$12,000 Loan
Author: Jay Molina

Chapter 2
The Ghetto Chop Experience

The Ghetto Chop Experience

 

“Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

- The Beatles in Strawberry Fields Forever

            Miles Stewart has finished his cleaning.  All 150 or so empty Keystone light cans that were scattered around the apartment now peacefully rest in three plastic garbage bags lying next to the garbage can.  Miles is always amazed by some of the random locations of empty beer cans, JMo being the usual culprit. Today there was one in the shower, nowhere near where the party was taking place.  Miles just concluded that JMo decided he needed a drink while getting clean for the party.  His assumption was correct.

            The floors have been mopped and the carpet vacuumed.  The table near the couch that was littered with beer cans is now very clean, all the magazines arranged in a neat stack below a pair of books.  Just looking at the two coffee table books gives you an idea of the difference between the two inhabitants.  One of the books has a guy in a cowboy hat on the cover.  The title reads, Trace Adkins: A Personal Stand.  It is a book of the opinions of some country music star.   The other book contains short existential poems and has Tao Te Ching on the cover above a yin yang symbol.  Two very different books on the same table.

            Miles has even lined up the air freshener, bong, and bottle of hot sauce, for aesthetic appeal.  Now he grabs a wash rag and spray bottle of disinfectant as he wipes down the beer coated table and counter tops.  He pauses, takes a step back and looks at his work.  Complete satisfaction.  You can barely see his eyes with the brim of his camouflage hunting hat pulled down low.  There’s a soft, low rumble.  It’s his stomach.  He goes to the kitchen and opens the refrigerator door to inspect.

            The back door crashes open and slams shut.  Not expecting anyone so early in the morning, a startled Miles goes to check who it is.  JMo’s back on the couch in the same position he was in 5 minutes prior, except this time with two shoes on instead of one.  “What do we got?” asks Miles, one of his several grammatically incorrect trademark sayings.  Miles at times can be like an action figure from the 90’s, pull a string and out will come 1 of 5 sayings.

            “Can’t do it, man,” is JMo’s muffled response, face planted in the old couch cushion.  “Feel like shit, seeing double.  I feel so shitty I can’t even sleep right now, that would require way too much effort.”

            “Mehh,” is all Miles offers in a high-pitched voice, another one of his sayings.  Thinking of what to do next Miles spots the can-filled garbage bags.  “Yo, cans?”  Before the question mark is dotted JMo is up on his feet, again showing years of football training.

            “It’s can day?” JMo asks in the exact same manner a child would ask, “Is it time to open presents yet?” on Christmas morning.  “How many do we have?” He has found energy now.

            “Three bags full,” Miles proudly replies, as if it is some great accomplishment.

            “No way, three bags!?”  JMo’s voice cracks because his throat has not quite recovered from smoking the previous night.  It was a weekly ritual for JMo and Miles to take all the empty beer cans saved from throughout the week and recycle them for 5 cents a can.  They’d usually make about 6-7 dollars a week, which gives you an idea of how much beer was drank in their house.  Even though they’d each spend about 20 bucks a week on alcohol, they felt as though they were making money. 

            “But can we take your car?  I don’t want any beer excess leaking onto my car.”  Miles asks more as a formality, not seriously.  He already knows the answer.

            “Do we have to? We always take my car and it always gets messy. Plus my dad cleaned it for me last time I was home so I don’t want to mess it up.”  Miles doesn’t say anything, this dialogue has happened before.  “Nevermind, I’ll drive.  My car’ll be dirty soon enough, might as well get it over with.”  JMo locates his keys on the table placed on top of the magazine stack.  He picks up the bong and once again inspects to see if there’s anything left, forgetting that he already did this before attempting to go to class.  One of the effects of smoking marijuana is short-term memory loss.  “Nope, nothing left.” 

            “That’s a shame,” remarks Miles right on cue, as if someone pulled the imaginary string on his back.

            JMo licks his lips and then the inside of his cheek, “Damn, I got cottonmouth like a mutha fucka.”  He goes to the corner of the ‘dining room’ where there is a large 5-gallon Gatorade cooler the two of them stole from the athletic department.  They like to have a constant supply of Gatorade ready to be dispensed at the push of a button.  JMo places a cup underneath the spout and pushes the button, but only a few purple drops come out.  “Goddamn it, we’re out of Gatorade.”  They weren’t actually out of Gatorade.  One night at the beginning of the semester the two (quite stoned at the time), made the impulsive decision to order 50 pounds of an obscure Gatorade flavor in powder form.  They would have enough Gatorade for a long time, it just needed to be added to water.

            “Just make a new batch.”

            “Nah, that would require too much effort.”

            “Oh, there should be some poured into a water bottle,” Miles realizes.  JMo looks around the fridge and spots a Poland Spring bottle filled with bright purple liquid.

            “Why is it in a different bottle?  It looks real sketchy, dude,” JMo asks as he takes the bottle and analyzes it a little closer.

            “It’s fine, I just poured it into that bottle so I could bring it to class, but then changed my mind,” Miles assures.  That’s all the assurance JMo needs.  It’s pretty incredible how much power and control the mind has on the body, for if JMo knew there was a decent amount of vodka in the drink he would’ve gagged after a sip.  But he didn’t know.  He gets a couple large gulps down before his taste buds relay the message to his brain.  JMo spits out what’s in his mouth onto the floor, but it’s too late, the damage had been done.  JMo was already hungover and was expecting the refreshing, replenishing flavor of Riptide Rush.  Instead he got the burn and subsequent gag reflex of cheap vodka, his least favorite drink.  Without thinking JMo immediately hurls the opened, half-full (from an optimists point of view) bottle at Miles, although none of the liquid manages to get on Miles.

            “What the fuck man!? What was that!?” Miles doesn’t understand what has happened.  JMo is hunched over coughing now, trying to keep the Gatorade/vodka mix down.  He holds up his index finger, asking Miles for a moment.  JMo composes himself and stands back upright.

            “FUCK.  YOU…You are an asshole.” JMo says calmly, but with a fire in his eyes that shows his half Sicilian side.  “You are an asshole,” he repeats for dramatic effect.

            “What?  Why?”  Miles asks very defensively, in a convincing enough manner for JMo to back off.

            “There was vodka in that, dude.  A lot of it.”  JMo puts his fist to his upper chest like an old man with heartburn in order to try and hold it down.  “Fuck, I hate vodka”.  Heavy drinkers always have their one drink that is their kryptonite.  And it’s almost always the first drink that caused them to throw up.  The body becomes adverse to that specific drink, and your taste buds have small post-traumatic flashbacks when you have it.  Whether it’s your first drink of the night or your tenth, it’s always tough to take your kryptonite drink.  For JMo that drink was vodka.

            “I didn’t know that.  Someone must have added the vodka last night during the party.  Sorry, man. Although you didn’t have to chug it like a pig. You should taste something that’s in a sketchy bottle before gulping it down,”  Miles says, as if this was common sense.  “You understand about the testing it out?”  JMo stares in disbelief, speechless.

            “But you told me it was fine.  What the fuck, dude?”

            “Mehh,” replies Miles, meaning the debate is over.  “Let’s go.”  JMo can’t tell whether or not Miles knew about the vodka and probably never will, but he’ll always hold it against him.  He picks up two of the garbage bags and leads the way from the downstairs to the front door, which requires going up a few steps.  Miles picks up the last garbage bag and follows, grabbing his camouflage hunting jacket as he does.  The dynamic duo burst through the front door out to the parking lot in front of the house. 

            You could spot JMo’s Nissan Altima from a mile away.  It was the only car in the parking lot parked horribly off-kilter, so much so that the space to the left of the Altima was unavailable because the nose of the car was protruding it.  It had been like that for a week.  On the registration card the car color read grey, but it was really more of a stone color.  Although at the moment you wouldn’t be able to tell, being it was covered with several inches of snow.  The car was long overdue for a wash.  Salt from the roads deposited by snowplows stained the wheels and lower half of the car.  Dried, brown leaves leftover from the fall were stuck in the nook between the hood and the windshield wipers.

            JMo pops open the trunk using his remote key and throws the garbage bags into his trunk behind his baseball gloves.  Miles follows suit.  They didn’t have a snow brush, so JMo takes an old jacket out of his trunk; he didn’t plan on wearing it again because he had his new favorite jacket now.  JMo uses the jacket to wipe the snow off his front windshield.  The two simultaneously open their respective car doors and sit down.  JMo puts in the key and turns, the engine tries to start but doesn’t.  He attempts it again, same result.  “What do we got?” worries Miles, afraid they might have to take his car.  JMo tries one more time, holding the turn a little longer this time.

            “Come on, baby, you can do it.”  With perfect timing, as if his Altima can actually hear him, the car starts.  “Oh yea!  To the Ghetto Chop.”  There were two Price Chopper grocery stores in town and the closest one to campus was located in the ‘ghetto’ part of town, hence the name.  They had recycling machines there.  The car windows are completely covered with snow, allowing no visibility whatsoever.  JMo rolls down his driver side window, hoping the snow will just slide off.  Instead, the snow remains, creating the appearance of a ‘window’ of snow.  “It’s beautiful,” remarks JMo, amazed that the snow is standing on its own.  The moment he says this the pane of snow collapses in, right onto JMo’s lap.  Miles lets out a burst of laughter.  A little perturbed, JMo rolls down the passenger window, which causes the snow covering Miles’s window to collapse onto his lap.  “Not so funny now?” responds JMo, in between chuckles.  JMo turns on the car radio.  Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles begins to blast over the speakers.  JMo backs his car out of the space and pulls onto the main road that loops around campus.  As he turns his car the wooded rosary beads hanging from his rear view mirror swing side to side.  Moments after making the turn the two of them spot a girl wearing a fancy pink scarf walking along the side of the road.  Before passing the girl JMo rolls down his driver-side window and yells “Hey nice scarf!”  The girl gives a slight head turn and a little smile, thinking it was a compliment.  “Not!” he yells a little louder and puts his window back up, “I feel like such a different person when I’m driving.  That’s never something I would do in a million years, but for some reason I just got the urge to yell at her.  I guess it’s because I don’t care if I look stupid because I can speed away right after.”  Miles chuckles silently.

            “Since when do you care about looking stupid?”

            “Touché.”  The Altima makes a right at three-way intersection to leave the campus and head for town.  There was a fresh layer of snow all around the area, a few inches of accumulation.  “When was it supposed to snow?  The weatherman didn’t say anything about that.”

            “Oh, I’ve had it with the weatherman,” shouts Miles over the blaring music.  “What other profession are you allowed to be wrong more than half the time and get congratulated!?”  Miles tends to get heated over the small things in life.  “Being a weatherman is the only job where you get to try and predict the future and not be considered a loon.”

            “Yeah, what the fuck’s with the 10-day forecast?” chimes JMo, who’s got one hand on the wheel and cruising down roads parallel to campus.

            “Don’t even get me started on the 10-day forecast! The weatherman seriously thinks he can stand there with a stupid smile on his face and try to pretend that he knows what’s gonna happen 10 days from now!”

            JMo giggles, he’s always amused by Miles’s rants.  So much so that he tries to provoke him sometimes.  “Ha.  And I’m tired of when the weatherman uses percentages.”  He stops the car at a stoplight.  “Yea, there’s going to be a 40% chance of rain tomorrow,” he says trying to imitate a weatherman.  Miles wags his finger a couple times at JMo, their accepted sign they use to mean ‘you’re on to something.’

            “Back in my day the weatherman would predict like a man!  He’d either say it’s gonna rain, or it’s not gonna rain.  None of this percentage shit.”  Miles talks like an old man, even though he’s yet to reach 20 years of age.  A car horn sounds from behind them.  JMo looks up to see the light is green, so he steps on the gas.  “Imagine if an accountant went to his boss and said, ‘Uh there’s 40% chance we’re over our budget’.  Done! He’d be fired like that!”  Miles ends his tirade as he sees that they’ve arrived at the store.

            JMo spots an open parking spot very close to the store, but it is a very tight fit, so he says, “Think I can make it?”

            “No way, it’s too tight, just go over there,” says Miles, pointing to the back end of the parking lot.

            “I’m going for it!”  JMo turns and without hesitation pulls perfectly into the parking spot.  There is only about a foot in between each car.  They try to open their doors, but the doors slam against the adjacent cars, unable to open more than a foot.  Miles, being the slim individual he is gets up and is able to slide through the crack, and out of the car.  JMo is a thicker individual, to put it kindly.  He gets up to exit the car and becomes wedged in the small opening.  But he is persistent, he sucks in his gut and slowly wiggles back and forth, finally freeing himself of the trap. 

            Miles and JMo enter the store with their bags of cans.  The recycling machines are right near the entrance of the store, so immediately the two go to work.  They begin inserting cans into the machine, can by can.  50 or so cans into their work they begin another one of their conversations.  “Dude, I’m having a crisis right now.  Look at these pit stains,” orders Miles, lifting up his arm to show the circular sweat stain on the armpit of his t-shirt.  “I’ve been using the same brand of deodorant for 6 years and we never had any problems.  Now all of a sudden I’ve been sweating like a pig.  What do I do?  Do I switch brands?”  This is a genuine concern for Miles Stewart.

            “Maybe your stick is past its expiration date?” offers JMo as he slides another can into the machine, which scans the can’s barcode and then flattens it into scrap metal.

            “Can deodorant go bad?”  Miles has already stopped trying to help JMo with the cans by this point because they are getting near the bottom of the bag where it is quite messy.  “Is it possible that the deodorant is more effective near the top of the stick, and decreases as you get lower?”

            “Maybe your skin adapts to the same deodorant brand.  Like when people who drink a lot of coffee don’t feel the caffeine as much,” says JMo with his face half covered in the tall, black garbage bag.  All the drops of beer leftover from each can have accumulated to form a disgusting pool of old beer at the bottom of the bag.  JMo rolls up his sleeves and keeps grabbing can after can.  His left shoulder starts to burn from performing the repetitive motion over and over again.  “Try switching to a different brand.”

            “I can’t just switch brands, then I’d have to research the different brands and ugh, it’s a whole thing,” refutes Miles.  The two are starting to draw looks from shoppers near them, mainly the elderly (who else would be shopping in the morning on a weekday), who are perplexed by the ridiculous conversation.  JMo tries to slide one of the few remaining cans into the machine but it gets rejected because it’s a little crumpled.  “What?  You’re too good for this can?” Miles barks at the machine. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to,” he says to no one in particular, referring to the machine.  A very petite old lady slowly rolling by in a motorized shopping cart looks at the boys and shakes her head in disgust.

            “Shouldn’t you boys be in school?” she asks the boys, but doesn’t stop pushing her cart.  The lady was just interested in making her point, not so much in getting an answer.  Miles waits until she gets out of range.

            “Shouldn’t you be dead?”  Miles says quietly enough to make sure no one else heard.  JMo tries not to laugh, knowing it was as cruel a joke as there is, but he can’t hold it in.  Whenever you try to hold a laugh in but can’t, it usually comes out twice as loud.  He loses it.  JMo’s high pitched laugh carries throughout the store, loud enough for the hard of hearing elderly woman to look back and again shake her head in disgust.  JMo’s laughter combined with the old lady’s reaction cause Miles to laugh out loud as well.  After a few more seconds of holding his round belly and silently laughing, JMo composes himself and throws the last couple cans into the machine.

“Seven –thirty!” JMo yells enthusiastically.  “A new high total!” He starts to do a goofy little dance, a combination of the Monkey and the Robot, performed with a disco style as he turns in a circle.

“Ya done?” asks Miles.  JMo takes the piece of paper from the machine and starts walking towards the cashiers.

“Maybe you don’t have to switch deodorant brands, just the scent,” tries JMo, his mind not yet done with the deodorant discussion.

“Mehh.”  Discussion over.  “Maam,” Miles greets the cashier and gives a little head nod as he and JMo approach.  JMo hands the cashier the little slip of paper and immediately gets distracted by the collection of gum related products sold by the register.

“They have mint flavored Chap Stick!?” JMo proclaims.  “Aw, I wish I had that.”

“So get it,” says Miles in a parental voice, “Use the can money, they’re only like a dollar.”

“I’m already working on a strawberry stick.”  JMo reaches into one of his jean’s pockets and takes out the strawberry Chap Stick, showing Miles.  Since he has it out, he applies a fresh coat to his lips.

“What, you can’t have two Chap Sticks?”

“Dude,” JMo says while he slowly shakes his head and looks down at the ground. Then he looks to the cashier, as if to say, ‘Should you explain it or should I?’  The cashier is just standing there, holding out seven dollars and thirty cents, and very annoyed.  JMo doesn’t notice so he turns back to Miles.  “I can’t be juggling two Chap Sticks at once.  It’s next to impossible.  Chap Sticks are like girlfriends.  When you start a stick you make a commitment, and you’ve gotta see it through until it’s done. If you try and juggle two at once you’ve got to remember where both are at all times and you always end up losing one.”  The cashier places the cash down on the counter and leaves to take her cigarette break.  “You need an IQ of at least 120 to try and have two Chap Sticks at the same time, and that my friend I do not think I am capable of.”

“Ya done?” Miles wasn’t really listening.  He remembers JMo going on about how Chap Sticks are like girlfriends, but not much more than that.  The two of them never really listen to each other when one of them goes on a rant.  That’s probably the reason why they’re able to stay friends without driving each other absolutely crazy. They collect their seven dollars and thirty cents and try to split it up.  But the cashier gave them a five dollar bill and two singles, not exactly divisible between two.  JMo puts the five in his pocket and hands Miles the $2.30.  “Whoa, whoa, whoa.  Was your elementary school math teacher a crack addict?”

“No, but the way I see it I bought two-thirds of the cans, drank two-thirds of the cans, and put about two-thirds of the cans into the machine.  So I’ll take two-thirds of the money.”  Sound reasoning by JMo.  They exit the store and proceed into the parking lot.  “What are you gonna do with your half of the money?” asks JMo.  The best part of can day is spending your ‘winnings’.

“Half? You mean the scraps of change you just gave me?” snaps Miles.

            “Yo, we haven’t smoked a blunt in a long time.  Let’s go buy some cheap cigars and roll a fat blunt.”  JMo is excited at how his day is turning out.  Not an hour ago he thought he would be spending 4 hours of his day in a room without windows.  “You in?”

            “Saddle up partner.”

 

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