Note: Yet another snippet from my work-in-progress for NaNoWriMo (click here to read this story from the beginning). We ended our last bit of madness with me in the midst of a polygraph test, one that had been ordered by the overlords at the company where I worked, circa 1986, as they sought to determine who had been stealing money at the store where I worked. As you’re about to find out, there was a smidgen of a lie with my last installment…
Okay, I didn’t really blow all the fuses in the building just by saying my name during a polygraph test. Although it sounds exciting and all, that was just a bit of creative freedom. It was getting late, I was tired, and I needed to end that segment with a bang (ahem) so I could get on with my current life.
Now that I’ve had some sleep, let’s jump back into things, shall we? And for the most part, the words will be true.
Eventually, Greasy Man asked enough boring questions that he was finally satisfied that he had some baseline values for the rest of the polygraph. In his mind, it was time for him to trap a possible criminal, using his superior wordplay and deductive skills so effectively that I would completely break down and confess to all known crimes committed in a three-state area. (“I can’t live with this guilt anymore. I stole a kumquat from the Piggly Wiggly!”)
Much to his un-bathed chagrin, this did not immediately happen. In fact, not much of anything happened at all, as far as figuring out who was taking the money from the store. But in terms of that little graph-chart thing of his, there was a whole lot of something going on.
As I’ve mentioned in past posts, I’m not the most laid-back person on the planet. In fact, I’m basically a walking bundle of rapid-fire nerve impulses just waiting to implode. I get worked up about everything. It doesn’t matter what the situation might be, my mind is racing in twenty different directions as I consider all possible ways that there could be impending death and destruction. If I’m awake, I’m worried about something.
This type of mind does not interact well with machines intended to measure body responses to stimuli in the form of questions. Especially if I’m aware that some of those questions are designed to trip me up and potentially send me to jail, even though I haven’t done anything worthy of actual retribution. There’s the tiny possibility that something I say could be misinterpreted and eventually lead to me dropping the soap in a prison shower, so my body is instantly on level-red freak-out alert.
So once the “serious” part of the polygraph test came into play, I physically responded to every question with a mad rush of adrenaline that caused the damn needle to spike like I was Hannibal Lecter. Is your name Brian? Yes. (Spike!) Is today Tuesday? Yes. (Spike!) Have you taken money from the store register and then manipulated the books to cover your tracks long enough that you could start a new life in Cozumel? No! (Spike!) Have you ever had intimate relationships with farm animals? Not that I remember. (Spike!)
It didn’t matter what the question was, my response was the same. A massive pulse of energy shooting through the machines. I was surprised that the graph needle didn’t just snap off and crash through a window, killing somebody in the parking lot. (Sobbing widow on the news later that night: “Buford didn’t have to die! He was just trying to get a store credit for the spoiled milk he bought last Saturday. Now he’s spoiled and the crops aren’t in yet.”)
Finally, Greasy Man just turned his machines off with a sad little click, hanging his head slightly because he knew the results weren’t going to be useable in any way. He had not proven to be a tech-savvy Sherlock, despite his dreams of superhero grandeur, saving the world from the naughty incivility of midnight-shifty store clerks.
Greasy Man just sat there, sighing and despondent, a state which made him look even more unattractive than I had originally thought possible when he and his funk walked in the room. Poor guy. He is never going to get a date. I mean, I truly believe that there is someone for everyone out there. Unfortunately, there are cases when that “someone” requires a bicycle pump for activation.
G-Man then pulled a large book out of his briefcase and began flipping through it. Was he trying to figure out what his next step should be? “Chapter Seven: What to Do If Your Subject Continuously Shoots Electrons Out of His Ass.” He turned a few more pages, sighed again, then shoved the book away. I guess their relationship was over.
He looked at me through his Coke-bottle glasses, an image that was both startling but slightly fascinating. “Well, I think we’re done. I’ll just turn this in.”
What! Oh, come on, if a seismologist took a gander at that chart, he would know instantly that California was now in the ocean. He couldn’t be serious.
But he was. He started unfastening something so he could get the roll of paper out of the machine. “You can go now.”
“Uh… can you take this stuff off of me?” I wiggled the wires hanging from my various body parts. “Or is this a parting gift of some kind?”
He looked back up at me. “Oh. Yeah. We need to take that off. One sec.” The roll of paper was putting up a fight. There was a brief struggle, followed by a surprisingly loud ripping noise and the record of my electrical flares was suddenly in two pieces. He stood there holding both sections, completely mystified.
Where the hell did he get his training? Toys R Us?
He sighed again, tossed the damaged scrolls to one side, then approached me in his cloud of wretchedness. This man had no bedside manner whatsoever, ripping all the devices off (I screamed in pain, twice) and throwing them in a box. Once I was released from the electrical cocoon, he just kind of nodded at the door. I was free to go out and assault the world as I saw fit.
As I worked my way back through the maze of hallways and cubicles, I was not as intimidated as when I had first arrived and made my march of shame to the Polygraph Room, marked as a possible future convict. Not only were the test results most likely inconclusive, I had discovered that I possessed a superpower, which was kind of nice. I was Electro-Man. I glared at the office workers who had been snooty the first time I shambled through. Don’t mess with my or I will fry your ass with my rectal beam. (Hmm. Now that I ponder things, I was probably just as sci-fi geeky as Greasy Man, but at least I had experienced orgasms when somebody else was in the room as well.)
Anyway, as expected, I was not branded as the culprit by the test. But nobody else got fingered, either. Corporate finally just dropped the issue and wrote off the loss. Which meant that somebody on our store team was a really good liar. They were still free to continue with their mayhem. And that’s not a real comforting thought, when you pause and reflect.
A few nights later, the store manager showed up early for his morning shift, meaning he would have to spend some time with me. At first, I was not pleased with this arrangement because, as previously discussed, he was a boring man with little of interest to say. But then he slyly hinted that he could talk about the investigation now that it was over.
Really? I quickly shoved my mop bucket in the back room and raced to his side in 2.5 seconds. Spill.
Him: “I knew it wasn’t you.”
Me: “Of course it wasn’t me. Who do you think it is?”
Him: “Um, well, um… You know I really shouldn’t say anything, but, um…”
Me: “It’s George.” (One of the second-shift guys.)
Him, after his jaw hits the floor: “How did you…”
Me: “Oh, come on, man. He’s lazy as hell, the store is never clean when I get here, he never pays for anything he eats, and he eats a LOT. I’m surprised there’s anything left to sell on my shift. He calls in sick all the time and I have to do a double. He’s a total worthless pig. Are you saying you haven’t noticed this?’
Me, suddenly realizing something: “Why’s he never been written up?”
Me: “TELL me. You owe me. I’ve done right by this place.”
Him, looking everywhere but directly at me: “He’s my wife’s cousin.”
I was floored. And pissed. This weak-ass jerk had put innocent people through a bad experience because he couldn’t man up and fire somebody that deserved it. I could have potentially lost my job just so he can keep his wife happy. I was done. “I’ve got things to do.” And I stomped off to get the mop bucket in the back. Bastard.
A few nights later, Officer Justine popped in. She was in a foul mood, saying overly-bitchy things and getting on my nerves. When she whined about the coffee tasting old when I had just made it, I realized we needed to have a discussion. “What’s going on?”
Justine: “They’re sending me to south Tulsa. For sure. This is my last week up here.”
Me: “Don’t they know you want to stay here?”
Justine: “Of course they do, I tell them all the time. But there’s… there’s some people that don’t wanna work with me.”
Me: “Why not? You’re great. What’s their problem?”
Justine: “It’s the… well, you know….”
What did I know? And then it clicked. There were some guys on the force who didn’t want to work with a lesbian. I sort of knew all along that Justine probably liked the ladies, but we had never talked about it. It was 1986. You didn’t talk about these things casually. Your entire world could still be ripped apart if the wrong person found out your secret and decided to use it against you. That’s why we got along so well, with us recognizing each other for what we were, wordlessly, and seeking companionship in that. Quiet comfort in numbers, that sort of thing.
People today don’t know, or don’t remember, what it was like to be gay 30 years ago. The constant fear that someone, even someone you trusted, would turn you over to the wolves who never stopped sniffing for the blood of difference.
Me: “Oh my God. Justine… I… I don’t know what to say. You’re sure that’s what it is?”
Justine: “Oh, yeah, I know. It’s pretty clear….”
I started walking around the end of the counter, headed her way to give her a big hug, screw the fact that she was in uniform. But she stopped me.
“No, don’t, cause I’m gonna lose it if you do.”
So, I stood there, just a few feet away. “Isn’t there something we can do? Maybe we can make out right here in front of Jesus and the drunks from the porno house across the street. Cause maybe one of your redneck partners will drive by and get an eyeful. I can be butch, really. They see you gettin’ some tongue action from a stud like me, they’ll figure out something else to bitch about.” (I said this with my 30-inch waist and my Duran Duran hairstyle and my complete lack of experience with a woman, ever.)
She laughed, which was music, and the hard part was over and we eased our way past the hurt. For the rest of the shift, she would stop by for coffee and “some of that man tongue.” It was a good time, bittersweet, happy sad, because we both knew it was the last chapter in a book that ended before the full story had been told.
I never saw Justine again. I wonder about her from time to time, and I hope she’s happy. We all deserve that, don’t you think?
A few days later, my friends called about the available Tina Tuner tickets, the original proposition that initially kicked off this multi-part rambling revisit to frozen amber moments. (See, I bring everything back around, eventually. You just have to have a little bit of faith. And a lot of patience.) Could I get someone to cover my shift the night of the concert?
Well, as I’ve previously whined about, I couldn’t. Nobody in my store cared about Tina or my desire to see her live. Nobody in any of the other stores cared about Tina. Poor Tina. All those years with Ike and she still couldn’t get a break.
So, it was the afternoon of the concert, and it was crunch time. I had couple of reasons in mind when I called the store manager. Foremost, of course, I intended to take the night off, come what may. Secondary to that, and it was very pleasing, was the fact that I waited until just a few hours before my shift, meaning there would be little time to find a replacement for me. The person currently on duty would be the one expected to work a double for this last-minute issue.
And who was on duty right now? George. The lying pig. My fingers were crossed that he would be stuck with it, after all the times I had covered for him.
I dialed the phone.
Manager: “Yello?” (Can’t stand it when people answer like that.)
Me: “You are not going to believe what has happened.”
Manager: “What are you talking about?”
Me: “You are speaking to a man with a collapsed lung.” (Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the drama diva in me surged forth when I made this call. I didn’t settle for something simple like pneumonia or a groin injury. Nope, I had to go off the charts with an astoundingly dumb-ass but original backstory. God, I was stupid.)
Manager: “A collapsed lung? Shouldn’t you be in the hospital?”
Me, scrambling: “Oh, I was. In the emergency room. See, I have asthma, and I just got this new inhaler, and I had a reaction to it, and it shut down one of my lungs.”
Manager: “You have asthma? But you smoke.”
Oh crap. The asthma part was true, but I hadn’t had an attack in years. I just can’t stick to the supposed facts. I always have to embellish, and it bites me in the ass. “Well, the asthma comes and goes. I usually don’t have a problem unless I’m really stressed. I guess I’ve been stressed about work lately.” (Trying to throw the issue back at him, natch.)
Manager: “What are you stressed about at work?”
See, why can’t I just SHUT UP when I’m trying to lie? Get to the point and get off the phone. Geez. “Um, I don’t know. This whole thing with George.” (Ooh, that was good, personalize it with a slap at one of his family members.)
Then he surprises me. “Well, I kind of expected you to call in, with that Tina Turner concert and all.”
Totally busted. I had no response.
Manager: “But you get some rest. I’ll get somebody to cover your shift for the next couple of days. Maybe George. Apparently he could use the extra pay.”
So, he knew exactly what I was doing. I think. And he was fine with it, even taking a subtle slam at George. I guess he was decent after all, in a roundabout way.
We said our goodbyes and hung up.
The Tina Turner concert was incredible, as anyone who has ever been to one of her concerts can attest. I was totally mesmerized way up there in my nose-bleed seats, surrounded by a bunch of queens just wanting to be her, if only for a moment. I forgot all about my fears and troubles for three hours, a very difficult thing for me to do in that time, that place, that life.
Three days later, I called the store manager again. I was quitting, wouldn’t be back, sorry for the short notice. He wasn’t surprised. “Kind of tough down here, ain’t it?”
Yes, it was.
But it also made me strong. In some surprising ways. Years later, as I worked my way up the ladder at GTE then Verizon, I would get frustrated with the sheer idiocy of corporate politics. But then I would remind myself that I had been through much worse, like the random, dysfunctional humanity at a convenience store in the bad part of town. I was fearless then, perhaps naively, before life softened my edges, but I still remember. And now I write my little words late into the evening, once again on the midnight shift.
And much love to Justine, wherever she may be….
Originally published in a different form in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” in 2010. Modified considerably for this post. And with this entry, we close a window into my thoughts and my life in the months literally leading up to the day I turned 21, on January 26, 1986. Two days after I finally hit that milestone, the Space Shuttle Challenger fell out of the sky, which was also two days after I had moved to Dallas, Texas on said birthday, hoping I could make a better life for myself. Things did not go as I had hoped with this vision quest, as running from one mess can often drop your ass into yet another.
Do you smell another story brewing?
But don’t hold your breath, because this is Bonnywood Manor, where we all dream in color, but sometimes the Property Manager forgets what he has promised the guests. Same as it ever was…
Categories: My Life