From an exercise for the writing group at the Fairlee Public Library. The task here was to describe the following situation from the perspective of an introvert and then of an extravert: a man walks into a store, buys a bag of dog food and then notices that he’s lost a $100 bill.
Today was getting kind of late. I only had a few more things to do before getting home. I was on my way home, where I was hoping to spend the evening with a Swedish film I had never seen, despite a lifetime of jokes and references about Bergman, when I realized there was something I had forgotten. It Would only take a few minutes anyway, so it wasn’t such a big deal until I tried to carry it out. As soon as I remembered getting Roger’s food, a crazy song came on the radio and I drove right past the pet store. I don’t know what the hell these people are saying, these days, and for some reason I thought staring at the radio console would help. Roger needs special food that we can only get at this place, so it was imperative that I turn around. Honestly I didn’t know how much he had left.
They were getting ready to close up. I saw them look at me funny, and tried not to put too much stock in it. People don’t tend to get how busy I am, so I don’t bother them with it. I knew where the stuff was, so I didn’t have to ask anybody and distract them from their sweeping and shutting down the lights. I got the small bag. When I need the big one I can come back on a weekend. One register was still open, where for some reason they didn’t just have DogFancy, CatFancy, BirdFancy, and SheepFancy, but the National Enquirer, with none other than Tom Brady on the cover. I didn’t bother with the headline, focusing instead on his jersey. There was something about it that took me in. I had a dream the night before that he had changed his number to 13. The colors in the dream weren’t red, white, and blue like the Patriots should be, but gold and purple. There was a tone of news to the dream, like I wasn’t really seeing Tom Brady as close as I would be; there was a sheen of television screen–the old-fashioned kind, the kind that would buzz if you got close enough, and shock you if you wiped if you the dust off it, even after turning it off–and a news commentator speaking in historic tones about Brady’s number change.
When I pulled back on the road, I turned the radio back on. I don’t know why I listen to this pop radio, I guess I’m trying to keep in touch with my students or something, but it always fills me with dread that none of them are going to have any analytical skills. IF they can’t tell that this song really isn’t about a spinning class when the woman says “dick bicycle,” then there’s little hope for them to understand Sophocles, or even Freud–
Something was wrong. I pulled up to the red light and feel for my wallet. It’s there. Obviously I have my keys: the engine’s running. Sometimes with a Prius you can’t tell. That wasn’t it. Someone was missing. The car behind me honked. The light was green. I pulled into the shopping center at my right and into a space in front of Starbucks. I kept my hands on the wheel. Who was it? He was supposed to be there. I pulled out my appointment book. Jared Wilhelm? Who was that? That was the kid from my afternoon section that wanted an extension. But he showed up. Someone male. Someone rather elderly.
I took out my wallet. The hundred-dollar bill I had in there was gone. But I also had a twenty dollar bill that I should have paid with. It wasn’t there either. What I had was twenty-seven dollars in fives and ones, plus forty-two cents in mostly nickels. I went into the Starbucks. Of course they didn’t have a payphone. I turned toward the counter, but didn’t want to bother anyone back there. They were so busy–so busy smiling. There was a weight on my chest. My face had slowed down.
“Can I help you?”
It was the girl behind the counter. I guess she was done making her macchiatella or whatever it is. “Oh,” I said. “I don’t have my phone.”
“Do you need to use ours?
“Well…” I said. The possible words I could use with her were floating around my head like vultures on a hot day. I launched into a long explanation about the dog food that stretched all the way back to a faculty meeting this morning, and running out of shaving cream, and who uses Barbasol anymore when there’s that toothpaste the young men use.
“The boss says I can’t let you use ours, so here’s my cell. It’s okay.”
The thing had a touch screen with so many buttons and bubbles and stuff that looked like jelly beans. It didn’t really match my picture of her personality, but she was at work. She might as well be a cop with a bun. I once met a park ranger at Yellowstone and then saw her in a bikini the next day in Jackson Hole. I don’t thin kit was a Park Service regulation swimsuit. This girl at the Starbuck’s just didn’t seem like the bubble type, but people are so malleable, they’ll fill any role with minor changes. Just look at what costumes do to actors. Just look at what Zimbardo did by locking people in a basement with a few badges and some sunglasses. That was interesting. For some reason I can’t interest my colleagues in things like that; they’re too caught up in talking about oppression and power struggles to notice anything psychological anymore.
“Janet,” I said, “did you give me the cash this morning?”
“Who the hell is Lauren Davis?”
“She’s a student who let me use her phone. I’m at Starbuck’s.”
“What the hell are you doing at Starbuck’s, David? I told you to come right home.”
“I know, but I went to get some food for Roger Sherman–”
She interrupted with an exasperated grunt. “He’s getting so old, David. How long are we going to prolong this?”
He was perfectly healthy. Well, not perfectly. I mean he wasn’t unhealthy enough to put to sleep. I’m the one who takes him to the vet. But I suppose she’s the one who is with him most of the time, and has to clean up after him sometimes. Nevertheless he depends on us, and he’s part of our family; has been for almost fifteen years. There’s no real reason that I can see that would call for putting him down. Putdown. We use the same expression to mean “lower,” “insult,” and “kill.” Well, of course it’s a particular kind of death, seen as merciful. And on top of that, “putdown” wasn’t really an expression for insult until the sixties. Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s a coincidence. The usual explanation for the phrase is that to “lower” and to “insult” mean the same thing, as if there were some psychic quantity that the insult makes smaller.
“Why don’t you just come home?”
That sounded like a good idea, but I still missed the hundred dollar bill. I’d have to go by there tomorrow. I handed the phone back to Lauren Davis. “Your name’s Davis?”
“My last name.”
“My name’s David.”
“I know,” she said. “I had you for literary theory last semester. It was my favorite class.”
“Oh,” I said. “You know it’s a funny thing about the name Davis…”
Todd swung his car into the parking lot. Just one more thing and then it was home for dinner. He hoped she was making that recipe they talked about. It involved her finding the olives again, which he had told her was as simple as going to the same stall. She had complained that they never had the same stuff on Wednesday that they did on Saturdays, but that never stopped him from finding something to make for dinner. This would only take a minute, if the place wasn’t already closed.
He shut off the engine. This car needed some work. The alternator was acting up again. There was an auto parts place next to the pet store, but he looked at his watch: there wasn’t enough time.
“Closing in five minutes,” said the guy at the grooming station, who was locking up.
He knew exactly where the food was. It was a blue bag, with some kind of Navajo markings on it. Of course they had changed things around since the last time it was his job to pick up the dog food. The marketing people from the dog food companies do that; it probably irritates the heck out of the people who work here, too. There it was. He got the small.
The girl at the front, who was cute, but had a little too much eye makeup, and too many earrings (and lip rings) for him to believe she worked with animals, was already counting out her drawer. “Paying with cash?” she asked him.
“Yeah,” he said. Tom Brady was on a magazine they had near the register. That’s weird, he thought. I had a dream that he changed his number to 13, and he was playing for the Vikings. They had already retired a 12.
“There you go,” she said. Her short hair was in a bun, so it couldn’t be that short, but she probably couldn’t have pythons getting caught in it, so she wore it like a park ranger. She smiled and he noticed the Celtic tattoo on the back of her neck. Without all the holes in her face, she’d be really pretty. No, she was really pretty anyway. But what did he care, he was frickin’ married!
“Have a nice night,” he said.
“You, too,” she said. “I hope Roger’s doing well.”
“He’s fine,” he started to say, but he was already getting into his car. He put the key in the ignition and stopped. I didn’t have enough cash in my hand, he thought.
He got out and pulled out his wallet, keeping an eye out for anyone walking by. He had forty-seven dollars and eighty-two cents. Two twenties, a five, and two ones. He checked the receipt. No dog food was that expensive, and sure enough, the receipt said the ten pound bag was only twenty-two-ninety-nine. That wasn’t the biggest problem. There had been two hundreds in there before he went in.
Todd took a deep breath and flexed his hands. It was an exercise he’d learned somewhere, Aikido or Hapkido or something. This was just a simple mistake. People make mistakes, and that doesn’t make them hideous deviants bent on social mischief and thievery. Okay, enough relaxation, he had to get back in there and get his hundred and forty bucks back, but as he turned, the store was dark.
No, she was still there. He banged on the window. She was counting out the drawer. He watched for any hands going to her pockets. No, he was looking at her ass. Cut that out, dammit. He banged on the window again. This time she turned. He waved his wallet and mouthed something about change. He might as well have yelled. She shook her head, so this time he did yell out loud. “You have my change! My hundred!”
She shook her head back.
Dammit. He pounded on the glass again.
She picked up a phone, and the zit-faced guy from the grooming station came up. They were pointing at the drawer and talking about something. He started to look at her register screen. Yeah, he was definitely showing her how she’d screwed up. He took the phone, and pointed at Todd, fingering his clothes. Dammit. They’re the ones who stole from me, he said.
He thought about trying the door but there was no handle, of course. Todd didn’t want to wait around for whoever they were calling. There was a perfectly good explanation for this. He’d come back in the morning and talk to a manager. Someone over thirty. Someone who didn’t have a leash attachment in her face.
Three tries and the car started. He got in, and the Italian scent he’d been hoping for greeted his nose, along with the glass of wine he sorely needed.
“Hey babe,” she said. “Did you go to the ATM?”