It has been almost seven months since I quit smoking weed, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying some of the benefits, like standing inside the Hess gas station quick mart, in front of a kiosk stocked with Twinkies and Devil Dogs, at 9:00 PM on a Friday night, nibbling on my fingertip while carefully assessing my options and asking myself the eternal question of which is better, Hostess or Drake’s.
I sigh, contemplating. The store is empty except for the young Haitian girl at the register. My back is turned to her but I can feel her staring at me, her hands planted on the checkout counter. She looks at me the way a person might look while waiting for someone to finish a long, drawn-out, unconscionably moronic sentence. If I wasn’t there she could at least go back to watching World Cup soccer on the portable black and white TV behind her, next to the display of Phillies blunts and grape-flavored condoms.
My hand slowly moves for a pack of Yo-Hos but then stops and hovers above it for a moment. It is as though I am Indiana Jones, and removing the Yo-Hos will set off a tripwire, releasing a symphony of poisonous darts from the walls. I am not sure I want the Yo-Hos, now that I notice the Ring Dings. How can I possibly choose between the two? They are both so similar, and I will inevitably make the wrong choice. Then it occurs to me: they are both of the Drake’s persuasion.
As I bring my hand back up to scratch my chin I hear a ding and a man in his late twenties briskly enters the establishment, followed by a trail of cologne and overall cleanliness. Out of habit I quickly move behind the aisle, obscuring myself. I spy on him through a metal carousel of various 8-ounce bags of potato chips. He is well dressed in herringbone slacks and a pink, tailored button-down shirt. The collar of his shirt is perfectly starched and defies all natural laws of gravity. He has a full head of dark hair, gelled back, and a day’s worth of stubble on his face. I look up at the surveillance monitor, which is positioned next to the letter board that brandishes all of the store’s winning scratch tickets. In the monitor I see myself: a bald spot, hunched down, hiding behind a slowly rotating bag of Doritos.
The monitor switches to a different angle, a wide shot of the pumps out front where, in grainy black and white, I see a Mercedes SL500. In the passenger seat is the silhouette of a woman, her hair possibly blonde. She applies lipstick while looking in a compact mirror, puckers once then folds the mirror shut and drops it into a large bag.
“Forty on pump six,” the young man says. I turn the carousel for a more optimal view. A bag of Smartfood passes my face, a black and yellow blur in my peripheral vision. The young man throws two twenties on the counter, then reaches into his pocket again. “And a box of Trojans, ribbed,” he adds, digging for more cash.
I hear the ding again and the young man exits the store. I look up at the monitor to see him approach the pump, grab the nozzle and stick it into the Mercedes' tank. The woman leans out of the passenger side window and says something to him. In profile I see her full lips make a playful comment. I am enrapt, desperate to hear their conversation, when the monitor switches back to my bald spot. I raise my hand and watch as the monitor mirrors my action. I wave it slowly back and forth, still studying the surveillance monitor as if to confirm that I am actually here, in this store, in this life. I stop when I see the Haitian girl at the register staring at me. Our eyes meet through the potato chip carousel. She looks concerned.
I decide it’s best to make a quick selection and leave the premises. I grab the Ring Dings and, out of impulse, snag a Rolo from the candy section. I feel rushed, and know I will resent this decision. It could be twenty minutes from now. It could be twenty years.
Upon leaving the Hess quick mart the gentleman who stands outside to greet people bids me farewell. “You have a wonderful evening, sir.” I don’t thank him, but I should. For a moment he makes me feel like the young man in the Mercedes with the pretty companion. He makes me feel like somebody. This is soon followed by an emptiness because I did not give him any spare change when he asked me for some on my way in. I could not give him any because I paid the $2.67 for my Ring Dings and Rolos on my debit card. I do not carry cash. I feel it is for amateurs.
I tear open the Ring Dings and stick one in my mouth. One side is melted and gets all over my fingers. I suck my chocolatey fingertips clean and then lick the residual chocolate off the plastic wrapper. As I do this I look over at the pumps and see a different woman, a few years younger than myself, pumping gas into a Honda Civic. She has a nice figure and long, dark hair. For a moment we lock eyes. Hers narrow. Is there a connection? A tacit understanding of sorts? I turn away and walk on, wiping the chocolate from my cheek.
Then I am standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a wave of Friday night traffic to pass by, cars full of young people on their way downtown. One of them honks at me. I do not acknowledge them and, when the last of the traffic goes by, I dutifully cross the street, in my flip-flops, hospital pants and inside-out Motley Crue t-shirt, still one more Ring Ding left and a whole pack of Rolos.
Back in my condo the television program is still paused, thanks to the DVR. I have not missed a thing. The pause button is one of the great inventions in life.
Daniel Pellegrini is a recovering drug addict with an aggressive form of chronic bowel disease. That means he can't take painkillers after undergoing rectal surgery. He's here to show you just how beautiful life is.
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