From Electric Arc Productions

Stories

Where friends from “The Keg” consider our next show’s theme.

The Dying Day of Travis Docker

By Maggie Ryan Sandford

The worst summer of my life was supposed to be the best. I was 19 — no longer a girl, not yet a woman, home from college and ready to make mistakes. But half-way through June, I found myself poor as shit, breaking up with my boyfriend of two years, and working dawn to dusk at two grimy jobs: weighing out sacks of cheese at a local pizza joint until noon, then biking across town to kiss the day goodbye from the shittiest poster shop in Seattle’s University District.

I thought I’d love being a poster shop girl. It was hip and hot; I got to blast the college-classics – Blackalicious, Exodus, Jimi Hendrix – and talk to cute boys about which Radiohead album was the best. I could steal all the weird unlabeled art prints I wanted (my proudest find was a photo-reproduction of the Shroud of Turin), and my boss was “down as fuck,” as they say. His name was Travis:  26-year-old, g’d up from the feet up in Puma kicks, Puma jogging suits, a fat zirconian stud in his ear.  He was from Philly, obviously, which – if you’ve never talked to a skinny white dude from Philly – made me feel like just hanging out with him was cool. In a criminal way.

When I applied for the job I hardly said a whole sentence before he whipped out a pen to do an interview right there: If I were a shoe, what kind of shoe would I be? Combat boots, I said, and he hired me on the spot: $7.50 an hour with room to make more if I did good, and maybe a bonus at the end of the summer. We shook on it.

“Girl,” Travis said, at the advent of our partnership, “This place is gonna be a palace, you got it?  It was a shit-hole when I bought it, right? Sixteen hundred dollars I paid the motherfucker, that’s it – with back-stock, and I’ma turn this shit around because I know what people want in their poster store. I got vision. It’s a secret right now, okay, my vision, but if you prove yourself, you’ll be in on this shit. You’ll be glad you hitched your train to Travis J. Docker.”

After a couple weeks, I realized that Travis J. Docker’s “vision” amounted to keeping the store stocked with every Scarface poster ever released, keeping the Nag Champa lit, trying to up-sell people on shitty plastic frames and back-stock Magic Eye keychains. And, when things weren’t going according to his business plan, the vision told Travis to get crazy on me. One day he’d waltz in on cloud 9, buy me teriyaki and let me hit the bong in the back room; the next he’d come in cursing up a storm because his girlfriend kicked him out and he had to sleep on the air mattress in the back room again, so I was scamming him out of his $7.50 and hour, and he’d fire me the next time he caught me cashing out a homeless dude for his cup full of pan-handling change.

One week, when business was particularly bad, Travis showed up with two sacks full of Puma gear and a brand new Boston Terrier puppy named Duke, which he proudly told me cost him 750 big ones. Apparently he’d forgotten that in lieu of my last two paychecks, he’d given me IOUs and half sacks of “super dank bud.”  But he seemed to be in a good mood, and quickly disappeared again, so I had a nice afternoon playing with Duke and keeping my high. Around the time I was supposed to get off for the night, one of the regular transient guys from the neighborhood shuffled in. He hung around the door for awhile, then kind of side-stepped toward the back room, and I – not wanting to get in trouble with an obviously distressed Travis for letting the guy use the bathroom – called out to ask him what he wanted.  He turned around and came up to the counter.

“Where’s Travis?” he asked.  I told him honestly that I didn’t have a clue. “Oh,” he said, and looked around, like invisible bats were flying at his face. “Tell him I have something for him.”  I said I would, assuming he meant that he had a nice fat middle finger for Travis, for Travis telling him to get the fuck off his property earlier that week, even though the city owned the sidewalk, and the transient dude told him so.

But when Travis came back, he asked after the guy. I told him what I knew, and he walked out again for another hour or so. And when he came back, he was WASTED.  I mean, eyes rolling around like cue balls, drooling, gagging, fucked-up with a capital fuck wasted. “I’m sick,” he slurred, and stumbled toward the puppy. “Duke,” he slobbered, “Duke, my man, you’re the only one who gets it,” and he scooped Duke up by the ribs and stumbled with him into the back room. A mother and her teenaged daughter walked in, looked around pleasantly, and asked if I had any posters of Tiger Woods.

“Yeah,” I mumbled and pointed, “In the sports section,” and I headed to the back room to make sure Travis wasn’t crushing the puppy or choking on his own vomit.

Travis lay spread eagle on the half-inflated mattress, Duke happily licking the puke from his chin.  “Travis,” I said, “I’m supposed to go soon. Are you gonna be okay?”

He tried a couple times to roll his eyes back far enough to look at me, then gave up. “That dude, man, that dude… he gave me some shit.” He waved his fist at me, and let me pry it open to find a crumpled plastic baggy with a few pills inside.

“That guy sold you this? That guy from the Ave? I thought you hated each other.”

“Naw, man, he’s helpin’me out,” he gurgled, and seemed to fall asleep.

“What is it?” I asked, “How many did you take?”

He came back to life, momentarily: “I don’know!” he yelled, and sounded like he was going to cry, “I don’ knooow… three-er-four? I’m dying.”

And here’s what’s fucked up about what happened next. Despite all the shit that this guy had given me all summer, the shittiest summer of my life that was supposed to be the best; despite the fact that he was a sexist, homophobic, anti-homeless-person-at-his-storefront-a-hole…the only thought I had at that moment was that I wanted to save his life. And not because it was the right thing to do – I don’t think so, anyway. Because if I did, he’d like me. I would save his life in a cool way, like in Pulp Fiction; I couldn’t call 911, I had to be cool. I would handle this right.

And I did, boy. Despite the limits of my knowledge of pharmaceutical drugs at that point in my life, I made him eat crackers and water, slapped him gently and checked his pulse every ten minutes and made sure he wasn’t drowning in drool. I kept the shop open until close and made $330 for the night. I even called my parents and lied to them that I wouldn’t be biking home until after dark, because I had to help Travis with “inventory.” Where the loyalty came from, I’m not sure. I just knew it was going to be epic: he would thank me, he would give me my bonus several times over, he’d respect me for the rest of the summer and invite me to hip hop shows. And he would gladly do these things, because we would have been through something together.  I would be the best worker and coolest chick he had ever known.

He didn’t die. But he didn’t give me a bonus either. Instead, I got a nug of weed and an iced coffee, and we never spoke of it again. Years later, on a walk down the Ave with my fiancée, we stopped at the poster shop to find it empty and covered with graffiti. The guy at the teriyaki place next door didn’t know what happened, just that the shop was boarded up one day, and no one ever saw Travis again. “I remember that guy,” he said, nodding up the street, “He was an asshole.”

Maggie Ryan Sandford is a Saint Paul-based writer with roots in Seattle and New York.  She writes fiction, non-fiction, humor, and short film, with a particular interest in the relationship between art and science.  Her work has been featured at ComedyCentral.com, the NewYorkTimes.com, on National Public Radio, and here:www.mnartists.org/Maggie_Ryan_Sandford.

Story Archive

Return of the Wee Folk — Maggie Ryan Sandford

The Party Animals — David Oppegaard

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