Sunday, February 20

My First Job. (Part II - "Death")

In my life thus far, I've been pretty close to death on a number of occasions. I'm sure we all have, really. Close calls with cars on the highway, one misstep away from a 10-story fall, kitchen appliances gone awry. When you consider how fragile and tiny life really is, you start to consider yourself pretty lucky when you find yourself on the "not dead" side of these incidents.

When I was about 7, my family went on vacation in Florida. There, I had an honest-to-God near-death experience in a hotel pool. I couldn't swim (still can't), and I ventured a little too far into the deep end. For the next eternity, it seemed, I tried to find my way back to the surface, taking in huge amounts of water with every wasted breath. I still remember every second of that ordeal, and each time I feel instantly claustrophobic. Water is really my only big fear, which explains why I haven't bathed or showered in years.

The interesting thing I've noticed with all these instances is that I never thought I was going to die when they happened to me. You only think after the fact that you could have lost your life. Come to think of it, there has never been a single time in my life where I honestly thought I was going to die.

Except for once.

I had been working at the Co-Op for a couple of years at this point, and I was 18 years old. I shuffled in a few minutes late as always, and positioned myself behind the counter for another typical Wednesday. I stood there for a few minutes, opened the store for business, and wondered where all the employees were.

After about 15 minutes and a dozen customers later, my boss finally emerged from the back room, where the 2 other employees seemed to be hiding as well. He was looking around every isle on his way up to the front counter where I was standing, and he didn't look right. Todd was a kind-but-tough man, boasting scarred arms and a black David Crosby-like 'stache. I've seen him lift hundreds of pounds and put out fires with his bare hands. Today, however, he looked...well, he looked scared. Something wasn't right.

After checking the store for any customers, he escorted me away from the huge window at the front of the store, to a seasonal isle full of rakes and garden gnomes. "Ryan", he said to me, "There was a message on our machine this morning by a guy who said he was going to come in and kill someone today. We don't know if it was a prank or not, but the police are coming and we're not taking any chances."

I thought to myself, "Not taking any chances? Great! We'll close the store up, and I'll go back home. Hell, my bed's probably still warm. I'll just grab my coat and...."

"Keep your eyes peeled." Todd said to me, and he hustled back into the storage room with the other employees, closing the door behind him.

I crept slowly back in front of the giant window, very much alone for the remainder of the day. Apparently the rest of the staff had a lot of things to do away from the main floor of the store. I'm sure their thinking was that as soon as they heard my dead body hit the floor, they could easily sneak out the back with little to no confrontation. I knew I was going to be on my own.

I tried to keep my wits about me. About 98% of our customers were regulars who probably wouldn't hurt anyone unless they were black. It was just those drifters that I had to keep an eye on. Living in Larsen Wisconsin, trucks came pre-equipped with gun racks, and everyone was capable of taking a human life if only slightly provoked. As the customers started to file in, I did my best to check them out as soon as they entered the store. I had a small axe behind the counter that I once used to chase a child out with (true story), and I was ready to split anyone's melon should they come in with shifty eyes. I did this for a while, and when the action died down for a couple minutes, I excused myself into the office.

There, I listened to the answering machine message myself. Perhaps I could figure out who left it, or if they were just joking around or not. I'm pretty good at detecting sarcasm, and I can usually match voices to faces. I pressed play just as the cops arrived.

"I'm going to come in there and kill somebody tomorrow!"

I didn't recognize the voice, and I wasn't about to assume they were kidding. The cops took the tape with them, and I was back on my own. Honestly, where the hell did all the employees go?

Anticipating your own murder is really something amazing. You start to wonder if you've lived a decent enough life at the age of 18. I couldn't believe that I was going to be killed behind the counter of a gas station. I helped myself to a few free sodas and candy bars. It was the least I could do. Eventually, I started to take the defensive. If someone was going to come in and shoot the store up, it was my duty as an employee of the Larsen Cooperative to kill him first. With each strange customer, I clenched the axe in my hand, probably looking insane. In normal work situations, your supervisor wouldn't take too kindly of their cashier wielding a hatchet at every smiling face that entered, but he was in hiding and there was no time for rational thought. I was sweating all day, I couldn't stop circling the counter and I wasn't in the mood for talking. Anticipating my own murder soon turned into me anticipating murdering someone else.

(Cue fantasy sequence.)

I had it all figured out. The car would pull up, probably an older American model. The muffler would be loud, and the rust would be creeping up along the edges of the forest green paint. The shooter would wait in his car, looking straight ahead, pausing to look around in wait for the store to empty itself out. Once the last customer has left, he would emerge from the vehicle slowly, looking left and right with squinted eyes. He would slink quickly to the front door and make his way inside, thinking he was home free.

But what he doesn't know is that I'd be on to him.

He'd take one look at me, and draw his rifle from the front of his pants. I'd catch it from the corner of my eye, glistening in the sickening fluorescent lights. All at once, I'd swing myself in his direction, the butt of the small axe swinging with me. The butt of the axe would make direct contact with the barrel of the gun, sending it careening down the Fertilizer isle. He'd turn in the direction of the rifle, taking his eyes off of me for one second too long.

I'd step out from behind the counter as he scampered down the isle for the gun. Like a Cherokee warrior, I'd throw the axe end-over-end, sinking it deep between his shoulder blades. He'd hit the ground and slide about 2 feet, just 6 inches short of the rifle. The axe would still be sticking out of his back as I slowly walked past him, Doc Marten boots stepping on the hand that was so desperately reaching for the gun. I'd pick it up with gloved hands (I said I was prepared), and he'd look up at me just in time to see me aiming the barrel right between his dilated pupils.

"You need to control your temper." I'd say to him calmly. My finger would wrap tightly around the trigger, and he would close his eyes with a grimace, bracing for the final impact. Just then, the police would bust in, take him away to jail and slap a medal of honor on my Co-Op uniform. The next day, the headlines would read, "Ryan Zeinert paralyzes nutjob, George W. Bush drinks self to death." From then on, I'd continue to work at the hardware store from time to time, but I'd receive enough money in shoe endorsements to live comfortably in Paris with Celia and Kate Winslet. I was ready to roll.

(End Fantasy Sequence.)

The hours ticked by, but I never let my guard down. If someone came in that I knew, I'd try to keep them around for a while, knowing that I could use them for a crude bullet shield when the carnage began. I was especially friendly to the heftier folks. If a straggler showed up, I hustled them out quickly, fingers sweatily wrapped around my axe. They didn't ask questions.

It should seem obvious to you by now that no shooter ever showed up. Eventually, 4pm rolled around, I punched out and headed back home. We later found out that the message was nothing more than an angry customer thinking out loud while the answering machine was recording. He was mad that we weren't open, and made an ass of himself. We never found out who it was, and no charged were ever filed. Things went back to normal at the Co-Op, and we never talked about that day ever again.

I learned a lot about myself that day. Morally, I learned that life is a tiny gift that should be enjoyed as much as possible. Weather or not we're significant or holy means nothing sometimes. I also learned that it doesn't take much to go primal every now and then. I consider myself a pretty stable person, but when faced with my mortality I all but scalped the locals to stay alive. I usually frown on mob mentality and mass-hysteria, but I had a one-man breakdown that day because I thought I was going to be killed. I felt vulnerable, weak and irrelevant.

The ultimate irony was that I was never in any danger whatsoever. All those other near-death instances happen to me every day and I never bat an eyelash. But in anticipating something nonexistent, I overwhelmed myself with fear to the point of insanity. It's happened to all of us at one point or another.

So, that's my story about the time I was almost killed by a crazed madman.

Similar incident occurred in Kentucky a few years prior. Overwhelmed by the thought that two crazy rednecks in a jacked up rusty ass dodge ram were actually coming back with shotguns drawn. is Kentucky
Doc Martens are the best kind of shoes to kill people in.
well I would have clocked out and gone home... not before depositing a package of Depends undergarments outside of the door your manager was cowering behind.
Malevolenz, I almost forgot about that. Our whole family almost got taken down, Deliverance-style. I remember you got a lot of crap for wearing a L.A. (Oakland) Raiders shirt, too.

Kentucky...what're ya gunna do?

I had a pair of Doc's when I was 18, but they tore my feet up. Honestly, I had blisters and everything. Sometimes in gym class, I'd have to wear them because I'd forget my gym shoes at home. Imagine a pasty-white kid with stick-like legs and tiny shorts, wearing a pair of huge black shoes while playing dodgeball.
Fidget, I should've left. For some reason, that never seemed like an option. I wasn't really thinking clearly, and had wet pants throughout the day.

I was jacked up on caffeine, and probably looked like a knuckle-dragging caveman with my pathetic hatchet.
Ahh, sweet dodgeball. I assume since you seem to like everything that is cool, that you enjoyed the short lived Freaks and Geeks tv show on NBC.

I wore Vans in gym class, and you could hear them slapping against the track on days we had to run.
Freaks + Geeks. Finally, something you and my wife can agree on! We always look at the big DVD collections they have out, but they're so damn expensive. Even the cheaper one is pretty steep.

It should be noted that both Joel and Trace from MST3K worked on Freaks + Geeks, and even made a cameo appearance. I'm a Wonder Years guy, but I respected F+G for the short time it was around.

And now, some words of wisdom from The Suicide Machines, and their tune, "Vans Song":

"Vans! In my head. Vans! On my feet. My sole is on the ground, when I'm walking down the street."


"Don't wear no Doc Marten's, can't wear no Birkenstocks. Just a crummy old pair of chuka boots, and a sweaty old pair of socks."
For goodness sake, if you want a happy life, go buy the superdeluxe yearbook edition while you still can. I got mine autographed this summer at Comicon by the geeks and a few other characters, and Paul Feig. I had the guy that played Neil Schweiber fake James Franco's autograph.
I had my red doc marten boots which were cool as hell, but the soles were so rigid and impractical that the only way I could comfortably walk in them was to high-step like a Nazi. Even then, I STILL got blisters!

Freaks and Geeks is awesome...I never buy DVD sets though because I know I would never watch them. With 3 days of American Idol per week, who has time for much else?
When I was wearing Docs, I WAS a Nazi Punk, so the walk just made more sense then.

We always look at the Freaks + Geeks DVD, and I'm thinking someday we'll buy it. I'm starting to fall behind on my purchases. (I still don't have The Simpsons Season 5!) I usually get those the day they come out. American Idol and bills have put a temporary halt on my spending frenzy.

That being said, I think we're going gambling next weekend.
Hey, I thought you weren't allowed to complain about money now.
"I'll never stop complaining about money. That's unpossible."

I won't stop complaining about money until I have a solid gold house and a rocket car.

Or at least until I get the Season 5 DVD.
Go banana!

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