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THE FILTHY OLD MAN by Connor Goodwin

The filthy old man crunched his hand and tossed an empty can over his shoulder, eyes on the road. It landed on a pile of other cans and started a noisy avalanche of aluminum. Some of the crushed cans were tied up in yellow plastic bags from Super Saver, but most were loose and littered the floor. When he had time, he’d take them to the can guy.

The can guy operated out of a parking lot. It was just him and a bunch of flies. The compactor looked like a tall semi-trailer. At the base was a conveyor belt that carried the cans on high. We called it the Stairway to Heaven. Heaven smelled like stale beer, like the old man’s winter coat before he got filthy. When he had time.

The filthy old man lived in a van. And the van, like the man, was filthy. No one would be surprised if, one day, the garbage men mistook the van for a dumpster and lifted it and shook its contents loose. Out would pour a never-ending waterfall of trash: cans, wrappers, newspaper, plastic bags, yellow paperbacks, scraps of paper, half-empty Gatorade bottles, hairballs, plastics of all kinds, spoons, coffee lids, magazines, yogurt cups, sun-bleached clothes, dirty socks, soccer shoes, baseballs and gloves, dirt, loads of boogers, Barnes and Noble receipts. Only one thing belonged and that was the ice scraper. The ice scraper, of course, was broken and frankly, ought to’ve been thrown away.

The filthy old man climbed atop his dirty gold van. He smelled Heaven. Then he nosedived down like a torpedo, curled into a tight cannonball, flipped round three times and stuck the landing. He thrust his arms skyward in triumph and out his raggedy sleeves flew dirty handkerchiefs and stained playing cards. Ice scraper in hand, he planted it like a flag and did a little jig once around. His swinging legs kicked trash in every direction. He then withdrew the ice scraper like Excalibur and batted and golfed away loads of cans in such a fury that he kicked up a cloud of dust.

When the air finally cleared, everyone could see the cherry he sculpted. The cherry was actually a pulpit. And from his mountaintop, the filthy old man surveyed the land. He leaned back and hawked up a loogie and slingshot it into an empty can of beans. Ping!

This signaled the sermon had begun. A nation of crusty men, with nowhere to go but around, gathered to hear his sermon. The filthy old man’s face was nothing more than a red scab – a scab he picked and picked and never let heal, like an irritable volcano. And boy he glowed. He was spitting fire from the pulpit.

The filthy old man’s sermon began: He who is filthy, let him filthy be still. And the crusties below shouted Amen! Then he recapped last week’s games and the crusties nodded knowingly. Some high-fived and some fell to their knees and wept. Then he lamented the price of gas and the dirty wars in the Middle East that hurt or helped Middle West ethanol. The crusties nodded along, Amen! He ended with a prayer and that prayer was a dirty knock-knock joke.

Then he shoved his pulpit off the peak and leaped aboard and rode down the trash mountain to join his crusty congregation below. A cloud of flies trailed in his wake. More converts.

He’d been to Heaven and back. Why not kick the can down the road.

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