Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Slurpee Summer of '73

The guy is sitting next to me on the Metro, not standing behind a counter. He's reading a book, not cracking a fresh roll of quarters and camouflaging himself in the green, orange and red of an American institution.

It's the same uneasy feeling I get from thinking of Batman doing his laundry. This guy is wearing a 7-11 cashier's smock. But he's not in a 7-11. It's throwing me off a little.

It just seems a little out of context. Not as much as, say, running into your third grade teacher at the Love Pantry, but you know, weirdish.

I've always been a pretty big fan of the old Seven-E, the original convenience store. Need some bread, milk and nasal spray? Got you covered.

How about a pepperoni stick with that eight pack of Crayolas?

There was a period, I'm thinking sometime during the Nineties, when 7-11 advertised hot dogs by weight, like "Try or ninety-nine cent quarter pounder hot dog."

Oh, thank heavens no.

And who can ignore the store's signature, its slushy symbol of nuclear colored refreshment—the Slurpee. Across the land, people  of all creeds have bellied up to the inexpensive wellspring of sugar, ice and toxic coloring.

Males in my hometown, often representing the three prevalent ethnicities (stoners, jocks and stoner jocks) hoisted countless toasts together under the flickering, fluorescent tubes.

Every morning that summer of 1973, I'd stumble downstairs and into the dining room to discover what my teenager brother had abandoned on the table. Salivating like a crazed basset hound, I slid along the table on my elbows, pinning my face an inch from the artist's rendering.

Sometimes it was Willy Mays or Hank Aaron. One morning Lou Piniella, his boyish head capped in Kansas City Royal blue, sat waiting for a nice rinse-out. Other mornings, duds like Richie Hebner or Steve Blass would stare back at me, but either way, I'd walk to the sink, purge the watery Slurpee Seconds from the bottom and add it to the growing queue on my windowsill.

Okay, this is where you imagine that the guy who says the next sentence is Keith Morrison from Dateline NBC.

But it wasn't until forty years later that a chilling secret was revealed.

My brother, in a rare moment of lucidity, informed me that he'd fully intended to repossess the cups that summer. The local 7-11 had been publicizing a contest where the first person to collect the entire collection of Major League Baseball Slurpee cups would win an AM radio shaped like a couple of big dice.

Neat, huh?

My brother didn't win, but finished only five cups short of the radio. He insisted that had he won the contest, he'd have snagged those babies out of my room like a prison guard who'd just pulled the lid off a toilet full of raisin jack. Our fragile peace would have splintered and I would have been forced to wage a guerrilla war, seizing his comic books as bargaining chips in the holy war he'd chosen to incite.

No winners there, only broken lives.

Even now, an uneasy truce hovers between us. And while I trust this man implicitly with my own children, I could no more allow him around my Slurpee cups than ask Limbaugh to deliver a vanload of porn and Percocet.

That's why they're tucked safely away down in the basement. I think.

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