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American Contemporary Fiction

Christopher Allegro had been managing the Fix It Up Auto Collision Center for more than ten years. Allegro knew how to squeeze profit from spot-painting scratches and repairing dented doors, fenders, and quarter panels. Responsible for new hires, he had given Gonzalo Gutierrez, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador, a position as an auto body technician.  Gutierrez, called G.G. by close acquaintances, had only worked at Fix It Up for six months when he approached Allegro with a business proposal. 


In his native Spanish, Gutierrez asked, "Can I use the empty work station to restore a ’65 Impala convertible?"


In need of extra cash, but knowing that it’d be his hide if the owner found out, Allegro inhaled, then said, "What do I get out of the arrangement?"


"Fifty percent of the earnings after I deliver the car," replied Gutierrez. 


Looking each other with doubt in the eye, the two shook hands.


Not long after they made the deal, Christopher was having an Argentine lunch of baked empanadas and mortadella sandwiches at Irene Gasper’s house.


"Can you give my son a job?" Irene asked Christopher, her steady domestic partner.


"You know Foley isn’t exactly employee-of-the-month material."


"Yeah, but he needs a routine. It’ll take his mind off the things he’s going through with Sarah. Give him a chance. Fix It Up could use a little cleaning up." 


"I guess you’re right. The place is starting to resemble a downtown chop shop"


"You won’t be sorry," Irene told Chris, interrupting a motion to guide an empanada into his mouth, and allowing him to savor her lips instead.


<><><>


Christopher hired Foley to maintain the auto collision shop clean and organized, but under the condition that his girlfriend’s son keep his wits together.           


Ever since he was released from a three-year prison sentence, quotidian activities like going to the supermarket had become befuddling experiences for Foley. It would take him unreasonably long to find and purchase from a list that Irene jotted down, even when the list only had three items on it. To Foley’s mind, a mind that had been given very finite choices during time in confinement, the array of produce and products on supermarket shelves was bewildering. There were either too many or too few bananas in a bunch. They were either too small or too large. Even though his mother expressly requested he purchase milk from the udders of pasture-raised cows, Foley, who since leaving prison flirted with the idea of becoming vegan, lingered before one of the supermarket’s several refrigerated aisles comparing labels of flax, soy, almond, and oat varieties. The choice of bagels flummoxed Foley: blueberry, cinnamon raisin, onion, garlic, everything. Once he had decided on plain ones, he deemed them either too doughy or too dainty.  


Given the difficulties her son was having due to his post-imprisonment OCD, Irene was thrilled to hear that Foley took to his new job at Fix It Up with uncharacteristic zeal and determination. He did an impressive job of cleaning the work spaces, waging war on dust and grime, and doing everything to ensure the collision repair center complied with safety codes. As a result of his efforts and genuine concern, other employees took a liking to him, but soon after Foley started property maintenance at the collision center, Gonzalo "G.G." Gutierrez bought a 2012 4x4 Chevy pick-up. The Salvadoran, who, for a year and a half’s time had been industrious, efficient and punctual, began walking into work half an hour late. He no longer addressed executive manager Christopher Allegro using the formal Spanish pronoun for "you," but began using the informal pronoun instead.  


Foley, who had had his fill of gangsters and bully inmates while in prison, could tell Gutierrez was vying for power. The last straw was when Gutierrez decided to park in the spot usually reserved for Allegro’s well-kept, 1986 SL model Mercedes.


"You want to be the new boss, or what?" Foley asked Gutierrez as he came in to work on his clock.


"Allegro has no ambition, no vision," Gutierrez said. "He just goes through the motions of repairing quick fix insurance jobs. I could transform Fix It Up into L.A.’s best custom car chain."


Foley replied in a voice loud enough to attract the attention of Paul the painter and Frank the prep guy. "What if you and I step into the empty work stall and settle this like men, pendejo?" Foley said. "One knock-down rule fight. If I win, you pack your things and go. Today. If you win, it’s arrivederci for me."


Gutierrez did not expect Foley to propose a boxing match. G.G. knew Foley walked on eggshells and that he feared going back to jail. Since Paul and Frank had heard the exchange, Gutierrez’s macho cultural compass pointed him in the irrevocable direction of accepting Foley’s challenge.    


Now that there were two witnesses to the challenge, Gutierrez stepped into the impromptu boxing ring with Foley.


The contestants squared off against each other, and exchanged half a dozen ill-aimed punches until Gutierrez caught Foley with a left hook to the jaw.


As a result of the lucky blow, Foley’s knees turned to rubber and he staggered back two steps. Gutierrez closed in for the coup-de-grace.  


At the sight of Foley’s immanent defeat, Frank’s brow furrowed and he exhaled through pursed lips. Under his breath, Paul exclaimed, "Fight, Foley!"


In the instant it took him to register Frank and Paul's reactions, Foley became aware he had allies in these two fellow workers. Foley realized that they were as disgusted as he was by G.G.'s presumptuous plans to reign over Fix It Up. 


Encouraged by this unanticipated exhibition of sympathy, Foley regained his balance, and as Gutierrez wound up for a haymaker punch, Foley socked him in the gut with an uppercut that immediately knocked the wind out of the Salvadoran. A fraction of a second later he was on one knee, gasping for air.


"Fix It Up Auto Collision is a hostile work environment. I know my rights," said Gonzalo, still short of breath.


"You’re in this country illegally," responded Foley, "and as far as I’m concerned, you’re now out of work as well."   


Christopher Allegro arrived at the scene as Gutierrez, blood drained from his face, and not yet completely recovered from the body shot, rose to his feet.   


"What in the devil's name just happened here?" Allegro asked.


"This is a hostile work environment," Gutierrez repeated to Allegro. "I was assaulted by this savage," G.G. said, shaking an index finger at Foley. "You’ll be hearing from my lawyer."


Gutierrez stormed off the property and burned rubber as he sped his Chevy pick-up out of the employee parking lot.


Frank and Art slunk away from Allegro's tempered wrath.


Allegro asked Foley, "Do you know what it takes to find an employee as hardworking and as fast as Gutierrez?"


"He was way out of line," said Foley


"No, you’re out of line," exclaimed Christopher. "Do you realize that if Fix It Up headquarters were to find out I was allowing employees to settle their differences using boxing matches, Gutierrez wouldn’t be the only one looking for a new job?"


It was payday.


"Get your check from the office and don’t come back," said Chris Allegro to Foley Gaspers.


<><><>


Foley didn’t leave bed the day after his pyrrhic victory. On Sunday morning, his girlfriend Sarah called and asked him to go to Buddhist meditation with her. 


As Foley sat in the Buddhist temple, Sarah hoped her boyfriend, a godless Christian, could find something in the minister’s dharma talk that would bring him peace of mind.


After striking a resonant bell in the key of F, the meditation group sat in silence for twenty minutes. Then, after leading the group in a hypnotic chant, the minister spoke: "Many of us are propelled along in life by the desire to be well-to-do or to be an ever-do-well. A well-known Zen master is known to have said that the point of sitting meditation is to be good-for-nothing." 


As he sat on a cushion next to Sarah, Foley whispered, "If being a decent Buddhist means being good-for-nothing, Gonzalo Gutierrez will be getting into Buddha heaven before I do."


Sarah sensed that Christopher Allegro secretly admired Foley’s maladjusted behavior. She had the impression Allegro hadn’t done anything daring in a decade. She believed that in one way or another he had gotten vicarious satisfaction from Foley’s defeat of G.G. 


After meditation was over, Sarah went home convinced that by being a good-for-nothing, Foley Gaspers was, in fact, good-for-something.

May 20, 2022 11:50

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18 comments

Sharon Hancock
01:33 May 21, 2022

I enjoyed this! Weirdly enough, it was the grocery shopping scene that hooked me. I identified with Foley and liked him instantly in that scene. The fight scene was great too and I liked him even more during that. I’ll have to read more, cause I wanna find out what happens next!😻

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Mike Panasitti
01:58 May 21, 2022

Sharon, thank you for reading! I always look forward to your comments. I'm very happy that you connected with Foley. I will peruse your latest story as soon as I get the chance.

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Scott Skinner
04:29 May 26, 2022

This was a nice story, and I thought the last sentence put a good finish on it. The story pushed forward through action, and I liked how straightforward the intros of new characters and events were. I was excited in the beginning section when we found out that Foley would be working at this shop because the setting is a good place to play out his antics, which I remember from the first story. I was expecting that character that seemed mentally unstable, a roamer, near vagabond, a likable goof with good intentions, but mostly to the homel...

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Mike Panasitti
19:30 May 29, 2022

Scott, thank you for the feedback on Foley. Hopefully I can sustain the narrative for further development the character. I'll do what I can to sustain his "mysterious" nature, but he's seeking clarity. I think it would be a pity if what he sought were to evade him.

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Tommy Goround
22:11 May 25, 2022

Good details. A nice unfolding of the plot. The characters are interesting to me. Never seen quite the vegan/ex-con/fight for justice character before. I thought he might be slipping when he took so long at the store.

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Mike Panasitti
23:07 May 25, 2022

Tommy, thanks for reading. Foley is always at risk for slipping...at least in these early stages of the tale.

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Jon Blackstock
16:50 May 25, 2022

I love what this turned into at the end, and I really like reading stories with a mix of literary intelligence and actual action. I agree with the people here who want to see more of this character.

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Mike Panasitti
18:57 May 25, 2022

Thank you, Jon. I'm a follower of your work for its literary qualities and streetwise realism. I read your latest story earlier this morning and found the narration and dialogue compelling. It should be a solid contender for this week's prize.

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Michał Przywara
21:56 May 24, 2022

Very fun. As soon as I saw "Foley" it all clicked, and I remembered him from the other story. You used the term pyrrhic victory, and yeah, that seems to be a good description of Foley's life in general. His swings in mood and attitude were well done, where he goes from stunned at the grocery, to driven and engaged at his job, to *too* engaged, taking up a crusade against his wicked co-worker. One thing caught my eye: "Frank and Art slunk away". It looks like a moment ago it was Frank and Paul. The ending turned out nicely. I like a play...

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Mike Panasitti
23:20 May 24, 2022

Michal, I'm always grateful for your insights. Oops, the names of the painter and prep guy were at one point "Frank and Paul." I changed the names of most of the characters multiple times during the lengthy revision process. Thanks for catching the error. I'll be more careful next time. I'm glad you found the final note agreeable.

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Howard Halsall
23:03 May 23, 2022

Hey Mike, I enjoyed reading your story and loved the satisfying ending. It felt like a well balanced and sensitively observed portrait of a young man coming to terms with life outside. I particularly liked the poignant line - “Ever since he was released from a three-year prison sentence, quotidian activities like going to the supermarket had become befuddling experiences for Foley.” This really encapsulated the feeling of being institutionalised and then cast adrift in a world with too much choice - all those decisions to make. The fact is,...

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Mike Panasitti
20:12 May 25, 2022

Howard, you accurately comment on the predicament of most former prisoners. Foley's story will hopefully defy cynical expectations. Thanks for reading.

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Howard Halsall
21:55 May 25, 2022

No problem :)

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23:24 May 21, 2022

I used to work in a body shop in Chicago through early to late 90s. This is absolutely how it is. I felt like I was reading a events that I’d experienced first hand.

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Mike Panasitti
23:52 May 21, 2022

Hopefully there were no fisticuffs at the "auto collision repair center" you worked at. ( :

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00:08 May 22, 2022

Worse. The fastest body man pulled a knife on the shop manager. No, they didn’t fire him. 😂

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Mike Panasitti
01:34 May 22, 2022

That makes Foley's escapade here seem mild in comparison.

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Mike Panasitti
00:41 May 21, 2022

"Good for Something" is the second episode in the story of Foley Gaspers. If you enjoyed what you read above, take a look at "Safe Spot" to become more familiar with the series' protagonist as well as the other characters.

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