Sunday, April 6, 2008

Late Night

Alice and I are driving through Chicopee, Massachusetts. It is 1:40am. The sky above is illuminated. All the stars are out and the many drive-throughs are lit up. There is only a small group of us who are awake. The only people on the road are truck drivers, bar fleers and ‘chimney enthusiasts.’ Besides our obvious professional differences, we are not that distant from each other. We crawl from the scattered 7-11s to the Taco Bell drive-throughs. We do not pause at the register. We have been here before. “Yes, Tino, I know what menu item I want.”

A half hour earlier, as happens on most Tuesday nights at 1am, Alice and I have come to our usual conclusion, “Shit, we are out.” Like my friend the truck driver or the local lush, changing this situation is as common as changing lanes. Alice locates her phone and dials Todd, our friendly local pizza delivery-boy and entrepreneur. Yes, that’s right, a two-for-one job role.

Flashback two months earlier. Alice, dazed as usual, decides at around 2am, that she wants pizza. The delivery guy, Todd, a pierced-up white-boy with a three-inch goatee, arrives, smells her living room and then offers to deliver her more than pepperoni next time. It is people like Todd who make western Mass, western Mass—a place of low hills, broken-down mills and…locals. The locals are my favorite part of western Mass-- in particular, my late-night entrepreneurs. It is this group that defines western Mass for me. They aren’t logistically the best representatives of the area, but they are always ones I end up writing about.

I don’t know what it is about them, but each one has an element of strange that you can create with other professions. My second case subject, Ben, arrived after Todd disappeared and was fired from his job. Ben was twenty-something who held no day-job. I think the only thing he did during the day was sleep and masturbate. He could be best compared to a D-and-D science geek spliced with an ex-Rastafarian—a lanky white boy with brown dreads and an interest in stunt shows.

The first time I met Ben, I walked into his windowless studio behind a used car lot. Ben was on his makeshift bed/couch/office desk. Seated beside him, were two over-weight teenage girls, apparently amidst a confusing Goth-phase. I’d later learn that both had dropped out of high school because of Ben’s words of wisdom. The pair had met Ben over the Internet and now one or both of them were dating him. I can imagine the ad would have read something like, “Introspective, healthy female pair seek an adventurous and independent adult male.” My favorite thing about Ben’s layer, er, apartment, were the stacks of pizza boxes lining his walls. When I say stacks, I mean, that the guy was insulating his apartment with layers of cardboard and decaying cheese grease. When I first saw the boxes, I thought of Todd. Had Todd been here? Maybe the stealthy twins scared ate him.

Anyways, I didn’t go back to Ben’s place. It wasn’t because of the pizza boxes, but the two girls. I worried that, in my mental condition, I would start asking them inappropriate questions. What website did you meet on? Can I read your ad? Eventually, Ben, like the crust remnants in his old pizza boxes, disintegrated from my life too.
The final of my Western Mass entrepreneurs was Susanne, my middle-aged boss at work. Susanne owned a small café, which never made money. I didn’t know how Susanne exactly survived besides living in squalor, I mean minimal conditions and selling other things.

Her apartment was a disaster area, reeking of aging yarn, liquor and leftover seafood salad from the café. Everytime I entered her place, a waft of bourbon and salmonella hit me immediately. Usually, Susanne had already had half a bottle of Old Portrero. She would often offer me a drink but I’d learned to say no a while back. Drinking and buying from Susanne was always a bad decision. I knew I’d leave two hours later, smelling like old carpet, with a bad deal. The funny thing about Susanne was she got really paranoid when you just wanted to buy from her. There was no such thing as completing a hop-stop at Suzanne’s. You instead had to ‘shoot the shit’ with her for ten minutes—ease her into the deal. Ironic isn’t it? We’d, or well, she’d talk about anything from her roady experiences in the 1980s to time she was a line cook at the local hotel. Whatever it was, it was the consequence for her low price tag.

You might think that Susanne, like Ben, was too weird to work with. Maybe. Then again this was western Mass, the land of the weird and the rural. What other options were there?

For Alice: One day I did write a story about you.

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