The Outcasts of Granny Flats
An Original Story
(But With Apologies to Bret Harte's 'Outcasts of Poker Flat')
As John Brokeworse, a gambler known to numerous San Diego casino pit bosses stepped onto the street, he noticed his landlord and several other homeowners conversing together, their voices lowering as he drew closer. He expected as much since he and the other residents of tiny backyard apartments had reached the end of their thirty day notice and now the hour had come to gather their possessions and move along so that new renters willing to pay more could move into the little units. Brokeworse carried his suitcase, a day pack and a half empty bag of Cheetos to his Yugo and dumped everything into the small trunk of the car, preparing to depart the neighborhood forever.
He was about to slip into the driver’s seat when he saw three of his fellow evictees approaching him. In the lead was Trixie Goodbody, dressed in her professional attire of fishnet stockings, a flaming pink top with a plunging neckline and platform heels. Brokeworse could hear gum popping as she approached. Besides her strode the retired pre-school teacher known to all as Mother Chutzpah, a woman who had earned a reputation for speaking her mind without applying any filters. And behind the ladies trailed another former renter, Cousin William, who, despite his moniker, was unrelated to anyone in the neighborhood. He was however suspected by many of being a porch pirate in addition to an unwelcome and oft inebriated presence at the local dive known as ‘Tacos and Tequila’.
“Where you going, John?” Asked Mother Chutzpah with typical forthrightness.
“Got a friend, a woman named Sandi Barr. She’s offered to put me up for a few days. Lives out east past Alpine.”
“How about if we come along for part of the way,” suggested Trixie. “No point hanging around here any more.”
Brokeworse considered the request and agreed that if the three of them would chip in on the gas with their last meager resources and leave his company at a convenient spot he would oblige.
Mother Chutzpah glanced over at the group of landlords still huddled together close by and shook her head. “Made a big mistake. I shoulda signed a lease instead of going month-to-month. They’re a bunch of bloodsuckers.”
When the car chugged to life and the four outcasts settled themselves Mother Chutzpah extended a finger toward their former landlords. “Death to the fascist insect!” she yelled as the Yugo turned down the street.
Because it was late in the year and because of unchecked climate change the day was unusually cold, the sky gray with dark clouds threatened on the horizon. Soon enough it began to rain, the lone windshield wiper of the little Yugo working with Slavic determination to keep up with the drops. And then as they headed higher, the rain turned to snow.
“This is what we get for messing with the environment,” said Mother Chutzpah. Brokeworse and Trixie murmured their assent. Only Cousin William, who learned everything he knew about climate change from Fox News at Ten remained disagreeably silent.
After a while Mother Chutzpah, who was squeezed into an ever shrinking corner of the backseat by Cousin William’s considerable girth, began to squirm uneasily about. “Stop the car,” she commanded. “I gotta go.”
It was fortunate that as Brokeworse slowed up he spotted a rest stop just ahead and glided the Yugo into the parking area. The road was already carpeted in white, the Cuyamaca mountains disappearing around him in the maw of the storm. As Mother Chutzpah and Trixie made for the ladies room, the men stretched their legs. Brokeworse grew increasingly uneasy as he observed the snow falling ever faster. They were isolated, the only car in the lot and there was no help to be seen. The Yugo’s Albanian tires, balder than the late Telly Savalas, would not be able to grip the road any longer. When the women returned Brokeworse made his announcement.
“We can’t go any further today. We’ll have to camp here for the night.”
“Can’t we call an Uber?” asked Trixie Goodbody.
Brokeworse shook his head. “Dead spot. Cell reception sucks.”
The others looked at one another in dismay, each realizing he was right, they were in a tight spot. And now ‘Seventy three degrees and sunny’ San Diego had betrayed the group and the unrelenting storm began to wrap the unfortunates in a pale moist sarape of ethereal white.
“We’ll head for the covered area at the side,” said Brokeworse. Everyone bring all the food you have with you.”
Slowly the women reached into their handbags and withdrew two power bars, a bottle of Kombucha, a dented carton of yogurt and a single forlorn speckled banana. Brokeworse cradled his meager bag of Cheetos while Cousin William, as expected, came up empty. The outcasts huddled together in silence as the opaque wall grew around them, each lost in his or her forlorn thoughts. For Brokeworse it was the knowledge that his plans for an evening of poker at Valley View Casino followed by a humungous lobster dinner were now thoroughly dashed. Trixie pulled her red plastic overcoat tightly over her ample bosom wishing she was anywhere else but here, longing even for the company of her business competitors on El Cajon Blvd. Cousin William thought about how good a slug of Hornitos would taste about now while Mother Chutzpah, saddened by the realization that she would miss the nightly reruns of ‘Jeopardy’, allowed the whispered words: “Ken Jennings” to escape her lips.
“Maybe we should have stayed in town and applied for rental assistance,” said Cousin William to his companions. “Or maybe Section Eight?”
Suddenly all ears turned toward the parking area. Another car had pulled up and a young man got out, raised the hood and shook his head. Brokeworse recognized him, it was Tom Innosante, another card player he knew and had faced off against. Brokeworse stepped out from the overhang and approached him with a wave of his hand. Young Tom smiled. “Hi John. Haven’t seen you since Barona… or was it Viejas? You took me to the cleaners at the poker table.”
Brokeworse informed him of their predicament and asked if Tom had any food with him. “Got a jar of peanut butter and a bunch of plastic spoons so we won’t have to share and risk transmitting a virus,” replied Tom before he turned back to the car with a frown. “I’m not going any further this evening,” he said “Looks like major engine issues. I’ll need to hang with all of you until morning at least. Sure hope it stops snowing”
The others, grateful for more to eat, guided Innosante back under the cover of the rest stop and took their seats again. Trixie eyeballed young Tom and snapped her gum thoughtfully while Tom, seeking to recoup some of the money he’d lost to Brokeworse, tried to figure out how to engage the other man in a game of high stakes rock-paper-scissors since nobody had a deck of cards. The unfortunates huddled together and shared the power bars and fell asleep at last, heaped for warmth though Mother Chutzpah, once so strong, now was fading.
When he woke early the next morning, Brokeworse saw that Cousin William was gone along with the rest of the food. True to his nature, the scoundrel had abandoned them to their fate. When the others roused themselves Brokeworse decided he needed to keep their spirits up and so informed his companions that Uncle William had bravely trudged off to see if he could contact Triple-A.
The outcasts and Tom licked the final faint remains of chunky style morsels from their spoons and waited. It was then that Mother Chutzpah, barely able to move, looked at Brokeworse and opened her purse. “John,” she croaked, “I know I’m going. And I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve one more thing to give to you all.” And from the depths of her Gucci knock-off she produced a blessed dark brown and full jar of Vegemite.
“Oh, Mother Chutzpah, you must have some,” said Trixie. “It will save your life.”
Mother Chutzpah, closer to her end with each passing moment, just shook her head. “Eat Vegemite? I’d rather be dead.” Then she turned her head away and prepared to expire just as her pre-school teaching credential had so many years before.
Suddenly thrashing through the snow there appeared a man with an insulated box. “Doordash!” he cried out as he approached. “Hamburgers, fries and chicken nibbles. Cousin Somebody said you were here. He said he’ll be waiting for you to pick him up at Applebees at the next exit… Who’s paying?”
“We’re saved,” whispered Mother Chutzpah.
Each person looked to the others knowing they were saved---but only if they could pay. But how to pay? The outcasts had maxed out credit cards, empty debit accounts and no cash. It was Brokeworse who finally reached into his shirt pocket and withdrew a slender vinyl covered rectangular object. “How about a check?” He asked.
“What’s a check?” said their Doordash savior.
“You take it to a bank. They’ll give you fives and tens for it.”
The man with the insulated box scratched his head. “Not supposed to do it,” he said, ‘But if you throw in a big tip I’ll make an exception this once.”
And so the outcasts were saved. The sky cleared and a CalTrans snow plow appeared to sweep a path back onto the highway. Before leaving, Brokeworse excused himself and made for the men’s room. There alone he withdrew a slip of paper from his pocket and drew a pen from his jacket. He wrote his confession and wedged into a stall door where it was bound to be found by other travelers who would come this way. The note read:
HERE I, JOHN BROKEWORSE, STRUCK A STREAK OF BAD LUCK
AND WOULD HAVE LEFT THIS WORLD EXCEPT THAT I HANDED OVER
A CHECK WHICH I KNOW WILL BOUNCE LIKE A RUBBER BALL.
Word Count: 1683