Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The Vicious Cycle Shop.

I am immersed in a pool of ink--sticky, murky suffocating ink, inhibiting my movements, cloaking me in darkness, and threatening to drown me. All is not lost, though: above the surface I hear the piercing wail of the approaching ambulance, its unnerving, plaintive loudness telling me to reach toward it if I can just...muster...the strength.

The ambulance has been coming for a while, perhaps twenty minutes, yet doesn't seem to be getting any nearer. Just the same BEEEEEP...BEEEP...BEEEEP. I begin to understand that I'm going to have to find them in order to live. So I gather any residual strength still in my weakened form, and lunge upward, a last, desperate heave, out of the ink and into the light.

I'm awake now, and shut off the God-awful racket of the alarm clock, which has going off for, perhaps, twenty minutes. It's 2:52 PM, and I'm supposed to be at work at three. I'm still wearing my uniform from the previous night, covered in sweat and grime, so hung over that I offer a quick, fervent prayer that heaven will strike me dead so I don't have to face the day. Zeus ignores me. No thunderbolt. I won't even have time to shower. This is really, really going to suck.

There has been a preternaturally vicious cycle at play of late, by which I work all day with a crippling hangover, feeling my frustration grow and blood pressure rise as I try to process each customer in most expeditious fashion, only to find another, and another, and another, standing in place of the original, clones and robots and zombies replicating themselves to my enduring horror. At the end of nine or ten hours of this, I am so horribly, if self-imposedly, stressed out that I sprint to the cooler in the back to crack open a beer--precious, potent, potable antidote. It works so well that I have another, and then a few at the local bar, and then many more at home before being chased into my coffin by the sunlight, only to emerge again--short on sleep, hung-over, late for work. Some might call this alcoholism, but I find that an irrelevant and academic distinction. To me it is simply speciously poor planning. In any case, this vicious cycle needs to go back to the shop where I bought it. The tread's worn off the tires and it's no fun to ride anymore.

"Excuse, me, there, shop clerk," I imagine myself saying, "I'd like to trade in the drink-to-relieve-job-stress-causing-stress-inducing-hangover-leading-
to-more-drinking-to-relieve-stress cycle please. What else have you got?"

"Well, we have this year's eating-to-cope-with-depression-leading-to-depression-causing-obesity."

"Nah, kind of girly. What else?"

"We have a special on blowing-yourself-up-in-defense-of-your-faith..."

"I don't do politics. Something with a lighter frame?"

"Ah. Certainly you'll look good riding this squandering-your-meager-income-on-pot-then-insisting-you-smoke-pot-

"That is so already taken, and I'm late for work. I'll keep the one I've got and get back to you."

And so I rode my vicious cycle into work. My hangover is my problem, naturally, but I work in customer service, so, while it is true enough that I inherit the customers' problems, the corollary of this is that they inherit mine.

It is a right reading of a will, it is today: inheritances abound. The customers probably don't deserve the total avoidance of eye contact or the terse grunts of affirmation or negation that are passing for answers, but luckily they are accustomed to it. It isn't as if the convenient store industry is chock full o' rising stars in the retail trade. On days when I'm being alert and nice, they mostly cower in surprise and suspicion anyway, so perhaps the automated way is just the way to go, from a conservation of energy standpoint.

But they aren't helping. They’re being usually clueless, asking dumb questions and attempting to pump diesel into their unleaded cars a record five times in one shift, ignoring the "no public restroom" sign posted three different places, paying for candy bars with $50's, etc. Yet I remain painfully cognizant all the while of the irony that I work in a market niche specifically designed to accommodate people's laziness and stupidity and then become offended when people take us up on our offer by acting lazy and stupid. We're basically accepting bribes in the form of exorbitantly high prices from people who can't muster the will to walk or drive the extra six blocks to supermarket where everything costs half as much. And I am surprised that they can't read signs. Go figure. But please, just not today, I think, over and over. Not when I feel this shoddy.

So I try, very hard, pay attention, to stay with the pitch, to live in the moment, so that I don't just descend into the vacant place where I work on remote and may as well be blind and deaf. It's the place where, nine customers later, I couldn't tell a person what anyone was wearing, what cars they drove, or even necessarily what they bought. I'm losing this struggle: what is happening around me is becoming more and more indistinct as I sink farther under and drift away with the current.

I'm trying to reach this thing people talk about called the happy place, to remove myself from where I am to a better neighborhood, except that there is no happiness in this hot, hazy locale I'm withdrawing into. I seem to have been shot down on my way to the happy place for flying without a permit, over a vast and barren desert. Now I'm just stumbling about, injured and delirious, scanning the horizon for an oasis that doesn't exist.

After several hours of this, I'm speaking to people across an intellectual abyss, a fog of distraction so thick and fetid that, given the additional factor that as the shift wears on I'm dealing with increasingly drunk and stoned people, it's a miracle that we're able to communicate at all. With the tides of memory and oceans of imagination flowing between us, we as well be shouting into megaphones from different continents.

"Yo, lemmee get a vanilla Dutch," someone will shout, from Antarctica.

"but i can't hear you i'm so very very far away i'm sorry," is all that they're going to hear back, from Denmark.

Nine hours of this go by, during which I'm angry and disappointed with myself for being a bad cashier and an awful human being and an irresponsible drunk, all the while dropping change and asking people to repeat themselves and growing testier and testier when customers try to drag me out of my quagmire and actually get me to assist them. Like I said before, they really don't deserve this. And as everybody knows, they're at their most demanding when you're at your least prepared. I feel like a 1980's AFC Champion in the Super Bowl: I'm plummetting out of the game and haven't a clue what do about it besides cringe, pout and huff.

Finally, mercifully, it ends. I lock the doors fifteen minutes early, and breathe, trying to shake off the lunacy of an entire day of talking without saying anything, when all I wanted was to be left alone. This really isn't any way to live, I think, and then sprint to the cooler in the back and crack open a beer--precious, potent, potable antidote. As I feel it's cool, soothing, carbonated remedy gallop down my throat, the can gone in minutes, I think about the vicious cycle shop, and when I'm actually turning this one in. But since I made the shop up in my imagination, it follows that my imagination sets its operating hours, and so I can't go tomorrow. It's a half day there on Thursdays, you see. And that means they'll be closed hours before I wake up.