Sunday, June 27, 2010

"What to do if you find a bag of money under a bridge", part 1

This is an old story. I wrote it in 2003 (as you can tell from the comment about gas being nearly $2 a gallon). I'm not going to do much editing before posting it. I like looking back at my old pieces to see how I've grown as a writer. Unless it's REALLY bad. Then I usually hide it under a stone in the middle of a dark, dark wood. 

It seems that most of my stories were longer back then, so I'll be splitting this one up into two parts as well. And before I'm inundated with e-mails, yes, this IS based on a true story. I did actually walk this path one day. They say that the best writing comes from experience- you be the judge.

"What to do if you find a bag of money under a bridge", part 1
Aaron Matthew Smith- Feb. 2003

I read the address again from the scrap of phonebook I’d ripped out. I usually hated it when people tore pages out of public phone books, because it always seemed that that was the page that I ended up needing. 1280 W Main Street, Presentation Design. Damn computer class.  Apparently the only plotter (meaning the ONLY plotter in the ENTIRE school of design) we had couldn’t print on cardstock. Why would I ever want to print out my drawings on cardstock, anyway? Damn computer teacher. Wanting us to draw on our pictures after we print them out…what was THAT about anyway?

            I took a deep breath and tried to drown my frustration as I turned from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard onto Main Street. Being the unseasonably warm day that it was, and seeing as how gas had been nearly two dollars a gallon lately, I’d decided to walk to the printing store that had been recommended to me by my computer instructor. He’d said they’d had a deal with the school before, and I’d probably be able to get a better deal on printing out my drawings there.

            The shade of the mammoth banks surrounding the heart of the city cast a sudden chill over me, and I pulled my light denim jacket closed around me. The blue plastic poster tube slung across my shoulder swayed with my movements, like some big clunky sword I was about to use to slay some dragon. Well, in a way, I am on kind of a quest I thought to myself, and smiled at the sudden image of myself beating a monstrous beast to death with a my goofy blue tube.

            I counted the numbers of the businesses I passed by; 169 on that big blue bank, 175 on the store with the sign in the shape of a big purple hat, 181 on the trendy looking bar with the poster advertising a jazz music night.  I made a mental note to come back for jazz night, but realized I’d probably have too much to do to make it.

            As I dashed across another intersecting street as the walk sign faded, an odd nervousness began to tickle the back of my brain. These numbers are all really low… I’m looking for a building in the twelve-hundreds. Maybe walking here isn’t the best idea… of course, I reminded myself, it IS a nice day out, and gas IS almost two dollars a gallon

 I hurried across another street to the bus terminal.  The atrociously-designed bus terminal.  Since I’d been in architecture school, I’d been able to easily pick out the best and worst designed buildings in the city, and most of them fit into column B. A concrete overhang cloaked the seating area from all light save the nauseating hum from the neon bulbs above.  Those waiting on the escape the bus would provide sat slouched in their seats, some with eyes closed, one woman rocking a baby that seemed to share my sentiments about its surroundings, and everyone seemed to be wishing that he or she was somewhere, anywhere else but here.  Suddenly, walking didn’t seem like such a bad idea after all.

            I left the oppressive station behind me, the core of the city to my back now.  A large shape in the corner of my right eye caught my attention, and I turned to see the huge gothic-style church. I remembered having taken a drawing class my first year, in the City Arts Center down near Church Street, and remembered how I was amazed that for years and years the tallest things on the city skyline were these temples to God, that were now dwarfed in comparison to the huge banks of downtown, man’s temple to his money.

            Cars flew by me on my left. I was getting a little concerned at how far I had walked now; after all, it was almost 2 o’clock, and I was supposed to meet my girlfriend for late lunch at three.  Busy Main Street had turned into a two-lane road now, though still cluttered with traffic. Ahead of me, I noticed a tall signpost, one of those big ones with the lights on top that they put at major intersections. I counted the number on the building next to me: 818.  I was close enough now to read the name on the street sign; Newtown Pike.

            Newtown Pike! I thought. I remembered last semester, having worked on a project that was sited on Newtown Pike, and thought about how far a drive it seemed to be from campus.  As I ran across the street in mid-light-change, I began to wonder again just how far out of the way this place was. Well, I thought, I’m this far already. If I turn around and go back now, I’ll have farther to walk than if I just finished the trip and found the place. So I continued.

            Just past the Pike, I found that the road changed into a bridge that crossed over a deep valley, probably a dry river bed, I thought as I glanced over the rail. I unconsciously gripped the rail with one hand as I walked, trying to look over it as I moved, but found that doing so made me a little dizzy. What wonders could lie down there, amid all the garbage and rusting auto parts? I pictured myself seeing a little blue duffel bag down there, and crawling down the embankment to get it, finding that it was full of money. Of course, I would turn it in to the police, like any other good citizen. Then again, I thought, how would I explain myself? “Excuse my, Mister Policeman, I just found this big bag of money under a bridge and thought you might want it”. Then they’d probably hold me for questioning, and it would take all day, and in the end, I’d get a “thanks for the help, son,” and they’d toss it in the “evidence room” where no one would ever see it again.  Nope, if I ever see a bag full of money, better to just leave it where I find it. 

            The air was cool and clean here, not stuffy and harsh like it was in downtown.  I glanced at the shoulder-high stone wall that had popped up on my right. Across it, set down in a little grove of bare trees that would have been beautiful had it been spring yet, was a cemetery, dotted with hundreds of little white tombstones.  For an instant I was inclined to think about the sheer futileness of life, to consider that we’re only on this Earth for a short time, like a vapor, and let my mortality settle upon me like a great heavy blanket. Instead, I started trying to count the headstones. Twelve with an angel carved on it. A handful more that were in the shape of stylized catholic crosses. I came upon next in the cemetery a great open field, with tombstones placed in concentric rings, and I wondered if this was some sort of memorial. Surely it was, and I decided that I would force myself to come back again and find out what the memorial was for.

            As I continued on, the stone fence of the cemetery following by my side, the sidewalk suddenly came to an end. There was just a grassy shoulder now, with the stone wall closing in precariously on one side, threatening to shove me into the street. The traffic of the city gone, I walked across the street to the other sidewalk and noticed for the first time one of the small houses that dotted that side of the street. There was nothing special about it, really, an urban-ranch style with covered front porch. The American dream. The thing that caught my eye, though, was the bicycle built for two that was chained to its porch post. I had never seen one of those before, aside from in cartoons that were more than twice as old as me. I laughed aloud as I pictured whoever owned this bike pedaling with Pepe’ Le Pew on the back seat, trying desperately to get away from the smell. I can’t understand why anyone would want to own one of these things, I thought. How humiliating it must be to ride on the back, nothing to look at but the driver’s head, and the person in front really WAS the driver. I mean, he controlled how and when the bike turned, after all.

            It was almost fifteen after two, and I still hadn’t found my quarry. The number on the house with the bike had been 1009, so I had to be getting close. I had began to sweat in my denim jacket, so I pulled it off and tossed it over the poster tube on my back. It made for a handy portable coat rack. Ahead I saw another bridge, a long suspension one this time.  As I approached it, I noticed that the road forked; one side would take me down below the bridge to the railroad tracks that traversed underneath, while the other would take me across the bridge. It seemed that both would take me to the other side. For an instant, I considered bypassing the bridge and crossing underneath it, half hoping I’d find a duffel bag full of money. However, I noticed some movement from under the bridge. A person? Well, Jesus told you to preach to the homeless, a voice in my head reminded me. Yeah, but he never told you to put yourself in a position where you could get mugged, raped and murdered, a second voice chimed in. I shuddered. Well, I’m no good to the Kingdom if I’m dead, I thought. So, feeling a little bit like a fraidy cat (but just a little) I stepped onto the metal railing of the bridge. 

Tune in next time for the conclusion!

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