Welfare Fraud Lady is Insane

by on July 10, 2012

Fiction Issue 3
Welfare Fraud Lady is Insane

Char, tall and lean, long silver hair and the bone structure of an Erie, comes over to bum a cigarette. She’s smoking again. So am I.

We first met at the edge of the Erie Canal. I predicted that Charmaine and Number One Son, Dusty Stump, would meet, and be fucking and fighting the rest of their lives.

Now, many little Stumps later, each with a first name that begins with “All” and ends with “ha,” Charmaine is next in line as Matriarch of the Erie.

We get comfy in the room where I installed the fireplace. Surrounded by a collection of perfectly balanced balls and windows covered with saran wrap and transparent colored beads, we light up cigarettes I rolled with my left hand.

The nicotine, mixed with a little weed and saliva, is a chemical bomb to the brain.

We sit a while blowing smoke-ring signals. We’re listening to Gniles Barkley singing, “Maybe I’m Crazy.”

Char confides that since her Number One Son, Allha Stump, got popped for selling weed—and Dusty, and herself, as well—she’s been on anti-depressants.

Allha may go to prison unless he testifies that she, his Mama, and his Daddy, Dusty, knew he was selling pot. Then, the government will seize their double-wide trailer, and many Stumps will be homeless. Again.

They’ll all have to live with me. I’m the Erie Matriarch.


There is a commotion outside. A car has smashed through the broadside of the red trailer across Erie Drive from the mini-Nut Bin.

How? How do I manage to appear there at once? Bi-location. I open the driver’s side door and kick the elder’s foot from the gas pedal and step on the brake. With my left hand, I pry the Erie elder’s fingers from the wheel.

In the passenger seat is her son, Bobby, an Erie. “That way!” he repeats over and over without gesturing. He stares into the red.

Once Bobby and I watched with several children as a red couch floated by us down the Erie Canal. “Two cops threw that couch into the canal in Lockport,” Bobby said. Bobby knew. Useless information.

My Tribe has developed, from the center of our reptilian brain to our frontal lobes, an additional dimension: extrasensory.

Call it Erie.

Bobby is an Erie idiot savant.


Dusty Stump says, “The government is in business for making paper. There is a secret organization rumored to make time. If the government didn’t make time, there wouldn’t be so much paper.”


Let’s open a free store, I suggest to Char, who is a bitch.

Char still thinks she can change men. I’ve overcome the ego. Char asks, “Where did that ever get you?” She wants reverse-spousal-support from all her ex-husbands.

We never open a Free Store: bring what you don’t need, take what you want. Free.


The eleventh of April, Dusty and Char, Bobby and I take a trip to Volunteeries of America, as I call it, for a $40 refund. Days ago, Char had thrown out all the living room furniture in their double-wide. After Char and Dusty bailed Allha with their tax return, they visited Volunteeries looking for replacement furniture, although I told them: “A couch will come.”

They’d had an absolute brawl over a $40 sofa bed. Was it bronze, as Char saw it. Or pink, as Dusty, who is colorblind, insisted. The male clerk—who is paid, not volunteer—sided with Dusty, then forgot to tag it as sold.

Dusty drives, Char and I sit in back, and Bobby in the passenger seat tells Dusty, “This way,” like he used to tell his mother, before she drove into the broadside of the fireman-red trailer and got involuntarily institutionalized.


The cavernous store seems abandoned, until we discover the male clerk asleep on a red couch. Dusty gets Bobby to grab one end of wooden bunk beds. “That way!’ Bobby says a few times as he backs into the window. “This way!”

Dusty and Bobby get the bunk beds wedged in the entrance doorway, as Char awakens the clerk to argue with him, the do-nothin’ motherfucker.

Volunteerie Lady rushes up. “Men are idiots!” she proffers. She is slim and has wild long hair, as do Char and I. She is Erie. She’s doing Community Service here for shoplifting at Walmart. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “Matt, who insisted that the sofa bed was pink, sold it to someone else. He even carried it out for them! So you have $40 store credit.”

“Just return the money,” I say.

Matt returns from helping Dusty and Bobby with the bunk beds to the curb. He tagged them. Big idiot smile. Beside him, Dusty is holding up a six-foot TV antenna like a spear and he’s a native hunter. “For the kid’s TV!” he announces.

“Idiot!” Char speaks: “In a few months they are going to switch technologies to render antennas useless.”


I found a long tie-die skirt to wear to court for $4.99. At the register, I give the Volenteerie lady my Volenteerie Discount Card to enter my purchase. She says, “You have to spend $5 without tax for a 5 percent discount with the card.”

So I buy a ball for 49 cents.

The antenna and the dismantled bunk beds are tied securely to the top of the car: They are free.


At Walmart, I shoplift developed pictures of the grandchildren, and seeds: pumpkins, snapdragons, and saliva, which looks like a hollyhock and smokes like a weed. Saliva is an hallucinative and it’s legal. Unlike pot. Which is not. I’d rather smoke pot because it makes you creative. But I do believe that everyone should hallucinate at least once to understand the plastic nature of reality.

I sit in the mini-Nut Bin smoking a cigarette laced with saliva, hoping there isn’t a law against it yet, when Welfare Fraud Lady calls to tell me that my court date has been postponed.

Upon hearing her voice, I understand she is an idiot. More man than woman. Obviously she subjugates her own female to have power within a primitive patriarchal society based on domination and competing gods.

Welfare Fraud Lady sounds like a recorded 911, so I say back to her: “The cop who arrested me saw my poverty and my physical handicaps—the roof is leaking on my head right now! Badge number 911 said you should give me a hardship waiver!”

“I’ll talk to my supervisor,” she says.


I’m sitting on the toilet when little Allisha Stump flings open the flimsy bathroom door. “They’re taking Bobby!”

In the garden, lush green and fertile, where tulips and lilacs flourish along with the fruit trees, stands Bobby. Char has one arm, 911 the other. I picture Bobby as a scarecrow. Or Christcrucified.

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Responses to Welfare Fraud Lady is Insane

2 responses

Lemme say up front that I love this story and Mariev, who I've never met, but that's just about as subjective as it gets. Me: I don't get mad when people cop to identities they can't lay blood claim to. What did blood claims ever do for us? Ethnic identity seems like the inner sanctum, especially when you're trying to protect yourself from the ravages of late capitalism, that hostile black acid that wants to deconstruct everybody, and from regular old imperialists and racists. Even I felt a little Jewish when I met my first Klu Klux Klansman in a dark alley. But 'white' is made up, and 'black' is made up, and – if you're honest about it – it's usually about who has the guns. Who has the mechanized infantry? Who has the money?
But, you could point out, that's an easy song for me to sing, since I'm a bastard paradox: a secular Jewish father and a lapsed Irish-Catholic mother. Even if I could reconstruct their identities, what they were before America mixed them up with urban pragmatism and gave them consumer souls, figuring out who I am would still be like getting two dogs in the bathtub at the same time. You can't emulsify that mix, to use a different metaphor, not with all the aioli in Provencal.
All that said, we're all free to build. Build identities, resurrect identities, beg, borrow and steal identities. I don't know, but it feels like that's what Finnegan is up to here. Somebody's gonna be mad as hell at her, somebody probably has a right to be. But I hope she never stops. Knock back a couple tinctures of Ska Maria (ethyl works but it's super harsh, I've enjoyed it in mescal). Loosen up, metaphysically speaking. Wear a big grey suit. Stop making sense. Start making sense. Right? That's punk rock. That's all we have left.

posted by Ben Schachtman      July 18th, 2012 at 3:23 am

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