Bio: CL Bledsoe is the author of a dozen books, most recently the poetry collection Riceland and the novel Man of Clay. He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter.
Tucked in a strip mall between a nasty taco
joint that made a mean biscuits and gravy,
and a hair salon full of bored 20-somethings
who spent the whole time trying
to upsell you. The carpet was some faded,
filthy shade that might’ve once been green
and brown or just years of stains. Tuesday’s
new releases up front, crowded and picked clean
by Friday afternoon. Maybe you paused
in the classics, but everyone’s seen those
or decided they never will long ago. Maybe
you try the drama or action but those are just new
releases that are no longer new. In the back,
on the wall: the true destination. A video shop
could be judged by its horror section. Obscure, silly
titles you never heard of, imported Italian insanity.
Every once in a while you find that low-budget
gem that makes the night worth wasting. They
had overpriced popcorn covered in dust. They
had sodas flatter than the earth. They had used
VHS for sale to make room for DVDs sometimes
cheaper to buy than to rent. When they were gone,
they weren’t going to be replaced.
Friday nights, before we had our licenses, we’d wait
till Dad was asleep, borrow his dirt- and oil-stained
truck, and cruise gravel roads to the old Tastee Freeze
on the edge of town. They had ice cream cones dipped
in fudge. They had tattered onion rings that tasted
like salt and grease, burgers that came hot and drippy.
We’d pay in change, borrowed money, any way
we could. All of it squished into a greasy bag, too hot
to eat until we got home. We’d cut the engine and roll
the last few yards, lights off, to the house; push the doors
to quietly, butterscotch milkshakes already empty,
tiptoe back into my bedroom to scarf our lukewarm
grease and play Super Mario Bros until we passed out.
The Yellow King
Everything smelled like grease, even
on your day off. I worked there for two
days. On the first, a coworker got into
an argument with a plant in the lobby
while I was on lunch. It looked like
the plant got the better of him. When
I went back behind the counter, the shift
manager with the piercings in her cheek said
he wasn’t violent. The others gathered around
her as she pontificated in mumbled slang
about high times in the trailer park.
I was going to New York the next day,
a trip I’d planned before getting the job.
I would eat my first veggie pizza—just bread
and plants, really—try calamari, drink six
dollar beer, be felt up by strangers in a city
where everyone wears black and hates
everything. Just because I would never be one
of them didn’t mean I would only ever
be me. When I got back, I worked one
more day with the familiar smell
and the boredom. I took my shirts back
when I picked up my check. No one cared.
It happened all the time.