Popcorn by P.J. Kryfko
I needed to quit my job. The pay was terrible, the hours were worse, and besides, I was pretty sure my job was getting ready to quit me. I thought a lunch hour sitting in Central Park looking out over the lake would wind me down, give some serene perspective to the grind of my existence. All I got was bullshit.
Tourists, fucking tourists fouling up my Fall afternoon. All of them ooing and awing like they never saw goddamn grass before. I decided to give them some New York character. Something they could tell their friends about when they went home to fly-over country. So, I started spitting. Loogies; bubbles; fat, wet, circles; long, thin, strings; whatever liquid I could get out of my mouth I put down on the sidewalk. People started staring, parents held their children close and walked past my bench in wide arcs. Soon I was being avoided all together and I was able to get some peace at last.
Until this fucking duck comes waddling over. Brown and black, fat from tourists unable to hold on to their hot dogs, it just walked up and started watching me curse and spit.
“Got any popcorn?” the duck asked. Didn’t even say please or nothing. I’d never seen a duck talk before, but figured it wasn’t my business what he did. I ignored him like he was a grifter on the subway. But the duck came closer.
“Hey, jackass, got any popcorn?”
The nerve of that little fuck. I hocked a loogie at its bill, but missed.
“Alright you worthless piece of shit, I just wanted some popcorn.”
“You want popcorn? Go get your own. Calling me worthless, I’m not the one waddling around looking for a handout.”
That shut him up good. His long duck neck dropped his head low as he flapped himself onto the bench beside me.
“I just don’t know what else to do,” he confessed. “I’m here everyday entertaining these damn out-of-towners, but do I get my cut? Where’s my pension? My benefit package?”
This, I admit, is something I had never considered. I bet there wasn’t a single theater on or off Broadway that entertained as many people a day as the ducks of Central Park.
“You know what I should do,” the duck continued, “I should start a union. The Central Park ducks, the Midtown pigeons, the subway rats, the carriage horses, all of us. If we joined forces we’d have the city by the balls. And hell, if we got just one cent of every ‘I-Heart-N-Y’ t-shirt my kids would be set for life.”
“So why don’t you?” I asked.
“Aaah, who am I? Just one duck in the whole city. Nobody’d ever listen to me. Not even the other ducks. Plus the logistics of the whole thing. Where would we have our meeting? The rats will never come to the park, the horses can’t leave the park, and half the city is covered in those spike things to keep the pigeons off. You’d need to be a great leader to work out all those issues and that’s just not my skill-set. I grift for popcorn, just like Dad used to, just like my kids will. Speaking of which, got any popcorn?”
I spat again, but this time it was because I had something in my throat. Hearing the duck’s plight, the plight of a father no less, reminded me of my own in a way that broke my heart.
“So what if I do it?”
“Do what?” asked the duck.
“What if I lead your union?”
This back-and-forth continued for an embarrassing amount of time. Finally the duck accepted my offer at face value.
“So how do we start?” I asked.
But before the duck could answer a nosey fucking cop came up and tried to hassle us.
“Sir, what are you doing?”
“Sitting. What’s it to you?”
“We’ve had complaints of you spitting at pedestrians.”
“What spitting? I’m just sitting here talking to my duck friend.”
The cop took a slow look at the duck, who turned around ashamed of the attention, then the cop looked back at me.
“What are you two talking about?”
So I told him, “I’m going to start an animal union. Get all the city’s animals in on it. They do a lot for this city, they deserve some of that tourist revenue, one cent for each ‘I-Heart-N-Y’ t-shirt.”
The cop looked at me for a long time and I realized too late what a stupid thing I’d done.
“You idiot!” said the duck. “He’s not a cop, he’s a union buster from City Hall! They’re trying to shut us down before we’ve even started!”
I looked up at the union buster in his bullshit uniform with disgust.
“How motherfucking dare you motherfucker?”
“Excuse me, sir?”
All the talk and spit had left my mouth dry, but I sucked at every gland until I had a good, respectable wad and I sent it flying. This time my aim was better than intended and I got the son-of-a-bitch right in his fucking eye.
“Run for it!” I told the duck. The guy was a father after all; he didn’t need no hassle. I went to tackle the phony, but my diet the last few months had been nothing but whiskey and crackers, and there wasn’t much weight left on my bones to put into the effort. The union busting bastard threw me to the sidewalk and put a knee in my back. I watched the duck waddle away, its wings raised in panic.
They threw me in the tank and let me out the next morning. I went straight to my boss and told him to shove it where the sun don’t shine. Then I bought a big bag of popcorn and made my way to Central Park. My friend and I had a job to do.
© P.J. Kryfko, 2016
P.J. Kryfko is a writer, producer, storyteller, daydreamer, and avid YouTube watcher (not always in that order). He has been published in comics, prose, journalism, and in 2014 wrote and produced his first short film. AintitCoolNews.com calls his work “atypical and original.” His Mom calls him “handsome.”
Popcorn was read by Jonathan Minton with music by Travis Tench for the Brooklyn Book Festival on 14th September 2016