Category Archives: Freedom Lane

Freedom Lane: Richie the Banger

“There ain’t dick on TV,” Helen said, flicking through the channels.

“Oh,” Paulie said, sitting on the couch. “Don’t talk like that in front of the kid!”

“Why not?” Da’Quarius asked. “I don’t wanna see any dick on the TV anyway!”

The phone rang, and Rose stood. “Who can that be calling this late on a Sunday night?”

“Don’t answer it,” Helen said. “It’s the burglars. They want to make sure we’re here.”

“If it was burglars,” Paulie said, “They’d call to make sure you weren’t here.”

“Same difference,” Helen said. She finally settled on a channel. “Here we go. Clint Eastwood dressed as a cowboy. You can’t go wrong.”

“You won’t hear me complain,” Paulie said, putting his hands behind his head.

“So dis Eastwood dude,” Da’Quarius said, “is he always a cowboy, or does he do anything else with his life?”

“He does other kinds of movies,” Paulie replied. “He just found a niche in these cowboy movies. When something sticks, you stick with it, right?”

“Shut up,” Helen said. “He’s about to start shooting.”

Rose came back into the room and sat on the couch.

“Who was on the phone?” Helen asked. “Burglars?”

“It wasn’t burglars,” Rose replied. She took a long breath and took her time exhaling. “It was Rich DiMartino.”

Helen picked up the remote and turned off the TV.

“C’mon!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “I was actually startin’ to like dat movie!”

“Madon,” Paulie muttered. “Grab your stuff kid. You’re sleeping over my house tonight.”

“Why do I gotta sleep at your place?” Who the hell is Rich whatever?”

“DiMartino,” Helen said, her lip curled in a sneer. “Also known as: Richie the Banger.”

Da’Quarius looked from Helen to Rose. “Richie da’ what?!”


Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 13, Episode 4: Richie the Banger


Da’Quarius rode in the passenger seat of Paulie’s Cadillac, driving the four blocks toward Paulie’s house on Willow Street. “I still don’t see why I gotta leave,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s not like I never heard Rose an’ Helen fight before.”

“You haven’t been around for what goes on about Rose, Helen, and Richie the Banger,” Paulie said. “It’s not fun, kid. Trust me on this.”

“Why do you an’ Helen call him dat?” Da’Quarius said.

“You don’t want to know,” Paulie replied.

“Yeah I do,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m bein’ put out of my own home because of dis banger dude, and I don’t even know why he a banger. What he do, and what’s it have to do with… Oh shit.”

“Yup,” Paulie said, nodding. “Richie was Rose’s friend in high school. He was the only guy she was ever… intimate with. That’s why Helen and I call him ‘the banger.’ ”

“Dat’s disgusting,” Da’Quarius said. “Is Helen dat jealous of da’ guy, doe? She knows Rose don’t like men now, right?”

“She knows,” Paulie said. “She’s just a little insecure, knowing Rose was with a guy, even if it was just the one time. They remained friends after everything though, and they still get together every once in a while, when he’s back in town. Rose does it away from the house because of Helen’s jealousy, but Helen lets her do it, not wanting to cage Rose up.”

“Dis some deep-ass shit,” Da’Quarius said. “What are dey gonna do?”

“I don’t know,” Paulie replied. “I hope it won’t be too dramatic.”


“Don’t leave me!” Helen begged. “I’d get on my knees, but I won’t be able to get back up!”

“I’m only going away for two days,” Rose told Helen. She was at the door with her suitcase. Paulie is going to stay here, and you have Da’Quarius. You won’t be alone.”

“Screw those two!” Helen snapped.

“It’s nice to be appreciated,” Paulie said from the couch. “You think it’s nice to be appreciated, kid?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Da’Quarius said. “It was nice of me to give up my entire weekend to chill with Helen, doe.”

“Oh, stop,” Rose said, walking to the couch. She lowered her voice as she got close to Paulie and Da’Quarius. “You know I need you to keep Helen from becoming her own worst enemy. The last thing I need is her swearing vengeance on Rich for doing nothing more than having a little chat.”

“A little chat?” Da’Quarius asked. “You’re gonna be gone two days.”

“What did the kid say?” Helen asked.

“We’ll be OK,” Paulie said. “Even if we have to sleep in shifts, we’ll take care of Helen for you.”

“I can hear you,” Helen said. “Stop talking about me.”

“I’m just making sure everyone is OK before I go,” Rose said. “Paulie and Da’Quarius will be here. You won’t even notice I’m gone.”

“Yes I will,” Helen said.

Rose smiled, giving Helen a kiss. “I’ll be back in two days,” she said. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Helen said.

“Bye-bye,” Rose said, leaving with her suitcase in hand.

“Bye,” Helen said, closing the door.

“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I know this part. This is where Helen gets her weapons.”

“We need to stay sharp, kid,” Paulie said. “I don’t know how bad it will get, but we can’t let her do something crazy.”

Helen walked over to her recliner, ignoring Paulie and Da’Quarius. She sat down and put her head in her hands. She looked up a moment later toward her baby brother and adopted son. “I can’t believe she’s gone!” she said.

Da’Quarius and Paulie looked at Helen and then each other.


Rose got out of her car and stretched. Her and Rich had opted to meet at a restaurant and have dinner. They decided to stay at a bed and breakfast just up the highway from New Haven, in separate rooms of course. The restaurant was just down the block from where they were staying. It was a seafood place called Paul’s Fish & Chips. She made a mental note to tell Paulie about it the coincidence.

“Rich!” Rose exclaimed, finding her old friend standing outside, wearing a button-down shirt and khakis. He was just as she remembered him, except a little grayer. He was tall, well groomed, and had a bushy mustache. He smiled widely as he gave Rose a hug.

“It’s so good to see you again, Rose,” Rich said. “How long has it been this time?

“Five years almost,” Rose replied. “How’s Albany been?”

“Cold,” Richie replied. “Let’s go grab a table, and we can catch up.”

“Sure,” Rose said, following Rich into Paul’s.


Paulie came in with dinner: three meatball grinders he had Tony make. He had his misgivings about leaving Da’Quarius alone with Helen, but he had relented to save them from having to cook dinner. “How is she?” he asked Da’Quarius.

“She’s OK,” Da’Quarius replied. “She’s just actin’ all depressed an’ shit. I kind of wish she’d get mad an’ smash up da’ house. Is dat bad?”

“No,” Paulie sighed. “It’s not bad. This isn’t like her. Maybe we can cheer her up over dinner. Go get some plates, and I’ll set up the table. Get Helen too. Where is she?”

“She’s outside in da’ yard with Dutchie, just watchin’ da’ sky,” Da’Quarius said.

“Madon,” Paulie groaned. “I’ve never seen her like this. It might be a trick.”

Da’Quarius shrugged. “Maybe. I’ll go get her.” He left, and Paulie brought the grinders to the dining room table. Da’Quarius returned with some plates, followed by Helen, who shuffled to the table with the aid of her cane.

“Meatball parm grinders?” Helen asked. “Rose loves meatball parm grinders.”

“Stop it,” Paulie said, unwrapping one of the foil-wrapped sandwiches for Helen. “Rose isn’t gone forever. She’s just visiting with a friend, and she’ll be back before you know it.”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “You can have a grinder with her da’ day after tomorrow.”

Helen huffed. “If she comes back,” she muttered.

“I told you to stop that,” Paulie said, handing a plate with the unwrapped grinder on it across from his sister. “Rose gave no indication whatsoever about that. Why would you even think it?”

“Are you shittin’ me?” Helen asked. “Why do you think she meets him away from this house?”

“Because she doesn’t want you to go nuts,” Paulie said. “I think you can understand that.”

“Maybe,” Helen said. “She’s talking about me at the very least.”

“That’s not true,” Paulie said. “She’s just catching up is all.”


“How’s Helen?” Rich asked. “You and her still good?”

“Yes,” Rose said. They had eaten dinner and were now back at the bed and breakfast. They were sitting in the den area, talking about their lives since the last time they met. “Helen keeps me on my toes.”

“It’s too bad I can’t meet her,” Rich said. “All these years, and I haven’t met your wife once.”

“That’s a little hard,” Rose replied. “She gets jealous easily, and I don’t want her to do anything too rash if you stayed over our house instead of a hotel.”

“That’s silly,” Rich said. “She has nothing to be jealous about, right?”

“No,” Rose replied. “Of course not. But her and I have a son now.”

“That’s great,” Rich said. “How did that happen?”

“The City of New Haven lost our adoption paperwork for twenty-something years,” Rose said. “When they finally found it, they brought Da’Quarius to us. He’s lived with us ever since.”

“That story is a little far-fetched,” Rich said.

“Well, that’s how it happened,” Rose said with a shrug. “I don’t know what else to tell you. Sometimes life gets a little far-fetched.”

“Yes, it does,” Rich said, nodding at Rose. “Yes, it most certainly does.”

“Yeah,” Rose said, looking away.

“Tell me about this son of yours,” Rich said.


Da’Quarius retched over the toilet, vomiting what was left of his dinner.

“You OK, kid?” Paulie asked from the hallway. “You’ve been heaving an awful lot in there.”

“Gotdammit, Unca Paulie!” Da’Quarius said, staying in his kneeling position in front of the toilet. “What da’ fuck did Tony put in da’ subs?!”

“Oh!” Paulie snapped. “Don’t accuse Tony of this! Are you saying the food in my establishment is what’s making you sick? I take offense to that, kid!”

Da’Quarius gagged, keeping his vomiting at bay. “Fuck,” he said. “Dis sucks!”

“Helen and I didn’t get sick,” Paulie said, “so it can’t be the food from my place.”

“Dammit, Unca Paulie,” Da’Quarius said. “Stop gloatin’. I’m sick!”

“What else did you eat today?”  Paulie asked.

“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “I had lunch at da’ Garcias’ house. They made some rotisserie chicken an’ –”

Paulie turned away as Da’Quarius’s sentence was ended with another stream of vomit. He left his nephew, knowing that he’d feel better once everything was out of his system. He wanted to make sure his big sister was OK before they all turned in for the night. “How are you doing, sis?” he asked, finding Helen watching TV in her recliner.

“How the blood-filled snot do you think I am?” Helen asked. “Rose is spending the night with Richie the friggin’ Banger!”

“They’re not spending it together,” Paulie said. “They’re in separate rooms, and you know it. Will you tell me what the hell is really going on? The kid is gone, puking up everything he ate in the last twelve hours, so you don’t have to worry about him overhearing it.”

“I don’t want to tell you,” Helen replied, crossing her arms and looking away.

“I’ll bring up Shronda,” Paulie said.

Helen turned toward Paulie. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Oh, you remember my dearly departed fiancé, Shronda,” Paulie said.

“Bastard,” Helen muttered.

“Her and I had a great thing going,” Paulie said. “We had a trust, her and I, much like the trust you and Rose show each other. I know if I spent a night with an old friend, even and ex, Shronda wouldn’t feel the least bit worried, having complete faith in me. I wish she was here today, so she could tell you that you have nothing to worry about, but she’s gone, taken from me in our youth.”

“Stop it, you callous stunad,” Helen said. “Why would you talk about her like that?”

“Because she’d think it was funny,” Paulie said. “Now tell me what’s going on, so I don’t have to bring her up again.”

Helen sighed. “Fine,” she said. “She’s not just with a friend, Paulie. She’s with an ex-boyfriend, the only man she was ever with in her entire life. How can I compare to that? I’m not a man. I don’t have the man parts she may or may not long for.”

“Rose doesn’t want man parts,” Paulie said. “She wants your parts, as disgusting as it is for me to say it. You’ve had at least one guy that I know of. Do you still want it?”

“God, no,” Helen replied. “Don’t be crass.”

“You said it all out loud,” Paulie said. “Now do you see how ridiculous you’re being?”

“I guess,” Helen said, “but you didn’t have to use such a dirty trick to get me to say it.”

Paulie laughed. “It’s easier than beating it out of you.”

“Not from where I’m sitting,” Helen said.

“Wha’chu guys talkin’ ‘bout?” Da’Quarius asked, coming downstairs from the bathroom.

Helen turned toward him. “We’re talking about Rose and my aversion to male genitalia,” she replied.

Da’Quarius stopped for a moment before turning and running back upstairs toward the bathroom.

“Ha!”  Helen laughed. “It’s going to be fun making him puke for the rest of the night!”

“I think we may need to take him to the hospital,” Paulie said.

“He’ll be OK,” Helen said. “I’m still a little worried about that Richie.”

“Don’t be,” Paulie said. “Richie has to be a good guy if he’s Rose’s friend.”


“You ever think about the past?” Rich asked, holding his glass of wine.

“When you get to your seventies it’s hard not to,” Rose replied. “But I have no regrets, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Kind of,” Rich said. “I never married or started a family. It’s kind of sad, isn’t it?”

“Everyone leads different lives,” Rose replied. “You don’t have to regret the things you didn’t do. Look at me. I didn’t start a family with Helen until recently, but I didn’t regret not doing it in the past. Things worked out for me, and they’ll work out for you too.”

“Right,” Rich sighed. He took another sip from his glass.

“Do you want to tell me what’s really bothering you?” Rose asked. “Is everything OK?”

“Yeah,” Rich replied. “No. I guess not. Rose, you ever think about you and me?”

“You mean our friendship?” Rose asked in return.

“No,” Rich replied. “I mean you and me.”

You and I,” Rose corrected.

Rich laughed. “You’ve always corrected my grammar,” he said. “That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about you, Rose.”

“Thanks,” Rose said.

“Rose,” Rich said. “I don’t love you as a friend. I’m in love with you. I always have been. That’s why I was never able to find someone to marry and settle down with. I’ve always compared every woman I’ve ever met to you, and none of them have ever been able to live up to what you could have been for me.”

Rose didn’t know what to say to Rich. He had just poured his heart out after three-quarters of a glass of wine, and nearly fifty years of friendship had boiled down to something she had not expected.

“Say something,” Rich said.

“I don’t think we can be friends anymore,” Rose said.

“Stop it,” Rich said, reaching out and taking Rose’s hand. “I know you feel it too. Why keep me strung along all these years if you didn’t?”

“Because we’re friends!” Rose snapped. “Rich, I’m gay. I’ve always been gay. What happened between us when we were younger happened, I don’t regret it, but it doesn’t make me anything other than what I am. Besides, I’m in love with Helen.”

Rich scoffed. “Helen,” he said. “The woman you’re always complaining about. She’s crazy, an ex-con, and she’s always causing some kind of trouble. She’s so bad, you can’t even introduce me to the woman you’ve been with for over thirty years.”

“Helen may not be perfect,” Rose said, “but neither am I. Nobody is. I’m sorry you’ve been holding a torch for me all these years, I really am, but this isn’t going to happen.”

“I waited too long I guess,” Rich said, draining his glass.

“It would have never happened,” Rose said. “I’m sorry if that hurts, but it’s my honest answer.” She gave a short laugh.

“Why’s that funny?” Rich asked.

“It’s Helen again,” Rose replied. “She was right about you, and she had never met you.”

“It’s because she’s paranoid,” Rich said.

Rose sighed. “Maybe so,” she said. “But you proved her right regardless, Rich.” She stood. “I think it’s time for bed now. Goodnight.”


“Day two,” Helen said, sitting at the kitchen table for breakfast in the morning. “I can’t sleep without Rose.”

“I couldn’t sleep cuz I was pukin’,” Da’Quarius said. He walked to the toaster and put some bread in the top. “Umma just eat some dry toast.”

“Nobody feels bad for you, kid,” Helen said.

Paulie walked into the kitchen. “Good morning,” he said. “Everyone sleep well?”

“No,” Helen and Da’Quarius both said.

“That’s too bad,” Paulie said. “I’m going to make some coffee.”

“Sanka’s in the fridge,” Helen said. “Make me one too.”

“How are you feeling today,” Paulie asked. “Still upset?”

“Not as much,” Helen said. “Rose isn’t going anywhere, and I accept that. It just goes to show you that her and I –”

The door opened, and Dutchie went nuts as Rose came home. She walked to the kitchen where she found her family. “Hi guys,” she said.

“What are you doing here a day early?” Paulie asked.

“Oh, I think one night away was enough,” Rose said.

“Welcome home,” Paulie said. “We all missed you. Right, Helen?”

Helen pushed her chair back and stood. She turned and looked at Rose. “So life with Richie the Banger isn’t so great, is it?” she asked.

Rose sighed. “Still mad at me for leaving then?”

“Hell yes I am!” Helen said.

Da’Quarius and Paulie exchanged a look.

“Well I’m home now, so you can stop,” Rose said.

“How do I know you stayed pure?!” Helen snapped. “Get ready for a thorough inspection, starting with your hymen!”

Da’Quarius turned and dashed to the sink, vomiting once he was there.

“Oh yeah,” Helen said. “The kid got sick, by the way.”

The End

Freedom Lane Special: Crisis Acting 101

Regularly scheduled programming will not be seen tonight, so we can bring you this special presentation of Freedom Lane.


“I can’t believe this is happening again,” Rose said, watching the news with her wife and life partner, Helen. “How many mass shootings have to happen before we reach the tipping point and descend into total chaos?”

“I remember the good old days,” Helen said. “People didn’t go into crowds of people and children to gun them down just for a bit of attention. They’d keep their insanity deep inside where it belonged, hanging themselves in their parents’ basements, dying alone as God intended.”

“I’ve been around over seventy years,” Rose said, “and I don’t remember a scarier time to be alive.”

“I think nine-eleven could give this a run for its money,” Helen said. “Those are all actors anyway, you know. The government has a whole stable to crisis actors, ready to cry on cue.”

“That’s a horrid thing to say,” Rose replied. “People are dead. I’m going to ban right wing radio and TV shows in this home if you keep saying things like that.”

“I’m not mocking their memory,” Helen said, “but the liberal media has an agenda, and it’s to get enough people sad to take away the guns to keep us from overthrowing them. They use these crisis actors to grease the wheels of politics to shove their agenda down everyone’s throats.”

“Yo,” Da’Quarius, Rose and Helen’s adopted son, said, coming into the den. “You guys still watchin’ da’ news?”

“Yeah,” Rose said. “I’m ready to shut this off. I don’t know how much more I can stomach.”

“Look!” Helen shouted, pointing at the screen. “Da’Quarius is on TV!”

“No he isn’t,” Rose said, rolling her eyes. “You always thinking every African American kid with a shaved head and glasses is Da’Quarius.”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, looking at the screen. “Dat is me! Turn it up, biddy.”

“I dunno how dis keeps happenin’,” the Da’Quarius on TV said. The runner under his name said he was in the mall when the shooter had opened fire. “Someone needs to step up an’ stop dis from happenin’!”

“What were you doing in Alabama?” Helen asked.

“I wasn’t in Alabama!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat footage is from when Flounder an’ I saw a bunch’a coyotes runnin’ through da’ neighborhood. Da’ news asked us ‘bout da’ coyotes!”

“I’m scared for my life,” Flounder said from the TV. “You never know where or when they’ll come for us.”

“He’s talkin’ ‘bout some mo’ fuckin’ coyotes!” Da’Quarius shouted.

“Oh my,” Rose said, watching the TV with a look of disbelief on her face. “How’d this happen?”

“You know how it happened,” Helen said. “Da’Quarius and his friend are crisis actors, and they have been this whole time.”

The news made way for commercials, and Da’Quarius looked toward Helen. “Da’ fuck you just say ‘bout me, biddy?!”


Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 13 Special: Crisis Acting 101


Tony walked out of the kitchen of Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. “You’re gonna wanna tape this!” he said, holding an uncooked pizza on a peel.

“What the hell is that?!” Alice, the head of Paulie’s waitstaff, asked.

“I’m going to put Paulie’s Pizza on the map!” Tony said. “This is a recipe of my own design: Tide Pod Pizza.”

Alice looked at the pizza Tony was floating in front of her face. It was covered in sauce, cheese, and a dozen or so Tide Pods. “You’re actually going to cook that?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Tony replied. “People are eating these things all over the internet. Why can’t we get famous off this too?”

“This is stupid,” Alice replied. “Is anyone else dumb enough to help you?”

“I don’t know,” Tony replied. “Sal, probably.”

Sal walked out from the kitchen, towering over Tony by an extra foot. “I will not let you put that in the oven,” he said.

“And why not?” Tony asked.

“I brought that brick oven up here from Pennsylvania,” Sal replied. “It was made by the Amish community, and it is one of a kind.”

“So?” Tony asked.

“I will not let you put laundry detergent inside of it,” Sal replied.

“Fine,” Tony said. “I’ll just get Paulie and make him make you let me cook my Tide Pod Pizza.”

Sal turned and went back toward the kitchen with no further argument.

“You’re an idiot,” Alice said, walking away as well.

“What I say?” Tony asked.


“What can you find?” Da’Quarius asked, standing in Flounder’s bedroom above his father’s dry-cleaning business and laundromat. Flounder sat in front of his computer, looking up information on the latest news story that claimed they had witnessed a shooting in a state they had never visited.

“You’re all over the internet right now,” Flounder said. “It’s mostly from right wing conspiracy sites and people on Twitter.”

“Mo’ fuckers,” Da’Quarius said. “What are dey sayin’?”

“They have footage found of you at the New Haven riots,” Flounder replied. “They’re saying you were hired for some sound clips.”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said.

“They have pictures and videos of us from when we got back from space too,” Flounder said, scrolling through pictures, videos and memes. “They’re saying that was all fake; that we never went up to space.”

“Bastards don’t know what they’re talkin’ ‘bout,” Da’Quarius said. “Are they shit talkin’ you too?”

“Yeah,” Flounder said. “They’re saying I’m the Asian kid from the Spider-Man movie.”

Da’Quarius looked over Flounder’s shoulder. “So I’m a crisis actor according to dem?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Flounder said. “You’re apparently hired by some lib-tards to spread anti-gun and anti-conservative propaganda.”

“Don’t say ‘lib-tard,’” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s somethin’ Helen got from some radio douchebag. She called me a crisis actor too.”

“Everyone on here is saying you are,” Flounder said.

“What da’ fuck am I supposed to do?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “How’d our interview ‘bout da’ damn coyotes get mixed up with da’ shootin’ in Alabama?”

“I found this company called Crisis Media LLC,” Flounder replied. “It looks like they might have bought the footage from the local New Haven news and sold it to be repurposed.”

“Mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey local?”

“They have offices all over the place,” Flounder said, clicking around on his computer, “including New Haven.”

Da’Quarius stood, thinking. “OK,” he said. “Print out da’ address. We’re gonna pay dese mo’ fuckers a visit.”


“Hey, Boss,” Tony said, entering Paulie’s office. “I gotta ask you something.”

“Go ahead,” Paulie said, looking up from his paperwork.

“I want to add a new pie to the menu,” Tony said.

“No way,” Paulie said. “I let you make that banana pizza nonsense a couple weeks back, and the place reeked like a banana farm for days.”

“This is different!” Tony pleaded. “This is going to make us famous on the internet, Paulie. The internet!”

“Alright,” Paulie sighed. “Let’s hear your idea, if only to shoot you down so I can get back to work.”

“OK,” Tony said. “You know those Tide Pod things the kids are eating?”

“No,” Paulie said. “You aren’t putting detergent on pizza!”

“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask about them!” Tony said.

“Tell me, then,” Paulie said, “are you going to put them on my pizza?”

“Well,” Tony said. “Yeah.”

“What would the point of putting soap on pizza be?” Paulie asked.

“It’s for the internet,” Tony said.

“I got that part when you said it before,” Paulie said. “Explain to me, in detail, why you think my pizzeria should put these soap thingies on the pies.”

“We put the whole thing on the internet,” Tony said. “We put together the pizza, put the Tide Pods on it, and let someone eat it. We film the whole thing, put it on the internet, get a billion hits, and make Paulie’s Pizza famous.”

Paulie listened. “No,” he said. “Don’t let me catch you making that nonsense in my place.”

“But -”

“I said no,” Paulie said. “I’m saying it calmly now, hoping you get the point to get the hell out of my office before I say is not so calmly. Capeesh?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said. “Whatever.” He waved a hand toward Paulie and left the office.

Paulie said for a moment, trying to get his focus back to do his paperwork. “Friggin’ stunad,” he muttered. Then, something dawned on him, and he stood and walked toward the kitchen. “OH! DON’T TELL ME YOU ALREADY MADE THE FRIGGIN’ PIE!”


Da’Quarius and Flounder walked through the lobby of a building on Orange Street. They found the listing for the offices on a tall felt board behind shiny glass. “There they are,” Flounder said, pointing. “Seventeenth Floor.”

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go find dese mo’ fuckers an’ ask ‘em a few questions.”

“Can’t I just wait down here?” Flounder asked. “I get nosebleeds if I got more than four stories up in a building.”

“Don’t be a bitch ‘bout dis,” Da’Quarius said. “We both need answers. I know you don’t want people thinkin’ you’re lyin’, and dat you’re da’ Chinese guy from Spider-Man! ‘Sides, I bet you can keep your nosebleeds under control if you concentrate an’ shit. It’s all in yo’ head.”

“OK,” Flounder said, taking a deep breath. “I’m OK.”

The elevator door opened on the seventeenth floor, and Flounder rushed out, pinching his nose, a line of blood on his shirt. “Where’s the bathroom!?” he asked in a nasally voice to the secretary sitting twenty feet from the elevators.

“To your left,” the secretary said, her lip curled up in a sneer.

“Dank you!” Flounder said, running to his right, then turning left.

Da’Quarius approached the secretary, who was sitting under a placard that said: “Crisis Media.” “Y’all mo’ fuckers hidin’ in plain sight an’ shit, huh?”

“Excuse me?” the secretary asked.

“I need to talk da’ mo’ fucker in charge,” Da’Quarius replied.

“What is this regarding?” the secretary asked.

“I wanna know why you got me on da’ news, talkin’ ‘bout shit I didn’t see in a state I ain’t never been in,” Da’Quarius replied.

The secretary looked over Da’Quarius, from top to bottom. She hesitated a moment, then picked up a phone and dialed a number from memory. “We have a code four-two-echo,” she said. She hung the phone up and looked back at Da’Quarius, putting on a warm smile. “Someone will be with your shortly.”

“Fuckin’ right,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma be right here, readin’ a magazine.”


“What the frig is this?!” Paulie shouted, finding Tony with the uncooked Tide Pod pizza still on the peel. “I can’t believe you made that! What a waste of food!”

“Don’t worry about it, boss,” Tony said. “I’ll take the pods off and throw on some mushrooms and give it to Alice to serve to table two.”

“I’m not giving that to my customers,” Alice said.

“Oh,” Tony said. “My pizza not good enough for your precious customers in the seating area now?”

“We’re too busy for this,” Paulie said. “You’re not serving one of my customers a pizza that had laundry soap on it. Get rid of that abortion and make table two a new pizza with mushrooms. So help me God, if I find out you’re trying to get one of my customers to eat that thing, I’ll put your balls on a pizza and serve that to table two!”

The pizzeria had quieted as everyone strained their ears to hear Paulie’s rant.

“I need to get some air,” Paulie said, walking away. “I want that gone by the time I get back.” He left with the jingle of the bells over the door.

“Don’t worry, folks,” Tony said, addressing the patrons. “He’s not going to put anyone’s balls on any pizza. I only have one, and that’s barely enough for half a small.”

“Dammit, Tony,” Alice said. “Just make me the mushroom pizza for table two and stop talking about your balls.”

“Ball,” Tony corrected.

Alice rolled her eyes and went back to her tables.

“What I say this time?” Tony asked himself. He grabbed an empty box from the rack and slip the uncooked Tide Pod pizza into it. “If I can’t cook this here, I’ll find somewhere I can.” He put the pizza under the counter and turned around, facing Sal.

“I better not find out you cooked that after I go home for the night,” Sal said.

“What’s everyone’s problem tonight?” Tony asked. “Must be a full moon or something, I swear.”


A man walked past the secretary’s desk, toward Da’Quarius, who had been waiting patiently. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and had short, black hair. He wore a black suit and gray tie. “Good afternoon,” he said. “I’m Marshall. I’m told you wanted to talk to someone here.”

“Damn right I do,” Da’Quarius said, tossing his magazine to the floor. “I wanna know why you’re usin’ old footage of me to make people think I’m talkin’ ‘bout guns an’ shit.”

“I see,” Marshall replied. “Want to take a walk with me and tell me your concerns?”

“Sure,” Da’Quarius said, standing. “I got some time ‘fore Flounder gets his nosebleed under control.”

“Follow me,” Marshall said. He pressed his name badge to a pad, and the door unlocked. He went inside, and Da’Quarius followed. They walked passed rows of cubicles and offices. At the end of the hall was a sound studio and bigger officers.

“This is Crisis Media,” Marshall said, turning to face Da’Quarius. “We have offices and studios all over the country. We create and distribute media clips to be used during times of crisis, allowing the victims, survivors, and families to rest easy while the media circus focuses its gaze elsewhere.”

“Well it ain’t workin’, is it?” Da’Quarius asked. “I’ve been watchin’ what’s goin’ on. Da’ real survivors are being harassed like dey’re a bunch of phonies an’ shit. Dey’ve been getting’ death threats and bein’ called liars. Dey can’t all be your actors.”

Marshall sighed. “No,” he said. “That’s the unfortunate nature of what we do and how we function as a society. As the number of tragedies rise, the amount of crisis media required rises with it. When we first started, we were able to use actors sparingly, and only a small number of people would catch on, and we can dismiss them as crazy conspiracy theorists. We’re forced to use the same actors more often than we should, and it means more people have been catching on to what we’re doing here.”

“So you send yo’ trolls out to da’ internet to make it all look fake,” Da’Quarius said.

“Exactly,” Marshall said. “Our newest division is Troll Control, where we try our hardest to debunk those who are trying to debunk us.”

“But you used me,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ dey put e’rything else I did into question.”

“We made a mistake, using your video,” Marshall replied. “Come with me.”

Marshall walked on, and Da’Quarius followed. “What mistake?” he asked.

“You’ve been in the media’s eye before,” Marshall said, not slowing his gait. “You were on stage during the New Haven riots, and you had that unfortunate trip to outer space. You’ve led an interesting life.”

“And dat’s only since I moved in with Rose an’ Helen,” Da’Quarius added.

“You’re smart,” Marshall said. “You would have to be to put the pieces together and find us.”

“You ain’t exactly hidin’ dat well,” Da’Quarius said.

“They won’t find us in plain sight,” Marshall said. He came to another. “I’m going to show you something, now. I’m not showing you this because I have to. I’m showing you this because I want you to join our team.”

“Say what?” Da’Quarius asked.

“You have a flair for this, I can tell,” Marshall said. “We need young people like you. With a little make up and a wig, we can put you into any crisis we need to. We can fly you anywhere in the country that needs an extra nudge. You can work behind the scenes when you’re not in front of the camera. Your work with us won’t interfere with your education. We can have you temporarily enrolled in which ever school we need to. With the morbid climate in America today, this can be a very lucrative arrangement for both of us, Da’Quarius.”

“An’ what if I say no?” Da’Quarius asked. “What if I turn around an’ tell everyone what you’re up to here?”

“Then we’ll make sure nobody ever believes a word you say ever again,” Marshall replied. “We have the means to do so. We’ll make everyone you’ve ever known or will know think you’re a raging lunatic if they only Google your name.”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s a little harsh.”

“But I’m hoping you’ll decide to join us instead,” Marshall said, offering a wide grin. “I’m thinking that you will.”

“An’ all I have to do is sell you my soul, right?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Do you really think we’re no good?” Marshall asked. “I’ve already told you that we help the communities who have faced tragedies, and now we’re helping the left and right come together to reform gun control and accessibility of guns to the mentally ill. We’re not liberal or conservative. We only serve the American people.”

“You gonna show me what’s behind dat door or not?” Da’Quarius asked.

Marshall’s grin widened. “But of course,” he said. He used his badge on the pad, and the door’s locked clicked open. He turned the handle and pushed it open, allowing Da’Quarius to step in ahead of him.


It was a quiet day at Daq’s Bodega, located on State Street across the street from Paulie’s Pizza. The bodega’s owners, Antonio and Manny Garcia, sat behind the counter, talking about current events.

“I did so bang that stripper!” Antonio exclaimed. “I brought her right to the park across the street from the club!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Manny said. “All I know is she was back on stage a minute after you left.”

“What girl do you think I’m talking about?” Antonio asked.

“The blonde Russian chick,” Manny replied.

“Dude,” Antonio said. “There’s like four of them there!”

The door opened, and Tony came in from outside, carrying a pizza box. “What’s up, guys,” he said. “Check out what I got for ya!”

“Did we order a pizza?” Manny asked. “I could go for one, but I don’t remember ordering one.”

“I don’t think so,” Antonio said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m gonna eat it. I just don’t remember making the call.”

“You didn’t order this,” Tony said, putting the box on the counter and opening it. “Behold: The Tide Pod pizza.”

“You put Tide Pods on pizza?” Antonio asked. “What the fuck dude?”

“You didn’t’ even cook it!” Manny added.

“Paulie won’t let me,” Tony said. “That’s why I need you guys. We can cook it here and put it on the internet and get famous.”

“Cool,” Manny said. “Pop that in the microwave and let’s get this thing going.”

“You can’t microwave raw pizza dough,” Tony said. “Don’t you know how pizza is made?”

“If I knew that,” Manny replied, “why the hell would we need you?”

“He needs an oven,” Antonio said. “We don’t have one.”

“How do you not have an oven?” Tony asked.

“How to you walk into places with uncooked pizza like you have lunch for them or something?” Antonio asked in return.

“Yeah!” Manny said. “That’s fucked up, dude. Get the fuck out!”

“What?” Tony asked.

“You heard my bro,” Antonio said. “Get the fuck out until you have a pizza that’s cooked and not covered in soap.”

“Yeah!” Manny said. “What do we look like, Mr. Bubbles and his brother, Mr. Bubbles?!”

The Garcia brothers stared at Tony until he took his pizza and left.

“Dude,” Manny said. “Were we too hard on Tony just now?”

“A little,” Antonio replied. “But it’s the only way he’ll learn.”


“Crisis media has been around since Obama’s days in office,” Marshall explained, showing Da’Quarius their many screens of data. “We distribute our media to every major news organization, and we send our actors all over the country.”

“Dis is crazy,” Da’Quarius said, looking around.

Marshall took a seat and looked over Da’Quarius. “I want you as part of our team,” he said. “I won’t mince words. We’re government-funded, and our mission statement covers us for generations to come. As long as there’s unrest in this country, we’ll be there.”

“Can I think it over?” Da’Quarius asked.

“Sure thing,” Marshall said. He reached in his pocket and took out a business card. “Call me or stop by when you’ve made a decision.” He handed Da’Quarius the card.

“Thanks,” Da’Quarius said, taking the card.

“Just don’t take too long,” Marshall said. “And let your Asian friend who bled all over my restroom know he’s more than welcome too.”

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, getting up. “Can I ask you one mo’ question?”

“Shoot,” Marshall replied.

“Y’all got any dirt on aliens an’ shit?” Da’Quarius asked.

Marshall smiled.

A few minutes later, Da’Quarius left the building, and he found Flounder waiting outside. He had wads of toilet paper stuffed up both his nostrils to stop them from bleeding. “You’re back!” he said. “What happened up there?”

“Dude,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis goes deep.”

“How deep?” Flounder asked.

“I’ll tell you what I know, and what I think I know,” Da’Quarius replied. “First, let me tell you the lines of bullshit dat Marshall mo’ fucker just tried to feed me.”

Marshall watched from his window as Da’Quarius and Flounder walked away, heading East toward the bus stop. Someone walked behind him, staring in the same direction. “Hi, Martin,” Marshall said. “Were you listening?”

“I was,” Martin said. He was old, thin, had gray hair, and a set of small, rectangular glasses, slightly tinted. “You were right about one thing. He’s smart.”

“That he is,” Marshall said. “You think he saw through us?”

“What do you think?” Martin asked in return.

“He most definitely did,” Marshall replied. “Is this going to be a problem?”

“No, it most certainly won’t,” Martin said. He turned away from the window and walked away. “That boy and his chubby friend won’t cause any trouble for us. You have my word.”

“Good,” Marshall said. Once Martin had left the area, he turned away from the window and went back to his desk to get some work done.

Deep state conspiracies don’t run themselves.


“We’re not cooking that friggin’ pizza!” Helen snapped at Tony, who was standing in their den, holding an open pizza box. “What the hell makes you think we’d want to?!”

“Paulie wouldn’t let me cook it at his place,” Tony replied. “I figured Da’Quarius would want to help.”

“Da’Quarius is with his friend Flounder,” Rose said.

“And that still doesn’t answer my friggin’ question!” Helen snapped. “Just get the hell out of my house, you stunad!”

Tony closed the top of the pizza box, but Dutchie jumped on him, trying to get it to fall on the floor. “No!” he shouted. “There’s tide on there!”

“Dutchie, down!” Rose shouted, getting un and rushing over. “Stop it!”

Tony struggled to get the pizza box closed amid Dutchie and Rose’s wrestling. Helen watched, a look of amusement on her face, but it was cut short when the phone rang. “Hell,” Helen muttered. “I bet you need me to get that, too.”

“Will you please?” Rose asked, holding Dutchie by the collar. “For God’s sake, Tony, get that food out of here!”

“Isn’t this dog trained?!” Tony shouted, closing the box.

Helen sighed, picking up the phone. “This better be good,” she said.

“Helen!” Da’Quarius said from the receiver. “Just da’ biddy I was lookin’ for.”

“What do you want, kid?” Helen asked. “I’m busy.”

“I’m gonna hang out with Flounder for a while,” Da’Quarius replied.

“OK,” Helen said. “Anything else?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “We’re goin’ to beach to chase da’ seagulls.”

“OK,” Helen said. “Bye.” She hung up and walked back to her seat. Tony had gone, and Dutchie had calmed down. He was lying by the door, panting from all he excitement.

“Who was on the phone?” Rose asked.

“It was the kid,” Helen replied.

“Oh,” Rose said. “What did he need?”

“He’s on the run from the government and going underground,” Helen replied.

Rose stared at Helen. “He said what?!”


Da’Quarius put his backpack on. He was standing in the basement of Kwok’s Dry Cleaning and Landromat on Foster Street. “Ready?” he asked Flounder.

“I guess,” Flounder said. He was standing with his mother, who was crying. She had given him a bag of food for the trip since their bugout bags only had the essentials in them.

“Good thing yo’ dad had these tunnels set up,” Da’Quarius said, trying to distract himself from Flounder’s mother, who was a reluctant to let her son go underground while they were on Crisis Media’s radar. “I’m glad his human traffickin’ scheme didn’t pan out, but they’re handy as fuck. We don’t gotta worry ‘bout da’ cars followin’ us anymore.”

“I told you the bugout bags were a good idea after that fiasco with NASA,” Mr. Kwok, Flounder’s father said, standing off to the side, watching them with his arms crossed. “You two are always getting in so much trouble!”

“Thanks for havin’ my back in any case,” Da’Quarius said. “I appreciate it.”

“No problem,” Mr. Kwok said. “Just clear your names and get back here. Do your mothers know you’re going off the grid?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen an’ I have a code.”

“Good,” Mr. Kwok said. “Go do what you need to do.”

Flounder’s mother fussed over him some more, crying in Korean. “Come on, Mom!” Flounder said. “You’re embarrassing me!”

Mr. Kwok took Flounder’s mother by the arm and pulled her away. He took a breath and looked over Da’Quarius and Flounder one last time. “Look at you too,” he said with pride written all over his face. “I remember when I first went underground in North Korea. This brings me back.”

“Awesome,” Da’Quarius said, opening the hatch to the tunnels. “Come on, Flounder. We got work to do.” He climbed into the tunnel, followed by Flounder.

“Godspeed, my son,” Mr. Kwok said, closing the hatch behind them.


Tony walked from Rose and Helen’s toward Paulie’s Pizza and his apartment above. He still carried the box with the uncooked Tide Pod pizza inside, not knowing where he’d have to go in order to find someone who’d cook it, eat it, and let him film it.

He came across the small dog park, only two blocks from Paulie’s. There was a trash bin along the side, and he stared at it, wondering if it was better to just toss the pizza out and go back to Paulie’s, admitting that making the Tide Pod pizza was a waste of time.

Or he could keep walking, trying to find someone who appreciated his culinary and comedic skills. He then thought of Da’Quarius’s Korean friend, the one named after the fish. He saw him at the laundromat on Foster Street sometimes, and Tony decided at one point that he must live there. He was Korean after all. The Korean kid’s father was always involved in weird schemes too, if Da’Quarius was right.

And Rose had said Da’Quarius was with them.

With a smirk on his face, Tony turned and walked toward Foster Street.


Da’Quarius and Flounder emerged from a sewer in the woods, opening the gate. Flounder pushed it back into place, closing it with a click. His father had designed it only to open from the other side. “I’m glad we’re out of there,” he said. “There were way too much rats after me.”

“It’s cuz yo’ moms put too many egg rolls in dat bag,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey wouldn’t have attacked you if you didn’t have ‘em. Da’ point of da’ bugout bag is to get ‘em an’ bug da’ fuck out. I can’t believe you stopped to have yo’ moms make you some food.”

“I can’t help it,” Flounder said. “She worries. Besides, the rats got all the egg rolls anyway.”

Da’Quarius walked on. “Shit,” he muttered. “What are we supposed to do now?”

“What do you mean?” Flounder asked in return. “You don’t have a plan?”

“No,” Da’Quarius replied. “I ain’t got shit. We cain’t go back to our lives with dese mo’ fuckers trackin’ us and usin’ our faces an’ shit.”

Flounder took a small AM radio from his pocket and turned it on to the news station. “There’s another active shooter on the loose,” the radio anchor said. “This time, a mall in Wisconsin is the intended target.”

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Another one?!”

“This is great!” Flounder said.

“Dis is not great!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Two gunmen in two days ain’t somethin’ we should be excited ‘bout. You’re soundin’ like da’ assholes at Crisis Media.”

“That’s my point,” Flounder said. “They’ll be distracted trying to get their actors ready for this latest shooting. If we’re going to get in, now’s the time.”

“I already told you,” Da’Quarius said. “I got nuttin’; no plan!”

“I have something,” Flounder said.

“Yeah?” Da’Quarius asked. “Wha’chu got?”

Flounder reached in his pocket and pulled out a name badge from Crisis Media. “Someone left this on the bathroom sink,” he said. “I grabbed it while I tried to get the blood to stop pouring from my nose. We can get back inside.”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Den what?”

“I can hack their system,” Flounder said. “I’ll distract them long enough and broadcast every secret they have.”

“That’ll be good,” Da’Quarius said, “if only you can make it to da’ top floor without’cho nose hemorrhagin’ an’ shit.”

“I got that covered too,” Flounder said. He reached in his other pocket and brought out two tampons, still in their wrappings.

“Dude,” Da’Quarius said. “What da’ fuck is wrong wit’chu?”

“What?” Flounder asked. “They go up my nose!”

Da’Quarius sighed. “I know, Flounder. I know.”


“Yo,” Tony said, walking into Kwok’s Dry Cleaner’s and Laundromat. “What’s up, Mr. Kwok?”

“I didn’t order any pizza!” Mr. Kwok snapped.

“I’m looking for Da’Quarius and his Korean friend,” Tony said. “They’re going to help me cook this Tide Pod pizza and find some schmo who’s willing to eat it for the internet.”

“His Korean friend?” Mr. Kwok asked.

“Yeah,” Tony replied. “The fish kid.”

“Oh,” Mr. Kwok said. “You mean Qim.”

“No,” Tony said. “He’s named after a fish.”

“What do you want?” Mr. Kwok asked.

“I already told you,” Tony said. “I need the kids to help me cook this Tide Pod -”

“They aren’t here!” Mr. Kwok said. “They’re off the grid!”

“Off the Grid?” Tony asked. “Make less sense, I dare you.”

Mr. Kwok sighed. “They’re going to the Crisis Media building,” he said, “but don’t tell anyone. They’re off the grid.”

“The Crisis Media building?” Tony asked, his eyes turned upward in thought. “I know where that is. They’ve ordered from Paulie’s before.”

“They’re off the grid!” Mr. Kwok shouted, slamming a fist on the table.

“Then why do you keep telling me if they’re off the damn grid?!” Tony retorted. “You’re a friggin’ bonehead, Kwok.”

“Get out!” Mr. Kwok exclaimed, pointing toward the door.”

“Fine,” Tony muttered, leaving the laundromat. “I’ll go find those kids myself then.”


The panic about the Crisis Media offices allowed Da’Quarius and Flounder to slip in unnoticed. The secretary who was at the front desk was even busy, shouting into her phone. They walked right past her, using Flounder’s stolen keycard to gain entry. “You look ridiculous,” Da’Quarius whispered to Flounder, who was following close behind with tampons up his nose.

“It’s the only way,” Flounder said. “Find me an empty cubicle, and I can work.”

“Here’s one,” Da’Quarius said. “Go to work.”

“OK,” Flounder said, sitting in front of the computer and booting it up. “You know what to do.”

Da’Quarius did know what to do. He made his way toward the back where Marshall had brought him on his first visit. He used Flounder’s keycard, and he was happy to find that it worked on this door too, allowing him access to the back room. He walked through the room full of monitors and cameras he made his way to the small studio in the back and opened the door, standing in front of the camera. “Ready,” he said.

The red light above the camera went on, indicating that Flounder had hacked their system and was broadcasting. Marshall banged on the door from the outside, and Da’Quarius smiled.


“Yo,” Tony said, approaching the secretary’s desk. “I’m looking for -”

“We’re in crisis mode here,” the secretary said, putting her hand over the mouthpiece of her phone. “We don’t really have time for pizza.”

“That’s not -”

“Just find whoever ordered it,” the secretary said, clicking a button on the desk, buzzing the door open.

Tony looked at her for only a moment before walking past her and into the offices of Crisis Media. “Bitch,” he muttered as he passed.


Marshall had the door opened. “Get out,” he said. “You don’t know what you’re doing in here. Are you going to record a little PSA for your friends? If you haven’t noticed, we have a crisis on our hands, and I’ve cut the satellite feeds to this building. Our actors will be filming on site.”

“You got a problem too, bitch,” Da’Quarius said. “I know what’cho doin’ here.”

“I’ve already told you what we’re doing here,” Marshall said. “We’re recording and distributing crisis media for the masses, selling it to the highest political bidder.”

“No you ain’t,” Da’Quarius said. “You have no actors, an’ you have nuttin’. Dis business you have is all bullshit.”

“You know nothing,” Marshall said.

“You don’t meet da’ demands of da’ people,” Da’Quarius said. “You create ‘em.”

“Fine,” Marshall replied. “You want the truth? We don’t work in conspiracy theories, we create them. We take money from lobbyists, politicians, whoever. We take from the highest bidder, and the left is paying, so we give them sob stories from victims and whatnot.”

“I’m sure da’ right’s wallets are open too,” Da’Quarius said.

“That’s right,” Marshall said, a crazy look in his eyes. “The Republicans pay us to make the real-life victims look like actors. We create fake stories for social media, doctored photos for conspiracy Twitter accounts we control, and do everything we can to make their small corner of the internet believe that nothing is as it seems.”

“You’re double dippin’,” Da’Quarius said.

“You’re damn right we are!” Marshall snapped. “We’ll take money from anti-gun lobbyists and the fucking NRA. You think we care whose agenda get pushed? We don’t care as long as it MAKES US RICH!”

“But you fucked up,” Da’Quarius said, smirking. “I just broadcasted yo’ little confession.”

“You moron,” Marshall said with a smile of his own. “I already told you we cut our satellite feeds to this building.”

“But you didn’t cut off da’ wifi, you dumb-ass fuck,” Da’Quarius replied. “Flounder just broadcasted yo’ ass all over da’ ‘net.”

“You little bastard,” Marshall said, pulling a gun from inside his jacket. “I’m going to kill -”

“Hey,” Tony said, walking to the doorway. “Special delivery, asshole!”

“Who the fuck -”

Tony tossed the open pizza box at Marshall, and the raw pizza dough wrapped around his head. He screamed, grasping at the dough, dropping his gun. “OH MY GOD! Why are there Tide Pods in here?!”

“Come on, Kid!” Tony said. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Thanks,” Tony,” Da’Quarius said, leaving the production booth. He put it foot out as Marshall tried to peel the dough from his face and tripped him. He fell to the floor in a heap.

Flounder came running up to them. “That was amazing,” Flounder said. “The feed got a ton of hits already!”

“Why do you got vag-sticks up your nose?” Tony asked.

“Don’t ask,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s get da’ fuck outta here.”


Helen and Rose were watching the news a week later with Da’Quarius. “Oh my,” Rose said. “Another shooting? At least nobody was killed this time.”

“And here come the crisis actors,” Helen said as the woman on TV described what had happened. “More fake news, fake people, and fake outrage.”

“Naw, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “Da crisis media thing got shut down. Dis all real.”

“We need better gun control,” Rose said, shaking her head and staring at the TV. “How many times does this have to happen?”

“Bah!” Helen said. “They’ll never take our damn guns! Friggin’ lib-turds always use these mental cases as an excuse to pass their cockamamie gun laws!”

“That’s not the point!” Rose exclaimed.

“It’s always the point!” Helen retorted.

“Gotdammit,” Da’Quarius said, crossing his arms. “I coulda stayed home instead of goin’ underground an’ takin’ down dat damn Crisis Media company.”

The End

Freedom Lane: Mastication Destination

“Order up!” Paulie shouted after taking his latest order. It was Saturday night, and Paulie’s Pizza was packed. Tony and Sal were keeping up in the kitchen, but just barely. To his surprise, Paulie saw someone who had already stopped in that night, a tall, bald guy with dark skin and glasses. He remembered since he reminded Paulie of his nephew, Da’Quarius. “Hello again,” he said. “Everything was OK with your order?”

“Oh yeah,” the customer said. “I’m here to pick up for Susan Collier.”

“Susan Collier?” Paulie asked, looking over the orders that were ready for pick up. “Three pies, already paid for. That’s an awful lot of pizza for your second trip. You throwing a party or something?”

“It’s not for me,” the customer said. “I work for Mastication Destination.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Paulie said, handing the pizzas over.

“I just deliver the food,” the customer answered. “I’ll see you later.”

Paulie watched the customer, who wasn’t really a customer at all, leave through the front door with a jingle of the bells. “You on of a bitch,” he muttered.

“Excuse me?” the woman who was next in line asked.

“Nothing,” Paulie replied. “What can I get you, doll?”


Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 13, Episode 3: Mastication Destination


“Then he says he works for some food delivery company,” Paulie said, sitting at his sister, Helen’s dining room table, joined by her wife, Rose, and their adopted son, Da’Quarius. He had finished telling the tale from the night before, serving someone who was being paid to deliver the pizza to their home. “Can you believe the nerve?!”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Rose said, adding a small scoop of mashed potatoes to her plate. “You still get the business, right?”

“It’s the principle of it all!” Paulie said, his hands waving in the air. “Who are these people, and what is this company? Who the frig do they think they are, making money from my pizzeria?”

“I have to agree with Rose,” Helen added, waving her fork at Paulie for good measure. “They’re buying pizza, right? You don’t even have to pay your delivery boy to haul it over too. That’s a win-win.”

“Pimple Puss has been delivering for me for years,” Paulie said. “Do you want this outfit to put him out of a job?”

“It saves you money,” Helen said, rolling her eyes. “The kid’s like twelve. He’ll find another job.”

“He’s nineteen,” Paulie said. “I think. You find anything out, kid?”

“I found ‘em,” Da’Quarius said, looking at his phone screen. “Mastication Destination. You download da’ app, and you can have ‘em deliver from just about anywhere. Dey’ll even get’cho ass McDonald’s if you’re too lazy to go to da’ drive through.”

“Put the phone away,” Rose told Da’Quarius. She turned to Paulie. “I just don’t see your obsession with this service.”

“It just bugs me is all,” Paulie said. “I don’t like someone else making money off my business.”

“They’re not exactly stealing from you,” Rose said.

“It’s actually cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Dey don’t even have employees. It’s just regular-ass people with da’ app on their phone.”

“Bunch of mooks,” Paulie muttered. “I’ll show ‘em.”

“Paulie,” Rose said. “You have that look in your eye.”

“What look?” Paulie asked.

“The same look Helen gets before she goes off on some crazy scheme,” Rose replied.

“Hey!” Helen said. “I don’t have a look!”

“Sure, you do, biddy,” Da’Quarius said. “You look like you’re holdin’ in a fart, an’ you ‘bout to pop.”

“Da’Quarius!” Rose scolded.

“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “Say I’m wrong!”


The week passed, and Paulie hadn’t seen the driver in at all. It was Saturday afternoon, and he kept waiting for the same guy from Mastication Destination to come so he could exact his revenge. “This is bullshit,” he said. “When I want him to come, he doesn’t show up.”

“It’s like a pot of boiling water,” Tony said, coming from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron. “You can’t set your watch to it.”

“That’s not how the saying goes,” Paulie said. He stared at the door for a moment. “Hey. I got an idea. Download that app to your phone, then call the guy here for a pizza. Then I’ll download the app, and I’ll have another guy come for the same order.”

“What’s the point of that?” Tony asked. “I live right upstairs. I don’t need to pay for some delivery guy to carry a pizza up a few dozen stairs. Who am I, President Trump?!”

“Come on,” Paulie said. “Get the app on your phone. It’s called Mastication Destination.”

“Whoa!” Tony exclaimed. “I’m not downloading some jerk off app on my phone! I don’t need the government tracking my habits. That’s why I stopped going to the porn sites and went back to DVDs.”

“You stunad!” Paulie shouted. “I said ‘mastication’! It means to chew stuff.”

“Oh,” Tony said. “You sure?”

“I’m sure,” Paulie said. “Just bring up the app so we can start a turf war with these mooks already.”

“How’s that work?” Tony asked, flicking on his phone’s screen.

“Da’Quarius told me this site uses regular people to deliver the food,” Paulie replied. “So, if the guys come in here, looking to deliver the same food to the same customer, they’re bound to fight over who gets the fare. Get it?”

“Not really,” Tony said, “but I got the app on my phone now. Give me your credit card number.”


Da’Quarius came into Paulie’s Pizza. “Sorry I’m late,” he said. “Helen an’ Rose can’t give Dutchie his baths, an’ he rolled ‘round in a pile of shit dis mornin’.”

“No problem,” Paulie said. “I got some stuff for you to do if you can make yourself scarce when the customers show up.”

“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “Anythin’ good goin’ on today?”

“Is that them?!” Tony said, rushing in from the kitchen. He saw Da’Quarius standing in the main area. “Oh. It’s only the kid.”

“Nice to see you too, mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said. “What are you all excited for anyway?”

“We’re pranking those masturbation guys,” Tony replied.

“What masturbation guys?” Da’Quarius asked. “Dat bum guy jerkin’ off out back again?”

“He means the Mastication Destination drivers,” Paulie said with an eye roll. “We’re getting them into a turf war. I’m just waiting for them to show up and pick up this pizza.”

“Oh shit,” Tony said, heading back toward the kitchen. “I forgot to make the pie!”

“There is no pie!” Paulie shouted. “It was a fake order!”

“But ain’t da’ driver guy expectin’ a pizza?” Da’Quarius asked. “How dey s’posed to fight with no pizza?”

Paulie looked at Da’Quarius for a moment. “Tony!” he shouted, turning toward the kitchen. “Hurry up with that pie!”

The chime above the door rang out again as the Mastication Destination delivery guy came in. “Yo,” he said, nodding to Da’Quarius as he passed and walked toward the counter. Paulie came out of the kitchen, trying not to smile.

“What can I do for you?” Paulie asked.

“Pizza for Tony Baloney,” the delivery guy asked.

“It’s not ‘Baloney,’” Tony said, coming out from the kitchen. “It’s Baloni. Bah-Lon-Ee.”

“Get back in the kitchen!” Paulie snapped. “Get that pizza boxed up!” He turned back to the delivery guy. “It’ll be right out.”

The chimes rang again, and someone else came in, approaching the counter. He was tall, white, and had sandy hair. “What can I do for you?” Paulie asked.

“I’m here to pick up,” the newest customer said. “Order for Tony Baloney.”

“Oh!” Tony said, coming from the kitchen again. “I just told this guy –”

“GET BACK IN THAT KITCHEN!” Paulie shouted.

“Wait,” the first customer said. “You here with Mastication Destination?”

“Yeah,” the other replied. “Why?”

“I’m here for that order,” the first driver said.

“No you’re not,” the second said. “I came all the way over here. You ain’t takin’ this from me.”

“Fellas,” Paulie said. “What the devil is going on here?”

Da’Quarius sighed, shaking his head. “Umma just sit an’ watch dis shit,” he said.


“Alright,” the first delivery guy from Mastication Destination, whose name was O’Dell, said. “I was here first, so this order is mine.”

“I don’t think so,” the second delivery guy, named Max, retorted. “They sent me here, so I’m taking that pizza.”

“Look,” Paulie said. “I don’t have a dog in this fight; but I’m not giving out two orders for one customer, so you better straighten this nonsense out right the frig now.”

“I was here first,” O’Dell said, crossing his arms and staring at Max.

“Well I’m not losing the customer,” Max said. “What are you going to do?”

O’Dell uncrossed his arms. “What do you think I’m gonna do?” he asked.

Tony came out of the kitchen and dropped the pizza box on the customer. “Pie ready for Baloni. That’s Bah-Lon-”

“Thanks, Tony,” Paulie said. “It’s the moment of truth, guys. Who’s taking this pie?”

Both of the delivery guys reached for it, then backed off. “I’m taking that pizza,” Max said.

“No, you’re not,” O’Dell said. “I was here first, and I’m not leaving my customer waiting. I’ll report you.”

“You’ll snitch me out?” Max said. “I didn’t peg you for a rat.”

“Don’t poach my customers,” O’Dell said. “What did you do, hack my account or something?”

“No!” Max snapped. “I’m not a hacker. I got the call just like you did. Want to see my phone?”

“Yeah,” O’Dell said. “I do, actually.”

“Fine,” Max said, taking his phone out. He opened it and showed O’Dell. “See? Delivery for Tony Baloney at Paulie’s Pizza.”

Tony came out from the kitchen. “It’s –”

“Don’t get involved!” Paulie snapped, pushing him back. “These two need to settle this.”

“It’s on my phone too,” O’Dell said, showing Max his phone screen. “Mastication Destination screwed up. I’ll take the pizza, and you can file a complaint with them.”

“No way,” Max said. “I’m not falling for that. They’ll just say it’s a glitch, and I’m out my tip money.”

“You two shouldn’t be making tip money off my customers anyway,” Paulie said.

“Stay out of this, old man!” Max snapped.

“Excuse me?” Paulie asked.

“You can’t talk to him like that!” O’Dell said, shoving Max. “This is his place of business, and you’ll respect it!”

“Yeah!” Paulie added. “As a matter of fact, get the fuck out!”

“Aw shit,” Da’Quarius said, shifting in his seat. “Shit’s ‘bout to get good.”

“I’m taking that pizza,” Max said.

“The hell you are!” Paulie said. “I believe I told you to get the fuck out! I don’t need some smarmy delivery guy coming in here and poaching my customers for tip money. I don’t need your services and didn’t ask for them!”

“And you’re on my turf!” O’Dell said. “This is my neighborhood, and I’m taking that pizza!”

Max shoved Paulie and grabbed the pizza. O’Dell lunged for it, knocking it out of his hands. The two were on throwing punches next, brawling as Paulie got out of the way. O’Dell grabbed Max by the arm and swung him, flinging him into the side of one of the booths, knocking it over. Max got up and punched O’Dell in the gut and pushed him over, breaking a table.

“Oh!” Paulie shouted. “You to assholes are destroying my place!”

“And the pizza’s on the floor!” Tony shouted, coming back from the kitchen, wiping his hands on his apron. “I’m going to have to make another, you friggin’ animals!”

“Well,” Da’Quarius said, moving over to Paulie and watching the fight. “At least yo’ plan worked.”

“Yeah,” Paulie said, watching the fight. “It worked too well I think.”


The fight had ended with Paulie and Tony intervening. Tony had O’Dell in a headlock, and Paulie had Max in a full nelson. “You two are both outta here!” Paulie said, dragging Max to the door. “Get the door kid, I’m tossing this bum back to the street.”

“And I’m tossing this turtle back to the sewer!” Tony said, bringing O’Dell.

“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “Why’s he a turtle?”

“He just is!” Tony replied. “Just open the damn door.”

Da’Quarius maneuvered himself to the door and opened it. Paulie and Tony were ready to drag the delivery guys outside, but someone stood in their way. “What the Hell going on?!” New Haven Police Office Rocco Priolo exclaimed.

“Hey Rocco,” Tony said. “Let me toss this mook out, and I’ll make you some lunch.”

“How about you let him go?” Rocco suggested. “You too, Paulie.”

“Shit,” Paulie muttered, letting up on Max, who stood at attention rubbing the back of his neck.

Tony did the same with O’Dell. “You didn’t see anything, right?”

“Of course I saw!” Rocco retorted. “You can’t suggest I didn’t see anything when the men you two had head-locked are standing right here!”

“I gotta jet,” Da’Quarius said. “I wasn’t here, right?”

“Again,” Rocco said, “they’re standing right here, and I still haven’t been told what’s going on.”

“These two were dragging me out after ripping me off!” Max spat. “They refused to give me my pizza for my customer, and then they got physical.”

“What?” Paulie said. “You’re the one who attacked this other guy. Tony and I were just breaking up the fight, Rocco.”

“You weren’t just breaking up the fight,” O’Dell said. “You two were dragging us outside by our heads. And I’m the one who was ripped off!”

“No you weren’t!” Max shouted.

“This is what I’m dealing with!” Paulie said, his arms waving around. “These two idiots came in from that food delivery app, and they’re arguing over a damn pizza. They start fighting, and Tony and I are forced to break it up. I want these two out of my place of business and my pizzeria off that damn app!”

“It’s always something here,” Rocco sighed. “What are you talking about?”

“We work for Mastication Destination,” O’Dell said. “They sent this asshole and me the same customer, but I was here first. He thinks I should step aside and give him the pizza because he’s white.”

“I never said that!” Max shouted. “When did I ever bring race into it?”

“Oh, because I’m black you think you can just step in and take my customer?” O’Dell said.

“That reminds me,” Tony said, turning away. “I gotta remake that pizza.”

“Don’t go too far,” Rocco said.

“Tell him, kid,” O’Dell said. “Tell the cop about the racial comments.”

“Don’t drag me into dis shit,” Da’Quarius said. “You know he didn’t say anythin’ racist!”

“You’re supposed to have my back, little dude!” O’Dell said.

“I’ve heard enough,” Rocco said. “Is there any way we can settle this where I don’t bring you all downtown?”


Paulie joined Tony in the kitchen. He had just put the new pizza in the oven. “Of all the times for your buddy to come in for a free lunch,” he said. “Why’d he have to choose now?”

“Sure,” Tony said, rolling his eyes. “Whenever you need a cop for some scheme or another it’s always: ‘Tony, call your buddy Rocco,’ but then when he just pops in to say hi and have a slice, you’re like: ‘Tony, get Rocco out of here!’”

“OK,” Paulie said. “I’m sorry, but you see how screwed we are here, right?”

“What?” Tony asked. “We throw people out all the time. Show him the camera footage, and we’re all set.”

“That camera isn’t plugged in, Tony,” Paulie said. “It’s just a decoy. You know that.”

“I do?” Tony asked. “It’s probably a good thing you don’t see what goes on here after hours.”

“What goes on here after hours?” Paulie asked.

“It sucks that Rocco’s here, though,” Tony said. “Right?”

“If he finds out the fight started because of us,” Paulie said, “we’re screwed.”

“Oh yeah,” Tony said. “I forgot we ordered this pizza for me. I should have put some olives on it or something. Why’d I make it plain?”

“Focus,” Paulie said, slapping his hands together. “We have to get those two to leave peacefully. We can’t have them make a big stink just to have it come out that we set them up.”

“It’s just a prank,” Tony said. “Can you really get in trouble with the cops over that?”

“I don’t know,” Paulie said, “but I don’t want to find out.”


“So tell me what you saw,” Rocco asked Da’Quarius. “And you two be silent.”

“It all happened so fast!” Da’Quarius said. “Here I am, mindin’ my own business, waitin’ fo’ my Uncle Paulie to get finish with O’Dell so he can have some lunch with me. All of a sudden, Max comes in an’ says O’Dell’s pizza is his. Da’ next thing I know, dese two are punchin’ an’ pushin’ an’ shit, an’ I had to get away from ‘em. Now I don’t know who stole whose pizza, but I think you need to kick both of ‘em outta here and get’choself a nice grinder an’ a coke. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“That’s bribery!” Max shouted.

“I told you to shut up!” Rocco exclaimed, pointing in Max’s direction. “I’m getting a little tired of this. I’m supposed to be on my lunch break right now!”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “Office Priolo gets cranky when he’s hungry too, bitch!”

“I didn’t ask for your commentary!” Rocco said, turning his finger toward Da’Quarius.

“Sorry,” Da’Quarius said, putting his hands up. “Pretty sure you just proved my point, doe.”

Paulie and Tony came from the back. Tony was carrying the new Pizza, freshly boxed. “OK,” Paulie said. “Can we just figure this out and get on with our day?”

“I certainly hope we can,” Rocco added.

“I sincerely apologize for trying to drag you out of here,” Paulie continued. “I don’t know which one of you should take the pizza, but I just want this to be over with.”

Max sighed. “Give it to him,” he said. “I wasted too much damn time here.”

“Stay outta my ‘hood,” O’Dell said.

“Watch it,” Rocco warned.

Max huffed once and left into the early afternoon sunshine of State Street.

“Good,” Rocco said. “Now that we’ve solved that, can I get some lunch?”

“Sure,” Paulie said. “Tony, get Officer Priolo whatever he needs.”

“Wait a second,” O’Dell said, reading his phone screen. “This says I have to deliver the pizza here.”

“Oh yeah,” Tony said, taking the pizza back from O’Dell. “Boss, is it OK if I take my lunch real quick?”

Tony took the pizza to a booth in the corner and sat with Rocco, where they opened the box started eating. O’Dell stared at Paulie. “Really?” he asked.

“Oh,” Paulie said, reaching for his wallet. “My friend forgot to tip you. I’m sorry. He has no manners. Here you are.” He handed O’Dell a fifty-dollar bill.

O’Dell held the fifty, still looking at Paulie.

“This whole thing was a misunderstanding, OK?” Paulie asked. “No reason to make a big deal about it.”

“Oh yeah?” O’Dell asked. “And what kid of ‘big deal’ can I make out of this?”

Paulie sighed and handed O’Dell another fifty. “How’s that?”

“Pleasure doing business with you,” O’Dell said, pocketing his hundred dollars. “See you around.”

“Madon,” Paulie said. He noticed Da’Quarius watching him, shaking his head. “What do you want to hear?”

“Nuttin’,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is why you need to leave da’ schemin’ to Tony an’ me.”

Paulie sighed. “I know, kid.”

“Hey, boss,” Tony called from the booth. “Can you grab us a pitcher of coke?”

“Sure,” Paulie muttered, walking back to the counter. “Whatever you guys need.”

The End

Freedom Lane – Sassy Casanova

“So Ronald Fowler croaked,” Helen muttered, reading the paper from her recliner on a Saturday morning. “Big whoop.”

“Don’t be like that,” Rose said, patting her arm. “He was a friend of ours.”

“Friend of yours, maybe,” Helen said. “All I know about him is he was a drug pusher.”

“Word?” Da’Quarius asked. “You guys knew a dealer?”

“No,” Rose sighed. “He ran a pharmacy.”

“Pusher,” Helen muttered. “Same damn difference.”

“That reminds me,” Rose said. “Did you remember to take your meds today?”

Helen took her pill caddy from her robe pocket and opened the tab for Saturday. She took the pills and tossed them into her mouth, chasing them with her glass of water. Once swallowed, she opened her mouth and stuck her tongue out, showing Rose.

“You don’t have to do that,” Rose said. “The wake and funeral are both tomorrow, so we won’t be around, Da’Quarius.”

“Why doesn’t he have to go, but I do?!” Helen snapped.

“Because he didn’t know Ronald,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “An’ I can find a few things to do on a Sunday. I think I’ll be alright.”

“OK,” Rose said. “Just don’t stray too far.”

“Bah!” Helen said waving a hand. “This kid is going to get into all kinds of trouble.”

“Dat’s some bullshit!” Da’Quarius said. “I’m just gonna hang out around the ‘hood an’ mind my own business! For once nuttin’ crazy is gonna happen.”


Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 13, Episode 2: Sassy Casanova


“So nuttin’ crazy is gonna happen today,” Da’Quarius said, leaning against the counter of Daq’s Bodega, the store owned by the Garcia brothers, who lived across the street from him. “That’s what I told da’ biddies, an’ I mean it, too.”

“I hear you,” Manny said. “Some days you just want to relax and hang out.”

“So ring me up, so I can get dis shit home an’ do it already,” Da’Quarius said, dropping a bunch of snacks on the counter in front of Manny. “Helen an’ Rose don’t let me buy this stuff usually, and they’ll be gone all morning.”

“Sure,” Manny said, ringing up Da’Quarius’s items.

“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t wanna forget da’ sodas.”

“Check out the last fridge,” Manny said. “We got forty-ounce grape soda bottles in there.”

“Dat’s racist as fuck,” Da’Quarius said. He found the forty-ounces of grape soda and took one, deciding it looked good, racist or not. He noticed someone watching him, and he turned to look at her: a dark-skinned girl around his age who was so chubby she was almost a perfect circle. “Hey.”

“Hi,” the girl responded, smiling. “I’m Sassy. Sassy Casanova.”

“OK,” Da’Quarius said, taking his soda to Manny to ring up.


Helen followed Rose into the church, finding a pew near the back. They scooted in and sat down. It was only a moment until Helen locked eyes with her mortal enemy. “What the holy snot is that dildope doing here?”

Rose shushed Helen, painfully aware of those who here turning to look at them. She saw who Helen saw: Harold Fuchs, sitting with his husband Lee, and he was glaring right back at Helen.

“Who’s he think he is, showing up here like that?” Helen muttered.

“He’s just here like everyone else,” Rose said, “mourning with the rest of us. Can’t you let this feud go for just one day?”

“That’s the problem with feuds, Rose,” Helen replied. “They just don’t die, unlike that schmo in the casket.”

People turned to look at Helen again, and Rose wished she could shrink away. “Will you please stop making comments like that?” she whispered.

“He thinks he can out-mourn me?” Helen said, ignoring her wife’s request. “He didn’t even know Frank as well as I do.”

“Ronald was the one who died,” Rose said.

“Doesn’t matter in the slightest,” Helen said. “Harold didn’t know whoever, and he’s not going to win this.”

“Oh Lord,” Rose said, bowing her head and punching the bridge of her nose. “Do you really have to do this?”

“Don’t worry, Rose,” Helen said, patting her knee. “He won’t beat me at this game.”

“That’s not what I’m worried about,” Rose said.


Da’Quarius sat on his couch, watching TV with the sound all the way up. He had a bootleg copy of a vampire movie called Blood Drive that he had gotten from the bodega, and he was happy he can have some time to himself to watch it on the big TV rather than in his room like usual. His snacks were splayed out on the table in front of him along with his forty-ounce bottle of soda.

The doorbell rang, putting a pause to both the movie and Da’Quarius’s private morning. “Shit,” he said, putting the remote back down and walking toward the door. “I rarely get any time to myself, an’ someone gotta be knockin’ at da’ door.”

Da’Quarius opened the door, and the girl from the bodega stood on the porch. “Hi,” she said in a soft voice. “I don’t know if you remember me.”

“You was at da’ store,” Da’Quarius said. “Sassy somethin’, right?”

“Sassy Casanova,” Sassy replied.

“What’chu need?” Da’Quarius asked. “Wait a second… Did you follow me home?!”

“I’m sorry,” Sassy said, looking away. “I live a couple of blocks away. We were going in the same direction most of walk home, only you didn’t see me.”

“Oh,” Da’Quarius said. He was at a loss for words.

“I was wondering if you wanted to go for a walk or something,” Sassy said, finally looking back in Da’Quarius’s direction. “We can go by the park, or…”

“I’m kinda busy,” Da’Quarius said.

“Oh,” Sassy said. “OK.”

Da’Quarius waited for her to take the hint and leave, but she wasn’t getting it. He decided to give her one not so subtle. “OK,” he said. “Bye.” He closed the door firmly and walked back to the couch. Dutchie was already there, finishing what was left of his snacks.

“Dammit, Dutchie!” Da’Quarius snapped as his dogged stared back at him, not a single shred of guilt on his face, tail wagging. “What da’ fuck am I gonna do now?!”

Dutchie burped.

“You gonna puke an’ have diarrhea later,” Da’Quarius said. “Wait and see if I’m wrong.”


The mass portion of the funeral was over, and everyone was stepping up, one at a time, to say their final goodbyes to Ronald Fowler. Helen timed her shuffle with the aid of her cane toward the alter to arrive at the same time as Harold.

“It’s a shame to lose him,” Helen said, placing a hand on the coffin. “He was a good man.”

“The best,” Harold said, placing his own palm on the coffin. “If all men were this good, there wouldn’t be wars.”

“There wouldn’t be any animosity in the world at all,” Helen said.

“Ants and men would be equals,” Harold said.

“Lions would play on the seesaw with wildebeests,” Helen said.

“Cats would blow mice,” Harold said.

“Alright,” Lee said, tugging at Harold’s arm. “Other people want to mourn.”

Harold grunted in protest as he was dragged away by his husband. Helen had a smug smile on her face as she pulled her hand away from the coffin. “See,” she said to Rose. “I had my hand there longer.”

Rose sighed. “Great,” she said. “Can we drop this now? You won.”

“The Fowler family want to invite you all to a memorial for Ronald,” Father McKracken said. “It will be held at Cold Spring Funeral Home directly following these services.”

Helen looked over toward Harold and Lee. “Look at them,” she said, “plotting their next move.”

“They’re arguing,” Rose said. She signed, realizing what they were arguing about, knowing there was no point in having the same argument with Helen. “Come on. We’ll get there before they do maybe.”

“Hot damn,” Helen said. “Let’s go.”


“Yo,” Da’Quarius said, walking into Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, across the street from the same bodega he had visited earlier that day. He found Tony at the counter, wearing his usual white tank top. “Where’s Unca Paulie?”

“He’s around,” Tony said. “What are you doing here today?”

“I’m tryin’ to watch a movie while Rose an’ Helen are out,” Da’Quarius said, “but my dog ate all my food.”

“So you walked all the way here for a free lunch, huh?” Tony asked.

“You got it,” Da’Quarius said. “Can I get a medium with lots of whatever on it?”

“Medium whatever,” Tony said. “I hope you like onions and olives.”

“You know I do, mo’ fucker,” Da’Quarius said.

“Hey, kid,” Paulie said, coming from his office. “You coming by for some lunch?”

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius replied. “Gotta get my movie in while Rose an’ Helen are still out.”

“I see,” Paulie said, nodding. “A man needs his alone time every now and then. It’s like I always say… Who the snot is that?!”

Da’Quarius turned to see where Paulie was looking, and he saw what he saw. Sassy was standing on the sidewalk, staring at him through the window, her hands on either side of her face to block the glare from imparting her vision. “Damn,” he said. “Dat’s dis Sassy girl who’s been followin’ me ‘round, lookin’ all like Precious an’ shit.”

“What makes her so sassy?” Paulie asked.

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s her name. Sassy Casanova.”

“Oh,” Paulie said.

“Your pie is in the oven,” Tony said, coming back from the kitchen. “What are you two talking about?”

“Da’Quarius has a stalker,” Paulie said.

“How cute,” Tony said. “I remember my first stalker.”

“You mean the first woman you stalked,” Paulie said. “I remember when the police came in here, and they had a very different version of the story than what you had told me.”

“That was all bullshit, and you know it,” Tony said. “The kid’s girl looks cute. You should take her out.”

“Hell no,” Da’Quarius said. “I’m not rewardin’ her for followin’ me to my house an’ shit. Besides, I’m not attracted to black girls.”

“What are you, gay?” Tony asked.

“Oh!” Paulie snapped. “Don’t talk like that in my place. My sister is gay!”

“Yeah, yeah,” Tony said. “But she’s a woman, so it’s different, right? It’s an easier choice for them.”

“Go check on the kid’s pie, will ya?” Paulie said. “Madon, I can’t believe him sometimes.”

“But what am I gonna do ‘bout dis girl?” Da’Quarius asked. “I can’t have her followin’ me forever.”

“You’re going to have to talk to her,” Paulie said. “Let her down gently.”

“And what if she doesn’t let up?” Da’Quarius asked.

“I don’t know,” Paulie said. “The women Tony stalked all got restraining orders eventually. One guy did too, which was odd.”

“Not for Tony it ain’t odd,” Da’Quarius said. “Maybe you don’t see it, cuz you’re too close to him.”

“OK,” Tony said, coming from the kitchen again. “I can explain that last one at least.”

“IF THAT FRIGGIN’ PIE BURNS I’M GONNA WRING YOUR NECK!” Paulie shouted, shaking his fist in the air.


“Look,” Helen said, entering the Cold Spring Funeral Home. “There’s Frank’s widow, and I don’t see that loser Harold at all.”

“You mean Ronald,” Rose said.

“No, his name’s Harold,” Helen said. “Trust me, I’ve known that slimy bastard for years.”

“OK,” Rose said. “We beat him here. Can we go now?”

“Not yet,” Helen replied. “I need to console the grieving widow first.”

Helen walked up to the woman, who was wearing a black dress and matching veil. “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said.

“So am I,” Harold said, cutting Helen off and holding the widow Fowler’s hand. He was out of breath from rushing over.

Helen have Harold a sideways stink-eye as she reached out and put a hand on the widow’s shoulder. “If you need anything, I’m here for you.”

“So am I,” Harold said. “I’ll bring over a casserole or two. My Lee loves to make them.”

“I’ll make sure your house gets cleaned,” Helen said. “My son can do your yard too.”

“I can help you get your bills in order,” Harold said.

“I can rub your feet,” Helen said.

“You can have my organs,” Harold said. “Except my kidney. I only have one since the other died inside me.”

The widow Fowler looked disgusted. “I’m sorry, but do I know you two?”

“Yeah,” Helen replied. “It’s me, Rose Masters.”

“Alright,” Rose said, pulling Helen away by her arm. “Impersonating me is my limit.”

“I couldn’t think of another name quick enough,” Helen said. “And you just let Harold win! Just look at his smug face!”

“Come on,” Rose said. “You wanted to come to the memorial, now you’re sitting through it.”

“Good idea,” Helen said. “It’s one to one, and we’re not done yet.”

Rose sighed. “I just had to try to punish you…”


Da’Quarius left Paulie’s, carrying his pizza. Sassy was waiting outside on the city bench, just like he knew she would. She looked genuinely excited to see him, and he wondered how well Paulie’s advice to let her down gently was going to go.

“Hi,” Sassy said, getting up and walking with Da’Quarius. “Sorry to keep following you, but I really wanted to talk. I like you.”

Da’Quarius sighed. “Look,” he said, “You don’t even know me. We met today at da’ bodega, an’ you’ve been followin’ me all day. I know you think you like me an’ all, but dat’s creepy as fuck.”

“Oh,” Sassy said. “Sorry.”

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I was supposed to let you down gently. I just don’t know what to say right now, you puttin’ me on da’ spot an’ all.”

“Sorry,” Sassy said.

“Stop sayin’ you’re sorry,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t know why you’re so attached to me anyway.”

“I just moved here,” Sassy replied. “You’re the first kid I’ve seen that I might have anything in common with.”

“Your mean cuz I’m black?” Da’Quarius asked.

Sassy shrugged. “And I haven’t seen you at school either,” she added.

“My moms send me to a private school,” Da’Quarius said. “It kinda sucks, but they’re paranoid I’ll get killed in public school. It was kinda racist of ‘em, but dey old school like dat, where dey don’t realize it.”

“Oh,” Sassy said. It was clear that she didn’t understand most of what he was talking about, just starting out as Da’Quarius’s stalker that morning and all.

“Dis ain’t gonna happen with you an’ me,” Da’Quarius continued. “You can’t just start followin’ people home and hope for da’ best. I wouldn’t mind bein’ yo’ friend if we see each other ‘round da’ neighborhood, but I’m not interested in datin’.”

“Why not?” Sassy asked.

“I’m just not attracted to black women,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t know why. I just never have been.”

“Isn’t that racist?” Sassy asked.

“I dunno,” Da’Quarius said. “It’s just what I like. I can’t help it. A lot of people have stuff like dat. Look at my Unca Paulie. He mostly likes black women, the chubbier da’ better.”

“Your uncle?” Sassy asked.

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “He’s da’ guy who I was talkin’ to at da’ pizzeria. Dat’s my Unca Paulie.”

“Oh,” Sassy said. “I better go. I’ll leave you alone.”

“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “If you say so, Sassy.”

“Bye,” Sassy said, running off in the other direction.

“Dat was easier than I thought it would be,” Da’Quarius said to himself, continuing his walk home. There was a quiet hose and a movie waiting for him.


“Thank you all for coming,” the funeral director said to the people sitting in the parlor. “If anyone would like to say anything about Ronald, you can stand up and do so now.”

The parlor was silent. Either enough had been said about the departed already, or everyone was too embarrassed to go first. Helen decided to seize the opportunity and stood. Rose tried to pull her back down, but it was too late. Harold saw her, and he stood as well, using his own cane to help him rise.

“He was a great man!” Helen said, walking away from Rose, toward the front of the parlor. “He was taken too soon from us!”

“God took him too soon!” Harold said, shaking his first toward the ceiling.




Harold was ready with a retort. “I’M GOING TO KICK YOUR ASS IN AND TOSS YOUR BODY IN A SWAMP!”


“Alright,” one of the funeral directors said, seizing Helen by the arm. “It’s time to go.”

“You too,” another said, coming for Harold. “Let’s go, pal.”

“Let me go!” Helen exclaimed. “I’m not done mourning!”

“I win!” Harold shouted. “You got pulled out first!”

“Like hell I did!” Helen said. “I got the last word in!”

“TAKE ME INSTEAD, GOD!” Harold shouted.

“FRANK!” Helen shouted, being pulled from the room. “I’LL AVENGE YOUR DEATH WITH BLOOD AND FIRE!”

Rose and Lee met by the door, embarrassingly looking at one another. “I never knew funeral homes had bouncers,” Rose said.

“Thank God they do,” Lee said. “They would have gone on all day.”

“Do you want to get some tea while they sort Helen and Harold out?” Rose asked. “They have some in the lobby.”

“That sounds lovely,” Lee said. The two of them left, stared at by the memorial attendees.


“Order up,” Paulie said, bringing a freshly made pizza to a table. “Small mushroom and pepper?”

“That’s mine,” Sassy said, smiling. “You’re Paulie, right?”

“That’s me,” Paulie said, setting the pizza down in front of Sassy. “The name on the sign gives it away. Can I get you anything else?”

“No,” Sassy replied, smiling at Paulie. “Not right now anyway.”

“Good,” Paulie said, returning his customer’s smile. “Let me know if that changes, OK?”

“I will,” Sassy said as Paulie walked away. She sighed contently, watching him. “I will, Paulie…”

The End

Budgie’s Journal #133 – Tuesday Nights are for Freedom Lane

You heard right. Freedom Lane will be returning a week from tonight with season 13! What can you expect from the thirteenth season? The Garcia brothers open their own bodega to Paulie’s chagrin, Da’Quarius gets his very own stalker, Tony wants to join a country club, Helen and Harold try to out-mourn each other, Rose and Paulie get into a tiff, Helen challenges a local celebrity to a duel of wits, and much more!

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