Expectantly, the place was busy. There was crowd out the door. Immigrants, elderly, teenagers huddled in-line waiting for their ticket. Sweat soaking up the swells of back after back. It was an itchy, grumpy, sticky late November day in Van Nuys and the air-conditioner was down, or maybe never installed. Two fans rotated hot gusts of air that did their best impression of the Santa Ana winds, and the ice cream man set up permanent shop in the parking lot. And in this line, in this ninety degree November day, all he heard was the screeching echo of the asshole desk clerk working as the greeter. His first thought was to walk back to his car and return with a bat. He wanted to take his 32-ounce Easton and make a bone-crushing indent into the man’s skull.
“Take the packet, fill out every sheet, and have a Merry Christmas.” The greeter said
“But when will they call my number?!” The man with the yarmulke replied, torn between anger and wanting to get the hell out of the DMV.
“Sir, TAKE the packet and have a Merry Christmas.” And with that, the man moved onto the next one. And the next after that. It was the same speech every time. “Take a packet, Merry Christmas.”
Take a packet, Merry Christmas. As if it wasn’t a week past Thanksgiving and about thirty degrees too hot for winter. As if every man and woman in the building was Christian. As if the line would never end. And if it does– The man that stood in line thought. If this line ends. If it ever gets to me. If this guy tells me Merry Christmas– I’m going to end his fucking life.
So he waited patiently, clock ticking in the corner, hot air blowing across his beady forehead. It was as if time stood still that day, and the only way he knew he wasn’t in hell was because people left. People were actually leaving the building. They got their licenses, green cards, IDs, and passports and just walked out the fucking door. It reminded him there was an end to it all. An escape. A glimpse of hope. A light at the end of a very miserable tunnel. A–
“Take the packet and have a Merry Christmas.” The clerk condescendingly screeched across the room breaking up his concentration.
The greeter's voice wrung out and took the man in line out of his happy place. He looked around. The old man next to him wore a size 3XL shirt that did a poor job of hiding his overflowing gut. He began to shift and complain so incessantly it was becoming worse than the desk clerk. “This is ridiculous!” - he’d say.
“I might as well pitch a tent!”
A mother in all black spandex sat impatiently with her ticket, shrugging after every number was called. Her kid stood on the chair next to her, hopping lily-pad to lily-pad even if someone was already there. How is nobody saying anything to her, He thought out loud this time. And this time warranting a response from the fat man standing next to him.
“Because nobody wants to listen to the dumb-dike heckle back!”
“It’s just very rude” - He replied to the Old Man.
“You know what’s rude? This fucking line and no air conditioning. I feel like I lost a hundred pounds!”
“I doubt that…” - The man in line mumbled ever so quietly.
“What was that?”
“Nothing– this line is long.”
But in their agreement the man had started something he couldn’t stop. People everywhere started to complain and the non-stop chatter from everybody in line talking at once emanated into a loud purr across the crowded room. The building became increasingly raucous but the man knew there was nothing he could do about it now. So, slowly he started to block out the crowd, their whiny voices coming to a complete stop– subdued into the back of his mind like a bad memory. Then the old man next to him disappeared into black. After that, the lady with the spandex grabbed her kid’s arm and walked to the window– out of his line of vision once and for all. He closed his eyes and soon he was on the beach, the ocean air pushing across his face, water slowly creeping across his bare toes. He had found peace. Finally he had found his happy place–
“Take a packet and have a merry Christmas.”
When he opened his eyes it all returned to him– the seven people in front of him, the old man complaining, the woman with her kid– who was now standing on the table. The crowd shifted, shrugged, and lit their electronic cigarettes as the desk clerk’s voice rang out like an old fashioned cash register. “Take a packet, have a merry Christmas.”
The man couldn’t take it. He darted out of line and out the front door, the light hitting him upside the head and almost to the ground. He was free now. He stood up and closed his eyes. Deep breaths brought him back to his happy place, and everything went to black. He was holding his baseball bat now and it was the bottom of the ninth. Runners were on first and third with two outs. The pitcher threw a strike but he swung and missed. WHOOSH– hitting nothing but air. The pitcher wound up throwing another one but he missed again. Right down the middle. Now the crowd was getting restless. He heard faint cries– people yelling at him in the distance. They were probably telling him not to let them down. And he knew he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. This was HIS happy place after all.
As the pitcher wound up for the final pitch a small bead of sweat dropped from the man's brow and onto his cheek. The pitch came across the plate and a loud CRACK shivered the stadium into silence. Silence, followed by what can only be described as chaos, because when the man opened his eyes he was standing over the bloodied desk clerk, bat in hand, and people running for the doors. The man looked at his bat, his shirt, covered in blood, and bent down to hear a small cry from the clerk beneath his feet. He looked at the greeter with a blank expression and as blood bubbled from his mouth all he could hear was the slight croak of “Merry Christmas.” So he swung harder this time.