Monday, February 22, 2010

Shock the Monkey, Part 4

So I’m just on the verge of flipping the bird back at this obnoxious pack of pre-teens, when I decide that perhaps I should refrain. After all, I have horrible luck. The very second my business finger starts to extend, there will be a “whoop-whoop” from a passing patrol car and within five minutes I will be in jail, charged with digital criminal mischief or some such.

I keep my hands on the wheel, even though I’m not the tiniest bit happy about taking the high road and pretending like I can’t see the Nickelodeon version of Sodom and Gomorrah playing out in the back of the bus. I’m just stunned that mere third-graders already know offensive moves that my generation didn’t learn until high school.

Suddenly, the gyration party comes to a halt. All of their little heads whip around toward the front of the bus, and two seconds later they all race to their seats, exuding auras of innocent grace and non-responsibility for anything untoward that may have taken place. Apparently the bus driver had some choice words to share with the hyperactive heathens, and they have been chastised accordingly.

Two minutes later, the signal lights activate and the school bus turns into the parking lot of St. Monica’s, the largest local Catholic church, which also includes a private school. Great. Not only are these children out of control, but they apparently learned their interpretive dance skills whilst attending a supposedly morally-rigid educational environment. I guess the nuns aren’t quite as restrictive as they were in my day.

Right after that, I pull up to the next major intersection, where all I want to do is just turn right, but instead I get a clear example of why some third-graders no longer act like third-graders should. It’s because they have been raised by idiotic parents that have lost their minds, evidenced by the next abomination that this day presents to me.

I’m just sitting there, waiting for the light to change so the obnoxious jerk in front of me, playing rap music so loud that I’m surprised his wheels don’t fall off, can pull through and allow me to turn. Then I hear sirens and realize that an emergency vehicle of some kind is approaching our intersection.

Turns out, it’s a fire truck, barreling along from the opposite direction. Since the cross-traffic is still whizzing through the intersection, the truck understandably slows a bit and the driver pounds on his horn. As a decent human being, I think that we’ve all been given enough environmental clues that everybody should stop and let this fire truck go through so that the brave and noble fire-fighters can go save somebody’s ass.

But no. The cross-traffic keeps flying across the intersection, not slowing down at all.

People! What is wrong with you? What has happened to humanity that we have come to this, where some degenerates are so focused on their own personal needs that they blithely ignore civil servants who are quite possibly trying to keep somebody from dying?

And yes, ladies and gentlemen, the fire truck had to wait until the light for the cross-traffic turned red. And even then, there were morons running the red light, despite the sirens and the honking.

Words fail me. Something has gone fundamentally wrong with society.

Anyway, after the decibel-shattering car in front of me low-riders his way across the intersection, I finally get to turn right. Once I’m around the corner, I plow through the icy slush a bit more exuberantly than I should be plowing. After all, my vehicle is operating on the scantest of fumes, and I need to find a gas station post haste.

Almost a mile later, just after I pass the exit from my neighborhood that is on the opposite side of the Death Valley mess from the previous posts, I pull into the very skanky parking lot of this nasty convenience store. Even though this hell-fest is the closest convenience store to my house, I never stop here unless I have no other choice in the world. It’s just not a good place to transact business of any kind. You could die.

But I need gas, desperately, so we have to put aside any trepidation. You gots to do what you gots to do.

I pull up to an available pump, and exit the vehicle. Immediately, my senses are assaulted by the overwhelming smell of rubber. This is due, for the most part, to the fact that immediately adjacent to the convenience store is a very questionable retail establishment where they sell tires, wheels, and blinged-out accessories for your vehicle. Basically, it’s “Pimp My Ride” for people without money, pimps, or any chance of actually owning their car in the foreseeable future.

I’m somewhat used to the surrealistic carnival atmosphere of the two buildings sharing the same parking lot. (After all, it IS the closest convenience store, so I’ve sucked it up a few times in order to snag a gallon of milk when I was in a pinch.) It’s all good.

So I’m not surprised when I hear two women get into a catfight over which rims look better on the modified piece of crap that their shared boyfriend, apparently named Pedro, is having tricked out. It doesn’t phase me when there’s a guttural exclamation of surprise, followed by a reckless tire bouncing out of the auto shop and rolling across the asphalt before it strikes a parked car, setting off a shrill alarm.

What does bug me are the gas pumps. I should be used to them by now, and should have learned my lesson, but it still sends me over the edge.

For one, the convenience store owner (or somebody) has altered the pumps. Instead of a range of fuel grades like you would typically find, they have made all the button choices the same, documenting the changes with crappy handwriting in black magic marker. All the buttons give you the same thing: low-grade fuel. Nothing fancy here. (Then again, you should have expected that with the sign in the store window advertising “Fried Shrimp in the Deli!”. There is no such thing as a deli in a convenience store. It‘s just not what God intended.)

Second, although they do actually have a “pay at the pump” option, it’s a very antiquated payment method. This place still has a dial-up internet connection. So you swipe your card, and then wait an eternity for credit recognition. Entire countries can be overthrown in a military coup before you get a response. (For that matter, both of Pedro’s girlfriends have plenty of time to get pregnant before you are approved.)

Finally, the damn pump pings chirpily to indicate that I can proceed. Knowing full well what kind of quality I’m dealing with here, I only get a couple of gallons before I slap the thing off like I’ve just seen a cockroach. Who knows what vile fluid I have just injected into my innocent RAV4. I then hit “YES” when the pump asks if I want a souvenir record of our transaction, because I’m anal about such things.

“Please see attendant for receipt!"

Wrong. I’m not seeing anybody. Even if I had the remotest desire to actually enter the health-violating inner sanctum of the this ethics-challenged portal of Hell, I don’t have time for this. I’ve got things to do.

So I hop back in the car, fire the thing up, and pull away from the pump in what I assumed would be the end of my dealings with the fine citizenry surrounding me. This assumption is proven incorrect in roughly three seconds. At that point, the front door of the convenience door slams open and two male youngsters race into the parking lot, not bothering to slow down and certainly not bothering to check for oncoming traffic.

Then they both skid to a questionable halt in the mushy snow, directly in front of me. They both reach down and scoop up some of the dirty, exhaust-flavored ice crystals and begin to form a ball.

You’re kidding me. Am I about to be attacked for the second time today by uncontrolled urchins with a penchant for violence? Why is there so much hatred in the world?

But no, a different madness is afoot. They drop the hard-packed balls back into the snow and begin rolling said objects around in the clingy wetness, increasing the girth and heft. It’s possible that they are just maximizing the damage potential of their weaponry, but it quickly dawns on me what the truly intend to accomplish.

They are building a snowman. Right here. In the middle of a convenience store parking lot. In front of a running car that is waiting for them to get the hell out of the way. Driven by an astonished neurotic who could not be less impressed with the latest development in his simple quest to purchase poultry products.

I can’t get around them. There’s not enough room, what with the gas pumps on the left and a line of parked clunker cars on the right. I could possibly back up, but I don’t have the greatest skill when it comes to doing vehicular things in reverse. Besides, the pavement behind me is dotted with customers from the sordid chop shop, all of them standing around and arguing over which heavy-metal decal would look the best on the back window of Pedro’s ride.

So I’ve got to go forward, and these kids need to get out of the way. Where are their parents? Surely there’s at least a guardian figure of some kind with minimal responsibility for the welfare of the budding minions of Satan. I glare at the convenience store door, focusing my mental powers on creating the sudden appearance of an adult who can yell at the bad little boys and make them go away.

Lo and behold, here comes a woman who does seem to have some influence with the degenerates. She’s talking on her phone, and initially doesn’t seem to be paying any attention. However, both boys call out to her, requesting admiration for their handiwork. She pauses in mid-sentence, assesses the situation, then breaks into a broad grin.

“Isn’t that CUTE!” she pronounces.

(No, it’s not.)

“Gloria,” she says to the person on the phone, a woman I thoroughly despise due to whatever association she might have with these people. “We’re building a snowman! I’m going to send you a picture. Hang up and I’ll call you back."

(NO! We don’t need photography right now. We need you to drag your offspring out of my way so I can finally roll forward and crush that damn half-built snowman.)

Momma then takes her phone and starts snapping away while the boys mug it up, cavorting about and pointing at their creation. It’s all I can do to suppress an anguished wail of misery and doom. This is the clueless society that I live in?

Fine. I’ll just have to honk my horn, an action that I had avoided up to this point because I didn’t want to be like the crazy people who had honked at ME earlier over a situation that I couldn’t control. (And there’s the related fact that my car was currently idling in what was clearly gang territory, with the thugs at the auto shop behind me and the guys on the sidewalk to my right who were most likely selling crack along with the stack of bootlegged DVD’s on the table between them.)

I gently tap the horn, and a tentative squawk issues forth from under the hood.

Momma stops taking pictures and finally notices me five feet away. She is no longer smiling, instead giving me a look filled with venom instead of the anticipated apology. All of the people at the gas pumps, waiting for their credit cards to be approved, turn as one to regard the situation. The suspicious DVD hawkers stand up to get a better view. In the shop behind me, what had been the incessant sound of power tools adjusting lug nuts suddenly stops, with the customers all racing out to see who had just done something to upset the delicate balance of power in the hood. I’m completely surrounded, and nobody looks like they are about to offer cookies and milk.

I’m about to be killed, ripped to shreds by an angry mob driven to violence because I dared to honk at angelic toddlers who are just trying to enjoy the snowfall. As if to give his blessing to the impending carnage, the owner of the convenience store steps outside to survey the melee. He has a look of anticipation on his face.

Wait a minute. Is THIS how he gets the fried shrimp for his deli?

Click Here to Read the Next Entry in This Series.

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