A Christmas Carl [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Ryan Field
eBook Category: Erotica/Gay-Lesbian Erotica/Romance
eBook Description: If you believe in Christmas miracles, second chances, and absolute true love, then this remarkable journey of rediscovery will guide you through one selfish man's quest to recapture everything he thought he'd stopped loving. Wealthy Carl Smite, owner of a high-end antiques store in Greenwich Village, hates Christmas so much he takes the last dollar bill from a sick delivery boy with one leg on Christmas Eve. Carl despises everything that is good and pure about Christmas, including the fact that his employee devotes his time to handing out free dinners at a homeless shelter. But when Carl goes to sleep on Christmas Eve, he never expects to receive a visit from the ghost of his former business partner, Marty Keller. Marty explains that Carl will have a visit from three Christmas ghosts that night. The solemn Ghost of Christmas Past takes Carl back to a Christmas when he was in love with the most wonderful man in the world. The lighter, beautiful Ghost of Christmas Present shows Carl what happened to the love of his life and introduces him to the son he never knew he had. And the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, who is actually the flamboyant ghost of gay icon Quentin Crisp, shows Carl the horrible things that will happen to him, and all the people he loves, if he doesn't start loving again. And while Carl is working through a Christmas Eve he'll never forget, the romance moves toward a joyful climax of enlightenment and transition as he searches for the true meaning of life and hope. By the time Carl wakes up on Christmas morning, will he be ready to reclaim his lost love and give back what he's taken from the world?
eBook Publisher: Ravenous Romance/Ravenous Romance, Published: 2009
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2009
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30 Reader Ratings:
While Carl Smite was wrapping bundles of loose change on Christmas Eve, a cell phone in the back room of his antique store rang. His body jerked forward and he almost dropped ten dollars in quarters on the floor. He was sitting on a gilded Louis IV chair behind a French Empire desk with detailed inlays and bronze ormolu trim. There were price tags with large numbers in bold red print on both pieces of furniture. Everything in Carl's antique store was for sale, including the nineteenth-century cup and saucer he used to drink his morning coffee.
When Carl's employee answered the phone and said, "I'll be there after eight tonight," his voice went up with a light, pleasant hum. And when he said, "I'll see if I can get there sooner, but my boss is keeping the store open until eight tonight," his easy, friendly voice didn't drop or waver.
Carl frowned and wondered why pitiful Able Anderson was always so damn cheerful. He folded the ends of the paper coin wrapper shut, then lifted his head and shouted, "Able, hang up that damn phone and come in here, now." He'd just wrapped twenty-three dollars worth of loose change and he didn't want it lying around the store.
There was a shuffling sound in the back room, then a few whispers Carl couldn't make out. Carl heard him click the phone shut and toss it on a counter. A minute later, Able came into the showroom with a half smile on his face. "What can I do for you, Mr. Smite?" His soft blond hair framed his forehead in thick, straight shocks. He was wearing loose faded jeans that fell low on his slim waist, and a puffy down jacket made out of black shiny fabric. He smiled at Carl and rubbed his palms together to keep them warm.
Carl placed the last roll of quarters into a bank deposit bag and said, "Why were you on the phone again, Able? I've told you time and again that I won't tolerate an employee of mine making personal phone calls during business hours. I'm paying you good money to do an honest day's work. And I expect you to do your job while you're on my time."
Normally, Carl would have fired someone else on the spot for doing this. But Able was an excellent furniture restorer and upholsterer, he didn't mind working for low wages, and he had a large, floppy penis that moved around in his jeans when he walked fast.
Able took a deep breath and rubbed his palms together again. Carl hadn't raised the thermostat that day and the store was freezing. He smiled and put his hands into his pants pockets. "I'm sorry, Mr. Smite. I was only on the phone for a minute. I was telling a friend of mine, the woman who owns the tearoom across the street, I'd be down at the homeless shelter to help hand out Christmas Eve dinners tonight. And I'm helping out tomorrow on Christmas too. My friend was wondering if I could get off early to get down there by six. They need all the help they can get, and I doubt anyone is going to come into the store at this hour on Christmas Eve."
Carl frowned and shook his head. Able Anderson was so dirt poor he was almost homeless himself, and here he was talking about handing out free food at a homeless shelter. "No," Carl said, "you can't get off early tonight. I might need you to move something heavy. You never know who will come into a retail shop for last-minute gift. One year on Christmas Eve, I sold a crystal chandelier to a very famous actress."
This had never actually happened. But Carl liked to think there was a chance it could.
"But it's snowing," Able said. "And all the other stores around us are already closed. And I'm sure you have plans tonight, Mr. Smite. If you don't have plans, you could always come with me to the homeless shelter and help out. We'd be glad to have you, and afterwards maybe we can go out and have a Christmas drink somewhere."
"I'm sure you'd expect me to pay for these Christmas drinks," Carl said. Then he rubbed his strong jaw and laughed. Carl suspected Able was trying to flatter and seduce him. He flirted with him all the time. But Carl wasn't about to let some young, penniless loafer take advantage of his wealth.
Carl had found success at an early age. Now he was in his mid-thirties, about ten years older than Able. Carl had thick brown hair, a naturally muscular body, and hard, round buttocks. But he didn't care about his good looks. He wasn't interested in finding a lover. The only time he used his looks to his advantage was to sell an expensive antique to a wealthy client. He knew how to make women swoon and older gay men giddy.
Able shrugged his shoulders. "Then I'll buy you a drink, Mr. Smite. I've been working here for about a year now and we hardly even know each other."
Carl lifted an eyebrow and stared at him. Then he shook his head and said, "I'm going home tonight, just like it's any other night. And I'm not wasting my time handing out free food to a bunch of losers. No one ever gave me a free dinner. No one ever gave me anything for free. I've worked hard for everything I have. We would all be homeless, getting free dinners and handouts, if we didn't work. Then what kind of a world would this be? I'm over it."
Able rocked on the balls of his feet and shrugged his shoulders. "You look good today, Mr. Smite. Is that a new pair of pants?" When he smiled, there were two perfect dimples on his rugged face.
"Don't change the subject on me, Able," Carl said. "I've worn these slacks many times and you know it. You should know by now that just because you're better looking than the average man, silly flirtatious remarks won't work with me. I've used them all before myself, and you can't con me." Carl was wearing tan slacks, a white dress shirt, and a weather-beaten black wool sport jacket with threadbare elbows. There was a long beige scarf around his neck to keep him warm. He wore this outfit, and a few others like it, all the time. He preferred a classic look that lasted, and didn't believe in wasting money on expensive trendy clothes.
Able laughed. "Did you get a haircut?" he asked. Then he spread his muscular legs wider; his right hand moved around in his pants pocket.
Carl pressed his lips together and folded his arms across his chest. He knew Able was groping his penis on purpose, hoping Carl would become distracted and forget about why he'd called him into the showroom. Able was always doing annoying things like this; there was always a sex-starved expression on his face. He'd touch Carl's arm and breathe on his neck when Carl least expected it. He'd press his large, thick fingers into Carl's shoulder and leave them there a moment too long. When the weather was warm, he'd wear skimpy shirts to show off his chest muscles, and worn jeans that fell so low on his young waist that Carl could see the waistband of his underwear. Sometimes he was even bold enough to place his palm on the small of Carl's back and guide him through the store.
But Carl always stepped away from him. He'd pull back fast and take control of the situation. He was much too sensible to be distracted by anyone's good looks.
Carl owned one of the most successful, important antique stores in the city and his only concern was money. The fact that he hadn't made any money that day infuriated him. People didn't buy important, expensive antiques as Christmas gifts. They bought cheap junk in discount department stores. Holidays made Carl clench his fists; they always interfered with normal business. So Carl pointed to the deposit bag filled with change and said, "I didn't call you in here to talk about the homeless or getting drinks. I need you to make a deposit this afternoon." It made him feel calm and warm inside to know that at least something was going into the bank that day.
Able's eyes opened wide; he blinked a few times. "Seriously," he said. "It's four o'clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, Mr. Smite. The banks are all closed. And the snow is really starting to accumulate out there. We're supposed to be getting at least nine inches." When he said nine inches, he gave Carl a naughty look and smiled. Then he pushed his dick forward and tugged the shaft a few times on purpose.
When Carl saw the outline of Able's long penis protrude through the fabric of his worn jeans, he took a quick breath and said, "You can go across town to the main branch of the bank, and put the money in the drop-off box." Then he handed Able a long, thin key to the bank deposit box and said, "Don't waste time either. When you come back, I want that chair you've been working on in the back room to be completely finished by the time we close tonight."
Able pulled his hand out of his pocket and took the key from Carl. He put the key into his pants pocket and pulled a pair of black gloves out of his coat pocket. Before he put on the gloves, he pulled a ten-dollar bill out of his back pocket and placed it on Carl's desk.
Carl looked down at the money and said, "What is this for?"
Able put on his gloves and reached for the deposit bag. "I ordered a sandwich from the deli down the street. I haven't eaten anything all day and I'm not going to have time to eat anything before I get to the shelter, so I ordered something. Ten dollars will be enough."
Carl pointed to a rumpled brown bag on his desk and said, "I brought my own lunch today, a cheese sandwich on white bread and an apple. You'll never have any money if you keep squandering it away on sandwiches from delis, Able. After all, you don't find ten dollars in the street every day."
Able pressed his lips together and took a deep breath through his nose. He said in a lower, controlled voice, "I usually skip lunch, Mr. Smite, to save money. I never order out. But I figured I'd splurge today because it's Christmas Eve." Then he turned away from Carl and crossed toward the front door. On the way out he asked, "Is there anything I can get for you?"
Carl shook his head and said, "Just get back here as quickly as you can so you can finish that chair before the day is over. I'll be looking at the clock while you're gone. If you don't finish the chair by eight, I'm keeping the store open until you do. And I don't care what time that is."
"Yes, Mr. Smite," Able said. "I'll be right back and I promise I'll have the chair finished by eight." Then he pushed the door open and a small bell on a Christmas wreath jingled.
A few minutes later, the front door opened and the bell jingled again. Carl looked up from his desk and forced a smile. He'd been reading the financial pages from yesterday's newspaper. (Carl never bought a current paper. He just waited until the owner of the shop next door to him tossed his in the street trash cans every night.) His first thought was that a customer had entered the store. He wanted to sell at least one item that day. He was hoping it was someone older who would be attracted to him.
A thin young man wearing a flimsy denim jacket stepped into the shop. He walked with a limp. He wasn't wearing gloves or a scarf. His brown hair had been shaved short and he wasn't wearing a hat. There was snow on his shoulders, two small sliver hoops in each ear, and his angular face was red with windburn. He crossed to the back of the store and placed a brown bag on Carl's desk. Then he looked Carl directly in the eye and said, "That will be nine dollars, sir." His voice was deep and nasal. He turned his head and coughed into his elbow.
Carl's eyebrows went up and he stepped back. He didn't want to catch a cold from some stupid, grungy delivery boy.
The young guy cleared his throat and said, "I'm not contagious. This is just the end of a month-long cold."
Carl pulled a taped receipt off the bag, then removed the bag from the desk so it wouldn't ruin the expensive burl veneer. He placed the bag on the floor and stared down at the receipt. When he confirmed that it was nine dollars, he handed the young man the ten-dollar bill Able had left him.
The young man stared at him for a moment without speaking. His face was smooth and handsome, his chin strong and square. He couldn't have been more than fourteen or fifteen years old. He tilted his head and said, "Thanks," and put the ten-dollar bill into his back pocket.
As the boy walked back toward the front door, rubbing his wet nose and limping, Carl stood up from his chair and shouted, "Hold on there. I didn't get my change."
The young guy stopped short in front of a Bombay chest that had a ten-thousand-dollar price tag and turned back to face Carl. "You want change?"
Carl furrowed his eyebrows and said, "If the bill was nine dollars, you owe me one dollar back. Don't you know how to count change? I wouldn't be at all surprised if you didn't, from what I'm seeing with people your age these days." He walked to where the guy was standing, looked down at him, and frowned.
The young guy squared his shoulders and lifted his head. He looked into Carl's dark brown eyes with his own dark brown eyes and pulled one dollar bill out of his pocket. He handed it to Carl and said, "I know how to count, Mister. I just thought you were giving me a tip, is all."
Carl hesitated. There was something about the expression on the guy's face that made his stomach jump. It wasn't sexual and Carl would never have been interested in anyone so young. Carl was cheap, his heart was the size of an English pea, and he couldn't care less about Christmas. But he wasn't attracted to minors and he never would have harmed a child. This reaction was more like he'd seen this guy somewhere before. There was something familiar about him, a connection of some kind that Carl couldn't pigeonhole.
But that didn't stop Carl from taking the dollar bill. He ripped it out of the guy's hand and said, "Why should you get a tip for doing your job? Don't they pay you where you work? No one tips me for selling an antique. It's my job." The dollar bill felt soft and wet, as if it had been in his pocket for a very long time.
The young guy took a deep breath and shook his head. "Don't worry about it, man," he said. "I guess you need that dollar a lot more than I do." Then he turned his back on Carl, opened the front door, and shouted, "Merry Christmas, buddy."
"Keep your 'Merry Christmas' to yourself," Carl shouted back. "I'm over it, you little smart ass."
When the door was shut and the boy was gone, Carl shoved the dollar bill into his back pocket and walked back to his desk. A half hour later, Able returned from the bank and asked if his order form the deli had arrived. His shoulders were coated with snow, his thick blond hair was soaked, and his face was red. Carl lifted the brown bag from the floor and handed it to him. "It was nine dollars even," he said, shaking his head.
Able took the bag and said, "Damn. If I'd known it was nine I would have left a few extra bucks to tip the delivery guy."
Carl was about to reach for the dollar bill in his pocket. But he stopped when Able asked, "Did you give him a few extra bucks? I'll pay you back."
Carl's hand dropped to his lap and he frowned. "Of course I didn't give him any of my money. I didn't order the food."
"Well," Able said. "At least he received a dollar tip. It's better than nothing. I would have given him more because it's Christmas Eve and all."
Carl reached for a polishing cloth on his desk and stood up. "I'm going to polish that eighteenth-century game table. You'd better get back to work on that chair so it's finished before the day is over. And I don't want to hear anything more about Christmas, or homeless people, or giving large tips to nasty, germ-carrying delivery boys. I've had enough. I'm over it." Then he stormed past Able with the polishing cloth in his left hand. With his right hand, he patted the dollar bill in his back pocket three times. If anyone had walked into the shop and seen him smile, they would have thought he'd just sold a fifty-thousand-dollar bronze statue.
A few minutes before eight o'clock, Able carried a large, ornately carved chair into the showroom. He'd finished the restoration and he was ready to leave for the homeless shelter. He placed it beside Carl's desk and said, "Here it is, Mr. Smite. I worked hard on this one, and it wasn't easy. I just hope you don't put this in the front window. The other merchants might not like it."
Carl raised his eyebrows and twisted his lips deliberately. He stood from his desk and smoothed down his slacks. When he leaned over to examine the chair, he pressed his index finger to his lips and said, "I've already made a space for the chair in the front display window. Go put it there right now." Then he tied a white tag around the arm of the chair with a thin piece of white string. In bold red numbers, the tag read twenty thousand dollars.
Able frowned. "The other merchants won't like this. You'll get phone calls and nasty notes," he said. "The last time you put that baby Giraffe skin in the window, that nice woman who owns the tearoom across the street almost lost her mind. She's a huge animal rights activist. And everyone else in this neighborhood agrees with her about animal skins. It's just not done in Greenwich Village. People are too concerned about animal welfare and the environment."
Carl ran his palm across the back of the chair; he smiled at the twenty-thousand-dollar price tag and his penis moved in his pants. The chair had been upholstered in real zebra skin, with the dead zebra's mane at the bottom of the seat, up front, trailing down to the floor. "I don't care about the other bleeding-heart, animal-loving merchants in Greenwich Village," he said. "This chair is more than one hundred and fifty years old, and the zebra skin is even older. It's not as if I went out and shot a zebra yesterday at the Bronx Zoo. Now go put it in the front window under the spotlight and stop worrying about the environmental loons of Greenwich Village."
Able shrugged his shoulders and lifted the chair. As he crossed toward the front window display, he repeated, "They aren't going to like this at all, Mr. Smite."
"I'm over it," Carl said. "I don't give a damn what they like. Besides, that little moron across the street will be out of business soon enough anyway. You can't make money selling little bags of tea in this city. You need the big bucks, and the people who have them."
Carl followed him to the front of the store. He folded his arms across his chest and watched Able arrange the chair in the window. Able placed it directly beneath the spotlight on an angle so that everyone who passed by could see the dead zebra's mane. "The serious collectors want these old animal skins," Carl said. "These are people who love guns, who love to hunt, and who appreciate history. I'm going to sell that chair within a month for full price, while that silly moron across the street will be lucky if she sells twenty thousand dollars' worth of herbs and teas in her entire lifetime."
When the chair was in the window and they walked back to the desk, Carl turned his back to Able and reached for his coat and gloves. While he was putting his coat on, Able came up from behind and grabbed his arm. Carl stopped moving and turned to face him. His heart started to race; his stomach jumped. He looked into Able's eyes and said, "What are you doing?" Then he pulled his arm away from Able's hand.
Able raised his hands and smiled. "Don't get nervous. I'm only helping you with your coat, Mr. Smite. I'm not going to steal it." Then he patted the small of Carl's back, practically grabbing Carl's ass.
Carl put his arm through the sleeve and pulled the coat up. He squared his shoulders. "I can put my own coat on, thank you. I don't need help getting dressed." Then he lowered his head and fastened the buttons.
While Carl buttoned his coat, Able mumbled something. Carl wasn't sure what he said, but it sounded like, "I'd like to help you get undressed, Mr. Smite." Carl ignored him. He was attracted to Able, but he was too smart to mix business with pleasure. Besides, the longer he kept Able at bay, the more willing Able would be to do whatever he asked.
When Carl looked up again, Able reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small box. He handed the box to Carl and said, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Smite."
Carl stared at the box in Able's hand and frowned. "What's this?" He hadn't expected any gifts. The last time he'd received a Christmas gift from anyone had been the worst night of his life. After that, all Christmas gifts reminded him of that night.
Able shrugged. "I bought you something small for Christmas, is all. It's nothing important or expensive, but I thought you'd like it."
Carl rolled his eyes and said, "I didn't get anything for you, and I don't want anything from you. You can either keep the gift yourself, or give it to someone else. I don't celebrate Christmas. I'm over it." Then he reached for a pair of cracked leather gloves with frayed seams and slipped them over his hands. "I'll see you bright and early the day after tomorrow." He hated closing the store for a full day. But even he knew that opening on Christmas Day would have been a mistake.
Able lowered his arms slowly and put the small package back into his pocket. "I guess I'll be going then," he said. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to come down with me and help out tonight? They guy who runs the shelter is really great. I think you'd like him. He's very active in gay civil rights and he donates a lot of his time and money. He just moved to New York from San Francisco a month ago."
Carl rolled his eyes; he knew the type. The guy at the shelter probably walked around in tight red shorts and heavy black boots, carrying a rainbow flag. Though Carl had accepted his strong attraction to other men at an early age, he thought gay civil rights was a complete waste of time and energy. Carl never talked about being gay. He wasn't for or against any LGBT issues. The only thing he'd ever cared about was making money, because money gave him power. "I'm sure the man is a virtual saint," Carl said, condescending. "But I think I'll pass."
Able shrugged his shoulders and turned toward the door. "Have a good night, Mr. Smite."
While Carl watched him amble out of the shop, he grumbled, "I'll have the same night I always have." Then he pulled his keys out of his desk drawer and slammed the drawer shut.
When Able was gone, Carl turned off all the interior lights and checked to make sure the wall safe was securely locked. Then he went to the front door and pulled his scarf up around his face. There was so much snow the door wouldn't open all the way. On his way outside, his arm brushed against a small Christmas wreath hanging on the front door. He'd only hung it there because he knew customers liked seeing tacky, ridiculous decorations. When the bells on the wreath jingled, he shoved it hard with his elbow and whispered, "Fuck Christmas. I'm so fucking over it," and slammed the door shut with such force a lamp on a table next to the door wobbled back and forth.
He locked the door and turned to face the front window. When he saw the antique chair with the zebra upholstery beneath the single spotlight, he smiled and rubbed his chest. He wasn't smiling because Able had done such a fine job with the restoration. He was smiling because he knew he'd get the full price for it. He'd only paid a hundred dollars for it at an estate sale. It had belonged to an old woman in Brooklyn. The woman's idiot daughter had been selling off her mother's possessions. The stupid daughter had no idea what the chair was worth, and Carl didn't bother to tell her. The day he'd gone to the estate sale and seen that chair in the middle of a huge pile of old-lady junk, he'd pulled a one-hundred-dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to the woman's daughter. Then the daughter carried the chair all the way down to his van in the street, thanking him down three flights of steps for taking it off her hands. If she'd had even the slightest clue as to what that chair had been worth, she would have made him pay at least a thousand dollars. When the chair was in the van, he'd smiled all the way back to his store.
Carl double-checked the front door to make sure it was locked. Then he looked up at the brand-new sign over the door. It was long and thin, with a shiny black background and gilded letters. It read, "Carl Smite, LTD." Carl had just had it hung a day earlier. The previous sign had read, "Keller & Smite Antiques." Marty Keller had been Carl's business partner. Carl met Marty right after college at an antiques show. At the time, Marty was seventy and he was looking for someone to take over the business. When Marty saw that Carl was hungry to make money, he hired him as a full-time employee and taught him everything he knew. He showed him how to take advantage of unsuspecting widows, how to make a reproduction table look like a real antique, and how to fix chipped porcelain so it looked as if it had never been damaged. He taught Carl every sneaky, underhanded trick of the antiques business. And Carl was only too willing to learn.
Eventually, Marty made Carl a partner and put his name over the door. Marty was almost completely blind by then and he needed Carl to keep things running. Carl knew Marty needed him; Marty didn't have any family or friends. The only person who would put up with him was Carl. When Marty died, Carl inherited Marty's entire estate, including the business. Marty only asked Carl for one thing on his death bed: he pointed his crooked finger and ordered Carl to always leave his name over the front door. Carl smiled and promised him he would.
Carl stared at the new sign and pressed his lips together. It looked good; it had been worth all the money he'd paid the artist. He would have done it sooner, but he hated spending money on unnecessary things. He knew Marty Keller would have ripped the sign down and kicked it into the middle of the street, but Marty was dead now in a cold grave out on Long Island, and it didn't matter what Marty thought. Besides, Carl had earned everything he'd inherited from Marty. He'd spent years catering to Marty's needs; he'd overlooked every pejorative Marty had ever tossed in his direction. Marty Keller had been one of the nastiest men Carl had ever known. And now Marty was dead and Carl had it all.
Carl smiled at the sign, then crossed to a door only a few feet from the store's entrance. Carl opened it and stepped into a cold, dark hallway that had a long, narrow flight of steps. The floors were black and white tile, with cracks and chips. The white walls had yellowed with age. It smelled of damp towels and wet socks. Carl had inherited the entire building from Marty Keller. He lived above the shop in Marty's old living space, with a separate entrance to his living quarters.
His soles tapped against the hollow wooden steps. When he reached the top, he flipped on a light switch. A small pewter lamp on a round table gave a soft glow to Carl's sparsely furnished living room. After Marty died, Carl hadn't bothered to change a thing. There was a gray velvet Chippendale sofa beneath the front window, a threadbare oriental carpet with frayed edges, and a brown leather wing chair with arms so worn the white stuffing was showing. The cabbage rose wallpaper with a sage green background was peeling in the corners. The hardwood floors had grown dull and warped with time. In one corner of the room there was an old console television with knobs and dials.
He removed his coat and crossed to the back of the house toward the kitchen. He switched on a fluorescent light and opened the refrigerator door slowly. It dated back to the 1950s; the art deco chrome handle on the door had snapped off years ago. If he hadn't opened it slowly, he could have sliced his finger open on a jagged edge of the broken handle.
When the refrigerator door was open, a light didn't go on. The interior bulb had burned out five years earlier and he hadn't bothered to replace it. Carl knew what was in the refrigerator anyway; he didn't need a light to prove it. He pulled out a cardboard container of leftover Chinese takeout from the day before and poured the contents into a chipped and dented white enamel pot. Then he placed the pot on the front right burner and pressed the on button. It was one of those old electric stoves, which was unusual because most people had gas in New York. There were four other burners, but only one worked. The oven still worked, but it made strange sizzling noises so he didn't use it very often.
After he heated the food, he pulled a bent fork out of the sink and placed the warm pot on top of a Formica table. The table wobbled a few times; he made a mental note to find some new cardboard to shove under the broken leg. He sat down on a red vinyl chair that had a long rip down the middle of the seat and ate right from the pot. He didn't see the point to wasting water on a dish and a pot. When he was finished, he stood from the table, rinsed the pot out in the sink, and placed it on a towel to dry.
Then he turned off the lights in the kitchen and the living room and walked back to his bedroom. He flipped on the bedroom switch and one small lamp with a forty-watt bulb went on beside his bed. The bedroom wallpaper was beige and brown stripes and probably as old as his living room paper. The water stain on the faded ceiling looked like the state of Texas. There was a four-poster bed, two square nightstands, and a thick down comforter. On the opposite side of the bed, there was a tall dresser with a small portable TV resting on the scratched surface. Though everything was old and chipped and ruined, it was also neat and orderly and clean.
Carl switched on the TV and adjusted the rabbit ear antennas to PBS. He didn't have cable television: why should he pay for something when he could get it for free? This was the regular night for his favorite show, Antiques Roadshow. He'd been looking forward to crawling into bed all day, pulling the covers up to his chin, and watching his favorite antique dealers. He liked the shows where idiots thought they'd found something majestic in grandma's attic and it turned out to be worthless. And he loved the shows where someone found something that some idiot thought was worthless and it turned out to be priceless.
But while he was removing his sport jacket, he noticed his show didn't come on. Instead, there was some kind of Christmas show, with annoying little children dressed in choir robes singing an awful religious Christmas song. Carl checked to make sure he'd turned to the right channel. When he saw he hadn't made a mistake and that they'd preempted his show that night for a Christmas special, he banged his fist hard on the dresser and switched off the TV. He shouted, "Fucking Christmas. I'm so fucking over it."