Night Shift

The oscillating fan blows blue streamers that vibrate and spin in the mechanically created wind. Calculating the projected velocity and rotation of any single strand of blue ribbon would require an algorithm that would fill a three by six square foot chalkboard. Weather pattern predicting models are less complex and more reliable. Oceanic blue streamers, Mariana Trench depth of calculations, oscillating factors of cubic air distribution relative to outlet voltage and blade velocity. Ambient noise generator amplified cognitively into a metaphor for string theory galaxies perpetually stretching, spinning and expanding.

“Uhem.”

The customer stands before the counter with a six pack of beer and a box of powdered doughnuts. His facial hair is decorated with a mustard stain. Big blue blood shot eyes squint in the direction of the transfixed cashier whom, momentarily, a moment ago, surmised both vast and minuscule dimensions of the physical universe.

He scratches his testicles.

“Can I pay for this.”

“Sure… My bad. Long night you know.”

“Sure do.”

This is the extent of most of the cashiers conversations. He hopes. A rare regular or tweaker could distract him for many minutes and in worst case scenario scenarios, hours. The mustard stained man wants not part of conversation. He is so obviously high and ambivalent about this fact that he might as well say, “I am to stoned to have a conversation with you.” In fact, the cashier smiles when he thinks, his blood shot eyes, sweat pants and mustard stained beard, his choice of tall boys and confectionary coated deep fried prepackaged pastries are a far better representation of this fact. It would almost feel redundant if mustard beard were to make any verbal acknowledgement regarding his inebriation.

Also, are doughnuts technically considered a pastry?

“Yo. My change. I need my change.”

“Sorry. Do you know if doughnuts are technically considered to be pastries?”

“What?”

“Never-mind, sorry, here is your change sir. Have a nice night.”

“Yea you too kid.”

Once Mustard Beard leaves the cashier Googles doughnuts and finds that they are in-fact, pastry. Satisfied the cashier then tries to remember what he was thinking about before being interrupted by Mustard Beard but he cannot recall. Taking a sip of cold coffee he decides to get up and warm his beverage.

The only parts of his job that he actually likes are, in ascending order, few forced human interactions, free coffee and Mildred. Other facets of his job range from benign (the over night hours) to slightly annoying (mopping the floor) but overall, outside of these main three, most things don’t really register.

With the exception of of Chet. Chet is the only part of the cashiers job that gets on his nerves.       

Chet stands outside blasting metal and huffing glue, waiting to pump gas for nonexistent customer. Chet is a first class tool. He looks terrifying because he accidentally burned all the hair off his face and head huffing gasoline, accidentally igniting it when he forgot to take the cigarette out of his mouth. His face pink, peeling and hairless, like the skin of a hippopotamus. Now his sticks to glue and malt liquor.

The cashier doesn’t really mind Chet because of this. His terrifying complexion and incoherent mumble fits are mostly amusing. What does bother him is the fact that Chet is technically in charge, because his father owns the two gas pumps out front. Apparently the regional owner of all “Pump and Snacks” had fallen on some hard times and had to sell the fuel distribution portion of the business in order to maintain the convince store end of the business. Which resulted in town famous hundred-thousand-air Gerald Hooter purchasing the gas pumps and putting his son Chet Hooter in full responsibility of making sure the investment was looked after properly. That was until, of course, Mr. Hooter found Hooter Jr. passed out hairless with second degree burns all over his face in the middle of the afternoon with a full three car line of ready to pay customers full on horn blaring and in one case ambulance calling. Which resulted in Chet’s immediate demotion to night shift manager. Until he got himself straightened out. As in with most of his eyebrows grown back in and appearance no longer making children cry. 

The cashier is not bothered by the fact that one of the owners children holds seniority over him, because in all reality he is just the overnight cashier and had taken the positing specifically to avoid any sort of responsibility. What does sort of pissed him off is that Chet, the self mutilating, base head, man-child, wields this power with such juvenile impracticality. As in calling from the booth outside, not twenty feet from the front door, when he needed another bag of sour cream and onion potato chips and a Colt 45 to wash it down, or when he had one of his “girlfriends” come by and makes the cashier stand out front while he spends a few minutes with her in the bathroom. 

All things considered though, on a strictly overall quality of life basis, the cashier decides that he likes his job. The quiet parts of the evening and the occasional visit from a friend, the free coffee makes him feel alright.

In the time it takes the cashier to traverse the entirety of the 24 hour convince store, with wrap around coolers containing everything from eggs and bologna to malt liquor and 2% milk, walking between the two steel wire and plywood display wracks displaying candy, chips, magazines, Benzedrine tables, stockings, soap, beef-jerky, shitty plastic water guns for a dollar, condoms and all of the other minor necessities and nicknacks which make middle of nowhere convince stores such classic Americana, he takes one full breath in. As he pours black liquid into his paper cup, he avoids Styrofoam at all costs (not for environmental reasons or anything), he lets a full breath out. The customers always complain about how strong the coffee is. Which the cashier finds sort of ironic. But he likes it this way, so fuck them. 

He takes a look at the clock on the microwave by the coffee pots that he sometimes uses for the ageless bean and cheese burritos. It is almost two a.m., which is when things start to get interesting.

His shift starts at eight and the first six hours are pretty mundane. Chet is occupied by customers from eight until twelve and then sniffs himself into a state of near comatose from twelve thirty until about one thirty. Customers range from bored hungry stoners like Mustard Beard to police officers who always assume the coffee is free and elderly woman, who have no business driving, purchasing menthol 100’s with loose change. It is usually quiet from one to two a.m., because, he assumes, all of the normal people are sleeping, all of the crazy people are just waking up and all of the tweakers are still holed up somewhere finishing off that last rock or bottle of Mad Dog 20/20 before the nightly excursion to make it to the bar before last call, or to another liquor store, back to their dealer and then to a fast food joint or a convince store to resupply. Anywhere really so long as the got out of the trap house and smelled some fresh air. 

The cashier turns around and walks back towards the counter where all the action happens. Where every interior transaction, with the exception of Chet’s trips to the bathroom, takes place. He feels a sort of strange awe every-time he sits behind it. This alter of commerce. He feels embarrassed and uncomfortable because of this sensation, yet it remains. There is nothing attractive about it. Apple red acrylic paint and particle board crowned with a plexiglass shield protecting the lottery tickets and cigarettes from easy theft. This toll booth of package good consumption.

Behind the counter smells like old cardboard and sugary drinks. The bank, that never grows over three hundred dollars, protected by the combination of ambition and valor of the overnight cashier and the off brand baseball bat, which always makes the cashier laugh. A small T.V. he never turns on sits on-top of a few old phone books that someone has stashed a few porn magazines in, which always struck the cashier as old fashion. The whole set up stunk of a bygone era before cellphones gave you instant access to live streaming T.V., any phone number you could think of and more pornography than any one person could view in a lifetime. What an idiotic generation to grow up in, he thinks. With all of the crumbling obelisks of past human culture hanging around, cluttering up the workplace. NewsCorp’s newspapers still in circulation to generate interest in NewCorp’s website, phone books used as T.V. stands for T.V.’s that no longer have cable hookups because they are obsolete, almost amusingly so. Sitting behind the counter he feels a little bit like the phonebook T.V. stand, caught in some strange universe where he still exists but no longer for his initial purpose. A throw away innovation, out of date before ever getting a chance to be effectively utilized.  

Electronic doorbell tones articulate descending monophonic C flats. Afreed, the delivery driver, pushes a hand-truck laden mostly with beer and a few salty or sugary foodstuffs wrapped in plastic. A college party on wheels. Afreed waves to the cashier behind the counter staring at the T.V. with nothing on it, just a black screen. Standing directly in front of the counter, close enough to reach over and grab him, the cashier doesn’t seem to notice his entrance into the store. 

“Still not sleeping kid.”

The cashier is mentally engorged in last years phone book and how many of the names are probably phone numbers of dead people. His mind filled with a graveyard of paper tombstones with no names, only ten digit phone numbers. Afreed’s voice grabs him like a hand pulling him from underwater.

“No, not yet.”

“How long two days?”

“This is the third night so… something like sixty hours.”

“How’s that going?”

“Not bad. I think I am starting to hallucinate a little but the coffee helps.”

“It’s that goddam coffee that got you into this mess, you’d better be careful otherwise you going to end up like Carl out there.”

“Chet.”

“What?”

“His name is Chet.”

“Oh what the fuck ever. Imm’a put this shit in the back then use your shitter.”

“Keys in the usual.”

“Back shortly.”

The cashier just nods. He should really add Afreed to his list of things he likes about his job. Because he is one of maybe five people that the cashier actually looks forward to seeing. But their relationship is such that putting him on the list would feel diminishing. Certain people, the cashier has come to believe, are so like you that distinguishing them from yourself feels reductive. Although physically speaking he and Afreed looked nothing alike and culturally speaking share almost nothing, the way they look at the world is nearly identical. They share a sort of pragmatic wonder and comfortable misery that makes them see eye to eye in a way that hight never factors in. The cashier feels that everyone knows someone in this way. A person so unlike you in so many ways but connected on a very base level.

“So did your girl come in yet.”

One preoccupation the cashier and Afreed share is an obsession with Mildred, although for different reasons. Also Afreed didn’t know her as Mildred, he always referred to her as “your girl” or “the hooker”. Which didn’t bother the cashier too much because she is both of those things. Afreed had become obsessed with what he considered to be the cashiers unhealthy obsession with her.

“No, to early yet, soon though.”

“Your a fucking masochist you know that.”

When Afreed talks about something he is passionate about he leans a majority of his substantial weight on his forearms cradling his massive upper-body using the counter for support. He has this fatherly way of pointing his chin in towards his body and looking at you over the bridge of his nose. The cashier found that whenever Afreed assumed this posture he immediately began to lean forward as well.

“You know what I wouldn’t give to be back in your shoes.”

The cashier smiles, he has heard this before. Afreed nostalgically renters his youth mentally. He will talk about his high school football team and their state championship, about all the things he would do different and all the things he would love too do the same all over again.

“When I was your age girls were fucking fridged man, I mean you had to do some special shit if you wanted to even get a finger in them man. Sure you had your class slut, sure you did, but thats no thing, no big thing at all. You get the prom queen, now your talking, now your somebody. Today, what with sexting and all this, what with naked woman being ok, with those Kardashian banging basketball players and rappers and shit, man back in my day no niggers ever fucking one of the hottest woman in the world, well he probably was, Willy Mays probably laid some mean dick back in his day, but he didnt get no fucking T.V. show about it. And here you are in your prime, could be getting some of that sweet young white girl high-school ass and what do you do, go after some tricked out thirty something rock fiend, working this shit hole job, for what, what the fuck are you doing man, thats why you cant sleep, your sub conscious is torturing you…”

This is the way things would go for ten minutes or so. Afreed talking and the cashier listening, just listening. He doesn’t mind it. Afreed has told him many times how on most of his stops he rarely got more than a hello. He doesn’t mind at all.

“You should just get the fuck outta here. Get in your car and drive, you graduate in what a month. Get the fuck out man. I know you got money saved up, I know you want to spend it on some romantic escape with the hooker, I know you, but you should listen to me. As soon has you get the diploma you should get in your car and drive as far away from this place as you can get… Hey man are you listing to me.”

Sort of, he is. The cashier has become used to staying up all night, become used to days without sleep. But this is something else. By far his longest stretch of insomnia. As the words poured from Afreed’s lips images grew in the cashiers mind and then transposed themselves onto the real world. While Afreed elucidates his planes for the cashiers escape, he sees it in his mind.

He watches himself walking up on graduation day and accepting the stupid piece of paper he will never see again from the stupid man he will never see again. He walks off the stage and gets directly into a car and starts driving. The road transforms into a desert. Mildred sits in the passenger seat glistening with sweat, naked in the arid desert heat. Afreed sits in the back seat talking to him just like he is talking to him now, but the cashier cannot take his eyes off of Mildred’s body.

“Hey kid.”

“Sorry. Sorry. Long night.”

“Man you need some sleep. I gotta get out of here. You stay out of trouble you hear me.”

“Yes sir.”

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