Steven Lindbergh — Some, Just a Little

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Some, Just a Little
By Steven Lindbergh

Remember Burt? He lived over on Prospect Street. Burt Porter, the guy that was always getting kicked off the bus for bullying people out of their seats. He was the guy that seemed to get a new dog every couple of months after they kept running away because he beat them so much. Well, he works at the factory with me. He hasn’t changed a blink or a wink. There’s this new guy, Jerry, who started working there a week ago. Every day at lunch Burt has this thing he does. Burt will come in, sit down, watch Jerry unpack his lunch from his lunchbox and when Jerry puts his little bag of potato chips on the table Burt, who always manages to sit next to Jerry, will raise his fist up high, shout “El Ka-Bong,” like from the Quick Draw McGraw cartoon everyone watched when we were kids, and down comes his fist smashing Jerry’s potato chips. Jerry doesn’t do anything. But then again we can’t blame him, none of us has ever had the guts to do anything about Burt’s antics, after all he is six foot six inches tall, and a good 275 pounds.

It’s kind of funny how he does it, with the whole El Ka-Bong thing, but not funny where any of us laugh. This joke of his is one of those jokes where the teller says, “You had to have been there to get it.” And the listener thinks, “I was there, but I still don’t get it.” The only one who gets anything out of it is big ol’ Burt. A few guys snicker, but only to appease Burt’s intimidating presence. Jerry sinks his head down into his shoulders and continues eating his lunch, potato chip crumbs and all. He must think it is some sort of new guy hazing that will quit after a day or two. Burt has kept it up, though. I guess he is hoping the joke will eventually catch on. So far it hasn’t. The only thing funny about it is Burt’s lopsided, cross-eyed look with his big crooked grin becoming a gapped-toothed smile all the way across his face; especially right before he lowers the boom with his amplified “El Ka-Bong” sound effect. Monday was El Ka-Bong and Jerry’s first day eating crushed chips, Tuesday was El Ka-Bong with Jerry eating more flattened chips, Wednesday was El Ka-Bong and Jerry, again, ate compacted chips, and on to Thursday when El Ka-Bong assured Jerry ate chip crumbs, until right around Friday.

Well, right around Friday, Jerry, who doesn’t say much as it is, and says even less before big ol’ Burt El Ka-Bongs his chips, he changes the game plan. Yes, on Friday, Jerry’s game plan change is one that Burt doesn’t know about, which is part of any good game plan change involving bullies. On Friday, we’re all sitting there, and before Burt smashes Jerry’s chips he gets up to get a coke out of the machine, as is his habit, so Jerry, quiet as time, and smooth and quick as a pick pocket, slips Burt’s pack of smokes out of Burt’s jacket, that’s laying there on the table. And what seems like one motion he opens his bag of chips, empties them into his opened lunch box, and slick as snot, he empties the smokes from their pack into the potato chip bag, and returns the empty cigarette pack to the jacket. And, pretty as you please, he makes it look like the potato chip bag is unopened.

Well, we all see what Jerry does since, like it or not, all week long we’d tuned in to the El Ka-Bong show, and so when Burt sits back down all loud about last night’s game and how the home team’s quarterback throws worse than his sister, we keep our eyes open and our mouths shut because we wouldn’t want to miss something, yeah know? We all keep watching that bag of chips like they are the bulls-eye of a thousand dollar dart contest, and sure enough, Burt raises his fist and “El Ka-Bong” flattens the bag of chips. We, of course, burst out laughing. Burt thinks it’s great that we finally get his joke, so he “El Ka-Bongs” the bag again. This time really grinding and smashing the contents with his fist.

He was so glad that we were enjoying the show he says “Hey, yeah think that’s funny, watch this.” And he drops the bag on the floor and steps on it with his big boot like you would extinguish a fire. We, by this time, are howling hyenas.

It is at this time that Jerry, with his head tilted down, looks over the tops of his glasses into Burt’s eyes, and with a little motion, nonchalantly pinches a few potato chips from his lunch box and starts popping them into his mouth. This calms the guffaws down pretty quickly as we anticipate a scene that might prove painful or worse.

Burt sees Jerry and cocks his head to the side a little like a dog that’s puzzled about why a light bulb blinked on. For the rest of us we start laughing again only now it is out of the corners of our mouths and we don’t miss a thing out of the corner of our eyes. It was as if we were mind readers watching the wheels in Burt’s brain turn.

The suspense in the room was making us giddy, as we waited for Burt to get the real punch line. It seemed like it took an hour, but after about five seconds he picked up the potato chip bag and emptied out the smashed cigs onto the table in front of him. With an unabashed flash of panic on his face he quickly checked for the smokes in his jacket and found the empty pack where a full pack should have been. Burt’s mouth was hanging wide open as a school yard gate after the last bell on the last day of school. Yeah know, if he would have had one of those cigarettes in his mouth it would have fallen out.

Our laughter had built back up to the point where we could hardly breathe. Jerry, he closed his lunch box, stood up, and walked out the lunch room door. Lunch time after that was less dramatic, but we didn’t mind. I don’t figure Jerry did either, and Burt, he never touched Jerry in retaliation. He must have realized that he’d lose his job if he did anything to Jerry at work, or worse maybe go to jail if he did something to him off-site since we were all witnesses. I suspect the real reason was that it would have meant explaining it all to his wife, the former Helga Belcher, whose nickname in high school was “Hellcat” Belcher. A nickname justifiably acquired from her being such a formidable shrew as that nickname indicates. Burt marrying her was considered by all to be fate’s perfect karmic justice. Burt, well, he ate in his car by himself after that. We didn’t mind that he did, and, of course, Jerry didn’t mind. Burt, maybe he minded some, just a little.

Steven Lindbergh is a writer and editor who, on June 30, 2014, will complete his new book, The Wrong Way Around the Roundabout. He is very excited that, after decades of research, this project is coming to a close. The mystery of what happened to Fidel Fiddle’s mailbag will, at long last, be revealed and the letters it contained will be made public. He does, though, have some trepidations regarding how well the township of South New Thunk will accept what those letters expose.