Beer Collection


(Written 1978)


            I climb the stairs to Johnís front door like the beggar I have become.

            This is the Friday before the Monday on which I know I am to be fired, and Iíve come to the one man who has every right to tell me to go fuck myself for all I did to him over the years.

            I just have no place else to go.

            My fingers shake as I push the door bell button and I hear the bell ring far away upstairs in this two floor garden apartment complex. But it might as well be ringing in another world.

            I want John not to be at home; but I know he is.

            His green van is parked in the driveway and he goes no where without it.

            Iím swearing and it isnít even hot outside yet, although someone has put potted flowers on the door step, full of yellow and red blooms I canít identify.

            John answers the door.

            He is a thin man, but about my height, and for all the beer he drinks, Iím the one who is overweight. Too many years heating breakfast at McDonalds, lunch at Roy Rogers and dinner at Burger King.

            Younger than I am, John has a sickly glow, and bad eyes, and he stares at me through lenses so thick theyíd do for submarine windows.

            But he has a girlfriend, and I donít.

            I say, ďHi,Ē he says nothing, just waves me in with a wave of his hand.

            Dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, his muscles look taunt and powerful, a product of working too hard and long for too little wages.

            Iím more than a little humbled and maybe a little scared by him, since I spent a good portion of our old job together torturing him, treating him like a dork until he went out and got a new job where he doesnít have to hear it.

            I actually deluded myself into believing I was doing him a favor by keeping him from getting trapped in Donaldís warehouse the way I have become, a champion of the people using abuse to move them into doing what they are too scared to do for themselves.

            He jokingly calls me, ďMr. Warmth,Ē a title I am no longer proud of.

            Still over the years working together, we were at times friends, playing war games on our own time, sucking brews at the local bar.

            We climb the stairs together in silence, the thump of our steps like the sounds of a hand man practicing for an execution, each thump of the trap door falling open to leave a manís feet dangling in open space.

            Ali Ė from whom I once tried to rescue John Ė rushes around the kitchen, her hands so red from cooking and cleaning they look like swollen crabs.

            I called her Fish Face because she looks like one of those bloated gold fish Iíve seen in pet store windows, her cheeks expanding and contracting with every breath like gills.

            Johnís regular Friday night date for years, Ali has finally got her hooks into him with marriage slated for next month. I wonder how much John regrets choosing Fish Face over the pretty redheaded he cheated on her with.

            I smell supper and John asks if Iím hungry.

            Iím too scared for hunger and tell him no.

            He offers me a beer instead. While I donít want that either, I take it. He needs the can for his collection Ė the largest, he says, in all of New Jersey, and gauging from the lines of logger and ale around his walls, I believe him.

            I tell him Donald will be firing me on Monday because I mailed letters to a bunch of manufacturers detailing Donaldís unethical business practices.

            John says nothing and I go on, claiming I did it because Donald abused Michele, the store clerk I lusted after, but he and I know the real reason, and how trapped I feel in the warehouse and how too cowardly I am to just quit and find a new job.

            Now I need to get a new job, coward or not, and I ask John if he can still get me one at the place where he now words. He did, after all, promise me one. Is the promise still good?

            John says that was six months ago, before Christmas, now he isnít so sure.

            I read the same glee in his eyes that Iíve seen in the eyes of people poised for revenge. His girlfriend Ė her back turned to us Ė seems to shutter with the same glee, her chance to get even with the bastard that tried to break them up.

            I hang my head, tell John Iím sorry I bothered him, and I start to rise. But he tells me to sit back down.

            He says heíll get me the job I want. I donít have to ask him why. The answer is in eye-glass bloated stare. He feels sorry for me, and the words part is I donít deserve it.




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