Monday was my only day off work last week. Which stinks, but that's irrelevant to this particular weblog entry. Thankfully I had only one necessary errand to perform on my one day off: I needed
razor blades. And just for the record, I use a Schick Quattro these days. Because I believe you can never have too many razor blades simultaneously sliding against your flesh. If that titillates
you, please do not tell me about it.
So. I went out early into the damp cold gray morning to procure my face-shaving necessities. I knew Wal-Mart would be cheapest, but I opted for Target: the choice of the discerning and snooty megastore shopper. While I was there, I wandered over to browse the DVDs. I picked up a copy of American Gangster and read the description on the back. (I think it was the Super Bygod Duper 3-Disc Ten-Pounds Special Deluxe Director’s Cut Boxed Edition that comes with genuine Denzel Washington nail clippings.) I studied the ridiculously long list of special features, knowing perfectly well that I was not going to buy the movie. But it doesn’t take a lot to entertain me at nine o’clock in the morning.
I stopped reading when I became aware of the blond young man standing beside me. He was quite close to me. And by close, I mean uncomfortably and unpleasantly close. Violating-my-private-space close. In fact, he was breathing-on-the-side-of-my-face close.
My tongue coiled, my lips twisted, and together they began to form this question: What the goddamned fuck, man?!?
Thankfully, my question never got airborne. Because, just in time, I noticed the large drop of drool dangling from the young man’s bottom lip. His bright blue eyes were staring, beacon-like, at my face. They had that certain glint to them: a sparkle that only a complete lack of guile can provide.
To put it simply, the guy was mentally challenged. Or should I say that he was a person with special needs? Or perhaps cognitively disabled? Of diminished capacity? Whatever the politically correct term is this month, I don’t know anymore. When I was young, the condition was called retarded. But I think using the word retarded in 2008 earns you a year’s probation and thirty hours of community service. Unless you’re just insulting someone who isn’t actually retarded. Then it’s okay. For some reason.
“HI!” the young man shouted. He frowned with curious innocence as he studied my face.
I smiled weakly, trying not to stare at the single drop of drool suspended from his lip. “Hi there,” I replied. “How you doing, buddy?”
My question did not register. “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” he demanded.
“Armand,” I told him. Which is not my name, I just wish it were. I have an inexplicable desire to be the first white man on earth named Armand.
“ARMAND,” he echoed, continuing to stare at my face. Not at my eyes, really, but somehow at my entire face. “I’M DANNY.”
“Oh yeah?” I said, smiling like a phony asshole. I placed American Gangster back on the shelf in preparation for my swift-but-graceless escape. "It’s nice to meet you, Danny.”
At this point, a short and irritable-looking fortysomething woman came walking up to us. “Danny,” she said patiently, “how many times have I asked you not to wander off on your own?”
Danny did not stop staring at me. “THIS IS ARMAND!” he declared.
The woman looked at me and smiled apologetically. She did not seem to be impressed that my name was Armand. “That’s nice, Danny. But look, I think Armand’s kind of busy right now. Maybe we should leave him alone. Howbout it?”
Still staring into the depths of my drowsy soul, Danny made this declaration: “I WANT A DUKES OF HAZZARD DVD! DO THEY HAVE THOSE HERE?”
It would be too easy and too cruel to make a joke about people of diminished capacity watching The Dukes of Hazzard.
Anyway, I wasn’t sure if Target stocked Bo and Luke on DVD. And I started to tell Danny this, but quite suddenly he ran away from me. He had spotted a Target employee: some sleepy college slob with that very appropriate bull’s-eye logo on his red shirt. Danny rampaged toward the guy with purpose.
About three seconds before Danny reached him, the Target employee looked up and saw the furious storm coming his way. I think he decided, at that very moment, what kind of day he was about to have.
“EXCUSE ME SIR!” Danny said. “DO YOU HAVE DUKES OF HAZZARD DVDS?”
“Uhhh,” the Target employee said.
The nameless woman trudged wearily toward Danny and his new friend. I recognized this as my opening, and ducked around the corner and made my escape. And I did it fuckin’ quickly.
As I slinked away in the shadows, I heard Danny again: “I DON'T WANT THE SAME DUKES OF HAZZARD DVD I HAVE AT HOME, OKAY?"
“Uhhh,” the Target employee said.
“He doesn’t know which one you have at home, Danny,” the woman explained, sounding so awfully tired. Not early-morning groggy. Just damned tired.
Their voices faded away behind me as I walked directly to the cash register. A cute chubby brunette took my money, handed me change, thanked me, and she did it without even once looking at my face. I understood.
As I neared the exit, the enticing aroma of fresh coffee snagged my nostrils. There was a Starbucks squatting near the exit door. While I am not a great fan of Starbucks, neither do I view the company as some kind of bloated white devil rising up to consume our consumer souls. It was a cold crappy Monday morning and four minutes earlier a mentally challenged man had been shouting in my ear. I needed some coffee.
At such an early hour, there was only one person ahead of me in line: a cheerful, mousy middle-aged woman in a knit cap and a parka. I stood behind her and studied the rack of baked sweets that were on display next to the cash register. After a short wait, the man working behind the counter turned and handed the mousy woman a foam-topped drink of some sort. She thanked him in a sing-song voice and skipped away. I wanted to be her. She was high on something.
The man working behind the counter looked at me. Then he looked me up and down. Then he met my gaze. And he smiled. The smile.
I thought this: God damn it. Then I sighed and stepped up to the register.
“Can I help you sir?” Mister Starbucks asked me, enlarging his smile.
“I’ll just have a medium black coffee, please,” I said.
“Sure thing,” he grinned. “You want cream?”
I blinked. “Uh, no. Thanks anyway.”
“Sure thing.” As he selected the cup that would be mine, Mister Starbucks offered this insightful observation: “You look like you could use some caffeine this morning.”
I grunted my agreement and pretended to do something necessary with the money in my wallet. Take the hint and shut up, pal.
“So what are you out doing today?”
A real fuckin’ cab driver, this guy. “Nothing, really. Just goofing off.”
“What, on a Monday?” he asked, sounding almost offended. “You’re not on your way to work today?”
Sighing inwardly, I reminded myself that the guy’s attraction should be taken as a compliment. “No, I’m off work on Monday.”
“Oh yeah?” The smile was back. “So what do you do?”
“Same thing you’re doing right now. I take people’s money and hand them things for it.”
“I see,” he said with a laugh. Mister Starbucks moved around a lot, tinkering with a variety of devices behind the counter. It would be hard to convince me that a simple cup of black coffee would require so much movement or so many coffee-related machines.
“So tell me,” he said, glancing over his shoulder as he continued to calibrate his coffee equipment, “are you the kind of guy who has to do something constructive with his day off? I mean, do you feel guilty if you just lay around all day and do nothing?”
Understand something: I come from a long line of alcoholic white trash. Sitting on my ass and accomplishing nothing is hard-wired into my DNA.
“I work two jobs, six days a week,” I said, aware of how distant and exhausted my voice sounded. “I think I’ve earned some laziness today.”
Smiling, and eyeing me intently, he set my coffee in front of me. “I think you’ve got a point. Your total is one ninety-six.”
I handed him a pair of singles, wishing I had just stayed in bed this morning and started growing a beard.
Mister Starbucks handed me four pennies. Then he asked, “So, what do you do for fun?”
As I reached for my coffee, I gave that Starbucks employee the most truthful answer I’ve ever given any question in my entire thirty-four years of being alive. I said, “I don’t even know anymore. I gave up booze, I gave up drugs, I gave up cigarettes. I don’t know how to have fun anymore. I’m just outta my fuckin’ mind most of the time.”
It’s a funny thing with me: I explode with honesty to the most unlikely people at the most inappropriate moments. I need to work on that.
The Starbucks guy raised his eyebrows at my response. I picked up my coffee and shrugged. “Sorry,” I said.
He smiled again. A sadder smile than before. “Well, you still have caffeine.”
I grunted in agreement and tipped up my coffee. It was good and strong. As I walked away, I tossed him a salute. He was a nice guy, I think. If I could get in touch with my inner homosexual, I’d go back and ask him out. But I fear it's not to be. I'm not worth a damn with the ladies--they all tell me so--but there's no substitute for them.
Except books, of course. Once outside Target, I decided to go into the small used book store across the street. There were no other customers in there, and the old lady behind the cash register only nodded hello as I walked in. She was reading a paperback and completely uninterested in me.
I stayed a while.
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