Methinks He Protesteth Too Much
by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith
When one gets to a certain age, one starts to look back on one’s life as a smooth and pleasant continuum. One likes to think back and see the gradual development of serious reflection, of focused acumen, and an almost limitless forbearance.
But it is also true, that any road has a few potholes and a few cliffs and a few head-on collisions. Let’s follow me through a typical day and see why — at least in my case — the word forbearance seems to have been intentionally built around the word “bear.”
Very early on April 25th this year I stopped at the Circle K gas station on Hampton Avenue. I walked in and walked along the gum aisle and pocketed some gum and made sure to remind myself to perhaps maybe possibly reveal the gum as I approached the cash register. My main objective was the Slurpee machine. I always try to start my day with two chocolate donuts, one Hershey bar, and a 64-ounce cherry Slurpee.
Now, 64 ounces seems like a lot, but I am often able to stretch it out so it lasts almost to ten o’clock. I pulled the white lever handle and felt that old familiar dash and gurgle as the machine attempted to fill my soul with the pleasing pastel potion.
I was looking around the store to see if it had mirrors or cameras, deciding how important it might be to reveal my affinity for Wrigley flavored sticks. I didn’t really evaluate my purchase quite as much as I should have.
Seeing no mirrors and spotting nothing that might have recorded my voyage, I stopped at the cash register and paid for my obvious purchases.
As I walked away from the cash register something strange happened. The contents of my cup billowed and swayed. The cup was not filled with frozen material. For the first time I looked down into the container. This was a liquid. This was not a frozen treat, this was only a drink made from sugar and syrup.
“What gives? What the hell!”
“This isn’t frozen.”
“Was the light on?”
“There’s a light that tells you if the product is ready.”
“Nobody told me about no friggin’ light.”
“You don’t need to cuss.”
“I think I do.”
“I think you don’t. Sir, you’re being childish.”
“I’m rubber, you’re glue,” I said.
“We’ll gladly give you back your money.”
“That doesn’t cut it. What am I going to drink?” I said. I took the gum out of my pocket and threw it at the man as he cowered before my unusual honesty.
Our eyes exchanged threats. My anger a courageous tiger. His confusion a white butterfly twitching across the meadow.
My anger was proportional and earned. His training had obviously been incomplete.
I took the Slurpee and dumped most of it over my head. I took a lighter from a display.
“Stand back!” someone shouted. “He’s going to self-emulate himself!”
“Does that stuff burn?” someone else asked.
“We don’t know,” the clerk admitted. “All we know is that stuff is an emulsion and who knows what an emulsion might do?”
I went outside and from the outside smeared red liquid on the gas station windows and bending down to the ground opened the large gas cap that fed the station’s underground tanks and poured in my last remaining polar pop disappointment.
“They’re going to get you!” a lady exclaimed. “You need to calm down.”
“What if they were out of coffee? How’d you like that?”
She fell silent.
“I’m not hiding and I’m not scared,” I said “And if they want me, tell them I’m from FEMA region 9.” I floored the gas pedal and crawled off, my car having long ago given up on our angry display partnership.
I went home and took a short nap.
After my nap I was feeling hungry. It was almost 10:30. Again I drove down Hampton. Hampton is my stomping grounds, the place where I do lots of stomping. I passed the red gas station. I guess I should say the partially red gas station, because there were people washing the windows and a man in coveralls draining ten thousand gallons of cherry-tainted gasoline; pumping it out toward the street.
South on Hampton there is a place that sells fish. They also have onion rings and sweet tea. I parked and walked in. There was no one in line. I rummaged in my wallet. I found a coupon.
“I’d like the senior citizen sampler and hush puppies and slaw and a large drink.”
I offered the coupon.
The lady took the paper like it was an old Kleenex. She waved it at her manager.
He came over.
Before he could say anything I launched into an explanation. “Look...” I said, “for years, way back even when I was only fify-two, you people have been trying to call me old and decrepit and senile and stupid. You kept offering me the senior citizen discounts way back when I could still mow my own lawn and tie my own shoes! I’ll be damned if I’m not going to get that senior sampler now that I’ve earned it.
“And as long as we’re at it, don’t you think that’s a damn inconvenient title? Senior sampler? It makes me think there’ll be, like, lobsters standing there using a walker, or shrimps wearing shawls, a haddock that’s hard of hearing, hush puppies about to be put down.”
“Sir, what I wanted to say...”
“Don’t talk back to me,” I said. “I’ve checked the expiration date. Don’t you think I might be able to tell time? I knew when it was time to defend the embassy in Saigon. I knew when it was time jump grenades so you could stand here and yell at veterans. I was put in charge of tanks and planes and guns and bombs long before your mommy bought you your first blocks and read you to sleep in high school, you jerk.”
“The thing is—”
“Cut the crap,” I said.
“We can match the price, if that’s what you want to know.”
“So what’s keeping you, sonny?”
“This is a coupon from Captain D’s.”
“This is Long John Silver’s.”
I blinked but quickly recovered. “Oh really..? I was beginning to think this was a debate society. So where’s my frickin’ fish?!”
While they went back to work on my order, I stayed at the counter muttering. “You want fish? You want fish? You can’t handle the fish.”
Sign of the Times
After eating my fish and then taking my other afternoon nap, I looked at the clock and realized I had to be at court downtown. For once it wasn’t going to be me on trial. I enjoy meeting people. I’ve found a great way to meet people and enjoy a quiet conversation. I call my strategy “counterintuitive personality event match-up disorder.”
One day, about a week ago, I was at Planned Parenthood carrying a sign that says I’m Pro-Choice. I was walking around and mingling with conservative Christians. It’s all part of my plan to meet people and make friends.
My wife says I go there to argue and annoy. I ask her if she’d rather I stay home and spend some quality time with her.
“Please go,” she says.
I was carrying my sign and I noticed that the opposition had a brand-new tactic. Some of the people outside the clinic had a sign that said:
CHECK IN HERE
YOU MUST CHECK IN HERE
The police came. They made them remove the sign. They gave one of the wielders a ticket.
Today the man who owned the sign was going to be on trial. Over the Internet he asked that scads and scads of people come to the courthouse and show their support.
I entered the courthouse one hour before the trial was to begin. Even I was surprised they let me enter. I had on a tie and coat and good clothes. I placed my sign on the three-legged easel. I sat in my folding chair and paged through a Bible. I was right there in plain view and no one asked me anything.
My sign said:
CHECK IN HERE
BRIAN WESTERBROOK’S TRIAL
YOU MUST CHECK IN
I told some of the people who stopped that the trial had been moved across the street; some, that the trial had been postponed. I told some of the people that Brian had been Raptured; some, that Brian had fled to the secret hideout and that they were to proceed with plan 7A.
I was having fun.
For the first time in a long time I left an establishment when I was ready to leave, and I wasn’t even handcuffed!
Book Fair — Fair or Isn’t
That evening I went to the book fair. I went with my son. Together we bought a sizeable number of books. The trouble started when we went to check out.
“The total is one hundred seventeen dollars,” she said.
I made out the check and we were carrying the books over to the curb.
“I don’t think that’s right,” said my son.
“Well, one woman was using the register and two women were telling her totals and I think they both told her the same total for the same books.”
“They added them twice?”
“I think so.”
We carried everything to the main table and explained our concerns. They made the same mistakes in almost the same way.
There was one woman making the total and two other women handling the books. They’d pick up random books and then set them down in piles of books we hadn’t even purchased.
They kept up a running commentary. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, two dollars,” said one.
“Three Musketeers, one dollar,” said another.
“Slaughterhouse 5, four dollars. Nine Tomorrows, by Issac Asimov, two dollars. A Tale of Two Cities, three dollars.”
I muttered, “Talk about your ‘Seven Types of Ambiguity.’ I swear someone added seven dollars to the total.”
This time the total was almost twice what we’d already paid. “Look... let’s quit moving books from one box to another,” I said, “and let’s just make piles right here. Make piles that equal fifteen dollars and we’ll total them when we’re through.”
I was planning on counting the piles by moving my hand onto each and saying: ten, twenty, thirty. Had my plan worked I’d have saved about 30 percent.
“We’ve done this twice, sir, we’ve counted twice now and we have other customers waiting.”
“Don’t make me Fahrenheit 451 this place,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
My son watched as I dumped my early evening Slurpee over my head and clothing. He handed me his lighter and stepped back.
Copyright © 2013 by Thomas Lee Joseph Smith