Ruining the Family Business

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
A father works all his life, dreaming to start his own business, only to have it unwittingly ruined by his son...maybe.

Submitted: February 17, 2008

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Submitted: February 17, 2008

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 At nineteen years old I was going to college and studying Fine Arts: poetry and painting mostly. Everything that I painted was in the abstract form on account of the fact that I couldn't paint anything that was, or ever had been, alive. People, animals, even dead bodies or a withered up maple leaf were all beyond the range of my artistic repertoire. I had arbitrarily taken it upon myself to dub the blotches of yellow and the smudges of blue that I painted, and which were supposed to be representative of seductive and enchantingly beautiful women, as portraits in the abstract.

My poetry wasn't much better either and it rarely rose above the level of a nursery rhyme or a dirty limerick. My writing was trapped somewhere between a rendition of Three Blind Mice and There Once Was a Man from Nantucket, with a dash of William Butler Yeats thrown in just for good literary measure.
In addition to going to school I was also working two jobs at the time. During the day I spent many mindless hours stocking shelves in a supermarket, and at night I had a steady girlfriend of three years.
I'm not sure what annoyed me more at the time. I wasn't sure if I was more annoyed that my day job made me feel as if I was about the intellectual equivalent of a chimpanzee, or that my girlfriend kept nagging me all the time. It seemed to me as if my day job and my girlfriend was in a competition to see which one of them could get me committed to a psychiatric hospital first.
Vivian was always on my case about the most insane ideas. She constantly told me crazy stuff like how I had to prepare for when we got married, or how I should exercise and not eat candy bars for lunch, and to wash my undershirts after I'd only worn them twice!—crazy talk like that.
And at my day job I was also cutting my hands to pieces with the stupid box cutter. They should have known better than to give a klutz like me a sharp object to work with like that.
One night I came home from my second job with my hand all cut up and feeling nagged to death.  I was carrying an art history book from one of my classes that I rarely bothered going to anyway.
It was ..:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />two o'clock in the morning, really late, and I thought that nobody would be awake. I thought wrong. I didn't want to go to bed right away. I wasn't sure if I could sleep at all with the throbbing pain in my hand and with Vivian calling my cell phone every minute to see where I was.
It was two in the morning and my dad was still awake! I knew that if he was still up that late, then probably, only one of two things could have happened. Either my mom had found the quart of Jack Daniels that I kept stashed away in my closet for safe keeping and told him to wait up for me and, "deal with it," when I got home, or my dad had been up late into the night pondering some unanswerable question like: What had really crashed in Roswell, New Mexico back in 1947?
I only hoped that if the former case was true, then my mom hadn't poured ALL my whiskey down the drain.
I didn't want to talk about my alcoholism or about UFOs either, at that time of night. I knew that a conversation with my dad concerning either one of those two subjects was bound to get far too personal and heated. Either way, there was sure to be a lot of yelling and name calling.
I sat on the couch and he sat in his recliner smoking a cigarette. The TV was off and it stared back at the two of us in silence like a blank gray wall.
My dad smoked a cigarette with his legs crossed in the recliner. The smoke went up in small plumes, first obscuring my view of his moustache, and then getting suspended just below the ceiling like wispy nicotine-yellow drapery. 
"So," he said while dragging out the long O.
I looked down at chapter two of my art history book. The chapter that was entitled: The Art of Ancient Greece.
"I'm thinking about starting my own business," my dad said solemnly to the blank gray wall of the TV set.
"Oh yeah?" I said.
"Yep," he said.
Then for a little bit the two of us went back to sitting in silence. He lit another cigarette and I stared at the columns of marble on the Parthenon. My dad started to bob his head up and down while he sat in the recliner with a satisfied grin on his face.
"Doin' what?" I asked him reluctantly.
"Vending," he shot back quickly as if he'd been waiting his entire life for somebody to ask him that exact question. "Vending, just like I do at work now, except you know, my own company. A small trucking operation specializing in snack food, soda, vending machine repair—stuff like that." Then my dad sat back and looked at me with that satisfied grin on his face again. He started to play with the hairs of his moustache.
My head remained buried in The History of Western Classical Art. I didn't bother to look up. "That's cool," I said.
"Yes it is," my dad said.
"What about your other job?" I asked. I knew that I shouldn't have asked anything. I should have just went to bed, but a sense of curiosity, the kind of curiosity that kills cats, drove me onward.
"I'm gonna work both," my dad said with a sadistic sense of both satisfaction and anticipation.
"Oh," I said. And then I went back to looking at the blank gray wall of the television set across the room.
"And you're gonna help me," my dad said. Those words pierced the stillness of the late night living room like a hand grenade going off in a closet.
"Me?" I protested.
"Yes, you," he said. "You're not doing anything."
"But dad, I'm busy," I said as I turned to face him and try to stare him down in order to get him to come to his senses. I didn't find my dad's flight of fancy about owning his own business to be amusing.
"You?" He looked back at me and said. He let his eyes go wide with mock surprise and amazement. "What are you doing?" he asked me as he stamped out his cigarette in the ash tray that rested on the coffee table.
"Dad, I'm going to school. I'm studying writing and art—"
"It's almost summer," my dad interrupted, "and Mark, like I said, you're not really doing anything."
"But dad, come on," I persisted.
"Mark, I'm gonna need you to help me."
I sighed. "But I don't know anything about vending machines." I tried using logic and reason with him. I figured that if begging didn't work, than maybe at least, logic and reason might.
"You don't need to," he said quickly.  My dad had been prepared to respond to both the pleading and to the logical reasoning, and he wasn't about to give in on account of either one. "All I need you to do, Mark, is to drive the truck and make the stops on the routes on weekends and stuff when I'm not available."
He had it all thought out ahead of time. "O.K." I resignedly said with a sigh. I gave in. I figured that there was no harm in humoring the old man about his dream of owning his own business. It was getting close to 3 in the morning and I was becoming too tired to resist any further. If I had actually known that one day soon his vending business would become a reality, I would have fought harder. At that time I didn't believe in such miracles.
We sat in silence again. I looked at my book and then closed my eyes and leaned my head back on the couch. I began to doze off and to dream about what it would be like to have a girlfriend that wasn't nagging me all the time, and a father who didn't think that even though I worked three jobs and went to school, I was doing nothing.
"Yeah, but I need a name," my dad said aloud.
His voice woke me up from my light dreams. "What?" I said while my eyes were still closed.
"A name," my dad said, "for my vending business."
"Oh," I said as I began to open my eyes. I'd already pretty much forgotten about that. "What kind of name?" I asked without thinking. Curiosity killed the cat.
"Something that begins with the letter A," my dad said with conviction, as if that one statement made all the sense in the world.
"The letter A?"
"Yeah," my dad said as he lit another cigarette, "yeah the letter A. So that it's first in the phone book."
"Oh," I said. I guess that made sense. Although, I didn't really think that there were many people out there who were furiously flipping through the yellow pages and looking for somebody to fulfill all their small vending needs, but it wouldn't have been the first time that I was wrong. How quaint, the phone book. I guess my dad hadn't heard of the internet yet.
"Why don't you just call it like, Advanced Vending, or something," I said.
My dad thought about this for a moment as he leaned back in the recliner. Then he said, "Mark, that's too obvious. There's already an 'Advanced' everything out there."
"What about A Plus Vending?" I asked.
"A Plus Vending?" My dad asked rhetorically as he chuckled.
"Yeah," I said in defense of what I thought was a good suggestion.
My dad continued to laugh. "Mark, that's so dorky," he said. "We're not gonna be selling pencils and erasers."
I leaned back on the couch. "Well, it was just an idea. A Plus Vending would definitely come first in the phone book," I said.
"Yeah," my dad mumbled. "You want coffee?" He asked me.
"No, dad. It's three in the morning," I said.
Then my dad sat down silently again and stared at the blank gray wall of the television set. "What to name it?" He muttered under his breath.
I began to doze off again. The cut on my hand began to throb. My cell phone vibrated in my pocket as Vivian called again and again, probably to tell me that I needed to quit smoking, or to remind me to be sure to disinfect the cuts on my hand before I went to bed. I didn't bother to answer my phone.
"Hey Mark," my dad said.
"What?" I whispered with exasperation while I kept my eyes closed. I couldn't believe that he was still on that vending stuff!
"What's the picture of that thing on the cover of your book over there? Doesn't the name of that thing begin with an A?" He asked.
"You mean, the Acropolis?" I said back to him without even opening my eyes.
"Yeah, the Acropolis!" My dad said. "Acropolis Vending. I like that!" he said triumphantly.
"O.K. dad. Sounds good," I said.
And that's how Acropolis Vending Company was born. 
After the naming I went upstairs and went to bed. I slept soundly through the night even in spite of the throbbing in my hand and the constant vibration of my cell phone. I didn't once think, or dream, about Acropolis Vending.
I should have thought about it though, because much to my surprise, Acropolis Vending actually became a reality. I don't know how my dad did it. I don't know whether he spent his life saving's, charged the family into an insurmountable amount of debt that I'll still be paying back when I'm a hundred, or if he actually got some banker somewhere drunk enough to convince him to let him have a small business loan, but somehow, my old man pulled off his life-long dream of owning his own business.
Within a week there was an old battered white Ford box truck parked in front of the house, with the words Acropolis Vending painted across the sides of it in prominent big blue block lettering. Blue and white—the national colors of Greece. It seemed fitting to my dad that a company named Acropolis Vending should be decked out in the "official" colors of Greece, as he put it.
My dad worked day and night—like a blue collar madmen on that little business of his. He rented space in the warehouse of the vending company he already worked for during the day, and after he punched out of that job, he would load up the truck for Acropolis Vending and go on his own personal vending route at night.
Acropolis Vending had two employees—me and him. On most Saturdays, true to his word, he would have me drive the truck and follow the route. But as a couple weeks went by that tailed off because for one thing, business was really slow, and for another, it took a little while for my dad to finally realize what a terrible driver I really am.
Honestly, I did feel a certain sense of familial pride that my old man was able to get his own business up and running, pretty much all by himself, and then to work so damned hard at it in the process. It took major guts to do that. And although I now had three jobs: one at the supermarket, one with Acropolis Vending and a nagging girlfriend on top of it all, I did hope (although I doubted it) that Acropolis Vending would succeed.
But I'm pretty sure that business didn't go exactly as my dad had originally planned. Originally, my dad had designed Acropolis Vending as a miniature version of the bigger vending company that he already worked for. He started out by ordering cases of Coca-Cola and Pepsi and snack foods from Frito-Lay and stuff like that. You know, just the regular kind of vending machine crap. But, right away, that all changed for Acropolis Vending.
Within weeks, Acropolis Vending went from selling chips and soda to supplying crumbled feta cheese, those pita bread things you use to make gyros and a special kind of Greek yogurt that had a shelf life of about four hours. Maybe it was because of the kind of name that we picked, but we never really got the kind of customers on our vending route that my dad had been expecting. Instead of getting the typical schools, office buildings and small stores with their regular quota of vending machine ready sugary and salty prepackaged snack foods, most of Acropolis Vending's clients turned out to be Greek owned diners, churches, or small specialty shops.
You know all those minty flavored toothpicks that they keep on top of the glass counter in diners near the cash register? Or how about those stale, tasteless complimentary cookies in the plastic bowl that they always have right next to the aforementioned toothpicks? Well, let me tell you, thanks to Acropolis Vending, I learned that all that shit that nobody wants that they push in diners has got to come from somewhere! For a couple months at least, it seemed to me, like all of that stuff came from the Acropolis Vending Company!
Really, most of the time, business was pretty slow. The local Greek community, which until then I had never realized was so large, kept Acropolis Vending afloat—barely. It didn't help matters that our family name is Kowalski. 
One Saturday morning, early afternoon really, after I'd slept late and my dad caught me, "doing nothing" as he liked to put it, he had a special job for me to do for Acropolis Vending.
He cornered me in the kitchen and said, "Good, Mark, you're not doing anything," as I struggled over the first two lines of a sonnet that I had been planning to write.
"Actually, dad, I'm kind of in the middle of writing a poem," I said.
"Yeah, like I said Mark, you're not doing anything."
"O.K," I said.
"Good. Well, in that case, I need you to work for me tonight," he said.
"Tonight?"
"Yeah, tonight," he said.
"Why can't you do it dad?" I pleaded with him. When it came to Acropolis Vending, begging and pleading never seemed to keep me from working, but I figured it was at least worth a shot. 
"Look, your mom wants me to go shopping with her tonight," he said. "The truck's all ready to go. I just need you to drop some stuff off for me at the Greek Orthodox Church in Passaic tonight. They need it by tomorrow morning." My dad looked at me, raised a hand defensively, his way of telling me that I had to work, and then added, "Mark, it'll be quick."
"But dad, it's Saturday night," I whined. "Vivian's gonna freak out."
"Just tell her it'll be quick. She can wait an hour or two," he said.
There was no way out of it. I felt trapped. I would have to work for Acropolis Vending—on a Saturday night!
"Main Street in Passaic?" I asked. "Dad, that's a bad neighborhood." I really didn't want to work on a Saturday night.
"Mark, I'm not asking you to go live there. All you gotta do is drop the stuff off and sign the paperwork," my dad said to me as he turned his back and went to go look for some coffee in the kitchen cabinets. This gesture of his let me know that my dad's decision was final and that I would, in fact, be working for Acropolis Vending that Saturday night.
I decided that I would try to make one last ditch stand against having to work on a Saturday night. "A Greek Orthodox Church? I don't even what that is," I said.
"It's just like the Catholic church that we go to," my dad said.
"Dad, we don't go to church," I pointed out.
"Mark, you've been to church before," my dad said. And that was it. The decision was final.
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That Saturday night a light July mist was falling and it caused me to have to put the windshield wipers on in the old white box truck that said Acropolis Vending in big blue letters across the sides.
It was really hot out that night and the truck's old suspension bounced up and down and jarred my back as I rolled slowly over the potholes and broken pavement of the local roads that I was driving on.
In the back of the truck I could hear the boxes of feta cheese, pita bread; tangy Greek pastries and sour Greek yogurt rattle around as I slammed on the brakes of the old truck and did my best to navigate the narrow residential streets.
I followed the road map I had as best I could as I looked for the Greek Orthodox Church on Main Street in Passaic, but I do remember getting lost at least two or three times along the way. I have no sense of direction.
Finally, at about 9:30 that night I pulled the old box truck up along the crumbling curb and cracked sidewalk outside an imposing stone walled, Romanesque granite structure with stained glass windows. A sign on the door told me that this was the Greek Orthodox Church that I was searching for.
Empty paper bags littered the sidewalk and all the street signs appeared to have either been torn down completely, or wrenched asunder with an immense amount of violent force. Misty rain continued to fall from the sky and it soaked me to the skin as it intermingled with my own sweat from the July heat. The cab of the old box truck had no air-conditioning system.
When I pulled up along the curb outside the church, I left the engine running with the keys in the ignition as I got out to walk up the steps to the building, because I figured that nobody would want to steal a twenty year old box truck that reeked of feta cheese and soured yogurt.
As I walked up to the door of the church that night I didn't know what to expect. I had never been to a Greek Orthodox Church before, and I wondered what type of holy man, or woman, would be there to receive my delivery. Would it be a wrinkled old nun in a burlap habit? A clean shaven, bald monk with those fiery eyes of insanity and celibacy that monk's usually have? I just didn't know what to expect as I stood there, knocked on the imposing wooden church doors and waited for them to open.
And what exactly was the proper protocol for greeting a Greek Orthodox man (or woman) of the cloth? Should I shake hands? Should I get down on one knee when they greeted me and cross myself? Should I get down on my hands and knees and prostrate myself before them on the wet concrete steps of the church while kissing their feet and wailing, "Oh bless you holy spiritual father or mother"?
A guy in jeans and a black t-shirt opened one side of the door to the church. He peeked out at me from the dark recesses of the building while I stood there in the night, sweating and getting soaked by the rain. He had a white beard and a bushy crop of dark gray hair on his head. He could probably have passed for Aristotle's long lost brother, or for a pot-bellied version of Zeus.
His eyes studied me intently from the candlelit inside of the church. "I'm Mark Kowalski Junior of Acropolis Vending," I said as I held out the invoice for him to sign.
He grunted and then took the papers from my hand. He looked over the papers. "You only have to sign on the bottom, sir. Anywhere on the bottom," I said as I handed him the pen that I had tucked behind my ear. "You keep the white copy, and we keep the pink and the yellow copies," I continued.
He scribbled his name down on the shipping order and handed the pink and yellow papers back to me along with my pen. Then he said, "You can go in back with your truck and unload there."
He didn't seem to be too polite, or even caring, for what I supposed was a holy man, but, whatever. For all I know, he was probably just the nighttime janitor, and I was glad that I hadn't prostrated myself at his feet and kissed his shoes. That would have been embarrassing.
"O.K," I said. "I just gotta go get my truck and I'll be right there."
He closed the door on me and I stood there getting soaked on the steps of the Greek Orthodox Church by the late July mist.
I turned around and walked back down the steps. When I got to the street I looked up and down for the old white box truck with Acropolis Vending written on the side of it in big blue letters, but I couldn't see it anywhere. I walked up and down that street amidst the empty wrappers, with the crooked street signs and cracked sidewalks over and over again. I must have walked up and down that street a hundred times and went about a mile on foot in each direction, but still I couldn't see the truck for Acropolis Vending. The truck was gone! All that remained was an empty parking spot on the curb, right next to the New Jersey transit sign that was bent at a forty-five degree angle where I had originally parked it. I had lost Acropolis Vending's ONLY truck!
For a minute I thought about crying as I stood in the mist on the cracked sidewalk. Oh man! How the hell was I going to tell my dad that I had lost the company's truck! I dreaded telling him. I waited one hour before I called him, and then two hours, and then three hours. Finally, I decided that I had to call him. I wanted to go home.
I dialed the number. The phone rang four times and then he picked up. "Hey dad," I said.
"Mark. Where the hell ya been? What are they doing to you?" He sounded worked up already.
"Yeah, listen, dad. I got something I gotta tell you," I said slowly and deliberately.

My dad didn't say anything. 

"Listen, dad," I continued, "your truck is gone."
There, I'd said it. I'd gotten it out—the truck was gone. Still, he didn't say anything. Finally he said, "What?"
"The truck is gone," I repeated.
"What do you mean the truck is gone?" My dad frantically raised his voice.
"I mean that I parked it outside the church, went back to get it, and it had disappeared."
My dad sighed, a long drawn out, huuuhhhh, like he was drowning in his own breath. "Oh man, Mark," I could see him rolling his eyes over the phone, "what the hell happened?"
"I don't know dad. I guess it was stolen," I said as I did my best to sound completely innocent and blameless.
"Alright, wait right there," my dad said and then he hung up. Wait right there? Like I was going to go anywhere.
 
My dad came in his old battered Oldsmobile to pick me up. By the time he got outside the church it was close to one in the morning. He talked to the guy in the black t-shirt, but the holy man, or janitor, or whatever he was hadn't seen anything. My dad called the cops and reported the truck stolen. He didn't speak to me on the ride home. I just sat next to him in the passenger's seat and watched the rain collect on the windshield.
When we got home, my dad turned around and looked at me like he was going to say something, but he didn't. I wished that Vivian would call and nag me about my personal habits to distract me, but she didn't.
As me and my dad stood in the kitchen and pensively looked at one another, the phone rang. I watched him pick it up. He stayed on the line for a couple of minutes. I watched and heard him say, "uh huh," "oh yeah," "okay," "no my son was driving it," "yeah, the insurance company," "okay, I understand," "thank you officer." And then he hung up the phone.
He walked around the kitchen table. I thought he was going to yell. I stood still on the linoleum floor and turned around following his motions while at the same time trying to make eye contact with him
"That was the police," he said to no one in particular.
He continued to pace around the kitchen. He was waiting for me to say something. "Yeah?" I ventured tentatively.
"They said they found the truck."
"Yeah?" I said again.
"Somebody took it, while YOU left the keys in the ignition, and they found it flipped over on Route 4 headed toward Paterson."
"Really?" I asked.
"Really, Mark. Why somebody would want to steal a box truck and go to Paterson of all places, I don't know."
"I don't know," I said. "I'm sorry dad."
My dad sighed. "It's okay Mark," he said. "I guess I'll collect something on the insurance and sell what's left of Acropolis Vending."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was too afraid to walk out of the kitchen. I thought if I turned my back, than my dad was going to start to throw stuff, like steak knives, at the back of my head. I ventured a tentative, "So dad? You're not pissed?"
He stood still, rubbed his moustache and said, "Nah, not really."
I was dumbfounded. "Not really? I lost the truck dad!" I said. I thought maybe my father was going senile right before my eyes.
"Yeah, but it's O.K," he said. "I don't know shit about that Greek stuff anyway," he said.
"Me neither," I said.
And that night, what was left of Acropolis Vending what up for sale.


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