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I Steal Your Heritage

By DrKatz in Fiction
Wed Sep 29, 2004 at 08:03:43 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)

Paperwork bores me. Usually I don't fill it out.

But in jail, you don't have a choice.

At the end of the forms I get to a series of boxes about my ethnicity. Caucasian. Black. East Asian Islander. I don't check a box. I give my paperwork to the cop, and he points to the part I didn't fill in. I shrug. He looks me over and shrugs too.

Then he checks "other", and points me to the courtroom.

The judge in Carson City has a comb over. I should know. I have one too. Carson City is a wonderful place with an incredible history. It bored me to death. So I broke some things. Called it entropy. The judge in Carson City called it arson and a month in the county jail.

I called it a terrible mistake, committed by a broken man as a result of a broken life. The judge told me I'd better fix myself, and fast. I told him I wanted to, that I used to fix things for a living, but that I didn't have all the necessary parts.

Told him about the Fence in Reno. The one that my took my trigger finger, has it still. We settled on fixing the windows I smashed at the Municipal Center.


At the Municipal Center I shiver. Carson City wasn't supposed to be this cold. Carson City looked sunny in the pictures. When I first got there I told the man in the motel lobby, so he looked outside and laughed. Asked me if I was dumb, said it was sunny. Sunny and cold. I didn't think the two could go together.

Some group is meeting in the Center, I can see them through the open window. They do not look cold. A girl inside sees me and smiles, and steps outside to have a smoke.

Were the Universe to persist in a trillion years the glass I'm putting into the windows will be lying in a pool on the floor. Glass is a fluid substance. Most substances are, over a trillion years. But the heat death will happen much sooner

At any rate, by breaking it, I'm just speeding up inevitability. I explain this to the girl, who squints at me and asks me my name.

"I don't have one." Hers is Glenda. Its pinned to her sweater, on a button that says "How can I help you?"

"Everyone has a name."

"Some people call me Ringo."

"What's that short for."

"Nothing, I guess."

"Everything is short for something. It sounds German to me. You here for Oktoberfest?" She nods to the banner hanging over the power line on Main Street.

"The social club was just meeting about it."

"Ringo isn't German." I slide the window into place and breath fog onto the pane.

Glenda squints again, this time at the place where my finger used to be. I squint back.  Nobody wants a con with a comb over.

"Well, you look like you got a little German in you. Mom or dad's side?"

"I don't know. Far as I'm concerned I don't have parents. Never met them." I do have a Grandmother though. Almost tracked her down, but then she had to die. She put me in her will, had something very important for me, according to the Fence in Reno. But I still haven't got what I'm owed. "Besides, Ringo isn't German."

"We could change that."

Glenda disappears inside, and comes back with some paperwork.

"Want a new name?"  She grabs my arm and grins. "It's easy."

In the sunlight, in the reflection of the glass, my comb over doesn't look half bad.

Neither does Glenda.

"Sure baby. Surprise me."


There are so many things I did not know about jadgwurst. Glenda enlightens me at Oktoberfest, and then she takes me home.

"Daddy, this is Günter. He fixes things."

This is Günter. But not for long. The name is like sand paper on my soul. Not that I believe in souls. Daddy looks me over.

"Got some German in you Günter? Whats the rest?"

A little bit of everything, I think. Like jadgwurst.

"Nope, just German."

"Well, enjoy your stay."

At dinner Glenda plays footsie under the table.

Carson City is warming up.


The next day I finish the windows. I tell Glenda to meet me in my motel room, to bring a forty. She takes work off early and then works on taking off her shirt, which still has the pin on it. After she removes that I find that she's got a load of questions she has to get off her little chest as well. She runs her trigger finger over the space where mine used to be.

"I lost it in a pawn shop in Reno."


"I ran into a problem I couldn't fix, and then I wasn't fast enough."

I tracked the safe Grandmother left me to Reno, tracked it to the Fence. But the Fence wasn't planning on coming through. Then again, I wasn't planning on having to use the gun. She quits pressing me with questions and starts pressing against me with her body. But I couldn't shake it, couldn't shake the parts of me I was missing.  

She draws her hand through my hair and comes away with a chunk of it.


I'm falling apart. Who knows what I'll lose next? Maybe I'll start with the name. So I take the forty and leave Glenda alone.


I end up back at the Municipal Center where I met Glenda. Jadgwurst left a bad taste in my mouth.  I throw the empty forty at the Oktoberfest banner. I miss. It falls back down and hits me in the shoulder without breaking.

The Center is closed, so I throw the bottle through the window. Then I decide I want to turn in for the night, so I stumble into the jail and turn myself in.


Everything is in decay, except the prison in Carson City. It is exceptionally well put together. I wish I could say the same for the judge. This time he has a rug. The judge asks me what happened and why, so I tell him.

About the Grandmother who tried to find me, according to the Fence. The ten thousand pages she left me. The family history the orphanage never told me. The story of who I was. My heritage locked in a safe in Reno. The one the Fence had, or said he had. I used to think I would be the sorta guy who could draw pretty fast. And maybe I was. But the Fence drew faster.

And then my heritage wasn't the only part of me I was missing. So the judge tells me to put myself back together again, along with the windows, this time with bulletproof glass.


At the Municipal Center I see them putting up a new banner on main street. Carson City celebrating diversity. Rosh Hashanah.  I'm placing the glass, when I stop and look into the meeting room.

I see her illuminated in a shaft of icy sunlight, surrounded by men with yamachas and women with long black skirts. She doesn't have to be seen in the reflection of the glass to look good.  

I feel warm, or drunk, or both. So I step inside and get the paperwork. This time I don't mind filling it out. I hand it to the clerk, who has been watching the meeting from a room across the hall. Looks like he would rather be inside too. He scans the paper.

 "So, you wanna be Solomon? You look sorta Jewish. I'm half, but it's on my father's side, so I don't count. You half?"

"No," I shake my head. "I'm the real thing."

I feel bad for the clerk. He's like me, in that he doesn't exactly fit anywhere, half and half. But unlike me, he probably knows exactly what those halves are. Inside the pretty girl isn't wearing a pin, but she asks if she can help me anyway.

"I'm late to the meeting." About thirty years late, I think.

"Well, that's ok. My name is Hannah. We're just working out the final details for the festival. But the main tent is broken."

Finally, a problem I can fix.


After the repairs I step outside to admire my work. Hannah steps outside to admire me. The yamicha covers up the hair I'm missing. We go out for coffee, and talk about the importance of preserving our true culture.

"We must never forget who we are."

Or, in my case, who I'm not.

"So, you're Solomon. We don't have very many Solomons around here."

"I'm not from around here."

"Where, then?"

"I used to live in Reno." Ringo used to live in Reno. But Ringo doesn't exist anymore.

"Ahhh, your grandparents must be part of the group that emigrated from Louisiana after the Purchase."

"How do you know all that?"

"I'm an ethnographer."

"Wow. Awesome. That's incredible. What's an ethnographer?"

Hannah laughs and tells me her story. Then she asks for mine. I tell her about my family, and how we overcame prejudice and hatred and triumphed to find our cultural identity. She invites me to Shabbat.


There is no jadgwurst, thank god. It's against their religion. And, for different reasons, mine. Everything is great, for the most part. Oktoberfest was all right, but Rosh Hashanah is better. For the most part. Gunter didn't seem to fit me, and neither does Solomon. But I can deal. Glenda was good looking, but Hannah is gorgeous. Especially after a bottle of wine.

There is dancing, and singing, and food. But ultimately, there is prayer. They ask me to do the honors. I don't like to think about honor much. I left it in Reno. I'd rehearsed, just in case. But I was drunk, and Hannah was intoxicating. The words do not come out right. Everyone stares.

I shrink. The error is passed over, but when no one is looking, I leave, with a bottle of wine.


Somehow I end up at the municipal center again. The wine is shit, and the bottle won't even hit the Rosh Hashanah banner. I've been a rotten throw since I lost the finger. So I toss it into the window, but it bounces off. I toss it again, and then I toss myself.

But it won't give way. I want it too, want it to fall apart. But it won't. I'll have to wait for the Universe to slow, and cool, and for the individual atoms to rip apart as we finally approach absolute zero. I stagger towards the prison anyway, feeling pretty close to absolute zero myself. Carson City is cold again.

I lean against the wall of the jail, then I let gravity take its course and pull me back down to earth. But someone grabs me by the ear, and pulls me up.

"Who are you."

It is Hannah.

"I am Solomon."

Hannah pinions my arm behind my back, and twists some of the fingers I still have.

"Who are you."

"My family emigrated to Reno from Louisiana, where we overcame adversity and -"

Hannah rips off my yamacha, along with the rest of my hair.

"Who are you."

I'd lost the hair, lost the yamacha, might as well lose the rest.

"I don't know. That's the truth."

I tell her about the orphanage, the real parents I never knew. The Grandmother who knew I existed, who must have tried to track me down. The Fence who picked up the safe that was meant for me at the Estate Sale, who teased me about it for six years, extorted me for just as long.

Told me he had the keys to everything I was looking for in a safe he picked up for ten bucks. Asked me how much it was worth.  I gave him several estimates, but it was never enough. So one day I told him exactly how much it was worth, with a gun, and he shot my finger off. So I got out of Reno.

Hannah sits down on a crate, and smiles.

"It's my turn to fix things. Lets get you some place warm."  


In the Diner she gets out a pad of paper and quizzes me again, for all the details. The things I remembered, the things I was missing. The problems I fixed, and the ones I couldn't. She looks me over, and scratches her head.

"I will find out who you are." She looks into my eyes.

"You know what you look like? That picture on the cover of Time Magazine, in the early '90s.  The one with the person whose picture was created by merging a thousand different ethnicities together. You're that person. You are the future of America. Who knows who your parents could be? And why should it matter? We can all see ourselves in you."

She looked excited, but it wasn't working for me. I didn't want to know that I was the future of America. I just wanted to know who I was and what I was missing.

"Done with your speech?"

Hannah grips my arm.

"Don't mock me. I have an obsession with a little thing called truth."

She composes herself. "I'll see what I can find, look into the orphanage listings. A lot of those old records might have disappeared. But maybe I can dig something up."


I sleep on Hannah's couch until it is sunny out and the apartment is empty. Then I go out and walk through the city. They're taking down the banner for Rosh Hashanah, replacing it with A Taste of India, but I don't care, don't look through the window of the Municipal Center. I am somebody. Hannah is gonna find out who. I can get back to fixing everything. I get started by fixing her VCR.

But that evening she comes back empty handed. So the next day I fix her air conditioner, though I can't see that anyone in Carson City should ever have to use one.

Some time passes.

Eventually I put the finishing touches on the player piano in her living room, and there isn't anything else to fix. She tells me she is doing her best, checked the University listings, the county records, and tells me there must be something I know that I haven't told her, and that she'll keep on it.  

I don't have the heart to tell her that I've been doing ok the past few days. Been breaking things for so long, forgot how much I liked fixing them. Haven't even really thought about who I was, these past few sunny days.

Instead I tell her I fixed her player piano, and she says thank you, but that she doesn't need it anymore. Hasn't listened to music in a while, wants to sell. But then Hannah gets an idea.

"You said you knew of a pawn shop in Reno, why don't we take it there."

I nodded, but I wasn't sure I wanted to go back. After all, I could have all along, if I really wanted to. Everybody misses something, in these modern times. For me, it was my finger, my hair, a few scraps of paper that would supposedly tell me who I was, though I was becoming less sure that anything could tell me that, day by day.

For Hannah, the thing she was missing was of a different nature entirely.


There is no sunshine in Reno, only neon and whores. The Temporary Consignment Pawn shop has both out front. Inside, there are Tongue harps and harpsichords, pool cues and cue cards. Everything and nothing. There is an old woman snoring behind the counter, Hannah jab her until she wakes.

"A man used to work here. A Fence."

The woman doesn't move, doesn't raise her head. She just points to a shelf with an urn labeled Franklin. We don't have to open it up.

"Do you have any safes here? We are looking for one...Franklin said that he had it..."

The woman sags off her stool and motions for us to follow. She leads us to a backroom, through a part of the pawn shop most people don't get to see. It's like the front part, the back room, except here everything is broken. Everything is ruined. I am temped to get out a screwdriver, a hammer, nails. I am tempted to repair these broken things, these broken parts of lives. How could anyone leave these parts of themselves here, to decay?

At the very back is a shelf, filled with a hundred little safes. There are no keys. Hannah looks back at me and grins.

"We'll have to try and open every one."

I nod, and smile sadly, and walk back to the front. Perhaps the broken parts are better off. They will remain here. The other things - they are heritage too, but they will be purchased, re-appropriated, resold again. It's all kitsch here. And maybe that's our true heritage. Even if it isn't, it's the closest thing we've got.

And then I have to get out of there, away from it, so I walk out side, and gape at the sky, the early morning sunshine peeking through the clouds and pouring down my throat. Then the clouds close up once more.

There is nothing left for me in Reno.


I hear Tahoe has all the sunshine of Carson City, without the cold. I hear Tahoe has all the excitement of Reno, with none of the whores. I hear Tahoe is a nice place, and once I get there I'm going to find out. I've never been obsessed with truth. Just with fixing things. Finding my heritage was part of that obsession. I used to see my heritage as the missing piece to my broken life. But know I know I might as well let it slide, along with the rest of the Universe.

I left Hannah back in Reno. I left the safe back in Reno, I don't need it anymore. I don't need anyone to look for the parts I'm missing. Me, I know I'm not going to get the hair back, or the finger. Why bother with the rest. After all, someone once told me I was the man of the future. And I hear they're having a cultural celebration in Tahoe. Indian, African, Mexican, you name it. Who knows which one I'll pick next? Today I am Solomon, tomorrow I will be someone else entirely. The future's gotta hold something besides entropy.

In Tahoe, I'm going to find out what that is.


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I Steal Your Heritage | 52 comments (17 topical, 35 editorial, 1 hidden)
Are you a cts dupe account? [nt] (3.00 / 10) (#1)
by Empedocles on Sun Sep 26, 2004 at 08:25:12 PM EST

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
'Till touch down brings me 'round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home

Fuck (none / 0) (#24)
by sllort on Mon Sep 27, 2004 at 04:16:51 PM EST

Why don't we get to meet the little german?
Warning: On Lawn is a documented liar.
An Interesting Story. (none / 0) (#26)
by For Whom The Bells Troll on Mon Sep 27, 2004 at 07:59:49 PM EST

Thanks for sharing.

The Big F Word.
Im trying to make any sense outta this... (none / 0) (#28)
by The Amazing Idiot on Mon Sep 27, 2004 at 11:01:32 PM EST

But there seems to be absolutely no.. underlining idea or something I can grasp.

It's just piecemeal blurps that really dont add anything to the next piece. It's -1 as far as Im concerned.

Too long [NT] (1.25 / 4) (#31)
by nebbish on Tue Sep 28, 2004 at 04:53:39 AM EST

Kicking someone in the head is like punching them in the foot - Bruce Lee

arghh (none / 1) (#36)
by transient0 on Tue Sep 28, 2004 at 12:57:04 PM EST

well, i tried to vote +1fp but due to my tragic inability to use such simple interfaces as pull-down menus, i voted abstain instead.

so, for the record, i thought it was very good.`

I don't really like the title, it seems like too proud of a statement for the protag to ever really utter, but I smiled at "So I broke some things. Called it entropy. The judge in Carson City called it arson and a month in the county jail."

and kept smiling.
lysergically yours

Huh. (none / 0) (#37)
by Kwil on Tue Sep 28, 2004 at 02:19:45 PM EST

The introduction was enough to keep me from dropping the F-1ction mark on it..

..but the rest didn't live up to it.


That Jesus Christ guy is getting some terrible lag... it took him 3 days to respawn! -NJ CoolBreeze

You should be ashamed that you submitted this. (1.12 / 8) (#39)
by up on Tue Sep 28, 2004 at 08:27:44 PM EST

Started out so well... (3.00 / 3) (#44)
by RadiantMatrix on Wed Sep 29, 2004 at 10:35:01 AM EST

Your introduction was excellent.  A great job establishing the main character's attitude in a clean, off-hand manner.

But, the whole thing kind of broke apart after meeting Glenda.  We lose our identification with the character.  I think you have a real chance to identify with everyone that has ever felt like they were nobody (and that's just about everyone), but it needs further refinement.

A good start: keep working on it!
"In any sufficiently large group of people, most are idiots" - Kaa's Law

Free Heritage Here (none / 0) (#46)
by IPO143 on Fri Oct 01, 2004 at 10:00:48 AM EST

sounds like he has no cultural background. thus his insecurity over who he is. who cares. when in rome..... On the other hand, at his age he should have a better idea of himself than just rambling about race & the like. At least he is not one of those better than thou full of pride types. Really makes one wonder, considering how many people have mixed backgrounds or are, ancestrally speaking, from far away places. Didn't read whole story because was too painful.
Not bad. (none / 0) (#48)
by TheMealwormFarm on Sat Oct 02, 2004 at 11:12:58 PM EST

There isn't enough fiction on K5.

"Grandpa, didn't you wonder why you were getting paid for doing absolutely nothing?"
"Well, I figured the Demmycrats were in office again."
ok story, but it's spelled jagdwurst, not jadg (none / 0) (#49)
by mnem on Thu Oct 07, 2004 at 08:54:40 AM EST

Enjoyed the story but... (none / 0) (#50)
by Matimus on Thu Oct 07, 2004 at 05:02:33 PM EST

Even someone with no identity has more character. I was imagining an ex-con with amnesia the whole time. Even if you don't know your parents or culture, you still have an identity, a home. Of course this might all be moot, because the story seems to follow a vague literary short fiction style, where the character really represents an idea or emotion. The thing I don't get though is... Why are these attractive women so willing to help a balding con with a missing finger. Even if you are unattractive, confidence can get you a long way, but this character didn't seem confident, he seemed confused. Plus the references to entropy and absolute zero seemed very out of character, however true or clever.
sigs r dum
Thanks!!! (none / 0) (#51)
by DrKatz on Thu Oct 07, 2004 at 09:54:04 PM EST

Thanks for the feedback, that's the sort of stuff I can really use. You are right on all counts - though I want to avoid giving my character too much of a personality - for reasons you caught on too - I agree as far as the women go. In my latest revision I have altered the situation and the character's background somewhat.

Tell me, son of Esau, Mr. "Katz", why do you hate YHWH?
-- Johnathan Walther
[ Parent ]
I Steal Your Heritage | 52 comments (17 topical, 35 editorial, 1 hidden)
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