There’s a place in the world for the angry young man
With his working class ties and his radical plans
He refuses to bend he refuses to crawl
And he’s always at home with his back to the wall
And he’s proud of his scars and the battles he’s lost
And struggles and bleeds as he hangs on his cross
And likes to be known as the angry young man
Days passed. The Trail of Madame Carnage had run cold and, as Ben had become accustomed, life resumed as normal. As he was the one responsible, he made it a point to visit Tom every day, even though he was normally dismissed with the barest of pleasantries.
“He wouldn’t talk to you, again?” Lucy asked one night over dinner.
“He keeps saying I shouldn’t blame myself, but I cannot believe that. I mean, I’m the one who kicked him.”
“Maybe he’s trying to say he deserved it?”
“That doesn’t sound like Tom.”
“People can change,” Lucy offered. Ben mumbled a response and they went back to eating.
“Stuff’s fantastic, by the way. What is that in it?”
“Smoked Paprika: I picked it up at the co-op.”
“Are you sure we can afford that?”
“Ben…” Lucy sighed.
“It’s just… I’m out of work right now, I know things are pricier at the co-op, and…”
“It’s powder, Ben. It cost, like, thirty cents. We can swing it.”
“I know, I just…”
“You ‘just’ all the time,” she replied, with a snicker, “You need to stop ‘justing’ all the time and ‘just’ relax, okay?”
“If you’re interested…” Lucy said with no lack of caution, “there’s a job I heard about at work. It’s not much, it’s literally just pumping gas, but…”
“Sure?” Lucy was a little taken aback.
“I’ve got to do something, and it’s not like the experimental sciences field is booming right now… unless you want to spend your days finding how to best murder brown people. Sign me up.”
He started the next day. The work was easy enough: custodial, register, service with a smile, and so on. It used to be a local institution sort of Mom-and-Pop shop, but recently had been turned into one of the ubiquitous mini-marts that dot the landscape. Within the first week, Ben learned that the employee with the longest tenure had been about three months, which gave him a little cause for worry, but as he became more and more aware of the minutia of bizarre rules and corporate policies, he began to see why.
As such, he made some good working relationships, some of the first in his life, with the other wage slaves at the station. All of them, it seemed, knew they were making too little money to survive, and had decided to take it out on the multi-million-dollar corporation pulling their strings. As a former scientist, Ben had trouble adapting at first: there were duties to shirk, breaks to lengthen and, most of all, a healthy contempt of the customer to cultivate. Ben found he could never quite attain that final benchmark with the majority of families that came through, but there were enough customers of a certain kind that poisoned his outlook more than any other.The station was near a well-loved local campground and resort, which explained most of its popularity, but with this came the massive campers and RVs, chock full of social climbers and middling wealthy families. They had become rich enough, by hook or crook, to acquire the gas-guzzling behemoth, but not rich enough to afford to jet off to Cabo or Ibiza at a moment’s notice. This added a thin sheen of contempt to their actions: contempt for the staff, contempt for other customers, but mostly contempt for themselves for not being able to foist their ill-mannered children off on a foreign nanny while they got blitzed with the third wife.
The children weren’t much better: born into a life of never knowing want, they could not fathom the reality of their favorite soda being out of stock, or the beer they attempted to buy with their father’s stolen ID being denied. On more than one night shift, Ben found himself coming home late to Lucy, sticky and smelling of the stale orange soda brats had sprayed all over himself and the store, confident they would never be reprimanded. At first, Ben had attempted to raise the issue with the shift manager, then the assistant manager, then the general manager, but his other coworkers simply smiled and told him to give it up.
And so, he gave up.
The soda-squirters and their family came by for another weekend. The father had an insufferable habit of asking the workers to pump the gas and his onboard toilet for him, because the last worker who had refused got a very angry letter sent to corporate that sent him packing.
“I just hate getting any of that on my hands.”
Ben did as he was told, and when he was finished the father came walking back from the shop, his arms full of sugary snacks and soda. Ben took a quick glance up into the RV to remind himself of the man’s two swollen progeny and allowed himself a little sigh. Before boarding, the man gave his thanks.
“Great job, kid. Here…”
He pulled a crisp twenty dollar bill out of the stack of things in his hands and handed it to Ben, smiling broadly.
“For a job well done.”
It was then that Ben snapped.
“A job well done, huh? A job well done… you see, that’s funny to me, because… you gave me a twenty, yeah? And I bet, in whatever passed for a brain rattling around in there, you think a twenty dollar bill is a big tip for one of us, right? Well, allow me to get a little mathematical on you, jackass.”
The man was frozen in place where he stood, half in and half out of his RV. His wife couldn’t hear, as she was trying to wrangle their children. Ben got close and waved the bill in front of the man’s face.
“I just put $400 of gas in your mid-life-crisis-mobile, and a twenty dollar bill amounts to a 5% tip. Just five percent… but you’re counting on us, the ‘kid’ you referred to me as, despite being almost thirty… you’re counting on us to not know the difference or be able to do the Math, because you think all of us down here beneath you are just too stupid to know any better, right? We’ll take the twenty and go ‘thankee, sir, thankee! you’re a right kind and generous soul, you are!’ and you get to saunter off thinking like you did your good deed for the day to the unwashed masses.
But guess what? I can do the math. In my head. And I know that you just tipped me less than you’d tip the girl who spilled your mojito, probably because you’ve been ogling her cans from across the lido deck. You see, I’ve got a college degree, and so do the majority of the poor suckers working here with me. We’re just trying to make it work, and here you come thinking you’re Father Goddamn Christmas giving a small bit of charity to the flea-bitten heathens that tread neath your sandaled feet. You, and the rest of your lot, don’t seem to realize how lucky you are, and while you bitch and moan about your job, and your kids, and the gas costing so much in this…”
He slammed his hand into the side of the RV, enjoying the hollow thwack it made.
“soul-coffin on wheels… and you don’t even realize how good you have it. You don’t realize that you punch in, 9-5, Monday-Friday, and meanwhile there are people like me working weekends for diddly-squat just to make sure you have a pain-free weekend escape. Do you know how much I make here? Do you?”
He shook his head, dumbstruck.
“$7.25 Minimum blankety-blank-blank wage. That twenty you just gave me? That’s the result of THREE HOURS working here, GROSS. And that’s before I pay all my taxes which, judging by the business swag and logo you’ve got plastered on your RV, you’re got someone hired to make sure you don’t, so I should really thank you, because when your little shits came in here and sprayed soda all over the shop, I got to make another one of these sassy little Jacksons…”
he waved the bill angrily in front of the man’s collapsing face.
“Spending an extra three hours cleaning it all up. But that’s not even the worst part. Do you know what the worst part is, Mr…?”
“Ah, yes. Bates. None of you, sitting pretty up there above the rest of us… none of you seem to realize how much your life is in OUR hands, and if we ever decided to just… give up… or worse, if we ever decided to take back everything you steal from us in tax breaks, and subsidies, and sweetheart government deals…
You see, I checked out your credit card when I was running it last weekend, Mr. Jordan Bates of Bradford Woods, and I googled you, bitch. Your Grandpappy started a company that your Daddy almost ran into the ground, but they keep you on as a special VP of some-such-shit because then they can say they have a Bates in the front office and it makes them a ‘family company.’ I’ve read the reports on your business practices, the reviews on your stock profiles, and I know it would take just one more turn of the screw to end your company… but because of your severance and some fat government entanglements, you’ll get bailed out and back on your feet in no time. Gotta keep those ‘family businesses’ going, even the ones with an office in Ireland to keep those pesky, pesky taxes low.”
Jordan Bates looked about ready to cry.
“Oh, wow… look at your face! You don’t even know this, do you? I actually learned more about YOUR company in an afternoon of Googling than you have in, what? Fifteen? Twenty years? And there’s where it hurts the most, because a simple roll of the dice means you get everything and I get nothing. I could synthesize an explosive out of what I just pumped out of your shitter, because I’m goddamn brilliant, but I’m not going to do that, because I’m a good guy. The question you need to ask yourself, Mr. Bates… is whether you, in my situation, would be able to keep down your petty jealousy and your hatred of my dumb, blind luck to not set fire to my shit? Well, do you?”
He jammed the $20 into the pocket of Mr. Bates’ sky blue polo, just right of a path of hairy, sunburned skin.
“Now get out of my fucking sight.”
With a judder, the RV drove away, but stopped only a few feet down the road. Jordan Bates ran out the door, covered in fizzy, orange soda, because he had brought the wrong brand. He caught Ben’s glare, a thousand miles and counting, from down the road and scurried back into the RV, speeding off toward the resort. That night, Ben told Lucy about it.
“I didn’t want you to hear it second-hand,” he said lamely.
“Why would you do that?!” she cried out, indignant.
“I don’t know!” Ben’s face immediately turned a bright shade of red, “I just… it all came out, I couldn’t stop it.”
“You haven’t even been there two weeks!”
“Lucy, I’m sorry…”
“You’re going to get fired, you know!”
“So did the last guy.”
“I stuck my neck out to talk to my bitchy supervisor at work to get you that job, Ben! This is going to be a nightmare if she finds out!”
“She probably won’t.”
“And why is that?” Ben could hear her teeth grinding.
“Well,” Ben started to get scientific, “Judging from his cheap hair plugs, his middling status at Bates Medical, and the 100% polyester polo he was wearing, he probably doesn’t have the cash to sue me over what amounted to mean words.”
“Also, I may or may not have said I could blow up his RV…”
He tried to slip that last bit in quietly, but he knew he was married and couldn’t hide it.
“You’re ALWAYS sorry! Don’t you ever think…”
She put a fist to her forehead, as if trying to slowly club herself unconscious, then alternated between a hiss and a sigh before speaking again.
“Don’t you ever think you might want to make some changes on your end of the bargain?”
“I tried, Luce, I really tried… I was doing well with my coworkers, and I could usually ignore all the rich bitches… but this one… it was just too much.”
“And you don’t think I have to deal with all sorts of ‘rich bitches’ at my job?”
“How do you do it?” Ben held out his hands in supplication, “No, really, tell me!”
“Ben…” she replied, exasperated.
“No, really! How do you go through your days with that cloud over you, knowing that you should be running that place but instead you have to put up with a neverending parade of dum-dums both in your clients and in your office? How do you not just break down and scream ‘what the fuck has happened to my life?’ Doesn’t it just tear you apart, every day?”
“Yes! It does, Ben… but one of us has to be able to handle it, or…”
Ben saw now that her hands were shaking.
“Or we’d be living under a damn overpass somewhere.”
It had never occurred to Ben that Lucy felt the same way, too. In a way, he thought with his ever analytical mind, it must have been what he sensed under the surface that attracted him so much to her. But to know that she’s dealing with the same things he’s dealing with, and having to manage it, allowing him to go off as he does…it struck him to the core.
“Lucy… I don’t want to keep doing this to you. I’ll fix it, okay? I promise. I don’t know when it’ll be, we might be both gumming our oatmeal, but someday…”
He caught his eyes onto her and gave a little smile.
“Someday I’ll learn how to be normal, okay?”
She smiled and sniffed, laughing despite it all.
“Fat chance, Banjo. But that’s why I love you.”
She gave him a little kiss and they embraced, but it was brought to an abrupt end by a knock at the door.
“Hm,” Ben remarked, “I didn’t know they were doing door-to-door firings, now.”
He opened the door not to see what he had imagined, which was quizzically an old-timey Western Union telegram man, but instead a group of his co-workers and their significant others, smiles beaming on their faces.
“Hey, Benny!” the one at point said, “Whatcha up to tonight?”
“Huh….. how did you find out where I lived?”
“We googled you, bitch!” one of the men in the back shouted, which lead to an avalanche of laughter that threatened to bring down the walls of the flimsy apartment building. Ben turned bright red again and smiled.
“Come in, folks… before the building collapses.”
Soon the small one-bedroom was full of people. Lucy was suddenly at her wit’s end trying to provide for seven or eight people.
“Dude, your place is tiny!”
“Location, location, location, man.”
“What’s your wife cooking?”
“Something awesome,” Ben shrugged.
“You got cable?”
“Student loans, dude.”
“So, no then?”
“Shut it, Mr. Free-Ride-Scholarship.”
“Not my fault I’m a gas-pumpin’ genius!”
Ben stood on a coffee table to address the crowd.
“All right, everybody. Before my wife has a coronary…”
Lucy shot him a glare and he shot back an impish grin.
“Why are you all here tonight ruining my life?”
“There’s a carnival in town, and we want to take you and your wife out for some drunken midway games.”
“And who’s getting drunk?” Lucy hollered from the kitchen.
“C’mon, Ben… we want to say ‘thanks’ for what you did today,” the point man said, clapping Ben on the shoulder.
“And also say ‘sorry’ because your ass is, like, mega-fired when the boss finds out,” said Mr. Free-Ride.
“A carnival, though? Really?” Ben asked.
“Hey, it’s short notice… and what else can we afford?”
“Guys… can I ask a weird question?”
“You always do!”
“Are we like… friends?”
Mr. Free-Ride clapped Ben on the other shoulder.
“We’re close enough, dude. Now, let’s go.”
What followed was just what Ben and Lucy needed: time away from that apartment, time away from all the problems, and time away from everything that had happened in the past few weeks. Though it was always in the back of their minds, they were able to banish it for the evening and enjoy cheap wine, cheaper beers, and even cheaper midway prizes knocked off from the popular cartoons of the day.
“Here you go, hon. I think it’s a… pony?”
“You sure it’s not some sort of mutated alpaca?” Lucy regarded the fluffy pink thing with a jaundiced eye.
“Hey, sorry. You’re so beautiful I couldn’t concentrate on the balloons and my dart kept slipping.”
“Maybe you should see a doctor then, dude!”
A chorus of laughter followed from the coworkers.
“Come on, Ben,” Point Man argued, “let’s get this namby-pamby stuff outta the way and move on to the man-games, man!”
The group headed over to the baseball pitching game, with a radar sensor registering the speed of each throw. All of the men took their turns, ranging from fifty miles an hour to one of the fellows, who played in college, getting into the seventies. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Free-Ride’s girlfriend, who had also played in college, chucked an underarm softball pitch that put them all to shame. They were about to leave, when…
“Hey! Ben didn’t throw, guys!”
Five minutes of nonstop cajoling later, Ben stepped up with his three pitches. The first one didn’t break sixty, the second only just so.
“Awwww, come on, man! Just imagine you’re throwing it at that rich bitch’s fat face!”
Ben blushed again, and appealed to his wife. She gave him a small smile and said.
Then, something amazing happened. Ben closed his eyes, and got scientific again. He imagined the muscles, the ligaments, the tendons, all working together with the bones, and he thought to himself.
“Come on! You’re smart enough! If you just think hard enough, you can use the physics, use what you know, and you can make… it… work!”
He nearly fell over from the force of the throw, which spun him around. When he got to his feet, his whole group, including Lucy, were dumbfounded. He turned back around to see the man at the booth looking shocked as well, because the radar registered a 92.
Ben was fired the next morning. The next afternoon, he got a call from Dan.
“Lucy says you’ve hit a rough patch. Meet me at 202 W Dekalb Pike in KOP at about 3pm. Okay?”