It's illegal to pump your own gas in New Jersey. Since 1949, there's not been one self-service station in the Garden State. I work at Big Oil Truck Stop on the turnpike where I push diesel and gas. We're a full service station, something of a throwback to stupider times. I do alright, enough cover rent and a small pharmaceutical habit. The only girl on second shift, my perky tits and fuck-me smiles bring in the tips.
I landed here after drinking myself out of a career as a laboratory glassblower-- an odd little profession for which I spent three years in a shitty community college. Truthfully, my time then was best spent learning how to make glass pipes-- hand bubblers and Sherlock-style hitters. Some very talented flame-workers came from all over the country to get their degrees in the field, but we were mostly just degenerates-- black-market craftsmen and pirates of an illegal art form. Big Oil keeps me occupied with long hours these days. No time for hobbies. I just cherish the moments between trucks when I can steal away to smoke and scribble shitty poems no one reads. Lately I'm into pornographic haiku.
I'm kicked back in my little booth, looking over yesterday's paper. Watching night descend on a truck-stop is a special thing. The travel center, populated with slack-jawed commuters and asphalt desperadoes, becomes a beacon of scum when the sun goes down. Pill-pushers and dopers are just within a shout’s reach, and the state cops are chasing hookers out of the lot. Lot-lizards are the saddest breed of human suffering. I watch them crawl in and out of sleeper-cabs, clutching their panties and wiping their frowns. They come inside the store to buy mouthwash and Rolaids-- calcium tablets rectify the nausea that a belly full of cum will manifest. I scribble. As the recluse sun counts the hours to dusk, they float from cab to velvet airbrushed sleeper-cab on winds of numbed amphetamine and shot-bottle nostalgia, remembering the days when sex was not the slow and soporific murder of the soul.
I'm cleaning the windshield of a Subaru when Reggie shouts from across the lanes, “Work it white girl!” He's drunk. The people I work with are basically degenerates. Even the lowest, most humanly-incompatible specimens of the race deserve to work. It seems the place for ex-cons, addicts, sex fiends, and social dropouts to get a job is at this gas station. To say our shift is a 'motley crew' would be polishing a turd. No, we're basically just dirt-bags.
Reggie is thirty-two. He is a stout three-hundred pounds of tattooed muscle and fat, transporting a bald, black head and toothy grin. Reggie has spent nearly all of his adult years in prison, though he insists he was set up by the cops. I don't believe him. He's my juggernaut protector-- the last trucker to offer me fifty bucks for a blow job got his eye-socket caved in, earned a week in the hospital. I don't need a finger on the rape-whistle when Reggie’s with me; He's extra gay, though no one alive in this backwater county is privy to that fact.
Three weeks ago a girl was kidnapped from our parking-lot. Snatched up and taken three states away, all inside of two hours. The cops only found her by mistake-- they stopped the truck for a dragging tail-pipe, and the kid called out for help. The driver had a rap for killing two girls in Memphis-- I'll leave it at that. So, I don't mind if Reggie is a bit overzealous in his de facto bodyguard role. It's a fucked up world, and South Jersey is the arrant armpit of the beast.
Toward October's end, the deer get crazy. The turnpike becomes littered with carcasses, and each season bad accidents are caused by bucks and doe. My ass is dragging this Friday night, and I pop three adderall before my shift just to put some life in my eyes.
I’m pumping six-hundred dollars worth of diesel into a Chinese bus headed for Atlantic City when I notice a customer with Texas tags at my other pump. The woman is trying, and failing, to operate the pump herself. I hurry over, less to help and more to reprimand her flagrant illiteracy and disregard for the laws of our retarded state.
“Ma’am, that’s not a self service pump,” I point to the red sign that reads as much. “Sit tight, and I’ll get you in a minute.”
“I just want some fucking gas. Why the hell should I hafta wait for someone to help me?”
“Because there is nothing at all special about you, where you've been, or where you're going.”
“I hope your kids contract ebola."
“Yo, fuck New Jersey.”
At dusk, the sky above the distant swap turns a seamless coil of purple and orange like dichroic glass in a soft-blue reduction flame, and the season's last shitty crows unfurl their cacophonous banter in the post rush-hour stillness of the evening. I scribble, but the adderall is wearing off. I duck around back to light a joint. Reggie stands beside me drinking warm white zinfandel from a paper coffee cup and gazing longingly into a selfie.
“Why do you stay in Salem County?” I break through his buzz with the question.
“What do you mean?”
“Every week, you take a train and two buses to Philly to see a guy you'll never be able to introduce to your friends here, a guy who probably loves you more than dirt. Why do you live where you are hated?”
“I don't feel hated. What's with the drill?”
“Of course you do. Salem County hates fags, and you're biggest fag I know.” I karate-chop his thick chest, blow smoke into his eyes and smile.
“You know I get tested for that shit.”
“Seriously Reg, what keeps you here year after shitty year?”
“I don't know. Maybe it's this charming company I keep. Besides, I’ve got a career here.”
“Your shirt and hat match the trim of the building-- that’s not a career. You cling to those who’ve robbed you.”
“You got any new poems in that book?”
Buckets of jizzum,
A long-handled soup ladle;
I take a bow to his mealy-pawed applause, but our attention is diverted by a Jeep near the garage. Hunter green with slate tinted windows, it sits high on a suspension lift with thirty-three inch tires. Custom chrome dual exhaust-pipes jut from the rear. The bumper sticker reads Zombies Eat Pussy. The passenger window lowers and the driver leans across the seat. “I don't need gas, but do you have any water?" he says, "Like a garden hose?” A tall, thin man of roughly thirty with high cheekbones and longish, dark hair-- he’s hot. I'm still holding a roach between my fingers, and I flick it while blushing like a fatuous schoolgirl. I shake off the itch in my loins and compose myself; I smell the opportunity for a tip and frankly, I need the cash more than I need a date.
“For your radiator?” I ask.
He lights a smoke with a silver Zippo. His hands tremble.
“No, I hit a deer about a mile back. I just want to flush out the undercarriage. I smell something like burning hair and fat.”
We round the front of the Jeep and see the extent of the mess. “Shit,” he says, “I need some rags if you got any.”
When I return with a bucket of soap, I tell the guy to walk off the anxiety, but he paces the same annoying steps. Dude seems pretty fucking bent over fresh venison in his grill. There is thick, dark blood across the front bumper. I turn on the pressure-washer and give a blast. I do the same underneath. There’s elbow-work to be done. With rags cut from Big Oil uniform shirts, I crawl under the lift and spread soap as widely as I can. Furry bits of skull hang from the wheel-well and non-specific organ tissue runs the whole length of the exhaust like something was dragged after it died. I am picking this shit off with my fingers where needed. Diluted deer's blood runs from every corner of the chassis with each shot of the hose. Chunks of bone have lodged themselves in the deep treads of the tires, and I'm wedging them out with a putty knife. By the time I give a final rinse, my hands are stained, my shirt is wet, and I've picked more than one piece of carnage from my hair.
Reggie, who has never served a day in the military, has poured the man a cup of wine and is making passes at him with made-up Iraqi war stories.
I am too tired to flirt though. “I got it best as I could.”
“Hey thanks. You didn't have to do all that.” He hands me a ten dollar bill.
“No problem. There's just the report and we'll be done.”
“The Wildlife Commission requires us to report animal related accidents. You aren't in any trouble; it's for statistics only. I just need your registration number and you can go.”
“Hey listen, my registration is expired. Can we forget the report?” He puts a twenty in my hand, still trembling slightly, one eye pinned on the road in the horizon and leaves the way he came.
“Hey,” Reggie says, “you're smooth, but how did you know he'd pay you to dodge some fake report?”
“His missing tags."
“And they call me a criminal.”
I rent a skeevy shower stall in the travel center for eleven bucks. This one has a spackled-over glory hole. Classy. I clean myself hastily and cut out early. Inside my shitty apartment, I go right for “sparks,” my hand blown water piece. She's crafted from a tube of heavy-wall borosilicate glass with inside-out sections of maroon and gold extending from a cobalt flask-bottom. I hold her eye-level and fill with water from the graduated cylinder I made in college. The whole piece stands a foot tall with a hollow coil of glass wound inside the percolation chamber. I pull on it to be certain she's clear. Staggered indentations in the wall of glass, exactly thirty degrees off center, catch ice cubes to chill the smoke. Clink. I pack a piece of hash into the silver-fumed carbonation slide and light up as I turn on the ass end of the local news.
…witnesses say the pedestrian who fell from a New Jersey Turnpike overpass near Big Oil Truck Stop today was still alive when he hit the ground. He was dragged fifty yards by the off-road vehicle that struck him. A med-evac chopper was dispatched from Cooper Hospital, but the man had perished from his wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. Police are still looking for the driver of the Jeep.
My nails are dirty.