Tom Fillion

The Fantasy Truck

Reefer Grandma

 

The Fantasy Truck (April 20, 2010. Issue 16.)

There were mechanical gates coming and going into the bank parking lot except when someone didn't get their ticket stamped and decided they didn't want to fork over fifty cents to raise it. They'd ram it with their car, breaking it off. I sat in the booth, the top half made of tinted Plexiglas, four hours at a time collecting tickets with red stamps on them or change from the people without stamps. An old air conditioner cooled and recycled the exhaust fumes, cigarette smoke, and body sweat that hung in the ticket booth.

It was a mechanical job, something you could do without thinking, so imagine the surprise that day when there it was! The Fantasy Truck! I recognized it when I came on duty to relieve the old man who worked the booth with me. The Fantasy truck from the afternoon television show, "Fantasy." It went around the country fulfilling fantasies. It was parked on the striped asphalt sixty feet from the ticket booth.

Usually, I started hallucinating from the heat and fumes at the end of my shift, not the beginning. I did a double take. It was still there. Of all places for it to show up! There it was next to the parking lot where I worked while I was between a real job that paid decent.

Two guys buzzed around the truck. One of them had just come from the bank building that occupied the bottom floor of the twelve story building. They went inside the trailer. That's when I heard banging and rumbling. When they emerged, they had a big box, five foot square but less than one foot thick. They lowered it onto the grass next to the sidewalk that bordered the parking lot. Both of the guys had walkie-talkies strapped to their belts. There was nobody trying to bust into or out of the parking lot so I strolled over.

"So you guys are from the television show?"

"Yeah," said the taller of the two.

They both had mustaches. This guy had sandy colored hair. His companion was shorter and broader and had black hair.

They opened the large box. It reminded me of an egg hatching, piece by piece being popped off, but instead of a small bird, chick, turtle, or a new species emerging from the confines, a folded-up ping pong table appeared. It had metal rollers and supports too.

They pulled the ping pong table out of the box. The shorter guy took off. The other, dressed in blue jeans and a Fantasy T-shirt, fumbled around with the ping pong table on the sidewalk. He had long hair that flipped out in different directions. In the front it looked like small wings or maybe there were horns underneath his sandy colored hair that made it turn the way it did. His arms were colorful like cereal boxes and covered with tattoos.

"You need some tools. I got some in the back of my car," I offered.

"I have all the tools I need," he said showing the palms of his hands that had calluses as large as peanut shells.

I returned to the ticket booth and opened the gate at least ten times, glancing over to check on his progress that slowed when he stopped for a late morning can of beer. Business people walked by to look at the freakish looking guy with a large cardboard box, disassembled ping pong table, metal rollers and supports blocking the sidewalk. It was all sprawled in front of a freight truck with spicy colors and "Fantasy" written on the side and back.

He messed around with the table for a few more minutes, then, obviously frustrated, he got on his walkie-talkie. Five minutes later a white station wagon pulled next to the truck. An older man with a walkie-talkie got out. He had on a blue work shirt and an NBC baseball hat. He looked like a handyman and had an array of tools in his leather belt.

It took them about an hour to assemble the ping-pong table. The mechanical gate had gone up fifteen, maybe twenty times. I lose count after a time with the heat and the fumes. The blue suits from Globe Capital Investments rolled through in their black Mercedes. They were monthly customers and pulled up to the gate without taking a ticket or looking at me unless the gate didn’t go up fast enough.

The Fantasy guys folded the table in half and it rested vertically on the metal supports. I still wondered who was getting their fantasy to come true, and whose fantasy was it anyway to get a ping pong table?

A loan officer from the bank walked past the ticket booth. He was dressed in a pin striped suit.

"They're here to give away the ping pong table to someone in the building. Do you know who they're giving it to?"

"No," the loan officer said, "but they can give it to me. I could use a ping pong table. Did you listen to that radio station give away ten thousand dollars the other night?"

I had the radio blasting in the ticket booth.

"Yeah. I'm listening to it now."

"I was trying to win that ten thousand dollar "Hey Jude" contest. I was by the telephone all day. I sure could have used that ten thousand dollars," he said.

"Some lady won it. I was at a restaurant when she called in. I waited all day in my office to phone in."

I listened off and on. Sometimes I got busy in the booth. There was no telling when those guys at the radio station would play "Hey Jude.”

"You going out for lunch?"

He nodded.

"With a friend,' he said.

"Make sure he doesn't pull in and get a parking ticket, or he's got to pay."

"I can stamp him."

In a few minutes his friend pulled up in a bright red Peugeot. The loan officer got in. They both stared for a few seconds at the large truck as they drove around it.

The two guys had set up a Foosball table and played Foosball on the end of the truck trailer. The back door was half way up. They laughed and stomped their feet as they twirled and slammed the handles on the game. I wondered if that was part of the fantasy and they were just trying it out, but that would make it sort of a used fantasy.

Customers lined the exit lane and handed me their tickets. I raised the gate. That was my job in a nutshell so no matter what I was happy the truck showed up with the ping pong table. It got my mind off the exhaust fumes I was sucking down.

The two guys finally jumped off the back and rolled the ping pong table towards the truck. I panicked. I wanted them to stay as long as possible. It looked like they were packing up.

No one was trying to leave the parking lot so I walked over again.

"You need some help?"

"No. This thing? We can load it ourselves," said the tall guy.

I couldn't figure out why they were doing it after spending so much time putting it together. They lifted it straight up in the air instead of laying it flat. They held it by the rollers and it started to lean towards the tall guy.

"Hold it. Hold it. Son of a bitch."

"I can't."

The ping pong table banged the tall guy in the head and then crashed into the road. I burst out laughing. They were imbeciles. Didn't they know how to load anything? I had spent the last six months in that ticket booth, but I could still think. They should have laid it flat.

The tall guy looked dazed. The other guy examined the ping pong table and decided the scratch on it wasn't that bad. I went back to the ticket booth to let out some tenants, the Middle Eastern guys who bought oil drilling equipment in this country. They were always tear-assing in and out of the parking lot. They gave us huge tips at Christmas. I raised the gate for them and sat down on the four-legged stool.

The two guys stood the ping pong table up again.

"Let me know if you need some help with it," I yelled over.

Why not be helpful? That's the way things happen, isn't it? These guys were idiots. Who knows though, they might take a liking to me and voila! The next thing you know I'm riding around the country on the Fantasy truck giving stuff away to people. I'd have some explaining to do to Brenda who was pregnant with our first, but I could always send her money from out on the road somewhere.

That’s when I saw Meredith McCrae, the hostess and emcee of the Fantasy show. She walked out of the bank building. Wow! She had long blonde hair with dark roots, white make-up on her face and bright red lipstick on her most kissable lips. She had on a long flowing dress that accented her figure and gripped her hips. The dress was dark, but it had glittery, silver sparkles all over it, which caught the light.

She strolled past the ticket booth. She must have seen me even though I was behind the dark Plexiglas that was supposed to keep out the sun but didn't. I had my guitar with me. There wasn't much to do early on, after I picked up the trash in the parking lot. Styrofoam cups, newspapers and the like, so I had it there for practice. I started strumming. I could do chords progressions in the keys of C, F, and G. This wasn't Hollywood, but you never know. Someday people could be talking. “Eddie Bayliss was discovered in a ticket booth.” Things like that happen.

She kept walking though. She was all business and didn't even look up when I threw in an A minor to show some versatility. She went back to the truck to confer with the two guys playing Foosball. I kept playing. She walked back to the building oblivious to my serenade.

Another television crew pulled in and parked across from Globe Capital Investments and the fountain where all the bums, transients, and ne'er-do-wells lathered up before sunrise.

This time of day, the bathers and launders had all cleared out for the daytime world they avoided and shunned, the world they had fallen out of. It looked like the presentation of the ping pong table would occur where they skinny-dipped with the moon. The fountain was the backdrop. A large, yellow boom attached to the television truck covered the top like the comb on a sleeping bird.

"Hey, can you give us a hand?"

It was the guy from the Fantasy truck. He was standing in the incoming lane next to the ticket booth. I guess they decided to give it another whirl and raise the ping-pong table up again into the back of the truck.

"Sure," I answered.

I followed him over to the ping pong table.

"Here, you take the middle and we'll grab the ends. Lift straight up and then we'll slide it onto the truck."

"Okay, I've got the middle," I said, although I was apprehensive.

It was a carbon copy of the previous attempt except an extra man was involved. I didn't want to get my head bashed in either.

"Up we go," grunted the tall guy.

The ping pong table began to tip over again.

"Hold it. Let's go down to ground with it," the other guy ordered.

We lowered it to the asphalt.

"The supports throw it off balance. Leave the fucking thing here for now," he said.

I returned to the booth. The ping pong table stood where we left it. The two guys got back in the truck, laughing and drinking more beer. Maybe they weren't imbeciles after all. I was the one stuck in the Plexiglas palace.

The wind was breezy that day, and it got gustier. Instead of finding a sail to fill out, the wind found the ping pong table and knocked it over so hard the table did one and a half flips and a loud crash before it came to rest on the asphalt. A piece of wood under the table snapped into jagged sections. What remained attached to the table stuck out.

The two guys jumped down. I wandered over too. The tall guy pulled out his walkie-talkie. People walking by sidestepped the table to cross the street. They gawked at the man on a walkie-talkie standing over the wrecked table.

Another car pulled up. A man with an NBC hat and the colorful peacock logo on it walked over to the table.

"Hey, can you give us a hand?" he called over to me in the booth.

Here was another chance to prove my mettle. All four of us, one at each corner, lifted the table. We hoisted into the back of the truck.

"We don't give 'em to the people like this," said the tall guy with tattoos on his arms. "We'll give 'em a new one. This one'll be just for show."

The production truck inside the parking lot moved closer to the fountain where the beautiful Meredith McRae appeared. They videotaped her in front of the fountain as she did a lead-in for the story about the ping pong table she was about to present to some unsuspecting person in the building. The only thing I could think about with her standing there was a knapsack I had found behind the fountain a week before. The knapsack had a map inside.

It wasn't unusual to find tiny bars of used soap, wash clothes with rusty brown streaks, toothbrushes, shaving paraphernalia, and clothing left to dry along the tile surrounding the fountain. I found the knapsack in the shrubbery that encircled the fountain. Whoever it belonged to had left it. Maybe they were coming back for it. I didn't know, but I was curious, so I opened it. The inside of the knapsack reeked. Besides the dirty clothing, toiletries, and tins of sardines and kipper herring, there was a folded up map as detailed as the one I remembered in Treasure Island, a book I had read as a kid. There was a heavy black line on the map starting in Minnesota, continuing through the Midwest, then veering southeast towards Florida. Red X's dotted various places on the map next to the thick black line. The fountain outside the front doors of Globe Capital Investments was where the line ended.

They finished taping by the fountain and packed up. The production truck with the beautiful and slinky Meredith McRae inside it approached the ticket booth. The driver handed me his parking ticket. I punched it on the clock.

One of the guys from the Fantasy truck came up.

"I'll pay for his parking," he said.

"Don't worry about it," I replied.

The old man I worked with would have kicked my ass for giving them a freebie, but I didn't care.

"So you guys travel all over the country?"

"Yeah."

"Must be nice," I said, thinking about the guy doing about the same thing, with a knapsack full of dirty laundry, tins of sardines and kipper herring, and a map marked with red X's.

"As long as we don't get canceled," said the guy who had banged his head on the table.

"So who won the ping-pong table?"

"Some guy on the tenth floor who works for the phone company," he replied.

The driver of the truck inched towards the gate. Meredith was whispering something in his ear. I was hoping she was saying something about how well I did the ticket booth and played guitar progressions and maybe they could use me on the road. I was caught up in all the excitement and glamour of it, and the old man would surely kick my ass, because I forgot to push the button to raise the gate, and it snapped off like a chicken bone before they drove off to the next fantasy.

Table of Contents

Reefer Grandma (September 21, 2009. Issue 9.)

Candles flickered as she spoke.

"Prana is energy," Shiszu said.

Candles cast elf-like shadows against the wall.

Boom. Boom. Boom. The wall thumped to the beat of the jukebox in the seafood tavern, Captain Jack’s, next door.

I stretched the way Shiszu demonstrated and lowered my forehead as close to my knees as I could. I was bowing as much to her beauty as I was to the prana she said was everywhere like the onion and garlic scent of pizza and calzones from Ricky’s of New York sandwiched on the other side of the Sunlight Yoga Society. I was thinking, seafood or pasta? Which one did I think she would like after class? The aromatic candles sparkled in the dim room. Shiszu herself consisted only of flame and shadow and was not quite real in this shrouded atmosphere. Did she even partake of the normal food of mortals? Seafood or pasta? Yet she was the one I had my heart set on though she was always distant and aloof, preoccupied, I suppose, with her spirit, tenuously tethered to her sculptured body, rising above it, bumping the empyrean in search of escape.

When class finished that evening I waited for her outside, contemplating the big question. Time or eternity? No. I was mundane. Seafood or pasta?

Two of the other Yoga students stood nearby. They were the two women, Helen and Tammy, who arrived in the Oldsmobile ‘98. They’d been trying to get their hooks in me for weeks for whatever reason.

"Do you hear the way she paces around, up and down the aisles, while we do our exercises. It makes me nervous the way Shiszu does that. I came here to relax and get away from my children and husband,” said Tammy, a short, thin woman with black eyelashes and a blonde ponytail. "I'm just as nervous as when I came in, maybe even more nervous. I'd like to get a refund, but I don't want to embarrass her."

Her taller friend, Helen, nodded.

"She makes me nervous too. It's like she doesn't know what she's doing."

I ignored them and watched for Shiszu. I knew what she was doing, I thought. She was making me think about my higher self. God knows, I needed to do that. Especially after the day I’d had. In the process, she was making me fall further in love with her than I already was. Yes, I would ask her, seafood or pasta? Ricky’s had linguine with clam sauce. That was a possibility.

"I teach school," Helen interrupted. "Every day I have a headache."

"I live next door to her," Tammy said.

"You know, Wilbur, that's your name, right?" Helen asked.

"Yeah."

"I thought that's what you said inside. It sounded a little like William," Helen said.

"Yeah," Tammy replied. "It sounds like William."

"You know," Helen continued, "I don't like kids, they drive me crazy, and I'm a school teacher. I don't know what to do."

I half listened to her complaints. I was distracted, waiting for Shiszu to come out of the Sunlight Yoga Society, and hoping Tammy and Helen would retreat to the Oldsmobile ‘98. No chance of that. They kept buzzing around me like the persistent no-see-ems at that time of night.

"I'm going to have dinner at...," I let slip.

"That's a great idea!" Tammy said.

"Let’s smoke a joint before dinner," Helen said. "I've got to get rid of this headache."

“Yeah!” Tammy piped in.

I had gotten stoned and drunk earlier in the day with a grandmother and her felonious looking grandson. Reefer Grandma had bought a St. Cloud waterbed from my boss, Dave Hamilton, and I had gone there to set it up for her. Reefer Grandma and Glen lived in a second floor apartment. Edna had a sunken chin, a beehive hairdo, and glasses with blue, butterfly frames. Glen, apparently managed, when he wasn’t stoned, the apartment complex where they lived. He had a dark beard and brown, frizzy hair.

He let me in, and not looking where he walked or maybe it was the sunglasses he wore inside the apartment, promptly knocked over a Spencer’s Gifts lamp with a Schlitz beer advertisement on the shade. The base shattered into pieces. Reefer Grandma smacked her lips.

“Glen!” she yelled.

He shrugged his shoulders and picked up the pieces.

Reefer Grandma's furnishings were all like that: knickknacks and trinkets from head shops and novelty shops. Mostly Spencer’s Gifts though. She looked like she'd be more at home at the First Baptist Church of Seminole Heights with my landlady, Mrs. Simmons, pounding out hymns to the Almighty on the organ, but Reefer Grandma, even though she was Stone Aged, had Felix the Cat and Grateful Dead “Keep on Trucking” posters on the walls.

On the patio below her apartment, people from the complex prepared for a party, stringing decorations and arranging tablecloths and plastic utensils. Reefer Grandma and Glen were a step ahead of partiers in that department. Glen pulled out Grandma's novelty shop rolling machine to roll their next reefer on. The plastic apparatus was bright and fire engine red. He loaded the contraption with a rolling paper and poured some marijuana into it. He turned the knobs on the ends, and it spit out the finished product.

Reefer Grandma waited anxiously for a draw off the reefer. Her hands fluttered in the air like a hummingbird hovering around a luxuriant and soporific hibiscus flower.

"You sure you know how to set up my waterbed?" she asked after passing the reefer to Glen.

"I've been doing it for a while now," I said with some confidence, maybe overconfidence. “I set up the same bed, the St. Cloud, for a lawyer and his wife a few weeks back. No problem."

“A lawyer, huh? Did you hear that, Glen?”

I could see the word “Schlitz” from the lampshade reflected in Glen’s sunglasses.

"You want some doober?" Glen asked.

"No, but you got any beer?"

"Yeah sure," he said.

Three beers later and the party atmosphere at the apartment complex somehow affected my decision to not indulge in the prana contained in the weed.

"Mind if I have a toke?"

"Thought you'd never ask," Glen said, smiling like Felix the Cat.

He rolled another Spencer’s Gifts reefer. After smoking it, the three of us sat on a couch in front of another Spencer’s Gifts contraption. It was a plastic clock on the kitchen counter and it cast an enchantment upon the three of us. The clock hands triggered different-sized, silver balls that zigzagged across the frame of the clock like the Rube Goldberg mousetrap board game. I remembered the game was built with a crank, gears, a lever, a stop sign, a shoe that tips a bucket holding the metal ball that rolls down stairs into a pipe and hits a rod that causes the bowling ball to drop, roll down a groove then fall into and out of the bottom of the bathtub and land on a diving board which springs the diver through the air and right into a bucket that makes a cage fall on the mouse. It’s like the ultimate, gravity-fed, Newtonian game of cause and effect.

Time, it seemed to me at that particular moment in time, worked in the same strange, Rube Goldberg way. I stared at the mousetrap clock, sipped another beer, took another toke, and remembered a carnival ride I had been on designed like the same mousetrap game. The passenger car was in the shape of a mouse with a pointed nose and whiskers, and it traveled up flimsy, convoluted rails. Other passengers screamed as it ascended, then slowly inched its way to a steep drop off where we were all turned to screaming hunks of human cheese, a Marzolino, from which worms were the only survivors. Worms! That's what we all become in Time. Worms that harden into eggs. Eggs turn to flies, black midges, and no-see-ems that fill the air, a blur of winged ants, males seizing females in midair. Cheese!

"Glen!" Reefer Grandma snapped.

"What?"

"Isn't he going to set up my waterbed?" Reefer Grandma said to Glen.

"Ask him not me," Glen said.

"He's stoned," Reefer Grandma stated, looking me over, me thinking about Time and the mousetrap carnival ride.

Her eyes behind the butterfly-rimmed glasses enlarged to spotlights. The veins in her eyes looked like a Triple A road atlas.

"You got him stoned, Granny," Glen said.

"No, you did," Reefer Grandma shot back.

"No, you did," Glen argued.

"No, you did," Reefer Grandma said.

It was like one of the little silver balls going back and forth on the Spencer’s Gifts time clock. I was vaguely aware of their controversy. The great camaraderie I shared with my newest and latest friends all but disappeared, and I felt betrayed. I felt like the mouse in the mousetrap game, led to the cheese, and the cage had fallen down around me.

"Can you set that waterbed up or not? I don't want it leaking. Have you set up waterbeds before?" Reefer Grandma asked, her eyes full of sunset colors.

"All the time," I managed.

Inwardly though, my confidence plummeted inversely proportional to Time that dipped and curved, rose and fell with gravity, slid back, lurched forward, turned and turned and turned again like the track on the mousetrap carnival ride. It felt like I had been there for hours with Reefer Grandma and Glen. Time went so slow, I wondered if I had been sucked into a manhole cover, a black hole from which I was never to emerge, whose ganglia of space–time was crammed with Schlitz beer lampshades and Felix the Cat paraphernalia.

Luckily, I laid out all the pieces of the St. Cloud in Grandma’s bedroom before getting stuck on their mousetrap ride in Spencer’s Gifts Time. I went from one side of the bedroom to the other like the balls in the mousetrap clock trying to figure out how to attach the pieces and how to get the bed against the wall. I had unlearned every thing I knew about setting up waterbeds. My sense of direction and space disappeared. The arrow of Time, pointed to the party on the patio below. Reefer Grandma and Glen headed down there.

"Glen! Goddammit! He's drunk and stoned," Reefer Grandma complained again to Glen in the other room.

Glen laughed. She continued spouting off.

It was hard to distinguish the front or the back of the St. Cloud. I stood in the room, staring at the hinge on the corner of the waterbed's side piece. I didn’t know up from down, right from left.

Reefer Grandma and Glen gave up and went to the festivities downstairs. Every so often someone came up to view Reefer Grandma's St. Cloud waterbed in disarray. They laughed at the pieces spread all over the room. Minutes later someone else wandered in. Somehow, I finally managed to get it put together, and I skedaddled with her twenty dollar set-up fee.

"No more reefer for me today," I repeated to Tammy and Helen, who had waited there for me to go smoke a joint before the dinner they weren’t invited to, but were coming to anyway.

"C'mon, Wilbur. We'll smoke in the car."They looked at me oddly when I refused again, explaining the circumstances involving Reefer Grandma, Glen, Newtonian and Spencer’s Gifts time, and the mousetrap game. They strolled to the Oldsmobile '98 which soon filled with thick smoke, but not thick enough to not see me gesturing to Captain Jack’s or Ricky’s when Shiszu came out in her sheer black top and jeans.

"Thanks for saving us seats, Wilbur," Tammy shouted later when they found our table in a secluded corner of Ricky’s.

They pulled chairs from another table and joined Shiszu and I even though I just wanted to talk with Shiszu. Tammy grabbed a menu and examined it like it was the Shroud of Turin. They began to squabble about pepperoni and anchovies. Shiszu turned to a shadow instead of flame, aloof and distant. The waitress came up and stood behind me, chewing gum, smacking her lips in the process.

“What can I get for you, folks?” she asked.

Tammy and Helen couldn't decide on a topping.

"I'll take the Hardhat Special and spaghetti Bolognese."

"One Hardhat Special and spaghetti Bolognese," the waitress repeated. “You got a big appetite,” she clucked.

“Yeah,” I said.

She paused for Tammy and Helen to decide.

"We'll take a large pizza with hamburger, sausage, pepperoni, anchovies, and green pepper," Tammy decided.

"Mmmmm," Helen joined in, then laughed uncontrollably.

The waitress shifted towards Shiszu.

“And what can I get for you?”

"Do you serve hot tea?" Shiszu asked.

"Do you want that now or with your dinner, honey? You want hot tea and...?"

"I'll have a cup of hot tea. That's fine," Shiszu said.

"One hot tea. Is that it?" she asked, clicking her gum.

Tammy and Helen rolled their eyes. Helen gave me a pained ‘See what I mean’ look as if her headache had returned after a mousetrap ride at an Easter carnival.

"I forgot! Make ours with double cheese!" Tammy blurted out. "No, triple!"

The waitress started laughing. She must have waited on plenty of customers that came in there stoned and drunk and picked right up on Tammy and Helen. They were such stoners.

“You girls!” she admonished them with a knowing, high-pitched cackle.

She leaned forward to get the menus off the table. That’s when I lost my taste for the Hardhat Special and spaghetti Bolognese. I slumped in my seat like I did in Yoga class because there was the beehive hairdo, the sunken chin, and the glasses with the blue, butterfly rims. It was Reefer Grandma in a waitress outfit, and this was where she worked when she wasn’t smoking reefers Glen turned out on her Spencer’s Gifts rolling machine or trapping people in Spencer’s Gifts mousetrap time.

“Maybe you’d like some seafood instead,” I said to Shiszu. “Some prawns, maybe?”

“Where you going, Wilbur?” Helen asked.

“Yeah,” Tammy joined in.

I threw the twenty dollars on the table that I made setting up our waitress’s waterbed.

“Dinner’s on her,” I said, pointing to Reefer Grandma who had walked away with the menus to another table. “We’re going to Captain Jack’s.”

Table of Contents