I'm at Radiator Springs Racers (Anaheim, CA) w/ 9 others [pic]: http://t.co/lWRuVkSa
|Ninety Percent of the Time|
|Written by Trevor Oestenstad|
|Sunday, 04 September 2011 00:00|
The fat man decided to get his picture taken. He had been thinking about it, about how there wasn’t a good picture of him on the face of the planet—not a single one. And now the doctor’s office had called him back saying that he needed to repeat his blood test, which was never good news, and the fat man wanted to make sure he had a good picture to leave behind. So there he was, the door of Snap Photo chiming behind him, the pimply boy behind the counter, and the fat man saying to him, “I want some pictures that are good as hell—please.” The boy laughed, threw back his head, and then he said, “Well, that is up to you, sir. Just—let’s—first get my manager.” He turned and walked to the back of the store.
The fat man thought his blood was bad. He knew his blood was bad, he could feel it inside of him and it felt like little needles scraping against his veins. Something was wrong with it, he could tell.
The boy and the manager, who wore a cowboy hat, came out of a door and walked heedlessly to the counter. Before they were within earshot of the fat man, the manager whispered to the boy, “Ho-ly—you sure were right about the blubber.”
“Good morning, good evening, good afternoon!” the manager said to the fat man, approaching his side and putting his arm around his shoulder. He cocked his head and smiled. “What can I do for ya today?”
The fat man tried his best not to look uncomfortable. He looked out of the corner of his eyes and said, “I’m—looking to get some pictures taken.”
“Oh-ho-ho,” the manager said, drawing back his arm and walking to the other side of the counter. “Snap some photos of you, huh? Well you’re in luck. That’s what this place is called: Snap Photo.”
The fat man nodded. The place wasn’t exactly what he had expected, there was this burnt-mustard smell, but he just wanted to schedule a time to take pictures and then come back and take them. He wanted it to be simple and quick.
“It’s your lucky day,” the manager said, his cowboy hat bobbing on his head. “I can snap some photos right up—right now, if you’d like.” He stuck out his finger. “But first, tell me, what do you like to do?”
The fat man frowned. “Pardon?” he said.
“Come on now, everyone likes to do something.”
“Well,” said the fat man. He looked at the ground. He thought about how he liked to step on cereal, because he liked to hear the crunch—but he wasn’t about to tell the manager that.
“I see what you’re thinking,” said the manager, nodding his head. “I can spot it from a mile away. How in the world is this relevant? I see what you’re thinking.” And then for a moment his eyes narrowed, and he slowly drawled out his words with extreme care. “You see, everything is relevant in the world, Misterrrrr—”
“—Milkes. Everything is relevant in the world, and the sooner you get to know that, the better off you’ll be.” And then the manager’s looseness returned, and he looked around with a grin. “And how is this relevant here, you ask? Well that’s easy. A lot of people nowadays will bring in guitars—have us snap them on their bikes or their ponies, with their dog or a football, whatever.” He paused and looked at the fat man. “So tell me. What do you like to do?”
Behind the manager, the fat man saw, the boy was nodding, like a disciple.
“Well,” said the fat man. He looked at the tiles on the ground. “Actually I’d just like to make an appointment to get my pictures taken and—”
“What do you like to do?” the manager said.
“—and just get some good pictures—” said the fat man.
“You like to eat, don’t you?” the manager said, angling his head, the right side of his mouth flipping up like a cowlick. But the fat man shook his head and began to turn to walk out the door, and so the manager said, “Woah woah woah, hold on there cowboy, hold on there.” He lifted the hat off his head, brought it in front of his face, looked into it, and then put it back on again. “By all means the intention behind my statement was completely misinterpreted. You simply strike me as someone who enjoys a rack of ribs, a nice slab of steak,” the manager said. “And I’m the same way. Is that bad?”
The fat man shook his head.
“So what’s the problem then?” the manager said, hunching up his shoulders and turning to check both sides of the room for the problem. “There are loads of pictures out there of people eating food.” He leaned over the counter and slapped the fat man on the shoulder, laughing. “So bring some food, Mr. Milkes, and we’ll snap a few pictures of you—but only if you want to. Let me remind you that it is not abnormal to take pictures of you doing the things you love. Just—and let this be an important lesson right here: Embrace what you love to do.”
The manager eased back and for a moment a memory came to the fat man, an early one, of his grandpa leaning carelessly back in his rocking chair. His grandpa had died when the fat man was four, and his family had taken the rocking chair. Shortly after the funeral, the fat man had tried sitting in it and his sister had screamed at him, “You’re going to break my memory of grandpa!” It was the first time, even if indirectly, that he could remember being called fat.
The manager interrupted his thoughts. “You know, life is sad about ninety percent of the time. Do you agree with me?”
The fat man thought this was true. He nodded.
“Life is sad about ninety percent of the time,” the manager said, and the fat man saw that the boy behind him was just about starting to cry. “My five-year-old’s television shows would make you believe otherwise, but it’s the truth: Life is sad about ninety percent of the time.”
He paused and looked at the fat man, and the fat man looked back at him without a clue of what to think, he just wanted to get out of there.
“Life does not have to be like that,” the manager whispered, shaking his head for a long time, so long that the fat man started wondering if he should say something. Then the manager began to nod, almost to himself, as though acknowledging the fact that there was once a time when he believed otherwise. But quickly he turned away. “We’ll see you when you come in for the snaps, Misterrrrr—” he said as he walked towards the back of the room.
“Milkes,” said the fat man.
“Mister Milkes. And don’t forget to embrace what you love to do.”
The fat man was pulling up to a McDonald’s window for a Double Quarter Pounder with cheese before he remembered about his blood test—that he needed to go back, and going back was never something good, it was always something bad. He looked at the hamburgers and cursed them, but he looked at them more, they looked so delicious, and eventually he asked himself, does it really matter? Ninety percent of the time. And then he ate them.
The manager, after the fat man had left the store, turned his head to the pimply boy and said, “Some fatty, huh?”
“Yeah,” the boy said. “Some fatty.”
Every time the fat man was at his mother’s he would see his pictures alongside his brother and sister’s, framed, in nearly every room of the house. His siblings had both been varsity athletes in high school, his brother a sprinter, his sister a diver, and they were both sickeningly fit. The fat man, on the other hand, looked like a monster next to them. The last time he was at his mother’s house he took every one of his pictures out of their frames, and he took them with him, ripping them up in the car on his way home and throwing them out the window to drift away in the wind.
His mother called him at home the afternoon he did that.
“Milford.” She had seemed to be on the verge of crying. “Why did you take the pictures?”
“Who said anything about taking pictures,” the fat man said, looking out the window.
“Milford—I’m your mother,” she said.
“I don’t doubt that.”
“I’m your mother and I love you.”
“I don’t doubt that.”
“I’m your mother and I love you and I think you’re beautiful, no matter what you think.”
The fat man’s face tightened. He looked out the window at a tree stump, just sitting there, no good to anyone, just taking up space. “Okay, go on,” he said.
“There’s no going on, that’s my point right there!” The fat man could imagine his mother’s shoulders heaving with every breath. “Milford, ever since you were a boy—just, why?”
The fat man was silent.
“Can you answer my question?” his mother said. “Can you?”
The fat man was silent.
“Can you say something?” his mother said, and the fat man was just about to, he was on the verge of asking why was he so fat, why wasn’t he like his brother or sister, why didn’t he have a rewarding job or a girlfriend or something, anything, that could engage him and make use of his talents—but the fat man said nothing. He just hung up.
His mother had called back three times after that but he didn’t answer. He knew that his mother would cry herself to sleep that night and then the next morning replace those pictures he stole with the replicate prints. The next time he visited she wouldn’t breathe a word about the incident, and neither would he, and she would just give him a pan of her famous triple-layered brownies.
When he was a kid, in middle school, the fat man would come home and eat. He couldn’t stop eating. He couldn’t do a thing about it. He would sit on his sofa and watch episodes of Seinfeld, of Frasier, of Murphy Brown, and he would eat Twinkies, he would eat Little Debbies, he would eat peanuts—bags of peanuts, the shells even. He didn’t even like the shells, why’d he eat the shells? Looking back on it, he realized he just wanted something in his mouth. His mother didn’t get off work until after six and his brother and sister were always somewhere else, always, and so it was just the fat man, sitting and watching television, and eating, by himself. God he was so fat.
The fat man liked to read. One time he was reading Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, he had it on the dashboard, he was at the drive-thru at Arby’s, trying for the first time the new Angus Three Cheese and Bacon, he was so excited. Then the cashier, a short little blonde girl that looked like she played softball, said to him, “Is that Miller?”
He was giving her his money. He thought about saying something, he felt he should, but he didn’t know what.
“The book—Henry Miller,” she said.
“Oh,” said the fat man. “Oh.”
He handed the girl the money. With the bills and change in her cupped hands, she waited for the fat man to say something, but he didn’t. He turned and looked over the steering wheel is all he did. The girl that looked like she played softball (in high school the fat man always loved to look at the softball girls) smiled, and then propped herself up and the folding window closed. The man had given exact change, and he drove to the next window to pick up his Angus Three Cheese and Bacon—which he was really looking forward to now.
Biking was something that the fat man loved to do when he was a boy. His father had taught him on the street while they were visiting his grandparents in the summer—he vividly remembered this. He remembered the brightness of everything, the fullness of all the sounds and the colors, the feel of the air. He remembered the touch of the wind as soon as he started pedaling by himself, as soon as his father let him go and rejoiced behind him, “That’s it, that’s it, that’s it!” He would ride up the street and then back down the street, a hundred times, but eventually his grandparents died. At the fat man’s house, the sidewalks were too bumpy, too full of people and garbage cans and any other things. And he’d given up biking. He still knew how to bike, he was sure he could do it if he tried, but he hadn’t biked in years. What happened? he wondered. And, what did his grandparents die of?
The fat man had his blood re-tested the day he was going to get his photos done at Snap Photo. He had hardly gotten any sleep the night before—he had just lied awake and stared at the ceiling, and soon his mind was whirring and thinking that he could feel Satan in his blood, Satan was killing him. He nearly forgot to wear his beige blazer, that he had dry-cleaned just for the occasion, it was pathetic that he never had any opportunity to wear anything nice. He picked up a Big Mac and fries from McDonalds, because he was hungry, and sine that manager had wanted him to bring food.
The door chimed behind him as the fat man entered the store and smelled the burnt-mustard. The manager, wearing his cowboy hat, was waiting for him with a slap on the back. Without saying anything, he called out to the boy that he’d be back in a little bit, and then he dragged the fat man to his van with “Snap Photo” painted across the sides and told him, “I got a place for the shoot—perfect place.”
The place was three stoplights away. They could have easily walked. The two-minute drive was silent. The whole time the fat man looked at a mosquito that had been slapped on the inside of the windshield long ago and had never been cleaned off. It was glued onto the window by its own blood. Then, the manager pulled into a parking spot on the street, and without saying a word he cut the engine, got out and pulled the side door open. He grabbed a tripod and a valise and then he crossed the street, and the fat man followed him. They went into a park. The fat man enjoyed all the trees, flourishing and sparkling with green from the sun. It reminded him of biking.
“Did you know, Misterrrrr—” the manager said behind his shoulder.
“Milkes,” the fat man said reluctantly.
“—Milkes. Did you know, Mister Milkes,” said the manager. “The other day my wife was driving with our kids. And, it just so happens that a duck and all of her little ducklings were occupying the road at the very same time as her. Do you know what happened, Mister Milkes?”
The fat man shook his head, but he thought to himself, life is sad ninety percent of the time.
The fat man and the manager were at a bench now—the manager stuck his hand out and smiled, encouraging the fat man to sit down on the bench while he set up the tripod. For some reason the fat man kept thinking about that mosquito, about how it was glued onto the window by its own blood—dead. He just wanted to get the pictures over with.
“Well, Mister Milkes,” the manager said. “My wife ran over those ducklings. She tried to stop in time, but she couldn’t, they scurried right out in front of her.”
The fat man sat down on the bench. It creaked and he struggled to readjust his belt and his undershirt, which was stuck above his right chest from a streak of sweat—the blazer was hot. He sighed. He thought about his blood test, and his mother.
“Funny how that happens, isn’t it. Mister Milkes, do you know what my kids thought about that?” the manager asked, bending down and opening the valise. “Can you guess what they said?”
“No—I can’t,” said the fat man. He was readjusting his pants, he hated how he always had to do that.
“Well, what they said was—” The manager paused while he clipped the camera into the tripod. His tongue was curled up, and his cowboy hat cast a long shadow onto his face. “What they said was—goddam camera—what they said was,” and then he stopped and looked at the fat man, square on. “Nothing. My wife asked what they thought about it, ‘What did you think about the little ducklings dying, how did that make you feel?’ And my kids—they said nothing.”
The fat man didn’t know what to say, the whole story was so random, so he just said nothing. He rolled up the top of his McDonalds bag in his hands, and the manager’s eyes turned down to it and his face lit up. “What you got in there—I hope it’s spectacular,” he said.
“It’s a Big Mac,” the fat man said.
“Tell me you got fries,” said the manager. “You got fries, right?”
The fat man nodded.
“And where’s your soda? Tell me you got a soda, right?”
The fat man shook his head. “No,” he said.
“Jesus,” the manager said. “Jesus Christ, what the hell were you thinking.”
The manager went behind his tripod, and then he assumed a sort of voice, like he was talking out of a cheerleader megaphone. “Now, Mister Milkes, let’s see you eat some food. You like to eat, remember? Let’s see you take some bites.” The fat man opened the McDonalds bag, reaching in and grabbing out a burger. “And remember, smile like hell.”
And then the manager snapped his photos, making little clicks. The fat man unraveled the wrapper of his sandwich, he was going to embrace what he loved to do, but he was only going to let the manager take a few bites worth of pictures, after that no more, no matter what he said. He needed some good pictures, after all. There was something wrong with his blood. But as soon as he thought this, a terrible crack came from underneath him, and immediately he was on the ground, on his back, the hamburger in his hand in the air. The bench had broken beneath him. But the manager kept on taking pictures, saying to himself, “This is great stuff, great stuff,” while the fat man struggled to get up.
A week later the fat man was eating a plate of sesame chicken from the Chinese store down the block, looking at the tree stump outside, watching a person bike down the street, thinking about how he hadn’t read a book in ages, and the telephone rang. He answered it.
“This is Snap Photo, am I speaking with Mister—”
The fat man recognized immediately the voice of the manager. The fat man didn’t say anything.
“Is this Misterrrrr—”
“Milkes dammit!” the fat man said. “How many times do I have to say it? How many times do you have to hear before you can remember that it is Milkes, Milkes, Milford Milkes!”
There wasn’t a sound on the other end of the phone for several moments. Then the manager said, “Remember what I told you about ninety percent. Everything’s relevant, Mister Milkes. Your photos are ready.” And then he hung up.
The fat man slammed down the phone and stormed to the kitchen and put his one hand on the table, and his other on his forehead. He had told the man he didn’t want any pictures, not of himself eating or flailing on the ground, he didn’t want any pictures at all, in fact. He would not go back to Snap Photo, he would mail them a check for their troubles but he would not take those pictures, he would live with the pictures his mother had in her house, he wouldn’t take them out and rip them up in his car anymore.
He was going to read a book. He was going to ride a bike. He was going to ask out a girl, dammit.
And then the phone rang again. The fat man wasn’t going to answer it, he thought it could be the manager harassing him again, but then he remembered the blood. He had to go back a third time a few days ago to get his blood drawn.
He picked up the phone, and on the other line: “Milford Milkes, this is Doctor Daniel’s office. We’re just calling to tell you that we have your blood test results.”
The fat man nodded.
“Can you hear me okay?”
The fat man nodded.
|Last Updated on Sunday, 04 September 2011 15:44|