, September 2023

At Dan’s Supreme supermarket, picking out snacks before the three-hour drive upstate for the weeklong summer vacation with their father, thirteen-year-old Carl was looking at the potato chips when someone tapped him on the shoulder.

Expecting his father, he turned and instead saw a wrinkled, wild-haired old man who smelled of liquor and stale nicotine hovering over him.

“Hey, kid,” the man said, speaking softly, leaning in, “you wanna go a couple of rounds?”


“I’ll make it worth your while. Five bucks. I’ll take you to the employee john in the back.”

“Uh, no thanks,” Carl said, backing into the chips and knocking several bags of BBQ Lay’s to the black linoleum floor tiles, but the man kept leaning in closer. “Ten bucks. I’ll give you ten bucks.”

Carl heard his father say “Hey!” just before seeing him pull the man by his shirt and shove him into the Jiffy-Pop shelves. His father then drew from ankle holster his U.S. Customs-issue Glock and pointed it two-handed at the trembling old man, ordering him through clenched teeth, “Leave now, and if I ever see you in this store again, I’ll kill you.”

The old man nodded and slithered away.

Since his parents’ divorce, Carl had come to see his father as a weak and pathetic man, but, in this moment, of which there would never be another like it, he was looking at him as if at Clint Eastwood.

His father lifted his foot to one of the popcorn shelves and put the gun back in the holster.

“Better not mention this to your mother,” he said, concealing the gun with his jeans cuff.

Carl nodded.

“Good,” his father said. “Now let’s go on vacation.” ▪