Operation Detour, Episode 1

by William Holmes
Copyright © 2012

Hey.  Alex Pannas here.  Sorry we’re not meeting under better circumstances.  I’m usually pretty good at keeping it light, keeping it positive.  Not today.

I’m an Iowa-born, California-raised, 31-year-old, Swedish-Greek-American.  But, that’s not why I’m upset.  I’m upset because I was fired today.

I could be philosophical about it all, but I don’t see the point.  Yes, I’m bitter.  But, I’ll get through this.  They say attitude is everything.  They say we don’t have “problems,” we’re given “opportunities!”  God, I hate corporate-speak.

But wait, there’s more!  Coming home early, expecting to tell my girlfriend, Cheryl, about it – maybe get some sympathy sex out of it – I never got the chance to tell her.  She was … indisposed.

I caught her and my now-former best friend, Christian, cheating on me … and filming it … in my bed.  Turns out, they’ve been doing this for a while.  Yeah.

I almost missed my doctor’s appointment because of all this.  I wish I had missed that appointment, actually.  Then, I would have never known about this wonderful new incurable disease they say I have.

How is it even possible for so many things to go wrong on the same day?  Talk about a bad day.  If I seem a bit flippant about my misfortune, that’s just how I am coping.  You either laugh or you cry.  Apparently, you start referring to yourself in the second person, too.

Anyway, no, I don’t know what I have.  Whatever it is, there aren’t any symptoms, as far as I can tell.  I do know it’s not sexually-transmitted.  I asked.  But when they tried to tell me the rest, I chickened out and bolted before they could finish.  I didn’t want to hear it.  I could not take any more at that point.  I’ll call them back when I’m ready.  On my way out, I did slow down enough to grab the prescription in the doctor’s hand.

Am I depressing you?  Sorry.  Things can only improve from here, right?

I am at the pharmacy now, trying to get that prescription filled.  It’s just before noon, and I have not yet made it to the unemployment office … if I ever do.  Not real excited about that.  But, first things first.

The pharmacist appears to be a transsexual.  I’m sure she gets a lot of stares.  I try to be cool.  I know a little bit now about being an outsider.  It’s nothing like what she must feel on a daily basis, but I can commiserate.

Yesterday, I would have had absolutely no sympathy for her.  I would have considered her a freak.  Today, I almost feel like we’re in the same boat.  Almost.

See there?  I’m already growing spiritually, and I’m not even half way through the day.  It’s amazing what a change of circumstances can do to a person’s perspective.

The pharmacist is having trouble reading the doctor’s scribbled prescription. Making it worse, I have unconsciously crumpled it into a little ball.

Shaking her head, she says, “What is this?  I can’t read it.”

I give the universal gesture for “no idea”: elbows bent, palms up and out.  I wonder how anyone ever gets the right prescription.  I can never read them even when I know what they say.

“I don’t know, dude,” I reply.  As soon as it comes out, I regret it.

“What do you mean, ‘dude’?” she shrieks.

“Oh … no, no!  I’m sorry,” I say quickly.  “I call everyone ‘dude!’  Friends, girlfriends, male, female.  I mean my girlfriends are always female, but … Not that there’s anything wrong …  I’ve been calling everyone ‘dude’ my entire life.”

I don’t think she believes me, but she has obviously also stopped caring, returning her attention to the prescription.  Sighing deeply, she asks, “What is the prescription for?  What is it supposed to do?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” I shrug.  “The doctor just handed it to me.  Never said what it was.”

Shaking her head, nodding in the general direction of nowhere in particular, she says, “Wait here while I find out.”

But I don’t wait there.  Not my style.  I begin perusing the aisles.  Before I know it, I’m talking to this 40-something gentleman, a complete stranger.  He is about my height and build.  Same skin color, somewhere between pale and tanned.  Nicely dressed.  Professional.

“Nice suit,” I say.  He tilts his head back, flares his nostrils, narrows his eyes, but says nothing.  Not the talkative type.

“Am I in the middle of a bad dream or something?” I persist.

Now looking me up and down, he says, “Probably,” and walks away.

Smart-ass.  I follow him, talking to his backside the whole time.  “I mean, life could not possibly get this screwed up, this fast.  Could it?”

I do not normally harass people, let alone pour my heart out with complete strangers.  Yes, he is a smart-ass, but being one myself, I usually let that go.  I’m probably still in shock.  Not responsible for my actions, and all that.

Earlier at work, I was sprayed in the eyes by a wall-mounted air freshener I had never noticed before.  I’m starting to think there were mind-altering chemicals in it to make me talk to this guy like this.  It would not surprise me, knowing my former employer.

Paranoid?  Probably.

I start rubbing my eyes.  The 40-something gentleman takes the opportunity to escape, but I find him again in the refrigerated aisle.  Smiling, I yank a root beer out of the display case and take a swig.

“Yesterday, I would have grabbed a real beer,” I explain.  “But I quit drinking, just today.”  Laughing, I add, “I sound like that guy in Airplane!  Remember?  ‘I picked a bad day to quit drinking!  I picked a bad day to quit sniffing glue!”  I laugh again.

“Good for you,” the man replies.

I’m just trying to have some fun here, looking for an excuse to laugh.  But this guy’s no fun at all.

A much younger man – I’m guessing store clerk, based on the uniform – comes around the corner.  For a second, I’m thinking I’ll have better luck talking to a younger person.  They’re not quite so jaded and bitter.

I’m wrong.  He sees me drinking the soda and barks out, “Hey, you gonna pay for that?!”

“Yes, I am,” I say, offended.  “Do I look like a shoplifter?”

“Kinda.  Yeah.”

Looking directly at the young clerk, I take another gulp, then go in search of “40-something guy.”  Spotting him, I sneak up and lean on the display case right behind him.  Mere inches away, I continue my sob story.  “I’m still trying to process it all.”

The guy lurches forward, startled, crying out, “Do you mind?!”  Apparently, being mere inches from a stranger’s ear is too close?  I know, I’m a jerk.  He started it.

Suddenly, there is a man’s voice booming through the overhead speakers.  “Mr. Pannas?  Mr. Pannas!”

In a flash of inspiration – psychotic break, temporary dissociative identity disorder, whatever you want to call it – I say to my new acquaintance, “I should change my name.  From now on, call me Alex … no … Axel.  Axel McLean.  I like the sound of that.  How about Axel WinchesterMcLean?  Ooh, good one.”

“You sound like a car wash for heavy machinery,” my new “friend” quips.

As I’m looking up at the ceiling, trying to find a good comeback, he disappears.  Like a shape-shifter or something.

Switching to her feminine voice as I approach the counter, the pharmacist says, “Your prescription is ready, Mr. Pannas.”

“Please,” I say.  “Call me McLean.  Axel McLean.”

Luckily, she doesn’t care that I’m using one name to have my prescription filled, and an entirely different one to pick it up.  “Whatever,” she snaps at me.  “That’ll be $87.44.”

“How much?!” I’m shocked.

“Eighty-seven dollars and forty-four cents,” she takes care to enunciate.

“Damn,” I say.

Smiling, she explains.  “Yes, your health insurance has expired.  It would have been thirteen dollars.  But without insurance, it’s eighty …”

“… seven forty-four,” I finish for her.  “Okay.”

The young store clerk from earlier skulks up from behind, asking, “Did you ring up the root beer?”

“Oops,” she amends the total.  “That’ll be $88.91.”

On my way out, I spot my 40-something shopper “friend” checking out at the other register.  I wave goodbye.  He flips me off.  I nod and smile.  It’s good to make friends, meet new people.

—————–

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