The Other Foot

The Other Foot

A Story by Ron Sanders
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Good for the gander.

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             “Kin Ah hep you?” said the big security guard at the door. The voice was an indifferent drawl. Gus looked at the man’s nametag:  CHAHLES.

            “Yes, Chahles, I believe you may.” Gus proffered his paperwork. “I’ve an appointment with a Mr. Earl Maven at nine sharp.” He showed his pearly whites. “I came ‘Earl’-y.”

            Chahles gestured over his shoulder at the packed waiting room. “So’d dey.” A hundred and forty-one eyes glared at Gus eclipsing the opened glass door.

            “Well!” Gus didn’t lose the smile. “Where do I sign in, then?”

            “Yo kin sign yo funny butt in on a empty chair; tha’s if yo kin finds one.”

            Gus was intensely aware of his whiteness as he apologized his way to a steel folding chair with a collapsed back. He squinched in between a sleeping man and the biggest, meanest-looking woman he’d ever seen. He hadn’t brought a book or newspaper, and wasn’t particularly compelled to seek conversation. He should have known he’d be out of his element when the welfare processing office referred him to the outlet on Oprah and King, but he was new to the system, and not about to make trouble. Be quiet and polite. You’ll always squeak through. Little by little this quiet, polite man found himself scrunching in while the surrounding tide just as gradually spread, until he resembled nothing so much as a squashed ivory exclamation mark in a smudgy text scrawl. Using his two available fingers, Gus pinched his paperwork into a tiny reading shield for his eyes. By eleven o’clock he’d read it over so many times it was a mantra to delirium. When at last he heard his name called he was barely able to slip from under the sleeping man’s slobbering face and the big lady’s glaring eye.

            The clerk peered through the bulletproof glass with an expression skewed by a million threats and pleas. “You Gus Tremblen?”

            “Yes, that’s me.”

            “Say here your appointment for nine.”

            “Yes, that’s right.”

            One eye rolled to the wall clock. “It eleven now.”

            “I realize that, sir. I was just called. I’ve been waiting patiently; very patiently.”

            “You sign in? I don’t see your name on the sign-in.”

            “I wasn’t aware . . . sir . . . I was told to take a chair, and complied. I had no idea that--”

            “Who told you take a chair?”

            “Well, it was the security guard. I believe his name is Chahles.”

            “Chahles told you take a chair?”

“He instructed me to . . . yes.”
            “You take orders from a security guard?”

            “He didn’t actually order me.”

            The clerk threw down his pen. “If that don’t beat all.” He flicked on the intercom. “CHAHLES, YOU COME TO WINDOW EIGHT.”

            A massive reflection grew on the glass like an overblown balloon.

            “Chahles, you tell this man he not supposed to sign in on the sign-in?”

            “Ah did not tell him nothin of the sort, suh.”

            “You tell this man he supposed to take a chair without signing in on the sign-in?”

            “We didn talk about no sign-in, suh. Ah showed him where to sit, tha’s all.”

            “He say he didn’t want to sign in on no sign-in?”

            “We didn talk about no sign-in, suh. Ah showed him where to take a chair.”

            The clerk shut Gus’s file. “If that don’t beat all.”

            A thin man in a suit slid through an adjacent door. “What’s all this hollering?”

            “This man don’t want to sign in on no sign-in.”

            “Actually,” Gus tried, “I’d be pleased to sign in, sir. There’s some kind of misunderstanding, that’s all.”

            The thin man adjusted his severe spectacles for an iron stare. He was one of the angriest looking people Gus had ever encountered. “Why didn’t you sign in in the first place?”

            “I wasn’t aware--”

            The thin man slapped down a palm. “If that don’t beat all.” He flipped open the daybook. “You see all these signatures on the sign-in? How come they gotta sign in on the sign-in and you don’t gotta sign in on the sign-in? We just supposed to know you’re here and dispense with procedure?”

            “I . . . ”

            “Chahles, you tell this man he don’t gotta sign in on no sign-in?”

            “We didn talk about no sign-in, suh.”

            The suited man’s eyes burned through the glass. “You refuse to sign in on the sign-in?”

            “Sir, I--”

            “Chahles!”

            The balloon squeezed between Gus and the glass. Chahles’s expression was dead-serious. Gus wasn’t even aware of the next half-minute, so profoundly confused were his impressions. All he knew was he was standing in the doorway with his back to the street, and Chahles was looming like God Almighty.

            “Now yo kin jus take yo crackajack bee-hind somewheres else.”

            “Lord!” swore the thin man, glaring through the glass. He looked daggers at the clerk. “Next time someone don’t wanna sign in on no sign-in, he trying to tell you he don’t wanna be served. Why you bothering me with all this?”

            “Chahles said--”

            “You take orders from a security guard? If that don’t beat all.” He slipped back into his office. The Post-its were falling like leaves, the phone already ringing. He composed himself before lifting the receiver.

            “Earlsy?”

            “Bunny, I told you not to call me before lunch.”

            “But I miss you, sweetheart.”

            “I miss you too, sugar. We’ve talked about this a hundred times. Whenever I get a call on an outside line it’s tallied, remember? I have to balance those calls against the client log.”

            “But my slipper,” Bunny pouted.

            “What about your slipper?”

            “It got fried. In the microwave, somehow. You know the mink slippers; the pretty pink ones with the cute little diamonds that spell out I Worship You Bunny? Well, the right one got cooked, and it’s all . . . icky. Now I have a slipper that says I Worship You, and a bare foot that don’t say nothin. How’m I suppose to know who you worship, Earlsy?”

            “But how did it get into the micro--

            “Don’t yell at me!” Bunny wailed. “I’ll get a restraining order, Earl Maven; you know I will. If I have to hop down to the station with one naked foot, I swear I’ll protect myself.”

            “Bunny.” Maven wiped a hand down his face. “Baby.” He called up his online banking account on the office computer; another no-no. “Sweetheart.” He typed in his password and went to accounts. His face fell further. “Darlin’!”

            “Earlsy?”

            “We’re having kind of a tight calendar month, sugar. Must’ve been that rabbit-shaped hot tub.”

            “You said you loved my bunny bath.”

            “I do, Princess. It’s just that--

            “DON’T YELL AT ME!” And Bunny was in serious tears.

            “I promise you, Priceless. I promise you. Brand new slippers when I get home. Prettier than the last. As pretty as you.”

            “You’d better not be jerking me around, Earl Maven. The front door is locked if you come home empty-handed. Smooches?”

            “Smooches,” Maven said. “And when you’re all dolled-up good as new we can play Counselor. I’ll bring the Baileys. But please, Goddess, in the future try to remember that little rule about calls to the office. For right now I’ll just write this off as a wrong num--got to go now, baby; another call.” Maven punched the glowing button. His voice was instantly professional. “Earl Maven. Department of Welfare Adjustments.”

“You’re processing a claimant, one Gustave Merriwether Tremblen?”

            Maven drummed his fingers on the desk. “Who’s this?”

            “My name is Harvey Gerbilstein, Mr. Maven, and I’m employed by the State of California to handle complaints from welfare applicants who feel they’ve been denied fair access to resources. We’re in the building right next door. You know the one.”

            “No one has been denied anything to anything, Mr. Gerbilstein. Mr. Tremblen refused to sign the day’s docket according to specified procedure, that’s all. We are, by order, disallowed the processing of unruly claimants.”

            “Mr. Tremblen claims the security guard ejected him in a most threatening manner, and used the term ‘cracker’ in so doing. Now, Mr. Maven, a major part of my duties involves claims of behavior which may be construed as racist under article 749 of the State Discriminatory Code. I don’t think we have to split hairs here.”

            Maven peeled off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Security is not employed by the State of California. Any complaints will have to be directed to the proper offices.” He slammed through his rolodex. “And I have the number right here.”

            “Wrong, Mr. Maven. Your department and ours have danced this dance before. Sukky Security is certified by the State, leaving California liable for any monetary damages incurred by successful complaints.”

            Maven dropped back his head. When he let it fall forward it was wagging with frustration. “I can’t help you, Gerbilstein. You’ll have to take this up with my boss.”

            “Way ahead of you, Maven. Mr. Killwater was notified on his car phone prior to this call. I’d like you to know our little conversation, though brief, was extremely interesting. So interesting, as a matter of fact, that he decided to cancel his beloved golf match and proceed instead to your office for what I can only describe as a very-quickie conference. I’m not sure you’re aware of it, Maven, but racism lawsuits regularly settle in the six figures. A man in Mr. Tremblen’s shattered condition can expect lifetime compensation. Now, I’ve never been all that hot at tabulating mileage against traffic, but, if my calculations are anywhere near correct, Mr. Killwater should be showing up right . . . about . . . now.”

            A harumph and short bellow was followed by a tapering monologue from Chahles. Killwater, looking like he’d just swallowed a mouthful of glass, burst into Maven’s office and slammed the door. The man was in his sixties, and at least as big as Chahles, but there was a bulldog-gruffness to his demeanor that made him appear larger than life.

            “Maven! I’ve just been on the phone with a Harvey--”

            “Gerbilstein,” Maven sighed dismally, holding up the receiver. “He’s right here.”

            Killwater snatched it as though reclaiming stolen property. “Gerbilstein? We’re on conference!”

            A ping and shift in the ether. “Done,” came Gerbilstein’s voice from the speaker.

            “Is that complainant still there?”

Tremblen’s voice, hard to pick up:  “Um . . . ” A scrape and throat-clearing. “Yes,” the voice came back, clearer now. “I’m here.”

            “You were involved in an altercation with a member of our security staff?”

            “Actually, it was more of a misunder--”

            “Chahles!” The echo scraped paint off the lobby’s walls.

            A timid rapping.

            “Open the damn door, Chahles!”

            A quirky fluorescent corona displaced the unwelcome door.

            “Did you threaten a Mister . . . a Mister . . . ” Killwater snapped his fingers.

            “Tremblen,” came both Gerbilstein’s and Tremblen’s voices. Gerbilstein appended:  “One Gustave Merri--”

            “Did you threaten anybody, Chahles?”

            “No suh. He don’ wanna sign in on no sign-in, suh. Ah showed him where to take a chair, suh. Tha’s all, suh.”

            “Why wouldn’t he sign in on the sign-in?”

            “He say he don’ wanna sign in on no sign-in, suh.”

            Killwater’s steamshovel jaw dropped. Speaking as much to himself as to the room, he muttered, “If that don’t beat all.”

            Gerbilstein’s voice was the snap of a whip. “Enough! Paperwork is already being processed in Tremblen vs. the State of California. Article 749.A.154,894,000-2B12 states, unequivocally, that no applicant may be denied resources due to conditions of race, religion, gender, national origin, disability, height, weight, self-image, lack of character, hometown allegiance, or body aroma. Calling Mr. Tremblen a ‘cracker’ most definitely falls under the category of racial discrimination, and, since Sukky Security is on record as approved via the office of one Carlton Killwater, Mr. Killwater, along with his subordinate Earl Maven, are hereby notified of their status as defendants in Tremblen vs. California.”

            In the deafening silence came a sound like a squeal and clapping from Gerbilstein’s end, then a very sober closure:  “I’m afraid you’ll have to cancel your golf date, Mr. Killwater. I’ll be in touch. Believe me, I’ll be in touch.” The speaker went dead.

            Killwater looked stunned. “Chahles?”

            “Suh?”

            “What went down between you and Mr. Tremblen?”

            “He didn wanna sign in on no sign-in, suh. Ah showed him where to take a chair, suh. Tha’s all, suh.”

            “Chahles.”

            “Suh?”

            “Get the hell out of here.”

            The corona collapsed and the door whispered shut.

            “Maven?”

            “Sir?”

            “Clear out your desk.”

            “Mr. Killwater, this is all a misunder--”

            Maven?

            “Sir?”

            “Get the hell out of here!” Killwater drew open the door and shuffled out like the walking dead, his putter arm swinging listlessly.

            The phone rang.

            “Earlsy?”

            “Bunny,” Maven managed.

            “Earlsy, my pearl necklace, you know, the one you brought all the way from Budapest, with the dark and light pearls next to each other that go one little bunny, two little bunny, one little . . . well, it got caught in the blender somehow, and now I don’t have no one little bunny two.”

            Maven was drifting. “In the . . . blend--”

            “DON’T SCREAM AT ME!”

            Maven dropped the phone. In a trance, he pushed the personal contents of his office into a cardboard box labeled Trash Only, and dragged the box to his Mercedes. He somehow stuffed it all into the trunk and drove home like an automaton. The driveway was blocked by a pile of shirts and papers and very private miscellany. His photo albums, a collection of floppy-and compact disks, that prized foul ball off the bat of Itchy Krotchenscracher. Two patrol cars controlled the street on either side of Maven’s drive. He left the Mercedes idling between cars and staggered to the curb.

            An officer blocked his progress. “Are you Earl Maven?”

            “Yes . . . I . . . I’ve . . . ”

            “Mr. Earl Maven, the Los Angeles Police Department is responding to a call of sexual harassment by one Bunny B. Goldigeur, a professed resident of these premises. It is my duty to inform you, sir, that if you are approaching said premises with malice intended, you will be placed under arrest for the sake of said party. That’s all. Nothing personal. If you are indeed owner or lessor of said premises you are hereby awarded license to claim any and all properties deposited upon this drive. For the sake of Ms. Goldigeur, however, you may not breach said premises.”

            “My . . . property . . . gather my . . . ”

            “But no farther.” There was a rumble and whirrrrrrrrrrrrrr behind them. Maven was too dazed to turn. “You may now claim said personal belongings from said drive. Said one last time:  if you approach Ms. Goldigeur or said lodgings you will be placed under arrest. Enough said. Do we understand each other?” The whirrrrrrrrrrrrrr became an elongated grrrind.

            “Yes, sir . . . I--please forgive me if I have in any way--”

            “Five minutes,” the officer articulated. “You have five minutes to appropriate your property. Not because it’s property-specific. But because you’ve been warned.”

            “I--”

            “Four minutes, Mr. Maven. Move it.”

            The grrrind became a gnawing, tearing scream! Maven turned. His Mercedes was being dragged up the spine of a Grabby’s Tow truck!

            The officer shook his head balefully. “No parking in the street. You know that, Mr. Maven. I am, due to your circumstances, waiving the curb infraction. You may reclaim your vehicle from Venal’s Tow.” He patted Maven’s shoulder. “Have a nice day.”

            The other car’s door swung open and a female officer emerged. Pretty little thing. She charged up like a bouncer on a bad night.

            “Are we having trouble here, Officer Wyatt?”

            “He has three minutes,” said Wyatt.

            She turned on Maven, her expression fierce. “What is your problem, sir?”

            “Two.”

            “I . . . she . . . misunder--”

            “One minute.”

            Bunny wailed from an upstairs window.

            The female officer got right in Maven’s face. “Sir, I need you to place your hands behind your back.”

            “Let’s go,” Wyatt said. “It’s domestic. He’s locked out.”

            The officers returned to their respective vehicles. Wyatt leaned over his car’s roof. “Your minute’s up, Mr. Maven. Get an attorney.” The head disappeared. The cars drove off. Bunny slammed the upstairs window.

            Maven knelt to his pile like a sinner at an altar. His eyes fell on a shopping cart with a broken wheel, resting half on the curb. Maven used this cart to hold his belongings. He looked around for a place to store it. The garage would only open from without by way of the Mercedes’ dash sounder. There was a tool shed out back, and Maven had the key, although technically using the yard might be construed as entering the premises. As though reading his mind, that female officer nosed her patrol car around the corner.

            Maven grimly jerked his cart along the sidewalk, not daring to look back. First thing was to get the Mercedes back. There was room in the trunk, with a little creative stuffing, for both the cart’s and the office’s articles. He’d find a decent hotel. Hell, he’d sleep in the damn car if he had to--Maven’s will was returning with each forced jerk of that dragging front wheel. The car continued to pace him, slowly loitering a hundred yards back. It grew on Maven:  he was going to be cited for shopping cart theft; he could feel it. Just to screw him deeper. The female officer probably sided with Bunny, probably profiled Maven solely from the context of a thousand spousal abuse calls. He hunched his shoulders and gritted his teeth as he lurched along, his glasses hanging at an angle. Maven wobbled around the corner and down the short block leading to the pedestrian tunnel adjoining Parasite Park. He was forcing the officer’s hand:  she’d have to stop him now if she meant business. The car halted in the intersection and sat idling as he shook his way into the unlit, graffiti-riddled tunnel. The car moved on and Maven heaved a sigh of relief.

            “What you doing with my cart, man?”

            Maven squinted at the blur. He adjusted his glasses. There was more than one blur; several, actually, and they were moving to block a retreat.

            “Yours?” Maven wondered. “My apologies. A misunder--”

            “Tell you what, homey;” said the first blur, now shaping up as a rather large individual with a shaved and tattooed head, “I’m sick of the damned thing. So what I’m gonna do is sell it to you, see?”

            Maven was thrown into a headlock from behind. His arms were restrained, his wallet removed. The first individual straightened Maven’s tie and fluffed his hair. “On second thought, I’m gonna let you keep it. Like I said, I’m sick of the thing.”

            Only the cart at his waist prevented Maven from dropping to his knees. “Take the cash! I don’t care; just leave me my credit cards. They’re no good to you!”

            The tattooed man grinned. “Are you kidding?” He flashed the cards like a straight flush. “Better than cash!”

            “My I.D.!” Maven wailed.

            The man shook his head. “My I.D.”

            And they were gone, swallowed up in the dark tunnel before the el.

            Maven stood there in shock for a good five minutes. When he surfaced he realized the worst thing he could do was lose track of his wallet. That lady cop might still be nearby, perhaps even now watching the tunnel from the park side, waiting for him to exit. If Maven could finger those thugs while the crime was still hot he’d be back in business. He pushed the cart shuffling, licking his lips eagerly.

            Maven rounded the tunnel’s el and daylight hit him like a fist. The park appeared deserted. As the window of visibility grew he found himself slowing, knowing the worst. He stepped out into a park abounding with litter, gang graffiti, and dog waste. But no people.

            Make that one person. At Maven’s feet was an old homeless man with one leg, a can of Steel 211, and an empty smile. “That’s a nice cart, friend!”

            And Maven was in tears. He dropped on his butt by the old man, accepted a drink. “Don’t be so down,” the homeless man crooned. “Things’ll get better.” He admired Maven’s suit. “B’sides, you look like you do all right for yourself. What’s your racket?”

            “Welfare adjuster,” Maven moaned. “Ex.”

            “Then what’s to worry? You know the system.”

            Maven sat right up and stared at the old man. Gummy or not, that was the sweetest smile he’d ever seen.

 

 

            At nine sharp Maven stood in the welfare office doorway at Duke and Falwell. He was unshaven and hadn’t bathed. He’d slept in his clothes and gone without breakfast. But he’d never felt so alive.

            “Can I help you, sir?” asked the guard, a ruddy, heavyset man with a crewcut and thinning brown moustache. Maven looked at his nametag--BUFORD--then at the rows of staring white faces. He smiled toothily.

            “Ah comes to sign in on da sign-in!”

            “Sir?” The guard was obviously miffed; he could feel the quiet faces watching intently. “Do you have an appointment, sir?”

            “Ah gots a ’pointment wit yo mama.”

            The light brown eyes turned umber. Buford said through his teeth, “Sir, I’m afraid there’s been some sort of misunder--”

            “Well, if that don’t beat all!”

            “Get the hell out of here--”

            “Oh, yeah?”

            “--just keep your stupid a*s on the street where it belongs--”

            “Say what?

            “--and never darken our door again.”

            Maven rolled his eyes. “Excuse me? Did you say never ‘darken’ your door?”

            “You heard me.”

            “Bufie, does the name Harvey Gerbilstein mean anything to you?”

            “No, sir, it most certainly does not!”

            Maven faced the street and bent at the waist, offering his scruff and rear. “Then let’s get this train a’rollin’.”

 

http://ronsandersatwork.com

 

ronsandersartofprose@yahoo.com


© 2010 Ron Sanders



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Added on October 22, 2010
Last Updated on December 9, 2010
Tags: story, balancing bears, equality, racial bullshit, does you wuv Harry Potter?

Author

Ron Sanders
Ron Sanders

Marina del Rey, CA



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L.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..

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A Story by Ron Sanders