I was about to get into a hot bath before turning in on Saturday night when I started getting a barrage of text messages, emails, and notifications from Twitter and Instagram. All the dinging and donging and buzzing and trilling was enough to keep a smack head from nodding off.
I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to know what was causing such a flurry of activity on my phone. Most days I barely use 25% of my phone’s charge, mainly because over the last year and a half I have managed to fall out of touch with just about every person in my life with whom I used to speak to or text on a regular basis.
My final decision was to ignore and silence my phone before my bath. I never turned the ringer back on. I needed sleep since I had a big Sunday planned, full of grocery shopping and doing laundry and napping and probably cleaning out the litter box before gathering all the garbage that need to be on the curb before Monday morning.
It was going to be GREAT!
I was awakened the next morning by pounding on the door followed by a voice shouting, “Police! Open up!”
I panicked, but I wasn’t sure why. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d bounced a check. I’d filed my taxes in February. The tag on my car was good until September of 2022, and I’d just renewed my driver’s license two days previous.
Had Walmart security finally caught up to me after I ate three bing cherries in the store one morning in June? I couldn’t very well buy a very expensive bag of cherries without determining if they were ripe and sweet, right?
Maybe some surveillance camera had caught me the previous month as I cut through the parking lot of a gas station to get around a change in the Highway 181 traffic pattern?
My panic and fear increased when I recalled the thousands of songs I may or may not have downloaded from Napster and Kazaa and Limewire at the turn of the 21st century. Someone had to face the consequences for robbing struggling artists like Paul McCartney and Madonna of several meals, so I supposed it was going to be me.
It was so unfair, though! How else was I supposed to make truly amazing mix CDs for the girl I was in love with during a lengthy period of penury in my late 20s? Why is the law so unforgiving when it comes to matters of the heart?
I had a sick feeling I would be convicted and jailed for this crime—despite the number of albums I had bought off of Bandcamp on Fee-Waiving Fridays, always paying more than the asking price.
While all of this was running through my mind, the knocking continued and the shouting grew louder and more insistent (“Open! Up! Po! Leece!”). I lifted my cup of tea and chugged its contents, as I was convinced it might be ten to fifteen years before I had the opportunity to drink another once I answered the door.
I walked into the foyer of my little Hobbit House, running a hand through my hair and taking deep, cleansing breaths.
“Coming!” I shouted.
The pounding on the door stopped. There was silence.
I opened the door slowly.
“Yes?” I asked the two police officers standing four or five feet away from my door.
One was bald, while one wore a cap with a City of Fairhope seal on it. Each had a truncheon in his right hand, while the left hand of each man grasped his belt buckle. I couldn’t take my eyes off the clubs they held, wondering how many times it would take something like that to come down on my skull before I was rendered unconscious. Then I wondered if they would stop once they’d knocked me out, or if they would just keep bashing until my head was nothing but a meatballish lump on the sidewalk.
“Welfare check, ma’am.”
I shook my head. “No, I’ve never received any type of welfare check, but I totally support universal basic income and Medicare for All.”
I immediately regretted saying that.
If there was one thing I knew the police did not respect or even tolerate, it was a socialist. Which made no sense, as their salaries were a direct product of socialism. That is, they are right now. I realize that sooner or later all law enforcement will be privatized and they will serve and protect nobody but the rich assholes who’ll one day employ all of them.
Of course, that’s kind of already the case, except the average person is the one paying for them to beat the stew out of the average person if the average person tries to breach the circle of protection drawn around the ruling class by the money of the ruling class—money most of them wouldn’t even have without the labor of the average person they felt they needed protection from.
My bowels suddenly turned to ice as I couldn’t remember if I’d just been thinking all of this about the police, or if I had actually said it to the police. I figured I would find out if they knocked me down and raised their boots above my face, ready to stamp on it—forever.
This didn’t happen.
The Hat Cop stopped chewing his gum for a moment. “Got a call from someone. Says he couldn’t get in touch with you. Worried something happened,” he said. He lifted his mirrored sunglasses off the bridge of his nose, scowling. “You all right?”
But I still wasn’t in full command of my reactions or faculties at that moment.
“What if I’m not alt-right? Are you gonna arrest me on made-up charges and then beat me senseless when I won’t confess to some crazy infraction with a high fine and possible jail time?”
“Ma’am, is there anything wrong?” Bald Cop asked.
He—a cop!—had a lot of nerve asking me that.
I threw up my hands in disgust. “Is there anything wrong? What isn’t wrong? The question is, is there anything right? That’s the real corker of a question. Do we have even one reason to believe that this planet won’t be an uninhabitable plastic-stuffed wasteland in two generations?”
Suddenly, a voice came from the direction of the intersection nearest my house. “Stuff a sock in it, Sister Kristy!”
The cops whirled around at the same time as if both were attached to the hands of the same puppeteer. (And let’s be honest: they are. Every last one of them.)
Citizen Jim came into view and started waving his arms around. “I specifically told that dispatcher who answered my call that anyone who checked up on this harpy should not engage with her if she answered the door and seemed well and fair.”
“So you’re the one who called?” Bald Cop asked.
“I am. This woman owes me money,” said Citizen Jim. “She also owes me an apology since she wrote more than a thousand words of a Citizen Jim story before she decided to bring in Citizen Jim. Can I sue her for an apology, or is suing only for getting money?”
“Why didn’t you come knock on the door yourself? Why’d you call us?” asked Hat Cop.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Did I pull you away from your free meal at the Waffle House?” Citizen Jim asked. “Were you not finished with your two dozen donuts at—”
“Jim, just come inside,” I said, trying to save him from the trouble he was causing.
Hat Cop turned to me, his truncheon raised. “Shut it! You don’t interrupt when a man is talking!”
My first instinct when he threatened me was to threaten him, but I realized that it would be useless to tell a policeman that I was going to call the police if he didn’t get the hell away from me with his police weapons.
“No, now, she’s right. I need to go inside and let you boys get back to arresting all the people that need to fill those new jails the state is gonna build with their COVID money,” said Citizen Jim. “If you don’t have any prisoners, you can’t squeeze money out of the public coffers, and then the folks who’ve invested in the company that owns the new prisons might suffer. We don’t want that.”
“Finally! Someone who understands what we’re trying to do!” said Bald Cop.
Hat Cop said, “Are we gonna arrest her?” and pointed at me with the end of his truncheon.
Bald Cop said, “Much as I’d like to, we don’t have time,” he said. “We’ve gotta go direct traffic at that big church on the highway.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot,” said Hat Cop. He turned to me and said, “We’ll have our eye on you, so you’d better watch your step.”
How dare he reference Elvis Costello while browbeating me?
“She may not look like it, fellas, but she’s shaking in her boots right now,” said Citizen Jim, shoving me through the open door with one hand while he waved goodbye to Hat Cop and Bald Cop with the other.
Before slamming the door, I yelled, “No I’m not!”
But I was. I was shaking with anger! And not just at the cops who were peeling away and accelerating from 0 to 50 in one second on a narrow residential street.
“What the hell? Did you really call the cops to come here?”
“I couldn’t get hold of you! I thought maybe a serial killer finally got you,” he said. “And I had something very damned important to tell you.”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “What is it? I’ve got a lot to do today, and I’m already behind schedule, now.”
“You need to forget whatever you were going to do,” he said. “We need to talk about all this Zodiac business.”
This was weird coming from Citizen Jim. “That’s weird coming from you, since you’re so scared of the Zodiac Killer,” I said. “Or are you talking about astrology?”
I hoped that was what he was talking about. Citizen Jim is a Cancer and I’m a Scorpio, so we’re the most compatible signs in the zodiac. This would be a good opportunity to tell Citizen Jim how glad I am that we’re America’s most beloved best friends.
“Astrology? You know I don’t believe in that crap,” he said. “I’m talking about THE Zodiac. The Zodiac Killer. The Zodiac Killer of whom I am no longer afraid.”
“Really? Why not?”
“Because I just found out he’s dead.”
I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because Citizen Jim blew his top!
“Don’t look at me like you think I’m so nuts you’re gonna call the cops to come back here and arrest me!” he yelled. “Someone finally solved that Zodiac case.”
“Oh,” I said. “Okay. Good.”
“Okay? Good? That’s all you have to say? I thought you’d be happy for me! I thought you’d be thrilled to know that I no longer have to be afraid of the dark! I was sure you’d be glad that I can take my wife to the brand new Lover’s Lane that just opened near our house without being terrified that someone might kill us!”
“No, Precious Lamb—that’s all great! I am totally happy for you,” I said. “I just…I mean, is this really so important that you had to blow up my phone and call the police for a welfare check?”
“Welfare check! Ha! You and your welfare checks!” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s all those welfare checks that’re causing the pool of workers to shrink. Welfare checks’re why nobody can find anyone to work for low wages and no benefits and no chance of joining a union! I don’t want to hear about welfare checks until someone says they’re gonna be abolished!”
(I should have stopped him at the beginning, as he was sort of moving forward with my earlier motif of confusing a “well-being check” with a government subsidy issued via check. That probably reflects poor planning on my part. But I guess it’s too late now. What? No, I will not “just go back and change it.” Huh? Because I can’t go back and change it. That’s not how Citizen Jim Stories by Chicken Sheets work. Okay? Now just let me get on with this. Hold on, now! Yes, I’m aware of how long this story has become, but what am I supposed to do? I can’t cut anything without wrecking the entire flow of it. If you knew anything about narrative or fiction or even one thing besides your own petty problems, you’d understand that. If you think you know so much, why don’t you write the next Citizen Jim Story by Chicken Sheets, and I’ll critique how you’re doing it. What’d you say? Yeah. That’s what I thought.)
“Okay, so. Now that you see I’m okay, and now that you’ve told me your super-great and terrific news about the Zodiac Killer, I’ll have to beg your leave while I go fill my gas tank and go to the store for some necessary dry goods.”
“Just say panty liners and butt wipes,” said Citizen Jim. “We’re all adults here.”
I was buying neither of those things, but I reached out to pat Citizen Jim’s hairy, ape-like arm to thank him for stopping by.
He smacked my hand and crossed his arms over his chest. “No, ma’am! Don’t try and smooth things over, now. I’m insulted and I’m gonna stay insulted,” he said. “I’m not a Pisces, but I am a water sign. Apparently, we’re the most sensitive astrological signs. So shut your ugly face and I’ll get out of your dirty, scraggly hair once and for all.”
“Wow! I have feelings,” I said. “I’m a water sign, too, you know.”
“I already told you I don’t believe in that crap—not when it comes to you, anyway,” said Citizen Jim as he marched out the door and started walking in the direction of the main highway.
He stopped and turned around, marching back to where I still stood in my doorway. “I almost forgot,” he said and held out his hand. “What about the money you owe me?”
“What’re you talking about? I don’t owe you any money,” I said.
“Yeah, well, you know that little stunt you pulled last night with not answering any of my messages? That’s ended up costing me a fortune!” he said. “I had to rent a car. They didn’t have any compact cars with good gas mileage, so I ended up with a red, gas-guzzling Dodge Charger. Then I realized I couldn’t drive a car like that without goggles and a nice pair of gloves and a cashmere scarf to wear so it’d flap out the open window while I was burning rubber on I-65,” he said.
I sighed and let my eyes close a little while he went on.
“Since I had to stop at so many gas stations on the way down here, I ended up buying five or six shot glasses, a couple of license plate frames, a couple of funny t-shirts, and a new pair of sunglasses. So we’re talking about something like three hundred bucks, not counting the gas. You know gas prices are up because Uncle Joe’s running the country into the ground, so the gas was another hundred or so dollars. Let’s just say you owe me five hundred dollars and that’ll be that.”
“Yeah, so. Where’s this car you’re talking about?”
“Oh, Stimpy, Mama just fell in love with that car, so I let her and her friends take it to church, and then to the Cracker Barrel,” he said. “They ought to be back in an hour or so. But then I’ve got to take off because my wife is getting an award from the Society of Modern Alchemy at a big, fancy banquet tonight.”
“Just drive by and beep the horn, and I’ll wire you the money,” I said.
“I need that money now! Like right now!” Citizen Jim said.
I knew he was lying, so I wasn’t worried about paying him anything.
“No Dodge Charger, no money,” I said.
“Fine! I’ll just send Dr. Music here to get what I owe him for accidentally busting a bunch of records when I was trying to breakdance in his shop the last time I came down,” he said.
“Are you kidding?”
“Hell no, I’m not kidding! What else was I supposed to do when I thought I heard ‘Jam On It’ by Newcleus playing on the sound system?” he said. “By the time I realized it was actually ‘Venus’ by Television, I’d already knocked over the Post Punk bin and spun on top of half the records that were on the floor.”
I had to stifle a giggle when I imagined this.
“Yuk it up now! You won’t be falling sideways laughing when I tell Dr. Music to come and collect from you,” said Citizen Jim. “He says if he doesn’t get his money by the end of this week, he’s going to sue! So if you don’t pay him, he’ll be suing you! I hope you understand that!”
I saluted him. “Got it!” I said.
“I hope you’ve learned your lesson,” he said.
I nodded. “Yes, I have,” I said. “Thank you for being so patient with me.”
“Just don’t do anything stupid again. Don’t ignore my calls and texts and Instagram and Twitter messages when I have important news to share with you,” he said.
I placed my hand over my heart. “I promise I won’t.”
“You didn’t cross your heart and hope to die,” he said. “How am I supposed to trust you when you don’t even follow the most basic rules of friendship?”
“I know, Precious Lamb. I’m the absolute worst,” I said.
“Scorpios are supposed to be the best friends!” he said.
I shook my head. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“This is another reason I don’t trust astrology,” he said, and turned his back to me and started walking away for the second time that day.
“Bye!” I called out as he got further away. “I love you!”
“Goodbye, and good riddance!” he shouted without turning around. “If the Zodiac Killer isn’t really dead, I hope he comes to this neighborhood!”