A Feral Gentleman (March 2022) By Jon Rodat

Written by on March 7, 2022

Start the surveillance-tape replay at the 0830 time stamp; the angle from above the registers, pointing down the center aisle toward the inside of the front door. The store is dim but it’s bright outside. The empty parking spaces in front are sunlit and clear. Our hero enters from the left. He’s a middling sort: middling height, middling weight. That middling sort of black-gray hair people call “salt and pepper,” that middling sort of sartorial formality people call “business casual.” His eyeglass frames are large enough to imply middling vision, such that we can assume, even at this distance, that were we actually there he couldn’t without them make out our own features, even at this distance. 

Still, there’s something of a cheerful energy to his walk. He’s got a travel mug in his far hand, and a colorful vinyl lunch bag over his near forearm. It’s the gait of man who woke early enough to make a fresh pot of hot coffee, rather than start the morning with the room-temperature remnants of yesterday’s brew; a man with sufficient foresight to have made himself a decent sandwich, rather than to, again, rely on a nearby gas station for bland egg salad on elastic white and a bag of snack chips with a flavor name that sounds like a wrestling move, or worse: Nitro Sriracha Suplex or Bukkake Ranch. He might even have an apple in there. 

He unlocks and opens the front door with a graceful maneuver that redirects but doesn’t stop his stride, spinning into its opening as, just behind him, a spotless white Mercedes Benz pulls into the parking space nearest him – really quite near, actually. Kinda worrisomely near, and kinda worrisomely fast. The driver’s-side door pops open and a head can suddenly be seen above the car’s low, sleek roof. Our hero waits a beat – does he shrug? He steps forward into the store; the interaction is evidently over. He then goes briefly rigid. With another dance-like movement, he turns, propping open the door with his foot, never displacing the lunch bag or so much as a drop of coffee, and adopts a forward-from-the waist, arms-out posture recognized in every Spring Break location around the world as the “Come at me, Bro.” He holds the pose for seconds, then relents. He locks the door from the inside, and heads inside, down the center aisle toward the alarm panel, which he deactivates. He hits the lights and fires up Spotify on the store’s iPad. The whole exchange takes fewer than the 90 seconds allowed by the motion sensors, but, still, his walk is noticeably less lively than at our earlier, idyllic time stamp. 

Some products, they say, sell themselves. This is nonsense. Some categories of product are, sure, easier sells than others, and I am fortunate, as salesmen go, in that regard: I sell drugs. Legal drugs but drugs, nevertheless. I am the manager of a fine wine and spirits shop that I’ll call Wine Behind the Pines. We’re located in a comparatively affluent suburb outside a no longer very electric Electric city, which is itself a kind of satellite of a capital city the motto of which is “Assiduity.” (Yes, yes, you’ve figured it out. But we are soon to enter the realms of fantasy and slander. So, plausible deniability will be our watchword.) Point is, imagine that you’re a professional working in cubicles or laboratories in or around a city the slogan of which is, essentially, “grind.” How much does that make you want to drink? Right. 

And yet, while people are always happier to buy recreational drugs than to buy, say, snow tires, space heaters, or rock salt, the product still doesn’t sell itself. Even a motivated buyer needs a warm and semi-sentient body to get said product – be it a Gundlach Bunschu merlot, redolent of plum, bay leaf and chocolate, or a shatterproof pint of Ol’ Weepin’ Wound Whiskey, redolent of night sweats and weak coffee in later church basements – into their hands. And woe betide the middling middleman whose job it is to open the door to the impatient: To paraphrase Jimi Hendrix, “What if 8:30 turned out to be 9?” To paraphrase me, “It doesn’t. Give me a few.”

Turns out, the Mercedes DTs are sweet-looking but uncomfortable rides, and their drivers can have whole mouthfuls of abuse for a recreational-drug salesman with a service-economy chip on his shoulder and a novelist’s mean streak. 

So, imagine that surveillance-tape, but with audio. Imagine the vulgar needy impatience. Imagine the vulgar defensive retort. Imagine our hero getting on with his job, seemingly. Retrieving the bank bags and counting out the registers. Checking the stock levels of the domestic varietals on the floor, in the Old World fixtures, and in the chiller of whites and sparkling wines. Reviewing the notes reminding him to adjust regular ordering for this or that impending holiday and/or alco-centric sporting or cultural event. Reviewing the special orders. (Is it a Jamo or a Jäger kind of bash? Are your new in-laws Bordeaux or Burgundy kinds of in-laws?) Then pulling up a rolling office chair, kicking up his soft-soled Johnston & Murphy wingtips and slowly, slowly, slowly eating his apple. In other words, taking his sweet fucking time, staring at the sunlight-bright Benz, enjoying the store’s iPad’s Spotify Velvet Underground radio channel as it fills the empty space: “First thing you learn is that you always got to wait.”  

 Is this getting a little dark? It feels like it’s getting a little dark. Like it’s funny, but not, you know, fun. 

Ah, well, a “novelist’s mean streak” is another way of saying a working slob’s revenge fantasy. It didn’t play out quite like that. Much of it is true. But the Benz didn’t linger; it hurried along to another purveyor, probably, of whatever quality of quaff he needed so pressingly. Maybe it was a hastily researched 2015 Les Carmes Haut-Brion to impress a cultured and stand-offish boss in a last-ditch attempt to get a crack at the Glengarry leads; maybe it was a mag of econo-moscato for a nooner with a mature-for-her-age undergrad at the insufficiently gated college down the road; maybe it was, in fact, a pint of any goddamn thing at all to keep the hands steady.

In any event, our hero did not extract his slow revenge by eating an apple as the VU played. (He had in fact forgotten to pack an apple and ended up rounding out his meal of homemade tuna-salad sandwich with a bag of XXtreme PrejuDill Pickle Chips). In actuality, after the shouted insult, the Benz went on its own way without further event, and our hero opened the store, as he had many times before, to Spotify’s Steely Dan radio. See, look, there he is unlocking at the 0900 timestamp, in broad daylight. 

“They got a name for the winners in the world . . ..” 

By Ivy Effing-Ryotte

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