Discharged

24 August 1985

I’m sitting in a booth at Lenny’s Nosh Bar, dispatching the remains of a hot meatball sandwich with a Löwenbräu chaser and stewing in a shame of failed expectations that has dogged me from San Antonio to Eugene.

My return to Oregon after being discharged from the Air Force on grounds of a difference of opinion regarding my military career path was not celebrated at home by a ticker tape parade. There’s no reward for an idealistic child of flower children that infiltrates a system to change a system.

I desperately want to kick off my combat boots and peel off the military issue fatigues that hang on my body like an old skin to be shed in snake-like fashion and to wash away the sour smell of cigarette smoke and cheap alcohol—the proprietary perfume of the Greyhound bus that delivered me home—which clings to me like a desperate barfly. But first, I need to decompress in familiar surroundings.

Tossing back the last swallow of beer, I sigh deeply and press my back against the duffle bag propped beside the wall of the booth and close my eyes, listening to the sound of a twelve-bar blues tune with a palpitating Hammond B3 organ line as it spars with my beating heart. Green Onions, the 1962 hit by Booker T. & The MGs, is playing on the jukebox to welcome me back.

My head turns as the bell above the door rings and there’s Lenny Nathan, strolling into the Nosh Bar like he owns the place. He sees me and raises an eyebrow but heads directly to the tap. A moment later he comes over with another pint which he places on the table in front of me. He plucks a joint from the pocket of his apron and sets it beside the beer.

“I told ya so,” Lenny says. But there’s humor and understanding in his mischievous eyes.

I grin back at him as Ella Fitzgerald starts singing Too Young for the Blues.

Excerpt from Long Live Lenny’s Nosh Bar.

Follow 336 Journal on Facebook.


Antonio Arrives in London (1592)

23 April 1592

London.

My English tutor, Thomas Watson, calls it a growling, hungry, leviathan that will swallow a man the moment he sets his boots down in Thames Street. And yet, in some ways, ’tis not so different from Venice with regard to the river Thames—which runs through the city from east to west. I wonder if the citizens revere the river in the same way that Venetians revere their canals.

“Londoners rely on its currents to transport them to and fro throughout the city,” Watson says, as if hearing my thoughts. “And to many other places besides.”

“Your gondolas are not so narrow as ours,” I say. “I also notice they lack the curved prow and stern as our boats and they are moved along with oars rather than a pole.”

“True,” Watson says. “And they are called wherries, not gondolas, and their captains are known as boatmen or watermen. Some have more than one boatman, which makes for speedy travel, and these men must be highly skilled to ply their trade—serving no less than a two-year apprenticeship before they are allowed to solo. This is a great comfort to the citizens of the town as London Bridge is the only foot bridge that spans across the river.”

I watch the continual flow of wherries crossing from one side to the other as other craft traverse up and down the length of the river and it seems like utter chaos.

Even so, Watson says the watermen are so skilled there are few mishaps.

“Moreover, the public wherries are considerably more comfortable than the common gondola because of the soft embroidered cushions on the seats. Ample room to stretch out your legs. Most are covered for protection from the rain.

And best of all, there is no haggling over the fare. It is a penny to cross from one bank side to the other. All other fares are fixed depending on distance and whether you are going with or against the tide.”

***

Excerpt from Shakespeare’s Apprentice, a  novel written by Richard La Rosa.

 

Undead Homeless Dude

I pass by the old dude while riding my bicycle on the path that parallels the railroad tracks in the west end of Santa Rosa. His body is stretched out and facedown, a gnarled hand is resting over a soft guitar case, and his backpack is open and his head is on the path.

“Hey, man—are you alright. Do you need help? Are you alive?” No answer.

I get off my bike and touch his hand. It’s stone cold.

Gently placing my hand on his back, I nudge his stiff body, which rocks like a mannequin stuck in the mud. He doesn’t seem to be breathing. Damn—another dead man.

I call 911—it’s not the first time I’ve made this call. There was that dead man in Eugene, Oregon in the mid eighties and another guy in New York City almost a decade later.

“I found a guy on the bike path,” I say to the dispatcher. “I think he’s dead.” Suddenly, his shoulder circles slowly.

“Oh shit,” I say. “False alarm. He’s alive.”

“Does he need medical attention?” The woman asks.

The guy raises his head like a bear waking suddenly from hibernation and glares at me with feral alertness.

“Do you need medical attention?” I ask. “He’s not responding,” I say to the 911 operator.

“What are you doing here,” the man growls.

“Hey man, be cool. I’m just checking to see if you’re alright.”

“I’m trying to get away from people,” he says rising. “People like you!”

“Okay,” I say, laughing nervously and backing away. “Take care, man.”

“Hey, HEY,” he yells.

The operator asks me what’s happening and I tell her the guy is coming after me—but not to worry as I’m on my bike and riding away.

“Try to do something nice and that’s what you get,” she says. “You should buy a lottery ticket.”

I laugh and say, “I would if I lived in a world where I could exchange good karma points for cold hard cash.”

Sudden Dough by Eliot Fintushel

So this guy comes up to me as I’m leaving the coffeehouse in Railroad Square, hard by the Mission where the homeless feed, nondescript guy, tumbleweed of the city, bundled up in secondhand coat duct-taped along the back, with that Michelin Man look, if you know what I mean, and he thrusts a hand at me so abruptly I tighten and turn, ready to be punched, but instead I see his hand is open, and there’s a roll of fifties. Fifties!

“Relax,” says he. “I got $650 here, all yours, buddy, and all’s you got to do is sign me this piece of paper,”—handing me the piece of paper with his other hand—”and you can even keep the pen.”

He has maneuvered in such a way that it would be somehow awkward and embarrassing for me to hand back the money and the paper and the pen, all of which I now find myself holding.

“Read it, if you like,” says he, “but it’s strictly boilerplate.”

I look at the thing: I am to give him my soul, on death, in return for the $650. “I don’t want your money,” I say.

“Sure you do,” says he. “Just sign it. What, you scared?”

I scowl and sign it. He grabs it out of my hand so fast, it makes my fingers sting. And walks off around the corner.

It takes me a minute to process what just happened. I think I was just staring at this ridiculous paw full of sudden dough. Then, feeling panicky, I don’t know why, I run to the corner and look for him, but he’s gone.

I go down to the Mission–it’s breakfast time, and the hungry, draggling their sleeping rolls and bindles are herding in. I can’t just stand there with all that money showing. I pocket it. He’s nowhere to be seen. So, what the hell–he GAVE it to me: I head home, feeling like a rich man.

Since then, everything has been aces.

***

 

Eliot is the author of ZEN CITY from Zero Books and BREAKFAST WITH THE ONES YOU LOVE from Random House. He has also published short stories in Asimov’s, Analog, Strange Horizons, Amazing Stories, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Crank!, and in the anthologies Jewish Sci-Fi Stories for Kids, Jewish Detective Stories for Kids, Nalo Hopkinson’s Mojo: Conjure Stories, and Polyphony 4. His fiction has appeared in the annual anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction several times. He has been nominated for the Theodore Sturgeon Award and the Nebula Award, and has twice won the National Endowment for the Arts Solo Performer Award. 

 

By the way, Eliot is desperate to find that guy who gave him the money, never mind why, so if you see anybody fitting the description please tell him where in the comments.

Words in revision

%d bloggers like this: