On Catholic Suicide Notes and Wheat Pennies

For the life of me I cannot sleep and I made a pact with the sandman that I would remove my eyes from an internet connected computer, go to bed with Otto (that’s my laptop) and try to do something productive. So far, the sandman is ignoring me (and whether or not writing this is productive is pretty debatable).

But at least the Internet will not lure me into its wicked web and keep me awake until I have to get up for work. As it is, I already have enough links for another column, but I promise that I won’t use them until at least Monday. I don’t want your eyes to fall out from all this divine inanity I am spreading around.

I promised to write about the catholic suicide note. I will write about that and other adventures in gasstationland. Wahoo!

So it was sometime in the late 90s (after I graduated in 1995, all the years blurred together until about 1999), when I had returned home from the land of newspapers with my tail between my legs to the land of moms and pops. I didn’t want to be a newspaper reporter anymore and I hadn’t the foggiest notion what to do with my life. After sitting around my parents’ house for a few months, watching my brother-in-law’s twin peaks collection and teaching myself how to crochet, I started getting a little restless, plus I was more than a little broke. My parents goaded me into getting a job at the gas station across the street.

Yeah, I was none too thrilled with this prospect. I had a college education. I had a BA in journalism and political science. I had too much going for me to work for at a gas station. But my dad, so succinctly pointed out that what I didn’t have was a job and therefore no money. They were cool with letting me live there rent free, but I had to work. The horror!

I swallowed my pride; really my parents swallowed it for me, and applied for the job. I got it, and started making something insane like $5.35 an hour. Of course, since I didn’t have to pay for rent or food, I thought I was making mad piles of cash.

Little did I know that working at the gas station would open me up to a world of people I had never been exposed to. My co-workers, who lived in the same small town I did, were clearly from an entirely different planet. First there was Angie. She was the epitome of white trash who tried so very hard to act like she was high class. She drove a purple Camero, had platinum blonde hair that she would emphatically claim was natural (even though she always experienced some mysterious darkening around the rootal area ever 4-6 weeks). She would cry if you even suggested that her hair color came from a bottle. There was mall bangs and a wingspan that was astronomical to go with this naturally blond hair. Angie also loved to tan and even went so far as to purchase her very own tanning bed and have it installed in her mobile home.

She had bad skin, tight-rolled her jeans around her ankles and was the most unabashed racist I’ve ever met. Really, this girl was amazing. She made up racial slurs I’d never heard of. Hell half the time I couldn’t even tell what group she was disparaging. Angie hated me from the get go. I intimidated the hell out of her with all my fancy book learning. It didn’t help that I could not hide my disdain for her and her lack of taste. How can I pretend to be excited over someone who raves on and one about their wonderful set of wicker furniture they bought for their mobile home? I’ll never forget the day I ridiculed her endlessly for claiming to always get Lenny Kravitz and Iggy Pop confused because she thought they looked so much alike.

Then there was Sherrie. Poor, poor Sherrie. Sherrie was stupid. There is just no polite way to say this. Any person that ‘accidentally’ gets pregnant three times in the same year just isn’t that smart.

There were various other co-workers who came and went. But Angie and Sherrie were the mainstays. Really, my weird co-workers weren’t half as bad as some of the customers.

There was Linda with the gambling problem. She’d come in about twice a week and blow $100 on scratch-off lottery tickets. This wouldn’t have been so bad if she’d just buy the $100 all at one shot. But she’d buy them $3 or $4 at a time. Of course, you have to realize that even though she blew $100, she probably scratched off at least 150 lottery tickets, what with all the two and three dollar prizes she’d win and spend on more lottery tickets.

Francis wasn’t bad and I shouldn’t even mention him in this column. I loved Francis with all my heart. Rumor had it that Francis was some sort of eccentric, retired lawyer. Francis wandered around town buying pennies. He didn’t drive very often. He was almost always walking. Francis came in every day looking for wheat pennies. He called them wheaties. He was so damn adorable. He’d start talking before he even walked in the door.

‘Hello, hello,’ he always said. I am not sure why he said it twice, but he always did.
‘Hi Francis,’ I’d giggle, because I loved him so.
‘I’ll take a dime, nickel and ten pennies,’ he’d say sliding a quarter across the counter. ‘Got any wheaties for me today?’

And so it went every single day.

One time Davy Jones, you know the short one from the Monkeez came in. I think he was playing at the casino, not too far away. He pulled into the parking lot in a giant limo. He bought a can of coke and an ice cream sandwich. He didn’t look too thrilled as I loomed above him and asked, ‘hey, weren’t you on the Brady bunch?’ some celebrities have no sense of humor. After that slight run-in with fame, my mom and sisters had to come over and watch the security tape to see if it really was Davy Jones. It was.

I suppose my all-time most memorable customer was Therese. She only came in once, that I can remember. I could tell the moment she entered the gas station that she was distraught. I had never laid eyes on this lady before in my life, but sometimes you can tell these things.

She talked to herself as she shuffled up and down the candy aisle. Since this was such a teeny, tiny gas station, I could watch her from my post behind the cash register. After much debate (of which I heard) she brought up a kit-Kat.

‘Will that be all tonight?’ I asked innocently. Then she promptly burst into tears. I had no idea what to do. I mean what do you do when a total stranger starts sobbing on her kit-Kat bar? I just stood there dumbfounded and stared.

‘Do you have a piece of paper?’
‘Sure,’ I said, going into the office and ripping out a piece of paper from my journal. I came back and handed her the piece of paper. She pushed it back towards me.

‘Could you write something down for me?’
‘Uh, sure,’ I said thinking this was so not in my job description.
‘Dear father Michael,’ she started, ‘I don’t know what I am going to do. If you leave I will kill myself.’

WHAT THE FUCK?? I started screaming to myself. Should I be calling the cops? Should I call the church? Is this some sort of crime? Is it illegal to write someone’s suicide note? Will I be an accomplice? An accessory to murder?

‘I love you father Michael,’ she continued talking through a mouthful of kit-Kat. ‘I don’t want to see father bill taking over St. Marks. I will kill myself and it will be all your fault, Therese.’

When she was finished dictating, she read what I had written.

‘Umm, you want me to call someone,’ I asked.
‘No,’ she said. ‘I won’t really kill myself, I just want father Michael to feel bad.’
‘I am pretty sure that’s a sin,’ I said.

Then she got all huffy with me, scooped up her suicide note that I penned and left-leaving the empty kit-Kat wrapper on the counter.

I checked the local newspaper for about a month, making sure there were no suicides or deaths of anyone named Therese. She never came into the gas station again. I am not sure if Father Michael stayed or not. I am pretty sure that Therese had to do a hell of a lot of rosaries and our fathers as penance. I am also pretty sure that after having to deal with the crazy catholic, I should have a get into heaven free card.

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