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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Episode 01: How it all started

When he considered it later, Andrew Weezle could never come up with a satisfactory reason for why he traded the night deposit for the magic beans.

It could have been that he hadn't completely lost his religion; it was why he'd spent the first two years at university in the department of religious studies. He'd grown up, as many Caucasian Canadians do, attending church. His earliest recollection of church was Lutheran, when his family had lived in a community small enough to only offer 3 options - the Catholics, Lutherans, or Mennonite. His father had joked and Andrew had never understood what he'd meant by saying that he was waiting for someone to be drowned or burnt at the stake the entire time they'd lived there. Andrew had entertained thoughts of joining the clergy when he was a teenager, mostly because of the youth leader who volunteered at the Baptist church they attended after they moved to the city. But he'd spent four months working at the church's summer camp one year and had been completely put off the idea by a zealous blonde haired Pentecostal Adonis who'd tried to perform an exorcism on Andrew one night when he was down with a fever. Besides, he asked too many questions, and churches generally weren't fond of their pastors having crises of faith from the pulpit.

It could have been that he was a hopeless romantic. Not in the Jack and Rose in Titanic sort of way, but rather in the idealistic, head in the clouds sort of way. Which was why he'd switched from religious studies to literary studies in his third year. Once he'd concluded that the Bible, the Koran and the Torah were just a bunch of stories, he figured he ought to at least study stories that he enjoyed. He took courses on fairy tales and folklore, Norse myths and Science fiction; he rather preferred writing papers on Harry Potter than wicca, and discussing the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe instead of arguing over which redemptive paradigm was theologically correct. While he no longer believed that God was hard at work making the world a better place, he liked the idea that a better world could exist, even if it was only in the imagination.

It could have been that he was bitter at the people who he paid rent to for the space his coffee shop occupied. It stood on the corner of a busy intersection between a fashionable chain restaurant and one of the campus' many photocopy shops. The question of why he bought the beans at all was inextricably linked to why he'd bought the shop in the first place. The events which lead to that decision could hardly be called a series, let alone a chain, unless by chain we were referring to a sloppy pile of rusty links beside a railway track. It had involved the death of his grandfather, his portion of the inheritance, and the question of whether he wanted to go back to school to get a Master's. The aforementioned romanticism which had seized him at the time had ignored the lizard hind brain's warnings that Andrew knew nothing about running a coffee shop, except for how to grind, brew and drink coffee. The year since the purchase had been made could have been graphed very easily using a felt marker with a lead weight tied to it. The university had dogged him about the rent, and this month Andrew knew he wouldn't have it at all. So rather than pay the university, who were going to evict him anyhow, he'd decided to give the night's meager deposit money to the homeless man who smelled of alcohol and offered Andrew the beans in exchange.

Or it could have been that his heart was two sizes too small. Literally. He'd been born with a small heart, which had plagued him with vascular difficulties, his whole life, but had thankfully left him positively disposed towards Christmas. He had an appointment to have it checked in the morning, which had him worried, since he'd been suffering from slight murmurs and palpitations.

A heart condition at 24, he pondered as he trudged across the snowy campus. The day had been a long one; the temperature had dropped beneath -30 degrees Celsius once you factored in the wind chill, which bit all the way through Andrew's heavy wool jacket. He couldn't wait to get back to his apartment and jump in the shower, get it so hot that it nearly burned and return feeling to his fingers and toes.

This is the sort of night people freeze to death if they don't have a place to go.

His car was parked on the third level of the parkade. Entering the concrete stairwell, he noticed a man-shaped lump sitting in the corner of the first level landing. The lump was huddled as closely as it could, obviously trying to fend off the terrible cold.

"Hey buddy, you still alive?" Andrew ventured, not knowing what else to say. He hoped it sounded friendly and not condescending. He wasn't sure what the proper protocols for verbally inquiring about one's life signs were.

Later, as with the beans, Andrew would wonder why he'd said anything at all. He'd walked by countless bums and transients; as a big city dweller, you just got used to them. They were like visual white noise - you knew they were there but generally did your best to ignore them. Before he'd lost his religion, Andrew had been much more philanthropic, but the lack of divine retribution tended to make being selfish a hell of a lot easier.

The lump unfolded itself, and a wizened gaze peered out at him from underneath a very battered wide brimmed brown leather hat that looked like it was trying hard to revert to the animal hide it had originated from. The eyes were a bright and lively blue. Even if the guy was dead, his eyes sure as hell weren't.

"Still among the living," the lump said, raising his head so as to get a better look at Andrew.

The two of them contemplated each other. What the lump saw was a rangy, blonde haired male in his mid-twenties with the drawn, haunted look late nights in multiple chat rooms, followed by Protestant guilt, and the realization that you still have a final essay due by noon--repeated over several years--will fashion upon the human face. What Andrew saw was his idea of what mall-Santas look like in the off season, minus the fake stomach.

"Well, uh...good then," Andrew said.

"Spare some change?" the lump asked.

"None on me," Andrew said, which was true. He hardly ever used cash, and as a result rarely had change. He shifted uneasily and the coins in the deposit bag made a cold, chilling clink.

The lump raised his eyebrows.

"That's not my change," Andrew laughed. "That's the deposit from...my...coffee shop." Now he'd established two things; one, that he owned, not simply worked at, a coffee shop, which translated to everyone who did not own a coffee shop that you went home to roll around in money like Scrooge McDuck, which was the furthest thing from the truth unless you owned a Tim Horton's or a Starbuck's. Second, he'd revealed what was in the nondescript plastic pouch he had in his outside pocket. And while the salt and pepper beard on the lump meant venerability, it didn't necessarily mean vulnerability.

The lump heard the uneasiness in Andrew's voice. "Easy son," he said reassuringly. "I'm not going to take your money. But I would give you something in trade for it."

"It's really not that much," Andrew said. He'd run a profit of only a couple hundred that day.

"Well, what I have to trade you for it isn't all that much either," the lump said, getting to his feet, and digging in his pockets. "But I think I could make that money go a lot further than you could...and what I have to give you is of little use to me."

"Is that so?" Andrew said, wanting nothing more than to run up the two flights of stairs to his car. His Protestant guilt kept him rooted to the spot. One too many sermons about "the least of these" he wagered.

"Ah, there they are."

The lump produced a closed fist from one pocket.

Andrew leaned in, squinting in the light of a flickering fluorescent bulb.

The lump's fingers uncurled, revealing...a handful of coffee beans.

The conversation Andrew had with himself in the security of his mind in those few seconds before he handed the deposit over to the lump went something like this:

ANDREW: Coffee beans?

SELF: Damn, it's cold. I wonder if we'll hook up with anyone online tonight. God, you're pathetic.

ANDREW: Coffee beans?

SELF: Did you hire that new girl just because she's hot?

ANDREW: What the hell am I going to do with coffee beans?

SELF: I mean, she's not model material, but she's got everything where it counts.

ANDREW: I do own a coffee shop, but I order all my beans from a supplier.

SELF: When was the last time we had sex?

ANDREW: Even the shipping guy who drops off the boxes of beans doesn't have hands this dirty.

SELF: I'm hungry.

ANDREW: Not as hungry as this guy, quite likely.

SELF: True. Just give him the money and take the beans. Then we can go home and look at porn on the Internet.

ANDREW: He could use it more than we could.

SELF: It's really cold out here. Just give him the money already, would you?

ANDREW: There's enough money in this bag for him to get a place to crash for the night.

SELF: There's enough money in that bag for him to get laid, dirty hands and all. Can we GO already?

And because his self had flustered him with its impatience, instead of just thinking it, Andrew said,

"So what's so special about these beans?"

The lump smiled, and replied, "They're magic."

13 comments:

Blarg said...

I like it so far!

Gotthammer said...

You must have! You scrolled through all that text to add a comment!

blankpage80 said...

i like it too!

Big Deet said...

Let's have the second offering soon. I hate waiting. We eat up whole seasons of the Gilmore girls in a few days.

Gotthammer said...

Updates on Thursdays!

Sir Lunch-a-lot said...

Pretty good. I did notice that this Andrew fellow seemed a bit like you in regards to what he had been studying in University. But then, I guess like they say, write what you know.

Keltie said...

Fabulous. Just vintage Mike.

Gotthammer said...

Yup. Write what you know. Especially when you don't have the time to research the things you don't. If Andrew was JUST the manager of a coffee shop, I really wouldn't know how to 'write him'. I'd have to spend a ridiculous amount of time with blarg. And besides, this is mainly for fun...so a little pseudo-autobiography never hurts the soul.

Tim said...

I like it! I like it a lot!

Except for this sentence:
What the lump saw was a rangy, blonde haired male in his mid-twenties with the drawn, haunted look that only years of a sporadic dating life resulting in late nights on multiple chat rooms followed by Protestant guilt and the realization that you still have a final essay due by noon repeated over several years will fashion upon the human face.

Try reading it out loud and getting the pasues in the right place. I challenge you, you literature major!!!

Gotthammer said...

That's the challenge of writing without editing. 30 minutes a day doesn't allow for that as much as I like, which is one of the benefits to posting it - I have an army of editors at my disposal!

Matthew Littel said...

Hey Mike! It's Buzz from that crazy place called Camp Chestermere. Loving the story so far, just wanted to let you know that and to say that I saw something funny with your first post and the first part of each post after that. In the first post your characters name is Andrew WeEzle and in the other posts it becomes Andrew WeAzle. Just a small thing, hope to hear from you sometime.

alanna said...

this is only a minor thing, but it confused me for a moment:

"The day had been a long one; the temperature had dropped beneath 30 degrees Celsius once you factored in the wind chill, which bit all the way through Andrew's heavy wool jacket."

should it be -30 degrees, or beneath 30 degrees fairenheit? right now it doesn't make sense.

Mike Perschon said...

-30 Celsius.