Retcon Punch, Episode 04: Strategery

Retcon Punch, Episode 04: Strategery

Oct 27

New to Retcon Punch? Start at the beginning.

What the fuck did I do?

I wake up in my recliner way too late, and feel like garbage–not physically, but mentally, like someone took a shit in my head.

“I’ll think about it.”

I’ll think about it?!

What the fuck I was thinking when I tentatively agreed to participate in a fucking heist at my job with a total stranger?

Let me tell you what I was thinking. When I was in fourth grade, I love love LOVED my teacher, Ms. Mendelbaum. She had big poofy red hair and wore lots of pencil skirts. I actually wrote her a letter when June came around–I told her very seriously that I loved her, and I always would, and I hoped that someday we could meet again, when we were older. I enclosed a picture of myself, and she moved to Cincinatti that summer, with her husband.

You will think me a fool, but I tell you true: Every relationship with a woman I’ve had is just a pale echo of Ms. Mendelbaum.

Agreeing to help commit a felony, however, is beyond the pale. I’ve sat through Vonda Shepard concerts, and I’ve purchased maxipads, and I’ve even read The Bridges of Madison County, all for the love of a girl…but I’ve never broken the law.

And I don’t even know this girl, so it’s not that quite yet; I know she dates assholes and I’m pretty sure I’m not one. I do know, however, that I’ve had fucking credit debt looming over my skull since I was nineteen years old, and to be free of it forever without taking a handout from my parents or declaring fucking bankruptcy…I think I’d steal a dickwad’s comic book to pull that off.

This is all swirling in my head as I arrive at Superb to open for the day; there’s a note on the door, and as soon as I’ve read it, I swipe it off and stuff it crumpled into my pocket.

It says, “Ercoles, 9 p.m. tonight. –V”

So much of the commercial space down by the ocean has been taken over by mainstream yuppified touristy bars and restaurants, barely a step above Applebee’s. Joints like Ercoles that have served mostly locals since the 1960’s are a rarity.

I like it because the rum and cokes are strong, and because there is next to zero chance of running into a client from the shop. With televisions perpetually tuned to any kind of conceivable sporting event and weekend nights full of trashy twentysomethings in clothes their mothers would not approve, it’s not a geek hangout.

Tonight, I order a Miller Lite and grab the first booth I see; it’s 9:30 before Veronica shows. The black jeans remain, topped off by a vintage Boy Scout uniform shirt; her hair’s up in a ponytail. She spots me, grabs a beer of her own at the bar on the way in. She sits down across from me and gives me a warm smile, like we’re old pals and she’s meeting me for drinks to tell me all about her crummy boyfriend. At least I have no doubt that her boyfriend is indeed crummy.

“Does Sid know you’re here?”

“He’s in Anaheim at some shithole, seeing a band.”

“That’s what he does.”

“Don’t I know it.”

We drink in unison, almost as though we’re relieved neither of us has to follow up on that classic bon mot. It’s like a very small and shitty Algonquin round table.

“So like I said,” she says. “I owe my ex-boyfriend twenty thousand dollars.”

“He can’t give you a payment plan for old time’s sake?”

“He froze the vig for old time’s sake. That’s the best I could do.”

“And what, he’s going to break your legs if you don’t pay him back?”

“Eventually. His patience is wearing thin. I can tell.”

“That’s a bullshit story,” I spit. “You expect me to believe that you’re in debt to some thug you used to date, and if you don’t get him paid he’ll rough you up, like some low-rent Sopranos parody?”

“Believe it or not. I’m telling you. I can’t control what you do with the information.”

“I should tell Sid about your little visit to the shop last night.”

“You won’t.”

Pause. “Yeah, I won’t,” I say.

She’s done with her beer, and the waitress brings her a second without her asking. I wonder if she’s a regular.

“So, did you think about it?” she says.

“I suppose I did.”

“And?”

“I’m just–I’m having a hard time getting my head around it.”

“You said it yourself–it’s easy. I have a buyer lined up for these comics, the Fantastic Four and the Batman. He’s going to pay me $60,000 for the pair. We split that, and I still have enough to pay off Hector and maybe buy a shitty used car so that I don’t have to rely on the fucking Sidster to get me around South Bay. You can do…whatever it is that people like you do with a lot of money, I have no idea. But I’m serious, and this is real. This could get scary and ugly if I don’t take care of it, and I think quietly stealing a few comic books from a piece of shit former Rude Boy who spraypaints his bald spot–“

“I fucking KNEW it. It never looked real.”

“Sorry to shatter the illusion,” she smirks.

“Why are you with that asshole? No offense, I don’t really know you, and I’m not sure I care, but I just have to know.”

“He has a massive–“

“Stop. No need. I knew that too.”

“You think I’m too good for him?” She puts on an expression of mock sexy that reads as real sexy to me. It’s been a while, and I’m surprised at how hard it hits, how lonely I am.

“I know you’re too good for him.” I blush into the bottle.

“He’s tried, you know. Telling me my ass looks fat in jeans, ogling skinny fake boob bitches at the beach, that sort of thing.”

“And yet, you stay.”

“Well, there’s his…you know, and then once I decided to pull this caper, it made sense to stay close, to read the situation and gather as much info as I could. Why are YOU still around, anyway?”

“Me? That’s a big question.”

“We have time.”

I contemplate telling her about that mild warm glow that comes deep in Wednesday evening when I’m working customers, rattling off wisecracks about ROM Spaceknight and Gorilla Grodd, but I’m not quite there yet.

What I actually think about, in the tiny span between her words and mine, is why I haven’t bothered leaving. Ennui, I guess? Getting stuck in a moment, in a place, in a job and a mildly addictive hobby that only provides redeeming moments deep in the dark black of a long night spent alone with an ever-growing pile of STUFF. Bad reasons, but reasons.

Then I remember this one time when Sid happened to be in the shop, pretending to rack some new trade paperback stock, and a very recognizable geek filmmaker walked in, alone and undefended. I knew who he was instantly, and so did Sid; I greeted him with my usual, “Welcome, let me know if you need anything,” and Sid POUNCED. This guy was submerged for at least fifteen minutes in this bizarre mix of fanboy worship, pathetic salesmanship, and mock-humble recitation of Sid’s slight resume of pop culture success.

Which was sad, sure, until it got mean, and he started talking about how he opened the shop to meet “cool geek chicks with low self-esteem” and hired “losers like this flabby asswipe” (meaning ME) to keep it running. I turned red and left the room; I saw the filmmaker guy turning red too, but unfortunately he could not escape as easily, and it was at least another ten minutes before Sid slammed open the door of the back room and started bragging and berating me at the same time.

“Where the FUCK were you dude? You know I can’t work the cash register. What the FUCK am I paying you for? That guy was awesome and he was totally into a collabo.”

(Sid called “collaboration” a “collabo.” That goes on his douchebag list, for sure.)

“You’re a worthless piece of shit and I should fire you right now,” Sid finished up. “Good thing you’re so pathetic no one else would hire you and I’m a decent guy.”

Suddenly, leaving seems like the best idea I never had before. Back at the bar, I finish peeling the label off my beer bottle.

“I’m due for a job change,” I say. We spend the next few hours plotting our crime.

Next Week: Stuff

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