Elevator

Elevator

By: Tony Ortiz | January 19th, 2017

 

 

Honey guess what, Angela said.

 

What? Asked Daniel.

 

You got another letter.

 

Another rejection, you mean?

 

C’mon, don’t say that.  Be positive.  Besides, I have a good feeling about this one.  Here open it.

 

         Angela handed Daniel a letter that came in the mail, from one of the dozens of Agents and Publishing houses that he submitted his latest manuscript to.  Most of them never responded.

 

I guess you’re right, he said as he started to tear it open.  Maybe the 16th time is the charm right?

 

Mommy? - Their child’s voice said from his bedroom.

 

Shoot.  Let me go make sure he’s ok.  But open it, open it.  I’ll be right back.

 

         Daniel slid the tri-folded letter out of the envelope and began to read as his heart rate began to elevate:

  

Friday, January 13th, 2017

Dear Author,

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to consider your manuscript. We read it with interest but I regret we will not be making an offer of publication. We do not feel that it is the right fit for our publishing house.

Thank you for thinking of us, and we wish you every success in finding a publisher for your work.  Keep on writing.

Yours sincerely,

Rough House

 

He’s fine, he just wanted his stuffed whale.  So?  What they say?

 

They said that the 17th time might be the charm, responded Daniel.

 

Awe, babe.  I’m sorry.  Come here, she said as she wrapped her loving arms over his shoulders and gave him a kiss.  I love your writing … and I hate reading, so if you can pull that off, they’ll wise-up eventually.

 

Thanks babe.  I’m not sweating it.  I mean, J.K. Rowling was rejected 12 times before she got published.   

 

See, so no need to worry. 

 

And Jack Canfield with the Chicken Soup for the Soul series had a whopping 140 rejections.

 

Lets try and keep it on the lower end of that spectrum, she said smiling. 

 

I’m not worried.  It is what it is, I just need to work harder and get better.

 

Good attitude babe.  Just make sure you don’t beat yourself up though.  As it is you wake up early, go to sleep late & work weekends.  You can’t kill yourself either. 

 

What do you think about me starting to write full time?

 

If we could afford it, that would be great.  But we can’t.

 

I know we can’t right now.  I’m not just going to quit my job.  I meant if we actively save for it.  Plan for it.

 

We barely make it out ahead of our mortgage and bills each month as is.  What are we going to be able to save?  Be realistic.

 

I’m just sick of my job Angela.  So much that it’s frustrating me to the point of affecting my writing time. 

 

So change your job.  I don’t know; maybe get a job in something writing related.  Or I can go back to work but we discussed this.  Most of my pay would be going to the stranger that would be raising Carlos. 

 

I know, I know.  I just feel like I have to get away from everything and really give it an honest go.    

 

We have a two-year old in the other room and you're asking me this now?  What are you running from?

 

What are you talking about?  I’m not running from anything.  I’m still putting in 50-60 hours per week aren’t I?  It just feels like I’m climbing 2 rungs up and 1 down the corporate ladder.  C’mon, you know how I feel about writing full time.  How I've always felt about it.

 

And you know I've always supported your dreams. All the nights and weekends when I felt I didn't exist while you were typing away our companionship. But this is different.  We have a baby now. You can't just quit your job to follow some dream.  Be real. 

 

Some dream?  First of all, the writing in and of itself is my dream yes, but what I'm striving for is ours.  More family time.  The Independence to live where we want.  Travel when we want.  And best of all not having to rely on some corporation that utilizes me no differently than a copier uses its paper tray.  I’m a functional piece of equipment, in human form.   You know this isn't just coming out of the blue. I've been doing the responsible thing and burning the candle on both ends, for years. 

 

I know and I've been with you every step of the way, remember?  Your timing just couldn't be more wrong. 

 

There will always be reasons not to do it. Reasons why I shouldn't start writing full time.  And I won’t do this if you’re not on board but think about it … how much longer should I keep letting those reasons win?

 

What if you don't make it?  What if your sales don't go up?  What then?  Is it worth not being able to put food in your baby's mouth?  How about the health insurance?  We can’t be impulsive about this, Daniel.

 

Since when do you know me to be impulsive?  I never said I was going to quit next week.  Just that I wanted to gear up and plan for doing so. We have to work all that out beforehand.  We can go on public insurance.  We have some savings.  I'm not saying it would be easy but there are answers.  Alternatives.  They may take 6 months or a year or even more to establish.  Just think about it will ya.  I gotta go, I'm running late. We’ll speak about it more at dinner. 

 

         He leaned in and gave her a kiss goodbye. 

 

I don't think there's anything to think about she said.

 

Don't be irrational. We’ll speak later. I love you.

 

         Daniel left and walked four blocks towards his reoccurring hour-long journey that takes him from his home, to the bus that then transfers him to the train that takes him into the city and his 9-5.

 

         Back home his wife was watching cartoons with the baby and she focused in on a bit of dialogue:

 

         I don't ever want to be a grown up!

 

         Why is that Molly?

 

They never have time to have fun! It's always work, work, work.  And when they're not working they're too tired to play with me!

 

Well Molly, grown ups have to work so that they can be able to feed you, clothe you, and buy you the toys you want.  One day you’ll be a grownup and you'll enjoy working to provide for your kids.  That's what family’s all about.

 

Some playful background music chimed in as Molly broke out into a song and dance routine.

 

Being a grownup isn't always what it seems.

When I grow up, I'm gonna dream.

 

Having to work is over rated, so when I   grow up, I'm gonna dream.

 

We’re going to play all day and enjoy or snacks and even look forward to taking naps!

When I grow up, I'm gonna dreeeam.

And I'll never lose sight of what it means.

 

You know what Molly? You might be right, maybe it wouldn't be so bad if grownups dreamt every once in a while.

 

         Angela looked at her baby boy and asked: you're going to follow your dreams aren't you Carlito?

 

         Daniel missed his stop on the train because it was so packed that he couldn't get to the door on time before more people rushed in and the doors closed behind them.  During rush hour, if you're not strategically positioned within the train car, you have to develop quartz-like timing, along with an elite acrobatic ability to get past the book bags, baby strollers, and people that either aren’t paying attention or just don’t give a fuck that they’re in the way.

 

         After a long day of work that included about 4 cups of coffee, the deli giving him the wrong over-priced sandwich for lunch (he hates tuna), his shirt ripping on the elbow from rubbing it on his desk and about an hour of unpaid overtime … he headed home.  The subway platform was so full when he got there, that he had to stand half-way up the staircase and just wait until enough trains passed by to alleviate the amount of people.  Four trains came and went by the time he was close enough to squeeze into the crowded fifth one. There he was stuck between a teenager blasting some god-awful music through his headphones, and a mouth breather with subpar personal hygiene.  The train stopped on five separate occasions in between stations, due to train traffic ahead.  He eventually made it above ground and to his stop.  He checked his phone and his wife had text him:

 

‘Everything ok babe’?

He responded: ‘Yea.  Train was packed and delayed.  Just got above ground.  About to wait for the bus.  Start eating dinner without me.  Love you.’

 

         Angela waited for him to arrive and then warmed up dinner for them both while Daniel settled in and spent time with Carlos.  Even though he insisted, she never liked eating alone.

 

Dinner’s ready, said Angela.

 

Let’s go eat buddy, Daniel told Carlos.  Then we’ll play, ok?

 

Ok daddy.

 

         Carlos hopped up and into his high-chair, as they sat at the dinner table.

 

Long day huh?  Angela said.

 

Yea babe, but it is what it is.  The train was just OD backed up.  You should’ve seen that platform.  It was like a sea of people.  I literally had to stand on the stairs and wait for it to empty out enough for me to get closer.

 

Damn, I’m sorry Hun. 

 

Dinner looks great though, thanks sweetie.  Eat your food buddy, if not then no playtime.

 

I was thinking about what you said earlier Danny, said Angela.

 

Yea me too actually, and I’m sorry I even brought it up.

 

No, I’m glad you did.  Don’t be sorry about that.  We should always be able to speak our minds and express what we’re feeling to each other.  No matter what.  Warts and all.  If we can’t be vulnerable with each other, then who can we be that open with?

 

Yea I guess.  But it is way too risky of a thing to think about now.  Maybe when Carlos goes into school and if you decide to go back to work, maybe then we can revisit it.  In the meantime, I’ll focus on getting better.  Quality can't be denied. That’s where my focus needs to be.  

 

That is a way to go but if you want to figure something out, I’m with you babe.  Like, if we cut back on everything for a while like dinners and movies, save up a few months worth of bills and then give it a shot.  Or any other way that we can make it happen sooner.  I won’t ever be able to forgive myself for stopping you from chasing your dream.  And I know you could do it.  Without a doubt I do.  I support you and am willing to do anything I can from my part because like you said, it’ll lead to our dream life and more importantly it’ll show Carlito that he can truly be anything he wants to be.

 

I really appreciate that sweetheart.  But honestly the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with what you said this morning.  I mean, you know the responsible side of me wouldn’t ever let me do it without having an established, ironclad backup plan and nest-egg, etc.  The thing is that, in a worst-case scenario situation, which is what I believe we’d have to plan for, what if it doesn’t work out and I can’t get a job when I need to?  I can’t put you or Carlito in that situation.  I was thinking and if I wake up a half hour earlier than I am already and wake up just as early on the weekends, I'll be able to put out at least an extra couple thousand words per week.  The more I write, the better I'll get. I’ll just keep grinding babe, and we’ll see what happens.  That in itself will show Carlito the diligent discipline and dedication he’ll need to be whatever he wants to be.  Also, we won't have to rely solely on the off-chance of me writing a blockbuster hit to teach him that, he said smiling.  This is really tasty by the way, thank you.

 

         The next day Daniel went through the same arduous morning commute. When he arrived at his office building, he greeted the security guards as affably as every other morning and then walked over to the elevator vestibule.  He saw someone he hadn't recognized or ever seen in the building before.  It was an older gentleman that looked noticeably disheveled.  Not in a homeless kind of way but just sloppy and unkempt.  The dress shirt he had on under his colorful knit sweater was half tucked in, half out. One shoelace was untied, his hair was messy, and none of his clothing seemed to have a coherent matching or even a contrasting sequence.  He was carrying two bulky bags that didn't seem as heavy as they were uncomfortable to carry.  He got onto the elevator and Daniel followed. There was, oddly enough for this time of the morning, no one else in this vestibule.  The gentleman dropped two pristine white pieces of paper folded in the exact same way, behind him.  Daniel picked them up.

 

Excuse me sir, you dropped these.

 

Oh thank you young man, the older gentleman responded as he pressed his floor number on the elevator panel.  It's just a note with a saying.  A reminder of something. Good thing it wasn't cash, huh?

 

Haha, very true, Daniel responded.

 

Which is more important though?  The older gentleman asked before he answered his own question. - Depends where your going I guess.

 

         That resonated with Daniel but he didn't respond.  He was lost in thought.  Thoughts of security and money versus writing his dreams into reality were swirling around in his mind.  He snapped out of it when the older gentleman said, “Looks like it's stuck” referring to the elevator.

 

Daniel looked up at the floor numbers and then at the older gentleman confused, because the numbers were going up as they normally do.  They arrived at Daniel’s floor first and the doors opened. 

 

Oh look, I’m right above you, said the older gentleman. 

 

Daniel turned back and smiled as he walked out.  Have a good day sir.

 

Yes, yes, he responded with a wry little smile, it is a good day.

 

Fly

Fly

By Tony Ortiz | December 28, 2015

 

1. Hello?  Oh, hi Miguel.  Why are you calling me blocked?  -  Because I’m not at my desk.  Some people have lunch at work you know.  Yea.  Yes, I said.  I’m with Maritza.  Ok.  I have to stay a little later again today.  Why are you ‘whatevering’ me?  Should I just quit my job?  Are you going to pay all the bills?  -  I didn’t think so.  I am doing what I got to do.  Ok, bye!

2. Oh so I’m a girl now?

1. To him everybody better be a girl, trust me.  I’m not in the mood for his shit right now.

2. What are you in the mood for?

1. Well, you heard what I said.  I’m ‘working late’, right?

2. Good answer.  We’ll relieve all of that stress a little later sweetheart.  I’ll call for a reservation now.

1. Don’t use the same place as last week.  Those sheets were so uncomfortable.  I can leave today like around …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

3. Bro, if this deal goes through, we are set!  Do you know how big an investment from them will be?

4. I know man.  I don’t want to jinx it but I think …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

5. Next on line, can I take your order?

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

6. I’m so sick of this guy.

7. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a positive thing about him I don’t get how he still gets to manage.

6. You’re lucky he hasn’t worked with your department yet.  If he knew what he was doing I’d be fine with it all too.

7. And I heard he acts like he knows it all too.

6. That’s what I’m saying; dude just admit when you don’t know something.  That makes us not want to deal with your smug ass.

7. Tell me about it.  I can’t work with people …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

8. Tracy where’s order #57 please?  Mike when you see three like this on the screen, you know they’re ‘to stay’ orders so you can prep the three trays now with the lining and set them up here, before the food is even …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

9. You guys going to 8th period?

10. Nah, fuck that.  I didn’t do Mr. Fox’s homework anyways.

11. I’m down to chill, I don’t feel like going back today.

9. I’ll chill for 8th too but I got a Trig test 9th  

11. Pussy.  Fuck Trig.  What do you need that for?

9. Yea, yea.  So I can get the fuck outta school man.  I don’t want to wind up working in a place like this forever.

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

5. Here’s your change.  Thank you.

12. Thank you beautiful.  What time you get off today?

5. What?

12. What time you get off beautiful? - So I can pick you up.

5. Uhh, 5:30 but I don’t need you to pick me up.  Next on line please.

12. I’m not moving until you say yes to me.

5. You crazy.  The people in line are gonna kill you.

12. You’re worth dying for.

5. Oh my god, I can’t with you.  You’re crazy.

12. Just give me your number real quick and I’ll be on my way.

5. Ok but only so you move and don’t hold up my line.  917-643 …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

13. Excuse me, do you know how much longer it’s going to be?  I only have a half hour lunch break.

8. What’s your order number?

13. Fifty one.  Did they forget?

8. No, it should just be a couple of minutes.

13. C’mon man, its been 13 minutes already.

8. It’ll just be a couple more ma’am, I’m sorry.  We’ll give you …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

14. Danielito, comase todas sus papas.

15. Ya me comí mucho mami.

16. Despues del Freedom Tower y el museo de las torres gemelas, ¿para adonde quieren ir?

15. Vamos a la tienda de juguetes!

14. ¿Que juguetes ni juguetes?  Comase su almuerzo.

16. O vamos a la estatua de liberated, o a ver a el empire state building, que queda por allí también…

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

5. Next online.  Can I take your order?

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

17. Uh. I thought I told you cats I’m not a rapper.  Can I live?  I told you in ’96 that I came to take this shit and I did, handle my biz, I scramble …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

8. Order #51.  Here you go ma’am.  We’re really sorry for the delay.  Here’s a $5 coupon for your next visit.

13. I can’t come back here.  I don’t have time to eat in this place.

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

18. We need bread at home, right?

19. Nah, I got some after my jog this morning.

18. Oh ok, nice.  I was going to say we could swing by the bodega after the movie.

19. One step ahead of you boo.  Here, try my milkshake, it’s …

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

6. This burger sucks man.

7. Yea, it’s not that great.  We have to try a different spot.  Mix it up a bit.

6. Yea.  It’s crazy how hot it is today too right?  Have you seen all the people on Instagram and Facebook with pics of them in shorts and T’s and shit?

7.  Mhmm, yea.  Hashtag shortsleevedecember or something like that?

6. Yea, they went a touch too far with shorts though.

7. Watch it be snowing in April now.  Fucking climate is all out of wack…

 

Bzzzzzzz

 

8. Here’s your order sir, enjoy and have a great day.

20. Thanks, you too boss.

 

Bzzzzzzz SWAT! Silence.  

Lecture Hall

Lecture Hall

By Tony Ortiz | June 27th, 2015

Will the great recession be on the Midterm Professor?

Absolutely, and here’s the type of essay I’m looking for folks.  Show the understanding that the catalyst was the burst of the tech-bubble in the early 2000’s.  People began to search for safer investments, and settled on real estate.  In turn home demands rise while supply falls.  And what does that do to the price, class?

It drives it up, responded a student from the back of the lecture hall.

Correct, whoever that was, responded the Professor.

It drives the price up, which artificially inflates home values.  So what then?  Houses across the nation are now “worth” more than ever before –in recorded history. And here’s where individual greed comes in.  People owe less than what their homes are now artificially inflated to be worth.  That spread, between the value and what is owed, is called equity.  And what do they do?  They can’t leave well enough alone, no.  They borrow against that equity.  They buy other houses, cars, boats … luxury items that they don’t need.  Greed is good, huh?  Not in this case.

But Professor –

Hold on David, let me finish this point first.  As the spread continued to increase, some of these people took out second mortgages and lines of credit, using their homes as ATM machines.  We were in the midst of the next bubble folks, and most of us didn’t see it.  Values kept going up.  Skyrocketing in some regions.  But we missed the forest for the trees.  Then Wall Street which was fueled by their own greed, created financial instruments known as Mortgage Backed Securities.  Think of them as stocks or bonds that were made up of a collection of mortgages that were all bundled up and sold by the share to the general public.  The thing is that these Mortgage Backed Securities weren’t just made up of mortgages that were in good standing.  They’d also include these doomed to fail sub-prime mortgages.  They bundled them up together and sold them to the world.  Infesting the globe.

This leads to the next point that your essays should cover.  What exactly is the sub-prime mortgage market?  Well, Wall Street wasn’t satiated with the millions of dollars this market was generating.  Nope.  They wanted even more.  Their greed needed to be fed.  So the Banks that you and I go to for a Mortgage, began to loosen up their guidelines for mortgage qualifications.  This way they’d have more mortgages on their books to feed Wall Street with.  You no longer needed a 720 Credit score, a 680 score would do.  You didn’t need 20% down payment plus closing costs, just come up with 10% plus closing costs.  If you build it, they will come, and so they (the borrowers) came.

But why is that the consumers’ fault, blurted out a student from the back of the lecture hall.

Because there’s something called personal responsibility, that’s why!  Nobody can exercise that for you.  As I was saying, after the banks lowered mortgage qualifying requirements and Wall Street successfully sold off those securities, they lowered requirements even more.  Soon you didn’t need a down payment, and closing costs weren’t required either!  They rolled up all of your costs into your mortgage loan.  Can’t pay for the appraisal out of pocket? – Don’t worry.  We’ll roll that cost in too.  Some big banks like Countrywide, which to give you a bit of context; In 2006 Countrywide financed 20% of all mortgages in the United States, at a value of about 3.5% of United States GDP, as well as a handful of lesser known fly-by-night banks that popped up to exploit, even offered up to 106% financing.  I’ll say that again. One-hundred-and-six-percent financing.  That means that in some cases you were paid to take a mortgage!  They paid you, to buy a house!  I shit you not.  But we the consumer, kept taking and taking and taking.  Word to the wise folks, if it seems too good to be true … it is!  Questions?  Comments?

David raises his hand again; “I have a question.”

Go ahead David, said Professor Nachman.

You say that consumer greed is at the root of this issue, right?

Not just consumer greed, responded Professor Nachman but greed in general.  Bank greed.  Wall Street greed.  Human greed.  The blame goes all around.

Well, I don’t’ think I agree with you Professor. 

Fair enough, tell us why you don’t, responded Professor Nachman as he leaned on the front of his desk to listen.

I guess greed does play into it, David continued, a general ‘people wanting what they can’t have’ coupled with being told that they can now have all those things … but I wouldn’t blame it solely on greed.

There are absolutely other factors at play young David, just none as strong or as underlying as greed.

That’s just it, I don’t think every one involved is necessarily being greedy.  There’s plenty to say about predatory lending.  About lack of regulation, about manipulation and exploitation of a weak system.

David.  If you’re a minimum wage worker at the local supermarket for example, you should have the common sense that you have no place purchasing a four hundred thousand-dollar home.  And then, on top of that, an additional hundred thousand dollar line of credit against that same home, which you use to buy a new car and big screen T.V.  That’s living beyond your means.  That’s exercising zero personal responsibility. 

But don’t Banks have a fiduciary responsibility to be truthful?  Don’t Banks have a personal responsibility not to fuck over their customers?

Watch that tone.

I’m sorry Professor, it’s frustrating.  That mentality.  My aunt for example, came to this country 12 years ago.  She worked 10-12 hour days, 6 days a week.  Making sure my cousins never wanted for clothes on their backs or food in their mouths.  She even took me in for a year when my parents died in their accident.  And she did it alone.  But I guess she should have had the personal responsibility to pick a better husband right?

What’s your point David?

The point is that she is a hard worker that scraped together her life savings of $10,000 to buy a house.  She put all her eggs in one basket because that’s all her local mortgage Broker told her she needed.  She would finally be able to fulfill the ‘American Dream’ for her and her family.  He told her that her mortgage would be even less than she was currently paying in rent, because of an interest rate special he could get her for being a first time homebuyer and for being a single hard working Latina woman.  He even told her that he could get her a line of credit for a new car too … but she didn’t’ bite on that one.

She got the house with only 10K down on the sales contract.  Closing costs were rolled into her new loan.  He didn’t tell her however, about the several hundred dollars more per month, that she would have to pay for PMI (Private Mortgage Insurance) because she didn’t make a down payment of 20%.  And of course didn’t mention the taxes and insurance because everyone, including 1st time homebuyers, should know that right?  Instead he misleads her by quoting only the principal and interest payment and conveniently leaving out the rest.

But it’s ok; she’s hard working and knew things couldn’t just go 100% smooth.  Fine.  She picked up a part time job on Sundays, to make ends meet.  In her mind, working 7 days a week is worth her children having a taste of the American Dream.  You want to know what he didn’t tell her though?

What’s that?

That the type of loan he gave her was a 6-month arm.  She had an introductory teaser rate.  Meaning her interest rate/mortgage payment was locked in for only 6 months.  Thereafter it would more than double!  She went back to the Broker thinking surely this has been some kind of mistake.  He told her he’d look into it, strung her along avoiding her calls for over two weeks.  After that when she showed up at his office again, he told her that there was nothing he could do, except refinance her into a 30 year fixed rate loan but it would cost her another 10K in closing costs, and her total monthly payment would go down by only about $150.  Long story short, the Bank foreclosed and she lost the house.  She lost it all.  Now she’s back in the Dominican Republic with her 2 kids.  And her story is far from unique by the way.  What happened to the Bank having a fiduciary responsibility to their customers?  What happened to walking into making the biggest investment of your life and not having to worry about snake-oil salesman?

Let me ask you something David.  What happened to your aunts’ personal responsibility?  What happened to your aunt knowing the limits of what she could afford?  Folks … there are bad people out there.  They’ll always be there.  We can’t nerf the world in order to shield the rest of us from them.  That’s not how we win.  We win by being accountable for our actions.  For knowing what we’re getting ourselves into.

You’re being disingenuous professor.

Excuse me?

And unrealistic too.  What you’re saying makes sense for us.  The younger generation.  Those of us lucky enough to be learning this stuff in College.  But what about my aunt?  What about the immigrants that are preyed upon?  What about the hard working Americans even, that left school because they chose to nobly put their families needs’ before their own and went to work in order to provide for them.  They obviously don’t have the same information.  So fuck them?  Survival of the fittest basically?

Watch your language in my classroom.

Sorry … I guess I just don’t know any better.  But you know what professor, it shouldn’t be ok to screw over the less fortunate and squeeze out every last dime out of them just because you can.  And what’s worse, is that they continue to do so without repercussion.  That’s the issue.  You say that bad people will exist.  Agreed.  But we shouldn’t have to write that off as the cost of doing business.  Assholes need to be checked.  Bad business practices, regulated.  In a direct and unilateral way.  Attacking the root of the issue instead of hacking away at the symptomatic branches, to paraphrase Thoreau. 

Big Government and regulation stifles progress and ingenuity.

Does it always?  Can’t it also allow progress and ingenuity to be free to thrive without corporate special interest intervention like the New Deal did with Social Security and other programs after the Great Depression?

In the long run, the invisible hand prevails and the markets balance themselves out.  So long as people remain content with knowing that ditch diggers and maids can’t buy mansions.

I agree with personal responsibility to a degree, but the underlying issue with that is that everyone can’t know everything.  The maid that walks into a bank with her life savings, shouldn’t leave thinking she has a home and find out 6 months later that she barely has a shirt on her back.  And her children shouldn’t have to decide between either breakfast or lunch because some unregulated Banker wanted to add a diving board to the pool at his family’s summer home.

Tread lightly on that regulation slippery slope that you’re on David.  You may regret it in the future.

Your generation doesn’t get to tell ours what to do anymore. 

Ok that’s enough, said Professor Nachman.

No it isn’t enough, responded David.  We still have skin in the game.  You played it your way and lost.  Now it’s on us to clean up the mess we’ve inherited, in order to survive.  And it starts here, with this conversation.  With doing what we can to help shift the collective consciousness into a space where we don’t have a ‘pass the buck’ mob mentality.  Where personal responsibility is balanced by unilateral repercussions.  A dash of good old common sense could go a long way. 

Bell Rings. Class Ends.

 

 

 

Nostrand Ave

Nostrand Ave

By Tony Ortiz | March 22nd, 2015

        Henry woke up and went through his morning routines as quietly as possible, so that he wouldn’t wake Dolores.  But no luck.  As usual, she barely got any sleep the night before.  Too busy worrying.  He graduated the Academy barely 6 months ago and has a late night to early morning shift during his patrol.

Did you put on your vest? She asked.

I did babe.  Don’t worry, he responded.

You know I can’t stop worrying until after you’re home, and still … hours later you’re gone again.  Said Dolores.

Come here babe, he told her as he sat down at the side of the bed.  I won’t be on this shift too much longer.  Once I hit the one-year mark, I’ll be able to put in for a transfer, Henry told her.   

The next six months can’t pass soon enough, she replied.  Be safe out there.  And call me every chance you get.

Will do babe.  I love you.  Try and get some sleep.

Out he went to his post, where he met up with his Partner.

Martineeez, he greeted his Partner.

What’s going on brother? He responded.

Not much said Henry.  Here, got you a coffee.

Who’s better than you?  Thanks man, responded Martinez.  The Lieutenant wants us covering the A-Line, and walking the perimeter of some of the red-zone stations.

Okay, cool.  Lead the way, responded Henry.

You’ll like it.  Ride some trains, look at the pretty ladies going to work, bullshit on the platforms.  Easy money, said Martinez.

On the other side of town, Tracy was being woken up for school by her loving mother.

Wake up you fat lazy bitch, yelled Ms. Walker.

Mom! What the fuck.  I’m up.  Damn.  Why you always gotta be so damn loud?  Tracy responded.

This my house.  I’ll be as loud as I want, she responded.  You aint gonna wind up like me[1], she continued while taking a sip of her morning cocktail (Gin & Sunny DeLight).

I hope not, Tracy said with an attitude.

Don’t make me slap the shit outta you.  Get your fat ass up and go to school.

            As she was leaving the house for her hour and a half commute, she asked her mom for some money for the train.

Where the fuck is your school Metrocard?

I lost it, Tracy responded.

Well, that sound like a personal issue, said Ms. Walker.

How am I supposed to get to school?  Tracy asked.

Figure it out.  And what you need to do is stop eating them damn candy bars and get you an apple.  That’s why you look like that, commented Ms. Walker. 

Whateva, Tracy said as she walked out and slammed the door.

        Tracy walked over to the Nostrand Avenue A-Line.  She went downstairs and pretended to buy a Metrocard at the machine, waiting for both the attendant to become distracted and for her train to approach the platform so she could try and hop the turnstiles.  Officer Martinez was taking a 15 minute john break.  Henry was there, but she didn’t notice him because he was a bit off to the side, and on his phone texting his wife; ‘Everything has gone smooth today babe, and my shift will be over soon.  Love you.’

Announcement: There will be a downtown bound A-Train approaching the station in approximately 2 minutes.

            Tracy looks around to access the situation, while more passengers’ swipe through the turnstiles.  The rumblings of the approaching train begin to crescendo as her heart rate elevates in unison.  She’s not the most athletic girl, and hasn’t really tried anything like this since she was a kid and her mom used to make her duck down underneath the turnstiles.  She fumbles it.  Telegraphed her intent to the attendant, who sounded the alarm before she began to hoist herself up and over.  Henry quickly ran over to meet her on the other side.

Officer! Officer! The attendant yells as he steps out of the booth to point Tracy out.  It was her.  Arrest her!

I aint do nothing, says Tracy.

Excuse me ma’am, do you have some ID? Henry asks remembering that his training advises he should always identify first.

No, I aint got no license I’m 16 and I’m in school, Tracy responded. 

I’m going to have to ask you to come with me and sit over here then ma’am.  We’re creating a bit of traffic, said Henry.

Tracy sizing up the Officer who was about her height and much thinner, says:

I told you I aint do nothin and I need to go to school.  That man crazy.

At this point the train had come and gone and there were less people around.

Arrest her Officer.  Giver her ticket! Shouted the attendant.

Fuck you asshole, Tracy shouted back at him.

You mother bitch, you.  Says the man. 

Henry is calling in this escalating situation on his radio, to alert his Partner.  This is the first time he’s alone and dealing with a something like this.

Sir, Henry tells the attendant, I’m going to have to ask you to please go back into your booth and let me do my job.

The attendant was visibly upset, but he obliged.

You gone make me miss my next train too Officer?  Shoot!  I got a quiz 1st period.

Ma’am I want to get you on your way as soon as possible, but I need you to work with me.  You’re getting a citation for jumping the train, he says as he pulls out his summons booklet.  So I need you to cooperate and give me your full name, date of birth and address, Henry stated.

What’s that?  A ticket?  Tracy asked.

It’s a summons.  You will receive a Court date in the mail to which a parent or legal guardian will have to accompany you and pay a fine, responded Henry.

Oh my god, are you serious?! She said with her throat knotting up and a tear swelling up in the corner of her left eye.  That man is lying.  Why you only believe him?  You know what my Momma will do to me if I get in trouble here?  Says Tracy.

Ma’am, this will go a lot faster if you cooperate.

Announcement: There will be a downtown bound, express A-Train approaching the station in approximately 4 minutes.

You hear that?  Do you want to make that train or do you want to miss your quiz and have your mom upset about that?  Asks Henry.

Man, I aint even gonna take the damn train then, Tracy says as she stands up and begins towards the exit.

Ma’am you’re not free to go, says Henry as he reaches for the wrist on her right hand.

Get off me!  Get your hands off of me, she yells calling even more attention to the situation.

        Henry gets in front of her and she slaps the summons booklet from his left hand and she tries to run for the emergency exit door next to the turnstiles, but the attendant disabled it.  Henry grabs her by the arm and reaches for his cuffs.  She’s hysterical.  Screaming and crying pulling her hands away as he’s trying to restrain her up against that exit door.

I can’t get in trouble!  I didn’t do anything.  Leave me alone.  Stop it!  Stop it!

       She knocks his handcuffs down.  Henry’s protocol now allows him to enact force.  He reaches for his club and she begins flailing her arms frantically.  She accidentally hits his firearm and removes the safety clip on his holster.  Henry hits her on the leg with his club to try and get her to the ground.  Several people on the platform have begun recording this on their phones, while chiming in:

“Leave her alone”

“She didn’t do anything, this is abuse”

“You can’t hit her.  Get her his badge number, this is brutality”

        Henry’s reacting to everything nervously and Tracy’s crying and shouting aren’t helping.  He hits her with the club again and she drops to the ground as the crowd gets more rowdy.  He grabs the cuffs and is able to get one on her right wrist. 

         The attendant is on the phone with 911, reporting the incident, and more units are on the way, including Martinez who’s near by.  Tracy continues to kick and scream wildly and winds up scratching Henry in the face, who’s having obvious trouble restraining her.  Martinez makes his way downstairs and is running over as Tracy hits Henry in the nose.  He instinctually draws his weapon.  It slips and he drops the gun.  Tracy and him both go for it instinctively.  One of their fingers is on the trigger and it goes off.  Martinez, close enough now to witness this, draws his firearm as well.  He sees his partner clinching his waist-side and falling backwards.  Tracy is screaming nervously and still holding onto Henry’s gun.  Without hesitation Martinez unloads 5 shots at her torso…fatally wounding the high-schooler.

            Within 24 hours, Dolores is weeping bedside in the post-opp Hospital room, while half a dozen of his brothers in blue, including Martinez, are in the waiting area, waiting for Henry to wake up.

            Two uniformed Officers were sent over to Tracy’s home to inform her family of what happened.  Ms. Walker all but attacked the Officers as she broke down crying.

You killed my baby!  You killed my little girl!  Nooooo, noooo.  You sons of bitches, when are you going to leave us alone, you evil devils. 

Ma’am we’re deeply sorry for your loss, said one of the Officers as he was able to get a word in edgewise.

She was a good girl, Jesus why?! She continued.

Mrs. Walker –

It’s Ms. you no good piece of shit, she responded.

Here’s the address to the Hospital where you need to go and claim your daughter, we can take you if you’d like.

I don’t want nothing from you, I can take myself, she responded.

Okay, well here’s our card.  Contact us when you’re sobered up if you’d like to make a statement, he said.

Fuck you! I aint drunk.  Get out of my home.  Get out! Ms. Walker responded.

        Several months later a woman walks into her neighborhood Police Precinct, in her Sunday Church dress, right after that mornings service.  She engages an irritated Police Officer that’s working the front desk.  He seems to be angry at life and she can smell alcohol on his breath as he speaks;

Yes ma’am, how can I help you, Officer Henry Kurth asked the woman.

Hello sir, my name is Tiffany Walker and I wanted to get a list of all of the after school Community Centers in the area, she requested. 

        It’s been several months, and although he still had nightmares of the incident, he didn’t make the connection as to who this woman was, right away.

All of the Community Centers in our jurisdiction, are posted over on that bulletin board over there, he responded as he lack-lustardly pointed at cork board by the entrance.

Oh okay, thank you, responded Ms. Walker.  Do you happen to have a sheet of paper and a pen I can borrow to jot down the names and phone numbers?

Hold on, he responded grumpily.  Henry rolled his wheelchair out from under his desk, and rolled over to the supply draw, to grab a legal pad and pen.  Here you go, he said as he handed them over to her.

Thank you kindly Officer … Henry Kurth, is it?

That’s right, Henry said as she walked over to the bulletin board.

        He looks at the nameplate on his desk, wondering how she knew his first name because the name tag on his uniform only shows his last name.  The nameplate on his desk reads: P.O. Kurth.  He looks up at her while she’s jotting down some of the information and she starts to look familiar.  He makes the connection, remembering her name from the loads of paperwork for the Tracy Walker case.  He’s immediately suspicious as to why she’s here.  Feeling that there has to be an ulterior motive.

         She walks back over to his desk and hands him over the legal pad and pen after ripping out the two sheets she used.  Smiling she says;

Thank you Officer Kurth.  I’m going to give this information to my Pastor.  See if we can get these kids engaged in some positive activities after school, so that we can avoid the inexcusable harassment that has been going on.

We do our best to service the productive members of our community such as yourself Ms. Walker, Henry responded.

As she was about to turn away and leave, Tiffany says:

I almost forgot, I’ve got something for you. 

She reaches into her purse, and Henry tenses up for half a second.

                        I recon you’ll be needing this more than I ever did.

She pulled out a stainless steel, liquor flask and places it right in front of him, on his desk.  He stares at it and says nothing.  She stops smiling, and leaves.

 

 

 

[1] Tracy’s father was an abusive alcoholic who left 3 days shy of her second birthday.  Leaving them without notice and with bills upon debt.  He’s the one that drove Tiffany Walker to drink.  And those are the only remnants he left behind. 

Ball & Chain

Ball & Chain

By Tony Ortiz | March 1st, 2015

        They sat across from each other, on either side of the ballistic glass.  Rotary style phone receivers in hand.  He listened intently, as he usually does during these weekly visits, and she did most of the talking.  “Time’s up Inmate”, said C.O. McNeil, “Wrap it up”.  Sarah looked over her shoulder at him with a sarcastic acknowledging grin.

Charming guy, Charles said.

They pressed their hands up to the glass, as they traditionally did at the end of these sittings. 

We’ll be together soon enough, said Charles in an attempt to re-assure her that their next appeal attempt would pan out, and they said their goodbyes.

        C.O. McNeil re-shackled Sarah to lead her back to her cell.  After inside, with the steel door shut, she stuck her hands out of the opening that she receives her meals through and had those cold metal bracelets released.  Aside from Charles’ tri-monthly visits, a daily shower and an hour a day allowed for walking around in the prison yard…alone…this 6 by 8 foot cell was her world.  Accompanied only by one book per week that she could order from the prison library, and by the reoccurring nightmares she’d have about her sentencing.[1]  You’d think she’d be bat shit crazy by now.  Shouting, being irrational, acting out, like the other lifers in this Block, but she wasn’t.  She was actually a model inmate.  There was an eerie calm about her.  Like she was in on a joke that went over everyone else’s head.  It’s only been eight months since her sentencing, but that’s about seven and a half months more than other inmates take to lose their shit.

        On his way home, Charles ran a few errands as he routinely did after visiting his incarcerated wife.  Although the trips back home were shorter now after the move, it still seemed like a lot to leave behind; a house (which he inherited after the brain aneurysm induced seizure claimed his fathers life three years prior) the staff Accountant position at Wilton Capital and the neighborhood he grew up in.  He wasn’t passionate about his work, but his job was actually enjoyable at times.  Still, it was a bit much to give up for the sake of more frequent visitations.  But he was in there with her.  He was loyal to a fault (if there is such a thing).  Selfless.  Obedient, one might even say.  Plus, Sarah rarely ever didn’t get her way.  She wanted him to re-open her bakery, but closer to her.  All he needed to find was a storefront and she would teach him all her recipes during his visits.  Life revolved around her before, why should it not now?  Charles’ world was now scheduled to exist outside and around every other Wednesday and the final Friday of each month.  All days in-between were just fillers.  His days now consisted of submitting appeal requests to re-open Sarah’s case, consoling his estranged wife and carrying out her wishes to make her happy.

        Before this new reality, they led normal enough cookie-cutter lives.  Charles was an Accountant and Sarah ran a small, but thriving, bakery in town.  She was known for her complimentary raspberry-drop sugar cookies that she would indiscriminately give away to anyone who asked.  Even non-paying customers.  Many-a-day, frustrated parents came in to yank their freeloading eight year olds out of the bakery.  The kids would sneak away to get their sugar fix when the Elementary school across the street would let out for the day.

Ms. Sarah! Ms. Sarah! Can I have a cookie? They would ask excitedly. 

OK but just one more.  I wouldn’t want you to ruin your supper, she responded while giving them a playful wink.

        She was loved.  Even the aggravated parents would take one of these delicious bite sized sugar cookies to go when they came to get their kids.  Most of the parents, school staff and faculty were regular customers.  All birthday cakes and bunches of cupcakes to reward a class for good behavior, were purchased at Ms. Sarah’s Bakery.  Business was good and she was happy doing what she did.  She was much happier than when she worked at the hospital.  Charles on the other hand, didn’t hate his 9-5 but he didn’t love it either.  After work he would clock in a couple more hours per week taking care of the financials for Sarah’s Bakery – pro bono of course … but this, he did love.  Gave him a sense of purpose.  He was really good at it too.  Meticulous like no other.  Sarah was an amazingly artsy baker but the business wouldn’t have been ‘in the green’ without Charles’ oversight.

            In about two months’ time, with the savings they scraped together, the rental income from Charles’ fathers home and a part-time gig as an adjunct Accounting Professor over at the local Community College, PACC, he leased out a storefront!  Her determination and his tenacity were making the dream of Sarah’s Bakery II come to fruition.  It was about a quarter of the size of the original but meant the world to her.  Her happiness was his main priority so he shared in her elation.  On that Wednesday she gave him detailed instructions on how to set up the place. - What equipment to order, paint, decoration and just general organization.  It turned out to be a cozy little bakery.  A mini replica of its predecessor.  In just under three weeks, he brought pictures in to press up against the bullet proof glass.  She loved it!  She was very pleased.  Charles learned a couple of her muffin recipes (corn & blueberry) and a handful of recipes for assorted cookies that same day.

            After the grand opening, business wasn’t what you would call ‘booming’ but it was doing rather nicely in their new less densely populated location.  Charles estimated that they should be turning a profit inside of 6 months.  He had this strange quark about never tasting anything he baked but his baking wasn’t half bad.  Who would’ve thought? 

When are you going to teach me the sugar cookie recipe?  He asked.  I think they’ll be a hit again.   

In time, Hun.  And I know they’ll be, she responded.  I just don’t want that to be the primary reason customers are coming in, this time.  We need to win them over first … and we will.

 

        They were both right.  Midway through month four, Sarah’s Bakery II was in the green.  Barely covering all of its costs, but building up a loyal client base and turning a small profit nonetheless. 

It’s time to debut our Raspberry drop sugar cookies babe.  And I’m so proud of you by the way.  You’re doing a great job!  She told Charles. 

We’re doing a great job babe, he corrected her.  You know this doesn’t exist without you.  So tell me how to you make those delicious bites of bliss.

You can’t be upset with me, she told him.

Upset?  Why would I be upset? Charles asked.

Because I never told you about my secret stash, she said, but I couldn’t afford to let my recipes get out.  I never told a soul.

Okay, he said shortly and with a surprised look on his face, where is it?

        Sarah went on to explain that she locked away certain recipes, along with some rare ingredients (some spices & sugars that were imported from overseas) in a storage garage a few miles from their old home.  Charles was definitely surprised and upset.  This type of deception made him livid.  But given the circumstances, he let it go.

         Following her direction he was able to retrieve the key to this secret location from an unused old mailbox behind the shed of their old home.  He went to the 24-hour access storage place a few miles away and located her lot, #109.  It looked like those little garages you see on reality shows like Storage Wars.  He opened it up and went inside.

          It was pretty well organized.  You can tell she frequented fairly often.  There were a few shelves with color coded, unlabeled bottles and jars on them.  Some were filled with a sugary-like consistency, and others looked to have a flour-like texture.  There was a desk and a small filing cabinet where she apparently safeguarded her recipes.  He was taken-a-back by some of the medical supplies she had there.  Stethoscopes, scrubs, syringes, and boxes of latex gloves – he wrote it off as supplies she took from her hospital gig before she began to bake full time.  But how long has she been hiding this place then?  It’s been a long day filled with information he was still processing, so he decided to call it a night and get some rest.  He went home and to sleep.  Tomorrow would be another day.

            Charles was upset about Sarah’s secret place, but knew he could never stay mad at her.  Still, on his next visit (the final Friday of the month visit) he let her know he wasn’t going to make it to the next one.  She knew his passive-aggressiveness all too well, and without skipping a beat she told him what he needed to hear, in order to go through the motions of his little revolt a bit faster; she pouted and batted her ocean blue eyes at him and in an innocent little girl voice asked:

Why baby?

Because the Fall Semester starts in two weeks and orientation is a bit earlier than usual.  With most of my time dedicated to your Bakery –

Our Bakery, she interrupted in that same manipulative voice.

He continued; I haven’t been able to put a lesson plan together yet.

Sarah gave him a sad face through the double-pane glass, and Charles cut his eyes away in dissent.

I’m so proud of you baby, she told him.  You’re juggling so much.  I’d be lost without you.  I know you have other responsibilities and can’t just focus on keeping me happy.  I’ll miss you terribly, but I understand (Damn, she knew how to run that game so well).

I’ll definitely be here for the next Wednesday visit afterwards though, he assured her.

I knew you wouldn’t break my heart for too long baby, she responded; just remember that you’re mine.  These kids are lucky to borrow you.

I know Hun, he responded, and you’re all mine.

That’s right! She said smiling back.  I hate them for taking you away from me, but I do want you to make a good impression on your first day.  Let’s make them a batch of the Sugar Cookies.

Think I’m ready to make those? He asked.

I know you are.  My baby can do anything he sets his mind to (a little ego stroking never hurt anyone, right?)

Okay, I’ve always made two different types.  They taste similar enough but one uses more of the high-end imported ingredients and is only for special occasions.  The other is just as good but less costly to make.  Let’s make your new students, the special batch.

        She went on to meticulously explain the two different recipes.  Having him repeat it to her several times to make sure he knew the right combination of color coated jars. 

Okay I got it, he said frustrated.

I’m sowwy, she said.  You know how important these cookies are to me.

Yea I know, he responded.

Lastly, my filing cabinet has some paperwork I need you to mail in to the D.A. for me.  I told my public defendant about it, but you know how they all but ignore appeal requests for cases they feel they can’t win.

OK, sure, what’s in it?

Just some information I started to put together before my trial that I never had a chance to give the attorney.  But maybe it can help with the Appeal request.  There are two thick manila envelopes already sealed and ready to go.  One is a copy, and says copy on it, just so I could keep track of what was already submitted, so you just have to mail in the one.  

Times up inmate, chimed in C.O. McNeil. 

I’m on it Hun, I’ll make you proud.  Promise.  Charles responded.  And they said their goodbyes.

        C.O. McNeil put the cuffs on and led Sarah back to her cell as always.  She stopped in front of her cell and turned to face him before walking in, making sure her straight blond hair brushed his face as she spun around.

I see the way you look at me McNeil, she told him as she stared raptly into his eyes.

What are you talking about Inmate?  Go into your cell, he responded.

        He did check her out though.  All the guards did.  Visitors did too.  She was easily the most attractive woman in the Prison.  The type of woman that would own a room, just from walking into it.

Yes sir, she told him … I’ll do anything you say, she said salaciously as she moved half a step into his personal space.

        He cracked half a smile.  She reached down with both hands, still in handcuffs, and gently grabbed onto the, now obvious, bulge in his officer-blue pants.

Oooh, she said with a seductive rasp in her voice as she fondled him for a bit, you know … you could do whatever you wanted to me if it weren’t for all these cameras around.

        She licked and bit her bottom lip, then she let go and took a step backwards into her cell.  C.O. McNeil didn’t say a word as he slid the red steel door shut.  She poked her hands out through the doors’ opening and he removed the restraints … caressing her hands before letting go and closing the opening.

         On his way home, Charles passed by the storage unit to pick up what Sarah told him he needed for the cookies, and also grabbed the manila envelope to mail in.  The day before orientation he followed her instructions precisely and went on to make a large batch of Raspberry drop sugar cookies.  They were a hit at orientation.  Most of the students in the lecture-hall took one on the way in and another on the way out.  He thinks they may have even distracted some of them from taking part in the usual rumors – but he still overheard a few of the Students on their way out after class;

Did you know his wife is in jail?!  I heard she killed kids or something.

Yea I know, but I heard she was insanely jealous and she caught him cheating with a student and she killed her!

Hmm, I think I’ll flirt my way to an A then (they all giggled and laughed).

You’re both wrong, I looked up some old newspapers last semester in the library, from around the time it happened.  She was fired from being a Nurse at a local hospital where they used to live.  They said it was negligence or something.  Then months after, they investigated and found that 3 or 4 of the patients that died under her watch were actually poisoned.

Wholly shit, are you serious?

Yup, you can look it up too.

Wow, what a sick bitch.

        This was actually less commotion about his wife, than he was used to overhearing.  So all-in-all it was a good day.  He grabbed his messenger bag and noticed he never mailed Sarah’s evidence for the appeal.  On his way off campus, he passed by the main office and tossed it in with the outgoing mail batch.             

         In the days that followed a few flirty looks and winks were shared between the inmate and C.O., but aside from that it was business as usual at the Muncy D.O.C.  Charles missed the next Wednesday visit, as expected, but was (predictably) already on the visitors list for the third Wednesday of the month.

          Soon enough it was visiting Wednesday again and Charles approached the double-Pane glass eagerly waiting for Sarah to walk through the double doors that separated the visiting area from the housing units.  The room was filled with inmates, visitors and measured levels of mixed emotions.  She walked in and locked eyes with him instantly as she approached him with an ear to ear smile.  He lit up like HIDs with the phone already up to his ear.  She sat down and picked up the phone on her side:

                        Hey stranger, she said playfully.

   Hey you.  I’ve missed you, he responded.

   How’d your orientation go? She asked.

It went great!  And your cookies were a hit.  I did hear murmurs of the usual rumors though, he told her.

            It’s ok, she responded.

           After their visit, C.O. McNeil led Sarah back to her cell as he normally did.  This time, when they got to the front of her cell he grabbed her waist on either side and pressed himself up behind her.  She welcomed it with a flirty moan.  He took in a deep breath of her essence and then whispered into her ear right before he began to nibble on her neck:

I disabled that camera up there.  Put in a work order for it, which won’t be looked at until the Sunday after next … and C.O. Jenkins is on a 15-minute break.  What was it that you were saying about me doing anything I wanted with you?

        Sarah turned around to face him, with a mischievous smile on her face.  She used both hands (which were still cuffed) to grab McNeil by the belt and pull him into the cell with her.  They maximized that 15 minute window of privacy and quenched the pent-up sexual frustration they’d been flirting with for weeks.  By Saturday night there were at least half a dozen of these visits, mixed in with plotting and scheming.

Are you sure that the evidence you had him submit is enough? He asked her as he zipped up his pants and she wiped her mouth. 

I’m Positive.  There’s so much self-incriminating information in there that he should be arrested before next week is out, and I’ll be released pending his prosecution.

That could take weeks.  Months even, he responded.  What if I can’t wait that long?

Be patient baby, she told him, we’ll be together in increments longer than 15-minutes soon enough, she reassured.

I have a better idea.  We’ll stage an attack, of you on me, he explained.  My carelessness coupled with your cunningness would make for a good escape.

What about your job?  You can’t be on the run with me, she said. 

That wont be an issue.  The most that will happen is a fine and/or suspension.  Then by the time they arrest him, they’ll be so eager to sweep your escape under the rug, that they’ll acquit you of all charges and streamline his sentencing.

I love a man that can take charge the way you do, she agreed.

            They settled on Friday during her yard time.  He came back later that evening before his shift was over and they hammered out an outline.  By Thursday night they had every angle measured and every wrinkle of doubt ironed out.

            Friday morning routinely came and went.  When the Sun fell midway down the Sky, McNeil went over to Sarah’s cell to escort her outside.  As he loosely placed the bracelets around her wrists (without securing them in place) he tells her:

Remember what I told you.  Don’t crawl back into the car until after I go back in to ring the alarm.  It’s very important that I follow protocol.  Stay low to the ground then wedge yourself between the back seat and the trick trunk I told you about.  Just pull down that yellow strap to open it up.  They will search my vehicle so don’t make a sound or move around until I let you out.  This could take hours.

Sir, yes sir, she said playfully.

        They walked out to the yard as they normally did.  McNeil unlocked the gate that led to the employee parking lot to “get a pack of smokes” from his red ’02 Mustang.  On cue Sarah loosened her cuffs, wrapped it around her fist like brass knuckles and clocked C.O. McNeil twice (drawing blood from the back of his head which would later require 8 stitches) while his back was turned, and she ran towards and into the three-miles plus of forest opposite the parking lot, which surround the Muncy D.O.C.

        McNeil eventually sat up and stumbled through the mess hall with blood trickling down his ear and neck, into the C.O. control room to sound the alarm.  “Inmate escape, inmate escape”, he repeated out of breath in an Oscar-worthy performance.  The other C.O.s fell in line and followed the proper protocol to begin the search.

        There would be failed escape attempts at Muncy on a Quarterly basis.  Some stressed out inmate would try and climb the fence or get boosted over a wall.  But it would always end the same way.  The dogs would sniff them out of the bush and they’d spend a month in the hole.  Not this time though.  By the time Warden Glenn came down to give the search order and speak with McNeil about what happened, Sarah had safely crawled into the back of the Mustang, entering from the far side away from the camera and wedged herself into the concealed compartment which was scent proof (McNeil purchased the car at the PAPD Repo Auction.  The previous owner was an “importer/exporter”).  After an exhaustive search that yielded no results, including the thorough search of all the employee vehicles in the lot, Warden Glenn interrogated C.O. McNeil one last time, while the Prison Nurse finished stitching him up:

The media is going to have a field day with this!  How could you be so fucking careless?

            I was attacked Boss.  I didn’t even see it coming.

By a woman half your damn size, that you failed to properly inspect and secure.

I did inspect and secure the inmate.  I have no idea what she hit me with.  A rock maybe?

A rock wouldn’t cause a wound this narrow and deep, Nurse Kelly chimed in.

Regardless, this happened on your watch.  You can’t be trusted to do your Job properly right now, and we need to show a swift and precise response to this situation for when the media gets a hold of this.

I understand Boss, McNeil responded remorsefully.

You’re suspended for a month without pay effective immediately.  Upon your reinstatement you’ll go into two weeks of the inmate protocol refresher training, also without pay.  Understood?

Yes sir, and again I’m sorry.

        By the time he finished that sentence, Warden Glenn had already walked out of the room.

        After gathering a few of his things from his locker, he went out to his car.  Opened up the trunk and placed the box in it, got in, started it and went off as he normally did.  After clearing the guard at the Muncy entrance, he pulled over so that he could go back and speak to Sarah:

                        Babe..?

     I was beginning to think you forgot about me, Sarah             responded jokily.

Do you need anything?  I’m sure they’ll be a checkpoint further ahead, and we can’t risk a camera spotting you, so I can’t let you out until we get to my apartment.

No, I’m fine.

        He kissed her on the lips and closed the compartment back up.  There was a checkpoint about a quarter mile after the forestry surrounding the prison.  McNeil approached, slowed and lowered his window:

 

                        How’s it going Torres?                       

    McNeil…tough one today huh?                       

     Yea, you wont be seeing me around for a while.                    

     They finally get rid of you?  Torres said jokingly.

   Ha, not that easily man.  A month and a half, no pay, McNeil responded.

                       Ouch! Torres said.  Keep your head up buddy, shit happens.

                       Thanks man, good night.

        They made it to the apartment unnoticed and laid low for a few days.  Between their 50 Shades of Grey-ish sexcapades, they would watch television waiting on breaking news of the escape to materialize…but it never did.  The Muncy D.O.C. was under code-red lock down.  That meant no one in or out.  They had a skeleton staff that was housed on premises for a few days, and kept every inmate caged 24/7.

        They’d search for news online, and nothing.  Sarah also accessed Charles’ emails (he used the same password for everything) and read through some of the flirty emails he had going back and forth with a student (Amy Lessig) who was in search of some one-on-one tutoring.  She recognized the address Charles gave Amy from the return address on the Holiday cards he had sent her in the past.  Sarah, now a shorthaired brunette, took the Mustang and drove over to Charles’ apartment after stopping by the storage facility (she had another key stashed close by it).  It was right before dawn on the fourth day after her escape, and the day where her grand plan, years in the making, would finally come to fruition.

            Charles woke up and made his way into the kitchen to drink a glass of water from the tap.  His eyes look worried as he stares out of the window above the sink.  Like they haven’t gotten enough sleep and know they’re not going to.  Sarah has already made her way into the apartment at this point.  She slides up behind him and he feels the precise piercing pinch of a syringe on the right side of his neck, Dexter Style.  About 30 minutes later he comes to as his vision deglazes enough for him to evaluate his surroundings.  His arms and legs are tie-wrapped to one of his dining room chairs and his mouth is clichély duck-taped.  Next to him, Amy is similarly secured, but still not conscious.  Sarah is facing them, while sitting on top of the island in the kitchen.

So who’s this?  The student-of-the-month? Sarah said sarcastically.  You selfish son of a bitch.  Is this what you’ve been doing while I’ve been suffering alone?  You should be ashamed of yourself.  You told me you changed.  You told me Beth was the last one.[2]  What?  You want to explain?  Sarah hopped down off the counter, walked over to Charles and yanked the duct tape off his mouth in one fluid motion that almost took his lips.  He yelled.

    What the fuck did you do to her?  Amy!  Amy wake up!

    Oh I’m sorry.  Amy can’t come to the phone right now, Sarah says.

    What did you do Sarah?  Amy!

She can’t hear you, asshole.  What I injected you with was a nap.  What she got…well, lets just say it’s a bit more permanent than that.  That slutty cunt won’t ever hear you again.

I can’t fucking believe you.  You’re a monster.  The cops are going to find you.  I know everything.  I won’t keep my mouth shut, you crazy bitch.  What are you even fucking doing here?  How are you here right now?!  Said Charles.

News flash cheating Charlie, I’m out of prison, permanently.  Besides, they didn’t find out why a perfectly healthy Beth, suddenly had health problems, did they? 

        She smirked maniacally as Charles gasped silently in disbelief.  She walks around behind him, and slides her hands down the front of his chest.  She leans in and whispers into his ear:

    And your fathers’ aneurism … that was me too.  She duct      taped his mouth again as he squirmed and screamed and cried about what he had just heard.

I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen here.  Within the next few hours or so, you’ll wake up surrounded by cops that have a warrant for your arrest, based on an anonymous call from yours truly.  They’ll read you your rights and book you.  It will soon enough come to light via the manila envelope that you mailed in “for me”, that you are responsible for each of the deaths that I was convicted for.  You did meet me at the hospital for lunches within three days of each of the deaths of my patients…remember that?  You used me to finagle connections at the hospital behind my back to get the ricin and syringes that you use.  It was a shame about poor Beth too.  She was tired of being the other woman, and was going to expose you and your affair…there’s the motive for her unexplained death.  Should I continue?  Did you happen to notice your class size go down for a bit after cookie day?  That’s because you began experimenting on students by dosing them with non-fatal portions of ricin.  Oh wait, but there’s nothing here in the apartment linking you to any of this, right?  Oh yea…you also gave them the location of the storage facility you’ve been going to fairly often, which has syringes like these, and dozens of containers with different levels ricin doses.  And the best part? – Your fingerprints, and only your fingerprints, are all over the place.  And little Amy here, her death will be the cherry on top for them to build their case.  As for me, it won’t matter that I’ve slipped out of jail a bit sooner than expected.  It’ll all be swept under the Wardens’ rug.    

Over at Muncy, Warden Glenn was on the phone with the district Judge. 

I’m calling in that favor Terrence. 

Again? The Judge responded.  How much leverage do you think you have with me exactly?

Enough to call this in.  And trust me, the alternative would be worse for all of us. 

All I need is a signed arrest warrant and your word on a swift, no jury sentencing, said the Warden.

Even if I was willing to cut through the red tape and expedite this, you know I can’t give you an arrest warrant without PC.

I’m looking at all the PC you’ll ever need, in the form of a full confession letter along with corroborating evidence which my guy is already checking out, responded Glenn.

Ok, so why not go through the proper channels? The Judge asked.

It’s better you not know, responded the Warden. 

I’m not sure what you think I owe you for introducing me to your buddy with the underground casino and massage joints, but it’s definitely not enough to get you a blank check in the form of an arrest warrant.  So tell me, what’s the urgency about?   

Judge, there was an escape a few days ago.

           A successful one?  The Judge asked surprised.

Yes, Warden Glenn continued, remember the Nurse that killed a handful of patients last year?  Her.  But if this confession from the husband and evidence checks out, he’s taking the wrap for all of it, and more. 

And you buy this bullshit? The Judge asked.  Seems a bit convenient.

Belief isn’t a requisite of my job Judge, if it checks out, it checks out.  She’ll be released, he’ll be sentenced, and nobody will be the wiser.

Ok Glenn, you have a verbal arrest warrant granted.  If this blows up in your face, I won’t back up or document this though, said the Judge.

Don’t worry Judge, we’ll clean this up on our end.  Soon you can go back to your table games and happy endings, stress free.  Oh and, Terrance…

Yes?

Give my best to Marie and the twins. [Hangs up the phone].

Back at the apartment, Sarah grabbed a fist full of Charles’ hair and yanked it back.  They lock eyes. 

You did this to us.  Don’t you forget that, she told him as she leaned in and kissed him on the lips, over the duct tape.

        She squoze out a few drops from the syringe as she flicked it, and then shot it into his neck.  Sleep tight baby, she whispered.  She tied Amy’s wrists to headboard in the bedroom, to make it look like an intense sex scene gone awry.  She made sure his fingerprints were on the ricin needle, and then she vanished.  He came to, as his apartment was being raided for his arrest.  He tried to explain but they saw it as resisting and clubbed the back of his knees.  Dropping him to the ground and they cuffed him.

 

8 Months Later

 

        Charles laid on a cot in a cell not dissimilar to the one Sarah was once in, reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  A prison Guard approaches. 

DeFranco, you have a visitor, said the Guard.  But Charles didn’t respond. 

DeFranco! He said as pulled out his club and banged it against the cell bars.

I heard you the first time Jimenez.  I’m trying to read here, he responded.

It’s not a request, you smug asshole, said Jimenez.  In ten minutes you’ll be escorted to the visitors room.

        Charles thought it was another reporter or attorney trying to make a name for himself with a high profile appeal case, albeit an un-winnable one but in the public eye nonetheless.  Boy was he wrong.

As he walked into the visitors’ room on his side of the ballistic glass, the C.O. on duty tells him;

                        Your visitor is hot as fuck, by the way.

                        Oh yea? Charles responds uninterested.

                        Yea, you miserable prick, the C.O. responded.

        Charles signed into the room and walked over to window #9, where a red headed woman with big sunglasses on sat on the opposite side.  He knew who it was in the depths of his soul before his brain finished processing.  As he sits down and picks up the phone, she removed her glasses.  Her piercing blue eyes unapologetically staring back at him. 

                        You heartless bitch!  I could kill.  Charles opened up strong.

Oh Charlie, so much aggression.  Haven’t you done enough killing already?  What would you father think if he saw you this way?  Sarah responded.

           You’re a sick and evil person.  How do you have the gall to              show your face?

            I just didn’t want you to worry about me darling.  I wanted                 to let you know that I sold the house and am moving to                     Florida. 

            What?!? My fathers’ house?  You didn’t.  You couldn’t,                       Charles responded in disbelief.

             My house actually.  Remember how ‘transferring the deed                into my name’ would benefit my appeal?  Well it did, she                  said mockingly.  I’m leaving tomorrow, just wanted to say                goodbye, Charlie.  Make sure you sit and think about what                you’ve done to me and if any of them were worth it, said                  Sarah.

        She hung the phone up, stood up, blew him a kiss, put on her glasses, and walked out of his life forever.  Charles was livid.  Yelling and screaming, slamming and breaking the phone against the glass. 

             You fucking bitch!  Come back here!  Come back here!

         The Guard runs over after calling it in on his walkie-talkie.  Charles nails him with a right hook to the jaw, which catches the Guard by surprise, but only stuns him.  The Guard pulls out his club and jams it into Charles’ stomach and then elbows him in the nose.  Two other guards rush in and help to wrestle Charles to the ground.  He’s still irate.

It was her!  She was here!  It wasn’t me goddamit, listen to me!  He yelled out as he cried from passionate rage and physical pain.   

        The Nurse was called and comes in with a syringe that they used to sedate him.  He wakes up in a slightly bigger room, restrained to an unfamiliar bed.  The time that has lapsed between is a mystery to him.  Has it been hours?  Weeks? Months?  He can’t recall a thing between then and now.  But he picks up where he left off;

It was her…She was here…it wasn’t me…let me out.  Let me out of here!

A Nurse turns to the Doctor in charge of this Psych-ward for instruction.

Continue to sedate him as long as these hallucinations continue.

                    Yes Doctor, she responded. 

As she approached Charles to sedate him, all that was said before things went dark again was

Don’t you stick me with that.  I need to go to Florida.  Let me out.  It was her, it was really her.  She needs to be stopped.  

        Hours later on Interstate 64, a redheaded woman could be seen alone at the wheel of a Red 2002 Mustang flowing through the traffic carefree, heading towards Florida.  With all that she needed in the trunk, and some of what she no longer had use for in a scent-proof compartment.

 

 

  

[1] Will the defendant please rise, said Judge Muhler.  Mrs. DeFranco you stand here before us seemingly remorseful.  But your endless stream of manipulative tears couldn’t drown the sorrow that these family members feel.  They have lost a loved one by your hand.  The fact of the matter is that four people lost their lives while another remains in a vegetative state.  We have reason to believe beyond the shadow of a doubt, that you poisoned your patients with the ricin that led to their eventual deaths.  You plead ignorance but I see deliberate malpractice.  You plead inexperience but I see malicious intent.  I hereby sentence you to Life in prison without the possibility of parole. – She’d relive this moment almost every night, expecting a more lenient outcome each time, and would wake up in a cold sweat when she didn’t get it. 

[2] Beth was a co-worker of Charles back at Wilton Capital.  After snooping through his credit card statements and emails, Sarah pieced together and pretty much caught him red handed.  He was having an affair with her.  After a brief separation, Sarah wound up forgiving and consoling Charles when she found out that Beth died suddenly of Liver and Lung failures.

Chopper City

Chopper City

By Tony Ortiz | August 31st, 2014

 

        It was a Saturday Afternoon.  A nice day too.  Sunny but not too hot & a cool refreshing breeze blew at welcoming times.  We were walking down Rockaway Boulevard by the new Casino.

“Have you been there?” Dave asked me.

“Once” I replied. “How about you?”

“Nah, I haven’t.  I always lose when I gamble”, he said.

“When do you ever gamble?” I asked.

“Like when I buy lottery tickets.  Scratchy tickets and shit.  Stuff like that, you know?” he responded.

“Oh, please” I said, “That’s hardly the same thing.  You actually have to think in these places.  Put some thought into the games and try and beat them”, I explained.

“Oh really?  How much did you beat them for?” he asked.

“I lost twenty bucks”, I admitted.

He burst out in laughter and asked; “What happened to thinking and all that jazz?”

“I didn’t say I beat them, dick.  But that’s what people in the know say.  People that know their shit and that play poker for a living”, I told him.

“Yea, yea Galileo.  How was the place though?”

“It was alright I guess.  A Casino.  I just walked around the main floor for a bit.  Didn’t explore too much but it was decent”, I told him.

“Cool.  We should go back.  Are you down to go tonight?” he asked.

“Nah, I can’t.  I have plans with my girl already”, I told him.

“So they have $20 tables? Or $10? Dave asked.

“I have no idea”, I responded.

“What did you play then? He asked confused.

 “Some nickel slots", I said.

And almost as if it were as involuntary as a leg extension during a patellar reflex test, he burst out into unmeasured laughter, where in between breaths he was able to muster: “You were giving me shit about scratchy tickets and you’re over there playing nickel slots like a 72 year old lady that took a break from knitting?!  Give me a break!  You great thinker, you”.

“Yea, fuck you too dick.  My point is still valid”, I said back to him (although I doubt he heard my response under his whaling laugh).

 

        The only reason that laughter stopped, was because of the loud noises and commotion we heard behind us.  It wasn’t the usual New York – type of loudness.  It was a ‘what the fuck is going on? – we’re in this together’ – cacophony of unfamiliar sounds, sprinkled with people shouting and screaming.  It kept getting louder and whatever it was, was flying in the sky and fast approaching.  And then it was hovering directly above us.  It was a cross between a fatigued-out military tank and an Apache helicopter. 

        Dave and I stood there, immobile.  Paralyzed by fear and general awe.  We were directly across the street from the Casino Parking lot, in front of the entrance to the Hilton, which readily housed Pilots and Stewardesses that were between flights from JFK.  This entire episode seemed like something out of a movie.  I didn’t know if I should run or take out my iPhone and start recording.  The suspense didn’t last long before we heard the clear but accent-rich voice pierce through some sort of speaker system coming from the Chopper:

“Every one of you is guilty!  Exclaimed the angry voice.  From the CEO of each Airline, to their board of directors, down to the laborers that allow themselves to be exploited by working for measly wages.”  His voice seemed to get increasingly frustrated and agitated as he continued.

“From every Citizen that uses your overpriced and oppressive services to every Pilot doing their bidding.  Collectively you’re all symptoms of the same diseased system!  With a heavy heart, I will be the cure…”

 

        There was a suspenseful thirty-second or so pause.  A larger crowd began to gather; nervously awaiting the outcome of this, while some quickly fled the scene.  Approaching Fire Engine and Police Cruiser sirens began to get louder as they got closer to the scene.  What happened next was something straight out of a ‘Call of Duty’ video game.  The chopper shifted and some side compartment opened up.  A portion of the metallic side rolled up and in like a garage door, exposing what was easily the biggest most futuristic cannon of a gun that I have ever seen.

            Within moments, sound-barrier breaking bullets pierced through the air and through the glass exterior of the hotel.  Glass shattered and flew towards us with a similar ferocity to those shard-creating bullets.  Parked cars were hit.  Broken glass punctured tires and dented fenders also resulted from the impacts.  People ran screaming, some hit by glass, and others lay there immobile with pools of blood increasing in diameter beneath them.

            I could not hear a thing.  Even though the automatic non-stop shooting was so loud I could feel the sound-wave ripples, everything went silent.  The screams, shattering glass, people who were getting hurt, killed, cars peeling out to get away.  All of it seen.  All of it witnessed.  None of it heard.  The silence served as a cloak, shielding me from the harsh reality around me, but I never felt so vulnerable.  As I stood there motionless, Dave reached up with his left hand and tugged at my shorts as he half lifted his tucked down head: “Get down here!” he said, instructing me to join him behind the mint green Buick LeSabre he was leaning on.  And I did.

“What the fuck bro?!  How are we going to get out of here?” I asked Dave.

“That crazy fuck seems to only have it in for this building.  We’ll be OK.  We’ll be OK.  We need to wait it out here” Dave replied.

        At that moment and for the first time since the incident began, the Chopper stopped shooting and began shifting in its place with the long barrel of the gun pointed toward the people and cars in the street.  After what must have been a re-loading break the shots began to fire again.  This time the targets were random.  The Police cruisers that we could only hear at first were now visible but shot into oblivion as soon as they arrived.  A couple of them instantly burst into flames as the Officers ran out looking for cover.  They drew their weapons as soon as they could crouch down behind something and began to fire at will.  A noble attempt, but their bullets seemed like mosquitoes that the Chopper just shooed away.  Other cars and near-by buildings were hit too.  Colorful bulb-ridden awnings of surrounding businesses that looked like mini-casinos themselves were getting picked off like empty beer and soda cans on a wooden fence in Texas.  People were being slain.  Bullets sliced through limbs like a rolling pizza knife.  Innocent, defenseless women, children, seniors and men all gone.  Shot down and killed in cold blood.

            When all hope was lost and death seemed imminent to all of us that were left…at a distance behind the Chopper, five Fighter Jets were fast approaching the scene.  They were in perfect triangulated form, completely in sync with one another.  Pointed/flying toward us with crisp precision.  With no warning and zero hesitation, the lead Jet began to unload rounds from the circular machine guns on either side under its wings.  Most hitting the target dead on and only a handful passing it and hitting the mostly evacuated grounds all around us.  Almost instantly, two of the flanking Jets separated from the triangular formation dropped down and went forward simultaneously.  Each shot out a missile.  Both of which approached the Chopper which was barely aware enough to react, and they each hit their target with unparalleled accuracy.  It, along with anyone and everyone on board it, exploded in the sky.  This time I heard it.  Dave and I were both pinned down to the ground by the blast, but shielded from debris by the valiant Buick we hadn’t strayed from. 

            I looked up from the ‘head between my legs’ fetal-like position I was in.  It was a confusing moment.  It seemed to have instantly gone from afternoon daylight to dusk.  The entire sky began to ripple as if everything were under water.  In the distance I kept hearing someone call out: “Sanchez! Sanchez! Sanchez!”  “Wake up Jarhead.  It’s O-800.  You’re on watch duty.  There was another drone strike in Datta Khel.  We’re moving out to go secure the area,” said Corporal Jones.

“Oorah” I responded as I came back to my senses.

It was all a dream…Well, being on that helpless, voiceless side of this mess, was.      

INSIGHT

Insight

By Tony Ortiz | July 26th, 2014

 

“It’s a beautiful clear-skied Saturday morning folks.  The time now is 9:38am and you’re jamming with Jamin’ 102.8 FM.  Here’s Tracy with your weekend weather.  Tracy…”

“Thanks Mike.  Hello New York and hello warm, sunny-Summer!  Your low today is 73 degrees with a high of 84 and nothing but Sun, Sun, Sun.  Go to the beach, soak up some rays, or have a BBQ.  Whatever you do, enjoy it because the Eastern cold front is moving in quickly and our beautiful weekend will be short lived.  High humidity is expected which will bring with it nothing but rain and thunderstorms.  You can expect this damp weather for the majority of the day Sunday beginning in the early afternoon, and continuing through your Monday morning commute.  So get out there today and make it a good one.  Back to you Mike.”

“You heard her folks…” 

[Yawn/Stretch] Damn that Alarm is loud today, I thought to myself.  I need to get up, brush my teeth and shower.  Iron a T-shirt, throw on some shorts and then some breakfast. Maybe a sandwich or some scrambled eggs with toast or something.  Or maybe just a bowl of cereal.  Yea, that’ll be quickest.  I have a bunch of running around that I need to get to.  I’m supposed to meet up and go bike riding with James around 3 o’clock.  Before that I need to go to the ATM, go to the mechanic and have him check out that weird banging sound the car’s been making every time I put it into reverse - that’s always followed with a forced jerking motion.  Then I need to pick up my laundry, pass by the Pharmacy, then the Supermarket to pick up what I need to bake that cake I’ve wanted to try.  Actually I should go to the Supermarket before the Pharmacy because it’s closer to the Dry Cleaners.  Then it’s a straight shot to the Pharmacy, which is a quick stop anyways, so I don’t have to worry about the butter melting or anything like that.  Yup, that’s the plan.

I got up, out of bed and out of my head, and then started for the bathroom.  Time’s ticking away.  After my morning routines I finished getting dressed and went upstairs. 

“Good Morning Pop”.

“Morning son”, he responded.  “Did you sleep OK?  You look tired”

“Yea-yea, I’m fine” I responded as I zoomed by heading toward the kitchen where operation Cinnamon Toast Crunch was about to commence.  I glanced up at the clock in the kitchen as Dad asked me; “Do you have a minute to read this letter that came in the mail?”

“Not right now” I responded.  “But give it to me, I will a little later when I come back from picking up my laundry (and from doing the half dozen other things I know I need to do, I thought to myself).

“That’s fine, I know you’re busy. Whenever you have time”, he responded.

I grabbed the letter, headed back downstairs, and dug into my bowl of cereal.  Looking at the clock after every few minutes and re-adjusting my mental time table with approximations of how long each errand will be taking.  I opened up the letter to get it out of the way now.  It was the same Home Owners Property Tax summary that they send every quarter.  The same one that Dad always asks me about each and every time, thinking its an unexpected Bill.

I slurp up my sugary-cinnamon flavored milk as I walk toward the sink.  Rinse my fingers with water and wipe my mouth.  Damn I forgot to use the auto-start for the car to warm up.  Could’ve saved myself a couple minutes there.  I turn it on now, grab my laundry bag, to give myself something to pick up next week, and head back up stairs.

“Going out?”

“Yea Pop, I’ll be back later” I responded.

“Ok, drive saf-”

I cut him off in my usual ‘time is of the essence’ fashion; “Ok thanks Pop.  Here’s the letter back.  It’s just a summary of the House Taxes that were already paid.  You can toss it”.

Happily he said; “Oh thank you, thank you.  I thought it was a bill.  But it didn’t make sense because we pay the taxes through the Mortgage right?”

“Yea Pop, exactly.  It’s the same thing they always send every three months.  I have to go, see you later.”

“Ok son, see yo--

I shut the door behind me and quickly walked to the car.  Put the laundry in the back seat, and got into the drivers.  Put the car in reverse, waited for that jerking - ‘ok, now I’m actually in reverse’ – sound, and headed out of the drive way.  The mechanic was actually across the street from the Bank, which is where I spotted it last weekend.  The guy said I could pass by today and that he’d take a look and give me an estimate for free.  Hopefully it’s less than the $3,500 one that I got a couple months ago.  I left the Bank and headed toward the mechanic.  I was there for about a total of 20-25 minutes between him finishing up with the guy that got there before I did and him giving me a $2,700 estimate.  Better, but not good news.  I thanked him, got in my car looked at the clock and readjusted my projections now that I could swap two errand estimates with actual figures.  I still had enough time to do what I set out to do.

After picking up my Dry Cleaning, going to the Supermarket, Pharmacy and remembering I also had to go to the corner variety store to buy razor blades, I only had about an hour and a half to Bake this cake before I needed to head out to meet James at 3 o’clock to log in some biking miles at Forest Park. 

I got home, grabbed my pressed shirts and groceries from the back seat and headed into the house.

“Hey, how’d it go”? My father asked.

“Good Pop” I responded, “I’m going to make a cake for you to have some before I go bike riding in a little while”.

“Oh, ok great.  Thank you” he said.

I went downstairs put my stuff down and I changed my shirt.  Went back upstairs to the kitchen, prepped all of my ingredients and in the oven my All White Almond cake went.  Time is starting to run tight.  When it comes out of the oven in about half an hour, it’d be 25-20 minutes to three o’clock, which wasn’t enough time for it to cool and for me to frost it.  I text James and pushed it back to 3:30pm.

It was about 3:15pm and I had changed into my biking gear while the cake was cooling down, and I was ready to go as soon as I frosted it.  It wasn’t completely cool, still a bit warm actually.  I thought about letting it cool completely and just frosting it when I got back from the Park in a couple of hours…but I promised Pops a cake and I had to keep my word.  So I waited til 3:30 on the dot. James was already at the Park I’m sure.  He told me he was on his way about ten minutes ago and he was closer to it than I was.  I need to get out of here asap.

I quickly leveled out the cake and cut it in half so that I could frost the middle too.  I wasn’t happy with the way the frosting came out though.  It was more gooey than thick, and the cake still being warm didn’t help matters much either.  The frosting just melted into and all around the cake.  It did taste pretty good though – it gave the cake a ‘Tres Leches’ like moistness.  Next time I can’t rush this much though.  It came out way to sloppy.  I sprinkled some Almond slices onto it, took one look at the clock showing 3:34pm and yelled out “Grab some cake Pop, I have to go”.

I got my bike from the garage, text James “omw” as I rushed toward the Park.  About ten minutes and a quarter of a mile’s worth of residential streets later, I met James at the top of the hill we usually meet up at.

Slightly out of breath I gave him a pound and said “what’s up bro?”

“Better late then never, huh?” James said jokily.

“Sorry man” I responded, “I was rushing over here bro.  I was baking a fucking cake that was still warm when I was frosting it right before I bolted out of the house to get here and it came out like shit”

“Haha, I’m sure it’s fine and tastes good though.  C’mon lets get this ride in” and we did.

My mind is usually racing.  Thinking about what needs to be done, should be done, was done, could’ve been done differently, etc.  I’m focused, but not in the moment at all.  Whether it’s making sure I hit the exact coordinates of my pre-plotted daily course, unnecessarily rushing conversations, or meticulously and methodically following a cake recipe, I’m just going through the motions.  Speeding through.  Here I am at the Park, trying to keep up with James and focused on the millage on my odometer.  Oblivious to the beautiful sights all around me, forestry areas, hiking trails and other cyclists.  People jogging, walking & talking, picnics, BBQs, kids playing, laughing and enjoying life.  Here I am pedaling away and to ‘busy’ to stop and actually look around.  It’s always go, go, go with me.  At about 8.5 miles I reach the top of a long declining hill (my favorite to just let the bike pick up speed via gravity, peddle free) and I notice two little kids that couldn’t be more than three and four years old a piece, with who I assume is their Dad, both on their little bikes walking up the hill on the opposite side and watching me and James in awe as we fly down this hill.  And with the insightful wisdom of a thousand Monks, this four year old kid whose helmet was still to big for his head, yells out as we zipped by; “Slow down people”.

 

BULLY

Bully

By Tony Ortiz | June 21st, 2014

Setting: 4th Grade Public School class room in Queens, New York circa 1994

 

“Today is a very important day”, said Mr. K.  “As you all know we voted last Thursday to make this years class Play, Cindarella and today we find out who our Cindarella and Prince Charming will be!”

A nervous murmur sprinkled with excitement made its way around the classroom amongst the kids as Mr. K continued; “Let me explain the selection process to you.  Anyone can volunteer for these two roles.  I will put a passage from the play, up on the chalkboard.  One by one all the volunteers will come up to the front of the class and read the passage to us, the same way you would on stage.  The rest of us will be making mental notes on how well you do, so that we can all vote to select the best person for the role, later.  After all the volunteers have had a chance to showcase their acting chops, I’m going to ask them to step outside into the hallway, while the rest of us quietly vote.  The person with the most votes will win the staring role.  And when you become big movie stars in Hollywood, don’t forget who discovered you, ha-ha-ha” he laughed with that deep-breath-pausing laugh of his. 

I sat nervously at my hard wooden desk in the middle-right side of the room, looking around at all of the shy, awkward soon to be volunteer faces, and all of the seemingly more confident ‘there’s no way in hell I’m going up there’ faces.

“Speak amongst yourselves and decide if you will be auditioning for the rest of us today, while I write the passages for both Cinderella and our Prince on the chalk board.  Remember that all of us will play a part in the play on or off stage”.

Should I audition for the staring role?  I thought to myself.  It is the first step to being discovered and on my way to Hollywood.  Then I can be in a movie…or maybe even the Power Rangers!  Or should I be the stage-hand guy that opens and closes the curtains on the stage with those long, thick ropes that look like the ones we climb in gym class?  That could be fun too I guess.

“Hey Anthony” the most angelic voice in the whole wide world whispered.  “Are you going to audition to be the Prince?”

“I will if you audition for Cinderella”, I told Stephanie as I patted myself on the back, in my mind, for such a smooth comeback. 

“Yea right”, she says.  “I’m to much of a scardey-cat for that.  I wouldn’t be able to speak in front of the whole 4th, 5th and 6th grade!”

Oh man, I hadn’t even thought of that.  I’m worried about speaking in front of the class…imagine the actual Play in six weeks?

“Take 2 more minutes to make your decisions kids”, said Mr. K.  “Who is the board monitor for this week by the way?” 

“I am, Mr. K” said Sue-Ellen. 

“Please make sure you clap the erasers outside the window at the end of the day.  They’re filthy”.

“Yes Mr. K”, as she rolled her eyes.

Why she signed up to be board monitor, beats me.  She hates it and is always complaining about the dusty chalk making her cough.  I like being board monitor and trying to make big clouds of chalk when I clap the erasers together.  Two weeks ago I clapped them so fast that even Leo was impressed and didn’t try to take my cookies at lunch that day. 

“Ok my lovely Cinderella’s, ladies first.  Stand up at your desks if you’d like to audition”.  All of us eagerly scanned the room waiting for the brave souls to stand up.  One by one they got up.  Both of the twins, Vickyana and Iliana even did.  Then Tiffany, Angela, Pamela and Renee got up too.  Six girls in all. 

“Ok Cinderella’s, stand up in the back of the room, and I’ll call you up one by one to the front.  Read the paragraph for us and then return to your seats.  Angela, we’ll start with you”.

She walked up to the front of the classroom, nervously giggling.  Everyone likes Angela, she’s sweet and she’s Stephs best friend, so that means she’ll be like my sister-in-law or something one day.

Angela, twirled her braided hair around as she read the paragraph on the board, and giggled.  The class would laugh with her every time.  She finished, we all clapped and smiled and with a huge look of relief on her face, she went back to her desk and started talking with Steph right in front of me. 

“You’re so cool Angie”, Stephanie told her.  “I wish I could do that”. 

“Thanks”, responded Angela as she turned around to me and said: “Ant, you should go up there.  You’ll do great”.

I nervously nodded my head and smiled, completely tuning out Tiffany’s read. 

“Thank you Tiffany”, said Mr. K.  “You can go back to your seat now.  It’s your turn Pamela”.

Pam is cute, and has really nice blond hair, and last year in 3rd grade, she was Ariel from the Little Mermaid in Ms. Soto’s Class. She was awesome, and knows what she’s doing.  But my heart belongs to Stephanie and always will.  Right then it dawned on me.  The plan of all plans.  If I got the part, Steph would have to love me back.  Who doesn’t love a Prince?  That’s my motivation; I have to win her over somehow.  Even if I don’t get it, she’ll think I’m just as cool as Angela, and that’s one step closer to making her my girlfriend.

The roaring clap in the room snapped me out of my plotting mind. 

“Great job Pamela,” said Mr. K.  “Very impressive.  Please take your seat now”. 

After the remaining girls went up, Mr. K asked them all to step out into the hallway as he whispered to us:

“Ok my little Siskel and Eberts, by a show of hands, how many of you want Angela to be our Cinderella?”  He counted the votes, and tallied them up next to where he had written all the volunteers names.

We all knew that Pamela was going to win, but my loyalty vote, together with Stephs, went to Angie.

“Ralphy, please let the girls know that they can come in now”, said Mr. K. 

Ralphy’s seat was right by the door, so he reached over and opened the door.  “Mr. K said to come back in”, he told the girls, and they did.  As they walked in Mr. K says:

Everyone give a round of applause to our Cinderella, Pamela.  As she smiled with an excited look on her face.  Good for her, I thought.  She definitely deserved it.  

“Ok, everyone back to their seats.  Quiet down.  Now, time for our leading man.  Which of you brave young men will be auditioning for the role?

My heart is racing like a marching band snare drum solo.  Leo gets up, Ralphy, Mike, Joey, Curtis, Charlie even got up and then Steven did too.  Steph turns around to me and gives me a pouty sad face and I darted up like a whac-a-mole in a town fair. 

“Ok guys, to the back of the room you go.  Curtis, we’ll start with you.”

Curtis went up and could’ve given an Oscar worthy performance for all I know.  Drowning waves of nervousness overwhelmed my consciousness.  What was I thinking?  Last year I had a one-liner in the class Play, as Peddler #2 in a Pinocchio parody and nearly shit myself.  Now I’m auditioning for a staring role in my sophomore performance?  Talk about being over zealous.  She better love me after doing this, I swear.  And not some ‘love me today, knew me tomorrow’ kind of love.  I mean love-love.  Love me like Topanga loves Corey or how Kelly loved Zack before Jeff came along, kind of love. 

“Ok, who wants to go next?”  Mr. K asked as Leo nudged me forward in the line. 

“A brave volunteer” says Mr. K.  “Come on up Anthony”.  I look back at Leo with a look that must have been a fusion of disdain mixed with the look of a deer caught in the headlights.  “Stupid jerk”, I murmured as I walked away from him and toward the green chalkboard.  He smirked at me with that maniacal, devilish smile of his that only accentuated his horn like eyebrows.  I look at Steph as I walk by her desk and she points at something she wrote on her desk.  It was a heart that she drew with our initials in it! A+S it said.  And it wasn’t written in pencil, it was in pen!  She’d have to spit on it to wipe it off.  After that, I had the confidence to take a role away from Macaulay Culkin.

“Read the paragraph off of the board and project your voice toward the audience as if you were on stage.  Ready? Action!” said Mr.K.

I cleared my throat and gave it a whirl:

How foolish of me to think that I can throw a grand Ball for all of the fairest eligible ladies of the town to attend, and expect to find my true love in just one night.  What was I thinking?  I’ve been somber and alone for far to long causing me to result to these drastic measures.

[Enter Cinderella as the Ball Room doors open up wide]   

Wait!  There is my Princess.  True Love has finally answered my prayers.  She is as beautiful as an April morning.  ‘Come, let us dance’.

[The Prince takes Cinderella by the hand and proceeds to a solo slow dance]

There’s my debut of some pretty impressive acting chops if I do say so myself.  The class clapped and everything.  They may have clapped for everyone else, but I was too nervous to remember.  I even caught Leo turn to Joey and say something to the effect of; ‘that was good’.  I walked back to my seat with my head held high and with extra pep in my step.  Angie turned to me and said; “you’re so gonna win”, Steph nodded in agreement as she blushed.  I smiled back at them in an ‘I know I’m awesome way’ and said, “nahhh.  We’ll see what happens”. 

Leo tried pushing Joey up next like he did to me, so that he would go last, but Mr. K actually noticed this time. 

“Leo, since you’re so kind to let people go before you, how about we return the favor and let you go first?  Come up”, he said sternly.  Then Leo walked by and kicked my chair on his way up to the front of the room.  Hard enough to make me lose my balance while sitting and not expecting that jolt, but soft enough to act like it was an accident.  What an evil douche.

Leo reads his lines with a lack luster ‘I’m to cool for school’ attitude.  Looking at the floor the whole time, sucking his teeth, messing up and repeating his lines.  Then went to his desk saying “that was stupid.  I didn’t feel like doing it good”.  Joey went up after and gave a similarly forgetful performance and off we went to stand outside in the hall as the class voted.

We’re all slightly on edge anticipating the results of the votes being cast.  Leo turns to address us all and surprisingly says; “guys, no matter what, none of us can get mad.  We’re all friends and it don’t matter who won”.  We all nodded our heads and agreed.  “Yea” said mike, “we all gave it our best shots”. 

This was great, as I stood there thinking to myself.  I know I did great.  Like that feeling you have when you Ace an exam before you actually receive the results.  I think Mike did really well, and he’s Pamela’s boyfriend so he might get a lot of votes just based on that.  He’s cool too, so I’m ok with that.  But I know for a fact that I smoked Leo and Joey.  Curtis I was too nervous to pay attention to, and the other guys did so-so.  Me and Mike have to be top choices.  So Leo, the class bully being ok with all that, was perfect.  The door opens up with Mr. K at the other end of it.  “Come in my little Prince’s”.  All of our names and votes were on the chalkboard, and I had to do a double-take as the class clapped to welcome us back in:

Curtis 2

Steven 3

Charlie 3

Mike 8

Ralphy 1

Anthony 14

Leo 2

Joey 1

It was a landslide!  Woah, I really did win.  “Give it up for our Prince Charming everybody”, said Mr. K as he had us take our seats again.  That’s so cool.  Scary.  But good-scary.  We all took our seats as Mr. K gave an overview of how many practices we we’re going to have in the classroom and on which days we would get the auditorium to actually practice on the big stage. 

“See I told you so” Angie said.

Steph followed that with; “I knew you would do it for me”.  I winked at her and scanned my eyes around the room.  Steven gave me a nod and a smile, Mike gave me the thumbs up, Pamela smiled and looked eager to begin going over our lines.  I then make it around to Joey and Leo.  Joey’s disinterested as usual, sloppily folding up a piece of loose-leaf into a paper airplane.  Leo is looking at me like a rabid pit-bull who’s having his meal taken away from it.  Nostrils flaring, horned eye-brows pointing upwards like two little pyramids. Snarling, and pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand like a Major League Baseball Catcher whose anticipating the final pitch of a no-hitter.  I turn around, straight in my desk, acting as if I hadn’t seen what I had just seen.  Like an ostrich sticking its head in the sand, I found solace in sitting as still as if I was avoiding to be seen by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, while in plain sight. 

Partly surprised at the hypocrisy of this kid and the other part of me feeling as if I was completely in the know all along.  While sitting there and perfecting my statue pose, I spent the next two Subjects in class before lunch, talking myself into the possibility that he was joking around and I had just turned around a half second before he started smiling and did the ‘I’m just messin’ with ya” - gesture. Then I see the first one fly by the side of my head in a forward trajectory past me and between the two girls, headed toward the windows and over the table of plants that we planted in Styrofoam cups last Wednesday.  Pam and Steph both turn around and face me at the exact same time that I’m thinking ‘what the fuck was that’ and begin turning my head back.  “Wham!” – spitball number two hits me and sticks…it sticks to my cheek, right by my mouth.  Everyone that witnessed this, including the girls, burst out into a laugh as I squirmed in a shocked and disgusted frantic way to slap it off of my face.  “Yuck! That almost went in my mouth, stupid” I told Leo.  I don’t even know if anyone heard that over all the laughter. 

“Hey, hey settle down back there.  This isn’t recess.  Who wants detention?  Who wants detention?!?”, and when Mr. K actually raises his voice like that, we all listen.  Even Leos bully ass.  Right before lunch, about 8 minutes before to be exact, I strategically raise my hand and ask:

“Can I go to the bathroom?  My stomach really hurts”.

“Can you hold it?” he responded.

“Nooo”, I said.  “I really can’t”.

“Ok, but if we’re not here when you return, meet us in the cafeteria, it’s almost lunchtime” he said.

I nodded in agreement, having not the energy or will to utter an unnecessary word.  I felt weak in the knees as I walked out of the room. 

I waited til lunch was more than half over and I walked to the cafeteria.  Mr. K asked me where I’d been and that I can still go grab lunch.  But I told him my stomach was hurting too much and I wasn’t hungry.  I sat there with my head half way down, on the opposite side of the table from Leo, and closer to Mr. K.  Maybe he had forgotten that he wanted to kill me, I thought to myself.  Then Mr. K walked away to go speak with Ms. Maloney, a fifth grade teacher.  From the corner of my right eye, I see Leo get up and start towards me. 

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“I’m sick” I responded, “I think I have the flu”.  (Could it be that he was joking all along and I’ve just been overreacting?  Did he genuinely care about my well-being?)  I turn my head towards him, cause I was avoiding eye contact at first, and noticed him looking in the direction of Mr. K, who was still distracted with his conversation and with Ms. Maloney flirting with him.

“I’m still going to fuck you up", he said as he pushed my head down and bounced my forehead off of the cold white surface of the fold-a-way lunch table.  I shoved his arm away in a pathetic attempt to ‘fight-back’ as he walked away and laughed. 

Mr. K walked back to escort us outside for the 15 minutes of after lunch recess they give us so that we burn off some of the sugar we’ve ingested at lunch and tire ourselves out enough to be tolerable for the next three hours of class.

“Hey Ant, you want to play kick ball with us outside?” Adam asked me.

“Nah, I don’t want to go outside,” I responded.

“Come on, you love kick-ball, and you’re one of the best at it.  Don’t worry about Leo, he’s not playing.  I think he’s playing ‘Asses-up’ on the handball court with Joey and the 5th graders or something”, rebutted Adam.

Was everyone already aware of my impending doom?

“No, you guys go ahead.  I’m going to stay in” I told Adam.  He shrugged his shoulders and left with the burgundy kick-ball under his right arm and a half squeezed apple juice box in his left. 

Some of the nerd kids always stayed inside at recess, to play checkers and battleship, and some to start their homework!  Ugh, is this what is going to happen to me?  Is this my future?

The next 3 torturous hours sitting in class were a blur.  The bell was about to ring for dismissal in like 5 minutes, and I was out of excuses, plans or ideas.  I looked at Leo with one last piece of hope that he would admit to have just been messing with me all afternoon…and he gave me the finger.  Yea that finger. 

“Lets start lining up now, in size order guys and gals”, said Mr. K “so that we can walk out double file as soon as the first bell rings”.

(Great, he’s speeding up the inevitable, I thought to myself). 

The multi-tonal bell rings.

“Ok lets go kids, walk out to the front of staircase B and wait for me to shut off all the lights”, said Mr. K.

I stood there, with a look on my face that must’ve been oozing worry.  Then it dawned on me.  My older brother was picking me up, as he always did after he got out from High School.  I was saved!  He can put an end to this, or at least scare Leo away.  He’s in the 9th grade.  He’s usually outside by the time I walk out to the street too.  There was a class in front of us so we were lined up in the staircase, waiting for the second bell, followed by the announcement by Mr. Laparo (the Dean) of opening up the doors. 

Leo was above me in the staircase and leaned over Mikes shoulder and says: “I’m gonna fuck you up”.

“No you’re not, my brother is outside”, I responded confidently.

“I’ll fuck his fat ass up too” Leo responded.

“No you can’t stupid asshole.  Shut up.  He’s bigger than you” I responded defiantly.   

“Shhhh! keep it down and face forward” said Mr. K

Could he really beat me and my brother both up? I thought to myself as the worry began to sink in again.

Stephanie was right across from me in the girls line and turned to me, and asked: “are you really going to fight Leo”?

I quickly gave a knee-jerk reaction response; “hell no”, with an ‘of course not’ look on my face.  I actually thought for some reason, that she would respect me taking the admirable ‘high-road’ and not succumbing to Leo’s bullying taunts and tactics.  The love of my life and future mother of my children (as I hoped it to be one day) leaned back over to me and with an angelic whisper said: “you’re a pussy”, and turned away from me in disgust.  At that moment I felt as if the whole world came crashing down around me.  Everything became dark.  I felt as if my heart had leaped up into my throat and was making its way out of my body through my mouth, because it didn’t even want to me affiliated with me any longer.  At that moment, Leo kicking my ass didn’t seem like such a bad idea anymore.  Maybe he’d knock me unconscious and I’d get amnesia and forget any of this ever happened. 

“Ok kids, see you tomorrow” Mr. K said after Mr. Laparo’s OK to dismiss us.  He pushed open the brown painted metal doors “get home safe”.

I walk out and scan the sea of parents, babysitters and older siblings waiting there to make their pick-ups.  Searching for my brother that’s nowhere to be seen.  Where the fuck is he?!?  Seriously, today out of all days he’s not here on time?

I get yanked by the top loop of my plastic blue and red Power Rangers backpack and dropped to the floor like a Leaf in the Fall.  It was Leo!  I quickly looked around and not many people noticed.  The ones that did thought that we were horsing around and didn’t make much of it.  Mike and Adam and even Joey came up behind Leo and held him back, as I stood up and Leo charged forward with the strength of a raging bull.  They could barely hold him back!

“Run, go!” Adam said.

“Just get out of here”, said Mike.

“Let me go, I’m going to kill him!” Leo exclaimed. 

I turned around and ran away toward the rear of the school, where the back yard was.  Frantically dodging people in my way and simultaneously looking for my brother.  I get to the back yard and look back to see the guys holding him back and waving me off at the same time.  Yelling but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.  I dart across the yard to the other side of the school.  I’ve never run so fast.  I re-entered the school on the other side.  I was safe, for now.  But now I had no way of getting in touch with my brother so it was like I was trapped inside. 

After the longest ten minutes of my life, I walked over to the other side of the school, from the inside, looking over my shoulder with every step.  I cracked open the brown medal door, and stuck my head out.  There was barely a handful of people left.  Just a couple parent friends catching up before going their separate ways.  In the distance I see my brother making his way up to my school.  I step out and look around one more time to make sure the ghost was clear, and I run towards him with tears in my eyes, but relieved. 

“What the hell is wrong with you”? he asked.

“Leo wants to beat me up” I shamefully responded.

“What?  Why?  Where is he?” He asked.

“I don’t know, lets go home” I said insistently.

“No”, he responded sternly, “lets go find him”.  “I think I saw his brother Alvin in school today.  He probably came to pick him up.  I’ll go talk to him”.

Like a dog with his tail between his legs, I walked half a step behind my brother. 

“There they go over there, standing by the crossing guard”, my brother said as he spotted them half a block away.  We approached them and I felt as if we were about to negotiate some type of gang-war truce over turf or something.

“Yo what’s up?” my brother said to Leo’s brother.  “Something happened with these two and he tells me Leo wants to fight him, and I want to squash that and make sure we’re cool here”.

Alvin turns to Leo and says; “that true?  Why you wanna fight this kid?”

Leo, half looking up and half looking at the floor while he lightly kicked at a few pebbles on the ground, says: “he took my part in the play”. 

“nah-uh” I responded quickly.  “I won the part fair and square”. 

Alvin smirked and told Leo; “c’mon man, you can’t be bullying kids acting like a tuff guy.  You do that shit when you get to Junior High, not now.  Don’t be doing stuff like that”.  How screwed up is this family?  Put off your bullying til you’re older?  Like it’s some sort of rite of passage.  What kind of advice is that? (Mental note to self…don’t go to the same Junior High as this lunatic).

“So are we good here?” my brother asked them, with a no-nonsense tone in his voice.

“Yea, we’re good” Alvin responded and gave my brother a pound.  “Shake his hand and say sorry” he instructed Leo as he pointed to me.  And he did, he slapped me five and said see you tomorrow, and they walked away.  It was finally over.  My brother had successfully negotiated my freedom.

“You’re the best!” I told him.  “Thank you!”  As I happily walked beside him on our way home.

“When we get home, you have to clean my white sneakers with the soap and toothbrush” he told me.

“Ok, no problem”, I said willingly.  Small price to pay for saving my life, I thought. 

“And clean my room for the next month too.  If you don’t, I’ll tell Leo to beat you up”.

FML