For thousands of years, mankind has regarded his metropolitan machines and great communities as perhaps the pinnacle of achievement: The epitome of civilization. However, underrated and lying by the wayside is mankind’s truly greatest achievement: The ability to transcend pure survival and run on emotion, to run on love. So, the setting of this tale is unimportant. It does start in a warm house on Jungle Road, nestled in a blanket of old, dingy snow and from there it may move north or south, east or west, but the idea remains the same. In fact, in that house a young, lonely man, known throughout his life and to the government as Benson Murray, sits on his couch in front of a blank television, wondering where he should go. Indeed, he had not the years to know that where you are going is not nearly as important as how you are going to get there. Regardless, Benson thought he was moving toward some sort of adventurous enlightenment when he slowly stood from the couch, put on his coat, and ventured out into the frigid, stagnant air to his car.
That day, the car was able to start on command, which, in the frigid weather, was new territory for the young Benson as he drove off into the setting sun. Just what was he aiming to do when he got to where he was going? No one could speculate. He had neither a facial expression, a song on his breath, nor any other cue as to how he felt. So, when he reached a convenience store, neglecting his turning single, the final destination of the zombie-like driver would have taken any external, casual observer completely by surprise (and such incidences came frequently enough for Benson as the scars on his car would promptly provide ample testimony had they the ability to speak). He marched into the store and without a word, snatched up some various flavors of candy (ranging the entire spectrum from sour to the sweetest of milk chocolates) and left as fast as he had come. As the car retraced its tracks back to Jungle Road, the young man tore open all the heavily packaged junk food and took a portion of each into his mouth. Even after satisfying his whim, he remained unemotional, unsmiling, thus seemingly rendering his candy raid completely superfluous and without purpose. Benson Murray reached his home moments later, well before he could even eat half of the sweets and sours, and upon exiting the car he threw the leftovers into his curbside metal trashcan. He entered the house, slowly took off his coat, and went back to his seat, now in the dark.
Benson Murray’s jaunt into the setting sun to retrieve candy (of all things) would seem wasteful and immature for a young man on a budget, living alone, but such was his life: Nothing but a series of forays into the world. Each was just long enough to secure a need and each ultimately ended with the young man shrinking back into the security of his personal world. And so, later that evening, Benson exited the house again. This time his car didn’t cooperate and took several turns of the key to sputter to life. Showing no frustration, he accelerated out of his driveway and onto the long, strait, level, treeless Jungle Road. As the car slid past browned snow banks and the deep crevices in the roadway, he adjusted his well-worn blue hat. It was a hat he neither despised nor exalted. It merely represented an obligation to venture out of the security of his little house on Jungle Road five nights a week and count, inventorying various retail haunts long into the darkness and alone.
Several moments later, he found his destination, Henry’s Book Sales, and after taking several minutes to squeeze into a parking space in the far back of the empty lot, he trudged through the heavy crust of salt outside the store and through the front door. There, at the entrance, stood a tall grim-looking figure with sunken, black eyes also in a blue cap. He wore a bright yellow t-shirt, but even that could not masque his scrawny meat and sagging, malformed parts. His arm creaked and snapped, extending a thick book listing every item in the cavernous, twenty-three aisle bargain bookstore. Without exchange, the Benson grabbed the book, found the first item in the glare of hundreds of sporadic florescent lights, and began to count: Part number: 45635NTS. One, two, three, four . . . It was four hours, five hours, six, and seven before the Benson could see the last item on the list: Part Number: 92364PLT-Special Edition. Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen . . . Fourteen copies. Check and done.
He walked back to the front of the store. The tall, grim-looking man, seemingly unmoved throughout the hours, slowly reached out with both arms, just as rigidly as before, and wrapped his long, bony fingers around the book. It was something of a miracle that his thin arms did not break this time under the additional weight of Benson’s pencil marks on each page. “Finished are we? We cannot tolerate error. Are we truly finished?” The young man waved off the tall figure. “I see then that we are finished. Be gone now. We will see us tomorrow?” The young man seemingly ignored the question and went on his way, back into his car, and back to Jungle Road.
It was late the next morning when Benson rose from his usual tepid slumber. Despite his shades in his small bedroom being completely taped down, small, relentless rays of sunlight seemed to find every gap, large and small, and cease the opportunity to cut through the stagnant air. One of the beams, as it did every sunny day, eventually focused on Benson’s right eye, rudely awakening him. On days without sun, Benson often slept hours further into the day and why not? All there was to do was to wash a little and eat a little before spending some quality time in front of the television and going off to work in his well-worn blue hat. Once awake, however, there was no going back into his dreamless sleep, and so he rose and went about his, and virtually all other American males’, daily routine of a shower, getting dressed, and a few sips of some reheated coffee from the local doughnut shop.
Without a clock in his bedroom, there was no way for Benson to know at what time he awoke. It wasn’t until he stumbled out of the attached kitchen into his small living room that he ran his eyes down past his fourteen-inch television and glanced at the clock affixed to a decrepit VCR. However, from across the room, its digital readout was washed out by ever increasing sunlight, spilling through a nearby, plain rectangular window. The hindrance was just too much to bear and Benson moved closer, using his cupped hand to shield the display. The digital display glared back at him, but was unreadable. Only bits and pieces of numbers glowed creating an incomplete message. The old clock was malfunctioning.
Having absolutely nothing else to do, Benson rolled up his sleeves and sat on the floor directly in front of the television. Whipping out the universal remote, which by this point in its life was held together by chewing gum and rubber bands, his thumbs went to work. He switched on the TV, careful to set it to channel three, and then entered the dreaded VCR menu. The menu’s pale blue background masked images concerted with a mildly amusing TV3 news report on the subtle differences between ‘pandemics’ and ‘epidemics’ and just how different states had planned to prevent them (Apparently, Wyoming was prepared for neither while Arizona was prepared only for epidemics. Who knew?). Benson hit the prescribed sequence of buttons to reach the ‘set your clock’ option within the menu, but when he went to press enter, the VCR simply turned off. Adjusting his posture, Benson again turned on the VCR and navigated the menu, but again the machine turned off.
Rarely was such an inconvenience thrust on the young man as this and so, lacking perseverance, he gave up on the clock, his only clock, and decided perhaps he would enjoy suitable bachelor entertainment, via VHS, and check the time later on a news network. Benson assumed the usual reclined position on his cruddy carpet and, with his free hand, placed his favorite seventy-minute exotic adventure in the yawning VCR. Expressionless as usual, he used the same free hand to reach across to the universal remote and press ‘play’. For those many souls still left in the world with technophobic streaks of varying intensity, the result of playing a video tape in such a decrepit machine that has already displayed at least one warning sign as to its overall health would have been obvious, and if it needed to be tested at all, perhaps one would choose Richard Simmons’ Sweating to the Oldies rather his or her favorite flick. And so, the machine churned its last and the late seventies classic, The Day My Rocket Crashed on Planet Pussy-Cat, was eaten in front of Benson Murray’s dull, unassuming eyes. A stuttering car could be overcome, but this problem just didn’t want to go away. Benson’s eyebrows rose in submission to his unlucky disposition. The rare expression remained on his face as he stood up, collected the failed VCR, and went out into the blustery winter air on mission to restore the status quo.
Moments later, Benson Murray was in his car, winding down Jungle Road. A solitary, ice cloud chose to pass over the warm sun and darken the route ever so slightly, but it was enough to take the luster off what snow remained pure white, untouched by grime and road salt. Benson knew of a repair shop not more than a mile away where he had done a small inventory six months prior. The shop’s storage room was small, perhaps no bigger than an economy-sized sports utility vehicle, but it was filled to the ceiling with twelve thousand two hundred fifty-six different parts, each with obscure twenty-character model numbers. Benson remembered having to spend two nights counting in the claustrophobia-inducing business; there was barely enough room to escape the stench of his rail-thin site manager’s adult diapers. And so the destination was engraved deeply into memory and the car itself seemed to shudder when the open road finally revealed the despicable structure.
Benson took his time to parallel park in one of the two spots along the street almost hoping that the store would be closed. Being a complete virgin of this sort of harrowing endeavor, the young man’s heart rate rose, his stomach churned, and his breathing quickened. Deciding to get the deed done as quickly as possible, he bolted out of the car in a surge of half-crazed resolution, nearly concussing his skull on the roof on his car. Unfortunately, the quick movement only heightened the anxiety and soon even his vision blurred. The condition was so intense that he nearly walked into the clean glass door with the clunky VCR taking up his arms. In front of his nose a neon sign glared the ever-welcoming salutation ‘open’.
Keeping his exterior cool, Benson threw open the door and walked straight toward a harvest gold counter that stretched across the narrow width of the store. He set the VCR down on an uncluttered section of the surface mostly taken up by a cash register and a mini fridge filled with soft drinks. There was just enough room between the exit to the street and the counter for a stiff metal chair with several red stains that could have seen use in some sadistic interrogation room in a former life. Seeing no alternative action, the young man sat on the cold, hard seat and began to tap his foot sporadically (He had no sense of rhythm or musical ability), waiting for service. It wasn’t long until he lost interest in the poster of a multipurpose wrench hanging on the wall across from the chair and began to take in unwanted intimate detail of the space. Behind the counter was a small area where an employee would stand and further still was a pale white wall, flawlessly smooth, that spanned from sidewall to sidewall and floor to ceiling. Built into the right wall was a plain wooden door that Benson knew lead into the dreaded back room. The carpet was primarily a dirty mauve with some sort of misshapen printed pattern that resembled flamingos or maybe, if looked at from a slightly different angle, teddy bears holding party balloons. There were spots where the underlying cement pad shown through the carpet giving it a cancerous, almost organic appearance. The ceiling was a mere seven feet high and made up of rank suspended tiles covered in brownish stains and spitballs. Interestingly, the highest concentration of spitballs was right over the counter. He hunched over in the metal chair, anticipating a long wait.
Suddenly the wooden door flew open and hit the counter with a loud crack. Benson, still looking at the ceiling, jumped to his feet and whipped his head around to meet his future repairman, but the subject in question didn’t emerge right away. Only the figure’s shadow was visible as it filled the pale white wall. It seemed to waddle and was extremely top heavy like some grotesque troll or stooped, elderly ape, but it was neither. In fact the figure that emerged was not intimidating at all in a fiendish sense. Rather, the shadow belonged to a young woman carrying a large television set. Taking minute strides to maintain her balance, she entered the small area behind the counter and quickly slid the TV to the floor. Scratching the tip of her nose, she turned to face an awed Benson Murray. Immediately, he was struck with a vision of beauty that he had previously believed to be reserved only for the starlets of his favorite movies: Her eyes seemed to glow a deep purple color as she stared and her lips were sensuous and moist as she smacked her fruity chewing gum. Her hair hung in curls off to one side where the thick strands rested gently on her petite shoulder. Her breasts, hidden by a glistening sweatshirt, seemed to heave up and down with her every light breath. “Can I help you?” Her voice was raspy but kind and filled chords of desire for attention, for satisfaction. “Hello? I asked you a question?”
Benson shook his head to rid himself of his inspiring vision and tapped the VCR on the counter.
She looked down at the ancient machine, “The VCR, huh? What is wrong with it?”
Benson pointed to the slot where his favorite tape entered, but did not emerge.
The young woman turned the VCR and glimpsed inside the slot, “It looks like there’s a tape stuck in there.”
“Judging by the model, this machine has got to be more than twelve years old. Is that right?”
Biting his lip, Benson shrugged.
“Well, it has got to be at least that old. With the cost of new ones nowadays you would probably do better to buy a new one at the department store up the street than get it repaired here.”
Sensing his time with the beautiful woman growing thin, Benson vigorously shook his head in disagreement.
“It might cost a lot more for me to get this thing running, maybe even four or five times more. Are you sure?”
Benson tried his best to look sincere and nodded very deliberately so as not to be misunderstood.
“Alright then. You must really like this geezer.”
Benson nodded emphatically and slid his hand gently across the edge of the VCR, all the while maintaining his trademark blank expression.
“It will probably be about a week’s labor. I’m not really that busy so I can devote a good chunk of time to this thing. Let me get your phone number so I can call you when it’s done.” She slid a form across the top of the VCR to Benson’s waiting hand. He quickly folded the form in thirds and shoved it into his jacket pocket. “No, silly! Put your number on the form.” The corner of her mouth perked up. Benson felt his cheeks succumbing to a flow of warmth as he dug out the form and used a nearby pen to scratch out his name and number. Handing the creased form back, the young man fought every impulse in his body to project some hint of emotion, but he found that he couldn’t suppress his every drive and for maybe the first time in his memory he lost all control of his lips and they curved ever so slightly taking a familiar crescent shape. The young woman eased the form from Benson’s fingers and matched his smile with her own toothy grin. She glanced at the form, “Well, Benson. I’ll be sure to give you a call when it’s finished.”
The young man exited the heavenly repair shop and onto the salty sidewalk, being careful not to run, skip, or make any other rash displays of happiness yet his smile still refused to stay hidden. He was only two steps toward his car when the lone ice cloud finished its close journey to the bright sun and the day became obnoxiously bright yet again, but the young man welcomed the way the light enhanced even the ugliest of objects such as his beat up car. Benson felt his anxiety move from his bowels and lungs to the many chambers of his heart. It was a feeling he did not know, a rush like no other, and upon pulling away from the curb in his car the young Benson Murray came to believe that his emotion was of the strongest, most enigmatic variety, namely love.
Later that day, after checking the time on one of the twenty-four hour news networks, Benson put on his worn blue hat and readied himself for yet another inventory. He pulled on his boots and heavy winter jacket with the usual ungraceful meticulousness and reheated more leftover coffee. As he did every evening, five days a week, he trudged into the cold of the evening and into his car. Not unlike any other time when the car’s services were needed, the engine grumbled and spat for five minutes before the small four-cylinder engine roared to life. Soon after, the car made its way down Jungle Road in the same swaying manner. Any external observer would see this event and on a macroscopic level would find no clues as to any change in Benson Murray’s demeanor, but there was one very subtle difference; one thing that would take a sharp eye to spot: Throughout his activity, Benson could not hide the smile he had picked up at the repair shop. With that smile, every action the young man now took seemed to have some inexplicable force behind it, some motivation and purpose. Despite playing out his routine with the exact same choreography, it now seemed like he gently slid his boots onto his feet, taking care to secure them so as not to later trip over the laces or trip some unsuspecting passerby. He now seemed to put on his jacket as though it was a suit of armor against the pessimism and evils of the world. Reheating two-day old coffee was not a disgusting, lazy act but rather a way to cut the time that his positive, Earth-changing views could set out changing the world for the better. A keen observer, then, would see meaning in the previously meaningless life of Benson Murray.
It was only moments later when Benson’s car reached his newest inventory challenge: ‘Food Mart Plus’. Pulling into the empty lot, he parked his car near the entrance and walked the short distance across a salted sidewalk and through the automatic sliding doors. Again, at the entrance, stood the tall grim-looking old man in his blue cap and white t-shirt (which still didn’t do much to hide his hideous malformations). His arm creaked and snapped, extending a thick book listing every item in the fifty-aisle supermarket. Benson gently removed the book from the old man’s long bony fingers and couldn’t help but to direct his smile toward his manager’s old wrinkle-filled face. The old man stood a moment, contemplating the gesture, and waved the back of his hand at his happy assailant, “Remember: We don’t tolerate mistakes. Make us proud!” Benson found the first item, confectionary apples, and started to count. This time the process seemed to go by in a blur. Benson found himself counting with such speed and accuracy (hopefully) that he was done with his half of the supermarket in only three and a half hours, a personal record. As he made his way to the front of the store, he noticed the old manager had an expression of skepticism and intrigue, “We can’t be finished can we? We cannot tolerate error. Are we truly finished?” Benson, still retaining his smile, nodded at the grim old man. “Very well. We will see us on Monday?” Benson nodded again and went on his way back to Jungle Road.
It was the next morning when Benson rose from a dream-filled slumber. His shades were now opened just enough to allow the sunlight to gently caress him from his sleep. He rose, stretching toward the tall ceiling and went about his daily routine of a shower, getting dressed, and a few sips of reheated coffee, now three days old. Immediately he went to the television to take in the daily news and learn about the world. There was a story that day about how the average American spent more hours gaming, through various mediums, than any other country’s citizens. The report suggested that between sports, video games, and bridge tournaments, Americans trumped all nations despite the fact that most European nations have mandatory month to two-month vacations for their employees. The reporter began a complex explanation of the sociological data collected for the story when the telephone rang. Ring. He sat frozen on the couch, knowing it could only be one person calling at this time of day. Ring. He slapped his smiling cheeks to get the blood flowing. Ring. Slowly, he rose from the couch, containing his excitement with heavy breathing. The young man could feel his stomach tie in knots, untie, and perform and even tighter double knot. Ring. He scuttled around the couch and into the puny attached kitchen as if he were stalking some sort of oblivious prey that was both deaf and blind. Ring. Finally, He reached the phone and held the receiver to his ear.
A familiar raspy voice emerged from the thin channel of the spiraled phone cord, “This is the Main Street Repair Shop and, Benson, I took a look at the machine and it was much easier to repair than I thought at first blush.” She giggled slightly. “Looks like you were right to have it repaired and not replaced. I’m thinking I’ll only charge thirty for this one. So come on down anytime today to pick it up.” Benson could picture her thick, moist lips mouthing each word as if each were an invitation to sweep her off her stout feet. “See you soon!”
Benson gently replaced the receiver on the wall-mounted telephone and stood motionless in thought. There was no way he could go back, take the VCR, and leave his beautiful vision behind to toil in the cluttered repair shop. No. He had to leave some sort of impression to capture her attention, to win her over, but how? He darted his eyes around the small kitchen from the plain blue refrigerator, to the microwave, and back across to the white electric oven. He couldn’t break another appliance! That would be potentially expensive. Perhaps something traditional, like flowers. Benson Murray’s mind raced back into his years of experience to a flower and gift shop near Main Street where he had once had to count greeting cards of all varieties from birthdays and anniversaries to ‘Maybe I was too hasty to propose so soon’ cards (For those special occasions when traditional communication could never cut it).
Benson quickly brushed his teeth, put on his winter attire, and skipped out into the cold, sunny weather to his car. The machine seemed to take longer than a constipated recluse to get going, but when it finally sparked to life, it roared with more power than on the day it was assembled. Moments later, the car had made its way to the end of Jungle Road and onward. The sun seemed to reflect off of every surface, rending the world somewhat thin and translucent. The way seemed obscure and complex compared to every other time Benson ventured into the real world. However, this time the world was his to conquer and the car pressed on in the chilly air to eventually rest in front of a local flower shop.
Benson looked longingly into the store front for some sign that would suggest the perfect variety of colorful plant to purchase, but nothing was obvious so he entered the store for a closer look. The inside of the business was filled with smelly candles, body washes, and flowers. Behind them, of course, were the thousands of greeting cards and small statuettes that he was charged with counting perhaps two years ago. To the right was a small kiosk where a short woman with thick, black glasses stood, peering over a cash register. She remained silent as Benson looked from plant to plant. There were bright orange flowers that seemed star-shaped and pink ones that were round. Indeed, the young man felt lost in a sea of pollen until he happened upon a small collection of purple flowers. They were very reminiscent of the beautiful vision’s violet eyes. He had to have them. Benson scooped up the bouquet and walked over to the register. Without greeting or small talk, the lady mumbled inaudibly as she punched several buttons on the register. “Nine ninety-nine, meestah!” she exclaimed. Benson threw down some cash and waited for the short woman to retrieve a single penny as change. Her hand made its way from the cash drawer, over to the left, and hovered over a tip jar. Benson took the penny in spite of the gesture, but the lady tilted her head and glared with a set of beady narrow eyes over her thick spectacles. The young man halted his hand from its course into his jacket pocket and dropped the penny into the jar. The woman smiled widely, “Thank you, meestah. ‘Ave a gude day!” Benson turned and left the store with a feeling of gloom. Was it going to be enough?
The car pulled out of the small lot in front of the gift shop and back onto the road. The repair shop was only a minute away from that place. There was only a minute to decide what he should do. Perhaps it wasn’t worth it to give the flowers. What if she rejected them? What if he were banned from the store and thus banned from his key to the greater world? So many things crisscrossed Benson Murray’s gray matter that he failed to notice when the car gradually came to a stop in one of the parking spaces outside the heavenly repair shop.
Suddenly, he was at his destination and unprepared. He leered out the window of his vehicle toward the front of the store and its bright ‘open’ sign. He could see a figure at the counter: It was her. She was sipping one of the soft drinks from the miniature fridge and leaning over the VCR. Her hair seemed to fall over the machine like it was chained in position, stuck to the burden of the hard work that she had put into it. Benson noticed that with every passing moment, she sunk lower and smiled less. Could she need me as much as I adore her? And so, fueled by this thought, Benson Murray exited the car and walked up to the repair shop, into the unknown, with the flowers neatly tucked into the flap of his jacket.