Walking up to a Tennessee gas station, I hit pause on my iPod but kept my earbuds in. It would have been too much work to take them out, shove them into my pocket, and then have to try to untangle the mess they would inevitably become. Catching my reflection in the store’s window, I realized how much I liked my shirt. It was a western-style long sleeve. I mainly wore it for its slimming properties.
I walked to the back of the gas station and found the chocolate milk. Taking out a few bucks, I strode up to the counter and placed the milk upon it. The cashier, a not-so-attractive lady reading a magazine, didn’t even look up.
“Watcho listenin’ to?”
I turned around and saw a boy about my age smiling at me. He was also wearing a western shirt, though it looked like he wore it for other reasons than I did mine. He swirled a toothpick from one corner of his mouth to the other. I thought about the question. My iPod had been on shuffle and had just started playing Elton John before I paused it. “No one you would’ve heard of,” I answered back.
“Hmmm.” He said, but continued to smile. The cashier had started to ring up my milk in a very exasperated fashion, not taking her eyes off the magazine. I must have been cutting into her personal time. “How about you, what music do you like listening to?” I asked the cowboy, returning the smile.
He straightened up, looking very dignified as he replied, “‘C’ is for country and that’s good enough for me!” He gave a nod.
I laughed loudly and replied, “Well… I didn’t ask for you favorite letter, but two birds with one stone, eh, mate?”
I don’t know why I said it. I’m obviously not Australian and don’t normally call complete strangers “mate.” My girlfriend was born in Australia, though I don’t think that makes me qualified to use Aussie slang on a regular basis. By the look on his face, he had not understood almost anything I had just said. The cashier was now looking up from her magazine and staring between me and the cowboy.
His eyes were squinting in confusion as he quietly said, “What birds?”
I slid over two dollars as the cashier rolled her eyes and began making change. “Never mind.” I told him, trying not to make eye contact. When finally the cashier had given me back two quarters and a dime, I turned around to leave but the cowboy was standing in my way. Confusion was written all across his face. Somehow in the attempt of holding a normal conversation, my knack for making situations awkward and uncomfortable had taken over once again.
“Hey! I like your shirt!” I said pointing at my own shirt, then his, trying to get his mind on a different track. His eyes narrowed. Obviously he didn’t get many compliments in his life.
“Wha?” he drawled.
I gulped. “Uh… I said I like your shirt. It’s very…slimming…” I had just dug my hole so deep that I popped out in China.
This seemed to be the most confusing part of the conversation for him as he gave up on trying to figure out what was going on and settled for just staring at me, a vein on his forehead pulsing violently. “Well…it was very nice meeting you.” I said, grabbing my chocolate milk and making a beeline for the exit. As I slipped out the door I looked back and saw the cowboy staring back after me, uncertain if he should be beating the living daylights out of me or saying thank you. The cashier had given up on the conversation and returned to her magazine, and was now most likely reading about how to lose ten pounds in ten days.
As I walked back onto the side of the highway I frowned at the cowboy’s inability to understand my awkward attempts at conversation. “Silly cowboy,” I thought as I pushed play on my iPod… “‘C’ is most definitely for Crocodile Rock.”