I go to Wayne's for lottery tickets, a cold drink, or something I need—sometimes milk, beer for beer-cheese soup, M&M's that will push my diet's start date to tomorrow. The most I've ever won is $6 on the Powerball, but a few tickets are worth the money for a half hour of thinking about winters on the beach, a housekeeper to clean my toilets, and not having to worry if my son has a drug problem.
Wednesday is the day the smell of Hot Broaster Chicken floats from the door all the way down the aisles of motor oil and crisp bags of chips, even though they pressure fry it every day of the week. This must have something to do with the fact it's the day when the mail trucks ring the parking lot like an outline and deliver their carriers to a too-small table in the back where they pull wings apart and talk about I don't know what, except whatever it is, it's good with a side of poultry. Even when I don't go in, I like seeing the trucks there when I drive by. The U.S. mail is rain, sleet, and snow dependable in a way nothing else is. Even the stamps say Forever.
A lady with close-cropped hair and plump wrists calls me "baby," though she won't see hollows like mine under her eyes for 20 years. I usually dislike this from someone I don't know, but she is not that. We're friends, even though we've never had a conversation that wasn't held over an open wallet, and I don't know her name. When we talk, we're nice. "Print the winning ticket out for me," I'll say, and she always replies, "You got it" and smiles when she drops the change in the flat of my palm. She's never going to ask me about the patched-but-not-yet-painted holes in the wall at my house, and I'll never have to make up an excuse. [End Page 93]
For a long time, the Wayne's sign was his autograph, white cursive stretched across a circular sign above the ice machine just outside the double glass doors. But I never knew who Wayne was, never knew the place was for sale, or that it had a new owner until the day I stopped by for gum and the circle had changed. Cursive was replaced by block script. Wayne's was now Wuz Wayne's.
Though she is now growing her hair out, the lady who calls me "baby" is still there, the lotto machines are still spitting out two-dollar dreams, and candy still comes in share sizes, which I always like. It tells everyone watching me buy a snack, she's not eating three servings of chocolate by herself. She's generous and has friends. I should thank the Mars Corporation for providing that service right on the bag.
Not too long ago while I was waiting to pay, two guys my son's age lined up behind me and started talking.
"How come you didn't come to the party last night?" said a guy in a baseball cap clutching a cardboard-clad case of Bud.
"I didn't know about no party. Nobody told me," said his friend, shifting a pack of honey buns from one hand to the other.
"Aw man, anybody could of come. You shoulda just walked over. It was a good party."
"Who else was there?"
"Awww, I don't even know. I passed out cold. The cops came, but I didn't get arrested."
"Well, man, that's a good party if you can't remember nothing and don't end up in jail."
The day I heard them, the conversation made me laugh. I probably even smiled and looked over at the guys when I did it. Thinking about it now, I don't know what was so funny. That guy woke up the next morning, but not everybody does.
It seemed like the Wuz Wayne...