The guy behind the counter was Puerto Rican and looked like Fabian. The security guard was black. His shirt was open to reveal an undershirt and a Star of David. Two Indian kids were haggling over who would pay the lion’s share of the cost of a pack of Now & Later candy. A white guy with a tank top and a “you toucha the shirt, I breaka the face” attitude had his arm around a girl with big blond hair and a black Madonna belly-button shirt. One of his fingers was tucked underneath her shirt, giving her the illusion of possessing two nipples on one breast. They were looking through car magazines.
Everything was pretty quiet at the 24-hour gas-station mini-mart until the Oriental guy walked in and slapped a ten-dollar bill on the counter.
“Pump seven,” he said.
The guy behind the counter shook his head. “You owe me a dollar more.”
“Ten dollars,” the Oriental fellow repeated. He had a cheesy mustache and a tan Members Only jacket.
“Eleven,” said Fabian.
“It said ten dollars.”
“No, but what you did was you pumped a dollar. Then you cleared it. Then you pumped ten dollars.”
“How did I do that?”
“Very simple, sir. You pumped a dollar. You cleared it. Then you pumped ten dollars.”
“How could I do that?” They were both getting a little hot under the collar. The guy behind the counter started slapping the back of his right hand into his left.
“Very simple, sir.” English was not the counterman’s first language. In the excitement of it all, he began to mix up his tenses: “You pump, you have cleared, you have pumped ten.”
A guy with a Megadeth shirt walked in. He came up to the counter, pushed the blond hair out of his eyes, and cut in front of the Oriental.
“You got some squares?” he asked, and held up his empty Marlboro pack.
“I am trying to get this guy to pay his goddamn dollar.”
The security guard was smoking a cigarette and couldn’t be bothered.
“What’s the problem?” the guy in the Megadeth shirt asked the Oriental.
“He want me to pay eleven. I owe only ten.”
“No, he pump it, he clear it, he pump more.”
The guy in the black tank top and his girlfriend approached the counter and tried to mediate.
“Guy, look,” he said. “You pumped a dollar. Then you pumped ten.”
“I only pump ten.”
“You think this guy’s cheating you? What? You want to keep your fucking dollar, I’ll pay the fucking dollar.” He pulled a crumpled bill out of his pocket and slapped it down, but the guy behind the counter shoved it away.
“I don’t want your dollar, sir.” He turned to the Oriental guy. “Fine, you’ve got a problem?” He pulled a fistful of bills out of his Amoco shirt. “I pay the whole damn eleven.”
“Fuck that,” said the guy in the Megadeth shirt.
“Yeah, fuck that,” said the guy in the black tank top. “I said I’d pay first.” The security guard stood up suddenly and put out his cigarette on the countertop.
“Cheese it,” said the girl in the black Madonna shirt. “It’s a cop, Bart, cheese it.”
“Where the fuck you learn to talk? Cheese it? Who the fuck talks like that?”
“All right!” the security guard bellowed. Now everyone was gathered around the counter. He turned to the Oriental. “You got some beef?”
“No,” he said. “All I owe is ten dollars.”
“How much does he owe?”
“Eleven,” Fabian exhaled venomously.
“Then you’re paying eleven,” the security guard said with a no-nonsense look.
“Fine,” said the Oriental, and he shoved another dollar out from his pocket and stormed out. Everyone watched him go.
We were all standing there, the guy in the Megadeth shirt with the blond hair, the white couple, the black security guard, the Puerto Rican counterman, the Indian kids. The guy with the Megadeth shirt spoke first.
“Fuckin’ Orientals,” he said. Everyone nodded in agreement.