Dog Food

I had dog for breakfast and the day went down from there.

I didn’t mean to have dog. I went to a Korean place with a friend. We only had half an hour, because that was all the time she was allotted for lunch. Her lunch, my breakfast. I took one look at a plate going past us toward an old Korean couple and I told the waiter,

“One of those.”

He smirked and my friend listened to me bitch about the declining state of America vis à vis general incompetence.

“Store clerks are rude and they can’t do anything for you. And where are they when you need to pay for your stuff and go? And then nobody can drive in the snow.”

“They’re all from California. They’re nuts anyway.”

“Californication.”

“You look like a California girl.”

“I thought you were my friend.”

And we sat and ate in silent commiseration at the pass to which we had been brought by Californians.

“Hey, this is good stuff,” I said when it occurred to me that I was actually enjoying my meal. “Wonder what it is?”

It was almost an afterthought when I asked the waiter what I’d had. He rattled off some long Korean name and I said, “Yes, but what is it?”

I was sick all afternoon, images running through my mind of my poor Scruffy, his big body stuffed and lying prone on a platter, complete with an apple in his mouth. I called my mother to ask after my beloved German shepherd, whom I could not keep where I lived, but no one was home.

Snow fell throughout the day and I decided it would be ever so much nicer to stay home and putter than go to school. But the vacuum broke, and I ran out of laundry detergent and toilet paper. Ricki Lake’s guests were women whose fathers had slept with their boyfriends and Fox had discontinued Animaniacs. Then after a while, it was time to go to work.

Graveyard had its advantages and disadvantages. Besides the obvious fact that the hours—ten p.m. to six a.m.—sucked, it wasn’t too bad. I worked alone, I could do homework, I wasn’t on my feet for eight hours. And gas stations were very interesting places to meet people—all sorts of people.

So it was that I was right in the middle of cleaning the coffee pot around three a.m. when someone knocked on the door. I scurried back to the register, behind the bulletproof glass (“No,” said my manager, “bullet resistant glass”) secured by two deadbolt locks, and flipped the switch to unlock the station’s outside doors.

“Good morning,” I said, even though it wasn’t, what with register screw-ups and gas pump malfunctions, not to mention the deplorable state in which the day crews had left the store for the night crew—me. “How’s it lookin’ outside?” Of course, I could see that it was a blizzard and all was whirling white. But it was something to say to folks, some of whom had precious few people to talk to and their best conversations were with the night gas station attendant.

The young black man in a trenchcoat looked around nervously, over his shoulder outside, then at me, before he walked around the store to check out the wondrous array of potato chips. Around the back end shelves, laden with oil and other petroleum products, up the other aisle bedecked with various danishes, crackers, and cookies. He peered out the window at the side of the lot he’d not already surveyed. He was clean cut, small, and wore expensive Italian loafers that dripped water all over my floor.

“Can I help you find something?” I finally asked, wondering if he was drunk. Didn’t act like it, though. He had a very careful gait, as if he were afraid of slipping on the wet tiles, but it did not falter or wobble.

His gaze skittered to mine and I thought I detected a hint of fear. But dark eyes are hard to read. He approached the counter.

Suddenly an old .38 Special appeared across the bulletproof glass and its menacing eye trembled in the air. “Give me all your money,” he said in a cultured voice.

That tore it. First the dog, then the Californians, then no toilet paper. Now this.

“Oh, for cryin’ out loud!” I burst out, angry, vaguely wondering if calling the police would be worth the trouble. “Would you please get a life? Buy one, rent one, I don’t care.” I leaned over my portion of the counter and knocked on the glass. “Check that out, Mr. Robber Person. Bullet proof. The snack crackers are behind you. Knock yourself out. Here—” I said, bending for a plastic bag. I opened it for him as if he were a valued customer and shoved it in the shallow tray underneath the glass frame. “Here’s a bag. Be my guest.”

The muzzle of the gun wavered more and I could see his body shaking as badly as his hand. He gulped. “I—I sai—said, ‘Give me all your money.’”

“Oh, please,” I drawled, rolling my eyes, preparing to hit the floor in the event that he fired. How dependable was this lauded glass? “You can’t possibly believe that I’m going to do that.”

“I—I ma-mean it. I’ll shoot.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I opened the register drawer and took out a quarter. It clattered in the metal tray where I threw it. “Call someone who cares.”

He took a deep breath and raised the gun higher, clutching it with two hands that trembled. I was almost to the floor when he pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. I peeked up over the counter at him.

His middle-class brow wrinkled in confusion as he studied the gun; the ludicrousness of it hit me and I rose.

“Jeez Louise,” I snapped as I locked the outside doors out of habit and opened the glass door that separated us. “Can’t anybody do anything right?” I stormed over to him and yanked the gun out of his hands. “Gimme that thing. Look at this,” I said as I pointed at the trigger. “You’ve got the safety on. How do you expect to shoot anybody with the safety on?”

“What—what’s a safety?”

“It keeps you from pulling the trigger when it’s on. And look at this gun. It’s a mess. All that rust. You gotta take care of these things.” I grabbed his left hand and slapped the gun back in it. The flash of gold caught my eye.

He started when my hand smacked the counter. I put my fist on my hip, affronted on behalf of the woman who wore the mate to his band. “What the hell are you doing out at this time of night in a blizzard when you got a wife at home?”

“Uh, well, I—”

“You got kids?”

“Uh, well, yeah—”

“And you’re here trying to rob me with a gun that won’t work through bulletproof glass. You’re not as smart as you look. C’mere,” I said as I grabbed his arm and dragged him behind the glass and pointed to the telephone. “You call your wife right now and tell her you’re on your way home. She’s probably worried sick about you.”

And I stood over him with my arms crossed over my chest as he dialed, then spoke softly and with consideration.

“Shawna? Honey?…Yeah, I’m all right, sweetie…” He grimaced at whatever the strident female voice on the other end shouted at him. “Uh, well, I was at the boat.”

That was when I snorted and rolled my eyes. Men. Apparently his wife did the same thing.

“I—I know, honey… Calm down, now, Shawna… No, I—” He glanced over his shoulder at me. “—I was going to replace what I lost on the way home, but I haven’t been entirely successful.”

“Incompetence,” I sighed. “The rotting foundation of America.”

He showed a flash of annoyance at that, but continued to try to calm his wife. Finally he convinced her of his sincerity and hung up the phone. He fidgeted and looked everywhere but at me.

“Well?” I asked.

“Well what?”

“You going home now?”

“You aren’t going to call the cops?”

I heaved a great, longsuffering sigh. “Does it look like it? Go away. Take your incompetent robber butt home and go to work in the morning like you’re supposed to. What are you, middle management?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Uh hunh. Thought so. You probably don’t drink or smoke, either, do you?”

“I—I’ve never done this sort of thing before.”

“No!” I gasped as I herded him out of the office into the store, locking the door after him. “I’d have never guessed. Look, kid—” But he was older than me, if only a little. “—You look like a decent guy.

Go home, take your lumps like a man, don’t go to the riverboat and blow your paycheck again, and for heaven’s sake—learn to use a gun! You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

The rest of the night was quiet and I got the store squeaky clean. The carrier for the Star came, the doughnut man dropped off our order, and then the distributor for USA Today left another stack of newspapers. Sherman, who drove a red pickup truck, came in to get his daily pint of Belfonte chocolate milk and two packs of Marlboro reds in a box, please.

I went home, slept, then called my mother. “How’s Scruffy?”

“How was your night at work, dear? Anything unusual happen?”

“No, it was okay. How’s Scruffy?”

“Do you know, the nicest people moved in next door last week. Did I tell you that?”

“No. How’s Scruffy?”

“They’re very neat, clean people. They run a restaurant. They’re trying very hard to fit into the culture.”

“Mom! How’s Scruffy?”

“They’re Korean, you know. Did I tell you that?”

“Mother!”

“Scruffy? Ah, well, he’s, ah, around.”

“Mother . . . ”

“Well, I don’t know!” she burst out. “I haven’t seen him for a couple of days. But don’t worry. He’ll turn up.”

©1994 Moriah Jovan

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