Things Like This
Things like, "the night exploded"; "flaming glory
stars"; "earthquake hammer fist"; I feel foolish even acknowledging
their existence the way parents of serial killers say, "Yes, thatís
my son. No, I donít know why he wanted to go and kill thirteen
people and decorate a Christmas tree with their pinkie toes." The
trouble is these phrases, like the serial killers, did come from a
very specific place. And, no matter how much I try and think around,
ignore, avert my eyes, or whatever, the thoughts, the phrases do
exist within my head.
Anyway, me and these stupid phrases go wandering
around in actual life. You may have seen us at the grocery store.
Maybe in the meat aisle, which is never an aisle but a big
refrigerated line, the plastic vacuum-sealed wrappers hugging cubed
steak, beefsteak, porterhouse, T-bone, pork shanks, filleted veal,
whatever. I might be buying a pack of hotdogs, me and my slew of
sayings all sloshing around, or one of those on-sale items that the
stores put up, intentionally out of place--three toothbrushes by the
pet food aisle, seven packages of gum near the cereal aisle, a giant
rope dog bone by the feminine hygiene section.
And itís not that I look like everyone else. Itís
really hard to find people who look the same, and almost impossible
to find them in the same store. But I donít have any kids to get
your attention. I donít yell at the meat man for giving me small
lobster tails. I donít bring twenty-seven items into the ten items
or less line. I donít try to write checks in that line either. I
donít fill up a basket with twice the recommended amount of items
then cut in front of you during that moment when youíre staring at
the latest Wolf-boy sighting, or the latest series of Nostradamus
predictions in the tabloids, or at what celebrity is airbrushed and
photoshoped into a cartoon character on the cover of a glamour
Bottom line is I, me and my slew of ridiculous
phrases, we donít give you a reason to notice us.
So when the big, sloshing-over-the-sides tank of
sayings and I didnít pay for the quarter pound of shrimp wrapped all
nice and neat in plastic, and wax paper, and white paper, the bar
code sitting near the Gatorade that I decided not to buy, the
remaining shrimp and paper stuffed in my pocket, while I paid for my
jarred artichoke hearts, olive oil, lobster tail, a bag of ice, and
a six pack of diet crŤme soda, no one cared. No one even noticed.
I went home and made my food, the bought stuff
first. Then I made the shrimp. And it didnít taste better or worse.
There was no special revelation. But the next time I went to the
store I took some crab legs. There was no adrenaline rush. No
anything. Just a nice little discount. A few dollars extra.
So me and my sayings started putting the extra money
I saved into a shoe box.
I ate crab and lobster. I ate veil cutlets breaded
in garlic, egg whites, and whole wheat bread crumbs. I ate Lobster
bisque and Manhattan clam chowder.
After a while I had three shoeboxes full of singles.
One Nike, one Reebok, and one Adidas, all sitting under my bed.
Anyway, I woke up on my couch the morning after the
Giants had been decimated in the Superbowl. I rolled off my couch
and crawled all the way to my bedroom and took the boxes out from
under the bed. I took them to the bank and asked for the bills to be
counted and consolidated. There were two thousand six hundred
dollars in ones, which the woman at the bank turned into hundreds.
She also said, "Someone finally opened his piggy bank."
The phrase "Granite intelligence," added itself to
the rest of the sayings suspended in my brain.
I took the money, neatly stuffed in an envelope, and
carried it around with me all day. To the gas station on the
Southside, off Paradise Avenue. To Popeyeís Chicken in the same
area. To DJís used car lot.
No one noticed me.
Or my aquarium of sayings.
Or my envelope of money.
I went back into the grocery store. You probably saw
me there. Standing in front of the frozen dinners, the frozen
vegetables behind me. If you looked hard enough, you could see my
reflection going back and forth in the glass doors. On and on for
And then I went through those heavy doors that read,
"Employees Only," and up the stairs into the break room. A really
tall young kid with red hair and acne told me that the managerís
office was just down the hall to the left. I went into the office
and saw an older man, balding, wrinkled, slouched backward, his
ugly, puke-tan, metal desk nearly above his chest.
"Can I help you?" he said, not so much in a
pretentious voice as one of long-trained boredom.
"I think this belongs to the store," I said, and
held out the envelope.
The man slouched forward and looked at the envelope
through eyes squinted like a harpoon victimís.
"I donít think so," he said.
"You donít want to check the envelope?" I said.
"Itís not ours," he said.
I nodded and went back out, down the stairs, through
the heavy doors to the meat department, and waited for the man
behind the counter to notice me.
Joshua Arsenio left California, where he was born and
partly raised, for El Paso, Texas, where he received his MFA and
taught English composition. He has been a lawn care grunt, pizza
delivery person, assistant manager, desk clerk, English instructor,
and no holds barred fighter. He hopes to loaf with Walt Whitman and
William Faulkner, discussing the joys of writing about oneself in
the third person and others in first person.