No Free Lunch

By Phillip Ghee

So Gypsy Jack was back. The banter around town already had him placed as being in at least seven forbidden zones and a tour out of the country during his year long hiatus from Sunset City. Gypsy Jack was a real character’s character in a town filled to the brim with characters. Sunset City faired better than most towns, its proximity to the edge of the country spared it, or at least lessened, the deteriorating impact that many other parts of the country had experienced. Without fail Jack would show up every so often with bags of pilfered and undoubtedly black market obtained goods but more interesting than his goods were the stories. Some doubted their validity and regarded them as only entertaining yet imaginative tall tales. Then there were the outrageous schemes, plans and visions he planned to bestow upon the residents of Sunset City.

His tales always included showmanship, a certain amount of the ole razzle and dazzle. Memories of such antics brought forth an audible laugh gushing through the lips of Fred Tomikawa.

Fred, which was not his real name, of Tomikawa and Son was fortunate enough that no one was around to hear the laugh. Fred had worked very hard to build up his image as a cranky old shopkeeper as to gain the upper hand when wheeling and dealing and negotiating for offered goods. It was Earth Day and as miserable as things were for the planet it was still a holiday, in-fact it was the most major holiday of year. Tomikawa and Son was closed for business so there were no customers to hear this breech of identity. And since there was no Son of Tomikawa and Son, the laughter drifted unheard, into the woods, with no one to witness, much like the last diseased Redwood, that at the same time was, crashing to the canvas of the forest floor

Tomikawa and Son was a theme. Fred whose real name was Austin was such a fan of the late twentieth century Television sitcom Sanford and Son that he built his whole business around that theme. This was not so totally out of the ordinary.  You see by the early decades of the twenty-first century creativity, of any sort, had grinded to almost an abrupt halt. Many blamed the Internet, some blamed the proliferation of reality themed television shows and the endless procession of movie re-makes. Others suggested that chem-trails, pollution and the likes combined with the election of people like Sarah Palin to the highest office in the land had finally taken their toll on the American Mind. Whatever the reason, many had resurrected the creative images of the past and revered them as if they were Greek gods. Items of the past were not easily obtainable. A memory track of most any twentieth century  television show or music recording was as valuable as gold. Austin , AKA Fred had managed to acquire almost the complete Sanford and Son series: Seasons 1, 2 and 3 on a widget called a DVD. He also had the means, the antique equipment to play such. During the summer months he sometimes treated the local kids to free viewing thereby softening his image, just a bit.

Just as Gypsy Jack was a Jack of all trades, Tomikawa and Son was a shop of all trades. It serviced as a Holistic Medicine Shop, Recycling Center, Pawn Shop and a 2nd hand (more like 3rd, 4th, 5th and even 10th hand) store. As alluded to earlier, items of the past, recent and distant, had become very valuable and hard to find. Despite the dire situation of the American Continent, Fred managed to do quite well for himself. His future seemed secured in a land where calamity was a daily event. America had been devastated decades ago in the First Great Economic War and by the Time the GEW II had rolled around , America barely rated as third world nation. In the years following there had been something of a resurgent economically but the urban decay, pollution, overflowing land fills, poisoned and depleted water supplies still made life strenuous at best. Since manufacturing and industry were practically non-existent in the States, traveling hawkers with wares like Gypsy Jack were welcomed.

Fred reminisced over some of the earlier schemes and plans that Jack had tried to pawn off on him. There was the coffee nebulizer, the acid rain- proof umbrella, and the less than noteworthy, paraplegic walking metal suit.  Most were good for a laugh and the story of the origin behind them. However, Gypsy Jack did manage to accumulate worthwhile objects worth buying.

The next morning as a line of shopping carts and their chauffeurs jockeyed for prime position outside the store who should Fred spy in the background but Gypsy Jack. Gypsy Jack probably had some savings buried in this place and that but, whenever he appeared in Sunset City he made no effort to flaunt prosperity and so there he was in his tattered over worn, overcoat and with shopping cart in tow.

Fred literally tossed a couple of the wannabe vendors out of his shop while threatening others with a smack across the lips, due to what he perceived as their outrageous demands for either service or goods rendered. In-fact he was more curt than usual with the clients and customers. He was in a hurry to grant audience to Gypsy Jack. His concealed excitement to see Jack was wrapped up in an outward sour expression.

“So what brings you back around these parts?”

“Well the wind was right, the sea was a calling and, I just had a hankering to pay the good folks of Sunset City a visit.”

This was almost the same ritual that had taken place many times before but neither party diverged from the script.

“And I guess, you have all the items that will make our ohhh! so miserable lives so much better, right there in your shopping cart”

“Ahhh! A shopping cart to most but for you, consider it Santa’s sleigh.”

“I guess this is going to take a chunk my precious time?” Fred faked a sigh. With a grumpy tone he beckoned Jack inside. He hung a cardboard clock face on the hook outside the shop that indicated he would be closed for the next hour. Those who were left outside received the news without much fanfare. Many retrieved from under their carts sources of liquid nourishment that would allow the passage of time to flow in much more pleasant manner.

Once inside Gypsy Jack began to set the stage with all the drama and diction of a Snake Oil Salesmen combined with the smooth delivery of a Three Card Monte Dealer. He recounted how he had managed to sneak into China. China had been off limits to most all, especially after its pummeling of America in GEW I. Once there he managed to gain entry into The Great Wal-Mart of China. This shopping Mecca was so huge and expansive, reported Jack, that it is the only Shopping Center visible from space. As he elaborated on shopping there he slowly and with theatrical flair unwrapped the plain pieces of paper surrounding items such as portable razors, solar operated can openers, compact water purifiers and dozens of other small appliances. Fred regretted not wearing his darker shade glasses. The gleam in his eye would most certainly call his bluff. The negotiations began and a half and hour later, Tomikawa and Son had now increased its inventory to include every item that had previously been in Jack’s cart except one.

“Did you plan to spend the day here; I see you packed a lunch?”

“Oh! there was once a  nicely lunch packed but that was many months ago.”

“Alright, Jack you’ve already bled me enough. How much do you want for the picnic basket?”

Jack leaned uncomfortably close and whispered into Fred’s ear.

“This better be a joke.” Fred, his un-shown, but presently good mood, now wearing thin. He eyed the Louisville Slugger he kept conveniently by the antique keyed cash register.

“I assure you this is no joke and if you were to hear me out, what’s contained within that basket will change your life, Sunset City ‘s and perhaps our sad Nation.”

“Untrusting, Fred peered under the cart just to make sure that Jack was not partaking of his own sort of liquid refreshment”. He conceded and gave Jack the floor to continue.

Gypsy Jack proceeded to tell a tale that how once leaving China, he had made his way over to Switzerland in order to obtain fine chocolates and truffles. These too were almost as valuable as gold in the milk contaminated US of A. He took a few days off to relax in the scenic countryside, devoid of landfills unlike the State Parks in America. There he happened to make to the acquaintances of one of that country’s more attractive females. When he later found out that she was an accomplished female yodeler Gypsy Jack was shaken to his foundations. The thought of an attractive female yodeler, lederhosen and large horns offered endless possibilities all which of Gypsy Jack was prepared to explore.

He had managed to persuade the young fräulein for a picnic lunch in the beautiful hills encroaching upon the Alps . He meticulously packed a nice picnic lunch, purchased a fine bottle of wine and even surrendered a box of the recently acquired prized chocolates to the luncheon fare. The chosen location overlooked a pleasant valley. The valley was sparsely populated except for the old CERN Research facilities. While in town Jack had seen some of the structure that constituted the facility. Judging by their age he just assumed they were preserved as museums. At some point during the choppy, small talk, translations through filters, a swift hot breeze shot past Jack’s leg. It had actually managed to move the picnic basket a few inches. Jack though this was odd considering the breeze seemed strangely concentrated and not particular strong. As of yet none of the contents of the basket had thus been removed. Once again focusing his attention towards the young maiden in d’dress, and a very short one at that, Jack thoughts returned to more pressing matters.

Now seemed as good a time as any for wine. Jack went to pick up the basket and was astonished to find that with all the items that had been placed in the basket its weight now seemed curiously empty of contents. He was not a mountaineer, or even much of a hiker for that fact, but he was certain that altitude could not do this. He gingerly peaked into the basket by slowly, very slowly, opening the lid. He gasped and abruptly shut the lid. Jack was speechless. Unable to speak, in any language, translators or not, his date deduced him as nothing more than another cheap date, with nothing to say and who couldn’t even afford lunch and thus ended the potentially romantic liaison.

“So what the Hell does this have to do with the basket Jack?” Expressed an irritated Fred; truly irritation this time still foaming over what Jack had whispered into his ear.

“I guess next you are going to say it belonged to Houdini or something?”

Part 2 by Phillip Ghee

Not fazed by the interruption Jack continues to elaborate. Once back in his hotel he informs Fred, that his curiosity got the better of him. He was simply going to throw the basket away fearing that somewhere in his worldly travels that he must have offended some witchdoctor or Shaman which in turn levied some curse about him. But before doing so he could not resist another quick peak into the picnic basket. He once again gingerly lifted the lid and peaked inside.

Inside it was dark; it was pitch black, no it was shades darker than pitch black if that was possible. The darkness was so great that he felt as if vision itself was being drained from his eyes as if vision was now magnetic and inside the box was the world’s largest magnet.

He lifted the picnic basket up and gave it a good shake. Nothing, no evidence of contents, no retrieval of the earlier mentioned packed lunch, in fact no sound at all emanated from inside the basket, just an eerily nothingness. Provoked, Jack flipped open the lid and without looking in, tossed in the nearest object he could find. The hotel communicator was absorbed by the nothingness. never to be seen from or heard from again.

Oh boy, this was gonna to cost him, he reasoned.

Just as he was about to hurl the picnic basket into the refuge shoot his eye caught hold of a poster that sarcastically read, in the best translation he could manage, Keep Switzerland beautiful recycle now or America later. The photo of the pristine Alps was juxtaposed to that of floating garbage heaps gracing the shores of the Statue of Liberty. The photos were not enhanced. And that’s when Gypsy Jack had his brilliant idea.

“Items go in but they don’t come out.” The reasoning was simplistic at best but by all present accounts accurate. Gypsy Jack would finally make his mark on the world in a big way, ‘The Ultimate Recycling Plant’.

Fred grasped his broad red suspenders with both hands as if to steady the body they adorned. If this was true maybe Jack had something after all, still Jack’s whispered proposal was unacceptable. Fred demanded a demonstration to which Gypsy Jack gratefully obliged. Jack picked up an errant bottle of Port from the floor, probably dropped by one of the clients that Fred had ejected from the shop. He opened the lid of the basket and tossed it in. He invited Fred to shake the basket. Fred found to his amazement that no sound came forth from the extremely light basket. Again Fred demanded demonstration, this time he picked an item of his own choosing. That chipped and battered bowling bowl was never going to sell and plus the sheer weight of it made any trickery doubtful. Fred commanded a little more distance between he, the basket and Jack. He speculated that maybe Jack picked up some sort of cloaking device or something at the Great Wal-Mart of China. Fred once more opened the lid and with a bit of a squeezing pushed the bowling ball into the basket. He waited a second or two and then the moment of truth. He picked up the basket. It was just as light as it was before being force feed a bowling ball. He held it up to his ear and gave it a good shake, nothing. And for good measure he commanded the distant Jack to remove and shake his overcoat. Without a moment hesitation Fred opened the door of the shop and announced to the gathered masses outside that due to technical difficulties the store would be closed for the rest of the day. He made it a point to retrieve the cardboard clock before re-entering the store. Everything had value these days and he had not intention of allowing someone make off with it.

Fred opened his safe and produced a genuine, aged bottle or Ripple. He poured a glass for himself and his guest. Taking up the cue, Jack went into a little more detail. CERN, Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche, was an early 21st. Century research facility dedicated to the science of  high energy research. For awhile CERN had been focused on smashing atoms in its 17 mile long particle accelerator. The project had achieved some minor successes but when the world wide revolt against the Internet took hold, CERN, also being the developer of the World Wide Web. Because of this the facility became the subject of many demonstrations and trashings by the Anarchists as well as Fundamentalist in every shape, size, fashion and religion known. The facility was forced to close. However, Jack later ascertained, from time to time, splinter scientist groups would occupy the building(s) and conduct many clandestine experiments. He reasoned that this must have been exactly what was going on, the date of the failed picnic.

European Organization
for Nuclear Research
Organisation Européenne
pour la Recherche Nucléaire

It was once thought that smashing theses atoms and protons and the likes at such high speeds might be the key to unlock our destruction by inadvertently unleashing a Black Hole. Many even those in the scientific community rallied against the experiments.

The Large Hadron Collider , the principle piece of apparatus responsible for all the banging about was slated to create the same type of conditions that would account for the Big Bang. They hoped to produce some sacred particle, the name of which escaped Jack. Alas, none of this ever occurred before public sentiment turned against the facility.

Jack deduced that the splinter group had been successful, if not off track, in creating something. Once he realized his great and brilliant idea he contacted every authority and fringe group he could think of to inform them of the going ons at the facility. Heck! he didn’t want someone to come along and claim patent rights or ownership on what he had in his basket. He made sure the facility was raided and the scientist apprehended before he decided that he would unveil his discovery.

“Why me, Jack?” There was a hint of mistrust flavoring the question.

“ Because you’re small. Do you realized what would happen if I approached a large company with this? They would steal it in heartbeat, put a stump to my rump and tease me with ‘take us to court’.

Then there’s the Government, need I say more?

“You’re a world traveler Jack; why not pick a more pleasant    environment?”

“I happen to like Sunset City. I like the Ocean, Hell you can’t even tell that it’s polluted from this vantage point. And if I have to give up my Nomad Lifestyle for awhile and have to stick around any town for a period of time, it might as well be this one”.

The bottle of Ripple was now bone dry and the two men were still negotiating way into the wee hours of the night. Fred now tipsy threaten Jack that if he mentioned

‘Tomikawa and Jack’s Recycling Emporium one more time that it would be he next stuffed into the basket. Jack settled for 30% of the profits, solely from the recycling venture alone and as a silent partner. Jack knew he was getting a raw deal but despite the nature of his business he was not much of a Capitalist anyway. He spent his money on life and not on death therefore he never much tried to accumulate a nest egg. He did have ego though and was sorely disappointed that he would be known or rather unknown as a silent partner.

Part 3

No Free Lunch

The Trash Tax had come full circle. It had been such an oppressive and selectively enforced tax that it had greatly contributed to the trashing of America . When the idea of the tax was first introduced, in the early 21st. Century it was thought that it would encourage recycling and reduce the generation of needless waste. However, the Government (both Federal and Local Municipalities ) being the primary offender of both above mentioned incursions exempted themselves from taxes and penalties. Next social institutions like hospitals and schools were given a free pass along with what was left of large Industry and Manufacturing. The Green- Eco and Environmental parties that endorsed the bill all became disillusioned and withdrew their support. Thus the bulk of the taxes and penalties were levied against the everyday American. This lead to widespread and illegal dumping. Any patch of vacant land, city or national park and even waterways were fair game for night time deposits.

Now that America was trying desperately to reclaim its dignity and world status the overflowing coffers of the various tax boards were opened and utilized for a good cause. In attempts to clean up the parks, historical sites and communities vouchers were issued for anyone bring in reclaim trash. America ’s days of wanton consumerism were long gone and thus households themselves no longer generated much trash but there was plenty of trash from the previous decades still blanketing the countryside. The vouchers, albeit small in monetary values, were issued by any Federal or Municipality or sanctioned Reclamation Center .

Yes the tax had come full circle. A photo commemorating the Congressional event was hung behind the register. The photo showed B.Tomikawa, Environmentalist, a primary supporter, and forefather of Fred. He is shown smiling; shaking the hand of the Congressman whom one would gather had just signed the original bill that created the trash tax. After decades of being stashed in the attic, residing in the box of shame, Fred had come to resurrect the photo. It now hung proudly on the wall of Fred’s shop for all to see. Unlike his father and grandfather before him, Fred could once again walk talk. In fact he now walking so tall he even felt a wee bit taller.

Large items and bulky items were usually taken to the Industrial Reclamation site. Folks barring smaller lots usually would forgo the long lines at the Industrial or Municipal Centers and taken to authorized shops like Fred’s. They were usually issued much smaller vouchers at such shops but it was worth the short wait for most.  Fred would usually collect these bundles and whatever he could not re-sell he would accumulate until he had a sizable amount then he would hire a hauler to take it to the Industrial site. Since many American derived their entire income from such actions and transaction, business was never at a lost.

Both men had agreed that such a secret was too valuable to trust with others so they decided to keep it between the two of them. Once Fred had begun to issue way more vouchers than usual he knew that it would only be a matter of time before the Inspectors would arrive to asses the situation. He would have to content with Federal Inspectors and Local Inspectors and Business Inspectors and possibly other newly hatched positions.

During the early days of the venture life ran pretty much the same as usual. Fred would collect the refuse, sort it out and, those items slated for destruction would be dismantled, if necessary, and later feed into the picnic basket. Often times Jack would assist and keep Fred’s company.  Fred speculated that in due time that his little operation would never hold under the scrutiny of the various Inspectors; regardless of bribes. Fred dug into his profits, paid off the requisite bribes to the zoning commission and building inspectors and raised himself quite an add-on to his shop.

The newly built structure was about the size of a small garage. It walls were shiny stainless steel. Not too many things were new and shiny these days and Fred really relished at the acquisition. The front of the structure housed a control panel full of gauges, knobs and levers that served absolutely no purpose other than effect. A door lead one into the interior of the structure but most of the operations were initiated from the outside. A reinforced chute, approximately 2’by2’ opened unto a conveyer belt. The belt ran at 30 degree slope and emptied out into maze of shears and rotary grinders. And although these mechanisms could service as primary reducers; the real work was done by Gypsy Jack. Not only was Jack a silent partner, in many cases he was also an invisible one.

An inquisitive Inspector could visually follow the items as it made its way into the maze of shears but what that inspector would not see would be the last turn of the belt as it emptied itself into the compactor chamber. The compactor chamber would make a thunderous clap, depending on the volume setting that Jack chose from his crouching position within the chamber’s interior. If need be he would shove a formulated tile brick out the other end of the chamber thus simulating the reduced waste. To clarify, inside the chamber was a crouching  one, crouching Gypsy Jack, one picnic basket and several formulated tile bricks and that was the intricate working of the entire, shiny, stainless steel, facade.

Jack always had to be on the ready to assume the position at a moments notice. This caused him much grief and many a night the men had heated debates over such arrangement. Jack would always complain about the crouching and the limited space whereas Fred would sarcastically quip that in the early days, before Jack started living high on the hog, he was much more agile and hinted that perhaps he should drop some of his newly acquired girth. Being sensitive on the issue, Jack would usually concede. He had been getting rather broad in the beam, here lately.

“Damn ants.” Sitting on the side of his bed Jack examined the perceived bite marks on his scratched and inflamed legs and ankles. On several occasions he had tried to move Fred into calling in an exterminator. Jack had complained that the ants were infesting the shiny steel structure. Fred was a bred and born Environmentalist and did not take kindly to pesticides and, Jack was never able to offer up substantial proof that there was indeed an infestation. This was due to the fact that Jack had never really seen the ants, he just felt their presence.

As if this wasn’t enough, Jack was fighting to raise his pants over his generous behind. That was it. The decision came quick, without announcement. Jack knew what he had to do. He had had enough of the sedentary lifestyle.

“Not one more day.” He muttered as he stormed out of his apartment, not bothering to lock the door behind him. Jack made his way to downtown Sunset City . He could not help but notice that the appearance of downtown was the best that it had been in years. He knew that he was responsible for that yet this did not pacify him.  As he waited in line at the Sunset City Savings and Loan his resolve became even stronger.

Although she gave it a good effort the Bank Manager could not persuade Jack. He emptied the entire content of all his saving and holdings. On his way back to the apartment he handed out bills here and voucher there. He was very careful not to give any one person too much. “Why ruin their lives too.” He reasoned. At one point he bought a shopping cart off of one of the transient trash collectors. He had retired his years ago. Back at his small but comfortable apartment Jack crammed all what he considered non-essential items into the cart. He then made his way to the shop.

“You’re late.”

“Who’s counting? Jack brushed past Fred with hardly a hello or good morning. Fred eyed the items in the cart. A gleam came into his eyes.

“Not for sale or trade” barked Jack as he made his way straight forth to the shiny stainless steel structure. Once inside the cramped, now definitely due to Jack’s size, chamber Jack did what would have brought a tear to most men’s eyes. He deposited what was left of his monetary saving into the basket. He waited. He collected himself, reviewed in his mind what he had just done. He waited some more and, once he received the still small voice of approval he made his way back to the crammed cart. He placed the items from the cart into the chamber. At times he would whisk away the invisible ants as they swarmed the newly arrived items and infiltrated the picnic basket, as ants do. Jack had not gone mad, at least not pertaining to the ants, yes it was something there. Jack called them ants what they were, were Higgs boson particles.

The Higgs boson particle aka the God Particle is a hypothetical particle that is to the Big Bang as the Missing Link is to Evolution. One of CERN’s primary missions was to extrapolate and design experiments that could search for such.  Without the validation of such a particle, one could never move the Big Bang form Theory to Fact or should we say Faith?

The last thing that Jack probably heard was the button pop from his too tight jeans as he bent well into the shopping cart to recover the last few remaining items.

Fred was not a religious or superstitious man so when the prized framed photo of his forefather suddenly went whizzing out the back window, Fred was not spooked and looked for a rational explanation. Magnetic Storm, was his first thought. They were rare but had documented. He reached for the communicator to verify such but it too was missing. Fred froze in place. He slowly took a panoramic survey of his shop. Many items were missing. ”Jack.” He reached for the Louisville Slugger. In his adrenalin rushed state he failed to appreciate that he had grasped the bat from way across the room.

Fred did not get to view his shiny stainless steel façade for it was no longer there. One of the last things that Austin was to see was the unpleasant sight of Gypsy Jacks’ bulbous butt undulating as was being summoned into the basket. Fred now making good use of his elongated leg and foot provided the liberating push to Jack’s rear.

“Big Dummy” He quipped. Sensing his time short, Austin snaked an elongated arm through what was now a whirlwind of incoming objects. He located a bottle of Ripple.

“I’m Coming Elizabeth”

The End

 

“Ha ! Ha” Jeered the red beard. “ And for the Ants?”

“Yes for the ants too. Every thing is God. When I bend over the ant, inside his black shiny eye, I see the face of God.”

The Last Temptation of Christ By Nikos Kazantzakis

One response to “No Free Lunch

  1. Pingback: New fiction from Phillip Ghee arrived | Monsta Productions

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