I settled into Nick's basement and got used to being back in Garrison Valley. The Thrift Village store set me up with a lamp, a little dresser to keep my clothes, and I dropped fifty bucks on a foam mattress to put down on the concrete floor. It wouldn't be comfortable, but I would manage for the time being. But it was unfortunate that I once again had a living situation that would be embarrassing to explain to any girl I happened to meet.
And speaking of girls-- wait, wait. I don't want to get ahead of myself.
Okay. On Tuesday I got a call from the manager of Sally's, the convenience store where I'd dropped off my resume. I was sitting in the living room at Nick's house reading, and Jordan was in the kitchen cooking up some mess of shit. The kid couldn't cook worth a crap, and everything he made smelled like murdered onions and road kill.
The phone rang and Jordan answered it, and then called in his monotone voice to say it was for me. I grabbed the receiver, and the man on the line identified himself as Will, the manager at Sally's. He invited me to come down for an interview, and to make a short story shorter, two and a half hours later I had a job.
The interview was a formality. Will, a fat, serious-looking guy in his forties, led me into a tiny office at the back of the cramped store. He asked me some questions about my previous work experience and I told him about the jobs I'd had back in Rose Creek before I started university. He asked about my availability and I said I was free any time.
Gordon drummed his fingers on the top of his old desk. You look like you've got maturity, he said, which surprised me, because I'd kept a big stupid smile on my face all the way through the interview. My father had drummed it into me to always smile during interviews.
I take things seriously, I said, dropping the smile.
Will nodded. Good. He leaned back in his creaky chair. James likes you, he said. James is a goof ball, but he knows when to take things seriously, and I appreciate that. So I'm going to give you a try. And you understand that if you let me down, that would reflect poorly on James.
I nodded gravely. I understand.
He smiled and reached across the desk to shake my hand. Good. Let's find a spot for you on the schedule.
And just like that, I had a job. I went back the next afternoon for my first shift and Will gave me my orientation and a few hours of training. After that I was left to work the rest of a shift with my new pal James.
This job is pretty slack, the former Seriosity bass player said once Will was gone. It's not hard work. You just have to keep your eyes open for weirdoes. This neighborhood kinda sucks, so we get some real scum in here.
Ever been held up? I asked.
No, James said. More like clumsy drunks and shoplifters. He took me through the paces and showed me what he usually does during an evening shift, and once the actual work was out of the way, we hung around reading the music magazines and waiting for customers.
It was definitely the easiest way I had ever earned a paycheck. So from there I developed a new summer routine. I had three or four shifts a week, usually in the late afternoon or evening. On my days off I would hang around Nick's place reading or fooling around on my bass. Ryan and I got together frequently to jam or just hang out, either at his place or Nick's.
Nick was taking summer classes, and he didn't stick his nose in on the jam sessions much. I think he realized that although he was involved in the band and would be contributing to our progress, he didn't have much to add to the actual music.
And really, I didn't see all that much of Nick when I was living in his house. We passed each other all the time, but didn't actually hang out much. He was tied up with his classes, and I usually worked at night. Plus, he had his own circle of friends. I tagged along occasionally, but they weren't my friends, and I felt out of place.
But I was happy enough hanging out with Ryan, and James was a good guy to work with. I only had about one shift in three with him though. More often I was stuck working with one of the girls.
Sally's convenience store employed a few actual adults to work the day shifts, but most of the evening shifts were filled by a gang of high school or university aged girls. They weren't all models, and they didn't all seem very smart, but they all had plenty of attitude. As soon as I turned up, they all had a look and me and decided that I was some kind of old square. What the hell? After all, I was only nineteen.
On my first Saturday at Sally's I showed up at four in the afternoon, ready to stand around arguing with drunks and ignoring my co-workers until the midnight closing time. The girl closing with me was late, so I had the run of the place for a while, which sucked because I barely knew what I was doing. The day-shift worker left ten minutes after I arrived, so I planted myself behind the counter and waited for everything to crumble around me.
Like James said, the job wasn't really that hard, unless someone asked a question. If they just showed up at the cash desk and handed me something then I could charge them, take their money or their cards and send them on their way. But if anyone asked a question I was stuck. I didn't have answers for any questions, so I gave people rude, brush-off answers, hoping they would take the clue and just leave.
Some old guy stopped at the counter. Do you guys have a Western Union service? Can I do a wire transfer here?
I frowned at the old man. No. I don't know what that is. Buy some candy or I'm calling the police.
What? There's a Western Union sign in the window. And I don't appreciate being spoken to that way.
I gave him a sad face. Does that mean you're breaking up with me?
What? What the hell are you talking about?
I'm sorry, but I've got other customers to serve.
The old man looked around. There's no one else here.
I leaned over the counter and spoke slowly and clearly. No Western Union.
He left, muttering and cursing. As he pushed open the door a small girl came in. She had her hood pulled up over her black hair. Young. She had tired eyes and thick black-framed glasses. She stopped in front of the counter.
New guy? she said.
I frowned at her. Sorry, I don't speak English.
She held out her hand. She had a thick leather strap around her wrist. I'm Lise, she said.
I shook her hand. Eric. Yeah, I'm the new guy.
She went to the back and dropped off her knapsack and hoodie. She came back out wearing a red Sally's vest, matching the one I was wearing.
There were a few customers in the store, but mostly there wasn't much for us to do. At least, if there was stuff for us to do I didn't know what it was, and Lise didn't seem interested in going out of her way to look for work that needed to be done. She stepped behind the counter next to me and looked up at me.
So, what's your story? she asked straightaway.
I shrugged. What kind of question is that? I said. Are you making a documentary about me or something?
She grinned. Cute smile. She was so small, maybe five-three. I thought maybe I could pick her up and throw her. Funny, she said. So, are you from Garrison Valley?
No. Small town. You?
West end of town, she said. How old are you?
I'll be twenty in August, I said. What's with the questions?
I don't like having to figure things out. I'd rather just ask. Do you go to university?
I put up with her interrogation and eventually, between the occasional customer transactions, we got into an actual conversations instead of Lise's bullshit Q+A. She wasn't in university. In fact, she wasn't in anything. She was sixteen going on seventeen and had dropped out of Grade Eleven halfway through the previous school year. Not only that, but she had no intention of going back to high school in the fall. She was a plain and simple dropout.
That's kind of shortsighted, isn't it? I asked. Don't you want to ever do anything?
I don't really give a piss, she said, scratching at her leather bracelet-thing. Maybe I'll go back, maybe I won't. Or I'll get an equivalency. Who cares? It just seems so pointless. Hanging around in physics class? I mean, who cares? I can learn shit from books if I want to, right?
She turned around and got a pack of cigarettes out of the drawer behind the desk and handed them over to a customer, then rang the purchase through the till. I didn't like doing it, but I had a look at her ass when she leaned over, and I thought, yeah, that's nice, but she's underage. And I'm overage. She's almost seventeen, and I'm almost twenty, so don't start thinking about stuff. But her tight black jeans looked nice on her.
Lise directed the conversation back to me and asked me what the hell I was doing in Garrison Valley, and I mumbled something about being in a band. I'd been asked before about it, and one of the other girls, a chubby Katie Perry and Lady Gaga fan looked at me with eyes that said loser. Lise looked at me with interest.
Oh yeah? What do you play?
No, I mean, what kind of music. You don't play like, f--king shitty punk or something, do you?
No. Kind of rock. Hard rock, I guess. It's not easy to say what genre. We want to play really intense rock.
She was silent, and then she looked up at me and smiled. Do you like Metallica?
Sure, I guess. I've only heard a few of their songs. The hits.
Right. Enter Sandman,' I bet. I love Metallica. She looked into space and her brown eyes shone. It's like, they've just got so many albums and so many great songs. I got hugely into them a couple years ago and now they're practically all I listen to. It's so weird that they had all these awesome albums before I was even born, you know? There's like this big catalogue of old stuff for me to listen to, and it's like, with all their songs it feels like they're speaking to me, right now. Does that sound really stupid?
No, I said. It sounds like they really affected you.
Yeah. You should listen to some of their old stuff.
I'll look into it.
Lise smiled. The little bell on the door rang, and she got a bitter look on her face when the customer came into the store. I looked over. It was the same big prick that Ryan and I had met after our show at The Ballroom. The big bastard that was with Jasmine now. He wanted to be my new drummer, but I wanted to hit him in the teeth with a crowbar. Funny thing was, I didn't know his name.
He went down the aisles toward the drink coolers at the back of the store. This guy is such a dip-shit, Lise said quietly to me. Have you ever seen him?
Yeah, a bit, I said. What's his deal?
I don't know, she said. He's some psycho loser. He hangs out in the park downtown playing bongo drums. I've heard people say he's schizophrenic, but I don't know if that's true or not. I think he's just an idiot.
Hmm. You know his name?
Yeah, it's Conrad or something.
Conrad came toward the counter and set down three cans of some green energy drink. I rang them in and waited to see if he would recognize me from our encounter the week before. He had a pissed-off look on his face.
You look familiar, I said on a whim. Do you play drums?
His eyes flashed up at me, and suddenly he had a huge, wide-eyed grin on his face. Yeah, I totally play drums, he said with scary enthusiasm.
I looked at him very closely for a few seconds and then I shook my head. No, my mistake, I said. I don't know you. That's will be eight forty-two.
But you must know me from somewhere, he said with a plaintive look as he held over a crumpled ten dollar bill. You know I play drums.
Must have been a lucky guess, I said, dropping the change into his hand. Thank you. Come again.
He gave me a long, confused look, and then slowly picked up the cans and walked out. His pissed-off look had returned.
Lise was impressed. What was that all about? she asked.
I don't know, I said. I think he might be banging my crazy ex. But beyond that, he just looks like a fun guy to mess around with.
2009, Nolan Whyte