I’m hiding underneath my sheets for fear he’ll point and show his teeth!
Today was one of those days where I was me and the world was itself and we just kept brushing up against each other in ways that I didn’t precisely care for. I’m not to blame; It’s not to blame; Shit just happens.
I woke up early and did exercises (that’s right, bitches), drank a cup of coffee, brushed the teeth, showered the body, and off I went into the world. I took the wife’s car to work as I knew that I had to deliver an impressive carload of product to another store we’d borrowed from over the unanticipated brutal holiday weekend. On the way to work there was over-exuberant freeway maintenance which made my usual half-hour commute a whole hour. I texted my GM amidst the gridlock to let him know my predicament. He didn’t respond. That set me off ease.
I arrived at work realizing that the accoutrement that enabled me to do my job effectively was in my car, now a good 90 minutes away. I rang a shoddy doorbell for admittance, and a co-worker let me in with an admonition:
“The rumor is Chris got fired.”
I tried to set about my day and noticed that the Regional Operations Director (read: “My Boss’s Boss”) was tooling about the kitchen whipping the opening checklist with a GM from a neighboring store. They greeted me curtly then asked about the absent follow-up on some unperceived oversight. I froze, then after a half-second suicide, responded “Oh, we’re all over that.” I had to admit my missing necessities, and they obliged me by handing me my (former) GM’s credentials to go about my daily routine. I was mortified.
The day went on like that. Hourlies would come in and ask me what I knew and I would answer honestly “No one tells me anything.” Eventually, I loaded the wife’s car with product to return to a store a good 40+ miles away and happily hit the road. You see, my car is a death machine of subtle menace, and I had to disconnect the stereo after the leaking A/C caused it to short out and drain the battery of the car at rest. The wife’s car not only had a stereo, but I could plug my old-ass clickwheel iPod into the USB and have full functionality on a dash interface that allowed all the musical play I wanted. I even divined how to manipulate the antiquated music dump from the steering wheel.
Seriously, I think I’ve found my new profession.
So I drove. Some thirty miles into the trip, I exclaimed aloud to no one but myself and Jon Crosby’s recording “Damnit, he owes me twenty bucks!” about my recently severed GM. Some of the kids at work were genuinely ecstatic to be rid of him, but I had no issue with him, and he had a family. I genuinely hope he lands on his feet. I told him as much through a text I sent from a bar some 14 hours after his separation. I’ve never been good with fresh wounds. Too red, too raw, too smelly for my constitution.
I found my destination in a posh mall in the middle of nothing. I dropped off our obligations and the receiving manager, a fellow I recognized from one of many off-site, pointless meetings, tried to make light jokes of our location’s fresh shake-up. I laughed easily, an act I’d learned as a broken-toothed simpleton in a sea of artist fifteen years ago, and fed him all the -response he needed for his cutting call-and humor. I walked around the mall for two minutes before I felt small and impoverished and hopped back in the car to escape.
The trip back took less than half the time, so I stopped to put gas in the wife’s car and get cigarettes (I know, I know; I’ll start quitting tomorrow). They didn’t have the smokes I wanted so I’d foregone them entirely, then entered into a prolonged negotiation with pump number 2 to honor the arrangement I’d made with the cashier. I was a passenger to a brainstorming session between a Hummer-bodied white girl in a Jeep and a black gazelle in a sports car about meeting at the Wal-Mart later, and I sheepishly considered the inevitable run-in I’d have with them there; it was my next stop, of necessity, for items the store needed. How I wish they’d said “Meet you at the Sprouts Market” but those exchanges are few and far between here in Texas, especially at a nameless fueling station in the shadow of a Chevron and whatever Oil Magnate’s dick is being sucked by “The Corner Store” these minutes. I gritted my teeth and watched the prepaid amount tick out timelessly some 60 cents away from the automated cutoff.
Minutes later at the Wal-Mart I brought in my own cart from the parking lot, for I was a Consumer and my Purchases were WorthWhile and Important. I needed three things, but I needed them in various increments of Bulk. At the produce section of the store, just near the entrance, I examined individually wrapped heads of Iceberg Lettuce. I selectively tossed ten of them into my cart, all the while afraid I’d catch the attention of the couple conversing a few yards ahead of me. It was a one-sided conversation, to be sure, as the talker was (I think) an employee with some learning or mental disability that had him take long pauses to bring his thoughts to his mouth. He was listing his Christmas bounty to his audience of one, and when I realized what was happening my heart just sank. I slowed my discerning pace to share their time. He’d had an impressive haul: cologne, so much candy, radio-controlled cars, a giftcard to some indeterminate wonderland. I listened to him form the words in his mouth, the vowels drawing long and gorgeous, the consonants clipped and falling over one another. I loved him in those minutes, and I wanted to indulge him. Everything inside me screamed at me to push my cart over to him and ask him please, if he didn’t mind, to start over from the beginning, and don’t leave anything out. I wanted it all, I wanted him to take his time, take my time, know that someone was always willing to listen, even though he knew full well it took him a bit longer to tell a story than it did Cheryl at the water cooler, who’d run down the latest Will-and-Grace in forty seconds flat and gloss over the gay stuff. I’d patiently sit, stand, hold a grapefruit at arm’s length and let him fill in all the detail he’d cared to. I wanted all of that.
As I carefully selected the least-shitty heads of Iceberg Lettuce and deposited them in my cart, I heard his loud, determined voice cut through the high-ceilinged silence and I saw the audience he’d captured. I knew nothing of either of them, other than the storyteller wore a smock with no nametag, and the audience member wore a jacket that was as blue as the Wal-Mart sign emblazoned on all the labels in the store. I sent a silent prayer to both of them; that the Storyteller would spin his yarn to his heart’s content, and that the Audience would stay to hear it all, even as it meandered, and rejoice its pitfalls and victories. I wanted to be him; to be the Audience. I really did. I always do. But I know that I can’t. And it eats me alive. I want to be a champion for the least of us, but I can’t balance it with the fact that I’m not one of them. Confronted with the Storyteller, my heart burns, and my empathy soars, but more than anything I am given cause to recognize, appreciate, and exercise my own mental acuity.
It hurts so much every goddamned time.
I got back to the store and the team demanded answers that they thought only I would know. So I told them what I knew, with great pomp and circumstance, and my lack of detailed knowledge slapped of ingenuity. I had to repeatedly assure them that, yes, this is all I know, and no, I’m not going to be the new GM. I shoved a burger in my face as I’d been awake and hadn’t eaten at that point for twelve hours. I left as soon as I’d drank enough water to keep the burger down and arrived home to collect my wife for drinks and karaoke.
We had a nice enough time, and I’d sold her all the carnage that I cared to recall, and after not too long we were both ready to come home. She went straight to sleep, but I had too much in me from the workplace shakeup, the Storyteller, and a stink-filled wonderland I found between two toes on my left foot.
Again, I am not to blame; The World is not to blame; Shit just happens,]
But I feel like we keep meeting here too often.
I feel mentally obtuse.