Ted, Nolan & Me
By: Michael James McFarland
God, I'm bored. Screaming bored.
I have read every magazine left over from the other shifts, paged through the classifieds and advertisements in a week-old paper, reread the employee manual on what to do in various emergency situations (even hoping one would happen just to break the monotony)... and now it's come to this -writing rambling notes to myself in a lousy spiral binder.
I hate this job.
This is day three. Thursday, November 9th. It's a quarter to midnight and I'm sitting in a glorified outhouse. I know this is what Mom and Dad envisioned when they sent me to college: Four years and several hundred thousand dollars so I could become a gas station attendant. Please God, take me now.
Wait a minute. Hold on. Let me introduce myself. My name's Steve. I'm twenty-two years old, white, and have a small birthmark in the shape of Wisconsin on my left forearm. I hope that's personal enough. Pleased to meet you. Let me show you around my crummy little station.
I work in a booth in the parking lot of a 7-Eleven. It is located on the northeast corner of Main and 12th, right smack dab in the heart of Anytown, USA. Perhaps you've seen me; I work the late shirt: ten to six o'clock in the morning. If you've filled your tank here in the last three days, chances are we've said hello.
The dimensions of my space are a little cramped. If I stretch my arms out fully to either side, I can press my palms agains the walls with no discomfort at all; in fact, it's a position I find relaxing when my ass starts to fall asleep from sitting on this stool. Above my head is a bank of four fluorescent tubes covered by a textured Plexiglas shield, so folks can see me for miles as they're driving home and know I'm open for business. On the inside of the shield is an assortment of dead bugs and spiders; when I'm really bored, I flick the Plexiglass with my finger and make them dance. This-thit-thit...
My job, of course, is to sit here all through the night and accept money and credit cards for gasoline taken from yonder pumps; there being six total, so things can really get hopping when the after-theater crowd lets out. In addition to this, I sell cans of oil, gas treatment, air freshness, and hand out clear plastic mitts to the ladies so they don't go home with the smell of gas on their hands. Heaven forbid.
First of all, let me tell you not a whole helluva lot of folks are into topping off the tank as they're plowing home at 2:30 in the morning; fewer still feel the burning need to check their oil. It just means a lot of shopping and getting out of the car and fiddling with hoods and gas caps and whatnot and then forgetting to turn on their headlights as they pull out so the cops parked at the shopping center across the street can nail them as soon as they leave the curb. Also, there are two other gas stations located on two adjacent corners. The Texaco - which does a full service thing which many people can't resist - is on the southwestern corner. And at three cents cheaper a gallon, there's the Stop 'N Go right across 12th. Over there you pay for your gas inside right along with everything else you might need, though after dark it's prepay.
I haven't told you the name of the outfit I work for, but maybe you can guess. It's logo is red, white and blue. It used to be called something else, but changed its name in 1973. And oh! a few years back, while drunk, it committed an embarrassing little faux pas all over Prince William Sound. Have you guess who I am? If you said "hazelnut," you're close.
Let me tell you, I have nothing but pride for the company I work for. Why, I'll bet that forty years down the road I'll still be there, a fat pension piling up while I sit back and think of ways to spend it. Hemorrhoid creams, for instance, and inflatable donuts. Aw, but that's just dreaming! It couldn't really happen, could it?
Oops, here comes a customer...
There's a radio with a cassette player up on the shelf behind me, and a box of prerecorded cassettes that someone must have lost around 1980. Foreigner, Styx, Rush, Ted Nugget, REO Speedwagon. Crap like that. I've been going through them, reliving those painful memories. I must admit, however, a strange and compelling fondness for Ted Nugent, or The Nuge, as we used to call him. It's his first album I've got here, noted for such highlights as 'Stranglehold' and 'Stormtroopin.' There's one cut, thought - 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home' - that really bites; Ted in a mellow mood, I suppose. I particularly like the picture on the cover. Ted rocking out with his BIG guitar and his BIG hair; shirtless, of course, with some sort of tusk or animal tooth necklace and pants that look like they were airbrushed on later.
Go Ted Go!
The thing that really makes me feel detached out here is the fact that there's no clock, which seems odd. Just me and Ted, floating out here in our little universe, the big fan heater sending a blast of warm air against my back every twenty minutes or so - that's the only way to measure the time. That and by Ted. His album takes about forty minutes to listen to, thirty-five if I skip 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home.'
Then there's Nolan.
Nolan - his last name is Polish and unpronounceable - comes out from behind the counter of 7-Eleven every night after the beer rush has died and he's got time to slurp down one of his own chili-cheese dogs with a Big Gulp. He shoots the shit with me while the custodial crew buff and shine his floors. Nolan is a cynic, with a sour opinion on about any subject you care to name. World politics, the economy, the state of the American educational system... Popular music.
"What's that shit you're listening to in there?" he wonders, wearing his most world-weary and stepped-on grin. There's a Carlton cigarette drooping down from the corner of his mouth, ready to light. I think of reminding him that he's standing over a ten thousand gallon gasoline tank capable of blowing bits of him all the way back to Poland, but hold my tongue; he'd just sneer and say something brilliantly contemptuous like "Kiss my hairy ass" or "Suck my hairy root." Nolan, though balding, seems to fancy himself quite a rug under his fashionable corduroys. The thought of him naked gives me the creeps.
"Ted Nugent," I answer, prepared for the scorn which is sure to follow.
"Nugent, huh? Yeah, he used to be okay when he was with the Amboy Dukes." The Carlton ignites above his Marine Emblem Zippo Lighter. "But his solo shit sucks."
A car pulls into the lot and rolls up to the pumps. A yellow Chevy Impala with a white vinyl roof. Circa 1974. A young kid with long black hair climbs out.
"Look at this loser," Nolan mutters, blowing smoke.
I look at Nolan.
The shift's hitting its final stretch now, business is about to pick up as folks head off to work and realize they're running on an empty tank; too busy to bother filling it last night. They're all in a hurry, wondering why the hell the pumps are so busy. Every last one of them paying wth plastic. Nolan's business will pick up, too. People filling up travel-mugs with good old 7-Eleven coffee, picking up the day's cigarettes and a few Hostess Donuts for the commute. Poor little lemmings.
Me? I got a man's job. I just wonder when they're paying me?
I know one thing: It ain't gonna be soon enough. First thing I'm gonna buy is a stack of paperbacks. This writing helps to pass the time, all right, but who's ever going to read it?
Kind of pointless, wouldn't you say?
Sunday night. November 10th. Day Four.
It's dead out tonight. Cold too. No one, absolutely no one is about.
I think I've had a grand total of five customers in the last two hours. One guy I had to go out and tell to turn off his engine while he was switching on the pump. He said he didn't want the inside of his car to get cold. I told him to shut it off before he blew us all to Hell; not that I wouldn't have welcomed the brief warmth, mind you.
On an up note: I finally figured out where the clock is. The little monitor on the credit card scanner gives a constant readout of the day and time (among a zillion other things, all microscopic), so I feel a little more grounded now. Not floating somewhere between ten and six.
On a down note, the heater here seems to be fighting a losing battle. The cold isn't just coming through the money slot (which I've blocked with paper towels), it's seeping through the walls. Since I've been here, the blower hasn't been off for over ten minutes at a stretch. The place has got no insulation, none at all. Just plywood nailed to a frame of 2x4s. It's pissing me off because I can't hear anything on the radio unless it's cranked up to about 10. The sweet sounds of sonic distortion. Oh yeah.
One advantage, though: When I'm listening to Ted, almost every song cuts through the drone just fine, all except 'You Make Me Feel Right at Home,' which just sort of limps along at a discordant bass line.
Dance little spiders! Dance! Thit-thit-thit...
Oops, here comes a customer!
Another strange one; they do seem to crawl out of the woodwork at night. This guy wanted to know where he could score some crystal meth. Like I'm stocking it on the shelves! What do I look like, some sort of late night drug outlet, sitting here freezing my nuts off for the odd speed freak to stumble by. Get fucking real. I told him to go inside 7-Eleven and ask the guy behind the counter. "His name's Nolski!" I shouted after him, trying hard not to laugh.
He turned and looked at me kinda sideways, trying to figure out if I was putting him on or not. He went over and stared in the front window for a while, then went inside. On the way out, he gave me the finger and laid about an inch of rubber exiting the parking lot. I guess he decided I wasn't telling the truth; and me with such an honest face. I'll have to ask Nolan about it when he comes over. I can't wait to find out. No doubt he pulled a shotgun out from under the counter or something of that magnitude. Or maybe it was a bazooka. Ol' Nolan was in Nam, you know. He told me that about ten times last night. The Marines. "Monday's Veteran's Day, you know," he told me with his title little smile. "My day."
Should be interesting. Tomorrow officially started thirty-five minutes ago.
"Happy Veteran's Day."
I'm in 7-Eleven, getting coffee and something to eat.
"Fuck you, Veteran's Day is tomorrow."
"It's after midnight." I pointed to the wall clock. "Monday, November 11th."
"Whoop-de-do. Today is Sunday, and it'll stay Sunday until I go to sleep; when I wake up, it'll be Monday." Nolan carries a pocketknife, though not in his pocket; he has a leather sheath that loops around his belt. As we're talking, he extracts the knife from its well-worn sheath, unfolds the small blade, and begins cleaning his fingernails over the counter.
"Shit, man, when I was in Nam, I operated rigs and machinery that cost millions out of the taxpayers pockets. Fucking millions!" He pauses to look around his little store in obvious contempt, sneering at the rows of prepackaged snack foods in single-serving wrappers. "Now I'm making Slurpees, heating up cans of nacho cheese, and making change so snot-nosed rich boys can plug quarters into those fucking video machines. If that ain't a sorry state of affairs, I don't know what is. You pay for that coffee yet?"
"I just gave you a dollar!"
"Oh yeah." He wipes his lips with the hairy back of his hand. "Veteran's Day is the day this country honors me of what I did back then. It's when I can take off this piece of shit" - he plucks distastefully at his logo-covered smock - "and put on a man's uniform."
"You gonna march in the parade?"
"Fuck marching in the parade! I'm gonna sit on my ass outside the VFW and watch it roll by. Every last float and titty. I own that fucking parade!"
"What's that?" he demands, his eyes getting hard and dark, like I was some slant-eyed little gook who'd wandered into his jungle camp by mistake. The blade of his pocket knife came up from beneath his thumbnail, its point covered with a gummy residue of dried chili and cheese. It looked itchy, like it might want to cut me, snot-nosed college boy that I am.
"Nothing. I just said 'Hmm.'"
Two customers, pretty high school girls out for a night's fun, came through the door, smothering giggles. Their eyes shone like glassy shells under the strong fluorescents and they headed straight for the candy aisle. Nolan straightened like a board, folding the knife against his thigh and snapping it back into its holster. Through the front windows, I saw a long car pull up to the pumps.
"Uh-oh," I said, nodding. "Gotta go." I picked up my coffee and cast an appreciative eye down the row of sweets as I headed for the door.
Someone from the afternoon shift left a paper here and I've been looking through it - glancing over the football scores, perusing the comics, checking out what movies are playing. My weekend's coming up; just one more night. Maybe I'll go see something on Tuesday night. If I get paid, that is.
The Community Events Calendar lists no less than five Veteran's Day parades to take place tomorrow in the city and around the valley. It's a cinch Nolan will go to the big one, the one that marches up Main Street and passes the VFW before it peters out at 6th Avenue.
The weather says there's an 80% chance of rain or snow.
I believe it. And as cold as it is, it's gonna be snow.
The paper was right. The first flakes are coming down now. Big and fat. It looks like it could keep up all day.
Nolan came out to look at the sky a few minutes ago. He didn't look too happy.
I guess he doesn't like snow either.
Tuesday. November 12th.
Midnight's come and gone and it's the last night of my work week. Thank God!
The owner - one Mr. Lyle Lewis - was here when I arrived, collecting receipts and handing out paychecks. It seems I'm not quite entitled to one yet, as "Payroll" lags about ten days behind actual hours worked, which in my case puts my first actual paycheck two more actual weeks down the actual fucking road.
In a pathetic display, I got to see Lyle play the Big Man in front of Shirley, who works the swing shift and is not too bad looking for a woman of her age (I put her somewhere between 36 and 40, though she could pass for ten years younger on a good day). Anyway, old Lyle gets a big kick outta running us younger fellows down when he's got an audience to play to, especially one he'd like to be banging.
When I found out I wasn't getting paid until the 25th, I naturally expressed some deep and genuine concern as to why he hadn't thought to mention that to me before, say... when I took the job. When I was told I would be paid weekly.
He stopped what he was doing - which at the moment was trying to get a peek down Shirley's blouse - and slowly turned his head to stare at me. He had this face like a tied pit bull or bulldog that'd really like to take a chomp out of your ass if you would only get within its reach. The look was a challenge: Step a little closer, boy. Keep it up. Let me tear you a new one. Then he just stays like that - you can almost hear the acids churning in his gut and the big vein throbbing in his forehead - until you blink or look away. When you finally do, thinking this is stupid, he gives out this little victory chuckle and ribs Shirley with his elbow.
One footnote to all that: When he went out to check the pumps a few minutes later, Shirley offered to lend me some cash until I got paid. I didn't take it, but I thanked her kindly for the offer.
So fuck you too, Lyle.
Tonight has been a dead one because of the snow. An amazing amount fell yesterday between about four this morning and three in the afternoon. Thirteen inches, I think I heard the radio say. The Veteran's Parade was canceled because they couldn't keep the streets clear.
I guess he didn't get a chance to show off his uniform.
There was an interesting item on the front page of the paper (which I have here in front of me, compliments of Shirley). It seems some irate citizen took advantage of the heavy snow cover and the city's general paralysis to take a few potshots at City Hall. Several of the windows were shot out with a "high-caliber sniper's rifle." Being a holiday, there wasn't a soul inside, so the only damage was in places where the weather got in. Shorted out a few computer terminals, I guess. Blew some paper around.
I wish Nolan were working tonight. I'd like to show him the article, see what he thinks. I won't see him until Thursday; by then it'll be old news.
Who cares? he'd probably say.
Ah well, it looks like it's going to be another long one. It's a good thing I have Ted out there with me.
Right, little spiders?
About the author:
Michael James McFarland has been writing for over 30 years and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of formats. Among these, 'The Hypnotist' was selected for Honorable Mention in The Year's Best Fantasy & Horror (15th Annual Collection), 'The Duel' and 'Mira' were produced by Pseudopod as audio podcasts, and 'Deadline' and 'The Yellow Wind' have appeared in print anthologies. Blood Bound Book published Fallow Ground, his first novel, in 2014. He has self-published two well-received novels (Wormwood and Blood on the Tracks), a novella (Duplex), and a short story collection (The Yellow Wind & Other Horrors).
He lives and works in Washington state.