And DING goes the door and another customer. Hi, hello, how are ya, blah, blah, blah. The same come on to someone I have probably seen a hundred times but can’t remember. That’s the one thing this job has in common with porn – after a while, they all start to look the same. Faces lose their detail, voices lose their tone, and the bodies just become shapes among the aisles as they mill around looking for things they never really need, want driving them. Want always driving them. We are one minute romances, sixty second love affairs always ending in goodbye. My blue balls last all of five minutes usually until the next customer and the next dance begins.
It’s the same every day, whether I am here or not, the fidelity of the romances as fickle as their purchasing habits but with or with out me it goes on just the same. Sometimes I come in myself, real late on Saturdays on the third shift when the guy I don’t know is working, and I see what it’s like to be the stranger, to be the customer, to be the john. And I’ll admit it, admit it because there’s no point in lying to yourself – I liked it. I liked being the stranger.
I guess that’s what brings me back week in and week out.
I’ve been here five years, roughly. I could figure out the whole – five years, three days, twelve hours and on and on bullshit but I really never cared to keep an exact date in mind. Suffice to say I’ve been here longer than I ever meant to be and longer than all but the owner and the old lady that opens the store up. I get the day shift, from one to nine, then the third shift girl comes in and does whatever it is she does all night, which, if you were to ask me, amounted to her prostituting herself in the cooler but what do I know? Maybe she just has a lot of boyfriends. I get day shift because I ‘earned’ it, at least according to my boss. Earning it translates to me being here long enough for him to trust that I know enough about what I am doing to check in stock, price it, and put it on the shelves. It sounds harder than it is, believe me. I spend most of my time on shift reading through the porn mags to see what’s new. Never underestimate the comedic writing within a porn mag. Seriously. I started leafing through the things when I first started here and was working third shift. It’s pretty dead from two thirty to five and you tend to get bored so, well, I don’t think I have to spell it out. Jerking off gets old after, well, ok, a year or so, and you start reading the captions for the pictures, then the movie reviews, then the ads, then the articles, and Christ this shit is funny. It’s all the funnier that no one gets this shit. That no one is really looking at the text, that most people buying these rags is doing it to get off and they could care less if there are articles or any other damn thing in them. They just want the nasty. I can appreciate that. I tell you what though, whatever saps are stuck writing for laddie mags, I hope like hell that they get paid like sons of bitches. I have my doubts, but I hope for it. Shit, someone has to make some money.
I don’t dream much these days. I had dreams, when I was a kid. Wanted to be a cartoonist for a while before I was a teenager and discovered music. From fifteen to nineteen I wanted to be a bass player in a band but was never in one that lasted more than a month. I wanted to be an activist for a couple years but never figured out what issues I was passionate about. And after bouncing around a few dead end jobs with a temp agency for a while I landed here at twenty eight and here I stay. Sometimes I look in the paper to see what else is out there but the longer I am here it seems like the less I look. I mean to look, I do, but I forget and it gets easier to forget the more I do it. It’s like, why am I gonna do something else when I am doing this? A job is a job. It doesn’t define me but, well, then what does? Is it my stamp collection I haven’t touched since I was fourteen? Is it an old cassette tape of me playing music? Is it my bong that is getting a little dusty lately? I dunno. I have a million things but am I those? Am I the lost moments spent laying in bed staring up at the ceiling wondering if this is all there is? I dunno. It feels like I am so busy, so wrapped up in things but none of it matters and I miss that. I miss mattering.
One thing I don’t miss is dating. I miss fucking, sure, but not dating. I fucked a couple girls here, on shift, but that was the first year I was here. The novelty wore off after the second time. They were random girls, a lot younger than me and just up for a party. The first girl I gave a case of beer for a party and she repaid me with a blowjob, then came back later for a little more. The hell of it is that I’ll be damned if I can remember her name. Funny. The other girl I sorta liked. She was really pretty and was always nice to me. We didn’t have the sixty second romance, we had a sort of slowly bubbling affair that lasted three months. She started hanging out on shift with me but we never saw one another when I was off shift. I never thought much of it until she came in one night, and I was on thirds still then of course, with a ring on a finger and a smile three feet wide. She was engaged. Her boyfriend had finally proposed after two years of dating. I didn’t know what to say so I congratulated her and gave her a free slush. What an asshole. I don’t even wanna admit it now but I was in love with her. We fucked, sure, but it was more than that. It was more than that for me. Sometimes I wonder how she is, wonder what woulda happened if she woulda been mine, if my life woulda been different, maybe better. She could have made me change. I believe that. Most nights I fantasize about what I shoulda said to her though, when she told me. Since her, I haven’t dated. I got a handjob from a chick once, at a party, but we were both so blasted I almost wonder if it happened. We sat there and talked the whole time, as if she wasn’t jerking me off. It was nothing. Just something to do. I don’t do that stuff anymore. Don’t really care. Hell, I can’t even tell you for sure I am straight. I tend to think I am bi, though that’s more because I don’t like anyone than because I like men. People just don’t matter either way to me. They are just, you know, people.
I get bored here a lot, even when it is busy. I get bored and when I get bored I start thinking too much and I start to zone out and the next thing I know I am cutting my arms up with the box cutter. It doesn’t happen a lot but it has happened. I remember ringing this old lady up near the end of my shift and I had a white hoodie on and she started to freak out about the arm of my hoodie and I looked down and from wrist to elbow was soaked red. I try to be more careful now but sometimes I just do it without even thinking. I don’t even know that I am suicidal. It feels though like every day I am here is a suicide anthem. Each moment here is a note left behind for someone to find. One night when I was working a double, second and third shift, I took half a bottle of the sleeping pills we sell to see what would happen and I ended up puking they and the remnants of a hot dog up all over the cooler floor. The lesson I guess was that I should have tried it at home. Easier to clean up there.
In and out they come and go like pigs to a trough, oblivious to all but their need for something else, just one last thing that will make their lives complete. Life is a buffet and we’re all dying for more, more, more. And I am no different. And I hate it. We dance the same dance, every day, make the same small talk, laugh at the same jokes, and forge each other’s faces as soon as we change partners. Round and around and around like comets. Yeah, I got a million of those, little sayings and shit, just never anything new to say, so I stick my script. I stick to the banal. I stick to what I know. And I watch every person walk in, every person walk out, watch them go about their lives, laughing and smiling and joking as they talk on their phones or to friends or other customers and I wonder if they even see me anymore or if I am just invisible to them now. But this is where I am. This is what I chose, even if it was chosen because I chose to do nothing. Maybe this is all there is. Maybe this is all there really is for anyone, a million days stretching out to the grave and then to oblivion. We are born to forget all that mattered to us and to be forgotten ourselves. We are born for ghosthood. But I had something more, even if it was a lie, it was a lie I believed. I believed it for three months and for that time I cared. I believed. And even if it is gone, it was something.
And there may be something more.
There may be something else.
And that is all you have sometimes, the belief in belief, the hope for hope. Otherwise all you can do is march to your suicide anthem right into the grave. Right into being forgotten. Right into nothing.
Right into the convenience store circle of hell.