The walk down was usually fairly quiet and uneventful, and to be honest I actually enjoyed the casual stroll, using the opportunity to fully awaken from the previous night's drinking and dancing. By the time I arrived at the store front, I had also had time to think about what the hell I was doing with my life, the various girls that I was enamored with and was able to pick up a coffee along the way. I rarely remembered any of the walk and was often surprised that I had not been hit by a bus or a car, or that I absentmindedly kept walking until I hit the ocean.
The nearly daily routine was quite pleasant, initially, but the feeling seemed to diminish as various colorful characters began to recognize and take notice of me as I traversed my path. I soon began to find that my usual course led me to chance meetings with individuals that would use that opportunity to walk at least half of my journey with me, complaining about how the cassette single that they had put on hold was sold despite being on hold for two months, or how Waterworld was the best movie ever made, or they asked me what time the store opened repeatedly on the same walk. *note-drugs=bad*
Here I had this peaceful time to myself that I used to run the various scenarios through my head of what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be my girlfriend - always to no avail - but at least the walk was mine to do with as I wished. This was no longer turning out to be the case. Now, I found that I had to strategically lay out my journey so that I would have lower chances of crossing paths with the cassette single guy, or the stuttering guy who usually showed up two minutes to close and wanted to slowly browse the aisles, or the kid that I knew was stealing yet could never catch, or the girl who I had to ask to leave due to singing highly-explicit rap songs that she was experiencing at the listening station. Before I knew what was happening, I was adding blocks and blocks of extra distance just to avoid running into anyone. There were many times when I would look two blocks ahead and believing that I saw a potential local and would have to take a sharp turn up or down a block, all the while hoping to have given the person the slip. I prayed that none of them ever found out where I lived.
I was the prey and they were the predators wishing nothing more than to consume my time and what little remained of my spirit. This is not saying that they were not nice, or possibly somewhat nice, or that they did not have problems of their own that they wished to drag me into, but I needed my little opportunity of a moment's peace, a time when I was not being paid to deal with the various abuses that the work day would inevitably bring.
On this particular day, I was working the later shift and decided to head down early and have a mellow lunch at the all-you-can-eat Mexican food buffet. To work towards this goal, I had to lay out my mental map of war and strategically decide where I was most likely to have a run in with someone who would try to sway me from my course and made especially sure to avoid those hot spots. Walking faster than usual seemed like a good idea at the time so that I could maximize my dining experience at what my good friend and coworker called "the loser buffet." Very funny. "Loser Buffet" indeed. She obviously did not appreciate the grandiose appeal of the self-serve fajitas, the tiny bean and cheese chimichangas, the taquitos, the fish dish or the multitudes of other delicious items that awaited me. Don't even get me started on the salsas. "Loser buffet." Dammit, what does she know.
With hopes high, a sound logistical game plan of crazy avoidance, and the taste of tortilla chips most highly anticipated, I managed to make it to the restaurant with not one incident. There were no, "Hey man. Is Journey going to ever release a new album?" There were no, "Can you put the new Boyz II Men single on hold?" No siree Bob, I had made. I had run the gauntlet and I had won. I had arrived free and clear, but there was one problem. The restaurant was packed to the gills with people. Every seat was taken, or so I thought, as a couple of patrons parted to reveal a sunbeam shining down from heaven onto a lone two person table situated right next to the peaceful fountain. I'm not picky when it comes to seating, but this seat was perfect. I could eat my tacos to the sound of Mariachi and running water.
I began to step forward to tell the rather lovely hostess that I would love to have the seat by the fountain, but just as I was about to move, an odd man with a head void of hair except for the horseshoe shaped tufts that wrapped around the side of his head, coke-bottle thick glasses and a huge busy mustache intercepted me. He wrung his hands together for brief moment and tilted his head to the side to say in an overly excited voice, "Are you a HAPPY man?"
I thought about this for half of a second and eloquently responded, "What?!"
He coughed to the side to clear his throat, and gave a quick glance to the left and then to the right and back again. Wringing his hands together even more tightly than before and all smiles exclaimed, "Are you a HAPPY man?"
I must have blinked a few times confused. Not so much as to what was happening, but WHY it was happening and WHY it was happening to me. I looked at the two person table, then to the odd man smiling even bigger and still wringing his hands and looking quite pervy, and then finally to the hostess, who was starting to become nervous as evidenced by her single cocked eyebrow. My shoulders slumped and I just knew that the man would suggest that he sit at my table, so I said in a completely defeated tone, "Yeah, I'm just overjoyed," and turned to leave the building to buy a scone or a piece of brea, something to last me until my lunch break.
Yup. True story, again.