Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Courtesy of the friendly folks at the Lancaster Condominium, Part III: One final (fried) pickle


Because I hadn't had an apartment into which to toss them, my bags from the trip were back in the trunk of my car; and because that car had by now been towed — and me still locked out of my condo — I had no real option other than to continue to wear what I'd worn on the flight, meaning I was to be, for the rest of this ordeal, clad from head to toe in polyester sportswear: Under Armour tee under Under Armour hoodie, plus then a pair of Manny Ramirez-baggy Adidas pants whose slippery side-pockets, it turns out, aren't much good at safeguarding whatever precious items one might have erred in stowing there.

But hold on: That part of the story doesn't come till later.

Could I have changed after the locksmith, a Pakistani chain-smoker of Marlboro Reds, let me into my unit (this had to be done by completely removing the deadbolt, by the way — a disfiguration of my door I continue to be silently thankful for, as it means Sam/Roger/et al can never lock me out again)? I guess I could have. But at the time I felt every second counted, and maybe I could avoid incurring additional tow-yard fees if I got myself, however shittily attired, over there as quickly as humanly possible. And so on I ventured into the sweaty late-summer night, to catch a cab, out there among the sharp-dressed and heavily cologned Friday revelers, themselves looking for taxis to clubs downtown or else up in Clarendon, and me still smelling like a stale fart, like the sick-sweet recycled musk of an airline cabin.


Behind bulletproof glass — for fairly obvious reasons, these places always feature a wall of bulletproof glass — behind the glass the ladies have been hungry for whole hours, shooting down each other's ideas for where to order from, the pregnant younger woman highly particular, understandably, about how to sate her wild cravings; and the other, older woman, the pregnant lady's plump carbuncular companion on this graveyard shift rolling her eyes a lot and almost lighting a cigarette but then not and muttering Well we gotta pick sumpin.

"I could jess run down McDonald's."

"I'm tarred a McDonald's."

"Well pick somewar then, girl!"

Their voices are tinny, distant, muffled by that thick pane of glass, and every so often they look up at me warily, maybe to gauge my reaction, like this is a show put on for their observer, something to distract from or dissipate the cloud of animus that'd otherwise choke the air in the tiny office-trailer overlooking the yard. No one, after all, ever enters this place happy.




"Hail no."

"Fuckin' Pizza Hut?"

"Now that's a thought ..."

A man unlocks the back door to the trailer, pokes his head into their half, says he's got to take the truck over to the Hooters for a job.

"That still open?" asks the pregnant girl.

Be open till 2, he suspects, says the man.

"Now how would you know that?" asks the old woman.

"Never mind that," says the girl. "If they're open, we gon' get some them fried pickles."

"Fried who?" says the woman, eyebrows arched.

"You ain't never had no fried pickles?"

"They fry the whole pickle? What, you put sauce on it then?"

"No," the girl says. "They juicy nuff just plain."

The old woman snorts, looks up at me.

An expectant silence as the pregnant girl, too, shifts her gaze my way.

I smile. "Fried pickles are the shit," I say, pleasantly, by my own estimation, looking from one to the other.

"Hmmm," the old cow murmurs, frowning, incredulous. Then she swivels on her chair and taps an acrylic nail on the little metal ashtray-slot carved into the wall beneath the glass. "Be one-fifteen," she says.

Sighing, I pass my credit card through.


I re-enter my apartment with a strange sense of accomplishment and in a remarkably good frame of mind, though I am briefly reminded of the Chris Rock bit about people always wanting credit for things they're supposed to do — in my case, it'd be for things that never should've happened in the first place, and that had sunk me even deeper into the red (by a grand total of $265, as a matter of fact).

But I push this fleeting shadow of a thought out of my mind before it has a chance to form fully. For now I can exhale. My apartment's still clean and vacuumed from before the trip; the dishes are all done; there's an acceptable number of non-perishable and thus edible items in the fridge. I crack a window; the air at this point, just after midnight, wafts in on a pleasant, temperate breeze redolent of honeysuckle, which reminds me, in the way only scent can, of long-ago summers back home in Salisbury. I inhale sharply and feel deeply satisfied.

All there's left to do, the final returning-home ritual, is to unpack. I empty the contents of my pockets (wallet, keys, ChapStick) onto the desk, where they take up their usual positions. Out of its case comes the ol' laptop. Next to it, the stack of $2 CDs I picked up from Amoeba on Haight Street in San Francisco. Finally there are clothes, tennis shoes, toiletries, the battered copy of the book I'd read on the plane.

Having emptied it almost completely, I'm about to toss the Adidas duffel back onto the shelf in the closet when I remember the various chargers I left in the side-pocket: one for the computer, one for the iPod, one for the phone.

Speaking of which — the phone. It's not in my pocket. It's not on the desk. I run out to the lot, to the car. It's not in the coin tray or cup-holder or map pocket. It's isn't wedged into the seat or fallen onto the floormat.

Now I'm grinning a grin of total abject disbelief and nodding to no one, the way you see the faithful nod in affirmation of a sermon.

Looks like my night isn't over just yet.

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