Giant Robot Store and GR2 News

(Art by spoon+fork.)

When I got off the New Jersey Transit train, Johnson honked twice from his car and popped open the passenger door.

“Where’s the old sedan?” I asked.

“That was a piece of junk,” he said.  “I think they sunk it in the harbor to give the fish a new place to play.”  He looked me over carefully.  “Have you put on weight?”

“I eat more than I used to,” I said.  “I have more money than I ever had in my entire life.”

“I hope you’re saving some.  This city eats money as fast as you can feed it.”

“You are right about that, man.”

“LaVerne treating you right?”

“Yeah, I can’t complain.  It’s the most serious job I ever had.  I iron my shirts now!”

“I hope you stay on the straight path from here on out because I like you.  I want you to know, Sean, a lot of times I had to pretend to be mean.”

“I understand.”

“What’s that you’re reading?”

“Oh, it’s a mystery book.  I found it on the train.  I can see why they left it.”

“What did you think about the reading program when you were in jail?”

“The reading program?  Well, the library was great.”

“Yeah, those library books!  Did you hear the news that some communist groups have been filling prison libraries with their propaganda books and they had people on the inside who made sure they were distributed?”

“Was it illegal?”

“No, since the books were being donated, but the Church groups are hopping mad.  They’ve filed a lawsuit for equal shelf space.”

“That’s crazy!”

“It’s Jersey.  It’s standard operating procedure.”

“I don’t miss Jersey bullshit at all,” I said, surprising myself. “Any of it.”

“Naw, guess you don’t, ya city slicker!  Hey, you going to write a book?  Tell all about the whole drug thing?”

“I had thought about it.”


“Let’s just say I understand why people wait until everybody else is dead before they write what really happened.”

“Yeah, you want to see me drop dead,” said Johnson, nodding his head.  “But that’s not going to happen.  At least not tonight.”

“Thanks for the invite to stay over, but I have that business trip tomorrow.  LaVerne’s taking me to the Los Angeles office.”

“Ah, yeah.  First time on a plane for you.  I understand.  For the first time you’re gonna get high the natural way.”

“What’s it like flying?”

“Stop sounding like a kid.  At least, don’t ask none of these guys at the bar.  They’ll think you’re a pussy instead of a hero.”

When I walked into JJ’s, shouts went up from everyone in the bar.  For the second time, I was the only white person in there, but now everyone wanted to come up and clap me on the back and shake my hand.

The bartender Curly came from around the corner and gave me a hug.

“Come on over here, I wanna show you a little something,” he said, walking me back to a spot by the jukebox.  There was a framed picture of me from the Asbury Park Press.

“You’re the first white man on the wall!” he said with pride.

It was true.  There was room made for me between two ancient pictures of doo-wop groups.

“I didn’t do that much,” I said.

“You stopped that towel-headed, snake-charmer motherfucker from selling more drugs to black kids.  That’s plenty,” Curly said.

Johnson cleared his throat.

“Come on,” he said, putting an arm around the bartender, “let’s get this man some drinks.”

Curly took a pewter mug down from the wall and washed it out.

“I’m gonna let you drink out of the John Vandyne Heroes Cup!”

“Who’s John Vandyne?” I asked.

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(Art by spoon+fork.) A nice suit made me look sharp.  More importantly, it gave me confidence.  I’d never worn anything that gave me such a mental boost, apart from a protector cup.  I got my hair trimmed like Chuck told me, and before we got into the courtroom he took out a comb and tried to run it over me. I flinched and grabbed his arm. “Don’t give me your dandruff, Chuck!” “Hey, it’s not my comb.  I just bought it!” he said.  “Anyway, you can do your own hair, Sean.”  Chuck handed it over and I repaired myself. I got up on the stand and after they were done with the Bible, I got a good look at Mr. Aggarwal. He folded and unfolded his arms and shook his right leg.  The lapels of his shirt were uneven and the tie knot was mushy.  His eyes were downcast and only slightly open, like his mouth.  Sometimes he would rub his ears. Mrs. Aggarwal wasn’t around. I had both feet on the ground and I placed my hands on my knees.  I made the left and right fingers mirror each other in the same exact spot. Then I lied. I lied like a motherfucker. I had premonitions of what my testimony would be like.  I knew I wouldn’t be nervous.  I just pretended I was trying to get a girl to take a ride with me. It was Mr. Aggarwal I was unsure of.  I had a vision of him lunging at me with a knife, or maybe the same wrench that he used to kill Howard.  On TV they always kept the murder weapons on the evidence table, like they were daring the murderer to pick them up and fight their way out of the courtroom. But the wrench wasn’t there and because there wasn’t another camera angle to cut to, a sense of action was missing in the court.  I would have been incredibly bored if I weren’t testifying. Mr. Aggarwal was completely still with his head down. He looked like a boy preparing to meet the principal, not a man facing the death sentence.   We had a recess for lunch.  Chuck took me across the street to a lunch counter with a cracked-linoleum floor. “Sean, you’re doing great!” he told me.  “I think you missed your true calling.  You’re a natural actor!” “Oh, yeah.  So I’ve been told.” Chuck took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses with his tie.  I leaned into him and said: “I’m one fuck of a liar, aren’t I?” He looked at me strangely and when he put on his glasses I saw menace in his eyes. “Don’t say that,” he said, his voice as faint as a lead pipe scraping against a wall in a back alley.  “Don’t ever say that.” Chuck ordered a toasted plain bagel with nothing on it.  I got the tuna salad sandwich and a coffee.  I started with the chips first. “I’ve already got a...
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(Art by spoon+fork.) Chuck worked out a deal for me and they released me to my overheated apartment.  The first thing I did was go into the bathroom and feed my fish. I had been gone almost a week and was mildly worried I’d find him floating at the top.  He seemed hungry but normal.  I ran the water in the tub as I watched him eat.  I turned the fish food can over in my hand and read it for the first time.  I was shocked to see that the top ingredient was “fish meal.” I knew fish in the ocean ate each other, but I thought tame fish were too civilized to do the same.  Would goldfish eat the flakes if they knew what was in them? When the water was high enough, I undressed and got into the tub. The reason I couldn’t eat the veal sandwich, and why I felt a little sick seeing Mr. Johnson eat it, was that my fourth-grade teacher Ms. Daley showed us some pictures from a veal farm.  She had pictures of cramped stalls with no windows and said veal was the meat of baby cows who were fed very little and had their legs chained or broken so they couldn’t develop muscle and their meat stayed white and tender. She also had a picture of a dumpster that looked like it was filled with Corn Pops cereal.  But when you looked close, you saw that it was a pile of dead baby chickens.  The male chicks were thrown in the garbage and suffocated soon after they were born because they wouldn’t grow up to give as much meat as female chicks. About once a week, she’d give us another reason to be a vegetarian.  Some kids were throwing their bologna sandwiches in the trash. Then one day, instead of telling us about how bad our food was, she gave us all copies of “The Corduroy Road.”  After that, lunchmeat was okay again.  It hadn’t been a problem for me because I only had peanut butter, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Mrs. Daley went on quietly drinking a can of V8 with nuts and dried fruits on the side.  She didn’t even say anything when the boy in the back killed his first deer and brought in some venison for the whole class to try.  I remembered that the meat was tough and tasted like sweat. After a while the water in the tub grew cold and filmy.  I had to piss so I climbed out. I lay in bed naked for a while.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  It was going to be some time before the trial and my big show.  Until then I had to fight the urge to go to the hotel.  Mrs. Aggarwal wasn’t there anymore, but I wanted to walk around on the motel roof again.  We had had some good times together and it wasn’t just the pot, either.  I had never...
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(Art by spoon+fork.) The Jersey newspapers usually run national news in the front sections.  Apart from high-school sports and construction kickback busts, there was almost never any local news. Mr. Angrywall made the front covers of every newspaper that they let me have in my holding cell.  Only his name wasn’t “Angrywall.”  It was “Aggarwal.” He had been growing several different kinds of marijuana in a few of the rooms on the top floor.  Some varieties were new to the law-enforcement community. Which included James O’Keefe.  Turns out that wasn’t his real name.  His real name was Shawn Johnson.  He was a detective with the Narcotics Central Unit of the state.  I found out later that they had put Johnson on me because I was evaluated to be the most at risk of recidivism.  They wanted to see whom I would go to for more pot. My court-appointed lawyer was a joke.  He was a nervous Oriental guy named Chuck Shu. Yeah, I’m not kidding. He encouraged me to “remember” some sort of story of how I saw Howard regularly get pot from Mr. Angrywall. “Better yet,” he said, “say you went with Howard to buy pot from Mr. Aggarwal.” “Chuck,” I told him, “I didn’t see shit.  I have no idea where Howard got his pot from.” “You’ve been apprehended in another drug-related crime, Sean.  Under your prior conviction, that’s an, ah, automatic three-year sentence.” “So you want me to lie?” “Oh, no, no, no — don’t lie.  But think harder.  You might have forgotten.  It could be suppressed deep down.  If you can remember a certain scenario, and testify against Mr. Aggarwal, I can probably get you an immunity deal.” “That means no time at all for me?” “Yes.  It could even make you a local hero.  Mr. Aggarwal was found to have an extraordinary amount of marijuana plants and, ah, associated paraphernalia.” “What kind of sentence is Mr. Angrywall looking at?” “Probably 20 to 25 years.  Ultimately, it could be reduced to 10, I think.” “They wouldn’t deport him to India?” “He’s a naturalized American citizen.  They won’t deport him.  Can’t, in fact.” “What about Mrs. Angrywall?” “Mrs. Aggarwal hasn’t been charged.” “What’s going to happen to her?” “I guess she’ll be visiting her husband on the weekends, heh.”   In my holding cell, I got back into reading, but not books.  They let me have newspapers every day with the classified sections and personal ads left out. They were saying Mr. Aggarwal may have been the sole source of the strong marijuana that was going around grade schools in Monmouth and Ocean Counties. An editorial in the Asbury Park Press said that “Raj Aggarwal should have used his knowledge and intelligence for good, not evil.” Some Indian kids had been beaten in school.  One badly enough to be hospitalized. The hotel and hamburger stand were both closed by the Shore Points sheriff. They said that my role in the whole thing was as of yet unclear....
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(Art by spoon+fork.) Andrea Conti wanted to give me a handjob as usual, but I was done with it.  I think those anti-horny jail chemicals were completely out of my system.  I still wanted to jump on Mrs. Angrywall and I was mad at her for having that much control over me.  I guess I was mad at all women. We were standing in the back of the walk-in van. “Let’s not,” I told Andrea.  “It’s all right.  I held on to my zipper and pushed her hand away. “What!”  She nearly dropped the sack of money from the hamburger stand’s receipts. “Everything’s okay.  Just, you know, we’ll unload the food each week, I’ll give you the money, and that’s just fine.” “What’s wrong?” “Nothing’s wrong.  It’s just. . .that’s how it’s going to be.” “You don’t like it anymore?”  Her eyes were shining.  Christ, it was like trying to break up with someone. “I’m gonna be honest,” I said.  “This just doesn’t do it for me anymore.  I’m tired of bunting when I step up to the plate, you know what I mean?” “All guys are like this, aren’t they?  Deep down inside you only want to score, isn’t that right?  You just want to fuck!” “Not all the time, but some of the time, yes, definitely.  I do have to get laid every once in a while.” “Maybe I could suck you.” “That’s nice, but it’s not going to do it, either.” “I’ll give you what you want, then,” Andrea said slowly.  “But you have to wrap it and I don’t want to do it in the van.” “Where we gonna do it?” “How about one of the hotel rooms?” “Here?” I said, nearly choking. “Yeah, here.  What, are you scared or something, now?  You only want to talk about fucking?” “Naw, it’s just that, I don’t know if they’ll let me.” “Go ask the dot for a key.  She won’t give a shit.  You know what they do in her country?” “Don’t call her a ‘dot,’” I warned. “I’ll call her whatever the fuck I want!”  She crossed her arms. “Wait here.” “I’ll wait, but not too long.” I rubbed my ears as I walked to the office.  I wondered if I could look into Mrs. Angrywall’s eyes and ask for a room key just like that.  Sure, she was going to ask what for.  I couldn’t lie to her, but maybe I should tell her that I’d clean the room up after, too. Every potentially good situation always had something tough to overcome.  “Man Has to Be His Own Savior“ talked about it endlessly.  Mao had the Long March.  The American autoworkers nearly starved to get their right to a 40-hour workweek.  I could ask Mrs. Angrywall for a room key to get laid.   “You look positively gloomy, Sean.”  Mrs. Angrywall was reading through Auto Exchange, the free weekly newsletter of used cars.  “It’s a sunny day out, so chin up.” “Are you looking to...
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