Fish, Soap and Bonds
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by Larry Fondation
Description: Fish, Soap and Bonds follows the movements of three homeless persons on the unforgiving streets of Los Angeles. Through their eyes we experience both the depths and heights of humanity: hate and discrimination, sacrifice and redemption. This is the third in Fondation's series of "LA Stories."
eBook Publisher: Raw Dog Screaming Press, 2007 2007
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [219 KB]
Reading time: 113-158 min.
"It was hard to imagine a book as good as Larry Fondation's Angry Nights--and then he wrote Common Criminals. Now he's given us his first full-blown novel--Fish, Soap and Bonds--and with it he's entered the ranks of Steinbeck, Henry Roth, Henry Miller, and Frank Norris. Larry Fondation is America's bareknuckled writer, our most fearless fictioneer. No one writing in the English language can deliver knockout blows like this guy. He's one of the only writers alive whose lines I want to steal and call my own. What more can I say?"--Eric Miles Williamson, author of East Bay Grease and Two-Up, Executive Editor of American Book Review
"Fondation recognizes the social forces that contribute to their situation, but his unflinching look at the personality flaws of Fish, Soap and Bonds prevents them from becoming sentimental poster children. We care about them not because they're cute but because they're human. They struggle to make it in the world. Sometimes, the world screws them up. Sometimes, they screw up themselves. What lends them grace is that they keep trying."--The News & Observer
"Larry Fondation is one of the greatest contemporary English-language writers. If you think that's hyperbole, you haven't read him. He is as complex as Borges and as accessible and engaging as Elmore Leonard. With compassion but without pity, with tenderness but without sentimentality, always tough but never cruel, always loving but never blinded by love, always funny but never ironic, Fondation tells the story of America's cities. His scenarios are bleak, but never despairing. For as long as Larry Fondation writes, no man, woman or stray dog is left unloved."--Barry Graham, author of Before and The Book of Man
Chapter 59. Not Grand Larceny
Soap remembered her make-over with fondness and pride. She felt so good, forgetting quickly and thoroughly how, at first, no salesgirl wanted to wait on her, recalling only the flush of exuberance as she left the May Company that day, her eyeliner perfect, her lipstick so well-drawn, her cheeks bright with blush.
How long ago it seemed! The times in between running from place to place, never seeming so rich as then, a lousy hundred bucks, less even, among them. Soap is an honest woman, trustworthy and straight-shooting, but who can resist reliving some of their fondest memories forever? Especially one so simple and within reach.
She couldn't steal the make-over, couldn't compel the staff to pamper her for free, but she could get the half of it, snatch the products, try to remember what she learned, how they told her to apply the blush, to outline the lips first before filling them in with lipstick, the way to brush her lashes just so with the mascara. The items were so small--lip liner, a tube of blush, maybe even a bottle of nail polish--no, her nails were too far gone, bitten and bleeding half the time. Surely she could slip a few things into her purse though--a raggedy purse, but good enough--without anyone noticing.
The streets had been unkind in many ways to Soap, but not particularly to her face. The outdoors had lined and tanned it so it looked not unlike she'd spent her time on a ranch in Montana or the mountains of Colorado--rather than on the streets of Los Angeles. Ah, but with a little make-up! What a difference. Fish would really like it. They needed a good night.
Soap poked around in the bus system and found her way to the Beverly Center. She wanted to go back to the May Company, but not back downtown to 7th Street where she'd gotten her make-over. They might remember her there. She took a bus south on La Cienega and got off at the corner of Beverly. A big billboard announced the mall with the motto: "Don't Blend In." Soap figured she wouldn't have much trouble with that one. She rode the escalator up from La Cienega, and then another escalator and another; she was self-conscious, aware that she did not belong, but no one looked at her--one way or another
The mall was huge, but the May Company was the first big store, just to the left after the bank of escalators. But first Soap stopped at the pet store. She flushed with excitement seeing the dogs and the cats in glass-doored cages. She cooed at the door of a little Scottish Terrier, tapping at the glass.
"May I help you, ma'am?" a clerk asked, a young man with an unusually British feel about him,
Soap turned, startled.
"Oh," she said.
"Are you interested in this dog?"
"Let me take him out for you and you can hold him." The clerk opened the door and scooped up the dog and handed it to Soap.
She was a little nervous and it showed. She held the dog in a fumbly way.
"Does he have a name?"
"No. That's up to you. And it's a 'she,' so you could call her all sorts of cute little names."
The clerk was very polite, well-mannered for his age, almost decorous in his demeanor.
"She's so cute."
"Yes, she's very sweet and she has a really good disposition. These dogs are great with kids. Do you have children?"
"No, no, I don't..."
Soap cuddled the dog and scratched behind its ears; she put her finger out and the dog nibbled at her bitten nails. She hugged the dog to her chest.
"Do you want her?"
"Oh, yes," Soap said without thinking that the puppy had a price tag.
"She's on sale. Only $400. These dogs are usually $600 or more--pure bred--we have all the papers. You can pay cash or check, or you can use your credit card."
"Oh, well, yes, I like this dog very much," Soap said, recovering, "but I really feel I should get my next dog from the pound. I know they're not pure bred and all, but, you know, if no one claims them after a week or so, I think it's a week," Soap faltering a bit, "you probably know this already, but, you know, they put them to sleep..."
"Yes, ma'am, I understand," the man said, taking the dog from Soap's arms. "That's a very noble thing for you to do."
The clerk seemed a bit haughty now.
"I'm sure this sweet little dog will find a loving home," Soap said. "One with children, I bet."
She turned and rushed out of the store, nearly in tears.
Her eyes damp, she rushed into the May Company. Cosmetics was the first thing, just inside the door, a dozen counters or more--Estee Lauder, Lancome, Clinique, Chanel, Origins--all with their own lines of products. Soap remembered now--facial products, astringents, toners, creams, special soaps; the different kinds of make up--eye liner and eye shadow, lip liner and lipstick, nail polishes, blush, foundation, and powders; then the perfumes--the smells of scores of them filled the air--sprays and the pure kinds you dabbed on in special places, on the wrists and by the ears. There were perfumes with French names, and ones with sexy names, and there were the fragrances named after their designers or movie stars--Tommy Hilfiger and Elizabeth Taylor, Calvin Klein and Carolina Herrera.
Soap could not remember, however, the kind of product they used when she had her make-over. She thought for a minute, but could not recall. Then, in a needless rush, Soap raced for the Clinique counter. Above the counter hung a sign: SPECIAL SALE. Later, Soap could not recall why she was drawn to the products on sale when she was about to steal the items anyway, but she was--inexorably drawn, in fact. Soap was upset, her plan all gone, all awash, run aground back at the pet store, and she acted unsubtle, quickly and rashly. She grabbed items from the counter, not even aware of the contents of the tubes and bottles she tossed almost violently into her purse, her bag, a worn, but large canvas tote with handles. She stared, unseeing, straight at the salesgirl, but the salesgirl saw her and called security immediately. As close as the door was, Soap could not stop loading her bag with cosmetics, let alone make it out of the store. The guards grabbed her and ushered her out back into a windowless cubicle designed specifically for detaining shoplifters. * * * *
At her trial, the City Attorney pushed for felony grand larceny. Soap had, he said, willfully and flagrantly stolen more than $200 worth of fine cosmetics from a retail establishment, and furthermore, she was a vagrant. These kinds of aggressive and lawbreaking derelicts intimidate the citizenry and discourage the conduct of legitimate business. The public defender leaned over to Soap, whispering, and assured her that the judge was not nearly so Republican as the eager--in fact, overly eager--young prosecutor.
When it was his turn, the public defender argued eloquently about the indignities of poverty, the trials of being homeless, and the compassion our society should show to those who have fallen through the cracks. Unfortunately, he hardly mentioned Soap by name and barely defended her actions in his statements.
"Poverty might justify the stealing of necessities," the prosecutor argued, "but make up? Top-of-the-line cosmetics at that. Not Maybelline or Revlon from SavOn, but Clinique from the May Company!" His voice soared with poorly-acted outrage.
The judge rolled his eyes. "This is not LA Law, Mr. Bart." Then he turned to the PD: "Nor is this a session of Congress debating public policy regarding the poor. Do you have anything to say on behalf of your client?"
All at once, Soap remembered the sign: SPECIAL SALE.
She leaned over to her lawyer: "How much does it have to be to be grand larceny?"
"You know, how much money does it have to add up to, the stuff I stole? I thought I heard him say there was a limit or something?"
"Yeah, two hundred. But you stole way over that."
The judge: "Counselor, let's hear it."
The public defender to Soap: "More than two hundred dollars worth..."
Soap, interrupting him: "I know. How much more?"
"What's the number? Did they add it up?"
The lawyer looked through some papers. "It's way over."
"How much? How much?"
"Two-hundred-and seventy dollars."
"It was on sale. Did they write down the sale price?"
"How do I know?"
"You're my lawyer."
"I'm not shopping. They don't tell me if stuff's on sale."
"Ask, will you?"
"The stuff was 30% off. How much would that be?"
"Twenty-seven bucks is ten percent. Let's see. Times three, that's $81. Hell, you're right, now you're down to $189."
While the whispered conversation between Soap and her lawyer went on, the judge had become increasingly impatient. He started banging his gavel.
"Let's go, let's go. I've got a half-dozen trials waiting for this one to be over. This isn't a capital case, ladies and gentlemen. Hurry it up."
"I agree, your honor," the prosecutor piped in. "I cannot understand this delay."
"Thanks for your support, but I run this court room, Mr. Bart."
"Your honor, I move to have the charges reduced to misdemeanor simple larceny," the P.D. interjected, "and I ask that the court sentence my client to six months probation for a first offense."
"On what grounds, young man? Your client stole more than $200 worth of merchandise. You're familiar with the statute..."
"Excuse me, your honor, if I'm interrupting, but the items were on sale. I don't believe you can calculate the worth of the merchandise on the basis of its list price, but rather on the price of the items at the time of the theft. My client will agree to plead guilty to a misdemeanor on this basis."
"This is preposterous, your honor," the prosecutor was on his feet again.
"Sit down, Mr. Bart." The judge smiled. "Do we have any way to establish that the items were on sale the day your client stole them?"
"Allegedly, your honor. We haven't agreed to a plea."
"Yes, young man, allegedly. But can you answer my question?"
"I am certain that if you grant us a continuance, we can quickly call the store and look up the records on computer, and bring in a print-out of some sort to the court--perhaps even as soon as tomorrow."
"I'm inclined to agree. My wife goes to those sales all the time. The list price is seldom the final price."
"Excuse me, Mr. Bart. I was in the middle of my decision. Counselor, bring me evidence of the sale dates tomorrow. Just file them with the clerk. I'll agree to six months probation in exchange for a guilty plea to petty theft."
The public defender looked at the nodding Soap.
"Agreed, your honor."
"Finally, the judge said. "Case closed." He banged the gavel to preempt Mr. Bart. "Next."
Soap hugged her young lawyer, not knowing she had won him his first case. She went downstairs to sign a few papers and soon was on the streets of West LA, near the 405 Freeway, unfamiliar territory, in search of a bus to Hollywood to find Bonds and Fish--yes, Bonds and Fish, but especially Fish, who would be worried and missing her terribly. Besides, what a great story she had to tell, and--whether they believed it or not--she knew in her heart it was true and she would tell it all over town.