Thursday, September 22, 2016

"Coat Hanger"
© 2016 By Jack Bogut 

            Sunlight poured down through morning mist in the trees like golden hair; each strand perfectly straight, carefully combed, speckling the green grass and warming the sidewalk. It was the kind of a day you'd build on purpose if you could start from scratch.
            The sounds of Saturday started softly and spread like spilled water. A door slammed somewhere. Mushy footsteps grew louder and softer as a lone, overweight jogger passed, puffing like a blacksmiths bellows. Two walking dogs exchanged greetings as their owners ignored each other. A bottle broke in a dumpster somewhere. People wearing wrinkled pajamas, with hair in their eyes, pulled newspapers inside through half opened doors. And finally, someone jerked on a lawn mower until it roared to life and quiet was dead for the rest of the day.
            As I walked to get a morning paper, an immaculately dressed older woman came out of a doorway and passed in front of me. We didn't speak; our eyes never met. She was going somewhere and so was I.
            I paid too much for a newspaper at the local convenience store and was walking back to our daughter's apartment when the same lady crossed my path again. This time she had a coat hanger in her hand and was headed toward a small, late-model, foreign car.
            I slowed and watched her put scratch marks in the paint around the lock in her car door as she probed for some secret spot that would magically open it.

            We've all been there before: keys locked inside, composure slipping, someone watching, hope fading, embarrassment and anger building, time a'wasting.
            "Good morning", I said.  "Need some help?"
            "Why yes, I'm. . .I’m afraid I've locked my keys in the car. They're in my purse, there, on the seat. I don't know what to do. Someone told me once that a coat hanger would open a car door, but I don't have the foggiest . . .do you suppose you could help me?"
            "I'll be glad to." I said.
             I walked over to the door on the passenger side, reached in through the open window, grabbed her purse and handed it to her across the roof.
            "Oh, good lord. I am so embarrassed. I feel so stupid!"  She said, looking away, up the street.
            "Don't." I said. "There are two kinds of people in this world: those who have  locked their keys in the car . . . and those who are going to  lock their keys in the car."
            "Have you ever locked your keys. . . ?”
            "Yes I have." I interrupted.
            "With one window open?" She continued.
            "Well, not exactly, but close."
            "Thanks for that!”  She said,
            "Don't mention it."
            "I certainly won't," she said.  "Not to a soul! And I'd appreciate if you kept it quiet too!"
            "That's a deal." We were smiling at each other now.
            "You don't think I'm stupid?"
            "Not at all."
            "Do you know who I am?"
            "No I don't. I'm from out of town."
            "Well, thank goodness for that too. . .and thank you again," she said as she got in and started the engine.
            "That's alright," I called to her as she revved it up in a cloud of smoke.
            Then she got out of the car, ran back in the building for something she apparently forgot, came out again and got back in the car.
            The last sound I heard as I went in our daughter's apartment building was the high pitched, metallic grinding of the starter as she tried repeatedly to start the car with the engine already running.

            I hope that lady's okay.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Chicken Every Saturday

© By Jack Bogut

            It was very apparent she was upset!
Her bottle-bottom glasses magnified the anger in her eyes.
In her wildest dreams she could not imagine such a thing. She had been violated. No one ever changed a contract or altered a handshake agreement with Mabel Clift just for convenience or profit. No one she respected anyway. But this man was doing it to her and she was livid!
            The reason she was so upset was that it complicated things. Life was simple for Mabel and her husband, Frank: Be careful what you promise; do what you say you will do; and always give more than people expect. They were as good as their word, generous to a fault and dependable beyond belief. That’s why this came as such a shock.
            When he was in his twenties, Frank had a heart attack that was severe enough for the Railroad to give him early retirement and a lifetime disability pension. He counted his blessings because he felt good enough to live a full and active life and had the money to do it—as if he had any choice, being married to Mabel.
            Frank remembered her telling him they weren’t going to just sit around and spend his pension, they were going into the chicken business.
            “Chicken business? What the hell do we know about chickens?” Frank asked, knowing full well that Mabel would take exception to his language.
            “We know people eat them!” Mabel said. “And don’t talk like that. Somebody might hear you and think I married a ruffian.”
            “Why chickens?”
            “Because chickens are the perfect business for us. We can hatch and raise them together and, when the time comes, you can dispatch and clean them, and I’ll take them to town and sell them. We’ll make an honest living and earn our place on this planet.” Mabel said. And that was that. From that point forward they were chicken farmers.
            They really did raise the best chickens in the county, and Mabel sold them for a premium price to the biggest butcher shop in the city.
            This went on for years until the day the butcher told Mabel he was going to have to pay her ten cents a pound less.
            “Why in the world would you do that? Are you going to lower your prices? Are you going to charge less for my chickens?” Mabel asked.
            “Nope. I don’t have to charge less. My customers will pay the same price they always have. I just need a little more profit for buying all your chickens. I’m really doing you a favor. There is no other butcher in town that will pay your prices. Besides, I can buy good chickens from other suppliers for less money and the customer won’t know the difference.”
            “But you know these are premium quality birds.” Mabel protested. “There’s not a pinfeather on them. They’re clean as a whistle. Why, there are no finer… “ Her voice trailed off into a whisper as her anger mounted.
            “Well, there’s no need to argue about it, Mabel. That’s it. Take it or leave it!” The Butcher said, smiling, knowing that he had painted her into a corner.
            Mabel thought about his offer for just a fraction of a second.
            “Well, yes. You are absolutely right. That’s it then. Thank you very much and goodbye.” She said as she spun on one heel and headed for the door.
            “We have a deal then?” The Butcher asked.
            “Over my dead body!” Mabel answered, politely, but with a definite edge to her voice.
            “You’ll be back.” He called confidently after her. “You don’t have any choice, Mabel. Besides, it’s only ten cents a pound less. Where else ya’ gonna’ sell ‘em?”
            Little did he know.
            Mabel was always a very social and likeable person. Sometimes after selling her chickens to the Butcher, she liked to stand around and talk to his customers, particularly the people who told her they came in just to buy her chickens. She even remembered some of the names of these customers, looked them up in the phone book and called them. She offered to deliver her fresh chickens right to their door every Saturday at the same price they used to pay at the Butcher Shop. It wouldn’t cost them a penny more and she could start as soon as tomorrow. They would never have to make another trip to the butcher shop again if they didn’t want to. And to a person, they all said yes.
            After a couple weeks of delivering door to door, Mabel asked her new customers if they had any friends who might like her chickens delivered to their door and before long, Mabel had enough of the Butcher’s old customers that he wrote her a very unfriendly letter, which she chose not to answer. Then he wrote her a very friendly letter and offered her old price back. She ignored that letter too. Then he sent another letter offering her a few cents more money than he was paying before. Mabel smiled as she dropped that one in the wastebasket.
            About a month later, Mabel went out of her way and deliberately drove by the store with her load of chickens. The Butcher recognized her car and waved frantically as she drove slowly by. He shouted as she passed:
            “Mabel, Mabel, pull over. We need to talk…! ”
            She slowed to a maddening crawl but never quite came to a stop as he trotted along her rear fender, out of breath, panting and perspiring, shouting at her through the open passenger-side window. When she smiled at him in the side-mirror and abruptly sped away, he looked like he was going to either cry or suck his thumb. When Mabel merrily tooted her horn and waved in the rear view mirror, the butcher jumped up in the air one time and waved his fist.
            Mabel Clift delivered premium quality, fresh, chickens to her customers for more than 25 years, and she never spoke to the Butcher again. She did honk when she drove by his store. Every time. He didn’t even have to look up, he knew who it was when he heard the horn.
            And if Mabel saw the butcher in person, she always smiled and waved.

            He never did.