Friday could hardly
arrive soon enough.
Like Proud Mary, the world just keeps on turning, although that
particular tune begins to grate. The daily news already seems to have become
repetitive. The same headlines keep appearing every day, but each time with
a new twist added, just enough to keep you on your toes.
One Day the lead story
is Tom Daschle's office getting dosed with Anthrax, and the next comes the
revelation that Tom Daschle's office had been dosed with the Super Premium
Quality Weapons Grade Anthrax. Most citizens have not previously considered
the question of quality as applied to Anthrax, but the press quickly
educates them on the tiny amount required to kill a man.
On the third day, October 17th, it is disclosed that
thirty-one congressional staffers in the vicinity of Daschle's office have
tested positive for exposure to Anthrax. Feets don’t fail me now. The House
just ups and closes, but the Senate bravely stays open long enough to record
some brave and excellent sound bytes about not crumbling in the face of
terror, and how somebody has to take care of the nations business. These
guys are tough. They make those dumb-ass congressmen look like a herd of
terrified sissies. Jeez, are the congressmen ever pissed. Revenge is a
bitch. Somebody's not going to be invited to Lobster Fest.
Finally it happens.
Somebody in Dan Rather's office gets dosed. Dan's behavior is very subdued,
none of that 'In Cipro We Trust' nonsense from the Iron Man of CBS.
"Our biggest problem is not Anthrax, today," you can almost hear him
say, in a sentence teetering on the ledge of coherence. "Our biggest problem
Oh sorry. That's what he did say.
There is an
increasingly intense bombing campaign unfolding in Afghanistan, but nothing
much is happening that is visually interesting to the average viewer.
Citizens want Osama and they want his evil ass now. That's the way it works
when you filter battleground logistics through the cult of personality. And,
logistically speaking, we, uh, we are trying to figure out just who we would
like to put in power after we capture Kabul, and dammit, we just can't take
Kabul until we figure out the answer. So many warlords, so little time.
Colin Powell says a highly amusing thing late one autumn afternoon. He
suggests that maybe the US should consider including a couple of the Taliban
leaders in the provisional government. Huh? Just the good ones, he later
clarifies, the moderate ones. A nation scratches it's head.
demonstrating their eternal obsession with garnering free air time on
American airwaves receive the occasional screen cameo. India,
feeling grumpy and ignored, and Pakistan, feeling more than a little
schizophrenic about their new alliance with the U.S., are belligerently
waving threats of A-bombs at each other. Not now, fellas!
Germany, after great deliberation, decides to send a few troops over
to Afghanistan. They do enjoy a good fight as much as the next guy.
Bush goes to China to try and drum up some support, but seriously,
George… What are the Chinese going to do for you?
Israel and the Palestinians - oh, let's not even talk about that.
Ramadan is creeping
up. Twenty-two shopping days left.
Selar has worked
his confidence up into a fine froth, and he's got plenty of American Moolah
in his pocket. He has made a roll out of his money, in the fashion that he
has seen used by so many of his customers; ones in the middle, followed by
fives, tens, and a twenty. This concludes the description of Selar's roll.
Eighty-seven dollars in fine green cash. He is ready for an adventure
tonight, down the hill and into the town.
Before he leaves the 7-11, Selar puts his red jacket neatly away on a
hanger in the back room, then comes back out front to make a few purchases.
He knows all about employee discount, but he doesn't really need it. He is
no part-timer, just scraping by. Besides, it would take too long to fill in
the form, even if he could write better in English. Why bother? He is plush.
Selar has been rapidly working his way up the corporate ladder. He was
only one paycheck into his second raise when he was suddenly offered the job
of the mid-day shift manager. Fabulous! That's an extra buck thirty an hour.
Selar is pumped. Sixty hours a week? 'No problem' he says, 'No problem'
being one of his favorite new phrases. No problem means that you are pleased
to be performing a given task, which may also lead to overtime, an American
concept that Selar can readily appreciate.
Selar feels a little saddened by the way the previous shift manager
had left so abruptly. He hadn't even said goodbye. Mohammed had been a very
fine work companion for Selar, teaching him the tricks of the quickie-mart
trade and coaching him on the inner meaning of American slang.
"When an individual says ‘Far Out", Mohammed had explained as they
stocked the shelves, "it means that some thing, an object, an action, or
even a thought, has expanded the consciousness of that individual to the
point that they are seeing deeper into the essence of the thing that has
affected them. They are taking the first step towards seeing things anew."
Selar soaked in the observation. Mohammed had then put his arm around
Selar's shoulder and whispered conspiratorially, "But the things that catch
these people's attention, they are such mindless things. Their consciousness
is expanded by magazine covers and new cigarette packages."
Four days ago, three
men had driven up in a black Mercedes sedan. Two of the men had stepped out
of the car and walked lockstep into the store, moving directly to Mohammed’s
register. They arrived during the lunchtime rush when the store was full of
hungry construction workers. The wiener roller had been loaded to maximum
capacity, but Big Bites had a reputation for moving quickly around noon.
Plastic gloves littered the floor around the waste can. The line was
The two dark-suited men had shown something small and dark to
Mohammed. Could it be a wallet? The three talked quietly amongst themselves
for a moment, and then Mohammed walked up to Selar as he was dispensing a
variety of scratch-offs. Grandma Higgins was buying them, a dollar at a
Mohammed spoke in a strange tone that made Selar feel anxious.
"I am going to have to leave you alone in the store for a
short while. Don't worry about these customers, today they will have to work
on their patience. Let them complain if they wish. I must go and talk to
these gentlemen now. I should be returning within half of an hour." Mohammed
had taken a slow, loving look around the store.
"The coffee is getting very low, there is hardly a full pot left, and
you need to bring out more wieners for the roller."
Selar watched as Mohammed left the store escorted by the two unsmiling
men. He noted that hey were wearing identical suits and ties. Selar could
make more detail out now, sneaking glances from behind the safety of the
store window. One of the men wore a corrective shoe. The man suddenly turned
to look back through the glass, and Selar averted his eyes.
Mohammed was ushered into the backseat of the black Mercedes, and for a
moment, Selar had a clear view of the third man. The man remained motionless
as Mohammed was ushered inside. He looked very different from his dark
companions. Selar observed that he was a large man, with a beard and a large
hat whose details he could not quite make out. He was dressed in white and
wearing black sunglasses.
not return within the half hour as he had promised, nor did he return to the
store later that day. On the following day, the general manager, a red
headed lad of about Selar's age who was whimsically nicknamed ‘Doolie’, took
Selar to the back room and asked him to sit down. Selar took a seat right by
the side of Doolie's tiny desk. It was the only seat available. Doolie
offered Selar a cigarette. It was a Marlboro Ultra Light, hard pack. The
pack was tinted in a very indecisive color for a cigarette package, a washed
out gray. The cigarettes seemed to murmur 'I have no flavor, don't even try
Doolie asked Selar if he would be interested in taking over as the
mid-day shift manager position. He was a good worker, Doolie said, with a
winning personality. Mohammed would not be coming back, Doolie told him.
Doolie did not bother to explain matters further.
not think of asking where Mohammed had gone. It would not have seemed proper
to pose such a question. Selar imagined that the three strange men had most
likely offered Mohammed a better job. Indeed, he had seen them show him a
wallet. Mohammed had probably taken his leave of the store right then and
there, walking off into a brighter future. After all, Selar thought, this is
America, land of opportunity.
rapid mastery of the English language had clearly impressed Doolie. Selar
has long known that the ability to use this language fluidly is the key to
his success in this culture, and he has not let this understanding stray far
from his mind. Perhaps, he too will someday be offered a special job, much
the way Mohammed was. He also will leave the 7-11, never to return. Perhaps
one of the cigarette rackers will someday take him out for a drive in a fine
black Mercedes and give him a chance to seize the opportunity.
I know everything there is to know about cigarettes, Selar thinks.
There is a place for me.
Selar backs away from these modest thoughts and blushes at his vanity.
This is too grand a dream to consider at this point in his life. He has only
had the shift manager job for two days, and there is much yet for him to
learn. Even though Selar knows that he has excelled at his work thus far, he
is getting too far ahead of himself by indulging in this sort of fantasy.
Selar practices speaking English with his co-workers.
Selar practices speaking English with his customers. Selar has a small black
and white television in his tiny apartment, and he practices speaking daily
with Drew and Ally and Rosie. He watches football every chance he gets and
soon knows the game well enough to discuss it at length, talking with and to
the announcers. His upstairs neighbor knocks on his door in the middle of
one particular game during which he has become quite animated, and he gladly
discusses the situation with her, pleased to have a visitor and happy for
the opportunity to practice an apology.
Selar has become a real chatterbox. He has doggedly mastered the art
of conversation using this enjoyable new language. Now he is moving forward
to work on the assimilation side of his new life. The future is dead ahead.
Before long he will be just another American.
At this very moment, Selar is wearing his first pair of American
jeans. They are dark black and they look bitchin'.
Selar buys a
pair of shades with smoked lenses, dark enough to hide his eyes should his
nervousness betray him. He buys peppermint Tic-Tacs in a clear plastic box
on the chance that his breath might hint that he is a stranger. He buys a
small American flag pin in order to show his spirit and solidarity. Then he
buys smoking elegance.
If there was one thing
that Selar had truly mastered in the past few months, it was the vast,
exciting world of cigarette marketing. He had taken the subject to heart,
and next to the English language, it had emerged as his major field of
study. He spoke at length to the distributors whenever they came into the
shop, mentally storing details of their upcoming specials and promotions.
What new products were in the pipeline? New products and new packaging
launches were exciting; they almost always entailed a buy one get one free
Selar was learning all of the ephemera of the tobacco-merchandising
world. If Selar was on the register when you stopped by the store, you would
not just get a pack of Newport 100s; no, you would get a pack of Newports
100s with a free CD opener. If there is a special for you, he will find it.
He could identify any brand and it’s variations; he knew who had a recessed
microcline filter; and yes, the skinny cigarettes with the flowers on them,
those are Eve's.
There were important insights to be gleaned from the type of cigarette
an individual smoked. There was a whole psychology, if you only took the
time to see it. People who smoked Kools really did tend to be cooler than
the average customer. It was an observable fact. Pall Malls were made for
people who were ready to die. They truly were coffin nails. When Pall Mall
switched over to new brightly colored foil packaging, it changed nothing of
their essence. Pall Malls were 'The Hanged Man' in the tarot of tobacco.
Selar purchased the
new Camel Turkish Jade Menthol Lights in the square metal case. This was a
beautiful object. The cigarettes were laid out like candy in a half-box, the
perfectly squared black laminated tray providing a dignified setting for the
object inside. The tray served no real purpose other than to lend to the
elegance of the smoking experience, the sweet decadence of such plentiful
disposable wrapping. Peeling the plastic from off of the first box, one
accessed the new metallic inner box, this one outlined and backed in the
most perfect shade of green. It was muted emerald. On the front was an
idealized desert with a purple hued pyramid rising brazenly in the
background. A handsome brown camel stood in the foreground amongst the
swaying palms. The sky was a green that seemed somehow natural, changing
from a pale green at the sands edge until it deepened into the emerald of
the beautiful tin box. The words 'Turkish Jade Lights' were painted in the
same silver that framed the scene, and the letters would glow when they
caught light at the right angle.
Selar was ready to expand his horizons. He would walk down the hill
and go into the little bar that so many of his customers frequented. He
would make many new friends.