John anguished all day over the color of his shirt, from the moment he ran into Barkley at the Starbucks on 3rd and the young jackass asked him where he got the pink shirt. Now John knew it was a white shirt, and that there was nothing pink about it at all, that it had just come from the cleaner’s and that he fucking knew white from pink — but nonetheless he spent the whole goddamn day looking in mirrors, stopping in men’s rooms, etc. He even cut off Nancy in the hallway outside the copier and made some mention to the whiteness of his shirt, some stupid thing about how it didn’t look as white as when he bought it. And Nancy just said, “Looks fine to me.” Which for a few minutes decided it for John, until he started thinking that she didn’t actually make any statement at all on the whiteness of the shirt, only that it looked fine, and what if slightly pink was “just fine” to that ignoramus? Fuck, he thought, fuck, I’m going to have to toss this shirt the moment I get home.
Ray wrote the check, signed the paperwork, and was handed the keys by a somewhat depressed-looking Willy Loman type who also pressed his business card (home number on the back) into his hands with an admonishment to call, please call, if Ray had any questions. And so Ray walked out of the dealer and stood there in front of his brand new gleaming black car. He loved it with everything he had — but he knew. He knew that all cars die. Well, maybe not all cars. Some become vintage, collector’s items, and live forever in Concours D’Elegance heaven. But Ray’s Nissan Maxima was never going to enjoy that fate. He could give it regular maintenance, keep it clean, fix every problem, but from this moment on, the Maxima would forever be on a path to the junkyard. First the smudge on the seat, then the scratch, then the first dent (an anonymous gift from some asshole in a parking lot), and so on to the first accident, the blown engine, the transmission to the moment when he traded it in for another piece of shit.
I know, I know, it’s been a long time. I’m trying.
Reynolds was beside himself that Jeff had the gaul to refer to this creation as his quesadillas. “All you’ve done here is put a store-bought tortilla in a pan, dump pre-shredded cheese onto it, and cook it. There’s nothing remotely personal about it,” Reynolds pointed out. “But it has my touch,” Jeff replied, turning the quesadilla over. “No it doesn’t,” said Reynolds. “You’ve done nothing here that’s unique. This same quesadilla is made millions of times a day by millions of people. To call it your quesadilla is just ridiculous.”
Lazlo was a bad terrorist. Not “bad” in the sense of being perfectly evil, though he did aspire to that. No, he was bad in the sense that he was simply terrible at his craft. He never managed to accumulate followers like so many of his peers, his suicide bombers always got cold feet, and when they didn’t, the explosive devices inevitably failed to go off. One time, he threw a pipe bomb under a police car, only to have it fall down an open manhole, where it promptly fizzled in the human waste below. Another time, two of his agents managed to explode a bomb at a frozen yogurt shop in a popular square in the capital of a well-known Middle Eastern city. Only they blew the place up at 2:30 in the morning when no one was around. The police called it a gas explosion and the owner – who was thinking about closing the place anyway – got a healthy settlement from his insurance company.
Jason lived alone, and he had a bad earwax problem. He tried to avoid it, but he often found himself cleaning his ears on white towels, which left stains. So he had the idea of buying towels that were that same dark honey color, so they wouldn’t show the stains. But the towels looked strange in his bathroom, so he got curtains and rugs to match. Then ultimately he had to retile the counter and get new fixturs to make everything look right. By this time, he was really liking the earwax-colored scheme in the bathroom, and wishing he had more of that around the house. So, new paint, sideboards, couch reupholstered – really a total remodel. And only then was he happy.
Rollie could spot a killer in two seconds, so when he saw the man in the red windbreaker on the boardwalk, he was immediately suspicious. He ducked into a doorway and watching the man for more than hour. Then, when he was ready, he slid in behind a group of teenagers and followed them right up to the man in the red jacket. “You’re not so good at your job, mug,” he whispered, clutching the man’s collar. “You want to kill me, you better be on your game.” The man looked at him confused. “I’m not here to kill you, buddy,” he said. “I’m here to kill that guy.” And he gestured over to an older man, nervously trying to read a newspaper in the wind under a tree. Exactly the kind of person who gets killed.
Things are very important, my uncle Werner used to say. They have memories and feelings, not of themselves perhaps, but even more importantly, they have our memories and feelings. Like containers. “And we have a responsibility to them,” he once told me (He used to look at me as if through a cloud of cigarette smoke — but neither of us actually smoked). “When you have more than one of a thing, you have a collection — and that is a responsibility, like a family.”
And so it was that four men of very specific ethnicities — but not necessarily the same ethnicity — were standing around (Oh, it doesn’t really matter what they were doing, but let’s just say that they were hanging around a lunch truck.). And then another man, also of a very specific ethnicity walks up. This new person orders a burrito (it doesn’t matter what kind) and then pulls out his wallet to pay. As he does so, a bill falls out of his pocket onto the ground. This is very important, because his wallet was in his back pocket, the man is unaware that the bill has fallen out, but the four others see it very clearly. The four men freeze, and then one man (whose ethnicity you think you know, but are completely wrong about) slowly bends forward to pick it up. The other three (again, not necessarily of the same ethnicity, which again you will be wrong about) watch him carefully, wondering what he will do, and what their reaction to that will be. But the man picking up the large bill knows exactly what he will do.
Jenson parked his car deep in the airport Economy lot, high in the alphabet, high numbers. He didn’t even bother to note the location. He put his head down as he climbed on the shuttle bus. Gilbert, the driver, was driving yesterday and might recognize him. He settled back in his seat, comforted at the prospect of several hours rotating through the airport, the parking lots, the terminals. So relaxing to just sit and circulate. He used to taking airplanes, but the more he thought about it, he realized that he really just enjoyed this part. Jenson didn’t have to get on a plane. In fact, he could just draw this moment out for hours. Just sitting and moving and thinking about going far away.
Normally, an answer like this would be far from disqualifying, potentially even intriguing. But when he smiled and said, “I sometimes get angry at food,” she knew exactly what he meant, and could not leave the St. Martin Bar soon enough.