Say It, Don’t Spray It

April 7, 2022 at 2:30 am (Cussed Dumbers, That's not funny...)

I’ve always been about the atmosphere. Late nights have always appealed to me; I couldn’t understand why more people weren’t night owls. Perspective: A lot of people are afraid of the dark. For some reason I am drawn to it.

I’m cautious, but not paranoid. I have a lot of years of good luck in my pocket, but that can be erased in a hot moment. Every time I leave the house, I wonder if it will be my last. It’s a brief flash, but it happens every time I head off to do the graveyard shift.

I walk toward the freeway overpass. A line of zombie RVs are under the overpass, camped there since last winter. Creepy looking from a distance, the feeling is enhanced by the rattle and hum of generators. Remember when they show up at the farm in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Yep.

The dogs like me, the humans avoid eye contact unless they are drunk, then they offer me beer and barbecue. I politely decline and make for the bike trail, where at 10:30 PM there are no wanderers. Thankfully. There are fewer places in the world where I can find a moment of quiet solitude. I take each one as I find them. Like the back corner of the bus, where I hunker down for the 14-mile commute…

I started doing the graveyard shift out of necessity. Giggles won’t work seven days a week, and NOBODY really wants to work it, but when folks don’t show, guess who gets to work graveyard?

“Can you work until 7 AM, and we’ll find you a replacement for tomorrow?”

That usually turns into “Can you work another graveyard?” So I do the two shifts Giggles doesn’t, plus my trademark Friday and Saturday swing shifts. I love the nightlife, I got to boogie, and working it instead of paying for it has been my bread and butter.

BUT… Graveyard isn’t the easy-peasy, busy-until-2:30/dead-until-sunrise shift it used to be. That national c-store chain I used to work for closed both downtown stores, and the Plaid closes at 10 PM. (Safeway stays open later. For shame, c-store pussies!) That has brought the beacon of light shining down upon our little store, about the only thing open after 7 PM. We now have all the riff-raff that used to live in the Occupy parks, as well as the tent dwellers and those who just drop their pants and shit wherever. A lovely crowd, I tell ya.

When it happens, I have a helper until 4 or 5 AM. Most times they call in sick, or don’t show at all. I have Bruno on the weekends. Bruno is great; he looks like an offensive guard for the Chicago Bears, is fun-loving as hell, and not afraid to confront ne’er-do-wells. But Bruno had an “incident” the night before, and I had concerns.

“Will I have the pleasure of the company of your rosy cheeks and bright red eyes this evening?” (Note: Bruno is not a partier.)

“Yup,” he texted back. “I’m a tough cookie.”

Thank god.

The store is mid-block, between two century-old saloons. There is an awning that provides shelter from the elements. It was not meant to be a place to sleep, or shoot up, or sit and drink stolen booze for hours and hours. I am expected to enforce this, while keeping five to ten tweaking shoplifters from filling their pockets with Gummy Worms. Good luck with that. People will load up their arms and walk out, daring you to do something about it. If they are slow enough that we catch them, we’ll get back a Faygo and a Hostess Honey Bun with a thumb hole through it. Usually we just try to remember their face (or mask profile) and scream insults at them if and when they try to return.

Then there are the loiterers.

Everyone has to eat. If it was just food, we would be more flexible. There are a couple of non-druggie psychos that we allow to panhandle to buy coffee or soda, because they buy coffee and soda. They don’t ask for a straw to smoke heroin through. (When I offered Travis some weed to watch Dizzy’s car during a crime spree, he said, “I don’t do weed. My brain is interesting enough.”) The others? They walk the tightrope, until they get caught stealing, or worse.

About once an hour, or as often as necessary, one of us will go outside and ask the crowd to disperse. I’m mellow, mostly. “Please move away from the store.” I say it once, and come back five minutes later. By then I’m more insistent, and they start moving. If they don’t, I call Clean and Safe to have them moved. One problem: After 11 PM, C&S goes home, and you are on your own. Portland Police are wonderful, they come when I call, but they have bigger things going on than dealing with a drunken American Werewolf lookalike grinding Little Debbies into the sidewalk.

My other “helper” is Boa. He’s new, young, flamboyant, loves to tell jokes, (the same one over and over and over, unfortunately.) He dresses like Rob Halford, and talks like Elmer Fudd. He doesn’t like our customers, and lets it show. He’s a warm body so he’s getting scheduled, until we can put him on day shift with nothing but bosses. Until then, we have him YELLING at every other customer that comes through the door. Which sorta makes our easygoing ways less likely to be taken seriously.

Bruno greets everyone, is friendly as hell until provoked, and blocks the criminal element from getting behind the counter to where I am. (Downside: I have to crawl over him if anything truly bad happens.) But, as we are happy-go-lucky good-natured types, (and around 300 lbs each) we tend to get cooperation. That doesn’t mean Bruno is a pushover. I’ve seen him run after shoplifters. I didn’t think anyone his size could move that fast.

At 10:30 on a Friday night, it’s busy. Steel Rod is visiting, playing a few games of Keno. Bruno is catching most of the sales, I’m keeping the line down and chatting with Rod. The line backs up, and I call a couple customers over. I see what’s going on.

“Dude, don’t do this to me.” A tall, tattoo-faced tough-guy was trying to buy a $10 scratch ticket with nickels and dimes. They covered the counter. The line had grown ten-deep, and Bruno pulled the plug. “Take this shit elsewhere.”

“How am I supposed to cash this stuff in?” Tats pulled out a wad of bills, obviously a drug bankroll, pulled off a ten and threw it on the counter. He muttered a threat.

:I’m not afraid of you! I have mace!” Bruno set his can of bear mace on the counter.

Tats moved to the door. “I have bear mace, too.” He left.

A few minutes later, I see one of our local shitbirds creep past the counter, with a bright red hoodie wrapped around his head. I was about to yell at him when he went to the soda fountain. I can pretend I don’t know who he is if I have plausible deniability. (My favorite part of the whole pandemic.) If he just buys a soda, I didn’t see nothing. If Bruno yells at him, I’ll back the play.

“Dude, you know you’re not allowed in here. Just put the dollar down and go.” Bruno used an even voice, no anger. I looked over to see who it was. It was the scrawny kid with the eye tattoos and the red hoodie wrap.

“Fuck you, fat ass!” Red hoodie pulled out a can of bear mace, put it under the plexiglass safety shield, and sprayed Bruno right in the face.

Remember the pea soup scene in The Exorcist? It was like that, only brown. It bubbled on Bruno’s lips as he stood, bellowed, and everyone went into motion. It was a direct hit. Bruno turned and went for the outdoors, but, unable to see, ended up heading back to the bathroom. I took a deep breath, moved as quickly as possible through the cloud area, and locked myself outside. I called 911. Since the perp was gone, a cop would come by, but they were focused on fire and medical. There wasn’t much they could do for him. Time is your healer in this situation.

“I think I’m going home,” Bruno said. “Think they’ll mind?”

“You sure you don’t want to go to the hospital? That would have killed me.” I inhaled a small amount; it felt like someone pressing thumbtacks onto the lining of my lungs.

“Nah, I’ll be all right.”

It was more of a challenge cleaning up the work area than Bruno. It was all over his paperwork. I wrapped a wet paper towel over my face, with the help of a bandana, and separated the savable from the trashed. I took dirty rags from the bucket and mopped all the brown spots, then threw the towels away. Looks too much like a coffee spill to risk Mrs Brady handling them during the weekly wash.

My lungs quit tingling, and there was a sizable crowd waiting outside. Giggles was due in ten minutes, so I chose not to open and run a till for that little time. (A bit of inconvenience can be good. Treat us well or we go away, assholes!) I prepared the store as best I could, and was ready to go after briefing him on the night’s events. He can open when he’s ready.

I got a text from Bruno on the way home. “I’m okay, do you think I should go back in? Giggles still hasn’t reopened.”

“Nah, rest up and be ready for tomorrow. You are coming in tomorrow, right?”

“I will be there…”

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