Saturday, May 21, 2005

Passing the Time.

There is a thing that the night crew at gas-mart places do: we drink. Did you ever wonder why those people selling you beer at 12:45 AM on a Friday night/Saturday morning, trapped behind a counter while everyone else is getting drunk and trying to get laid, seem so jolly? That's right, we're drinking too. It's not really a difficult scam to pull off, as the geriatric old ladies that run any gas-mart type establishment have left by four in the afternoon and are in bed by nine. Besides, it's utterly necessary for us to have some kind of paralell perspective come closing time. If I weren't a bit drunk by midnight, do you really think that I could be polite to the late-night clientele?

Really, it's a comparitive ideology kind of world. Many of my patrons don't speak English as their first language, and the hammered Spanglish I get come near-closing hours is a touch difficult to understand. So slamming a few Icehouse 22's in the cooler puts us on a communicative level that, while mutually incomprehensible, is at least amiable. Now my Mexican day-laborer friends can simply point to what they wish to purchase, without me having my nerves frayed or losing my composure. Alcohol provides patience, in a way that simply taking a deep breath or asking someone to repeat themselves (for the fourth time) doesn't.

So everybody wins. I get to catch last call at my local with a proper head start, and my customers deal with someone sociable as opposed to the utter prick they'd encounter were I sober. People who wish to decry us (the employees) as irresponsible reprobates for doing what we do have never had this kind of job. It's a job that involves staring into the files of humanity at its most debased and winking, a sly little wink, that acknowledges how filthy and corrupt we are, before proceeding to sell the cheapest alcohol imaginable to the people with most cause to avoid it.

And this is my life as a...gas station attendant.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Why your Heineken at the Gas Station Tastes Like Ass.

My import-drinking friends have a perpetual complaint: they just never stop weeping that Heineken they buy at convenient stores and gas-marts (like mine) has an invariable skunkiness about it. They just don't seem to listen when I tell them why that is: the convenient store was not designed for people who drink imported beer.

People who drink imported beer already have a forum, you see, and it's called the supermarket. But my friends want to shop at the vagrant street fair I work, where vagrant street fair products fly off of the shelves to the exclusion of all others, and where a $13.99 twelve pack of Heineken might outlast a presidency and then wonder why it's stale. Hello? $13.99 might not seem like a lot to people with jobs, but that's ten deuce-deuces of Steele Reserve and a Dutch Master to my good and regular folk who busk change for a living. Besides, that much beer would get pretty warm sitting next to them on the alley on a Tennessee Summer day. They'd have to consider sharing, or something. What'd worse from the vagrant point of view is that there's yet to be invented a paper bag that wraps snugly and perfectly around that twelve pack to allow drinking of all units simultaneously while walking down the street. Besides, that might make a mess and waste a lot of more-than-on-dollar-per-120z-unit beer, and that would be a sin unfathomable. So the singularly purchased deuce-deuces it is.

Tuesday, I hear the familiar cry: "Yo man. Need more Steele."

"It's out." It isn't, of course, but I'm working alone, as I do on Tuesday. Walking into the back and leaving the floor unmanned invites a spate of drive-offs, shelf-raiding, and general looting and revelry so pronounced that in the suburbs it might pass for rioting.

"C'mon back and get some Steele! I can see it back in there." While in fact Johnny's beer does have back-up in the cooler, he'd have said the same thing if it hadn't. The locals, with some cause, hate me and try to make my job inconvenient whenever feasible. I give Johnny a longer leash than most: the popular rumor is that he's is a fetal alcohol syndrome guy, which might explain his malgrown frame, slowed reaction time, and general badly adjusted temperament. I would buy that more enthusiastically, if but by extrapolation it did not grant that 30% of my customers were also FAS victims. This as a proposition both invokes more pity than I have at my disposal and would grant me such a grim view of indigent parenting habits that I'd want to scream, so I take guff from Johnny and deal with the rest case-by-case; whether it's FAS or not, this guy's not all there in a manner probably not wholly self-inflicted.

Nevertheless, it's not my fault that there's been an unfortunate run on his abhorrent malt swill, and I'm not going to do anything to fix it. I've got people wandering to and from the pumps, which, if started before I authorize them, cause my register to emit an ear-piercing wail so horrible that it elicits nausea within seconds. I'm sure the people who designed the POS system bought the tone on clearance at a 1970's government psy-ops warfare seasonal event. It's beyond horrible: merely horrible noises can be assimilated over time; this grates into perpetuity. I'm not leaving the register.

"It's out. Get something else." I cannot lose this thrilling battle of the wills for a slew of reasons, among them that I'm trained not to leave the floor when working alone, I'm my own supervisor and could care less what Johnny thinks, and that delinquent vagabonds have very little clout with management. But I suspect that winning is not Johnny's goal--he wishes merely to annoy me, unless he's forgotten how unsuccessful this approach has been historically, and does have winning as his goal, a not dismissable possibility.

He finally settles on a 24oz can of Icehouse, no doubt a terrible blow to his refined palate. "I don't like this beer. Why can't you get me my Steele?"

"Sorry. It'll be in tomorrow." Technically, this is not a lie, as it will be, because it's in right now. No additional sin on my soul. Yet how anyone who drinks flat, revolting, malt liquor from a paper-sack wrapped can in the street can be concerned with epicurean concerns is lost on me. Johnny pays, more quarters and less junk change than usual (good day?), and heads toward the door.

"See ya, buddy," I offer in his direction, smirking evily, as he sulks out. I've won today, and I'm happy. On the whole, there is more good natured-fun in our rivalry than either of us admits.

"Hey," I am assailed by a sixteen-year-old looking college kid, plunking down a twelve of Heineken in front of me, "I had $5.01 on three, and is this Heineken fresh?" Besides his confused syntax and 50 miles worth of gas, I am annoyed that he's even trying to buy beer. In the less cultivated states, I'm sure I'd be old enough to be his dad.

"ID please" is my answer to him. We'll discuss product born-on dating when I am even approximately convinced of his legal age. It's a Tenessee license. 09-18-1983. God damn, I can't believe they let kids born the same year as Return of the Jedi drink alcohol.

"Thank you," I reply, handing back the proffered ID. " Probably not."

"Really? Why not?" he asks, as if the Heineken turnover were in any way remotely associated with me.

"It probably has something to do with clientele," I answer him, because I'm feeling oddly charitable. A shrug would be his reply most days. I don't think of myself as an antisocial guy, but conversations on this job tend to provide me with more info on the patronage than I could ever possibly have wanted, which is very little. "It's more of a deuce-deuce and forty kind of crowd." There is no rancor in my voice, and no stereotype. It's just the truth. I stock the beer at night and I know.

College kid buys the Heineken anyway. He'll complain about it next time he's in, but that's simply because it's human nature to pawn off blame when you're foolish enough to do things you were warned against. He should have gone to the supermarket.