kestrel

kestrel
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2022-03-22 20:58:11 (UTC)

Prompt 159: Hidden Hangout

159. At first, the tourist attractions in your city were exciting, but you're realizing that they're too mainstream and overrun by tourists. What are some of the underground cool spots to see in your city that most people don't know about? Describe one such visit from beginning to end, detailing why this location deserves to stay completely secret.
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I have to mention a guy I'd known since middle school. I'll call him "Carl." Carl was the loose cannon that outdid me in the class clown/eager-to-please department.

In high school, he would act out in a goofy kind of way, good-humored and clearly striving to make people laugh. At times it was to the point that he was so wound up during choir practice that our director would ask me, "Can you find out if he's on drugs?" Carl and I got along really well somehow - we were both entertainers at the time, after all - and I had the patience to hang with him outside of class, kind of absorbing his vibe with wonder and a kind of admiration. Though he was a year-plus younger than me, I still felt that he had more life experience, or at least a more-colorful back story.

I remember working with him at a few places after graduating high school. The first was okay, and it was at a time when this prompt reminded me of when he and I had resolved to stay awake all night.

Late 1990s. My dad was dying of cancer, and I had stopped working at a McDonalds and started working at a cafe closer to home (across the street from our housing development actually, and within walking distance). He and I would sing along to the Cranberries in a ridiculous falsetto, particularly the song "The Rebels," the cafe being long-devoid of customers. Carl was an only child, and his parents were divorced. His father was a local cop.

The bagel shop where Carl and I worked was a money pit for the owner, the kind of absentee manager who showed up one day a week and wondered how untrained, unsupervised staff (comprised mostly of high school kids) could lose him so much money. I think I was one of three staff who were over the age of 18.

Anyhow... One evening after we closed the shop, Carl and I had decided to go to the movies. We drove there in his Volkswagen Thing: bright orange, with a hardtop. We had attempted to drive round with the top off and the windshield down, but it was December and a bit too cold, even for us.

We saw "Scream" that night, if memory serves (this was late 1996), at the small-town multiplex cinema just outside town, not far from the McDonald's I used to work at. I remember that before we hit the cinema Carl and I went through the drive-thru at the McDonald's and I greeted my former coworkers, thinking I was brilliantly funny for attempting to order tacos and burritos through the drive-thru.

After the movie, Carl and I drove around a bit, and then decided to hang out at The Duck Pond. Tucked between the area's catholic high school and a townhouse/apartment development was a small park, whose dominant feature was a large-ish pond overrun in the summer by various waterfowl. Since it was the onset of the winter, I think even the geese were gone. So there were Carl and I, lounging on the hood of his Thing, eating nearly-frozen bagels. We had some indie-rock cassette playing on the tinny radio and speakers.

I think Carl and I somehow stayed awake until 4am or so that night. He was an interesting guy, and I guess I must have been tolerable as well for him to have put up with me for that long. He and I had an amicable connection all those years.

Then college came. I was working at a corporate-owned coffee shop. Dad was dead, and I was married. My wife worked at another location for the same company at the time. Lo and behold, Carl comes along and starts working at our place. I think that even at the time, he was a shift lead, a position senior to my own. I remember thinking it was wonderful that he and I would be working together again after a couple years out of touch.

It turned out that Carl was skimming off the registers, exploiting a bug-feature of the cash registers to charge the customers just a little extra, and shifting it to tips or something like that. Like in the movie "Office Space," his plan was to skim a near-imperceptible amount from the register with every transaction, pocketing the proceeds for himself.

He was eventually caught, with rumblings that his extra funds were used to pay for a drug habit. It was assumed it was weed, but I didn't care. My then-wife chose to sympathize with him, stating that if he was an addict then he needed support, not our derision and certainly not criminal charges. "Easy to say, when it's not your store he was stealing from," was my unspoken response. The fact that he was essentially stealing from our store, "making us look bad," was enough to sour him for me ever since.

I kind of wonder what he's doing now, but not really. Last I heard, a few years ago, he was on the west coast. He posted something on FB in a group message I'd been roped into by mutual friends. He posted a video. He looked sadder, had a wedding ring, and mused that he was most well-known by others as the "class clown." I scowled and turned it off after maybe seven seconds. What the hell do I know? I was quick to judge.

Though I doubt I could care less for the corporate coffee shop, he abused our trust: his coworkers. That betrayal seemed significant at the time. He profited from the "social capital" we had cultivated with our long-time regulars, and in the short time he was there he was able to reap rewards while we were left holding the bag and had new, more-complex cash register procedures to show for it.

I wonder if I'd want to hang out with him were we to cross paths again. I wonder if he'd think hanging out with me would be worth his time.

Thanks a lot, Carl...I hope your pocket change was worth it. Seriously though: I hope your life doesn't suck. Good luck, whatever you're doing and wherever you are.


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