Monday, November 07, 2005

Zoot Suit Riot

It was a loong weekend, y'all.
The Whatever called me Wednesday and asked me if I'd go to Maine with him this past weekend. I figured he was inviting me out of town to celebrate my release from Rhode Island. Then he told me that his friend's father had passed away after struggling with cancer for over a year and his friend had asked him to come up for the funeral. I agreed to go without hesitation.
"So where in Maine are we going?"
"Um, St. Agatha."
"Oh. Where's that?"
"Way the hell up there. It's about a nine-hour drive from Boston."
That is not an exaggeration.
I'm not writing to complain about this-- I know about losing a father, and I wanted to be there for both the Whatever and his friend. I knew it would be interesting to see everything, and I wish we'd been able to go north under happier circumstances.
"I'm going to drop my suit off at the dry cleaners tomorrow," the Whatever said on Wednesday, "and we'll leave right after work on Friday."
If only that had happened. Let me tell you this, dear readers, do NOT use Zoots dry cleaning. Do NOT.
Friday evening we pulled into Zoots around 6:30 to see if the suit was ready early so we could grab a quick dinner and be underway. The woman took the Whatever's name and went to look for his suit. Then she said it wasn't ready yet. When the Whatever asked when it would be, she looked in the computer. Then she pulled her teeth back in a grimace. Then she went to get her manager.
"We don't have your suit," the manager said.
"You don't have it? Where is it?" The Whatever asked, exasperated.
"I think it got left in Brockton. It mustn't have made the delivery today, because the computer says it was ready at 7:30 this morning."
"I need that suit. My friend's father just died, and it's the only suit I have, and we need to drive nine hours to get to the funeral. I dropped this suit off with the promise it would be ready tonight by seven at the latest. I really need that suit." The Whatever said to the manager, who assured him she understood. She went back inside to call the warehouse in Brockton. She came back about five minutes later.
"She's going to send a truck out especially to drop the suit off. It'll be ready by nine."
We both groaned, since we'd lose two hours of travel time while we waited. "You can't do it any earlier?"
"Believe me, I tried," the woman said, "I asked 'Can you do it by 8:30?' and she said, 'No, only nine.'"
The Whatever thanked the manager grudgingly, and we went down the street to have dinner. We sat and ate, still upset but not overwhelmed. Until his phone rang.
"Speaking... what? You what?" The Whatever said, his eyes wide. I thought his friend had called to say someone else died of shock the Whatever's expression was so grave. We were waiting for change from the waitress. The Whatever was put on hold or something, because he looked at me and said, "They lost my suit."
He ran outside while I waited for the change to hopefully get a better signal on his phone, and I sat in shock for a minute. I could tell how upset he was for his friend, and this was making matters way, way worse. I figured he'd at least coerce a free rental suit out of Zoots, because he's good at politely arguing with companies. I got the change and went outside, where the Whatever was demanding to speak to the woman in Brockton who was communicating with the store.
"I don't care what your policy is. I trusted you people to have my suit to me by this evening. You've already made us late for a very long trip, and I want to speak to this woman and find out what happened to my suit. No, I don't want your customer service number, I want the number of the woman who is in Brockton who may be able to find my suit. I'm really beginning to lose my temper with you."
Then, his phone cut out. The anti-Verizon rant is to come.
We got in the car, at a loss for what to do. He called the woman at the store back, who assured us the woman in Brockton would call us "in five minutes."
Ten minutes later, we were back at the Whatever's apartment. No call.
Twenty minutes later, we were nearly packed. No call.
Since the Whatever was so furious, he gave the phone to me to call the store and ask for Brockton's phone number. She still wouldn't give. I reiterated that this was the worst possible timing, and that we understood it wasn't her fault, but the woman in Brockton needed to call us and at least tell us what she planned to do to ameliorate the situation. It's not like we needed the suit next week-- we needed it two hours ago. The woman at the store said she would call the woman in Brockton again and reiterate how urgent the situation was.
I called Zoots' customer service number while the Whatever tried to make his casual-dress wardrobe a dress wardrobe. I was assured the wait time for my call was one minute. I stayed on the line for twenty minutes before my call was released without speaking to anyone. I called the store again to tell them I'd tried to call the customer service number they gave us and it had hung up and that the woman in Brockton still hadn't called us and we needed to leave now, and she put me on hold. Then the store hung up on me. I called again and got the closed message. The Whatever and I got into a fight and I nearly walked home from his house. We agreed not to fight and went to Sears to pick up some dress pants, a shirt and a tie (all of which had been with the suit). The woman in Brockton never called all weekend. Seriously. Do not use Zoots.
So, two hours after we'd planned, we were on the road to Maine. The weather wasn't bad, and traffic was light. The Whatever gets his energy at night-- he was singing along with the radio, talking about how mad he was about his suit, and he put me on moose-patrol. I made it until about Kittery before I was drowsy. We pulled off the road into a parking lot in Freeport and took an hour-long nap around eleven. We drove to Bangor, and stopped at the Bangor Motel to sleep for a few hours in a proper bed around two-thirty. We woke up to a foggy day, and got back in the car for the rest of the drive.
Luckily, we made it to the church on time. The funeral itself was in Fort Kent, which is literally about five minutes from the New Brunswick border. It was a beautiful, sad, Rockwellian small-town scene. Women in boots and sensible dresses in dark colors streamed into the small church. The Whatever and I looked slightly overdressed by comparison. The Whatever's friend came in before the service started, and they hugged like guys do, loudly and dramatically, with their hands thumping against the others back. We met his friend's mother, step-mother, and his father's friend from graduate school. I started to lose it.
I'm not much of a crier, usually. Some sad movies make me cry, but I'm not someone who cries every day. However, when presented with mortality, I can't keep it together. The Whatever and I sat behind a girl with her long hair pinned up sloppily with a barrette, who was already crying before the casket was even brought in. I started to tear up. The Whatever held my hand tightly, but everywhere I looked, something made me sad. The dates of his friend's father's life on the front of the program for the service, his entire life summed up in one line of text. The cross, the hymns, the Whatever's friend's stepmother's wet eyes. Tears ran down my face, and I tried not to sniff too much. I thought about how my Mom says you're not an adult until you carry tissues with you. I didn't even have a napkin or anything. I didn't even know this man, and I'm carrying on more than his son. I thought about my Dad, about my coworker who died a couple years ago from lung cancer. I thought about all the people I love, who will someday end up in a box like that, about me ending up dead. The Whatever's friend's dad, judging by the eulogy, was a great guy who loved to do things. Which is a small comfort, but proof that we're all going to go someday, no matter how vibrant we seem while we're alive. The pastor talked about how this man isn't suffering anymore, how we shouldn't be sad, how our sadness is basically selfish, and I'm thinking about how the entire service is selfish, how the entire religion exists to make us all feel better about our own eventual deaths.
Then we walked outside across the snowy cemetery, the dusting of snow kicking into my shoes with every step for the final prayers. The Whatever's friend stood between his mother and stepmother, his eyes red but not openly crying like the women were. The Whatever held me close as the leader of the choir of the church sang "Danny Boy". I caught a glimpse of the Whatever's friend's stepmother patting the casket one last time, and turned away so the people who had no idea who I was wouldn't see me sobbing.
The pastor then invited us to the dining hall at the college for some snacks. I hadn't eaten since a roadside stop for onion rings the night before, so I was glad to have a chance to eat. The Whatever and I walked over to his friend, P, who was standing with his mother.
"Mom, this is Whatever and his girlfriend, Amy," P introduced us.
"Gosh, it's nice to finally meet you," P's mother said. She was a cute woman, petite and small with big glasses and a soft voice. "P's said so much about you, Whatever. He speaks very highly of you."
"Well, thank you," the Whatever said, smiling, "I wish we could have met under better circumstances."
"Me too. This is my friend Carol. We taught for many years in Caribou together. Whatever, Amy, why don't you sit with us, if you'd like to?" I met a bunch of people-- the late father's former students, the professor who took over his classes when he was too sick to teach, P's friends from home. It stuck me how odd life is-- we all expect the world to stop when we die, that everyone will be out-of-sorts without us around. But the president of the college had to cheer on the soccer team. People had errands to run. The world continues without us, even for the people we love. P talked with the caterers, mingled with the well-wishers, talked to us about what we'd do later that night.
We followed P to his house in the potato fields. He pulled a twelve-pack of beer out of his late father's nearly-new Mitsubishi sports car and showed us inside. "I'll start a fire in my Dad's office and we'll sit in there."
P went out to find firewood in the garage, so the Whatever and I looked around the study. There were bookshelves built into the walls on either end of the room that were stacked with hardover books with the yellowed jackets still on them. A big mahogany desk sat in the middle of the room, with a big leather chair behind it. Naked porcelain statues of Reubenesque women were placed on the mantle, along with pictures of P and his sister as kids. A painting of a naked woman hung over the desk next to P's father's degrees from NYU and BU.
"That's a great painting," the Whatever said to P when he came back into the study with the firewood.
"Yeah, that broad's hot," he replied.
Later, P's friend came by, along with P's father's former student. We sat around the coffee table P's Dad had built, along with everything else in the room. We talked about small-town cops, how hard marriage is, how P's father went in and used to yell at the town cops for harassing him endlessly. It was nice to sit inside by the fire, just talking, grabbing another beer before the beer we were drinking ran out. A few hours later, we got into the Mitsubishi and went to dinner at one of two restaurants near P's house. P pointed out at least seven people he knew from growing up in the area. The Whatever and I tried poutine, which is french fries covered in gravy and cheese. P's mother came back and we talked about how the Democratic party alienates the working class by taking on social issues they're not comfortable with, such as abortion and gay marriage. I wish I'd been able to participate more, but the lack of sleep was catching up with me as I sobered up, and I just wanted to sleep.
P took the Whatever and I back to his house and unfolded the sleeper sofa for us. We slept late, and P brought us coffee and took us to Canada for lunch. He drove us through the small downtown area near his town, the smell of the paper mills in Canada and Maine filling the air.
"See those pipes? That's the unfinished paper. Since it's an unfinished product and Canadian environmental regulations are so lax, companies make the paper in Canada, then pipe it to Maine to avoid the taxes. It's cheaper that way."
P drove us across the bridge and we stopped at customs. Since the Whatever and I weren't from Maine, we had to pull over and go inside to get our IDs checked. The amiable old Canadian man named Shearer walked up to the car.
"Ah, hey, P, I read aboot your Dad in the paper. I'm sorry for your loss." I do not exaggerate the accent at all. He even said "Aw jeeez" with the heavy accent. We stood around as our IDs were checked, and Shearer loaded us up with bilingual informational packets about how to move into Canada. Thankfully, our IDs cleared and we ate lunch in Edmonston, which is even in a different time zone. We were way up there.
After lunch the Whatever and I got back in his car and headed home. We stocked up on coffee (for me) and energy drinks (for him) and rode home through the fog.
"I am not good at this whole death thing," I said to him. I was in a reflective mood, and tired, which makes me brood.
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I didn't know P's dad, and I lost it more than he did."
"That's not a bad thing," the Whatever said. "It shows that you feel. That's good."
"I know. But things like that make me wonder. The whole service says that we shouldn't feel bad, that his suffering is over, that he's in heaven. But the dogma just doesn't add up to me. I hate the whole dogmatic 'you have to pray and atone and jump through hoops to avoid hell' aspect. I think any God that created humans has to know that we're fallible, that we just do the best we can to be good people. I don't think praying and churchgoing should be the only thing that He considers."
"Well, as humans, we're used to needing to work for things while we live. We have to work for money, work for rewards. I think it goes against what we believe to think that we'll be rewarded for nothing when we die. We need to think that we sacrificed something while we lived to gain a reward later."
I sat and thought about that, as the Whatever talked about scientists and their belief in God relative to the field that they're in. He talked over the pop music playing quietly from the radio, and put his hand on my knee. And it was comforting to know that at least we've got good people while we're here, and I probably shouldn't worry so much about what happens next.

1 comment:

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