Friday, January 22, 2010

Memory Remix: #13 - What’s Love Got to Do with It?, Part 3

So there I am, standing next to my rumbling car, trying to figure out what I’m going to do, now that I’ve locked my keys inside the running car. And this is a Mustang Mach II, a muscle-car wannabe that does not purr quietly. The chugging of the engine is meant to attract attention. You can’t help but notice the noise. Drunks at the blood bank across the street are fully aware that the engine is alive.

Which means that everybody in the parking lot is aware of my situation, within seconds, as I stand beside the car with a panicked expression on my face and yanking on a door that will not budge. It’s morning rush hour, so there are tons of looky-loos milling about, and of course one of them has to ask something idiotic.

“Did you lock your keys in that thing?”

No, I just want to steal this car, but I’m not as smart as you and I don’t know how to do it. Perhaps you could give me some pointers since, based on your appearance with the stained overalls and the chewing tobacco juice dribbling off your chin, you probably know some folks with some helpful tips. Then I take a deep breath and calm down. It’s not this guy’s fault. I need to quit being such a bitter, sarcastic drama queen, even if I don’t know how to act any other way.

“Yeah, I guess I did. Pretty dumb-ass on my part.”

He sidles up a little closer, quite pleased to find himself engaged in an actual conversation, since he’s used to people just running the other way. (See, I can’t help myself, the sarcasm just oozes,) “Well, get you one of them hangers.”

Hangers? Hangers! Yes, a wire hanger, so I can snake it through the window seal and try to pull up the lock knob. “Great idea. Be right back. Can you keep an eye on this for me?” He immediately beams at the prospect of this new mission, hooking his thumbs under the straps of the overalls and looking around to see who has noticed that he has important things to do with HIS life.

So I race back into the store. The manager looks at me with a quizzical expression. “I thought you were gone.”

“Thought I was, too.” Then I zip right past him without further explanation, headed toward the back room. I don’t want to talk to him at all. He’s a boring man, with boring things to say. He’ll only slow me down.

I crash through the swinging doors in the rear of the store, and nearly slam into the bread truck guy as he waddles out of the bathroom, still pulling up his pants and fiddling with his belt. Very nice. He was raised GOOD. Of course, he probably didn’t expect Jessie Owens to sprint by as he was coming out of the bathroom, but still, finish your business before you open the bathroom door. It’s just the right thing to do, okay?

Side note: The just-vacated bathroom is a major point of contention in this store. See, the manager does not want the rest of us to let the public use our private restroom. And I completely agree with that, all for it, don’t wanna clean up after these nasty people anyway Trouble is, on HIS shift, he lets anybody and their dog use this bathroom, waving hordes of people on through.

Which leads to complications on the rest of the shifts. When I tell drunken people that we don’t have a public bathroom, they want to argue with me, because they just peed in said bathroom a few hours ago with the complete blessing of the other guy, the MANAGER guy. You’re not the manager.

Look, you smelly little heathen with your ugly girlfriend, I’m the manager RIGHT NOW. And you’re not going back there.

Then you need to call the real manager. He’ll tell you I can go back there.

No, you need to just leave and go pee where you normally pee. You must live somewhere nearby, because you’re always in here trying to get a deal on the day-old fried pies.

And so it would go. Every night, at some point, there would be a discussion on who has the right to pee where. But I wouldn’t give in. I didn’t want these people in the bathroom. If I can’t see you, I don’t know what you’re doing, and in this part of town, visual contact is important to survival. For God’s sake, some of you folks will steal the Godzilla stick just because it’s not bolted down.

But of course, I did let a select few make use of the facilities. Justine, for one, was welcome to LIVE in the bathroom if she indicated an interest in doing so. For the most part, though, I was the ass that made you hold it until you got home.

Anyway, back to the quest for a wire hanger, I side-stepped around bread truck guy and sped to the little section where we keep our personal things. There was a tiny closet where we could hang things up, so I ripped open the door with a rush of excitement.

All of the hangers I could see were plastic. Great.

Just then, I heard the manager guy bang through the swinging doors. Terrific. I did NOT want to talk to him, I’d already lost enough hours of my life as he babbled on about meaningless things like bait, fertilizer and whether or not corn meal would take the sting out of poison ivy.

Luckily, the manager stopped to chat with the bread guy, who was still fiddling with his belt buckle. (Come ON, Einstein, you put the prong in the hole. How do you manage to drive a truck? Or tie your shoes?) Einstein was a talker, too, so they immediately launched into a lengthy discussion on the mating habits of the hoot owl or some such.

Just as I was about to forlornly close the closet door, I spotted a discarded wire hanger on the floor of the cubicle, shoved to the back. It was old and rusty, and was covered in that thin, crackly paper they used to be wrapped in way back in the day, advertising some dry cleaning establishment that probably burned to the ground twenty years ago. But it would work. I snatched it up and reversed my course.

I tried to avoid eye contact with the manager as he continued to chat with Dough Boy, but I guess he caught the flash of my team smock as I sped by. “Brian?”

I kept moving. “What?”

“What are you doing?”

I slammed through the swinging doors, startling an elderly woman clutching a honey bun. “Nothing. I’ll tell you in a minute.” Translation: “I have no intention of coming back in this store. Leave me alone.”

I got back outside, where Festus was still lording over the rumbling car, grinning broadly at anybody who happened to glance in his direction. (“I’m in charge!”) Then he noticed me, and the smile faded and he snapped into what he assumed was a military-like position. He was taking this far too seriously.

I ripped the wrapper off the hanger, and started twisting the curved part to unwind the two ends of the wire. This is difficult to do when you’re trying to hurry and get it done before talkative people come outside for further investigation.

Festus: “Son, I think that you-”

Me: “Just a second. Almost got it.”

Festus: “But the lock-”

Me: “Hang on. A couple more twists…” And then the ends were free. I straightened the thing out, and made a little hook on one end. I jiggled it through the top of the window and snaked the metal toward the lock. Wait a minute. Aw hell.

Festus: “Ain’t nothing to hook it on. I was tryin to tell you.”

Sigh. I’d forgotten that the top of the lock button was smooth as anything, just this little piston thing that basically disappeared into the hole when it was pushed down. This little operation was not going to go anywhere. I pulled the wire back out and threw it on the ground in frustration.

Festus: “Ain’t the hanger’s fault.”

I suddenly wanted farmer man to go do something else for a while. Thanks for the guard duty, please continue on your way to the cattle show or wherever you were headed. Say “hey” to the missus for me. I’m assuming her name is not Elsie.

But Festus was determined to assist. There hadn’t been this much excitement in his life since Billy Ray Bodean got lickered up at the barn dance and showed his tackle. “Who else has got a key? Somebody close?”

And again, I’m making fun of the yokel but he’s the one with the good ideas. Really need to work on that sarcastic thing and start listening to people.

But wait. The only other person who has a key is Dad. Oh boy. That was a phone call I did NOT want to make unless my life depended on it. And even then, there would be hesitation. Call Dad, or ascend to the pearly gates? I’d really have to think on that one.

You see, Dad had convinced himself long ago that I would never amount to anything. Which wasn’t true. I got along fairly decently and I paid my bills on time. But every once in a while I would do something completely dumb-ass, and of course he would find out, and then he’d put another notch in his lipstick case.

I sighed again. “Well, I guess I could call my dad.”

Festus: “He gotta key?”

Me: “Yeah. And an attitude.” (Like I didn’t have one. Tree, apple, not far, right?)

Festus: “Daddies always have attitudes. That’s why they’re daddies.”

I was beginning to really like this man in the overalls. Maybe he could adopt me?

Festus: “Well, son, I gotta head out. You sure you can find your daddy?”

Me: “Yeah. Just gotta make a few calls.”

Festus: “Good enough for gov’ment work. I’ll see ya.” Then he turned and headed toward his beat-up pickup.

Me, calling after him: “Hey, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.”

He just raised an arm and did a half-wave in the air, then kept walking.

I watched him go for a bit, then turned back to the store. I would have to go inside to use the phone (no cell phones in 1986), meaning I would probably have to actually speak to the manager this time. Great. Two people I didn’t want to talk to, all lined up and ready to torment me.

I walked in the front door.

Manager: “Is that YOUR car that we can hear? Why are you just letting that thing run? And why aren’t you leaving? Why is that hanger on the ground? Didn‘t you detail the parking lot last night?”

Sigh. “I locked my keys in the car. And yes, while it was running.”

Manager: “That’s pretty stupid.”

Ya think?

I elbowed my way past him and picked up the phone. Dad worked for the phone company, and was usually out in the field, installing lines in houses while bored housewives flirted with him. So I got transferred around until somebody figured out the right Dispatch center, then finally the man himself was on the line.

I told my sad tale.

Silence on the line. Then: “Why did you do that?”

I gritted my teeth. This is what I’m talking about. I didn’t do this on purpose. It was an accident. Why does this man not understand accidents? “Can you help me out. Are you anywhere near here?”

Silence on the line. Then: “No. But I’ll be there in thirty minutes.” Click.

So I sat on the curb in the parking lot, chain-smoking and avoiding the inside of the store where co-workers asked too many questions. Eventually Dad pulls up in his rig, hands me the spare key, then stands there and observes to make sure I understand how to insert the key and turn the lock. I’m in.

Dad: “Go to the auto store, make a copy of the key, and get one of those little plastic boxes with the magnet on the back. Stick it on an axle.”

Then he’s gone.

I get in the car, drive back to my tiny apartment, break out the beer, and I’m happily buzzed by 11am in the morning. Things are so twisted around when you work the midnight shift. My night is your morning. And yes, I got the stupid key box.

A few nights later, I of course had to share all of this with Justine. She was greatly amused. “I could have popped that lock for you.”

“But it was after your shift. You were probably dead to the world already.”

She took a sip of her coffee. “Would have LOVED to see your dad’s face when he showed up.” And then she cackled and snorted in her earthy way.

“You’re a BAD woman. Evil.”

She was still laughing as she headed out the door and into the night.

I got busy with some of my paperwork. (It was really amazing how much paperwork we had to do. Seriously. We had to notate every time we blinked.) Finishing that up, I took my checkbook out of my front pocket, pulling out a few dollars I had stashed in there to pay for the chocolate milk and sandwich I had consumed earlier (we didn’t get ANYTHING for free, unlike the police officers), rang it up, then decided to put the checkbook in my personal drawer in the back counter because I was tired of the checkbook banging against my leg.

Then, as I paused for a second to consider which of my chores I should tackle next, I noticed that the milk row was empty in the dairy part of the refrigerated section on the back wall. I headed to the walk-in cooler, shoved four containers of milk into the row, and went back to the check-out counter.

My personal drawer was slightly open. Did I not close that all the way?

I pulled the drawer open. My checkbook was gone.

I broke out in a cold sweat. I had stepped away for roughly 30 seconds. What was going on? There had been no time for someone to walk in here, take the checkbook, and get back out the door.

Who was in the store?

And where?

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1 comment:

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