Thursday, June 26, 2008

Rusty Pails #43
Ermine's Coffee Bar

by Rocky Macy

Shadetree Mike has been on vacation - which is why he wasn't around to help us burn down Gladys Clench's chicken coop. It wasn’t a normal vacation, of course, because Mike never does anything normal. Ermine packed him a bag with flowered shirts and shorts, and plenty of sunscreen, and took him down to Herb’s Truck Oasis. Miss Lola Longtooth, who works for Herb, found a trucker headed to California, and after some forceful negotiation on Ermine’s part, the trucker headed west with Mike in tow.

I got a postcard saying that his ride had ditched him on the west coast. (I was surprised that he had been able to put up with Shadetree Mike all the way to the coast!) Mike said that as soon as he got a few things straightened out in California, he was going to hitchhike back to Spring Hinge. That was four weeks ago. Mike’s prolonged absence gave Ermine time to get some things done at the Pump and Git, which was the point of her evil plan all along.

The first thing Ermine did was to have a sale. I never miss a sale, and I wasn’t about to miss this one. What kind of friend would I be if some of Mike’s treasures wound up in the hands of strangers? But surely, I thought, Ermine wouldn’t dishonor her man by selling off his unreplaceables! Wrong! The first thing to hit the auction block was our domino table, six rickety chairs, and Mike’s favorite set of well-worn dominoes.

My face got red and I was shaking. This was personal! How could she sell something that had served as the launching pad of Sprung Hinge shenanigans for more years than I cared to remember? The crowd was in shock, and the auctioneer, Colonel Basil Ironweed Peppercorn, looked and sounded like he was about to cry as he called for an opening bid of fifty cents.

Fifty cents! It wasn’t just Shadetree Mike being dishonored, it was every semi-retired, domino-loving, tall-tale-telling, root beer-swigging, adventuresome male in the community! It was an outrage! “One dollar!” I shouted. (Fifty cents, indeed!)

“I have a bid of one dollar,” Colonel Peppercorn roared. “Who’ll give me two?”

“Ten,” snapped Esther Pearl.

Ten! Ten for that old thing? Why one leg didn’t even match! I quickly checked my wallet. “Twenty-five!” I’d show Esther a thing or two about messing with history and the social order of things!

“Thirty,” she announced, before the Colonel could even ask for another bid.

“Thirty!” I shouted. “For that old thing?”

Esther gave me a sweet smile and a look that said “Put up or shut up.”

“Going once for thirty dollars,” Colonel Peppercorn said solemnly. “Going twice…”

I rechecked my wallet and the pockets of my overalls. “Thirty-seven dollars and fourteen cents.”

“Forty.” Esther was being plum nonchalant about breaking me.

My buddies began showing up to help. After shaking down Truman I was able to raise the bid to forty-six dollars and eleven cents.

“Fifty,” Ester said calmly.

Something smelled fishy, and I knew that I should cut bait, but my pride was at stake and she was bidding on my cultural inheritance. Heck was better healed than Truman and me, and I was able to jump the bid to one hundred and sixty-three dollars and a dime. It had been expensive, but that would settle Ms. Pearl’s hash!

“One hundred and seventy-five dollars,” Esther replied, still smiling sweetly.

I thought I was having a stroke! That crazy woman had done broke me and two of my buddies over a wobbly table and an old set of dominoes! Just as I was about to collapse and interrupt the sale with a medical emergency, Judge Rufus T. Redbone rushed up and handed me a roll of bills. “It’s all I got, Rusty. Make her pay, buddy! Make her pay!”

Nobody moved and nobody spoke. After carefully counting out the Judge’s contribution, I smugly announced my final bid. “Two hundred and ninety-nine dollars and ten cents!” If Esther was intent on hijacking our heritage, it would cost her three bills!

Everyone turned to Esther. Ester turned to Ermine who was smiling from ear-to-ear. Ermine shook her head no, and Esther smiled across the crowd at me and said, “You’ve beat me fair and square, Rusty. Enjoy your high-priced entertainment center.” She started laughing, and you know how laughter tends to spread.

The only four people at the auction who weren’t busting a gut laughing carefully moved our table across the road under the big oak and proceeded to have a game of dominoes. There wasn’t any point in staying at the sale because none of us had any money!

Over the next few days Ermine proceeded to fumigate and paint the Pump and Git from top to bottom. The comfortable old dirty green walls were suddenly mauve and tangerine. And then the men came to put down the carpet. Carpet! We all knew that Shadetree Mike was going to have a world class conniption fit when he got back and saw how Ermine had ruined the ambience that it had taken Mike years to create.

But it didn’t end there! A few days later the soft-serve yogurt machine arrived, and before it was up and running, an espresso machine was also being installed. Then came the little bistro tables and their fancy little wrought iron chairs with padded seats that looked like bloated peppermints. And the tables had table cloths, and the windows, clean for the first time ever, had lacy curtains.

The boys and I didn’t have to be told that we weren’t welcome to sit around the old Pump and Git and play dominoes anymore. Our old resting place had disappeared, and in its place, according to the new sign in the window, was Ermine’s Coffee Bar! And through its door Sprung Hinge women come and go, talking of Michaelangelo.

Shadetree Mike will be home any day, and we’re all anxious to see how he handles this. We’ll be watching from our domino table – across the road and under the big oak!

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