"There's not much doubt in any of our minds that no complete idea springs fully formed from our brow,
needing only a handshake and a signature on the contract to send it off into the world to make twenty-five billion dollars.
The germ of the idea grows slowly..." - Walt Kelly

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Not on an empty stomach

Three words for today are fragrant, jostle and remnant.

To say it was "a mistake" would have been too obvious. Instead, Alby chose to remain silent, staring at me across the diner table as I buried my face in a plate of fries that were still too hot to eat. He took thoughtful sips of his soda and I could see that he was wondering when the spotty remnants of formerly boiling oil on the fries would finally do me in. I stared up at him and spoke with a mouthful.

"What, asshole?"

He raised a bushy eyebrow, unimpressed with my vocabulary. "A bit confrontational this evening, aren't you?"

I contemplated throwing a handful of fries at his face, eventually deciding that I was too hungry and the loss would be too great. Instead I returned my gaze to my food and ignored him. He waited a moment longer before speaking again.

"Max, you know you can't go home after what just happened, right?" He gave me time to respond, which I did not utilize. "I'm just saying...you fucked up pretty bad."

I was running out of fries, which meant I was also running out of good excuses to not respond to him. I snuck a glance around the restaurant, hoping a waitress would be nearby so I could order another plate of anything food-related.

"Max, you need to knock it off, right now."

I picked up the last strip of potato and held it in my hands like it was the Holy Grail. I turned my head sideways and stared at it, watching a grain of salt tumble off the side into the palm of my right hand. I began imagining it was a man in a barrel, plunging over the tempestuous edge of a more delicious version of Niagara Falls.

Alby's hand rushed by my face like a rocket and crashed into my hand, catapulting the last of the french fries toward the diner window. The wooden blinds clattered with the impact and the fry fell to the table, its journey ending with a dissatisfying thwok. I grasped my hand in pain and rose from my seat, staring down at him with all of the fury I could care enough to muster, which was not that much.

"Whatever, man!" I shouted down at him. "Just...whatever!"

"Whatever?" he shouted back. "Are you serious? I know he was a massive jerk, but seriously? Whatever?"

"Yeah, man, whatever." I sat back down, pouting. "I just couldn't do it anymore. What's the worst they throw at me? Juvie?"

"That might be the best you get."

"Thanks, Al. Best friends should always be as good at this as you are."

"Wow, dude. For real, just shut up. You have no idea what you just did, do you?"

I crossed my arms and did my best imitation of an impudent child. A waitress passed by carrying a burger and fries. My head turned on a swivel to follow the fragrant dish to the back of the diner. She delivered it and walked back past our table.

"Excuse me?" I said. "Could I get another plate of fries, please?"

"Sure thing, sweetheart." She smiled at me and kept walking. "Just a minute."

I turned back to Alby and saw him frozen in an incredulous shrug.

"You really don't have any idea, do you?"

I returned his shrug. "Can I just eat some fries?"

"You can eat all the fries in the world, but it won't keep you out of prison."

"At least I'll be full."

"You're already full. Full of shit."

I pounded my hands on the table in succession, then lifted a spoon and tapped Alby's glass to simulate a rimshot.

"Well done," he said. He settled his arms at his side and adopted a sour look. "Well done."

I sighed and turned to the window, wedging a few fingers between two of the wooden slats to get a better view of the highway. I could see the faint glow of faraway police lights bouncing off the streetlights in the parking lot. I sighed again and withdrew my fingers, letting the blinds close in a disruptive clap. Alby saw the lights, too, and his eyes widened as he turned to look back at me.


The waitress returned with my plate of fries and set them down on the table in front of me.

"Anything else, hon?" she asked.

I shook my head, not even bothering to look up at her. I didn't hear what she said after that, but I saw her walk away out of the corner of my eye. I picked up a handful of fries and stuffed them into my mouth, letting one or two spin out of my grip and onto the floor. The police lights flew directly into my vision now, and I squinted to concentrate on my food. In a few moments three officers jostled through the diner door and made a precision turn toward our table. One of them grabbed Alby by the arm and guided him out of the booth. The other two stood by my side.

I kept eating, taking care not to lose any more fries as I nibbled on one at a time. One cop's voice buzzed in my head like a broken stereo speaker, then stopped. Then buzzed again, and stopped. Then began buzzing constantly, and I saw three more fries plummet onto the smooth tile as the second cop grabbed me and pulled me out onto the floor. I felt the handcuffs slap on one at a time and I was lifted to my feet. I barely noticed the terrified look on Alby's face before I was in the back seat of the police cruiser, slumped forward.

I shrugged, for no one but myself. At least I was full.

Playing on my iTunes at this very moment:
Deerhunter, Helicopter

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