Hard Times
by William Michaelian

I am reminded of a little story my dear old daddy used to tell in the dead of winter when we were snowed in with nothing to do but gnaw on our knuckles.

Seems that once upon a time, my old man had only twenty dollars to his name. Since he and my ma needed it to buy groceries and gas, he went to the bank, withdrew his entire holdings, and stuffed the bill in his wallet. Outside on the sidewalk, he met up with a couple of tough customers who held him up at gunpoint, stole the cash, and disappeared into an alley.

After a fruitless search, he got into his car and started the engine. As he was about to back into the street, the two criminals came running up, their guns pointed right at him. Without waiting to be invited, they jumped in and told him to step on it. �And remember,� one of them said, �no funny business.�

�Just where are we headed?� my father said.

�The highway,� the other criminal said.

�Then where?� my father said.

�To Fresno,� the first one said.

�Fresno?� my father said. �That�s forty miles away. What do you want to go to Fresno for?�

This made both criminals mad. �To see our mother, wise guy,� they both said. �Now, drive.�

�Okay, okay,� my father said. �But first, tell me something. Don�t you boys have a getaway car?�

�As a matter of fact, we do,� the first criminal said. �But it won�t start. Now shut up and drive.�

But my father didn�t drive. Instead, he sat there, thinking. �How long you been at this?� he said finally.

�Fifteen years,� the second criminal said.

�Fifteen years,� my father said. �Imagine that. And you�re still holding people up for twenty dollars? My, my. I�ve never stolen a dime, and I�ll bet I could do better than that my first time out.�

Well, needless to say, my old man�s attitude didn�t set too well with those two crooks. There was a big discussion. The crooks, who obviously weren�t too bright, claimed stealing people�s money was a hard job, especially with the economy the way it was. As for their car, neither one of them was much of a mechanic. Whenever a car gave out, instead of fixing it, they just stole another, which, they said, was what they were in the process of doing.

My father, though, still wasn�t satisfied. �Tell you what,� he said, his hands draped on the steering wheel. �Suppose I prove it to you. I�ll rob someone, and if I don�t get more than twenty dollars out of them, I�ll take you to Fresno and give you the car. If I do get more than twenty dollars, then you give me my money back and we�ll pretend none of this ever happened. Okay? What do you think?�

While the engine idled, the thieves talked it over amongst themselves. After a great deal of conversation, the engine sputtered, then died. �Well, I�ll be darned,� my father said. �Will you look at that? We�re out of gas.�

Just then, a police car drove by. Seeing his big chance, he flagged it down. When the criminals tried to run, they were easily apprehended. After they�d been put in handcuffs and my father had gotten his money back, he said, �Gee, fellas, sorry I couldn�t take you to Fresno. When you get out, be sure to let me know what you decide.�

Then he tipped his hat and set out for the nearest gas station. Later, at the grocery store, he and my ma spent their very last dime.

William Michaelian�s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian�s other books and links to this site�s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.

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