{October 18, 2012}   Uncle Jack

I left before breakfast to walk to the beach where hotels and restaurants lined the main drag. I knew exactly where the Fontainebleau was because my family had driven there so many times through the years. I walked into the office and asked if they had a job available. The old man behind the counter looked annoyed that I wasn’t a paying guest asking for a room. “No, we don’t have an opening right now” he said and escorted me to the door. I told him that this is the hotel where my family stayed every summer I could remember, but he wasn’t impressed by my childhood memories. He grunted and closed the door behind me. It sure wasn’t summer now. In February the beaches are empty. Some restaurants close for the winter, and had signs in the window saying they will re-open in March. I couldn’t wait until March to find work.

Since I skipped breakfast, I stopped at the Waffle House for eggs and coffee. I sat down at the bar so I could watch the cook. Sitting next to me was an old man of about 50. He had a protruding stomach like Jackie Gleason and thin hair sweeping over his bald spot. He looked over at me as the waitress poured my coffee. “Are you from here?” he asked. “No. I’m from Atlanta” I said turning my head from him. The last person I wanted to talk to was some old geezer sitting around a Waffle House at 11:00 in the morning. “What brings you here?” he asked. I didn’t want to be rude, so I said, “A job.” “Oh, so you’re working?” he asked. Geez. I really don’t want to have this conversation. “No. Actually, I’m looking for work” I said. “Well, It’s lucky you met me, because I may be able to help you out.” I turned to look at him. What kind of company would this guy run? A cane was propped up on a stool beside him. He looked like a man who should be retired by now. “Really…” I said, unconvinced. He stuck out his hand. “My name is Jack. But people around here call me Uncle Jack.” “Nice to meet you” I said. I felt uneasy about telling him my name, so I didn’t. He continued to talk as I drank coffee and ate breakfast. But my ears perked up when he said, “I have a business opportunity where you can make $500 a week.” I doubted this man made $500 a week himself. But I figured I owed it to myself to hear him out. “What kind of work are you talking about?” I asked. “Oh, it’s an easy job. Basically it involves a little travel and a some savior faire. You’re a very pretty girl…” he trailed off. Travel? $500 a week? It sounded good, but Daddy always said, “A deal that looks too good to be true usually is.” “Why don’t we take a ride and I can introduce you to one of the girls that works for me? Where are you parked?” he asked. “I don’t have a car” I said. “So, you walked here?” he asked. “Yes” I said. “That’s okay. We can take my car. It’s just outside.” I didn’t like the idea of getting in his car. For all I knew, he could be some weirdo ax murderer. But with a lame leg and fat stomach, I figured I could fight him off . “Okay” I said. I finished my coffee and got in the passenger seat of the silver Chrysler New Yorker driven by Uncle Jack.

We rode around Panama City while Jack talked. He pointed out places where his “girls” were working. “Sadie works here when she’s not working for me” he said, pointing to a Woolworth’s. “Hmm..if she’s making $500 a week, why does she need to work there?” I asked. “Well, there’s not always work and she likes to keep busy” he said. He was still being evasive about what the job was and I was getting impatient. If this was some runaround sales job based on commissions, I wasn’t interested. “What exactly are the responsibilities of this job?” I asked. “Well, you might attend a business meeting with an out of town gentleman…” he trailed off. “Okay, meetings, but what exactly would I do?” I asked. “Well…you would be expected to be nice to him…” again, he trailed off. “What do you mean, ‘be nice’?” I asked. “Oh, don’t be coy. You know what I’m talking about. You’re sixteen years old…” he trailed off and turned a curve a little too fast so that I slid closer to him. Now I was starting to get the idea. This old guy is some kind of a pimp. Ugh, gross! I’ve seen something like this on a news program, how they prey on vulnerable girls. Suddenly, I realized that being in the car with this guy was both disgusting and dangerous. I remained quiet as I thought about how to get away from him. “Look, I’m not really into being ‘nice’ to anybody, especially some stranger from out of town” I said. “So…you’re saying you’re not a nice girl?”  He turned and grinned at me with yellow teeth. “No. What I’m saying is, I am a nice girl. And I’m not interested in your job” I said. “You can take me back to the Waffle House now.” “Okay. I’ll take you back. Or I can drive you home.” I didn’t want this guy to know where I was staying, so I said, “Just take me back to the Waffle House.” “Okay” he said, “but first, I need to stop by my office for just a minute. I have to make a phone call.” I didn’t want to go to this guy’s office but I figured I had to since I had no idea where I was nor how the get back to the Mariner. A few minutes later, he pulled up to a house. “This is my place. Come in for a minute.” “No, I’ll wait in the car” I said. “It might take me a little while. Come on in for a minute. I’ll make you something to drink.” This guy just doesn’t take no for an answer, I thought. I’d wasted enough of my time riding around with him. I need to spend my time applying for jobs, real jobs. I didn’t need this detour. But I figured he’d keep arguing for me to come inside, so I got out of the car. Uncle Jack opened the front door, went to his desk and picked up the phone. While he was dialing, I walked through the house. It looked like an old man’s house. Dark wood paneling, curtains closed. A brown leather recliner facing an old TV set. An ashtray full of cigarette butts in a standing tray beside the chair. I could smell Old Spice aftershave everywhere in the house. Finally, I heard Jack finishing his phone call. I walked into his office. “Ready to take me back?” I asked. Jack looked at me with a nasty gleam in his eye. “Come here” he said, and pulled my arm. “No!” I yelled at him. “Don’t touch me!”  But he wasn’t easily put off. “Oh, don’t play games with me. Come over here…” “No!” I screamed. “Take me back this minute or I’ll walk there myself” I said. “You’re a little tease, aren’t you?” he said, still pulling me toward him. “I’m not teasing. I’m telling you to take me back right now” I insisted. I pushed him and walked to the door and opened it. I wondered how far I was going to have to walk to find a phone to call a cab. Finally, Uncle Jack got the message. “Okay, okay. I’ll take you back. You’re more trouble than you’re worth…” We got back in the silver New Yorker. I never thought I’d be so relieved to see the yellow sign of the Waffle House. “Thanks for taking me back, Jack” I said. “Listen, if you change your mind, you know where to find me. I eat breakfast here just about every day” he said. “Yeah, I’ll keep that in mind” I said. I walked into the restaurant, mad at myself for ever talking to that guy in the first place, much less getting in the car with him. I really am a dumb ass, I thought, walking back to the Mariner. Walt was right. I should never talk to a stranger. Especially a weird old guy with yellow teeth who calls himself “uncle”.


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