I borrowed someone’s car the other day, and when I was returning it, I went to fill it up with gas, because that’s how my family does it. When we borrow a pan from a neighbor we return it filled with pie, or cake, or—if it’s a bed-pan—urine.
When I went to fill the car back up, the Sinclair gas station writhed with business. Their logo has a dinosaur, some kind of sauropod, which I like. I like that they don’t hide their exploitation of extinct creatures, like other corporations do. That kind of transparency creates brand loyalty. The dinosaur in the logo does not have a face. I like that too. Sinclair is my kind of faceless, evil corporation.
I pulled up to a pump. When I came to a stop, I assumed that I had pulled up with the gas tank facing away from the pump. I knew in my heart that I’d pulled up the wrong way, but I checked to make sure. I had.
I pulled out, did a circle and came back to the pump. I had again pulled up with the driver’s side to the pump, gas tank facing away. I had a conference with myself. I needed to figure this out before I made a move.
The gas tank was on the other side, so I needed to reverse and then pull up to the open spot next to that pump. I talked myself through it, lips moving, deep in concentration. I executed the move, and pulled up to the pump. I was still on the wrong side.
I looked around, my face working hard to not betray my failure. No one seemed to notice, but I decided that, even though the tank was on E, I should drive to another gas station. There are plenty. We’re late in the Empire, rich in podcasts and gas stations.
Driving to another gas station felt like changing schools after junior high. I would get to completely reinvent myself at this new gas station.
I concentrated on trying to pull up with the passenger’s side next to the pump. I was successful. I don’t want to brag, but I did it. I pulled a car up to the pump with the tank facing the pump. To be honest, it wasn’t a big deal.
I got out to pump the gas, and found an “Out of Order” sign on the pump. It’s okay. I can do it again. I got back in the car. I meditated. I did it again.
I completed a circuit, and ended up with the passenger’s side facing an different pump. I tried not to act surprised at my continued success. I got out of the car and saw at once that where the car sat currently, the hose wasn’t long enough for the nozzle to reach the tank. I needed to pull up well past the pump in order for the hose to reach.
The pump I pulled up to was on the side of the station closest to the road, and there was a lane there—the route to the exit. In order to be able to fill the car, I would have to block that lane. I was willing to block the lane.
I got back in the car, feeling everyone’s eyes on me. I know that no one was watching me. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel their eyes on me. I pulled up into the lane, and as I did, a guy eating an ice cream drumstick in a Ford Focus pulled out of his position next to a pump to use the lane to exit the gas station. Someone else had pulled up to the pump behind him, and now I was blocking his way forward, so he was trapped.
I decided to ignore him. I went around and grabbed the nozzle. But, due to my powerful peripheral vision, I saw the guy in the Ford Focus make motions at me. They seemed angry. He used the ice cream drumstick in his angry motion, and the drumstick was a counterpoint to his anger. He was angry, but not so angry that he didn’t stop occasionally to have a bite of ice cream.
This guy didn’t have anywhere to go. A man eating gas station ice cream in a Ford Focus? That is a man at leisure, his evening spreading before him like an oilspot. Also, while I don’t have a lot of inner fortitude, I do have a strong subversive streak, and I don’t like being told what to do by people who haven’t explicitly and recently broken my will.
Before I got the cap off the tank the guy started to honk. And people started looking at me. He turned the crowd against me. The woman carrying a cup of coffee back to her car gave me half a glance. The guy washing his windshield threw a look over his shoulder for a split second. A baby gave me a hard stare. I put the nozzle back, and got in the car without filling up. I pulled away from the pump and left.
I drove in circles through town. I had a vague sense that I needed to find another gas station. I drove back past the Sinclair station before I realized what I was doing. There were open spots at the pumps. But this happened quickly. Seeing the writhing Sinclair station, I wasn’t sure that I was up to it. I hesitated and drove past the entrance. I decided to head to another gas station.
But then I thought about what it would mean. I would have overcome. My rational mind brought forward reasons why it doesn’t matter where I filled the car up. But my pattern-making mind, the part that helps me to recognize meaning and significance, told me that it did matter. Sifting this information took a while. I drove pretty far. I looped towards the mall. I looked at the mall. The mall felt oppressive to me. It’s a huge structure. I felt diminished by the mall’s size. I felt diminished by everything. I felt like I sat at the bottom of everything, with everything above me. And then I thought of returning to the Sinclair station and taking a step up out of the bottom of everything. I turned the car around.
As I guided the car back toward the Sinclair station, I passed two other gas stations. I gave them each a sly smile. I was headed towards meaning and redemption. I could see the Sinclair station. I could taste the Sinclair station. I could feel the supple breast of the Sinclair station. I prepared to make the turn into the Sinclair station. Before I did, I felt a sharp dip in acceleration. The engine spasmed and died. The hand on the gauge continued to point with sharp significance at the E. The car dribbled to a stop. I got out of the car. I looked at dozens of cars full of fuel, floating past.
I called my friend and let her know that her car was directly across the street from the Sinclair station. She had questions, like “Are you kidding me?” and “What the hell?” but I didn’t feel up to answering them.
I walked home, worrying about the wear that the walk would put on my shoes. On my way up a hill, towards home, I stopped worrying about my shoes. Because I had decided that filling the car at the Sinclair station would mean something, and I had failed, the failure swelled with significance. A large truck flailed down the hill. Maybe that I had failed meant that I should just step in front of that truck. The truck passed me. Maybe not that truck then. Maybe another. Another truck passed me. Maybe not. Maybe this one.