An excerpt from The Spirit Guide Bar
By W.Z Snyder
© 2009 William Snyder
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, the day the Christmas lights go up. And this year, because I am 12, my mother has given me the go ahead to hang the lights myself. Somewhere in excess of two hours have been spent untangling the green cords. The lights have been checked and the bad bulbs replaced. The nails have been firmly driven into the wood trim since we moved into the place five years ago. Baby, believe me when I tell you I’m ready to hang some Christmas lights. With the lights urbanely draped over my boney shoulder, I step onto the aluminum ladder, envisioning myself to be some death defying Army Ranger, ascending the treacherous cliffs of Monte Cassino. Safely on the roof, I begin to work the light cord around the nails. My left hand slips on the grey roofing and gravity pulls me off balance. My adrenalin kicks in and my heart rate quickens as I regain my footing. The last thing I want to do is fall off of this roof and break my arm. Those Christmas paper route tips will be piling in next month and that bad ass banana yellow, three speed Schwinn Stingray is waiting for me behind the plate glass window at Phil’s Bike Shop. My heart rate approaches normalcy as I wrap the light chord around another nail.
“Good morning, Billy.”
It is Johnny Torres standing at the bottom of the ladder. This kid is one of a kind. At the ripe old age of 11, he has the voice of a 55 year-old truck driver. It’s really weird; the kid is undersized for his age but he possesses freakishly mature facial features. Appearing something like a kid version of Edward G. Robinson, Johnny Torres is the neighborhood wheeler and dealer. Every Sunday morning he sets out from paper machine to paper machine, dropping in 25 cents and cleaning them out, one by one. Then he stands in front of the church selling his stolen Sunday papers to the parishioners as they leave mass. In the past he’s offered to help me rake leaves or mow the lawn, out of the goodness of his own heart, then gone to my mother and demanded payment. This kid is trouble with a capital Torres.
“What do you want Torres?” I ask warily.
“Nothing. I don’t want nothing at all, Billy. What are you doing up there?” he asks with his hands shoved deep into his pockets.
“I’m stealing papers to sell at church. Now get the heck out of here, Torres.” I sneer in my most spiteful voice.
“I’ll help you. I don’t got nothing else to do, Billy.” he says, sounding something like Lurch from The Adams Family.
“Yeah, I don’t need you’re kind of help. Now get the heck out of here.”
The kid defiantly places the toe of his tattered PF Flier on the bottom step of the ladder.
“What are you doing down there, Torres?”
“I told you Billy, I want to help you.”
“And I told you Torres, I don’t want your kind of help.”
Torres takes hold of the ladder as I shout, “Don’t come up here. If you fall, you could sue my mother.”
“I won’t sue you’re mother. Just let me watch.”
It becomes evident that he plans on coming up no matter what I say when he tightens his grip and places a PF Flyer on the second step of the ladder.
Taking firm hold of the cold aluminum at top of the ladder, I shout, “I said don’t come up here, Torres!”
He takes a second step and quite brilliantly, I shove the ladder hard with both hands. Torres steps down and the ladder flips over him – pulling me forward, still hanging onto the top like some out of control pole-vaulter. It feels very much like I am flying - for just that split second before I come crashing, wrists first, to front lawn. There is the sound of bones in my wrists popping and snapping. Strangely, I feel nothing at all – for about a second and a half. And then the white pain explodes like a crashing freight train. I scream in window rattling anguish and the slightest movement makes the excruciating torture even more excruciating. My hands hang from my wrists like broken chicken necks.
Torres stands over me and asks in his freakishly low voice, “What the heck did you do that for, Billy?”
To which I reply, “Ahh, my arms! I broke my arms!” and then I remember, “There goes my banana yellow, three speed Stingray.”
My mother bursts from the screen door and promptly tells me to shut the hell up. She doesn’t believe me until the two-bit criminal from around the corner confirms in his Lou Rawls voice that I have indeed plummeted, palms first from the roof. He assures her that he indeed did hear the bones crack.
My mother screams at me for falling off the roof during the entire ride to the emergency room. Somehow the Munchkin version of Paul Robson has talked my mother into letting him come along. At the emergency room, I cannot, no matter how hard I try, get a word in edge wise as Torres explains in great detail how I fell from the roof. The doctor shushes me when I demand to be allowed to give my side of the story. The doctor is in fact quite fascinated with Torres’s creepy voice.
“Exactly how long has it been since your voice changed, young man?” marvels the doctor.
My voice ain’t changed.” Torres bellows.
“You mean you’ve always sounded like this.”
‘That’s right, doc.”
“This is absolutely captivating. Would you mind waiting right here while I get the other doctors?”
“What about my arm?” I demand.
I abscond from the emergency room with my broken wrist in a cast and my sprained wrist in a sling. The next day, there is a knock at the front door. It is Torres. He explains that, under the darkness of night, like some kind of demented Christmas light elf, he has taken it upon himself to hang the lights. When my mother asks if she can pay him, he says the charge is 10 bucks - cash. Upon collecting 10 crisp ones, he gloats that the doctor gave him a card and UCLA Medical Center is going to pay him 60 dollars to scrutinize his vocal chords. The good news is I won’t have to do any writing in school for at least a month. Of course the bad news is I’ll have to give up the paper route. Frank Louder graciously agrees to take over for me. Frank will collect my Christmas tips; there will be no banana yellow sting ray. Is there no justice in this world? All I can say is I hope you’re satisfied wherever you are, Mr. Johnny Torres.