Chrissy woke me up by standing in the kitchen and yelling at me until I finally got out of bed to feed her. I had a headache of such magnitude that I was kicking myself for not getting my Last Will and Testament notarized like I’d been promising my sister for months. I couldn’t tell if my headache was the result of the cat’s yowling or the overcast weather or just the bad luck of a Sunday morning.
The last thing I needed was bad luck on this particular Sunday. I was supposed to have a new refrigerator delivered to my little Hobbit House sometime between nine in the morning and one in the afternoon.
Ha! I wouldn’t believe that until I’d opened the door of said fridge ten times in one hour to see if anything new had appeared inside it for me to eat. (This refrigerator fiasco had been going on for three months, maybe longer, and was still poised to cause me trouble before all was said and done.)
Because I was using a “loaner” from Lowe’s while I waited for delivery of the appliance my landlord had actually paid for, I’d kept only a rudimentary supply of food in the fridge and the freezer. This meant I would have to make a trip to Wal-Mart for groceries.
Have you ever been to Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon? If you have, were you able to buy everything on your list? Because, when I am dumb enough to go shopping at Wal-Mart on a Sunday afternoon, the shelves are bare. The freezers are only dotted with items to throw in the cart. The luncheon meats are gone! The dairy case is like a ghost town!
And don’t even get me started about the bread aisle, which always looks like it was hit by a few hundred people getting ready to attend a picnic for which they all volunteered to bring the egg salad sandwiches.
In other words: I never get to cross every single thing off my list if I go shopping on a Sunday afternoon.
(What do you mean you don’t take a list to go shopping? If you don’t have a list, how can you remember what you need to get?)
(Wait. Are you saying you can, without any special effort, remember what to buy? Even if it’s more than two things? If so, you’re obviously one of those young people that youth is wasted on. Why are you even reading this? Get back on the merry-go-round, or climb the ladder to the top of the slide while the grownups talk.)
Anyway! Like remaining in a bad relationship without knowing why, shopping on Sunday afternoons at Wal-Mart always involves little choice, few victories, and way too much compromise.
While I was outside dropping a plastic bag full of cat feces into the trash can, a mail truck sputtered into my driveway. I hadn’t ordered anything from Amazon; thus, its appearance was somewhat puzzling on this (so far, but not in all ways) beautiful morning.
Then I realized that the USPS logo had been obliterated and replaced with large, uneven letters made with spray paint: “Je suis Hank!”
This didn’t give me a wonderful feeling that everything would be going my way. As soon as Citizen Jim slipped out of the right-side driver seat I wanted to go back to bed and have a do-over of the day.
“Go put on your most indignant marching outfit and your angriest footwear, Sister Kristy!”
I didn’t say a word or let any expression creep across my face.
“Don’t just stand there looking like you want to go inside and lock the door to keep me out!” he yelled right before I started walking toward the house so that I could lock the door to keep him out.
Too late. I would have to approach him with a greeting. “I’m very busy right now,” I said. “You’ll need to come back next week.”
“The hell you say! I’m gonna give you two minutes to go inside and pull on a velour track suit and some orthotic shoes! Hurry up! This hunk of junk I drove here is shaking and wheezing and rattling like Charo having an asthma attack during her Las Vegas show—if we don’t hurry it’s gonna stall out and then we’ll be stuck here waiting for Tony’s Towing to take us to the protest.”
Uh oh. There was a pretty good chance that anything Citizen Jim felt the need to protest I wouldn’t want to fight against myself. Still, I had to take the bait, if only to formulate an ironclad refusal.
“What should I write on my sign?” I asked.
“I think it ought to be obvious,” he said.
“Can you give me a hint? Maybe tell me why you drove here in a postal truck, and I’ll try to take it from there,” I said. “You know how dumb I am.”
“You’re right. I forgot how dumb you are. I always forget how dumb you are, but I guess that’s nobody’s fault but mine at this point,” he said.
“All true,” I said, “which is why you’d better explain it to me as if I’m a child.”
“Okay. Truth is, I bought the postal truck off eBay for fifty dollars. There were tons of postal trucks listed, but the others were going for a hundred dollars, some for two or three hundred. I couldn’t afford that, so I bought this one.”
“It’s nice looking,” I said. I wanted to butter him up so that maybe he’d forget why he came to visit me and leave.
“Damn right!” he said. “But let me tell you what I heard.”
I looked at my wrist, on which I was not wearing a watch, and said, “This explanation is taking a lot longer than I thought it would.”
Citizen Jim crossed his arms over his chest and stared at me.
“What?” I said. “It is!”
He thrust an index finger in my direction and said, “You’re the one who felt like she had to start this story talking about the screaming cats and weather and bad luck and headaches and refrigerators and the menopause and the youth of today and bad relationships—if you hadn’t gone on and on about all that you’d’ve had a much shorter introduction to this story. And then it wouldn’t matter if I took too long to explain this VERY IMPORTANT THING to you!”
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” I said. “Go ahead. Take as much time as you need.”
“Ah, to hell with time and to hell with you! Long story short: I found out I got such a great deal on the mail truck because that fat-assed Cheetoh with the low-IQ is selling off the postal service bit by bit. I’ve heard he won’t stop until there’s only three mail trucks and ten carriers in the whole USA.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said. “It’s been all over Twitter and the news this past week. He’s trying to fix it so that the people who hate him won’t be able to get their votes for Biden counted in time if they use mail-in ballots.”
Citizen Jim took the ball cap off his head and threw it at the ground. “Jesus skating on a hot griddle with fatback on his feet! If you knew that already why didn’t you put two and two together and figure out what we’re protesting? How much more time are we gonna lose because you can’t connect a few dots!”
“What do you care?” I said.
“Oh, I care, believe me!” he said. “This whole country needs to wake up and shove that spray-tanned, diaper-wearing huckster out of office as soon as possible!”
All things regarding Citizen Jim considered, this sounded very fishy to me.
“That sounds very fishy to me,” I said. “After every other thing he’s done to undermine democracy and free speech, after all the support for Nazis, the compulsive lying, his pettiness, his vindictive streak, and his constant bullying, am I supposed to believe this postal service thing is the line he finally crossed to make you criticize Donald Trump?”
“Not that I have to explain myself to a cop-hating anarchist like you, but it’s much more complicated than you seem to think it is,” he said. “Do we have time for me to give you a little more insight into why I need you to help me protest?”
“I don’t know. I mean, we’ve already chugged past fourteen hundred words,” I said.
Citizen Jim stared at me for a long moment and said, “And? So?”
“And so I’m not sure another thousand words would be justifiable for any reason,” I said.
“Do you think I’d be justified in calling the FBI and telling them you’re one of those store-looting, law-breaking antifa terrorists?”
I shrugged and took a deep breath. “Go ahead.”
“Go ahead and report you to the authorities, or go ahead with my explanation?” Citizen Jim asked.
I released my deep breath. “I really don’t give a crap—you can do both or neither.”
“And I just might,” he said. “Now, as you know, my wife has a degree in Alchemical Studies from the Organic University of Fairhope.”
“Yeahyeahyeah, I know! And her minor was Folk Dancing! Okay. I know you’re proud of these facts because you’ve mentioned them so many times. And?”
“And we’ve ordered many archaic tomes and grimoires, plus all the tools and metals and oils and hot plates she needs to earn her continuing education credits. The thing is, though, these things we ordered weeks ago still haven’t been delivered!”
“A lot of people are having trouble because of the cuts they’re making to the postal service,” I said.
“I’ve got something worse than trouble! I need ointments for my scalp and my hair tonics—which also haven’t been delivered! Imagine it!”
“Did you want me to imagine the ointments or the hair tonics? Because they both sound gross, to be honest.”
“Before you try to imagine anything else, imagine me punching you in the mouth because you’re not taking this as seriously as you should!” he yelled.
I tapped my chin and looked toward the sky. “All right. I’ve imagined that. Now what?” I asked, looking back to Citizen Jim.
“Listen! Even if that fat bastard at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue doesn’t care about veterans getting their medications or about letters from the front lines reaching the families of soldiers or about election ballots being delivered on time to be counted in November, you’d think he might, at the very freaking least, have some compassion for men who need their hair tonics!”
“I’m going to guess that compassion doesn’t figure anywhere in your president’s wiring,” I said. I threw up my hands, “It’s just a guess, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.”
“What I know for sure is that if I go bald, my hot young wife is gonna leave me for a man with a thick and shiny head of hair! This president is ruining my life!”
“He’s ruining everybody’s life,” I said.
Then, like most Americans who think this exact thought at least ten times a day, I had to let it pass to keep ulcers and high blood pressure and suicidal depression at bay. (Also: sobbing. So much crying since 2016!)
“And that’s why we need to go and protest!” Citizen Jim said.
Time to change the subject. “Did you paint that message on the side of that mail truck? It looks very professional!”
“You really think so? Honestly, I was gonna hire Sam Gambino to do it but he wanted to charge an arm and a leg, and I’d already thrown my monthly allowance at the truck itself. So I stole a can of red Krylon from the Ace Hardware up the street from our house and did it myself.”
“I don’t understand the ‘Je suis Hank’ message, though,” I admitted. “You are Hank? What does that even mean?”
“It means I’m filled with the spirit of Henry Chinaski! We’re all Hank right now! Henry Chinaski didn’t fight his war against The Man for that snake oil salesman in the White House to wage war on all the Henry Chinaskis of the U.S. postal service!” Citizen Jim said.
“Wow,” I said, almost under my breath.
“I know! It’s not going to be a popular stance, but I have to take it,” said Citizen Jim.
I put my hands over my ears: “No, no—I said ‘Wow’ because I’m amazed at how long this story has gone on just to get to the point where you could say what you just said about Henry Chinaski.”
“Are you kidding me?” he asked. “Aren’t you at least a little shocked by my sociopolitical awakening?”
“Kind of,” I said.
(Though let’s be honest: I’m writing this story. Am I really shocked?)
“I’m more shocked at the fact that I wrote an almost eight-page story just so I could insert 34 words about a fictional mail carrier into it.”
(This is true, however you choose to slice it.)
I put the back of my right hand against my forehead as my legs began to feel too weak to keep me upright.
Citizen Jim stomped his foot. “Look, before you pass out I need to know: are you with me or with that demented, tax-cheating nincompoop who’s trying to steal the 2020—”
I guess I must have blacked out, because the next time I was conscious of myself I was lying with head under the azalea bush as ants marched all over my toes. Someone—or maybe some animal passing through the neighborhood, perhaps even a platoon from this army of ants—had stolen the slippers right off my feet!
I sat up and looked around, but Citizen Jim and his eBay mail truck were gone.
I’m pretty sure my cat was shaking her head in disgust as she stared at me through the living room window.