by Abel Diaz
"Come in, Paul.
Please sit down." Sandra does her big sister voice. Thats how I know Im
in trouble. Her office is like a catalogue displaysoothing gray walls complement
modern black furniture. So this is Human Resources. Id always pictured a sterile
lab: scientists in white coats and safety goggles, inventing new ways to squeeze the life
out of a working man.
"Dont mind if I do." I drop into a
leather chair, marshmallow-soft, and help myself to the candies on her desk.
"We reviewed your workbook and
face knots up as she searches for the right words. It makes her look constipated.
"Well, we worked very hard on these booklets, Paul."
"You sure did, Sandy." I wink. Its
best to humor these corporate whore types. I figured out way back that they honestly
believe in what theyre doing. Like their job is some kind of cause. All that loose
stool spilling from their company-issued mouths is S-I-N-C-E-R-E.
"This was a good chance for everyone to improve
their performance. We were a little upset that youespecially youdid not take
advantage of this training opportunity. Frankly, Paul, some the things you wrote actually disturbed
us." Sandy flips through my tattered booklet. "All these references to a blue
and yellow Potty Clown were just
"Im sorry I let down the team. But believe
me, I plan to work extra hard to make up for this."
"That wont be necessary. We dont feel
youre cut out for retail, and youre not taking us seriously. So were
terminating your relationship with Furniture World."
I start to object, but I stop. Shes got me;
theres no arguing with her logic. I dont give a fuck about them, the
customers, my job, or myself. Basically, theyd be insane not to fire me.
"Its been an honor, maam." I
slap my plastic employee-badge on her desk, and tear off my red shirt. My nipple ring
dangles in her face. The lamps spotlight my full stomach tattoo. She stares at the skull
with eagle wings and the RANGER banner beneath, but they dont register. To her,
its just graffiti fused with skin. I have to admit, after four years away, it
doesnt mean much to me either.
Shes caught off guard by the grotesque
bubble-gum lumps where hot metal once ripped apart my shoulder. Her hand goes for the
phone, but she keeps her composure like true management material. "Since you came in,
were paying you for the rest of today."
"Thats very generous of you." I pull
off my work pants and dump the whole Furniture World costume on her desk. "But I
dont need your handouts." I walk to the door in my Batman boxers. My ass peeks
out a hole in the back.
"Please leave the building immediately, Paul, or
Ill have to call security," she stammers. Its the first time Ive
heard her voice break. They must not cover intimidation in HR college.
"Ill be in touch, Sandra," I say,
hopefully with enough threat in my voice to keep her worried awhile. Then Im on the
sales floor. I get a few whistles as I make for the exit.
Its my fourth job in six months, and Im 26
years old. What am I doing? Ive got some clothes in the car; on the way home,
Ill grab an application at Linens Etc. I dont want to work there,
"You got fired
again?" Gloria gasps, more in anger than surprise.
"Im sorry." I dont mean it, but
its something Ive gotten used to saying.
"How the fuck are we gonna pay the bills?"
"Look, Gloria, I picked up this application.
Ill have a job in no time."
"Good," she says. She grabs her Jansport gym
bag and starts stuffing it with clothes. "Youre gonna need the money."
"Whatre you doing?"
"Sweety, come on."
"Shut up! Im sick of this shit, Paul. Sick
of supporting you. I aint your mom." She throws a picture frame at my head to
highlight her point. "Im done!"
"Then let me leave. I cant afford
"Figure it out." She opens the door and
stands there, stooped over by the weight of her bag. "You know, thisll be a
good experience for you. Now your lazy ass is gonna have to keep a job, cause
Im not gonna be here to pay your rent." She laughs, like its the funniest
thing shes ever said.
"Gloria, I cant help it. Im better
than these jobs."
"Dont give me that shit! You think I wanna
work at Dennys? You think anyone does? If you think youre so goddamn special,
why dont you apply at Microsoft? I hear Bill Gates is looking for a new CEO."
The door slams in my face, and I hear her laughter all the way down the stairs.
So shes gone. Its a big deal, but really,
its not. Its just the end of another fragile alliance. She found someone who
didnt cheat on her, and never went out with his friends; I found someone who put up
with me. It was comfortable, but those are the hardest relationships to keep. They require
a totally changeless environment. Its like sleeping on a wood bench: if you shift
slightly, in any direction at all, youre no longer comfortable.
Were spread out on the soccer pitch in a
stadium used for headquarters. Theres wounded Rangers everywhere. Helicopters with
big red crosses dart around like meat-trucks, dropping fresh slaughter off at the
butchers. A lot of us are crying. Im crying. It was just too much. The Somalis kept
coming and coming.
I think when it started, we were helping Delta Force
storm a clan meeting. But all I remember afterward is trying to stay alive. Waiting,
praying wed get rescued, and killing.
"So I guess were heroes," Smitty
sighs, blowing cigarette smoke through his nostrils. Hed been here before, in the
Gulf. Hes seen this shit before. "Carlos and Jason are dead."
My uniforms been marinated in sweat, adrenaline
and blood, then dusted with rust-orange Mogadishu sand. Theres a flaky crust of my
own piss and shit down both legs. My shoulders a mess. Im wailing like a baby.
"Got a year left," Smitty says, "but I
aint re-upping. I think Im done."
I wake up back in my cold, empty bed. Jesus,
Gloria took her body heat too
"Thanks for shopping at
Linens Etc. Did you find everything okay?" Asks the new girl at the register behind
me. Shes still regurgitating the crap they fed her at orientation.
Thats mistake number one: Dont talk to the
customers. Ask them a question like that, and they might say, "You know, I was
" Theres your lunch breakshot. Sometimes they spill
their life story, like were volunteer therapists. Either way, its more work
Oh, never mind. Yes, thank you,"
the customer says. Close call.
"Can I get your zip code?" New Girl asks.
Mistake number two. I know were supposed to ask, but come on! The ones that answer
take an hour to ponder this difficult question: "I uh
Well, I dont write myself. Ha ha!" On a bad day, we get
the nuts that switch to panic mode: "Zip code? Why do you need that? You dont
need that. What are you gonna do with my zip code?"
Im going to sell it to the FBI, you acid
dropping motherfucker! Get a grip. Its for marketing, you freak.
Either way, its another waste of time.
I look over my shoulder and give New Girl a thorough
inspection. Shes ripe. Maybe Ill take this one under my wing, or under
something hairy, now that Glorias gone.
Im ambushed by a loose formation of shopping
carts. Heres my chance to teach by example. I snatch the first ladys
merchandise right from her hands. The old bag starts farting and puffing, but I dont
stop to acknowledge her indignation. Instead, I proceed directly to step two. Without
asking her a damn thing, I type in an imaginary zip code and start zapping her crap with
the gun. BEEP! BEEP! I read her the total. While shes digging around for musty old
bills, Im tossing her blankets, silverware, glasses and plates into one large bag. I
snatch the money from her doughy fingers and shove it in the cash drawer. I throw back
some change and BAMdone in less time than it took Miss Linens Etc. 2000 to pry a zip
code from a brain-fucked shopper.
"Excuse me, sir," the old goat starts to
bleat. "Could I get two separate bags? I have a bad-"
"NEXT!" I cut her off with young, healthy
lungs. She tries to raise her voice, but I out shout her again, "Next customer,
Luckily, a callous lizard in pink lipstick pushes the
hag aside. She starts dumping her own goods on the counter. I watch her fake tits pop out
every time she bends over the shopping cart. Thank God for these goofy aprons we wear.
In the manager's office
. . .
Scott: All right, Paul, have a seat.
Paul: Whats this about, Scott?
Scott: Were sending you home early today.
Another customer complained.
Scott: Yeah. You used the word "shit" in
front of her and her children.
Scott: The lady who complained. Ive asked you
before to stop swearing in front of customers.
Scott: It offends people.
Paul: What people? Shy people? Shy people
Scott: When youre working the registers,
youre the last person these customers see. You complete their shopping experience.
Bottom line, you represent Linens Etc.
Paul: I dont represent shit.
Scott: It doesnt reflect well on us if
youre up there saying "shit" all the time.
Paul: I dont believe this shit. I really
Scott: Just stop saying "shit" at the
Paul: What am I supposed to do if a patron wants my
opinion on Utica towels, and I need to tell her that theyre shit?
Scott: Look, Paul, I can see Im not getting
through to you. Im writing you up on this. If you swear out there again, Im
going to fire you. If thats what you want, just keep carrying on the way youve
been. Cause I can make you unemployed. Understood?
Paul: Shit yeah, Scott.
Scott: All right, just get out of here.
Rachael leans in and
tells me, all hush-hush like, "I just heard Scott tell Liz hes going to fire
you. Soon as you clock-out."
I cant tell if this is a rare act of employee
solidarity, or if shes just so excited by the news that she had to tell me herself.
It doesnt matter. Anyone who gives me a heads-up like that is a friendly, regardless
of her motives. Before I can thank her, shes off to her register.
So theyre sacking me, after Im done
busting my ass on a weekend, Spring Clearance Blowout. Fucking roaches, man. Theres
no honor in retail.
A train of customers pulls up to my register in a
straight line of shopping carts. I start ringing them up like a robot, just going through
the motions. Scotts fat, white blur catches my eye. I take a second look, and I see
hes following two teenagers.
A lot of people steal here. Its too easy. This
place doesnt even have a fake surveillance camera, let alone a guard. People steal
our sheets and bring them back for credit. They use the credit for the merchandise they
really want, but couldnt steal. I just watch; I dont get involved. Managers
only notice when its black kids. Then they get all righteous and follow
One of the kids walks out the door, but Doug grabs the
other one by his sleeping bag sized jacket. Theres a Chicago Bulls logo on the back.
"Hold on, sir. You forgot to pay for those."
"Get off me, man," Chicago Bulls growls.
Everyone in the store stops, slack-jawed and drooling, to gawk at the entertainment.
"You need to pay for those," Scott is
jabbering, and trying to get inside the boys enormous jacket. This is his moment.
Scott: hero, legend, manager of the month.
"Back the fuck up!" Chicago Bulls whips a
pistol from his coat pocket. My skin tingles. Shoppers are yelling and oh-my-goshing.
"You havent paid yet." Scott looks
freaked-out. Hes sweating like a rainforest, but he hasnt let go. I dont
think he can.
I scan Chicago Bulls face. He cant believe
he has to shoot this fool, but he will. I can see it. Hes so scared that, just like
Scott, hes running on autopilot. In an instant, theyve been reduced to fight
or flight. No higher brain function at all.
I look around. I desperately need to make eye contact
with someoneanyoneelse whos still rational. All I see are gaudy flesh
"Get offa me! I aint gonna tell you
again," Chicago Bulls warns. It sounds sincere enough.
I wonder where theyll hang Scotts
Scott D. Kirkland, killed in the line of duty. He was a
credit to the Linens Etc. apron. For his ultimate sacrifice of single handedly charging an
armed shoplifter and preventing the loss of a Martex Moon Shadow sheet set (Queen, 280
thread count, suggested retail $129.99, Item # 040418000508), he is awarded the highest
honor possible: Manager of the Year.
Ive got two options: let this cocksucker,
whos about to fire me, get his brains remodeled; or
With my eye on the weapon, I close the distance
between us. Hes no gun collector. Its just a 9mm Beretta, similar to the Army
model Ive fired a bazillion times. This toy is a cheap piece of shit.
I know what I have to do. It only takes a second. So
simple, but you need a body that moves, even when fear takes your mind hostage.
Its a job skill Im having trouble marketing.
I seize the gun and twist. The kid panics and fires,
but not in Scotts face. The explosion vibrates through my hand, through every ounce
of my body. Hot lava erupts from the spot where the pistols slide snaps back, spits
out brass, chambers a new round, and tears half my thumb off. The meat slips right from
the bone. My left fist is up, and I bury it in his soft throat.
He drops, squirming and gurgling; choking on spit and
blood. Ive got the gun. No ones shot. I hear someone crying and I think
Im not angry. He was stealing from Linens Etc.,
not me. I am not my job. In fact, if Scott wasnt so fucking stupid, no one would be
hurt right now. I feel closer to the kid on the floor than my own co-workers, crowding
around to get a closer look.
"Were heroes!" Scott throws his arm
around me like weve been best friends since birth.
I pull off my apron and wrap it around my leaking
hand. Its throbbing so hard, I feel like throwing up. "Yeah, Im the
Amazing Unemployed Man."
"You know what Im talking about. Lets
get it over with."
His face does something ugly. I think its shame.
I mean, I cant fire you now."
I dont even bother to quit. I just break away
from the herd, and go sit down outside. After the ambulance comes, after they stitch me
up, I think Im done. Ill pick up an application at Cross Hairs on the way
home. They sell quality firearms, not like that cheap Beretta. And I can probably get an