BILL CARR - THE ONLOOKER
Big Ed did three contorted knee bends and let out a short fart. Standing near the milk compartment, Jon watched with a mixture of curiosity and embarrassment. He looked around the store to assure himself that no one else was there. At first he thought Big Ed was parodying some dance. That would be going too far, he told himself.
Ed’s big frame and knee-length, clean white apron made him look grotesque. He looks like a big sack of flour, Jon thought, smiling. He resumed putting away cartons of milk.
“That’s a lot better,” Ed said aloud. “Now I can put in a day’s work.”
How can such a short fart bring such great relief, Jon thought. He decided against
asking Ed the question.
The bread man came in the store, carrying his oversized picnic basket.
Nice working at eight in the morning, Jon thought. A lot of people still asleep. Same
feeling as lying in bed and listening to the rain on the roof. He always felt a little funny
when he put away the milk. He remembered the Jewish holidays, when Big Ed gave him a handful of “Kosher for Passover” disks to put “at random” in the round indentations at
the top of the containers. He remembered the gray-haired old woman who insisted that he hand her only those containers with the disks. When he thought about this, his reaction was laughter, then sadness. When he told his parents about it, their reaction was a little different: laughter, then outrage.
Big Ed was Jewish. Obviously not an observant Jew. Jon’s parents had been semi-observant: light the candles Friday night, dairy supper on Saturday, scour the kitchen and bring in new dishes for Passover, go to temple on the major holidays. Lately they’d been going Friday nights to the new temple on Ocean Avenue. His mother could have been one of those women requesting the Kosher for Passover milk. Mom, get the milk at Harry’s. That’s where she usually shopped anyway.
“So then,” the bread man was saying, “this guy says, ‘Who can count at a time like this?’ Ed, standing behind the counter, slapped his thighs in laughter. As soon as the little bell sounded and the door closed, the laughter stopped abruptly.
“That bastard,” Ed snapped. I bet he forgot the stales. Hey, Jon, look in the back and see if the stales are still there.”
A 40-watt bulb in the windowless back room served only to create an effect of duskiness. Jon put his hand on a shelf and felt the rock-like crust of some rye breads.
“Still here,” he called.
A fortyish-looking woman, wearing a stylish black coat, came into the store. She was a good customer. Ed was talking to her by the counter. Jon liked working for Big Ed. He’d started six months ago, when he was still 17. Now that he was in college, he was too old to be getting an allowance. He’d considered trying to get a delivery-boy job at Harry’s, where his mother shopped. Harry’s was run by two brothers who put on a comedy show for their customers. But Harry’s was a small store and had only one employee. He noticed at least three when he went to Big Ed’s to ask for a job: a short, skinny kid who prepared the orders; a big, red-headed kid who delivered them; and a tall, dark-haired guy who ran the vegetable counter. The dark-haired guy, Jon later found out, was Big Ed’s brother-in-law. “Sure, we can use another guy here,” Ed had said, much to Jon’s surprise. “You start at 50 cents an hour. It’s not much, but you learn more skills, you get more dough. Capeesh? What could be more fair?”
Jon worked there mornings and all day Saturdays. The store was a small supermarket: cheeses and meats at the checkout counter up front, and two fairly long aisles going to the back of the store. When he started, there was a vegetable stand in the front, right opposite the checkout counter. Now, six months later, the skinny delivery kid, the big redheaded kid, the brother-in-law, and the vegetable stand were all gone. It was just Big Ed and Jon.
Ed just shook his head when Jon had asked what happened to the vegetable stand. “He could have made something of it,” Ed said. “I gave him the best spot in the store. I told him, ‘Go down early to the farmer’s market, get the good stuff, get it at a reasonable price, and sell it at a good profit.’ So he gets down there late, gets the crap, pays too much for it, and no one will buy it.”
After three months, when he was filling orders, delivering orders, and occasionally manning the counter, Jon asked Ed for a modest raise. “Look,” Ed had said, “I’ll pay you anything you want. You’re invaluable to me.” He accented the first two syllables of “invaluable.” Jon felt embarrassed, skeptical, and pleased. A lot different from his first delivery job; he was twelve, and had to make two trips to take big orders up a flight of stairs. Of course, in a way it’s bull, Jon thought, when Ed made that statement. If I asked him for five dollars an hour, he wouldn’t pay it to me. Still…
From the back of the store, Jon looked down the right-hand aisle toward the checkout counter. Was that Ray Crane who just came in? The woman in the black coat was looking at the breakfast cereals. Ray Crane was a sports reporter who won a Pulitzer two years ago. He broke the story about college basketball point-shaving in New York City. If that’s the right guy, Jon thought, he’s not an impressive figure. He’s short, nervous, whiny, and tortured looking.
“Can the Dodgers win again this year?” Ed was asking.
“What difference does it make?” came the high-pitched response. “The Braves might give them trouble. The fans in Milwaukee are a bunch of fanatics. Even if the Dodgers win, they just can’t beat the Yanks in the series.”
Jon walked toward the front of the store. He had half-jokingly told Ed last week to mention his interest in sports writing to Ray Crane.
“Hey, Jon,” Ed called, “hit the register a while, okay?”
A young girl was waiting to have her order checked out. Mechanically, Jon began ringing up the items.
He heard Ed’s voice from the right aisle. “Hey, Ray, you need an assistant?” Ray Crane grabbed a box of crackers and was headed toward the front with his order.
“What kind of assistant?”
“Writing. My boy over there. Writes for his school paper.”
“Tell him if he likes getting a good night’s sleep to stay away from reporting.”
The response was more or less what Jon had expected. He was grateful to Ed for remembering. Now Crane was placing his order on the counter. Maybe he’ll say something.
“Ed tells me you write for your school paper,” Crane said, as Jon rang up the order.
“Yes, sir. When I was in high school.”
Crane hadn’t bought too much. Jon carefully placed the items in a brown paper bag.
“Very much. I was the sports editor.”
Crane handed him a bill. “High school,” Crane murmured. “The Mercury?”
“Yes, Mr. Crane.”
Jon was surprised Crane knew about high school papers. “That’s a pretty good school paper,” Crane said.
Jon smiled and handed Crane his change. “Fifth best high school paper in the country,” Jon said proudly. Nothing wrong with blowing your own horn once in a while.
“I gave you a ten,” Crane said.
He spoke very calmly. The words shocked Jon. He was distracted, but many times when he manned the counter conversations distracted him. He asked himself if he had any doubts that the bill was a five.
“No, it was a five. Here it is, Mr. Crane.” He pointed to the open register drawer.
“There are tens in there too.” Ray Crane still spoke very calmly. “I’m sure it was a ten.”
“It was a five, Mr. Crane.”
Crane raised his right hand. “No need to get excited. Don’t worry about it. I’ll settle it.”
Jon shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t think his voice sounded excited. He saw Crane and Ed talking at the back of the store. They started walking toward the counter. Jon heard the words “no harm done” and “split.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Crane said to Jon. “It’s all settled.”
“Did you give him the extra five?” Jon demanded, when Crane had left.
“I split it with him,” Ed said. “Why, are you sure it was a five?”
“Look, he’s a queer duck. Besides, he’s a good customer.” Ed wheeled around. “Now here is a beautiful woman.” The woman in the black coat approached the counter with her shopping cart piled high with groceries.
“Tell the truth,” Ed said to Jon. “I mean, give a frank, honest answer. Isn’t she a beautiful woman?”
There was definitely a certain fineness about her, but she had a long nose.
“Of course,” Jon said, as if that were completely obvious.
Jon carried the woman’s order out to her car. When he returned to the store, Ed was contemplating the area where the vegetable stand had been.
“I don’t know,” Ed said. “What do you think we should do with this spot?”
“Put some of the week’s specials there? You know, to draw people in the store?”
Ed mulled this over. “Not a bad idea. That way whoever is manning the counter can keep an eye on them.”
Jon didn’t get what Ed was talking about. Before he could ask, Ed turned towards him.
“I meant to ask you. What kind of work does your father do?”
“He’s a lawyer.”
Ed nodded approvingly. “And he’s okay with you’re being a sportswriter.”
“He’s kind of noncommittal about it. Besides, I don’t know if that’s really what I want to do. I might major in Design.”
“Used to be called the Art Department. I think ‘design’ is the application of art toward making a living.”
“Your father doesn’t want you to follow in his footsteps?”
Jon smiled. “It’s the one profession he’s forbidden me to enter.”
Ed laughed. “Really? Well, why don’t you add being a small business owner to that list?”
It was true. On several occasions his father had said, “Become anything but a lawyer.” Jon didn’t know if he was serious or not. The problem was that his mother always emphatically agreed.
His father specialized in negligence cases. He’d settled some big cases. “No one really wants to go to court, and waste all that time and money,” his father said. “You try to get a fair settlement.” Sometimes, however, there was a long wait between settlements, with little money coming in during that interim for running the household.
Still, he loved hearing the comic stories about the law office, and learning about the philosophy of the law. “Never sue for revenge; sue for damages.” Sure, it was a platitude, but it made sense. Knowledge of the law was empowering. “If you have a dispute with a merchant over defective merchandise, and he refuses to take it back, just leave it at his store. He can’t have both the merchandise and your money.”
“Why are you walking like that?” his father asks. “Sore feet. Happens when I walk a lot.” “Get a good pair of shoes. I have a friend on Joralemon Street who sells those arch-preserver shoes.” When Jon shows up at the store and says his father recommended he come here, the owner greets him warmly. But the shoes feel a little tight. “Got to be that way to get the support benefit,” the owner says. Jon wears the shoes home. After he walks the ten blocks from the subway stop to his house, both feet have blisters.
The next day he returns to the store with the shoes and requests his money back. The store is full of customers. “Can’t do it,” the owner says cheerfully. “You’ve already worn them. But don’t worry. We’ll put them in the shoe-stretcher. That’ll loosen them right up.”
“I don’t want any shoe stretcher. I want my money back.”
The owner’s smile relaxes. “Sorry. Can’t do it.”
“The shoes are on the counter,” Jon says, starting to leave. “See you in court.”
Two days later, in the dining room in their home, Jon’s father counts out $23.60 and puts it on the table. “Heard you bought and returned some shoes,” he says.
After a growth spurt that started when he was 15, Jon is now a head taller than his father. The father, who was very slender in his youth, is pear-shaped now, but still very good-looking. He looks about ten years younger than his 52 years. His avocation is comedy; sometimes he gives comedy routines at the Temple. He is not smiling now.
“They gave me blisters,” Jon says.
“So I hear. Morrison says that in front of a store full of people you threatened to take him to court.”
“I had to. He wouldn’t give me my money back.”
“He says he offered you a full refund.”
“He’s a liar,” Jon says hotly. “Why would I threaten to take him to court if he has his shoes back and I have my money?”
His father bursts out laughing.
“What’s going on down there,” Jon’s mother calls from upstairs.
“He’s a chip off the old block,” his father calls back.
Walking back to work after going home for lunch, Jon thought about that incident. It gave him a warm feeling. Lately it seemed the only things he and his father talked about were the law and baseball. They’d lived in this neighborhood for ten years now, much longer than any place he’d lived before. He knew each of the gray stone, red brick, or white-stucco homes.
The trees are in full bloom, he thought, and I could be playing ball today. He pictured himself hitting a hard line drive over the third baseman’s head. I’m Jon Danielson, just turned 18, an upper freshman at a city college. I live in what’s considered a “good” neighborhood in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. On this day, May 16, 1953, I have finished my morning work, taken my lunch break, and am returning to the store at which I work. I work 9 to 12 each weekday morning and all day Saturday. It seems that now, when I am pausing, just considering what is happening at a moment, I am more conscious than at other times. In a moment I will be back at the store, talking to Ed, talking to customers, coping with the problems like items out of stock, being involved, and it will seem like I’m not conscious anymore. In a moment, I will be old. Silly. So much will happen before then.
Big Ed was at the counter. Six people waited to be checked out. Sweat poured down Ed’s face.
“Hey Jon, take it, will you?” Ed said as Jon entered. “I have to start making the orders.”
Zip of the meat slicer, clattering hum of the bread slicer, clang of the cash register, smiles, jokes, carefully look at the bills and count change. The line was gone.
He walked to the back of the store. Ed was staring at some small, bright-silver cans of expensive peas. His face seemed dark, almost like he was sick.
“They’re killing me,” Ed muttered, without looking up. Jon didn’t understand.
“Problems of the small business man?” Jon asked.
Ed looked at him. “Listen,” he said, “I have the big problems of the supermarkets and the tiny profits of your small business man.” Jon started to smile but Ed’s frown remained. “Here,” Ed said, handing him the order book, “finish making these up. I’m going upstairs to take a nap.”
A radio played from the back wall of the store. Jon liked the songs this station played: Les Paul and Mary Ford, the theme from Limelight, the new Eartha Kitt song, C’est Si Bon. He looked at his watch. Dodger game is on.
The radio was on a ledge above the back-room door. Jon reached up and turned the dial.
Something about the back room fascinated him. A pile of empty cartons stood against the left wall. Full cartons were in the shadows to the right. Behind the full cartons, a short staircase led to a loft. Through a peephole in the loft you could see the whole store.
Jon made up the orders. Occasionally a customer came in. Jon caught only snatches of the account of the game. The Dodgers were playing the Giants at Ebbets Field, and the Giants quickly got three runs. Could be a long day, Jon thought. Maglie’s pitching for the Giants. Sal the Barber. Jon’s father talked about the prewar Dodgers and how miserable they were. The Daffiness Boys: manager Wilbert Robinson, Dazzy Vance, Babe Herman. In 1941 they had a good first-baseman in Dolph Camilli, and won the pennant. They had the Yankees on the ropes in the World Series until a passed ball by catcher Mickey Owen. The stories were nice to listen to.
“You listening to that?”
Ed was behind the counter. Nothing to be startled at. Just didn’t hear him come down.
“I asked if you were listening to that,” Ed said, looking toward the back of the store.
“Yeah,” Jon replied. “You know, I catch parts of it.”
“Do you want me to turn it off? Change the station?”
“No, you can leave it on. I just don’t understand why you would want to listen to a game. You can read the whole account of what happened in tomorrow’s paper.”
“I guess you can. But, you know, it’s exciting to listen to.”
Jon started for the frozen-food bin.
“What’s the score?” Ed asked.
“I think it’s 3-1, Giants.”
“Late. Like the seventh.”
Five minutes later, Jon was back toward the front of the store, looking for an Arnold’s whole wheat bread.
“You like the Dodgers?” Ed asked.
“I guess so. Since the end of the war, they’ve been the best team in the National League. Nothing like the prewar Dodgers.”
“How would you know? Listen, you want to bet on the game?”
Jon smiled. He and his father liked those frozen blintzes Ed sold. “All right. I’ll tell you what. I’ll bet you two hour’s free work against two of those Milady frozen blintzes.”
“Okay,” Ed said impassively.
It’s silly stakes, Jon thought, as well as a stupid bet.
“It’s kind of a foolish bet for me,” he said aloud.
“Why?” Ed asked. “I think it’s a bad bet for me.”
“You don’t understand,” Jon said. “The Dodgers are losing, 3-1 in the seventh. Maglie is pitching for the Giants. He always beats the Dodgers.”
“That’s why it’s a bad bet for me.”
Jon continued making up the orders. Almost all done. Eighth went by – neither team scored. Bottom of the ninth. Looks bad. With one out, Robinson beat out a hit to short. But Snider flied out to left. Down to the last out. Robinson stole second. Gutsy play. Pitching carefully, Maglie walked Campy. That left it up to Hodges. Two and two on Hodges.
“The pitch – high fly to center field,” the announcer said. “Damn,” Jon muttered, shaking his head. “Pretty well back there.” The roar of the crowd began to swell. Jon put a can of peaches in an order box and stood up. “Don Mueller back on the warning track… The wind’s got a hold of it.” The shouting drowned out his voice. “…leaps…” Nothing. “He can’t get it!” blared the announcer triumphantly. “It’s out of here.”
“Hey…” Jon exclaimed, smiling broadly. He wanted to leap up in the air himself.
“Just like that, it’s all over. Gil Hodges, with two out, drills a Sal Maglie fastball into the centerfield seats for a three-run homer and a Dodger victory. The Dodgers finally beat Maglie.”
“The Dodgers won,” Jon called, as he carried one of the boxes out to the bike. “Hodges hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.”
“I know, I heard it,” Ed said. “I told you it was a bad bet. You’d better get those orders out now.”
When he returned to the store, Jon parked the bike in front of the store and looked at his watch. Six o’clock. Day really went by fast. Two more hours of work.
There were no customers in the store. Ed was standing in the left aisle now, studying items on the shelves.
“All orders out?” Ed asked, without looking up.
“Every one,” Jon replied. He carried two empty boxes to the back room. When he returned to the aisle, Ed was still looking at the shelves.
“Anything I can do to help?”
Ed turned around. His face looked dark with black stubble. “What do you do when I give the signal?” he asked.
“Go up to the loft, and keep my eyes open for shoplifters.” Jon spoke the words but the situation seemed unreal.
The two situations suddenly merged for him. He felt foolish for not understanding earlier.
“Good,” Ed said. He started counting small cans of salmon.
“By the way,” Jon asked, “what do you do when you catch someone? Turn them over to the police?”
Ed laughed. “I used to do that. Still do sometimes, with kids. A lot of good that does. They give them a kick in the ass and send them home.”
“Couldn’t you press charges?”
“What good would that do? Someday I’ll show you how much I lose each month. Anyway, that’s not the point. One’s got to pay for the rest.”
“I don’t understand,” Jon said nervously. He suspected Ed was kidding.
“Look,” Ed said, “you’d be amazed at the different types of people that steal stuff. And at the places they hide it. Coat pockets, shopping bags, big pocketbooks, inside coat linings. And women. Down their dress, between their legs, anywhere. Skilled performers. You think your baseball players are skilled performers? You see some true professionalism right here. While you’re trying to make an honest buck, they’re busy taking it right away from you. Your percentage on catching them is ridiculously small. So when you do catch someone – the guy who’s supposed to be an ‘upright citizen’ or some nice upper-middle-class woman – they’re going to pay… and pay through the nose. They can’t afford damage like that to their reputations. One’s got to pay for the rest.”
It still seemed unreal to Jon. “And what do you do after you accuse them?”
“You have to be sure,” Ed said. “That’s the key thing. If you are, we take him or her into the back room for a little chat. Don’t worry. They’ll be very cooperative.”
“I’ll point them out to you,” Jon stammered, “but I don’t want no part in no shakedown.”
In the back room, he threw two more empty cartons on the pile. “There’s no need to resort to bad English,” he told himself. His whole body was shaking.
He recalled that day in January when something strange happened. They had to work late. It wasn’t until 8:45 that they’d cleaned the frozen bin and swept the floor. Ed asked him if he’d like a lift home.
Ed lives with his wife and two kids above the store. The daughter is 12 and the little boy is 6. Both the wife and the daughter are quite overweight. When Jon asked one day how the girl was doing in school, Ed’s only response was “She’s miserable.”
“No thanks,” Jon says. “It’s only a ten-minute walk to my home.”
“It’s really getting cold out there. Come on, I need some fresh air.”
Ed’s gray Chevy pulls into the driveway of Jon’s home.
“Thanks, Ed,” Jon says. “I really appreciate it.”
Ed turns off the lights and puts on the handbrake. “Mind if I come in for a minute? I’d like to say hello to your Dad.”
There are three doors to the house. Jon always enters through the back. That door leads directly into the breakfast nook in the kitchen.
The kitchen is large, the whole width of the house. Opposite the sink is a set of six steps that leads to a landing. It’s a weird setup. From the landing a staircase leads to the second floor; there’s also another set of steps that leads down to an entrance room off the living room.
“Hey, Dad,” Jon calls out. “Ed is here.”
Footsteps coming down the stairs from the second floor. Jon’s father opens the door to the kitchen and walks halfway down the short staircase. He looks relaxed.
“Just wanted to say hello,” Ed says.
“He drive you home?” the father asks Jon.
“Yes he did.”
“I appreciate that. It’s getting cold out there.”
“Your son’s a good worker,” Ed says. “But I hear he doesn’t want to be a lawyer like his old man.”
Jon’s father pauses. “I think he wants to major in Design.”
“So he mentioned,“ Big Ed says. He turns toward the door. “Well, I’ve got to be getting home. Good meeting you.”
Jon’s father smiles. “Wait a minute,” he says. “Jon, tell me. Who looks older? Him or me.“
The question surprises Jon. Suddenly the eyes of both men are on him, his father’s in anticipation, Ed’s in weariness. He knows both their ages. His father is 52. Ed is 38.
“It’s not a fair question.” Jon looks towards Ed. “He’s been working since 7:00 this morning.”
“Of course you’re right,” his father says. “Good night, Ed. Good meeting you.”
Dodged a bullet, Jon thought. Hey, maybe I should major in political science.
Almost time to close shop. Jon started cleaning out the frozen bin.
“Hey, Jon,” Ed called out with some urgency. “Get me some Zino wax, will you?”
“Right,” Jon responded. He entered the back room and climbed the wooden steps to the loft. The room was completely dark, but it didn’t matter. He knew the way by heart. He saw the small speck of light on the wall. Kneeling down, he put his eye to the wall.
The perspective always startled him at first. Like the first view of a baseball field from the stands of a stadium. And like the ball park, the store below, the arena, always seemed so bright. It would be nice if they put a cigarette ad on the back wall. I could blow smoke rings.
Who is he worried about? I didn’t even know there was anyone in the store. In the aisle to the right was a man he had seen often but whose name he couldn’t recall. He looked like he might be in his sixties. Perhaps retired. He wore a gray coat that seemed neither old nor new. He was a big man, and could be considered distinguished looking if not for a slight quivering of his lower lip when he spoke. In the back of the store, right beneath Jon, was a woman in a camel’s hair coat. She always smiled and said hello to him. Right down their dress, he thought. And up front was a freckle-faced girl of about twelve; she wore a flared blue coat. Better watch her for a while, Jon thought. Sometimes kids steal things for kicks. Police give them a kick in the ass and let them go. No, it wouldn’t be her Ed’s after.
He thought of what Ed had said. It’s all academic anyway. All the times I’ve been up here I’ve never seen anyone take anything.
There was no set time for Jon to stay in the loft. It was tacitly understood that he should remain there until satisfied that no one was shoplifting. A couple more minutes, Jon told himself.
The man’s left arm shot out and grabbled a small tin of White Rose tuna fish. He quickly deposited the can in his left coat pocket. He had been facing the inner row of shelves. His left arm was blocked from the front of the store by his body. He continued looking at the items on the shelves.
It was not so much the act, but the speed of the act, that shocked Jon. It reminded him of a movie showing a lizard snapping out a long tongue to spear an insect. For a moment Jon felt he was not a person but a camera. The picture was so clear. “That bastard,” Jon muttered. “I say hello to him all the time. He’s the one.”
Jon watched a while longer, trying to see if the man would steal anything else. The man carefully selected a package of American cheese from the dairy bin and started wheeling his cart toward the counter.
Jon ran down the steps into the back room. Slow down, will you? He’ll be there. The store didn’t seem as bright from the inside as from up in the loft. He walked to the counter. The man was bending over, unloading the shopping cart. Jon stood a few feet behind him. Ed busily rang up the items on the cash register. Why doesn’t Ed look at me?
Ed smiled and made some comment that Jon didn’t catch. Then Ed looked past the man at Jon. Jon shook his head yes. A minute later Ed looked at Jon again and Jon shook his head more vehemently. He could feel the blood rushing to his face.
Ed put the last item in the brown paper bag and lifted the bag into the man’s arms. The man did not look one way or the other; he walked straight out the door.
“Did you catch him?” Ed demanded, as soon as the door shut.
“Yes,” Jon exclaimed. “I saw him. He took a small can of White Rose tuna.”
“He didn’t show no tuna,” Ed growled, moving out from behind the counter. “He was shaking like a leaf when you stood behind him. You sure you saw him?”
Ed was moving toward the front door. “You remember what I told you about lawsuits,” he said. “Absolutely sure.”
Do we tie him up? What? In the back room, do we tie him up? Of course not, you idiot. Is he seated or standing? Well, probably seated. I don’t know if there’s even a chair there. No matter how severe the damages you’ve suffered, you cannot resort to illegal means to make yourself whole. Furthermore, even if you are simply present at the commission of an illegal act, you could be charged as an accessory.
“Positive,” Jon said. He put his hand on the counter for support. “Almost completely positive.”
Ed stopped. “What?”
A lie. There’s no ‘almost’ in this situation.
“I saw him, Ed,” Jon insisted.
“You gotta be completely sure,” Ed said. He started walking back toward the counter. “He’s gone now. Forget it. Finish cleaning out the frozen bin.”
Silently, Jon unloaded the icy packages from the frozen food bin. He scrubbed the gray metal rack at the bottom. Bright green. Milady frozen blintzes. Not a good time to collect on that bet.
He heard Ed talking on the phone. “Yeah, I’ll be up soon… I guess I am. Thought we had him… Can you imagine? A tiny can of tuna… Well, first he’s sure, then he’s not so sure… Yeah… See ya.”
The bin was washed, frozen food neatly replaced, bike inside, and floor swept. Apron off. Ed scribbled some numbers on the back of a paper bag. Ring of the cash register. Jon didn’t bother to count the money Ed gave him.
“See you Monday,” Jon said.
Ed looked up. “Sure, kid. See you Monday.”
There was a chill in the air. Rooms in the houses along Avenue J were all lit up. People getting ready to go out. Wouldn’t mind having a date tonight. He felt a gnawing in his stomach. Too much time between meals, he thought. His mother would have a dairy supper waiting for him. He would tell them. Maybe not tonight, but soon. Dad first. Maybe they’d make him stop working for Ed. Wouldn’t want that.
He thought of Gil Hodges home run. Dad would enjoy the story of that bet. But the thought cheered Jon only for a moment. What happened there? Pretty simple. You chickened out. Ed is more than a boss. He’s a friend. He’s a friend and you let him down. What difference does it make? In a few days it won’t seem nearly as important as it does now. A few weeks pass, and it’s all over. It’s not like some girl dumping you for someone else. Everyone asking, “What happened?” This is different. No witnesses. Still, you’re just waiting for time to pass.
He turned up the block towards his house. Then again, he thought, maybe there’s something I haven’t understood. Maybe I’ve got to think this out.
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