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“It’s A Wonderful Condom!”

December 19, 2014


Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life screws up so many other lives. When he shows up he leaves an awful mess, doesn’t he?

I’m from Pottersville. From Pottersville.  That’s a rare thing I know.  Pottersville is somewhere you go to rather than come from.  but I’m Pottersville born and bred. It’s actually the closest thing to a “home” I know. I don’t have to tell you about Pottersville except to say that it’s everything you think it is. The glitziest, tackiest shakedown of a sin city east of the Rockies and north of Havana – built on the simplest and soundest of economic principles. People come here with money and leave without it. It’s a beautiful system. And it works.

My brother is a jazz musician. And a loud one. And my sister’s a stripper. And a good one. Or was. Since her retirement she’s manager of a few clubs on the main drag. Passing on some of her sparkly wisdom and enforcing long and difficult apprenticeships. And business is good for all of us. Croupiers, strippers and saxophonists. It’s said that Pottersville is the only town on earth where these are the top three employment categories. We don’t care. Business is always good for croupiers, strippers and saxophonists and this Christmas the troops will start coming home from Europe. Soldiers! Desperate sex-starved soldiers! I’ll be counting my own money till Easter.

As for me, I’m in latex. Rubber and rubbers.  I retail condoms. In Pottersville you can never have enough condoms. Other towns make you feel kind of embarrassed to buy the darnd things but in Pottersville you practically get offered them as cashback. I have a downtown drugstore that takes up a whole block and condoms is pretty much all we sell. Sometimes we forget to order shampoo and razor-blades but we never forget to reorder the condoms. We’d have a riot on our hands if we did.

I’ll always remember the first condom I sold. Fella by the name of Peter Bailey bought it way back – ooh must have been 07 or 08. I’d found this strange rubber device in my Dad’s wallet while I was robbing him one day. I didn’t have much of a clue what to do with the thing, but this guy Peter Bailey seemed in kind of a hurry. And I at least knew enough to understand that people in a hurry pay more. I was just a kid, mind, thirteen or fourteen, working for this old druggist on the corner. He was already hitting the bottle pretty hard and ten years later he ended up killing someone with a mixed up prescription. Turns out he’d just lost his son in combat over in France so the courts went pretty easy on him, but he did have to sell the drugstore and sell it quick. And he sold it, of course, to me.

I got to work setting myself up with suppliers and started selling condoms under the table – no questions asked. Before long I had more stuff under the table than over it. Unfortunately I also started to get visits from various busy-bodies. I was attracting the attention of what, in the 1920s, was hilariously referred to as “The Law”.

It was at that point I met my benefactor. The great and bountiful Mr Potter. He told me that my retail operation was attracting the attention of some interested parties. Moralists. There was a danger of prosecution. Thankfully he, Mr Potter, was in a position to make such things just go away. That because of his great wealth, the so-called “law” did not apply to him and need not apply to get ahead young people he’d taken a shine to. Of course, he wanted his share of the profits, but he also explained how profits could expand to help everyone. By “everyone” he meant a handful of people he liked. A handful that included me.

He wanted to move into property to development. He wanted downtown remodelled on a more aggressive profit making basis and the outskirts split up into cheap tenements. A low wage economy with plenty of jobs for the bewildered and desperate and all profits kicked upwards. Sounded good to me, and it sounds good still. My drug store is now the biggest drug store in the county.

But I’d like to talk about something that happened to me last Christmas. I call it a glimpse. A glimpse of what might have been. A glimpse that keeps me grateful. I was in Martini’s (Hard Liquor for Hard Men) bar, .ate one Christmas Eve. Now I’m not sure any of us do Christmas that well here in Pottersville. It’s not really our kind of idiom. Sure, we put Santa hats on the strippers n’ all, and we do raunchy cover versions of Frosty the Snowman as we stagger out of the casinos – but there’s still something a bit creepy and unnatural about it all. There’s always the risk at Christmas that people start to reflect on sappy family crap that functions independently of any kind of cash transaction.

So I was there in Martini’s getting properly drunk out of the corner of my eye I started to see a snowflake suspended in space by a gust of wind which them pressed itself flat against the smoky bar window. And I started to retrieve some Christmas carols from my (early) childhood. And then I started to entertain the fatal thought – what if it’s all been a horrible mistake? Condoms. Pottersville. What if I’d never sold that first condom? Would life have been somehow, better?

With that, I collapsed to the floor and for a while I remember only darkness.

When I awoke, it was to a circle of scary and smiling faces – marked by the authentic idiocy of genuine concern. I didn’t recognise any of them.

I needed a shot and I needed it fast. What I didn’t need was Martini with a sappy look on his face telling me that tonight was Christmas Date Night and the special on offer was mulled wine.   I struggled to my feet and gulped.   There were women in the bar. The wrong kind of women. The women who you’d introduce to your parents. The kind you’d marry. And the bar was spotless – warm snug, and decorated with bits of holly.

I elbowed my way through waves of irritating impersonations of concern and ran out to confront a changed landscape. Out where the slum apartments should have been there was nothing. Nothing all. Unless you include an endless sprawl of modest residential housing – the sort of family friendly low-to middle income dwellings you expect of a small town just about anywhere.  And sweet Jesus Pottersville needs its slums – no slums – no way of herding the shift-worked morlocks who keep whole sweet show on the road.

Staring at those twee little boxes – symbols of all that is safe and stagnant, I thought things couldn’t get any worse.  And then all at once figures started running of their little castles and scurrying off all in the same direction. I stopped one of them and asked where everyone was going.

“We’re off to see George Bailey. The richest man in town!”

I had to counter.
“You mean Potter. Potter’s the richest man in town.”

“Not any more he ain’t! Potter may have all the money in the world – but George Bailey built this neighbourhood. His bank built my home. He helped build homes for most everyone I know. And now it’s time to save him. Time to show him that he’s rich where it counts. Rich in friendship!”

I almost vomited on the spot. In Pottersville “Friendship” is a specialised service you pay for by the hour.

But I risked being trampled at this point as scores of people sped past me – some of them with dollar bills clenched in their fists – apparently to throw at the feet of this George Bailey. As I turned on my heels I spotted the fatal sign:

Welcome to Bedford Falls

By now I’d figured it out. I was being given a glimpse of what life would have been like if I’d never sold that first condom. Turns out if I’d never sold it then this bastard Bailey would have been and gone and screwed up the tastiest territory in the whole blessed state. Yeah. I figured it out. We’re quick on the uptake in a fast town like Pottersville. Don’t need no angels coming down from heaven to join the dots for us Pottersvillians. This nightmare soup smalltown clichés was the atrocity produced by not selling Peter Bailey that condom all those years ago.

I needed to get my head straight. I needed to fornicate.   Running down Main Street, I stopped and asked every woman I could see for some sex. But this polite and reasonable request – so commonplace in Pottersville –  was seemingly a slappable offence in Bedford Falls. After a while I started to attract some police attention. It was suggested to me, by various parties that I was drunk (like that was a bad thing). Again, in Pottersville, it’s pretty much illegal to be sober on Main Street after 7pm but here in Bedford Falls, they like people to look like they know where they’re going. And here I was being threatened with arrest, of all the godamned things. The bewildered officer took a step back when I reached for my wallet but seemed actually insulted rather than relieved when instead of a gun I produced a roll of bills and started to count out some notes in front of him.

“I’m sorry Sir, but you can’t buy me. There are some things that money just can’t buy.”

That did it. The final obscenity I was on my knees now. Screaming in the snow, snow that was starting to turn yellow all around me.

“Please take me back!   I’ve learned my lesson.   Hell, I’ve learned it good. I don’t want George Bailey to live! I don’t want George Bailey to live!”

I woke up to the wail of a continuous burlesque saxophone solo. The nightmare of Bedford Falls was gone. I was back in home sweet Pottersville. I was back in Martini’s bar – where even Jingle Bells is played with a sneer and where eggnog is just rum mixed with slightly different (stronger) kind of rum. A few slugs of nognog and an obscene limerick and I was right as rain. And good ol’ nasty rain is what we like in Pottersville. When people are staring at a winterland wonderland they’re spending less time at the roulette wheel. Less time drinking.

But I’ve never forgotten that night, and the glimpse I was (what’s the word?) “vouchsafed”.

Christmas has been unschmatzified, business is booming, and praise be to Whoever or Whatever – George Bailey (bless his non existent socks) has never been born.

God Bless that First Condom. A Holy Unbirth.


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One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on conradbrunstrom and commented:

    A Heartwarming Christmas Classic. A disenchanted contraceptive salesman from the vibrant sin city of Pottersville is given a chastening glimpse of what life would be like if someone called “George Bailey” were ever born.

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