This story takes place and was written around 1993 or 1994.
My sister worked at a Value Village on Martin Luther King Jr way, a long bus-ride from the U-district where we lived as roommates. She would get off work around ten o’clock or so when it was dark and not so safe to be walking to the bus stop. When I felt like it, I would ride a bus down and wait for her as she got ready to go home so I could keep her (and me) company.
I liked that time we spent talking and people-watching. The night had a way of emphasizing humans. In the dark, there were fewer sights to busy the mind. Night purified the scenery – no blades of grass or light bouncing off yellowing leaves, no individual bricks or building details. All background was muted until only the foreground of mankind stood out.
That evening I walked through the mid-summer dusk of the parking lot to see thrift-shop heaven shining before me, a large store with an all-window front. All the lights were on inside. I saw the manager, Jim, locking the door and my sister and her fellow workers at their respective cash registers counting out their tills.
As I neared the window, I appreciated all the colors of the many racks of clothes, an organized rainbow of other people’s throwaways turned profitable. Maki saw me as I pressed my nose up to the glass and breathed fish-faces onto the window. She smiled and held up all the fingers of her hands: “ten minutes”, I saw her lips say. I nodded and walked away from the window, deeply breathing in the fresh night air, very appreciative after a long day of being indoors.
Seconds after I had sat down on a crumbling concrete wheel stop a few feet away, I heard screeching tires, and I turned to see headlights speeding in my direction. They turned into the lot and stopped feet away from me and as near to the door as the car could get without driving onto the small sidewalk in front of the building.
The car door flung open, and a man jumped out, slamming the door and running to the locked doors of the glass castle. Jiggling the door back and forth and having no luck opening it, he pounded on the glass with his fist.
“Open up!” he shouted.
“We’re closed,” said Jim from the other side of the glass.
“But you’re not supposed to be closed yet!”
“We close at ten.”
“It’s five till!” The man pointed aggressively at his watch.
“Our clock says ten. I’m sorry sir,” Jim offered with a polite little smile and shrug.
“Oh come on!” the man persisted. “I came all the way from Renton. I know exactly what I want. I’ll be 5 minutes tops!”
“I’m sorry sir,” Jim repeated. “I can’t let you in. We’re emptying the cash registers and getting ready to leave. We’re open tomorrow from ten to six.”
“Oh come on! Shit!” he shouted, banging on the window. He walked away, kicking at the ground and flinging his hands in the air, his whole body animated by anger. He grumbled expletives to himself and wandered a ways into the parking lot. Then he turned back to the window, following Jim as he walked along the row of cash registers.
CLATTER CLATTER – the glass rattle as he pounded on it, startling those inside.
“Come on man! I’ll be two minutes! I promise!”
By now Jim’s polite face had become more stony. “Sir, we are closed. I cannot let you in now. You’ll have to come back later.”
“GodDAMN it!” he shouted, throwing his fists at the glass. “What kind of customer service is this, huh? A few lousy minutes of your time – what the hell is wrong with you? Fuck!” He threw in some kicks to the glass for variety and cursed and swore his point to oblivion.
For a full minute, those inside ignored the continuing shouts, curses, and glass-pounding and kicking as they finished up their business. Soon three cashiers in their red Value Village aprons carried their black boxes of money to the back room. Jim followed them, but was pulled back by, “Come back here, you asshole! What’s your name? I’m gonna report you on this you sonofabitch! Your supervisor’s gonna hear about this!”
Jim pointed to his name badge, said his full name, and spelled it all out, including “J, I, M.” He then stoically walked away as the man cursed at him and threw punches at the glass. Jim turned off most of the lights and followed the cashiers through a door and out of sight. The angry man finally stomped to his car, furious, and drove off as speedily as he had come.
I sat on the wheel stop in awe.
The dimmed glass fortress loomed before me. Traffic hummed low in the background. The stars, what few I could see with the lights of Seattle to the north, were still there, unchanged in the crisp, cool air. The beaten-on glass looked as solid as ever. Doubtless, seven people inside were talking about their irate visitor, but outside it was quiet and still, as if the man had never been there.
Throughout the whole episode I had watched with mouth open, amazed that a person would even consider being that belligerent. I couldn’t imagine what made him think that purchasing a pre-owned castoff, or even something brand new, was that important to his life. What could he possibly be needing that badly, and why?
I imagined some possible scenarios. Maybe he was getting married the next day and desparately needed a white shirt. Or maybe he would be starting a new job and had to have black pants but couldn’t afford new ones since he didn’t have a paycheck yet. Why hadn’t he elaborated on his woes, tried to garner up some sympathy? I fantasized that a buddy of his had planted some drugs in the pocket of a specific jacket, and he had to get them that night.
More likely, it was not drugs that led him to be so crazy, but self-addiction, that mind mode we humans slip into when imagining one’s personal life is the crux of existence. This ant man in jumbles of cement and space and noise and stars and universal silence and planetary movement had tricked himself into thinking his silly screams meant something, were threatening in the face of so many, so much, and so little. He respected or feared order and laws enough not to break through the glass, but thought a tantrum might bring Powers to respect him and change for his “needs”.
I wondered if God and those souls who had passed on to the next world looked at us with astonishment as we flailed in our narrow circumstances without realizing the order, the reason, the love all around us. Did they pity us when we inflated little things to mind-numbing importance? I hoped in a little prayer that I could watch life thoroughly and patiently and not drive away in a huff of selfish anger.
It wasn’t long before a few people filtered out of the employee side-door. I smiled at them, and Maki came out.
“Hey Syd,” she greeted me. She said goodbye to those getting into their cars, and we walked to the bus stop.
“So,” she said, “What’d you think of that guy?”
I shook my head, eyes wide. “Wow!” I said. My mouth stayed open as I tried to find words but finally uttered, “I don’t know what to say.”
Maki smiled and nodded knowingly. “I thought you’d be getting some sort of spiritual experience out of the whole thing.”