From the book:
As the old saying goes, if it weren't for bad luck, Fred would
have no luck at all. Now, it's not like he went looking for hard
times, he didn't need tothey found him with a repetition
that was positively startling. And most of the time when he was
just in the process of removing one foot from wet cement, so
to speak, the other slipped on a banana peel.
This morning's events proved no exception. It was raining;
nothing new in northern Ohio in the spring, and Fred was concentrating
on trying to see where he was going through the half of the windshield
that still had a working wiper. (The blade on the driver's side
had fallen off shortly after he left his house, just after being
yelled at by his shrewish wife, and just after it started to
His wife's vitriolic comments had been directed at his most
vulnerable area, his inability to bring home enough money from
his job as a clerk in a small hardware store to pay all of the
bills. It isn't that Fred didn't work hard, he did. In fact,
he had worked very hard to get into his present dead end situation
from which he felt too old and too inexperienced to escape. Therefore,
he was a little more preoccupied than usual this wet May morning
as he drove down Chestnut Street toward the parking lot at the
side of Silber's Hardware. So preoccupied, in fact, that he found
himself stopped in the middle of the street without being immediately
aware of why he couldn't go any farther.
Fred shook his head in an effort to clear out the jumble of
thoughts so as to better assess his present situation. His passage
down Chestnut, he determined, was being blocked by a traffic
jam, something very unusual at any time in the quiet little hamlet
of Deweysburg. Nor was it your usual traffic jam. Cars were stopped
helter-skelter; some had just the driver's side door open, some
both front doors, and all four doors of an old Cadillac just
in front of his equally tired Ford had been thrown open to the
elements. And the occupants were behaving very strangely, some
were on their hands and knees grabbing things off the pavement,
others were looking up and jumping and grabbing at something
in the air. At least two-dozen citizens, many of whom Fred recognized,
were involved in this bizarre behavior.
He stared bewildered at the scene before him as he tried to
figure out the reason for all this frantic activity in the midst
of a cloudburst, at 8:30 AM, on a Wednesday, typically a very
slow day in town. He studied the situation in his usual thoughtful
way until his vision became obscured by what looked like small
pieces of newspaper blowing up against and sticking to his rain-spattered
Carefully Fred opened his door and held his umbrella out into
the murky morning. Just as carefully he tried to open it against
the rain before emerging from his car. Suddenly an obese woman,
shrieking like a banshee, slammed backward into the door and
Fred was faced with an immediate decision, let go of the umbrella
or have his arm smashed by the rapidly closing door.
He let go of the umbrella and watched it sail away on the
wind then veer into the back seat of the Cadillac. The woman
careened off his car like a pinball off a rubber bumper and ran
still screaming back towards the center of the melee.
Fred cautiously opened his door again to take another look
at what was going on, because by this time so many of those damned
pieces of paper were stuck to his car windows he couldn't see
between them. Then he threw caution to the wind and jumped out
of the car. Using the side of his hand like a squeegee, he swept
the clutter from the windshield and quickly slid back behind
the wheel closing the door tightly against the deluge. Carefully
he inspected his last clean and freshly pressed pair of slacks
and noted that they were none the worse for the experience. Again
he gazed at the scene before him; the action had not abated.
In fact, two more cars, which had apparently come into Chestnut
from Market Street, swelled the ranks of cars with doors flung
open to the tempest.
He wiped his damp forehead with the back of his hand, and
one of the scraps of paper that had stuck to his hand was transferred
to his cheek. Preoccupied as he was with the scene before him,
he balled the paper up in his hand without looking at it. People
were still pushing and bending and leaping about in the rain.
The world, or at least his little corner of it, had apparently
gone mad. Yet he still had no idea what was causing this insanity.
Then a more disturbing thought crossed his mind; he was going
to be late for work. Horace Silber, the owner of Silber's Hardware,
did not like tardiness; in fact, he abhorred it almost as much
as sloppiness. And now Fred was caught between a rock and a hard
place. As he assessed the situation, he figured he had two options.
One, he could back his car up Chestnut to the municipal lot,
park it there for the day, and run the block and a half to the
hardware store. Of course, he would be soaked, and the crease
would be out his trousers, and when he dried out, he would look
Or he could wait out the traffic jam, then drive his car to
his usual parking spot near the hardware store's loading dock
from where he could get inside without getting too wet. But judging
from the current state of affairs here at the corner, well almost
the corner, of Chestnut and Market Streets, if he waited much
longer for his apparently demented fellow citizens to regain
possession of their senses and their autos, he would probably
be late for work.
Fred tried to look at his watch but it had slipped up his
arm when he lost his umbrella, and now the cuff of his white
shirt covered its face. As he attempted to reposition the watch
from under his cuff, the crumpled piece of paper fell from his
right hand to his lap. It was 8:45. In five minutes Horace Silber
would be positioning himself by the time clock in the warehouse
so that he could glare at the latecomers. (He expected his five
employees to be clocked in at least five minutes before they
were to be at their stations.) Even if the crowd of crazies blocking
his path was to abandon their wild pursuits immediately and flee
the scene, Fred would probably still be late.
Gloomily he looked at the wadded up piece of paper in his
lap. His eyes opened wider as he saw the likeness of former President
U. S. Grant staring back at him. Now his attention became riveted
on the windshield through which he could see the faces of other
former presidents staring back at him and beyond them more bills
sponging up the rain his car's hood.
In an instant, the usually meek and hesitant hardware store
clerk was transformed into the most active member of the mob.
With no apparent regard for his subsequent appearance, Fred leaped
out of his car into the storm and began scooping up the currency
that was adhering to his vehicle. When he had plucked his car
clean, he plundered the coursing gutter, trapping several bills
just before they disappeared forever through the bars of the
storm sewer grate.
So intent was he on his pursuit of instant wealth that he
scarcely noted the wail of a siren or the effect it had on the
rest of the crowd. All around him doors were slamming, motors
were roaring alive, and cars were magically disentangling themselves
from the pack, disappearing in every direction through the sheeting
Suddenly it dawned on Fred that he should follow suit. With
the agility of a Hollywood stuntman, he leaped into his car,
switched on the ignition, and tried the starternothing
happened. Again he tried the starter. Again nothing happened,
well almost nothing, the dash lights dimmed and went out.
Then several things did occur at the same time. A police car,
its siren dying, but its lights still flashing, was sliding to
a stop behind his vehicle. Another, its siren still wailing,
was rapidly approaching him from the intersection that was now
completely devoid of traffic. Then Fred was struck with the realization
that he had left his headlights on causing the demise of his
car's aged battery, leaving him trapped like a tiger between
two of Deweysburg's finest.
Not that Fred had a sense of wrongdoing, he didn't. In fact,
he felt rather euphoric. For once providence had literally rained
its blessings upon him. So what if his battery were dead; he
could buy a new one. And surely he wouldn't be ticketed for a
stalled car. In fact, the two policemen now approaching him would
undoubtedly be glad to help him get it started. And Mr. Silber
could stare at the time clock until his eyes popped out of his
scowling face because Fred was taking the day off; he had just
changed his plans to include a visit to a haberdasher. Having
money sure made a difference in how you looked at things.
While Fred awaited the appearance of the two men in blue,
he began arranging the pile of soggy bills into neat stacks according
to denomination. There were several hundreds, many more fifties,
and the tens and twenties were too numerous to sort quickly.
A couple of thousand dollars at least, Fred thought joyfully.
The first cop on the scene hammered on his window, which Fred
obligingly rolled down. "What's the problem, officer?"
he asked naively.
"Riot at the corner of Chestnut and Market," said
the officer in a less than accommodating way.
"I don't think it could be called a riot," Fred
volunteered, eager to clear up the confusion. "There was
just a bunch of people grabbing at money that was coming down
out of the sky."
The cop gave his partner, who was now standing beside him,
a `this guy has slipped his moorings' look. "What money?"
he inquired of Fred.
"Just money," Fred replied as if he were talking
about ordinary things, like dirt particles and raindrops that
typically fell out of the sky. "See?" He pointed to
the soggy bills on the seat beside him.
"Get outa the car," the officer demanded gruffly.
Why, thought Fred? But in as much as he was used to doing what
he was told, he complied. Not, however, until he had carefully
picked up the money.
The rain had stopped, and the sun was threatening to break
through the rapidly dispersing clouds. Fred smiled. When your
luck changes, it changes all the way; first the money, then the
The other policeman, who had gone around to the passenger's
side of Fred's car, glared at him through the window. As soon
as Fred got out, the cop got in and started looking under the
seat and in the glove compartment. "You got any more money
stashed in here?" he yelled.
"No," Fred answered politely.
"How much you got there?" asked the first policeman,
eyeing the wad of bills in Fred's hand.
"I don't know; maybe a couple of thousand. I didn't realize
that it was raining money until the storm was almost over. I
got a late start and didn't get as much as the others."
"The others I told you about." Fred looked surprised.
"There must have been a couple of dozen people out there
scooping up money too."
"Where'd they go?" demanded the second officer who
had rejoined the first.
"They got in their cars and drove off. I guess they picked
up all they wanted to."
"You really mean there was more money?" The officer
"I guess so." Fred was beginning to feel uncomfortable.
"You don't know?"
"Not for a fact. It was raining so hard that I couldn't
see very clearly."
The second cop butted in. "You trying to tell us that
this here money just fell out of the sky and you and a bunch
of our other citizens gathered it up, then drove away."
"Something like that."
"Then the money don't belong to you."
"It does now. I just gathered up what was stuck to my
car and floating in the gutter over there. I don't see anyone
around who is looking for it. So it must be mine, OK?"
The two policemen looked at each other and then at Fred, and
then at the money. "Can I go now?" Fred asked hesitantly.
Finally, the bigger of the two cops, the one who seemed to
be in charge, said, "Yea," and Fred started to get
back into his car.
"Wait a minute," said the other, who, it turned
out, was in charge. "You'll have to leave the money with
us until we can find out who it belongs to."
"No buts about it. Hand it over."
Fred did as he was told.
"Now get that wreck out the way, you're blocking the
"I can't," said Fred apologetically. "The battery
"You can't leave it here," said the biggest cop.
"Will you help me push it to the curb?"
"Can't," said the officer in charge.
"Well, can I leave it here for a minute until I can get
someone to help me?"
"Nope," both cops answered at the same time. Then
the one in charge added, "If you do, we'll have to ticket
you for illegal parking."
Like I said, if it weren't for bad luck Fred would have no
luck at all.
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