The Smart One
A Wapakoneta Novel
Wapakoneta, Ohio as seen in this novel is an alternate universe, entirely fictionalized version of an otherwise very fine and beautiful community. It is not their fault that I fell in love with the name.
Dink thinking now about that guy they’d tried to teach him about in school, couldn’t remember his name. Didn’t really exist. He hadn’t been to keen to learn that stuff anyway, was always more interested in smoking cigarettes outside the shop class garage and trying to cop a feel off some of the easy girls.
Anyway this guy, he was under a curse of some kind, he was always pushing this giant ball up a hill. Maybe it was the earth. Or maybe it was a giant ball of dung. Or maybe that was something from when he wasn’t paying attention in biology class.
So this guy would push this round whatever it was up a hill and then something would happen – smoke break, lunch, closing time – and the ball would roll back down the hill. And this guy would have to start pushing the ball up the hill again.
It’s two weeks later and Dink is thinking about this guy because of the job he has, working at Spangler’s Market, doing a lot of grunt work. Him wanting something more high profile than this, but the woman at county services shaking her head at him the more they talked.
“Until you get that GRE, there’s not a whole lot of places that are going to be interested in you.”
Dink thinking, what the hell, it did me a lot of damn good to be the smart one.
The woman at county services suggesting the fast food places down on gut row as a starter. Dink saying no, he’d done that scene before, with it worse now, not going to work with a bunch of zit faced teens with their noses glued to a smart phone screen.
Then the woman said – and Dink thought there was more than a little sarcasm here – that if he could read, Spangler’s Market was looking for stock boys.
Dink explaining to her that he was twenty-five.
“Can you read or not?”
He got the job, mostly alphabetizing cans of beans on the store shelves, but a lot of this: bringing in the long racks of carts after people were done with them. Most folks were civil and put the carts in the long racks strategically placed in the Spangler’s lot. Others were jackwagons, leaving the carts scattered around the place like lost sheep.
And that was what reminded Dink of the guy with the rock. He remembered now this guy had some kind of sissy name. Because as soon as he went out and brought a long line of carts back in, no sooner did he tuck them where they belonged when people came and took them out and filled them with groceries, then back out into the lot. It was funny, too, the way they’d stop and take one of Spanglers’ courtesy alcohol wipes to swab off the handle of the cart, but paid no mind to how filthy the bottom of the cart was from leaky meats, sweaty milk bottles, and the bottom of toddler shoes from parents who let them ride inside the basket.
So that was it. That endless thing. Over and over. No point to it. A curse.
Dink out in the parking lot now, squinting as the last of the sun vanished behind a dark cloud. At least he was working outside, gathering up the strays when he heard a familiar gurgling. The sound of a classic old V-8 inhaling gas.
The car pulling into the lot and Dink knew who it was. Paulie Spittle they called him, and he was driving that cherry cherry red ’73 Mustang, so high gloss you could check your teeth for food in its sheen.
Paulie the local legend around here, a senior when Dink was a lowly sophomore, the car being purchased as a wreck out of some old lady’s garage, Paulie restoring it every day in auto shop class while Dink was out back sneaking cigarettes. Paulie walked and got his diploma, not that it did him any good. He ended up at Roy’s Auto and Repair, where over the years he evolved the Mustang into its current goodness. And that was about all he did at Roy’s, but he never got fired, not a surprise considering who his dad was.
Dink guiding a long snake of grocery carts back toward Spangler’s now. Over his shoulder Paulie Spittle parking that car like a jackwagon too, diagonal across two spaces, not wanting anyone near his precious thing at all, like that back corner of the parking lot belonged to him.
So Dink turned away, back to the endless job of taking the carts back inside, deciding that if there was a zombie apocalypse like that one show on TV he wouldn’t have to worry about the carts anymore. But right now it was all about the money and this was how he made it.
Paulie Spittle passing him and the line of carts. Dink hoping that Paulie wouldn’t see him, would ignore him or at least not recognize him, but no such luck. He said to Dink, “Well, hello loser!”
Dink not saying anything.
Paulie Spittle saying now, “Hey, bro, when you going to give me a taste of that brown sugar you got?”
Dink thinking, like I don’t already have enough reasons to hate you and that car of yours, now you’re cracking on my woman.
Paulie Spittle still talking. “Bet that’s some really sweet pushin’ with that cushion she’s got. Bet it’s like humping a giant marshmallow or something. No, a chocolate marshmallow. Am I right?”
Dink showing Paulie his middle finger.
“That the best you can do? You’re a bigger loser than I remember, bro. Hey, when I’m done inside, you come bag and carry my groceries, maybe I’ll give you a tip.” Then turned his back on Dink and his middle finger and walking into Spangler’s just like that.
Dink looking around now, hoping nobody saw or heard any of that. Especially old man Spangler because he wanted to keep his job and that thing with the middle finger wouldn’t make him happy. But more than that, not wanting someone with a big mouth, and there were plenty of them in this town, to hear about it and get wind of what Paulie Spittle said get back to Albanee.
He stood there with his hands on the long string of shopping carts, the sun behind the clouds baking them, cranking up the humidity, feeling like it was trying to add insult to injury, considering that the suckage of the day had skyrocketed. That damn Paulie Spittle and his big mouth. And thinking about that sissy guy and his rock, and how much this job was like that. Then there was that business with Albanee this morning, her getting pretty much pissed over the fact that he’d been living with her these past two weeks, not like she’d actually asked him to share her apartment.
“Hey,” he said, “I told you this is just a temp thing ’till I get a job.”
“Honey, you’ve had a job for ten days.”
“I’m saving up for a deposit on an apartment I told you. You have any idea what it takes on minimum wage?”
“In the meantime, you’re eating my food, watching my TV, sleeping in my bed–”
Dink thinking that was disingenuous of her, she asked for sex from him as much as he did from her, but he couldn’t tell her that.
Instead he said, “Baby, I told you I’ll get my first check end of this week. And hey, I get a discount at Spangler’s now, that’s good, right?”
Albanee telling him all right, he had a few more days and then he needed to cough up some major bags of groceries or bring home a contract for his own place, otherwise he could go back where he came from.
“Aw, I can’t go back. You know that.”
“Now that’s your man’s pride talking,” she said, “and you just tell it to shut up. You’re living here on my good graces and charity, you know. So you better just swallow that pride and start doing some providing here.”
“I said I would.” Hating the way he sounded, like he was whining at her.
“And that’s why I’m gonna cut you some grace,” Albanee said. “My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, he cut you some grace, too. You might not have accepted it yet. I have, so I have to cut you some grace, too. So you’ve got until payday to start bringing home some bacon. You know it wouldn’t hurt you to take Jesus up on that grace and acknowledge him as your personal savior, too.”
“Baby, I’m the new guy there. They’re gonna make me work on Sundays.”
“I’ll cut you a little grace for that, too. The apostle Paul, he said ‘if a man doesn’t work, he doesn’t eat.’ So at least you’re working. But you need to contribute to the eating, and to the utilities, too. It takes a lot of electricity to keep you in ESPN.”
Dink liking the sound of that, because of what she said without saying it, that it was okay for him to keep living with her.
But then he came in to work and it all went into the toilet. Doing the numbers in his head while collecting the carts, multiplying minimum wage by 29 hours, then subtracting a good number for taxes and then to contribute to Albanee, and it was looking like forever before he could move out. Not that he wanted to. The lack of a job and no place to stay was a pretense, and he was secretly hoping she would just ask him to stay in that voice of hers that told him she was being romantic. If she didn’t mention Jesus, he figured, it would work out perfect.
But now holding it over him like that. More suckage. Feeling the weight of an endless job, and now Paulie Spittle, coming here probably for beer and cigarettes – and now he realized how badly he wanted a smoke, but Spangler’s wouldn’t let you smoke anywhere on the premises, not even his e-cigarette.
No. Just not a good day. In that moment, Dink was kind of glad it had gone south already, because then things might be more tolerable.
At least the day couldn’t get any worse.
Or so he thought. Because then it started to rain.
And then he felt a hand clamp onto his shoulder and he turned and looked into the face of his big brother.