Friday, July 30, 2010

TWENTY BUCKS (flash fiction)

The first time my dad gave me a crisp twenty dollar bill, I thought it might has well have been a million. That's how great it felt.

I was six and he told me that I could use the money to get whatever I wanted for my birthday.

"Can we go to Two Guys?" I asked.

He nodded and 30 minutes later, I was wandering their nine toy isles -- only the ones for boys.

Two Guys was like catnip for a six year-old. A precursor to stores like Best Buy and K-Mart, the discount chain was founded in Harrison, New Jersey by a pair of brothers, Herbert and Sidney Hubschman.

After opening their first store in 1946, they established quite the reputation for selling radios, TVs and your basic household appliances at rock-bottom prices. It was Jersey after all. Some of them may have fallen off of a truck or two. Just saying...

Much to the chagrin of their competitors, their business grew throughout the eastern seaboard and they were dubbed "Those two bastards from Harrison..." The insult stuck and the Brothers Hubschman wore at as a badge as they expanded and slightly modified it into "Two Guys."

So there I was, clutching that twenty dollar bill deep in my sweaty little palm and perusing such boy toys as the Planet of the Apes Treehouse and Evel Knievel's Stunt Cycle and Scramble Van. Those were fuckin' toys...

I thanked Pop for my gift - which by the way leaned towards the Simian persuasion.

"You'll get that twenty dollar bill every year," he told me. "Our secret. We'll have our little field trip. You and me."

I nodded.

"In the mood for some Stewarts?" he stated more than asked.

"What about mom?"

"She'll be fine..." Even though I was six, I knew what he meant and probably learned about subtext way earlier than I should have.

# # #
The years went by and so did the toys and gifts those twenty dollar bills helped purchase. Batman and Superman action figure begat Fonzie colorforms and a slew of baseball mitts and footballs.

By high school, the Old Hickory tradition didn't have that same oomph and by college, it was more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.

After the divorce, Pop hurt his back and went on permanant disability. A year or so later, he moved about three hours south since the cost of living let him to stretch his dollar a bit more.

Looking back, I may have resented his relocation and didn't speak to him as much especially with juggling girls, work and the books.

Estrangement aside, though, I planned to surprise him with a six pack of his favorite beer on my 21st birthday so we could share our first toast as men.

# # #

One knock. Two. And then a pound on the steel apartment door.

When the super let me into his tiny cluttered studio, it was way too late. Anything could have given him that heart attack -- the smokes, the cheap food he ate or just the plain stress of wondering how he got there.

After the coroner took his body, I was prepping to lock up when I caught a glimpse of my birthday card on his kitchen counter and thought twice about opening it. But who was I kidding?

I cracked open one of my Heinekins and read the card probably 100 times, which of course had a twenty dollar bill and six scribbled words:

"It's time for another field trip"

I sunk my head, put his twenty dollar bill in my pocket and thought of us at Two Guys the whole drive home.

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  1. Wow, Anthony ... this one had real teeth. I felt them bite at the end. Knew it was coming, and the end bit me anyway. Powerful stuff. Love the Jersey boy voice that carried through and it made the kick ending so much the harder.

    Brilliant work. As usual.

  2. I really enjoyed this one. You have such a way of getting your readers vulnerable so when you deliver the final bite...we feel it as surely as if it'd happened to us.

    Fantastic craft.

  3. Carried me along the entire way. Great piece,perhaps my favorite of yours. A real 'Cat's Cradle' kind of feel, but better, not at all smarmy. Instead, imbued with love and loss and memory. Peace...

  4. Le Sigh*-- Beautiful story written in an honest way that makes your writes unique..
    My heart fell on this one as I totally understand the signifigance of what that "field trip" means..

    Beautiful memories you have...

  5. Beautifully done Ant.

    Such a well told father/son story that hits on all cylinders (love - tenderness- pain - heartbreak). The Two Guys connection is a nice touch for those of us who still remember the store, and you captured the excitement every six year old boy felt running through those two aisles. But more importantly, you cut right to the depths of the father/son relationship each man has with his own dad, and sometimes shares with his own son.

    Somebody once used an expression: "I like this so much it hurts." This hurts but in all the good ways excellent writing is supposed to make you feel. Only the best writers and the best writing can give that kind of kick.

    Well done.

  6. Two Guys and Stewarts. Talk about memories. I bet you got your first suit from Robert Hall.

  7. Awe Ant. Like the others--I knew it was coming, but I laughed at the memories of toys and secrets Mom was unaware of. And then I read the last line and cried. :(

    Excellent, Chico. ;)

  8. Man, you got me with this one, Ant. It's so deeply warm and loving without being sentimental.

    Outrageously good.


  9. A pleasure to read, Anthony, and deeply affecting. It had a winning voice and some distinctive charm, leading to a heart-tugger of an ending. Evocative and delightfully painful.

  10. one of the most touching i've read...or maybe the climate is right for me. been working on a novel based on my youth, so this really gets does the photo of that Batman doll....not to mention Fonzi colorforms!

  11. Kick in the teeth reminder not to let opportunities pass you by. like you were sitting across from me just talking.

  12. Wow, what a powerful story! The memory of those twenty buck (all of them and the 21st) will be with him forever. Great story!

  13. Down the road from me is a Two Guys Smoke Shop, so the first few paragraphs I had to readjust--that would be quite the field trip for a 6 year old!

    Authentic writing, from the first fascination to the obligation to the regret. Life in a flash, with a fresh and candid voice.

  14. That was a nice look at the relationship between this man and his son. It's a pity he couldn't be around for the beer on the 21st. Also, a nice peek at a bit of Jersey history. Well done, Ant.

  15. This is absolutely touching and wonderful. You defeated the cynic in me and brought a tear to my eye at the end. Always grateful for that.

  16. Captured the emotional connection between a boy and his father. Somtimes $20 bucks and a six pack is all there is . . .

  17. What I want to know is - did you and Cathy get together and say "let's lay on the tears for 'em this week"? Wow, what a beautifully told story Ant. Just beautiful.

    And by the way, I'm beginning to think you really have raided someone's basement (your parents?) for these pics.

  18. I think this is my favorite flash from you so far. Father son bonding can be a hard and scary thing. Well done.

  19. I like the character arc in this piece. I enjoyed the image of "juggling girls" in his dorm room.

  20. what a heartbreaker, this. You are so good at pulling me in, and then shaking me up.


  21. Beautiful, genuine and so effortless. I always feel like I'm sitting at the end of a bar with you, just listening to a story you found at the bottom of your glass.

  22. Anthony this story was wonderful, really truly wonderful. A misty-eyed sentimental journey with that infamous Jersey touch of your yours.
    I wish there was a Two Guys here.
    We do have a Three Guys & A Stove, though. It's a snooty restaurant in Huntsville. Ontario, that is.

  23. wow - what a story - great writing

  24. Superb voice here.
    The father's last words on the card... *sniffle*

  25. That's so bittersweet, and yet so inspiring as well. It's amazing how symbolic a twenty-dollar bill can be, too. :)


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