The interior is bright for the cameras, I imagine. A basic corner store, beer in the back, liquor and cigarettes in front, chips and candy between. I have a nodding relationship with the guy who runs the place, he knows me like he knows half the neighborhood, as people that come in and buy things late at night, or when they are positively out of a household item and need it right away. They sell single rolls of toilet paper, small bottles of soap and Ramen Noodles. It’s for desperation, mostly. The whole store is an economy of desperation. I need this right now right now right now. Because I forgot to buy it earlier or because I am chemically bound to it, but either way, right now, right now. Thank you for being open until two am, because I needed condoms and cigarettes and porn magazines in case I don’t need the condoms right now right now.
The guy who runs that place is there all day long almost every day, he is haggard and droopy eyed but smiling and seemingly happier than I am . He smokes a lot. Maybe because he’s addicted to smoking, but it seems like it’s an excuse to stand outside for a bit and get away from the fluorescent lighting. Maybe it’s just to stand in front of his store. I don’t know either way. He’s just the scraggly hair guy at the corner store. I’m probably just the bald guy that comes in from time to time. Bald. Beard. Basic recognition of someone who you’ve seen enough times to nod toward or pretend to not acknowledge depending on the kind of person you are. I’m the latter. He’s forced into saying hello either way, he runs a store, it’s better to be friendly.
It’s better for me to not become friendly with this person. I’d rather not have a conversation with him, ask him why he listens to NPR. Does he like NPR or is it because we’re in the Bay Area? A subliminal sales pitch. I never listen to it, personally. I don’t like all the bad news. It gets depressing. Doesn’t he think it’s depressing? All that bad news all the time. Something’s always exploding. Something is almost always falling apart or in flames and wouldn’t you rather listen to the cool jazz or something? Doesn’t he have enough to worry about, places like this get robbed all the time. People get shot in places like this. Never mind what’s happening in Yemen or wherever the fuck.
All of this would be interesting, but it would make my buying condoms from him uncomfortable. Or feel like he was disappointed in me when I buy beer just before he closes for the night. If he was able to keep track of it all, he’d know more about me than I am comfortable with. But he probably isn’t. He’s probably just a guy who runs a store and is aware that I come in about once a week or so. I am just one of many youngish men in this neighborhood sporting bad beards and pretending they are more young than ish.
He is frequently on the phone, talking over the NPR. The last time I was there, he was considerably more haggard, the NPR was at a whisper, he was still behind the counter working, grabbing packs of cigarettes for strangers or exchanging an airplane bottle of booze for a mess of coins on his counter, counting and losing his place in both the conversation and the counting.
“The body is at the morgue, yes. Yes, the morgue.” Suddenly, we’re even. I know more about him than I should, now. I know that someone is dead. I know that he’s in charge of knowing where that dead person is. I find myself briefly wondering if he killed someone. But he said morgue, so it’s probably all above board and I’m a racist. I shoo that away, and try to mask my thinking that he might have killed someone as ‘I hope others don’t think that he killed someone’ and I comfortably pat down my NPR ideals to make sure the brown man hasn’t stolen them from me.
Whoever he’s talking to might also be counting change, there’s a lot of clarifications to be made, he keeps repeating himself. Maybe the cellphone connection is being difficult.
I am buying one of those logs in a bag for my fireplace. They recently switched from Duraflame, to a “Green” log. Something made out of wax paper barrels or something. I didn’t read the bag before I lit it on fire. I don’t think they sell a lot of those logs, it’s more of a display. Just in case you get a fireplace. Just in case you suddenly have reason for ornamental flame. We have a stack of them. It’s a bright yellow tower of flammable, log shaped, chemicals, we should probably get the green alternative. The logs are near the too-loud NPR radio.
“I don’t know. Friday I think. Friday, yes. The autopsy.” I am next in line and the person behind me is impatient and not happy about the wait. The guy who runs the place is distracted and sad but working hard and steady and the other day I took a day off work because I just didn’t feel like going in. I didn’t feel like going to work because I don’t enjoy my job and I’m standing, watching a real person count hobo pennies while he talks about a dead person he knew, cellphone pinched between his shoulder and his ear, having to say each painful thing repeatedly. He’s having a terrible conversation four times at once, it’s “Yes, Friday. I will know more then. They -- yes. They are having the autopsy. So they can - yes, so they know what happened. That -- right. That is what we hope as well.” And I have to work double-time to pretend that I’m not listening, then more to pretend that it’s probably not what I think it is, he’s got an accent and I’m probably mishearing morgue for something else.
I was just sad I guess, feeling a little down and it was a sunny day and it didn’t seem like a good idea to go to work because if I didn’t go to work, I could really get my head straight or get some things done, or just sit in almost one single position for an entire day and pretend that my life was difficult, like I wasn’t the kind of person who bought ornamental fireplace logs.
The log is $4.87. He turns away for a moment to try to get off the phone. He’s been trying to get off the phone this whole time. It’s got the frustrated feel of someone who is done with the conversation. Every sentence starts with Yes. “Yes, that is correct. Friday.” The person on the other end needs a lot of confirmation of things that have already been clarified and confirmed at least once, since I’ve been standing there and he was on the phone when I walked in.
“I will not have this phone on Friday. I will call you on Friday. I will call you when I know. No, I will not have this phone.” He looks at me, plaintively, sad and apologetic, he is sorry about the phone, he’s really sorry this happened, that I’m so long separated from my ornamental fire. That I’ve been here long enough that I’ve almost heard the news cycle through a second time. I give him my best, sad, “Please take all the time you need, face.” It’s me, after all. I’m in here all the time. Remember last week when I bought MaxiPads? What a goon, I am. Whipped. You could have made the whipped noise and it would have been funny. “It is my daughters phone. I will -- yes, my daughter. Yes.” And I had my change and I left. And it’s dusk, and it’s beautiful and I wonder if the log really is much greener, and if it’ll give off as much heat as the chemically ones did because that was a nice benefit of the chemicals, they gave off a surprising amount of heat. I bet his daughter is fine. That’s probably another person. Someone that he can comfortably work during the death of. Maybe an aunt. A distant relative, someone just outside the periphery of ‘too sad to work’.
When I get home I decide to not tell my girlfriend about the incident because I don’t want it to upset her. She’s been stressed out lately and besides, they changed the logs. They’re made of old industrial wax cylinders. I don’t know what wax cylinders are. There’s almost no way of knowing and I think it said on the bag that it’s better, but I lit it on fire before I finished becoming skeptical that there wasn’t any difference at all.