DANNY’S LOWBALL EMPORIUM - ROBERT CRISMAN
Guys hustle because they don’t want to work. But Danny found out the hard way that not working’s a job.
Hard fucking job. And they don’t even have to give you a check.
He was selling stuff out of the trunk of his car that month. All sorts of stuff that people had let him take out of their basements. What he got was catch as catch can.
I guess that the good thing about this whole business was, he didn’t lose money.
He’d been working a nine-to-five job for awhile, but got sick to death of that shit, so he quit. He got his last check and, boom boom boom boom, rent, groceries, and smokes, and a bit of bud on the side and after that, he was broke as a dog. A week after payday.
Before the job he’d slung the dime bags. But he liked the shit too much himself and, so much for profits, you know. Plus, it was boring—who wants to dick around with tweakers all day?—and, all-in-all, just a fucking wretched-ass racket.
Anyway, so what now? He had to eat the last time he checked. So, rob a bank? Go visiting places where people aren’t home? Sell dime bags to dipshits again? Why not just stand on a corner, waving his dick at the cops? As far as he was concerned, that other shit was pretty much the same fucking thing.
Of course, in jail you got three hots, of a sort, and a cot...
Still, fuck jail. But, go back to work? After that last nine-to-five, he’d have rather waved his dick at the cop.
Now it happens that he had some stuff—stereo, TV, a couple of bikes, and some other things this guy and his girlfriend left at this place he’d been staying. They’d had to book quick for some unknown reason, Danny didn’t ask why, and they weren’t coming back, so the people who owned the place told him hey, take it.
He was down to the lint in his pockets when this happened, so he shoved the stuff in his car and took it around to these meetings he’d go to whenever he’d try and stay off the dope. Mainly out at the Java Corral on Aurora. There were always people hanging around and some of them even had money.
He’d set up shop in the parking lot there and get busy.
I should explain that the meetings were 12-Step affairs, Narcotics Anonymous in this case. They’ve got 12-Steps for everybody these days, from dopers to gamblers to nosepickers, truly.
Everyone in the world it seems is strung out some kind of way...
“I’d come in crashlanding off chiva and hang for awhile,” Danny told me, “until the bones knit. I got to know people and stuff and some of them were cool but, you know, the program? I didn’t pay much attention.”
Which is why, every few weeks he’d go out and toot and wind up crashlanding again.
That’s not directly germane to the story, however. Danny wouldn’t have known a Step from a Sasquatch perhaps, but he knew about selling stuff out of the trunk of his car.
“I did good, too, at first. Had that nice stuff those guys left and it’s going alright, I’m keeping myself in groceries and smokes with a little left over, and I’m thinking, not bad. Beats the fuck out a nine-to-five gig, that’s for sure, and it ain’t gonna put me in jail.
“I sold that original stuff pretty quick, and then it was, how do I keep this thing going?
“I needed more stuff. How would I get it without pulling moves that’d land me in County?”
Danny knew a lot of the people who come to those meetings by this time, and some of those people had money and houses and stuff just like normies. He figured they might be willing to help him.
He made up a list, “sort of like Santa Claus in reverse.” People he’d call and give them his spiel, i.e., that he’d lost his job and was selling his stuff to keep eating and—here’s what he needed: “Any shit you might have that’s taking up space, you can’t use, I’ll come and clear the shit out.”
“I told my friend what I’m doing and he said, ‘You’re asking them, give it to you?’ I told him, Yeah, why the fuck not, and you know something, man? People were cool! I’d tell ’em straight up, Yeah, give me, you know? And they did. They dug it! See, here I am, a guy lost his job but still trying to make something happen. I’m not just some guy you see hanging around at those meetings, rolling over and licking his nuts because life’s hard and shit, like a lot of those guys you see coming through. You know, dudes, you see ’em around, they’re just lumps. Ain’t doing nothing but taking up space. Waiting to get loaded again, really.”
There was only one guy who gave him a hassle. “Guy’s name was Henry. He’s okay, man, but, I asked him, alright? Like what’s up with you, man? Turns out he’s bent because here I am, and I’m free, white, and thirty plus five, and here I am asking, gimme stuff free, and, like, what the fuck am I, some kind of wino or something? Dude’s really upset! I couldn’t believe it!”
What flipped his switch? “Well, see, the guy’s been working his whole fucking life, since he was six or some fucking thing, for the phone company, right? Been there since water got wet. Worked his way up from paper clips, man, never asked nobody for one fucking nickel, and here I am, begging for shit like a panhandling grandma, and—Jesus...
“I’m like, c’mon! This motherfucker. Him and his hard-working ass. Slaving away at Ma Bell for like 25 years and—bullshit. He’s been sucking away on her tit’s more the story.”
Run that one by me. “Okay, twenty-five years—and for 23 of those years he was flat ass-up loaded. All day and all night. He told me one time, he has no clue why they didn’t just fire his ass. Showed up about half of the time, on the nod, and he’s drooling away at his desk, or stuck in the can and digging away at that one last vein in his armpit or something, and then it’s lunchtime, he’s off to meet the connect. See you next week. And then, he comes back and he’s selling twenties to mutts on the switchboard. Twenty-three years of this shit! And, did they ever fire his ass? Fuck no, they sent him to rehab! Five million times! And each time he’s back, he’s good for two minutes, and then it’s the same fucking shit. Drool on the desk and squatter’s rights in the seventh floor shitter. You wonder how we ever got any phone service, man! And he’s busting my chops?
“I worked harder in two goddamn months than that fucker did in his whole fucking time with Ma Bell, just lugging that stuff around in my car to those meetings! And now here he is talking shit. I just looked at him, man, said, Okay, fuck you, and walked on away. Who needs all that silly-ass shit?
“Plus, like I said, most people were cool, so, fuck Henry, dig it?”
I asked Danny what kind of stuff did the people give up. “You wouldn’t believe it,” he said. “I got some good shit. VCRs, cameras, CDs, CD players, clothes up the ass, kitchen equipment, all kinds of shit. I got a couple of mountain bikes, and they went for $150 a pop just like that. People just, hey, I couldn’t believe it. You know, and that list, the one I made up? I did it so they’d know what stuff I could use and not just wind up with a whole lot of crap and—I did anyway, you know, but, hey, I still got a ton of good stuff.
“This one guy, he gave me like 70 porno flicks, right? All this hardcore shit, brother. I take ’em out to this wingnut AA place out on Aurora. And this dude, he bought like 20, I swear to God. And one of ’em, man, the picture they got on the box, this dude, had a dick like three fucking feet long! Randy Rides ’Em And Ropes ’Em or something, his dick’s like the noose.”
“So, stuff like that. And then, there was this broad, man, she gave me this whole bag of jewelry, alright? Costume shit, right, but good costume shit. Lotta bracelets, earrings, and pins and that stuff. She also tossed in this jewelry bag, too, and I broke that bag out at the Java Corral, and the broads just came flockin’, like pigeons on bread, practically fighting over this piece or that piece... Made something like $1500 just off of that.
“Blew me away! Broad gave me the stuff, she’s actually a pretty nice lady. She also gave me a bunch of dresses and gowns, two leather coats, and some velvets and silks and some other stuff, it’s all like designer stuff, right? And—see, she had money, or came from money, you know? And she’s piling this stuff on the bed there, and I’m like, Wow, man! and she’s telling me, what she’s actually doing is housecleaning her life. That’s how she put it. This shit that she’s giving me here, see, she had it when she was married, and meanwhile, her old man was a dickhead and she broomed his ass, and this stuff, it’s all like a bunch of bad memories now since she got off the dope and so, it’s like I’m doing her right by removing this stuff from her life. Nice guy that I am.
“So I got all these clothes and the jewelry, and the jewelry, turns out—she gave me some earrings, and I showed the things to this dude, and he says I should get ’em checked out because, the stones on those things look like emeralds! So I tell him, Dude, take a piss test. Emeralds. On costume? C’mon.
“Dude tells me, some of that costume’s expensive. Also, some emeralds, they’re actually cheap. They got flaws and, see, what they do is, they range in price. Some’re more expensive than diamonds. And then some, you could pick them up at a WalMart or something. Not really, but you’d be surprised at how cheap they can actually get.
“So I get them checked out. I take them to Theo, this jeweler out by the Java. He looks them over and, sure enough, the fuckers are emeralds alright. Cheap ones, but still worth maybe $500. And the earrings, there’s also these diamonds, small diamonds, one-pointers, and they’re worth like $300. And then finally, the earrings, they’re gold, 18-carat, Theo tells me they’re worth about $2000!
“He don’t have the money to buy them, so he sends me on up to Goldman’s up on 103rd. I go in and old Goldman gives ’em a look. First thing out of his mouth, of course, they ain’t worth two grand. Not even close. Theo’s senile or something.
“I knew coming in that dude was going to lowball my ass, so I’m, Alright, how much? I’m hoping he’ll give me a grand but, main thing, I’ve got to off this shit quick. Baby needs shoes and so, what can we do? Old Goldman, he’s checking them out with this jeweler’s glass, right, and taking a long goddamn time, and he’s hemming and hawing, and frowning, you know, like I’m fucking him over just bringing the things in his shop. Well, I know this movie; dude’s trying to steal it. He goes through this whole fucking act, I’m supposed to just give it up free. Or maybe even pay him.
“So I’m waiting and waiting and at last he looks up from the eyeglass. The look on his face, it’s like he just had something to eat that I gave him that tastes bad and gave him the shits. He tells me, 600 bucks. Must mean they’re worth millions. I tell him I’ve gotta have eight. Takes him two seconds, he says okay. He’da gone nine, but I didn’t have time. And still, he just raped me, and he’s acting like he’s getting fucked but, seeing I used grease or some fucking thing, he’ll duke me the favor.
“You should’ve heard this cocksucker. He’s, yabbety yabbety, market for emeralds is down, there’s a war going on or peace just broke out or, some fucking thing, and I tell him, Homes, you just bent me over and buried it, right? Gimme my money. He does and I split.
“So, $800, and the rest of her stuff, I got like two grand, and, not bad. I can go for awhile and not sweat too hard.
“This one dude, though, he asks me once, did I tell the lady who gave me the stuff what I had the earrings appraised for? Like I should’ve or something. Well, no, I didn’t, you know? And what the fuck business is it of his? The dude thought it was raw. Like I’d fucked her. I just looked at him, man. Dude used to snatch purses and rob this blind newsie on Broadway. Now he gets clean and he’s Saint Motherfucker or something. I told him, man, kiss my ass. You wanna judge? Man, judge on. I’m gonna go get me a nice, juicy steak. All of a sudden, dude’s trying to angle in on a meal. I gave him a buck, told him, here, man, for bean dip or something. Or bus fare. Kick rocks.
“I told my buddy Eddie about it, he laughs. He tells me, ‘You got $800 for nothing, my man. You’re doing better than bandits. Keep up with this, you open a store, you’ll get rich.’
“Danny’s Lowball Emporium, how does that sound? No, uh-uh. See, after awhile, the thing, I don’t know. I ran through that list, and pretty soon after, the good shit is gone, and I did okay, but shit would come up, the rent, my car got fucked up and that shit, and pretty soon, bam, it’s, where’d it all go? And then, I’m sitting around in my room one day and I’m looking around, and it’s tons of crap piled all over and shit, and no way in hell am I ever gonna get rid of this stuff.
“I got all this crap with the good stuff, alright? Women’s clothes. Tons of that shit for some fucking reason, and I’d take them around, and you never saw so many broads didn’t wanna buy clothes in your life after the good shit got snatched. So now, all the crap’s stacked in my room, and plus, I’ve two storage lockers down in the basement and they’re crammed with shit.
“I couldn’t even walk in that room! Had to dig tunnels to get to the can. Crap’s up to the ceiling. You should’ve seen it. I had these four sets of skis all stacked up in the kitchen. A bag of golf clubs, hole in the bag and a bunch of clubs missing, and who the fuck I know plays golf? So they’re there forever and, then, man, these pictures! Cute little stupid-ass pictures! Dogs cheatin’ at cards, fucking bulldogs and shit. Unicorns batting their eyelashes. Dumb shit like that. You look at them long, you get diabetes.
“And that wasn’t even the worst. Not by a longshot. Dig this: I had six whole boxes of records. LPs and singles. All the tops hits like from 1950 or some fucking thing. Mario Lanza Sings High Mass In Lapland. The Chipmunks Get Laid. Wayne Newton Don’t. Absolute shit that nobody ever bought new and now, looks like I’ve cornered the market. I’m thinking of getting a gun and telling folks, ‘Buy them or die,’ but they’d still fucking tell me to go fuck myself.
“All this shit, man! Like a yard sale for winos. I can’t even sleep in my bed!
“And those records aren’t even the worst! Worse than that, man, I swear to God, I had these damn knick-knacks, household items in boxes this one fucker gave me, from 1960 or something and I’m going to burn down his house. Yogurt makers and horseshit like that that nobody’d buy new in ten million years. A ton of that crap and there goes the rest of the floorspace.
“So I’ve got all this shit that’s going to wind up in some landfill along with the house I’m staying in, man, and I can’t get ahead. Something always came up. This bill and that bill. Car breaking down, rent coming up. I got popped driving on suspended—another tale of woe and grief, let me tell you—and that one cost millions and—it wasn’t too long, I look up, I’m tap city. All I’ve got left is ten tons of dogshit. Dogshit, Wayne Newton, and Mario Lanza.
“So that was it. It was a nice little thing for a minute but, fuck it. One of those things, it just didn’t work out.
“At least I didn’t lose money. And I did eat that steak, a ribeye, my friend, which was just as good as the waitress had said that it would be.
“And then I went out and got me a job.”
BIO: Robert Crisman writes crime and noir fiction. He spent 15 years on streets in downtown Seattle and has some idea of what really goes on in these realms. He’s had stories posted on A Twist of Noir, and on Yellow Mama and Darkest Before Dawn. A movie he scripted, Chasing the Dopeman, is currently in post-prod down in L.A. and, with luck, it’ll be ready to go sometime this fall. He maintains a blog, chock full of stories, at 6S.