A faint skunky smell crept under the bedroom door and into Jon’s nostrils. Without opening his eyes, he knew that Len lie on the couch smoking weed and watching television. Jon waited for the alarm to go off before rolling over and facing the day. The radio-alarm clock, shaped like a miniature jukebox, switched on to the traffic report. At seven in the morning, Denver’s highways were already packed, but that didn’t matter because Boulder didn’t believe in rush hour. Boulder, Colorado, known to many as the People’s Republic of Boulder, was Jon’s home since he attended the university there. It was also home to a growing number of technological companies including the one Jon worked for. His commute to the Storage Software & Solutions office was fifteen minutes on foot or five minutes on his ten-speed. He sold the bike to a co-worker the day before. In two weeks, he’d given away or sold most of his possessions with such zeal that people wondered if he was declaring bankruptcy or preparing for suicide. His co-workers knew the truth was much sadder. What he still possessed amounted to a half-dozen boxes of clothes stacked next to a matching dresser, a nightstand, and a roll-top desk that he promised his mother he’d keep. In the roll top was a time capsule from Mrs. Henny’s class filled with elementary school dreams and typos. His mother sent it on his last birthday:
April 20th, 1979
My time capsil
Dear me in 20 years,
I am sending you this time capsil of my futer dreams so that you can be happy that I took the pledge to never do drugs. This is my Walter Payton rookie card. Its ok, I’ve got two. Remember that if you want to be strong and fast like Walter, than you can’t do drugs. Here is a picture of Generel Lee from my Dukes of Hazzard coloring book. I want to send this to you because someday I wan’t to have lots of money and have a cool fast car. We are going to mary a pretty girl and live in a big house. This is a picture of a fire truck. I want you to be a firefighter and help lots of people. When you get this capsil you’ll be 28 years old. By then I hope you have lots more friends and are really happy. I know things will be great because I’m making the right choses. I am going to work hard and go to collidge. This is my picture from Mrs. Hennys class. Remember to keep it to remind you that you made good choses.
The time capsule, although sent with good intentions, was the worst present he’d received in years. He planned to throw it in a river. But, some things he wanted; there was the couch for example. The couch on which Len was still smoking when Jon finished dressing and headed to the refrigerator for a glass of orange juice.
“You’re going to get the Youse-Haul right?” Jon asked.
“Yeah.” Len packed his pipe.
“I’m getting off early.”
“Cool, I’ve got it under control.”
The lighter flicked and the weed crackled. Len held the smoke in before letting it out with a laugh.
“Fucking classic, man. I mean, when they cast Jackie Gleason as the sheriff…classic.” Len hit the bowl again.
“What are you talking about?”
Jon leaned over the kitchen counter and saw Len watching Smokey and The Bandit. It was one of the cassette tapes he packed the day before. The case was on the floor mixed in with other movies including a couple of pornos.
“Were you going to stroke your meat after the movie, or did you get that out of the way first?” Jon asked. He gulped the juice and wiped his lips on the back of his hand. “I wouldn’t want you to, like, work or anything before you got all of your fixes taken care of.”
Len spurted out smoke half coughing, half laughing.
“There’s some beer left if you wanna catch a buzz before picking up the truck,” Jon said. His sarcasm was wasted.
Len gave a thumbs up and hit the bowl again. His attention fixed on Jackie Gleason berating the actor cast as his dim-witted son. After finishing the second glass of orange juice, Jon headed for the door.
Wednesday, May 26th, 1999: the date was circled on every calendar he owned, but no one bothered to ask Jon why—not even Len. Since his father cut him off, Len crashed on the couch smoking weed and watching movies. He was doing it on his girlfriend’s couch, but she dumped him for eating ice cream with her dead grandmother’s decorative spoons.. As revenge for being dumped, he stole the 1982 World’s Fair spoon.
“Don’t smoke in the car,” Jon said.
“I mean it. Don’t smoke in the car.”
Len gave another thumbs up and packed the pipe again. Jon grabbed his briefcase and umbrella from the coat closet and walked out the door. Like a good parent, Jon said goodbye to his pride and joy before heading off to bring home the bacon. It was parked next to the curb outside the complex and shrouded in a tan car-cover. He pulled the cover back to reveal the black paint and the blacked-out bumper and grill. Before the rest of the world could see the beauty, she was covered back up and left to rest. A prayer for Bell’s safety at the hands of Len was said. Bell was a 1987 Grand National with a turbocharged V6 engine. The last of the muscle cars. She did a 14-second quarter mile, or so the guy he bought it from said. It was Jon’s graduation present to himself and he got it at a bargain price; the computer salesman who bought it new was liquidating his possessions to take a yearlong rehab from his coke addiction. There was a half-kilo hidden somewhere in the body—possibly. Jon wasn’t willing to take her apart to find the treasure any more than he was willing to drive it twenty miles a week. Most car enthusiasts scoffed at the Grand National as a grandpa sedan and bound to be erased from history like most 1980’s technology. Jon believed it would be a true collector’s item someday, and it deserved to be towed behind a moving truck rather than adding a couple thousand miles to the odometer.
Such a treasure couldn’t be entrusted to the likes of Len, but there wasn’t anyone else willing to make the effort and take time off from work. Jon’s best friend was rarely employed and effort wasn’t really a part of the equation: Len was just glad to have a small goal to make the day less aimless.
The meeting room at SS&S was furnished with a dozen framed motivational posters with exotic animals matched to slogans. From where Jon sat he faced the poster of a purple snail crawling over the word PERSEVERANCE: “Continuous effort is the key to unlocking your potential.” Why such a powerful phrase didn’t deserve a more glamorous animal was beyond Jon. The cheetah got DECISIVENESS. A pod of dolphins flipped around INGENUITY. But who would be the poster animal for ASS KISSING? Jon watched such an animal as Lance went around the meeting table pouring cups of coffee. He loved to flex his bicep while he carried the coffee pot—as if all of those ounces were a real struggle. The bulging muscle pulled up his shirt sleeve to enough to reveal the Eagle Globe and Anchor of the United States Marine Corps.
“Wow, Mindy! Those are some awesome pumps you’re wearing today!” Lance said. He opened the lid to the half-and-half and set it by her cup.
It didn’t matter that the only thing Lance ever shot was rubber-bands at the other Marines in the mailroom. It didn’t matter if he talked like Michael Jackson or if he coordinated the color of his socks with his undershirt. Lance was “The Man”. Roberto, the Vice President of Customer Care, gave him that title long ago.
“Hey, it’s The Man!”
Lance saluted the Vice President and poured a cup of coffee in his place. Roberto passed the assembled staff with short steps so they could each bid him a proper greeting. As he passed Jon, he stopped to place a hand on his shoulder.
“Good morning Roberto,” Jon said.
Roberto smiled and nodded before taking his hand back and finishing his trip to the head of the table. His chair was made of fine Italian leather, just like his shoes, and he leaned back in it while folding his hands together.
“I want to take a second to recognize the sacrifice one of our family has made for the good of our company, all companies for that matter. Too often we overlook, take for granted, those who stand tall and take on the tasks few of us are willing to accept…” Roberto continued and Jon began to swell as he thought of a humble reply to his superior’s speech. “…and so as the Memorial Day weekend approaches I want us all to thank Lance for his service in the Marines, and when you thank him remember his friends in the military are our friends, friends of the nation and this company.”
Everyone clapped. So did Jon, but soft enough so a moth could fly in and out of the trap unscathed. Roberto raised his hand and the moment of appreciation was over. Now the head of each project team summarized the productivity of the day before. There was a delay in closing a deal with the Detroit Public Library system, a project that Lance was in charge of. After The Man explained the situation and that he would be leaving Tuesday morning to handle it himself, Roberto replied:
“Some deals must ferment like wine. You will go there to check on the team, but be careful not to disturb the process.”
One at a time, moving clockwise from Don Roberto’s chair, old business was finalized and new business outlined. It circled around the table without anything to catch the reader’s interest, or Jon’s, until the expense report given by Harmony. She was in charge of the southern California region. She was also Jon’s ex-girlfriend.
The break happened two weeks earlier. It was one of those mutual affairs where both sides felt cheated when the other didn’t promise to move the stars to make things work. Harmony couldn’t handle a long-distance relationship. Jon didn’t appreciate her calling his new assignment a fool’s errand. Both of them worked at directing their eyes to opposite corners of the room while the Southern California report was given. Don Roberto nodded with a straight face as he tallied up the expenses Harmony read off from a customer appreciation weekend in Palm Springs. If her final total didn’t match up to the calculator in The Don’s head a behind closed doors meeting would follow.
“Altogether we spent eight thousand. The total of existing contracts in attendance represented more than half a million, and there was at least that in prospective clients.”
The room held its breath.
Don Roberto cleared his throat. “Our friends had a good time on such a thin expense?”
“I was able to negotiate some deep discounts on rooms and activities thanks to some of our clients in the hospitality industry.”
“We’ll look at the invoices later.”
The leather chair swiveled to face the next speaker. Harmony sat down and did her best to keep on the mask of positivity. After three satisfactory reports, the leather chair was facing Jon. Before he could speak, The Man cut in.
“Time to hear what the Lone Ranger has got for us!”
Jon gave a smile, but the trained eye could see venom leaking from the corners of his mouth. A few muffled laughs passed across the table. Harmony cast sympathetic eyes on him. The purple snail, doomed to crawl on the poster forever, cried out PERSEVERANCE!
“Yesterday our shipment of supplies and product arrived at the temporary office. I’ll be leaving this afternoon to drive my things down and set up before I start seeing prospective clients next week. And—
“Who are you going to see first? The Mardi Gras committee? Or the Super Dome?” Lance was moving around the table refilling cups of coffee.
“Actually, there are a few major shipbuilding companies just walking distance from our office. I thought their engineering teams would—
“Don’t you think an airboat would be safer? Lots of alligators on the roads I hear,” Lance said.
Jon clenched his jaw until Lance finished. “Ha…as I was saying, we’ve got some very probable leads with the shipbuilders. I’ll also be reaching out to local government and schools. In fact, I’ve already been speaking with some librarians and administrators in the area.”
“Are they going pay us with shrimp and Voodoo dolls?”
“The Man…” Roberto’s voice only rose a few decibels which were enough to convey his annoyance. “Let Jon finish so we can get on with the day.”
“I’m finished, sir. Thanks.”
The operations meeting lasted ten minutes longer before everyone was dismissed to take charge of their teams. Jon went upstairs to clear out the collections of hot sauce bottles from his desk and box up his files. He would wait out the rest of the day before taking apart his computer and bringing it down.
Smokey and the Bandit was over. Len popped in the Girls Gone Wilder tape back in and watched it from where he stopped it before. Ten minutes later he went upstairs to take a shower. Len brought a hat box with him and took into the bathroom. The bathroom mirror revealed all sides of the box and penned drawings of dapper men in pin-striped suits and smoking jackets. One of the men was puffing smoke from a pipe and winking as if he got laid just minutes earlier. Each man was different, but each man was wearing the same hat: a black fedora with a small collection of feathers jutting out of the side of the hat band. This hat, still in pristine 1956 condition, was in the box along with a pair of horned-rimmed glasses. Len bought them at an estate sale held at a respectable brown brick house in what was a Jewish neighborhood. Apparently the old man converted to the Jack Kevorkian perspective on life’s end, or so his plump widow said in a heavy Yiddish accent. That didn’t overshadow the fact that the horned rimmed glasses matched Len’s prescription perfectly—near sighted in the left, far-sighted in the right. Such a coincidence could only be divine intervention and would be the magical talisman needed to cure his poisoned fortune. Total bargain price of $50 for the glasses and the Fedora—haggled down from $75.
After showering, Len dried off his hair and put the hat on first before bothering with underwear. He wiped the condensation off the mirror to get a full view of himself. An eagle tattoo spread its wings across his chest, his whitey-tighty’s were a size too small but made his junk look a size bigger (so he thought)—125 pounds of sex appeal. The Fedora was certain to kick-off a new fashion all the college kids would copy. He picked his clothes off the floor and carried them to the laundry closet.
The cut-off jeans and Nirvana t-shirt he wore (and would wear again) swished in the washing machine while Len sipped a beer in his underwear. It was a bottle of Courz. The beer The Bandit bootlegged to Georgia with Smokey hot on his trail. Another divine coincidence since he would have never bought that brand of beer. Meditating on that, with his last bowl full of weed, caused the theme song to Smokey and the Bandit to play on repeat in his head.
Girls Gone Wild finished out its last twenty minutes. The dryer buzzed. One more Courz down the hatch and Len was ready to dress for the day. The outfit was completed with a pair of red flip-flops. Len was singing the theme song as he scooped the keys to the Grand National off the kitchen counter. Outside he stripped the car cover off Bell like she was his prom date waiting under the comforter at a cheap motel. Bell was no Trans-Am, but in Len’s mind he was driving Bandit’s Trigger. The whole way to the Youse-Haul rental store he sang:
“East bounded now…loaded up and truckin’…” He even sang it the people next to him at stop lights.
“East bounded now…loaded up and truckin’…” Right up to the counter at the Youse-Haul.
“Who are you supposed to be? Vince Lombardi on acid?” said the lady behind the counter. She meant to laugh after saying it, but hacked up a lung instead.
“Right on…right on,” he said.
After filling out the paperwork and giving Jon’s credit card information for incidentals, Len strolled outside to where the box truck and trailer were waiting. One of the Youse-Haul staff guided Bell onto the trailer, but it still took ten minutes. Len got flustered while trying to line the wheels up with the trailer ramps. He meant to turn the stereo down but changed the station on accident: Eastbound and down…loaded up and truckin’.... Bell went up the ramp. Len jumped out of her and ran to get in the truck. He found the station again before the song was over.
“Hey, dude can you throw that car cover on for me? It’s on the passenger side,” Len asked the guy who was helping him.
The song ended and then it happened. T’was what Jon liked to call a ‘Lenpiphany.’ Instead of heading back to the apartment the box truck and trailer set off down Highway 93 toward the city of Golden; a city known for brewing.
Jon called the apartment to make sure Len was out. Not picking up the phone wasn’t a guarantee that Len wasn’t there, so Jon left a couple nagging messages on the machine to urge action if none was being taken. At four o’clock he called again, but the message machine didn’t kick on. This was a good sign. Len packed the phone, message machine, and a few other items Jon requested so they could load up quickly and go. Before shutting off his desktop and packing it up, Jon checked his e-mail once more. There was an e-mail from a girl named Isabella;
We’re all looking forward to meeting with you next week. I talked with the superintendent about updating the computers in the library and the school secretary’s office. He sounded pretty enthusiastic. I guess he used to program computers with punch cards, or something like that. Anyway, my phone number is 504-325-6677. Call me if you want to meet up this weekend. My Aunt is having a fish-fry if you want to get acquainted with the locals.
J Isabella J
The double smiley faces did it—Jon’s heart fluttered. It happened every time they exchanged e-mails for the last four months. Phone calls with her made his mouth go dry. When Roberto decided to explore markets the competition had overlooked, Jon asked for the New Orleans assignment. It was a move to impress his boss.
It didn’t take long to feel like a mistake. His first week in down was comprised of being forgotten in the waiting rooms of law offices, politicians, construction companies, oil companies, and other notable institutions. A couple of times he got a face to face meeting where he pitched existing products and custom made products to pot-bellied businessmen with ‘Fuck you Yankee’ looks on their faces. It didn’t matter that he emphasized that SS&S was headquartered next to the Rocky Mountains, or that he never mentioned anything about himself beyond what was relevant to business, there was something that rubbed the businessmen wrong. All three of them, at different points in the conversation, asked the same question:
“You from Chicago, boy?”
“Well, uh, I grew up in Champaign, but that’s pretty far south—
Jon’s momentum stalled after. He’d leave wondering if bloodhounds were released to sniff out the Yankee-Chicago-Shyster and tear his asshole out. His spirits were too low to make a day trip to Bourbon Street. He did have a few glasses of bourbon at the airport bar. Then he heard a sweet voice with Cajun flavoring say;
“Somethin’ gotcha down, Cher?”
Jon looked up and was mesmerized. This was Isabella.
“Huh?” He corrected his posture and sipped his drink.
“Well, you look like gator ate your puppy or something.” She brushed her hair back.
His mouth went dry. A couple sips later and he was able to gain composure and spin a yarn of woe. She was more than just a good listener—a problem solver too. Over a couple daiquiris, she explained that developing business relationships didn’t happen in a week in those parts but that they weren’t as backward as they seemed. In fact, her school district was increasing the budget to update their technology. The contract wouldn’t amount to a tenth of the money Jon hoped to harvest, but it was something to build on. Maybe Roberto would hear it and feel nostalgic (“When my father came to America his first business was collecting discarded newspapers and selling them to the fish markets for wrapping paper.”) and then Jon wouldn’t be accused of wasting the company’s money. The more Isabella talked, the more he pieced together a glowing forecast for what could be made down there. Sure it would be a long process. Untapped markets were called Virgin opportunities because they didn’t give it up easily. When they parted ways he got her business card and an explanation of why she called him ‘Cher’:
“No silly, it ain’t the singer. It’s just a term of endearment. Like shug or hun.”
He smiled thinking about her voice and was interrupted by a voice that wasn’t in his head—one with no notable accent.
“Jon.” Harmony was standing behind him.
Rolling chairs in the surrounding cubicles crept to the edge of their plastic floor protectors to listen in for the latest episode of a much talked about office drama.
Jon and Harmony met at an after-hours get together of SS&S teammates. She was new and reluctant to join in the conversation. When she began to slip away from the group unnoticed a debate between Jon and Lance drew her in. Something about Bill Clinton’s sex life struck a sour chord and unleashed the often mentioned fury of woman scorned. Apparently her long-time boyfriend, an advertising consultant in L.A., had a Monica Lewinski of his own. Harmony relaxed after forcefully establishing the fact that that Bill’s legacy didn’t matter two shits compared to Hillary’s anguish. Then the liquor flowed. Jon and Harmony split a cab fare. Her half of the fare was paid by giving Jon her phone number and a promise to buy coffee. Their first date was the next morning softening their hangovers. By the end of the next week, the couple was the new gossip of the office.
So many had invested their happiness into watching the romance, that a few sniffles could be heard as Harmony recited the lines she’d been practicing a couple nights before:
“I just want you to know that it doesn’t matter how everyone acts, I do think what you’re doing is great. We really shouldn’t overlook a region of people because the world thinks they’re a bunch of swampbilly’s. I just wish it didn’t have to be you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not proud of you…”
Jon opened drawers and acted like he was checking for things to pack.
“…you can call me anytime you need someone to listen. I wouldn’t blame you if you got homesick—
He slammed his drawer shut.
“I haven’t been home in nine years. This isn’t my home—
“You don’t have to be defensive. I just want you to know I still care.” She kept a concerned tone.
“Thanks. But don’t worry. It’s not like I’m getting sent to Africa or something. You watch, in a while I’ll have a team down there and I’ll be hopping flights once a month like The Man.”
“You don’t have to act heroic.”
“You don’t have to act like you’re my mother.”
Someone in a cubicle down the way dropped a pen. No one expected fireworks at the end of the show.
Harmony crossed her arms. “So that’s how you want to be. I try to act like a civil adult and you want to throw it in my face?”
Jon opened and slammed another drawer shut. “Exactly, you’re acting like a civil adult, acting, but in reality you just want to be able to say that you were the victim. That I was the one who wouldn’t try to work it out. Cool, whatever. I’m moving on. I’m doing what I have to do. And I’m not going to let you, OR ANYONE HERE, treat me like I’m about to jump off a bridge.”
Feet shuffled as rolling chairs scrambled back to their desks. Keyboards clacked. Phones rang again. Jon turned his back to Harmony and shut down his computer. He watched her reflection walk away through the glass of his monitor. People hovered around the hallway as Jon walked out juggling an oversized box filled with his computer. Even more were lined up as he came back for the box of files. Lance and his office assistant were playing foosball in the employee lounge. They didn’t stop playing to see their co-worker off, but Lance shouted, “BE STRONG JONNY BOY!” and then he shouted, with the same gloating tone, “GOOOAALLL!!!! BITCH!”
An antique black Mercedes-Benz was parked outside the door. It was Roberto. He rolled down the passenger side window and beckoned Jon:
“You left your computer on the curb, Jon.”
“Yes, sir. Donald is going to give me a lift over to my apartment.”
“Put it in the back and get it.” Roberto reached over and pulled up the lock.
It was proper etiquette to let silence reign if The Don wasn’t pushing the conversation. The drive to the apartment wasn’t long enough for awkwardness to set in. When the Mercedes turned the corner, Len was locking the back of the Youse-Haul.
“Who’s that clown?”
“A good friend of mine. He’s going to help me drive down there.”
They stopped the car close behind Bell’s trailer. Roberto didn’t say anything so Jon assumed the ride was over and opened the door. As he reached in the back for the boxes, The Don’s eyes followed him through the rearview mirror. After the last box was out, he patted the passenger seat as an invitation for Jon to sit back down.
“Jon, I know what’s being said about our plan. Let them talk. Soon they were be talking out the side of their face. Right?”
“Good. Drive safe. I’ll talk to you next week.”
Jon got out and shut the door lightly. “Thanks, Roberto.”
The Don nodded and put the Mercedes in reverse. It hummed away. Len took Jon by the arm and lead him to the truck.
“C’mon dude, we gotta roll out. It’s supposed to rain pretty hard out east. If we leave now, we can beat the storm.”
Jon let himself be led for a moment and then stopped. “You loaded everything by yourself?”
“Yes, uh, no. Ronnie came by and helped.”
Len pulled Jon a couple more steps forward. “Hold on. I’ve got to put my file boxes in the back.”
“I’ll get it! I’ll get it! C’mon get behind the wheel, let’s roll.”
Len shoved his friend up and onto the driver’s seat and then rushed to unlock the truck and load the boxes. After finishing, he leaped up into the passenger seat like a Golden Retriever eager to let the wind blow his fur back. All the effort left him panting too.
“Wow man. I can’t believe you got all this done so fast. Are you sure we’ve got everything?”
“Positive. Let’s roll, let’s roll.”
And roll they did; past the short skirts walking outside the University of Colorado Campus. The truck and trailer weaved between the right and left lanes to pass gravel trucks and Volkswagen beetles. Len hummed as they rode down Highway 36 toward Denver. What tune? The reader should be able to guess by now.