Sunday, September 20, 2009

F

First of all, my favorite line of the day just uttered by my roommate, Ruthann:
"A zombie wearing an inner tube made it into my house!"
My roommate is playing a game called "Plants vs. Zombies."

- - - - - - - -

Sunday was a day spent indoors navel-gazing and getting things done from my to-do list. I baked bread, made date chutney (for which I'll post the recipe soon), and waxed my eyebrows--to name a few things. Around 8, I set out for my monthly trip to Trader Joe's, my eyebrows looking awesome as long as no one noticed the giant green gob of wax stuck in the left one.

I shopped for groceries without incident and headed homeward--in the direction from which I came. There were no signs indicating an entrance ramp for I-84 East, and if not for the homeless woman holding a cardboard sign, I would not have even recognized the exit ramp that had led me from 84 to Trader Joe's. There were simply no signs indicating that this major highway had ever existed.

This is one thing, I've learned, that New Jersey and Oregon have in common. Terrible road signage. The difference, as far as I can tell, is that New Jersey will have signs pointing vaguely, unhelpfully, in what may be the wrong direction; in Oregon there will just be no sign at all.

I continued down Halsey Street, which I knew would also take me home. However, around 82nd Ave, there's an inexplicable lapse in Halsey Street and if you go the wrong way, you end up--if you're lucky--on 82nd Ave and not Halsey. I wished to avoid this.

I had somehow also forgotten that, since it was the weekend, this bizarre rule (which does not exist in New Jersey!) was in effect and it meant that people could park their cars in the right-hand lane typically meant for driving. The road was busy, and after swerving and slamming on my brakes a few times (because the left lane was occupied) I decided to backtrack. Maybe from the other side of the road, there would be a sign for 84.

There was not. At this point, I realized that my gas gauge was hovering just about the big red "E." Frazzled, between not being able to find the interstate and nearly plowing into two parked cars, I stopped for gas.

Another trait that New Jersey and Oregon share is gas station attendants. In both states, it is illegal to pump one's own gas.

It was awhile before the attendant appeared by the pumps. The gas station was empty. Save the glow of the pumps and the small window of the station office, it was dark. It was as though the attendant and I were the only two people left in the world.

He was young, although exactly how young was difficult to determine. He could have been anything from 15 to 35. I probably smiled when I handed him my card and asked him to fill my tank in a friendly manner, but otherwise the exchange began unremarkably. However, after setting things up (I don't know gas station terminology), the attendant didn't leave. He stayed next to the car, staring at its insides. I did not notice this right away; I am dense.

A few moments passed. He spoke up, his accent something I couldn't place and could hardly understand. He asked me did I drive here from Jersey? Actually, he asked me if I drove to Portland from "Juh." I inferred his meaning from context clues. I still have Jersey plates; so far the conversation was nothing to take note of.

I replied that yes I had.
He said something like, "Really?"
"Yes."

He continued to stare into my car, and that's when I noticed its intensity. The stare felt predatory and was fixed on the interior of my car. Its owner stood close to my passenger side door. If it were not for that stare, this dialogue could easily be adapted to a commonplace interaction between a young gas station attendant with an accent and a customer he thought was pretty. It could even be cute. That stare is what made me nervous.

"Are you going home now?" he asked.
Perpetually obtuse, I thought he asked if I was driving back to Juh right now. I told him that I was not.

I have to admit, I'm only guessing at his side of the dialogue. At the time I understood the questions, but could not parse each individual word and thus cannot recreate the sentences now. His accent was just so heavy. Being spoken to by him reminded me of voicemails left by Wal-mart Guy.

"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I'm staying with a friend," I said, thinking longingly of my roommate sitting in our kitchen with her laptop.
"A boyfriend?" he asked.
Finally, my brain kicked in and I said, "Yeah. My boyfriend."
"Oh."
....
(pause. stare. STARE.)
"But you don't know where he is now?"
Or maybe he said, "He don't know where you are now?" or "You don't know what he do now?" or "He don't know what you do now?"

Perhaps you'd expect something more creative from me. Or something colder. But I was caught off guard moreso than usual. I was tired. I couldn't find the freeway. I couldn't get up and leave; my car was attached to his pump by the fuel-filled umbilical cord.

Also, my Creep Repellent Instincts told me not to push it with this guy. I firmly believe that with people who may be volatile or violent, it's important to stay calm. There is probably a Physics equation that can be adapted to this. While sometimes, aggression will protect you, in most cases, if you stay calm, the wacko will stay calm. If you freak out--if you are loudly, passionately afraid or if you are loudly, passionately defending yourself--there's a good chance the wacko will also freak out. In precisely the way you don't want him to--anger. A creep's reaction is directly proportional to the victim's.

So, I didn't shoot him down like I was some pretty girl and he was not worth my time. Nor did I get nasty and tell him to leave me alone. I opted for a calm, sweetly oblivious reaction to his advances.

Smiling, I responded that I knew where my boyfriend was--he was at home, waiting for me! "He's at his--our home. I went grocery shopping." I indicated my Trader Joe's bag, the contents of which had spilled all over the floor the second time I had slammed my brakes on Halsey. "I'm going there now and we're going to cook dinner! Together!"
"Oh." Prince Charming said nothing more...yet he didn't leave. He continued to stand by my window and stare into my car. I listened uncomfortably to the sound of the gas pump. I tried to look sweet and dumb, like I didn't notice or find this unsettling. I knew that asking him for directions to the interstate was right out.
Fortunately, in the distance was a sign. From where I sat, I could see a giant letter "F."
My thoughts exactly.
There were three letters after the "F." Could it be?
The sign said, "F-way" and pointed vaguely to the left. Once I had my gas, I drove toward its green glow. I followed the arrow, was directed a second time to turn left for "F-way," and finally saw a tiny red and blue sign with the numbers, "84." It was the eastbound entrance.
How one would get to 84 West and I-5 from that intersection, I do not know. Nor do I care.
Minutes later, I was rocking out to Karen O in my car, the harrowing incident at the gas station behind me.

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