Sunday, May 9, 2010

This Un-American Life

Prompt: From the The Inaugural Address of Franklin D. Roosevelt: "We must act, and act quickly."

Thursday. Morning. Early rush is over, lunchtime rush yet to come. Raj eyes the coffee pot, trying to decide if he should dump the sludge and brew a new batch, or leave it till just before the midday crowd starts trickling in. It’ll taste like crap either way. Fortunately, nobody buys coffee at 7-eleven for its exquisite flavor. He leaves it, and goes back to reading his magazine.

It’s the smell that hits him, the ripe aroma of garbage and unwashed body. Bill the Bum. It must be 10 am then. For someone who sleeps in an alley, Bill’s surprisingly punctual. Every morning at ten sharp he shows up and buys a bottle of Colt 45. He always heads straight for the coolers, grabs his bottle and dumps a handful of change on the counter. Raj practices holding his breath while he counts the coins. Suppose, he could throw him out, but it would probably not befit a Buddhist. Or something. Anyway, bums need a drink too. Bums especially need a drink.

Bill is different this morning; he’s clutching the bottle of malt liquor to his chest, but has stopped, and is now swaying lightly in front of the Hostess cupcakes, looking indecisive. He drifts towards the counter, considering the tubes of dubious meat tumbling over the hot rollers.

“Are these hot dogs good?” He asks with the air of a connoisseur.

“They are hot dogs,” Raj answers noncommittally.

Bill takes an offense to this implied affront to the iconic foodstuff, and breaks into a rambling diatribe about foreigners and terrorists. Raj listens in fascination as Bill jumps from topic to topic. He seems to have a beef with most ethnic groups, from the “dog-eating” Chinese to the “lazy Mexicans”. Raj wonders if Bill is a Republican, but then he breaks into a completely nonsensical, but riveting conspiracy theory about the Bush administration’s involvement in the World Trade Center attack. Bill is an equal opportunity loony after all. He rounds it all up pointing one grimy index finger at Raj’s chest accusing him of polygamy and anti-American sentiments.

“I’m Indian, you nut, not Arab,” Raj tells him amused, “from India,” he adds to avert possible confusion.

“Oh,” is all Bill says in response.

The stink is now so thick in the small store that one could chew on it. He has to get the verbose vagrant out of there soon, Raj realizes. “We must act, and act quickly,” he tells himself, quoting someone, he thinks, not remembering the source. He takes one of the beige sausages and shoves it in a bun, douses it with mustard, ketchup and relish. He wraps it in foil and puts it down between them like a peace offering. With a toothless grin, Bill slams a ten-dollar note down on the counter. Raj gives him change; puts the beer in a brown paper bag. The door clangs closed behind Bill, and Raj’s alone again.

He decides to make a fresh pot of coffee after all.


  1. WOW and WOW. How poignant, from title to conclusion. I was right there in the store with Raj.

  2. Thanks Katherine. Truth to be told, it seems more rambling to me.

  3. Yay, Raj! What a fine creation he is, Vanda; I hope we hear more of the goings-on in his shop.

    Rather scarily, you've made me fancy a beer and a hot dog. It must be over forty years since I've eaten a hot dog; dad used to buy me one each summer at the air show at the big US air base at Mildenhall when I was a kid. We certainly couldn't get them anywhere else around here and I must confess I have no idea where to find one even today. Your writing is so good I got a real rush of hot dog memory. Mmmmmm.

  4. That's strange, we got plenty of hot dogs in the old country.

  5. Excellent! Really liked this one. Could see the store and smell the stink.