Every year I like to do a creative thingamabob for the holidays. It started with short stories and now it’s kind of going in the direction of an open mic. (It’s a mix you see?) It’s one of the few traditions I have here at Flobito.com. Check out some of the past entries.
This is a short story I call “With Prejudice”
The wind was especially harsh this evening.
I glanced at my watch and realized I had been waiting at this park bench for almost two hours. What started off as a fun diversion turned ghastly, as the temperature felt as if it were falling by the minute.
New York’s Central Park truly is an oasis in the concrete jungle. Even though the majestic scenery by day gives way to the unknown by nightfall, there was still a magic about literally sitting in history. Surrounded by steel and glass on three sides, I peered into the unknown on the far side of the park. It would be only a matter of time now.
I used to be the kind of guy who loved Christmastime. As I got older, I was more likely to equate the bitter cold and long lines at shops to the holiday more than gingerbread men and Santa Claus, but I was more or less the cynical sort. Still, I waited on this park bench for someone I hadn’t met before. I suppose optimism wasn’t completely lost on me yet.
About six months ago, my law firm corralled all of us in the room to say that we were having our best year ever. Truthfully, a lot of that had to do with me. Intellectual property wasn’t our firm’s forte, but it was mine and I was damn good at it. I took on (and won ) a whole string of cases while creating a whole new revenue stream for the firm. I was riding high, to say the least. Anyway, back to that meeting in the summer. My boss says that due to our tremendous growth, they’ll be promoting one person to partner.
Let me tell you, had they promoted me this story would be over.
Instead, the promoted Jensen. A cool guy surely, but I had a deep feeling in the pit of my stomach that the upgrade should have gone to me. When I pressed my boss he made an excuse that since we were a firm that “gave back” and I had no community involvement to speak of, this promotion wasn’t mine to take. Did you get all that?
Devoting myself to nothing but my job cost me a promotion. Seriously.
I spent the next couple of weeks looking at ways I could plug that hole. Sure I could throw money at a bunch of charities and call it a day, I instantly fell in love in an organization called the Pepper House. Named after my neighborhood in Pepper Hill Brooklyn, the charity paired “successful professionals” with at-risk youths for mentorships. I figured, how hard could it be? An hour a week for six months and boom, objectives met right?
I was paired with a six-year-old boy named Henry. Besides the fact he reminded me of myself, I admit I quickly took a shine to him. Maybe it was because he was honest, or younger than the other kids in the program, or–like me– didn’t have his father in his life, Henry definitely turned the chore of community service into something I looked forward to doing every Saturday afternoon at 1 P.M.
It was just this past Saturday when I took Henry shopping in on Liberty Avenue just two days after Thanksgiving. On a day devoted to patronizing small businesses and shops, I wanted to give Henry a bit of a watered down, belated Black Friday experience, especially since his mom avoided that catastrophe like the plague. On an abnormally balmy November afternoon, we were just a couple of guys walking the strip with ice cream. It would be incredibly manly had it not been completely adorable. Anyway, after taking a bite out of my cookie dough cone, I asked him:
“So, are you excited for Christmas?” I tried at the sort of veneered smiled single people tend to throw at children.
“Yeah,” Henry said. “Christmas is my favorite holiday. Well, usually.”
“Oh?” I said. “Usually?”
He frowned. “This morning I told mom what I wanted for Christmas. She said she’ll try but…”
“I think I made her sad.”
I had known Henry’s mom was going through a lot, but I never quite knew what exactly. While I wasn’t one to get involved in other people’s personal matters, I can tell you this afternoon felt different. Maybe it was the holiday spirit or maybe it was the manly ice cream coursing through my veins, but I got myself involved.
“I’m sure your mom wasn’t sad,” I said to Henry. “What did you want for Christmas, anyway?”
His eyes lit up.
“Oh my gosh,” he said. “There’s the brand new Silverstreek action figure with the actual working Skygear and alternative ‘Nightfall’ armor and…”
“Hold on, hold on,” I said. “Silver what?”
“Silverstreek!” Henry smiled. “He’s the best comic book superhero ever! And he flies, too! Skygear makes him soar!”
It started coming together. “So you want an action figure of a superhero that actually flies?”
He nodded enthusiastically
“That actually sounds pretty cool,” I said. “I can get you one of those for Christmas, no problem!”
I zipped up my jacket as I sat on that bench in the park. A peeked at my cellphone, looking for a text message or an email. Nothing. Rubbing my hands together, I silently wished I took the extra moment brought a pair of gloves. I shook the idea from my head. Being out here was my penance for keeping a promise I almost couldn’t keep. The Silverstreek action figure was apparently the “hot toy” this year. Stores have been sold out of the figure for months and I had a sinking suspicion Henry’s mother knew that. Not that it mattered now, it was my problem now. I found one online on auction site earlier tonight. Rather than risk the guy shipping the figure through the mail and hoping it arrives on time, I requested a local pick up. Central Park seemed like the best idea at the time. Hindsight is 20/20 they say, because now if I had the chance I would’ve opted for a coffee shop. Yet here I sit. Waiting for my chance to be a hero.
I must’ve gotten lost in my thoughts because after what felt like seconds after my last memory, a burly, bearded man stood over me holding an opaque plastic shopping bag.
“You BigKnicksFan82?” He snarled.
I nodded as I stood. This is my guy. My version of Santa Claus looked like he would be more at home at an antique bookstore more than the North Pole, but there were more appropriate times to be judgmental, surely.
“Yup,” I said. “CrossBronxToys?”
I dug into my pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. It was $150, our negotiated–and 500% marked up–price for the figure. Wrapped in a rubber band, I handed the wad over to him.
“Here you go,” I said. “Let’s see it.”
Instead, the bearded merchant stepped away.
“On second thought,” he said. “No deal!”
I grabbed his shoulder as soon as he decided to turn away.
“What do you mean ‘no dead’?” I fumed. “You had me waiting for you out here for over two hours. I got a kid that’s been counting on me to score that doll for him. Man, count the money, it’s all there!”
He smiled. “You know, I wasn’t quite sure when I arranged the meet when I saw your profile picture, but I know you.”
Uh oh. The last thing I wanted to hear at night in Central Park is a complete stranger saying that they ‘knew’ me.
“I had my toy shop for a couple of years,” he said. “Even taught myself how to run the business. I made a mistake and got tangled up with a bad supplier that put unlicensed merch on the shelves. Didn’t matter that it wasn’t my fault because the copyright owners hired YOU to find me guilty! Spent so much on penalties and legal fees that I had to move my whole operation online!”
“Hey look,” I stammered. “I’m sor–”
“Save it,” he said with a sigh. “Look, I guess I should be glad you’re not some obsessive collector and that you were getting it for a kid. So here, take the Silverstreek. Keep the money too, you probably earned it by ripping another shop like mine.”
He handed me the shopping bag. Taking it out, it was the bona fide edition of the action figure I had been looking for. A superhero encased in plastic, smiling in all his glory.
“Merry Christmas asshole,” he huffed as I watched him disappear into the night.
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