t leave
early so we just sit or sometimes talk about stupid stuff. By now everyone knows I used to
be in tires, and I give advice about appliances, what to look out for and the fact that most
stuff is made in China by the same factory so it almost doesn’t make a difference.

At nine when I head up to my AA meeting, that’s when things get interesting. Frank
Foster runs the group. He jokes that he’s an alcoholic because they named an Australian
beer after him. When I mentioned at my first meeting that everyone I know drinks beer,
that it’s practically a way of life, it really got the discussion off with a bang. I said it was
like being horny with everyone else naked. Pete Collins likened it to not drinking coffee
in a Starbucks world. Some people talk about why they drink, but Frank says he doesn’t
care what caused you to do it in the past, quit each day is his motto. He also leaves God
out of it. “If Jesus helps you get through the day, then go for it, but there’s also the Red
Sox and Patriots to fill the void.” I agree with him because I had enough of the Jesus
squad in jail to last me a lifetime.

When I told the group about my poker episode with Tina and Lenny, people laid out
scenarios of how I could have handled it. I defended myself by saying that I need their
help until I can drive again plus there is the Lenny Stark mobile home code of justice.
Mess with your neighbors and bad things will happen to your unit. I told them about Mrs.
McCarren and her husband, Virgil, who had a stroke. She found some marijuana plants
Lenny was growing and called the cops. Her tires got slashed; the handicap ramp made a
nice bonfire. She finally left when their dog had its right front paw hacked off.

I didn’t tell the meeting, but I inherited my mobile home from my Uncle Nelson. I visited
every now and then and we went fishing once. Before he went to the hospital for a bypass
operation two years ago, he said I could have it if he didn’t make it. I had to promise to
bury him in New Hampshire. He died a week later and I moved in right away. The only
bills I get are the propane and electric plus taxes which still come in his name. I’m afraid
to check at town hall to see what the legal status is, so everything is very fluid, as they say.

I’ve met some good people at the meetings. I’ve got several phone numbers to call when
things get rough. No one’s volunteered to drive me places as they all live south of
Livermore Falls, but a couple of times Frank has driven me home when it was pouring.
He just dumped the bicycle in the back of his truck and that was that. Booze cost him his
family and now he’s got diabetes to boot. He’s been sober for nine years and still goes to
bed each night wanting a drink to help him sleep. He quit cigarettes because they
reminded him of booze so he smokes a pipe now. He reminds me a bit of my uncle and
wants to set up a fishing expedition over on Great Pond come spring.



October 9-13, Tuesday through Saturday
Now I make it a point to take all my big sales to Mildred. She is good about interrupting
what she is doing. Towards the end of the day on Tuesday she asks me to call her Dilly or
Dill as most people do. She does it in such a pleasant way. On Friday we get to chatting
about the Columbus Day weekend, complaining that we both have to work on Saturday.
She mentions that her church is having a ham and bean supper and wonders if I might
like to go. I say sure. Later she tells me she has to help set up between five and six. If I get
there about 6:15, the line will be down to a minimum, and she’ll save a seat for me.

After work on Friday I trot over to Sears in the mall. I blow big bucks in the Land’s End
section getting stylish stuff for work and something sporty to wear to the supper. Uncle
Nelly always told me it costs nothing to look neat, and I take him at his word, even
though a bigger slob never existed. I can see the way customers trust my opinion because I
have a decent haircut and wear clean clothes. A nice lady clerk helps me pick out colors
that go together. I wonder if she’s on commission.

When my shift is up at five on Saturday I change in the men’s room then start thumbing
a ride up to Livermore. I get there by 6:15, pay the seven bucks and see that Dilly is part
of the serving crew that is dishing out the dinner. When I go through the line she tells me
that Mrs. Shattuck took sick and she had to step into the breach, but maybe we can have
dessert together. I don’t know anybody and most of the tables are already taken, then I spy
Frank Foster sitting at a small table over on the far side. In two seconds I’m there keeping
him company. He makes a joke that vodka would spice up the fruit punch and asks why
I’m here. I admit I like a certain woman and point her out. He says she’s one of the best
lookers in the house and thinks he may have known her father, Frank Fraley, who was a
Livermore volunteer firefighter and EMT for many years before he got Alzheimer’s. I’m
actually enjoying myself listening to Frank tell his booze stories from the army when
Dilly comes over carrying three brownie sundaes.

She is very pretty; not cute or anything, just pretty. She has some whipped cream on the
side of her nose. It’s a shame when Frank tells her about it. She blushes while rubbing it
off. She points out a couple, sisters, sitting by the side door that sneak in every year
without paying. At first she was appalled that anyone would cheat their way into a
charity church supper, and was all for having them arrested, but her heart softened after
her parents died and now she feels sorry for them. Frank excuses himself, winking at me
on the sly, saying he needs to get home and check the dog that sometimes gets so jealous of
his going out that she chews up the furniture. “It’s almost like being married,” he laughs.

There’s an awkward silence when he leaves, but Dilly asks me if I have pets. I’ve learned
that the right answer to this question from women is an enthusiastic “yes” followed by
cute pet stories of your own. Quite honestly I can’t stand cats and most of the dogs in the
park where I live stink and bark incessantly. I lie, saying the tenant association doesn’t
allow them. She touches my hand in sympathy and tells me about her two cats, Mutt and
Jeff, named after two old cartoon characters. I never heard of them but gather that one
was big and the other small. We talk about the store and workers we know. She wonders
if I found the church alright, and I tell her about the Thursday AA meetings, Frank
Foster and my driver’s license issues. She pats my shoulder this time, and says Paula told
her about my struggles. There are some words of how accepting Jesus into my life would
help me through my trials. She had a life-changing experience when she took the Lord
into her heart while she was caring for her parents.
I want to tell her that the religious talk is bunk and doesn’t enter into my recovery. I also
want to add that I’m really not an alcoholic. I never drink at home; it was only when I
was with other people, often in bars, where I got into trouble by driving after having had
a few. I don’t say any of this; instead, I let her talk about her folks, how they were the
greatest parents anyone could ever have, but the last five years of their lives was a living
hell for her. She hated them for keeping her from a last year of college, dating and maybe
starting a family. She wanted to have a job in a big city like Portland, but all that was
denied her while she nursed the two of them day and night. When they died two months
apart she cried for joy at her freedom. She’d devoured a biography of the poet John
Milton who forced his daughters to read to him, take his dictation -- enslaved them -- so
she’d learned all she could about the Milton girls; they were her heroes.

Before I know it the lights are dimmed, and it is after nine. We walk out to the parking
lot, and I help her into her car, which has several Christian bumper stickers on it. She
starts it up before rolling down the window to ask how I am getting home. I hesitate and
she motions me to get in. She admonishes me never to be too proud to ask for help. It isn’t
that I am too proud, but more the sheer embarrassment of having her see the junk-
encrusted hovel I live in. It is the best maintained hovel in the park but a damn hovel
nonetheless.



October 14, The Sunday Before Columbus Day

I wish I’d taken day shift. I want to see Dilly again. She’d shaken my hand after thanking
me for coming to the supper and held it a long time. I wanted to kiss her, but decided
against it, although I was quick to suggest we should get together again real soon. She said
she’d like that. When she left I wondered if I should have invited her in and kicked
myself for not doing so. The other reason for wanting to work was Tina. She’d evidently
seen me pull in the drive last night so she was banging at my door by ten looking for
details, mostly sexual. I explained that Dill was someone I worked with. Tina allowed
that if all I wanted was a quick lay then she was more than willing, no strings. She added
that it would be refreshing to screw someone who wasn’t high or obsessed with sticking it
up the back door as she so delicately put it. There was a veiled threat that, if I wanted our
transportation routine to continue, then I might think about being a little more
appreciative.

Soon after her visit, Lenny, cradling a six pack and what he describes as “great weed,”
darkens my door. I pass on the beer but do fall victim to a joint. We sit on two plastic
lawn chairs enjoying the fall air while Lenny elaborates on some great pussy he is getting
at work. The one thing I’ll concede about Lenny is that he always has a job. He’s with the
Keating Company this year, driving a truck which hauls gravel, stone and anything else
that deals with construction. Evidently an office girl just out of high school is enamored
by his gear-shifting prowess and spends her breaks giving him head among other
pleasurable acts in the cab of the dump truck.

After the obligatory male bonding, he gets down to business; to hell with the microwave.
He has his eyes on one of those honking, big plasma TV sets. If I were to help him in his
quest for this visual Holy Grail, a few bucks, drugs and/or a couple nights with Tina
could be arranged. Could I leave the warehouse door unlocked? Do they have an alarm
system that I have the code for? Or could the set walk out the front door by using fake
paperwork? All options are explored, and I shoot them down one by one. Exasperated, he
throws his beer can towards Sam Rossi’s chained beagle with the opinion that I’m making
the store sound like fucking Fort Knox. He leaves, staggering towards his trailer, with the
admonition that if I want “to get a little in life I have to give a little.” I go back inside and
take inventory of the stuff I would really hate to see go up in smoke. Then I measure off,
if I had a fifty inch TV, just where the hell would I put it.



October 16, Tuesday.

I have lunch with Dilly at the Biggie snack bar. She has a chef salad. I go with my usual
double dog special, no extra charge for chili and a free coke refill. She’s wearing a V-
neck blouse which partially reveals her breasts when she leans forward. Her jewelry --
earrings, necklace and bracelet -- when you look closely, are either crosses or the fish
symbol.

I allude to my “do nothing” weekend and the possibility that my ride to and from work is
in jeopardy. I don’t mention the reason, just that I’m being pressured to do things I don’t
want to. She immediately says she’d be happy to come and get me as well as run me home
most days, although there might be times when we won’t be on the same schedule.
“Remember that pride goeth before the fall.” I also accept her gesture of a home cooked
meal on Saturday. She won’t tell me what she’ll be making except that it will be healthier
than my chips and twin chili dogs slathered with yellow cheese.

That afternoon, between customers, I daydream, rehearsing all the possibilities that could
come up after the meal Dilly prepares. I cannot place the last time I had sex. It had to be
in August before I lost my driving privilege. Maybe it was that Mary Jo lady at the
Emperor’s Palace bar in Auburn. She wasn’t bad looking, worked in housekeeping at the
Econo-Lodge across the street where we got an unoccupied room and spent a few hours. I
remember she wanted to keep her bra on for reasons she never explained. Other than that
she was up for most anything.

When I get home I call Frank and ask what I should bring to Dill’s dinner. I have no
problem with wine. I hate the stuff, but he suggests flowers for the table would work.



October 20, Saturday Night Date Night

When she picks me up around six, I see the curtains in Tina’s kitchen window flutter.
There is part of me that wants Dilly to get out of the car so I can show her off. “This is
what real class is, my fellow Atwood Acre residents. Here is a lady without tattoos (I
suspect as much anyway), who reads long novels and doesn’t show off by opening a beer
bottle with her teeth.
Dill’s home is an old farmhouse located on several sprawling acres. She leases out the
hayfields and pasture, and a neighbor grows corn on the ten acres next to his. The apple
orchards have grown over. The outside of the house is in decent shape, but she admits it
would cost a fortune as everything inside is outdated. She’s had the plumbing redone and
is hoping to update the wiring this year. We sit out on the porch drinking lemonade, and
I feel very relaxed. There is a sweet smell of decay coming from the last of the maple
leaves. The furniture and appliances inside are from the 1970s which is strange
considering the Biggie discount she’s entitled to. She prepared most of the meal ahead of
time, and it just needs heating up. She’d gone all out with the table settings, fresh flowers
and what she called the Sunday china.

The only time in my life I’d ever been at a meal where grace was said was when I was a
little kid in one of the first foster homes I’d been assigned to. It had been a mumbled,
three-second affair. Dill’s grace is a monologue which expresses gratitude for our food
then widens in scope to the starving African nations, safety for our boys in the Middle
East and ends by blessing all the people she knows, in particular Emily Hopkins in her
church who is battling ovarian cancer.

There is easy conversation between us. I tell some funny customer stories about when I
worked in tires. When she asks what I had read lately I don’t lie except to say that I’d
been meaning to start a reading program. She thinks I might like Stephen King and asks
me to remind her before I leave as she might have one or two lying around.

We let the dishes soak and head into the living room. She points out her dad’s favorite
chair and where she and her mother always sat while they watched TV. The furniture is
dilapidated. One can almost see the fossilized imprints in the head and arm rests which
lace doilies barely hide now. She speaks about nursing her parents then apologizes for
going on and wants to know about my situation. I try to explain Tina and Lenny as best I
can without getting too graphic. They’re always out to beat the system. For a few months
they collected welfare checks using false social security numbers. In high school Lenny
took off his baby toe with pruning shears to get out of gym class and was now the area
junkies’ main source for Adderal, prescribed for his kids’ conditions, but they had never
seen the drug as far as I knew. I mentioned that Tina was not above offering herself to the
elder male residents of Atwood Acres in return for part of their social security check,
leaving out the time that I once baby-sat her kids for twenty bucks an hour while she
“visited” Sam Rossi. Watching the Stark clan was like looking at a vehicle of pure evil
with the hood up. You could see all the inner workings, the wheels and belts of scams
turning, the gentle purring of their plots as they were hatched, then the slight fuel or air
adjustments made to speed up the engine toward greater profits.

After I tell my Lenny and Tina stories, she suggests that we should pray. As with grace,
praying is a new experience for me. I figure it will be done on our knees, but, since we are
sitting next to each other on the couch, she just turns towards me and we hold hands. She
closes her eyes and, with her head slightly lowered and leaning towards me, she begins.
It’s a quote from the Bible about righteous men getting into heaven. This leads to a
fervent wish that I not be caught up in their web of iniquity. As she prays I can smell
her. It’s a fresh smell, not layer upon layer of soap and perfume. Her light brown hair is
graying at the roots, and I can peek down her top and see that her chest is freckled as if
she were a red-head. The more fervently she prays the more turned on I am. Electricity
flows into me as I support her soft hands. When she finally says amen and opens her eyes,
I want to kiss her, then throw her onto the braided rug that covers most of the room and
have at it. I hold her hands as long as I dare and whisper “amen” as well.

She thinks it would be nice to watch TV. She offers to make popcorn, a family viewing
tradition, but I’m still full from dinner. She admits that she doesn’t watch many network
shows; instead, she enjoys old movies checked out from the library. She’s a Loretta Young
fan; The Bishop’s Wife was a Christmas tradition growing up. There’s a whole shelf of
Young’s films and a personal viewing history behind each one. Finally I select The
Stranger which she says she never watched alone as Loretta’s unsuspecting involvement
with the escaped Nazi war criminal and the final clock tower scene are too scary.

She starts the movie up and it is quite interesting, especially when she snuggles closer to
me and rests her head on my shoulder. When I finally decide to kiss her, she is cuddled
up fast asleep as Orson Welles finally gets the poetic justice he deserves. I put my arm
around her, pull a hideously-colored afghan over us both and doze off as well.

We wake up near dawn. I’m sure she was as uncomfortable as I was during the night. She
has to be at church by eight to set up for a Sunday school class she teaches. She takes a
quick shower while I make coffee. We have toast and devise a plan, since I don’t want to
go church, where she’ll zip me back to my trailer and then spend most of the day with her
fellow Methodists.

On the ride up to Wilton she jokes about what people at Biggie’s would say if she told
them she slept with a man all last night. We have a laugh about that and then she asks
me if I like kids. I was going to say, having been around Lenny’s crew, that I’d rather
raise cobras, but keep my mouth shut and say “yes.”



October 21, Sunday at Atwood Acres

When Dill drops me off we kiss goodbye. I am so aroused I want to ask her to forget
church and come inside my trailer. But I don’t. She suggests that maybe next week I could
come to dinner on Friday night and then we’d have Saturday to ourselves. She squeezes
my hand and kisses me again when she says it.

In my unit I clean up the kitchenette then flop down on the bed and fall asleep, only to be
awakened around noon by Tina who just waltzes right in. She claims she’d knocked, but I
must have been so exhausted from screwing last night that I didn’t hear. She makes
herself at home and informs me that Lenny is down at The Blind Pig watching Patriot
football on the big screen. But this is the last weekend for that. Tomorrow they’re coming
down to Biggie’s for a shopping spree. I tell her I want nothing to do with anything
illegal. All I have to do, she says, is keep my mouth shut. She hands me a video tape.

“Lenny and I made this the other night. You and your new love boat might learn a few
things. I’m available right now if you’re not too fagged out.”
She does a clumsy pirouette and flashes her breasts at me. Seeing that I’m not up for an
encounter, she turns and stomps out. “Remember, play dumb tomorrow. That’s all Lenny
wants from you.”

I watch her from the front door as she makes her way back to the trailer. I look at the
tape. Someone had scrawled “Love Fist” on the label. I wonder if it should be “Fest,” but
knowing them it could go either way.



October 22, Monday Late Afternoon

I’d spend most of the day with my gut and jaw clenched. I mentioned to Dill that
something is up so she’s keeping her eyes open for anything peculiar. We have lunch
together. We sit on the same side of the bench, share onion rings and I enjoy being close
to her. When we finish the afternoon break, she pulls me into the little alcove by the time
clock and kisses me.

We close at six on Monday. At 5:45 PM, just when I think I am home free, Lenny, Tina
and the pre-school spawns of Satan parade through the automatic doors. Tina has each
kid on one of those restraining halters and leashes. Even though it is late October she’s
wearing a revealing sun dress which shows plenty of her ample cleavage. Lenny marches
right up to me and declares it my lucky day. I’m quizzed on which is better, the plasma or
LCD TVs. He seems like a normal customer, and Tina acts all motherly by inquiring
about channel blocking and the dangers of sitting too close. He takes a minute and
decides the High Def Sony 50-inch Bravo is what they want.

“Give me four of them,” he says without blinking an eye.

I’m stunned, but before I can say anything he’s added four Sony surround sound systems
and an equal number of DirecTV HD receivers and recorders. Then Tina steps forward
and says, “Toss in the best vacuum cleaner you’ve got.” She flips her hair defiantly, daring
Lenny to cross her in public on this venture.

It takes me a few minutes to see what we have in inventory and then print up the sales
slip. It comes to $23,589.67 with tax. Tina has a quick conference with Lenny then says,
“We can go up to $25,000 so toss in a few microwaves and maybe an iPod; whatever takes
us to just under the limit.”

I do what she says and get within two bucks. Lenny slaps me on the back and declares to
the few left in the store that I’m the best salesman ever and deserve a raise. He hands me a
credit card. I’m about to tell him I don’t handle that end of the transaction when I glance
at it out of habit. The name embossed on the bottom right is Samuel Rossi. So that’s their
game. Whether Tina’s conned Sam out of it for services rendered, swiped it outright or
intercepted it when it came in the mail, I doubt any of the loot is destined for his use.

“I’m sorry Lenny, I don’t handle the payments. You have to go over to Customer Service.”
The warehouse guys, eager to get home, already have his loot piled on a big cart ready to
roll. But there is a serious bump in Lenny’s road. Evidently he thought I would be
ringing up the sales. He plays it cool though, slips the card into his shirt pocket and
follows the signs to the back of the store. Tina trails her man to the same counter, the two
kids, like dogs out for a walk who had found a great smelling lamppost, dragged along
behind her.

I duck out of the way, grab a store phone and punch in Dill’s extension. She answers in a
gentle, soothing voice, “Payments and Accounts, Ms. Fraley speaking. How may I help
you?’

“It’s Lenny with $25,000 worth of merchandise. He’s using our neighbor Sam Rossi’s
card. Sam is seventy-five and gets $800 a month SSI. Whatever’s going on, it’s not right.”

“We’re open until nine on Thursday and Friday, sir, but if you have a complaint you can
call Mr. Kravitz at extension 441.”

There is a click and she hangs up. Carl Kravitz is our all-around guy. He helps out in the
warehouse, checks packages at the door when he has time and sets up displays. The main
point is that he is six feet six, over three hundred pounds and played Arena League
football down in Manchester, New Hampshire. I need to find him, but it’s just six and I
suspect he is long gone. I sprint back to the stockroom and snake my way through to the
warehouse giving a “Kravitz” yell as I go. I might as well be on the dark side of the moon.
I am probably the only male employee left.

I retrace my steps back into the store. Lenny is giving Dilly a hard time. She’d asked for
two forms of ID, and he is explaining for the third time that he left his wallet at home
while pointing out that the credit card approval had gone through fine and dandy. Tina
sees me and pipes up that I’ll vouch for them. Lenny turns and stares expectantly, hands
on hips. I shake my head “no.” Lenny, sensing that his bluff is deteriorating, accelerates
into bluster mode.

“Fuck this shit,” he says. “I paid for it fair and square.”

He grabs the cart and lowers his shoulder to get its momentum going. Tina takes over the
battle with Dill but not before unleashing the boys upon the store. They sprint for the
TVs on display and begin pushing buttons.

“Listen,” she says, “that shit-for-brains salesman has it in for us because one time, out of
the goodness of my heart, I gave him a blow job. He still has the “hots” for me but I’m
married, you know what I’m saying. So he just wants to get me and my husband Sam in
trouble. He sure as hell knows us. How else would I know he’s a drunk?”

I can’t hear Dilly’s response except that she isn’t giving in. Then all hell breaks loose.
The kids are attacking the TVs with a set of keys, poking the screens as high up as they
can reach and watching the gel ooze out as the picture deflates like a hot air balloon. Tina
goes on the attack, making a grab for any part of Dill she can reach. Like a plow horse
trying to jump a stone wall, she gets hung up on the counter, flailing away until she
overbalances and topples onto the other side. I race over to protect Dilly knowing that
Lenny is pushing the dolly with ever-increasing speed towards the front doors. I get to the
service counter and peek over. The bottom of Tina’s sun dress has flipped over her head
like a sun bonnet. I doubt the world is ready for the sight of her pitted, white-as-paste
buttocks evenly divided by a skimpy red thong. Blinded as she is by her dress, she still has
hold of Dill’s ankle and is attempting to twist it, wrenching off a low-heeled shoe for her
first effort. Then, from out of nowhere, Paula appears with a push broom and begins
tattooing Tina to the degree that she curls up in the fetal position. I reach over, grab Dill
by the waist and lift her across to my side of the counter. In the distance I hear sirens and
guess that someone had the good sense to call 911. Together we run to the door. Lenny has
made it out to the parking lot and, with the aid of a young, chunky blonde, possibly his
sex buddy from work, is trying to put his loot into the high back of a Keating gravel
truck. When Auburn’s finest block the vehicle and draw their weapons, he stops and
assumes the position from force of habit.

                                            ***

It’s over by 7:30PM. Ed Harding, the store manager, has been called in. The cops take
Lenny and Tina away, the latter complaining about how tight the plastic cuffs are before
switching to a plaintive cry of “My babies, my babies!”

DSS arrives and deals with the kids. I pity the foster family that has them for the
evening. I am interviewed twice, as are Dilly and Paula, who’d been in the toilet battling
a case of the trots as she puts it when she heard the commotion out front. The
merchandise is brought back into the store, photographed and placed off to the side with
yellow “police evidence” tape strung around the pallet. I call Sam just to give him a heads
up that a cop will be out there the next morning, but the minute I mention a credit card
he thinks I am a telemarketer and hangs up.

Dill and I hold hands as we walk out to her car. I can kiss my trailer good bye when
Lenny gets out. “Buy plenty of marshmallows” was the euphemism we used to describe the
torching of property that resulted from defying Lenny Stark. As Dill drives us to her
home she thanks me for saving her from Tina.

“Jesus was in your heart tonight when you alerted me about the credit card and again
when you saw her leap the counter.”

“That stuff Tina said about me and her being together sexually . . . ,” she cut me off before
I could finish.

“I know. I know. She was trying to discredit you. She has such a filthy mind; she wanted
to bring you down to her level.”

She reaches out for my hand, squeezes it and then brings it up to her lips. “You have such
soft hands for someone who’s worked with them all his life. My dad’s were the same way.”

She kisses my hand again and presses it to top of her chest where a large, silver crucifix
hangs on a chain. My fingertips are on the cross but the bulk of my palm is on her right
breast. She looks over at me and smiles. I look ahead at the winding road. Here I am
stuck between the salvation of Christ and the ecstasy of terrific sex. Perhaps, later this
evening, after a supper of yesterday’s leftovers, I will experience both simultaneously. It’s
worth a try.

				
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