I don’t go to the liquor stores, but the blueberry muffins are so delicious and reasonably priced, I visit the bakery at the gas station mornings to purchase my lone muffin, which is about as much money as I want to contribute to these bloodsuckers, and especially the swarthy, lean-faced, surly young guy who works the register at the front counter from opening at 6 in the morning until closing at 9 in the evening. He’s usually on his cell phone conversing in Arabic, looking worried and solemn, and he’ll wait on you when he pleases without making eye contact or saying thank you, making a show of taking his time, appearing oblivious to the forming of a line of restless, impatient customers, many of whom need him to go behind the glassed-in counter across the room about 10 feet away to fetch muffins or donuts or croissants or pastries prepared in the wee hours along with breakfast burritos by a Mexican woman who seems exhausted but remains friendly and used to stay until 10 in the morning to wait on people and say thank you with a smile when we dropped change or a dollar into the glass jar with the TIPS sign on it.
But I guess the new owner, who comes in a couple times a day to empty the register for a deposit without looking at or saying anything to anybody, cut the Mexican woman’s hours and has no new landsman to help out his current standoffish uncommunicative relative.
Before the hated New Yorker sold the place he employed a local brother/sister act who baked and cooked and their pastries were voted best in the county in the county alternative paper but the Arabs kicked them out and replaced them with the Mexican. The Arab who works seven days a week does not like to come out from behind the counter and always expresses irritation with me I suppose because I never buy coffee or anything else but a lone muffin. He reluctantly goes behind the glass counter of gleaming goodies and stands there looking crucified, with a little open bag and asks which is the blueberry when I suspect he knows which is the blueberry and especially so since all I ever order is the blueberry muffin. “You have to know the blueberry,” he tells me.
“YOU have to know which one is the blueberry,” I tell him for the hundredth time. “They must be labeled and priced.”
He says, “What do you want?”
I remain polite because I try to see things from his perspective, a Muslim propagandized by voodoo gibberish and marooned in this rich country rife with hedonistic degenerates on every social level, obsessed with garish consumerism, kinky sex, narcissism, exhibitionism, reality programs full of obscenely wealthy women with fake boobs and bulbous lips and mousy husbands and tiny pampered dogs and empty-eyed offspring, repellant jingoism combined with money-sucking Christian TV evangelists and their chanting trance-like minions—an endless tapestry peopled by a diet-crazed fat farm of feeble, drug-addicted hypochondriacs complaining about free health care and Obama. Is there any end to it? So I can see why this wretch is disenchanted with us, but still, he’s taking our money with a sneer and nobody bothers to take that sneer off his face.
“I want a blueberry muffin,” I repeat, raising my voice.
A couple file in behind me. “I don’t know what is blueberry,” he insists, holding his bag. “You tell me blueberry.”
“How am I supposed to know blueberry when I don’t make them?”
His mouth narrows, his eyes flash. “You want blueberry, you tell me what is blueberry.”
A couple framers, in a hurry, dusty trucks running outside, walk in. “I don’t know which one is blueberry! Last time I came here you had me pick one out and it wasn’t blueberry, it was chocolate chip! I don’t want chocolate chip. I want blueberry. A couple days ago I was in here and you were stacking candy behind the counter. You made me wait six minutes while you very slowly finished, knowing I was waiting, and then you did me a big favor asking me what I wanted when you know I come in here at least five mornings a week for a blueberry muffin, and you act like I’m sending you to the fucking gas chamber when I ask you to go back there and get me a fucking blueberry muffin. Is that the way you treat people back home? Huh? Answer me!”
He throws up his hands in frustration, as if dealing with an impossibly stupid person, yet remains cool as a few people in coats and ties trickle in. “You want the blueberry? I don’t know what is the blueberry.” He points to the muffins, so neatly arranged. “You tell me what is the blueberry.”
“I DON’T KNOW WHICH ONES ARE BLUEBERRY!”
A small, retired, white-haired lawyer who walks two Schnauzers and knows me by my dog, says, “Dell, I’m not sure, but I think those ones in the third row are blueberry.”
“How can YOU tell?”
“Well, they look kind of purple on top.”
“Twice I picked up purple on top and they were chocolate chip.”
“I see your point.”
“Why doesn’t Mohammad here have labels?”
“My name is not Mohammad,” snaps the Arab, aggrieved.
“Fuck you, Mohammad, you piece of shit.”
Mohammad walks out from behind the glass counter and stands behind the register to take money for coffee from a framer. Several people are behind me, addicted to the delicious pastries facing us. My teeth are clacking. I walk over to a rack of chew and candy beside the register and pummel it, knocking items to the floor. “Why are you here, motherfucker? Everybody hates your guts.” I point a finger. “I’ve put up with you for a year now, because you have the best blueberry muffins in the county, even if they’re not as good as the ones before you wrecked this place, but as of now, I will never come in here and buy another motherfucking blueberry muffin, you sonofabitch, because half the time I get a chocolate muffin or an orange muffin, or a goddam raisin muffin, which I detest….”
The lawyer has me by the elbow. “Dell…”
“I’m not finished yet.”
“Come on, Dell, you’ve made your point.”
Mohammad goes back behind the glass to wait on trade. It’s early and none of these still half-asleep people want to be shocked at this hour, want only their muffins and pastries and coffee.
A woman says, “I’d like a lemon poppy muffin, please.”
“What is the lemon poppy?”
“You don’t know?” The lawyer and a few others try to help. Mohammad crosses his arms, appears bored. I walk out. I will now have to frequent the Coffee Den on the main drag, where the blueberry muffins fall apart in dry crumbs and don’t taste as good and cost more but at least everybody treats me like a prized citizen even if I don’t buy their coffee.
At night, when I walk my dog downtown, I will still see Mohammad standing outside by the pumps either smoking or on his l phone, and I will no longer feel sorry for him because he seems so alone and miserable in this country people risk their lives emigrating to.