Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Excuse Me, But What Planet Is This?

I’m standing in T-Mart. It used to be Minit Mart, but they went bankrupt, so now they’ve just dropped the Mini. It kept the new owner from paying for a new sign. You can still see the old letters, covered in duct tape and plastic, like no one would notice. It’s too bad the buyer didn’t have more money. Maybe he could have corrected the fucking spelling and called it Minute Mart.

There’s an old woman in front of me trying to write a check and she’s moving like she can’t remember what name she’s supposed to sign. There’s a young black guy, mid-twenties, with a shaved head bugging the clerk about Lotto tickets.

“What’s the payoff?”

He’s looking around like he wants someone to say the wrong thing to him.

Behind the counter a couple of Indians, a guy and a kid act like they have all the time in the world. They’re moving in slow-motion and talking to each other in their native language. They’re both clean-cut and well-dressed, unlike the customers here. The people waiting in line look like they just stepped out of some homeless shelter with a wad of cash for lottery tickets and cartons of Doral cigarettes. The Indian kid is counting money laid out across another counter behind them. The money is stacked like he’s playing Monopoly. It’s sitting in front of boxes of cigars.

The clerk is trying to run this old lady’s check through the machine and the hostile black guy says in a loud voice, “You gonna give me my change for my tickets, man?”

The clerk says, “You haven’t paid me yet.”

Eternities pass and I’m still just standing here, stuck in this moment in time in this low-rent convenience store with half empty shelves and a bunch of people just staring off into space. It’s like in that episode of the Outer Limits where the pilot got knocked out of time and everyone else became these living statues. It's almost funny.

I always try to make some moments last, but the only one’s that do are always the worst fucking ones.

Some old guy is talking to himself behind me. He looks like he’s about two hundred years old. He’s just a skeleton with some liver-spotted skin stretched over it and he smells like a bedpan. I’m trying my best not to stare.

I’m starting to get paranoid. Actually, I started getting paranoid about two minutes after I walked into these florescent lights and it’s only getting worse. Something is wrong with this place. This isn’t how people act. They’re moving like damaged machines. They’re trying to do their routine but they just stop in the middle of it and reboot.

I just wanted a pack of cigarettes. I think about leaving but now the Indian guy is giving the old lady a receipt to sign. Things are moving along. Soon I’ll have my cigarettes and I’ll be able to get the fuck out of here. But now the old lady is confused. The Indian guy doesn’t even notice because the black dude who’s trying to pull some lottery ticket scam is asking him another question. The old man behind me cackles.

“What’s the most I can win?” the black guy asks in a loud voice and looks around to see if anyone wants to say anything about it.

The kid is still counting money behind the counter. I’m wondering how safe it is to have piles of money laying around when you’ve got a group of homeless people waiting in line and some of them look seriously fucking insane. The old man laughs at nothing again and then coughs like he’s going to keel over and die. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did. A fat white guy with a beard standing at the back of the line lets out a loud “Whoo hooo!” The clerk and the kid stop talking for a minute and smile like his redneck yell makes perfect sense.

I’m thinking about running now. But if I leave, I might have to go through this in some other store. It could be even worse. I wish this was just some random incident.

So I wait.

The old woman is moving. She turns back around, confused and walks off clutching her crumpled check. The black guy says, “Give me six Pick Threes and seven Pick Fours.” He may as well be talking in a different language at this point, the clerk and the kid still are. They’re talking and they’re laughing about something. The kid is still counting all of that money.

I finally get to the counter and the clerk is ignoring me. I say, “Put that money in a sack and give it to me or I’ll fucking kill you.”

He says, “Excuse me, sir?”

I say, “I need a pack of Marlboro Lights.”

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