I was about as uncomfortable as I could ever remember, it was painful to think. It was a Sunday morning in late September, but summer refused to lighten its grip on my Virginia home. At 5:45 in the morning the thermometer was already tickling the 80 degree mark. The air was thick, and wet; with no breeze offered to give any hope for relief. The cicadas usually waited until the heat of the afternoon to start their racket, but I think they must have known that I was hung over and thought it good sport to start the day early and pile on to my misery.
I needed a shower, a toothbrush, a 50 lb. aspirin, and some direction. But at the moment the cola flavored Slurpee was going to have to do. The first pull through that lipstick red straw felt like being kissed by an angel, or this girl I know named Page. The slush took the kitty litter like grit off of my dried out tongue, and the sweetness helped neutralize the foul taste in my mouth. With each sip, I could feel the icy cold drink hydrating my body…this bordered on rapture.
We were just sitting in my car, waiting for 6:00. I was shirtless and my lower back was sticking to the tan vinyl seats of a 1978 Chevy Monte Carlo, the T-tops were off, and mysteriously missing. I checked twice; not in the back seat, not in the trunk. Where in the hell could they be? I wondered. They’re the size of a sewer cap, and damn near as heavy. How do you lose T-tops? What am I going to do if we have thunderstorms today? Why do these things always happen to me? Oh yeah, never mind.
My best friend, and co-conspirator, was sitting in the passenger seat, snoring almost loud enough to drown out the cicadas. The heat didn’t bother him, the bugs didn’t bother him, and even his snoring wasn’t bothering him. Nothing ever seems to bother him. I was considering hitting him with my tire iron, to see if that would bother him, when it occurred to me that when I was looking for my T-tops I didn’t remember seeing my tire changing tools, or my spare tire either. I walked to the back of the car, popped the trunk one more time; it was empty, and wet.
I slammed the trunk closed, walked back to the driver’s side door, and slammed it closed too. DJ stirred, looked over at me and shook his head, closed his eyes again and said, “Where’s your shirt man? You can’t go in there without a shirt.”
I didn’t know where that was either.
“I already went in and got this Slurpee.” I said, “They didn’t say anything about it.”
“Well they should. ‘No shoes. No Shirt. NO SERVICE!’ You’re a walking health code violation” He replied, expressionless, “Is it 6:00 yet?”
“10 more minutes. I don’t know why we’re doing this now. We should go back to my place and crash, or I’ll take you home, and you can come back over later. I just need to take some aspirin and sleep.” I protested.
He half laughed while shaking his head again, “It was your idea. If it’s just 10 more minutes we might as well just wait, and not worry about going back out. How long have we been here?”
“Do you know where my T-tops are? Or my spare and my jack?” I asked, ignoring his pointless question.
“You took everything out of the trunk so you could turn it into a mobile cooler. You made me spend thirty dollars for ice, and it didn’t even come close to filling it up. Then you parked the car in the Myers’ garage and it leaked all over their garage floor. The beer stayed cold for maybe 45 minutes. That was the stupidest idea since you had the barnyard party in your basement. (Earlier that same year, I co-hosted a New Year’s Eve party where we filled the basement of our townhouse with about 12 bales of hay. Festive, but not practical. Lots of bugs and critters live in hay bales. Who knew?) Your T-tops, and all your other stuff, are still over at the Myers’ house. We can get it later; we have to help them clean up anyway.”
“Damn.” That was really all I could think of to say.
My Seiko struck 6, so we walked into the 7- Eleven to purchase a case of beer to get us through the day’s schedule of football games. Beer sales were suspended from mid-night to 6:00 AM in Virginia. A couple of hours earlier, I was bragging to the party crowd that the beer wouldn’t last until the wee hours, but the party would. I told everyone that we would have a contingent outside the 7-Eleven waiting for the locks to come off of the beer coolers so we could make our purchase, and continue our celebration…of nothing. The contingent ended up being just me and DJ; our fellow revelers lost their enthusiasm as the night ran on and the beer ran out. Amateurs, I thought.
DJ and I gathered our sundries; one 6 lb. bag of ice, two 12 –packs of Michelob, and a cola Slurpee for DJ; he was admiring the one I had been nursing, and was amazed by its healing powers. I was too, while I’m sure I still looked like the spawn of Wookie and a crack whore; I was starting to feel like I was becoming something that resembled a human. Never under value the medicinal powers of junk food.
A surly clerk with dark, wrinkled skin, yellow eyes, and judgmental body language asked me for an ID, and after his pretend inspection he mumbled, “seventeen dollars and eighty-six cents”. I opened my wallet and found eleven dollars, and as I turned to DJ for the balance, he smiled wide and bright over top of the red straw of his drink. “What? You need more cash?”
Consumer math not being one of my strengths, I replied, “Yeah, I need like five bucks.”
“You need six dollars and eighty-six cents” said the mean guy behind the counter. He was acting very impatient, considering there was no one else in the store. In hind-sight, it would have been more dignified for us to have just robbed the place.
I looked at the clerk, then I looked at DJ, who then…while holding back laughter, looked back at me and said, “You made me spend all my money on ice for your mobile cooler. I don’t have any money left.” He finished his sentence with an immediate biting of his upper lip. This is usually when the fun starts.
When DJ laughs, even mildly, it’s usually quite an eruption; it is an audio-visual experience like few others. Now, at this particular moment he was knee deep in the realization that this wasn’t amusing to me or the dude behind the counter…therefore, he was struggling. Laughter being held back is difficult for anyone, for DJ, it’s akin to water board torture.
“You’re going to have to put one of the 12-packs back”, sighed Yellow Eyes, “and I’m going to have to adjust my register.”
Now I’m mad, and I see that DJ has turned his back to the situation. Like a disobedient dog, he can’t make eye contact with the source of ire, but unlike that dog, it’s not due to remorse or guilt; it’s because this is simply the funniest thing he has ever witnessed in his twenty-two years. It’s not, but at this moment, it is to DJ…and if he makes eye contact with me, he will lose it. There will be noise, and body spasms, and spilled Slurpee, and these things will feed upon themselves, and fuel more of the same. This condition could last a week, because every time his mind goes back to this moment, he will start the seizure all over again.
He did the only thing he could do…he walked away. He left the store with his unpurchased Slurpee, and walked quickly across the small parking lot, through the heat and humidity, and sat down in my car. As I turned my attention back to the clerk, just before the door closed, I could hear the wailing begin. To the untrained ear, it sounded something like the primal screams of an animal, perhaps an exotic cat, at the height of its mating activity; but to me, it was just DJ…laughing. My head started hurting again. Yellow Eyes said, “You’re paying for that Slurpee.”
“No shit?” OK, here it comes. “Listen, Mr. Personality, I’m gonna leave this stuff here, with my wallet, and I’m gonna go see if I have more cash in my car. I realize that we interrupted your nap, but you are on the clock, and we are customers. I would like to be treated that way.”
As I turned to walk out the door, he called after me, “Hey man, don’t act like I’m not being cool here! I let you in without a shirt!”
I just kept walking, and kept my smart mouth shut. DJ was still in the car, settling down, wiping his eyes. He looked at me, and he started again. “Damn! We are a couple of losers, man” he said through the broken voice of laughter. “Don’t have enough money to buy a case of beer. I don’t know about you, but I’m a week from payday too.”
“I think I still have some money at home, I’ll loan you fifty to get you through. You’ve bailed me out enough times, I probably even owe you fifty bucks. Right now, we gotta dig through the ashtrays and the seats to see if we can come up with seven bucks”.
“We’re gonna dig through an ashtray… for money … to buy beer…at 6-o-clock in the morning…on a Sunday… this is what you’re telling me?” he asked, with disgust (mixed with laughter).
“Yes” was my only reply. In my throbbing head, I was thinking, there is no way I’m gonna let that surly, judgmental, prick make me put that 12 – pack back on the shelf. Observing this scene through the window of time, this “judgmental prick” was probably well within the boundaries of reasonable behavior; I had no T-tops, no spare tire, no shirt, and no money. The only things I had were a hangover, a hysterical friend, and a screwed up set of values.
My ashtray held eight dollars and thirty-six cents – I could add a bag of chips! I filled my pockets with the change, walked back in, scattered the money across the counter, and paid the man; counting out the pennies first, of course. When I walked back out with our supplies for the day, my laughing, financially strapped friend could do nothing but shake his head. “We are not the people our parents wanted us to be, man”…and he laughed some more. I started the car, and we drove away.
We went back to the party house, helped our friends clean up, found my T-tops and tire stuff, but the shirt was sacrificed to the party gods. My friends remembered that I showed up with a shirt, but it was nowhere to be found.
By noon, we were back in the safe and comfortable, air-conditioned confines of DJ’s basement. We were well provisioned with a half dozen fast food burgers, and a cooler filled with well chilled brew, acquired in part, by the spare change in my ashtray. We watched football until 7:00, and as I was on my way out the door, heading in the general direction of a desperately needed good night’s sleep, two of our favorite lady friends, Tracy and Lisa, cruised up with a large pizza, and a 6-pack.
“DAMN! OK, I’ll stay for one more” I said, “and besides, we have a funny story to tell you.”
Next thing ya know…it was Monday morning, and my 5:45 alarm was buzzing…
…I was about as uncomfortable as I could ever remember, it was painful to think.