The American Dream
John Griffiths was sitting on a bench in the little park conveniently located a couple blocks from his house. It was a sunny and warm Sunday afternoon, and he couldn't stay inside. So there he was, in the park, feet crossed and hands clasped behind his head, squinting across the small stretch of grass at four small boys -- no older than six, he guessed -- who had just arrived at the basketball court there.
John sighed and tried to remember when he last played basketball. He shook his head. It had been a long time.
The boys started playing, dribbling and passing and stealing the basketball. Rarely did they take a shot, and when they did, they invariably missed; the hoop was much too high for them. John smiled as he watched them.
Birds were singing in the oak trees that lined the park, and a cool breeze whispered by, playing with a few strands of hair that hung down over John's forehead.
The sudden stench of urine and filth made John Griffiths flinch. He quickly looked around in alarm and to his right saw a homeless man shuffling towards him. John recoiled at the sight of him: unkempt hair, deep-lined face smeared with dirt, soiled and tattered army fatigues, and dragging a rusty shopping cart filled with junk.
The vagrant stopped about a dozen feet from John and stared. "Spare some change?" he asked hoarsely.
John felt paralyzed. He didn't know what to do. It was usually he who was walking and the homeless man who was sitting down, and so John would always shrug and sometimes quicken his pace. But now the tables were turned; John was trapped.
"Uh," John muttered, "yeah." He dug into his pocket and pulled out a five dollar bill, which he then nervously held out.
Smiling, the panhandler stepped closer, and John gingerly placed the money on the outstretched hand so as to not risk the chance of getting his fingers dirty in any way. The five dollars quickly disappeared into a well- patched pocket.
"God bless you, sir," the homeless man said. He returned to his shopping cart, grabbed hold, and started back on his way. As he passed in front and then to the left of John Griffiths, his odor began to dissipate, much to John's relief. "Yes sir," the transient was saying, mostly to the asphalt path he was on, "God bless you. Have a nice day, sir. You're a real humanitarian, you are. Yes sir."
"Actually," John Griffiths said, "I'm a lawyer."
The homeless man stopped and turned. "Eh?"
"You called me a humanitarian," John explained. The homeless man nodded, a quizzical look on his face. "And I said, 'Actually, I'm a lawyer.'"
The homeless man nodded again, then smiled dumbly. "Well, maybe you can be my lawyer next time I get arrested."
John laughed out loud. "Yeah, right."
He watched the vagrant lose interest and turn back to his shopping cart. "I drive a Porsche," John called out.
The homeless man stopped again and looked at John.
"I'm married to a beautiful woman," John added. "We live in a four- bedroom house, right near here."
The homeless man blinked, and several seconds ticked by before he did anything. Then his hands suddenly clenched into fists. "Who the fuck do you think you are?" he yelled. "I act nice after you gave me money, and you start hollerin' at me how successful you are, how wonderful your fucking life is!" He pointed at John now, and trembled. "Well I don't give a shit! You hear? Fuck you! Fuck your wife! Fuck your car! Fuck your whole fucking life!" He spun back around and stalked away, the shopping cart clattering as he pulled it along behind him.
Stunned, John Griffiths stared at him as he made his way down the path, reached the end of the park, and crossed the street, disappearing behind some trees. His gaze lingered for some time afterwards.
Fuck my wife, he thought. Fuck my car.
He slowly faced forward, looking straight ahead, at the boys still playing basketball. They hadn't noticed a thing.
Fuck my whole fucking life, he thought.
Before he realized what he was doing, John Griffiths had stood up and was walking to the basketball court. The boys stopped their game and looked at him suspiciously as he approached them. He smiled and held out his hands as if to catch a pass. The boys smiled back, laughed, and threw him the ball. John caught it, dribbled down the court, leapt, and rammed the basketball through the hoop. The boys cheered.
The next day, John Griffiths quit his job, bought a small house in an undistinguished neighborhood, filed for divorce, sold his Porsche and picked up a used Honda Civic, purchased a Nintendo Home Entertainment System, and lived happily ever after.
Robert Hurvitz (email@example.com) is a longtime InterText contributor and UC Berkeley graduate who, at last report, lived in Seattle.
InterText stories written by Robert Hurvitz: "The American Dream" (v1n2), "Experience Required" (v1n4), "Frog Boy" (v2n2), "Roadkill" (v2n3), "Dogbreath" (v3n1), "Wine And Cheese" (v4n3).
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Robert Hurvitz.