“His jaw was working harder than a hog’s hips at a crowded trough.”
I really did mean to pay the ticket on time, but when both extensions I’d requested were granted, so much time passed that I marginalized its importance. When I finally faced the music, the Traffic Commissioner was happy to suspend my hefty fine in exchange for 50 hours of community service at a local Goodwill Donation Center. Welcome to #3 in a series…(Parts 1 and 2 are here and here.)
March 10, 2014 – Goodwill Donation Center, Wednesday
Only when you’re outta your mind on blow do you pay $59 for a thrift-store microwave oven circa 1995 by leaving a deposit with the manager, going to your car, and coming back for the thing a mere 15 minutes later. Only when your head is reeling from cocaine psychosis do you not realize you’re wiping your mouth in a forward motion with the back of your hands like a rat. And only when you’re anxious about returning to your car for more booger-sugar does your “inside voice” become your Dodger Stadium voice.
By day three of my Court Referred Community Service, amidst old boom-boxes, radios, and receivers, I’d given myself several self-directed tasks. The first involved reeling in all the errant, dangling power cords and speaker wires in the electronics section of the store; a small Hispanic woman I worked with had nearly broke her ankle there not 24 hours prior. Now how or why this triggered my mischievous side I don’t know, but I figured I’d have some fun and make the area a little safer – in that order.
I like to begin by my shifts in the morning, ’cause other than return customers who show up daily for things to resell on eBay and elsewhere the place is empty. Today it was empty of all but regulars too, save for Cocaine Boy, who’d entered the store as wired as could be. His first stop, I noticed, was asking to see things in the locked display cases by the register. Nothing like tweakin’ on old flip phones, I guess.
In the meantime, I’d secured a box of rubber bands and pulled all the speakers off the shelves. Spinning each pair, I spiraled their wires around two of my fingers, stopping periodically to tighten each coil into smaller and smaller circles. Fifteen sets of speakers in all, small and large, and to anyone glancing my way I was just another blue aproned worker, tidying things up in the name of the disabled. But I was having fun, wrapping cords in figure-eights weaving in and out of themselves, interlacing patterns that might inspire the head-scratcher to ask, ¿Qué idiota trenzado estos cables eléctricos? (What idiot braided these electrical wires?) DVD players and VCRs followed speakers; next came desk lamps, rice cookers, karaoke machines, televisions, and hair curlers.
The Big Idea was to:
• Up the nuisance level, to separate loiterers from serious used electronics consumers
• Secure myself some entertainment after moving on to organize bookshelves
• Place mental bets on who’d be thwarted and who’d be determined to test out speakers
• Find out what sells better: well-dressed or neglected Goodwill shelves? (A case study)
• Appear dutiful and satisfactorily occupied to my non-profit handlers
• Determine how long it would take for shit to get trashed (again)
I forgot to mention that I was finally given a copy of that rules sheet, and if I read it correctly, none of the above was listed as an infraction. Besides, when the woman who almost fell meandered back around, her smile and nod was all the confirmation I needed to know my box of rubber bands and I were of righteous making.
Yet my crusade was no match for the King’s Habit.
Cocaine Boy had apparently saved the best of the store for last: the electronics wall. Now, you’re probably wondering how I could just up ‘n decide the guy’d had California Cornflakes for breakfast, right? It’s a fair question, but when my five-year-old nephew can call it, the vocabulary needs no further qualifying.
Sure enough he went to town, inspecting anything with a plug. Even over by the bookshelves I could see that the guy’s jaw muscles were working harder than a hog’s hips ’round a crowded trough. And the difference between a runny nose when you have a slight cold and the rhythmic snot-pull of cocaine use is unmistakable. When the roof of your mouth is completely numb and you’re feeling parts of your throat you normally don’t, you’re a lot more prone to Morse code sniffles and repeatedly touching your nose with the grace of a goat eating lunch. Swallowing the drip at the back of your throat is nearly constant.
Plus, clothing says a lot. The indoor sunglasses with the Trump Casino ornamentation were a giveaway, as was the embroidered V-neck shirt and pre-worn denim. To me this is the menswear equivalent of automotive “Halos,” those dorky LEDs surrounding the headlights of cars that will never see the autobahn. So yes, I realize I could sum this guy up more quickly with the phrase “coke-head douchebag,” but I’m not of fan of the word: I can do better.
And throw all of this into a blender, along with the guy’s pacing and that weird back-hand mouth wiping, and you’ve got a face full of powder and a physical presence not unlike the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz.
When he started in on the first boombox, I thought my otherwise monotonous time would fly by. I had quite a number of books to organize, but with him there mixing and matching speakers, and trying to untie my knots, I figured I wouldn’t even notice the tedium of my chore. What I didn’t factor in, though, was his attention span. This was like watching a grasshopper and expecting it to go in straight line. The guy was into everything –for about 15 seconds– until he discovered the microwave. Then he excavated his way down to that and wrestled it forward. He even managed to free it without the avalanche of golf clubs I’d predicted.
He inspected it for one full, uninterrupted moment, and then, like a psychic robot-drone, he spun on me and approached, which took me by surprise. He’d been so isolated in his world of Vin Diesel (or who knows what) I didn’t think he’d noticed anyone else. But clearly he knew I was there. “Can I leave a deposit on the microwave and come back to get it, like late tonight?”
Why was he speaking so loudly? Was he puttin’ the stuff in his ears?
“I don’t know,” I answered (because I didn’t). “But go check out the manager – she’ll tell you.”
He walked off, stopped and inspected glassware and then men’s pants, and I figured I’d seen the last of him. But then he came back, and this time with Julie, the manager. He pointed his out prize; she inspected it; and after a quick exchange, Julie herself disappeared. Cocaine Boy stood there, anxiously. You should have seen the purchase this guy was considering:
a) They make ’em much smaller now
b) It was crusty with food
c) It was white, for God’s sake!
d) The buttons had finger impressions like the fallen foam of an abandoned couch
Um, so, why the Goodwill if you can afford the marching powder, bro?
But wouldn’t you know it: Cocaine Boy’s science oven had the one cord I’d missed. I don’t know how much of a sign that is, if it’s one at all, but when Julie asked me to carry the thing up front for her, I almost broke my neck tripping on it.
Oddly –but not for someone on nose candy– the guy really did return 15 minutes later. Did he go to an ATM? Did he vacuum up a pile of gak on his dashboard? I don’t know. But he sure was attached to that rancid-ass microwave. And yours truly has one less day of community service.
Next up: Dean R, Koontz, James Patterson, Danielle Steel, Tom Clancy, Dale Brown, Stephen King and Signing for Dummies!