by Matthew Sanborn Smith
Gene claimed he could convert a plastic fork into an automobile and when we held him to it, he went out and got a car and threw the fork in the glove compartment.
"Ta-Da!" he shouted, Vanna Whiting his hands all over the place.
"That's bullshit, Dude," Julio protested. "You just threw the fork in a car that was already made!"
"Look," Gene said. "If you want to make a fork into a car, you've got to add an awful lot of shit to it, agreed?"
"I just bought all the stuff preassembled. Think of this as a kit," he said, indicating the car. "I can convert anything into anything else. Give me something else."
It was a dead Wednesday and we were hanging in the triangle made where the tracks crossed Howard Rd. and Denny's package store made the third side. Someone had left huge blocks of concrete here at some point, about two feet by two feet by three feet, with pieces of rusted rebar sticking out of the sides. Lee's dad always told us we'd get piles by sitting on them and we were determined to find out for ourselves.
Gene found a kid on the street and converted him from Christianity to Judaism. Lee was blown away, but then Gene turned the kid right back and gave him fourteen dollars. The whole thing looked dubious.
"Man, I wish I had something to do," Julio said. "I feel like I'm trapped here watching this dumb-ass."
"Gimme another!" Gene screamed. I was worried that he was starting to believe in himself. "One gallon equals three point eight liters. I just converted gallons to liters!"
"Anybody coulda done that," Julio said. "You don't even know metric, you read that on a urinal."
"So what?" Gene asked. "I didn't say it was magic. Conversions are just conversions. Gimme something!"
"All right," I said. "All right." It was time to put a stop to this. "Let's see you convert a nuclear submarine into a - a sea sponge."
"Where'd you come up with something like that?" Lee asked.
"No, no! That's good," Julio said, jumping to his feet. That's good! Let's see you do that, Mr. Converter Man."
"I'd get into some real trouble for doing that."
"Ha, I knew it!" Julio said. "Fulla crap!"
"No, I'm serious! If you think I'd get in trouble for bringing a shampoo bottle on an airplane, imagine what the government would do to me if I destroyed one of their nuclear submarines."
"Ya see? He's full of it!"
"Hold it," Gene said. He pointed at our seats. "How about one of these cement blocks?"
"Give it up, man, you've already been shot down."
"I want to see it," I said. "Not this one, cuz I'm sitting on it, but how about that one?"
He walked over to the one I said, knelt down, and put his hands on it. Black smoke started coming from it where his hands touched.
"Don't breathe it in," Gene said to us, over his shoulder. He didn't have to worry about that.
"Yo, man, what the hell is he doing?" Julio asked me.
"Like I know?" I said. The smoke got scary big. It was a good thing there weren't any cars coming. Two minutes later, Gene was surrounded by (not to mention covered by) thick black soot. The block looked like a huge piece of sponge with rusting pieces of rebar sticking out of it. Gene tore off a piece and handed it to us.
"I ain't touching that!" Julio said, backing off. I took it. It was hot and I handed it off to Lee fast.
"Can I have this?" Lee asked.
"I don't care," Gene said.
"Can I have more?"
Lee tore off huge chunks of the sponge. "You guys don't know how expensive real sea sponge is," he said. "My mom's going to love this."
"How the hell did you do that?" Julio asked.
"See, unlike the other conversions, I had to alter the molecular structure of the concrete and, to some degree, the very atoms themselves."
We all stayed away from Gene after that.