Wednesday, June 3, 2009

One Night at the Circle K....

I worked the graveyard shift at a Circle K in Albuquerque, in a very high crime neighborhood, for longer than I should have, and shorter than I’d planned. I was divorced, attending the University of New Mexico, and the Circle K job was my only source of income. Minimum wage, 11 pm to 7 am, and some weekends. The Circle K was two blocks down the street from the 7- Eleven and right in front of the largest low-income housing project in the city. They had two employees working the graveyard shift at the 7-Eleven. Down at the Circle K it was just me. It got lonely down at the Circle K. After 2:00 am all you could hear were gunshots, an occasional scream, and sirens, lots of sirens.

The company logo is a red circle with the K in the middle attached to the bottom of the circle, like a branding iron. Circle K was started by past El Paso Mayor, Fred Hervey, in 1951, when he purchased three Kay’s Food Stores and changed the name. He wasn’t mayor at the time, but he did, later, serve two terms.

He moved the chain into New Mexico and Arizona shortly after he bought it, and now you’ll find a Circle K on almost every corner in every city in those states. By the time I was working as the night clerk at the Circle K on Kathryn Ave, there were over 2,100 stores, some even in Japan. By the early 90s, with acquisitions and new store openings, they had double that many. The stores were not franchised, and are still company owned. The company has gone through bankruptcy, been sliced up, reorganized and they are still the second largest chain behind the famous 7-Eleven Stores. You’ll often find them across the street from each other all over the Southwest. 7-Eleven had the “Big Gulp” and Circle K had the “Thirst Buster”, huge fountain sodas in cups so big you could hardly hold onto them, and they cost about 79 cents.

There is a well-known line in the film “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” where Keanu Reeves’ character, Ted “Theodore” Logan, says “Strange things are afoot at the Circle K.” Believe me, from my own experience, there was a lot of that going on.

One night, on my way to work at the Circle K, I saw a body in the street. It was lying face down in the street, by the curb, at the park. My expert skills of observation went into action, red plaid shirt on the body, denim trousers, no shoes, male, 40 or more years of age. As I drove slowly by the site I noticed three people dart into the bushes in the park. That changed my mind about stopping, although I had originally wanted to stop and offer aid. Still not something you would wisely do in this neighborhood, even if you saw blood, and I hadn’t.

As soon as I arrived at the Circle K to start my shift, I called the police. Told them about the body in rushed sentences, what I knew about the man lying in the street and that I had seen several people running into the bushes in the park. Maybe the perpetrators, but I couldn’t describe them other than they looked young, like teenaged. They agreed to check on it, and I went to work at the checkout, which involved more theft prevention than actually ringing up sales.

For the minor theft prevention I used an axle from a tricycle that I found on the side of the building one night. The axle, when slammed on the counter, made enough of a statement to stop the average candy-bar theft. Although, most of these juvenile delinquents worked in groups, so scaring one wasn’t going to necessarily deter the group. My favorite “group” was the tall kid in a trench coat that walked in with his three buddies. The leader stood in the front of the aisle, facing the register, with the coat open wide to block my view, and he would just stare at me like I didn’t know what was going on behind the open trench coat. In the rear, the lieutenants grabbed as many candy-bars as they could and walked around to the other side of the aisle, also out of view but within a few feet of the front door. Almost on command they would all hit the door, and run up the block, me in chase with the tricycle axle to the end of the parking lot. Screaming obscenities and racial slurs after them.

The graveyard shift got its name from a rather bizarre job in; you guessed it, the cemetery. Back in the day, a couple of centuries ago, they didn’t have very good ways of being sure that a person was really dead. So they would bury them with a string, tied at the surface to a bell. If the poor guy woke up a little claustrophobic, he could ring the bell topside, get someone’s attention, and wait to be dug up. That’s if he had all his faculties and didn’t start screaming in terror. This vigil for the sound of the little bells was run twenty-four seven, three sixty-five, and the attendants that worked the cemetery day and night were said to work the graveyard shift. But then again, that could all be total bunk as some insist, and instead the term just came into being to describe the work shift from about midnight to eight in the morning. It’s just a creepy time to be up on a regular day, and only creepy people tend to show up during those hours.

Speaking of creepy, I used to give the security guard, Max, from the low-income housing project behind me, all the FREE coffee he could drink. I wanted him around as much as possible. I didn’t really like him much. We didn’t have much in common to talk about. He wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. But he did have a real, loaded, gun. I didn’t think he was going to be much help if he actually had to use it, but it was a silent force in the holster; shiny, deadly. Had a certain deterrent effect and gave me comfort.

Max would walk his rounds and come down to the store every hour and 13 minutes. He could then spend 17 minutes hanging out with me, having a cup of coffee and thumbing through the girlie magazines. Those magazines were kept behind the counter and you had to ask for the new issue of “Playboy”, “Penthouse”, “Hustler”, or one of the more cleverly named titles. The magazines of that nature are all enclosed in a clear shrink-wrap to prevent minors from viewing them. If you look, you’ll find the back magazine in every rack, in every Circle K, has the shrink-wrap removed. Security guards, cops, free coffee and reading material to keep them around. The police cruiser showed up every two hours like clockwork.

Oh yeah, back to the police. I called them at about 1:00 am to see if they would give me any information about the body by the park. I was transferred to a case detective that wanted to know who I was, why I was calling, where I was calling from, and on and on and on. Ten minutes later when I got done answering questions, I finally got to ask one of my own, did they know any more about the body on the street by the park. The officer started to laugh, more like a snicker.

“Yeah, a couple of boys playing a pretty good prank I guess. You were lucky. Most of the drivers coming down the street were faced with the body in the middle of the street. Had to slam on the brakes and swerve and stuff,” he said between chuckles. “ You musta got there too soon after the last incident, and they dropped the dummy and run into the bushes.”

Man, I figured I would know a dummy from a real body, but then it was dark. I thanked the officer and he said something stupid like, “keep up the vigilance, and let us know if you see any more bodies out there.” And there were. Creepy people, things afoot, at the Circle K.

One Night at the Circle K, this Oriental guy comes in the store. Starts looking around and I watch him closely. Don’t trust him. Finally after searching for awhile he comes up to the counter.

“You got any lie balls?” he says.


“Lie ball.” He says it really slow, then really fast. “Lie ball. Lie ball.”

“What the fuck is a lie ball?” I asked.

He points up at the ceiling of the store. “Lie ball. Lie ball.” He’s screaming it now.

“No we don’t have any lie balls,” I said. “We don’t carry ‘em.”

“Lie Balls,” he screams again. “L I E….B A L L S!”

All of a sudden the one over my head went off, “Oh, you mean light bulbs.”

“Yeah, lie balls.” He smiles and I walk him over to the rack where the light bulbs are. He looks at a couple packages, checks the price, and puts them back on the rack.

“You awful proud of lie balls,” he said and stormed out without buying any.

One Night at the Circle K, I had a hand in saving a life. At least I’d like to think so, even though I never got any credit or recognition for it, and, I guess, I never really sought any. Somewhere around 3:00 am, shortly after Max had left on another round, a very attractive, twenty-something female stumbled into the store and staggered around the front by the doors, looking out the windows like she was being chased. I was used to the occasional drunk coming in for a pack of cigarettes or a cup of coffee. Sometimes they were attractive females like this, usually not. The bars closed at two around here, and the ones that were still there at last call, would normally be in the state that this girl was, who was now letting the counter hold her up and she was staring at me. She was wearing one of those fake rabbit fur coats, the multi-colored ones, and black suede ankle boots with high heels. She had dozens of those little bracelets that jingle incessantly, on both arms, and she was digging in her purse.

“Can you help me please?” She was a little short in her tone, and I didn’t have an immediate desire to help her, other than out of the store. “I need you to call my psychiatrist.” She handed me a business card with the name, Stephen P. Schaffer, Psychoanalyst and a local phone number. I wasn’t sure if the “doctor” was legit from his card. Plain white, black letters, no professional associations or degrees noted. He could have gotten his training by taking correspondence courses. Anybody can call themselves a psychoanalyst, a counselor, a hypnotist, hypnotherapist, psychotherapist. It’s generally not regulated.

“Why don’t - you- call him?” I handed her the card back. She was clearly drunk, or on drugs, or way past sober anyway. I noticed her eyes were almost black and then realized it was her pupils. They were huge, dilated to the very edge of the iris so you couldn’t even tell what color her eyes were.

“Please”, she stammered and spittle dripped from her mouth, “Please. I need you to call him and tell him what I’ve done.”

“What the hell have you done?” I shot back, maybe a little too brisk. She immediately started to cry and shake. But she hadn’t passed out, so we were still good.

“Call him and tell him I took the whole bottle of these,” she handed me an empty prescription bottle without the top. The physician on the bottle was Stephen P. Schaffer, and I couldn’t even pronounce the name of the drug on the label. “And, I swallowed them all with a fifth of vodka,” she said. “Call him. Please. I need help,” she whined.

That might become an understatement, is what I was thinking. I called the number on the business card, watching the girl sway back and forth and waiting for her to crumple to the floor. I got an answering service. “This is an emergency,” I screamed at the operator. “I need to talk to the doctor now!”

“One moment please,” she said. There was an emphasis on the first syllable, she held the “PLEE” a little long and ended with the “UZ”. I waited what seemed like a few minutes, although it was probably only seconds, and a man’s voice broke through the music on hold. “Can I help you?”

I tried to explain as best I could that this woman had walked into the Circle K and wanted me to call him and tell him that she had overdosed a bottle of pills and chased it down with vodka. He immediately sounded alarmed. I still didn’t even know the girl’s name. A minor detail, but he seemed to know who I was talking about. Either he had only one patient, or he was expecting this.

“Call 911, NOW, and keep her moving, walk her around. How many pills did she take?”

“How the hell should I know? She handed me an empty bottle”, I told him. “It could be one or however many were left in there, I don’t know. What should I do?”

Now you’re probably wondering who was waiting on the customers while all of this was going on……Nobody. They were kind of helping themselves. The one or two that had come in, had gone to the shelves or the cooler, gotten what they wanted, and just walked out when they saw I was on the phone.

I hung up and dialed 911. Told them I had a drug overdose and the doctor had been contacted, and gave them all the location. They wanted me to stay on the line and I told them I needed to walk this girl around, so I left the phone on the counter. Then I grabbed the girl and started walking her around the store. We circled the store maybe three times before the paramedics arrived. Now we were the neighborhood center of attention. A crowd began to gather from the low-income apartment complex at three o’clock in the goddamn morning. Amazing what a set of flashing red lights can do.

I gladly turned the girl over to the paramedics; they put her in the ambulance and didn’t move for over an hour. They worked on her right there in the parking lot. Started pumping her stomach and stabilizing her before they finally transported her to the UNM Medical Center. Didn’t even bother to run the siren when they finally left with her. There was no car in the parking lot, so I don’t know how she got there. After all the hoopla was over, I noticed she had left her purse on the counter. Thought that was odd, that the paramedics and police didn’t want to know if she had any identification. I sure did.

The name on the driver’s license said Marcy Abrahms. She was 22. From out of state, obviously a student. Geology major actually. I discovered that from her suicide note. It was folded neatly in her purse, and was going on to five pages of notebook paper, both sides, before she stopped. That’s probably when the alcohol and pills kicked in and she panicked. I looked for money. I was a starving student myself. There wasn’t any. The rest of the purse contents were things like makeup, and pens, a checkbook, and some odd paperclips, mints, gum, things like that.

I wouldn’t have taken the money anyway. I was doing pretty well at the Circle K, eating microwave meals, ice-cream, candy, chips, had reading material, and was stealing cartons of cigarettes. That was cutting my expenses quite a bit. Every Wednesday night I would load a carton of smokes in the truck under the passenger door mat. Not that I was afraid I would be searched, but they had these “Secret Shoppers” that, it was rumored, would look through your vehicle windows (they knew your car plate) to try and catch you with unpaid merchandise from the store. The really funny thing about that was we clerks knew who the “spies” were and when they came in. They were too obvious.

I went to the hospital the next afternoon to deliver the purse to Ms. Marcy Abrahms. I knew a lot more about her now than I did the night before. She was, of course, being jilted by her boyfriend, a graduate student in Geography. She spent pages lamenting about how she missed his touch, how she knew she wasn’t good enough for him, how much she had loved him……from what I could gather he was a bit older than she was……well, you get the idea. I felt a little guilty about reading the suicide note, but it was hard to put down. I had put everything back in the purse the way I found it, and put it on the truck seat. The secret shopper was in that morning, so I wonder what he thought when he looked in the window and saw a purse?

It wasn’t hard to find her at UNM Medical Center. They gave me the room without question. I was under the impression, for some reason, that they didn’t just let anybody visit someone in the hospital, especially attempted suicides. I probably thought that because I don’t go to hospitals much. I don’t like them. People die there, and they don’t need little bells to confirm it anymore.

I walked into the room, with the purse under my arm. Marcy, who looked like hell, was sitting up in the bed in one of those gowns with no back to them.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m the dude from the Circle K last night. Remember?”

She looked at me standing in the doorway and said, simply, “No.”

“Well I brought back your purse. Thought you might need it. Wanted to make sure you were okay.”

She looked away from me and mumbled something. Could have been “thanks,” not really sure. Her body language said, “Get the hell out of here!” So I walked over and handed her the purse. She grabbed it out of my hand, I turned and left. She never asked what happened to her suicide note so maybe she didn’t remember.

One night at the Circle K, a stabbing victim walked in. He didn’t look like anything was bothering him when he walked past the checkout and went to the coffee machines, which were directly behind me. He was holding his stomach, but I didn’t see any blood. He started pouring a cup of coffee and I went over there just to check on what he was doing, because, like most of the graveyard shift, he was creepy.

All of a sudden he says to me, “I’ve been stabbed! I’m gonna bleed to death.” He lifts up his shirt and shows me a slash in his stomach. It appeared to be a wound caused by a knife. Still didn’t see much blood, but he was able to make some appear on his “white” T-shirt as he compressed the wound in simulated pain. I say this because it was clear that the cut had coagulated a long time ago, maybe even days. Human blood takes approximately 15 minutes to fully coagulate. It separates into serum and red blood cells. This wound didn’t look like it happened just 15 minutes ago.

“You want me to call 911?”

“Sure,” he says again, “I’ve been stabbed. Hurts bad.” Frankly it wasn’t a very good acting job, but he was in a stabbed state.

There was another phone right behind me on the wall in the hallway, so I dialed 911 and told them I had a male, around 45-50, with a minor stab wound in his abdomen, asking for medical assistance. The girl on the other end of the line took my name and verified the address of the store, and said they would dispatch paramedics in a few minutes. I hung up the phone and looked for the victim, but he had left the store, with the cup of unpaid for coffee.

I saw him walking across the parking lot down Kathryn Ave toward the 7-Eleven. Interestingly enough it wasn’t an ambulance that showed up a few minutes later, but a police cruiser. One of my “regulars” came in.

“Where’s the stabbing victim?” he asked.

I told him that he left. Walked down toward the 7-Eleven. Officer Lambert then went on to tell me about this vagrant that stabs himself every few days so he can get himself arrested and get a free meal and a warm bed. He was filling up his coffee mug at the coffee station. I told him the guy wasn’t bleeding that much, if at all and Officer Lambert said that he would be when he opened the surgical scar again to make it look like a stab wound. Creepy.

One night at the Circle K, I was sitting there flipping through the latest issue of “Hustler” or something like that and this kid about fifteen or sixteen walks in. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was 2:30 AM. I usually didn’t “read” the magazines until after I had checked the gas level in the underground storage tank out front, which I had to do at midnight, so I knew it was pretty late for this guy to be up even before I looked at the clock. You used a marked wooden stick to measure the level of the gas, and I was surprised that over two hours had gone by since I had been out there doing it.

In the front of the store, by the door, was a standing rack that had bags of
piñon nuts of different quantities and varieties. It was about four feet high and resembled a metal pine tree.

Just like the rio in Rio Grande River means river, and you’re technically saying river twice if you say the Rio Grande River, the same is true of saying piñon nuts. Piñon (pin yone) is Spanish for pine nut. The name originates from Spanish explorers in the 1500s, who named the tree Pino Piñonero, or “nut-bearing pine.” A piñon pine can be more than 500 years old, and may live as long as 1,000 years. They’re not very tall trees. One legend is the tree used to be a towering pine, but God put a curse on the tree, after Jesus was crucified on a cross. The idea being that no piñon could ever be used to make one big enough to use for that purpose. I don’t know, nice story if it works for you.

Every seven years there is a bumper crop of piñon nuts, and all you have to do is lay burlap bags at the base of the tree, tie a rope to the top part of the trunk, and shake the tree like crazy. Mounds of nuts will fall from the cones. You just scoop them up in the bags and move on to the next tree. Generally, in the off years it’s pretty difficult to harvest the nuts which grow inside the pine cones, so they’re a pretty pricey commodity. A delicacy of sorts. The bags at the front of the store, some roasted, some roasted in red chili, some raw, were priced from $5.98 a bag and up. They were prepared by a small vendor in Santa Fe who kept them stocked and paid Circle K a space fee and a markup on the suggested retail price. A full tree of the nuts probably had a wholesale price in excess of $900.00 but that was all pretty much labor.

So like I was saying, this kid comes in and stands by the piñon nut “tree” and spins it a couple of times. Looking for, what I assume, a particular size, price or variety of the treat. I never stopped to think that maybe this kid didn’t have the minimum $5.98. All of sudden, he picks the whole tree up off the floor and backs out the door with it. I jumped the counter screaming at him to stop. By the time I hit the door he was around the corner of the building and heading up the street to the apartments, shedding bags of nuts as he went.

I ran back into the store and called 911. “Somebody just stole a whole rack of piñon!” I screamed into the phone. “The whole damn rack.” I described him as best I could and the direction he was heading. I figured he’d be pretty easy to spot. Now I had to go through the paperwork involved in a known shoplifting. Always a fun thing. Extra work.

About an hour later, a cop that I didn’t know, not one of my regulars, showed up at the store asking if I was the guy who reported the piñon theft. I confirmed that I was.

“I didn’t see anybody running up the street with any piñon,” he said. “How much wood did he take? That shit’s pretty heavy.”

So this officer was driving around looking for a kid carrying bundles of piñon firewood that were stacked in the front of the store under the front windows. They weighed easily 25 pounds a bundle. A running kid might have made off with two at the most. I told him it was a rack of nuts, expensive roasted nuts, and that the kid had taken the whole rack and run off with it. I didn’t bother to ask if he had seen a kid running down the street with that, which would have seriously looked a little out of the ordinary. I just got my police report to put with the shoplifting report.

“Thanks,” I said, “would you like a free cup of coffee?” And then I reached over and picked up my magazine off the rack.

You ever see those signs out front of a convenience store that say, “Cash Register Has Less Than $20. Clerks Do Not Have Safe Combination.” Trust me, it’s not always true. Well the first part, the fact we don’t have the combination…..totally true. It’s a drop safe. The store manager is the only one with the combination. They don’t work graveyard.

What the clerk does is count the big bills, log the amount, then roll them up and put them in a pill bottle that you drop down a steel tube. The possibility that clerks get lazy or busy and don’t drop all the excess bills down the tube every time the register gets over $20, highly likely. A smart thief will watch this busy period. Mill around the story awhile until all or most everyone is gone, stand out of sight, maybe even just outside the front door, and wait for the clerk to open the drawer and take out the twenties, and maybe even a fifty or a hundred, although it clearly says on the counter “NO BILLS OVER $20!” That counting phase, while the till is open, is when you make your move.

One night at the Circle K, I was playing my usual catch-up with the drop safe, when I spotted a guy watching me through the front glass of the store. “Fuck,” I thought, “I’m about to get robbed.”

My heart started pounding out of my chest and I jammed the till shut with my hip, grabbed a pill bottle, rolled the bills I had in my hand as fast as I could and shoved them down the tube, never letting my eyes off the guy now moving towards the door. He was about 5’10”, thin, maybe 30s, the required black hoody pulled up over his head, and he had both his hands in the front pouch pocket of the hoody. He was in the store now walking towards the counter. I thought my heart was going to bust right through my rib cage.

“Hey man, you got any spare change?” Interesting way to phrase a hold up, “spare change.”

“No,” I said and gulped more loudly than I wanted to.

Right about then a car pulled up in front and the headlights illuminated a tattered backpack leaning up against the trash can out front. The guy didn’t go for his “gun”.
This guy was a homeless guy. The air expelled out of my lungs so fast I sounded like an inner-tube hitting a sharp knife.

“You want a free cup of coffee?” I asked.

Ultimately I got fired from the Circle K. Shortly after the piñon theft, we got a new District Manager, a little wimp who thought himself an over important man. A “suit” with a short person syndrome. He decided to solve the inventory losses at the Kathryn store by firing everyone that worked there. He got the day-crew with his secret shoppers first, and then he got me at 6:43 AM for not ringing up a pack of cigarettes. I was extremely busy and just put the money in the till. I rang the sale up on the register, two sales later so the till would balance at the end of my shift. The contention was that we were all stealing money by not ringing up the purchases every so often, and then pocketing any overage at the end of the shift when we balanced the drawer. Good idea, I guess, hadn’t thought of it, but got accused of it just the same.

“Short Fuck” as he came to be known to me, just couldn’t reconcile the fact that the theft of an entire rack of expensive nuts might have a negative effect on his inventory. The constant shoplifting with no security cameras taping in the store, the customers who got a drink out of the cooler and then walked right out with it, the cars that drove away from the pump after leaving a stolen credit card at the counter, the kid in the trench coat, the clerk who ate every meal, snacked and supplied his nicotine habit with store inventory, and the gallons of free coffee, just didn’t seem to figure in to his inventory losses. No, by god, it was clerks stealing money out of the till. One of the day-shift clerks had been with the store for 13 years. Short Fuck fired her the second day he was there.

So on the day I got my call to go down to Corporate HQ and to bring my two white shirts with the red Circle K brand over the pocket, I was pretty certain what was up. I walked into the conference room and Short Fuck was sitting in the middle of a small conference table, back against the wall. If he sat back in the chair, his feet wouldn’t touch the floor, so he was sitting on the edge of the high back chair. I took a seat across from him. He had his briefcase opened on the table and began rummaging around in there pulling out a register tape and a Secret Shopper Report.

“How long you been with Circle K, uh?”……he didn’t know my name. He was looking all over the paperwork to find a name. Finally he got it…….”Leonard,” he said.

“About a year,” I answered. “Name’s Len,” I added for effect.

“Leonard, do you know what this is?” he asked holding up the strip of register tape.

“Len. Yeah, it’s a register tape.”

“On this register tape,” and he laid it down in front of me and pointed to three entries highlighted in yellow, “are the three items purchased by this secret shopper on the night of July 14th, at 6:43 AM. The problem is the secret shopper also bought a pack of cigarettes. But it’s not rung up here as you can see.”

“Are you accusing me of stealing?” I screamed at him. “You think I’m some flunky? If I was going to steal from you, I’ve got much better ways of doing it, and you wouldn’t even come close to catching me.” As I mentioned earlier I had been helping myself to food and cigarettes for some time now. “Give me that receipt,” and I grabbed it out of his hands before he could react.

“See, right here. Two sales down. The cigarettes are rung up,” I explained pointing. “The cash drawer balanced at the end of the shift.”

“How do I know that wasn’t another customer purchase?”

“You don’t,” I said, “I’m just telling you I rang up the secret shopper’s smokes. You think we don’t know who your damn secret shoppers are? How many people you think wait until you’ve rung up the sale, give change, then ask for a pack of cigarettes before you close the cash drawer? You think the normal person does that? A normal person asks for the cigarettes first because it’s what they came in for in the first place. Shit, your secret shoppers are so easy to spot you might as well paint them purple.”

“We’re going to have to let you go.” He said it smugly. Almost enjoying it, but when he passed the official incident report over for me to sign, I shoved it away and stood up.

“I’m not signing a goddamn thing,” I said leaning over the table at him. His expression changed from smugness to fear. “You can kiss my ass.”

“You won’t get your final check,” he said quickly. “You have to sign the release to get the check.”

“What’s the check for, one fucking day? You think you pay me enough to give a shit about one fucking day? Fuck you,” I screamed and shoved the conference table across the room, up against his chest setting him back in the high back chair, and blocking him against the wall. Kind of looked like a toddler in a big high chair. I pitched the two shirts at him and hit him in the face. Gave him another “fuck you,” and walked out. I got the check in the mail about a week later. It was for one day in the amount of $20.81 after taxes.

About a week later, someone drove by the Kathryn Ave Circle K and shot out all the top windows with a semi-automatic weapon. No one was hurt, but that would have seriously given me a stroke. I thought to myself then that things happen for a reason.

One night at the Circle K, about a month later, there was a robbery. Probably during a count for a safe drop, the new guy, an Iranian exchange student working the graveyard shift, was paralyzed by a gunman. The clerk was ordered to lay face down on the floor while the perp got the money out of the till. Then he picked up the cash register and threw in on the clerk lying on the floor. They didn’t weigh very much, but he threw it hard enough and hit him just right so that it crushed some vertebrae and damaged his spinal column. Basically broke his back. The gunman was pissed that the till only had about $20 in it and the Iranian student on the floor didn’t know the combination to the drop safe like the sign out front said.

I was, by then, working the graveyard shift at the Western 6 Motel about a mile away, in a locked office with bullet proof glass. Heard a lot of sirens that night, and read about it later in the paper. As far as I know, they never caught the guy. Without the aid of a secret shopper and a Short Fuck that wanted to solve his inventory problem, that could have been me.

I stopped by the Circle K one night on my way home to get a pack of cigarettes. There were two clerks working the graveyard shift, probably a new security policy. I also noticed video surveillance cameras inside the store next to the concave mirrors in the corners. I got a soda out of the cooler and some Twinkies. I waited for the clerk to ring them up, give me change, and before he slammed the till shut, I said, “Oh, I need a pack of Carlton’s.” He reached up to the overhead rack, handed me the pack, and I gave him the $1.25 out of my change. He put it in the till and slammed it shut without ringing up the sale.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Oh Henry, Call Dr. Pepper, I'm Gonna Have a Baby Ruth

One of my favorite jokes goes like this: Do you know how to catch a polar bear? Well, you cut a hole in the ice and line the edge with peas. When the polar bear stops to take a pea, you kick him in the ice hole.

I’m sorry, but I can’t keep a straight face when I tell that joke. I laugh harder than anyone that hears me tell it, of course, because I think it’s hilarious. There are better jokes, I’m sure, but there are two things I like about this one. One, I can remember it and two, well………., okay only one thing. Sometimes when I tell this joke in a “tough” room, I’m the only one that’s laughing, but that’s okay, because I think it’s funny.

I can’t remember jokes very well. Sometimes, I can remember the whole entire joke and forget the punch line, or remember the punch line and not how to get to it. I have to write stuff down. Sometimes, if I write it down immediately I can remember it for awhile. I have books and books of jokes, and quotes, and witticisms, but I can’t remember any of them without looking them up. And it’s not an age thing either. If I had a line in a play, I wouldn’t be able to remember it, even if it was just one line. I would need off-stage prompting or queue cards.

I’m amazed by actors that memorize entire scripts and then repeat lines verbatim, even ad-libbing some of the dialogue to fit the character. Me, flash cards…..without them I would be reading most of my lines looking at my hands because that is where the dialogue would be written. It’s interesting to watch Presidents and other public speakers pretend that they are reciting a speech from memory when they are actually reading it from a high-tech teleprompter being projected on what appears to be bullet-proof panels on either side of the podium. Abraham Lincoln probably didn’t read the Gettysburg Address from the envelope he wrote it on, but I’ll bet he kept his notes close by, like in his hand.

I used to carry a joke around in my wallet (besides the lack of actual money that you won’t find in my wallet, which is, indeed, a joke) about a chain of events concerning a fly, a fish, a fisherman, a bear, a cat, and a cheese sandwich, because I could never remember it to tell it, and I thought it was hilarious. Goes something like this, and you’ve probably heard it before:

One day at a fishing hole on the river, there was a fly buzzing over the water.

A fish swam by and saw the fly, and thought to itself, “If that fly drops six inches, I’ll be able to jump high enough to get it and finally have some dinner.

A fisherman sitting on the bank saw the fly and thought, “If that fly drops six inches, and a fish jumps for it, I’ll snag the fish with my net and finally catch something.”

The fisherman had a half of a cheese sandwich left and started to eat it.

Behind the fisherman, hiding behind a tree, was a bear. The bear thought, “If that fly drops six inches, and that fish jumps to get it, that fisherman will grab his net, snag it, then I’ll snatch it from him and finally get some dinner.”

Next to the fisherman, hiding in a bush, was a field mouse. The mouse thought, “If that fly drops six inches, and a fish jumps for it, that fisherman will drop his cheese sandwich so he can grab the net and I’ll get me some cheese.” The mouse didn’t see the bear.

A cat was behind the field mouse watching the scene, and the cat thought, “If that fly drops six inches and the fish jumps for it, and the fisherman drops his sandwich to get his net, and the mouse goes for the cheese, I’ll sneak up on that mouse and catch him.” The cat didn’t see the bear either.

Sure enough, the fly dropped six inches, the fisherman dropped his sandwich to get the net, the fish jumped and he snagged it, and the mouse ran to get the cheese. The bear ran down the hill to steal the fish. The cat pounced on the mouse, but missed, lost its balance, rolled down the bank and ended up in the river.

The moral of the story is: When the fly drops six inches, the ….well it’s something about the cat falling into the river. You figure it out.

I’ve struggled with this joke-telling-memory-problem for years. I’m jealous of all those people that can just roll them off their tongues, and the crowd laughs, and I say, “I’ve got to remember that one.” But I never do. I like to think I have wit, I guess it’s just not quick.

My brother is a quick wit. He once said of my two divorces from the same woman that at least my x-wife was a good housekeeper. “She kept the house both times,” he chuckled. I think he writes his own material.

I just heard this one the other day. “My friend just slept with his third cousin. He was real upset about it. I told him if it upset him so much he should stop counting them.”

Here’s a popular joke genre, the genie joke:

A woman was walking along a beach when she stumbled upon what looked like a genie’s lamp. She picked it up, rubbed it on the side, and sure enough a genie appeared.

The amazed woman asked if she got three wishes.

The genie said he was sorry, but due to the current economy, the layoffs, and downsizing and low wages in third-world countries, and the lack of US car sales, and fierce genie competition he could only offer her one wish.

“So what’ll it be?” the genie said.

The woman didn’t hesitate.

“If I only get one wish, then I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other. I want all the US soldiers to come home.”

The genie looked at the map and said. “Lady! These countries have been at war with each other for thousands of years. I’m good, but not THAT good! I don’t think peace is possible in this region. It can’t be done. You’ll have to make another wish.”

The woman thought for a minute, and then said, “Well, I’ve never been able to find the right man. You know one that’s considerate and fun, likes to cook and helps with the housecleaning, is good in bed and gets along with my family, doesn’t watch sports all the time, and is faithful. That’s what I’ll wish for, a good mate.”

(I’m sure you know where this is going.)

The genie let out a long sigh and said, “Okay, let me see that fucking map again.”

When I lived in New Mexico we had Española jokes. They were like, Aggie jokes, or Pollock jokes, or whatever. They went like this:

Why can’t they have a living manger scene at Christmas in Española? Because they can’t find a virgin and three wise men. A camel they can find.

Or, what do you call a guy in Española in a three-piece suit? The defendant.

Or, even worse, in Española they think four-on-the-floor is a double date. You get the idea.

One of my favorites is, the Española football team was going to Albuquerque to play Albuquerque High. They saw a sign on the highway that said “Albuquerque Left” so they went home.

Okay, it’s a groaner, but I think it’s funny. I’ve got nothing against people that live in Española, a small community northeast of Santa Fe, but for some reason they’ve become the butt of jokes. I don’t even know anyone from there. But you could insert any person, group, place or nationality in the place of Española.

Have you ever come up with your own joke? I haven’t. I can say with some certainty that I have never written a joke. I would guess that joke writers obviously exist, but they must be the most plagiarized writers in the world. Have you ever heard of a joke writer suing someone for using their jokes at a happy hour? Maybe there’s some strange copyright on a joke or something. But then maybe it’s because a lot of jokes run on the same base structure and well, like this……

A man seeking a job as a sheriff’s deputy in a border town was being interviewed. The Sergeant doing the interview says, “Your qualifications all look great, but we have to give you an attitude suitability test. We can’t accept you until you take that test.”

The Sergeant slides a service revolver on the desk towards the candidate and says, “Take this pistol, go out and shoot six illegal aliens, six meth dealers, six Muslim extremists, and a rabbit.”

“Why the rabbit,” the candidate says.

“Great attitude,” the Sergeant replies, “When can you start?”

There are a lot of golf jokes, and sexist jokes, and blonde jokes, and Aggie jokes, and racist jokes like that one above, and like I said, genie jokes. Everyone’s heard and told a genie joke, I guess it’s easy to relate to what you would wish for if given the opportunity, and how naturally it would get screwed up by how you asked the genie to grant the wish.

Guys and gals who write jokes for a living have to be some special breed of person. First you have to come up with the funny story. Then you have to hope that everyone else thinks it’s funny. Some subjects are just easy to put in a joke, like farts, and sex, and minorities, and gee, whatever other “funny” material there is. A fart by and of itself can get a lot of laughs regardless of the room without saying a word. Works really well in church, but you usually can’t take credit for it.

The internet has increased joke-telling efficiency. I get emailed an average of 6.35 jokes per day. Most of them aren’t that funny, but the ones you think are funny will get forwarded, and the best part is you don’t have to remember the joke, but you’re still basically telling it.

Here’s my all-time favorite joke. It was told to a group at an Italian restaurant, which was fitting because of it’s subject. The joke teller was a David Lettermen clone. Literally, and his delivery was just as good. He was an Assistant Credit Manager for Delta Faucet though, not a stand-up comic. Here’s how it goes, the short version:

Mario and Luigi were at the bar having a few drinks and the subject turned to women’s breasts, as it often does, and then specifically to Mario’s wife’s breasts.

“Imma tellan ya,” Luigi finally says, “I woulda giva you fifty-a bucks to see-a yer wife’sa tits.”

Well Mario gets a little bent out of shape about Luigi’s confession, “I doughna thinka you shoulda be talkin’ abouta my wife’sa titsa like-a that,” he says. “I’mma gonna kicka yer ass!”

Needless to say, the party breaks up and Mario goes home to his wife.

“Yer notta gonna believa whatta Luigi a-said,” he tells her. “He saidda he woulda give-a fifty-a bucks to see-a yer tits.”

Mario’s wife tells him that maybe that’s not such a bad idea. They could use the money. Luigi, after all is a friend, not like its some stranger looking at her bare breasts. So she convinces Mario to go back and tell Luigi that it’s a deal.

So Mario goes back to the bar and finds Luigi and takes him home. His wife bares her breasts and (here’s where the joke gets visual) Luigi takes them in each of his hands and fondles them and says, “I doughna know!”

Then he does it again (the joke teller cups his hands out in front of him and slightly twists from side to side) and says, “I doughna know!”

Finally Mario can’t stand it anymore. “Whatta ya meana you doughna know?! Whatsa wronga witha my wife’sa tits?!”

“I doughna knowa where I’mma gonna getta fifty-a bucks!”

Yeah, well I think it’s hilarious.

So last night my wife and I are watching a movie called “Leatherheads.” Not important except that the football field in this 1925 spoof of the beginnings of professional football had advertisements around the stands for candy bars and things. There was Oh Henry, and Baby Ruth, and Beechnut Cigarettes, and my wife was reading them out loud. The next thing I know my wife turns to me and says, “Oh Henry, call Dr. Pepper, I’m having a Baby Ruth.” I thought I was going to die.

One of the best laughs I ever had was lying in bed one night, both of us having trouble going to sleep and I said, nonchalantly, “Honey, you want some snew?”

“What’s snew?” she asked.

“Nothing, what’s snew with you?” I guess I’m not ready to give up my day job.