My old man got me this summer job because I’m an English major, a vegetarian, and Adrift, or so he thinks. He’s worried that after spending Big Bucks to send me to a private college I’ll end up back home, mooching off of him and Mom. He’s concerned that I’ll knock up this girl, Chloe, I hang with, get busted for doping with my friends, or have a car accident that leaves me disfigured for life, or worse yet, inflicts harm on a third party for an amount that exceeds his umbrella liability coverage.
My old man thinks I need character, real-world experience, and toughening up of the sort that’s made him The Man He Is Today, so he’s hooked me up with this supplier of his. Ron’s what my old man calls a Real Straight Shooter and Family Man. He drives a refrigerated truck and delivers frozen meats to supermarkets throughout Western North Carolina including the chain of grocery stores my old man owns. Ron sets out after midnight, picks up product at a couple of processing plants, and goes about his route. He calls his little business Refrigeration King.
Make no mistake, Ron’s The King.
He swings by my old man’s big brick house and picks me up before sunrise. I’m normally not an early riser, but I’ve come to enjoy the quiet out here by the mailbox; no professors breathing down your neck, no parents telling you to pick up your shit, no other kids staring at you like you’ve suddenly turned into a zombie. It’s just me and the music from my iPhone until Ron arrives and another day begins.
“Hey, Ace, hop in.”
Ron’s in his mid-30s, short and squat. He smokes cigars and listens to country music on the radio. If he’s not talking, he’s singing along. By the time he picks me up, he’s flying high on speed. After breakfast we take things down a notch with the case of beer he keeps in back. Ron can balance a cold one between his belly and the steering wheel and never miss a turn.
We hit markets large and small, wheeling and dealing. Ron buys product from the supplier, then cuts deals to make a profit. A True Entrepreneur.
“Listen to me, Tiger. You wanna make a buck, you gotta have an angle.”
One of our angles is reselling frozen chickens that have thawed and languished too long in one grocer’s meat locker to another grocer at a discount. We wash off the mold and promote them as fresh chickens. You can do the same with packaged baloney and sausage. If the stuff gets really bad, we grind it up and sell it for ham salad.
My old man doesn’t have a clue.
Ron’s got other angles, too. He’s taught me how to remove sell-by dates and apply more favorable dates, how to manipulate scales, and change prices per pound. It’s all about staying one step ahead of the weights and measures man.
Aside from the angles, I’m learning other stuff from Ron. Like how extraterrestrials have penetrated the CIA, how Jews are behind the decline of the dollar, and how FEMA is secretly disappearing people into concentration camps. I’m learning that even happily-married men, like Ron, can fool around on their wives without remorse, and that the straightest-looking Little Gals working behind meat counters in country markets will fuck for fun in coolers, alleys, and the back of refrigerated trucks.
“This stays between us, Junior.”
Ron also offers plenty of advice on my personal love life. “Listen, Slick, it’s not the size of your dick that matters, it’s that Pile-Driving Ass behind it that makes ’em scream.” Ron says what women really want is for a man to take charge and give it to them hard and fast. He says that if I don’t slip Chloe my kielbasa soon, someone else will beat me to it, and she’ll drop me faster than a buffalo dropping its load.
But Ron has his softer side, too. I’m nearing the end of this gig, when one drunken, blubbery sunset, parked not far off the Blue Ridge Parkway, he confides that in high school the boys in the shower room called him Needle Dick the Bug Fucker, which I suppose is why he puts such stock in his pile-driving ass. He claims I’m the only person he’s ever shared this with. Something else he tells me is that his mother was a slut, bringing home a different guy every weekend, most of them the worst trailer trash losers you can imagine. Then, he says, “Now it’s your turn. You can tell me anything, anything at all. We’re that close, Dude.”
But we ride home in silence. I’ve already confessed that I’ve never even kissed Chloe, much less slipped her my kielbasa, that I’m pretty sure the world doesn’t need another English major, and that my greatest fear is that if I can’t make it on my own, I’ll have to work in one of my old man’s supermarkets. I have no other secrets, unless you count the porn on my computer.
It’s been a long day, and after Ron drops me off I’m ready for bed. There’s a problem, though, because my old man is waiting at the end of the drive. He smells like the produce department of a grocery store and wants to know how things are going.
Ron flashes a grin. “Kid’s a keeper. A fast learner and a hard worker.”
My old man thanks Ron for taking me on, and we start down the long drive, fireflies flickering around the edges. The night air is heavy with good intentions and lost opportunities.
“We haven’t talked much this summer,” my old man says.
No, Dad, we haven’t talked at all.
A lawyer by background, Gary V. Powell currently spends most of his time writing and wrangling an 11-year-old son. His stories have appeared at Pithead Chapel, Prime Number, Fiction Southeast, Carve, and other online and print publications. In addition, several of his stories have placed or been selected as finalists in national contests. Most recently, his story “Super Nova” received an Honorable Mention in the Press 53 2012 Awards. His first novel, Lucky Bastard, is currently available through Main Street Rag Press.