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Pure As the Driven Slush (Personal Journal)
January 17th, Two Thousand Two: Jesus and the Mini-Mart

I just came back from dragging my sorry, tired ass to the mini-mart down the street to get smokes and to take the dog out for her daily walk and regular social endeavor. Some dogs, see, have obedience school, or the dog park, or even play dates with other dogs. Not my dog, nope. Sofia has fully acclimated into urban American culture and thus, the mini-mart is her personal place of worship and socialization. She isn't alone.

The mini-mart is a house of Middle-American cultural worship: a temple whose bricks are forged from our atrociously bad habits. The mini-mart celebrates cigarettes; commemorates coffee so rank you have to be an addict to want to drink it, and pay for that privilege. The mini-mart has magnificent rows of altars to bad habits: to candy, to chips, to "convenience" food binge n'purge, to overspending because of overconsuming, to lottery-playing. There is a mosque of soda pop and frozen pizza; a temple of analgesics and acid-reducers nearby. You can take a pilgrimage to not only meat-scarfing in all it's glory at the mini-mart, but better still, to mystery-meat eating. The community bonfire has ten different settings and "cooks" your food from the inside out with no waiting. In case you get bored during your daily mass, there is a television in the corner, which always features such inspiring cultural icons as the High Priestess Jenny Jones, the Reverend Montel Williams, the holder of the sacred scales of Justice, Judge Judy. Historical memorials lurk in the corners: glass cases of what once may have been fresh donuts or danish, what could have been a sandwich with lettuce (or mold -- green slime can be tricky to interpret) at some time, what might have been a greasy, artery-clogging breakfast for someone if given a chance a week ago.

24 hours a day is the mini-mart open for its parishioners, and the true believers solemnly kneel and take their daily communion of Reeses Pieces and Diet Coke. This is the body and the blood of Christ, who was born late one night in the Lysol and vomit-scented bathroom of a rest stop on the Kentucky/Ohio border when there wasn't a single room left in the Dan-Dee Dee-Lite Motor Inn. Not even at hourly rates. Three Wise Guys passed through the rest stop on their way to Gary, Indiana, and left the three sacred gifts: a bag of Huggies, a gallon jug of Gallo Rose and a half-smoked pack of Luckys. Auspicious times, these.

Years ago, I wouldn't have seen myself understanding or even finding cultural value in this phenomena, but as Christian Slater said oh-so eloquently in Heathers, "I've been moved around all my life. Dallas, Baton Rouge, Vegas, Sherwood, Ohio. There's always been a Snappy Snack Shack, anytown, anytime just pop a ham and cheese in the microwave and feast on a turbo dog. Keeps me sane." Truly, the mini-mart is more than just an eyesore, it's a symbolic manifestation of our culture. And isn't that just wonderful.

There are, of course, more than one variety of mini-mart: you have the chain and you have the indies. The chain is usually identified by a lot of fluorescent lighting , some sort of recognizable logo, it often is attached to a gas station, and there aren't regular customers, but passers-through. They are most often found on highways and main thoroughfares. if you're short cash, you're shit outta luck. The indies -- which I prefer, by a long shot -- aren't as clean, have strange names which at some point had some sort of relevance to their original owners, tend to be found not on highways or main roads, but in urban wilds, and are staffed mainly by immigrants and people in garage bands. The indies get to know you, making your daily pilgrimage a far more intimate experience. The indies will front you a quarter. They usually know your name, and don't even ask what you want a certain point, but simply hand you your poison, omnisciently. The indies are to the chains what a street preacher is to a television evangelist.

Our preacher is Sam, a very large Armenian man who tends to be rather stiff and imposing except in the presence of Very Small Pugs and freckly redheaded chicks, in whose company he becomes almost embarrassingly silly, but tremendously charming. His acolytes are a brood of black, white and pink haired tattooed women, two other staid Armenian men and one grandmother, who works the early morning shift and lives down the block, where she waves to Sofia when we see her on walks. They all call her "The Baby" and anoint her forehead with fingers still slippery from nibbled-on Slim Jims at every visit. Our particular temple must have once been intended to be named after the state bird, but at this point, covered in very surrealistic neon murals of circus scenes with talking flowers, "The Loon" takes on an entirely different meaning.

While I constantly kick myself in the ass for still smoking -- now for almost twenty years, and I really need to quit, I know, I really need to quit -- were I not a smoker, this entire segment of our culture, these mind-blowing social interchanges, these astounding places which are the great equalizer, in which we are all but pilgrims on our solitary missions, aided selflessly by the Sams and LuAnns of the world, would be unknown to me. Were I not an addict who needed to go to the closest place possible to feed my addiction before I collapsed with migraine or sucked the nicotine from beneath my neighbor's fingernails, I'd be a heathen without The Word (which I believe is "Open All Night," as evidenced in many of my previous sexual choices, though perhaps I misinterpreted it a bit). As would my dog, and on, but that simply would not do.

So I say unto you, lest you remain an unbeliever, the divine prayer of every mini-mart; those words which cannot be denied by any of us. From the flickering bulbs, like an all-knowing-eye, of the Quick Shop in Los Angeles to that little place on the corner in Ossipee, Maine, which no one remembers the name of: Non Calceus, Non Tunica, Non Beneficium.

Amen.

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