Chapter 1 Excerpt

THE CALL CAME LATE yesterday. I always swore the last job was the last. This time, it pays fifty-Gs. A figure that caught me in the stomach when I first heard it since it’s more than twice what I ever made before—yet, it was the answer to my prayers. I mean, who doesn’t want to save their fucking mother?

She’s got cancer. My mom—she’s eighty now—got diagnosed with stage III multiple myeloma. The doctors at Mercy Hospital gave her a slight chance of beating it, but as I kept saying go for it anyway, mom kept saying no. “Too much money,” she said. “You’ll be paying for years after I’m gone, and for what? The possibility of an extra year or two? I’d rather join your father.”

Even with Medicare, the hospital estimated her out-of-pocket expense to be in the forty-thousand-dollar range. About ten times the savings she accumulated over her forty-five years working in textile sweat shops around Scranton and Pittston; money, of course, long gone, spent during the years since she stopped working.

My savings are for shit because I spend too goddamn much. My brother, Ted, a Scranton City police officer with three kids and an ex-wife who gets alimony and child support, has jack shit. As for Theresa, my younger sister, a recovering drug addict who just started working at Gerrity’s Supermarket—she’d give you a blank stare if you asked her about a savings account. But even with all that, how can you not want to save your mom?

Now, I’m freezing inside an Atlantic Gas Company shit-can van, tucked in a corner of a mall lot in Plymouth Meeting, a Philly suburb. Engine running, heater on high doing shit, and the radio playing Come All Ye Faithful. At least I got to sit through a beautiful December sunset. The daylight shrinking into a ball of orange and red before fading into dark purple as the darkness crept up and swallowed it. I like shit like that.

I’ve been waiting for the pitch to settle, though, because I don’t do nothing until it’s dark. In the meantime, it’s dropping into the teens. For the Philly area, eight days before Christmas, that’s fucking cold. What’s worse is sitting in a vehicle that’s about as comfortable as a wheelbarrow, with a heater that barely pumps warmth.

There are plenty of shoppers who don’t seem to mind the cold—which goes to show you how people grab on to the commercial aspects of Christmas. I’ve been watching them carry holiday bags across the snow and ice left behind when the arctic front blew out the warmer weather. There’s Christmas music playing through outdoor speakers and the lampposts and mall entrance all decorated. Makes me think about the time my pop and I were out buying mom a Mr. Coffee Maker for Christmas.

Pop had just started at Lapinski’s candy factory, working in the warehouse. He’d been out of work for a year, ever since his plant closed and jobs slid down to Mexico. He was in a good mood, whistling Jingle Bells like he always did, as if it was the only Christmas song ever written. That parking lot was a tundra, just like this. That was our last Christmas together. I was eleven. Pop died of a heart attack the following summer. Now, of course, this wasn’t in Philly. Philly sucks.

I probably failed to mention that I live in Duryea, just a few miles south of Scranton off Route 11, alongside the Lackawanna River. We got the pizza capital of the world just up the road in Old Forge. The same Catholic schools I attended still enrolling kids—and how many places can say that with everything closing up these days. It’s a place where families stick together, live in the same houses their entire lives. If more places were like Duryea, we wouldn’t be having the damn problems we have in this country.