My three published novels:Plus new short fiction available now on amazon kindle!

My three published novels:Plus new short fiction available now on amazon kindle!
My three hardcover novels are available now for your Amazon Kindle device. Also find additional ebooks of fiction, and a two-volume photo book of Cuba's Classic Cars. Click on the book covers above.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Lighter Side of Dick Cheney

Now that Dick Cheney’s memoirs have been published, he’s back at home, devoting himself to house training a new puppy…twenty more water board sessions ought to do it.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Call Me Shecky

Not everything leaned toward the grim on that last expedition of the Pequod. One of our favorite jokes involved hiding Ahab’s artificial leg. Then one of us would scoot up to the crow’s nest and shout, “The white whale! He breaches, by God! It is that demon Moby Dick!” It never failed. Ahab would come hopping out of his cabin on his good leg, and fall on his keester every time.

Of course, the voyage didn’t end all that well…

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Park Story

On my walk in the park this morning, a couple with a small child had staked out a picnic table. The man’s got the cell phone jammed to his ear, talking, on the bench with his elbows on his knees, his back against the concrete table, the child off to the side. The woman wants something from the car nearby. He turns, mid-conversation, aims the keys at the car, and beeps the door lock mechanism. But it doesn’t open, even as she’s walking toward the vehicle. She tells him that. He throws the keys to her, continuing his phone chat. She misses, has to pick them up from the ground. She walks toward the car. This might be her once chance to get away, just go, drive off. Leave him. Let him deal with it. Maybe he’ll notice her when she’s gone. Mama’s sorry. One day you’ll understand.

By the time she reached their car, I had moved on. I like to think that the least she did was to take a few moments for herself.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Rin Tin Tin and the Shriners

My grandfather's hobby was home movies. He was also a Shriner - the guys in the fezzes who sponsored an annual circus and operated a burn hospital for children. The details are fuzzy after more than fifty years, but somehow the Shriners were involved in bringing one of TV's biggest stars to Houston in 1958. I'm thinking that an appearance at the Shrine Circus was part of the deal. The reception at the airport featured Shriners marching in precision, a drill team of pretty girls in cowgal fringe (were they the Rangerettes or Wranglerettes?), a ringmaster and clown, cowboys riding in precision, and a stagecoach. The general public showed up as well, hundreds of them, maybe more than a thousand. You would almost think that The Beatles were about to arrive, but for Houston, that was still a few years off. 

The plane taxied into place. Moments later, there's the actor playing Rip Masters on horseback, followed by Rusty riding shotgun on the stagecoach.

Then the star was brought out. All of this hoopla was staged for a dog. Rin Tin Tin  - what a dog.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

short film

So, here's the short horror film I worked on recently. It's part of a contest put on by Drafthouse Films, with viewers casting the vote for the favorite film. So, vote for this one. Or, don't vote. It's not as if any of them will be mistaken for Citizen Kane. And yes, that's me playing "Clarence." An entire sequence leading to this opening shot has been edited out. I thought it enhanced the story. Directors - you can't tell them anything.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lucky Bruce

Bruce Jay Friedman, early 1960's
(click to enlarge)

By Bruce Jay Friedman
290 pages. Biblioasis. $26.95.

     Norman Mailer was infuriated with Bruce Jay Friedman for merely putting in an appearance at the party he had thrown. His exit blocked by his host, Friedman attempted to defuse the situation, while at the same time, taking the opportunity to mess with Mailer a bit. He reached over and tousled Mailer’s hair. That was the flash point, the entire party spilling out of the town house and into the street, the two writers facing off on the pavement, each man posturing and throwing punches in the air.
     “Richard Adler, the composer of Damn Yankees and Pyjama Game, came between us. That was brave of Adler, who was thin-chested and delicately put together.
     ‘You can’t fight this man,’ he said to Mailer. ‘I plan to do a musical comedy with him.’ “
     Friedman, now at an age, as described by his friend Mario Puzo, as playing on the casino’s money, has written Lucky Bruce, the memoir of his literary adventures. Unlike the kid who goes astray by falling in with the wrong crowd, throughout his life and half-century career Friedman inevitably fell in with just the right crowd, as if falling into a crowd was all there was to making himself a success. Again and again, Friedman makes the best of the crowd he finds himself in, too modest to entertain the thought that it was his presence and immense talent that made those crowds what they were.
     The Friedmans didn’t so much live in a Bronx apartment. In the author’s words, the family was crammed into it. While his older sister had the coveted cot in the living room, Friedman slept  in a chair in the kitchen, taking the rare phone call in the closet as the family hovered about, listening in. Outside, he doesn’t exactly have to fight his way down the street, but does recall a particularly aggressive game where a boy was given a garbage can lid to defend himself from a barrage of rock-throwing toughs. One wonders how Friedman’s mother would have confronted this gang. Cautioned that fifteen year old Bruce’s arm might have to be amputated because of an infection, she stood her ground against the doctor. “How about we just cut off your head?”
     Taking a degree in journalism at the University of Missouri, the New York Jewish kid was turned loose in the heartland. From there, a stint in the Air Force during the Korean War found him editing a military magazine that may as well have been a farm journal. A civilian once again, Friedman looked for work, making the rounds of magazines. The more reputable Colliers, Newsweek, Saturday Evening Post barely gave him the time of day. Taken in by The Magazine Management bunch, the company put out a string of men’s magazines of the day. The stories they published leaned toward storming beaches or brothels - or both, and required an immense amount of words each month. For years and years, Friedman assigned stories, writers, chose cartoons, then wrote his own material on the train home in the suburbs, sometimes through the night, where his sons, on their way out the door on a school day, might find him collapsed over his typewriter at the kitchen table. Then it was back on the train, storming the beaches from Manhattan.
     Stern, Friedman’s first novel came out to high praise and modest sales. His second, A Mother’s Kisses, rode the best seller lists for months. Scuba Duba, described by Time Magazine as “a flagellatingly funny first play,” had a marathon run off Broadway. His second play would be Steambath. Stories appeared in the best magazines. Lucky? The old expression comes to mind, that the harder you work, the luckier you get.
     Friedman fashioned a career of steady output, highlighted by bursts of creativity and hard work. His story “A Change of Plan,” for example, was written in one night and immediately sold to Esquire, later to become a pretty damn good movie called The Heartbreak Kid when Neil Simon and Elaine May were involved, and a not so great remake with Ben Stiller when they weren’t. Hollywood called, and Friedman gave them Splash, Stir Crazy. And on and on. The author drops names, pokes fun at himself for doing so, and we don’t mind a bit, these glimpses of Woody Allen, William Styron, Natalie Wood, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Kurt Vonnegut.
BJF, out on the town, 2010
(photo by MZ)
     In Lucky Bruce, Friedman declares his second wife Pat to be the love of his life. But he writes just as lovingly of friends and colleagues - Elaine Kaufman for providing Elaine’s as a writer’s hangout, his agent Candida Donadio, (“…it was easy to be brave with someone fearless clearing the path ahead.”) whose doting, encouraging attention made him feel like her only client, Joseph Heller and Mario Puzo, to whom the memoir is dedicated.
     The only luck to be found in Lucky Bruce belongs to the reader who is fortunate enough to come along for the ride of this entertaining, fun remembrance of a great writer.
Friedman has a brief interview in this week's NY Times Style Magazine:

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I caught a bit of the Republican debate, where one of the candidates was asked, if elected president, what would be their first act as the chief executive.

That got me to thinking. What would be the first thing I would do, if I were President of the United States?

As a tribute to Jefferson, I would organize a self-sustaining expedition to explore a new route to the Pacific.

And if the expedition should locate and capture Bigfoot along the way, at no additional expense to the taxpayer, all the better.

That would be the first priority of a Fiction Guy administration. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

the bunny hop

From my novel The Sanity Matinee, published in 1987:

Sprayberry got out of the truck and walked to the front door. He had meant to ask Andrew if Maxine had learned of the death of her dog. He wanted to know how upset to expect her. He opened the door and was greeted by loud music, smoky air, and the sudden stares of a dozen strangers. Across the room, he caught sight of Angelica serving snacks from a tray. Winding through the house, a line of partygoers were dancing the bunny hop, kicking out their left leg in unison, then their right, linked together by their hands on the waist of the person preced­ing them in the chain. Some had drinks in their hands. At the front of the line, who should be leading this parade but his lovely cheerleading wife, setting the pace of the dance. Sprayberry was absolutely livid at the sight of her. Sensing when the front of the bunny-hopping line would pass an open doorway, he broke in at just the right moment, grabbing onto his wife, hopping in rhythm to the dance.

"I'm really, really angry, Terri," he said as the stranger behind him locked onto his hips.

She turned slightly to see who was speaking to her above the noise. "Hi, honey," she said. "Glad to see Andrew found you okay."

"How could you leave me like that? That was a horrible thing to do. What if Andrew hadn't found me?" Sprayberry awaited an answer, rattling the bottle of pills in his pants pocket as the bunny hop wound its way through the house. In the living room, Sprayberry looked to his rear. Maxine was in line back there, and she gave him a grand wave when he turned to look. She didn't look too torn up with grief over the loss of her pet.

"Mom was driving me crazy at the hospital while you were in that room," Terri told him. "I had to get her out of there, and I doubt if she would have left without me. It might have been the wrong thing to do, but emergency rooms are confusing. Anyway, you're back on your feet. Kick off your shoes and fix yourself a drink."

"I may be on my feet," Sprayberry said, hanging on to Terri's hopping lead. "But I've got a pocketful of pills."

"Tell me what you want me to do to make you feel better," Terri shouted over the noise of the party. "Tell me exactly."

Sprayberry danced along for a few moments. He still felt abandoned, but Terri was obviously trying to make up for it. "I want you to be there when I wake up in the morning," he said. "If you're up before me, stay in the room."

"You want me to watch you sleep?"

"Just don't leave me," he said. "I want you there."

"All right," she answered.

Years later, this very specific comic scene was virtually duplicated on the TV sitcom Mad About You, where a husband and wife conducted an argument while dancing the bunny hop through a house. It’s not as if a whole genre of argumentative bunny-hoppers existed for the TV writer to tap for his inspiration.

So, what recourse does a writer have when he’s ripped off? I still don’t know.

Friday, August 12, 2011



After a great deal of tinkering to conform to their format, is now posting all of my ebooks. Smashwords also is the distributor for Barnes and Noble Nook devices, Sony, and Apple readers, and others. Amazon Kindle was already on board. So, in that great bookstore in the sky, otherwise known as the internet, help yourself to a browse.

Friday, August 5, 2011


News story: the police are seeking the help of the general public in solving the crime. Oh, really? Well, I need a little help breaking up a concrete patio in the back of the house. A cop wants to take his turn on the jackhammer, I’ll keep an eye open for the guy who held up that store.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Blood Flow

I still haven't quite figured out how to post the ebooks. Most of them are up and running on A couple are "pending approval." That might mean another month of lingering before the general public can check into them.

With that in mind, I have put a new title on the site, a short story under the title Blood Flow. A cover image in the public domain caught my attention, and I've attached it to the story. It will be available in the near future.

Here's the cover:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Mild, Mild West

The Fiction Kid
(click to enlarge)

I worked on a few Westerns during my movie extra job. This shot was from the TV series version of The Magnificent Seven. Fortunately, I was not required to carry a gun. In a twelve-hour workday, that ole six-shooter starts a-weighin’ heavy on the hip. The whole concept of a movie extra is to provide atmosphere without drawing attention to the individual. Sometimes, you’re given nonsense tasks, like pushing a wheelbarrow down the street. You might just sit at a table in a saloon for several hours. No great strain. Wardrobe is dull earth tones, usually in layers - shirt, vest, jacket, suspenders. It can be a little uncomfortable, but the work is certainly less strenuous than breaking up cement with a jackhammer.

I always enjoyed hearing the background of a location. On the Universal studio lot, the train depot is still in place, the one used in 1939 for The Son of Frankenstein, where the townspeople greet Basil Rathbone’s arrival, and he assures them that he’s there solely to settle his father’s estate, and nothing more. Of course, he becomes obsessed with his father's work, and resurrects the monster…This Western was filmed at Gene Autry’s old Melody Ranch, north of L.A. Gary Cooper strolled the streets there in High Noon. And later, with a little spiffing up, hauling in more dirt, adding more fake buildings, HBO took it over for Deadwood. Made me wonder whether the ghost of Gene Autry's old sidekick Pat Buttram might walk the faded plank sidewalks when no one is looking.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Revenge of Spanky Burchfield

Spanky Burchfield had his share of ups and downs, but he had to admit that he was living well.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Thailand's new prime minister



Thailand has elected its first woman prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Her American cousin, Old Blue Eyes Frank Shinawatra would have been proud. Ring a ding ding.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Return of Spanky Burchfield

The Return of Spanky Burchfield

Spanky Burchfield quietly closed the front door behind him as he stepped inside the house.

“I’m back!” he shouted up the flight of stairs, and waited for a response.

the end

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fight Club

Fight Club

The first rule of Fight Club was: you don’t talk about Fight Club. But that was just the movie. I can talk about it. I can write about it. What are the consequences? Brad Pitt is too busy to beat me up if I start shooting my mouth off.

I worked in the support group scene - guys with testicular cancer. We spent six days sitting on folding chairs, listening to remarks, hugging each other, showing extreme concern. Meat Loaf hugged Edward Norton, both of them crying. For six days. Brad Pitt popped in and out, dressed in a red leather outfit. Helena Bonham Carter, chain smoked, still managing to look as cute as an Irish Setter - and not much bigger than an Irish Setter. A character actor led the support group, saying “I look around this room, and I see a lot of courage.” By day three, we all knew the line pretty well. In the dining tent, I looked around this room and saw a lot of indigestion.

The scene was filmed in downtown L.A., in an old church complex that had a gymnasium built in. Word on the set was that the movie’s budget was 72 million dollars, a fairly large chunk of which, purportedly 17 million, went to the guy in the red leather outfit. My own salary? Less than 17 million.

The majority of time on a movie set is spent waiting, fine tuning the lighting, moving stuff around for different angles, touching up details here and there. Between takes, the director David Fincher shouted “Shut up!” on a regular basis.

After six days, the support group scene was finished.

Eighteen months passed.

The production needed to re-shoot our guys. Could I come in and do it all over again? I told them sure, but I don’t have a beard anymore. I had shaved it off.

No problem. They put me in the make up chair and glued on fake whiskers in great detail, even touching in the grey from photos taken on the set the previous year. They made it a long one, ZZ Top style, then trimmed it down. In the adjacent chair, Meat Loaf was being rigged with his fat man body suit. He sang to me and the make up guy to pass the time.

Back on the set, word had spread that I was wearing a fake beard. Even Ms. Bonham Carter sought me out, drawing close, face to face, nodding her approval.

“It looks good,” she told me.

Then we went to work, I stood and hugged a guy with a shaved head for several hours, and we were done.

Ed Norton, left, and MZ
(click to enlarge)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New ebook! Cheap fiction! Take a look!

As a sampler, I have put together some short stories and novel excerpts. I was hoping to put it out there for free. That may be in the future. For now, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF COLOR will cost you a whopping 99 cents on Amazon Kindle. With any luck (if I can figure out how to format the dang thing) additional ebook outlets will follow, perhaps even for free. The pallets of books are stacked on the fiction guy virtual loading docks, awaiting shipment on your order.

Monday, June 20, 2011

ebook note

Looks as if I may have jumped the gun in announcing the availability of my ebooks in formats other than Kindle. I should have it ironed out in a day or two.


alert:        1) jumped the gun                              2) ironed out

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bridal Advice

A little research into the most popular blogs suggested that wedding advice draws more readers than just about any other subject. I’m always looking to increase readership, so today the Fiction Guy site will turns its attention to making that special day even more meaningful, lovely, etc. etc.

The thing is, I don’t know anything about weddings. The best advice I could come up with for today’s bride is: if he smashes wedding cake into your face at the reception, flee the building at that moment as if it were on fire, and don’t look back. It’s never too early to leave a jerk.

And, with any luck, readers sent here by an internet search looking for bridal advice will stick around for the other stuff.

Friday, June 10, 2011

I'm certainly not an expert on the law or courtroom strategy, but the first rule of defending a client seems to be that you never suggest that your client might be guilty.

I'm thinking this guy might be better off representing himself.

From a news story about a bank robbery:

" Gonzalez's attorney, Lance Hamm, says his client is 'extremely remorseful for what he's accused of doing.' "

Thursday, June 9, 2011

an old short story

This is Precious Metals, a short story I ran across in one of my storage boxes, published in Blonde On Blonde Magazine almost a hundred years ago, in July 1988.

Slim was in pain. The affected area was roughly the same as a batter's strike zone, from the knees to the shoulders, along the spine, down in his stomach and within the chest. Late in the days, the ache knew no confinement. Slim was weary, and he did not exaggerate by saying he hurt all over. He knew the cause. It was sleeping on pavement, hardly eating, and drinking. And constantly moving. Slim was on his feet for a good part of the day, stepping off the mites of concrete. Catching his reflected im­age in a pane of glass, he was reminded of Lazarus. He looked like someone raised from the dead, and worse, he felt like one as well.
At nightfall, Slim decided against sleeping at the mission. He wouldn't have minded some company, but not sixty beds en en either side of him, bedded down among the hallucinators, among the ones grasping at the cross of Jesus, among his peers. Someone had told him that a guy Slim knew was sleeping beneath a bridge on the north edge of downtown. "Which bridge?" Slim had asked. "Which street?"
"Don't remember. One of 'em. It's Lefty. He's fixed him a place there. You know Lefty."
Slim moved on down the pavement. He walk­ed through the warehouse district, and cut back to the foot of Main Street. That was the highest bridge over Buffalo Bayou, and from there, Slim could see a few blocks upstream or down. He leaned out over the railing, looking back down at the water below his feet. It was the color of chocolate milk, its only movement some slow swirls here and there. He didn't see anything of Lefty. Before vacating the area, Slim squeezed past the bridge railing and pushed into the undergrowth. From the bank of the bayou, he looked overhead at the bridge's girders for any sign of a man tucked away in the steel. San Jacinto Street was three blocks downstream. Slim climbed up to the cross street once again, and walked in that direction.
At the foot of the second bridge, Slim could smell trash burning nearby. He slipped down beneath the structure. Across the bayou, on the north side of the bridge, he located the source of the smoke. He thought he could make out some movement in the fading light as well, and he walked the length of the bridge in that direction. As he left the pavement once again, Slim was certain to make some noise. Whether it was Lef­ty in there or not, he didn't want to sneak into the man's encampment unannounced. He kick­ed at some brush. He coughed, taking deliberate steps while keeping his eyes peeled.
He found the fire. A shelf from a refrigerator was set on bricks above the smoldering card­board and paper. Back up under the bridge he saw a grocery cart with somebody's goods in it. He took a seat upwind from the smoke. He was sitting there when Lefty walked up from the water's edge. Lefty's pants were wet to the knees. In one hand he was carrying a pocketknife, the blade closed. From the other, Lefty dangled a fish that was three feet in length. Slim got to his feet.
"Say, what you got there?"
Lefty didn't break his stride. He passed Slim and draped the fish onto the metal grill, squint­ing into the smoke and heat, and wiping his hands on the seat of his pants. "I saw you pok­ing around up there," he said.' 'You hungry for fish? There's plenty here if you don't mind gar."
"I might eat some," Slim said. "My stomach's getting real bad, though. I have trou­ble keeping food down."
Lefty nodded his head. He slipped a short two by four onto the burning cardboard and sat on the ground. Slim rested his feet as well. He crossed one leg over the other and lit a cigarette. "How'd you catch him?" he asked.
" I was up here watching the water, and saw him flip-flopping around," Lefty said. "I could see that something was the matter with it, thrashing around on the surface that way. Anyway, I whacked him a time or two with a stick, and pulled him in. The fish had a plastic ring around his head, a six-pack holder, you know? The
plastic was wrapped up in its gills. I figure it
was choking. I don't like to start fires down
here. They draw attention." „.    -
"I heard gars wasn't good to eat."
"Well, you heard wrong," Lefty told him. "They're real bony, and they have that great big head that takes up a good portion of the body. But there's a flank of solid white meat along the backbone that's as good as catfish. The meat on this one looked real good when I cleaned it. No tumors or nothing. Gars is about the only fish left in this dirty old stream. Now, pigeon, sometimes you find one so stringy that a cat wouldn't eat it. A pigeon can live to twelve or thirteen in the city. You get one that old, and your work is cut out for you."
Slim couldn't recall the last time he had an appetite. He didn't think much about eating anymore, but he had to admit that Lefty's fish was beginning to sound like a luxury.
"How are you going to flip him when that side's done?"
I got a second grill over there. We can lay it over the fish, then turn the whole thing, grills and all. There's a bag of potato chips we can open when the fish is cooked."
"You're a lucky man, Lefty."
"How do you mean that?"
"Finding supper like you did."
"Man, luck doesn't enter the picture. You just have to take what is presented to you, and the Good Lord will provide, if you don't set your sights too high What was it the Bible says about the lilies of the field and birds and stuff like that? The world is full of riches, and all you have to do is reach out and grab what's there. For free. Without stealing."
"Yeah, the streets are paved with gold," Slim said.
Lefty stood up and placed the second refrigerator shelf over the fish. He seized both shelves, insulating his hand with torn card­board, turning the fish over. "Maybe not gold, but there are resources if you know how to look. Some metals aren't so precious, but that don't mean they're worthless."
The two men ate the fish and potato chips in the dark. Lefty served the meal up on sections of newspaper. He sliced an onion for accom­paniment. While it wasn't the feast that Lefty had led Slim to expect. Slim managed to keep the meal down. He ate his fill, which wasn't much, and pulled the half-pint bottle from his pocket. He took a pull from it and put it away again. Lefty did not drink liquor.
"That's the reason your stomach's giving you fits," Lefty said.
"No kidding,” Lefty answered.
"You know, it all comes down to hunger, really," Lefty said. "If you have enough to eat whether it's there to reach out and take like the fish, or if you have oil wells in your back yard as income. As long as food is on the table, yon ought to be happy with your lot in life. You fixed up for the morning? You got plans?"
"Yeah, I usually rest up in the library a few hours when it opens. Maybe do the labor pool the day after that. Pass out circulars for half a day."
"That's a hard way to live, Slim."
"Maybe I don't have your ambition."
"It's like I said earlier. Like finding the fish. All kinds of opportunities are available to the man who knows how to spot them. Maybe you just don't have the eye for it. But a man carrying circulars door to door isn't lazy. I know that."
"So how do you do it, Lefty?" Slim asked "What's the secret, if I wanted to get back or my feet again fast?"
"It's no secret," Lefty said. "I'll show you in the morning, if you like. Right now, I'm going to turn in. I don't care for sitting on the bayou a night. Go ahead and stay here. I'll be heading out early."
"Thanks, Lefty. You got a nice place here.”
Slim rolled up his newspaper plate and slip­ped it into the smoldering fire. When the paper flared up, he could just see Lefty hanging a hammock up in the girders at the foot of the bridge. In a way, he was kidding Lefty about the territory he had marked off as his own. There certainly weren't any doors or fences out there beneath the city sky. And anyone could come by and bust up the place and do all kinds of harm. Still, as Slim broke down a cardboard box out into a flat sheet, he did feel like a guest. The bridge was Lefty's place, and Slim curled up in a corner of it. Occasionally, a car crossed the roof in the night. And as he nodded off, the sound transformed itself into waves breaking on the seashore.
Lefty tapped on the soles of Slim's shoes to awaken him in the morning. "If you're coming, come on." he said. "I'm going."
Slim was balled up on the cardboard, and he unfolded his arms and legs. He had been lying on the hip where he carried his bottle, and he felt as stiff and sore as if he'd been hit by a car. He removed the bottle from his pocket. While he unscrewed the cap, he watched Lefty struggling with the grocery cart, working it around the bridge abutment onto the street. He drained the last of the liquor and followed Lefty.
By the time Slim was on the sidewalk, Lefty was already a block away. Slim fought his clothing, hiking up his pants and tucking in his shirt at the same time. He ran his hand through his hair. He could still see Lefty ahead of him, widening the distance. Maybe he had overestimated the man. It could be that Lefty was as crazy as a bedbug. Barely daylight and there he was at the handlebar of a grocery cart in some kind of damn race. Slim halted for a moment. He was about to let Lefty go, to see whether he might disappear without even looking back. Then, he saw Lefty turn his cart into an alley off the sidewalk, vanishing from sight. Slim took his time reaching that point, and when he did, he found Lefty going through a couple of garbage cans.
“Man, I thought you had something special up your sleeve.” Slim said.
Lefty flipped a couple of beer cans into his metal cart. He moved to a trash dumpster at the rear of the building, sliding open the side door. He reached in with a stick and raked through the debris within the container. He pulled out more aluminum.
“Old Red Jackson got himself caught in the dumpster last winter,” Lefty said. “The trash drivers, they bounce it a time or two to wake up a man if he’s sleeping away a cold night inside. Red didn’t get out in time. He was half in and half out when the dumpster was raised into the air. Took off his right leg clean as a whistle. I saw Red about a month ago. The county got him a wooden leg, but someone stole it, so he's a cripple now. I know, you're supposed to call them disabled or handicapped. But in my day, a one-legged man was a cripple. About a month ago, I found some coils of air conditioning duct in here. Weight was about thirty pounds. I got over nine dollars for it. They're paying a little less right now, though."
Slim stuck his head into the dumpster. The container was about half full of paper and boxes. Still, it had an awful smell to it. Lefty had managed to fish out six aluminum cans. Slim walked around to the rear of it and took a leak on the ground. Lefty waited on him this time before hitting the sidewalk.
"So this is what you do?" Slim asked as they walked. "You're a scavenger?"
"I just pick up what people throw away," Lefty said. "It's worthless to them, but it's money in the street."
' 'Well, the labor pool is bound to pay better.''
"That's right," Lefty said. "It does. But you got the bosses there riding you every minute. And they cheat you when they can."
"So how many pounds do you find a day?"
"I call it quits at eight to ten pounds, get my two and a half, three dollars at the recycling center, and head back in. I'm back at the bridge by two in the afternoon."
"Why bother with just aluminum?"
"What do you mean?"
"To hear you talk, you could melt down the silver lining in every cloud."
"I'm just pointing out an option you might not have considered," Lefty said. "Whether you act on it or not, that's your choice."
Slim walked along with a hand on Lefty's grocery cart. He had heard worse propositions. "How about if I work that side of the street?" he suggested. "Come quitting time, we split the money."
"Any way you want to work it," Lefty answered.
They moved parallel to each other on their way out of the downtown area. At times, Lefty took the lead. Then Slim might leapfrog ahead of him. Whenever Slim had as much as he wanted to carry in the paper sack he had retrieved, he would empty his pickings into Lefty's cart. They followed the street through an inner city neighborhood, and the aluminum was scarce. Lefty pointed out that the residents there hardly let anything slip by. But once the two men moved out of the more impoverished area, they could count on a couple of cans on each block. Slim was accustomed to walking a number of miles each day, but his legs ached nonetheless, as always. He found an upright beer can that wasn't empty, and looked at the contents through the opening as he sloshed it around. It looked fairly clean to him, and he drank down the last of the stale beer before saving the can.
At a Safeway parking lot, Lefty and Slim teamed up to examine a large dumpster. Lefty pulled out three cans, and studied a plastic gar­bage bag. He ripped it open.
"Cheese, " Lefty said. "Look, it's still cold. They must have just brought it out."
"Man, it's covered with mold," Slim said.
Lefty removed one of the packs of cheese and carved into it with his pocketknife. He sliced off a wedge and popped it into his mouth. He cut off a second piece for him. Slim took it reluctantly, examining it before putting it in his mouth. He swallowed it down. He hiccupped once.
"You just cut off the mold, and it's fine," Lefty said. "Say, you can cure those hiccups real easy. You want to know how? Press your thumb up against the soft part in the roof of your mouth."
Unquestioning, Slim was nearly gagging on his thumb when a bread man came out of the rear of the store with a rack of loaves. He began to pull his order from the back of his parked truck, and noticed Lefty and Slim sitting on the shady side of the dumpster. He walked over and gave them a loaf off the truck. "Thanks, mister," Lefty said.
"That guy know you?" Slim asked, rolling a piece of bread around some cheese." It seemed his hiccups had vanished.
"Never seen him before," Lefty said. “These fellows in the trucks are generally pretty nice, though. See, their goods are dated, and they have to throw it away after a certain time, I get just about all the bread and milk and chips I want. Sometimes you have to ask. The worst that's ever happened is they said no. They're all right, these food guys. I'm thinking about mov­ing out here to the suburbs, to be closer to the stores."
As they rested there, a limousine swung up to the curb at the side of the store, parking well away from the other vehicles. A big driver open­ed the door and stepped out. Lefty and Slim watched him as they held the cheese sand­wiches in their hands. The chauffeur was a huge man. He was well dressed in a dark suit. They could see gold chains around the driver's neck, and an expensive watch shined from his wrist in the daylight. He stepped around the corner into the Safeway.
"That's a strapping big fellow," Lefty said. "He could probably go out to California and work in the movies, a man his size. Most movie stars are pretty tiny, five foot three, five-four. There are exceptions, of course. John Wayne, he was about five-seven, I believe."
"All right," Slim said. "Enough of this aluminum shit. Here's what we do. He comes out, we knock him over the head, grab the gold around his neck, and run like hell in opposite directions. If we both get away, we meet up at the bridge tonight. He grabs one of us, that's too bad."
"He would grab us both," Lefty said. "He's a young man in peak condition. He'd squash us like bugs. And besides, you hit a man over the noggin, if you don't knock him out, he gets mad as a hornet."
“So you're against it?"
"Count me out," Lefty said. "I spent two months on a chain gang once, and the ex­perience taught me the difference between right and wrong."
“It's wrong for men to have to live like we do, like vultures," Slim said. "And, it's a two-man job to hit this guy. He has the size, but we have the numbers."
"It's a two stupid man job, Slim. You're overlooking the fact that you and I operate on a low energy level. That driver would explode like a prize fighter. It's just not feasible, and I'm no that desperate."
Slim looked down at the pavement between his feet as he finished eating all he could. He didn't even look up at the chauffeur when he returned to the limo. They were on their feet once again in a short while, and in the early afternoon the two men split nearly four dollars a the recycling center. They parted on the sidewalk, and went their separate ways.
One evening about two weeks later Lefty had some visitors at the bridge. It was Doc and Smitty, a couple of old acquaintances. They asked Lefty whether he had heard what had happened to Slim. He told them he hadn't.
"He's in the hospital," Smitty informed him. "He got beat up pretty good. Slim and some other fellow assaulted a man, and got the tables turned. They tried to rob him, from what I hear. The guy grabbed Slim and dislocated his shoulder in the struggle. Broke his collarbone too. What do you suppose got into Slim to pull such a stunt?"
Lefty shook his head. "Hard to say what he was thinking," he said. "Sometimes a man living by his wits overlooks the danger if he’s desperate enough. It's too bad, though. I like Slim."
Doc and Smitty agreed. They were seated on a pair of milk crates Lefty had salvaged, and they rested. The three men looked down at the dark water flowing in the slow-moving bayou. The skyscrapers of the city made the horizon sharp and vertical. Lights within the buildings were beginning to illuminate the twilight, but the muddy, chocolate water reflected nothing. They had made it through another day.