February 1, 2001
Running with Scissors
An e-journal documenting modern culture as it manifests on
or near that hotspot on the surrealistic powergrid known as Spokane, WA
and/or the known or unknown universe
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My meeting with
Stacey #1 - #2
The Martyrdom of
#1 - #2 - #3 - #4
Speak to me
Greetings faithful readers and
welcome to yet another very special edition of Stik Mann’s
This lucky (?) twenty-first issue finds your humble narrator hunkered down
in the lounge car of Amtrak’s Coast Starlight, somewhere in central (or
is it southern?) California, working on his fourth (or is it his fifth?)
whiskey on the rocks.
Why, you ask, is Mr. Stik Mann – cheerleader of all things Spookaloo and
Eastern Washington too – half-snookered on a choo-choo, pathetically
hitting on a tiny Chinese girl less than half his age as the world outside
the tinted windows dissolves into a passing blur of night and fog?
To answer that overdeveloped question, some background flashbacks, fast
forwards, and even an hallucination or two will be useful:
It is the day after Christmas, a scheduled day off
from my beloved, low-paying job at The Big Buffet Sign Buffet on Third
Street. I have no plans for today and am glad of it, having just
successfully survived SantaDaze.
I check my phone messages, and I am surprised to find
a message from Jason, the owner of the buffet, telling me to call him back
-- at work -- as soon as possible.
This, I say to myself, cannot be a good thing.
Please watch your step here.
It is very cold. The train is creaking and jolting
about, creeping slowly ahead at a noticeable upward angle with
questionable I-know-I-c-can, I-know-I-c-can resolve. I am wearing a heavy
sweater and covered with my leather coat but I am still very cold.
I hear talk that we are within sight of Mt. Shasta,
but it is very dark outside and all I can see are dreamy wisps of
mal-colored snow, zipping by like little ghost puppets in a wind tunnel,
all hauntingly illuminated by the sulfurous glow from the windows of the
teetering bar car.
I look down and see the tiny Chinese girl, lying on
the bench next to me. She is dressed only in white Capri pants and sandals
and a light sweatshirt. She has laid a hand towel over the bare parts of
her legs. She is shivering violently.
I reach over and touch her shoulder. She opens her
eyes. I pull away my coat and pat my chest, then motion for her to come
nearer. She smiles, confusedly, then realizes what I am saying. Her face
contorts strangely as it staggers through a gauntlet of emotion. Finally,
she scoots over slowly, looking at me directly, as if about to pet a dog
that might bite.
Then, she suddenly looks away from me, and does not
look at me again, and it as if her apprehensions and inhibitions lift from
her like sweaty steam from a large animal. She lays her head on my chest
and exhales deeply as she feels my warmth. She snuggles up to me as if we
were familiar lovers. I cover us both with my coat and put my arm around
And then, just before – or possibly soon after –
she falls asleep, she says, “Your trouble…lift.”
As I step from the train, I trip and fall face first
toward the ground. But just before I hit, I snap my head up and look
around and realize I am still in my seat and that I was dreaming. The
little Chinese girl is gone.
“Are you mad, Stik?” Jasons asks.
“This place has been good to me,” I say. “How
can I be mad?”
But this is a lie, and Jason knows it. He can see
memories flashing behind my eyes. He can see that I feel betrayed. Still,
uncharacteristically, he says nothing.
Of the long parade of enigmatic characters that have
passed through the employee-and-delivery-only back doors of the buffet,
the restaurant’s owner, Jason, is most assuredly (not counting me, that
is) the most enigmatic of all. A retired Navy commander, biblical scholar
and by-the-Book Christian, Jason runs a tight ship, demanding perfection,
though he confesses that perfection is impossible to achieve.
I’ve worked for him for seven years, and in that
time I’ve seen him so angry he nearly smacked me (or I him). I’ve seen
him reduce a grown man to tears, and then turn around and praise the same
man for some small example of good he may have done. I’ve heard him
confess things that most men would rarely admit to themselves, simply to
shed some light on a similar problem I was having. I’ve seen him lie,
cry, curse and pray.
As of this writing, I still can’t say if I love him
or hate him.
Jason is the first of three
factors that made The Big Buffet Sign Buffet a very unusual place to
As it turns out, it is cheaper
for me to take the train to Seattle (with an overnight layover), than a
more direct route. I arrive in the morning and check into the Moore
Hotel. I spend the day walking around the city, exploring shops,
observing the behavior of Seattleites from the outdoor tables of
I soon notice that the numeral three has
strangely become very significant: Three nuns ask me for a donation;
three different black guys say “Wazzup?” to me in the space of about
fifteen minutes; three stunningly beautiful teenage girls – triplets
– all say “Oh,” and simultaneously put their hands to their
mouths, then smile identical smiles, as I stroll around a corner in the
Seattle Art Museum and almost run into them.
Later that night, in a bar near Pioneer Square, I
meet Lloyd and Nan. Lloyd is a low level administrator for Boeing, and
Nan is the same but at a school. We have a great time, but I decline
their invitation to go back to their place for a drink.
Suddenly it is warm. I look
around and come to realize that there are three prevailing factors that
rule over my current situation: the sun, which has reached its zenith in
the desert sky; and the breeze, which is cool, to remind us that it is
still winter, and whose gusts are the erratic conductor of the third
factor – the music – the chimes, the wind chimes, issuing discordant
tinkles and dings that strangely unifies the swirling bombardment of
Though I haven’t slept in many
hours, I cannot leave the comfort of the lawn chair, cannot pull my feet
away from the dying but still comforting fire. Perhaps tomorrow I will
venture from the bricked patio that dominates the center of the family
compound. Perhaps I’ll drive the buggy south down the Gila Mountains
toward the Mexican border. Perhaps I’ll hike up a secluded valley and
discover the bleached skull of a coyote, or the twisted remains of an
army practice missile, or a gold nugget protruding from the side of a
dark cliff like a full moon in a clear night sky.
I find myself trapped in an
underground mine. I am digging with a stick. Finally I break through the
rock wall and gasp. Revealed before me is a vast, golden city. I am
amazed and enthralled by this discover; but, as I look closer, I see
that it is not a city – it is in fact an amazingly detailed painting
of a city on a rock wall.
Jason is going on about why he
couldn’t say anything about selling the restaurant, but his words are
a distant buzzing in my ears, as he is already fading into my past.
Jason answers the phone and explains to a customer that the restaurant
is closed for good. The customer seems to be having trouble accepting
Sharon, the buffet’s general
manager, is sitting next to me. She isn’t saying much. There is
something in her eyes that I’ve never seen before – I’m almost
certain that it is fear. I ask her what she is going to do now. She
smiles sadly and shakes her head.
Sharon is the second reason why
the buffet was a very unusual place to work.
Without Sharon, the buffet would
have been a boot camp. Sharon was the cooling water to Jason’s nearly
out-of-control fire. Sharon was peacemaker, diplomat. Sharon was the
compassionate, maternal yin to Jason’s aggressive, hypercharged yang.
There is only one way to describe
the effect of Jason and Sharon’s combined pathos: It was a family.
“Come see your home,” says
Mom. It is a new addition to the compound: A 24-foot, self-contained
trailer. The refrigerator, freezer and cupboards are packed with one of
every kind of microwave-able, ultra-convenient foodstuff that mankind
has ever produced. The tiny bathroom is stocked with every imaginable
toiletry, some of which I didn’t know existed. “And here’s your
bar,” Mom says, swinging open a door and revealing two bottles of
tequila, a gallon of cheap burgundy, a bottle of Kahlua shaped like a
Mayan statue, and half-gallon jugs each of whiskey and vodka. “I want
you to be comfortable,” she says.
You are experiencing The Buzz --
it’s what happens when an unexpected bus or two or three pulls into
the parking lot and you are the only cook in the kitchen of The Big
Buffet Sign Buffet.
See this button? Push it. In
exactly five minutes a buzzer will sound. In that time you will pull a
tray of chicken out of the oven, toss veggies in the steamer, put a tray
of chicken in the oven, flirt with Jen, start a batch of instant mashed
potatoes in the mixer, drop fish in the deep fryer (or was it corn
dogs?), catch the punch line of Sharon’s latest joke, send out a new
soup, eat an entire chicken thigh in 4.7 seconds, spin a pan on your
finger to check your hand/eye coordination, cuss the new dishwasher,
send out the other soup, call Rob a little commie, stir the meat sauce
simmering in the back, tater tots? – you said fish, throw a tater tot
at Christa, improvise an explanation for Jason as to why the fettuccini
looks like donkey snot, bum a smoke for later, taste a handful of
Kelly’s coleslaw, whip up a gallon of country gravy, holler back at
Virginia to see if the new, sweet goody is finally done, misinterpret
Roberto’s order, burn the garlic-cheese bread, and you will find that
you still have six seconds left to make an abstruse, quasi-sexual
comment to the new, cute, teenage lineserver.
Now clean up your mess.
It is windy today, out in the
open desert, but not windy enough to kick up the sand. It is quite cool
as well. I park the buggy next to one of the many washes or
“arroyos,” dry creek beds that meander from the valleys of the Gila
Mountains and out into the plain of the Yuma Desert.
I had marked the site on the
Global Positioning Satellite unit, though it was fairly easy to find
again. A few days ago, I discovered here an enormous ant hill – 10 or
12 inches high, and about two feet in diameter. There were millions of
the tiny, black creatures about, but the noteworthy phenomenon I found
was an arrow-straight, single-file line of worker ants that ventured out
from the hill to a distance of 60 or 70 feet, then returned on the same
line, carrying burdens of twigs and cut leafs, staggering and bumping
into their load-less comrades like drunken soldiers.
I turn up the collar of my
shirt and tie a bandana around my neck. I smear sun block on the back of
my hands and on my nose. (I dab a bit on the tops of my ears, but the
sun had won that battle, having burnt and left them covered with red,
gritty scabs.) I wrap elastic bands around the bottoms of my pant legs
to discourage any adventurous creepy-crawlies. I grab my camera and
I easily locate the spot. And
I am surprised to find no ants – none, not even a straggler. The hill
is motionless, except for an occasional grain of sand set loose by the
I smoke a cigarette and ponder
this find when I hear a distant roar. Now, hearing distant roars are not
uncommon, as this portion of the desert is within the Barry M. Goldwater
Military Reservation, and is often populated with helicopters and jets
– and sometimes troops – from the nearby Marine base. There are
tales of unsuspecting campers who have awakened to find themselves
“prisoners” of heavily armed soldiers who take their reconnaissance
play very, very seriously.
And the roar grows louder
still, which is also common, but the decibels continues to rise until it
is like a sustained explosion, which is not common at all. I turn and
cover my head and find the bottom of a jet fighter taking up a good
chunk of the sky, looking as if it’s about to slide into home base,
which is me. I am knocked to the ground by thunder and fear and when I
look up the jet is shooting straight up like a rocket, directly above
me, straight up, growing smaller and smaller until it disappears, along
with the horrible rumble, directly above me.
I flip him off.
And suddenly it all comes
together, the whole kaleidoscopic jumble of images and memories.
I am laying on my back in the
luggage rack on the roof of the buggy. I am as far out in the desert as
I have ever been. The sun had set hours ago.
Where two weeks ago the sky would
have been ablaze with stars, few can be seen now because of the full
moon and the amount of moisture in the air, which is unusually high.
Surrounding the moon is an enormous halo that appears to be composed of
clouds, but is, I know to be, an optical illusion.
I attempt to separate fact from
illusion. I neatly tuck the dreams in the bottom drawer and the reality
in a neatly folded pile on top of the cabinet. For the most part, the
task is fairly simple, until I am forced to deal with those images
associated with the last seven years as cook at The Big Buffet Sign
Buffet on Third Street.
What do I do about that third
most important reason that made The Big Buffet Sign Buffet such an
unusual place to work? How do I file them all away? Where do I put
Jason, gathering us all together to explain the fragility of life
following his father’s death? Where do I put Sharon’s calm resolve?
Or Roberto perplexed at my Spanish? Or Todd’s detailed philosophy of
sex? Or the Christmas bowling parties, the late night beers, the
off-colored jokes? Where goes those who entered with their lives a mess,
and left with it in order? Or visa-versa? Where do I put Lindsey’s
laugh? Keith’s red eyes? Dan’s Rainbow tales? Paloma’s “We got
chicken” routine? Where goes Virginia’s personalized birthday cakes?
I realize that in order to
succeed at the task, I must yield to failure. It is only when I give up,
when I stop trying to figure it all out, only when I take the neat
bundles and strew them about the desert does it all comes together.
Or should I say, rather, when it will
all come together.
And that, my dear faithful readers, is why your humble
narrator is hunkered down in the lounge car of the Coast Starlight,
somewhere in central (or is it southern?) California, working on his
sixth (or is it his seventh?) whiskey on the rocks, and pathetically
hitting on a tiny Chinese girl less than half his age.
Next Issue: Dunno. Next month, maybe sooner...
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