Monday, January 11, 2010

8/4/76 - 5

We stopped at a 7-Eleven in Perth Amboy before getting on the Jersey Pike. I was really high now. Trying to keep it together. Trying to let it go.

It was hot outside but not too hot. The hazy realm of summer doldrums. No shoes, no shirt, no service, said the door. When I pulled at the handle it opened quickly, like some spirit inside was eager to escape. Immediately I was enveloped in a blast of frigid air that bore the sickly odor, at once acrid and sweet, of coffee gently burning in its pot, hot dogs rolling on their rollers, the Slurpee machine, stacks of papers and a hundred thousand candies, gums and snacks. An eerie hum played over the cold.

I examined the front page of The New York Times. Each headline exquisitely banal. "Senate Overrides Veto on Coal Fees." They seemed like subtle, clever parodies of headlines. Mockeries of reality. "Italians Wrangle Over Poison Issue." Some bore the haunting ring of something long-ago forgotten. "U.S., West Germany Reach Tank Accord." Every element within them – every name, noun, verb and number – struck me as obvious. Predictable. "Grenade Kills Four in Burma." Of course grenade. Of course kills four. Of course in Burma. "Teen-age Kansas Girl is Missing After Her Father is Found Slain." Might they have been written before the fact? Maybe nothing really happens if it isn't a headline in The Times. Maybe nothing really happens at all.

Jim walked in, bare feet slapping the linoleum.

"I'm gettin' a Slurpee," he declared.

"Fuck yeah. Me too."

"Out!" shouted the man behind the counter.

We turned to face him.

"Out! Out! Now!" he repeated, red-faced, pointing to the door.

Waves of crimson panic pulsed through my brain.

Jim did a squinting double take. "What the f–"

"Shirt! Shoes! Out! Out! Out!"

"The fuck is he saying?" Jim asked me pleadingly, a sheen of sweat on his brow.

"Out! Now! Out! Now! Shirt!" the man insisted.

I understood.

"Jim," I began, as calmly as I could. "You're not wearing a shirt. Nor are you wearing any shoes."

"Oh, Jesus fucking Christ. Jesus. Christ. Fucking scared me half to death."

The man, silent now, stood like a statue, arm outstretched.

"Get me a Slurpee and a pack of reds," Jim told me.

"What flavor?"

"Blue," he replied as he walked back out, holding up his middle finger all the way. Not once even looking at the man.