THIS IS SOMETHING
by Ryan Johnson
“ADAM GO!! YOU HAVE TO GO, I’M WORKING RIGHT NOW!!” My voice echoed throughout the noise-rich air of a sunny commerce driven weekday in an attempt to shame Adam in the eyes of the few people outside of their cars, of which there weren’t many.
“Come on buddy, give me a cigarette,” Adam repeated his mantra. Everyone he had ever needed anything from for free had the name Buddy in common.
“Just one cigarette. Come on, buddy.” His voice was low, at hardly a whisper. It was as if it was me causing the disturbance, disrupting my work day as a gas attendant because I couldn’t part with a fag. He always got what he wanted. I pulled a Maverick Light out of the pack and passed it to him. He put it between his lips and beckoned me closer with two fingers. It took me a moment to understand what he was after. The fucking bastard didn’t even have his own lighter. I passed him mine.
Of course he wouldn’t have come all this way for just a cigarette and some constantly interrupted fragments of juvenile conversation as I filled cars with gasoline. Adam, he just didn’t know how things worked sometimes. Though for never carrying a wallet, he always had money in his pocket. He was just stopping by to check: did I?
It wasn’t much of a fight. I guess I didn’t have too many illusions about that, but watching the video on Q’s phone made it even more clear just how one-sided an affair it really was. I got to throw the first punch, because I hit him in the back of the head as he was walking away. But then he turned around and allowed me to throw a whole handful of punches before finally fighting back. And when he fought back it was just over. Hardly any time for people to gather, whipping out cell-phones and chanting “Fuck him up!” and “Worldstar!” and whatever else you traditionally yell to make a fucking event of it.
When Troy turned around, in the video, he was already done processing that he’d been hit, that there was going to be a fight happening now. He just had this look of malicious glee on his face as I packed in a few more hits. He put his arms up a little bit to defend himself, but it wasn’t even like I was landing solid punches on places that would really hurt him, like a kidney, his groin, or anywhere like that. I was just flailing like a jackass hitting extremities at that point. I was just pissed off and had no idea what I was in for. It would have been better to take out my frustrations on a bottle of vodka, I’d soon learn. I worked at a fucking liquor store after all.
He made a grab at me. I evaded him. Tried to hit him again and missed. The delivery of the hit looked like I was trying to swat a fly. It was enough to make his hat fall off which is the only victory I can claim in this fight.
You can see it all online. On Youtube or WorldstarHipHop, your choice.
He made a run at me, and since there was no way I was turning my back on him for a second, I leaned into the hit and watched my whole body jerk in the video as he put me up against the wall. With no actual corners to corner me with, he held me in place with erratic punches. Never knowing where the next one would fall, I threw my arms up in front of my face, chest, even legs at one point, spastically.
“This is getting hard to watch,” I finally said. I could see the genesis of a smile forming on Q’s face.
In the video Troy threw me on the ground, leaned over, picked me back up by my bloody sweatshirt, using the momentum to put me in a headlock wherein my head was almost right up against his ass. It was so traumatizing to watch that, like when the fight itself was happening, I would drown out most of the background noise. That was the first 5 or 6 times I watched the video. Now I could hear full well the taunts, jeers, and laughter coming from the crowd of coworkers and strangers alike who bore witness, and did the world a solid too by recording on their phones.
I remember being tightly nestled in the crook of his arm, smelling the scent of his natural body odor conquering any man-made deodorant, thinking what if my neck broke? What if he thrashed me around so violently that my neck broke and I could never walk again? How dumb would it be for something like that to happen? Over her. Over a few dumb comments. Over not doing my fucking job.
This guy would come to the gas station every evening. He’d come by way of the crosswalk dividing the gas station from the nearby strip mall, where nearly every store but an Ashley’s Furniture had gone out of business. He’d buy two big Poland Spring water bottles, walk out of the mart with them in a bag and head right over to us, or just me if Adam wasn’t there. He’d been doing this for almost 3 months now since Adam told him it was ok, and I wasn’t happy about it. I didn’t even know his name, but Adam said that was alright. It didn’t matter much anyway.
“What’s going on today boys?” he asked, taking a swig from one of the bottles. He always had on a button up shirt and dress pants, hair combed back, like he should be somewhere besides here. In an office building crunching numbers or something. He spoke with this nasally voice that made me dislike him even more.
“Nothing much,” Adam replied, puffing on another one of my Mavericks.
“What’ll it be today?”
“Can ten bucks buy you anything?” Adam gave me an accusatory glance.
The man sniggered, “Cheap bottle of wine maybe, you serious?”
“Can you give us more time? We can get more money, or, or we can just pay you back another time!”
“You ain’t owing me shit,” the man said, hardly taking us seriously. “Ten is it then, or are we just going to hold off for another day?”
“No, no, the ten is fine. Just get us a cheap bottle of white wine should be good.”
Adam handed him the ten dollars. The man walked away. I pumped gas for this nice old Irish guy who always tipped me a dollar or two. This time it was two. I walked back over to Adam who was standing along the side of the building. He said nothing but I knew what he was thinking.
“What did you want me to do, Adam?”
He turned on me immediately. “I don’t know, get behind that register for two seconds, ask him if you can break a 20 yourself, there were so many things you could’ve done!”
“No I can’t, not with Narender, you know he watches that register like a hawk. He’s hardly ever short! Besides, only you would have me fucking over my coworkers! Not that I care, but where’s your skin in the game?!”
“It’s walking down the street! In that guy’s pocket, where yours should be!”
“Fuck off, my skin in the game is you doing your dirty underage shit where I work!”
“Look,” Adam sighed and exhaled, causing the wispy hairs on his upper lip to tremble. “Are you really going to get all butt-hurt over this? First, you’re getting some, for free this time I might add, and second, it won’t be long before you’re 21 and we won’t need to be doing this shit anymore. So relax and go help that Jeep over there.”
I turned and walked back over to the pumps where a black Jeep was idling patiently. I was sure Adam had watched it wait there while we argued. Piece of shit. It bothered me that he just assumed I’d be taking over the scheme for our sketchy, nameless friend when I turned 21. What pissed me off was that I would. Just like with the Mavericks.
I wondered why we did this. If it was really worth it. Though for Adam, one way or another, I’m sure it was. For an unemployed stoner, his time was always spent in the pursuit of some goal, though most times that goal was known only to him.
It took a few good punches to the stomach for me to throw up, which elicited just the kind of reaction from the crowd as you’d think. Some got on Troy’s forearm which angered and disgusted him enough to let me go and drop me to the ground again with a rough push. He said something I couldn’t pick up during the actual fight or in the video. Especially since he looked down as he said it. I could see her standing in the background. I was surprised she didn’t have her phone out too. The bitch who had caused all this. I bet she got off on it.
Anyway, then Troy looked up and said something the cell phone microphones were able to pick up a little better. “ARE WE DONE?! YOU STAY THE FUCK DOWN AND WE’RE DONE!! ARE WE DONE?!”
I was on my side clutching my stomach and nodding. A hardly audible and cracked, ‘yes’, could be heard coming from the back of my head.
“Hahahaaa, yes! Worldstar!” the cameraman said.
“Dude,” Q said as the video came to an end. “I would find a new place to work.”
“Dude,” I replied, feeling ridiculous for what I was about to say. “I don’t want to feel like I’m running away from this.”
“Dude, a legendary ass beating like that, there’s no shame in running. You want to get out and see if the stain is still there from where you puked.”
Q had been sure to park as close as possible to the location of the actual fight. I’m sure he had been fighting back the urge to walk over and snap a pic at the angle the cameraman had as he captured the fight, for posterity’s sake. I knew I wasn’t going to get much from Q in the way of sympathy, he owned a few Tapout shirts, and by watching the video once again at the mere price of a ride to work, I believed I had more than paid my dues.
“Thanks for the ride, Q,” I said and got out.
When the fight was over I limped away with a swollen knee, a cut above my right eye that required stitches, extreme nausea in my stomach, and lingering soreness in my shoulder, collarbone, knee, and thigh. I had no insurance to pay for the damages so, aside from the stitches, I let everything else alone, and hoped time and avoiding another run in with Troy would set me back on the right track before long. Since it was nearing a month since the fight happened, my sore collarbone and knee were beginning to worry me, but there was nothing I could do now as I walked across the street to the liquor store trying as usual not to let the pain show.
The automated chime sounded as I entered. I punched in and loitered by the cashier I would be relieving. He hadn’t been there that night but I was sure he’d heard all about it and seen the video. Who hadn’t?
I watched as he counted out his drawer, nodded for me to do a recount, then punched out and left. A man walked in the once empty store, one of our regulars. A typical 9-5er in a button up shirt and dress pants, no tie, the bastard having shed the first vestige of his white collared existence. He bought the cheapest bottle of white wine we had and put it in a bag that already contained two water bottles. All was per usual except for the purchase. But I could care less about the reasoning for this. I rung him up and he left.
Before I could put 10 minutes behind me on my shift, a voice came from the back: “Hey, bitch, is that you?”
When this behavior started I pushed back with what little means I had. Pretending I hadn’t heard, ignoring him to his face, you know, the stuff your mom tells you to do when you’re being bullied. But he had kicked my ass and so he wouldn’t be ignored, so before long I just had to grimace and swallow my medicine. Not that it mattered, but technically I had started the fight.
“Yeah,” I grumbled, just loud enough so he’d hear.
Troy eagerly materialized from the back of the small store. “Hey bitch, I was stocking the shelves back there, didn’t strain too much because I figured you’d want to take over when you got here.” He walked over to the register and I resisted the urge to flinch as he patted me on the back. “Best get to it then.”
I headed for the back. I couldn’t take any form of his retaliations and he knew it. I’d started something, he’d finished it, and was taking extra care to prolong my suffering for as long as possible. Maybe Q was right about finding a new job.
I took a drink from the wide mouth Nalgene Adam had filled for me around the back of the building. He was smoking another one of my cigarettes and I was drinking cheap, tasteless, white wine. I didn’t even know what kind it was. It was making me start to feel good. Lighter. I lacked the vocabulary to describe a light buzz to myself. Of course Adam had assured that a light buzz was all I would be getting, the Nalgene being less than half full as a result of my only contribution to the venture being the five dollars I’d made in tips that day that we’d handed to the guy when he returned with our wine.
“Jesus Christ man, you have a fucking job, you should be the one paying for this, not me,” he said when he handed me the Nalgene after ruefully filling it. “Motherfucker.”
The evening rush had both sides of the roads clogged like a fat man’s arteries, so I closed off half the pumps with traffic cones to make my life easier. This meant I could still steal time on occasion to drink with Adam. In the moments where I was able to string together minutes or more to drink and bullshit with him I always had to acknowledge enjoying myself. Relishing this time together to be young and do the things young people do with other young people. It was during times like this evening that we really bonded, when it was only the two of us and he wasn’t stringing any assortment of strange people of all ages along with him.
“I could grow to like the taste of wine,” I said, trying not to lead on that the day’s venture was a complete loss. “I don’t know, I mean it’s not awful.”
“Not me. I like beer, and I like women.”
My heart sunk a bit an hour later when an old silver Toyota Camry pulled up to the front of the mart and dropped off a girl. I realized why Adam had been drinking conservatively. He had the whole night ahead of him, I was just a pit stop for some smokes and a little bullshit conversation. A guy to surrender tip money to the guy getting him his pre-game alcohol. I was at least glad he hadn’t duped me into handing over one of the twenties I had in my wallet.
“What’s up Adam?” she asked. She was beautiful. All the girls Adam hung out with were beautiful. She turned to me. “Hey.”
“What’s going on?” I replied
“Is that?” she pointed at the Nalgene knowingly.
“It’s wine,” I said.
“Sure,” I replied, handing the bottle over easily. She took a big gulp, nearly finishing what little I had left, and handed it back to me. Turned back to Adam.
“So where are we going tonight?” she asked.
Where did I recognize her from? Also, it was a Tuesday night.
Adam thought about it for a couple seconds. “Hmmmm, well, Maurice is having people over tonight so that might be good, but that doesn’t start until later, and we were only able to get this cheap-ass wine for now so I don’t really know what to do,” he trailed off.
Uncomfortable, I lit a cigarette. Both of their eyes turned on me at once.
“Can I?” she asked. Then she was smoking a cigarette. Adam hadn’t asked for one.
“It’s a shame that Achilles guy ruined that liquor store for us,” Adam complained.
“I told you, his name is Troy and he was just trying to be chivalrous, though I’ll take a few lewd comments and the ability to buy underage from that guy who got his ass kicked any day.” And there it was. Where I recognized her from. The fight video. Of course.
“I think Troy thinks I owe him my pussy now after his ‘valorous display.’”
“I’d almost be tempted to give it to him if I were you, Amber, for how awesome that fight was.”
She smiled and fumbled for a hair tie and tied her shoulder length brown hair back. “Well, it was pretty awesome, but no thanks, he’s disgusting.” She stamped out the barely half-smoked cigarette and scuffed her Converse on the pavement. “I’m starting to get impatient! What are we doing tonight? I thought you were going to have it all planned out by the time I got dropped off here, that’s what you texted me.”
They were both on their phones. I was spacing in and out of their conversation. At some point I broke away and filled a truck with diesel using a company fleet card that required a 4 digit passcode to access. I kept having a hard time hearing what the numbers were because the driver left the truck running and had a way of speaking that was all jowls and spit. Then when I came back the Nalgene was empty and Adam and Amber were still talking about the night’s plans that I wasn’t invited to partake in. I was sure that if I spoke up they’d invite me, but I always seemed to enjoy relishing in their rudeness more.
“Not to be a bitch, but if we did get an Uber, would you pay me back, because you haven’t in the past.” Women were allowed to be more up front with Adam about his debts accrued ‘among friends.’
“Well we don’t need to go to Thatcher’s, I’m just saying we could,” Adam replied, backtracking.
It was interesting to listen to, though sad that their youth’s vitality was being entirely spent on where to best get drunk and hang out with other drunk people. Maybe it wasn’t so interesting to listen to then. I didn’t know. One more swallow of wine and I’d be able to deal with anything. That was always what it came down to wasn’t it? That one thing that was just out of reach was the only thing you needed to accomplish anything at all, and therefore served as the excuse for letting things fall apart around you.
“Well I got dropped off here, so what do you want to do?” Amber.
“We can go back to my place until it gets dark out and things start?”
“Yeah right, who’s there?” His mom probably, his dad was dead. Then again it wasn’t so much about parentage as it was about each location being qualified by how many people were already there waiting to hang.
“Am I going to have to get Troy to come over here and kick your ass?”
“God no, come on Amber, I wasn’t suggesting anything, you know me.”
“Yeah, I do and—”
“You, you!” came a voice from behind us. It was Narender, shooing Adam away. This would happen from time to time and I never saw it as too big of an inconvenience. He spoke in broken English: “You, you always here! You go, now!”
Adam waved, “Ok, ok, I go.”
“What the fuck?” Amber muttered.
“Look, let’s just get out of here and we’ll figure something out, ok?”
“You! Go I say!” Narender let the door close behind him and came a few steps closer.
“Ok? Let’s just go!”
The two scurried off without saying anything to me. Narender had an annoyed gaze waiting for me once they were gone, but before long he returned inside. The register had a hold on him. He couldn’t be more than 6 feet away from it at any given time without feeling its pull. He never mentioned Adam to the manager.
A Honda Pilot pulled up to one of the pumps I’d closed off with a traffic cone. Leaving my post along the side of the building, I walked over and decided I’d just dispense the gas anyway, fuck it.
About the Author:
Ryan Johnson is a writer from Northern Jersey. He holds a B.A. in Literature and Teacher Education from Ramapo College. His poetry and prose has appeared in Hypnos and Trillium magazines.