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Library Envy, dimensions variable, 2011, Sewn Library Date Due cards by Daniella Woolf

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Jill Wolfson

Workingmen

            This is Cody’s first day as a sign dancer. Downs a can of Redbull at the beginning of the afternoon shift and stands on a busy corner in a Statue of Liberty costume urging people driving by to get their taxes done by this outfit called Liberty Taxes. Spiky plastic crown low on his eyebrows leaves an indentation ring on his forehead. But the crown adds inches to his height, which he’s touchy about, always wanting to be taller, say at least 5-11, like his older half-brother, Tyler, who he doesn’t chill with that much anymore due to Tyler’s my-farts-dont-stink attitude and their whole family situation being fucked-up.
            This has got to be the best job ever. Smell the air, throw your head back and pound your chest like a caveman. Open your arms wide and feel the sun on your face. Flowing green fabric of Cody’s gown catches the early spring wind and for a second holds the sleeves out stiff.
            Does Tyler get to work all afternoon in the Great Outdoors? Does Tyler get to wear a killer costume when it’s not even Halloween? No, he doesn’t.
            Red light turns to green arrow and cars inch up to turn the corner. Here they come: Ford, Chevy, Toyota.
            Sure Cody’s kind of nervous, this being his first day and all.
            Pulse quickens as cars move closer. Licks his dry lips in anticipation.
            Is he ready?
            Hell ya, he’s ready.
            Ready to do what?
            To blow the drivers’ minds with extraordinary feats of sign twirling never before seen anywhere. Not even if there are sign twirlers on a planet in a whole other universe. And yes, human-type beings are up there with all those stars.  And people who think otherwise, nitwidiots like Tyler, should get their fat heads out of their dumb asses and do the math.
            “Show time!” Cody shouts.
            Triple pumping motion with the arrow-shaped sign. Fancy it up with high karate kicks.
            Would a sign twirler from an alternate universe have the balls to try a death-defying awesome stunt like this?
            Spin the sign clockwise like it’s a boardwalk ride. Toss it in the air. Hurl your body around in a one-footed, tip-toed 360, and catch it behind your back.
            Holy crap on a strap!  He actually caught it! Thumbs up from the Toyota driver. Who’s got the x-factor? Crank up the extreme death-metal drum solo playing in his head.       
            Another Toyota, another Toyota, is there a fuckin’ sale on Toyotas or what?
            Karate chop-chop, kick-kick move.
            His mind changes channels to this outstanding game he invented. Yes, invented it himself even though Tyler says the game’s too sick, so he must have ripped it off from someone else.
            Did not!
            Add the word Anal before the name of each car passing by. 
            Anal Probe. Anal Hummer. Anal Rover. Anal Wrangler.
            Cracks himself up.
            Next, an Anal Dodge slows on the turn and Cody just knows that behind the wheel is not some regular dude like an auto body guy, but here comes an on-duty Hollywood talent scout slowing down to take a closer look at him.
            Show him what you got, boy.
            Hula those hips. Spin sign x-factor style.   
            Hollywood in the Dodge salutes him. Cody salutes back.
            Is this a lame job like Tyler said it is? Is this a job that only a 17-year-old kid right out of juvie and still on probation would take? Could anyone stand on a street corner and get total strangers to hang a right and go see Mr. Liberty – check it, that’s his real name, Frank Liberty – who does taxes fast and cheap?  
            No, Tyler! It is not lame.
            Feet do a happy, crazy tap dance for an Anal Fit with a dent in one of the back doors.
            So today is Wednesday, then Thursday, then Friday, and that means in three days, it’s payday, which is primo day for a workingman like himself.
            Is he gonna buy weed with his big, fat paycheck? Which is what everyone thinks he’s going to buy and then get wasted and then get caught with a dirty pee test cause he always get caught at everything.
            Nope, he is not going to buy weed. Because Cody’s not a selfish loser who only thinks about himself.
            He thinks about his mother.
            He thinks that her birthday’s coming up and he remembers what he did last year for her very special day.
            Got busted.  Went ape shit on the high school with a bunch of guys. Six months in juvie for vandalism.
            Looks down at his feet. Recalls that birthday with shame.
            But this year, he’s a new Cody. Mature Cody. Workingman Cody. Puts effort into thinking about what mothers like.
            They like chocolate. A big box, the expensive kind with a bow.
            Red bow.
            No, glittery gold bow!
            Except his mom’s got this fatty-fat problem and when he hands her the box, she’ll get all mental and lift her shirt and pinch about ten inches of belly and he’ll have to look at how the flesh is white with a little pink, like a bloated earthworm. Which will make him feel weird and sad.
            But then, he’ll wrap an arm around her shoulder and say, “Oh, ma. You’re fine the way you are. Eat a birthday chocolate.”
            And she’ll eat half the box in like ten minutes and say, “The only thing I ever got from my mother were these fatty-fat genes.”
            And that will make him feel weird and sad, too.
            Truck with a mattress tied to the top takes the turn too sharp and Cody jumps back on the curb. Anal RAM Asshole.
            He hikes up his pants under the costume. Clothes always slip over Cody’s skinny hips. Burns calories just standing still. No sir, fatty-fat genes stop with him.
            And the family do-nothing, bad-luck genes stop with him, too.
            He can do something about those. He is doing something. He’s got plenty of x-factors going for him in this job.
            Number one x-factor. The Cody smile. His teeth are straight and white, not like his dad’s – the fuckface whose teeth are rotted into ugly black juju bees from all the meth.
            A mini-van honks and he sees like a hundred kids cheering at him. Bet most of them have shithead dads, too, and his insides curl up at that thought, all those cute kids with loser fathers.
            Do it, Cody. Make things better for them. Give them hope.
            Here’s what! Start his own sign twirling school. Just for kids. With a discount if you’re from a fucked-up family. No grades. No homework. No one gets suspended no matter how bad you screw up.
            “Anal Excursion!” he yells.
            “Anal Prowler!” he shouts.
            Yesterday, this corner was just another place. Ate a million slices of pepperoni at Pizza My Heart across the street. Felt up this girl Cindy over by Ferrell's Donuts.
            Now? Totally owns the corner. It’s his future.
            Bus speeds by. Fancy convertible honks. Mom-type lady in a silver Camry flips on her turn signal.
            Yes! Success! A customer. His first!
            Pretend to fish and hook the Camry. Reel it in like a big-mouth bass. Driver laughs and Cody knows she’s laughing not at him like Tyler does, but with him.
            Leap into the air, a cheerleader split with bent legs.
            Bet he’s given this lady her only laugh of the day.  Because chances
are – and he feels really bad about this – she’s gonna get shitty news that she owes a ton of money on her taxes.
            And bet she’s got a kid doing drugs, not just some weed but hard stuff. Loser kid who doesn’t ever buy his mom chocolate for her birthday.
            Lady deserves better.
            She pulls into the Liberty Taxes lot.
            Lady deserves Cody’s best.
            Drop the sign and flip up into a wobbly, rubber-legged handstand just for her.        
            Crown hits the pavement. Green gown hikes up to show size 10 sneakers, one of them untied, laces dangling, and flashing something long and slender tucked into the waistband of his jeans.

 

Jill Wolfson is the author of four novels for young adults, all published by Henry Holt. She has also published short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, and narrative nonfiction. She’s the editor of Bay Area Parent magazine and her radio reporting has been heard on This American Life. She is a long-time volunteer of The Beat Within, a writing workshop for teenagers who are incarcerated in Santa Cruz juvenile hall. This piece is part of a short story inspired by that experience. Her website is www.jillwolfson.com

Fiction
Wallace Baine
Elizabeth McKenzie
Jill Wolfson

Nonfiction
Carolyn Burke
Patrice Vecchione

Poetry
Stephen Kessler
David Allen Sullivan

Artwork
Daniella Woolf

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