And a Madness Came to Sherman Oaks


The Shining

You meet a lot of people at Starbucks.  People who are nice, and people who aren’t.  People having a good day, and people who aren’t.  People who are Steve Carell, and people who aren’t.

It’s tough to make a mean person not mean, but it isn’t that hard to change someone’s bad day into a good one.  A dash of kindness here, a dad joke there, a smile, a laugh, and voila!  You have a happy customer and, more importantly, a happy human being.  It’s my favorite thing to do at Starbucks.  If I can cheer somebody up, I feel like it’s a job well done.  I’ve not yet been able to transmute the not Steve Carell’s into Steve Carell, but I’m working on it.  It’d be a big get.  He tipped me five dollars.

Steve Carell

Even if someone’s order is wrong, there are ways to fix it.  Corporate suggest simply apologizing and saying “what can I do to fix it?”  The fact that you want to help changes so many situations from bad to good.  If you care, people notice.

The one thing you can’t change is crazy.  At last I can’t.  Maybe with the proper medication and counseling a psychiatrist could, but I’m a writer.

We had a regular who came in practically every day over the summer.  I never caught his name, because he only ordered brewed coffee, but I did catch his scent.  It was a miasma of body odor and halitosis, not the kind you might find on a homeless person, but rather on someone who just doesn’t care.

He always wore sandals, cargo shorts and colorful Hawaiian shirts.  More often than not he would have a Fidel Castro hat on.  He was a weird guy, but he’d always been polite, and I enjoyed chatting with him just as much as anyone else who came through that I only sort of knew.

It was a May afternoon, and I had been on register all day.  I was looking forward to getting home, cracking some beers, and playing League of Legends.  I fiddled with the cup holder below my register.  The springs were always cracking and falling out.  I was trying to fix it.

A stench overwhelmed me.  I stood up, and there he was, standing at my register, smiling with this sort of vacancy in his eyes, and lack of movement in his face that made him seem very insane.  He practically starred right through me.

“One coffee, please” he said with a mad lilt.

“Of course”

I got him his coffee, and he just kept smiling.  He took it, and passed me two dollars.

“If they come by, don’t sign it.”

“I’m sorry?”

“The people.  They’re coming around with a clipboard and getting you to sign things.  Don’t sign anything.”

I looked over at Andrew, who shrugged.  I decided to do what I always did in difficult situations: pass the blame up the food chain.

“Oh, it’s Starbucks corporate policy not to sign petitions.”

The smile remained.  He pointed a finger at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism.”

“I’m not going to sign anything.”

He smiled, nodded, and raised his coffee cup to me.  Once he was out of earshot:

“What the actual fuck was that?”

Andrew was laughing.

“I don’t know.  He was…”  Andrew stopped.  He starred at the coffee bag display.

“What?”  Andrew just pointed.

The guy was back.  He was still smiling.  He pointed at me.

“It’s state sponsored terrorism, okay?”  He shouted.  I didn’t know what to do.  Normally, I just ignore crazy people.  I’ve learned the hard way that if you even look at them, they might direct whatever is happening onto you.  I couldn’t ignore a customer at Starbucks, though.  I smiled a nodded.  “Don’t sign anything.  I’m serious, okay?  Not kidding.”  He laughed.  It was terrifying.

I just nodded again.  He dismissively waved me away and went to put cream in his coffee.

Why couldn’t I just turn him into Steve Carell?

“Welcome back, Mr. Carell.  I loved you in the office, and basically everything you’ve ever… what’s that?  Five dollars?  Thank you!”

A hispanic woman as at my register.  She seemed nice.  Nothing crazy about her.

“Hi, welcome to –”

“HEY!”

I turned to the coffee again.  He was back.  The smile was gone.  All that was left was rage.

“9-11 was an inside job.  The planes, the oil, jet fuel.  It’s state sponsored terrorism!”  He was shouting.  I looked around for help.  Everyone was just as scared as me.  I raised my hands to signal my passivity.  He just kept going.  “No one else heard what you said, but I heard it.  You know.  9-11 was a fucking INSIDE JOB.”

He twitched.

“They’re after me.  I’m a wanted man.  It’s state sponsored terrorism.  They want me because of what I have in here.”  He jabbed at his head with his index finger.  “In my brain.  They know I know and they’re after me.”

This was possibly the most frightening thing he said.  I searched for a weapon with which to defend myself.  I could use our serrated knife, but we only had one, and we might need it later to cut a bagel.

I settled on the broom.

I heard a snort.  Slater was on the floor, counting over the money from the safe.  He was laughing.  He was actually laughing.  I looked at him and mouthed “what” as in “what the fuck is funny about any of this.”

He just shrugged and kept laughing.

I clutched my broom all the tighter.

“I’m calling corporate on you.  You won’t think I’ll do it?” He threatened.

Steve Carell wouldn’t,  I thought,  He’s a nice man.

I didn’t say anything, though and he went away in a huff of anger.

I went to the back ten minutes later.  Michael and Slater were counting the money.  Slater was laughing again.

“Here he is,” he said, looking at me, “he can probably tell it better than me.”

“Slater was saying some guy was yelling at you?” Michael asked.

I told him the whole story.  Michael took it very seriously.

“Okay, I’ll call corporate,” Michael said, and I thought thank god!  He’ll get banned, or arrested or something! “Just in case he makes a complaint, I’ll let the district manager know he should just disregard it.”

Disregard it?  Disregard it?  The dude’s crazy!  He’ll probably babble on about moon rocks and the dark lord Cthulhu.   I don’t care if they disregard it.  I wanted a body guard, a Starbucks employed strong man than could protect me for when this man inevitably returned with a gun.

He’d motion with a little wave of the barrel.  “Come on,” he’d say, “we’re taking a walk,” and then he’d take me up to the roof of the parking deck for a murder suicide so we could both board the galactic ferry on it’s way to Cariathor to meet the Lord Xenu or whatever.

I’d stare at him, and I’d say “I’m sorry.  Is there anything I can do to fix it?”

Who knows what he’d do then?

I know one thing, though.

If he was Steve Carell, he would have tipped me five dollars and taken his adorable daughter to the Disney store.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 10.07.59 AM

Dogs and Babies Are The Same Thing


dumb ass dogs

My family is a dog family.  My parents have a golden retriever.  My sister has a pug.  If I were able to afford to feed another being other than myself, I would probably have a dog too.  Well, maybe if I didn’t live in LA.

Los Angeles must be hell for dogs.  Their acute hearing must ring with every horn honk and fire truck siren, the stenches of human secretion and garbage that grace the streets must ravage their sensitive noses.  The hundred-degree concrete can’t be good for their paw pads, and the only grass in my neighborhood is already so full of poop that it basically is poop.

Careless dog owners leave the poop.  I like to imagine they think they are doing the grass a service.  In this drought-ridden land, where water is scarce and sprinklers are basically outlawed, dog poop might be the only moisture the grass gets.  In their minds, I think, they are keeping LA green with a little bit of brown.

The poop thing doesn’t really bother me.  I live in an apartment.  It’s not my grass, and after my second or third venture into a plot of turf, I’ve learned just not to walk on the stuff.  City dogs don’t bother me, either.  They’re always on leashes and seem so blasé about every new stimulus they come across that I feel sorry for them.  Here comes a doberman pincher, its face droopy with ennui.  A squirrel crosses his path, and the doberman merely watches it trot along before wandering over to a three inch by five inch tuft of scrub to defecate.  Back it goes, into a tiny studio apartment, to sit on a couch and watch re-runs of Law and Order while it’s owner asks it for notes on her audition.

“Yeah, I wanted that line to be ‘bark’, but what if I tried it less ‘bark'”?

The only dogs that bother me are the dogs that people bring into the mall.  If I had to make a list of places where dogs don’t belong, the mall would be included, along with hospitals and the surface of the sun.

I saw one urinate on some of our fake plants one time.  Its owner told him “good boy” and then just walked away.  I’m supposed to call someone when this happens.  Mall security, I think.  I never do, though.  It’s not my fake plant.

Sometimes, when I can’t fall asleep, I wonder if dogs poop in the fake plants.  It’s why I don’t use the escalators anymore.  They’re just too close.

The only thing worse than dogs are babies.  You would think that babies wouldn’t be as bad.  You can leave a dog at home.  You can’t really leave your baby at home.  Babies are only good at a few things, and finding creative ways to injure themselves seems to be one of them.  “I have no idea how she fell down the trash chute, officer.  I had only popped over to the mall to walk my dog for an hour or, so.  Honestly, how did she have the time?”

Babies are worse because dogs eventually get tired of making noise.  Babies never do.  More often than not, I’ll be on register, writing down someone’s very berry hibiscus refresher on a trenta cup (no ice, extra berries), and a baby will be wailing.  It’s impossible to discern where the noise comes from.  There are dozens of strollers in line, and dozens more waiting for drinks.  Strollers prowl the walkways and block the elevator.  Strollers gently rise up and down on escalators, and jam up the exit routes.  If there were a fire, only people who ran hurdles in high school would be able to make it to safety.  The strollers would foil the rest of us.

I was cleaning the stores lobby when a baby barked at me.  I turned to its stroller, and it wasn’t a baby.  It was a dog.  The dog smiled, wagged it’s tale, and barked again.  It must have been two or three, and seemed to be in perfect health.  Its owner turned and looked at me.  The expression on her face said “well, aren’t you going to complement my dog?”

I looked next to her, where another woman stood behind her stroller.  There was a baby in her’s, and a young couple were fawning over it.

And that’s when I got it.

You don’t bring your baby or your dog to the mall for their enjoyment, or health, or benefit at all.  You don’t take them because you can’t leave them home.

You bring them because it makes you special.  It sets you apart from the rest of us.  Your a mother, or a father, a caretaker of some kind.  You want to be complemented.

You’re showing off.  That’s why you bought the bright pink, two thousand dollar stroller that has a mini AC in it.

The dog owner was still looking at me.  Her face still longed for validation.

I gave in.

“Dogs aren’t allowed in the mall” I told her.

She blinked.

Thirty minutes later, my shift ended, and I got to go home, to blissfully continue my life, free of both babies and dogs.

Because, really.  Can you tell the difference?

dog and baby

Ten Minutes With A Dumpster Woman


dumpster woman

I hate taking out the trash at home, but when I’m at Starbucks, I absolutely love it.  It’s my favorite thing to do.  On any given day I’ll clock in and then immediately approach the supervisor and start trash talking.

“Can’s lookin’ pretty full,” I’ll start nonchalantly.  If they don’t ask me to take the trash out, I give them a little nudge.  “It’s going to overflow soon, probably.  Big mess.  I’d hate to be the one to have to clean that up.  Could attract rats.”

That usually works.  If it doesn’t, then I can wait.  Someone’s going to have to take it out at some point, and I’ve already planted my seed.

The reason I love taking out the trash so much is that it’s like a mini break.  Since I work at a Starbucks in the mall, the dumpster we dump our trash into is a few hundred meters away.  Maybe a two or three minute walk.  Getting the bags in the dumpster takes another few minutes, and, before you know it, your coming back eight minutes later, feeling refreshed.

Eight blessed minutes without having to talk to another human being.

If only it were that simple.

By it’s very nature, a mall is a communal institution, the dumpster pit doubly so.  Everyone in the mall uses the dumpsters.  Sometimes you have to make small talk.  Dumpster small talk.

It’s as uncomfortable as it is banal.

“Oh, hi!  How are you?  Yep, just taking out the trash!  Yes, I know.  Can’t wait for winter!  Work sucks, right?  Yeah, we’ll get better jobs one day!”

How I hate it.

It was night, and I had was bringing a bunch of cardboard boxes to the recycling dumpster, which is right next to the trash one.  I wheeled my cart up the ramp and threw a box in.

“Ow!  Hey!  Stop it!  Somebody’s in here!”

My heart seized up.  There was someone in there.  There was someone in there!  Both the dumpster have pneumatic trash compactors that could easily, easily crush anything left inside.  To death.

“Sorry?”  I asked.  I stared into the dumpster.

A head popped over the inside ledge.  A pretty head.  A woman’s head.

There was a woman inside the dumpster.

Meeting women by the dumpsters is not uncommon in my line of work, though most of them are pale, thin, and utterly unresponsive.

FullSizeRender

This one was different.  She wasn’t a mannequin.

So I asked the obvious question.

“Oh, you know,” she replied, “just looking for stuff.”

Stuff?  “This dumpster is for recycling only.  It’s mostly just cardboard boxes.”

“Well, that’s great.  You can never have too many cardboard boxes,” she said with a smile, and the disappeared again.

I looked over at the big, green button on the railing.  The one that started the compactor.  The one that would compresses her to a pulp.  The one that literally any unknowing passerby could press.

It’s loud.  The pneumatics would drown out her screams.

“They’re all squished!” she lamented

“That’s because you’re inside a trash compactor.”

The head popped up again.  “Really?

“Yeah.  You could die.”

“Huh,” was all she said.  She looked at my boxes.  “Are you gonna use those?”

I shook my head, and the woman climbed out of the dumpster.

I don’t know what I expected, but It wasn’t what I saw.  Here, crawling out of a dumpster, was a gorgeous twenty something woman in very chic clothing and, I kid you not, high heels.  Her hair was perfect.  Her nails divine.  She even had makeup on.

I stared.  She noticed.

“Sorry,” I said, “I just thought that someone… of the dumpster… wouldn’t look like…”  I took a breath.  “Aren’t you nervous someone might see you?   Someone you know?”

“Hey,” she said, “everyone needs boxes.”

Again with the boxes.  Who was this woman? Did she live in a box?  Did she and her lumberjack, rugged, cover of Men’s Fitness husband construct a house out of used cardboard?  Do they sleep on a cardboard bed?  Eat cereal out of cardboard bowls?  Did she send a lot of packages?

“I guess…” I said, as the woman picked up all of my cardboard and carried it to an infiniti CRV not too far away.

She left me alone with my thoughts.

Why?  Why would someone who didn’t have to climb inside a dumpster?  Who would do that?

She stayed on my mind as I walked back to the store.

I was mopping the floor when my friends showed up.  Nate and Britt had just graduated from the same graduate film program I had, and had made the move to LA less than a week ago.  Nate has two internships and film production companies.  Britt has some set jobs lined up.

I was in a green apron, mopping the floor, and I’d been here for a year.

Time flies.  When I first moved out here,  lived in a beach house thanks to a mix up with the apartment I would rent.  I stayed there for a week.  I was interning at a production company, the same one Nate was interning at now.  I was living the dream.

beach house

And now I’m mopping floors in a mall, taking trash to dumpsters, talking to strange women who dwell within.

At this point, I thought I’d be writing for TV show.

“There he is,” Nate said as I walked around the bar, “Looking good in that apron.  Has it been a good day?”

“Sure, it was busy earlier, but it slowed down now.”

Nate looked around, smiling.  “So do you like it here?”

I looked at my mop.  I thought about Starbucks.  I thought about the customers.  I thought about bills, and paychecks, and rent.  I thought about student loans.  I thought about fixing my car.  I thought about my health insurance, and my free coffee, and my computer, and my writing, and the industry, and movies and TV and socks and money and beer and people and friends and life and death.

Most importantly, though, I thought about a woman in a trash compactor stealing cardboard.

Hey, everybody needs boxes.

“Yeah, I do.” I finally said.  “What can I get for you guys?”

He got a very berry hibiscus.  Just like I knew he would.

very berry hibiscus

 

%d bloggers like this: