As I hit the outskirts of Shreveport, screaming down westbound I-20, it suddenly dawned on me that the national championship game was being played at that moment. In fact, it was within the state I was currently speeding through. It was LSU versus Oklahoma. Although the former school didn’t register on my empathy radar, the latter institution was high on my shit list for their perpetual tarring of my Texas Longhorns. I flicked on my car radio and danced around the dial in search of play-by-play.
In doing so, I finally paid attention to Kilgore’s fuel gauge and discovered we were drops away from empty. Shreveport was the last major outpost before entering the no-man’s-land that is an East Texas winter night. I pulled off the highway and stopped at the nearest gas station.
After filling the tank, I waited for the gas pump to provide a receipt. Such lingering proved futile, as the printer revealed itself to be out of paper. â€œNo problem,â€ I thought. Since I was feeling a bit puckish, I trudged into the station’s mini-mart to stock up on some man-fuel and get a duplicate receipt.
I cruised through the aisles and grabbed my dietary staples: Red Bull, sunflower seeds, and Chewy Sprees. I then hopped in line. Ahead of me was one person who eclipsed my view anything ahead of me, including the station attendant behind the counter. When their purchase was complete and they moved aside, I was frozen by what I now saw.
Neither male nor female, a most-sexually ambiguous human being stood behind the counter. They were tall and wide with gray hair bundled into a ratty ponytail. Clad in a red uniform tailored to no specific gender, my only clues to this person’s “down-there” identity were some pink earrings. “It” rang up my purchases and said, “$4.76, sir.”
I had a 50/50 chance, so I went female with my response. “Here you go, ma’am,” I said with emphasis on the polite address, all the while holding forth a Lincoln. She didn’t react negatively to my choice, so I must be on the right path, I thought.
When she reached for my bill, I gathered another clue to her identity. On the inside of her lower arm was a fuzzy, thick blue tattoo spelling the word “JESUS”. The letter strokes were long and sharply-angled, resembling Celtic runes in their lack of curves. The technique was so crude that it looked like a flat-head screwdriver was used for lack of a needle. I knew that tattoos such as this were often the product of an extended stay in prison, and I began to feel uneasy.
As she fished my change from the cash drawer, I tried to discreetly scan her body for additional sexual characteristics. I lingered on her upper torso, attempting to observe some evidence of breasts. On the skin of her chest, peeking out from under her shirt, were additional carvings: five roughly-hewn, upside-down pentagrams in row as if she were a five-star generalâ€¦of Satan! I stared at the designs, pondering their meanings and momentarily calculating the amount of danger I was in.
“Sir,” the attendant said coolly.
My attention returned to something besides the boob hunt. I caught her eyes, which communicated that she was quite aware I was looking where I shouldn’t. Her stare chastised me, and I blushed.
I collected my change and attempted to slink away with the few shreds of my remaining dignity. I turned around, and immediately I was face-to-face with a man. The man.
He was a tall black man, slender and aged in quite a fine fashion. Sharply dressed in a camel-skin jacket over a goldenrod turtleneck, he was also adorned with a well-manicured, peppery-gray moustache that seemingly floated above his upper lip. His whole visage stood in the shadow of his felt fedora, complete with the bushy feather of some probably-exotic bird.
His calm, dark eyes bored holes into me, as if he was curling up with my soul and reading it like a book. He likely observed everything that just transpired between me and the station attendant, and I quickly grew afraid.
This man slowly measured me with up and down looks. He then broke the silence with a deep baritone and a cadence usually reserved for stern fathers, federal judges, and Darth Vader.
“Why aren’t you watchin’ the game, boy?” he purred menacingly.
His question was so seemingly random that I thought, â€œSurely he must be talking to someone else!â€ I looked to my left and right, yet I was the only person he could have possibly been addressing.
Something rose up within me, a reaction that meant I was through being harassed by citizens of the good state of Louisiana.
I narrowed my eyes and obstinately replied to his question with one of my own. “Why aren’t you?!”
The man’s eyes shifted just a millimeter off-center, evidence that he was seriously pondering an answer. After an eternal moment had passed, he looked off into the distance and drawled a resigned, “Yep.” He then turned away and disappeared, seemingly bested by my answer.