Thursday, April 15, 2010

"Lowered Expectations" : Part V

When the bus hissed to her hydraulic stop across the bridge we all piled out gasping for breath and thanking our respective Makers for delivering us. After all, it was no small feat to travel longer than twenty minutes on the rush-hour Number One in July and live to tell the tale.

Mike put the straps of the kit bag around his shoulders and staggered away from the bus. To a casual onlooker it looked as if the diminutive salesman was narcoleptic and carried a twin bed strapped to his back to make the best of his malady. Since I was a bit bigger than him I offered to carry the canvas monolith for a bit, but Mike was quite adamant about bearing this commercial cross all by himself.

I didn't know whether or not to be offended. Did he think that as soon as I was entrusted with the bag I'd try and make a break for it? This didn't seem likely since the damned thing was so heavy he could have caught up to me while driving a parade float.

"Where's our first appointment?" I asked, trying not to walk too far ahead.

I noticed absently, under the full light of day, that the underarms of Mike's shirt looked as if they'd been dipped in urine. New dark spots were forming and I fought the impulse to Vulcan neck-pinch the poor bastard and carry his burden the rest of the way to Calvary for him.

"Don't...have...appointment," he muttered under the strain.

"What do you mean, we 'don't have an appointment'?" I demanded. "You mean to tell me we're just going to march into some business and try to sell this stuff to...who exactly?"

"The staff, of course," Mike grunted, finally throwing the canvas behemoth on the sidewalk in front of a branch of the Royal Bank, or the "RBC" for all you young hep-cats.

Ever wonder why so many businesses invest in one of those customized "No Soliciting" signs in their entry ways? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you, "Exhibit A":

Speechless, I trailed behind Mike as he wrestled open the front door to the bank and dragged the duffel bag inside. Stunned, I watched myself hold the door open for him as he pulled the dead weight across the floor of the bank, instantly drawing the eyes of customers and tellers alike. I felt my face ignite as I slowly slinked in after him.

Frankly if someone were to try this little stunt today they'd be instantly shot dead, no questions asked. Can you imagine this: it's your lunch break, you've taken twenty minutes out of your busy day to do some quick banking, you're standing in a lineup only two or three people away from assistance and then you see this? Two twitchy, sweaty-looking chuckleheads in shirts and ties bomb into the bank, dragging an army bag the size of a sofa which looks like it could conceal a weapons cache that would make a Michigan Militiaman swoon with lust. How quickly would you shit a proverbial brick?

Needless to say, Mike managed to get only a few meters inside before a manager stalked over to him, gesturing as if banishing a dog with dirty paws from the den.

"You!" she yelled. "No way! What did I tell you the other day? Get out of here!"

He tried to ignore her and peeled off towards the counter. The customers in line began to shuffle in place and exchange nervous looks as if rumors we beginning to circulate that they weren't about enjoy a nice, hot, refreshing shower after all.

"Did you hear what I said?" she demanded, grabbing him by the shoulder.

"C'mon, lady," Mike yelled back. "Gimme a break, I got some cool stuff here."

Clearly Mike was confused as to why someone couldn't see the inherent value of what he was trying to do.

"At least lemme show you a few things," he continued unabated, zipping the bag open from stem to stern.

Several tellers and other staff members stopped what they were doing and inched closer as if Mike was about to perform a venison preparation demo.

"Ooooo, that 'Donald Duck' bib is kinda cute," I overheard one employee say to another.

After my incredulous ears heard this I thought for a moment that he might actually sell something. But after a few of the bank staff rummaged through and cooed over Mike's clandestine wares for a bit they were ordered back to work and the manager promptly escorted us off the premises with threat of arrest if we didn't make it snappy.

We went to five other places in systemic order along the strip mall. By the time lunch rolled around Mike had collected a whopping eight bucks.

"Wheew," he panted, the sweat marks on his shirt now down to the belt-line. "I'm f#@&!*@ starving. Can I buy you lunch?"

"Uh, sure," I said to him, still in shock as to what I'd been accessory to.

Off we went to McDonald's, where all good marketers go to refuel. Since Mike was still hauling the "hockey bag of love" around, I easily got ahead of him in the lineup and bought my own lunch. After all, I didn't want to cut into his and Lucinda's wedding fund.

Between ravenous bites of special-sauceinated bovine goodness Mike managed to belch out some questions.

"So, dude, whattaya think?"

I popped a mitt-full of fries to try and stall, subconsciously looking for one of those plastic application form holders bolted to the wall inside every McDonald's.

"I dunno, man. I don't think it's my kinda gig. What with the whole bus thing, schlepping that heavy bag around, barging into businesses unannounced and getting thrown out over and over again. I don't think I can do this. In fact, I'm amazed that you can do it."

Mike's brain chewed on this as he abused a napkin.

"Yeah," he admitted, sounding wistful. "I know it's not for everybody."

Sensing him start to get down, I jumped up and slapped him on the shoulder.

"C'mon, dude," I enthused. "I'll carry 'The Beast' for a bit. Where too next?"

"Dooly's pool hall," he replied.

"Cool," I shot back. "Do you think they'll buy anything?"

"No," Mike replied as he stood up, looking around so as not to trip over the Mothra-cocoon sized bag.

"I just wanna play some pool," he said and gave me a knowing smile.

So, for the next three hours Mike exercised the one and only perk of his miserable job and goofed off. We played pool and just shot the shit. During this time I got to know him a bit and understand his motivations somewhat. A high-school dropout who'd seen his own share of troubles. A genuine affection for a woman he really wanted to marry. A desire to just get by in the world and be safe, secure and free to pursue happiness.

At the end of our time together I shook his hand and we both bid each other good luck and good fortune in the future. I sincerely hope he found a semblance of contentment in a world that often forces you to do borderline embarrassing things to survive.

I hopped on a bus and made my way back to the commune. Upon arrival I regaled my scarlet cohabitants with my tale and they sat in rapt amazement.

"Well, I hoped you learned your lesson," my bitter friend lectured me after I was done. "All of these jobs in the paper are crap."

Although I agreed with him at the time, like Mike, necessity was going to force my hand one last time.

But that's a story for another time. Join me tomorrow for the final installment of "Lowered Expectations".

In the meantime, here's this week's DAVE'S WORLD comic:



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