Hey! Did you know that Val is a weirdo magnet? It's true. Like every rose has its thorn, every night has its dawn, and every cowboy sings a sad, sad song...Val attracts weirdos with the force of an electromagnet hoisting a compacted clunker onto the scrap heap. No trip to town goes unweirdoed.
Today, for instance. All I wanted was a 44 oz. Diet Coke from the gas station chicken store. A simple wish, really. Nothing extravagant. Nothing extraordinary. My chosen parking spot beckoned to me. The lot was only one-third as full of cars as last evening. And a family of ten or so sat outside at the round picnic tables where that one weirdo laid her lit cigarette on the seat, then found it on the ground and still put it in her mouth. So I figured the inner sanctum of my close-quartered convenience store would be relatively uncrowded.
Just then two men and a woman, all sporting tattoos on their various and assorted exposed appendages, strode past me to the door. Okay. Three people. That they looked like soda-buyers did not deter me from my mission. They appeared harmless enough. Like Fleetwood Mac concertgoers from the late 70s. Before TUSK. I don't believe in foreshadowing, but rather in misdirection. They were not the weirdos.
As I stepped through the door, I quickly realized that I will never be kicked out of a casino for counting cards. While I had imagined that the number of people outside the store divided by the number of cars on the parking lot would yield a favorable ratio of in-store competition for the clerks' attention, I was sadly mistaken. Quite sadly. Like when you split and double down, and the dealer hits 21. The line ran from the counter all the way past the chicken-ordering area, past the Pepsi dispenser, past the Coke dispenser, past the iced tea dispenser, past the hot chocolate/cappuccino dispenser, to the coolers along the back wall. I strolled down the middle aisle, and stood waiting with my elbow on a stack of royal blue cases of Busch.
The chubbier of the two tattooed dudes meandered across the back, carrying two individual bottles of beer. I didn't know they sold singles. Except for those giant tall cans that the workingmen buy in the evening. Chubs started to join his two compatriots, then noticed me. "Oh. I'm sorry. Go ahead."
"That's okay. I'm waiting for the line to get to the soda machine." He stepped in front of me, and kissed his long-braided girlfriend. The line moved slowly. I rounded the bend. Refilled my cup with ice and the magical elixir that is Diet Coke. The Rumours crew had stopped for chicken. I was stuck in line between the backs of the chicken people on my left, and the shelves of bottled liquor on the right. In front of me stood a bony 20-something in dirty jeans and a faded blue t-shirt topped by a mesh glowy orange roadworker vest. Several folks were ahead of him, engaging the two cashiers, the fast friendly girl who only works once in a blue moon now, and the tall black-haired man with one tooth who aspires to be a factory worker. I knew they would clear it out as quickly as possible. The problem seemed to be an older guy trying to pay for gas and buy PowerBall with his own number picks. Something wasn't working. Something like his credit card. So he got out some more. He apologized for the trouble, and the clerk apologized for the inconvenience.
The weirdo entered. And was immediately attracted to me. Like sophomore boys to free food, toddlers to sharp implements, and Hick to a public auction.
She sported bleached blond hair, and a bloated face like a sometimes alcoholic. I would put her age well into the forties. Her clothing, though I could not get a good look, what with the sardining of the patrons, would have been along the lines of bikini-line cut-off frayed jean shorts, and a pastel, tangerine-colored halter top. She broad-shouldered her way through the crowd, swimming upstream until she mistook me for bait.
"Is this the line?" She directed the question to me alone.
"Yes." Just the facts. Nothing more. I had no desire to engage.
"Seriously?" She peered into my face from a distance of about three inches. I had very little room to recoil, what with fifteen flavors of schnapps on the elbow-height shelf beside me. I resisted her attempt to draw me in. She wasn't getting any embellishment from me.
"Are you freakin' serious?" Something told me that she did not regard it as a rhetorical question. But that's how I treated it.
"Seriously." More of a statement. A judgment on the length of the line in the gas station chicken store. The liners behind me must have been boring into her conscience with their eyes. She finally brushed past me and the Rumours crew like a novice St. Bernard twining through the weave poles at a canine agility competition.
Ser-i-ous-ly. What am I, the spokesman for the Waiting Your Turn In Convenience Stores Board? What else could she have been thinking? I wish I'd had the nerve to tell her:
"Nope. I'm not serious. Just pulling your Naired, Coppertone Q-T-ed leg. This is not really the line. Thirty of my close friends and I decided to pull a prank on you. When we saw you turn onto the parking lot, we all hustled in here and packed ourselves around the aisles and counter so you would have to wedge your way in. Ha ha! We're not even buying these things. We already had them when we walked in. I just love a good prank. If only somebody could get the security camera footage, we could put it on YouTube. Go right on up front. Those two clerks are here to serve only you."