Note: Yet another snippet from my work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo (click here to read this story from the beginning), picking up right after I have just tried to break into my own car using an ancient wire hanger, because I had stupidly locked my keys inside the car whilst it was still running. This breaching effort had proved fruitless, and I had hurled said hanger to the ground, an irrational act that any decent psychologist will tell you is a warning sign of further domestic violence. My only alternative at this point was to go back inside the convenience store where I had just ended my shift and call my dad, who also had a key to this now-wretched car…
I timidly opened the front door, hoping that the manager was currently occupied with some bit of crap in another part of the store, far from the single phone in the entire building, positioned as it was near the cash register. Naturally, he wasn’t doing anything of real value other than waiting for one of his employees to walk in the door, shame-faced and bereft.
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? Did you not detail the parking lot last night? Do I need to put this in your review?”
Me, inside voice: “Well, you can certainly put something somewhere.” Me, outside voice: “I locked my keys in the car. And yes, while it was running.” Is there a box on my evaluation form that pertains to such? If so, check it. Check it hard.
Manager: “That’s pretty stupid.”
Ya think? I SO did not have time for this.
I elbowed my way past him and picked up the phone, another sign of impending domestic violence and another possible box that could be checked on my review. (“Does employee exhibit antisocial tendencies at inappropriate moments?”) Luckily, the manager wisely managed to intercept some type of subliminal hint from me (perhaps the murderous gleam in my youthful eye?) that this was a battle best not fought, and he wandered off to review the bread inventory and determine how many hot dog buns he might need to order later that morning.
I dialed a number, a faded series of digits on a scrap of paper in my wallet that I had scribbled down during a rare moment when my father thought he should be fatherly and let me know how to contact him, should I do something insipid in the parking lot of a convenience store. Said number led to a centralized communications hub of some sort, where they initially did not know how to process my call. (Dad worked for the phone company, and he was usually out in the field, installing lines in houses while bored housewives flirted with him and hoped to catch his roving eye. Suffice it to say that they were often successful.)
At one point, as I was being transferred hither and yon across the entire state of Oklahoma, an especially perky but faceless voice said to me: “We’re in a bit of pickle trying to find Mr. Lageose. Do you mind holding a sec?”
What choice did I have? “Sure, not a problem.”
I held. And, in one of those sideways-shifting moments of random thoughts we all have, I reflected on something I had done several months prior to that. I was still in college, in what proved to be my last semester, considerably short of graduation. I had missed an important, final-grade-affecting exam in one of my Humanities classes. I met with the professor afterwards, attributing my bad behavior to the fact that I was discombobulated with my parents impending divorce. (I did not mention that it was the third divorce for my father, what with the roving eye and all.) Can you forgive me and let me take a make-up exam?
She could. Let’s schedule it for tomorrow, shall we?
She gave me a list of five possible essay questions. I went back to the dorm that night and wrote out my responses to each of them. The next day, I brought those responses with me in a slim folder, tucked among the required textbooks for that class. The professor led me to a vacant classroom, handed me a single sheet of paper with the pre-determined question, informed me that I had an hour to be brilliant, and then she waltzed away, not the least bit interested in bothering to observe me. (To be fair, in one of those moments when people who don’t know each other actually know each other, I got the sense that she knew what I was going to do.)
I cheated. It was the only time I had ever done such on any exam, ever. I plucked the appropriate pages out of the slim folder and copied them, word for word, on the actual test form. This couldn’t have happened, had the professor stayed in the room, but she didn’t, so I did.
I was just done with everything at that point in my life. I was tired of trying to prove my worthiness, despite having won award after award in my high school and college years. I was tired of a father that refused to recognize that worthiness, despite the awards. And mostly, I was tired of being gay in an ultra-conservative state where the majority of the people crushed you for being different, beating you down every chance they got. I just needed to breathe, even if the air was tainted. For just a second, give me a break.
I’m not proud of that moment. But I also understood myself in that moment. Sometimes the lie is about the truth, however you justify it.
I got an “A” for the course, with the professor practically winking as she handed me the final grade. She knew, I knew, tomorrow is another day.
Faceless voice on the phone, back at the Quik Trip store months later: “Hold for the transfer.” Dad: “Why the hell are you calling me?”
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, again. Then: “No. But I’ll be there in thirty minutes.” Click.
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 company 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. Put the key in it and stick it somewhere in one of the wheel wells.”
Then he was 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 and stuck it.
A few nights later, I of course had to share all of this with Justine the Police Officer. 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. “I would have LOVED to see your dad’s face when he showed up.” And then she cackled and snorted in her earthy way.
“There’s something evil in you, Justine. 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 in that damn store. 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 many assigned 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 12 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?
Click here to read the next bit in this series…
Originally published in a different form in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” in 2010. Modified considerably for this post. I realize I got just a bit deep with this entry, with not so much of the funny, but as I was piddling and revising, the words just came out, and I learned a long time ago that stifling what you really feel is not a good thing. Cheers.
Categories: My Life