New Britain

         The Social Security office was a zoo.  Al stood in line and wished the people in front of him would speed up or die.  He filled out the form and made sure he had all the ID that was needed.  He spent fifteen minutes in front of the bathroom mirror saying “Mr. Hawes” over and over until it sounded natural to him.  He was sweating, he wore a suit instead of casual clothes.  The line moved like molasses.  There was two windows unmanned.  If they knew that they would be jammed they’d get enough people to handle the crowd.  He let thoughts of how he’d run it if  he were in charge.  By the time he got to the counter he was pretty much tee’d off.  It took him a second to crank down his attitude.  He waited as the clerk went through the forms, checking against his ID.  He watched as the clerk brought the papers to a supervisor at one of the desks in the rear.  Al began to sweat a little harder.  The clerk came back and said “Your card will be mailed.  You should get it in a few days.”  Al turned and waded against the crowd that bloomed from the lines.

          The Cameo Inn was deserted except for Fat Pauley and his driver.  Pauley wore an immaculate seersucker suit with a light blue cotton shirt.  Al felt soggy looking at the fat man sitting in the back booth.  Pauley never sweat, he made others sweat.  Sitting at the bar was the reason.  Jerzy sat there, sipping club soda and watching The Maury Show on the TV over the bar.  The relationship between Pauley and Jerzy was simple.  You tried to short Pauley, Jerzy broke your thumbs, first.  He was a model for the Hitler Youth, blond hair, blue eyes and a lithe body.  Al was afraid of Jerzy.  Hell, everybody who knew him was scared.  He never said a word.  He just did what he was told.  Al approached Pauley.

       “Hiya Pauley.  How’s it going?”

       “Ferrante, you owe me.  I was going to send Jerzy to see if you were sick.”  The fat man purred.

        “I know.  I’m  on my way to the bank.”

        “Why did you stop here?”

         “I wanted to touch base with you.  You know, so you wouldn’t worry.”

         “I never worry.”

         “Okay, I’ll be going.”  Al was backing out of the bar with one eye on Jerzy.


         The Armstrong was an okay place to crash but Woody needed a place close to the diner.  The shelter was close but there were restrictions.  Those without work were given preference.  Woody had a job, but not enough money to rent an apartment.  That part of his problem was solved as he left work.  There was a handwritten sheet posted on the front door of the diner.  He would have passed by it but something pressed him to read it.  Room to let,it said.  Below was an address and phone number.  He turned back into the diner and asked Gus to use the phone.  He called and explained his situation leaving out shelters and occasional nights in the drunk tank.  He told the woman about the fact he had a job but couldn’t pay a sureity but could handle the weekly rent.  After the call he huddled with Gus who agreed to front Woody the cash for a week in advance of his pay.  Woody walked to the address and found it to be a neat single family with a small yard around it.  He rang the bell.  A small elderly woman answered the door.  She was dressed in a dress that would have been in style ten years ago.  She welcomed him  into the living room, a throwback to the days when people met in parlors and talked.  Her name was Sophie and she’d lived in this house for sixty five of her eighty years.  She asked questioned him about his work and wages.  She insisted that topers were not welcome.  They went up to the second floor so Woody could see the room.  He liked it.  It was outfittes with a double bed and amenities he hadn’t seen since he had a place of his own.  They agreed that he fit the requirements Sophie had for a tenant.  He promised to return on Thursday with his belongings and a deposit of ten dollars, a fee Sophie requested as a friendly bond.  He left with a light step, a load was off his back and he was closer to getting to the surface.  He made it to the Armstrong having spent six dollars for a half pint of Cedar Arms, a can of Coke and a fast food burger.  He showered, ate the sandwich drank the half pint and passed out.

      He woke the next morning with just enough time to hustle to the diner and make it into the parking lot as Gus pulled in.  Inside he helped Chico set up and filled his stomach with enough black coffee and aspirin to make his day tolerable.  The day moved at a snail’s pace.  Woody was moderately back to normal by the afternoon.  When it was time to go home, Gus came into the kitchen and handed Woody fifty bucks.  “I’ll take a little every week until we’re even.”  He rode the bus to the Greyhound station and pulled a locker key out of his wallet.  He opened locker 345 and pulled out a small duffel that held his worldly possesions.  He caught a bus back to Sigourney and walked to his new home.