Thursday, May 27, 2010

A GOSSIP NATION (flash fiction)

He said he had something for me.

Meeting one of the snitches for my column always made for interesting conversation. Especially with this one.

I was late and Auggie was already eating at the diner counter. God forbid he waited. As I approached, it dawned on me that I never saw him in a suit. A tie with a short sleeve shirt maybe, but never a full-fledged suit. Now this was odd considering he was a limo driver. He usually opted for gargantuan bowling shirts.

I squeezed his tie when I sat down. "What's with this look?" For the record, the knot sucked. It looked like two broken knuckles wrapped in an ace bandage.

“Huh?” he asked. It was hard to hear over the clanking of dishes and glasses that came from the kitchen.

" You look like a fucking encyclopedia salesman," I said.

Auggie tried to flag down a waitress, pointing to his coffee. "You remember my cousin Joe?"

"The gay one?" I asked.

He got mildly irritated, chewing his food. "Uh-uh... The one who said you were a stand up guy," he answered, emphasizing 'the stand up guy' part.

"Oh yeah, I like him. He came with us to Atlantic City a couple years ago when I covered Miss America. Good guy. Is it his birthday or something?"

"I'm going to the schmuck's funeral..."

Shit. It was always weird finding out when distant acquaintances bought the big one. "Jesus, Auggie, I'm sorry.”

I looked out towards the parking lot and had to ask. "Uh, so why'd you call him a schmuck?"

He settled in and took off his jacket, revealing yellowish armpit sweat stains on a wrinkled oxford. "About a year ago, he finds out he has lung cancer. The five-year survival rate is something like 18 percent, so he figures he's already six feet under, right?"

I nodded, chomping on his crunchy bacon. “Who wouldn’t?”

"So the morning after Joe hears the news, he goes and gets a blow job from a hooker."

"No shit?" I couldn't keep from laughing. "Are you serious?"

"Wait,” Auggie said to me. “It gets better."

"It gets better than just having lung cancer and getting a blow job from a hooker?"

Auggie nodded. "Get this -- he goes down to the projects to where they have them crackheads. You know, the ones that'll turn tricks for ten beans? When I asked Joe 'What the fuck for?' he said he always had the urge. The urge. Not so much for the hummer itself, but for acting on the desire."

I nodded in agreement. "The impulse of doing something taboo..."

“Exactly," Auggie said pointing his finger at me.

"Must be liberating," I said, sounding like a fucking idiot.

But wait. Auggie doesn't tell stories unless there's a rub.

"So..." I said, expecting him to sock it to me. "I know this is going somewhere..."

"So he gets his rocks off. Months go by, ya know? Chemo. Radiation. Another round of chemo. The works. Three-Mile Island. By the way, that shit alone'll fuckin' kill you," he said, breaking his stride and motioning once again for a refill.

"And..." I ask, waiting for the infamous rub.

"He beats the cancer," he said, slapping the formica.

I was sorta confused. "So how'd he die?"

"AIDS. From the hooker."

I thought it was a joke. It was the kind of story where I was waiting for the baa-dump-bump from a set of drums hidden in the kitchen.

"Fucked up, huh?" Auggie said.

I nodded, thinking there was a sick sense of poetic justice in what happened to Joe. God's way of reminding us that we're all just animals at heart. I could say nothing so I kept nodding my head. I only met him once but could tell he'd be the kind of guy who'd take up for you in a bar fight after only knowing you a couple of minutes. Poor Joe.

"Now our family's living in shame," he went on.

"Shame? Why's that?"

Auggie brought his voice to a whisper. "Come closer," he said.

I reluctantly brought my torso over the counter and caught a glimpse of us in the mirror. His breath stunk.

He looked both ways. "We're not even sure that crackhead was even a chick."

"Okay...," I said searching my pocket for change and tossed up some tip money. I was a gossip columnist and this is the shit I had to put up with. "That's a sick fucking story, Auggie. I thought you said you had a tip for me."

"I do," he said stopping me. "I know the crackhead."

Oh yeah, and how is that?

"Blake Stevens" he said.

"The Oscar winner? What about him," I asked.

"Yup..." I drove him there last week. Seems like he has the same fetish as 'ol Joe."

Bingo. Sizzle had its next cover story.

Did I feel bad taking his tip? No. Would I have to prove it somehow? Sure. But that was the easy part.

People tell me I have a dirty job. Maybe. I tell people to scoff all you want. I also tell them to think of me when they're on line at the supermarket, flipping through our pages, just jonesing to find that one juicy bit before the cashier asks for coupons. And don't forget to turn your nose up before bagging your groceries. Just be sure not to bend the magazine as you stuff it into the bag.

You're a nation of gossip junkies and you love it. Our five million circulation proves it.

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  1. A slice of underbelly life.

    Your characters always feel so REAL: Auggie's slow reveal, the waitress not paying attention, the reporter waiting for 'the rub'.

    I love visiting your basement.

  2. After watching your slide shows the other night, I'm thrilled you wrote this piece in a diner. Atmosphere is perfect. Your dialogue kept me intrigued and moved the story quickly. The ending has a good sick punch-- in more ways then one.

    This goes on my top ten favorite Anthony Favorites.

  3. Jodi is right, the slideshow was a nice segue to this piece.

    The tale was gritty and your excellent dialogue kept me drawn in from beginning to sordid end. Well done, sir.

  4. Excellent. Your characters, especially the seedy ones, just pop off the page. I read twice, and I don't really have time; that's how good it is. Peace...

  5. Geez, Ant, you really have a way of creating atmosphere. Even the conversation, slow and deliberate, adds to the mood. Nicely done.

  6. A great piece of Diner Noir, loved it.

  7. That packed a punch! :) Great flash and I loved your choice of name.

  8. Details, details, details! - another fat and fab flash fiction, Ant. I love the mood of your characters and definitely enjoy the twists you build up to.

  9. Excellent as always. Sick and grimy never had it so good.

    A nice little slap to the gossip gobblers in the world.

    Loved it. You're an artist.

  10. Nicely done. Great, slow reveal and then the punch line. Like a good gossip piece. Kinda hurts that he's right -- I always look at the gossip rag covers, but I never buy them.


  11. It delves into the gossip vibe very well. You switched topics and titilating bits of information often enough that it stirred the real feeling of eavesdropping or learning things I shouldn't know. That he's a gossip journalist makes total sense at the end and is a great way to end it.

  12. This is unbelievably well written.
    You should be selling this stuff, Anthony.
    The world you paint may be gritty but it's compelling and attractive as all get out. If you live in the kind of basement you write about, you are one lucky guy.

  13. Very nice writing! Gritty characters and twist after twist :-)

  14. I hate them both. Good job letting your characters say what's on their loathsome minds in such natural sounding dialogue. Great sense of place and pacing too.

  15. Just called by from the UK to say how much i enjoyed your writing,i will be calling in for more.
    regards A littledingle Mason

  16. Man oh man Ant ~ you reeled me in with the image of how Auggie tied his tie and I heard the crunch of your bacon. Shoot-the-shit dialogue did the Diner (super pic) true as a blue plate special.

    The rub for your bub was definitely of rimshot quality. Cathy Olliffe nailed though the real rundown of so many writer-greats' superb commentary -- Be selling your tale'ing and from me and your daily DULL HOBO reader-fans over AT THE BIJOU -- don't let that screenplay gather more dust. You're aces Ant, in time and places.

    ~ Absolutely*Kate

  17. I love the dialogue, and

    "For the record, the knot sucked. It looked like two broken knuckles wrapped in an ace bandage."

    -that's a great description.


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