It was a little after 3, according to my cell phone, when I slowly maneuvered my tired feet into this small brightly lit Korean owned deli. The lighting was inhumanly bright. It lit up the racks of shiny packages of cookies and chips. I got to the beverage section and grabbed a six pack of Corona. The bottles made me perk up. They were long necked vials of fucking holy water in my book. The old Korean man and what looked like his wife allowed me to bring it all the way up and place it on the counter and take out my wallet before he yelled,
“LOOK!” and pointed to the clock on the wall.
I looked. The fucking big hand had betrayed me. It was a little past the 2. It was 3:12.
“Come on, the place is deserted. I’m no cop,” I said.
“LOOK!” he yelled again and pointed at the clock.
“Don’t ring it up. Just take the money,” I said.
“WILL YOU SUPPORT MY WIFE AND CHILDREN?” he yelled.
I was confused for a moment, then I understood that he was afraid to lose his liquor license or getting arrested.
“I’ll pay you $20 dollars for the beer. It’s only $7.99,” I persuaded, ignoring his side of the story.
“YOU WILL TAKE CARE OF MY WIFE AND CHILDREN?” he screamed in broken English.
“I just want my beer,” I said.
He looked at his wife then at me. He was silent for a few seconds, looking me up and down.
“OKAY, I RING YOU UP!” he yelled.
A huge wave of relief rolled through me. I had broken him . It was easy. He started hitting the keys. It was an old register. The kind where the numbers flip up like there are small female models holding up numbered cards above their heads. He hit the button. The bell rang. The register read $10,000.
“YOU PAY NOW!” he screamed louder than before and stuck out his small wrinkled hand.
“TEN THOUSAND!” he yelled.
I started laughing. He looked dead fucking serious.
“YOU NO HAVE? he said loudly.
No,” I laughed.
He looked at his wife. She looked back at him with a tiny smirk. He looked at me.
“OKAY. NOW I REALLY RING YOU UP!” he yelled.
He punched the keys again. The numbers flipped up. This time the register read $1,000,000.
“YOU PAY NOW! he said, reaching his hand out. “ONE MILLION! he screamed.
I started laughing hard now. He was still serious.
“YOU NO HAVE?” he yelled. “NO BEER THEN!” he added.
“Okay, you win,” I said, laughing. I actually liked the guy.
He looked at me. His eyes looked straight into mine.
“FUCK AMERICA!” he yelled, stabbing the air with his middle finger. “FUCK AMERICA,” he yelled again.
His wife was silent. He looked at me. He looked into my eyes. I was laughing hard.
“You are great,” I said to him.
I reached across and offered my hand. He shook it without hesitation. Then he smiled at me. A wise little grin.
“Have a good night,” I said.
Rob Plath is poet based in New York. More information can be found at http://www.myspace.com/robertplath.