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Dollar Joe Chapter 5
Karen’s Sign
It was 11:20 am when Sanjay rang out the crippled boy’s doughnut order. This skinny little boy with an almost adult head in his polio braces and arm stilts was always unmasked. Sanjay did not say anything to him. It was not like that asshole “Jake the Jerk” who worked on the construction site down the street, who called him Prince Haji, never wore a mask and arrogantly slapped a ten dollar bill on the counter for an 8-dollar six pack of Coors light five miserable days a week and simply dared him to say something with his wry American grin.
But the boy, who did not arrogantly declare his name and swagger like a nail-driving John Wayne, tools dangling from his hips, had a great difficulty in all things, even eating. For a boy who must always lean and use his arm stilts as crutches, masking would be difficult. Besides, as much as Sanjay feared this terrible disease, he judged this boy too weak to be a spreader. The poor fellow would die immediately if he were sick.
The boy pulled the door open with his bony little shoulder, wobbled in with his dollar taped to the aluminum wrist brace on his crutches, spent five minutes bagging a single doughnut and then waited patiently. He could tell this was actually some sort of political protest, as the boy would then go stand outside and lean with his back against the store window and laboriously eat his doughnut with two hands as his crutches leaned against the window by his side.
“Why do you think it is a protest?” his wife would always nag at him when he spoke of the boy.
Because, he was too tired to explain the ‘mask up together’ and ‘be safe’ billboard was looming right over the lot and the well-to-do families of the tech class, whose women ruled their men and whose men were built like boys and yet wore beards, donned double masks and face shields, consistently demonstrated outside, demanding thumbs up for masks, Black Lives Matter and were often cheered by passing motorists who raised fists of power and beeped their horns even as they drove with masks on.
Jake the Jerk would salute them with his middle finger before he roared off in his gigantic pickup truck. But braver was the boy barely able to stay leaning and upright against the glass as he ate his doughnut.
Despite Sanjay’s fear of the plague, the boy and Jake the Jerk had won his grudging admiration: John Wayne with the nail gun and the Boy Who Stood Ten Feet Tall on crutches.
There were other precautions. Sanjay had made a sign that was plainly displayed on a counter placard, which read, “Please, when waiting for your sandwich, stand twelve feet back from the counter.”
The boy was at the counter, when new man, never before seen, a blonde man of dangerous aspect and a damaged eye and clothes that were too big and far too expensive for him—including thousand-dollar Sherpa boots and a Sherpa climbing pack—leaned against the wall between the Pepsi and Coke display fifteen feet away, wait-ing for the tuna salad sandwich he had ordered. With only two customers at a time, this was a good safety measure. Sanjay felt safe with his mask on behind the Plexiglas screen.
In came Miss Karen at 11:21 and Sanjay’s life would never be the same. [Author’s note: The fol-lowing event happened in Washington D.C. on March 8, 2021.]
The crippled boy turned from the counter, wobbling on his clacking crutches, his doughnut dangling in its bag from the teeth in his un-masked mouth. Miss Karen was a tall, skinny woman with silver hair, an Arabic beak of a nose and sallow complexion. Her face cover bore the inscription ‘Mothers for Masks’ in white print on pink material. She bought a cup of probiotic yogurt every day and now she stood with unmistak-able anger in her eyes and glared down at the boy, then saw his crutches and refrained from scolding him, as she had once done with Sanjay when his mask slipped below his nose.
The boy wobbled past her towards the door as Miss Karen turned to the dairy cooler next to the Coke display and laid eyes on the man leaning against the wall, with a black bandanna covering his nose and mouth just as the sign on the door demanded. The only exception was the sickly boy.
Miss Karen’s ire, her ever-judging eyes that found lesser humanity wanting at every step then erupted and she made two fists and snarled at the man, “Are you fucking stupid?”
The man seemed stunned and asked, “Excuse me?”
Karen raged, “Get out, motherfucker—get out!”
The man then smiled and the woman raged, “You fucking moron! Are you retarded!?!”
The man looked at Sanjay with surprised eyes, shrugged his shoulders and raised his hands as if he were the monkey that did not know. Miss Karen stormed over to the counter, grabbed Sanjay’s hand-made and laminated sign—very expensively done—tore it from its stand bought at the Dollar Store down the street—not so expensively done—and stomped over to the man and held the sign up before his face, screaming, “Read, read, read the sign! Follow the science, asshole!”
The man said, very clearly, and apparently without humor, irony or malice, “I can't read.”
Miss Karen punched the man in his nose, knocking the bandanna down around his mouth, and exposing a nose that had previous been badly broken on the same side where the eye socket was damaged. The man did not flinch and merely grinned, causing the bandanna to fall below his strong chin and Miss Karen grabbed her ears and screamed, “Bandannas are not masks—they don't stay on. Oh My God!” and she ran out the door past the bemused boy, who she knocked to the pavement in her frantic flight.
The man hurried up outside and picked the boy up, propping him against the window and the boy just smiled and grinned like he was in-sane, shaking his head that he was okay and pointing to his doughnut smeared on the ground into crumbs.
The man returned inside as Miss Karen roared off in her Escalade, came to the counter, pulled the bandanna back up over his nose and extended a ten dollar bill and said, “I’m getting another doughnut for the kid, too.”
Sanjay handed over the sandwich, the two dollars change and watched as the man selected a doughnut, headed outside and stood speaking with the boy for a moment before continuing on down the street as the Mothers for Masks demonstrators chanted at the man—who, once outside had slid his bandanna down around his neck—to, “Mask Up—Science is Real. Mask Up—Heroes Heal!”
Sanjay mused from his window into the Cen-ter of the World, “I must make my money under the Kali Yuga before its end—these people will never defeat the Chinese.”
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