Wednesday is typically a slow day at Minutes for Seconds pawn shop. Despite the slower customer traffic, owner Harry Burt still enjoys it. Neighborhood mother Mrs. Chatterlong is always waiting alone when he opens the doors at 10:00AM. She brings with her a unique item to sell, a warm morning snack, and a story or two to wash it down. This time, however, Hump Day would be a bit different than usual.
The shop is quiet as Harry steps from the dim administrative area of his business into the brightly lit show room. He can hear electricity humming through the ceiling lights as he approaches the heavily barred entrance to open for the day, the heels of his leather cowboy boots clicking on the tile flood. As he expects, there waits Mrs. Chatterlong. Unexpected was a disheveled gentleman waiting next to her.
Mrs. Chatterlong is bundled in a long plaid dress coat to protect from the chilly fall breeze, her silver hair peaking from beneath a blue rag tied below her chin. She is tightly clutching her purse to her chest, a brown box with no markings rests on the ground between her and the door. The man standing behind her is wearing holey denim pants, fingerless gloves, and a tattered green jacket with flakes of cotton protruding from various rips. His face is concealed by the jacket hood. He’s holding what looks like a picture frame under his right arm, and in his left he grips a duffle bag drooping considerably near its middle, its contents apparently heavy.
“Good morning, Mrs. Chatterlong,” Harry says, greeting her cheerfully. “How is Gary doing? Would you like me to bring your box in for you?” She looks over her shoulder at the man behind her, then quickly rushes into the pawn shop. “I thought you’d never open, Harry!” she exclaims in passing with snobby inflection. The hooded man enters a few seconds after her. He never looks up, never says a word. Harry follows them both, carrying the box.
“Something in here smells awfully good, Mrs. Chatterlong,” Harry compliments, resting the box on top of a glass show case before peering inside. “Let’s see here…Mmm, coffee cake and bacon wraps,” he says, lifting a to-go bag from the box. He reaches in again. “My gosh, is this a NeoGeo Gold?” Harry asks with excitement over the sight of the old video game console.
Mrs. Chatterlong isn’t listening. Her attention is focused on the questionable man who walked in after her. She inches toward the showcase, then gestures for Harry to lean in close. He slowly obliges. “I don’t trust that man, honey,” she whispers in Harry’s ear. “Do you want me to go call the police, dear?” Harry shakes his head “no.” “You go ahead and wait on him first,” she insists, still whispering. “I’ll go wait in my car. I have my cellar phone.”
As she exits, Harry lifts the box, placing it behind the counter on the floor. He then acknowledges his next customer. “Welcome to Minutes for Seconds. What may I help you with on this fine Wednesday, sir?” The man makes his way over, keeping his face concealed. “I…I’d like to s-sell a few items,” he stutters, nervously. He removes the item from under his right arm and places it on the counter. “H-h-how m-much I can get f-fo-for this?”
The item is a double platinum sales plaque for an album by James Bobby Christopher. Harry is surprised. “Are you serious?” he questions, rhetorically. “Bobby, is that you under there? Boy, I heard you’d ended up back here but I was sure hoping it wasn’t true. Your grandmother has no idea…”
The man interrupts with a heavy sigh. “Yeah, it’s me, okay Harry?” he reacts, angrily. “How much?”
Harry points to the hood over James’ head. “Will you take it off so I can see your face? I’d seen on the TV that you were having some drug issues. They said you’d moved back here to hide from the press.”
Reluctantly, James removes his hood. His lips are severely chapped, his red eyes sunken into the back of his head. He begins scratching his face before asking the question, “Are you going to buy that plaque from me or what?” Harry takes a couple steps backward while shaking his head.
“Okay,” says James, lifting the heavy duffle bag on to the counter. He unzips it, pulls out a Grammy Award, two American Music Awards and a Soul Train Award. “I just need $1000 to get myself straight,” he says. “These are worth at least that! I’m in bad shape here, Mr. Burt. Can you buy them or not?”
The shop is again silent. The buzzing of the lights is like bees overhead. Harry studies James, eyes full of sadness, disappointment, and fear. “James,” Harry begins, “the whole town was so proud of. We still are proud of you. But don’t do this. Not for drugs. You worked too hard to earn these awards. Let me help you get cleaned up and…”
“No!” James snaps. “I didn’t c-c-come in here for your ch-charity, for your suggestions, and dang sure not f-f-for help! I came in here for money! I sell it, you buy it! That’s how this works, old man! What’s it going to be?”
After a minute of silence, Harry makes James an offer. “I’ll give you a $1000 for everything but the Soul Train Award,” he says. “You said yourself you’re in bad shape. I’ll give you $1000 on one condition. You have to let me take you to get help, right now. And you have to keep the Soul Train Award with you at all times.”
James stares blankly at Harry. “Why do you want to help me?” he asks. “You’re a dang pawn broker!”
Harry shakes his head, and says, “James, when I was growing up my family had next to nothing. But we had Soul Train. Despite our struggles, for one hour that show made us forget all our problems. It made us feel good. That Soul Train Award is a feel-good symbol. God blessed you. I’d like to see you get that blessing back and feel good again. This place is packed with symbols of hopes and dreams people sell away because they think there’s no other option.”
After grabbing the Soul Train award from the counter with his gloved hand, James ogles the shiny statue then begins to drift. For a moment he pictures his own childhood, his dream to become a successful singer his home town could be proud of. But here he was in a pawn shop, battling the demons of his addiction while attempting to sell his accolades for another fix. “M-m-my grandmother and I w-watched Soul Train t-together,” James recalls. “S-s-she was there the night I won this, and she said…” He stops abruptly, completely overcome with emotion. Without warning he begins to cry, not noticing Mrs. Chatterlong has re-entered the building, and is now standing right next to him.
“The night you won I said thank the Lord he blessed us with a TV,” she says, “because it was watching Soul Train that made you want to sing. How fitting. Mr. Burt is right, Bobby, you should keep it.”
James and Mrs. Chatterlong embrace as Harry looks on, smiling warmly. Wednesday is typically a slow day at Minutes for Seconds pawn shop. Despite slow customer traffic, he still enjoys it.
—Mr. Joe Walker
Known as “The Word Heavyweight Champion”, Mr. Joe Walker is a biographer, author, and columnist, currently a senior writer for SoulTrain.com, staff writer for Muskegon Tribune Newspaper, and writer of popular Concrete Magazine blog “Tinna: See”. Also co-creator of TheGrooveSpot.com, Walker’s acclaimed, award-winning work has been published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, connect with him on Facebook, and also visit his blog ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.