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Sunday, May 17, 2020



by Scott Gardner Merrick 

I wear these navy slacks I found behind O'Shaugnessy's, in the dumpster there. And they're still clean--that's the amazing thing, I think, that that goldarned polyester just seems to wake up fresh every morning whether I do or not, and I can at least look down on that, for God's sakes, look down on something, and that one something is clean, or at least it bears some semblance of cleanliness, so that I can face up to the morning with some kind of pride, even if the pride itself is second-hand. 

Name's Gus. 

Once it was Augustus, or that was my middle name, anyway. My bastard father passed on the full, three-piece name of his own bastard father to me. There's a broken spoke though, in this great wheel of fortunes: I was my own father's lawful son, born in wedlock, no romance there, except that my father did love my mother for a short while, whining to her and dining her, leaning on her and bearing down upon her with the full weight of his dreadful insecurities until she did exactly what he could not have predicted she would do--she bore each and every one of them. And then she asked for more, and he scurried around and came up with a few more, and she absorbed each and every one of them like a three dollar sponge from Zayre's until he was left standing there with hat in hand wondering where all the pain went. And missing it. 

Gus. Call me Gus. 

Okay, so the pants are from Sears and Dumpster, but the shoes are from my brother in the bowling industry. He lives in At-lawn-ta. Gets a deal on anything Converse carries, so when I ran into him down here about a year ago he sprung for these sneakers. You can't tell it now, but they used to be sparkling white and fire engine red and now they're old beard gray and stogie ash black. How did I get off on clothes, anyway? I don't care anything about what a man wears on his back. Or on his feet. Clearly. 

Seems like I was going to say something. 

I don't know now. 

I'll remember. 

How do you like the cart? 

You might think that I rolled her off a Winn-Dixie parking lot, especially if you'd seen her before I broke off the signs and labels which sported the name, but that's far from the truth. Truth is, I found her abandoned over near Hollywood Beach, outside a long, low, putty-yeller apartment house with a lot of shiny clean BMW's parked out front. Funny thing: there isn't a Winn-Dixie anywhere near Hollywood Beach, Florida. The nearest one is way out west, near I-95. I figured somebody with a van scarfed her right up into it and just ditched her when they were done. 

I merely adopted her. 

Was my public responsibility. 

I used to be real proud of her, before the trouble with the wheels. They weren't made for sidewalks and sand, you see, and the front ones kept clogging up on me, tar or cigarette butts or string caught in the stainless steel housings, so that one or the other of them would pull to the side, bad. For a good while I debated whether to push her off one of the fishing piers for a decent burial at sea. She would've made a pretty interesting underwater sculpture for the snorkelers, I guess, but just in time's nick I found an old abandoned little red wagon that had three of its four wheels still in mint condition, so I took the good axle and the three wheels off it and rigged two wheels up to my cart's front end. I still carry the third wheel, down in the bottom of the cart, for a spare. Maybe I'll throw it away soon, though; I'm beginning to suspect I won't never need it, I did such a darned good job on the conversion. 

Really should toss that wheel. 

The two I got on will probably outlast me, especially if the chest pains I've been having off and on this past month are anything more than heartburn. Or heartache. 

I've been thinking a lot lately. 

I guess that's not unusual, come to think of it. I got into this line of work so I could have time to think. And for the freedom, of course; but mainly so I could think. Problem is, lately my thoughts have been turning back over the past more than I want them to. 

Thinking about stuff I know durned well I shouldn't stick the old mental shovel back into. Digging into it deep and turning it, rich and steaming, ripe and pungent, over. And over. 

Physically, of course, it is one foot in front of the other for me. Checking out dumpsters as far north as Lauderdale and as far south as Miami Beach, though I prefer the northerly territory. In Miami Beach you have competition from citizens on top of your legitimate bums. I would be embarrassed, personally, myself, to be scoping out refuse depositories on the way home from the store to my condominium, but there you have it. Dabblers in the art. Interlopers in a specialized field. Dilettantes. I just stay away from them. 

I have a lot more in my cart than refundable bottles and aluminum cans, of course. 

Probably the most valuable thing I have in there is my passport. It's still valid, so that if I really wanted to I could take a gambling junket over to Nassau or something. Come back a quadrillionaire or something. Who knows? All I know is that if I wanted to I could leave the country, since my passport doesn't expire until May 25th, 2017. 

I can't imagine what the world might be like five years from now. Not sure I want to try. Things're moving so fast. 

Where was I? 

Oh well. 

I do like this patch of Stirling Road. Sometimes I push on down Park Road to the park, Yuppietuppiesomething-or-other Park, and watch the world. And think. 

Oh! Hell! Yeah, that's what I was going to do: tell you what I've got in here. 

Well, I already mentioned my passport, and there's the bottles and cans you see, but that big cardboard box is full of money. 

Yep. That box that takes up most of the cart? It is is full of cash. 

It's a big box, originally designed to hold six 1.75-liter bottles of Absolut vodka. Swedish stuff. It's gotten pretty worn in the weather, but when I first packed it I lined it with several layers of plastic bags, so the bucks are fine, I'm sure of it. Even though I have not really looked at them in a good while. Problem is, all you can really read any more of the label on the box is the word, "so." The "Ab" and the "lut" have long been washed away, so here I am, pushing this modified, souped-up shopping cart down Stirling Road, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, with a sign on the side of the cart that says, in lower-case red letters (the box held the 100 proof stuff: the 80 proof letters are blue) simply and, yes, even boldly: "so." 


Once I decided to get out of the selling game, I didn't really know what to do with my accumulated wealth. I definitely wanted out. I had gotten into it, sales, for the challenge, first selling data processing software, then graduating to complete systems and on up into mainframes and networks. I danced the daily dance. I cold-called on small businesses for a year, then I started closing my own deals, which is where I learned how badly a screwing I had been taking for the past year, so I went on the take, skimming and paying kickbacks, baiting and switching, giving away the first piece of hardware for the sake of the monkey on its back, the service contract, or its cousin, the equipment upgrade. In the long view, it was not a pretty picture. 

But I painted it pretty damned well anyway. 

Before long, we had a sales force of a dozen reps, all "Independent Contractors," all on straight commission with various degrees of subsistence support--draw, salary, advances on earned commissions--to see them through the day-to-day fiscal hazards of our society. Like a bad game of golf, sort of. Oops, I took a nasty slice there, and hit the tree of American Express, charging a few more lunches than my draw will cover this month. Oops! Water hazard: Neiman-Marcus! 
(Had a lady friend once who called that place "Needless Markup," kind of a joke.) 

Oops! Back to the apropos golf metaphor. Whoops, there! I went and landed in the sand-trap of my oil company card. They charge me 21% interest on the commodity that I need to fuel the vehicle which gets me around to the places I have to reach in order to attempt to make a living so's I can afford to have their credit card. 

But wait! Not all the places I visit will contribute to my earnings. It's a numbers game. 

One of my fellow sales reps put it like this: "It's the twenty percent rule, as I figure it." Craig was about my age, with a wife and two kids and a pickup truck and a boat of some kind--I never got to know him well enough to find out exactly what he fished from. "You get out there and you call on the prospects. It's geometrical." He probably had a lot of math in college; now that I think of it, I did hear that he was doing some programming on the side, more Independent Contracting. "Maybe twenty percent of the businesses you hit will be in any way interested. Twenty percent of those will give you an appointment for the boss to make an I.P." I looked dumb, though I knew what that was. "Initial Presentation," he smirked. "Then twenty percent of them will come in for an in-house demo, and twenty percent of them will sign." This conversation took place the first morning I went out cold calling with Craig, and he didn't look me in the eye much while he ran through this theoretical formula for success. I later figured out that he was driving me around to some very worked-over areas, not willing to share any potentially productive territory with me, since he'd not yet sized me up as friend or foe in the Great Sales War. 

"If you really want to get sick about it," he finished up, "figure that twenty percent of the people who sign a deal which you set up will eventually earn you an uncontested commission on your efforts, and you will actually receive somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty percent of the payment from those earnings. So," he smiled uncomfortably up from behind the wheel, running his free hand through the sandy testimony of his frugal attitude toward haircuts, "there you have it: you have to hit the numbers. The more you hit on, the more money you will make. Maybe make." 

Craig disappeared, out of the office and out of all our lives, two weeks later. He'd been with the company for four years. 

Where was I. 


The funniest thing happened one morning coming back to the office from the ritual coffee run to the 7-11 across the street. It was four of us, Uncle Bill (alias Willy, alias Will, Alias Billy, but on every other Friday William, because it was payday and that was how his check would read), Robert, Gloria, and me. You have to know something about North Miami, or Ft. Lauderdale, to really appreciate this. It is kind of a would-be fashion playground. 

At the time, I was too poor to afford more than the three pairs of cotton slacks and four or five dress shirts and three or four ties that I traded around constantly for the first six months of my employ. But the ladies--especially Gloria, who had already worked at the job for three years when I arrived on the scene--enthusiastically displayed their upper-middle-class fashion sense at all cost. Wide belts were in at the time, two or three hundred-dollar jobs with studs and stars and mirrors and bold colors and massive buckles. The girls would wear them low on their hips, which would sometimes greatly affect their gait. 

I was walking behind the three of them, all of us heading back across our parking lot back to work with coffee cups and Danishes in hand. Gloria was in the middle, both hands full, and flanked by the two guys; and I could not help noticing her massive belt and marveling at just how low it was slung. She was swinging her shapely hips quite actively, and I thought that the dramatic motion was a function of the fashion, so to speak. 

A few steps later the belt came crashing down around her ankles. And there she stood. 

All decked out, both hands full, with this huge belt down around her feet. 

I suggested that none of us should help her, since with both hands full of coffee and donuts she was likely to spend some amusing moments correcting the situation. So the three of us stood aside and watched. We laughed so loudly that people came out of the building to see what the commotion was all about. Uncle Will was in tears, he was laughing so hard. 

Ahhhh. Well. It was really funny at the time. 

A few years ago, was the time. Ahem. 

Well, I got to go, I really do. I do like to stop and talk with the citizens in the course of a day, especially when the day is as hot and as humid as this one is and there's a little shade to be had doing it. But I am on my way to the sea, you see. To the see, you see, he said. To me. To the sea you see he said. 

I park my cart under a particular palm there, most days. I swim in the ocean and then I take my shower soapless, under the cold running tap. I spend a few hours there, studying the sound of the sea, a sound that is always new. Even newer than polyester, don't you know. 

I see you looking at my box, it does look funny, the "so" on the side in red letters. Aw, hell, you know there is not any money in there. You think I'd be dressed like this, pushing a hot rod shopping cart toward the ocean, in this heat, if that box was full of hundred-dollar bills? 

Rags and junk. That's what's in that box, boy. 

Heat must be getting to you, son. 

Or your job is. 


Take it easy. 

I am rolling. 

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