Chapter Two

Friday, March 4, 2005, 5:07 a.m.
Cicero, Illinois

Alvin Jr. hated F Troop. Bunch of dudes bumbling around in Civil War costumes, misfiring cannons because they’re too busy looking at titties. Every episode revolved around the soldiers trying to pull a fast one on the neighboring Native tribe, who were played by white dudes painted Chief Wahoo red that spoke in choppy English.

The tribe always came out on top, though. They had their shit together, even had their own corporation. Which as far as Alvin could tell was the whole joke – the Natives, who were normally archaic dumbfucks, are actually smart, and exploiting the white folk. Reversal of what you expected, right? Ha motherfucking ha.

The first few notes of the theme song were enough to make his jaw tense and back molars squeak as they ground against each other. But he never bothered to change the channel.

It aired in an hour block from five to six a.m. every weekday, on one of those antenna channels that ran ancient sitcoms sandwiched between ads for low-cost catheters, reverse mortgages, and payday loans. Right around the time the sun started to run like a punctured egg yolk, when the crickets’ disjointed symphony gave way to the rumbling hum of newspaper trucks. The hour that Alvin often found himself on all fours combing the hardwood floor for any stray white specks, promising himself that this was the last time, a rerun of the exact vows he’d made the day before last, and the day before the day before that, etc., etc.. Like clockwork.

Once a Newport & Absolut man, Alvin had been reduced to Pall Mall Greens and plastic pints of that four dollar bottom shelf rubbing alcohol with the Russian skyline on the label. Right around the end of F Troop‘s first act, after the floor had been surveyed and the mirror long since licked clean, he’d pour the last finger of vodka with trembling hands and light up one of the half-smoked cigs he’d stubbed out hours ago. If he had any weed, he’d roll a blunt, and if he didn’t, he’d try to slice open enough roaches to cobble together a Frankenstein of blunts past, which tasted awful but smoothed out the jitters.

Normally this was when he began to formulate whatever excuse he would craft as to why he was going to be late or couldn’t make it in to work. He would honk bloody pieces of squid meat into a tissue and pace and clear his throat, sometimes rehearsing the words out loud.

But he had requested this day off months ago. He had plenty of time to cool out and come down before he had to leave for the airport. Might even be able to pick up another gram if his guy was still awake.

The sweatlogged skin of Alvin’s back peels from the leather with a hiss as he sits up and cradles his temples with his hands. The couch is stoplight red, its black legs jutting out rather than standing vertical, the cushions thin in the name of fashion over comfort. It looked like something out of a drug dealer’s swank pad in a blaxplotation flick, and would carry a four figure price tag in any vintage furniture shop. But Alvin wouldn’t sell it for a kilo.

He bought it with his first paycheck from The League. Rick Mahorn slept on it once. Dominique Wilkins spilled beer on it. He got blown by one En Vogue’s backup dancers on it.

He used to be somebody for a minute, once upon a time. Alvin Ellison Jr. was a name. Dunked on Ewing once. Got so much air he smushed his junk in Pat’s face. Rejected Barkley, too. Put that shit up in the sixth row with a slap that rang out. That one was on a Sunday national telecast, Marv Albert and everything. ‘Ellison with the rejection!’ Marv roared as the arena exploded. The call had been worn down to a warped warble on the VHS copy his mother had recorded, but Alvin could still hear it clear as day, whenever his mind wandered.

For a long time he’d talk about that shit first chance he could – longwinded, animated retellings whenever the opportunity presented itself – to girls, bartenders, whoever would listen. Hell, he’d shoehorn it into the coversation if it didn’t fit organically. But as the years passed, he began to talk about it less and less, the shine of its badge dulling with every year he did something lesser. After awhile, telling the college kid working the summer at the plastics factory with you to look up your NBA stats became more pathetic than prideful.

These days he only bothered to bring it up when he was trying to get laid or hired. He hadn’t done either dance in awhile, but figured he’d have to do the latter soon. Showing up late twice a week with bloodshot eyes and a stuffed nose, trying to unfurl last night’s blood tipped dollar for the vending machine – he knows he’s not fooling anyone. Matter of time at this point.

The first few notes of the Three’s Company theme rip through Alvin’s meandering thoughts, an alarming occurence that normally means he has 4 minutes to catch the bus that will make him 18 minutes late. But today is a paid vacation day. Not only that, but a day that his alma mater is paying for his airfare and lodging to visit campus. Today is Coach’s day, a realization that makes Jack Tripper’s pratfalls less amusing as Alvin hesitates before pressing the seventh digit of his dealer’s number.

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