Work by day. Ride by evening. Write by night.
Posts from Matt:
A thousand bronze and silver coins scattered across the counter. Or what seemed like a thousand as I counted them one by one. The nickles first. Then the dimes. Lastly, fifty-three cents in pennies. The man soliciting service was a regular. Jim was his name, or so he told me. Fridays were his day. The day he was allowed to wander outside the parameters of the local mental care facility. Just a stones throw away, the building housed a cast of people who would meander in an out of Dunkin Donuts. On that afternoon shift I worked alone.
“H-h-h-how are you sir?”
He asked cordially after dumping that full piggy bank of change next to the register.
He was a great big man. With an unkept, graying beard. His outfit was the same each Friday: A t-shirt with a white and black spotted cow. “Go vegetarian!” printed in bold lettering directly above the heifer. Jim’s blue medical scrubs were layered in grime.
With his right eye, he’d stare at me. His left, a walleye, trailed off in the distance, pondering incomprehensibles layered somewhere in foreign dimensions. Was he mentally ill? Or was it a gift to see a reality tucked away in the ether?
“C-c-can I have a tub of salmon cream cheese?”
I’d grab it from the mini fridge, tucked underneath all the other, much more appealing options: garden vegetable, chive, and strawberry.
Taking the tub with one hand, he flipped through the plastic cutlery. He dug until he found a butter knife.
“T-t-t-thank you sir.
Turning around, he sat in the booth directly behind him. The one booth in Dunkin Donuts that faced me. Me, behind the counter.
I began counting the change. Jim began talking.
Not to me, but to those people I didn’t have the ability to see.
“Y-y-yes, you remember, don’t you. The truck passed by me. I got outta the way.”
I looked up. Jim had pealed the cellophane off the container. It was stuck to the faux-wood, Formica table.
He stabbed his butter knife into the tub of lox. Giant, white chunks of curd strip-mined. Gelatinous gobs falling into his mouth. He chewed, then swallowed.
“I-i-it’s about time. Give me the news. You know I like good news.”
The amount of inconsiderate assholes that frequented the store were too many to count. Petty. Their mood dictated by the proper amount of jelly applied to their bagel. The correct number of spoonfuls of unrefined sugar dumped into their coffee. Constant pressure on me to remember who they were. To know exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it.
Not Jim. His request was streamlined. Simple.
We, the employees, were to abide strictly to the rules of a senior discount. I.D. shown. Fifty five and up only. In turn, a dime taken off a dollar cup of coffee. It was a right achieved through arrogant seniority. It was an honor granted to those who had really “lived.”
I grimaced when it was asked of me. The dick-ish, “And my discount?”
I had counted each pile of change. Color and size coordinated. The nickels equaled sixty five. Adding the pennies and the pile of dimes, Jim’s total reached one dollar and ninety eight cents.
He was twenty short.
“F-f-finished.” Jim yelled out at me. Looking over, a mess of cream cheese speckled the table. The tub, flipped upside down. His knife lying on the ground.
“I-I-I told him. I said you got to go out and mow the grass before it rains.”
Jim pulled himself out of the booth. Slowly, he shuffled to the door. Partially talking to me. Partially talking to a crowd of other people: present only to him.
The door opened, and Jim’s sillouhette trailed out into the parking lot. The afternoon sunshine was muted, its orange luster calm and warm.
The total on the register flashed in front of me.
I couldn’t ask Jim for the balance owed.
He had seen a lot. His experiences: a laundry list of traumatic experiences. And for him, that trauma, availed endless one-way conversations. And those conversations, a fruitless attempt to attain some sort of semblance of rationale.
Jim suffered from Life. A life encompassing many lives, none his own.
And for that, I hit the button allotted only to seniors.
More than anyone, Jim deserved that.read more
The prince of satanic death metal was directly in front of me. I worked my eyes from the ground up. Black Hi-Tec combat boots. Black pants and shirt. Black fur-felt Stetson covering a waterfall of long, oily black hair. On his right elbow, the giant pentagram tattoo I’d seen in photos tucked into Morbid Angel’s album sleeves. On accompanying pages, those lyrics that forever haunted me: ‘Ghouls attack the church, crush the holy priest, turn the cross towards hell, writhe in satan’s flames.’
I would have been, had I not been in line at Starbucks.
But more realistically, I would have been had I not, over the years, come to realize that the satanism that plagued Tampa was a growing pain. A youth, bored, relishing the scare tactics of what we all believed to be ultimate evil.
Waiting for a cup of coffee, with David Vincent at arms length, I reminisced on the days when Tampa hailed as the satanic death metal capital of the world. Those days when, much younger, everything posed a diabolical threat. Where each event played out on the strings of Satan’s puppet show. His minions, blasting their cacophonous guitar riffs of possession, in hopes to drag every last kid, especially myself, into the pits of hell.
It always happened late on a Saturday night. The same five heshers under the old oak tree, their weed smoke billowing through the Spanish moss, lifting high above into the clouds. Metal cranked loud on their portable radio.They knew I was coming. They knew I had to get from one end of the graveyard to the other. On several occasions the Carrollwood newspaper would announce the discovery of another dog heart. With multiple puncture holes, the hearts were placed carefully in a felt bag, draw strings taught, and hung from that tree. I knew it was them, those five greasy metal heads. And they were after me because somehow, they knew, that I knew their secret. Every Saturday night, on the ride home from Mike’s, I feared for my life.
Pedaling as fast as I could, I’d whip through the middle of the graveyard. Each ‘burnout’ scaling the low fence, falling in behind me. With sticks, rocks, or whatever else lay dormant next to rows of tomb stones, I was pelted. Heart pounding, I’d somehow leave those shitty “long hairs” behind. It was the music that did it to them. They were possessed.
The main post office was right up the road from my Grandma’s house. On Friday’s she’d send me up to buy stamps. There, the lines were long and winding, often doubling back twice, sometimes three times. I was always the shortest in line. Each adult towering above me. And once I’d made it deep enough into the mix of customers, I felt sealed in. Claustrophobic. It was here, on those Fridays, that the same two members of the band Acheron would stop by to use the postal service. Each member dressed in a Catholic priest’s outfit. Instead of white, each wore a black clerical collar. They stood in line, arms to their sides, military like in mannerism, never uttering a word. I would try my hardest to not sneak glances. But I was stuck in the cue, my line of vision always ending upon them. I knew what they were doing. I knew what was in their brief case. Tomes of satanic literature seeking postage. Mailed off to homes of those devout followers of the black mass.
Glen Benton had attended my high school. Benton was the front man for the most extreme of the lot: “Deicide.” As if his music wasn’t scary enough, he branded an inverted crucifix into his forehead. All ready skittish, for me the thought of Benton once roaming the halls was paralysing. From Benton’s presence, anything could have been under Satan’s spell. My locker? My textbooks? To me, it was no coincidence that my first class of the semester was American History. Starting in the late 17th century, my teacher, Ms. Morris, began with the Salem witch trials. Those nineteen “innocents” as she called them. Each suffering a skewed trial. Each going to the gallows. Ms. Morris defended those witches and I, in turn, was certain she was part of this whole scheme of evil enveloping our institution.
David Vincent was next in line to be served. I’d never heard him speak, just listened to his demonic growls through the catalogue of Morbid Angel’s albums. I would, quite often, see him out in the neighborhood. I’d pass his house where he and his wife mowed their grass. I’d see them at the local grocery store, in booths at the local restaurants. They were domesticated.
Since my high school days, I’ve seen Deicide play. Glen Benton on stage, his scarification healed and only slightly noticeable. “Who’s got a beer?’ he yelled between those songs promoting ‘Satan’s apocalypse.’
Harmless, and more interested in the party after the show, he and his band continued to grind away into the night.
Looking back, those burnouts in the graveyard were high and most definitely bored. Chasing me, I’m certain, was the highlight of their night.
And those two members of Acheron? They were probably posting their electric bill.
And here today was David Vincent.
“Can I get a bag of Sumatra coffee and a blueberry muffin?” I heard David ask, audible over the upbeat, classic jazz playing over the loud speakers.
On this afternoon, he was not out to sacrifice the innocent. He was not attempting to convert followers through the psalms of Satan.
Instead, he was just another civilized tax payer minding his business.
He came to this local Starbucks on a bright and sunny afternoon to relieve a caffeine headache. But more importantly, he came to subdue, not the pains of eternal damnation, but an unrelenting sweet tooth.read more
The cops were coming. We saw them cooking across the courtyard, tires spitting up grass, lights rotating as if someone had just been murdered. We stalled. Just for a second. And then split in four directions.
Don was a good kid. To me at least. I don’t remember exactly how many fights he had gotten into. Or how many girls he’d slept with well before he turned sixteen. Or how many times he’d been caught stealing from the local K-Mart. But he was my friend. A good one too. Someone that would always take my side in an argument, or in the midst of going to fisticuffs, or the night my step-dad and I got into a fight in the front yard. An embarrasing ordeal with neighbors looking on. Don and his mom took me in, letting me spend the evening at their apartment.
Together, Don and I split from the group. The other four split up individually.
Pedalling as fast as we could, we headed into the commons of the University. There, we could easily swerve in between buildings, or so we thought, evading the single patrol car that followed us. Free and clear. We had it. Until my chain fell off my sprocket.
‘Grab that shit and run!,’ Don screamed as he slowed his pace to keep an eye on me.
I grabbed my bars, positioned myself beside my bike, and sprinted like a gazelle.
‘Just take off Don, haul ass!’
Don looked back at me. He looked forward. Then turned back one last time.
For once, it was my chance to look out for him. I owed him this.
He pedaled off, gaining what seemed to be ten yards a second. Why was everything in slow motion? Don trailing off. The cop, in a patrol car behind me, somehow not catching up. Why does life seem to slow in a panic? Are we being punished by our senses? Our body warns itself, ‘Take it all in, you deserve it.’
Internal, hard love: situations like this will teach you to avoid mistakes. In this instance, those life lessons were perpetual.
My pants fell to my ankles. With my chain off my bike, could escape have gotten any worse? Pants off. Chain off. I was still, somehow, evading capture.
‘Grab him?’ I heard behind me, a bellowing voice over a megaphone trailed in front of the patrol car. In my periphery, two students, polo’s tucked in, hurdled some brush. Losing speed, energy, but mostly luck, I was tackled by both of them and instantly pinned under four hundred pounds of combined weight. This was the falling action.
The police officer lifted me by my right arm as his cuffs clicked into final submission. Reaching down, he gently pulled up my pants. Here, in the center of the University, I was put on display. A feather weight in a criminal ring, an embarrassing amateur. Soaken wet from sweat, with dry sand littering my face and hair, I crumbled underneath the cop. “You’re under arrest.’read more