It's three in the morning and I still can't get any of the frontmost parking spots. Not that the few extra steps are going to kill me but there's a microscopic part of me that gets let down upon being denied imaginary late night parking privileges. I realize that I am at Wal-Mart at three in the morning but wonder if it is really possible that 11 other people are doing the same thing? I suppose it's possible but what's weird about the whole ordeal is that when you walk in, there doesn't appear to be anyone else in there but you. Sure, it's possible that all 11 people are spread throughout the store but you would think you'd at least see someone at the cash register or in the aisles as you walk past, but they are just nowhere to be seen. Sometimes the employees are nowhere to be found either. It makes you feel like you're in the opening scenes of "28 Days Later," and one edge, waiting for a zombie priest to come barreling out from inside a clothes rack of Faded Glory polo shirts. It's a strange feeling to seemingly be the only customer inside a huge store. It's like standing in a gymnasium by yourself. Both are places that demand to be filled with people and noise. When both elements are missing, something seems off. Something makes me feel like I just shouldn't be there. But for right now, I'm still in the car and I'm checking all the nooks, crannies and crevices for spare change. I manage to find $1.73 in quarters, nickels and pennies and I am really hoping that it will be enough for jar of pickles.
The thing is, I don't even like pickles. In fact, I hate them. They're gross. And it's not one of those foods that I just THINK I don't like such as cole slaw or onion rings, food that I would probably end up enjoying if I just ate it more often, I just straight up want nothing to do with pickles. I've tried to like them. I want to like them. I would like nothing more (I'm sure that's a lie,) than to enhance my sandwiches with a new flavor and a nice little crunch for texture but a pickle will never be that thing. I think it's the crunch that appeals to me most. Anytime I have ever seen anyone eat a pickle, a very small part of me takes great pleasure in the sound of its crunch. It's just absolutely perfect. It's a shame they don't have a taste to match.
So why am I so desperate to buy a jar of pickles?
Well...there are a few reasons.
Just as much as I hate pickles, Jamie Tilson loves them. I once heard her describe pickles as "God's one and only gift from above,"... and.Jamie Tilson has kids. Now I'm sure she loves her kids more than she loves pickles but there was a moment in one of her days in which she took a bite of a pickle and for just a moment, that pickle was the only thing that existed. It brought her a satisfaction that I can't honestly say I've ever felt. That look she gave and the way she chewed was enough to let me know that it was very possible that I was missing out on something wonderful. It made me realize that true pleasure can be found in something as simple as a jar of pickled cucumbers. I can't honestly say I've ever felt that way about anything in my life. I wish I liked something half as much as Jamie Tilson likes pickles and I'm sure I do, I just haven't found it yet.
Jamie and I know each other from a job I had in high school. We worked in the hospital food department filling meal trays for patients. It was my job to place an entree and a side on the tray and Jamie would do silverware and desert. A guy named Ronnie Silverman did the drinks but he doesn't need to be discussed in great detail but I'll give you the sparknotes. When I started that job, I knew nothing about Ronnie. When I quit a year later, I had learned that he eats eggs for every meal and has some weird skin condition on the top of his head. That's all. Both pieces of information I heard from other employees, never from Ronnie himself. Ronnie never said anything. If he had a question he would do these weird hand gestures that somehow conveyed, quite clearly, the question he was asking. He managed to create his own form of sign language that never really needed to be taught to anyone. Everbody just picked up on it. This may be the most interesting thing about Ronnie Silverman. For all I know, he's still down there not saying a word.
Jamie and I didn't get along at first. She had worked at the hospital a year longer than me and was kind of a bitch for the first few months I worked with her. "Kind of a bitch," is actually an understatement. She was Satan's whore and even he probably got annoyed with her from time to time. Either I wasn't serving the right proportions of lasagna or I was wearing the wrong kind of gloves. I was always doing something wrong and she was the first to let me know. It wouldn't be inaccurate of me to say that I hated her at first. I hated the way she wore her hair. I hated that her shirt was 2 times too big for her, (she was a skinny girl with a nice body but was always afraid to let it be seen.) I hated the way she wore makeup. She was the type of girl who never had anyone show her how to wear it properly and it showed. I hated her taste of music and I hated everything she ever had to talk about. It wasn't long however, after we convinced Harold that she was my mother, that all of that changed. All the sudden she became a very pleasant person to know. I liked her. I like her a lot and I think she liked me too.
Harold was an old man that was either slightly slow in the head or the most naive human being in existence. He was the janitor of the food department and could usually be found with a mop in his hand. If he wasn't mopping, he was wheeling the cart of trays up to the different parts of the hospital. I think the job was created for him because he really never did anything that the rest of us didn't do anyway. I think we was just an old man with nothing to do with his days which is a realization that in retrospect, makes me feel shitty about giving him such a hard time.
It started one day by Jamie telling me how bad a job I did washing a certain plate that I'd accidentally left a particle of food stuck to. She must of been having an especially bad day because although this behavior is typically normal, she was really laying into me about it. Harold happened to be in the vicinity and overheard her. Apparently, to him, the way Jamie always yelled and lectured me seemed to him a motherly thing to do. Later on, we found out he actually believed that Jamie was my mother and that she only yelled at me so much because it was her right, as a mother, to do so. On the day of the plate incident, Harold very shyly tried to stick up for me. He said that anyone could have left such a tiny piece of food on the plate and that if she wanted to get mad at me, she could wait until we got home and not do it at work.
After a bit of confusion we put it all together and figured out what it was he thought our relationship was. Jamie never yelled at me again after that. She never once nitpicked something miniscule and she was happy all of the time. Our days were filled with plots to have mother/son arguments whenever Harold would walk into a room. I, to this day, still don't understand how that worked. How the switch in her personality was flipped with such ease, but it happened and I'm glad it did.
One night after work, while walking out to our cars, Jamie asked if I wanted to hang out for a bit. Normally, after work, everyone walks to their cars not saying a word and we drive our own separate directions home. Seeing as I've never talked to Jamie outside the hospital walls, her invitation to her life outside the hospital caught me off guard and for a moment I didn't know how to respond or even if I wanted to.
"What, like just...hang out?" I asked.
"Yeah, I mean drive around or something. Talk."
My first instinct was to make up an excuse. I had to work on something. I had to go to bed early. I had already made plans with somebody. I just needed some kind of alibi but what came out was, "Sure."
Jamie drove a white Honda something-or-other. I couldn't tell you the year but it definitely had some age to it. She seemed to be a fairly tidy person. Other than a couple receipts crumbled up on the floor and a few books thrown about in the backseat, the car was pretty clean. I noticed a distinct fragrance and guessed it had something to do with pine. I tried to get comfortable but there wasn't a position that could take away the awkwardness I knew was about to take place.
We pulled out of the parking lot and she hadn't said a word yet. I tried desperately to break the silence and found an opportunity when I heard Screamin' Jay Hawkins burst through the speakers.
"Nice," I said. "I've always like this song."
"Really?" she said. "I can't stand it. This was on a mix a friend made for me. I usually just skip over it but I guess if you want to hear it..."
"No, no. Your car, your rules."
She skipped the song and now my only thought was how to get out of this situation as soon as possible.
She started heading outside of town, towards the country roads. Part of me wanted to jump out of the car then and there. I didn't care what injuries I would sustain. As long as I could just break free from this. But then part of me was genuinely curious as to what her plans were. So I sat back and tried to be cool.
"So where are we going?" I asked.
"Could you reach into my glove compartment and hand me the wooden box that's in there."
I opened the glove compartment and found a little rectangular box about 2 in. x 5in. I handed it to her. When she opened it the smell hit me instantly. I couldn't believe it. Of all people. Jamie Tilson.
She ripped a zig zag out of the package and sprinkled a hefty amount of bud in the crevice. She rolled it like a champ, right there, still driving and not missing a beat. In under a minute she handed me the freshly rolled joint and asked, "You smoke?"
"Umm. Yeah. Actually." I said. I took it from her and she handed me a lighter. "You're really good at that."
I lit the joint and pretty soon I had completely lost any sense of the awkwardness I had previously felt. I began to notice how well the moon was lighting up everything around me. The cornfields were glowing a dim white glow. The trees cast faint shadows on the road ahead. The pumpjacks in the middle of bean fields were living silhouettes with their fires forever burning behind them. And Jamie Tilson started to talk.
"You don't like me much do you?" she asked. She said it without looking at me and with a tone that was more matter-of-fact than it was questioning. The question caught me off guard and I wasn't sure how to answer. The truth was that I did like her. I wasn't sure what it was I liked about her but I did.
"Umm. No, I like you. Why?" I replied.
"If you don't like me, that's fine. I just want to know."
I sat there thinking that I might as well be honest with her. She knew I wasn't telling the complete truth so there was no sense in carrying on in the direction I was going.
"I didn't use to like you. I used to hate you, in fact."
She didn't respond. I guessed she was expecting more.
"I like you now though. I mean, you changed at some point. You stopped being...you. Unless this is you. I don't know. I wouldn't have gotten in your car if I didn't like you."
"I guess that's true," she said. "Do you work tomorrow?"
She suddenly made a turn onto a dirt road, one that seemingly led nowhere. In fact, it led to the edge of a patch of woods. She turned off the car and got out. She opened to back door and grabbed a backpack. "Come on," she said.
I got out of the car and, against my better judgement, followed her into the woods. If the moon wasn't full I wouldn't have been able to see her ahead of me. Even now she was a faint movement ahead of me. My auditory senses were doing most of the work, following a crunch here and a snap there. Soon we entered a clearing in the woods. I heard her unzip her back pack and pull things out of it. She walked a couple steps one way and a couple steps back and I heard what sounded like logs. Then a squirt of sorts. And then she the yellow glow of her lighter flicked into view and I saw she was building a fire. It caught on the kerosene and flames consumed the pile of logs. The clearing was now illuminated and I could see there were logs made into chairs that circled the firepit. It reminded me of the midnight society on Are You Afraid of the Dark. She sat down on one of the logs and gazed blankly into the fire. I did the same. She pulled out a bottle of Jim Beam and drank straight from the bottle. She handed it over and although I was in no mood to get drunk in the middle of the woods with someone who is only a few degrees above being a stranger, I took a swig if for no other reason than to avoid seeming rude. I handed it back and this routine went on until the bottle was gone.
I wasn't sure how much time had gone by but I was sure that nothing was said between us. We both sat silently staring at the fire, only moving to add wood or to keep from falling over. I wasn't sure what to say but I also wasn't sure I needed to say anything. There was a calmness to it all. There was no need for conversation. It was an experience I had never had before and have never had since. It was the moon, the woods, the fire, the wind, Jamie Tilson and I. Well there was the weed and the whiskey too. I had never felt so at peace with everything as I did then and in that moment, when the fire ceased to be anything but glowing red embers and the whiskey took over my thoughts, I realized Jamie Tilson was never the hateful person I thought she was. She was never mad at me or annoyed with the little things I did wrong. She was mad that she couldn't be here whenever she wanted. She was mad that life demanded she spend most of her day inside buildings among people and their problems and that she have to be something she didn't want to be. She was mad that her life, as well as everyone else's was not what it she felt it was meant to be. Because this was what it was all about. Being out here, cut off from everyone else, just being and nothing more. And I felt for her. I felt bad for anything malicious I ever said or thought about her because Jamie Tilson, I now know, is the most genuine and sincere person I've ever known.
The trip back to the hospital parking lot was short. It took the same amount of time as it took to get out there but because I didn't want it to end, it came faster than ever. I wanted to say something. I wanted to extend some form of gratitude to her, to thank her for what she had just given me. But I didn't say anything and neither did she other than that she was hungry.
"Hungry for what?" I asked.
"Pickles. I would kill for pickles."
The answer came to me as kind of a shock. "Really? Pickles?"
"Fuck yes, pickles. What? Are you saying you don't like pickles?"
It struck me then that this was the most Jamie had said all night. She said nothing about her life. Nothing about her problems. Really, nothing at all. But when someone came to the table and started talking shit about pickles, she had plenty to say.
"No. Not really. Never have."
"You're absolutely insane. How can you not love pickles?"
I went on to explain why I didn't love pickles and she went on to tell why she loved them. She told me with with rigor and passion. Jamie Tilson fucking loves pickles. However, it was going on 10 p.m. and Jamie had to get home to relieve her babysitter and regretted to inform me that she had finished her last jar of pickles that morning and had not yet had an opportunity to re-stock.
"Oh well," she said. "I guess I'll settle for some toast or something."
She dropped me off at my car and drove off. I noticed her muffler spitting out white puffs of exhaust and made me realize that it was actually getting pretty cold out. I got into my car and drove off.
I walk through the automatic doors with the $1.73 jangling around in my pocket. It's three in the morning now and I haven't seen Jamie in over 5 hours. I'd spent that time driving around listening to music, smoking cigarettes and thinking about the night. I went and parked at Miller's Grove along the lake and actually fell asleep for a couple of hours and when I awoke I had the sole ambition to enjoy a goddamned pickle. I made my way to where I expected the pickles to be, looking down every aisle I passed for a sign of human life. I found none. Some random country singer was faintly playing on the speakers and along with the bright fluorescence I was feeling the urge to leave as soon as possible.
I found the pickles. Prior to this moment, having never shopped for pickles before, I never knew how many variations pickles came in. Dill pickles, Gherkins pickles, Bread and Butter pickles, Sweet pickles, Sour pickles, Pickle chips, Pickle spears, little mini pickles and on and on. I went with the pickle spears because I remember getting them on my lunch tray in grade school. I believe they were served on Chili day. Anyway, I checked out in the one open lane and found that $1.73 is, in fact, enough money for pickles.
I got in my car and decided I didn't want the pickles.
The next day, I waited until noon to drive to the hospital. I hate going to my job on my days off but this seemed important. I needed to get pickles to Jamie. It was the same as when I was 14 and got up an hour early so that I could buy a pack of gum before school for a girl I was seeing simply because the night before she had mentioned needing some gum and hadn't the means to go get it herself. I didn't bother going to the cafeteria because I knew that Jamie ate lunch by herself in the stairwell outside the kitchen everyday. When I got there however, she had not yet made it. I took a seat and waited.
After 5 minutes or so, she exited the kitchen door into the stairwell with a bag of food and jumped slightly when she noticed me sitting there.
"What're you doing here?" she asked just before glancing down to see the jar of pickles in my hand.
"I figured you might need some of these to get you through the rest of the day."
I opened the jar and held it out to her. She did nothing but stare for the next few seconds as if not understanding a word I'd said. And then she went for them.
"You didn't have to do that." she said.
She sat down next to me and ate her pickle. I took notice of the crunch. Such a pleasant crunch. She took another.
"Eat one," she said. "Just try it."
"No thanks," I replied. "I've tried them. They're not for me."
"Maybe something's changed," she said.
I took a moment to think about that. I stared down into the murky pickle juice wondering if something, in fact, had changed. I couldn't remember the last time I ate a pickle really. Who knows? I might end up liking them. And then I looked at Jamie and thought about how only a month or so prior I hated this woman who sat beside me. Now I'm bringing her pickles on my day off. I guess it was safe to say that something had changed. I didn't know where any of this would lead but it felt good. Refreshing even. I reached into the jar grabbed a pickle. I bit down on it and chewed. I heard the crunch but it's never the same sound when it's your own crunch. I chewed that goddamned pickle until it was gone and tried my hardest to remain unbiased during the whole ordeal. I swallowed and took notice of the lingering taste that remained in my mouth. Jamie looked at me, waiting for a verdict.
"So what do you think?" she asked.
Some things might change. Some for the better and some for the worse. But I still hate fucking pickles.