Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FICTION: Doughnuts for Danny by Keith G. Laufenberg




0 Memory! thou soul of joy and pain!

—Richard Savage, The Bastard, 1. 57.

You know not what the night will bring.

—Varro. Title of Satire.

I was attending college in the evenings at Broward Community College and driving a cab in order to help support myself, my wife and four kids and it had been a long rough night for me. I was somewhat delirious after almost twelve hours of non-stop, dizzying driving, hacking in my cab around the city of greater Ft. Lauderdale and, as I turned the cab into the dispatch office and taxicab compound, at 10-10—Yellow Cabs headquarters on NW Seventh Avenue—something gnawed at my subconscious but I couldn’t get a handle on exactly what it was and so I didn’t give it a second thought until I pulled into my driveway in North Ft. Lauderdale, a half an hour later. I was attending college in the evenings at Broward Community College and driving the cab in order to help support myself, my wife and four kids.

‘What, what was it?’ I pondered then thought, ‘aw well, probably wasn’t worth anything anyway.’ I had the same feeling about the whole night, that it had been a total and complete waste. I opened the door to my 1968 Fury and stumbled onto my driveway, totally exhausted. A two-hour workout that afternoon, lifting weights and punching the light and heavy bag’s, only added to my tiredness but I needed the workout to justify sitting in the cab for twelve hours. It had been some night but nothing particularly unusual for a South Florida cabdriver in 1990.

I had gotten my first call around six-thirty p.m., just after coming out of the YMCA on NE Fifth Street, to a local Laundromat where I assisted an elderly woman in loading what seemed like about ten tons of laundered clothes into my trunk and backseat of the cab; then a mile trip and a fifteen minute unload and carry in. The fare was a buck-ninety and she gave me two George Washington’s and told me to keep the change; big tippers were always my nemesis. Anyway, no sooner was I back in my cab then I took a call to a ritzy community just off Las Olas Boulevard, a place called Pelican Island, and I perked up immediately, especially when the dispatcher told me it was a call to the airport. A fare to the airport was always a good job, as it took you through downtown Ft. Lauderdale, but this one was even better than I had imagined, as it was not to the

Ft. Lauderdale Airport but the Miami Airport, and a ten-dollar trip had just turned into a fifty-dollar one. I picked the people up and was on the Interstate within five minutes and then, just as I pulled past Hallandale Beach Boulevard, a loud pop reverberated inside my ear and my vehicle immediately swerved wildly off the highway and, as I pulled to the side of the road, I noticed a full moon was already starting to loom in the ever-darkening sky and I knew it was going to be another one of those nights. Yellow cabs carry no spare tires and you had to call into the dispatch office for a tow-truck to come out and change your tire. I coasted noisily down an off-ramp and into a gas-station, where my two customers hailed another cab and an hour went by before the tow-truck got to me, informing me that he would have to tow me back to the Yellow Cab compound, or 10-10, where I picked up another empty cab, after nixing a dozen junk-cars—cabs that either didn’t run or were disfigured in a major way—and rolled out of the compound at a little past eight p m. I couldn’t help but notice that the moon was as full and striking as they come, so bright that it actually appeared to light up the entire town. I rolled out of 10-10 and headed south checking into zone 122, just as a call came for a pick-up at the Copacabana, a notorious homosexual nightclub, just past State Road 84 on Federal Highway. I took the call and pulled up to the club, where two obviously inebriated, effeminate epicenes stumbled into the backseat of my cab and one of them mumbled, “Tack’keysssssssss, pleazzzzzzzz,” the first on in hissed and I frowned as Tackey’s was another homosexual hangout and barely more than a two-mile trip, just a mile or so up Broward Boulevard, and I frowned when he said it. The full-moon jinx was holding me up and no sooner was I underway than I had to pull to a screeching halt to the side of the road. No, one of my tires wasn’t blown but one of the backseat androgynes was trying to do just that very thing to the other one’s Johnson and I was not one to put up with that stuff in my cab. So I kicked ‘em both outta the cab. I had this gut feeling that I should head straight back for 10-10 but I had a wife and four kids to support and I was in my usual state, broke and with mortgage and car payments to boot.

So, I stayed out and worked the mean city streets for another seven hours and I was in a constant battle with my soul, as the offers came my way, fifty bucks if I can score a bearded man in a suit some crack, twenty if I can find a hooker for an overweight inebriated dentist and ten if I can find a smashed middle-aged woman an after-hours club or some grass. The houses of ill repute are everywhere and they pay a driver the same sawbuck that the drunken woman looking for marijuana had offered me, for every customer that you bring them, and the strip clubs and after-hours joints pay anywhere from a fin to a double sawbuck, depending on how many people you bring them and how much they clip them for. Then there are the certain hotels and motels that will pay you for every room not reserved in advance and on and on, almost ad infinitum I try to fight it, tell people the strip joints are really clip joints. I try to talk to some inebriated sailors, telling them that the female companionship they are seeking is better found on the beaches in the daytime than the clubs at night, even as my dark side tells me to take the easy money—go home with a hundred instead of twenty.

At four-thirty a.m., I was just a half-hour shy of my twelve-hour shift and if I stayed out any longer I would have to pay three and a half bucks for every hour or part thereof, from then on. I knew I had had a bad night and when 1 got to 10-10 that fact was confirmed when all I had was a lousy sixty smackers and an even lousier twenty bucks, which is what I ended up with, after paying the thirty-two dollar shift-lease charge and my gas and mileage charges. I was really depressed, a double sawbuck for a dizzy day of almost non-stop driving—for approximately ten hours—but then I noticed that the full-moon was still in place and shuddered, I had thought that the darkness had gotten enough of me but was I ever wrong, as when I shuffled to my car I immediately noticed that the hood was slightly ajar and—even before I opened it—I knew somebody had copped my battery. Someone had gotten it once before, just a week ago, and I had been parking my car at a Hess gas station, on the corner of Northwest Seventh Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard, ever since. Someone had smashed in my side window, even though he needn’t have, as the hood opened from the front of the car. I felt like crying but yelled manically instead and a tall skinny, emaciated-looking black dude approached me and when I told him about the missing battery he commiserated with me and then informed me that he knew where I could get a used battery, cheap. Now, this only led me to believe that he was the thief and wanted to sell me back my own battery. He told me he was a mechanic at the garage then showed me his home, the rusted-out shell of a ‘69 Caddy and I pondered how far mechanic’s wages must have fallen in 1990 but didn’t mention it. I noticed a police car turning off Sunrise Boulevard onto NW Seventh Avenue and ran into the middle of the street and flagged it down. The squad car came to a screeching halt and I approached it wearily. I leaned into the passenger-side window and was shocked to be staring into the business end of a .45 caliber revolver, something I hadn’t seen since my Marine Corps days back in the mid-sixties but my respect for a weapon I knew could take your arm off at twenty yards, hadn’t waned any and I immediately put my hands in the air.

“Hey man, I’m a cabdriver man, got my battery stolen you know what I mean?” I glanced over at the homeless black man, who claimed to be a mechanic at the Hess station, and he stared back at me blankly. The cop lowered the .45. “Yeah, okay cabbie, I’ll call it in, tell ‘em to send a taxi down here, aw-ight?”

“Yeah, okay well thanks then.” I stared into the cops’ face and saw his eyes were red-rimmed and wide as an owl’s and wondered if he was just tired or high? Suddenly, he shot me a look, the skull-smile of death, that I hadn’t seen for two decades, since a tour in ‘Nam but still recognized and then he was gone, his car leaving a streak of rubber and, as I stared after it, I also had time to notice that the full-moon was still there, still in force, as full and brightly-round as a huge beach-ball and still on my case, as I turned towards the alleged homeless Hess mechanic when he called me over and showed me a battery he had found. It looked dead but it wasn’t mine and he demanded a sawbuck for it. I wasn’t about to give this dude ten bucks for what looked like a worthless battery, so I pulled out two George Washington’s and handed them to him and his tooth-decayed smirk turned into a gleeful grin, as he pulled a bottle from his rear pocket and moved towards the ‘69 Caddy that he called home.

I quickly installed the battery but it refused to crank and when I looked over at the ‘69 Caddy it was empty so I stood on the corner and hailed a cab, as I knew most of them were heading to 10-10 to turn in for the night anyway. I explained my predicament and he pulled his cab over; he had cables in his trunk, and gave me a quick jumpstart and I thanked him and pulled onto Sunrise Boulevard, where I noticed the black mechanic coming out of an all-night liquor store with what looked like a fresh bottle. As I stopped at the first of several stoplights, I said a silent prayer that it wouldn’t stall on me. It didn’t and twenty minutes later I pulled the ‘68 Fury III into my driveway. I staggered out of the car and it suddenly hit me what had been bothering me on my way home. Doughnuts—I had promised my four-year-old son Danny a dozen doughnuts, which he always looked forward to on the weekends and tomorrow was Saturday. I stared at the front door of my house and immediately thought of the soft, warm mattress that awaited my bone-tired body, then turned towards my car and wondered if I could drive the two miles necessary, back to the Dunkin’ Donuts store on State Road Seven. I stared down at the keys in my hand and fingered the one that fit my 1979 Duster, sitting next to the Fury III. I stumbled to the front door and stuck the key in, then staggered and fell onto the living room couch. My eyes closed immediately and I felt like I was floating in space, asleep and flying in the air. Then I shook myself awake and stood up and stared at the front door and I was outside turning the ignition key in my Duster, then I was at the Dunkin’ Donuts store ordering glazed and powdered for my wife and two teenaged daughters and cream-filled and chocolate-iced for my four-year-old son and my two-year-old daughter. I feel like I’m dreaming and wonder if I am still on the couch or actually in the Dunkin’ Donuts store. Then I’m in my car and then home and putting the box of a dozen doughnuts on the kitchen table. Then I stepped into the shower and for an instant awoke but then the hot water has me all but asleep standing up, something I haven’t done since Marine Corps boot camp. Then, finally, I’m standing over my mattress, my wife of fifteen years sound asleep, and that’s the last thing I remember.



And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

— Colossians 3:14.

“Wha’ … what …?” I’m startled awake and in the background a faraway voice reverberated throughout the room.

“Now leave Daddy alone Danny, he’s tired from working all night.”

“Its aw’rye,” I mutter and blearily open my eyes. I see my four-year- old son Danny, standing before me with a cream doughnut in his hand and a creamy grin on his face. “Hey Dan-oh, hi there lil’ champ.”

“Daddy, you gots me do-nuts-ah,” he said, smiling widely.

“Sure I did son, I promised you din’ I?”

“Yeah, yeah, fanks Daddy, I love you Daddy,” he says and plants a cream-smeared kiss on my cheek, then runs back into the kitchen.

My two-year-old daughter, Denise, approaches me cautiously. I don’t see enough of her and she has a chocolate-glazed doughnut in her hand and a smile on her face. “Hi sweetie-pie,’’ I say and her smiling angel-face breaks into a giggle and she runs over and plants a chocolate-besmeared kiss on my already crème-smeared face.

She smiles at me. “I wuv you Da-ah-ee,” she says, then runs back into the kitchen even, as I smile and realize that my eighteen-dollar night has just become worth eighteen million.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

best story Iever read. rich