THE NOT SO NORMAL DAY
They say you can trace a monumental event in your life back to an exact point in time. And I would say that is true. For example, my uncle said that moment for him was in 1987. He was sitting in a grimy pub when the song “Hungry Eyes” began playing from a semi-functional jukebox. According to his telling, at that instant he locked eyes with the most gorgeous woman he’d ever seen. Truth be told, my uncle must have been half-blind because I’m not too sure how the most beautiful woman he’d ever laid eyes on transformed into the woman I would later know as Aunt Carol. Or maybe his eyes were just famished.
Anyway, back to those shining moments that stick out like a jammed finger after a four-on-four Shirts vs. Skins basketball session with the boys at the local Y. As I said, we all have (or will have) that moment, but I never would have thought mine is the phrase, “I’d like the Philly Cheese Steak, heavy on the bread.”
All I ever wanted was a fair shake at life, but I usually end up with an arm bar. I’m just an unlucky guy, and I’m alright with that I guess. Sometimes you just have to deal with what gets tossed your way, even though it can be a tough road. For me every superstitious fear can’t hold a candle to what follows me around. Or maybe my good friends are just bad influences – but as a general rule, I count on the bad and expect the worst.
So let’s back up for a second. My name is Ellis DeAngelo. Or as my friends call me, Ellis D’ – more easily pronounced, ‘LSD’. I know it’s stupid, and I have stupid friends, but they make the rocking – or rotten – world go round.* (Queen says fat-bottomed women do, but I digress.) I’m basically your average Joe, except like I said my name is Ellis. I’m a self-proclaimed karaoke master, I love books and video games, and I consider myself a history and big-time movie buff. I like most genres too: adventure, mystery, sci-fi, comedy, drama, dramedy, and every other hybrid wannabe mashup. I do, however, skip on romances quite often. The point is: if it’s action-packed, I most definitely saw it; if it made a killing at the box office, I 100% made it to the theater; if it was nominated for 3+ categories at the Oscars, I’ve probably never heard of it. And that is just the way it goes.
Anyway, as I was saying before I got sidetracked, I’m 19 years old and working on a business degree at Duke University while putting myself through college with little help from my parents.* (Not because they don’t love me; finances are the issue here.) Shortly after starting my freshman year, I began working at Sammy & Sam’s Sub Shop to help fund my degree.
This is where I met the proprietor of this lovely establishment.* (This is not a lovely establishment, unless it’s Opposite Day.) So after meeting the unscrupulous owner, a fellow by the name of Sam Nesbo, it will occur to me about three months later that he wants me dead.* (Literally dead.)
So there I am, creating the most delicious tuna sub and slicing up a block of Swiss cheese when the phone for Sammy and Sam’s Sub Shop rings. To make things easier, in the future I will refer to it as ‘SSSS’. No, strike that, way too many S’s. Okay, whatever, it will be called ‘The Sub Shop’ instead. There, that sounds better. As per usual, I pick up the phone and say, “Sammy and Sam’s Sub Shop.”* (Shit. Okay. I promise that’s the last time, I swear.)
I hear a gruff voice speaking to me through what sounds like a mouth full of Jasmine rice and a Big Mac, “I’d like the Philly Cheese Steak, heavy on the bread.”
This is the weirdest request I’ve heard, aside from an old lady last month who wanted seared ahi tuna and fried eggplant. I know it doesn’t seem like that long ago, but remember I just started working at this nice restaurant.* (It’s really a shithole, and to me it feels like it has been ages.)
Before I continue, I feel a pressing need to explain the comments in parentheses that are scattered through the telling of this tale. These are my most precious thoughts, monologues, internal musings, foreshadowings, or simple statements of fact – or loosely based on facts – in general. I also happen to have these moments quite frequently because I get distracted very easily. That’s just how my mind works. It’s everywhere generally and nowhere in particular, and since I am telling the story you get to experience everything in all its glory; what I’m thinking, when I’m thinking it. One doctor said I had ADHD or something along those lines, but I wasn’t really paying attention to him … which reminds me, I need new headphones for my iPod.
Anyway, where was I? Oh right – as I was saying, if you feel these little tidbits of information are boring, or you just don’t like reading too many words, or perhaps you feel they are an invasion of my privacy, then please feel free to skip over them as soon as you see the first parentheses – or is it parenthesi when singular? You know what, it doesn’t matter. You just do what you do. I won’t judge.
So let’s get back to the story.
As I consider hanging the phone up and pretending the man with the gravelly voice dialed the wrong number, I am reminded that I answered indicating it was indeed The Sub Shop. Then I contemplate disconnecting by making sounds with my mouth that the call is about to drop. I do neither. I’m in college – remember? – I need this job.
I press the phone against my shirt, which appears to have a pink stain on it from a tomato or one of the deli meats. Then I think back and it dawns on me that it was the pink lemonade I had at lunch from Taco Bell. I know what you might be thinking, and yes, I could get free food here, but I also know how I handle the food here.
“Hey, Sam, some guy wants a Philly Cheese Steak … ”
Before I can finish he’s yelling at me like he always does. “What are you? Some kinda schmuck? Make ‘em a Philly Cheese Steak ya’ dumb bastard.”
I ignore his insults due to a thick skin I’ve developed over the years. Who are you kidding, Ellis? It stings right down to my core. I’m not dumb. I’m going to college for Christ’s sake, but all the same I bury it deep down and hope it doesn’t affect my adulthood.
“He says he wants it heavy on the bread.” I pause. “Whatever the hell that means.”
The fat body of Sam Nesbo moves from the back office faster than I thought his chunky ass could move, snatches the phone from my hands, and fixes me with a quick stare down.
“Hey, Tony!” he bellows, but each word is drawn out for at least two seconds apiece.
I shrug, happy to be relieved of the strange call and go back to the masterpiece of a pastrami sandwich I was making. Dammit. I stare at the sub. I was supposed to be making a tuna on rye. I must have gotten distracted again. I really hate this job, but nothing else is close to the campus – which is good for me because of my dorm room. And then there are the hot chicks that roll in every minute, on the minute, during the lunch hour. This also happens to be good for me. If I forgot to mention it, I’m a bachelor.
Right now I’m stoked because Liz Jenkins from my Biology 201 class came in today and we made plans to watch some snowboarding documentary called The Art of Flight. I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure I’ll love it.* (Snowboarding is kinda my thing.)
Liz is super-hot – at least that’s what I’ll be telling everyone later. But in all seriousness she’s a 7 in my book, maybe even edging toward an 8 if she wore just a touch less mascara. Remember ladies, don’t over-apply; you can go from cute to scary real quick if not careful.
So Nesbo is still yammering on the phone with strange order guy, and it might just be me, but for some reason he is starting to sound more and more Sicilian by the minute. I’m not really interested in that, though; my eyes are looking at the clock. If Sam doesn’t conclude his conversation in two minutes, I get to punch out and head to my dorm to shower without making the Philly.
Then it happens. The receiver is down and that fat fuck is coming right over to me. And I know exactly where my next conversation is going.
OT AND THE DELIVERY
Something is amiss already. I can feel it in my sternum, chest, gut or what have you. As anxious as Nesbo is for me to deliver the Philly Cheese Steak, he doesn’t allow me to make it. Which in and of itself sets off alarm bells in my brain, and all I hear is a loud beeping noise.
“Turn dat shit off,” Nesbo says.
I look down and see my super deluxe and expensive Casio* watch alarm is buzzing, telling me my shift is over, but as of now – thanks to this mysterious delivery – it’s not. (Just to clarify, my watch is actually a cheap junker of a timepiece that never remains lost for too long.) Looks like I will be getting some overtime today. Fun fact about myself: I’ve only gotten OT a few times in my life and never once been able to get a little dose of that deuce-juice.
So Nesbo hands me the brick that is the Philly Cheese and says I need to deliver somewhere near William B. Umstead State Park. Here’s another fact for you: The Sub Shop is located on West Main Street in Durham. Now, I’m no mathematician, but having a delivery scope beyond a diameter of close to twenty-five miles seems excessive. This drive will be over thirty miles round trip. Nesbo gives me the address, which indicates that the location is just east of the Research Triangle Park.* (Called RTP by some, or pretty much everyone in the state of North Carolina.)
“You gotta get it there quick, son,” Nesbo says, clearly forgetting it’s rush hour and the freeways are going to suck the big one. “There is a little something extra in it for you, if everything goes okay,” he adds.
Goes okay? It’s just a stinking delivery, you fat shit. But I say, “Really?” I mean, this could be good for me. Money’s been tight lately; extra cash is always a welcome addition to my life.
“Yeah, ya’ get to keep your job.”
“Thanks,” I say. What. A. Prick!
Now, I’m not too inclined to get a ticket just to hand-deliver a sub, but at the same time I’m thinking that if I can get there and back, I just might forgo my shower and maybe I can still catch up with Liz Jenkins for that movie. Also on that list of hopefuls is that she won’t mind me smelling like salami and pickles. I mean, after all she’s a 9 in my book.* (It’s been awhile since my last romantic interlude, and in my mind she’s looking better to me every passing moment.)
Twenty-three minutes later I’m making my way as dangerously as I can manage, maneuvering through the parked cars on Interstate 40, when a particularly nasty slide makes me lose control of my vehicle, and I almost crash into the center divider. If I had collided, the forces of nature would have commanded that both the east and westbound traffic come to an even worse halt than they already are. It’s simple science.
However, remembering everything I had seen from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, with calm effectiveness I pull myself from the skid and miss the concrete wall separating the rip-roaring traffic.* (The movement looks very uncool in my Datsun that has billowing steam emitting from the radiator, I’m actually shrieking like a schoolgirl, and as a secondary reminder, traffic is not really flowing.)
This second event that happens is the ‘why’ component of how the precursory phone call from earlier changed my life. The Philly Cheese Steak which was ‘heavy on the bread’ scoots right out of the brown bag and onto the passenger floorboard. I’m just pulling off the freeway, because I think I see a cop trying to catch me and I really don’t need more of a delay in my schedule right now. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. I couldn’t lose anyone if I tried to make a getaway; the black cloud of smoke that shoots from the muffler marks my route pretty clear, like a jet leaves a contrail.
When I regain my breathing and bearings, I make sure I’m in a safe area and reach over to grab the fallen sandwich. Nesbo had wrapped and taped the thing up well, so no juice had stained my seat or carpeting. To be fair, though, it would not have changed the aesthetics much.
I grab the cheese steak and this is when that earlier feeling of amissness* solidifies in my left testicle. (I don’t think amissness is a real word, but I’m sticking with it; mainly because I don’t like to be corrected.) Okay, as I’m holding the sandwich, I notice it doesn’t feel like a sandwich. And I should know because I handle them almost every afternoon. What it does feel like is a one-foot-long brick. My earlier feeling that Nesbo – the cheap bastard – had been gracious by adding extra meat for his friend Tony evaporates. Now, I must explain: I did not sustain any head injuries, but I did have a very close brush with death just seconds prior, which must have affected my better judgment. With foolish catlike curiosity, I open the nicely wrapped cheese steak.
I shouldn’t really have to divulge what I find, but let’s just say it’s not the Lost Ark or the right hand of Jimmy Hoffa. So for the slower people reading my memoirs, I will spell it out: it was eight stacks of one hundred dollar bills.
I’m going to take this little sidebar to point out another obvious. Just because I’m telling this story doesn’t mean I’m going to make it out alive. There are at least half a dozen scenarios that could happen that all end with me no longer breathing.
It could be that I’m being tortured at this very moment, and I’m simply flashbacking these events in my brain – because as they say, your life flashes before your eyes before you die.* (For me it won’t take too long because I’ve only lived nineteen years, and for the first half of that time I didn’t do much that seems important enough to recall; the last half was porn and video games.)
Then again, I could be strapped to the driver’s seat of my Datsun, a real brick being placed on the gas pedal and off I go into Falls Lake or the Neuse River. My body will of course be found days later, partially decomposed and swollen with water. Some nice family out for a boating trip will be treated to a horrible surprise when the catching of that trophy bass doesn’t end the way they envisioned.
Or I could be in a nursing home at age eighty-nine, and I’m rattling off my thoughts to a decent looking nurse who is injecting me with vitamins, pills, and life liquid prolonging my degrading existence, where I just shit myself for the third time today.* (Excessive drinking can really wreak havoc on a body with some unfortunate side effects. The Surgeon General is right!)
What I like to imagine is that I’m now twenty years old, sipping a martini in Bora Bora, and somehow the eighty grand I found in a sandwich bag will be able to last until my golden years.
To sum up, all of what I imagine is not what happens.
I used to think about where my life was going, and I had such a positive outlook and a feeling that things could always get better. But as I look at the heavy stacks of cash I have a darkening thought in my soul that now it will only get worse. I mean, I was going to be a lawyer and reenact scenes from Law & Order in the style of Sam Waterston.* (This is not true; I’m going for a business management degree, just in case you aren’t following the bouncing ball.)
So what do I do, you might be asking? Well it sure as hell isn’t take the money and run, and I’ll tell you why. I begin thinking of Nesbo and his conversation with Tony on the phone, his Sicilian accent giving me the strong impression that either Nesbo is in the Mafia or works closely with the Mafia, and that this Tony Soprano (or whatever his last name is) most definitely does and is a made man of some kind.* (I have watched Goodfellas and that being my most basic compendium of Mafioso knowledge, I know I have reason to worry.)
I wrap the money back up and pretend none of this ever happened.* (It doesn’t erase my memory though. It did happen, it isn’t over, and now I am scared shitless.)
Ten minutes later I’m on the front stoop waiting for Tony or whoever to answer the door. The guy answers and invites me in. I don’t want to go inside; it’s the last place I want to be.* (This isn’t true either; Hell reserves that spot.)
I walk in and try not to look at his face, but it’s hard not to. It’s crazy – he looks exactly like Robert De Niro. I’m lying again. He’s heavyset, and not at all dressed like what the stereotypes suggest regarding mob guys. He’s wearing a tank top and sweatpants, and from what I garner I don’t think he has underwear on.
Tony the mobster takes the ‘money sub’ from me and tosses it on his couch. From around the corner walks a fake blonde with super-oversized fake boobs. How do I know? Well, she’s topless and they sit funny on her chest. You know, the way a pair of enormous fake tits do; as if they have this strange otherworldly power, and that force of nature thing Sir Isaac Newton is famous for has no effect on them. Being weighed down by those giant magumbos doesn’t seem to bother her much. Plus, she’s obviously high. Anyway, they’re gross. I’ve always been a fan of the small and sporty, and I’m aiming to keep it that way. The blonde has a smearing of white powder on her nose and upper lip, and she’s walking unsteadily on her bright purple heels.
I want to leave now, and it takes all my willpower and control not to fly out the door and call the cops. What stops me is my Datsun; turning her engine over isn’t always easy – and now I’m cursing myself for not leaving it running. You dumb son of a bitch!* (Please don’t be offended I’m talking to myself here.)
Sweat pants/semi boner is walking back over to me and he hands me another brown sandwich bag. “Give this to Sam as payment. I seem … to have lost my wallet.”
I don’t mention he has a huge wad of cash in the bag I just gave him. I can’t think of one reason to take the package from Tony, except one. Life. You see, I have this strange fascination with still being alive after this chance meeting, and I’d like to keep doing that.
“Sure,” I say nonchalantly as I feel beads of sweat shoot from my forehead at Tony like a shower of sparks.
“You a good kid,” Tony is able to say over the torrential downpour cascading down his face.* (I’m exaggerating. I’m not sweating as bad as that, but it sure feels like it.)
I’m almost to the door when Tony hollers at me. I feel an extra wide load of poop drop into my lower colon, threatening to present itself to the world.
“Hey, before you go. Take dis.”
His fat hand holds a small folded set of bills.
“Oh, is that for the Philly? ‘Cause it’s only ten ninety-five.”
“What? Oh, right. Ha! – the Philly. No kid, ‘dis is for you.” He offers a slow wink, and I barely contain the aforementioned dookie within my body.
In the next span of nanoseconds* (which are like really fast seconds), I’m thinking very long and very hard about what happens next. By taking the money, I’m accepting a life of crime, in a sense. If I don’t accept the bought silence, I might be in serious danger. I can’t stop my brain from showing me the possible outcome of being stuffed into a garbage bag, my body cut into sections and fed to a wood chipper – or dogs. Either way, it’s not a good look for me.
Disregarding that imagery I say, “It’s okay. I don’t take tips. Sam doesn’t like it.” I cannot have sounded more stupid if I tried. It comes out high-pitched and nervous, and Tony gives me a slow, quiet stare. The solidified turd I had earlier is gone, because my bowels turn to water and give a gurgle I hope only I can hear. And now I’m sweating more than before, and it feels like El Niño lives in my ass crack. “But what Sam don’t know, right?” I say, recovering.
Tony gives me another wink. I’m not sure, but this second one feels like it holds a perverted twinkle to it too, and that just sickens me. I mean, come on. His girlfriend is sitting – or should I say collapsed? – right there on the couch.
So an accessory to crime it is. I grab the money from Tony’s palm, feeling like I’m so far into the thick of it I might as well visit Buck-A-Tattz* (a local tattoo parlor), and get two matching Russian stars on my chest tomorrow.
Getting inside my Datsun and starting it up, I’m thinking two things. One, thank God I didn’t make a run for it because it takes four cranks before my awesome car roars – or should I say smokes? – to life. And two, I just became a runner for the mob and I can do some serious time for taking this package back to Sam. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the item I just locked in my glove compartment is a bag of cocaine, heroin, or God knows what kind of illegal substance. All the stuff I removed from the compartment to make room – papers, registration, checks, pens, CD’s, and condoms – is now lying on my seat. I know putting condoms in a glove box is not the smartest due to the heat, but like Austin Powers I like to live dangerously; and I always forget about them anyway. Plus I’m really busy with school and don’t have time for women.* (Not true and never will be.)
THE PHONE CALL
Chester doesn’t answer my phone call, but answers my text in four seconds. Go figure. After a brief back and forth he calls back. I don’t give away any details through my messages because the Mafia can wiretap your phone and see everything. That’s not really the reason; the timing for those events to actually happen doesn’t make sense at this point. I honestly just don’t know want to say. ‘Hey Chester, by the way, I ran into some Mafia guys and now I’m transporting at least five kilograms of coke. One of them is my boss and I’m scared out of my mind!’
“Ellis D, what’s up bro? Sorry, had to call – playing COD and can’t be textin’. I’m getting schooled by twelve year olds. These little rat-fucks have some dirty fucking mouths,” Chester says as soon as I pick up.
“Sorry? Dude, I just called you and you didn’t answer! Anyway, some shit went down; can’t talk about it over the phone, but we need to get together. Where’s Taylor?”
“I’m in my room,”* Chester says. (Now, first off I don’t know why he always calls it his room, since if we’re getting technical, it is my room as well.) “Tay’s here too. I just handed him the controller and I’m watching him DESTROY! Kid is unstoppable right now. NO, YOUR mom sucks cocks in hell! Sorry, I hate these little kids. So what happened?”
I hear people screaming insults through the TV and what sounds like a Rambo movie playing, but only the good parts. I can envision Chester with his chunky face reddened from each volley of profanities, but they go unnoticed by those on the other side of the connection because Chester’s been too cheap to buy a decent microphone for his PS4 after the one it came with broke.* (Chester’s Christmas gift has just been identified; that is, if I live that long.)
“I just said I can’t talk about it over the phone, idiot. This is serious though. Turn the game off and meet me at Barnes and Noble.”
“Turn what? Tay’ is straight dominating this round. He just got a nine killstreak. We gotta see it through. NO, how about YOU die slow! You Kindergarten piece of shit!” Chester’s not so good at comebacks. He usually repeats what the original insult is and adds some stereotypical or racial slur. It’s just who he is.
“This is serious. Like serious, serious. I’m serious!”
“Seriously?” Chester chuckles. “Oh shit snacks! T just got slit in the jug!”
Chester is charming in his own strange, odd little way. Sometimes without provocation he’ll abbreviate words he never did before and it takes me a few seconds to realize what the hell he’s saying. By my calculations, Taylor got stabbed in his jugular.
“Alright, we’ll head over to the Kentucky Fry. This better be good since you’re making me put on socks.”
“I said the Barnes and Noble, man.”
“That don’t work for me; there’s nothing I need there. But I could totally go for one of those dub’down sandwiches. I ain’t had one in years.”
“Fine. But we have to make it quick. I gotta go back to The Sub Shop after.” I hang up the phone, and with everything on my mind, I feel like I’m forgetting something. It must be important, whatever it is, because it’s giving me that hot sensation in my cheeks and under my arms. I figure if it’s important enough, I’ll remember eventually.
“I guess there’s a reason you haven’t had one in years. They don’t make it anymore,” I say to Chester, who has an animated sulk all over his face like a character in the Sunday funnies.* (I can’t think of a reasonable simile, so this will have to do.)
“Bbbaaauuuuuhhhhhh, what a let down! That’s all I wanted. I’m not a greedy person. I’m a good man. I do my best in life. God must hate me,” Chester says, and turns away from the menu.
“Ooooooo-K, that’s a bit much. Just get something else,” Taylor says.
“Nope, it’s time for a boycott.”
“We came all the way down here so … never mind – you are a child. Just give me my money back,” Taylor demands, his palm out, ready to reclaim his loaned – but probably never-to-be-reimbursed cash.
It’s getting late and I don’t want to interrupt this lovers’ quarrel, but I really need to get down to business with my two best friends. “Look, fellas, we need to talk about something, so can we wrap this up?”
“Alri’, I’ll just get a six stripper meal, a side of biscuits, and a large Pep.”
Chester never wastes money that’s freely given, and I gather ‘Pep’ equals Pepsi in his newfound vocabulary.
In a few moments we’re all outside. Taylor is leaning up against my Datsun and Chester’s jamming whole strips of chicken into his mouth, covered with a mix of honey mustard and barbecue, which he coins as being suicidal. I’m still not sure what he means by that.
So as I lay out the groundwork of the story to the guys, they absorb it all. After the conclusion, I get what I expected would be the main response from both, and Chester fires off first.
“So how big were they?” His eyes wide, waiting for details.
“Huge,” I say, deciding not to go into detail that her boobs did in fact remind me of Superman – they defied gravity, stood for truth, justice, and the American Wet Dream, or whatever that last one was.
“Did you get a picture?” Taylor says, and crosses his arms, puffing his chest out, and partially flexing his biceps.
“Yeah, I just waltzed in and was like, ‘Hey can I take a photo of your braless bimbo?’ – Why are you flexing?”
“I’m not. This is just how I …” Taylor uncrosses his arms and shifts weight to the opposite leg.
“Big or small nips?” Chester asks with a grin like a child on Christmas morning.
***THE REST OF THE NOVEL CAN BE FOUND ON AMAZON, BUT I RECOMMEND THE AUDIOBOOK ON AUDIBLE, THANKS FOR YOUR TIME***