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Chapter 2. Who? Where? Why?



I woke up around two that Saturday afternoon. During the week, I am
usually up by noon, unless I am exhausted. On weekends I can usually extend
my dead-time until about four or five. I used to try and live normally on
weekends, up at a reasonable hour, sleep at night, and so on. I discovered after
about six months that messing with my circadian rhythm only made for rougher
shifts, and all-around sleep-deprivation irritability. When I was Danny's age
(listen to me; I sound like my father,) I used to thrive on sleep-dep. Only five
years later, a steady diet of night shifts and six-till-noon weekday naps has made
me incapable of sleeping when it's dark outside.


I went to the kitchen to get some breakfast. Marvin's bedroom door was
open. He had been asleep on the couch again when I came in at five, but
usually moved to his bedroom by sunrise, especially on weekends. He'd
normally get a few more hours sleep then, and be up in time to have breakfast
with me at dinner time before our weekly mall trip. This Saturday, he wasn't even
in the apartment at mid-afternoon. Danny's door was closed, and lollipop girl's
coat was on the back of one of the kitchen chairs. There must have been
another wild party, because he hadn't been home when I had come in.


I didn't notice the note at first. It only caught my eye after pouring a bowl
of cereal; some generic brand of Cheerios that Marvin had taken to buying
instead of the real thing, "because they are cheaper, and invariably taste better."
I went to the refrigerator to get the milk and saw Marvin's handwriting:

Al,


Gone to do a story across the river on some new band. Out/Scene called
and said they needed me to do it. Gotta love when these editors call you up all
desperate. Anyhow, I won't be home until tomorrow afternoon, so we'll have to
hold off on the mall until then. Sorry bud. Told Danny already when he came in.
See you tomorrow, and DON'T EAT MY GENERIOS!!!! .marv.





You have to love the guy. He knew me so well, he could predict me.
Marvin was a freelance arts writer, and a damn good one at that. He had come
to school to be a novelist, but hadn't fared well amongst all the "artistes" at the
University. When every one else was writing about flowers and death and the
beauty of a fall day, Marv would write what they would have called cinema
veritee. After three years, he got tired of everybody telling him how he had a
great eye for realistic detail, but that his work wasn't "poetic enough". He
dropped out, watched alot of television, developed many of his theories, such as
Network Gumboism, and then caught a break when a cousin of his called and
offered him a job writing for Spin magazine. At first, it didn't seem like this cousin
really wanted to give Marv the job, and Marv didn't really seem to want it.


"He's only doing this because my mom is tired of wiring me cheques, Al,"
he had said.


"Yeah but so what, Marv? It's a paycheck. Look, it's not like he's signed
you into a ten year deal or anything. It's not like this is what you're going to do for
the rest of your life. It's just two stories, on a freelance basis. Worst that can
happen is you do a shitty job, he doesn't publish the articles, he stops calling,
and you keep living off mom's cheques, right?"


As it turned out, he wrote about a dozen articles over two years, all of
which were published. His cousin offered him a staff writer position which
required a move to New York and steady hours. It also meant a steady
paycheck, but only at a fraction of what he could make at his current rate of
freelance writing. He turned down the job with his cousin, used the contacts he
had gained from his two years pseudo-working for Spin, and became the
freelance Detroit correspondent for eight or nine Arts and College magazines
across North America.


One would think that this would mean a busier life for Marv, but instead of
working himself to the bone, he only took the stories he needed to sustain his
current lifestyle, continued to live in this crummy apartment with me, and
developed myriad other theories. He said he was using the free time he had to
work on a novel he had been working on since high school, but in the six years
since his cousin first called, I've only seen Marvin use his computer to type out
final drafts of his articles, and have not read page one of his mythical novel. Not
that it matters. You wouldn't believe how much a freelance journalist can make
with the right reputation, the right contacts, and substantial talent. Marvin had all
three.


Sometimes I ask myself why I am not more envious of Marvin. He works
as little as possible, makes a great buck, gets to travel all over the continent, gets
into almost any concert, art gallery opening, book launching or film release party
free, and doesn't appreciate any of it. Meanwhile, I fail out of school despite
working my ass off, work nights at a boxing plant for plastic wrap and the like, just
make enough for rent, food, and the occasional outing, and would do anything to
get out of my student-basement-apartment lifestyle. Logically, I should hate the
guy, I should see him at a bar one night, throwing his money around, and get my
boxing plant buddies to take him to the alley and beat the shit out of his pompous
ass. Instead, we are best friends. I really don't understand how people work. I
guess that's why he's the writer.


I took my bowl of cereal to the living room and sat down to what ended up
being a wonderful four hours of television viewing. As much as Marvin has his
network Gumboism, I have my own television quirk, although I don't get to
indulge much when he is around. I love the weather network. Can't get enough
of it. It's not that I have any great interest in weather patterns or UV indexes; in
fact I still don't understand half of what they are talking about three years after
developing my fetish. Although Marvin never really questioned me about it,
Danny did ask me shortly after he moved in. I didn't have an answer for him
then, and I still can't really explain it. As best as I can tell, it has something to do
with the solitude of the channel. There are only three or four guys around during
my shift at the plant, and other than our weekly mall trips, I am rarely around
more than two other people at a time. On the weather network, you'll never see
more than two people onscreen at any one time, unless they are covering a flood
or some other weather-related disaster. Usually there are just the two anchors.
There is a comfort inherent in not having to follow too many different
conversations. The fifteen minute loop has a sort of comforting drone that
fascinates me.


One of the anchors was explaining how the jet stream was pushing a low
pressure system toward the Great Lakes when a woman's voice behind me broke
me from my trance.


"Hello, Alan," said the sleepy voice. I turned around to see lollipop girl,
hair wild from sleeping all day and wearing one of Danny's T-shirts.


"Hey. Good morning, sleepyhead." She looked at me with a confused
face, as if she were trying to figure out if she had slept right through Saturday
until Sunday morning. She looked at the bottom of the television screen, where
the weather network always had the time displayed, and giggled a sort of
ditsy-girl giggle, realizing that I was just making a joke. She climbed over the
back of the couch and sat down next to me.


"Whatchya watching?" she asked, pulling a lollipop out of nowhere and
sticking it in her mouth.


"The weather network," I said, trying desperately to remember her name.
Where the hell was Danny to save me from this conversation? Lollipop girl
flashed me another confused look. She didn't know about the fetish and must
have thought I was trying to make another joke. We sat in silence for two or
three minutes while the four-day forecast predicted cooler weather for next week,
including a chance of snow on Wednesday. Lollipop girl started to lose patience
waiting for the punchline and let out a few sighs. Finally, Danny walked into the
living room and sat between us.


"What's up, Al?" he said, scratching his bedhead.


"Not much, Daniel," I said, "Good party last night?"


"Long party last night. Hey, did you see Marv's note?"


"Yeah," I said, "I guess Saturday mall will have to be Sunday mall this
week."


He nodded, then elbowed me as if he had just remembered something he
had meant to ask. "Which reminds me, we want to go see a movie tonight. Mind
if we use your car?" Danny made a bad habit of using my car whenever Marvin
was away on assignment, but never needing it when both apartment vehicles
were available. Nonetheless, I had been enjoying my few hours of
interruption-free weather network, and had been considering making an all-night
affair of it, so I nodded. "Just put some gas in it, alright?"


"Sure man," he said, smiling. "Come on, Vick, let's shower and get ready."
He led her by the hand out of the room. She thanked me on the way by, and took
one more confused glance at the screen. I'm sure Danny would explain it all to
her in the shower. Once they had gone, I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen off
the coffee table and scribbled a note for Marvin. It read, "Dear Marv, for future
reference and in case I forget it again, lollipop girl's name is Vicky. .al." I got up,
went to his room, propped it on his pillow, and went back to Mr. and Mrs.
Weatherperson.


Danny is an alright kid. He's been living with us for a year and a half now
and I can't recall a single fight since he moved in. It's not like Marv and I are
tough people to live with, but we've been cursed with a series of nightmare
roommates who invariably move out in a huff and stick us with the rent until they
can be replaced. Along with Jeanine, the gorgeous jazz singing lesbian, there
have been Guy, the long distance runner slash neat freak; Daniela, the
hypochondriac drama major who left her room twice in six months before her
parents came to get her; Bob, the Polish factory stiff divorcee, who wasn't bad
until we found his stash of sicko porn under the couch; and Heather, the
greasy-spoon waitress who was into combat sex. She was my favourite, but that
might have been because Marvin's room divided mine from hers. After two
months, she was out, and Danny was in.


About the biggest complaint I could muster about Danny is that he borrows
things. It's not even like he steals or forgets to ask first, either. He always asks
first, takes no for an answer, returns everything on time; it's just that he's always
borrowing stuff. Danny, the polite nocturnal rave kid: longest standing roommate
since Jeanine, and possible end to the curse. His parents pay his rent, he stays
up as late if not later than Marv and I did, he has what seemed to be a rather
non-intrusive sex life and cleans just enough to keep the house somewhat
respectable without getting on our nerves. He's studying some fool thing like
Psych or Business, mostly because he comes from money, and couldn't convince
Mom and Pop that district supplier of E and other designer drugs would look
good on a resume. Also, he's really smart. Somehow, without attending more
than about 20 percent of his classes, he's managing a B average, something I
could only have dreamed of when I was a student. For someone who is still kind
of sensitive about having to quit school for lack of grades, I sure surround myself
with unnervingly intelligent roommates.


All in all, Danny has been a good fit. He's not all that creative when it
comes to 'Somewhere Right Now', though. About all he can muster without
being high is a thinly veiled story about himself, which is fine, I suppose, but
doesn't supply much in the way of psychological insight.


I watched another three hours of the weather network, then checked out
some Saturday Night Live. When I was a kid, SNL used to make me piss my
pants. At around age seventeen, however, I realized that it was loosing its edge,
unless I got high first. Back in high school, a friend of mine used to have SNL
parties, where a bunch of us would get together in the copse behind his parents'
house, smoke a few joints, then laugh hour way through some of the worst
episodes ever run. By the time graduation had rolled around, most of us had
given up on the SNL parties, opting instead to head to the copse, smoke a few
joints, turn on the television, then pass out or else make out with whichever
stoner girls had come along for the free high.


It was the beginning of a new season, and I only recognized one or two of
the actors. I went into Danny's room and dug around in his 'supplies' drawer for
some weed and a rolling paper or two. He must have emptied it out, because I
could only find his papers and a few bottles of pills. I went back to the couch
unfulfilled and made myself angry at the thought that he might, just might be
driving my car under the influence. The new cast was so terrible in my sober
state that I dozed off on the couch by about a quarter to one.


Whenever I sleep especially heavily, it takes me a while of half-awake-
half-asleep pseudo-dreaming to realize that it's time to get up. Sometimes this
act is as mundane as wondering why there is a garbage truck in Cindy
Crawford's shower, but other times my actual surroundings blend well into the
dream and allow me a few extra minutes of sleep before logic starts to invade.
That Sunday morning, I lasted about a half an hour before realizing that the altar
boys in a televangelist's church would not, for the sake of the devout viewing
public, be allowed to chew cereal and gulp the mass wine during the service. I
opened my eyes slowly, trying to avoid the glare of the Sunday sun to burn my
retinas. Marvin was watching a morning church service and eating his Generios
as loudly as I had ever heard him. He glanced at me and offered me the
remaining half of his glass of orange juice. "Thirsty?" I shook my head and sat
up. Marvin changed the channel to a children's show about zoo animals.


"When did you get in?" I asked, rubbing the sleep from my eyes.


"About an hour ago. You know Al, you don't have to take my spot
guarding the television all night when I'm not here. I'm sure she won't feel that
neglected."


I laughed, and picked up the juice glass, smelling it carefully before
downing its contents. Marv and I are good friends, but he doesn't usually offer
me his food or drinks unless there is something wrong with them. Besides, we
have a bad habit of not keeping track of best-before dates. I once had the
misfortune of waking up one afternoon hung over and downing a large glass of
three-month-old chocolate milk before realizing just how old it was. For this
reason, I tend to stick to a steady diet of coffee in the morning.


Marvin poured another glass out of the plastic container on the coffee
table and slid the glass toward me. "Ready for the mall trip?" He changed the
channel again, to an old episode of Scooby Doo, the one where the Gang break
up a ring of jewel smugglers pretending to be ghosts. ha ha.


"Once I've showered and had my coffee, yeah. What time is it?"


"Nine-thirty. Don't bother with the coffee; just have some more orange
juice." He took a large swallow from the jug and then placed it in front of me.


"Nah, I'd rather have a cup. Overslept. May be grumpy if I don't have
some. Hey, how come you're home so early? I thought you said you wouldn't be
back until the afternoon."


Marvin flipped back to the televangelist. "Interview was a bust. The lead
singer broke his arm stagediving; compound fracture. They had to cut the show
short to bring him to the hospital. I tried to do the interview with the bassist and
the drummer. You can imagine how that turned out. Al, you were in a band
when you were younger; how come rhythm sections are so unintelligent? I
mean. it's almost without exception. Guitarists are the smartest, followed
distantly by the lead singer, unless the guitarist is the singer, as in the case with
these guys. Then the rhythm section brings up the rear, with barely a
two-syllable word to share between them. Anyhow, I struggled for an hour and a
half with them after they returned from the hospital sans-vocalist. Nothing. They
gave me their number. I have to do a telephone interview once the tour is done.
The editor at Out/Scene is going to be livid."


"The Replacements," I said.


"Huh? Yeah, that's exactly what they were, Goddamn rhythm section,"
Marv said.


"No, no," I shook my head, feeling a coffee-deprivation irritability coming
on, "The replacements are an exception to the dumb rhythm rule. Paul
Westerberg was an artsy-fartsy drunk, Bob Stinson drank himself to death, and
Slim Dunlap always seemed a little retarded in interviews, when Paul would even
let him speak. So Tommy Stinson, the bassist, and Chris Mars, the drummer,
were left to do most of the print interviews. Paul still did most of the television
interviews, because drunkenness was part of their shtick, but drunkenness
doesn't come off as well in print, so Tommy and Chris would do all the print
interviews."


Marvin looked at me dumbfounded. He let out a long, astounded "fuck,"
then chuckled and continued, "Al! why aren't you doing my job for me? How
come you never told me you knew so much about interviews?"


"I don't. I read it in one of the magazines you were in."


"Hmm!" Marvin snorted, nodding as if I had impressed him. I stared back,
waiting to hear if he was going to address any other part of our conversation. He
slouched back after a few seconds and changed the channel.


"Well, if that's all, I'm going to make some coffee and jump in the shower,"
I said, and started to raise myself off of the couch. Marvin lurched forward and
shot his arm out, blocking my path to the kitchen. He seemed afraid of
something, but smiled nervously, trying to feign comfort.


"Don't worry about the coffee, Al. I'll buy you one on the way to the mall.
Just hurry with your shower. I'll get Danny up. I think I heard he and Nicky in
there a little earlier." I smiled back at him, trying to keep things relaxed, but I was
starting to get really annoyed. He was hiding something, and I wanted my coffee.
He changed the channel again.


"Vicky. Marv, I'm starting to get a little pissed. What's wrong with me
having coffee before we go? We never get to the mall before the afternoon,
usually. It's still way early." Marv dropped his arm in defeat, slumped back
again, and shut off the television.


"I broke the coffee maker when I came in. I'm sorry. We'll have to buy
one at the mall. I'll buy you an extra large coffee at the Coffee Brake on the way
there."


At first I stared at him in anger. My head had begun to ache from lack of
caffeine, and his elusiveness was irritating me. But before I could shout at him
for breaking the only thing that mattered to me in the morning, it occurred to me
how ridiculous he had looked in the confessing. I burst out laughing and fell back
down on the couch. It didn't take long for him to join me, and soon the two of us
were screaming in laughter, in one of those laughing fits you have with old friends
that start out as nothing and build and build until no one can remember the
original funny thing, but the laughing just keeps building. We were trying to
support ourselves on each other, laughing and slapping each other on the
shoulder, the back, the arm. Danny and the Lollipop Girl came running out to
find out what was wrong. Danny was wearing only his underwear and Vicky was
wearing another one of Danny's shirts, lollipop firmly in place despite the
earliness of the hour. We must have looked ridiculous to them, two thirty-year
old men, laughing like school children and slapping each other. Danny asked
what was so funny once he realized we weren't trying to kill each other. Marv
rolled off the couch onto the floor, and I turned to face them. All I could get out
between outbursts was "Marv.... confessional..... OJ....... Mall........ coffee break."
Then Marv hopped up from under the coffee table and with an almost straight
face and no shake to his voice explained that we had finished our little
homoerotic moment, and the household mall trip would be commence after
showers, shits and shaves had been completed. Danny shook his head and
walked back to his room. Vicky, however, started laughing at Marvin, which
made the two of us explode again, this time for a shorter duration, but more
intensely, due to our new laughing partner. An hour later, we had all showered,
all but Vicky had shaved, I had my takeout-extra-large-double-double, and we
were on our way to the mall.


The mall in our town is an eclectic mix of University-chic and working-class
ultilitarianism. Alongside the underground record stores and designer teen
clothing shops are the Wal Mart and the hardware store. Most of the stores
geared toward the university crowd are unique and locally owned, while the
working-class shops are all large chains. I can't exactly remember when I
stopped feeling comfortable in one and started hanging out in the other, but I do
know that Marvin and I can no longer shop the same stores that Danny does
without feeling very much like the outsiders. For this reason, Danny and Vicky
separated from us, heading for Sound Pollution, a vinyl only music shop, while
Marvin and I went searching for the perfect coffee maker at Wal Mart. Before we
divided, we made plans to meet at the food court at noon.


It amazes me the diversity you can find at Wal Mart. Five or six years ago,
I would only shop Wal Mart for their incredibly cheap underwear, and even then I
would come alone, trying to be inconspicuous, fearing that someone from school
would see me there and ask themselves "What happened to him? He used to be
so cool." Now, however, I can appreciate a store that can fill an entire wall with
thousands of different coffee makers, ranging from one-cup office makers to the
Coffee-D-Lux 6000's, with time delay and various coffee strength settings.


Marvin and I situated ourselves about mid-wall, which was where the
mid-priced, ten-cup, no-bells-or-whistles, no-bullshit coffee makers were. We
scoured the section for the cheapest maker, without sacrificing safety or coffee
quality/quantity. We found a nice ten-cup maker, with a bonus time delay clock,
and free can of coffee for just under thirty dollars. I was satisfied with the free
coffee and Marvin was satisfied with the low price, so we went to the row of
cashes.


Wal Mart cashiers on a Sunday are one of the seven turn-of-the-century
wonders of the world. Despite their obvious lack of joie de vivre or politeness,
they still manage to maintain their picture-perfect inch-thick make-up, not a dab
of rouge out of place, and their mannequin smiles, all teeth and too-red-lipstick,
surpassed only by the happy face badges they were forced to wear. Their New
Jersey bangs had been gelled into submission, then swept to incredible heights.
Our cashier, Shandi, must have worked extra-long at her bangs, which were a
solid five inches of blonde curls. She smiled at us, swept our box over the
barcode reader, and asked us if that would be all. Marvin and I smiled back our
best fake mall-goer smiles and nodded our heads in unison. If aliens had looked
down on this scene, they would have turned their ships around and dismissed
their "intelligent life" warning files as computer error. Shandi pressed a few
buttons on her register, and told us the price. "Fifty-seven-forty-nine, guys." My
jaw dropped and I started almost immediately recalculating in my head the taxes,
to see if we had been wrong in our calculations. Marvin leaned over the counter,
and in a slightly condescending drawl, said "Shandi, honey, this coffee maker is
only twenty-nine-ninety-nine. You sure the price is correct?"


Shandi smacked her gum, stretched her smile even wider than we thought
possible, and retorted with return-condescension, "Yeah, honey, the price is
correct. You sure you grabbed the right machine?"


The smile disappeared from Marvin's face. "I'm sure," he said coldly.
"Would you like me to show you where I got it from?" Shandi kept on smiling, but
called for a customer service rep to meet us in the coffee maker aisle. She told
us to meet the rep there, and called for the next person in line. My jaw was still
dropped in awe. I couldn't believe we had just been dismissed by a Wal Mart
cashier. Marvin was even angrier than I was. He grabbed the coffee maker from
the counter and stormed back to the aisle we had come from.


He checked and double checked all of the boxes that had a $29.99 tag
under them, and they were all the same, Black & Decker 10 Cup CoffeePals.
The tags that showed the price had some fancy code on them, with no indication
that the machines displayed were the right ones. Paul, our customer service rep,
arrived and asked what the problem was. He was younger than Shandi, probably
still in high school, but was much taller and better built than both Marvin and I.
He took our box and scanned it with a hand held scanner that looked like a
science fiction weapon. He looked at the LCD display, then at the tags on the
wall, and back to the LCD display again, a perplexed look on his face. Then he
cleared the machine and scanned one of the tags on the wall, read the LCD
display and looked back at the wall. His perplexed look faded and was replaced
with the same Wal Mart smile as Shandi had worn earlier. "Sorry about that, sirs.
Someone put up the wrong boxes. This box should be over there, with the other
boxes. It's forty-nine-ninety-nine." Marvin asked where we could find the
twenty-nine-ninety-nine coffee makers. Paul said he'd check in back, handed us
our box, and headed toward the warehouse.


After about ten minutes, when Paul had not yet returned, i suggested to
Marvin that we just take the more expensive one and go. "I'm tired of waiting
anyway, and it's not that expensive. I'll pay for the difference."


Marvin shook his head obstinately. He was livid, but was trying to hold it
in. "No way, man. We're getting the cheaper one. They're trying to pull a
bait-and-switch on us. Fuck it. Any other time, I'd agree with you Al, but Bangs
up there at the cash pissed me off, and I'm not going to let this one slide."


I tried to calm him down. The Sunday morning Wal Mart crowd was just
small enough that he may consider making a scene, on principle. "Look, the
guy's probably pulling the warehouse apart right now looking for the cheaper
machines. Maybe they just sold out, and stacked extra of the next cheapest one
in its place."


Marvin shook his head. "Nope. Ten bucks says in another five minutes,
Paul comes back and tells us exactly what you just said, though. He's probably
standing in the back room right now, watching us on camera, to see if we give
up." Marvin looked up at the ceiling, trying to locate the security cameras.
"Come on, Al. Let's wave at the little tyke. Hi Pauly-boy! Look at us, we're
concerned shoppers! We know you've got stacks of the cheap shit in back right
now, just in case some old lady raises a fuss." He waved at the security camera
in the corner, next to the two-hundred dollar Coffee-D-Lux's. "Well, guess what,
asshole, I'm that old lady." He was really on a roll. He was amusing himself, and
if it weren't for the family of four that were staring at us as if we were an insane
gay couple, he'd have amused me too.


Two minutes later, Paul came back looking a little flustered. Maybe
Marvin was right. Paul informed us that he couldn't find any of the inexpensive
coffee makers in the back, that they must have sold out of them, and stacked the
more expensive machines to fill the spot without changing the price tags, almost
verbatim of what Marvin had said. By this point, Marvin was wearing the
pig-in-shit smile he always gets when he's about to make a scene. "Well, Paul,
I'll tell you what. Why don't you take me and my compadre here for a tour of your
back room, so we can see for ourselves that there are no twenty-nine-ninety-nine
CoffeePals back there." Paul shook his head and looked afraid for a second. He
mumbled something about company policy, and offered us a ten percent
discount on the more expensive machine. Marvin stared hard at Paul, trying to
get him to break, and demanded again to see this secret warehouse where
cheap coffee makers go to disappear.


This was beautiful. All five-foot-nine-inches of Marvin the consumer had
this Goliath of a customer service rep shaking in his blue and yellow apron. The
"everything is for you" smile was long gone from his face, and he was beginning
to stutter when he spoke. "I-I-I'm sorry g-g-guys, but y-y-you can't g-g-go back
th-th-th-th-there. I'd g-g-get f-f-f-fired."


"Well, Paul, we have a problem, then, because I know you have the
cheaper CoffeePals back there, and I'll get one, one way or another. Why don't
you go check one more time. I'll give you, say, two minutes, then I'll follow you in,
and we'll look together." This was seventies-cop-show perfection from Marvin.
He kept the pressure on, never gave the kid a chance to call for help, never
made the old-folks mistake of asking for the manager (who would only throw
more policy mumbo jumbo at us), allowing his voice to raise just enough to attract
a small crowd without alerting mall security. Paul was near tears, now, and had
shrunk down in stature as Marvin mounted his offence. Marvin seemed larger
than him now, and nailed the ending with, "unless, of course, you'd like me to
bring all of these people along with us right now," and gesturing to the ten or so
people who had stopped to watch the show. Paul mumbled that he'd be right
back, and slunk away to the back room.


Marvin was glowing. He looked out over the small crowd of watchers as if
he were Billy Graham, preaching to the thousands at Yankee Stadium. He
looked down at his watch and spoke to me, still loud enough for the others to
hear. "Whaddya figure, Al? Under a minute? Let's time little Pauly." Forty-three
seconds later, our customer service representative returned with a white box
containing one twenty-nine-ninety-nine Black & Decker CoffeePal. Paul started
to explain that it had been hiding behind a stack of more expensive machines,
and that it was the only one, but Marvin would not let him justify himself. He cut
him off with his own lie. "Thank you so much, Paul. You've been a great help,
and I'll do everything in my power to make sure our friends up there," he said,
pointing to the security camera, "know how wonderful you've been." Marvin took
the box from Paul, and walked triumphantly through the crowd and up to Shandi's
cash register.


She scanned the box and punched the keys, and he smiled and handed
her his credit card, and not a word was spoken. I stood back and watched, half
in awe of Marvin's power to work a crowd the way he had, and half in amusement
at how utterly ridiculous the entire morning had been. I had seen Marvin cower
from me, afraid of some addiction-fuelled coffee fight in our living room, and only
two hours later, he had brought a six-foot-three customer service rep and the
nation's biggest chain department store to their knees.


It was noon, and we were expected in the food court. I carried the coffee
maker for my hero.


When we arrived at the food court, it was overcrowded. We were unable
to find a seat in the smoking section, which is full on the quietest mall days, so
Marvin was agitated. He swore under his breath as we scoured the non-smoking
section for Danny, Vicky, or any available tables. It seemed hopeless until I
noticed Vicky nearly hidden behind a post, nervously suckling a lollipop. I waved
and pointed her out to Marv. She didn't notice us until we were almost next to
her. She jumped as I called out her name. I sat in the seat across from her while
Marv stood, fidgeting.


"What's up?" I asked. "Where's Danny?" That was probably the wrong
question. She was obviously upset about something, but what else could I have
said; "how's the lollipop"? Her voice trembled slightly with every word.


"I don't know. He's been in a bad mood for a few days now, and he just
blew up at me in the record shop. I guess I was taking too long looking at some
records. I could tell he wanted to go. He was tapping his foot and sighing, so I
asked him if he wanted to leave." She paused to wrap the chewed candy stem in
a napkin that was resting on the table. "I should've just stopped and followed
him, but I was enjoying myself, so I asked and he just snapped at me, Al. He
yelled something at me about how he didn't have to wait around for me, and then
he was gone. I tried to follow him for a bit, but everyone was watching, and he
wouldn't slow down when I asked him to."


Vicky looked like she was about to cry, so I tried to make things more
bearable. "Don't worry about it, Vick. He's just been in a mood lately. He
probably just feels a little out of the loop. Marv and I haven't really been including
you two in our plans. Let him burn off some steam." Vicky shook her head like
she wouldn't accept that explanation. Marv sighed, realising that this would be a
long conversation, and told us he was going outside for a cigarette. Marvin was
good at guy-guy stuff, a fun guy to have around at four in the morning with some
beer, and infinitely smart, but when it came to relationships, or any delicate
interpersonal stuff, he was about as useless as a glass hammer. Every time a
roommate was being asked to move out, I had to do all the talking. Marvin tried,
but I think he cared a little too much about himself and not enough about others
to be gentle when needed. This is probably why he is more comfortable sitting in
front of the television than going out to a bar with people. Once he was gone,
Vicky spoke again.


"Al, you know Daniel better than I do; does he want to break up with me?"


I wasn't sure I was ready to have such a personal conversation with
someone I barely knew. I tried to be vague, yet as kind as possible. "I don't
really know him any better than you do. I'm almost never home, so we haven't
exactly become blood brothers, you know? I can tell you that I've seen him break
up with a girl before, and this is not how he does it. He seems to really like you."
I paused for a second before speaking again, trying to fight my next line from
coming out. "Who wouldn't." I knew what I had meant to say was "why wouldn't
he?", but somewhere in between my brain and my tongue, the words changed
into something very different. Vicky looked at me strangely. She seemed one
third confused, one third insulted, and one third flattered. The look faded as I
continued more carefully. "I really think this has more to do with the three of us
than it does with you. That, or he's just PMSing. Regardless, I wouldn't worry
too much about it. I'm sure that by dinner time, he'll surface and all will be
forgotten.”


When we arrived home later that day, Danny's door was locked, but there
was no sign of him.

------
"No, the was no way out and no one can imagine what the evenings in prisons are like"
Camus, from L'étranger


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