During the four years I spent in high school, I worked at a grocery/feed store in the small town I lived in. Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, every Saturday and every other Sunday. I credit working there and bartending as two major factors in my becoming a writer. Because when you meet people who are such characters, you start spinning narratives about who they are. How they are. Why they are.
One of my favorite people to work with was a Justice of the Peace named Tommy who was probably five or 10 years older than my parents. We typically worked together on Sundays, and I always looked forward to our shift. Because he was funny as hell. The 12-year-old-boy sense of humor that still strongly resides inside my brain was immensely entertained by this guy. And he enjoyed having a willing, giggling audience.
He looked like a good ole boy and I was the same liberal asshole I am now, so we cut quite a figure. Here’s a picture of him from later years.
I snagged this photo from a facebook event listing for a scholarship fundraiser a few years back held in his honor. Glad to know his presence is still being felt. I thought of him tonight because this nonsense little ditty that he used to recite popped into my brain. There are quite a few variations on the interwebs, but this is how I remember him telling it.
I see, said the blind man to the deaf woman
over the disconnected telephone line
with her wooden leg hanging out the window
in the rain saying, “I feel! I feel!”
Funny the things you remember about people. There was an old lady with gray hair who wore a black wig that was more like a hat than a wig, her gray hair curling up around the sides. I’d carry her groceries to the car and she’d make me place them on the floorboard so I didn’t crush the invisible person on the seat. There was the time my boss told me his brother Tiny was coming for a visit. Out in the country, nicknames often are the opposite of the person they describe, so I assumed Tiny would be tall and 300 pounds. Nope. He was a little person. And he had the name TINY stamped on the back of his wee little belt. The people who ran the meat market would occasionally get a pig’s head, which they would dress up with a hat, glasses and scarf. I tried to stay away from the meat counter as much as possible, but there were many evenings I had to reach into a big jar to grab someone a pickled pig’s foot that I would wrap in wax paper. There were a few dirty old men who liked to take a gander at my goods when I bent over to bag their groceries, so my father suggested I write “What the fuck are you looking at?” upside down in my cleavage. There was a guy with an extra finger, only it didn’t have any bones. It was like a deflated, flesh-colored balloon just hanging off the side of his hand. Every time I’d go to give him his change, he’d flip his hand over and the boneless finger would flop around. There was a rich guy from Houston who wore short white shorts and liked to “stretch” while he was at the store. Usually when it was just high school girls working the counter. Because there’s nothing high school girls like more than a 40-something year old dad bending over and almost touching his toes.
Not everyone who walked in the store was a character, but the characters are the ones I still remember 25 years later. So, in the grand scheme of things, I’d rather someone remember me for my stupid jokes (or extra finger) than not at all. Here’s another of Tommy’s favorites:
Him: I had to defend you the other day.
Me: Really? Why?
Him: Someone said you smelled bad, and I said, “Like shit she does.”