Johnny America


Day Off


Illustration of a novelty gun with flag.

I drove my car to the park­ing lot and plunked it down right in the cen­ter, nine­ty de­grees to all the yel­low lines show­ing me where to park. It felt good. Why are you sup­posed to fol­low stu­pid rules like that? It was a hol­i­day or some­thing and no­body was around. I just sat there, smol­der­ing, glad to be off work.

But af­ter a bit an­oth­er car en­tered the park­ing lot, which sim­mered just like me in the mid-sum­mer heat. The hairs on my back stood up. He pulled around me with his tint­ed glass win­dowed Lexus very slow­ly and then cut right in front of me. What kind of mo­ron cuts you off like that? Then, still slow­ly, he went around to the back again and just wait­ed to see if I’d react.

I wouldn’t, be­ing wise to his non­sense. Then I heard him step on the gas, ease on the gas, and come around for an­oth­er spin. He drove around me as I felt the gun by my side. He was ask­ing for it. He knew ex­act­ly what he was do­ing. I hate Lexus­es. I hat­ed him. Who­ev­er it was had it coming. 

Again, he was be­hind me. He’d no­tice if my head turned even an inch to look in my mir­ror, so I sat there stock still, al­though my hand reached for my gun. What do they say— third time’s the charm? It was hot in here. I’d lost count.

OK, this was the third time. He came around once more and stopped along­side me. I heard his tint­ed win­dow go down, or maybe it was the breeze or a flock of geese or the cre­pus­cule of af­ter­noon col­laps­ing like a Dan­ish pas­try. No, it was def­i­nite­ly the tint­ed win­dow. I had to turn and look at him.

He was point­ing a gun at me.

It was Bob! Of course! Bob had a Lexus, and a gun. The bar­rel stuck out of the win­dow like an os­trich look­ing for ter­mites or an anteater try­ing to find some shade on the veldt. If I reached for my gun, I’d be a goner. So I sat there — a big dum­my like the Swede in the up­stairs room. I took all of this in with­out even turn­ing my head, just ro­tat­ing my left eye­ball un­til it neared my left ear. Slow­ly I turned. Bob was wear­ing sun­glass­es — Fos­ter Grants. I swal­lowed hard as he smiled vi­cious­ly. Some­where a dog barked or defe­cat­ed or chased a cat. Dogs are just as stu­pid as I was, sit­ting here, wait­ing for the end.

Our eyes met. Bob’s teeth gleamed in the sun like the grill of a 1974 El Do­ra­do. He cocked his pis­tol. Then he pulled the trig­ger and I heard…


And a white lit­tle flag rolled out of the bar­rel with one word in Times New Roman:


Even with­out the ex­cla­ma­tion point, the gun made a ter­ri­fy­ing state­ment, a man­i­festo of fear that went through me, all the way to my ass, which was drip­ping with trep­i­da­tion and some­thing else even gooier.

“Shit your pants?” I heard Bob laugh. “Boy, I got you good!”

“This isn’t fun­ny,” I said sharply. “It’s our day off.”

“Then why the heck do you come here? Look around, nobody’s here.” It was true. Our of­fice was shut. The build­ing was emp­ty. The win­dows looked back at us like buz­zards or diph­thongs or dip­shits or some­thing. No, dip­shits are what worked be­hind them, dip­shits like Bob.

“See you to­mor­row, dip­shit,” he said, rolling the ban­ner back in­to the bar­rel of his harm­less gun. “Go do some­thing great on your day off.”

Then he was gone. To­mor­row we would ig­nore each oth­er at work al­though work was the glue that held our lives to­geth­er, the cream in our cof­fee, the ic­ing on our Dan­ish. What else was there, for cry­ing out loud? It wasn’t like we had re­al lives. We’d gone to school so we could do this, fol­low some dumb rules un­til we croaked. I could go to bed in just six hours. Six hours, and the sun blazed over­head like a hammer. 

Wait! I just heard some­thing. Be­hind me there’s an­oth­er car. I know the sound of that ex­haust pipe. It’s a Volk­swa­gen Touareg. Sounds just like the veldt or the steppe or the fjord. My hand tensed on my gun.

Slow­ly I turned. It was the Swede! 

He looked at me with that sour look Swedes get af­ter suck­ing on Sour Skit­tles with that dust­ing of cit­ric acid. His mouth re­sem­bled a sink­hole. “I striped this lot the oth­er day. Here you go, dis­re­spect­ing my work.”

I no­ticed the yel­low stripes again. “It’s not your work, Swede. It’s the yel­low paint.”

“You have an au­thor­i­ty prob­lem, don’t you?”

“I have a yel­low paint problem.”

“They all say that — paint, sub­poe­nas, sanc­tions, stand­ing in line. Can I get you to at least turn your car around so that it fits in one of these yel­low spaces?”

“Swede you’re mak­ing a mole­hill out of a haystack. It’s our day off.”

“Pro­pri­ety nev­er takes a day off. It’s just that I was asked to do this, you know, and I thought I could make a dif­fer­ence. I thought some­how my ac­tions could lead to a bet­ter, more or­der­ly, more syn­chro­nized world.” He shrugged.

“You know Bob? He point­ed a gun at me.”

The Swede’s face changed. “A gun, in my park­ing lot? Now that’s serious.”

“He has se­ri­ous au­thor­i­ty prob­lems. He just left.”

And so did the Swede. He drove his car out in­to the hag­gard, weary af­ter­noon. I got out of my car, reached down and touched one of the yel­low stripes. The paint was still wet. 

What kind of paint stays wet af­ter two days? Now it was all over my hands. I wasn’t go­ing to get it on my steer­ing wheel.

I walked home. My day off was lousy. Some­where a syn­chro­nized dog chased a cor­pus­cu­lar cat wear­ing Fos­ter Grants. The good thing was I could come back here in about four­teen hours.

Filed under Fiction on June 2nd, 2023

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