Any discussion of this short treat must focus on observable detail and rudimentary character. There’s little to be found by way of plot, but much to be gained from the innuendos forged on nothing, the implications of so many zeroes.
Our narrator—we know he has a name, because he wears a nametag—works the overnight shift at a convenience store during summer break in a college town. A sort of nobody in a no-place town at an unscheduled time of year. Perhaps he’s Mr. Zero.
For thirty-seven hours one night I watch through the glass front of the store as the few college students still in town for the summer walk back and forth between Town Pizza on one side of me and Big Boy Liquors on the other, buying beer to go with their slices and slices to go with their beer… The clock on the register doesn’t change for a very long time and I think I’m stuck in a time warp but realize it’s the total from the most recent sale. I switch it back to clock mode and discover I really am stuck in a time warp so I punch a zero and stare at that instead.
Here are his companions: a guy who stumbles in like a department store Santa; a hooker who doesn’t know this is the sleepy side of town; a couple musicians from lesser-known bands (the kind whose music is found on “tapes”, not iTunes—this is the ‘90s); Gloria, his boss, who straps “Mr. Zero” into his blue and orange apron and tightens it like a noose around his neck; Carl, the day shift guy; Benny, the ten-year-old with absentee parents and a quest for cigarettes; the guy with mayo on his shirt who informs Zero his present employ isn’t even good enough to be the worst of anything—you’ll have to read chapter 13 to find out which is the most dangerous job in America.
Then there is Pete, the homeless guy. A real nobody in a no-place town. Comparisons may be odious, if Jack Kerouac is to be believed, but the characters imprisoned figuratively in Himmer’s New England have their counterparts imprisoned literally in yet another part of New England: the Maine State Pen of The Shawshank Redemption. In homeless Pete, providing Mr. Zero both the inspiration for escape and the means of making it happen, I’m reminded of Andy Dufresne leaving Red with the means to find him on a Pacific beach south of the border.
There may be no observable plot in this midsummer zero-dark-thirty streetlamp contemplation, but the characters are doing something. The Second Most Dangerous Job in America, by accident or design, is a moving tale in which nothing can mean everything and a bunch of nobodies can live and breath just as surely as the rest of us. They may be moths in the summer night gathering outside a lonely convenience store, but their lives mean something.
The Second Most Dangerous Job in America
An Atticus Shorts Original
Atticus Books LLC 2012