Friday, February 10, 2012

The Dispatch From Escalatorville: Profiles In Caricature, Carlton Ficus

A typical Saturday in a typical summer - Carlton Ficus could be found sitting on his bed, listening to "Don Trennick's Cross Country Countdown" of the top 60 songs in the nation, and reading his favorite comic book "The Mysterious Journeys of Captain Thunder." This particular Saturday, however, his sanctuary was broken by a Grandfather's knock on the door...

As a young lad, Carlton would spend the late Spring and entire Summer at the home of his Grandpa and Gramma Yune. The adoptive parents of Carlton's mother, the Yunes never minded taking care of the corpulent but sprightly lad during his annual recess from the Yorba Linda Military Academy. His parents of course, were cruise ship entertainers on the Verdant Sparrow line - performing their cabaret magic act 3 times a day (except Tuesdays) for 9 months out of every year. The "Hocus Ficus" team loved their son, but knew the Yunes provided a much better environment for a child than the confines and conspicuous consumption of a high seas tin can.

On this Mid-July day, Grandpa and Grandma Yune, were feeling a bit randy, and in the mood to sow each others wild oats. So Grandpa came up with a plan - thus he knocked on his young housemates door.

"I got 9 jars full of coins in the den," he stated "I'd like you to take 'em down to the bank to be rolled and cashed in. I already phoned the bank to let them know you were coming."

After a long, hesitant look from the boy who had been engrossed in music and pictures just seconds earlier - Grandpa added "You can keep half of what we get."

Reluctantly, but with a glimmer of possible minor luxury in his immediate future, Carlton agreed.

"Use the red wagon from the basement, then you can walk 'em all over at once. The cars in the shop, and I can't walk that far on account of my foot."

Grandpa Yune had fought in a war a while back, and still carried shrapnel in a few of his toes.

"You think you can do it, without any trouble?"

Carlton grumbled, but quickly rose up from the bed.

"I'm twelve, Grandpa, I'm pretty smart about a few things."

One thing he knew was that it would be a three mile walk into town, meaning that he'd probably have to stay up late tonight to catch the re-broadcast of the Countdown. The offer of cash, however, was certainly appealing to the 7th-soon-to-be-8th-Grader, so he embraced the challenge, and the exercise that such a trip would bring to his stout frame. Grandpa became especially enthusiastic after his grandson's agreeance, figuring that the chore would get Carlton out of the house for a couple hours so that he and Gramma Yune could get in a little exercise of their own.

The diligent grandson loaded the wagon with 8 of the jars, as the 9th wouldn't fit. Being a smart child, he distributed that jar's coins among the 8 and left the empty on a shelf by the front door. Noting a rickety right front wheel, Carlton reminded himself that he'd have to guide the wagon a bit more carefully than usual. He opened the door and started his trek, pulling the wagon behind.

A perceptive tyke, Carlton passed the time by observing the sights along the walk; His Grandparents house being only two blocks from a local cinema, he admired the posters for "The Hounds Of Freedom" - Now Showing. He witnessed the ice cream parlour signs beckoning to try two new flavors, ads for said ice cream parlour on the side of Parkin's Sandwich Shop, Coupons for Parkin's littering the street and clogging the rivulets leading from the highway underpass to Lake Beriberi. Across the lake, Carlton noticed a tiny skiff skimming through the water, perception making him believe the boat and it's passengers looked a lot smaller than they actually were.

[Side Note: While this would normally be an apt perception for such a bright child, Young Ficus' eyes had tricked him: Petite Lula Macanally and Wendel Perpell were, in fact, each only 11 inches tall and on one of their many maritime adventures. This is life in Escalatorville, folks.]

Forty five minutes, and about 20 blocks later, the bank was at last in sight. Feeling a bit tired, Carlton decided to take a short cut, he'd cross the gravel parking lot of Sooty's Scrap Metal And Recycling Company ("Established 1937"). Although convenient, there were a few bumps along the way. Not metaphorical, mind you, actual bumps - divots in the gravel left by spun-out pickup truck tires, and tiny remnants of dropped cargo.

"Holy Cow," Carlton exhaled as he reached the curb, "Finally."

The door to his destination within yards of his grasp, the jovial juveniles anxiety got the best of him. He sped up his approach, the little wagon striking the bank buildings sidewalk pretty hard. Already weakened by Sooty's lot, the right front wheel gave up the ghost. It crumbled on the sidewalk, as expired as a wagon wheel gets. Axel bolt rust coated the cement like suicidal blood spatter across the wall of a decaying hotel room.

Carlton dove to the pavement to stop the jars from falling out of the wagon bed and shattering at the bank entrance. Amazingly, he blocked the majority from toppling out - but because they had all slammed into each other, all 8 jars had a few cracks or chips. Terminal glass - they'd hold no more coins after this day.

It took a bit of balance, and all the remaining strength he could muster, but Carlton jostled the jars back into position, tossed the broken wheel into the wagon bed, and then lifted the transport with both hands.

He was greeted at the banks front door by Prudence Baddger, a teller whom had heard the crash - and would be Carlton's favorite bank employee for years to come. Inside the building, Prudence pointed to a table where our protagonist could lay his burden down.

"We're glad you came in today," the bottle blond and beskirted Prudence purred - "You can help us break in our new coin counting machine, would you like to watch it work?"

In between a few heavy breaths came a mumbled but emphatic "Yes."

As he watched the coins dance around in what resembled a spinning washtub, Prudence explained how the machine separated and added up the coins. She pointed to the readout as Carlton's fortune slowly grew.

When the 8th jarful began to spin through the hopper, young Mister Ficus found the banks water fountain. Upon his return, he was met by a smiling Prudence with a handful of cash.

"That was a pretty good haul," she said, making Carlton blush with pride, "You got $31.72 today!"

She handed him six Five Dollar Bills, a One Dollar bill, and a smattering of change.
Carlton took three of the Fives and shoved them in his back pocket -"Grandpa's Take" he thought. Then he imagined how to spend the remaining $15.72.
He muttered a quick thank you to Prudence and turned to walk out the door.

"Carlton?" he heard Miss Baddger call "We're glad you came in today - but aren't you forgetting something?"

That's right - a broken down wagon and 8 cracked, useless jars that now had to be dealt with. He pushed his portion of the fortune into his shirt pocket, and carefully balanced, then lifted the wagon full of jars and headed to the exit. His head sunk upon realizing that those 3 miles home would be along way to carry a bunch of junk.

Midway across the bank parking lot, however, Carlton raised his head to the glow of the mid-day sun. A grand idea traversed his mind like a sled across a snow covered suburban driveway. His eyes focused on the solution not 100 yards from where he stood - Sooty's!

It had been a couple years since the elder Mr. Yune had taken his grandson to cash in some scrap metal from the house ("Wasn't it a water heater, or maybe a couple bicycle frames?" the boy struggled to remember) - but Carlton had always been fond of the multi-colored signs that proclaimed "Cash Paid."

Tony the clerk (or so read the patch on his shirt) recalled the young lad and knew exactly what he'd come in for, before Carlton could even ask.

"Hey, long time no see - Carlsie!" he cried out (Although Carlton Ficus would forever correct those whom used that particular appellation to address him, Tony was a fast talker whom didn't leave time for anyone else to get any words in, edgewise or otherwise).

"I can't use those jars, man," he continued, uninterrupted "but, I can give ya three bucks for the wagon. Heck, I'll throw in a buck for the jars too, maybe they ain't too broke to hold some nuts and bolts or somethin'. That looks like a heavy wagon, man! Put that down and I'll grab your money."

Carlton, lazily obedient, lay the wreckage atop the sales counter and peeked around a corner toward the back of the shop. There he saw the furnace that would soon meld the old wagon with silverware sets, garden spades, tea kettles, and a couple shot guns which had long ago said goodbye to their fox hunting days.

Tony's outstretched hand held four singles to Carlton's face.

"Here ya go, man. Four buckaroos, like I promised. Don't spend it all in one place, heh heh. Tell your Grandpa to drop by sometime. See you later, O.K. man?!"

The boy felt as if the sheer force of Tony's words had whisked him through that big metal door and back into the parking lot - for there he was, counting his share of the days riches. A total of Nineteen Dollars and Seventy Two Cents. He was elated, he was wealthy. He was also tired and hungry.

That smidge of energy he'd gained from the banks water fountain had withered, however, Master Ficus knew there was a nice restaurant about five blocks from where he stood. Thirteen minutes later, he took his seat at a table for one in The Happy Tapper.

The Happy Tapper is a Bar and Grill, with the emphasis on the Bar - but they also had the best french fries in town. A fact Carlton knew from accompanying his Grandparents to this very place for their weekly Friday night ritual. He ordered two servings of those fries, as well as a double decker ham sandwich and slice of apple pie for dessert.

His waitress, "Minnie," jokingly asked what type of beer the young man would like.

"I'd rather have a gin and tonic with a root beer chaser - hold the gin, hold the tonic" He joked back.

With a slight guffaw, Minnie headed to the kitchen to put the order in.

The boy wolfed down his food within minutes of it's arrival. This had been his first solo trip to the Happy Tapper - no grandfolks urging to him to slow down and chew. After two more root beers, he asked for his check. Twelve dollars and fifteen cents later (plus a two dollar tip), the satiated lad headed toward the outside world once more.

During his meal, unfortunately, it had begun to rain. A lot. Outside the restaurant, it was a gully washer, a toad strangler, a lake-maker of a storm. Carlton wouldn't be walking home in that.

An observant kid, he had seen a phone booth next to the bars jukebox. He put two quarters in the slot and dialed the number for Trixie's Cab Service, whose business card had been taped, and taped again to the back "wall" of the booth.

Minnie offered Carlton a few mints to nibble on while he waited. Carlton declined. He stood and glanced through the window at the rain, the reflections of the Happy Tapper's neon signs appearing to give those drops on the glass a glow like a string of free flowing Christmas lights. Within moments a cab pulled up.

Carlton Ficus entered the cab, giving his grandparents address as he took his seat - even before the driver could ask. He'd seen enough people in motion pictures do as such, and thought expedience was key.

"You got it friend," mumbled the cabbie. "Right away."

It was a fairly straight shot, directly back on that long road to the Yune residence, but Carlton enjoyed how the precipitation changed his perception of the world he'd walked not that long before: the reversed trees viewed in puddles, the color change to pastel storefronts, cowering and drenched pets hiding in doorways until the weather lessened.

After a short bit, Carlton saw the familiar steps leading to the front door of the Yune household. The cab ride cost four dollars - after giving his driver the fare and a one dollar tip - Carlton headed into the house with his Grandfathers share of the cash - and seven cents of his own.

Grandpa Yune greeted Carlton in the front hallway -

"How'd we do?" he asked

Carlton handed the old man 15 dollars, then slipped the remaining seven cents into the jar he'd left behind.

"A good start for your next trip to the bank." Carlton stated.

"My next...What? You don't want to make that run anymore?" Grandpa queried. He'd noticed the wagon was missing but decided not to be too inquisitive toward the exhausted child.

"Well, to be honest," Carlton responded, "If you and Grandma want me to leave the house so that you can have sex, I'd rather you just send me to the movies."

Flabbergasted, slightly embarrassed - Grandpa Yune stammered and uttered a slow "" - but couldn't find a decent response to his accurately deductive progeny.

"I'm twelve, Grandpa," Carlton spoke, "I'm pretty smart about a few things"

With that, he sauntered back into his room - he'd returned just in time to hear the Top 9 on "Don Trennick's Cross Country Countdown." Carlton Ficus shut the door, turned up the volume, and resumed reading "The Mysterious Journey of Captain Thunder..."

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively, Proprietor/Change-Gamer

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