Save-Some-Cash, 2 [fiction]

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 21, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.


There’s an odd phenomenon in retail called Black Friday. Just the name sends shivers down the otherwise unshakable veterans of commerce while putting large, blinking dollar signs across their vitrified stares.

Before my first Black Friday evening at $ave-$ome-Ca$h, I knew only of the 1869 New York Gold Exchange scandal and the 1945 German and British aircraft battle called Black Fridays, and only because my history teacher spent a whole week that November teaching about them. My parents never celebrated the annual retail craze, so I didn’t know about it when I entered the store for my 3 to 7 shift that day and saw the aftermath.

The store’s “$ave-$ome-Ca$h Cu$tomer$ Love Black Friday$ $avings” had started at 6:00 that morning and ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, so most of the shoppers had left with probably 80 percent of our bargain merchandise. As I looked around, I thought a bomb had exploded inside the store. But since the powder blue chipboard walls were still intact and I saw only one fire, I thought steers had busted loose from Fred Franklin’s nearby farm and somehow managed to get inside the store. I heard mooing coming from the clothing section, so I was certain that that’s what happened. But upon inspection, I discovered it was only Ping Wu Hu, our store sales advocate, moaning from beneath a colorful mountain of discarded dresses, ladies’ undergarments and shoes.

He staggered to his feet, with my assistance, then wobbled to his office in the back of the store, all the while mooing—I mean “moaning”—like a heifer in heat. Later I discovered he was actually talking amidst his moans, saying, “No more. No more. No more.”

While I helped clean up the shelves and floor in Toys and Housewares, I made friends with  Charlie Humper, one of the old maintenance guys who looks like Lurch but talks like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family movies. He explained the history and frenzy of Black Friday to me. According to him, the term originated in Philadelphia back in the 1960s when crowds of football enthusiasts entered the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop, stay over to watch the game on Saturday, and then go home. I listened, amazed and alarmed while he told me about massive traffic jams, over-crowded sidewalks, and shoppers mobbing the downtown stores from opening to closing.

“The kids were obnoxious brats at the Philly store I worked at,” he said. “All of them there to see Santa and making a mess of the shelves of toys.” He shivered. “This hogwash of balancing the financial ledgers from red to black is a bunch of PR subterfuge from the 1980s. We old-timers know it’s just dressing up a sinner and calling him a saint.”

As Charlie shuffled off to the maintenance room, I felt glad that I had missed most of the insanity.

I finished cleaning at 3:00 and manned my cash register at the front of the store. Because of my age, I always got the one farthest from the tobacco products, which meant I was closest to the front door. Because of its location, my register attracted the customers who wanted fast exits from the store. But because I was still unskilled at punching the correct register keys, counting out change, and bagging all their loot—and because of my acute interest in every pretty girl who walked by—my lines moved slower than dirt, which … well, you get the picture.

Anyway, there were scores of pretty girls shopping when the 6:00 PM rush surged inside. This crowd consisted of shoppers who needed groceries, shoppers who needed hunting licenses for the approaching deer, turkey and bear seasons, and shoppers who had just got out of work and were hoping for overlooked bargain leftovers from the Black Friday sale. But Ping and his stockers had removed the leftovers and managed to return the store to its usual somber looking self despite all of the cheap Christmas trimmings everywhere.

Other shoppers that entered the store that night were vendee vampires!

I know what you’re thinking: What? Vampires? Those zombie creatures that suck blood?

Not blood, but…

Vendee vampires are shoppers who come out after the sun goes down, and only on Friday and Saturday nights, no matter the time of year. These retail soul suckers are attracted to places with lots of lights and signs that say SAVE. And because $ave-$ome-Ca$h is always lit up like a miniature sun all night long, New Cambridge’s vendee vamps swarm our store as soon as the last glimmer of twilight leaves the sky.

Vendee vamps usually run in packs, but some of the really old ones like to cruise alone or in pairs. Any well-lit commercial venue is fair game as long as these creatures can spend money quickly and give someone a hard time while doing it. Among their favorite haunts besides this store are dollar stores and fast food places. In New Cambridge, several of these stores line both sides of Main Street on the way out of town, and you can often see vendee vamps gathered in packs, berating cashiers and managers if someone either packaged their fast food orders incorrectly or handed back the wrong change. A friend who works at Goody’s Burger Barn down the street told me about a time when some vamps swarmed upon a hapless night manager after a mix-up of food items at the restaurant.

Vendee vampires love confrontations most. I believe complaining and shouting give them energy boosts, stronger than artificial stimulants. They’ll even choose the longest checkout line so they can complain about waiting a long time … or so I’ve heard.

I called Ping on the telephone at my station when twenty of them—young and old—swarmed through the entrance. “The vendee vampires are here,” I whispered into the phone.

“I’m not,” he said and hung up. And despite the noise of lousy Christmas music on the intercom and shoppers talking loudly, I heard his office door’s lock click shut.

I took my break (late as always) and cowered at the round Formica table next to the broken microwave, drinking a Coke and trying to contain my anxiety. I hated confrontations of any kind, and I felt certain I wouldn’t surpass my probation that night.

After my break, I saw only vendee vamps in the store during my long walk back to my register. At the front door, more vampires entered. Several cashiers, including some who had already taken their allotted breaks, turned off their registers and fled to the break room.


I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and turned on my Checkout Here light, all the while feeling small and alone at the front of the store where more vendee vampires flooded through the entrance and threatened to drown my hope of keeping my wits until quitting time.

Save-Some-Cash, 1 [fiction]

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 20, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.


Every school kid studying Business History at New Cambridge High knows the story of Otto Van Douchebaum, of how in the 1940s, he started the first Van Douchebaum Emporium in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Despite the secrecy of his private life, we know that Van Douchebaum was a jovial man who dressed in top hat and pinstripes every day and personally greeted his customers at the front door. Within the workings of that store, he hired the cheapest labor to sell the cheapest made products at the cheapest prices. From farm equipment to household appliances, from clothing to radios to toys, he happily guaranteed everything with a money back endorsement. Cheap became popular and Otto became a millionaire two years later. His success and wealth put him among high standing with the editors of American business magazines and made him popular among senators.

To compete with the sudden rush of copycat stores and to accommodate family and friends living in other parts of the United States, Otto Van Douchebaum built more Van Douchebaum stores. By 1955, he’d become a billionaire and his reputation as a wise industrialist had spread to other industrial countries. Among his achievements, he was one of the first to incorporate plastic into his products. The following year, he added groceries to his stores. Then barbershops and hair salons the year after that. He even opened the first gas station at his Michigan store. The popularity spread until every Van Douchebaum Emporium was filling gas tanks with Van Douchebaum premium.

Otto Van Douchebaum married his boyhood sweetheart Polly Umber in 1960. Waldo Umber Van Douchebaum was born in 1961 and the Van Douchebaums lived a luxurious life while Otto searched for cheaper ways to build products to sell at his stores. It was while vacationing in Tokyo during the summer of 1967 that Otto and Polly vanished. Rumor says he was searching for a cheaper and stronger plastic, as well as promoting his stores to the Japanese government. He did purchase a yacht, which he was sailing on Tokyo Bay when he, his wife, and the yacht disappeared. Popular rumor says pirates boarded his yacht and whisked them away to parts unknown. Less popular rumors say aliens abducted them in a UFO—yacht included.

In any case, the Van Douchebaum stores floundered until Waldo turned 18 in 1979 and legally inherited his father’s enterprise. The first thing Waldo did was close all the stores. Then he sold the trademarked name to a group of meat packers from Connecticut that now sell Van Douchebaum Emporium wieners and bologna worldwide.

In 1985, Waldo built his own chain of stores called $ave-$ome-Ca$h. Though not as successful as his father’s stores, Waldo hired the cheapest labor to sell the cheapest made products at the cheapest prices, which appeased American shoppers, business magazine editors, and senators. Despite its flashing dollar-signs name, $ave-$ome-Ca$h spread to smaller cities. It came to the outskirts of my hometown of New Cambridge, Pennsylvania, in 1997, and I stumbled into employment there two years later while I was a tenth grader at New Cambridge High. My life has never been the same since.

My Latest Blog Changes

Hello readers and followers of my blog. Some quick news for you:

I spent today changing the look and feel of my blog. Life is all about changes. I try to keep from getting stale, though I do have clothes that are out of fashion.

Changes to this blog/website include a new Books page. There you can read my creations by clicking links instead of stumbling with the WordPress search box. Topping the list is Night of the Hellhounds, the mini e-novel I wrote 2013. Visit my Books page for more selections.

I plan to offer free books at that page, too. Right now, you can read two versions of Kismet there. Files are downloadable PDFs.

Let me know what you think of the new look. And if you have any suggestions to make this site better, please leave comments.

Sketching Critters

I enjoy watching small animals skittering and dashing about with their daily activities. I have my favorites, like chipmunks and squirrels, that I try to capture with pencil and paper. But lately I have been studying birds more than usual. Although I’m not a bird painter, per se, I have done a few paintings with birds in them based on life sketches from my wildlife sketchbooks. And I did a finch painting based entirely from reference sketches.

Sketches in the Sun
Sketches in the Sun, Oil Painting, circa 2002

With so many species of animals, each with its own particular charm and beauty, the wildlife artist never lacks a subject. No matter where you live, there are always animals to sketch—in cities, gardens, parks, forests and farmland. Sketching them in their natural habitat gives you an opportunity to study their fascinating behavior. Whether sitting in a park, at a roadside, at the edge of a river or lake, sketching critters is a wonderful way to spend a day. And your sketches give a rich source of reference for your paintings.

When you have found a subject and settled down, spend a few minutes looking hard at the animal, in the same way as you would carefully consider a still life before starting to paint it. Ask yourself questions such as, “How long is the neck and how much of it disappears when the animal stands up?” This will help you understand the form better. Then, when the animal adopts an interesting pose, begin sketching. You’ll find this is when your patience is tested. The subject moves all the time, so you have to wait until it returns to either the original pose or something close. It might even scurry off or fly away and leave you with an unfinished sketch.

If the animal changes pose quickly and a lot, don’t continue with the sketch—it won’t be precise, and therefore useless for reference. To use your time well, have several sketches of different poses going at once, and dart around the page as the subject shifts position. This is challenging, but you should end up with a page of interesting studies. Don’t worry if the animal you’re sketching doesn’t return to the same pose—just a few lines can be full of information. And get down those shadows too. Their shapes help describe form and make your sketches more convincing.

Spend some time looking at the pattern of fur and feather masses, too—this is essential reference when you come to paint. Try to catch the “personality” of the animal by noticing any characteristic features that make it unique as a species.

You might find it useful to use cubes, oblongs and cylinders to describe the general body shapes. You can also use these to show the relative shapes and sizes of different species. If you are sketching many ducks on a lake, for example, do a whole page of these simple shapes. This is invaluable information when it comes to painting various ducks together. Try to show the size of an individual duck—or any animal, for that matter—by sketching its surroundings.

It goes without saying, of course, that you should take a note of the date, place, and time of day in your sketches—these will help you recall the scene later when working in your studio. Also, note the colors of the animal if you’ve not sketched it in color.

My favorite sketching tool is a box of watercolor pencils, but you should use whatever feels comfortable to you.

So make a day of drawing critters … and happy sketching.