Soda Fountain Abuse

“And would you be a love and give me a cup? Not for tea, mind, just some water. Water is good for these old bones, ya know?”

“Right,” said Mickey, the son of Jenny Hailer and therefore the one who got stuck working the after-school shift at her deli. He didn’t mind it much—it was always quiet, so he could get a decent chunk of his homework done—but he did mind Friday afternoons when Declan Potts rolled in for his pre-weekend munch. He knew perfectly well that Declan was going to fill the paper cup with tea as soon as he thought Mickey’s attention was elsewhere. If his mother found out…

Jenny was absolutely convinced that the single greatest threat to her livelihood, her son’s future, and society itself was the abuse of her deli’s soda fountain.

She knew that she had to partially blame herself. She bought the model that dispenses water out of one of the same spigots as the pay drinks, after all. Still, that didn’t give people the right to drink expensive beverages when they only asked for a free water cup. All of those ninety-five cents add up. Particularly when they steal free refills.

She had posted signs warning that this practice amounted to theft and would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Some people obeyed, but others took advantage of her good nature and distracting atmosphere to snatch drinks anyhow.

The hippies who came into town were the worst, thinking that all soft drinks should be held communally throughout the universe and therefore that they could imbibe with impunity. And Declan Potts was the worst of them all. One time Jenny had happened to be in the deli on Friday afternoon, showing her accountant some records, and she watched as her son specifically warned Declan that he couldn’t have any beverages that he didn’t pay for. The scoundrel took a cup of iced tea and a refill of lemonade anyway.

“Be sure to watch that Declan today,” Jenny invariably warned Mickey on Friday mornings before school, but they both understood what a charade it was. Mickey didn’t even bother to admonish the man about it today, accepting that the way his insides were turning into an angry sea cucumber was just a regular business hazard. True to form, Declan poured himself some tropical punch today and raised his glass in a silent toast toward the counterboy.

In doing so, Declan became aware for the first time of something written on the cup. “Darkwood Gulchians We Love,” he read. “Oy! Wuzzat, then?”

Mickey thought it was pretty self-explanatory, but he had enough concern for customer service not to let it show. “My mom had some cups made up,” he explained.

“I know that, ye git. What’s on ‘em?”

“Oh. They’re just people around town, you know? People who are interesting, or that she’s pleased to know.”

Declan smiled broadly. “Well, then, miladdo. I’m bettin’ that she’s gonna want one of these before long.” A business card seemed to jump out of Declan’s sleeve and spin its way across the counter.

Mickey picked up the card and regarded it with disdain, for it glittered. He then slid it back to Declan. “I think she’s going to keep it to people she likes,” he said, as kindly as possible, which wasn’t terribly.

Declan’s smile never faded. “She will,” he declared, as he slid the card back across the counter and strutted away.

*****

Lunchtime post time! This scene will show up in The Clean Hippie Murders, which I’m really enjoying writing, even though I haven’t actually started writing it yet. This is another act of so-called hippie rebellion; it’s only recently that I’ve started coming up with scenes involving any of the hippies, but discovering their personalities and what distinguishes them from each other has been a lot of fun.

The scene itself was inspired by Chipotle and their “People we’re Pleased to Know” cups. They should totally put me on one.

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Emergency Exits

Two glass doors, labeled “for emergency use only,” taunted Wayne.

This was the weekend. Wayne time. Not rule time. Those glass doors were symbols of oppression that he wanted to bust down.

The doors led nowhere. They jutted into the interior of the Earth Mother Craftworks store, attached only to one wall so anyone could walk around them to get to the other side. They were an inconvenience, not a barrier, and therefore a clear symbol of the Man that must be constantly struggled against.

Wayne had been coming to Darkwood Gulch for six years, but he’d never been to this fluorescent store that claimed to be operated by a member of the Cherokee but probably wasn’t. He preferred to buy all of his beading supplies at a fantastic little boutique near his home in Columbus, but he’d been in a rush to get out on Friday and he tried to extend his supplies just a bit further than they were willing to stretch.

Wayne examined the doors more closely. They were unnaturally clean—completely smudgeless. Someone had spent a lot of effort to make and keep them that way.

He pressed a finger against the glass, willing his fingerprint to despoil this virgin territory.

Nothing.

An elderly woman with a basket full of brown scratchy yarns toddled her way toward him and prodded his shoulder with surprising force. “I don’t think you should be doing that, sonny,” she insisted. “That sign says ‘emergency use only.’”

“This is an emergency,” Wayne retorted. “An emergency of your complacent little mind.”

“I was taunting my elders when you were in diapers, little man. And I know an emergency when I see it.” She held up one of her skeins. “This sweater is for my ungrateful bitch granddaughter, but when I make it, I’ll be thinking of you.” The woman spun and left more nimbly than she arrived.

Wayne turned back to the doors. He couldn’t identify any alarm system. There were no funny wires or anything.

This was his chance to strike a blow for freedom.

Wayne reached out. His heart beat a little bit faster as his fingers grasped the handle. In his mind, he began composing the speech that he would deliver before the judge. It would be powerful, and moving, and it might singlehandedly save society.

“May I help you, sir?” came an oppressively friendly chirp from behind.

Operating on pure instinct, Wayne realized that he really didn’t need a criminal record. There was one thing that he could do: He dropped his bucket, scattering plastic and wooden disks across the cement floor, and bolted.

As he squealed out of the parking lot, there was a throbbing in his shoulder. He must have hit something on way out. He imagined that there was a whole rack of generic knitting patterns splayed across the floor, revealing their secrets of cartoonish old bearded men to anyone sad enough to look. That was the story that would emerge from this day. He would write an epic poem to deliver around the campfire. Maybe even folk songs.

Wayne felt righteous.

*****

Here’s another bit of character anecdote that should make its way into The Clean Hippie Murders that was inspired by Midway Airport. It has, all through the terminals, these glass doors that stick out into the walkway that are labeled “Emergency Use Only.” It confuses me.

Perhaps noting that will get me put on a terrorist watch list. I hope not, although I really don’t travel enough for it to matter much.

In the workings of fiction, the experience morphs into a mighty rebellion, at least in the mind of one of the hippies of Darkwood Gulch. Really, I should put “hippie” in quotation marks; the Darkwood Gulch variety is intended to resemble the actual species in about the same way that McDonalds food resembles real food.

On Golf

Note: I actually wrote this two days ago, but due to computer issues (I wrote it on my laptop, which couldn’t get the wireless signal at my parents’ place), I couldn’t post this until today. Also, It’s an essay, but I have a strong feeling that elements of this will find their way into The Clean Hippie Murders. The titular hippies are the type of hippies who golf.

*****

Golf is a funny game.

No, that’s not right. Golf is an incredibly stupid game, and people who play it are sad losers who should be separated from society for their protection and ours.

That’s not right either. It’s fair, but it isn’t right.

I say this based on my extensive experience with the game. Namely some five rounds or so, spread out over some ten or so years or so. My brother plays, albeit in spurts. If he’s on one of his golf kicks when we meet up for a family gathering, we’ll generally escape for a half a day and play a round.

I don’t get it.

There’s nothing particularly enjoyable about the act of hitting a little ball with an expensive stick. It’s not particularly good exercise. It’s immensely frustrating. How do you get closer to the ball, while keeping your arms straight, if your club is at the ball but your arms already are straight? Eventually my brother revealed that my arms needed to be lower, but seriously. How was I supposed to get that? It hurts: my forearm is throbbing from the impact of club on ball, or more likely the impact of club on ground two feet behind the ball, and the nail around my middle finger (ironic, that) always gets bloody from friction from however I’m mis-holding the club. A lot of people who play are prats. It’s expensive. It’s environmentally dubious. It has a frickin’ dress code.

I’m getting better.

Today I had my first-ever bogey. Unaided, no cheating by throwing a ball out from behind the bushes, a legitimate, 4-strokes-on-a-par-3 bogey. I shot something under 140; while I don’t keep records of my rounds, I think that’s my best round total. My brother corroborates that my shots look better; it seems that I’m actually hitting the ball (in the air, more than a 10-yard dribble, whatever) quite a bit more often.

The other pair in our foursome was senior and his son-in-law. The younger one had been playing for two years, while the father had done so quite a bit longer. We didn’t compare scores, but it’s within the realm of possibility that mine was lower than one or both of them.

How horrible would it be to invest your time, your money, your effort, your desire, and your heart into something so utterly trivial as golf, only to be indistinguishable at it from someone with no particular natural ability, no training, only the barest experience, and no particular concern to get better?

It would be tragic, and sad, and it calls into question the validity of the sport as a whole.

Okay, perhaps not. Most hobbies are pretty idiotic to outsiders. This one, however, the less of an outsider I get, the equally idiotic it remains.

The Tour, Part II

From there, Jonas could do no wrong. The tour group loved to hear about peace and love and harmony, and how the area had mystical healing properties, and how Darkwood Gulch provided the only truly authentic hippie experience in the nation, and how the hippies here were leading the movement into amazing new areas. (He separated the last two points, as always, but with this crowd he probably didn’t need to.)

Forty-eight minutes later, everything was ruined, because the guests had to witness the one thing that horrified them beyond all others.

Breasts.

Bare and wrinkly, they made their appearance as the tour visited the hippie camp itself. Jonas didn’t even see them himself. He just heard a shriek coming from one of the guests, a scrawny single man in his fifties. The man wore long beige pants and a plaid button-down shirt and claimed he hailed from Iowa, which Jonas marked as dull enough not bother catching any other information about him, except one obvious piece: He wore a pair of binoculars for birdwatching.

The man’s ludicrous squeal meant only one thing: The hippies were naked again. Jonas knew that some of them had a naturist bent, and was fine with it in general. But he’d given them his tour schedule for the week, and asked them to either cover up or stay nude in the back of the camp, while subtly reminding them of how he’d gotten the city to grant them use of this land and the sharply minimized law enforcement for certain minor infractions thereupon.

So someone was mad about something, and they’d decided that protest was a more effective means of telling him about it than telling him about it would be. Asses.

Jonas silently cursed them as he checked his mental tally. He kept a spreadsheet of who got which favors that he’d have to consult when he got back to the office, but if he remembered right, it was the hippies’ turn to win one. He whipped the tram around, silently damning the hippies from whom he derived his livelihood for doing so much to stand in the way of him making it.

“Sorry folks, it looks like the hippies are in a private mood today,” he spoke calmly into his microphone, but he knew that the tourists would have none of it.

“I saw hooters,” Iowa Birdwatcher Man said. “I’ve never seen anything so horrifying in my life.”

This set his cohorts off. Over the general din Jonas could hear words like “immorality” and “unsuitable for children,” being bandied about. There wasn’t even the usual perverted old guy turning around desperate for a peep.

“I do apologize for that, folks. As you know, hippies are fantastically independent and free-spirited, so we cannot control incidents like that.” Jonas checked his mirror to see about twenty pairs of eyes looking back at him with Biblical rage. He decided that gift shop sales would be unlikely and might lead to arson, so he decided to protect what revenue he could.

Jonas turned back to his microphone and whispered: “No refunds.”

The Tour, Part I

“The field on your left hosted the great Peace Concert of July 12, 1969. With acts like Arlo Guthrie, The Who, and Jimi Hendrix, many people consider this to be the Woodstock of the South.”

“I didn’t know there was a Woodstock of the South!” declared one woman, a sweet, older Midwestern thing. The camera that hung from a strap around her neck seemed to jump into her hands, and she managed at least a dozen pictures of the field even though the tram passed it at full speed. They’d be blurry, but she would show them off anyway.

The Woodstock line was always dangerous, but Jonas prided himself on his ability to size up his groups. This one skewed older, and pulsed with kindly passionlessness that would accept every word he said, and probably repeat them back home over Olive Garden dinners to all of their similarly post-striving friends.

“Coming up on your right is the childhood home of a man named Jacob Marleigh.”

“Like A Christmas Carol?” the man sitting next to photographer woman offered enthusiastically.

“Very good, my man,” Jonas announced, and there was a bit of hubbub at the back of the tram as news of such an amazing coincidence traveled backward. (While the speed of sound is more than 700 miles per hour, Jonas estimated the speed of information through a tour group at only one and a half meters per second.) “Although the family name is spelled differently, ‘M-A-R-L-E-I-G-H,’ they did name him after the book.”

“Did you hear that, Ronny? The family name is spelled differently,” over-enunciated a woman in the middle of the bus to her husband. Jonas checked his mirror, aimed at the passengers rather than the road, and took mercantile pleasure at noting her attire: a bright red T-shirt with “I’m a tourist–ENTERTAIN ME!” in big loopy script. If she would purchase that, Jonas imagined, with proper prodding she could be persuaded to drop a massive wad of cash in his gift shop after the ride. He mentally set five hundred as a goal.

Jonas didn’t dwell on his forthcoming riches. Some breaks in narration could be passed off as paying due attention to the operation of a motor vehicle, but long ones were just shoddy showmanship. “The parents gave Jacob his name knowing that it might be an obstacle for him to overcome, and thinking that if he learned to do so it would help him to achieve other things in his life. I think you’ll agree that it worked, because as a young man Jacob was the first to observe the amazing metaphysical properties of the unique electromagnetic fields that you will find at twelve points in and around Darkwood Gulch. In fact…” Jonas paused for dramatic effect here. “I think Jacob Marleigh deserves a round of applause.”

The tour gave Jacob his due and more. Some cheered, and at least one man gave a absurd little trilling whoop.

Yes, this trip was going to pull in some coin.

*****

Today, my family took a boat tour of the Peace River. Fun and interesting, but heavily local-history focused. So I wondered… how do we really know if the operator is telling the truth in everything he says?

In the world of The Clean Hippie Murders, the tour operator (who, as you may note, is also mayor, which I just learned today) clearly won’t be. He founded the tourist trade of his town on magnificent fictions, but he is clever enough to make them stick.

The Food.Com Bistro

“Hello. Welcome to Food.com. May I take your order?”

The tourist spent far too long hemming and hawing over the menu, which comprised only four sandwiches and the option of chips or no chips. When it became awkward, rather than excessive, she started tapping her fingers together in an a desperate attempt to get some neural synapses firing in sympathy with them. Finally, she licked her teeth, loudly but at least fully behind her lips. Having exhausted every delay tactic she knew, she began. “The turkey sandwich,” she said, dripping in suspicion. “Does it have any other meat on it?”

“Nope,” Heather replied, as bright and cheery as the employee manual would have demanded, had there been an employee manual. “Just lettuce and tomato. And mayo, if you like.”

The customer was not convinced. “I’ve heard,” she whispered, “that some of the restaurants in places…” She trailed off, until Heather prompted her with an appropriate hand gesture, at which point she looked around to make sure no one was listening before starting again. “In places… like this… I’ve heard some of them try to sneak in other different kinds of meat.”

Heather matched the woman’s whisper, and leaned in flawlessly. “I’ve heard that too,” she said. “But I can assure you that our turkey is nothing but one hundred percent pure shredded and chopped turkey bits pressed into a single easily sliceable juicy and perfectly roast loaf.”

She brightened, exactly as Jonas said she would. “That’s okay, then.” The woman contemplated the menu once more, although quicker this time. “I think I’ll have the ham sandwich.”

“I knew the moment I saw you that you were a ham woman. That’ll be $12.25. You’ll love it—it’s a perfect choice for you.”

“That’s a bit steep for a sandwich, you know.”

Heather  smiled fully and said nothing. When her silence had discomfitted the woman just enough to work to Heather’s advantage, she took a gentle breath and said, “Yes… it is” in tones that were equal parts cheerful and hypnotic and damn intimidating.

“Oh. Well then.” The next thing the tourist knew, she was heaving her mighty purse off of her shoulder. She wasn’t sure how the conversation had gotten to this point, but as she had spent the day being gouged anyhow, she felt strangely comfortable handing over a twenty dollar bill, as if Heather, somehow, genuinely cared about her money.

“And your change,” Heather said, returning a five, two ones, and three quarters in a low, swooping parabola that just happened to linger near the tip jar, which today was adorned with cardboard flowers, a plea to contribute to Heather’s college fund, and a very minor double entendre rhyme that involved the word “locket.”

“Oh, all right,” said the tourist, as she dropped the quarters, and then the five, into the jar.

*****

Wrote this today, longhand, on a very crowded plane. There’s actually more, although I’m not sure if it will ultimately be part of the same scene or separated. It’s from The Clean Hippie Murders, and it comes sometime after Heather has become Jonas’s protege and learned some of his lessons. She’s applying them in the crappy job that she’s taken in hopes of starting to build a college fund, knowing that funding isn’t reliable from any other source.

At Midway airport today, there was a restaurant that had “.com” on the end of its name. I didn’t eat there because it was too crowded, but I was curious if it had free wi-fi. I didn’t see anyone who had a computer. This will be relevant in the second part.

Vegan Pizza

Mary shambled into the Word-of-the-Day Café. Her walk was a grumpy affectation. She felt fine, but she resented being expected to haul herself all the way into town over the mayor’s failures.

“Mary,” Jonas greeted her warmly, even enthusiastically, ignoring glares from the rest of the congregants who had been waiting for up to a half an hour and who considered themselves Very Busy Individuals.

Mary also ignored the assembled crowd, although she belted out an announcement to Jonas plenty loud enough for them to hear. “I’d like to make it clear that I am here under protest.”

“I’m aware of that, my dear. I took the liberty of adding your protest to the agenda.” As he flickered his eyes at Heather, who was seated at the expanse of tables that formed a makeshift dais. She expertly snatched a piece of paper from a wide spread of them and brought it to Jonas. “You see?” he explained, holding out the agenda for Mary to see. “Your protest was noted, and your motivations sympathized with, and we agreed to express our heartiest thanks to you for attending anyway.”

“I didn’t realize the meeting would start without me.”

“And never would it,” Jonas assured her. “I simply hope to be able to facilitate the process. If you care for refreshments, I’ve ordered a vegan pizza.” Again on cue, Heather wordlessly but cheerfully delivered a plate with two slices. Her smile didn’t fade even though Mary declined to take the burden from her; she even kept her grin as Jonas took a slice and inserted it into Mary’s mouth. Mary chewed twice, made a face, and spat it out on Heather’s forehead.

“Goddess, that’s disgusting,” she declared.

“Of course it is,” Jonas replied. “It’s vegan pizza.”

Wayne used to make a delicious vegan pizza.”

Jonas cut her off. “Yes, but Wayne never worked here. Shall we?”

*****

Quickie lunchtime post today. This exchange will happen well into The Clean Hippie Murders, sometime after there have been enough murders to be clearly plural and when the town is meeting to determine what to do.