©Ari Dane 2004

                                    Eleven o'clock on a cold Valentine's Day night.  Time to hang it up and crawl into the preheated comfort of our electric blanket, perchance to dream and then, "That was our last cigarette..." 

                                    Hmm, one more reason to quit. I put my Valentine's card where my mouth was and silently bemoaned the fact I didn't have another trick up my sleeve like the last time she announced I could either go to the store or clean the barbeque grill (an odious task she knows I particularly hold in disdain) and...hee, hee, hee...boy, was she surprised when I opted to clean the grill because, as I later revealed...hee, hee, hee...I had already cleaned it the day before...hee, hee, hee.  But, alas, I was out of maneuvers in this particular game of marital chess and, what the hell, since it was Valentine's Day, I re-dressed, braved the night, started humming "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette", drove the few blocks to the Chevron station and pulled up, not next to the pumps, but rather in front of that small cinder block, bunker-looking building of last resort euphemistically referred to as a mini-mart, turned off the ignition and eased out between the door and the ten-feet-tall display of leftover wilting bouquets, candy, cards, banners with pictures of hearts and Cupids, and dozens of purple and red balloons all proclaiming “Happy Valentine's Day!”

                                    Considering the hour and amount of available merchandise, I assumed this particular attempt to cash in on the holiday spirit had not been what you might term a resounding success.  Then again, what do I know?  Maybe it was their second or third batch. After all, it was Valentine's Day and, according to rumor, there's an awful lot of romantic people in Burbank.

                                    I took my place at the end of the line of waiting customers, stood witness to and was duly impressed with the be-turbaned and thickly-accented East Indian clerk as he handled each transaction in a polite, smooth and efficient manner, attending to change, receipts, and punching in the appropriate instructions to the pumps outside, all within what seemed but a scant moment: a good- looking African-American fellow dressed in a shiny double breasted suit, black turtle neck sweater, shaved head, gold earring, and movie star sunglasses plunked down twenty dollars for fossil fuel, turned to leave then quickly spun around, produced another five dollar bill and purchased a pack of Juicy Fruit gum; a young mother in torn jeans, old sweatshirt, hair in curlers, and two cranky little kids in tow purchased fifteen dollars worth of gas, Snickers, Mounds, Mars candy bars and a six-pack of Pepsi (no wonder the kids were cranky!); a biker used his credit card to fill his Harley; and yet another guy, obviously on a frantic last minute mission to impress some young, waiting object of his fancy, with an armful of flowers, candy, cards, and purple and red balloons all of which proclaimed "Happy Valentine's Day” from the aforementioned display. 


                                    As his last Valentine's Day sated customer headed out the door, the clerk turned his attention to me.  I placed my money on the counter and said, "I'll take three packs of Kent Kings, please."

                                    He reached up to the shelf above his turban, filled my order, rang up the purchase, handed over the sack and change and apologetically said, "Here you are, sir, I am most sorry for the delay."

                                    "No problem and, by the way, I must compliment you.  That was terrific the way you handled all those transactions.  Most people can't deal with that much information.  I was watching.  You didn't miss a beat."

                                    With that, he stepped from behind the counter and accompanied me the few feet to the door where, in full view of the Valentine's Day display, he replied in his sing-song accent, "Oh, yes.  I have always taken pride in the fact that I can deal with many things at the same time.  Many, many things.  Sometimes, ten, twelve, thirteen, fourteen different things.  I keep track of them all.  I always pay attention.  I always pay attention."

                                    I made my way around the wilting bouquets, candy, cards, banners with pictures of hearts and Cupids, and dozens of purple and red balloons all proclaiming “Happy Valentine's Day” to my car and said, "I thought you did really great.  Have a good night."

                                    And that’s when he smiled, waved farewell and called after me, "You, too, sir!  Happy Halloween!"

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