Wednesday, February 4, 2009

White Hen Pantry

It was the year 2000. Cars were flying across the sky, then folded into briefcases and carried into work. Robots were sassy, and not yet empowered.

It was a heady time to be in college.

One night in the fall--Homecoming Weekend, whenever that was--I was drunk at a house party and decided I needed a Hostess Cupcake. I shared my craving with everyone in earshot and a couple friends joined me for the expedition to the White Hen Pantry around the corner.

Not three minutes later, I bit into the first of the two cupcakes in the package, standing a few steps back from the register, waiting for my friends to select something before we headed back.

Two young black men entered the store--we'll call them Shorty and Tallboy--and were immediately under constant surveillance by the Cashier behind the counter. I watched as Shorty and Tallboy headed down the next aisle and started stuffing items into their jackets. Tallboy stared down the Cashier and held up a fist.

It looked something like this, but not quite as erect:

The Cashier--also black--stared daggers at them and shook his head as if to say, "Not on my watch you don't." He picked up a cordless phone and dialed 911.

Tallboy did not like this reaction. He held his stare and then made a sudden move, as if to lash out at the Cashier, who flinched. Tallboy laughed.
"Ha! Look at the little bitch!"
Shorty began slowly dragging Tallboy toward the exit, pulling him by his jacket.
"Come on--let's go. Let's get out of here. Come on."
A box of Ding Dongs fell out of Tallboy's coat and everybody stared at it. Tallboy made another sudden move toward the Cashier, who again flinched.
"Awww---the little bitch is scared. Poor little bitch..."
Shorty tugged on Tallboy's jacket again, knocking a few smaller items out of it. He scooped them up and put them inside his own coat, then resumed pulling Tallboy along.

At this point, the two thieves were standing right in front of me. I'm not sure, in retrospect, why I never moved from my post. It was as if I were a scientist studying the mating rituals of animals inside a thick glass cage.

As Tallboy continued his one-note taunting/staring contest with the Cashier, Shorty gave one last tug on Tallboy's jacket and pulled him out the door with him. Problem was, this last effort actually removed Tallboy's jacket from his body and it fell on the floor of the store.

The Cashier raced around the counter and snatched the jacket off the ground.
"Ha! Got your coat!"
He immediately retreated behind the counter and continued waiting on hold for 911.

Tallboy returned and went straight behind the counter. As soon as he got a hand on his jacket, the dispatcher must have picked up and the Cashier shouted into the phone.
"White Hen! White Hen! Man behind counter!"
About five seconds later, as the two men struggled for possession of the jacket, a 120 pound black Evanston police officer rushed through the door, reached over the counter, grabbed Tallboy by the collar, somehow yanked him up over the counter with one hand, threw him on the ground, and stuck a gun in his face.

I swallowed my last bite of cupcake and stared, aghast, from a few feet away, as the Officer struggled to handcuff Tallboy with his only free hand, in disbelief that he had his gun drawn for no reason.

Unsurprisingly under the circumstances, Tallboy was able to struggle free and bolt out the door. The Officer immediately pursued and, a few seconds later, I heard what sounded like a little firecracker, followed by low grunt/exhalation.


I walked outside and found Tallboy slumped against the wall of the White Hen, a bloody hole in his shoulder, a smear of blood indicating the path of his slide down the wall. He couldn't move. Or wouldn't. He just sat there, staring into space, saying "Ohhhhhhh..." every time he could muster the energy.

I went back inside to see what was up with my friends. More police officers arrived on the scene and came in for free coffee.

I found my two friends face down in the frozen foods section. They stood up and dusted off their hands.
"Did you see that?"
"No? What do you mean? You didn't see that?"
"As soon as we saw those guys come in, we hit the deck."
A police officer walked over.
"You guys want some coffee?"
"No, thanks--I don't drink coffee."
Another one walked over.
"You want some coffee? It's free."
"No. Can I have something else instead?"
He walked away without answering me. I followed him and overheard the following gem as he talked with a fellow officer:
"Man, he just got off suspension, too."
"For what?"
"Shooting himself in the foot."
'Fucking trigger-happy motherfucker,' I thought to myself. I mean, Tallboy was a prick, no doubt--and a not-so-successful shoplifter--but he was unarmed and if the Officer hadn't been so keen on sticking his gun in the guy's face, maybe he could've actually cuffed him and nobody would have gotten shot.
"You want some coffee?"
"Okay. So, you guys are going to have to come down to the station, answer some questions."
"Now. They're sending a car over."
Long story long, they took us to the police station and left us all in some weird conference room for a couple hours. The three of us were all in an Action Movies class together, so the topic of that day's lecture was fresh in our minds--Is Rambo Gay?

The other two argued back and forth about it, rehashing the evidence presented in class, the tenets of the action genre, etc. I simply stared at my remaining cupcake, until the following slipped out:
"I ate one cupcake and a man got shot. What happens if I eat the other one?"
"Just eat it."
"No. I can't. Something bad might happen."
"I'll eat it."
Some police officer eventually came and took us to wait in three separate rooms--"so you can't get your stories straight."

What the fuck? Not only were we clearly not part of some conspiracy, but you already left us in the same room FOR TWO HOURS!

The next two hours were even more mind-numbingly torturous. Every ten or fifteen minutes, somebody would come by and offer me coffee. The rest of the time I just stared at the wall, slowly becoming hungover.

Somebody finally came in and asked for my version of the events. I told him. He didn't believe me.

An hour later, his superior came in and asked for my story. I told him. He didn't believe me.

An hour later, HIS superior came in and asked for my can see where this is going.

Finally, around 8am, the Assistant District Attorney came in, freshly showered and ready to go. I told him my story--the same one--and he either believed me or didn't give a shit. He said I could leave.

As I rode home in the back of a squad car, at 8:30am on Homecoming Sunday, disapproving old alumni stared at me from the sidewalks on their way to breakfast, clucking their tongues, wondering what sort of endearingly-youthful trouble I had gotten up to last night. I wanted to punch them.

Mostly, however, I was super pissed-off that, instead of being able to sleep after this whole ordeal, I had to immediately walk two miles back to campus and sit in an editing room for the next twelve hours or I would have to take an incomplete in one of my classes.

Over the course of the next TWO YEARS, I would occasionally get a phone call from a lawyer, asking me again for my story, then telling me I would have to come to the trial. They even said they would fly me back from Boston, which I found surprising.

It never happened. Tallboy pled guilty; to what, I'm not sure--being shot? Attempted shoplifting? Being an asshole? Excessive use of the word 'bitch?'

Needless to say, every time I see a Hostess Cupcake or enter a White Hen Pantry, certain strange memories creep into the ole noggin.

And I never ate the other cupcake, by the way, which is probably why you haven't been shot yet.



Dana said...

maybe I missed it, but did you eat the other cupcake?

Goodtime Charlie said...

I didn't. I added a new line at the end to clarify this fact for posterity. Thanks!

LiteralDan said...

Great closing line to a great story-- I need to whack the pinata to see how many more spill out.

Dukes My Boy said...

I was in Paris. It was hotter than Kathy Ireland outside, so needless to say I was enjoying an ice cream cone as I strolled the streets.

A man rushed franticly in my direction and suddenly was tackled from behind landing near my feet. He then received a beat down consisting of a series of punches to his face, a couple kicks in his side, and some random obscenities in French. The man giving the ass whooping retrieved a number of items the other man just stole. (Consisting of a few t-shirts and other random tourist items)

I never budged, just continued to eat my ice cream cone throughout the event and at that moment I realized I was a little dehumanized to violence.

Was Jerry Springer to blame? The A-Team? It's anybody's guess really...

But what I'm trying to say is...sometimes the theater of life is so much more entertaining to watch, especially while eating ice cream.