Making Change

by Lou Gaglia
Back from Italy

Only two days back from my vacation in Italy and already I am homesick for it, wishing I wasn’t going back to work tomorrow at that same old igloo of a toy store--me, twenty-five years old and wasting my life stuck inside from nine to five while there is sunshine outside. Not to mention having this black eye I got in Zurich when I didn’t want to pay five dollars for a cup of coffee. I don’t want this black eye that people I hate will ask about Willy Nilly. I don’t want to have this bald spot which I spotted in Switzerland and hope fills in after my body recovers from the time zone change. And I don’t want to cross my paths with Jeanette, my two-timing ex-girlfriend who, before I went to Italy, went bowling with my ex-friend Al to break up with me instead of just telling me to get lost like any decent girl would.          
                                                
The Parking Lot

It is not crowded in the parking lot. Spaces are all sitting there to be had by just about anyone with a car and a will to park. So what happened when I went into one innocent parking spot this A.M. on my first day back to work? Some guy with a big bushy blonde mustache and a red face was suddenly at my window screaming at me because I had took his precious spot. I couldn’t hear him because of the radio but saw his mustache jump every which way like of its own free will. I put my hands up as if to say, “Okay, okay,” to him and backed out of the spot, almost running over an unsuspecting old lady with a shopping cart first. The guy zapped into his precious space after I left it, but not before he had to lean on his horn when someone else tried to sneak in ahead of him.

I waited in the car, sitting in my new spot, which I guess was unwanted because no one was pounding on my window and screaming at me at the moment. I watched the guy go into the toy store, imagining what I’d do to him if we crossed paths and his back was to me. But soon it was 9:15 already and he didn’t come out yet, forcing me to go in anyway and be late for work. I didn’t know why he was taking so long. Probably looking for a bib.

Sourpuss Sadie

Sadie is the store manager and maybe the Queen of all Huntington because since she is the manager she gets to boss around anybody within her toy store limits, including yours truly, even though I’ve been working at the store a lot longer than her snippy self. She was all mad because I was twenty minutes late my first day back from Italy, yelling at me near the break room after I punched in. Then she got even more madder because instead of looking at her while she yelled, I kept glancing around for that guy with the mustache. When she tilted her head over so I had to look at her, I told her I was not really that late, and that maybe she had mistooken the difference in time zones because it was really nine o’clock in Italy. Her nostrils flamed up when I said that and she grinded at her teeth, so I tried very quickly to play Kate her by saying sorry but that I still had some jet lag left over. That made her stomp away, her heels clacking on the floor. Then as I was putting on my stupid looking orange vest, she stomped back to tell me I had to work at the register, which I have never done, because Louise was out being pregnant and throwing up all over the place.

Making Change

While I was in Italy, I wrote a lot of poems, and I was getting better at it and liking it. But ever since I came back, and especially while standing there all mad at the register, I didn’t feel I could ever write another poem, unless it was about Sadie the sourpuss slipping and sliding on a bunch of loose cans of corn in the supermarket and everyone all around her having a good laugh while she tries to get up amongst them.
            
I saw the guy with the blonde mustache leaving without buying anything (all that parking for nothing). Then two customers were suddenly at my register and I had to ring them up. But I was slow figuring out where the numbers were and where the button was to get the change drawer to pop out. Before I knew it there were six people on line, then a seventh--a guy who stood first on one foot and then the other, rolling his eyes every time I punched a number. That made me mad so I kept looking up at him, meanwhile getting more nervous and slow. Counting out change backward was hard, too, especially with that guy rolling his eyes, and I just couldn’t get the hang of it. In short, when he got to me he said some smart comment like where was I working next week, so when I got hold of his change I put the bills on the counter away from his reaching hand, and I threw his coins in the same bag with the game he bought.
            
“That’s not where it goes!” he screamed.
            
“Well, that’s where it went,” I retorted.
            
He stomped off to find the manager, and Donna, another cashier, elbowed me out of the way and told me I was officially off duty at the register and maybe retired for life.
          
“I didn’t want it in the first place,” I told her, but she wasn’t listening. I knew that guy had stormed off to complain to Sadie, so I just went in the break room to punch my card. I found a sticky note, and wrote to Sadie that I had resigned my position and was sorry about my jet lag.

I headed out of the store, walking faster just as Sadie was calling my name on the all-call phone. I didn’t want her clickety-clacking over to me again, yelling in front of everyone. In fact, ever since I came back from Italy, everybody has been stomping all over the place. People in Italy just strolled around easily, drinking from bottles of water and taking siestas at the drop of a hat. No one stomped around--except for a maid in Venice after I went up to my room before she could make up the beds. But that’s besides the point.
            
Oh, and also the waiter in Zurich who punched me in the eye for not buying a five dollar coffee. But that is also besides the point. And in Switzerland.

Hospittle Visit
            
Instead of going home to my crummy apartment, I drove around and wound up at Heck Sure Park, which is in Huntington. It is nice over there and it gave me the opportunity to think things over and ask myself what I was going to do next since I had had that job for seven years, plus change.
            
When I was in Italy things weren’t so hard. There were all new people and places, and the girls I saw and kind of met were all nice and more gentle somehow and in better spirits and more calm. I liked being alone and thought about becoming a poet. But of course now I see that that was just fool’s gold because I couldn’t write another poem now even if someone had both my arms twisted behind my back.
            
I looked up at one guy who looked almost like that guy from the parking lot. I remembered his red face accenting his shaking blonde mustache and his crazy blue eyes. I knew that someday he was going to have a heart attack or something---turning green one day and collapsing, then winding up in the same hospittle room with the guy whose change I threw in the bag.
          
They’d be there side by side while the nurse went back and forth changing their tubes. Parking Lot would muse despairingly to Coins-in-the-Bag, “I will not never get mad over a parking space again.”
          
“Huh?” Coins would say, laying there.
            
“I got mad at some poor guy once over a parking space, and it started me on this road to self-destruction. What about you?”
            
“Well,” says Coins, “I thought it was all the heaps of butter I always put on my toast, but come to think of it, I remember once getting mad at a guy because he was too slow counting out my change. I shouldn’t have ought to have got so mad. I should have tooken it more lightly. But instead I got even more madder when he threw my change in the bag.”
            
“God, I hate that. That ticks me off when cashiers do that to me.”
            
“Yes, but I forgive this guy now. He was kind of dumb looking and it made me feel kind of bad after I got mad, because I think I got him fired.”
            
“It doesn’t matter. He had a lot of nerve doing that. He had a responsibility to his customers, and to his fellow man in general, not to throw change into your bag. Besides, he should have been properly trained by an expert. Where did he work at?”
            
Coins sighs. “I don’t know. Toy store, I think.”
            
“Same as my guy. He took my space at a toy store parking lot.”
            
“I wonder if it was the same guy.”
            
Parking Lot sits up. “Of course it was the same guy. Don’t you see…that guy put us in here. He started this ball rolling.”
            
“Maybe you’re right. I always thought it was the buttered toast, but--”
            
“You’re damned right I’m right. We should find him---”
            
“You don’t need to curse---or interrupt me for that matter.” He presses a button on his bed. “Where’s the nurse? I hate waiting.”
            
“I didn’t interrupt. And ‘damn’s’ not a curse.”
            
“She’s late. That’s what ticks me off. She does this stuff on purpose. I see her, you know, smirking, taking her time drawing my blood. I could do it in half the time myself, right now. How long does it take to fill a little vial. Stupid nurse.”
            
“Stop complaining. Anyway, you got the window. Look at me, I’m stuck near the door. I have to listen to other patients moaning. You got a view, at least.”
            
“I got no view. I get to look at one tree branch. One stupid tree branch.”
          
“Better than what I got.”

“Well, I was rolled in first. What do you want?”
            
“I want you to stop being so damn high and mighty alla time.”
          
“You’re cursing again.”
            
It would have went on and on but I got up at last and decided to go to my parents’ house and see my father.

Talking with My Dad
            
I finally had enough today, I explained to Dad on the patio, and I quit that job, so I will rest up now. I am ready for a big change and hope all my instinks is correct about not wasting my life.
            
Dad was busy at the BBQ, but he advised me right away, telling me it’s better late than never that I quit work and for me to go ahead and join college now and become a writing major or something and study poems like I want to, but I said twenty-five is pretty old, Dad, and maybe I should ought to be a golf caddy like a customer at the toy store offered me a few months ago. They get good tips, I said.
            
But Dad says, No, Stupid. Tips or no tips, get that idea right out of your head because you have a dream to write poems so go on and just do what you gotta do and get the hell out of here.
            
That made me feel better, so I told him I would sign on the dotted line at the community college and see how I do. It is better than staying stuck here in Deer Park crooning over Jeannette who since I got back from Italy I have not called nor do I even keep the phone in the jack much at my apartment.
            
Dad just worked on his barbecue, nodding his head. He’s kind of quiet most of the time, so I got quiet too, sitting on the picnic table bench and missing the people and places in Italy again, remembering how most of the time it felt like I could be calm because the people weren’t mean there. I looked up and told this to my dad, too, but he told me to shut the hell up. He said you are looking in the wrong places. I said I know I am, that’s why I want to get out of here, but he said, No. He said, Look somewhere else, not another place. But I said that’s what I mean, somewhere else. And then he and me looked all mad at each other like the other one was the wrong one even though we both kept saying the same thing.  
                                                
Letter from Jeannette
            
I got home today and a letter from Jeanette was sitting in my mailbox. I saw her handwriting all curvy and blue, and I brung it upstairs with me. I took my sweet time getting changed, started boiling my spaghetti, then yawned and put my feet up on the coffee table before tearing it open to see what it said. This is what she wrote.

Yes, I have broke up with you but not because of what you think, that I have took up with Al. That night that I went with Al was just because you made me mad with your joking around about doing nothing with your life.              

Now I have heard from reliable sources that you quit your job last week and are doing nothing, so I guess you are getting your wish. Maybe you are perfectly happy to do nothing, just like you were perfectly happy working at a toy store for seven years. At lease Al is fixing cars, and even though I am not going with him like you might think, at lease he is still coming home at night with grease all over him, unlike you who maybe came home from the store with some box shavings on your shirt. At the most. That is a big difference if you wanna talk about making something of yourself---which after almost a year with you I seen that you wasn’t. Especially now that you quit.

So no, I am not with Al now like you think. I am with nobody and have broke up with you cause you went off to Italy for no reason on your stupid trip by yourself and have acted like an---well, I’m not going to write that word, but it has to do with a horse’s dairy air.

Speaking of witch, who gave you that black eye in your eye? I heard that, too, from people who know. Not that I really care after what you pulled, going to Italy on me.            

Sometimes, to tell you the truth, I do miss you because you have a sensitive streak that almost nobody can see most of the time. But then on the other hand I come to my senses pretty quick when I remember how you get mad about stupid things and then joke around about making nothing with your life like it is some kind of joke.
I wonder who gave you that black eye, though. Was it some girl you looked at funny? Or did you say something wrong to the baggage rack at the airport? Did you let your eye all alone to get all swollen like a balloon, or did you actually put ice on it right away like a normal person would? But on second thought, I don’t care if you tell me  anything about your eye or not, so don’t even think this is some kinda invitation to talk to me or call me, which it isn’t, because I would hang up on you a few minutes after you called, don’t worry.

                                                                                    Yours truly,
                                                                                       Jeannette


When I finished the letter I crunkled it up and slung it against the wall. Then I picked it up again and folded it a few times and flinged it hard--right into the couch. Later, while eating my spaghetti, I heard the phone ring a few times, so I yanked it with all my might out of the wall--first releasing that little gray clip from the jack. Then I laid down on the bed, just looking up at the ceiling all mad for a long time.

The Finger
            
Bad enough starting college for the first time, when I wasn’t even sure anymore that I even wanted to go, but I had to have that Jeanette letter on my mind as I drove for my first day of classes. I tried to shake it all out of my head, but what kept getting to me was that I couldn’t keep her in the all-enemy department of my mind like I wanted to. I hated her, but I liked her, and loved her, and missed her, too. I felt bad for her, was disgusted by her, wanted to take care of her, wanted never to see her, wanted to yell at her, wanted to spill my guts to her, and wanted to clam up and pretend she never lived--all at the same time. She was all right by me, and she stank to high heaven.
            
It drove me so nuts that I guess I was driving a little too slow, and all of a sudden some guy passed me on St. Johnland Road and gave me the finger right out the window, higher than the roof, as he passed.
            
I never got so mad in my life, ever. I speeded up and stayed behind him on 25A through all the crazy left and right turns, imagining catching him at a red light and pounding on his window, smashing through it and pulling him out and tossing him onto the road. But when he pulled at a light near the college, I just sat behind him, breathing hard, and when he made a left into the college parking lot, I rolled straight ahead and turned into a development. I sat in the car in front of a fancy new house for a while, under the shade of a tree. The street was silent except for the birds, and after I calmed down I frowned down at my watch as it crept past my first class’s start---mad at myself, and missing Jeannette, and sorry for everyone, even for that guy, finger and all.    

Brooklyn and the Beach
            
I am on my way out of town, to Brooklyn, where I found out I could get an apartment near downtown for 600 per month, and I could leave my car here because who ever uses a car in the city except just to park it? I got almost all my money back from the college after only one day when I seen two minutes after being late for class that it wasn’t going to be for me.
            
Dad didn’t say anything when I told him yesterday. He wasn’t mad, just worried, I could tell, frowning, thinking maybe that I will get myself killed for no reason in the city. I told him I was good at minding my own bizness and I would be just fine (he gave me a look when I said that), and anyway, I said, I didn’t want to be stuck in a boring job, or go to college for nothing, and I wanted to meet different kinds of people. He just frowned and looked away. Then he took a long breath and said, “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do.”
            
“Yup,” I retorted after a while, and we just stood there not saying anything.
            
Today I went to the beach and looked at the water, trying to write a poem, but nothing would come out of me. I wrote one title, “I Gotta Do What I Gotta Do”, but it went nowhere after that.
            
Some poems might come to me in Brooklyn, like they did in Italy, starting this weekend when I move, but maybe the first one will be about the water at the beach today. It was beautiful, all choppy and white, just stretching out forever in front of me, all the way to Connecticut.
Lou Gaglia is the author of Poor Advice and Other Stories (Spring to Mountain Press, 2015), which recently won The New Apple Literary Award for short story fiction. His stories have appeared in Menda City Review, Eclectica, Waccamaw, The Cortland Review, Main Street Rag, and elsewhere. He is a long-time teacher and T’ai Chi Ch’uan practitioner—first in New York City and now in upstate New York. Visit him at lougaglia.com

© 2011, Lou Gaglia