he was brought up to look out for himself and not be a parasite.
he studied hard and graduated from high school, without having to repeat a single year.
he respected his teachers.
he particularly respected the police and firefighters who kept law-abiding citizens safe.
but what he really respected was soldiers and other service persons - the brave men and women, those in the past and those in the present, who fought to keep america free.
about the only thing that made him mad was hearing hippies and liberals - or anybody at all - criticize or make fun of police or soldiers. the police and soldiers who were putting their lives on the line to keep them safe and free.
rick had a hard time finding a job when he graduated from high school.
he lived with his mom, ellen, and her sister, his aunt grace, in a three bedroom apartment.
rick's bedroom was very small.
the whole apartment was small. especially when all three of them were home.
rick wanted to get a job so he could buy a laptop and watch shows on it with earplugs on and tune out ellen and grace.
he had a little radio but most of what was on it bored him and sometimes gave him a headache.
for years grace made more money than ellen and paid more of the rent.
ellen worked at burger king. before that she had worked as a waitress at little diners.
grace worked at an insurance company . then she got laid off. she collected unemployment but from the first day she was laid off she went every day to look for work.
she was absolutely determined not to go on welfare. her determination not to go on welfare, and her contempt for people who did - became her main topics of conversation.
she wanted to do the same kind of work - data entry - that she had done at the insurance company but such jobs were drying up as everybody in the world could use a computer themselves as easy as talking on the phone.
rick thought grace was o k, but sometimes he got sick of hearing her always complaining.
sometimes there were four people hanging around the apartment, because grace had a friend named janet, from the job she had been laid off from, and janet would come over sometimes and she and grace would shoot the shit and gossip about the people at the workplace.
janet always pretended to be sympathetic to grace and was polite to rick and ellen but there was one thing about janet that made rick uncomfortable. she was black!
rick did not like black people. he didn't like the way they thought they owned the world. maybe janet wasn’t one hundred percent like other black people - she had a job at least - but that didn’t mean rick had to like her.
rick thought that the reason grace got laid off and janet stayed on must be because janet was black. he ventured to say so to grace one time and grace just looked at him like he was some kind of idiot, and said, no, it was because janet had more seniority.
rick wasn’t buying it. but if that was the way grace wanted to see it, what could he say?
but what about all the other white people who were losing their jobs just because they were white? what about them?
rick had one friend. well, he was sort of a friend. they didn't see each other all that much, but when they did eddie - that was the sort of friend's name - always smiled and said hello.
eddie was a counterman at the little diner ellen used to work at - not a chain like mcdonalds but just a little diner - one of the last of its kind - that rick sometimes dropped in on for a cup of coffee when he was out looking for a job.
one day around eleven in the morning rick went into the diner. the place was empty except for eddie.
eddie was leaning on the counter reading a book.
rick had never been much of a reader, but he asked eddie what the the book was about.
eddie picked the book off the counter so rick could see it.
the book was titled - “the life and death of adolf hitler”.
he had lost fenderson - one of the company’s oldest accounts.
it had been a hard struggle to try to retain it, but he lost it in the end.
mike barber, his supervisor, had been sympathetic. the loss was on mike too.
now it looked like they would not meet their goals - for the third straight month!
what could you do?
but no matter how tough things were at work, larry was always glad when the day was over.
in this as in many other things, larry was like most people.
now, as he strode into the gathering dusk toward the railroad station where he would board the 6:20 train, larry felt a pleasant twinge of anticipation about the grilled cheese and tomato sandwich he would make for himself at home, and about the reruns of star trek and the twilight zone and the golden universe he would watch.
and the coors light or two or three he would gratefully savor.
he heard a voice behind him - “billy! billy jensen!”
as larry’s name was not billy jensen, he did not turn around.
the voice got a bit louder. “billy! hey, billy!”
but, again, as larry’s name was not billy jensen, he did not turn around,
suddenly his right arm - the one carrying his briefcase - was seized from behind. not roughly, but decisively.
larry turned and looked into the eyes of a man he did recognize - a white man about his own age, a little heavier than himself, but if possible even more ordinary looking.
and with the slightest hint of thuggery in his eyes, which, however, seemed to fade as he addressed larry in a friendly enough tone.
“billy - don’t you recognize an old pal?”
“i am sorry, sir, but you have made a mistake. my name is not billy.” larry assumed that when he looked the ordinary-looking man right in the face he would realize his mistake.
but he did not. “come on, billy, don’t be that way. i’m not blaming you for anything that happened back in the day. that’s all over with.” and he jabbed larry in the chest in a friendly way.
larry was not disturbed by this encounter. he thought it mildly amusing, if anything. although night had fallen, they were surrounded by people - mostly white people in suits leaving their jobs in the office district, the older ones headed home and the younger ones headed for the well-lit dating bars and sports bars that filled the area around the railroad station.
larry laughed, politely. “i don’t know what to tell you, my friend. i am not billy, and that is all there is to it.”
the stranger looked a little hurt by larry’s rebuff. “all, right, if you insist.” he moved a little closer to larry, but that could be because so many people were streaming by on either side of them. “but if you are not billy, who are you?”
ah-ha! thought larry. this is just some scam. does he think i am going to give him my social security number or credit card number?
aloud he said, “my name is lawrence miller. i work for the taj mahal title insurance corporation. “ he took a card from the pocket of his overcoat and handed it to the stranger. “if you are ever in the market for some title insurance.”
the man took it and glanced at it. “thank you.”
“and your name?” larry asked politely.
a little bit of the mean look came back in the man’s eyes. “mitch. mitch philips.”
“nice to meet you, mitch.”
“and it’s nice meeting you - lawrence.”
“larry. everybody calls me larry.” with a little wave, larry turned and walked away.
when he had gone a block and a half, he looked back.
mitch philips was nowhere to be seen.
larry settled back in his seat on the train.
what a day!
not one, but two things - not exactly exciting things, but two actual things - had happened in one day!
he had lost the fenderson account - of which he would hear more later, so no use thinking about it now.
and then the strange encounter with “mitch philips” - of whom he was sure he had seen the last.
he took the newspaper out of his briefcase. he never read the news, not even the sports news, he just did the crossword and the other little puzzles.