Sunday, January 27, 2013

"Fish sandwich, Coke, fries."

He walked into Wendy's holding a toolbox in his left hand.  A huge yellow one.  He wore a green hard hat and olive-colored overalls and black boots.  The dude just stomped up to the front almost like he was doing a dance or maybe more of a sleep-walk.  Just stood there, and I looked at him from behind the cash register.  His face was burnt-looking and a little bloated, dark eyes pointed right at me and then away, like he did not want me to know he could see.  I asked him what he would like and his voice was a grunt more than a voice, a machine-gun grunt, but you could understand "fish sandwich" somewhere in there, and so that's what I pressed in.  "Fish sandwich, Coke, fries."  He said it like he had committed it to memory and he was afraid he might forget before it got out of his mouth.  He stood there not looking at me when I asked him what size Coke.  Something was not right but I guess since he could order what he wanted I didn't get freaked out too much.  I didn't know what to think really.  He was round-bellied, not too tall, but he had the presence of a statue that had come to life.  You were supposed to be afraid of him, but still he was not terrifying.  Just intense and silent, standing there not answering my question about the Coke, so I just wrung in large, and he pulled out a ten dollar bill and put it on the counter, and then I took it and gave him his change.  He swept it up and quickly hid the money away somewhere in his overalls. 

As I got him his Coke, and the cook put his fish into the fryer, he stood at the counter completely quiet, looking over at the fryers, staring as if somehow his stare might make things go faster.  He was not comfortable waiting.  He had some salt-and-pepper hair hanging down from his hard hat.  He had ruddy jowls and the yellow toolbox had a "Danger High Voltage" sticker on it.  He gripped that toolbox real tight.  I told him I was sorry he had to wait because I could see it was killing him, but then I explained that we don't make fish sandwiches ahead, and he grunted like he understood, and even though I had never waited on him before I kind of knew him from riding the bus and seeing him walking on the sidewalk in that same get-up, but it never dawned on me what he would sound like close up, or look like either.  He had the presence of a visitor from another planet about him.  He had a pride about himself that shined out of his stubborn face.  He did not look scared as much as just stubborn and ready to do what he had to do.  He did not fidget but he did not stand still either, as if his stillness vibrated inside him, through his bones.  He had gray chapped lips.  You could tell he worked outside.

The fish timer went off and the cook slid the wrapped sandwich onto the tray while I got the fries.  I turned around and saw the dude put his toolbox into a booth over by the front windows.  He came back and got his tray of Coke and fries and fish sandwich and walked back to the booth.  A couple of boys came in and ordered something and I got them what they wanted, and by the time they were gone he had eaten and drank it all and was throwing away his trash.  Two minutes, tops.  Then he walked into the bathroom.  I looked over at the cook and the gal who ran drive-thru.  We were a little, I don't know, unsettled I guess.  He was the only one out in the dining room.  It was about 3 pm on a Wednesday in February.  Snow was starting outside, gray light and snow.

You could hear him stomp out of the bathroom, the door slamming behind him.  As he turned the corner I saw what he had done to himself in the bathroom and it felt really completely shocking for a few seconds.  He had put on a clown costume in the bathroom.  It was blue, green, red, purple and yellow polka-dots.  Big old clown outfit, with the boots still on, and the overalls underneath the costume.  He was carrying the tool-box still too, and he had also donned a big fluorescent green clown collar to complete his ensemble.  His face above the polka-dots was unchanged.  No clown smile, no clown anything in his eyes.  The blankness of his expression gave the whole thing a dream-like feeling, as if it were a moment I would need to come back to many times, just to convince myself it had actually happened.  This big, dark-complected, round-bellied construction dude going into the Wendy's bathroom and coming out a clown, like Clark Kent turning into Superman.


Me and the cook just looked at each other.  It was like we were witnessing a new way of seeing people, like after this nobody would have any secrets.  People would just come in, go into the bathroom and change into who they really were.  The dude took off into the snowy afternoon, stomping away.  He'd spent maybe all of five or six minutes in here, but he had left a big impression.  I wondered where he was off to on foot.  He disappeared into that snow, a clown erased by falling snow.


The photos are close-ups of Raymond Thunder-Sky's many clown costumes he would wear all over the city.