Not a party psychic who takes your ring and delivers messages from the Other Side, but a low wattage type where I get feelings that things are going to turn out good or bad. I’m rarely wrong.
A week ago, as I bought printer ink at the local Cartridge World, I sensed I should be doing the buying someplace else. I soon forgot about it. But not for long, because this past weekend I discovered at least two of the cartridges I bought were defective and the black replacement was the wrong size. I also got that renewed feeling that a return to Cartridge World for a refund would not be pleasant. It wasn’t. But then again, it wasn’t supposed to be.
As I parked in front of the store this morning, Dan was standing outside the door finishing off a Winston. Dan had helped me a number of times before the store changed owners. He looked like he always does – disheveled long brown hair, a wrinkled shirt, dirty jeans and long fingernails with black stains under them from filling ink cartridges. It’s hard to guess Dan’s age. He looks as beaten as an open-sea fisherman. He’s probably forty-five to fifty-five, and wasted from the inside out. But he’s always been articulate and polite to me, so I never felt repelled by his presence.
This morning, that feeling of dis-ease was all around me. It was in the air, and some of it was coming from Dan.
Now I have to tell you I live in a world of uncertainty regarding jobs. It’s called Hollywood and film projects never start on time, or many times refuse to start at all. This morning I got an email. My next movie will be pushed back even more, and I had already turned down another film to take this one. So I wasn’t exactly feeling cheery when I dropped onto the counter four defective cartridges and asked Dan for a refund. Dwindling money reserves was again a concern and I wanted some control back in my life, even for sixty dollars.
Dan surprised me, though.
Without a hint of argument, he agreed to return my entire charge. Humm, I thought. This is easier than I expected it to be… until he swiped my card and handed me the print-out for a sixty dollar SALE, rather than a CREDIT. I quickly pointed that out.
Control was slipping away.
Dan’s face blanched, even whiter than it already was. Seems the card machine needed a software upgrade and crediting back funds needed his manual entry. To Dan’s chagrin, and mine, it didn’t work.
He then said to me, “I’ve got a problem.” Upon which I replied, “No Dan. You don’t have a problem. I have a problem, amounting to one hundred and twenty dollars. We have to fix this.”
Was that rude and uncalled for? Probably. But I could sense that things were going quickly sticky and I was trying to get ahead of them. Silly. This drama had been put into place eons ago and I was committed to riding it out – all the way to the big lesson.
Dan called tech support, so I took a seat at the front windows next to three stacks of broken down printers and a small dog cage. A man walked in, presumable for a pick up, and waited to my left next to the wall. Dan didn’t notice. He was still on the phone.
The man was trim and about my height. But he had dropped his head, placing his hand in front of his face. It was obvious why. He hoped I wouldn’t see what he was hiding. But I already had, as he entered the store. And I can tell you, the memory of the film “Elephant Man” bubbled up in my brain, really fast.
This gentleman, about forty, had the profile of a concave face; no nose, depressed cheeks, what was left of them, a casing of thick and callused skin looking like the cratered surface of the moon. A four inch piece of brown tape covered what would have been the protrusion we all have which supports our glasses. Below that tape, where, on my face a mustache resides, were two slits, presumably for air intake.
I have never seen a more appalling mask, and this was a real face.
Yes, he was covering it with his hand, but this deterrent only brought more attention to his pose. Still, I pretended I didn’t notice. Dan put down the phone, the man crossed to him, picked up his order and in silent seconds, he was gone. In my mind, he was burned in forever.
For Dan, I have no idea what he thought. He seemed to be in his own world of hurt.
As I approached the desk, Dan explained that he had to call London to talk to the new owner, since he could not electronically refund my $120. I didn’t respond. I was still thinking about the man with the fright face, and how he must feel every time he steps into a store or diner.
Maybe he doesn’t.
A moment later, Dan handed me the phone so I could talk through the drop outs to a person from India. Apparently he had bought this business from Nathan, the original owner, and was now concerned he would loose me as a customer. Through his fast chatter, I tried to explain that I was late for work and just wanted the refund. But he insisted on enumerating a list of all the things that could be wrong with my printer. After ten sentences from him, and ten from me insisting, “It’s not my printer,” he finally said yes, he would pay me back in cash.
I returned the phone to Dan, who didn’t look at all happy. But I’m wasn’t either, as I told him that his new boss had authorized a cash-back payment. Dan muttered, “I know,” and opened the cash box.
Tears started rolling down his cheeks and he took off his glasses to wipe his eyes. I couldn’t believe he was falling apart over a refund. But he was, as he counted the money with moist, ink-stained fingers.
“I’m sorry if I got you upset,” I whispered, as I took the bills. “But I was concerned about the refund. And your new manager likes to talk. And I’m late for work.”
“He’s really a good guy,” Dan replied wiping his face again.
“What is it, then? What did I say?”
Dan sucked in his hurt. “My partner died last week and Nathan sold the business and now my whole life is a fucking mess.”
“Oh… I’m so sorry.” Those were my only words. And I was sorry.
But what could I do about the death of a loved one?
And someone who I didn’t know. Nothing, except leave the store feeling ashamed that I spent twenty minutes worrying about $120.
I can afford it. My life is the antithesis of a fucking mess. My face is not repulsive, all my body parts still work, I have a loving wife, good friends, my parents are still alive, the job WILL eventually come in, and I’ll sleep tonight knowing tomorrow will be okay.
I can feel that. I’m psychic. And hopefully, I’m somewhat wiser and more grateful for what I’ve been given: another lesson.
I thank Dan and the man with the hidden face for helping me become a better man.
I got the message. I won’t forget it.
(The names have been changed for this post.)