“It’s illegal, in all fifty states,” that’s all he she said, but that wasn’t my question.
I had approached the attractive woman in her mid twenties with trepidation. I was in a blue funk when I walked into the diner and sat down. I shivered as goose bumps rose on my arms. I hoped no one saw me shiver. I always thought that was something a guy shouldn’t do. I looked around. Good. Everyone had been oblivious to my shiver except for a woman sitting near the condiments counter.
I shivered again and turned away. Holy crap, should I just pack it in and leave, or maybe stick it out and stay. Nobody ever smiled at me, especially a nice looking woman; she looked my age. To the opposite sex, I had always been invisible. My feet were cold and it wasn’t because I wasn’t wearing socks. Sometimes I broke out into a cold sweat but not this time. This time was different. I glanced her way.
We locked yes and she smiled.
I faked having dirty glasses, removed them and rubbed them on my Goodwill tee shirt. I went there on Tuesdays, pink tag tee shirts, most of them brand new, were $1.39. With lenses like the bottom of two coke bottles, I spent a good half-minute polishing each one.
I felt a heart palpitation. Typical for a social situation. I adjusted the thick rims of my pitch-black frames. I didn’t dare look at her. What if she was still staring?
I had a dreadful thought. What if she had been smiling at some good-looking guy sitting right behind me. I thought, it’s a good thing I didn’t acknowledge her smile with a wave or a nod that would have meant sudden death to my ego.
I pretended to stretch, rotated my head around my pretend stiff neck and snuck a not so casual peak behind me. Nobody was there.
I thought, a soda will settle my stomach. That would require speaking a minimal amount of words to the lady at the counter.
I practiced my line silently. “I’ll have a medium soda.”
Then I’d say a kindly, but neutral, thank you.” Thanks seemed too informal and might suggest I wanted to chat and I even considered one time saying, “Thank you very much” but then I realized, saying ‘very much’ was giving away too much of my feelings.
I walked up to the counter and I looked up at the menu. That was dumb. I was just ordering a medium non-descript soda.
The woman's voice jolted me to my senses. “May I help you?”
This was crazy; I was still gazing at the menu board. The lady must be thinking, “Why didn’t this jerk decide what he wanted rather than making me wait. Can’t he see there’s a long as long as freight train behind him.
I froze. I forgot my the line momentarily . . . and then said, “Medium soda, please.”
I threw in the please for wasting her time.
She responded curtly, as if doing me a favor by asking, “Small or large, no medium.”
Geez, what now. I had to make a split second decision, some people can be so demanding.
I went for broke. Small.”
I figured I’d save myself time filling a small cup, depending on how small the cup was.
She squinted at me, as if I had leprosy and parts were falling off my body at an alarming rate. “What kind? “
Geeze, more questions. What did she mean what kind. I had said small but what if she hadn’t heard me, so I repeated my size. “Small” I didn’t say please, she was starting to annoy me.
The she got mad. “No, no, no, sir, what kind of soda do you want?”
She was so demanding, why was she being so mean to me. I looked around for the auto dispensing soda machine. Why did she want to know? Were some flavors expensive than others? Then it hit me, this wasn’t one of those self-serve places where you loiter and get free refills for the rest of your life, as long as you never left the premises. I panicked and blurted out Coke. I hated coke but I had forgot the name of the clear bubbly soda.
She chomped on her gum and said, “No Coke, Pepsi.”
The first thing that popped into my thick skull was the fact that I hated coke with a passion so I probably would hate Pepsi as well. How different could they taste?
She leaned over the counter. “Sir, if Pepsi okay with you, I don’t got all day to take your drink order.”
I had unconsciously counted every harsh word she had just spoken. Sixteen. That was like sixteen lashes with a cat-of-nine-tails, if I was on a pirate ship.
I realized a response was required. I said. “Pepsi is okay. Thanks."
I had botched my response by saying thanks instead of thank you but I could tell by now, she was fuming mad with me and she wasn’t going to say another word to me for the rest of her life or my life or whichever one came first.
She slammed down the small Pepsi. “Dollar twenty-nine”
I thought the white polystyrene foam cup was going to collapse. She didn’t spill a drop. She probably had been working here all her dammed life and was too stupid tom get a real job.
I fished in my pocket. Damn it, why didn’t I have my money ready. I knew exactly how much a small soda would cost including tax I also knew I didn’t have two dollars bills, just change. I pulled out a handful of coins, mostly nickels, dimes and pennies and two quarters and dumped them on the counter.
The loud jingle jangling sound made the guy behind me laugh and he said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Just got paid, huh mister?”
I turned red. The lady said nothing. She started sliding the coins towards her as she counted them. She pushed the remained change at me. A penny went sliding off the counter to its death and fell to the floor. Oh no. No way I was ever gonna’ pick up that penny once it stopped spinning. One time I had tried for a minute, in front of a crowd of people, trying to pry a penny off the floor with my stubby fingers with fingernails chewed down to the cuticles. I had vowed then and there to never consider a penny worth anything and just ignored them from then on. How that penny got in my pocket, I will never know. I grabbed my remaining change, shoved it in my pocket, grabbed my Pepsi and turned to go.
The penny was still spinning and the guy behind me said, “Better get that kid, that’s probably ten percent of your weekly paycheck.”
I ignored the dumb bastard and sat back down at my same spot. The small Pepsi was staring at me. I stared back. Then I noticed a serious problem.
I cursed under my breath. “That damn, stupid lady didn’t give me a straw.”
I had never been able to drink out of a cup every since Jr. High when Queeny Tyler slipped me a dribble glass during lunch and I ended up soaking my shirt with milk. That’s how I went through high school with the nickname, Donnie Dribbler.
I had actually always wanted to try Pepsi to see if it tasted as bad as Coke and here was a perfect chance to do a taste test. I looked around. The only straw dispenser in the entire diner was right behind the creepy lady that had been staring at me. No way I was going to waste a dollar twenty-nine on this Pepsi so I stood up, and forced my legs to move in the direction of that straw dispenser resting comfortably behind “that woman”. I got within five feet, maybe four and the lady stood up, did a quick side step and planted herself in front of the straws. For me, a lifetime video gamer, that was a hostile action perpetrated against a friendly non-combatant.
I was not going to take this unjustified abuse and I spit out the words. “Please mam, may I have a straw?”
Damn it. Why did I say please after the way she had moved into my space with extreme prejudice.
She looked in my direction and said, “You know it’s illegal, in all fifty states.”
I was stunned. Where had I been hiding? Under a rock? Since when had straws been outlawed in all fifty states, and when did that happen and why? Did somebody choke on a straw and die and if they were illegal, what the heck were those straws doing sitting on that condiment counter, taunting me, begging me, "come on kid, we're free, who cares if you break the law, get a backbone looser."
I was pissed and decided it was now or never. I did my own counter side step and reached behind the woman for a straw.
I guess she didn’t see me because her upper body blocked my reach and again she said, but harsher this time. “I said, it’s illegal, in all fifty states.”
I snapped back my arm. Good. She hadn’t seen my bungled attempt, which meant, I was free to try again. I waited five seconds and reached out.
I heard her say, “Well, it's up to you, if you want to get arrested.”
Arrested. No way was I going to prison over a Pepsi/Coke taste test, I pulled my arm back. There would be no third attempt, my whole plan had crashed and burned. I was sure everybody in the diner had been watching me and was rooting for me to try a third attempt.
And then I saw it, the earpiece and the tiny microphone. The lady was staring off into space. She was talking on her cell phone. I felt stupid but I was relieved, at least I wasn’t going to prison and she obviously hadn’t been smiling at me. I reached around her without saying excuse me, which would have been the proper thing to say, grabbed a handful of straws and marched back to my Pepsi, waiting to be taste tested.
I looked around the joint; no one was looking at me. I felt good for the first time in a long time. I felt like Spartacus, I was the victor. I wanted to yell out, I AM SPARTACUS but that would have pushed the whole experience over the top so I sat down, dipped one of the fistful of straws into the small cup filled with Pepsi and took a good suck.
I swished it around, and swallowed it. It would take a second strong straw suck to confirm my taste test decision. I swirled the liquid around and swallowed it.
I looked back at the lady on the phone. I smiled and waved, until I got her attention, then I lifted my cup as if to say, “Here’s lookin’ at you baby”. I winked. I had never winked at a broad before, it felt good.
I walked out of the diner, everybody called, The Greasy Spoon. I had left my small Pepsi on the table for someone else to throw away. I felt empowered because the day hadn’t been a total loss. I would always remember it as the day I found out once and for all, I hated Pepsi as much as I hated Coke.