Elizabeth Toole Uncle Sam_1

Uncle Sam 

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I’d seen him before along the side of the road, teetering on stilts, wearing the massive stuffed Uncle Sam head with the high-topped black hat. An advertising sign swung from his neck: “Uncle Sam Wants You! Let Us Do Your Taxes!”

And here he was, standing in the line behind me at the mall’s food court. He was off his stilts, the striped pants bunched around his ankles. He still wore The Head.

“Must be hot wearing that. I’m surprised you don’t take it off,” I commented.

He answered, “I wear it to get attention.”

“But you’re not wearing the sign anymore. What’s the point?”

The Head swayed. Then he raised it, and his human head emerged, hair plastered down, eyes googly. “I keep it on to get people to talk to me.”

“I’d think ‘The Head’ would drive them away.”

“Curious ones approach me. That’s who I want.”

“Why?”

Sam eyeballed me. “Looking for work. I can do more than Uncle Sam. Great at children’s parties. Juggle too.”

“Sorry, I don’t have kids.”

“Clowning’s a side gig. I’m a carpenter and handyman. Can fix anything.”

I glanced around. “I’m just here looking for something to remove a carpet stain.”

Sam dropped The Head. “I have the perfect cleaning product! Come to my truck and I’ll show you.”

“Thanks, but…”

“It’s a winner. Pure, from the grapes of Vesuvia. Royal White Vinegar.”

“Vinegar?”

“Not just any vinegar. Royal White Vinegar—RWV. Can’t get it in stores.”

“Vinegar for my carpet?”

“This vinegar is magical. Do you know where the word ‘vinegar’ comes from?”

I exhaled. “Something to do with wine?”

“Yes! You’re so clever. Did you study languages?”

“I had some French in high school.”

“Yes, ‘vin’ refers to wine, juice for the gods. Then the ‘e’ is Latin for ‘and’. And do you know where ‘gar’ comes from?”

“No.”

“‘Gar’ is old English for spears, weapons in battle. Like the word ‘gore’?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“And ‘gar-den’—like battle with weeds. See?”

“Um.”

“What’s this have to do with cleaning? I’ll tell you. RWV’s a natural disinfectant, god-given, that spears the stain and lifts it away. Did I mention all odor vanishes in twenty minutes?”

“You didn’t.”

“It’s unlike any other vinegar. Clean, crisp, ready to battle for your home.”

“I should go.”

“You gotta try it. I have several bottles in my truck and I’m parked nearby.”

“Thanks but…”

“Just give me that fiver in your hand. I’ll go get a bottle and bring it back to you.”

Then my bill vanished. The Head too. And he was gone.

I heard a chuckle behind me and turned to see a maintenance guy leaning against a trash can. “Uncle Sam got his share, didn’t he?”

“I guess.”

“Snagged a tenner last week from another chick. Shampoo made from pigeon droppings.” He shrugged. “You know how ‘pigeon’ can mean ‘lady’? And ‘poo’, well—”

“What about ‘sham’?” I asked.

With a snort, he walked away.

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Elizabeth Toole is a writer, lawyer, mother, wife, and cat wrangler who lives and works in Indiana but escapes to Chicago as often as possible. She mostly writes fiction and keeps sending her stories out into the world, hoping they’ll find a home. She feels a novel is percolating within her and looks forward to its time-consuming emergence.

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