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Dollar Joe Chapter 2
The Viewing Car
Martin was moving, from one shithole to another. It wasn't all bad. One must say, that at age 20, there were worse fates than working at Walmart—for instance working at Walmart! On the other hand, when your roommates lose their jobs, and leave you with $1,600 a month rent and you work for Walmart, at least the company will let you work for a Walmart in an even shittier city!
He had gotten fat, not going outside other than to work and ordering in instead of having to actually go get his pizza. He was checking out the scenery rolling by as he sat in the padded, swivel chair to keep his mind off the pain of hunger in his jiggling belly. He had just assumed that starving rather than buying a seven-dollar sandwich on the train would be easy—I mean, he was legit fat now. His body should be able to eat off itself. But no, his ass was now hungry after two days and it was starting to bother him. He just couldn't go another day.
This was much nicer than the greyhound bus he had been on yesterday, though.
You had to eat in your seat, not here in the viewing car. The old-timer back in the coach car had said that each train had its own rules, that the train people were making shit up as they went along, trying to obey the government and not piss off passengers too much, said that these trains used to carry hundreds of people that they'd be packed, back in the day—that the ’vid had messed all this stuff up. So he had come out here to get away from the nice smells of the train burgers and train pizza and train hot dogs and the crinkle of candy bar wrappers. There were only the four weird-ass young people at the ta-ble—married already at his age and dressed-up like old-time white people—and the blonde guy with the camo pack, who was broke-ass as shit by his look. But the hunger was gnawing.
No wonder fine-looking women are such bitches! I'd be a bitch too if I had to starve like this all the time.
He knew the cafe was under him like the old timer said. But he didn't realize that he'd have to watch those rich white people from the sleeper cars that cost like a month’s rent being seated in the next car up ahead, by Aunt Jemima, getting plates of food. And she was announcing that shit over the intercom all the time: “Sleeping car passengers, we have baked Alaskan salmon, our Bourbon Street chicken, filet mignon with new young potatoes and asparagus, lasagna...”
I'm dying here!
As if in agreement his belly growled, like an empty bowl of jelly wishing it had some cocoa puffs and milk in it—hell, cocoa puffs in chocolate milk!
This bitch never let up on the food announcements, “Sleeper car passengers, this is Cindy, your sleeping car attendant. If you have not yet placed your order for dinner, please, place your order with me at the dining car. I am still serving breakfast for the next half-hour and would be glad to see you. I run this dining car like a restaurant. Your tips are appreciated and cash is accepted! Thank you very much and I'll see you soon—people, my bacon is crispy, my cakes piping hot, and my eggs are real!”
Cash, she said cash—yeah, but the brother down in the cafe car ain’t playing that.
I got ten dollars in checking left over what I need for first rent at the youth hostel—it’s on!
Martin went down into the shiny metal stair-way, came out at the bottom as this weird box-like world rolled along and there it was—snack heaven with a big fat brown man behind the counter who you just knew had been sampling the goods. There was no one there, so he didn't have to wait in line. He pulled out his android and walked up to the counter, tapped the app, and shit, his glasses fogged up, so he lowered the mask below his nose to clear so he could see the screen and the big fat man objected, “Oh, no. No you don’t! Up over the nose and get your ass up the stairs! You’re not killing me on the job—no sir! Go on!”
He jerked the mask up, feeling almost like he had been hit and said, from behind fogged up glasses, “Really?”
The big brown man glared down at him and pointed up the stairs as he grabbed a phone off the wall with the other hand and Martin knew he didn't want to continue this conversation. So he turned and walked up the stairs as an angry voice took to the intercom:
“Passengers, it is federal law that facial coverings be worn at all times. That means worn properly. You must have mouth and nose covered and have the mask secured below the chin. This is for your protection and our protection. Facial coverings must be worn at all times except when ACTIVELY eating or drinking. Don't let us catch you nursing a soda with your mask down. You pull the mask aside just long enough to take your bite of food, then you place the mask back over your face, then you begin to chew, and so on for the next bite of food or swallow of drink. These are federal mask mandates.”
He could hardly believe, as he emerged into the viewing car on the upper deck, that his starving ass was being threatened like this. And this shit continued, definitely off the script:
“If you don't like it we can have that conversa-tion. And, after you have expressed your denial of science and your disagreement with the FED-ERAL government, please, feel free to have that conversation again with those folks you see living in the blue tarp tents out the window to your left! Thank you for your cooperation.”
He looked out the window at a vision of hell passing by, a mile of tweakers and bums living among heaped trash in blue tents, a whole army of white people that weren't white no more living in squalor. Stunned, he remembered that you were not supposed to stand and talk, but sit, and dropped his ass down in an outward facing chair and said, “Could you imagine living like that, Bro?”
He then considered his words as he turned to look into the eyes of the blonde man six feet to his side and saw that there was a raw taint to his skin that matched that of the people in the tent city and that his one eye was kind of messed up—it was there, but kind of rolled down and in and the eye socket was kind of dented.
The man shrugged and mumbled from be-hind his bandanna, “Everybody lives like that where I just came from.”
“Where?” Martin asked.
“Thailand—en da cops’ll straighten your ass out too, and he pointed to his messed up eye.”
Martin kind of shook in horror, “I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to stare.”
The guy shrugged like he didn’t even care and, as he began to ask what this dude, who on closer examination looked super athletic, had been doing in Thailand, the conductor's voice came over the intercom:
“Passengers, this is Daniel, your Assistant Conductor. We are currently traveling under a federal mask mandate. This is for your protection was well as ours. We don't care what kind of mask you wear. But you must wear it over the mouth and nose. We are just doing our job! We are not the government! We are just employees. We are just doing our job—we are not the government! We just want everyone to be safe. You might have some reasonable objections about these government regulations—but we are not the government! So please, have safe a trip and thank you for traveling Amtrak.”
He had a question as he turned away from the vision of two old people cooking hot dogs on a grill behind a fence, surrounded by trash, under the hood of a car that had been bungie-corded up on the fence like a porch awning. But the man had both his eyes closed, like he was asleep and Martin sat back and wondered:
Who is the government?
The train horn blared, sounding kind of bossy, kind of distant and hurried all at the same time, like maybe it was the government.
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David WheelerMay 6, 2021

Hey James - enjoy everything you write and say and have made purchases to prove it - do you have a book or epub on the history of policing? I've heard you speak before on the subject on "The Myth" - whenever Hans would ever shut the fuck up and let go on—as an aside - when you're on again - Adam should be the only one giving questions - I could give two flying fucks about what the other's limited-life-experience opinions are

Cheers

Dave
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