Depending on which direction you’re traveling, our street is one block past Sunshine St. But the direction of approach is important. One block past Sunshine from the wrong direction and you end up in front of a long line of apartment complexes, the check cashing place, the laundromat Señor Burbujas, and the shady liquor store my wife is scared to go into. There is also a dive bar called Catfish Charlie’s.
I thought it might be a fish market or a sporting goods store at first, but when I finally got the courage to enter and explore all I found was a dingy hole in the wall that smelled like a recycled ashtray. The two guys sitting at the bar each had an eyepatch. What was the chance of that? I wondered briefly if Catfish Charlie’s was actually a pirate bar, which would explain a lot.
The inside of the place was greasy, smokey, sticky. It felt if someone actually lit a cigarette the entire place might ignite, including the two dirty pirates bellied up to the bar. At least the bartender had two eyes. But upon closer inspection one was a glass eye that seemed to be pointed in the wrong direction, like a pirate in disguise.
After Jasper flipped out and threw that tray of milkshakes into the back seat of that Camaro, Mr. Bowdon took him off drive thru for good. That’s the last straw, Bowdon screamed, taking a straw and crumpling it between his sweaty fingers in an attempt to look menacing. I noticed a smear of ketchup on his crooked tie, and even though Mr. Bowdon was my boss, I felt sorry for him.
Bowdon marched Jasper into the back office and closed the door, and when they came out it looked like Jasper was about to explode and break the shake machine again. He got placed on fry station probation, and wasn’t allowed under any circumstance to speak to customers. Jasper was never exactly a ray of sunshine even on a good day due to the PTS he suffered in Desert Storm. If he wasn’t a veteran I’m sure he would have been fired a long time ago.
After the Camaro incident Jasper’s complaints became more insistent. His every moment was filled with laments about how much he hated J.J.’s, how much he hated Mr. Bowdon, and above all, how much he hated French fries. If I never see another French fry it will be too soon, he always said. Jasper had a habit of telling drive thru customers that we were out of French fries, simply because he loathed all contact with the offensive spudlets. I always wondered why Jasper didn’t just quit if he hated J.J.’s and French fries so much. As far as I could tell, I was the only person who actually liked working at J.J.’s Burger Den, mainly because I loved French fries, and it was pretty much all you could eat in the French fry department.
For all intents and purposes, I lived off French fries for nearly a year.
Only one bad thing about traveling; the return to home, like a crash landing. Broke, burnt-out, mosquito-bitten, bad breathed, and culture shocked. All things of consequence mortgaged to finance six months of vagrant bliss, which suddenly and inevitably spirals back to this. Home.
Car sold, apartment relinquished, girlfriend gone, savings account on a horrible downward trajectory. Couch surf and search for employment. Scour the wants everyday and circle promising ads. Administrative Assistant. Busboy. Delivery. Sales Associate.
Fifty applicants per ad. Forced by desperation to accept something temporary perhaps. Like the graveyard shift at the Donut Hut. Just until something better comes along.
In the middle of the night, at Donut Hut, there are a few quiet moments. Eyes closed, the sounds of the video games take over, shooting, pinging and dinging. Step right up and witness the GREATEST SHOW on EARTH!! The Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey’s Circus pinball machines announces over and over when nobody is playing it. The only way to stop it is to tape an out of order sign on the front and unplug it. Enjoy these quiet moments, channeling past adventures and planning future ones. Live the moment has been mantra, but living the moment in Donut Hut is difficult. Relegate the moment to a later time. Relive past moments. Just until something better comes along.
A humorous, touching, and unusual collection of short stories and flash fiction. Written by a former surf bum, biologist, and professional athlete turned middle school teacher, this collection documents both the ridiculous and sublime, and everything in between.