You Take it From Here

The panhandler on the corner was well-disguised.  His tanned and leathery face featured an uncombed, four-inch, beard of brown and gray.  The front of his plaid cowboy shirt featured pearl snap buttons, but one pocket was half ripped off, and food stains darkened the area below his beard.  A dirty gray shoe lace held his long stringy hair off his face.  His jeans had stiff areas around the knees that stuck up as he leaned against the wall of the Dunkin’ Donuts with the used coffee cup raised to passersby.  “Sparnge?”  He seemed to have lost his ability to speak coherently.  Something in his careful appraising gaze suggested otherwise.

51 responses to “You Take it From Here

  1. Its Monday morning, 12;30 am, way too late to be writing coherently. But what the hell…


    The disheveled man hugs the familiar shadows of the donut store, cup in hand, watching young women. Some enter the store. Others walk past the discomfort of his stare. And a few ladies work the corner of Eighth and Central with the same dedication as any office girl. This latter group captures most of his attention.

    The new blonde, looking twenty-one, likely sixteen, shifts from one fishnet leg to another, her heels lifting her three or four wobbling inches. Bright pink lips pout at cars slowing for a better view as she bends forward revealing her slight cleavage.

    A traffic-worn Corvette brakes to a stop, its tinted passenger window rolls down. She sticks her head in the window and quickly pulls back. The driver punches the gas as she shoots him the finger, followed with obscenities yelled in anger. In fear.

    Watcher drops his head in thought, wondering what the girl would look like if brunette. If fourteen. Blondie turns to the donut shop, shivering from the cold. She takes a stool at the counter, way at the end, past the sneers and leers of the customers.

    Blondie sips a mug held with shaky hands, eyes lost in space, already coming down from a high, unaware of Watcher now sitting next to her. Her head moves forward and back, stiff and fused to her body in some robotic movement, like a wooden rocking chair without an occupant. She hums a song more guttural than musical as if keeping time to a beat that only she can hear.

    Watcher orders and the waitress brings the donuts, sets the plate down with contempt. Some are crème-filled, some with fruit, some with jelly. He pulls his mug to his face and blows its steamy contents. He knows he has to be careful.

    “Wanna donut?” Watcher asks. Blondie ignores his question.

    “Hey. Wanna donut? I got plenty. They’re pretty good.” He shoves the plate toward her.

    Blondie reaches with an unsure hand, grabs the closest one, and swivels her back to Watcher. The blueberry filling smears across her pink painted lips, and she devours the pastry in four bites. She mutters, “Thanks,” and looks to the plate.

    Watcher nods his head, and she takes another. “Slow child, slow. They won’t like you puking in here.”

    Blondie looks at Watcher. He squints, taking in the shape of her nose, her ears, her eyes. Her youth. He smiles.

    “What you lookin’ at, old man?” she asks. “I don’t do tricks for donuts.”

    Watcher nods his head, understanding. “Why don’t you come home with me?” he asks.

    Blondie curls her lips in scorn. They part to speak.

    “I love you,” Watcher offers.

    A startled Blondie turns, tries to stand.

    “I said I love you. And so does your mother.”

    Watcher pulls his cap from his head, along with the stringy wig.

    “I’ve been looking for you for two years, Ellie. It’s time to come home.”

  2. Dude! Keep writing you smoke me!

  3. Off topic but something for writers to consider:

    Came across this in a novel by a popular, best-selling author. “…empty cans of beer…”

    How on earth can you have an empty can of beer? Shouldn’t he have written “empty beer can”?

    • Empty cans of beer sounds like a bunch of Port-a-Potties overflowing with brew.

    • I swear, I didn’t touch that can of Beer….It must have been Gale or Jeff !

    • He did have another line I rather liked: “…paint flaking like the walls had psoriasis….” Obviously he was describing a slum.

    • The debate continues Gully. I read the two versions to my wife – who is not a writer, but rather a fine artist.
      Her comment was that “empty can of beer” was far more poetic than “an empty beer can”
      In her opinion (which, after 33 years of marriage, I have learned to value)
      Empty beer can sounds like a white trash expression.
      Just sayin.

      • How can you have an empty can of beer? If it’s empty, it isn’t a can of beer. If it isn’t empty, it’s a can of beer. It’s one of those misplaced modifier thingies that we Americans are so often guilty….. Uh, oh. Of which we Americans are so often guilty.

      • I’m with Gully. Any writer who uses ‘empty can of beer’ deserves an empty wallet of money.

      • How about ‘a now empty can which had previously contained beer’? That’s got a nice ring to it.
        Except that once it’d been opened, it wouldn’t have the ring anymore.

      • OK, A can empty of beer

      • Comes from their empty head of ideas

      • What we have here is an emptying can of worms.

      • Thanks, Fig. A little more info: That evil set of words was part of a list of things a character was removing from a locker.

      • Fig? Did you just split an infinitive? “….had previouslt contained…”

        By gosh, I just remembered something. In the last prompt. I wrote, “I dropped an….adverb on an infinitive and split it like an atom.” When I was a kid (meaning when I was held hostage by “watch your mouth or I’ll wash it out with soap”), “splitting an atom” was a euphemism for…..uh, passing gas. Funny!

      • Gully, that character removing things from the locker would’ve eventually wound up with, wait for it folks, an empty locker of stuff.
        As for the split infinitive issue (which I did again in the previous sentence), I do it all the time because it makes things work better, and to hell with the verb police. Besides, in French (where half our English language came from) it’s often de rigueur, n’est-ce pas?

      • Fig, I agree split infinitives makes sentences flow. I thought sixty per cent of English came from Latin, which doesn’t leave enough for French.

      • No, Gully. The French came from the Latin first. In fact, French was the official language of England for a couple of centuries after the Norman Invasion. (Melvin Bragg’s extraordinary book ‘The Adventure Of English’ highly recommended.)
        But back to the split infinitives: On reflection, what we were talking about was splitting verb compounds (eg have also seen) as against splitting verb infinitives (eg to also see) – and I’ve got egg on my face, because it is impossible to split a French infinitive seeing as how they don’t use a ‘to’ in front of them (eg voir = to see). Mind you, they split compounds with adverbs with Gallic abandon. I’ll go away now.

      • Grovel, grovel. The above response was arrogance on my part, due to hurrying to post it without really considering what I was saying. Of course the English language is at least as rich in Latin as it is in words of French origin. And it was the Norman ‘Conquest’, not ‘Invasion’. And I shouldn’t have set myself up as some kind of grammar know-all. Grovel.

      • Off your knees, Fig, though you can leave the horsehair shirt on. You know a darn sight more about English grammar than I do. I seem to have forgotten everything I never knew about it. I read a Wikipedia entry that showed a chart showing English was derived from 29% each French and Latin, and 27% (I think) Germanic, plus a bunch of also rans. I know very, very few French words (oui, non, sal, and the one some call ‘horses ovaries’ which I am not going to attempt to spell this time of night) and a couple of expressions, so when you write French, you may as well be writing a foreign language. ;> (May as well, might as well???) Enough of grammar. I’m going to bed.

    • Since this discussion, sofar, deals with beer and white trash, two critical elements to my upbringing, here is a link to a story I wrote a while back. LOL, Jeff

  4. OK, if anyone has time to kill, I’ve got a 100 word story online, scroll to Sept 2 3:57 am

  5. A young man, hunkered into his hoodie like a paranoid hermit crab, offered up an empty beer can.
    “Wanna hit, man?” he asked the panhandler.
    “I’m good,” said the undercover social worker,”so what’s your story, dude?”

    Barry Whitson became interested in the plight of the homeless in Pasadena just after finishing his MBA at Stanford. He had returned to his home town to begin working on a plan for his PHD when he saw an article in the Pasadena Star News that indicated that a local charitable group was looking for volunteers to do the annual “Homeless Survey” for the City. Barry made contact and learned that the folks in this organization not only sought to do a homeless “count”, but also in the process they attempted to change the lives of these street people by providing them with shelters and opportunities for assistance.

    That was seven years ago. As Barry made the rounds of the many well known hangouts of the homeless population of this affluent City on that first night, he left all of his academic approaches in the dust. It only took him two days to realize that under each and every one of the pitiful exteriors he encountered was a genuine human being. He also learned that only one in a hundred were actually interested in the kind of help being offered by this charity. Most of the well meaning workers conducting the survey were young white men and women from stable homes.

    Barry saw that the only way to gain the trust of these street denizens was to actually join the ranks of the homeless.. He moved out of his apartment, and put all of his personal belongings in his sister’s garage. He thought it would be easy enough to become a homeless person. Just dress down, find a place to sleep, and follow the lead of the established cadre that haunted the downtown streets. He was wrong. He was way too clean, he spoke with an educated cadence, and his clothes, even though purchased a Goodwill, were far too well kept. It took him about six months to really meld into this underground society.

    But once he did, he began to change peoples lives forever. He found a neat entry: “So what’s your story?” almost always elicited a stream of personal experiences. People liked to talk about themselves. It was a basic human nature that no amount of study could have revealed to him.

    The hoodie spoke:
    “So my Mom died when I was four, and I had to live with my uncle. He was a mean sombitch.” said hoodie. “Used to beat me just for fun.”
    “I hear ya,” said Barry, “my stepfather was like that. Life is a bitch.”
    “Oh yeah,” said hoodie, “you sure you don’t want a hit?” Barry ignored the fact that the beer can was empty, took it in his hand and pantomimed a small sip.
    “Good stuff.” he said, and decided that hoodie would be his personal recovery project for this month.

    • I’ll ‘take it from here’, Gale…

      Bonding accomplished, Barry handed the empty beer can back to the hoodie. “But enough bullshitting,” he said. “What’s your real story?”

      The hoodie shrugged. “Tell ya the truth, I wanted to do some good out here with the homeless. So I dropped out and became one of ’em. What’s your story?”

  6. The panhandler on the corner was well-disguised. His tanned and leathery face featured an uncombed, four-inch, beard of brown and gray. The front of his plaid cowboy shirt featured pearl snap buttons, but one pocket was half ripped off, and food stains darkened the area below his beard. A dirty gray shoe lace held his long stringy hair off his face. His jeans had stiff areas around the knees that stuck up as he leaned against the wall of the Dunkin’ Donuts with the used coffee cup raised to passersby. “Sparnge?” He seemed to have lost his ability to speak coherently. Something in his careful appraising gaze suggested otherwise to Michael. Being undercover was a mainstay for Michael. Spotting the tell-tale signs of an imposter was what kept him alive the last five years.
    The panhandler looked the part alright. Michael gave him that. But, you don’t pull off the homeless beggar with clean and trimmed fingernails. Michael paused at the newsstand a few yards away from the imposter. ‘How did they find me this time?’ He pretended to be interested in one of the magazines on the top shelf. His training was taking over now. Field experience goes a long way in this situation. He positioned the magazine in his hands so that he could get a second look at the panhandler to confirm his suspicion. The panhandler glanced at Michael and then looked down. He reached to scratch the side of his head covering his mouth. Michael assumed he was talking into a microphone. ‘Where is the other agent?’ Michael did not want to make a move until he was sure his escape route wasn’t compromised.
    The panhandler ambled toward Michael.
    “Shit.” Michael breathed. ‘No time to be sure.’ He threw the magazine at the approaching panhandler. The pages fanned out into his line of vision blocking out Michael’s first few precious steps. Michael bolted to the intersection. He vaulted the front cap of a northbound Honda Accord. The hood of the car caught his right leg and twisted him in the air. Narrowly missing the windshield, he rolled over into the middle of the street. Luckily, the southbound traffic was held by the traffic light. Michael gathered his balance and tested his right ankle as he started to run again. He saw a shot bounce off the cornerstone of the building as he fled. ‘Silencers!’ Michael veered slightly left and right trying to keep anything he could between him and his pursuer. He turned north down a small alley. He grabbed the third door on the left and yanked it open. The hinges creaked as he closed the steel door. He turned the deadbolt lock and turned around. He was stopped by the business end of a Sig Sauer 9MM. Michael’s focus moved immediately to the bearer of that weapon. “I thought this was witness protection!”

  7. Clever twist, WB.

  8. With a nod to the previous challenge, I offer the following;

    I hooked my little finger on a beer tab loop. Then suddenly the whole can became empty, and I couldn’t help wishing I was a wordsmith. Those damn modifiers. I could have gone through a whole six-pack without them “empty cans of beer”, “empty beer cans” and “cans emptied of their beer”. Of course I should have expected that Gully, Jeff and Figmince would comment.
    I pulled out my Thesaurus and my high school English Text before things could get too complicated. Thank goodness for Cindy!
    (She set me straight)

  9. Dan Bigler shivered and drew his knees to his chest to preserve what little warmth his body had left. He folded his arms across his knees and whispered into the pearl snap on the cuff of filthy cowboy shirt.

    “Bill One, Bill One. Check in.”

    He tucked his head close to his knees to muffle the sound from the earpiece under the stringy wig he wore.

    “Bill One. All okay. Cop noticed Chess Man, checked him out, then left him alone. He’s nestled under his cardboard now. Appears to be asleep. God, you think he’ll stay there all night?”

    “Just remember, you volunteered for this assignment.” Bigler chuckled to himself. His entire team had volunteered to set up surveillance on the man they code-named Chess Man. Six of the team were scattered up and down the block. Two were in the donut shop and another drove a borrowed taxi up and down the street. Around the corner was a battered van that looked abandoned, but the inside was a state of the art ambulance and comm center.

    “I didn’t think he’d be out here all night. I thought he’d make it a few hours, do whatever he came here to do, and then head for a hotel. Tough bugger.”

    “Had my reservations, too, Bill One.”

    “Gotta hand it to him. Ah, well, three hours to go till sun up. I could sure use some coffee.”

    “You and me both.” Bigler checked with Bills Two through Four, shivered again, and scooted around on the cement until he found a less sore spot on his buttocks.

    Under the cardboard, Chess Man moved slightly to avert a threatening leg cramp. He hadn’t slept a wink yet, but remained alert for approaching footsteps, rats, and anything else that might come his way. He knew the men were watching him, but his military training had kicked in.

    He thought of his father and wondered what he’d think of this. His grandmother, he knew, would be apoplectic. If his mother were alive, she’d probably be right here, he thought, and felt a stinging in his eyes.

    Three hours later Chess Man was startled awake by hand on his shoulder. He was surprised that he’d actually fallen asleep.

    “Brought you some tea,” said Bigler, extending the cup towards the young man under the cardboard. “Sorry about the paper cup. You’re welcome to use the facilities in the donut shop across the street. Can’t have you getting busted for peeing in the alley, can we?”

    The blue-eyed young man laughed and wrestled his way from under the cardboard and newspapers.

    “My grandmum would disinherit me,” he said and sipped his tea. “Actually, she’d probably do that if she saw me in these rags and knew what I’ve been doing.”

    “She didn’t find out about London, then?” asked Bigler.

    “Blimey, no, and I hope she never does.”

    “Plan to sleep out on the streets like you’re homeless again?”

    “Oh, right now I’d say not, but one never knows. Errr, would it be all right if we went to the hotel now? I have a serious case of the collywobbles.”

    “The what, sir?”

    “Oh, the ‘collywobbles’. It’s what you Yanks call a stomachache. Probably from that cheap plonk. And please don’t call me ‘sir.’ ‘William’ is fine.”

    “I find it a little difficult to call you just ‘William’ Is ‘Prince William’ acceptable?” asked Bigler.

    “Stuffy, actually. I’d really prefer ‘William.’ I’m knackered, Dan. Can we go now?”

  10. The above story was inspired by a true event in the life of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, though only in London as far as I can find out.

    • I wonder if homeless people dress up and pretend to be royalty. Then when they get tired of the royal treatment, retire back to the streets. Normality. Ahh.

      • WB: we weren’t homeless, but one of my group of travel friends once did an hilarious takeoff on a rich socialite she called Aurora Farnsworth. For her 50th birthday, 12 of us went to Australia, NZ, and Fiji, complete with matching tee shirts. The shirts celebrated the Aurora Farnsworth tour and listed all our home towns plus the major cities on our tour of Down Under. There was one male with our group. We introduced him as the groupie for our “rock band.” Lots of fun. Even had our tour leader hanging with us, which is unusual

      • PS: I. Should have written ” neither homeless nor rich.”

      • G: A trip like that sounds wonderful! Maybe when my wife and I get our kids out th’ house we can do something like that.

  11. The panhandler on the corner was well-disguised. His tanned and leathery face featured an uncombed, four-inch, beard of brown and gray. The front of his plaid cowboy shirt featured pearl snap buttons, but one pocket was half ripped off, and food stains darkened the area below his beard. A dirty gray shoe lace held his long stringy hair off his face. His jeans had stiff areas around the knees that stuck up as he leaned against the wall of the Dunkin’ Donuts with the used coffee cup raised to passersby. “Sparnge?” He seemed to have lost his ability to speak coherently. Something in his careful appraising gaze suggested otherwise.
    I watched while he continued to thrust his cup in the direction of passersby. I sat easily within his line of vision, across the street on a bench, a newspaper angled in my lap, but I never saw his eyes linger in my direction. A city bus stopped in front of his post, obstructing my view for a few moments, and when the bus moved on, he was gone.
    I threw down the paper and stood, jerking my head from right to left, trying to catch a glimpse of plaid. There was nothing in sight to indicate he’d ever been there. Vanished.
    John Jacob Nesmith was very good at disappearing. And very good at disguising himself. I’d lost him before, and had silently prayed that this time I would finally be able to figure out his modus operandi. He didn’t need the pennies he begged from pedestrians. He was a millionaire. He play-acted at being homeless and penniless and the reason was beyond me, but I had made it my business to figure this man out.
    I crossed the street and headed for the corner where the bus had stopped. He must have fled down Maple, so I hastily followed the sidewalk down that street, glancing into every doorway and alley, but still found no plaid shirt or mangy head. At the end of the block, where Maple intersects with 4th, I glanced left and caught sight of a skinny blue jeaned leg and dirty gray shoe disappearing through an open doorway.
    I tried to read his mind so I spun around and ran back up Maple toward the donut place, crossing to the sidewalk closest to where he would emerge if I had reckoned correctly. I peeked around the corner in the direction I hoped to see him emerge. Nothing. I crept forward, head down and ducked into the first recessed doorway I came to, crouching and folding inward to appear homeless and forlorn myself. My face was turned down but my eyes were searching upward, trying to find his plaid shirt and stiff jeans passing in the crowd of city pedestrians. Five minutes. Nothing. My joints were aching. My lungs hurt from trying to breathe calmly and not betray my exertion and excitement. So close, but no cigar.
    Maybe tomorrow. Maybe a different tactic. Go home, self, and think up a better plan.

    • Anne – really enjoyed the suspense you created in this short piece. Nice work, looking forward to more from you on this blog.

      • Thanks Gale – I love to write and so enjoyed Ann’s class, but it seems I need prompts to get me going. I have really liked the contributions from members of this blog and I will probably continue to offer my words as the muse strikes me.

  12. Interesting. Your narrator nearly turns into his quarry. I like the idea of the millionaire trying out the life of a homeless man. I’m glad you posted!

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