… a defender of the free world. OR: Hey, man, don’t point that thing at me.
As you might be aware, I enlisted in the Untidy States Scare Farce in order to escape a challenging environment. To put it quite mildly. But there was a time when I almost changed my mind. In fact, I had all but changed my mind and then someone changed it back for me.
It was either very late in August or very early in September of 1980, and I was working as the assistant manager of a Super-7 gas station. Super-7 was just as the name implied, a Southland Corporation company. Southland, for those of you who are new to North America, owns the 7-11 chain of convenience stores. It was at that Super-7 that I received the phone call from the Air Force recruiter who (a) asked me if I still wanted to sign up for his circus, and (b) told me that we finally had a date when I could skedaddle off to basic training. By that time I was aware of the fact that I could get as far into the process as the AFEES station and back out with no consequences. I could even back out and later change my mind to front in again. So I said sure, when, and I guess you’ll want me to sign some stuff. I went the next day and signed some stuff. Hooray for options.
Super-7’s district manager had recently asked me if I would be inclined to accept an offer to take over as manager at another station a couple of miles away, and I told him that it all depended upon what kind of an offer they would make me. Which was essentially true, as I still had Uncle Sugar’s offer of guaranteed training in electronics on the table, and finding something else to do for money was always an option unless/until I entered the military. Not that Super-7 knew of my tentative enlistment. He told me that it was a much bigger step in compensation from assistant manager to manager than it was from lowly employee to assistant manager, and I reminded him that I’d hired on as assistant manager so hadn’t really ever concerned myself with lowly employee compensation. And that was true; I had no idea what the lowly employee received for compensation. Probably not much. I could have asked, but then I also could have asked to know the gross domestic product of Argentina for all it mattered to me. When your head is as limited in storage capacity as is mine you learn not to fill it up with useless trivia. Unless, I guess, you fill it with useless trivia first and so lose the capacity for learning.
My thinking was simple, which is just how I like it. I’m a firm believer in running away from your problems whenever possible, but I also have a very strong preference for choosing the laziest option among those that will accomplish essentially the same ends. There was no reason to run all the way to Lackland Air Force Base when Buena Park or Anaheim would serve just as well. And basic training isn’t really a lazy option. Those dickweeds expect you to march around and run and do calisthenics, and even complete an obstacle course where you’re likely to get wet and muddy. Nothing at all like the more military branches of the military, but a lot more physical than sitting in a bulletproof closet smoking cigarettes and collecting money.
One evening I showed gross disregard for company rules and had visitors inside the bulletproof closet with me: my girlfriend (first ex-wife, she would be), her brother (comrade in arms, he would be), and another guy named Joe who was recently hired at Super-7. We were having a large time, laughing it up, playing the music loud, and smoking lots of cigarettes. Even with the air conditioner/heater/ventilation blow jobbie running full tilt it was pretty thick in there. And smoky, too. A customer came along in a great huge motor home, a road condo, really, and put one single dollar’s worth of gasoline into a one single gallon gasoline can, and when I withdrew the cash exchange drawer into the bulletproof closet I saw that he wished to pay for it with one single hundred dollar bill.
I looked around at the gas pumps, and at the glass on three sides of the bulletproof closet, and sure enough everywhere I looked there were signs with big red letters on bright white backgrounds which stated “NO BILLS LARGER THAN $20 ACCEPTED”. Well, shucks, surely a guy who can afford to ride around in a road condo with Benjamins in his pocket is literate, so I asked him if he had any smaller bills, or coins that would sum to at least 90¢. He said that he didn’t, the Benjamin was the smallest he had. He was probably bullshitting me, but that was okay because this was really my mostest favoritist part of the whole damn job. Joe asked me, “What do you do in a situation like this?”. Heh heh. “I’ll show you, but don’t watch me. Watch the customer’s face”.
I held up the bill and ripped it right through the middle of poor Ben’s face. There were freakouts all around, as no one had ever seen a hundred dollar bill being torn in half before. I put the easterly (or left-hand, from my perspective) half in the cash exchange drawer and slid it out. “In about half an hour when I have cash enough to do it, I’ll buy that half back from you for ninety-nine dollars”, I said. The guy was still in shock, so I continued, “If you’d like you can leave me a phone number and I’ll call you, or you can just drop back by, or you can hang around. It’s up to you”. He opted to hang around, watching television in his road condo.
A little while later when I had cash enough I waved the guy over, traded him his change for his half of the hundred, and he went on his merry way. I taped the bill back together, and dropped it into the safe through the bill slot. Then, being a dutiful little assistant manager dork I gave Joe the requisite on-the-job training and explained that when you taped a bill back together it might hang up in the slot, so after chasing it with our official cash ramrod yardstick it was best to shine a flashlight in there to make sure it made the trip. I gave a look, then gave him the flashlight so he could look, too. Then we got back to laughing it up, playing the music loud, and smoking lots and lots of cigarettes.
The next morning the station manager, Paul, called me at home and asked me to come by the station at my earliest convenience. He’d done essentially the same thing about a week prior, asking me to come to work a half hour early. Rewind to about a week prior when I arrived at work a half hour early:
Paul met me outside the booth and asked me to accompany him across the street to the donut shop, his treat. I thought that a peculiar way to fire someone, but I didn’t have any other plans for the day so I figured I might as well get a cup of coffee and a donut out of the deal. After acquiring said donut and coffee we seated ourselves at a table there in the midst of the cops, college students, and senior citizens, and Paul started in with some random small talk. Sure is a beautiful day, how ’bout them Dodgers, gee my ‘rhoids are killing me today, whatever. I wasn’t particularly fond of the guy and saw no point in making it easy on him, so I suggested that he hadn’t called me there to talk about beautiful Dodger piles or whatever it was he was going on about and should just get to the point.
He leaned forward and cupped his mouth as if about to whisper, but I didn’t lean in to hear it. I didn’t want the guy kissing me on my ear or whatever other odd thing he had in mind to do. He whispered anyway, and though I thought I might have heard what he said it struck me as quite an odd thing to drag someone off to a donut shop to say, and also thought it might be entertaining to make him repeat it. It’s a mean habit of mine, making people whisper things twice even though I heard it the first time, and just because I figure that if you have to whisper it you probably shouldn’t be saying it in the first place. At least not in the vicinity of others who shouldn’t be hearing it. He leaned forward again, cupped his mouth again, and whispered a forced whisper so loud that everyone in the donut shop heard it:
“I’m a….”, his eyes darted around the room quickly, “homosexual”.
He might as well have told me that my eyes are blue for all the more newsworthy it was.
“Don’t worry, man, your secret is safe with me”, I told him, thinking how ironic it was given that he’d just told three cops, about a dozen college students, and a few very shocked senior citizens who were in a hurry to get out of there in case it was contagious. “Besides, if I were the sort to out you I’d have done it long ago. The contact number you leave on Friday nights is that of a gay bar”. What I didn’t tell him was that I had known for quite some time how he’d lost his previous gas station manager job. There, the station owner received a telephone call from the police department asking for his assistance as they were responding to a call from a customer who’d wanted to pay for his purchase but couldn’t find anyone to pay. The pumps were on, the Open sign was illuminated, and so on, but there wasn’t an employee to be found. Paul’s ugly, dirty old car was there so he probably hadn’t left and everyone feared the worst. The owner led the cops around, unlocking doors so they could burst in with guns drawn expecting to find a bloody corpse, and when they burst into the men’s room the found the crime in progress: Paul was assisting another customer.
Are you proud of me for not saying any of the hundred other things I might have said to describe the scene?
Fast forward to the point where we left off. I estimated that the most likely scenario, what with Paulie (as the gay bartender called him when summoning him to the phone) having outed himself despite wishing to remain in and invite me into the closet, was that I would be fired for accepting a too-large bill. Hell hath no fury like a scruffy queen spurned — ain’t no woman on Earth can hold a candle to that. I knew it was going to happen soon enough if I didn’t bag that manager gig at the other station, as I was now officially the only hetero who’d worked there before Joe was hired quickly to replace one of the other persuasion who’d suddenly run off to live with his “roommate” in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Again Paulie met me outside the booth, but he didn’t offer to buy me a donut. He apologized, said he hated that it had to be this way, blah blah blah, but it’s company policy so he’s powerless. I told him that I thought it was a bullshit company policy, and he said he agreed, but while no one was making any accusations it’s really unlikely that a hundred dollar shortage could be a simple innocent mistake. Huh? A shortage?
“Sure you want to play it that way, Paul?”
“Play what? What are you talking about?”
“Are you sure you want to play it that way? Are you set on this course or might you rethink it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
He went on to continue his transparent ruse, explaining that he hated that it had come to this, but he’d recounted the cash four times, checked the interior of the safe at least as many times, checked the paperwork three times, and then called Joe in to verify his cash count and Joe had counted it three times himself. I asked him again if he wanted to play it that way and he again feigned shock and ignorance and outrage — while looking petrified.
I went back to the house, called Joe, and he apologized, too. He said he hated that he’d been the one called in to verify the cash count because he was certain that I wasn’t a thief. I asked him, “Joe, are you my friend?”. He said that yeah, he guessed so. I asked him if he was an honest and forthright man, and he said that he was. “And just how many taped together one hundred dollar bills were there in the cash you counted this morning?”. “Oh shit! You’re right!”. I asked him if he’d be willing to attest to the fact that he’d been there, against company policy, the night before, and had not only seen that bill go into the safe but had looked down the drop chute himself to confirm that it had made the trip all the way to the bottom. He said he was, and would be happy to risk his job to do it. I told him that I was really very glad that it was he who’d been called to verify the cash count and he said he didn’t hate it nearly so much any more.
In my famous treatise of the downfall of the liar, I point out several mistakes that always bring them down. Paul had just committed all but one of them. The only thing he got right was assuming that his lie would be believable because he would believe it himself if he weren’t aware of the misrepresented or concealed facts. But he nailed the rest of them just like he was trying to do it.
My next call was to the district manager, who said right up front that he really didn’t want to talk to me. He explained that it’s just about impossible to come up a hundred dollars short by accident, and if it were up to him the company policy would be to report it to the police rather than just let it go with termination. He got really curious when I agreed with him, and listened without interrupting when I explained how I’d accepted a hundred dollar bill and provided a bit of on-the-job training so it was certain that Joe had reason to see it, and remember it, and reported to me that he hadn’t seen any taped together Benjamin in the cash he’d counted. I gave him Joe’s home phone number and told him his call was expected.
I also made the fuckit decision that would land me in San Antonio. The world was conspiring to chase me out of town and I wasn’t going to resist.
A little while later the district manager called me back, offered me the manager job, briefly ran down the salary and additional benefits, and asked me to please hurry in because he was manning the station himself and wasn’t sure he was doing things correctly because he’d been trained on but never really ran that newer equipment before. I told him that I couldn’t trust that they wouldn’t keep me only long enough to find a replacement, and he assured me that my job would be secure. I pointed out that he was in a pickle and would thus be motivated to say whatever was necessary to get out of it, and reminded him that employers who demand two weeks notice of a voluntary termination never return that courtesy. Nope, I’m leaving on the 28th for Air Force basic training and having thought about it I’d really like to take the next few weeks off.
And so it was that I became a defender of the free world and one of the few men in America who was ever fired from a job for being heterosexual.