A CJSD Analog Short
It all started with the damn candy.
Last year, Loretta didn’t buy enough. I told her to get a few bags worth, what with all the yuppies and their kids moving into the neighborhood now. “Make sure you get enough,” I told her. So what did she do? She bought two bags of those little Snickers bars. Two. “‘That should be plenty,’” she told me. Hmph. We ran out by 8:30 and the next morning, who’s outside scraping dried egg yolks off the Plymouth? Not Loretta, let me tell you.
So this year, I tell her to make sure we had enough candy. Specifically, I said, “Buy enough goddamned candy to feed a Vietnamese village.” Now you see, I was exaggerating in order to make a point. But Loretta, she’s not so good at picking up on little subtleties and what not. She comes home from the Super Shopper with enough candy to feed the entire Viet Cong. Jawbreakers, Milky Ways, Milk Duds...and three bags of Candy Corn. Fifty bucks worth of candy. I imagine my face was red as an apple. But when I look at Loretta and she’s smiling and proud of herself for getting so much candy like I asked her, well, I can’t really yell at her now, can I?
Halloween night comes around, and the inside of my porch looks like Willy Wonka’s factory. There’s candy everywhere. And I’m throwing handfuls of the stuff in the kids’ bags, not even waiting for them to ask for it. They’re saying “...treat” and I’m already onto the next kid. But we had a lot less kids coming around on account of last year’s incident with Mr. Johnson’s popcorn balls. So even though I’m like the Santa Claus of Halloween, I’ve got more than half of the candy left at the end of the night.
Luckily Loretta’s like a pack rat and saves every damn bit of paper that she can. Normally I yell at her for keeping all that junk, but this time, she’s got the receipt for the candy. I figure I’ll just take it back to the store, end of problem.
I throw all the stuff in the back of the Chuck Wagon—that’s my nickname for my cargo van—and drive off to the Super Saver. I come to the customer counter and talk to this kid. I tell him what happened and show him the receipt.
“I’m sorry, sir, but there are no returns on Halloween candy,” he says.
“But I didn’t open it, and I’ve got my receipt right here,” I tell him.
“Yes, I understood you the first time,” he says, “but the store policy is that there are no returns on Halloween candy.” And he says it in this real condescending voice, too, like I’m an idiot or something.
“Look here,” I tell him, “I heard you the first time, too, okay? And I want you to hear this...I want to speak to the manager.”
“I am the manager,” he says.
Manager! This kids looks like he’s not ready to start shaving yet. Well, to make a long story short, I use some language I normally save for poker night with the guys and wind up being escorted out of the store—candy still in hand. Super Shopper. More like the Super Sucker.
I’m driving in the van, just mad as a tick. I know rules are rules, but when a customer comes in with perfectly good merchandise and a receipt, that should be the end of the story, right? You got a receipt and unopened candy, you should get your money back. This isn’t Russia. I’m turning all this over in my head and trying to figure out what to do with all the candy when I damn near hit some kid who comes flying out of nowhere. He’s chasing after a football his friend threw into the street. I slam on the breaks and honk the horn and roll down my window, ready to give this kid a lecture on looking both ways, when it dawns on me: kids...candy.
“Hey, little boy,” I say to him out of the window. “You want some candy.”
The kid just looks at me like I’ve got two heads. “Hey,” I say, louder, “You want some candy? I’ve got some for you.”
His little friend—the little quarterback—comes over and grabs his arm. He says something to him I can’t hear and they just take off running. “Wait,” I yell out to them, but they take off faster than Loretta’s waistline did after she turned 30.
I get back home and decide I’ve had enough hooplah over a bunch of stupid candy for one day. I leave it out in the van and go inside.
Next day, Loretta gives me a grocery list and a bunch of Super Shopper coupons from the Sunday paper. I don’t want to tell her that I’m banned from the one over on Hawthorne, so I take the coupons, hop in the van and drive to the one way the hell over on Jackson Street. They’re having a sale on winter salt, so I figure I might as well load up and get a fifty pound bag. But while I’m throwing it in the van, I’m not paying attention and almost throw it on top of the candy. I catch myself and twist my damn back just like I did the last day at the plant. It wrenches up like a vice grip, enough that I had to ask some girl bagger to help me get it in the van.
On my way back home, I see a bunch of kids playing in a yard. They look happy and normal, not like the two dim bulbs I saw the day before. I pull up to the curb and roll down the window. “Hey kids,” I say, friendly as I can be. “How would you like some candy.”
“You’ve got candy?” they ask, excited.
“Whole bunch of it,” I tell them.
“Oh, please mister, can we have some of your candy? Please please please.” Cute kids, they are. And normal.
“Sure thing,” I tell them. I get ready to get out, and my back locks up. “Say, why don’t you guys come around and get it out of the van yourself?” I tell them.
They smile and giggle and run around to the back. They get door open when I hear this scream. I look out the window and see this woman running toward the van. “Kyle! Joseph! Get away from there! NOW!” I mean, she’s acting like the kids are getting into a burning building.
“Ma’am, they’re fine, they’re just getting some candy out of my van.”
“You leave them alone!” she screams, her voice dropping to this growl. And she comes around the side and yanks the kids away from the van. They start crying and whining about the candy, but she just pulls them to the house, looking back at me and giving me the evil eye. And not only did the kids not take any of the God-forsaken candy, but they left the door wide open. I get out and lurch over to the side door and slam it shut. For the second night in a row, I’m sitting at home with a bunch of candy I don’t need.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: why don’t I just keep the candy? Well, it’s Loretta. With her blood sugar and obsessive compulsive disorder, it’d be Easter Sunday in the hospital all over again. In fact, I told her I already returned it so she wouldn’t go snooping around in the Chuck Wagon.
So why don’t I just throw it out? Let me tell you what’s wrong with this country, other than baby-faced store managers who get to tell you what you can and can't return: throwing stuff out when it’s perfectly good. That’s not how my dad raised me. My mother once made meat loaf that was packed with onions. My father, rest his soul, he loved onions. “Honey,” he’d tell my mother, “you never put enough onions in the meat loaf.” So one night she puts two whole onions in the meat loaf, just so my father will stop talking about there not being enough onions. It was a wonder that she could even bake it. I know he hated every bite, but he’d rather swallow every mouthful of onion-soaked meat than throw it out. I hate onions, so I pushed the plate away. What’d my father do? He stuck that plate in the refrigerator. For the next three nights, he’d go in the refrigerator and set that cold, slimy plate of meat loaf in front of me. I didn’t get any other dinner except that, “You finish what your mother made you, boy,” he said each night. I don’t know how I did it, but I choked it down. And even though I went up to my room and called him every name in the book, I learned a big lesson that night. So that’s why I couldn’t just throw that candy away.
I get up the next morning and Loretta’s got another list for me. She’s out of yarn and needs me to go to Needle in a Haystack. I hate having to go there—I’m always the only man in the place. But she can’t drive on account of her deformed big toe, so I have to go.
Unfortunately, Loretta’s a little behind on her laundry, so all I have to wear are my “fat pants.” I had a bit of weight problem after the accident at the plant, and finally lost it by going on that shake diet. I put them on and they practically fall off. I grab my one good belt, but while I’m tightening it, the damn buckle hole rips. I tell you another thing wrong with this country, they don’t make belts like they used to. My father had one belt that lasted him 47 years. I can’t get one to last 17. I could wait for my pants, except you don’t want to come between Loretta and her yarn. I figure what the hey, I’m just running out for some thread.
In the van, I pass by three of the cutest little girls you ever did see. Triplets, all dressed alike, laughing and jumping in a big pile of leaves. It’s like a sign, like God’s telling me, “give these girls your candy.”
I pull over to the curb and get out of the van, holding my pants up with one hand. “Hey girls, how are you?” I ask them.
“Fine,” they say, all together like a choir.
“Do you girls like candy?” I ask.
“Candy?!” they yell. “You have candy?”
“A whole lot of it,” I say. I open up the back and pull out two fistfuls of bags. I toss them to the girls and they’re squealing, “candy, candy, CANDY!” I get all the candy out except for two bags that are just out of my reach. The little girls are hopping up and down around me, and just as I get the last bags in my hands, I feel a bit of a breeze. That’s when I hear the siren. I turn around and see two cops. I hold up the two last candy bags just before my fat pants fall to my knees.
So that’s how I wound up here. Try to do something nice and look where it gets me. No good deed goes unpunished, my dad used to say. I’ll tell you, that’s what’s really wrong with this country. And whoo boy, you’re lucky you didn’t have to hear Loretta when I told her I was in the pokey. It’s gonna be a long ride home. As soon as someone can drive her over here, of course.