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By Matt McCarthy
But Tommy, I'M JUNK!
Get the fuck outta here with that, junk. Whadya think yer tryin' pull here, anyway?
Tommy, LOOK AT ME, fer christssake. I'M JUNK. This is a junk shop, right? RIGHT? Well then, I'M HOME.
And as Gabe stood there before Tommy it was hard to argue with him. His clothes were filthy, stained all over with the remnants of various unspeakable messes, and they stank. Mostly they smelled of old beer and dirty ashtrays, but there were hints of other, fouler, far more insidious odors lurking nearby. He hadn't shaved in a week and it looked as though there may have been about a week's worth of grease in his shaggy hair. He looked stretched thin and his eyes were angry bloodshot. You would have no trouble imagining Gabe at home here in Tommy's Junk Shop, amongst the rest of the mess and clutter. Perhaps situated right between the rundown china cabinet now filled with pornographic videos and gas station brick-a-brack, and the old, giant Zenith that hasn't worked since Reagan.
Tommy looked over at Johnny Dallas, who had accompanied Gabe into the junk shop, for some sort of help. Whatsa matter with your friend here? What's he tryin' to pull?
Johnny smiled. He's not my friend. Gabe turned to Johnny and gave him an angry look, but Johnny kept grinning. Hardly know him.
You're a lousy bastard, Dallas, Gabe growled at Johnny. I always knew you'd turn traitor and run when it finally came down to it.
Johnny ignored Gabe. He's more of a friend of a friend, really, if you know what I mean, he told Tommy. He said he was looking for a good deal on a used shower curtain and I told him this was the place to go.
I got a couple shower curtains. You wanna see? asked Tommy hopefully.
I DON'T WANT ANY FUCKING SHOWER CURTAIN! Gabe yelled. Then he pointed a filthy, bony finger in the direction of Johnny Dallas. He's lying to you, Tommy. He lives right around the corner. We were just going to get some more beer when we passed by. I saw your sign out front: 'Tommy's Junk Shop.' That's when it fucking hit me and I came right in.
Tommy looked at Johnny, who was grinning ear to ear, and then back over to Gabe. What? he asked a little fearfully.
Gabe sighed, as if he was a little frustrated from continually stating the obvious. Look. Look at me. I'm junk. Can't you see? I'm fuckin' junk. And you, Tommy, have a junk shop. Ergo, this is where I should be, no?
There was a pause, then Tommy spoke. I sell furniture here. And some appliances. The stuff people leave behind when they move out. People always have stuff they don't want to take with them when they move. That's what I sell.
I'M THE STUFF PEOPLE DON'T WANT, said Gabe loudly. Don't you see? I should be here too. I'M JUNK! If this is where the people come when they're looking for junk then this is where I should be. How else are they gonna find me?
BRAVO! shouted Johnny, clapping his hands together once, suddenly on-board with the whole operation. He turned to Tommy: You gotta admit he does have a point.
YOU'RE GODDAMN RIGHT I HAVE A POINT! yelled Gabe, encouraged by Johnny's entrance into the debate.
Listen, said Tommy, his patience wearing. Why don't you guys just get the hell outta here? I don't have time for this kinda crap.
Tommy's sudden change in demeanor irritated Johnny enough to provoke a retaliation. There's no need to get snotty, Tommy, Jesus. He took a step closer to Tommy.
Johnny's a much bigger man than Tommy, who's small anyway. It was obvious that the sudden encroachment into Tommy's personal space made him nervous and he instantly backed away. Johnny took another step forward and then continued: This gentleman here comes into your shitty little dive junk store and offers himself up as merchandise and you treat him like this. Hell, Tommy, I'll bet you could get three, four hundred bucks for him. You gotta look at the big picture.
As they were speaking Gabe wandered off, poking through various forgotten bits of junk, muttering incomprehensibly to himself. Tommy and Johnny continued their discussion.
But he's people, Tommy pointed out softly.
PEOPLE! Johnny snorted. He's barely people. But, as it just so happens, that's exactly the point. If you turn him down, Tommy if you're the unlucky, shortsighted, pitiful excuse for a shopkeeper that turns him down he's just gonna go to another junk store, and another, until he finds a place willing to take a chance on him. And somebody will, Tommy. And when they do you'll be kicking yourself in the ass, because the dough they make off of him could have been yours.
Tommy paused, considering. Johnny backed off a step.
Think of it, he told Tommy. This is a big city. There's a lot of junk shops. Yours would be the only one offering an actual, real live person as junk to its customers. It would set you apart from the rest of the competition.
Before they could get any further there was a commotion from the back of the store. The sound of metal banging against metal, then Gabe yelling, I'M JUNK! I'M JUNK!
They walked toward the noise and discovered that Gabe had crawled into a wire metal cage, probably once intended for a dog, but big enough for a man to sit in. There he was, sitting in the cage, banging the door shut over and over, and shouting gloriously, I'M JUNK! I'M JUNK!
Thus began Gabe's foray into the world of junk.
Johnny left him there, picked up a six pack, and went home. The whole thing was hilarious to him, quite frankly. Buffoonery of the highest order. He was sure that Gabe would spend a couple hours in the cage, sober up and come to his senses, then come slinking back to Johnny's for a beer.
Thus, Johnny was more than mildly surprised to find that, come the next morning, Gabe was still in the shop sitting in his cage. He was even more surprised to find him there the morning after that. At that point he tried to intercede, and advised Gabe he should abandon this bizarre, irrational endeavor and go home.
It's not a jerk shop, Gabe. It's a junk shop.
But Gabe remained committed.
The next day Johnny entered the shop and found Gabe was no longer there. Also missing, however, was the cage.
Some older guy with white hair came in with a bunch of stuff fer trade. I got this refrigerator I'm fixin' up and a pair of skis in exchange for yer friend, said Tommy, shaking his head as if he still couldn't believe his own good fortune.
Johnny was able to procure the address of this white-haired man from Tommy and went off to find Gabe.
Yeah, I got your friend, the white-haired man told Johnny. I ain't quite sure what to do with him yet, but I figured he'll come in useful sometime. Seemed like a good trade for a busted refrigerator and some skis I found in the garbage.
Johnny followed the man back to his garage and there was Gabe, sitting on top of the cage with his legs dangling over the side, smoking a cigarette.
Hey! What the hell are you doing here? asked Gabe, surprised.
Johnny turned to the white-haired man: Give us a minute alone, would ya please?
The old man agreed and began to leave. On his way out he said to Gabe, What have I told you about smoking in here, huh? Without a word of protest Gabe threw the cigarette to the ground, hopped off the cage, and stamped it out with his shoe. Satisfied, the white-haired man left them alone.
They looked at each other silently for a moment. Gabe was still filthy and stank, but he looked calmer and sober. Finally, Johnny spoke: What the are doing here still? You made your point. It was a good fucking joke, but come on! Don't you think it's time to be done with all this? Don't you think you've gone to far?
But there was no reasoning with Gabe. He was going to stay, he was determined. I have a purpose now, Johnny, he said with a smile. I'm fulfilling my junky destiny.
They talked a little while longer, Johnny pleading with Gabe to come to his senses. But still, Gabe was unmoved. Johnny had half a mind to grab him by his greasy hair and drag his crazy ass home, but in the end Johnny simply walked off quietly, leaving Gabe leaning against his cage and waving goodbye.
A few months passed and there was no word. Then, one day, Johnny's coffee maker quit working, so he went to Tommy's Junk Shop to see if he could find a good deal on a slightly used one. He was browsing through the shop when suddenly he came upon a metal wire cage, the type used for dogs, inside of which was Gabe.
He looked terrible. Despondent. His clothes were absolute tatters and his twisted, tangled hair was now covering his face. He had a mustache and a bad beard and just sat there in his cage, staring ahead at nothing without moving a muscle. Johnny imagined his stench must have been awful, but there were car deodorizers hanging all over this part of the shop, so all Johnny could smell was that chemical-pine odor.
Gabe? Johnny asked softy.
There was no response.
He tried again, louder: Gabe.
Gabe jerked his head over and looked at Johnny. There was no recognition in his eyes for a moment. Then, slowly, it came back to him. Johnny? Gabe's voice cracked.
What the fuck are you doing here, Gabe?
He moved. The old man with the white hair. He moved into a condo. When he moved out he left a bunch of junk in the garage he didn't want. Old lawn furniture, boxes of books and magazines, old clothes, assorted crap. I was part of the assortment.
So why in the hell are you back here? asked Johnny, amazed.
Tommy came by once the old man had moved out. You know, to see if there was anything he wanted for the shop. I convinced him he had to take me.
Gabe sighed. Because I'm junk, Johnny.
Fuck that, said Johnny, who had suddenly had enough. You're not junk. You're crazy. Now get the hell out of there and let's go.
No, Gabe responded flatly.
Just then Tommy walked up. He'd been in the back, and heard the voices. AHHHH! YOU! shouted Tommy angrily. YOU MAKE HIM GO! A week now, he's back in my shop. He stinks. He frightens away customers. I HAVEN'T MADE A DIME SINCE HE'S BACK!
What do ya want me to do about it? asked Johnny.
YOU TAKE HIM, NOW, OR I'M GONNA CALL THE COPS!
I'M NOT GOING FUCKING ANYWHERE! Gabe shouted defiantly. I'M JUNK!
Tommy shook his head wearily. But Johnny was suddenly struck with inspiration and sprung into action. He pulled his Zippo out of his back pocket. I need a coffee maker, he told Tommy. I'll trade you this for the guy in the cage if you throw in a coffee maker.
DONE! shouted Tommy, who instantly grabbed the lighter from Johnny's hand. I'll get you a coffee maker, you just get him the hell out of here! And Tommy scrambled away looking for Johnny's coffee maker.
Johnny knelt down next to the cage. You hear that, asshole. I had to give him my Zippo. So come on, you're my junk now, he said as he opened the door to the cage.
Gabe sat there for one moment, trying to work it all out in his head. Then, without a word, he crawled out of the cage and stood up.
Tommy came back with the coffee maker, visibly relieved to see Gabe out of the cage. Here ya go, he said as he handed an old Mr. Coffee to Johnny. This is the best one I got.
Johnny took it from him, then looked at Gabe. Let's get the fuck out of here, he said. We'll pick up some beer on the way back to my place. And, with that, Johnny took his junk and walked out.
Copyrightę2001 by Matt McCarthy.
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