June 2007

Even More Hazards...

No questions asked, one of the people that have taught me the most out of life was Becca.

I met Becca at the Gas station.

Or rather, she met me at the Gas station.

Even better, Becca and I met at the gas station.

I had been working there for the better part of three years, and every single shift in those three years had been a graveyard shift.

For those of you that don’t know, traditionally a graveyard shift starts at around 10 PM and goes until about 6AM.

From dictionary.com…

graveyard shift –noun 1. a work shift usually beginning at about midnight and continuing for about eight hours through the early morning hours. 2. those who work this shift.

Up until the point where I looked that up I didn’t realize the whole midnight being a part of the Graveyard shift.

So you do learn something new every day, even at my age.

Whoulda thunk?

Also, the Graveyard shift is generally the oddest time of the day to work. Your traffic is divided up into a few but distinct portions of time. Allow me to explain.

The first time period is about 11PM – 1AM. This is the second busiest time period of the shift. At this point you have the last of the commuters coming in, grabbing something after their long day. You also get the high school kids who have somehow decided that the local gas station at the end of the strip mall is in fact the coolest and most entertaining place to hang out. I always amused myself with the quiet irony that when I had been a young teenager I had done the exact same thing at the gas station in my neighbourhood.

Although we didn’t do it to be cool.

We did it because we knew that if we waited out front the owner of the store, Mr. Woodside would come charging out with a baseball bat and tell us “Damn kids to get off his property”. We would bolt off to the edge of the property and just stand there.

It drove him nuts.

Anyways, as I said the irony was not lost on me. If anything it only increased in value because I knew in my soul of souls that at least two for those kids would end up working at a gas station just like mine.

Around 1 AM it got pretty quiet. Depending on the day, a couple of stragglers from the bars would come up and try and figure out what kind of gas station grade foodstuffs they wanted to throw up on the ride home but from around 2:30 to 5AM the place was a ghost town.

Now conceivably, there was a whole list of chores I had to do in that space of time.

I say conceivably because I rarely did them.

The owner of the station had installed a security camera at the counter, but not for the reasons you might expect. To give you an idea of the character of my employer, he positioned the camera so that he could watch the area behind the till.

And only the area behind the till.

As in, someone could have walked in, demanded cash, gotten it, pumped four rounds into me just to see me die, walked out and they would never have appeared on camera.

The real reason that he installed the camera, was that his last employee had made two of the two fatal mistakes that can get you fired from the career of a gas station jockey working the midnight shift.

He really didn’t do anything. The only thing he ever did was between the hours of 11 PM and 7AM was to steal cash out of the till. And not just a little, a lot.

So the owner of the station installed a camera to make sure we didn’t steal and put up three fake ones around the store.

I didn’t have any inclination to steal any cash. The odd chocolate bar, sure, but I was being paid $5.50 an hour to be awake from 11-7. Coffee was free anyways, but sometimes I wanted something with a bit of flavour so there may have been a couple of bottles of juice and the like that went missing, but that was the end of it.

My real motivation was to avoid at all costs the boring repetitive chores. When you’re that alone for that long, mopping just loses it shine.

So my real sin was that I was rarely on the camera.

Which I always had an explanation for…

“Well sir I was cleaning the bottom of the dairy tray. I know it still looks messy but you should have seen it before…”

That sort of thing.

Well while I thought that I had arranged myself the perfect job, stay off the camera and do whatever I wanted, even if that included sitting between the isles reading whatever the newest magazines were that had come in and waiting for the next person to walk in, evidently my boss did not feel the same way.

While he never had any proof of any lack of gas-station-attendant-professionalism, he knew that I wasn’t “applying myself to my fullest potential”.

I certainly hoped not.

His solution was a simple one. I doubt that he applied his own full potential when he came up with it, but that is probably neither here nor there.

The owner of the gas station had a sister. She came in now and then and did her best to try and look like a random customer, but she only did this during the day and all of us knew who she was anyway so her little stealth inspections really didn’t have any impact on those that worked the day shift.

I, as I mentioned earlier worked the graveyard shift. By the time I got to work the owners sister had already fallen asleep to ER or something of the like.

Let me help you a little bit more…

She was also, among a great many other things, a realtor by trade.

If you know what I mean by that, you know what I mean by that. If you don’t know what I mean by that, ask someone who does and the sheer revulsion expressed on his or her face should clue you in.

Also, she had a daughter.

And as it turned out, she was somewhat concerned about her daughter.

So let me tell you a little about the daughter of the sister of the owner of the gas station that I worked at.

If you’re still with me after that sentence, you’re doing better than you think…

Despite her mother’s fears that Becca was plotting some sort of explosive end to her enemies in her bedroom all day, Becca was perfectly normal. She had graduated high school and, just like me, had absolutely not a clue what she wanted to do with the rest of her life. Her parents were both quite well off so Becca simply sat around the house and waited for something inspiring or interesting to happen that might give her some idea what her purpose in the grand scheme was.

This translated into spending most of the day either sleeping and then playing video games or watching bad daytime sitcoms on the family’s big screen TV and at night doing the exact reverse.

And for a time, that was the life of Becca.

Problem was that Becca’s mom had some issues with this system. The first was that her daughter was simply wasting her life away in her mind. More importantly was the fact that Becca would randomly at the most obscene hours of the morning trip and fall or drop something, waking her mom up. Becca’s mom had tried the approach of getting Becca to wake up early, but that failed miserably as Becca just went back to sleep as soon as her mom went into work.

So the next night, without fail, Becca would be up all hours playing her video games or watching her TV and would without fail drop something like a chip bowl or the family cat, which would wake her mother and wash rinse repeat.

So when the owner of the gas station was bitching one night about how he couldn’t find anyone to hire to be a nighttime supervisor that he could trust, Becca’s mom saw her opportunity and sprang.

And so the next day Becca’s mom announced that rather than simply sit at home all night and play video games would she be willing to help out her poor uncle for the summer.

It was not the grand awakening that Becca had hoped for, but it was a change. That would be a recurring theme for Becca. Nothing grand, but change.

And so…

I met Becca at the Gas station.

Or rather, she met me at the Gas station.

Even better, Becca and I met at the gas station.

Part II

I’m pretty sure that it was a Tuesday I met Becca. I say that because Tuesdays were the slow delivery day and also at the start of the week. The new batch of weekly magazines would have arrived by then and I was more than set to spend the entire evening watching the new handheld tv I bought, catching up on my reading (with the bombing and all, even most of the fashion magazines had at least a couple of stories that weren’t about the colour red or “38 things that you should know about your boyfriend”) and enjoying a couple of slushees compliments of the owners semi regular donations to my college fund. Some people donate money to college funds and some mean to donate slushees. And if they forget, well I know they would have wanted someone to correct that mistake so it all works out in the end.

I had just settled into my chair when in walked the owner and Becca walked in. This was strange for a couple of reasons. The first of which was that the owner very rarely stuck his head around the station anytime after about 7. The second reason that I knew something was up was that he had with him a teenage girl who was wearing one of the white and blue shirts that passed for a uniform around there.

It was the uniform bit that really threw me.

The first thought that ran through my head was simply “well, that’s that then…” more than a little sure that my nights of easy weight loss tips and free slushees were at an end. The owner had found a replacement.

Obviously, I was wrong.

The owner explained that this was his niece and she would be joining me on the night shifts from now on to make sure that I wasn’t wasting his time and money. It was my responsibility to show her the ropes and then it would be her job to supervise while I did all the work.

He smiled at me and turned to walk out. As he passed through the doors I did the same thing that I always did when he gave me that shit eating grin of his and walked away from me like I was so much less than human it wasn’t even funny anymore.

I pictured flaming death from above falling from the sky and crushing him.

On this particular occasion, the instrument of my revenge that I had in mind was an old but entirely Flaming Volkswagen Beetle. Kinda like Herbie. It was missing a door and a couple of windows, and the interior was all chewed up from having sat in a farmers field. Once upon a time it was a lovely blue, but the years had been unkind in that same field and it was horribly rusty.

It also had no seats.

But there was still more than sufficiently red hot metal and burning rubber to make sure that nothing would be left of the owner.

At least that’s how I pictured it.

Of course he just walked to his Buick with that same smarmy grin.

I watched him the entire time praying for that Volkswagen to fall from the sky in all it’s wrath and glory, but he simply drove away.

Disappointed that again my sheer will had fallen somewhat short of the burning

When he was gone, I turned around and there was what I can only describe as one of the plainest looking girls I had ever seen in my life. To compliment her service station professional dress shirt uniform, she had on a pair of blue jean cut off capris. Or at least they looked like capris. They were spectacularly frayed so it was hard to tell if they were pants that wanted to be capris or vice versa.

The only thing that intrigued me (and I must be absolutely clear for the record here) What did intrigue me was the little notebook that she held tight to her side.

She was neither tall nor short and her only distinguishing feature was the spectacularly curly hair that she had.

I mean like afro curly.

Like Jules Winnfield curly.

She was in all likelihood the plainest girl that I have ever seen.

She somewhat glanced over at me, put her hand in her jeans pocket and pulled out a pink hair scuntchie. She turned her head off to the side and through a series of manoeuvres I would almost label as acrobatic somehow managed to corral in most of that wild hair, twist it a couple of times and turn it into a ponytail of sorts.

I watched all that and the whole time the one thought that went through my head was that I had never read anything like that in Cosmo or Vogue.

Someone should write in.

She calmly turned and looked at me and then smiled. She asked me if I wanted a Slushee.

I said, “sure”.

So she walked over and asked what kind.

“Rootbeer. is there any other kind?”

“Nope” she giggled.

She poured two and even did that trick where you put the dome lid thinger on and then fill it up so you get the most possible frozen root beer goodness.

She walked back behind the counter, handed me my slurpee, put her elbows on the counter and sighed.

“So when do things get interesting around here?” she asked.

“Um” I said.

“You know. All those weird people who come around convenience stores to buy weird stuff and then argue with you, or the computer geeks who come in at 3in the morning to buy that stuff.”

She half-heartedly pointed to the rack of adult magazines behind us.

“Um. Couple of hours usually…”

She smiled, “I can’t wait for that, I’ve seen that on so many movies. I gotta know that it’s for real”.

“Oh trust me” I said, “those guys? At first they’re funny. Now they’re just depressing. It all seems kinda sad really.”

There was a long awkward pause.

Finally, I decided to break the silence, “Hey shouldn’t we be ringing these in?’ I held up my Slushee.

“Ring it in?” She laughed. “I hate my Uncle”.

And for the first time I thought to myself this might actually be a decent summer.

Part III

And it was a very good summer to be told. We had official free run of the place. Every once in a while, Becca would tell her Uncle that I was doing well. A couple of weeks after that she would say that I had a couple of problems the week before with some procedural nonsense, but that I was getting the hang of it and she wasn’t worried.

Somehow some water “accidentally” made it’s way to the camera recording gear and shorted it out. Like I said, the owner was cheap as all hell, and since he had his neice taking care of the place, he didn’t feel the need to install new cameras. Remember the cameras were only there for the staff, not for the customers.

We had the best summer ever.

The free slushies were just the beginning of it. Becca and I found countless ways to pass the time.

We did however have two games with which to pass the time. The first was simple enough, a customer would come in who for some small reason caught our intention and the two of us would make up stories about how they would die.

After about the 15th time I played the flaming volkswagon of death falling from above, Becca vetoed using the same death over and over again.

With the one exception of her Uncle. She knew how much I needed that.

The second game that we played was to see who could build the most impressive castle out of milk cartons.

We played this game right in the middle of the front isle. One of us would watch for customers coming in and the other would sharpen their architectural skills in the main aisle of the store. As soon as someone pulled up or began to walk in whichever one of us wasn’t building would warn the other, we would both scramble back to the till and look busy. The main point of the game was to see if anyone asked what was going on with the milk castles.

Of the hundreds of people who manuvered their way past the milk towers, only a couple ever asked and Becca and I what they were doing there.

We had a plan for that too.

The party line was that there was this senile senior citizen who had an addiction for scratch cards. She was a strange old lady who always wore clothes with Jersy Cows on them. She believed that if she created a beautiful castle out of milk cartons she would win the lottery.

And of those who asked, all of them believed that line as well.

Which was almost as fun as building milk castles.

Almost.

On one particular night Becca was on castle duty and I was on guard duty. Sitting behind the counter I noticed that Becca had left her beat up black notebook off to the side of the counter. You couldn’t see the counter area where Becca was setting up her milk castle, tonight they completely covered up the better part of the freezer area.

Well being that I was bored and traditionally have no respect for the personal objects of other people, I quietly slid it over and picked it up.

And what I saw stunned me. Stunned is for the record a completely inadequate word for what those pages held.

On those pages were the some of the most detailed drawings I have ever seen. While they didn't look real, they had a quality to them. You know when you know something has something to it but you can't verbalize what it is so you know that it's good in part because of that fact alone? It was like that...

Flipping through the book, I saw the some of the most evocative and powerful images I have ever seen. All at once I was caught in a maelstrom of emotion, rage, joy, crushing sadness, everything.

One in particular caught my eye a little more than the rest. It was a full page drawing of an elephant looking directly at the viewer. His eyes were very wrinkly and carried a terrible weight in them. After staring at him for a couple of hours I decided that he looked that way because he knew so much, and so much was terrible.

“Hey Becca!” I looked up and yelled, “Did you draw all of these?”

Becca’s head popped up from behind an aisle. She had this angry blush to here face and for a brief second I went over in my head what the hardest thing that she could pick up from the aisle she was in to throw at me and was it possible to duck.

Instead, Becca simple said yes and very jokingly told me that I could have one if I thought they were any good but that she thought they were all terrible. Then she quickly dropped her head back down behind the aisle.

I picked up the book and walked over to her. I tried to tell her how impressed I was by her work, but most of what came out of my might was completely insufficient.

She argued every single compliment I gave her, but that night I decided I had two goals for the summer…

The first was to spend as much time as drunk as possible. The second was to get Becca to pursue her artwork.

The former would turn out to be the easier of the two…

By far.

Part III

Becca and I spent our days off, which were actually nights to be clear, drunk beyond all reason. We would walk the streets of suburbia finding ways to get into trouible without actually getting into trouble. Pellet guns, small explosions firecrackers, that sort of thing.

After we ran out of ammo or small explosives, we would without fail end up in the ravine that ran between our two respective community subdivisions. It was only about 5 blocks from the gas station and each of us lived within only a couple of blocks of it ourselves, so it was the perfect place to end the evening on a mellow note. I loved just lying on the grass watching the stars spin and talking with Becca about everything in my head. She did the same. We talked about anything and everything, politics, religion, our favourite shape of pez dispenser, you name it. Becca hated the plastic world of her mother and used to go on these tirades that always left me laughing my fool head off. Sometimes she got so far into it and so virulent against her mom and the plastic people her mom associated with I actually started to get a little scared.

I knew that a part of her hatred for her mom and her friends had a lot to do with how plain Becca actually was. I know that on some level built up through years of being alive in the 20th century she felt like a failure for not being some sort of a supermodel. After a few drinks the conversation never failed to eventually stray to her asking me if I thought she was pretty enough. I always just laughed and would say “for what?”

And then we would both be quiet until one of us thought of something else to say.

Now I need to stress this so there will be no confusion going further. Becca was my best friend. We did almost everything together, but there was never ever any romantic tension between the two of us.

Becca and I were best friends and we knew each other better than anyone else did at that time, but nothing physical or romantic ever happened between us.

None.

Just wanted to be clear.

So anyways, two days a week we would end up in the ravine and talk until either the sun started peeking over the horizon or we passed out.

Waking up to early morning sunshine is not the pleasant experience it sounds like. It’s more like having railroad spikes being forced into your optic nerve.

So at least that goal for the summer was being met quite well.

The convincing of Becca did not go nearly that well I’m afraid.

It took two weeks for me to bring it up again, and when I did she just laughed at the idea she could do anything with her talent. After that two weeks it only took one week for me to push her again. And then half a week and then it was every day.

And after three weeks of everyday, she finally agreed that she could maybe think about art school. After another two weeks she filled out her application for the spring semester under my watchful eye at the gas station.

I put it in the mailbox. Just to be sure it made it to the mailbox.

The four weeks that passed before Becca heard back were harder on me than her I think. I asked her every day if she had received a response, and for four weeks she did not.

Finally one day she came bounding into the gas station and slapped an opened letter down on the counter. She was in absolute tears.

While the response let her know that she had some of the best artwork they had ever seen, she simply didn’t have the marks.

That was the beginning and end of Becca’s post secondary career. Stillborn.

After that something changed a little. Becca started drinking even more. So, by default, I did too.

She cried a lot more after that too. I don’t know why, but every time we ended up in the ravine, she would start quietly crying. The kind of cry that you hear and think might be real but it’s most likely a figment of your imagination.

You know the kind.

It’s the kind where you don’t want to say anything because you might be wrong and that would embarrasses the both of you and make things very awkward so you keep quiet.

But looking back now, I know she was crying.

Looking back now, I should have tried to comfort her.

As it was, she didn’t show me another drawing. Ever. I honestly don’t think that there were any to show. I’m pretty sure she gave up on her art right after that.

Although I wish that she hadn’t.

If Wishes Were Horses…

Beggars Would Ride

For the remainder of the summer, Becca and I continued our routine. Eventually, she started to get back into the swing of things and we were soon terrorizing the neighbourhood with model rocket engines and the like.

She cried a little less, but her mother had taken a hold of the idea that her daughter “couldn’t even get into art school” and used it as effectively as she could have a Louisville slugger.

In all honestly the baseball bat probably would have left fewer permanent marks.

After one particularly lively evening involving some of Becca’s mothers prized imported ceramic garden gnomes, an irresponsible number of model rocket engines and a few rather stubborn laws of physics, Becca’s mother had enough. In sheer frustration, she decided that if Becca was going to continue living at home she would have to fill her spare time with a second job. Wasting her free time with a drunk like me was only going to drag her farther down.

So once again, Becca’s mom pulled some strings with some friends and landed Becca a second job as the receptionist at a tanning/nail parlour in the same strip mall as the gas station.

I wish I could say that Becca taking on this other job had no effect on our friendship, but it did. Not immediately mind you, but rather in that quiet creeping drifting way that things sometimes change. Becca wouldn’t stay out in the ravine quite as late, she had work in the morning. She wouldn’t be up for a lot of things because she had to be at work by nine.

I really do think that Becca being forced to take that job was a mistake on the parts of all involved. As I have said before, Becca was a plain girl, and being surrounded by the plastic housewives and daughters of plastic housewives that made up the majority of the clientele of the salon didn’t help things much at all.

It didn’t take long for Becca to realize that she could make a great deal more money putting in full time hours at the salon, so while she promised her uncle that if he needed her he could call, she informed him that she would be going to work at the salon exclusively.

Which was the second mistake in it all. I didn’t get it really. Becca was trading the low paying relative freedom of the gas station for the only slightly higher paying restrictions of the salon.

Which is to say nothing of her co-workers there.

On the odd occasion that I worked a day shift to cover for someone, when my shift was over I would always make a point of dropping by with a root beer slushee for Becca. She and I had decided shortly after we met that root beer slushee’s are in fact the superior of all slushee flavours, past and present.

Which, for the record, they are.

And everytime, without fail, one of the other two women would look down on me as if I was the worst person alive. I was the loser at the gas station and both of them had very strong convictions that my very presence lowered the grandeur of their beauty salon.

Let me say that again…

Somehow my walking in lowered the class of a tanning/nail salon.

I mean, it’s a tanning/nail salon.

C’mon.

What Is This, Part VI Now?

Becca was always very happy to see me but there was that strange awkwardness that comes from two people knowing that one of them is not entirely welcome where they are. I would deliberately stay and chat for a bit, rearrange some of the brochures that the nail ladies had set out just so on the racks to raise their ire and such, but eventually I would leave.

And there was more of that drifting I mentioned earlier. Our routine faded from hanging out every night to once a week on weekends. From there the weekends would be skipped on occasion because she would go out for a ladies night with the nail ladies. Her mother encouraged that sort of thing and I have no illusions whatsoever that she was happy that her daughter was spending less time with me and more time with people who were more respectable.

Because painting little flowers on plastic nails is such a service to society.

And then came the boyfriends. I shudder to think about where Becca found the men she ended up dating. To call them Neanderthal would be an irresponsible understatement. From the outside anyone could see that these were the guys who were only somewhat attractive and completely devoid of charisma. From the outside it was painfully clear that these savages were completely taking advantage of the fact that Becca was so insecure she would do literally anything to gain any sort of affection. But that was from the outside. Becca was about as inside as you can get.

A couple of times I tried to talk to her about it, but she always had this evasive way of justifying her men. The hardest part for me was that I knew when I raised those questions, we already both new the answers. Sadder still was the fact that I knew she wasn’t justifying them to me, she was justifying them to herself.

More months went buy and we continued to drift. We talked on the phone now and then, and I still brought her root beer slushees to piss of the nail ladies when I had the chance, but I’ve never been in for the drinking in large groups. Her group got a lot larger, and by default my group was cut in half.

One of the odd things about drinking alone in the ravine is that it somehow got a lot colder. When Becca and I used to spend our evenings there we never got cold. Now my hands got a lot crisper a lot faster.

Finally the irregularity of our regular schedule disappeared completely. The nail ladies finally complained enough to the owner and I was banned.

No more root beer slushees.

More and more the men she met up with at the pubs (she didn’t like clubs, found them cheap) became of lower and lower stock and more and more drinking became about pub trivia and name that tune. It completely stopped being about something to give us the occasional courage to go and try to send pieces of suburbia into orbit.

We were both young still, which was the saddest part. She was trying so hard to be grown up.

I wasn’t even trying.

And then it was a couple of weeks of me calling and asking if she could do something on a given night where her response would be that she wished she could but she already had a date or plans.

And with that, my friendship with Becca came to a grinding standstill.

I’ll huff and I’ll puff…

It went about six months before our wall of silence was broken. Becca was having a Christmas party with her new fiancé, and she wanted me to be there to see her new place that she had just recently acquired with him.

By my reasoning it would be a win-win scenario. On one hand I got to finally see Becca again, and on the other there would be free booze.

No brainer.

So on a frosty winters eve, I threw what passed for my Sunday best as well as on my old wool coat, my favourite toque and a scarf and scrunched my way to the train (I love that word scruching by the way, it is in my opinion the only effective way to describe walking through snow with any sort of accuracy). Their house was across town and being that I was quickly becoming the world record holder for time-spent-as-a-gas-station-attendant there was little room for a car in my budget at that time.

I arrived at the address she had given me over the phone, but when I came to the row of townhouse/condominium dealies I started to think that I had written down the wrong address. I had been working my way through one of those “12 beers from 12 European countries” variety packs when Becca called to invite me and I was I was halfway across Europe when I wrote it down. I then put it under a bicycle helmet at the front door thinking that way I wouldn’t lose it which was a perfect idea at the time. The only flaw in my plan was in my inebriated state I completely forgot that I had placed it there for safe keeping.

Walking closer I saw the garden gnomes that were very carefully placed to look like they were tenderly caring to the frozen plants.

I was now doubly sure that this was the wrong place.

Nonetheless, I knocked on the door and waited.

No one answered.

I knocked on the door again. And waited.

And finally, the door opened.

This is where the clichés start…

Standing on the other side of the door with an incredibly bored expression on his face was the picture perfect definition of your mid twenties-blue collar-no education-redneck. Not the overt cowboy hat wearing redneck, the ones that think they’re being all stealth. The slightly overweight-collar flipped up-big fan of nickleback-pickup driving yelling “fags!” out the window at people he thinks he might not like- sort.

You know the ones. In a bar fight there are always six of them because while they talk a big game their bowels evacuate with their courage at the threat of a fair fight. They like to pose in pictures with that bullshit sneer and their fingers twisted up in some sort of rock star hand signal contortion.

Some of them even bother to get tattoos of the name of someone who died in badass gothic lettering.

They also seem to like Taz and always have one of those Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes” knock off decals on the back window of whatever vehicle that their parents bought for them as a grad present.

Oooo and they love professional wrestling.

Like I said, you know the kind.

This particular one was sporting the freshly spiked pseudo wanna white rapper look that was all the rage back then.

And now, I guess too. Some things never change.

He gave me that cocky sort of look that they give when they’re trying to size someone up.

“You a friend of Becca’s?” He asked.

A little surprised that I appeared to actually be in the right place, I said yes, but it was one of those yes’s that come out more as a question of it’s own as instead of the answer it was intended to be.

“Ah-ight”, he said turning and walking up the front landing stairs, leaving the door open behind him.

I stepped into the house and tried to find a place to put my feet down. The landing at the front door was cluttered with shoes. I never feel comfortable leaving my boots in a mess like that, so I sat down on the stairs and after unlacing them I hid them around of the back of the coat rack.

As I stood up and made my way up the stairs to the upper level (the awkward exploration that comes from being to a strange house for the first time when there is a party going on), from there I made my way to the living room where I found Becca.

I waved, she waved back and yelled some sort of greeting at me with one of her big smiles.

And with that began one of the worst party experiences of my life.

After about twenty minutes I decided that I didn’t actually have any business being there. I started to make my way to the door to make my escape but Becca caught me and did the whole “You can’t be leaving, you just got here…” bit. I started to do my awkward shrug but she grabbed my sleeve and pulled me into the living room where a couple of couches were playing host.

The living room was this great large space, which looked as if an experiment with the colour salmon had gone horribly wrong. The room was littered with little knickknacks that look like they came from Ikea and had been repainted in a failing attempt to match the room. There were three large couches that were clearly an attempt to match the colours of the room, but being that the salmon walls were so impressively god awful, there was no way that would happen. There were pink lacy curtains that had been pulled aside to reveal and impressively large bay window, which mercifully had escaped the explosion of spawning badness.

Becca sat down on one of the couches and put her arms around the fine specimen of humanity that had greeted me at the door.

In case you haven’t seen where this is going yet, let me confirm that I was indeed introduced to front door guy (whose name turned out to be Jake, pet named Jakey) was indeed Becca’s fiancé. He was busying himself with a boxing game on the in house game system of the time so he barely even glanced at me before he offered a baritone “Wassup”. Ironically as my answer to a question had reversed it’s meaning on me earlier, his “Wassup” did exactly the same. It was not a question, it was a statement.

And being that it was a statement and needed no answer, I didn’t offer one.

He was far too engrossed in playing his game on what must have been one of the largest entertainment centers I have ever seen. It was enormous.

Becca then pointed to the opposite couch and introduced me to my first of many couch mates for the evening before going on about how exciting it was that her Jakey was going to be going to a local trade school and how soon they would be able to really fix up the place. Not only because he would be making tonnes of money, but because he would have the skills to do most of it himself. He was also going to buy an old gardening truck from some poor gentleman who had lost his son and convert it into a portable workstation. The truck was super cheap because it had been involved in some kind of accident, but it was strong and ran just fine. It would get Jakey his own business that much faster!

This is the part in the story where you should be able to visualize me rolling my eyes. If not, find the nearest mirror and try it yourself for effect.

I was still stuck with Tiffany (yes her name was actually Tiffany) and I eventually circulated through about a half dozen other people by the rather disastrous end of the evening.

Tiffany was a co-worker of Becca’s. They both worked at the salon. To her credit Tiffany did her best to try and make conversation. My problem was that the conversation revolved entirely around either her hair, nails, or how much time she had put into creating her original look.

I offered some comment about how her look had already been perfected for years by generations of Thai hookers.

She didn’t get the humour. She did get off the couch.

Mission accomplished.

I entertained myself for the rest of the evening with this new game. Some shallow twit (in the masculine) or twitter (in the feminine) would come up and try to get me to realize how very cool they in fact were. I would then look for amusing ways to twist that against them so that they would see in some capacity the error of their ways and once they left would go and get myself another beer.

I suppose that I was doing this not only to get the super cool crew away from me but also to try and get Becca to notice and join in. These people were worse than any of the customers that we had ever mocked at the gas station, so it only made sense that her fiancé had spectacularly low standards for those he would call his friends.

About three hours later on the way back from the fridge for what may have been beer seven or eight (not counting the four I had before I left the house) I learned how wrong I was.

Becca was standing mid hallway with her arms crossed.

She did not look happy.

She confirmed this when she told me in no uncertain terms to follow her out to the back balcony. Her tone was like laser beams. Better yet, her tone was like her mothers when she was about to launch into a banshee pitched rant about something.

I followed her out to the balcony, and there, waiting in the grass like little ceramic snipers were the heads of dozens of garden gnomes. Little red and blue toques peeking up from above the grass that hadn’t been cut in a while. Beady eyes and great flowing white beards barely visible, but there nonetheless. It reminded me instantly of that move “Critters”. You know the one…

There were even Garden gnomes lining the railing of the Balcony.

I turned back to look Becca in the eye, looking for some sort of explanation of what had to be a joke. I asked her with my trademark sarcasm exactly that question and got as a response the last thing that I wanted to hear but the first thing that had come to mind when I walked up to the front door.

She took a hard look at me and then let loose with both barrels for ruining her Christmas party. How dare I give the friends that she had worked so hard to make such a hard time? Why was I so jealous of everyone? She was happy now and had worked hard. She was trying to do something nice for me, get me introduced to some people who might be able to help me find a real job like her and I just walked all over them. I would never be anything more than a gas station attendant and so on and so on.

I was incredulous.

I asked her how she could possibly be happy with her life. She bought a house in suburbia, she was going to marry someone who was clearly missing some rather critical genetic structure on a cellular level, and for all of Christ’s sakes, she had decorated not just her front yard but her back yard as well with the very things that we used to go make a point of destroying for fun. Was this really what she wanted? Was she really happy?

She looked at me with a tired and frustrated expression on her face. It was the face of someone letting go of themselves.

Becca would never have killed herself, and before you get too worried, she’s alive today. I don’t mean it in the suicide way. What she let go of was herself. Her hopes and her dreams. I was the last symbol of the choice to not chase after the material things and to not worry about what other people think of you.

And so, with that, she let go of me too. All in two words. Two words spoken with a quiet resigned rage. Two words that the both of us knew that she would never be able to take back.

“Get out”.

We both stood there, shaking from the cold for a couple of seconds that felt like an eternity. I think that we may have both been waiting for the other to find something to say that would have made those two words not have been spoken they way that they were.

“Becca, this isn’t you…” I started.

All she had for me at that point was simply “It is now, and don’t you judge me”.

I looked at her, knowing for sure that after months we had truly drifted to opposite ends of the ocean.

Now this is where the cliché’s end.

It is important to note at this juncture of the evening I had the reasoning benefit of having no less than eleven or twelve beers. Just wanted to throw that in there in my defense.

I left exactly as requested.

Once outside I grabbed one of the plastic/rubber garden gnomes that was set up to trim the frozen leaf free hedges with his little rubber trimmers. He was a heavy set figurine and when I lifted him up I could tell he had some good weight on him.

I decided his name was Casey.

Casey would not trim another hedge.

Through the front window on the main floor I had a perfect line of sight to the big screen TV that Jakey had been playing and was still playing. I closed my eyes and pictured every baseball playing movie that I had seen. I pictured myself on the pitchers mound, and I wound up.

The whole thing would have looked brilliant had it been in slow motion.

In my head it was.

I opened my eyes at the moment of release, just in time to have Casey go spinning end over end towards that big bay window. I watched him spin end over end all the way up to the window where my disappointment and hurt would shatter that glass and destroy the TV.

Just at the moment of impact I squeezed my eyes shut in preparation for the racket that was due to follow.

I did not hear shattering glass.

I heard “Thwaaaaaaaaaaaang” and then a gentle “thump”.

I opened my eyes and looked up. Jakey was looking out the window at me with a very angry expression. I had seen that expression before. I had seen it in high school. I knew what that expression meant.

Run.

So I did.

And that was the last that I saw of Becca.

Dénouement

People never really disappear. There is always a mutual friend, or a friend of a friend who every six months or so give you the update on the welfare of your shared ex friend.

They tell you how they are working at the salon still. They tell you that the friend in question now had a kid. They tell you that the kid drowned last year in one of those plastic turtle kids pools. They tell you that the ex-friend is thinking of opening her own salon. They tell you that Jakey has been having job troubles because he goes out with the boys too much.

They tell you a lot of things.

Without fail, when they tell, they always tell just enough to make sure that you are wondering. Your gears start turning on rumours and maybe truths.

When you stop knowing someone their whole life becomes a rumour to you and they stop being people. I don’t know what to make of that.

But as rumour has it,nothing has changed with Becca. She is a housemom, but she is thinking of getting into real estate because her mom has the right connections to get Becca started. Jakey goes to work, comes home, and then watches TV or goes out for the evening. Becca wants another child but Jakey won’t because he feels guilty.

No one has asked why he feels guilty.

These days, when I think of Becca, I think of one thing only.

That little drawing of an elephant that sat on the counter of the gas station.

One of the things that I don’t think Becca knows now, not even through the rumour mill, is that on that day in the gas station when she jokingly told me to keep her elephant if I wanted to, was that I did. I tore it out of her sketchbook before I walked it over to her, folded it up and stuck it in my pocket.

It’s on my shelf.

Still.

One Last Thing...

Having known a couple of Becca’s now I have often wondered how many people spend their lives living for nothing.

I’m not talking about whether or not you want a new car, or whether or not you want a new surround sound TV system (which would, in all honesty be pretty cool), I’m talking more about whether or not people ask themselves about how much they want out of their experience in this little life that depending on who you ask, we have either stumbled across at random or as a part of a grand design.

It’s easy enough to buy a new car. Either buy it with the money that you have or put yourself in debt for the next five years. If you have crappy credit, get someone who doesn’t have crappy credit (and preferably likes you, otherwise you get into that rather unsavoury business of blackmail in order to convince someone it really is in their best interest to help you) to co-sign for you.

I often wonder how many people slip through life completely unaware of all of the moments that they are either observing or being a part of. Sometimes, riding on the train I wonder if anyone else is wondering about me as much as I am wondering about them.

Some people seem to think that their goals in life should be a new Hummer or big house with a heated driveway and vacations every summer. For them, life is about achieving goals.

I try and tell myself that my goal is achieving life.

Some people start out with goals and they change them. That’s OK too I think.

What is tragedy, real tragedy in my mind is when someone goes from experiencing life and having goals to simply letting life happen around them instead of through them and not noticing it all that much. Personal evolution comes to a grinding halt and they peak. They hit their high point and the rest of it is all just a long drawn out plateau that leads to an overly expensive wooden box.

Or even worse, waiting for the box because at that point there is seemingly nothing else to do. Either way when you’re done living before you turn twenty-five and the rest is just coasting, it’s a tragedy.

No questions asked.