Working at a petrol station at the age of 35 may have eroded what remaining self-esteem I have, but it’s also yielded some excellent comedic material. The kind of stuff you can’t learn at university. It’s one thing, for example, to know that the dominant theory of humour in philosophy is currently the Incongruity model (surpassing earlier theories of Relief, or Superiority). It’s another thing altogether to have someone ask you why it is they shouldn’t smoke around 21,000 litres of highly explosive material.
Probably my favourite source of entertainment, as well as an insight into Perth’s seamy underbelly, are dumb criminals. For some strange reason, no professionals frequent our petrol station (or perhaps they do, and that’s why I’ve never seen them). Maybe it’s prolonged exposure to toxic fumes, but all of our light-fingered friends seem to be a few litres short of a full tank.
The other day I looked on with interest as a customer stuffed a king size Four’n Twenty sausage roll down his pants. This not only had the unsettling effect of making him look aroused by the time he got to the counter, but was also clearly burning his balls.
“That’ll be $19 for fuel,” I said, taking a leisurely amount of time processing the sale. “Anything else to declare?”
“Nah, man, nothing,” he said, scratching some stubble on his chin. “Nothing at all.”
“Nope. No pastries down your pants?” I said, glancing southward.
“Definitely not,” he said, his eyes starting to water.
I engaged him in conversation for a while longer – just enough to make him question his life choices – and then said, “Ah, just keep it.” (I don’t care what Mrs Mac says about rival companies, we did not want that pie back.) He went on his merry way, smiling at his good fortune and unable to reproduce which, judging by the “live hard, die young” tattoo on his neck, was probably a blessing.
At least that guy had the decency to try and hide his thievery. Once 10pm hits, crims seem to do away with discretion altogether. A couple of months ago, on a late shift, I watched as a burly teenager strolled around the store calmly plucking products off shelves and shoving them into his jacket. I stayed behind the console flipping through Woman’s Day and trying to figure out why – for the love of all that is good and holy – Prince Harry won’t just shave his head and be done with it. When I’d finished, I chucked the mag aside and yelled out, “I can seeeeeee you.”
He bobbed down. “Yeah, you.” I said. “You’re the only person in the store.”
He reemerged, slightly rattled. “I didn’t do nothing, man” he said, making his way towards the exit.
And like the stone cold badass I am, I locked the door.
I don’t know what compelled me to do it. Maybe it was his use of a double negative, maybe it was the “party with the girls at sunset strip” t-shirt. What it wasn’t motivated by was any kind of misguided loyalty to *undisclosed petrol station.* In fact, I’d made it clear to my boss from day one that under no circumstances would I attempt to be a hero. “If anything” I said, patting her on the back, “you’d probably call my work ethic anti-heroic.”
“Hand it over,” I said.
“Hand what over?”
“The stuff you stole.”
“The Powerades, for a start.”
This went on for a while, followed by what I can only describe as some “colourful” language. I stood firm, though, confident that my vigilantism would have a powerful corrective effect. After some more protestations of innocence, he finally produced a bottle of Powerade. In his haste, he’d nicked “Gold Rush” which is, hands down, the worst of the flavours. He knew it. I knew it. We all knew it.
“And the other one, too” I said. Out that came, accompanied by an entourage of f-bombs.
“And the rest,” I said, when he made a move towards the door. He proceeded to hand over several bags of roasted almonds, a car charger, beef jerky and a meat pie.
“Let me out, now,” he whined.
“Nah,” I said, pointing at the remaining bulge in his jacket. His beady eyes searched my face.
“What if I’ve got pepper spray?” he said, finally.
“You don’t,” I said.
He sighed, crestfallen, and pulled out a copy of the Quokka.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking how the hell is the Quokka still in print?? Your guess is as good as mine. What I can tell you is that you should think long and hard the next time you decide to get a dirty station pie for lunch.
It’s been places you wouldn’t believe.