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Joshua Arsenio

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 magazine.

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 infinite.

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.

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