Twister on Christmas Eve

In the early morning, almost as soon as I'd opened the fish stand, a dopey dullard came along, who seemed to think Telegraph is a flea market.

He looked at all the fish and asked for a Darwin, and when I said "Five bucks," he offered three, like the price is negotiable.

It was early, so I was still in a fairly patient frame of mind, and said, "If you buy half a dozen I might give you a deal, but five bucks for a Darwin isn't a bad price."

And it isn't a bad price at all. I've seen the same Darwins advertised for $9, plus shipping.

"I'll give you three dollars, he said again, with a stockbroker's look in his eye. Then he peeled three one-dollar bills out of his wallet and tried to hand them to me, as if I'd be impressed by such a wad of cold hard cash.

"The price is $5," I said, the patience fading.

"Four," he offered, slipping another impressive George into his hand, so I ignored him and helped the customer behind him, who bought three fish for the posted price.

When that transaction was completed, the bargain-hunter pushed his four dollars toward my face, and said, "C'mon, I want to know I've gotten a good deal."

"Pull the potato out of your ear, bub. The price is five bucks, and it's a good deal. Best deal you're gonna get. If you don't like it, get the fuck outtahere." And then I sold three more fish to two more customers, while he watched.

"Christ, man," he said, "reluctantly putting another dollar into his hand, making five. "You're a cold bastard."

"You have no idea," I said with Jeremy Irony, as I carefully picked out the most scuffed-up Darwin to give him. He looked at it and frowned, but didn't complain any more. I added a completely artificial "Merry Christmas!" as he walked away, thinking that was the end of the story, but that wasn't the end of the story.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Gerry, who sells marijuana cookies, came by to give me a baggie with two in it. And that is a very appreciated Christmas present. "You know I don't do Christmas, man, so I have nothing for you, but you're welcome to a fish if you'd like." 

He said thanks and ho ho ho took a marijuana fish — of course. Then he gave me a big hug, and I felt a most unfamiliar sensation. No, it wasn't a boner, ya bastard. I think it might have been — dare I even think it — Christmas spirit.

"Thanks," I said to Gerry, and then he was off down the street, with his plastic sack of goodies for all the vendors he was gifting, which was not all the vendors.

Immediately I devoured one of the cookies, and the other I saved for after work.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Then the cheapskate was back, Mr $3-for-a-$5-Darwin. He was holding the Darwin I'd sold him, and I thought he'd complain because I did sell him one that was beaten up from the bottom of the bin. And I would've exchanged it.

That wasn't his complaint, though. Instead he told me he'd struck a better deal with Jasper, another vendor, who sold him a Darwin for $4 — so he wanted his money back for the $5 Darwin he'd bought from me.

I laughed, and it was a genuine belly laugh. Your money back? What a concept!

There are sometimes ads on the radio from companies promising to match prices with the competition, but I don't run ads on the radio, and he wasn't even asking me to match the price. He seriously wanted his money back, and unless you have a gun the odds are against that.

Instead of answering, I tore a sheet from my note-taking notebook, and wrote on it, ALL SALES FINAL. Before he could see what I'd written, I peeled off some tape, and taped the note to the table, then pointed at it. 

"Can't you read?" I said. "All sales final."

"I want my god damned money back!" he screamed, and I mean literally, he screamed. This was not 'loud talking', it was a road to the gods.

"Is there a problem?" came a deep-voiced interruption from behind us. It couldn't be a policeman; they're never visible except to ruin the day, never to save it. I was about to turn around to see who it was, but I knew before turning, because I plotted the trajectory of where my idiot customer was looking — he was looking behind me, and up.

Up means Midget, I was pretty sure, and when I turned around, yup, it was Midget. He's a very large man who sells on the Ave, and we've spoken several times. Picture Andre the Giant.

Midget isn't one of the free speech vendors, but it's Christmas so the Avenue is packed with vendors, including many illegally, and today the city blocked ordinary traffic, so there were vendors right in the middle of the Avenue. Nobody's paying attention to the ordinary distinction between licensed and free-speech, so Midget was nearby enough to come to my rescue.

And of course, I'd seen Midget earlier and said good morning to him, else I wouldn't have had the courage to be quite so talkbackative with my cheapskate customer.

So Midget and the asshole had a quick conversation, which ended when Midget pounded his fist into his other hand, palm open. At that, the penny-pinching pissant wisely walked away — another satisfied customer!

For his help, I offered Midget the fish of his choice, and he took a Telegraph Avenue magnet, which seemed appropriate. I didn't ask, but I hope he'll stick it to his table as a subconscious ad for my table.

Of course, I took down the ALL SALES FINAL sign, because as a general rule — unless you're a general asshole — I'm happy to dicker and trade. With Jay's OK, I've sometimes sold fish at reduced prices, traded fish for movie passes, traded one fish for another, and if that guy hadn't been so obnoxious about it, sure, I would've matched Jasper's $4 price for a Darwin. Butt-heads always pay full price, though.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I'd planned on keeping the stand open late tonight, Christmas Eve, to soak up the last of the seasonal profits. 7:00 PM at least, maybe later if business held up. And sales were hectic during the morning and early afternoon, but the wind began gusting powerfully at about 3:00, and the weather always has the last word.

For a while I had to hold the fish display with both hands against the gusts, and it is a challenge to hand customers change when both your hands are occupied.

But then the unbearably big blasts came, and fish started blowing away. I folded everything flat across the table, and still the winds came, not in gusts but non-stop. Dorothy and Toto flew past, above the telephone poles.

Near me was a table vending pottery, and that lady had it far worse than me. Every gust was accompanied by the shattering of her work and profits, left in shards on the pavement. 

After that blast of wind came many almost as fierce, and every vendor on the Ave was trying to weigh down and pack away their merchandise before more could be blown away. Then came another, stronger gust, carrying more merchandise, and there was no arguing — the Christmas shopping season was over at 3:15 on Xmas Eve.

After I'd hurriedly packed away whatever hadn't blown away, I bungeed and padlocked all my stuff to a tree cage, then walked through the storm salvaging fish from the sidewalk and street.

One of the tarot card readers had her entire table blown away, scattering the cards of fate, and when her table touched down again it pulverized more of that lady's pottery. But she was the same witch who'd tried to ban my boss's poetry, so the sight and sound didn't bother me at all.

Everywhere up and down the Ave, tie-dye shirts were flying, pop art and pot pipes, anklets and ash trays... Everything light enough to fly was flying, and everything else was rolling or ruined or rushed into boxes.

Beside me today had been Bo, who sells iron-on patches. Perhaps a hundred broke free of the stacks on his table, and galloped along the asphalt and around the corner like a stampede of tiny animals.

On my other side had been Darrin, a painter who sells his original works — very political, very beautiful. As he described it later, someone must've been eating a slice of pizza while walking down the Ave, because when the first big gust came, pepperoni from splashed onto his unflattering portrait of Ronald Reagan. Before he could even scream about that, that painting and another went instantly airborne and flew into the intersection, where, as we watched, one smashed into a truck and was crumpled, and the other was scrunched under the wheels of a passing station wagon.

I spent hours in the hurricane, looking for fish that got away, and picking up and trying to return my neighbors' wayward t-shirts, chess sets, hats, coat hangers, earrings, patches, stickers, and whatever else was in the ruins.

To the locals' credit, nobody seemed to be openly looting, and several homeless people and passers-by were picking stuff up, but then trying to return it. "I've got some patches here!" a bum shouted, and Bo said, "Mine!" and got them back with a smile.

There were lots of little moments like that. Not everyone's evil, you know. Most people have a heart.

I kept an eye on my stuff bungeed to the tree, but everyone was being so neighborly I don't think anyone would've stolen it even without the padlock.

I helped some merchants I'd never met, even a few I hate, and I brought some bumper stickers back to Jasper. It wasn't a bonding moment or anything. He just nodded at me, didn't say thanks.

The wind was still blowing ferociously, and whirlpools of trash and tie-dye circulated up and down the streets, but eventually most of us vendors had secured and loaded everything that wasn't destroyed or blown across the bay.

At 5:00 when I left, the Avenue was mostly deserted. The pottery lady was crying, waiting for her husband to show up and drive her home with about half her merchandise in a pile of rubble at her feet. Yeah, she'd tried to have poetry banned on the Avenue, but in all the wind today, it was hard to remember that I hated her. I even said "Sorry" as I walked past, and mostly meant it.

Since Christmas is only and entirely about making money, let's tally the monetary damages. The lost sales from closing the table early probably cost us $300, maybe more — it's amazing how fast the fish have been selling as Xmas has approached. The wind stole another $200 or so in fish, at retail, but I picked up about half the escapees out of the mud. And yet, the table had raked in more than $800 before the winds wiped us out, so we still came out ahead.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

I stopped by Jay's house on my way home, to leave the table and tell her today's fish stories, and she was lighting the menorah. I of course have no idea what the candles signify, so she briefed me. I won't brief you, as I'd probably get it all wrong, but all the flames looked very pretty, next to her Christmas tree she's painted black. 

We played a couple of quick spins of battery-operated Dreidel. It's like spinning a top, with an inedible fortune cookie engraved on the top's four sides. As explained by Jay, and I think she was telling the truth, the Dreidel's position when it stops tells your luck, with the parameters of possibility being "You get everything you want," "You get half, " You get some," or "You get none of what you want."

Jay gets half. I get nothing.

When I came home, though, I ate Gerry's second marijuana cookie from this morning, with three toasted mustard sandwiches, and that's really all I wanted for Christmas.

From Pathetic Life #19
Sunday, Dec. 24, 1995

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.


  1. So, Virginia's family is going through a whole Xmas travel THING.

    Sister, husband, and 2 kids scheduled to arrive on a flight from Denver to Baltimore on 12/24 at like 10:30 PM. Layover in St Louis.

    In STL, flight cancelled. Next available flight is 8:30 PM on the 25th, Christmas night.

    THAT FLIGHT also cancelled. No crew available. next available flight this coming weds, the 28th. Un fucking real.

    So they rented a car, and are driving the 12 hours here.

    Just insanity.

    1. And switching carriers in STL would be 1200 bucks. IDK if that's total, or EACH.

    2. Hope she gets where she wants to be, safe and warm and surrounded by loved ones, but holy shit.

      Lots of time and money and effort, just to be stuck in an airport and then renting a car, all in an attempt to see family on a specific day, because everything in society says it's the ultimate day, Christmas day.

      It would be a lot less crowded, with better weather and probably better prices on airplane tickets, if everyone picked their own days to see loved ones.

      I'd pick May. Springtime is lovely.

    3. Agreed, also, I confirmed that the $1200 quote for flights on another carrier was EACH. So 4800 beans for the family of four.

    4. Jeepers, man. I'll bet you can think of other uses for almost five thousand smackeroos, maybe something *fun* instead of all that pressure and rush and sitting around an airport.

      Give me $5K, and I'd buy another six months in this recliner, not looking for work.


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