There’s this realtor in town named Rich Bassford, and yes, what you’re thinking is exactly what I was thinking the first time I drove past one of his signs. Did that just say…oh, BASSford, hah! But Rich isn’t just an ordinary realtor – he’s trying to corner the market, or become THE guru on buying and selling homes in the Quad Cities. No matter where you go, you can’t escape the smiling visage of ol’ Rich: plastered on billboards, wrapped over buses, sprinkled in every neighborhood. Once, I even saw an ad where he shook hands with millionaire Barbara Corcoran, with a voiceover of her recommending Rich Bassford, and I wondered to myself if that was a $10,000 handshake. I also wonder if Rich has kids, and if so, what did he name them? Does he have a doting daughter he named Lucky? How about an unwanted, destitute Bassford child? Is there a long forgotten crazy uncle in his life, one the family refers to in hushed tones around the campfire as ‘Old, Dirty Bassford’? In honor of such a fantastic name, my apprentice and I conjured up our own realtor aliases: Will Swindle and Stealy McMonies, power duo. To be honest, Drew and I have no plans to switch industries. Electrician is a highly skilled and well-paid profession – one that nobody wants to get into these days, and that suits us just fine. But there are a lot of realtors, and thanks to online resources and for sale by owner, a shrinking clientele. How long can Rich stay on top? The market is strong this side of the border, thanks to the mass exodus of citizens fleeing communist China Illinois. But what about smaller towns where life is less busy, and less transient? What will the landscape look like for them in the years to come? I have a lot of friends with eyes for the country, or at least smaller communities, and as someone who blessedly grew up in one, believe me, I can understand why.
A note on all issues prior to 2023
In 2023, we switched email sending services. Converting entire issues into our new sender and their formatting is a fair bit of work, and with our limited resources, we've decided to expedite the process by focusing on converting only the story and intro. Perhaps some day we'll get around to the rest of it, but for now, enjoy the story.
Back when you were in high school, your dad concocted a game – a silly, small-town jest exercised in transit by he and his conspirators. They would laugh and joke and fart as they idled through Main Street, portly adults packed in the old station wagon, racking up points by what they beheld, bickering over fictional foul play, basking in imaginary victories, sullen in defeat.
And you, young teenager, take this provincial sport, and retool it.
Imagine driving around town in your robin’s egg blue Ford Ranger. The wheel wells are rusting out and half of the cylinders are misfiring, but the old beater runs, and the heater blasts like a smith’s furnace. This old town is the gameboard, and its denizens are the pieces, for this is no ordinary hamlet - this is Maquoketa, full of strangelings and weirdos; Deli Kathy coasting down Platt Street on her antique bicycle, the Pigman spouting gibberish at KJ’s gas station, a drunk cruising past on his lawnmower to or from Bill’s Tap, the occasional moped brigade.
What these creatures have in common is this; they’re all worth one point.
Your nitwit friends – like your dad and his cohorts – quickly warm to the game. The Ranger can only hold three, so you swap vehicles. The sun disappears, the sidewinders emerge; they take to the dark like litter to the curb. You catch movement in the distance. “Crazy Martha!” you shout, gaining the lead. Cody ties it up, spying house-marm BJ doing something (anything) outside of the house.
In the back seat, Stuart calls a risky future point a block away. “Mr. Seims in the window,” he says, “I’m predicting it.” As you drive by, a round silhouette in front of a big screen appears, and Stuart bellows, reveling in his gambit’s payoff.
Points come and points go. False calls are made, scores are removed, accusations, arguments, bitter proclamations; everyone stands on the shaky ground of his own integrity. Once the anger diminishes, all parties agree to a one-point tie breaker.
Cody takes his Eagle slow down Summit. You try and throw the others off by directing their attention, “Hey, isn’t that where Lopster pooped on the fence? Is that Engstrom traversing the tundra in his moccasins? Look over there, The Douche is practicing his golf swing in the window!” The others are wise to your schemes.
The reflection off a pop can is what first catches your eye, and then the recognition. “POINT,” everyone cries in unison. As the headlights break the fog, you spy a heavy green duster draped over his shoulders, his worn boots scuff the pavement, a button down is popped open at the collar, exposing a gold necklace against leathered skin. He’s unveiled in all his glory: Six Pack Jack, the holy grail of points.
Jack is old and elusive and yet everywhere, like some sort of endangered Waldo, mythical boozer, a Chupacabra in human form. He’s Can City’s biggest supplier, a one-man street sweeper sifting the garbage and converting his treasure five cents at a time. You never speak to him, just offer your silent respect; he floats a hand in the air, and you wave back.
Dubz once claimed to have conversed with him on a stuffy July afternoon. “Pretty hot out there today, Jack.” Jack turns his head like an owl. “I wish it was a hundred degrees hotter.”
Jack’s been canning the streets for decades, yet oddly enough, whenever you speak of his prowess to outsiders, they scoff. You’re just a bunch of spooky Mulders in a world of Dana Scullys, hack conspiracy theorists devoid of credibility. You attempt to show these doubters proof, but in all your days you managed only one photo – a shaky, far away still frame that many call forgery. ‘It’s just Nemmers with a mask,’ they say. ‘Why, look at the leaves, clearly photoshopped.’ They’ve labeled you cons, liars, storytellers and tricksters. The experts claim that this creature could never survive the climate, or that they heard the same tales of a man out west, or in the Smokey’s, or Pakistan: Twenty Ounce Tom, Homeless Joe Jackson, Brown Bottle Buddha. In some of these stories he’s a Vietnam vet, in others he lifts shopping carts and sips rubbing alcohol.
But you know the truth, that back when you were young, when the world was an open book, its pages smooth to the touch of your fingertips, your dad concocted a game: of people and points, of friends and strangers, the best and worst that your small town had to offer. And what you wouldn’t give to go back, even if just for a moment.
Decades have passed. If you take a ride through town, you’ll notice that things have changed. Like the points of yesteryear, businesses have come and gone, old farmhouses replaced by shopping strips, downtown has been burned, recalibrated, and freshly blacktopped. But if you drive down Main and Platt – take it nice and slow on a warm summer day – lower the window and let your calloused fingers play off the side of your F-150 like an imaginary piano, if you’re lucky, you just might spot an old pickup truck passing by. Paint may be peeling off the wheel wells, the bumper is likely rusting into obscurity. The men cramped inside are older now, with gray hair and glasses, pills and pensions. But their laughter hasn’t changed as they rack up points, as they bicker, as they bask in victory, and as they fade into the background of this old town.
About the Author Danny Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as a master electrician for his own company. In his spare time, Dan rides and builds mountain bike trails, scrapes infinitely spawning cat hurl off the basement floor, and runs Story Unlikely, an award-winning literary magazine where he floats around self-important titles like 'Editor-in-chief'. His work has besmirched the good reputations of Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Tenth Muse, and many more unfortunate publishers, as well as being awarded semi-finalist in Writers of the Future.
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