jesus and the mini-mart (2002)
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 the cholesterol ooze of
our 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 vice: to candy, to chips, to lottery-playing, to "convenience"
food binge n'purge, to overspending because of overconsuming.
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 its glory, but better still, to mystery-meat
eating. The community bonfire has ten different settings and "cooks"
your food from the inside out with no lines, no waiting, no Clan of the Cave Bear muck. If 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
true believers solemnly kneel and take their daily communion of
Reeses Pieces and Diet Coke. This is the body and the blood of
Christ, 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 gifts, 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 on 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, reverently. 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). 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.
© 2002, 2004 Heather Corinna. All rights reserved.