The local convenience store offers more in the way of convenience than most others. Yes, you’ll find the staples of modern life—snacks, tobacco, alcohol, and lottery tickets—but you’ll also find just about anything else. Including a story or two.
A case in point:
I stopped by one afternoon last week to stock up on the necessities for surviving yet another Virginia snowstorm (bread, milk, and beef jerky). Standing near the coffee pots was Bryan, an old high school friend who worked construction for one of the builders in town. Bryan had come to the store for some supplies as well, though of a different sort. He had managed to talk the lady at the register into giving him a Styrofoam plate and a sheet of aluminum foil.
“Hey, Billy,” he said. “Can you hold this for me?”
I took the plate and foil from him and said, “Okay. Whatcha doin’?”
“Fixin’ my ear. Hold still.” He pulled out a knife and punched a hole through the center of the plate.
I wrinkled my brow and decided to let that go. And then decided not to.
“What’s wrong with your ear?”
“Got something in it,” he said. “Been about a week now. Can’t hear a thing, either. I tried the drops, then a hot rock, then smackin’ my head. Nothin’. It’s killin’ me, it hurts so bad. So now I’m trying this.”
He held up what looked to be a long, hollow piece of honeycomb.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked him.
“Well,” he said, “I’m supposed to stick this in my ear and light it, and the heat’s supposed to act like a vacuum and suck out whatever’s in my ear.”
I stared at him.
“Seriously,” he said.
“You’re gonna stick that thing in your ear and light it on fire?”
“What’s the plate and the foil for?” I asked him.
“I’m gonna hold that against my head so I don’t get hurt. I’m not an idiot.”
“Of course not,” I said.
I spent the next ten minutes trying to convince Bryan that his best option was to perform this particular kind of redneck medicine right there in the store so I could watch. He refused. Evidently modesty trumped desperation. Still, it was amazing to me what people would do to get the pain they held inside out.
I was still trying to convince him and still not quite doing it when Stanley Sours walked by on his way to the beer cooler. He snatched a case of Budweiser and passed us on his way to the register.
“Hey, fellas,” he said.
“Stanley,” I said.
“What’s up Stanley?” said Bryan.
Stanley looked at the plate in my hand and the honeycomb in Bryan’s.
“What in the world are y’all doin’?” he asked.
“Bryan’s got something clogged in his ear, so he’s gonna light his head on fire,” I told him.
“Can I watch?” Stanley asked.
Bryan shook his head.
I explained the process to Stanley as well as I could remember it. He was as just as impressed and just as doubtful as I.
“You’re gonna light your head on fire to suck the pain out?” he asked Bryan. “You ain’t all there, are you?”
We all laughed. Stanley slapped both of us on the back and made it way to the register, where he paid for his beer and left.
“He ain’t all there either, you know,” Bryan told me.
I didn’t answer. I didn’t have to. Because he was right, Stanley wasn’t all there. Half of him was in the Ford truck that was pulling out of the parking lot. The other half was about two miles away in a small cemetery plot that held his four-year-old son, a victim of cancer.
That’s when the drinking started. Slow at first and not often, as it always seems to be. Then more. And more. And then Stanley found himself stopping by the store every evening on the way home from work for his case of Bud.
I stood there and watched Stanley leave, then looked down at Bryan’s contraption.
Yes, I thought.
People would do almost anything to get the pain out of them.