Story Time: Mrs. Fagin and the Urchins

Urchins from Oliver, 1968.

The response to last Sunday’s recycled and rewritten post was so gratifying that I decided to do it again. This story was published on First Draft on October 15, 2009 and on my eponymous blog on January 5, 2009. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Here’s the set-up. When this was written, I owned and operated a small business in French Quarter with a prime location at Jackson Square. Having a business in the Quarter can be both very interesting and utterly appalling. This story fits the latter category:

I had a rather Dickensian afternoon in the Quarter yesterday. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times: yadda, yadda, yadda. The better bit was the absence of football redneckery, Crimson Tide style. Don’t get me wrong: most of the grownup Alabamians were charming and even civilized but the young’uns were barely housebroken or is that trailer broken? Whichever it was, I wanted to rub their noses in their mess, but they’re gone now. But that wasn’t even the worst of times…

The worst of times involved two episodes; neither of which had anything to do with Martin Chuzzlewit, which is a name I love saying. There were two stringy haired harridans who came into the shop reeking of tobacco and stale beer. As one of the most fanatical non-smokers this side of Joe Califano, I can always tell a heavy smoker: they tend to smell like an ashtray from the set of Mad Men.

If they weren’t awful enough, they were accompanied by 6 surly lads who ranged in age from 8 to 15. Initially, I was relieved that these blond suburban urchins stayed outside. Mrs. Fagin and her friend (Mrs. Jaryndice?) barraged me with banal questions, chattered incessantly, and were intensely annoying. The urchins stood glowering in the doorway. The oldest one who was, more or less, the Inartful Dodger of the lot began puffing smoke into the shop from the open door.

I walked over, told him to knock it off; before I closed the door, he flicked some ashes inside. In the immortal words of the sarcastic teevee slob Onslow:

Since the door was shut, the head urchin and his sidekick naturally leaned against it while the others played “let’s leave our fingerprints on the windows.”

At least dusting for prints will be easy if something goes awry or if I start craving rye bread…

The spell was broken by a nice woman from New York who was willing to run the urchin gauntlet and entered shaking her head. Mrs. Fagin and her friend exited stage right. The new customer looked at me and said: “What kind of mother lets her son blow smoke in people’s faces? I know, a bad one.”

The tension was broken and I guffawed loudly like Dangerblond or even worse Maitri who has a laugh that’s almost as loud as a Ramones concert. Alas, I’m unable to reach the sonic level of Liprap’s cackle, which is loud enough to break glass…

(Note: The names mentioned are three of my OG NOLA blogger friends; one of whose blog is no longer online.)

My (Oliver) twisted adventures were not over. I went around the corner to the drug store to get a snack. I was relieved that Vincent the surly guy with elaborate dreadlocks wasn’t working the register. I’d had enough of surly yoots for one day.

The girl working the register is as sweet as molasses and twice as slow but, hey, she’s pleasant and doesn’t do surly. As I stood in line, I felt a hand graze my back pocket. It was-you guessed it-an urchin of the street entertainer variety trying to boost my wallet. I almost went Bill Sikes on his ass but decided instead to lightly elbow the little bugger. I told him that if he did that again I’d elbow him where it would *really* hurt.

To my surprise, the store manager asked the urchin for ID, which was, even more surprisingly, produced. The manager made a copy, returned the urchinoid ID and told him he was banned from the store. It warmed the cockles of my heart whatever the hell they are. Hmm, I wonder if Bill Sikes had cockles? I guess not: a heart is required.


Above is a picture of my favorite cinematic Bill Sikes: Robert Newton in David Lean’s Oliver Twist. Newton is all snarling menace and gives the best performance in the film. Alec Guinness’ turn as Fagin is too Shylocky (they forgot to tell him that ham isn’t kosher, apparently) for my taste and pales in comparison to his performance as Herbert Pocket in Lean’s Great Expectations, which is on my all-time top twenty film list. Speaking of Fagins and pockets (picked and otherwise) here’s Ron Moody from Oliver with the last word: