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Temptation

John knew that the cracking pain in his chest was the onset of a heart attack. He was only going to the Heart Clinic to verify his self-diagnosis. He had been working at Glen’s Hot Dogs for fifteen years, eating hot dogs breakfast lunch and dinner, and he knew the day would come when he would have to pay the piper.

The Heart Clinic was located in a small building that was once a Mexican restaurant. The décor remained. There were cactus shaped lamps, murals of large-breasted Aztec women, and the receptionists often complained of the overbearing lingering scent of cilantro.

The doctor looked over the paperwork, laughed, and said, “It’s not pretty. You should quit working at the hot dog stand and start working at a vegetable stand.”

John took the doctor’s joke seriously and gave up hot dogs and found work at a Choi’s Korean produce stand. It became a daily battle to resist the temptation of returning to hot dogs. One night when it became too much he ran to Glen’s, but cancelled his order and sighed while pacifying himself with a dozen ketchup and mustard packets.

Within a year John slimmed down and he felt and looked much better.

One of John’s sisters noticed and said, “Damn Johnny, if you wasn’t my brother.”

Even Choi at the produce stand said, “When I first hire you, you disgust, now you very handsome.”

John loved the newfound attention, but after a stressful week where his dryer died, a toothache began, and he witnessed an old man run over by a car, he went on a three-day bender, eating nothing but hot dogs.

He worked slowly the next morning and Choi yelled at him to speed up. Choi drove him to work all afternoon until John fell over after lifting an abnormally large watermelon. The ambulance arrived and the paramedics watched as Choi stepped over John’s body to sell a bag of mangoes to an elderly woman. They revived John, but only for a short time. He lay dying in the hospital with his sisters bedside, and in and out of consciousness he told of his first memory, his first hot dog.

It was at a minor-league baseball game with his father. It was an overcast day in the springtime. He was four maybe. His father bought them a couple of hot dogs. They ate as his father explained the game to him.

John’s sisters smiled at him, but knew his memory was an impossibility. Their father had left the family when John was a newborn. They watched as John smiled and told details of the afternoon, of the look of the field, of the kindness of his father and of the taste of the hot dog until he passed away.

Big Earl Wants a Girl

Derek drove his minivan through the ghetto to an abandoned warehouse. The words Big Earl Wants A Girl were spray-painted on the outside wall and a No Trespassing Sign was nailed into the door by the city. Derek kicked open the door and walked down a long filthy hallway, stepping over a homeless elderly man with his pants down, and into the room where he knew his son Derek Jr. would be.

He found his son passed out with a string tied around his arm and with a syringe in his arm. Sighing, he yanked out the needle, hoisted him over his shoulder and carried him outside to his minivan.

Derek stopped at Arby’s, choosing the drive-through because he was embarrassed of his son’s condition. They ate and then Derek Jr. leaned out of his window and threw up. His father punched the wheel with frustration sending a brief honk out into the parking lot. He calmed himself, smiled, and said, “You know, if the Arby’s chef sees you vomit he’ll take it as an insult.”

Derek Jr. laughed and then gripped his side in pain.

Derek drove home and lowered his son into a hot bath while his wife called the rehab center to schedule his admittance. Derek scrubbed the dirt and dried blood from his son’s naked body and thought of the words spray-painted on the wall, Big Earl Wants A Girl. He laughed and asked his son what Big Earl looked like. Derek Jr. opened his mouth to speak but only vomited into the water.

Derek kicked the toilet, left the bathrooom, and returned with his ten-year-old son. He walked the boy up to the bathtub and said, “This is what drugs do.”

In the morning Derek Jr. stepped into his father’s minivan to be driven to Pines Rest Rehabilitation, a place he knew well.

Derek would drop his son off and go straight to a job he hated. He thought of how many hours of abuse he would have to take to put his son through the program again. He said, “Son. Once you get out, you’re gonna go right back to that place again huh?” Derek Jr. wept and curled up and nodded that he would. He would always go back to that place.

“And I’m just going to have to pick you up again, clean you up, pay for your cure again, and it’s never going to end is it?”

Derek Jr. just cried. His father drove past the exit for Pines Rest, back through the ghetto and to the abandoned warehouse. He leaned over, kissed his son on the forehead, and opened the passenger door, saying, “You’re twenty-five years old. Old enough.”

Derek Jr. cried, in the same way his little brother did upon seeing him in the bathtub. Then the door of the warehouse opened and a large man stepped out. He was three hundred pounds, with bright acne on his face, a bald rocky head and he was wearing a torn pair of mechanic’s overalls. He hands were missing several digits and he had also lost some key teeth. He yawned melodically and high-pitched and walked up the street.

“So that’s Big Earl?” asked Derek.

Derek Jr. nodded that it was and he stepped from the car and walked towards the warehouse. He turned and watched his father’s minivan drive off and then he watched Big Earl fade into the gray landscape of the city.