Archive for the ‘Short Stories’ Category

Ray Ban Sunglasses

May 7, 2020

It is Friday night. I am sitting with my friend Jack at a table outside the local brewery, located in a park.  We are both graduate students and live in a college town in the Midwest. The warm wind smells like rain and blows the voices of the crowd into the branches of the trees all around us.

Jack gets up and goes to buy himself some more beer. I watch him walk towards the outdoor bar area and join the queue. It is busy tonight, like every Friday night in the summer.

blur eyewear fashion glass

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I notice a pair of sunglasses on the table. They are away from Jack’s empty beer glass and pack of cigarettes. I assume they’re not his. I pick them up and observe them carefully in the dark. They are a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses. They must have been expensive. I remember I once owned a similar pair but I gave them away to a girlfriend. Since then I have always bought myself cheap sunglasses and I have kept losing them, precisely because they are cheap.

I try them on and watch through their tinted glass. They have a yellow safety cord which I put around my neck. The glasses clap onto my face well and contour my ears. I feel like a chiseled face in an advertisement. In a moment of self-consciousness, I take them off and hold them up with an obvious gesture, so if the owner shows up, he notices that I just found them. but no one is watching me at the other tables. I see multitudes of wet open-mouthed faces. I place the sunglasses back exactly where I found them. I can’t remember if anyone left the table when Jack and I arrived.

Jack returns with a large glass of beer and sits down. He takes a cigarette from his pack, lights it, and offers me one. I take one and he reaches over, producing a flame with his lighter.  He soon notices the sunglasses, which I had forgotten about, takes them and says “nice” while he starts to open them and look at them before trying them on.

“Yeah,” I say. “I just found them. They were sitting right there.”

“Are you keeping them?” They fit him well. His face looks aerodynamic. I imagine him riding a motorbike, the wind blowing his hair, like another stupid ad.

“I don’t know. If no one else claims them. Maybe whoever left them will be back.”

I inhale smoke and sip my beer. Jack does the same. We come here every weekend night and smoke and drink while we hope to run into interesting women. We might seem indifferent to the people around us, almost discreet, but we look at women with hungry eyes, like vultures.

Two men approach our table. One is in his mid thirties, he carries a pitcher of beer and two glasses. The other man must be nineteen or twenty, no older; perhaps it’s his younger brother.

“Mind if we sit here with you guys? Kinda hard to get a table tonight,” the older man says.

“Be our guests,” I say, knowing Jack doesn’t mind.

I wish two women would have joined us instead but I’m not about to kick them out. They sit and pour themselves beer. They also smoke and they drink quickly. The younger man’s face is distorted and he seems angry. He speaks loudly to his companion. The wind steals his words from my ears. I make something out like “we are only here to drink some beers, relax.” I don’t know if it’s my imagination or if I have actually heard the older man say it.

Jack looks at two women walk to the long lines at the bar. One of them wears tight jeans. It is hard not to stare. Her firm backside hypnotizes us both until she disappears in the crowd. I feel the wind stronger now, and the voice of the younger man sounds menacing.

“They’re obnoxious,” Jack whispers.

“The kid must be on speed or something,” I respond.

“Hey, these sunglasses belong to you guys?” the younger man asks, holding them in his hands.

“No, someone left them here…”

“Really, I’ll keep them!” he states before I have time to finish my sentence.

“Except, I found them first.” I hear my voice quaver but it comes out clearly. I am suddenly very aware of Jack, his eyes watch me.

“O.K.” the younger man says. It dissolves the tension. I feel relieved but he tries them on. He throws the safety cord defiantly on the floor. I feel sweat break in my forehead. I want to appear indifferent and hide my growing irritation.

“I guess I found them first, so if the guy that lost them does not return soon, I’ll keep them.” I don’t understand exactly why I want the sunglasses. I don’t need them but I think it’s unfair for the guy to claim them. It’s the principle.

“So you found them, huh?” The older man says. He takes the sunglasses from his friend or brother, and looks through them without putting them on. He takes his time before he hands them to me. I am waiting like a snake ready to kill a frog.

“Hey, don’t give them to him! I want to keep them,” the younger man says. But I have them now.

“We’ll arm-wrestle, do you arm-wrestle?” he asks me. I look at Jack. He’s smiling. I would like him to suggest something but he’s silent with that “don’t ask me” look.

“O.K. we’ll arm-wrestle.” I’m incredulous that I agreed. The nerve. Maybe if I lose I won’t give him the sunglasses anyway.

black and white people bar men

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“Are you right-handed or left-handed?” he asks, sitting in front of me, and placing an optimistic right arm on the table. I join his hand with my right before I answer.

“I’m right-handed”

“Well, I’m actually left-handed,” he says.

“O.K then, I can use my left hand.” I let go of his hand.

“No, it’s O.K., I can use my right arm too,” he says. I think he might go back on his word if I beat him. He is slightly taller than I am, and his hand and wrist are a little thicker.

The older man stands to my left, between us, he holds our fists together. The tips of my opponent’s fingers are white and compress white half-moons into my skin. His face is like a knot, his eyeballs are cross-eyed, focused on his fist.

“Hands behind your backs,” the older man says. I try to show Jack that I’m confident. He’s still grinning and his facial expression doubts me. The older man lets go while I’m unready, giving my rival an advantage. He pushes back my arm about 20 degrees. I’m worried. He pushes hard. My hand gives up some more degrees and my wrist swells. I position the right part of my torso and my right shoulder towards him. I will have to use the muscles on my biceps to win. My hand is being pushed down to 45 degrees but my arm and wrist are resisting. I try to align my bent hand with my arm but now he’s really tough and he is leaning all his body weight against me. Somehow I begin recovering although slowly. I manage a straight angle and he groans. Sweat is flowing down from my forehead and I succeed to push his arm all the way down to a few inches from the table. I’ve got him where I wanted, I don’t think he stands a chance now. I suddenly remember all the swimming I did in high school.

“Get him, Rob!” I hear Jack say. I almost had forgotten him.

I slam his fist down on the table and smile. He dares to spring his fist back up, like a swing. I slam him down again and we repeat this a few times. His fist is like a bouncing tennis ball, however, slowly giving up to the laws of gravity.

“O.K. you lost. But, here, take the sunglasses and keep them,” I grab them and place them before him, on the table.

“No! Let’s try with our left arms,” he says.

“Why? I said you can keep the sunglasses.”

“No, I want to fight for them.”

“But why do you insist?”

“Come on! I told you I was left-handed.”

“O.K. have it your way, whatever.” I sit down again and position my left arm. I doubt I can beat him. I’m not left handed but he doesn’t scare me. I know my left arm is very strong too.

“This time I’ll hold your fists together,” Jack says. He looks at me with support and lets go. I’m ready this time and his arm feels weaker than his right arm. I had suspected he was lying. I push his arm down steadily, like the second hand in a stop watch. I get him decisively close to the table and crush his fist down, allowing no nonsense this time. I squash the flesh on the back of his hand against the wooden table as if I were sticking it with glue, and until he offers no more obstinate resistance. He gives up, opening his fingers, exposing the palm of his hand, waiting for me to release him, like a dog with his belly up, offering his testicles to a superior dog and waiting for mercy.

“I guess you lost again, but hey, you can still keep the sunglasses.” I stand up and give them to him once again but he puts them down on the table.

“No, let’s do a hand wrestle this time!” he says and also stands. He grabs both my hands before I can protest and shows me how it’s done. I had never heard of it. Our palms are touching each others’ and our fingers are intertwined. The object is to push forward and up, until the loser’s wrists can’t bend backwards anymore. He amuses me. His grip is again weaker than mine. I push his hands upwards until he grimaces and gives up. He’s lost for the third time.

man in shorts standing near gate and holding another person s hand

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“Just take the sunglasses,” the older man now says.

“Keep them,” I’m offended by his assertion. We sit down back at our chairs. Jack lights a cigarette and sips his beer. I echo him. My muscles ache but I feel good. I don’t regret having given away the sunglasses. It was like giving away a responsibility. Jack chuckles.

“You completely humiliated me!” the younger man suddenly shouts. The sunglasses are in front of where he sits. He does not acknowledge them. His eyes are red and holds his beer glass between his face and the table. He sets it down.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I’ve never felt so humiliated. No one has ever done this to me. I don’t want the sunglasses. It’s embarrassing.”

“Just forget it,” the older man says in disgust and looks away from the scene.

“Hey, you should be grateful,” I say. He shuts his mouth and looks at me, bewildered. “Think of it as a lesson. It’s not worth fighting for anything. Specially not a pair of sunglasses. And on top of it, I let you keep them. Look at it as me giving you two presents today. A pair of sunglasses and a lesson. ” I’m pleased with myself. Jack looks embarrassed and he’s silent.

“So I should be grateful, huh?” The kid says mockingly.

“I think so.”

“Well, thanks a lot!” He doesn’t sound convinced and finally takes the sunglasses. He puts them on and smiles. “I really appreciate this.” He stretches out his right arm for a hand shake.

I shake his hand cautiously.

“Name’s Pete, what’s your name?” he asks.

“Mine’s Rob, nice to meet you.” We all do the “nice to meet each other” ordeal and sit back in our chairs.

Everyone’s silent for a few minutes. Then when they start speaking, the wind tears their voices. Jack puts out his cigarette. I light one up. Something tells me the game is not over yet. I laugh.

“That guy’s some ass,” Jack whispers.

“Hey, I’m forever grateful!” the young man shouts over the table. “Thanks a lot man! Thanks to you!” He holds the sunglasses up in the air, like a toast.

“Can’t believe you gave them to him,” the older man says. I’m unsure if he’s being sarcastic.

“Well, I guess some of us don’t need sunglasses that bad,” I say. I don’t know if they can hear me. Perhaps they’re drunk and want to continue playing.

“Well, I need them! I need them really bad!” Pete puts them on and snickers with his older friend. Pete is more stubborn than I thought. I see their pitcher is empty.

“Maybe we should go,” Jack says and stands up.

“Yeah, let’s go.” I get up. We exchange sarcastic byes and walk away.

As we walk away, Jack says “you were fucking great, man.”

“Really? Why do you think so?” I’m still trying to wrap the whole thing around my head.

“I mean first you beat him arm wrestling, then you let him keep the sunglasses, obviously humiliating him, which he admits himself. And then, on top of it all, you make a complete fool out of him by making him have to swallow his pride. Congratulations!” He laughs. “That asshole won’t forget you that easily!”

“I know, what a jerk. He was angry even at the end. I would have liked to see the true owner of the glasses arrive, just before we left. Imagine that, it would have been the ultimate blow. ”

“Would have served him right. Then again, you sure got him good, boy did you get him.”

“What else could I have done? It’s not worth fighting over a pair of sunglasses.”

“I don’t know, maybe we should have beaten them up.”

“That would have been an alternative, but what good is violence? How does one solve a situation like that?”

“Yeah, what good is violence,” as I hear Jack say this, I wonder if it would have been, after all, more manly to have beaten the shit out of him.

Copyright ©1992 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

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The first “Good Morning” ever

November 8, 2016

Thousands of years ago humans never greeted each other. People just went to work and never said hello, good morning, good afternoon, good evening and even bye. Life was the same; nothing was different. People just didn’t greet each other. There was no need. Then one day one fellow who was rather upset at work, but for no reason, decided to say good morning to his fellow employee, just to blow off some steam.

man and woman near table

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“Good morning.”
“Is it really? Why do you say that?” His fellow employee replied.
After a long thought the inventor of greetings sighed and said, “Look, I just want you to say good morning back to me.”
His fellow employee thought about it for a second.
“OK, no problem. Good morning.” And then he thought to himself: I prefer not to have an argument. I just want to have a good day at work today and go back to my family this evening. Couldn’t care less what this moron wants. It don’t make any difference. I’m not going to argue and create a problem for myself.
And so it became a habit in that office building a couple of milleniums ago. Now these two persons would just say good morning to each other every day and soon the secretary started doing the same thing because she thought it was cool and all the other co-workers thought so too. Even the supervisor liked it. Then one day somebody came up with the idea of saying good-bye in that same office building and it caught on too. Then it started happening on social media, text messages and soon after the whole world started doing it. Some people think the first text message with a greeting was in Japan somewhere but no one knows for sure. In any event, it is so common now that no one gives it much thought.

Copyright © 2016 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Polish and Spanish

August 23, 2016

I went to a transmission shop to inquire about my car. The man who helped me had a strong accent and looked like he was from the southern Mediterranean or from the

close up photo of vehicle engine

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Middle East. I saw the name on his tag “Stan.” It was unlikely he was Spanish with that name. Normally, for a better communication, I like to speak to Spanish speakers in their native tongue, but this man did not seem to be Spanish speaking. He led me to his office and asked me to sit down. Then he sat on his big desk and took out two binders from a shelf.

“You said a Toyota?”
 “Yes, a Solara, 2004, V6, 3.3 liter.”
He was looking through the charts, going back and forth in the pages.
After about a minute of looking at the tables, when I was beginning to think he wouldn’t have my car listed on his binders, he said:
“Front wheel drive?”
“Yes.”
“OK, the base price is $2300.”
“How long?”
“About 3 or 4 days.”

Then he explained to me all the details of how the job might cost more if they had to place a new or rebuilt transmission.
I was simply inquiring, not really having any intentions of fixing my car, but just selling it or giving it to my mechanic to see what he can give me for it. In any event, I got Stan’s business card and told him I would think about it.

When I was leaving, I asked him, “Where are you from?” and he said “Polish, Polski.” I told him I was from Spain so we could feel more connected, since we are both European. Then he said, “You look Polish.” and out of my mouth, I immediately answered back “And you Spanish.”

I let out some laughter as I was walking out. Just one of those funny moments in life, I thought to myself.

Copyright © 2016 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Highway to Hell and Beer

April 20, 2015
vocalist performing on stage

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When I was in my early twenties one of my favorite past times on Friday nights was drinking beer and listening to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” on high volume. I would sing the songs out loud and dance to them while I head banged and played the air guitar. It was beer after beer and I would start getting a buzz after my sixth can. I don’t remember if I drank the whole twelve-pack. Sometimes a friend would come over and join me doing the same thing. I thought this was a lot of fun and often we would go to a bar afterwards and continue drinking. No matter what, my Friday nights would end either in the bathroom puking my guts out or I would pass out in my bed. The next day, of course, I would have a horrible hangover to deal with. I couldn’t help myself.  I sometimes wished I had been Bon Scott, one of my favorite heavy metal vocalists.

Copyright 2015 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Absentminded

December 30, 2013

I’ve always thought I was absentminded. It runs in my family. But after what I saw yesterday, I know I’m not the most absentminded person.

Perhaps the most absentminded thing I’ve done in my life is to hang a plastic bag containing bread in the closet. It was some very good tasting bread I had just purchased and when I got home, instead of hanging my coat in the closet, I hang the bag of bread. I must have left the coat somewhere else, maybe on a kitchen chair. For a few days I remember wondering what had happened to the bread. It was bread from the Great Harvest Bread Company, not a bread that I buy every day, but one that I love.  About three days later my wife at the time discovered where I put the bread.shopping cart

Since we are speaking about absent mindedness, I must mention my father, since he was one of the most absent-minded persons I ever met. One problem he had was finding anything, but specially his reading glasses. So we decided to buy him a strap for his glasses so he could wear them around his neck. Well, one day he came up to all of us and stated, “I can’t find my reading glasses. $20 to whomever finds them for me.” My youngest brother, perhaps the one with the most wit, quickly noticed they were hanging from his neck. Well, eventually he lost the strap and we went back to square one where at least once a week no one in the family knew where he had put his glasses.

But now back to the most absent-minded event that I have ever seen. Yesterday at Target, a department store, for those of you who live overseas, I saw a lady throw her shopping cart, with all her groceries, down the electric escalator. My children and I watched in amazement as the shopping cart slid down the escalator, did about three frontward flips crashing down and bouncing off the escalator after each one. This was the regular upward going escalator, hence the somersaults, as the force of gravity pushed the shopping cart downwards and the escalator pushed it upwards. This poor lady thought she was putting the shopping cart in the escalator for shopping carts but was obviously not paying attention. After the shopping cart came to its resting place at the bottom floor, the escalator diligently brought all the groceries upstairs, most of them still in their plastic bags but many of the groceries like the milk container had broken and there was spilled milk and other products on the steps. The lady was rather young so one could not claim senility. She looked about thirty. She exclaimed “Oh, no!” when she realized what she had done.

“That is something I don’t think we will ever forget,” I told my children as we drove back home.

Copyright © 2013 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Conversation with my soon to be 4 year-old

January 27, 2013

“Hey dad I’m going to pass gas on your face.” For many months now Kemen has talked a lot about “booty” and “passing gas.” It amuses him.
“Well, that’s going to be real stinky,” I tell Kemen.
He laughs hard for a while.
Of course I don’t know how his mother deals with that issue but I try to tell him not talk too much about those things and usually just laugh it off, what is the big deal anyway?

Mighty Thor and coffee

January 5, 2013

I used to drink coffee like the mighty Thor in the saga where he is in a drinking contest and unbeknownst to him his horn is connected to the ocean instead of only containing mead. So Thor is incapable of emptying his horn thus causing major tidal waves. Such was my thirst for coffee, insatiable. My new year’s resolution was to be coffee free. It’s been 5 days.. Perhaps Starbucks shares will drop. I will miss you my dear coffee.

Copyright © 2013 Jorge Luis Carbajosa

Homeless Man

September 4, 2012

It was in the fall of 1989 and I was living in New York City.   Back then I felt New York was unsafe and that a violent crime could happen anywhere in the city at any given moment. I remember someone had told me a homeless person shot a woman who refused to give him some money and I think it was on the news. During that year it was common to be harassed on the streets by homeless people and I was fearful of them.

My girlfriend and I lived on 116th and Amsterdam, which like many neighborhoods in Manhattan back then, wasn’t the safest, so we also lived with a certain level of fear. My girlfriend was a graduate student in Columbia University and I worked part-time for their sociology department as an administrative assistant. I was spending some months in New York city, wondering what to do with my life, whether I should finish my undergraduate studies there or return to Madison, Wisconsin, where I had been a student for two years.

So one night my girlfriend and I were in Midtown somewhere, on our way back home, and as we walked, a homeless man got on our way and asked us for money. He blocked our path so we stepped to one side to avoid him but he wouldn’t let us get by him. We then quickly darted to his other side but he blocked us again.  I started to become desperate and my fear escalated thinking he might be carrying a concealed weapon. I hurried across the street walking as fast as I could pulling my girlfriend behind me by the hand but the man persistently stayed right in front of us, blocking our path. I became very frightened. Just as I started to feel completely powerless, and that this situation would inevitably become a tragedy, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, an old man dashed between the homeless man and us, saying something out loud that I don’t remember right now, but this action saved us. The homeless man left and we were able to go home unharmed.

selective focus back view photo of old man in black jacket standing

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What the old man did was a surprise to me and whenever I have thought of what happened that day I realize the old man purposely tried to help us when he saw we were in despair. Obviously maybe nothing would have happened to us because perhaps the homeless man was just a harmless bully. But whatever the outcome would have been, it is clear that a small force can divert a much larger force, like a small tap in the right place on a man’s foot can cause him to trip and fall.

Copyright © 2012 Jorge Luis Carbajosa