The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Just don't ask me for money

I’ve been running a tavern style kitchen since late summer, and I’ve learned a thing or two from the time I embarked on this stressful and worrisome endeavour(how stressful? one word: perishables!).

Rule #1.

Every penny counts. If you can make a soup out of those turnip peels, then do it.

Rule #2

Anybody comes by, no matter from how far back in your life, don’t give them money. I’m a tight bastard to begin with, but even I can be tested. I was tested today.

I had an old friend pop by. He didn’t know I'd be there. And by old friend I mean from way back when I was a kid.

“Hey, Tony! It’s you.”

I’m bad with faces and names, so I answered the way I always answer.

“Ya, it’s me.”

“You don’t remember me,” he said. He told me who he was, and then he added this: “I’ve changed.”

No shit.

“Parkinsons,” he said.

“Fuck, I didn’t know.”

“You didn’t know?”

Why would I know such a thing? I got married and raised a family while you were being diagnosed, as your wife left you, as you stopped working for good, as your friends and acquaintances, probably family, as well, left you like your wife did… for good, because you got sick like this, body all wobbly, limbs going all over the place, your once bright expression gone so people think, naturally, that you’re some kind of a retard. Why would I know these things?

“Zip up your pants, bro,” I said.


I wasn’t going to tell him about his fly being down, like he was supposed to walk around like that. Last second, I convinced myself I should tell him. He needed to know. Then he brings one of his arms up and I notice he’s holding a drill case. He’d come to the brasserie, not knowing I was there, so he could sell his drill. Cheap stuff, for home use. He wanted $120.00. My mind went into defensive mode. Didn’t have much cash to begin with, but also who buys a drill off the street for $120.00?

We went back and forth a few times, me telling him I wasn’t interested, and he lowering his price by about a twenty dollars every thirty seconds. He finally gave up, and I rushed away as if I had an emergency on the stove.

By this time, I had totally forgotten how we’d been as children, what a good friend he was to me, my humanity – even that had gone out the window. I was looking to protect my wallet. Next thing I know he was asking me for a twenty so he could play the VLT. Aha! This was good. An out. In an instant, I knew what I needed to do and say. Gambling is against my religion. I’m one of those people who’re disgusted by gamblers. I turn my nose up at them. I have four children. I haven’t seen you in twenty-five years, and you’re begging me for money to gamble. Don’t piss me off, bro. I knew if I gave him a dime for that shit, he’d be back tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. I was emboldened, in the right. As a business man, this was me defending “the store” at all cost. Fuck Parkinsons, and fuck my old friend for whining about how time doesn’t pass fast enough for him anymore. You were fat I remember, I nearly told him. What happened? I even thought of asking him how I looked. No gut, right? Still have plenty of hair, right? I gave him a two-nie, finally. He picked out a machine, hit the button once, and then placed the reserve card and exited with the drill. Ten minutes later, he comes back, minus the drill.

“Where’s the drill?”

“I sold it for forty,” he said. “Twenty to play, and twenty for my pocket,” all proud like.

You fucker, I thought. You asked me for $120.00. By now, I’m just looking to get him out of there, and I’m feeling proud of myself. What a businessman I’ve become. Even this… even this can’t shake me.

He lost his twenty… and good for him… he stopped playing. Told me he wasn’t really a gambler.

“It’s just that the time doesn’t pass for me anymore, Tony."

And then he gave me a dirty look, the prick, very faint, his head all over the place, his fucking eyes trying to fuck me up, for old time's sake.

And I'm finding myself writing about it.


Blogger t said...

Oh, Tony. While I understand your rage, to some extent, I can't help but feel heartbroken for this guy. He's obviously a mess. Parkinson's is just horrendous, and to be suffering it alone, to be losing yourself while losing everything else around you. I'm sorry, but having seen this first-hand, and it just tears me up to see such suffering. The gambling may be corresponding a depression (most common in Parkinson's sufferers), which is a lame hope for something good to come out of a cesspool of bad luck. Aye, aye.

Nevertheless, you were right not to give him money that you knew he'd gamble away. That would be enabling him. He may need help in other ways, though.

Tue Nov 18, 06:53:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Tony, wonderful writing. I feel for you AND the old friend you met up with.

Thu Nov 20, 12:40:00 am GMT-5  
Anonymous ruth taylor said...

It is wonderful writing. I wonder almost if the narrator really, really is you or to some extent a character you are assuming in order to be able to say some hard truths (about yourself? about people in general?). I find that first person confessionals rarely let the ugly bits through; there is usually heaps of justification. In yours, however, the ugly is there, but so is self-recrimination, just below the surface. (That's my read, anyway!)

Thu Nov 20, 09:47:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Excellent analysis, Ruth. I, too, was struck by the honesty of this piece. Very brave and revealing of the contradictions in all of us.

Thu Nov 20, 01:22:00 pm GMT-5  

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