Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Return of the Graveyard Tales

About a year ago my short-lived career working graveyard shift at a local gas station and convenience store called Noon's came to an abrupt end when a not-so-charming customer threatened me, I responded in Marine-Corps fashion, was charged with assault, spent a few nights in jail and spent much of the past year dealing with the legal ramifications.

Yes, goddamnit, I have completed my anger management.

So by popular demand (some real, most imagined) Tales From the Graveyard Shift is back, if only so I can finish it and put in the graveyard for good.

I no longer work at Noon's, but I have some stories I've been holding. I'll post them until I reach my final jail tale.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Missed Connections

I never read the "Missed Connections" personal ads on Craigslist. But the other day a friend told me I need to check it out. This is what I found:

Late night worker in gas station on Russell - m4m - 30 (Missoula)

You were outside talking to some people when I got there. I think you are very good looking and have a nice smile. I am pretty sure we have talked before through e-mail but things always come up and we never actually get to meet in person. Just wanted to say I would love to hang out sometime and see where things go! If you think I am talking about you tell me what color jacket you were wearing outside. I only bought a lighter that night. Thanks, hope to hear back from you!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Next Window Please

I worked Graveyard last night and again tonight and I didn't sleep much today. I was thinking of it, but a friend texted me at 4:20 pm and asked if I wanted to hang out. Why not?

On the way home from his place I had a craving for a strawberry milkshake, so I pull into a McDonald's drive thru hoping that on this end of town nobody would recognize me; It could ruin my "True Missoulian" image. We're like that here. Some of us anyway. Years ago I saw our Mayor coming out of a Starbucks that used be downtown but eventually went out of business because locals boycotted it and rallied around the local Break Espresso.

"WHAT!," I said, "Our Mayor at Starbucks?"
"I should have worn my fake nose and glasses," he replied. "Don't tell anyone!"

Which reminds me: While I watching a Seattle Pride Parade years ago, a group of people on a Starbucks float were throwing green T-shirts out to the crowd. The front had the Starbucks logo on it and the back had a pretty rainbow and read, "Seattle Pride!" A local friend I met the night before caught one of them and gave it to me.

"Too big for me," he said. "You should take it."
"No thanks," I said. "I wouldn't wear that around Missoula."
"Why?" he asked. "Is it that bad in Montana? Not a gay friendly place?"
"Oh, no," I said, "It's very gay friendly. I am totally out. Nobody cares if I'm gay, but I would probably get harassed by friends for wearing a Starbucks logo."

And so I'm sneaking through the McDonald's drive thru and pull up to a huge billboard-like menu. I can read the big-print stuff, like "Happy Meals," but even squinting with my glasses on I can barely read the small print.

"Welcome to McDonald's. How can I help you," a pleasant voice from a box says.
"Hey, I'm sorry, but I am having difficulty seeing the menu. Do you sell strawberry milkshakes?"
"Yes, we do," she says.
"How much are they?"
"Let me check . . . $3.70 for a large."
"I'll take it," I say.
"Will that be all Sir?"
"Yes, that will all thanks."
"Okay, just pull around to the first window to pay."
"Cool, see you at the window."

When I get to the first window she repeats the price, I give her my money, she gives me my change, and says, "Thank you. You can pick it up at the next window."
"Thanks," I say, and I get ready to mosey forward.
"Do you want that with a meal?" she asks.
I stop. "Uh, no thank you, I just wanted the milkshake."
She looks at me and smiles and politely waves her hand towards the next window, clearly meaning, "please move on now."
"Thanks," I say. "Have a good night."
"Sorry. Do you want that with a meal?" she asks again.


I stop again. "No thanks, I just wanted the milkshake."
She looks at me, her nice smile seemingly fading.
She removes a headset from her ears.

"Excuse me sir? What did you say?"
"I just wanted the milkshake," I repeat.
"Yes," shes says. "You can pick that up at the other window."
"But you asked me if I wanted it with a meal, and I don't, thanks."
"I was talking to the next custumor Sir."


I wonder what she'd write about me if she had a "The Drive Through: Working the McDonald's Windows" blog? 

I might think about that while I'm working tonight; It might help tame my impatient-fed temper that's been building up lately.

"Would you like to add another hot dog and fountain drink and get our special?" I ask.
"Huh," I just wanted the beer and cigarettes dude."
"Oh, sorry, I was talking to the guy in line behind you."
"Oh, cool. Have a good night."
"Thanks. You have a great night!"  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Thoughts From The Marsh: What Have We Lost?

4:30 AM:

Walking home from a friend's I decide to stop at the store (about the half-way mark) to get some coffee and visit with my co-graveyard-shift and fellow-employee who works the four nights a week that I don't.

I was surprised to find the manager there instead. I shouldn't have been; she often fills in for employees who need time off for various reasons. She's a good boss.

I buy coffee, we chat, and I head off towards my next homeward bound stop: The cattail marsh, my favorite neighborhood haunt. I'm rarely there at night. Everything's different at night. I like visiting places at all hours, throughout the year, in all conditions, for many years, to become more intricately familiar with them and move past infatuation to true love. I love the cattail marsh.

As I approached I went into stealth mode. Or at least tried my best. I walked deliberately in the wet grass, putting my toe down first -- slowly, softly and cautiously -- then the heel . . . then pausing and listening . . . then repeating with the other foot, and so on . . . as if I smelled elk upwind; as if I were back in Marine Force Recon on patrol. I pretended to be the great gray heron I had observed and photographed in this very marsh a few days prior; nothing moves more patiently. I felt as if I were sneaking back into my childhood home hoping not to wake my mother (but which, of course, along with being in Force Recon, had more severe consequences than waking waterfowl.)

I failed. A duck sounded the alarm. Many others repeated it. The geese started honking. Busted. The place instantly became acoustically alive, as if I had turned on a sound switch, which I guess in essence I did. None of them sounded happy. QUACK! QUACK! QUACK! . . .  HONK! HONK! HONK!  I guiltily interpreted it as, "You bug us enough in daylight, damn it; leave us the fuck alone; let us rest for God's sake; get the hell out of here!"

As photogenically, semi-tame as these ducks may be, they obviously retain their instinctive alertness and responses derived from evolving as prey to others. I didn't feel too much a loser; foxes are stealthy above and beyond human ability, yet even they fail stalks an estimated 80 percent of the time. Far easier to attack from above, like an eagle, or from below, like a bass. (The biggest northern pike I ever caught was fishing late at night with a lure that imitates a duckling, temptingly and titillatingly swimming above large hungry shadows.)

I wish I could hone my predatory and evasive evolutionary instincts as well as a mallard. I try. But then again, I live in a safe, heated house down the road and, while perhaps not as much as most Americans, I am nevertheless detached and often obliviously blinded to the real world around me -- around us. Nowadays we're only prey to societal-created obligations, expectations, stresses, and the mostly all-around bullshit we call the modern world. We pretend to be free while enslaved. In gaining comfort and average-length-of-life-spans we've lost a lot. I want some of it back.

Just the previous morning I sat several hours on a wet, cold bed of pine needles atop a ridge in a ponderosa forest hoping to see wild turkeys. I saw two. They, too, busted me quickly and disappeared even quicker. They, too, are intuitively attuned to life in the presence of predation.   

Grizzlies used to roam in and around this marsh (fortunately, they still exist just north of here in what little remains of once wild America.) They likely dug beavers out from their dens for snacks back when this tiny remnant of a marsh covered much of this side of town. The Salish once camped along this marsh every spring to gather bitterroots on nearby south-facing hills now covered with homes. That was back when the marsh was part of a larger,  more healthy and intact wild watershed -- before people pulled into a 24-hour convenience store driving fossil-fueled vehicles on pavement to purchase gas, snacks, booze, cigarettes, soda and bottled water at all and any hour they desire.

Convenient indeed; but worth the tradeoffs? Worth the loss?

We humans want to control it all, even those of us who claim otherwise. Roads, houses, buildings; asphalt, concrete, trails; signs, maps, guidebooks; cell phones, GPS units, flashlights; bear spray, safety plans and search and rescue teams. We want safe, sanitized "wild" experiences. As Jack Turner so passionately puts it, we've rendered the wilds an abstract. We've rendered freedom an abstract. Even many hunters I know who feign being "in touch" with the wilds want to alter, shape and control it to suit selfish desires. Many want to eradicate wolves. (They don't want elk to be too wild, to behave and react too much like elk.)

Elk without wolves; ducks without foxes. We're suppressing and denying vital evolutionary innate knowledge and instincts -- not to mention creating a boringly dull and docile world. I want some of it back.

Maybe that's why I feel so damn alive in the presence of wild grizzlies. It's why the cattail marsh felt so alive in the wee hours of this morning -- primordial energy as invigorating as lightning; as powerful as a flood; as intense as a wildfire. It's not always pleasant, but essential for a healthy world. We evade it at our loss, perhaps even our peril.

We say society advances, but what are we leaving behind? What have we lost? 

Such were my thoughts from the marsh early this morning.  

In a few nights I will be selling snacks, booze, cigarettes, soda and bottled water to people driving fossil-fueled vehicles on pavement at all hours of the night -- and right on the edge of this remnant cattail marsh where grizzlies once snacked on beavers and the Salish camped every spring to gather bitterroots on nearby hills. 

What have we lost?

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Are You Insane?"

4:30 AM:

A slow, quiet, pleasant Sunday night now turned early Monday morning. I had completed my numerous chores fairly early; compiled the shift and daily reports; just finished mopping the floors and was anticipating a soon-to-arrive delivery when a car pulls up to the pumps. 

A man comes in and puts a $100 bill on the counter and gruffly demands, "Put $30 on pump two." He seems impatiently hurried.

"Do you by chance have anything smaller than a $100?" I ask. "Unfortunately, I don't have much in the till right now. But I can drop more out of the safe if you can wait a few minutes?"
"I don't have a few minutes," he says. "Just put $30 on pump two."
"I am sorry but I do not have enough in the till right now to give you change," I say.
"You don't have $70 in the till?" he asks.
"No, I do not."
"Why the hell not?"
"We don't keep much in the till this time of day," I explain. "It deters robbers."

He shakes his head in disbelief and says, "What are you a moron?"
"I don't think so," I reply. "But I am stronger in some subject areas than others . . . I never did like algebra or calculus . . . I had to take a course called Math for Marines before being accepted into demolitions school . . . I also . . "

He cuts me off.

"I don't have time for this."

He puts the $100 back in his wallet, pulls out a $20, throws it on the counter and says something to me as he begins to leave, but I couldn't quite make it out.

"Sorry, I didn't hear you. I assume you want to put $20 on pump two?" I ask.

He stops, turns, looks at me and says, "Clean your ears. Are you deaf and stupid?"
"I cleaned my ears yesterday," I reply. "I used Q-tips, although they aren't actually Q-tips brand, so I suppose I should more accurately say cotton swabs, generic. Anyway, as a matter of fact, my hearing is not so good. I blame the Marine Corps. My son sometimes says, 'Dad, why don't you get a hearing aid?' to which I will reply, 'Why don't you speak correctly,' all in good fun, of course, and we both get a kick out of it and laugh and . . . "

He cuts me off again.

"You're an idiot," he says.

He heads out the door and toward the pumps. I go around the counter and follow him outside.

"So I assume you want $20 on pump two?" I ask again.
"Isn't that fucking obvious, you moron," he says.
"The only thing obvious to me is what a miserable asshole you seem to be," I reply.

I hold out his $20 to him and say, "Here's your money back, why don't you just leave now."

He gives me an incredulous look.

"Excuse me?"
"You can leave now," I say again. "Get out of here."
"Do you know who I am?" he asks. "Do you know Mr. Store Owner?" 

(Mr. Store Owner, of course, is not the store owners real name, but his real name is reflected in the store's name and I have agreed with my boss to not mention such details. Besides, Mr. Store Owner is actually now Mr. Previous Store Owner, having sold his stores to Mr. New Store Owner who has kept Mr. Previous Store Owners real name on the stores.)

"No, I do not know who you are," I reply. "But you seem like an arrogant asshole. I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Owner, but I hear he is a great guy."

He moves closer to me, somewhat aggressively.

"Are you insane?" he asks.
"Maybe," I reply.

He glares at me for a bit, backs off, and says, "Your boss is going to hear about this!"
"Yes, she will," I reply. "I will be telling her about it when she arrives later in the morning."

Which I did.

Her response:
"Dave, don't worry about it. I don't expect you to put up with that kind of thing."

I have a good boss.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A Civics Lesson

According to an enlightened and angry custumor, the current President of the United States of America is a "communist" because "he raised gas prices" to more than $2.00 per gallon. He is also a "Muslim" and "Socialist."  Apparently, our President dabbles in a variety of religious and political beliefs. 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Melodative, Stimulative

1:45 AM: A young guy comes up to the counter with a six pack of Coors Light.

Young Guy: "What rhymes with innovative?"
Me: "Um . . . give me a moment . . . Irritated? Constapative? Laxatative?  . . . I guess any word that ends in 'tive,' even if you just make it up. Why do you ask, are you writing a rap or something?"
Young Guy: "Yes."
Me: "Really?"
Young Guy: "Yes. Want to hear what I've got so far?"
Me: "Sure! Why not?"

He proceeds to rap. I wish I could recall it all, but it was kind of quick. There was, indeed, a lot of words that rhymed with innovative. Here's a few phrases I did catch, I think:

"Yo yo, mo fo . . .
Haters gonna hate . . .
Hate is their fate . . .
I Ain't gonna procrastinate . . .
Ain't gonna manipulate . . .
(He may have said "Ain't gonna masturbate," but not sure.)
I'm gonna stay fresh and innovate . . .
'Cause I'm creative . . . and innovative . . . "

Apparently, that is where he got hung up and his mellifluousative, melodative tune came to a sudden end.

Young Guy: "What do you think so far?"
Me: "Nice! So far so good. It's definitely innovative . . . and creative . . . not hated . . . I find it stimulative."
Young Guy: "Stimulative?"
Me: "Yeah, stimulative!"
Young Guy: "That's a good one!"
Me: "It's all yours."
Young Guy: Thanks dude!"