Last Friday night as I returned home from work I was approached by a series of vendors, each one offering to make my dreams come true. I had never been approached by these kinds of people before and on this particular night, there were four such incidents. Yes, four. Incredulous as it might sound I was intrigued by the way the events unfolded. I’m home alone now and I had to write this all down before my memories of the events faded. I can scarcely believe it myself:
I tidied up my desk and filed the papers I had been working on. I took the time to lock the ledger book in the small document safe hidden in the wall of my office. The pencils I had used that day went lead down, into a cup I kept carefully positioned to the left side of my desktop. I would carve the tips to a point first thing in the morning of the next work day and put them lead up in the cup on the right side of my desktop. I liked to have the ready pencils positioned closer to my writing hand. It kept things simpler, less confusing.
“Good night, Miss Evans,” I said to my secretary as I passed through the outer office.
“Have a wonderful weekend, Sir,” she replied, and she scurried through the door to my domain to dust and tidy up before she took the bus home to wherever it was that she lived.
At the ground floor, I pushed through the heavy brass entry doors on the front of The Filmont Building, where I worked on the third floor. My boss worked on the fifth floor and Mr. Filmont worked on ten.
On the sidewalk I turned north and began my three block stroll to the train station. It was a pleasant day so I carried my overcoat. I hadn’t traveled even half a block before I was approached by the first pitchman. He wore a straw boater and a bowtie. His jacket was a tight, bright plaid and he was surrounded by urchins whom he continuously shooed away. “Get away kid… Ya bother me.”
“Hey buddy,” he said. “I wonder if you can help me out. I’m working my way home after having been down south for the last seven weeks. Have you ever spent any time down south? I have; and let me tell you – On the whole, I’d rather have been in Philadelphia.
“Anyway, I find myself a little short for a ticket so I want to sell this ‘Magical Staff of Protection’. I can let you have it for only 50 cents.”
“That’s no ‘Magical Staff of Protection’!” I said, “It’s just a walking stick.”
“Have you ever been smacked up the side of your head with a walking stick? Have you ever had your feet pulled out from under you with a walking stick? I don’t think so. Those are chores reserved exclusively for a ‘Magical Staff of Protection’” He pushed some of the children out from underfoot with the crook at the top of his walking stick.
I stopped, “Let me take a look at it.” I held out my hand and when he gave it to me I examined it closely before holding it back out for him. “I’ll give you a nickel.”
“Deal,” we shook on it.
At The Station
A tattered man, in need of a haircut and smelling strongly of cheap booze and tobacco was working the crowd on the platform. I tried to eavesdrop, to hear what he was saying, or more likely selling, but he spoke too softly and I couldn’t hear.
When he got to me he continued to speak softly, “Good afternoon, sir. I have a once in a lifetime opportunity that I am willing to make available to you tonight only.” He lifted the top of a box he held clutched in his hands and inside I saw a cracked and worn leather aviator’s helmet. The chin strap seemed to be torn.
“It’s ‘The Helm of Focus’.” He said and looked over both shoulders as if afraid someone might hear.
I smacked him above the ear with my ‘Magical Staff of Protection’ and he dropped like a box of rocks. I wasn’t in the mood to hear his sales pitch and I had been anxious to try out my recent purchase. It seemed to work well.
Just then my train arrived and I boarded the third car from the front, taking my usual seat.
On The Train
Things really started to get interesting on the train. I took my seat and almost immediately regretted not having purchased a paper from the newsstand. I had nothing to read for the duration of the ride. Oh well, it was what it was. I focused on the window and watched the rapidly changing landscape as we moved from downtown, to uptown, to edge of town, to countryside. I made my mind blank, thinking of nothing.
That’s why I was startled when someone plopped down heavily next to me. Quickly I turned, brandishing my ‘Magical Staff’. Luckily, I realized before using it that it was an attractive young lady who had sat down. She stuck out her hand to shake.
“Hello, sucker,” she said, “My name is Mary Louise Cecilia Guinan but folks call me Texas, on account of that’s where I’m from.” She winked and fished in her bag to pull out a silver flask. Promptly removing the cork from the flask she took a long draw, wiped her lips with the back of her hand and offered the bottle to me. Without thinking I took it and had a taste. It was gin and I spit it out.
“What?” She said, “you a teetotaler?” she laughed and took back her bottle, taking another taste before re-corking it and dropping it back in her bag.
“That was gin,” I said. “Gin’s illegal in this country. The bootleg stuff they sell here could make you blind or even kill you.”
“Not my stuff. My stuff is made by legitimate distillers in Canada or South America. If you’re drinking Texas Guinan’s hooch you’re drinking the good stuff. I call it my ‘Elixir of Courage’. You’d be surprised how brave you become after you’ve had enough of my stuff.
“Hey,” she said as if the idea had just occurred to her, “I recently opened a speakeasy on W. 54th Street, called the 300 Club. Why don’t you stop in tonight? The elixir’s cheap and so are the girls. You might surprise yourself and have a good time. Things start hopping around midnight.”
I nodded my head. She stood, smiled and moved to the next car.
I stepped off the train at my stop. It was only a short walk home now. I spotted someone I knew. Leaning up against a light post by the staircase, on the platform, where I couldn’t miss her was Miss Texas. I’m not sure how she got past me on the train or how she moved so quickly to the stairs. She fell in step with me and linked her arm to mine.
She smiled, “Hey, Sucker,” she said endearingly, “I forgot to mention one little thing. I have something for sale that you might be interested in.”
“What might that be?” I asked.
“It’s called ‘The Amulet of Attraction’” she said and she pulled it out from under her blouse to show me. It hung around her neck from a chain and seemed to glow in the dark Connecticut night.
“I don’t think I need that, Texas. You look plenty attractive to me.”
“Come on now, Cowboy. Of course I do. I’m wearing the amulet. I look attractive to everybody. If you wore the amulet you would look attractive to everybody. You remember those girls I mentioned at The 300 Club? They wouldn’t be able to keep their hands off you if you were wearing this.”
I stopped, “How much?” I asked her.
“Two hundred dollars,” she said.
“Will you take four hundred,” I countered.
“You drive a hard bargain, Cowboy, but I’ll do that for you.”
“I’ve got the cash at the house.” I said, “Can you follow me home?”