Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Then, nothing.

In what would soon turn out to be a really shitty night, my first delivery today was to a neighborhood that I often refer to as "suck." I'd been to this house before, and luckily did not have too many negative connotations with the place. Chances are I probably got a decent tip out of a delivery that I would have normally assumed to be a stiff waiting to happen. I remembered this guy, too. This house. I wasn't sure why. Then, when I got to the door, I remembered. This guy was fucking weird. Maybe weird's not the right word. Afflicted, damaged, ruined, all come to mind. For some reason, I got it into my head after the first time I delivered to him that he was a veteran of one of our fine olive branches of the military. I don't know what gave me this impression. However, I do know that he had not one, but two, NRA stickers on the outside of his screen door. One was old and faded, and one was newer and fading. He'd probably paid his dues in the last two years at least. He also had a tattoo of a small cross on his ring finger, right where a ring might go, had he been married. Perhaps he was, after all. Not all people commit to each other with gold and diamonds. Did I mention that he looked exactly like a melting Christopher Walken with a pony tail?

Something had happened to this at once young (probably mid-thirties), yet insufferably old man. He shuffled slowly to the door, struggled with the lock, and verbal communication was a clear strain on his body. When I handed him his pizza and awaited payment after stating the total to him, he looked at me puzzledly. I waited. Sometimes you have to let things sink in with people.

Then he laboriously raised his right hand and made the international sign for writing, by which I mean he carelessly flicked his wrist back and forth a few times with a loose fist barely clinging to the wet paper towel that was his flesh.

"I gotta... sign.. something?"

"Oh, sorry, sir. You have to give your credit card information to the store when you call to order. I can't take a credit card here."

"Ohh..man.. that's gonna screw.. me."

"Well, if you want, you can just sign this receipt and give me the credit card number, and I'll just have 'em run it when I get back to the store."

He hesitated, understandably. I wouldn't give my credit card number to some guy on my front porch.

"Umm..."

"Or, you can just call the store and give 'em your credit card number, and they'll sort it out."

"Okay... okay."

"Okay. Yeah, just call 'em whenever you can and they'll take care of it. But I guess go ahead and sign this now, and we'll just staple it to your credit card receipt when we run it."

"Okay."

I felt pretty sorry for this guy. I looked at his overflowing mailbox, and remembered seeing the same sight last time I came here: bunches of bills piling up from various banks and credit institutions. Here was yet another of this dead nation's bastard sons (Thanks, D4).

When I returned to the store, I asked my boss if he had called yet. He said, "Who?"

"The guy on Coleman I just delivered to. He was supposed to call you with his credit card number. He didn't call?"

"No. Someone called, but it was a wrong number."

"Yeah, then that probably wasn't him," I replied. I love being a dick. "I'll just call him."

You can probably guess the rest. I called him a number of times, only to get his answering machine. I left a message the first time I called, but after that I just hung up when his slow, sad message crackled through worn out tape into the phone line.

My boss, from the very beginning, had doubted this man's intentions to pay for the pizza, and I told him that it's a tragic fucking day when a man can't even trust an ex-Marine. But, as the hours passed, I began to wonder, too. I knew we had delivered there before, and I know he paid with a credit card. What was going on here?

Running through all possible scenarios in my mind, I finally came to the conclusion that this man had probably already blown his brains all over the wall behind the computer which sat on a sagging aluminum folding table which served, however modestly, as a desk. That had to be it. He ordered so much food: a pizza, a salad, a piece of cake, a six pack of soda. Why so much food? It must have surely been his last meal, of course!

I imagined him suiting up in his full military regalia, just like in that movie A Few Good Men. I think that's what it's called, anyway. The one where the guy gets all suited up in his clean navy uniform and completes the task by putting a well polished chrome 9mm into his mouth and just going ape. But in this guy's case, it probably would've just been a dirty old army jacket that reeked of weed and cheap wine. His right shoe would've had to have been off too, so he could use his big toe, with that yellowed, cracked, and peeling nail of his, to pull the trigger of an ancient one shot shotgun that his step-grandfather not so much gave him, but that was kind of just left there after the old drunk had driven his rusty Ford into the oncoming traffic of a convoy of 18 wheelers just outside of Longview, Texas in 1972.

A few hours and a half-dozen unanswered calls later, I had a delivery going to a house just a few streets away from him. I asked my boss if he wanted me to stop by to see if I could collect payment.

"Sure," he said.

Well, if you're gonna be that enthusiastic about it, then fuck it, what do I care, I thought. But then I remembered I got stiffed, seeing as he made no payment at all, and so now it was personal.

While it was overcast and gloomy when I arrived there the first time, now it was just plain dark. Dark, muddy, and cold. I slooshed through the front yard, not seeing any of the puddles that were formed by a constantly shifting earth. I smiled to myself in thinking that his foundation is probably so fucked, and was warmed in the good fortune of knowing that mine is only kinda fucked.

There was only one light on in the house, and it was not the living room light. The soft glow emanated from a bedroom (computer room?) off to the right of the main living area. I knocked on his door my standard five times: not too agressive, but I definitely do mean business. Nothing. I waited an extra amount of time, remembering his drawling, dead man's walk. Three to four minutes later, I knocked again. Six times now. Louder, more urgent. I also maneuvered my body in such a way that I was not directly facing the front door. Instead, I had my shoulder facing the front door. Also, I moved away from being in front of the door. I also positioned myself so that I would not be in front of the living room window. I wasn't sure why at the time, but I am now.

Minutes later, after an awkward amount of waiting, I became sufficiently weirded out by my current station in life, and began walking quickly back to my running car. I had my hand in my pocket on my cell phone. I wasn't sure why at the time, but I am now.

As I reached my car, a feeling of control and security came seeping back into my consciousness, and as I opened my door and began climbing into the seat, I looked back at the house contemptuously and muttered, "Asshole." Which is precisely when, since I wasn't paying attention, my hat flew back, as if I had hit the brim of it on the top of my door frame. Clearly, I had overshot my landing while coming up with the brutish insult I just assaulted the nearby air with.

I reached back to re-position the wayward cap, now heavier than before. I sank into my seat, and instinctively pushed in the clutch, with a leg that had never shaken like this before, like the leg of a newborn calf. I began driving, my neck much warmer now, yet cold with the breeze from the open window. I couldn't stop my eyes from rolling backwards, and my ears, though mostly burnt and gone, wouldn't stop ringing.

2 comments:

cri dom said...

great story! thanks for writing!

Anonymous said...

those spirit winds sure can be bruisers. glad to know your ears grew back!