I sort of want to be a positive force in this here universe, to evolve spiritually and culturally and whatnot. I try to abstain from partaking in life’s trifling activities such as hot cheetos and television watching, but sometimes one turns on a TV in search of an educational program—say a decent boxing match or a Jeopardy rerun that makes my uppity kids think that their dad is smart—and one becomes cleaved to an ineluctable gawking fest. Likewise I go to work each day with big plans involving literature and capitalism, but find myself stupidly contemplating the scene through my front window. There’s a payphone across the street that attracts a troupe of characters resembling a local casting call for The Wire, sans the cops. A guy is talking on the payphone, then another fella walks up to the first guy, and then a third character pulls up in a car which picks up fella #2, and so on.
Last week one of the characters seemed to mess up his stage blocking and performed a beeline straight across the street towards me and my books. He was a burly white fella in his late-50’s carrying a backpack on his hip. Had he seen me gawking? Taken offense? Though his facial expression was benign when he opened my door, he was most definitely performing the perp entrance: look over the shoulder to see who saw you entering, look to the rear of the room to see if other exits exist, and search the aisles for witnesses. He looked like he’d spent the bulk of his twilight years lifting heavy weights and tattooing his neck. More so than your average old guy. “Hey. Do you buy stuff?” was his inchoate query.
“Some stuff,” I answered agreeably, quickly adding, “But I am a vegetarian.”
He opened his backpack and revealed a thing. It looked like a ruler got together with a trombone slide and gave birth to the contraption that this guy was trying to hand to me. “I don’t know what that is,” I admitted, physically retracting from his odd offering.
“It’s a slim jim,” said he.
I leaned in. “What, like one of those damn beef sticks?”
“No,” he said. “It’s for breaking in…” he paused to reconsider his phrasing. “Tow truck drivers use ‘em to open car doors when you get accidentally locked out of your car,” he elaborated with the utmost professionalism.
I held my arms up and motioned to the environs, all them books, as I asserted: “A tow truck driver I am not.”
“Well,” he continued with impressive patience, “maybe you got yourself a car somewhere that got accidentally locked, see?” He shrugged, like, who the hell knows, right?
“You know,” I spoke with decisive intent, “the only thing I’m buying today is books.”
His eyes narrowed speculatively. “Books?” he said. What with all the peeping around upon entering the store, you’d think maybe he’d noticed the shelves of books. Perhaps, I thought, his poor observational skills were somehow connected to all that time he’d been allotted for weight lifting and neck tattooing.
“Okay I hear you,” he said cheerfully. “Books, huh? Okay! I can get some of those you bet. Gimme a day or two…” He started toward the door with backpack in hand and slim jim on my desk.
“Hold on there,” I said, picking up his indubitable tool. “You’ll be needing this.”