Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Story

There’s less than a week left until Christmas and my cell phone rings. It’s a friend from my days in the restaurant business and he is calling me to ask a favor. It seems as though his girlfriend’s younger sister and her daughter need some help moving out of their apartment and I don’t live too far from where she is staying now, the storage facility that some of her belongings will be going, or the home of her parents where the rest of her things will be transferred to. I’m smack dab in the middle of the triangle of death as it corresponds with this particular situation. There are a thousand different things that I would rather be doing today, but he is a good friend, I imagine he would do the same for me if I asked, and its Christmas time for crying out loud. What kind of person would I be if I refused to help a single mother and her only child successfully complete a journey from one place to another during the week of Christmas? Can you imagine the remarks that would be made about me by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph? “Pick me up in a half an hour.”

The trip down the road is a mixed bag. I haven’t seen my friend in a few weeks and it’s nice to catch up on what has been going on with him, but the entire time the thought that completely dominates my mind is, “I could be doing absolutely anything else right now.” We arrive at the not so upper-lower class pit of an apartment complex and I am immediately drawn to the fact that there is no moving truck and no moving van, but a small pick-up truck with a cap on the bed, an older model compact hatchback, and the small SUV that I am sitting in the passenger side of. Oh, the art of the white-trash move. My heart sinks as someone starts yelling and waving to my friend from a third floor window. I would prefer to skip the introductions and get straight to moving this girls shit down three flights of stairs, into and onto this caravan of nearly useless vehicles, then into a storage unit and just get the whole thing over with, but since it is the Christmas season I decide that I will be as friendly as possible and at least give these people the chance to be able to extend their gratitude to someone with a name. I immediately regret this decision and have an uncontrollable urge to wash my hands.

I’m sure that you have noticed the different smells that different dwellings seem to own and throughout your life run across a place where the smell makes you wax nostalgic about your childhood or the time you left that dead prostitute in the closet for a couple of days too long before you dismembered her body and dumped the pieces in multiple dumpsters around the city. The smell of this place is much more similar to only what I can imagine the latter is like. It reeks of cat piss, yet there is no cat to be found and I have a sneaking suspicion that one once lived here and it is decomposing under the couch. I hope someone else is moving that couch. I decide to start with anything that I can find that is made out of wood or metal and try to stay as far away from anything composed of cloth or fiber as it would be rather difficult to explain to my wife how exactly I managed to get fleas, scabies, herpes, lice, or crabs while helping someone move. I’m going after the small, wooden, and somewhat unsoiled kitchen table when the bombshell drops. “Oh, that’s not going, that asshole can keep his fucking table.”

Over the next few minutes through a series of mumbles, clicks, spit, and some words that I can only guess are a portion of some English dialect that I have never heard before, I manage to put together a partial story. He is at work (she has no job) and is completely and utterly unaware that there are people that he has never met before in his life going through his home and being told what he is going to be permitted to keep. Fortunately for him, and unfortunately for me, she is authorizing that he be allowed to keep everything that is not heavy, as well as everything that is not constructed out of cloth and fiber. The thought of the microbes living in and on these things is making me queasy. He is granted the pleasure of maintaining possession of the two and a half foot Christmas tree, but she is removing the ornaments and packing them up. I am trying to tell myself that if he does happen to come home from work to find us emptying the sarcophagus that is his dwelling, maybe he will be more than happy to help, and then I think about the reaction that I would have. I’m moving much faster now.

The couch is heavy and there are no decomposing remains underneath it but as I lift it I’m beginning to think that the putrefaction may be coming from inside of it. As we are spinning it down the three flights of stairs I begin to lose my grip and have to support it with the side of my face to keep it from tumbling down the stairs and pinning me beneath its stink. I feel sick. We continue this ballet of systematically removing items that should probably not be touched without the protection of a hazmat suit for the next two hours before my friend drops me back off at my house. It’s as if we just blew up a bus full of school children or some other horrible act and neither one of us can stand to be in the same vehicle, let alone to speak to the other. We say goodbye, he apologizes, and I burn my clothes in the backyard and immediately take a shower with bleach and steel wool and although it is the week of Christmas, I look as though I am sunburned. So learn a lesson from my misfortune and be suspect of anyone who doesn’t have their own friends to help them move, even if it is Christmas.

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Burger King Empire vs. Good Old Democracy

“That’ll be $5.39.  Pull forward,” the drive-through intercom tells me through the static.  Why is it that we live in the 21st century, but fast food restaurants still are using audio equipment that sounds like it was made in the time of The Great Depression?
So, I pull the car forward, all the while digging through my designated change console for the 39 cents.  It turns out that I don’t have enough pennies for exact change.  So a quarter, dime and nickel will have to suffice for the change portion of my transaction.
At the drive-through window I’m forced to wait patiently in idle while the attendant is attending to other pressing matters; chatting with the “soda jerk” about last night’s alcohol fueled debauchery at a co-workers party.  My impatience turns to thoughts of what could possibly go on a Burger King party.  Do people discuss the age old question: Whoppers or Big Macs?  Or do they give each other tips on the best way to get grease odor out of their hair?  Or do they secretly plot coup-de-tats on the King and his regal hierarchy?
Finally, the attendant reaches her hand to accept my money, but only as far as the threshold of her window.  It’s as if there is an imaginary line that she can’t cross.  In the land of Burger King, the serfs are not allowed to extend their hands farther than the bounds of the drive-through peninsula. This is an edict from the King himself, for the Burger King Empire has no authority after the window. 
So, I have to stick half my body out the car window in order to reach her lazily extended hand and give her my money; a five dollar bill, quarter, dime and nickel.  She hands me my bag of cardiac arrest goodness and shuts the window.  The entire transaction conducted in silence.  No “Thank you” or “Have a nice day” or “Please come back and visit the land of Burgers again”.  All I get is a slam of the drive-through window.
As I check, the brown bag to make sure that my order is correct, I realize that I have been stiffed of my penny change.  My order came to $5.39 and she was given $5.40.  American math says I should have received a cent change.  But she has neglected to give me my penny.  Maybe math doesn’t work like that in the Land of Burger King.  Or maybe she has forgotten.  Perhaps, it is tribute to the King himself. 
For a moment I contemplate asking her for my penny.  The attendant stares out from window at me without an expression.  Just stares from the sanctuary of her drive-through strong-hold.  Eventually, reason and fear of the guillotine takes over my mind and I drive away.
In the safety of the rest of America, I replay this whole ordeal in my head.  Did Burger King just steal a penny from me?  Or have we gotten to the point in society that the penny is just not even worth it any more?  Have we just fallen into the pitfall of the “Give a penny, take a penny” tray?
I read somewhere where some penny pincher had an adage about the coin in which Lincoln graces with his profile.  “When I pick a penny up off the ground, I tell myself only 99 more bends and I’ll have a dollar”.  I have to agree with that.  The last I checked, the penny was still used as currency in The United States of America. 
And since I’m a red blooded American, I say this to the entire people of The Empire of the Burger King: We will not sit idly back and let you tread on our penny and deem it unworthy.  For too long you have acted behind the diplomatic immunity of your fries and Whoppers.  No more, I say.  Each one of us is a symbolic penny that makes up this weathered dollar bill we call The United States of America.   We will have it our way!