Pumping Gas

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The Pure Oil station had a round, old-fashioned stucco office with a more modern two-lift garage attached. Mr. Osborn showed me the list of prices for merchandise, explained how the cash register worked, and put a hand on my shoulder. “I hired you because that Sohio manager said you handle drive-up customers good. That’s your job here. Take care of them so I can do mechanical work.”

“Okay.” His $1.10 an hour was enough to inspire me. “Do we give out S & H Green Stamps like Sohio does?”

“We do not.” His hands went onto his hips and smudged up the waist on his bib overalls. “This place ain’t fancy. We sell gas and fix cars. That’s it.”

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Art by Ryan Florez

“Okay,” I said.

Everything went fine the first week, but the very next Saturday a car pulled up to a pump—the Pure Oil station only had two, the Sohio had four—a pretty woman rolled down her window, took a fag from her lips, and said, “Fill it up with regular and bring me three prophylactics. Oh, you might as well make it a dozen.”

It was broad daylight, and this woman looked normal. I stuffed my hands in my pockets. “Huh?”

“A dozen prophylactics. Rubbers, you know?” She smiled, probably assuming that big word had lost me.

“Just a minute.” I hurried inside. Mr. Osborn was under a car with thick, black liquid dripping off an elbow. I told him her request. “Do we sell those things?”

He nodded. “Yep. Didn’t I show them to you?”

“I guess not.”

“Damn!” He climbed out of the pit, drank at the water fountain, led me around behind the cash register, and pointed out several large, flat boxes containing rows of little square, oddly colored plastic envelopes. “What kind?”

“She didn’t say.”

“Ask her and there they are. Prices are on the boxes. Find out what size she wants too, large or regular.”

I couldn’t imagine asking for make or, worse, size, couldn’t imagine even saying prophylactic let alone rubber to her. The entire subject of sex was verboten at home. This woman’s words had me goggle-eyed.

“Well, go ahead,” Mr. Osborn said.

My arms crossed over my chest. “I can’t. It’s against my religion. Catholics don’t believe in using those things.”

“For Pete’s sake! The lady’s waiting for you. Go on.”

I stood there like a mule. This situation matched one we’d discussed in a Catechism class about society’s temptations.

The man shook his head and smashed his cigar stub under a heel. “I’ll take care of this one myself.”

He filled the car’s gasoline tank, spoke with the lady, took money from her, came inside, rang up the sale, put a dozen square plastic packages from one of the boxes into a brown paper sack, and held the sack up. “She wanted Trojan regulars.”

He went back out, gave her the sack, came back in and stopped in front of me again. I leaned sideways in order to watch the sexed-up woman drive away.

Mr. Osborn tapped my shoulder. “Hey, it’s your job to sell customers what they want.”

I glanced at the boxes on the shelf. “I can’t give customers those things.”

He shrugged. “Then what good are you to me?”

“It’s just those things I won’t sell.”

“So I’d have to stop what I’m doing to get the God damn rubbers whenever somebody wanted one?” He shook his head.

Leaving here would make two jobs in a row that ended too quickly. I’d quit Sohio over a money issue. “You got any other kind of work I can do?”

Osborn grunted in disgust. “I didn’t think you’d last.” He wiped off his hands, opened the till and handed me two tens. “Close enough? I’m pumping gas myself these days and don’t have time right now to add up your hours exactly.”

I nodded. “Okay, but could you give me a twenty instead.” I was piling 20s together in my dresser at home.

He stared at me, then did it.

How to explain losing this job so quickly at the next business I applied to? Would moral considerations impress anyone? I shook my head. No, I’d just not mention this Pure Oil station job. “Pure?” How ironic. I still had Sohio’s letter of recommendation and would go from there. I’d done what was right and that was that. Like Don Quixote on one of his crusades, I pedaled my bike home, proud of myself.

 

About the Author:

Bill Vernon studied English literature, then taught it. His work has appeared in Ginosko, The Brooklyner, and The Circle Review. You can catch him playing Uncle Sam in Dayton, Ohio’s annual spring festival A World A’Fair.