Alex V. Cook

Attention Shameless Owners

there’s a sign somebody’s posted in front of a derelict corner grocery in my neighborhood:






The sign’s staple-gunned to a telephone pole. The derelict grocery, an eyesore for decades, has disintegrated further in the past year or so. About 15 years ago, the old guy who ran the place filled it with hoarder junk and still kept it open—nominally—as a store. I went in once during my garage sale years and tried to buy a guitar, a lamp, and a box of reel-to-reel tapes, but the guy told me none of those items were for sale. “Display items,” he growled from a vinyl lawnchair, holding court among his treasures. He begrudgingly sold me a tape measure, the one item on my list of things to buy from an actual store later that day. I never went back, figuring that’s all I was getting out of him.

The sign on the telephone pole is actually a second round of notices; the first missives were removed. I figure the old man has probably passed away. But part of me hopes he’s holed up, cozy as a cave rat in there, makeshift periscope poking out of the garbage or maybe just peering through one of the many holes in the west exterior wall, on the lookout for busybodies and their staple guns, prepared to momentarily overcome his fear of the mess out there to rip the signs down.

Similarly, I picture our busybody sign-poster in a pricey tracksuit glancing over from her white Escalade, first with practiced disgust at the eyesore/menace to society magnet/toxic wasteland, and then with bubbling rage when she realizes her first sign has disappeared. Her friends have to drive by this mess on the way to her house. “It’s on, old man!” she seethes as she pulls two more copies from her glovebox, feeling around for the staple gun. She makes a mental note to have her husband run some more off at his office. “This is not over.” She leaves her SUV running as she tacks the signs up, nearly shuddering, confident that no further assault on her well-being or the neighborhood’s could possibly encroach upon her day. She does, however, fear getting fleas from the overgrown yard, a legitimate concern.

The old man, should he not have already succumbed to becoming an unsalable display item himself, waits. Our busybody waits. Another patch of shingles slides unceremoniously from the roof. Some hapless do-gooder has started mowing the old man’s patch of a lawn, only prolonging the stalemate and stirring up the fleas. “Don’t help him!” she fumes to the Escalade’s air conditioning, seeing the fresh clippings strewn on the sidewalk.

I’m tempted to make copies of the sign and invest in a staple gun myself just to keep things going, in case one of these sides should lose heart.

Alex V. Cook is a writer living in Baton Rouge, a city lousy with great porches. He had this great porch once, along a two-way street that took you to an area behind the neighborhood known for solicitation, and he would watch the same car make the circle over and over and silently cheer when it would finally turn out of the loop with another car tailing close behind. You gotta be persistent.


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