"how are you struggling to get by today?"
"what can i get for you today?"
i'm at The Store as i am every week at this day and time at this deli counter, for my one hot meal a week, a hot mediocre sandwich prepared in the ramshackle ovens of the deli counter. this has not been a good week for me, it never is, i can't explain why it's any worse than other weeks, it just is :/
HURRY UP! YOU'RE KEEPING THE LINE UP! WE WANT TO EAT FOOD! WE WANT SUSTENANCE! WE CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT FOOD, WE WORK FOR A LIVING, WE'RE REAL PEOPLE, NOT LIKE YOU, SLACKER, GIVE YOUR SANDWICH TO US, YOU DON'T DESERVE TO EAT! HURRY UP!
oh the din of the crowd is deafening, my ears bleed from their truth, i close my eyes, i close my head to try to stop it, but the truth always wins out. there is no one in the line with me, just me, i'm strategically placing myself just far enough away from the counter that it's unclear if i want to order, so the guy can't legally speak to me. of course i am blankly staring at the menu above the counter, so there is a loophole for him. of course i stare at the menu simply because i don't want to stare at him, at anyone, i don't need to look at the menu, it's the same six choices it has always been.
something has to break the tension that only i feel, he doesn't have a clue. is that...what?...can't be...i look at his nameplate and it says:
okay, that's just awesome, i mean, that's real? doesn't matter, that breaks the imaginary ice, i mean this is Karnov we're talking about here, from that classic NES game, you know the one? google it if you don't. i wasted so many hours of my wasted youth on that game, i was happy then, Karnov, the muscley badass bare-chested Russian with just the red pants on, the circus freak (or something) who fireballed his way past dinosaurs, mythical creatures, and the gods themselves to save the day and win the game. of life. his life. my life at the time.
Karnov, the man who manned the deli counter, wore a two-sizes-too-small white t shirt, his bulging biceps ripping the hell out of that shirt, fraying the hell out of it. this was straight-up Hulk stuff. his strange oversize hairnet over his bald head did nothing to quell his stature, he was a real-life Karnov in every respect. i didn't have the guts to walk behind the counter and take a peek at his pants below and at the back of his body-covering white apron, but i'm sure they were red.
the forward momentum of video-game nostalgia propelled me toward the counter without my knowledge, it always did. video games were cool but always got me in trouble somehow Mom used to say.
"what can i get for you, blood?" began Karnov.
Karnov :) still couldn't get over that.
"how's my life? it's so weird whenever someone asks me that, it's the type of thing that will forever require an answer that sums up that present moment in time, it will never be a pat answer, a stock answer that covers you from month to month, season to season, year to year. life is such that every moment is different. i mean just this morning i thought i had a pretty good grip on things, i woke up and had to strain to worry about something, it didn't come to me instantly, which is a good thing. moments later, though, my cat raced to my lap and cried. or he mewed, but it sounded like a wail. that got me depressed. even though i provide everything for my cat and i love him dearly, more than me, i would literally die for him, still, i pondered the existence of all animals, the ones as pets, the fact that they are 100% reliant on another human soul to care for them, that they'd be lost out in the wild, or maybe not, they'd survive, if they didn't get eaten by a bigger animal, the whole thing is very depressing, it's all summed up in the plaintive mew of my precious kitty."
that's what i wanted to say to Karnov, strong and proud, a human being conversing with another muscle-bound human being. sure, this is about sandwiches, but everything is about life, with every opportunity you have to open your mouth, you can plumb the depths of another soul, and in turn your own soul, never judge a book by its cover, Karnov may be working here because his PhD funding ran out. conversely, i hope Karnov and the rest of the world doesn't think i'm a stoner simply because i have a permanent glazed look on my face. that isn't apathy, it's fear, i have diseases crawling around my brain.
why is this taking so long? oh, i haven't ordered yet. the time is longer than usual. i'm sweating over here, my thumbs are bobbing.
"wait. oh. didn't i just talk to you? a long philosophical discourse..."
Karnov stared at me politely with his massive arms on the bread board holding his weight together. "specials today are ham and cheese and hot melt. how are you today?"
how are you today? what are you doing that keeps you alive, keeps you breathing, today?
what's it gonna be, champ?
"um, sorry, i," my toes are shaking. remember. if you remember one thing, remember this one thing: remember? Karnov, yes, Karnov, that was the unique thing that broke today's monotony:
"is your name really Karnov?" i dribbled out.
that put a bright smile on the dude's face, lit him up, that gleam of his was a piano's worth of white keys as teeth: "HA, well, no, not my given name, but i was able to get this boss nameplate embossed with my favorite video-game player of all time. pretty cool, huh? in this shit job, you have to stick it to the man somehow, right? that's what Karnov would have done, stick that fireball where the sun don't shine into that god. i even have the red pants..."
didn't need to hear anymore. i knew it about the red pants. victory. i won. my life was complete. i could die now. and i did die now.
i guess i was on the cold Store floor now, sleeping or something.
"kid, you okay? what kind of cheese do you want?"
did i actually order a sandwich. forgot.
"cheese? i dunno, i didn't know anything anymore, cheese? um, my favorite as a child was the orange cheese. "orange."
i am an American, that is how God made me. i could have been a Greek or a Greek god, but it wasn't to be. i could have been Karnov and fight the Greek gods, but that was apparently already taken.
"wait, cheddar? that's the orange one..."
why is this taking so long? how fucking long does it take to make a sandwich?! Karnov took an hour to place the cheese slice on the loaf, and another three hours to get the olives, pickles, tomato, and the lettuce in there, all the while asking me about my day, about my life, i can't talk anymore, i talked already, my wrists are itching, why is this taking so long? the silence is deafening, there is only Karnov and i alone together in The busy Store filled with people, we have to talk, there's no other choice, this is what happens when you want a meager sandwich in your belly, this is the horrible price you have to pay, you have to put yourself in the spotlight for another human being to see and evaluate and comment on. you have to explain yourself, your life choices, to another who can then analyze from afar and glean your secrets, you can't hide in your house anymore, you have to eat though you don't deserve to eat, you don't contribute to this dying economy, you merely mooch and feel sorry for yourself 23 hours a day, the other hour you are in a daze ordering lunch.
"what kind of lettuce you want, blood, iceberg or the purple one?" Karnov licked the lettuce before putting it on my sandwich. "tomatoes are ripe this time of year, look at that ruby red color, like my pants." he licked the tomatoes and offered for me to lick the tomatoes, which i did. they tasted like nervousness.
i crawled on my hands and knees out of the deli area and into a safe aisle with no one else there, the water section. too much coffee and coke my Mom always used to say. she's right, i need to cut back, no, i need to abstain completely. nice healthy water instead of more coffee. ice cubes instead of coke in a glass of ice cubes. i reached for a case of bottled water, but the water talked to me, the bottles formed eyes and mouths and spoke to me as a choir of little voices all converging into a single big voice:
"Phoenix, you are not ready for us. water is a huge step. only health nuts attempt to drink us and exercise and shit and forego all the pleasures of life."
"but maybe i won't be as agitated all the time," i countered without thinking,"my skinny body will develop muscles. my system will be cleansed of all of its rotting, toxic caffeine." i was talking to water bottles which had faces on them, but it's okay. "as my body gets strong, my mind will clear and get strong," i continued, "i will have more sex because i have more muscles. Karnov bangs all the circus ladies and the female gods because of his muscles, ripped equals stripped...of clothes in the sex bed."
"that's a myth," the water exhorted, "don't believe the right-and-left-and-center-and-diagonal-and-upside-down media, health doesn't exist, everyone dies, you can't move up in life, you are born to your future, you are doomed to be who you are, bless your curses, bless the fact that something is keeping you down, it means God sees you at all, potential must remain potential, if too much potential becomes action, the universe explodes, it's all a balance, and in order for Bill Gates to have his billions and his influence, you must stay low, poor, and miserable on the other edge of the seesaw spectrum."
oh, okay, that made sense. i liked Bill Gates, i'm a computer nerd, a gamer, so it's okay.
"have fun in the small sphere you are able to have fun in," the water concluded, "drink that coke, slurp down that coffee, your body will feel a WHOLE lot better..."
HELP ME, SOMEBODY, DIG ME OUT, CLICK HERE, RIGHT HERE AT THIS LINK.
"blood, you like things spicy? you want to spice up your life? want me to add hot peppers?..."
the next person i encountered was a beautiful girl in a pink dress and a mini crown on her head. did Karnov have princesses? i forgot.
"special today, today only, my bosses are allowing me to sprinkle some rock candy on your platter. you in, blood? i'm in, hehe."
"rocks, yes, Karnov, you are a pro with those rocks you hurl at your enemies," the pretty lady introduced softly, "those boulders the enemies throw at you, those rocks which are really made of brown paper bags."
she was one of those ladies who offer you free food from the store, little hot dogs on toothpicks in small white ridged paper cups, pineapple chunks on toothpicks...except she was more than that, more than another statistic, another dead-end job, she knew other things, she did other things with Karnov, she knew of other worlds, you could see it in her eyes, she was itching to get to her smoke break and back to her real life, "that Karnov of mine, always messing around." her nameplate said Medusa.
"hello, honey, my name is Deylin."
so far, so good. reality intact. nameplate and person both were Deylin.
Medusa was my favorite villain boss in Karnov.
why is this taking so long? the time is killing me.
Deylin ate her own pineapple chunk, never a good thing, that formed a Moebius strip. you never should eat food that's not granted to you, that was for the customers, but she had some, and her head started spinning. she started spouting out philosophical conundrums. is that how i looked when i philosophized? i wondered:
Deylin: "i don't understand one thing: food. how is there enough food for everyone in the world? take you for example (she pointed at me with her grey finger), you eat three nice meals a day, that's a lot of food for someone who doesn't contribute back to society. you have a nice big bowl of Poppin' Pebbles for breakfast, eggs, salacious bacon, orange slice, for lunch it's microwave enchilada smothered in red sauce and microwave popcorn, and a dinner of hot steaming spaghetti and meatballs, oh it's so good, the food is so good, it's tasty, so yummy in your tummy, you are so satisfied, so satisfied with yourself, aren't you, you get to live another day, your mind hasn't gone crazy yet, it's all filled with nutrients and good stuff, but how can the Earth take it? that's so much food, pounds of it just for you, you measly human, and there are 6 billion or whatever other mouths that want that bowl of pasta, how can the fields take it? day after day, the dirt will eventually turn grey, and no more plants will spring up in service to your spiral pasta, the Earth will explode trying to have billions of people eat hot, delicious 3 hots and a cot every day forever for 60 years average life span, it's impossible, you are impossible, this is impossible."
Deylin's face spun so hard and fast that all i could see was the whooshing spinning effect on top of her head. her two arms grew to six arms right on cue religious-style. the snakes on her head were always there. in the spinning mass, another face formed, eyes, mouth, was it still Deylin's face or the water's?
what's taking so long?
i have to remember one thing, what is it i came in for? what item did i want from The Store this morning? it wasn't just for the sandwich, that's an afterthought, a bonus for making the arduous trip...yes, the Gevalia, that special coffee i always wanted to try, that hoity-toity Kaffe thank you very much, this will make me special, stand up above the rest, it's all i got, screw it all, i'm going back to coffee!
"today only, today is the rest of your life, what are you doing with your life? marble rye, you want the marble rye special?"
yes, i found it, i found the Gevalia (in the aisle next to the water) in its beautiful yellow pouch, i carressed the pouch, kissed it, this would be my distraction, my savior, i would drink this, it would power me up, it would taste different from all the coffee i had before, and that's how i would move forward from this, with this new thing, this new experience, i saw those commercials with the smooth Gevalia spokesman with the fake blond hair making all the book-club ladies blush with his accent and his promise that this brand of smooth coffee would never be bitter. this is how i would earn the ladies the non-water, non-healthy way, going with what i had always known: coffee, but a new take on coffee: kaffe. i had it in my hands, something new, the Gevalia.
i raced to self-checkout. Deylin and Karnov had taught me that life was a video-game...i think...didn't matter...this world was impossible, the fields couldn't possibly produce that much food, The Store was just a front for the real video-game world, where Karnov fireballed his way to success and 100 more points. i only had to push the right button to get that, to get my coffee, my prize for saving the weird princess, push the right (or left) button on my video-game controller to jump, attack, block, shoot fireball, and purchase coffee without going to jail, without dying and using up one of my 3 lives.
seriously, what the fuck is taking so long? i've come out of my skin.
i returned home with my booty, my treasure chest of coins, the secret item, the new item no one else knew about, i found it in a hidden compartment in The Store dungeon, the kaffe, the Gevalia. this kept me grounded in the real world with grounds, it was an item in the real world, on tv, i touched it and was real again. this coffee was so precious to me, like my cat, i read the instructions on the yellow bag. the instructions seemed to love itself, too:
WE RECOMMEND ONE TEASPOON OF GORGEOUS, DARK-TASTING, IMPOSSIBLY-RICH GEVALIA TO EVERY 6 OZ OF WATER. WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED WITH THE EXPERIENCE, LIGHTLY TAKE THE TIP OF YOUR FINGER AND CLOSE THIS BEAUTIFUL BAG BY GENTLY ROLLING, ROLLING, YES, ROLLING IT LIKE SEX TO THE TOP OF THE PILE OF UNUSED GROUNDS. THE BEANS WILL BE WAITING FOR YOU TOMORROW, DON'T BE LATE, YOU SEX GOD THAT TOOK DOWN THE GREEK GODS WITH YOUR FIREBALL YOU.
i had won the game. i had beaten life, this life, this version of life, real life, video-game life. i was stuck in a boring rut. i tried something new but was reminded that i couldn't change myself. just stick to the norm and usual, it's all any of us can do. PhDs are too hard, cosplay through. food is an impossible concept, put a crown on your head to keep it from swiveling the next time you take a bite of small, toothpicked food
and realize the enormity of what you have done. use what you already have, what you've liked from the beginning, just super-charge it, turn your wooden sword into a grand shining master sword, your coffee into kaffe.
i kissed the yellow bag of kaffe. i spoke to myself, to the world from my room, to the coffee bag: "yes, yes, yes, you're all i need, you got me through to the other side, i'm sorry for all the planters out there that made this bag that i drink, all the harvesting dirt that was wasted on me to create these beans, these grounds, they won't go to waste, because i promise, i appreciate all this, i appreciate all of you, i really truly enjoy my food and my drink, and i appreciate my life, i want to live, even though i can't live anymore, i want to try to be something, and for that, i need food and drink, the impossible concepts of food and drink. i understand my place in the world now, i will remain quiet and never bother you again. i will never leave my house again." my anxiety lifted instantaneously after that soliloquy.
"okay, homey, last thing: you want this sandwich cut in half or leave it be?"
"blood red, you want me to wrap this sandwich in brown paper or white? want me to put it in a bag or leave it out? will you pay for it here at the deli counter or at self-checkout?..."