by Will Gardner
“God, we’re so slow today.”
“I don’t know why you insist on being open past three – or even 2:30, for that
matter. No one wants knishes after lunch.”
She stared at him, blank. “You know what I mean. No one in Portland.”
“Okay, then.” He cleared his throat much louder than necessary. “I guess you
know what I got to do.”
Angie replied with a heavy sigh. “Where this time?”
“The Standard Insurance building.”
“Well, good. You can bring me a blueberry muffin from that store in the lobby.”
“One of those Costco muffins?”
“Don’t look at me like that.”
He looked at her like that. “Just have a sixteen-tray ready in twenty minutes, okay?”
Kevin walked west on Yamhill, but had to cross before he intended. He, like two others walking near him, avoided the twenty-something crusader who regularly made him feel like an asshole for not sparing twenty minutes to discuss pandemic famine. Although he dodged that dreadlocked bullet, he was forced to pass Starbucks. He winced at the Rod Stewart mix its speakers emanated.
Kevin was annoyed today. Not with Angie. Not with the low sales, necessarily. He was annoyed with Starbucks, with OSPIRG, with Costco, with Rod Stewart. Most of all, Portland annoyed him. And not just today.
He entered Standard Insurance from Fourth and, since the muffins were stored by the register, spent little time inside the store. There was one blueberry left, fortunately – Angie hated poppy seeds. Inattentive, Kevin handed the clerk a single dollar bill then stepped away.
“Sorry, sir. It’s actually $1.25.”
“Jesus, did you raise the price!?” He gave her no time to answer. “Oh, never mind… here’s a quarter.” He took another step away, then back again, shaken. “Damn it, actually, I need that quarter back. In fact…” He checked his wallet for bills. “I guess I need change for the phone.” All he had was a twenty. He drained the clerk’s supply of singles.
Someone was in the phone booth already, so he strolled into the common area outside the cafeteria. He fidgeted near a table and watched some cable news on a screen hanging above. It was FOX News. His annoyance quadrupled.
He circled the atrium, stomping as he passed the phone booth in hopes of alerting the oblivious woman. She didn’t stir. Out of ideas, he went to wash his hands.
Kevin entered the nondescript restroom and, after noticing there was not a diaper-changing table, approached the mirrors. He chose the sink to the right of another man. The man peered at him. Kevin noticed and averted his eyes. Portlanders, he thought, always feel compelled to say something to you.
“Oh, hey, you’re that guy from the food cart, right? The knishes, right?”
“No better knishes in the Rose City!” Kevin’s enthusiasm was transparent, but not to the other man. Scalding water somehow alleviated Kevin’s indignation.
“You’re right. But – no offense – there isn’t a lot of competition around here. And I should know – I’m from Pittsburgh.”
Kevin’s increased annoyance pushed his eyes back. He hated talking about knishes with really anybody besides Angie, but found it particularly loathsome with tony douchebags from the “East Coast” (which usually meant Cleveland) who decry anything not hailing from the Carnegie Deli.
“Well, I’m from Passaic.” Kevin’s annoyance was not so transparent. He scrubbed his hands vigorously in the near-boiling water.
The man seemed not to know where or what that was. “Well, yours are definitely the best in this city. Almost reminds me of the Carnegie Deli.” He offered his hand to Kevin. “Nice to meet you, fellow transplant. I’m Thor Anderson. I work in the ODS building.”
Kevin’s mood changed abruptly from undisputed rage to inexplicable calm. He turned off the water and took Thor’s hand. “The ODS building…on Second?”
“Of course. That’s how come I know you. I pass your cart every day.”
They walked out to the atrium together. “I’d say, besides Canter’s in LA, your knishes are the best on the West Coast. Have you ever considered selling rugelach?” Kevin stopped in front of the now-empty phone booth; since he hadn’t listened to Thor since they left the restroom, he didn’t pick up on Thor’s mispronunciation of “rugelach.”
“Thor, it was great meeting you, but I really have to make a phone call. Stop by the cart soon. I’ll see ya….”
Kevin was already in the booth when Thor called out, “Why? Is your cell broken?”
Within two minutes, Kevin, more serene now, crossed Fourth, taking Taylor this time. He avoided Starbucks, the dreadlocks, and Thor – who was a block in front of him. He returned to the cart just as piercing bells rang from all corners of the ODS Tower. He tossed the muffin to Angie, smiling. “It was the last one.”
“I guess you were just in time.” Sirens joined the bells and an instant crowd formed in front of the cart.
First in line was Judy, a regular. “Hi, Angie. I just need a potato mushroom, please.” Angie snatched a fistful of napkins.
Kevin interjected. “So, Judy. What’s all the ruckus here?”
“Someone called in a bomb threat – I think, like, ten minutes ago. They evacuated the entire building.”
“That’s, like, the third bomb threat in the last few months. When are the cops going to stop taking this guy seriously?”
“They can’t really. Can they?”
© 2011 William Gardner