Tag Archives: b&c

Bread Boy

"Hey."
"Hey."
She was eating a Mars bar this time, and seemed more than a little distracted.
"Weren’t you in here earlier?"
"Yeah… sort of."
"You were with that cookie guy, right?"
"Uh-huh."
"You know him?"
"A little," he began to feel uncomfortable, "why?"
"That’s the same guy that’s down here playing on the pickle bucket, right?"
"Yeah."
"And you know him?"
"He’s my roommate," Jason said with a sigh, "I’ve known him since high school and, well… he has trouble holding down respectable employment."
"You don’t say."
"So, I’ve been letting him crash with me, so he can continue his… artistic pursuits."
"I suppose you’d have to call it art," she looked down at the counter yet again, what seemed like the umpteenth time. She finally looked up and directly at him, her bright eyes causing his blood to suddenly run cold.
"Hey, I’m sorry, but do you mind if I take this?"
She held up the cell phone she’d been hiding under the counter, and had been periodically checking the entire time.
"Uh…no," he replied, noting that his face was growing warm even as his veins turned to ice, "No, go ahead."
She immediately began ringing up his purchase (three loaves of bread), sending rapid text messages on her phone, and continuing the conversation with him…all at the same time. Jason couldn’t help but feel a little impressed.
"Anyway, that guy, your roommate… he’s a little north of normal, ain’t he? I mean, not to say I think your friend is a jerk or anything, but anyone that sits in downtown Kenosha and plays the spoons probably isn’t very normal."
"Uh-huh…" Jason was still watching the woman fly through processing the transaction.
"Sorry, I gotta hard key this," she said, still looking at her phone, "The buy three get one thing isn’t going through."
The fingers on her right hand began flying over the keypad at the cash register as effortlessly as her left hand was sending text messages.
"Seems like every special deal like this falls apart in the software," she muttered, "I tried calling the Help-less Center, but those dorks probably couldn’t fix a Lego set."
"You… really don’t like the Help Center?" Jason asked, almost hurt.
"They’re just not very efficient, is all."
"Isn’t there anyone you like at the Help Center?" he ventured, regretting it immediately, "Er, I mean… y’know, someone who always calls and gets it right, or at least is nice to talk to when everything falls apart?"
"There’s been one guy who’s been calling lately," she responded with a glint of mischief in her eye, "I figure he’s stalking me through the phone or something."
"Yeah!" Jason bellowed, laughing too loud and too long, "You know those tech support guys: all useless shut-ins and basement dwellers, pounding Red Bull and, and…"
"Mountain Dew?"
"Sure!" he took the suggestion gladly, "That, too! Really lame guys, probably in love with…video games, and comic books, and…"
"That’s enough, Bread Boy," she grinned as the receipt printed. She sent yet another text message and put the phone down, handing Jason his bag, "On your way, now."
"Oh, okay," Jason muttered, "Thanks, Ginger."
"I don’t know if I’m comfortable being on a first name basis with you."
"But…" he sputtered, "You’ve got a name tag! On the vest! What… what else should I call you? I…"
"I was joking, man," she grinned again, causing him to blush even more, "Now get home and keep that crazy roommate of yours off the street."
Jason fairly stumbled to the door. His legs felt like a strange combination of concrete and jell-o, both at the same time. As he staggered by a display of eyebrow pencils and foundation makeup, Ginger called out, unafraid of rousing her manager from his mid-afternoon office nap.
"Hey! Can I have your phone number?"
Jason made a noise that sounded something like "Phwaaa?" and slowly turned to see her walking towards him. It was at this moment that he cursed himself for not being more creative, because all he could think of was himself as Ulysses and her playing the hip-swaying siren.
"You know…" she gave him a wink through Cleopatra eyeliner, "Just in case the PINpad breaks or something. It’d be nice to have a direct hotline."
Jason immediately felt his mouth get dry, his eyes start to itch, and his stomach do its best Mary Lou Retton. He took a step to steady himself, but accidentally stepped on the doormat, causing the door to swing open with a loud "BING." This startled him so much that he lost footing again (something he would later blame on Ginger’s arresting eyes, but could probably be attributed to the tattered hem of his jeans) and stumbled out into the street, landing in a heap of bread and humanity at the feet of Marco Bastardo, pickle bucket maniac. Marco slipped the spoons he was currently playing into his breast pocket and helped his friend to his feet. Mortified, Jason scrambled his belongings together and beat a hasty retreat back to his apartment, less than a block away. Marco, after catching Ginger’s bemused expression in the shop window, shrugged and gave a bemused expression of his own.
"Well, you charmer."
Marco couldn’t resist a dig as he came back to the apartment, finding Jason sprawled on the couch, a pillow draped over his face like a death mask.
"I am failure."
"I am error," Marco responded, pulling a face, "Are we going to continue to make bad translation jokes, because I’m not brushed up on my Zero Wing."
"No, I mean it," Jason’s voice was still muffled by the pillow, "I am the very embodiment of failure. I’m like a Norse God, but the one who keeps striking out with the Valkyries or spilling all the mead."
"Yeah, you’d totally get kicked out of Valhalla," he smirked as he sat down on the couch next to his friend, "but so would I, probably."
"Loki wouldn’t want the competition," Jason groaned, finally pulling the pillow off his face, "Did you really have to set up shop outside the store while I went in there?"
"I didn’t have much else to do," Marco shrugged.
"You could have come in there with me!" Jason whined.
"I don’t like getting involved in your romantic sagas. I always wind up being blamed."
"That’s because it’s always your fault!" Jason shouted, leaping to his feet.
"Oh, name one time!" Marco did likewise.
"Gina."
"She was a smoker. I was watching out for your health."
"Marissa."
"She was using you, man!"
"Lucy?"
"You just knew she was gonna mess you up, man. I mean, the name! You’re lucky she never asked you to kick a football."
"Forget it!" Jason stormed off into the small kitchen of the equally small apartment. He returned, chewing on a slice of bread.
"Jase," Marco appealed as Jason sat back down on the couch in a huff, "I want you to answer something for me."
"Mmmf."
"Okay… I want you to finish your snack and then answer me."
"Mmuh," it was more conciliatory than the last one.
"This is gonna suck, but think about it for a sec: did you ever, honestly, at any point think you would go the distance with those girls?"
Jason gave him a quizzical look, cheeks stuffed with bread.
"I meant relationship-wise."
"Ah," Jason nodded and resumed chewing.
"Yes, believe it or not, I’m trying to have a serious conversation."
"Huh."
"So, think about it," Marco leaned back and heard his back pop satisfactorily. Hours of slouching over a pickle bucket caused more than a few knots.
"You seem to have a pattern, pal: you get intrigued, you fall hard, but it never works out. Even the ones you actually get a date with always end up the same way. You give, and you give, but you never get anything back… and then you come home whining. I know you want me to pat you on the head and say you’re such a suffering, noble man… but you’re not. You’re playing a part just as much as those girls were."
"Gee, thanks," Jason grumbled, "Why are you telling me this now, anyway?"
"Because for once, I think you’ve made a good decision here. You actually found one that isn’t all ‘cool’ looking on the outside and shallower than a foot bath. And, I’m sorry to say, if you don’t make this happen… I just might."
Jason thought back to his conversation with Ginger and laughed.
"What’s so funny?"
"Oh, nothing," Jason shook his head, "Thanks for the talk… I guess. Is it weird that we can be all, y’know, deep?"
"As heterosexual Midwestern males? Probably."
"Are we ever going to be normal?"
"Normal is subjective, buddy," Marco kicked both his stocking feet up on a rickety coffee table that separated a television propped up on milk crates from a threadbare sofa, "but if you’re asking what I think you’re asking, then no. You shoulda known that when we got buddied up for that project way back when."
"Hey, I still maintain that our working trebuchet was the coolest part of that History bee."
"And that’s why we are who we are: two overweight dorks who didn’t make enough friends to get highfalutin’ jobs, sitting on the ugliest couch in the world and watching reruns of Dick Van Dyke. There are probably a million neck-bearded, fair-trade sipping, graphic tee wearing trend-junkies in New York that probably wish they were this ‘real.’"
"Please don’t start on another one of those, Marco."
"All right," he rolled his eyes and tousled his roommates’ shaggy hair, "but only because I like ya."
"You know, if I hadn’t known you your whole life," Jason propped his own feet up, "I’d swear you were just playing the whole ‘sagacious hipster’ thing."
"Yep, too bad," Marco smiled and turned the TV up, "I’ve been a sour cuss like this since I was twelve."
They watched TV for a few more hours, barely moving. Then, at around eight, Marco stood up and announced,
"All right. We’re going to Hattrix."
"What?!" Jason was physically jolted out of the rut he’d worn in the couch.
Marco looked down at him with an incredulous expression.
"You heard me. Hattrix. Let’s go."
"I don’t wanna."
"Come on!" Marco hauled him upright, "There’s nothing good on TV, and Hate Grenade is headlining tonight. You LOVE Hate Grenade!"
"I do love Hate Grenade," Jason sat back down, "but I can’t see them live, and I definitely can’t see them at Hattrix!"
"Why?"
"Because… look at me!"
"I try not to."
"Hattrix is hardcore, man," he sighed, "I’m just a pretender. I’m not even a periphery punker, I’m one of those honkies who digs the music and works in white collar. They’d eat me alive in there, or introduce me to what the bottom of a pair of Doc Martens look like."
"Or, you know," Marco walked into the bedroom as he talked, "They could be human beings like you and me, and if you don’t act like a complete putz they won’t even care."
"It’s really crusty there, though," Jason threw his eyes on the floor, "Really crusty."
"And you eat more bread than anyone I know," Marco said, re-emerging from the bedroom with a long black jacket over a Skelly t-shirt, "so you’ll fit right in. I mean, you’re plenty hardcore… you don’t cut the crusts off!"
"You know, I don’t make jokes about the food you eat," Jason said, stomping into the bedroom himself.
"That’s because nothing rhymes with…"
He then proceeded to make several over-the-top and very loud chewing and eating noises. Jason came back, having cast off his halfway decent clothes for clothes he hoped would help him blend in: a wrinkled white t-shirt and jeans, with an even more wrinkled blue flannel over it.
"Very Seattle," Marco commented, "And I thought you weren’t going?"
"Shut up."
"See? This is what I mean," he called after Jason as they both headed down the stairs and into the street, "You gotta stand up for yourself and tell me that you want to just sit at home and watch Sailor Moon all night!"
"I don’t watch Sailor Moon!"
"Anymore?"
"…anymore."

Days of Bread and Chocolate

"Are you eating bread again?"
"…Maybe."
"For crying out loud, man!" the voice came high and crackling over the phone, "It’s your day off! At least pretend to eat something decent! There’s leftovers in the fridge, you know!"
"I bought the bread, I’ll eat the bread."
"Yeah, don’t remind me. You make three times what I do and yet you live off bread and water. I don’t get it."
"I’m saving."
"Saving for what?"
"Oh, I don’t know," he said around a mouthful of bread, "maybe to move out of this cruddy little apartment and start my own life?"
"What, you don’t like our bunkbeds?"
"I don’t like the two futons we jerry-rigged on top of each other with duct tape, no."
"Hey, watch the ‘jerry’ stuff, buddy. I’m German, remember."
"And I’m Jewish. You owe me."
"Fair enough."
"So… what are you calling me for, anyway?"
"I wanted to make sure you were eating, and not just… you know."
"Awwww, you’re looking out for me?"
"Of course I am. If you die, I couldn’t afford our place."
"Nice to know someone cares, I guess… You could always go back and live with your Mom."
"Only losers go back and live with their parents."
"Like I did?"
"Yes."
"Thanks," he sniffed, "Besides, I’m sure the busking would be better out by the I, anyway. You could set up shop over by Prime Outlets or something."
"Are you kidding?! Those gingerbread houses are a load of bunk. You know who lives there?"
"People with a stable income, unlike you?"
"Stable income my eye! Those places out in the Prairie are just barely there, know what I mean?"
"No, but I’m sure you’re going to tell me…"
"It’s full of your wannabe Ward Cleaver types," he continued without actually listening to the previous response, "You know, sad sacks who think they need the fancy-pants house and the overpriced jalopy and Columbia jackets when their kids are growing like weeds… they live every day in terror that they won’t be able to afford that trendy lifestyle, but they gotta keep buying, gotta keep up appearances… those people wouldn’t give me a dime if I was dying, man."
"So instead, you’re choosing to set up shop in downtown? Last time I checked, downtown was pretty… dead."
"Don’t get me started! All those chuckleheads migrating to the Interstate… THIS is where the real life is!"
"So, you’re going to resurrect the entire downtown by sitting on a pickle bucket and playing the spoons?"
"Not just the spoons," he shot back indignantly, "I’ve got my pennywhistle, my Jew’s Harp…er, sorry…"
"Go on."
"And my nose flute. I’m a regular one man band!"
"I’m sure Phillip Glass would dig it," the first one said, "now let me get back to sleep, it’s my day off."
"Are you going to see her?"
"I don’t know what you’re talking about."
"You can’t fool me, Jason Oakes," his voice giggled over the line, "I’ve been able to read you since the third grade. You’re going to go see… her."
"I just need to get some groceries."
"Then why don’t you go to a grocery store?"
"Because I get a discount."
"It’s basically the same price, then, and not as good of a selection."
"I’m showing company loyalty."
"Bullroar!" he laughed, "The only thing you have loyalty to is that hot little number at the cash register, and you know it!"
"I’m hanging up now."
"Yeah, I probably should too, before someone steals my bucket."
"Oh, the humanity," Jason shot back with biting sarcasm.
"I’ll see you this afternoon, bud," the voice said, "Unless you’re out…shopping…"
Jason hung up. That was the way it usually went with his oldest friend: Jason had always believed that those were truly the only people in the world you could be rude with. That’s probably what made him so good at his job, and if it wasn’t for the job, he wouldn’t have known… her.
Jason Oakes sat alone, in his underwear, in the dark bedroom of an apartment above the Olive Tree Restaurant in downtown Kenosha. The downtown had seen better days, but he had been right about it. Marco was right about downtown: it had a soul, a sense of past and purpose and necessity that the drywall jungles out by the interstate just couldn’t match. Jason couldn’t imagine himself living anywhere else, and from the day he’d seen that faded For Rent sign in the restaurant window, he knew this is where he could call home, where he could start his life after college… and now he was sitting in the dark in Spongebob boxer shorts.
It was his day off, he told himself, he could do what he wanted. He spent all week busting his butt, answering phones, and listening to hundreds of people tell him that their cash register didn’t work, and somehow it was his fault. Still, the pay was good, and every once in a while, he came across a friendly voice. It was easy to forget that the voice coming through the earpiece belonged to an actual human after a while, but sometimes there was a voice, and there was something about a voice, that made you sit up and take notice.
And sometimes, there was something about a voice that made you fall in love.
Jason looked down at his expansive belly, bemoaning that it was beginning to sprout hair. He thought briefly about his childhood, and how he knew hair would begin to sprout all over himself, and he tried everything he could think of to stop it. But, like some kind of unstoppable, monstrous horde, it could not be defeated.
Jason heaved a sigh and glanced at a clock on the wall, emblazoned with the Green Lantern logo: 11:30AM. It was probably time to put on pants. He wasn’t lying to Marco, he did have to go shopping. For one, they were out of bread, and Jason loved bread. However, getting bread involved one of two things:
A) putting on pants, and
B) heading to the local drugstore instead of the grocery store.
He did get a discount. It was about the same price. But Jason Oakes would have paid more than double to go to that shop every Friday and see her. To see Ginger Washington.
It began over ten months ago. Jason had responded to your usual distress call from the mega-corporate pharmacy chain, with one unusual twist: this was his local store. It wasn’t anything too difficult, the PINpad had just needed to be recalibrated. If you don’t use the attached pen, if you use your finger, it’ll screw everything up. Really. Anyway, he was able to get everything up and working, and he bid the mysterious Ms. Washington goodbye… but he couldn’t forget her voice. It was the kind of voice he dreamed about: warm, smooth, comforting, but not without bite or intelligence. It didn’t grate on the ears, it didn’t come through the line as a mumbled mash of gibberish that nearly required a translator. It was clear and concise, the kind of voice that should be addressing Congress… and it was working the counter at the drugstore.
"Oh, man!" he remembered ducking behind a display of paper guitars, "She’s here!"
"Who’s here?" Marco had said, tearing into a box of cookies he hadn’t purchased yet, and probably wouldn’t, if Jason’s debit account was any indication.
"Ginger Washington," he said it like a dream, "Her voice is enough to make me melt, and now… there she is!"
Marco sauntered around the end of the aisle and had a look for himself.
"Yeah, she’s pretty hot," he said in a voice that was seventeen clicks too loud, "What’s her name again?"
With an anguish squeak, Jason pulled him back. Eventually, they had to pay for their purchase.
"You’ve got to pay for it."
"I don’t have the cash."
"I’ll give you the money!"
"Then why don’t YOU pay for it?"
"Because she’ll recognize my voice!"
"…and?"
"She might think I’m some crazy stalker or something. Plus, I don’t want her to equate that helpful guy on the phone to the cookie bandit here."
Marco looked down at the dessicated box, taking a moment to brush crumbs off his distended belly.
"I was hungry."
"Just… here’s a twenty. Go pay for it!"
"Why is there only one counter open, anyway?" Marco hissed as they began to walk.
"Budget cuts," Jason hissed under his breath as they approached the checkout, "can only afford one checkout at a time!"
As they approached the register, Jason fell absolutely silent. Ginger Washington was there in all her glory, chewing languidly on a Hershey bar: her skin was somewhere between a deep brown and a light umber, accentuated by a few barely visible tattoos. Her eyes were large and had a particularly arresting shade of hazel to them, even in the middle of day-to-day monotony. Her hair, jet black and flat-ironed, stopped just below her chin and jutted out over one heavily-traced eye, changed only by the occasional sparkle of several earrings in each ear. The not-regulation turtleneck she wore under her regulation green vest hugged her shape in a manner that would not have flown with corporate… if the manager was ever paying attention. Instead, she was able to get away with, on top of the turtleneck, a pair of bell-bottomed, hip hugging stonewashed black jeans. In brief, she was a cocktail of the rebellious, artistic, counter-cultural kind of woman Jason had been falling for since the age of twelve. And then she spoke.
"Hey."
If he hadn’t sworn himself to silence, Jason would have clammed up then out of sheer nerves. Marco rolled his eyes and put down what was left of the cookies. She rung them up with a sarcastic grin.
"Just couldn’t wait, huh?"
"What can I say," Marco said with a shrug, "I am no one’s master."
"Uh-huh," Ginger raised an eyebrow, "anything else I can do for you guys?"
"Nope," Marco grinned, happily pocketing the change, "Have a good one!"
He made to leave, but Jason was unmoving, dumbfounded. He was trying so hard not to look, not to stare, but something about this girl…
"Oh, that’s just my narcoleptic pal," Marco said with a chuckle, "Try not to wake him, or he’ll freak out!"
"I thought that was sleepwalkers," Ginger’s eyes narrowed.
"Uhhhh…"
Marco couldn’t think of an appropriate response, so he simply dragged Jason out of the store. On the short walk back home, Marco wasted no time. He wouldn’t out and out destroy his friend, but he reserved the right to mock him for his screw ups later.
"Smooth, pal. Real smooth."
"Shut up."
"I mean it, you really got some Harpo charm working there."
"I panicked."
"That’s putting it mildly. But tell me, did you manage to stop staring at her front long enough to see the back? That’s quite a pedigree she’s got going on, there."
"What?"
"I’ll explain it later. So!" He threw a comradely arm around his friend’s shoulder, "Looks like you’re deeply, madly in love… again."
"Thanks," Jason’s tone was not particularly thankful.
"This would be the, what, third girl you’ve absolutely fallen for this year? Right? What is it about this one, huh? She might be a vegan? She probably has a vinyl collection of Minor Threat? She does sculptures out of recycled Yugos? I’m gonna say Yugos."
"You’re the best friend a guy could have, Marco. REALLY."
"I know," he grinned back, "Hey, the name’s not ‘Bastardo’ for nothing, bud. Come on, let’s head on over to Kaiser’s, my treat!"
"You’re holding my money."
"You gave it to me, didn’t you? Don’t worry, they got plenty of bread at Kaiser’s, you’ll be able to find something you like."
"Bread…" Jason muttered as they walked down 6th avenue, "Bread, bread… oh, crap!"
"What?" Marco asked, turning away from a brilliant, spring panorama of Lake Michigan. Jason slapped a palm to his forehead and groaned.
"I forgot to buy bread."