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He was the kind of guy who could strike a match on anything. Cool and collected, light in his steps, not carrying around the burden of inhibition or the shadow of fear that the rest of us have hanging over our heads. You say speak for yourself, you’re free of such societal weights? Tell me that the next time a cop is on your tail. Or you’re caught stealing a glance of someone who tickles your fancy. Nope, Nathan was unlike you or me. He was truly free from the barriers that keep the rest of us in line. But he hadn’t always been as cool as a cucumber.
It had happened about a decade ago, on his birthday of all days, a pep in his step as he went about his day, which included a scheduled stop by the DMV to renew his driver’s license. Officially he had taken the day off from the magazine he worked for, but Nathan still carried his camera bag slung over his shoulder, as he had done every day since back in high school. After all, when you’re living your passion you never really have a day off, because who would want one, his camera always at his side just in case life presented him with a great moment to capture.
The lines at the DMV were moving along steadily enough, giving Nathan no worries that he’d miss his 12:45 matinee. It’s where he’d eat lunch; a hot dog, some popcorn, a drink, an annual tradition of taking in one of his favourite past times.
Window 6 was his last stop after going from one counter to another, all forms filled out, signed and ready to be filed.
“These two addresses don’t match,” the clerk behind the counter said.
“Oh yeah, I moved a few months back,” Nathan replied. “The one on the form is my current place.”
“Where’s your change of address form?”
“Excuse me?” asked Nathan.
“If you’ve moved you need to fill out a change of address form,” the clerk said, his tone now a little irritable.
“Oh, I thought since it was a renewal…” The look on the clerk’s face became more assholish. “When you move, you change addresses. That requires a change of address form.”
Nathan looked at his watch, still had time. “Ok, where do I find it?”
“Right where the sign says, counter two.”
Nathan shook his head a bit, wondering why such jerks took such jobs if they hated it so much. He collected his papers and headed for the new form.
More people were starting to show up, so to save time Nathan filled out the form while waiting in line, having it all done when he reapproached asshole 6.
“Change of address form,” he smiled as he set it down with the others, determined to stay happy on his special day.
The clerk looked through all the papers, then sighed. “Where’s your proof of change of address?”
“Your proof of change of address?” he said in an even nastier tone. “A notarized affidavit. A piece of mail, like a utility bill…”
“Why didn’t you say-“ Nathan stopped himself, knowing it was pointless. He snatched up his papers. “I think I have something in my car.”
He hoped he did, was pretty sure he had a bill or two in his glove compartment. He took a few deep breaths, looked at his watch. If he hurried he could still make the trailers, but would have to stop off by the bathrooms to rinse his now sweaty face.
What an asshole! He thought.
When Nathan returned with his proof of address there was now a line that would take off another 8 minutes of his special day. He had no choice but to patiently wait.
Back up at the counter he sat down his paperwork and watched intently as the clerk shuffled through them, a thought popping up in his mind just as-
“You need to get this copied,” the clerk said, handing him back the proof of address and pointing over to a copy machine on the other side of the room.
Nathan couldn’t believe it, was this some kind of joke? He was starting to lose his cool. “Why didn’t you tell me that before you sent me away from your counter for a second time, this now being the third?”
“Sir, there’s no reason to get hostile. It’s common sense not to hand over originals. That’s why the copy machine is over there.”
“But you couldn’t have just-“ Useless. It would be completely useless to try and reason with this asshole. “I wanna speak with your supervisor.”
With a slight roll of the eye the clerk said, “I am the supervisor. If you want to speak with the manager you’ll have to come back tomorrow, or you can just go to another branch.”
“You mean Sacramento?” Nathan shot back. “That’s two hours away.”
“Well..” the clerk snarked. Underneath it all they both knew this was becoming a standoff of ego. Frustration built up around Nathan’s heart, the rapid increase in pressure causing his hands to tremble as his mind raced.
I need this renewal now. The magazine’s sending me up the coast this weekend.
Without saying another word Nathan picked up the papers and went to go make the copy.
Back in line again, this gave him time to think. He knew from experience that this was the kind of situation that would stay with him for years if he didn’t do something to stand up for himself. He would relive it over and over countless times, playing the woulda shoulda coulda game and living with such regret for as long as memory served. But this asshole still held some power over him. Could still cause quite a headache by getting paperwork mysteriously lost or who knows what else.
I have to say something. Come on, what…?!
Back in front of asshole 6.
“Alrighty then, here’s the common sense copy,” Nathan joked, the look on the clerk’s face saying such an attempt at stand-up was bombing.
“You know,” Nathan went on, “I woke today in hopes of it being stress-free. As you can see on my driver’s license, it’s my birthday. I mean, I don’t put too much into it, but who doesn’t want kind of a peaceful time on such a day, right? I guess I’m just trying to say something as simple as a misunderstanding shouldn’t have to be blown out of proportion into something so negative, you know what I mean?”
“There’s no misunderstanding,” the clerk replied, “there’s just perspective.”
“Perspective?” Nathan said, confused at such use of the word. “What do you think mine is?”
“Only you can answer that. Some people have a lot to learn about themselves,” the clerk answered.
There went that increase in heart rate again. The only thing worse than an asshole was an asshole who also thought he was wise beyond belief.
“And what’s your perspective?”
“I’m just trying to do my job.”
“That’s understandable,” Nathan said. “But wouldn’t it be easier if you gave someone thorough information from the get-go? Wouldn’t it save everyone time, including yourself?”
“I know how to do my job, sir,” the clerk said, the tone in his voice once again defensive, “and it doesn’t entail giving instruction on common sense. Now if you don’t mind, there’s a line of people behind you. We’re all done.”
Damn was this asshole making it hard for Nathan to keep his control. He made a slight step to the side, a natural reaction of kindness towards strangers, not wanting to hold up anybody. So in that last split second he did the only thing his flustered mind could think of. He displayed the widest most contorted smile he could, like a clown on acid in a mirrored funhouse. “Have a wonderful day, asshole 6!”
Nathan walked away.
He hadn’t had time to stop by the bathroom and wash up, resigning to the fact that he’d have to sit in his muggy sweat and wait while the air conditioning of the theatre slowly cooled his skin. At least he had made it before the opening credits, cool Coke and warm hot dog and popcorn helping ease his tension as he settled in for some movie magic.
It was a spy thriller, and not that bad compared to the ones that had come out recently. But it was a scene in the third act that changed everything. While walking along a busy European street the main character used a nerve agent to take out one of his adversaries. It was clean, quick, and virtually undetectable.
This gave off a spark in Nathan’s mind like never before. What if…?
It had been a week since Nathan renewed his license. On the way back from his coastal assignment he had stopped off across the border long enough to do a little research at an internet café, then hit Mexico’s black market for a substance that could hemorrhage blood vessels in the brain while remaining nonlethal.
The liquid was now in a hand held rubber pump, small enough to fit in the palm. Nathan had practiced and perfected a fake sneeze with it, now ready to play out the mission he had first thought of while in that darkened theater.
Watching from across the street of the DMV through his telephoto lens Nathan spotted asshole 6 exiting the building right on time for his lunch break. Through dry runs he knew the clerk’s routine. He’d walk across the street to the strip mall and would either go to Burger King or Taco Bell. Today the asshole was in the mood for something a little spicy. Fitting Nathan thought, given that he also had something from south of the border to give him.
He’d make his move after the fuck had eaten, on the sidewalk where there were no CCTV cams, continuing to watch through his lens until the clerk finished up and headed for the bathroom. That was Nathan’s cue. He got out of his car and walked slowly towards Taco Bell, his head covered in a baseball cap, his clothes average, inconspicuous.
Just as the clerk had done for the past three days he exited the fast food joint and headed back to work, not knowing what he was really heading for.
The distance was closing fast, only a few people on either side several yards away. Nathan raised his hand to his face…
And just as the clerk reached a foot before passing Nathan stepped forward with his artificial sneeze while squeezing that little hand held pump in his hand and aiming towards his target’s face, the clerk instinctively throwing up his hands, but by then it was too late.
“Hey!” he shouted, wiping the liquid from his face. “What the hell?”
“Sorry, sorry…” Nathan muttered, not turning back as he headed for Taco Bell. It would take a few minutes for the substance to work its magic, Nathan hoping it would do so right when the asshole sat back down to window 6 to serve the next person in line.
He only wished he could see it with his own eyes, watch as the motherfucker was grabbed, clenched tight on one side by karma, wrinkling his face, his arm, his leg, and maybe even that little pecker between his legs. After all, he had already proven himself to be quite the dick. But going back to watch would have been too risky, so he’d just have to imagine as he sipped on his Pepsi and munched on nachos, the speeding sirens rushing past confirming that the plan had indeed worked.
Real-life characters were not like the fictional ones you watched in movies, no, they didn’t have character arcs, didn’t change for the better. They stayed assholes until their dying day. That is unless something, someone served as messenger, delivering a memo loud and clear that it wasn’t ok to go through life being such an asshole. That consequences would have to be in order, a thick slice of humble pie served up, and force-fed if need be.
Nathan was glad he had found a way to bring about justice to those who deserved it, no longer feeling the burden of having to kiss ass to any rude shithead who felt like dangling a threat over his head. He hadn’t felt this alive and energetic in years, never actually, never this free, the smile on his face so natural as he walked the hospital corridors towards rehabilitation with flowers and balloon in hand.
One more turn and he spotted asshole 6 at the end of the hall in hospital gown and robe, a rehab nurse guiding him gently as he took his time learning how to walk again, learning how to drag and balance on the half of his body that now looked like it had been dipped in death, rigor mortis-like, his right leg and arm twisted in stiffness, the right side of his face drooping as if it had been half melted off. The forever markings of someone who had suffered from a severe stroke.
Nathan stood back and watched with not an ounce of remorse but a ton of satisfaction, indeed seeing humbleness now on the side of the clerk’s face that still worked.
A few minutes later and the patient was placed into a wheelchair, parked to the side as he was to wait for another nurse to come and take him up to his room. It was at his point when Nathan made his move, walking over and putting atop his arch nemesis’ lap the flowers and balloon while bending down with that most widened contorted smile and saying with a loud whisper, “Have a wonderful day, asshole 6!”
He stood there for a couple of seconds before continuing on his way, making sure it registered, which it absolutely did, the working side of the clerk’s face trembling in recognition, realization. But who would believe him, how could it be proven, knowing in that instant that what had been done was done and no more could come about.
That was a decade ago, Nathan having since personally delivered his own form of justice to 74 more assholes of the world. Some had been from his past; childhood bullies, overpowering bosses, stuck-up bitches who hadn’t even tried hiding the fact that they felt they were so far up out of his league. And the rest had come after asshole 6, so quick to show off their super-sized egos and become part of Nathan’s shitlist. So quick to trade in their inner ugliness for a life sentence of being a living zombie.
He saw himself as a reflective being, a five foot seven inch mirror held up for all to take a look at themselves. For some they would find kindness, sincerity, love from a fellow human being, but as time passed more and more of the glances and stares turned out to be from evil eyes, and as a result Nathan never went long without grabbing life by the…