There was a solid wood door that divided the back room from the main office. It was painted a weird
greenish mustard color and had a large black sign with red letters that said "KEEP OUT!" Ironically, that sign
only applied to legitimate customers. The back room had a row of low-hanging fluorescent lights that buzzed when
turned on. There was a fuse box that we used to turn the canopy and pump lights on and off and also the pumps
themselves. We kept cases of oil, radiator, transmission and windshield fluid on the floor toward the rear of the
room. There was an air compressor that fed the air hose and a table where Frog had stacks and stacks of porn
magazines. The porn table sat against a wall on which several wooden boards were precariously mounted as shelves;
that's where we kept our pipes, syringes or whatever other loaded weapon we were using in our constant battle
against sobriety. Sometimes, we used the porn table to clean pot and it was usually covered with seeds, stems
and bits of pot leaves. Frog also had a small propane torch back there that he used to smoke pixie dust. I
always knew I was "home" when I'd walk into work and go into the back room to see Frog standing there sucking on
his "glass dick" with that torch blasting out flame to create flickering patterns of light on his pale face - his
sallow eyes concentrating intently on the crackling pixie dust like nothing else in the world existed.
The gas station had a constant flow of visitors and not all of them were humans... or pixies. One afternoon, I
had just started my shift. A customer pulled into the far island, which was Chris' that night but he was in the
back room smoking something. Personally, I always tried to do my job without letting the back room get in the way -
I'd keep an eye on what was going on outside when I was back there; some of the others weren't so considerate.
Grudgingly, I got up and went to get the gas going until Chris could find his way outside. I greeted the customer
and then went back to start the gas. I reached for the nozzle and saw something stuck to the side of the pump. At
first I thought it was a leaf but upon closer inspection, I realized it was the most horrific insect I had ever
seen. It was long, brown and winged. It had a large head and two barbed pincers that extended maybe two inches
and curved around at the ends. Frog named it "Mandible," creatively enough, and it stuck around the station for
several days before disappearing forever. Once, I poked at it with a small stick and it made some terrible buzzing
noise that sounded like something from the deepest pits of hell, then it clamped onto the stick with those pincers of
death. I was surprised by the force expended by that thing. I let go of the stick and it just sat there holding it
for a bit before letting it drop. I never bothered Mandible again, convinced that if that thing ever decided to go
for the jugular, it would be certain death.
Every summer, we were plagued with flies and some other insects I couldn't identify. The flies buzzed
around all day and night and could make things a bit annoying. I never saw the other insects alive - the only time
we ever saw them was when we opened the place in the morning. As soon as I opened the glass door, a wave of heat
would come flooding out of the building. That goddamn place wouldn't even cool off over the night. As the hot air
rushed out, I would catch a sickening sweet scent generated by a pile of dead green bugs that were only slightly larger
than gnats. I assumed they clustered to the light inside, which we kept turned on at night to deter theft. They would
be there in a circle underneath the light every morning and the nasty odor wouldn't go away until we swept the
carcasses out of the room and mopped the floor with bleach or Pine-Sol. One year, we had some very special visitors.
I had been seeing these spiders every so often and would mention it to Frog. "They're just wolf spiders or
something," he would shrug. I decided it must be OK. Frog was the most insanely paranoid person I had ever known;
if he wasn't concerned, I certainly had no reason to be.
One night, I was working with Chris and Stacy was there visiting. One of our regular pixie customers came in and
Chris went out to deal with him - I would never deal with the pixies. This pixie was particularly nasty - well, they
all seemed to be, but Stacy knew him because his children went to the day care she was working at. He was a "sausage
pixie" - the read sweaty variety - and Stacy said his kids were always downtrodden and looked like they never slept.
I couldn't imagine why. She said he was extremely angry with them whenever he picked them up. I could only imagine
the delights going on in that home.
Stacy and I had been playing around in the parking lot. She had grabbed a handful of pennies from the penny jar
and started throwing them at me. I chased her outside and we wrestled around a bit until we started feeling a bit
amorous. The back room wasn't only used for drugs; I'm fairly certain several employees had sex back there. It was
part of the rite of passage of becoming one of "those Phillip's guys" - it's how the place got into your blood and
vice-versa. It wasn't the most ideal place in the world for that sort of thing, but... sometimes pixies overran the
apartment and Stacy's dad was home and the back room did offer privacy. It was about 15 minutes until closing, so I
told Chris he could take off early and I would close up. I think he got the hint, not that he would have needed an
excuse to leave early.
Chris always took forever to do anything. Once he finally got all of his drugs and compact disks together
and left, I threw up the "closed" sign and locked the door. Stacy and I went into the back room and started kissing.
Things got heavy pretty fast and it wasn't long before her panties were on the floor and she was sitting on the porn
table with her black skirt pulled up. I got down on my knees and had my hands touching her legs but resting on the
table. I was there a few minutes when I noticed something tickling my right arm. I thought it was Stacy's skirt at
first, then I noticed a definite pattern of movement. I looked and saw a brown spider - it was close enough this
time that I could see it had a violin pattern on its back.
"Holy fuck!" I flicked my arm, sending the spider flying to some unknown landing spot among the cases of oil.
"What?!" Stacy asked, startled.
"There was a fucking brown recluse on my arm!"
I've never seen a girl pull on her panties so fast. She ran out of the back room brushing imaginary spiders off
of her arms and back and her long dark hair and shaking her skirt violently, "oh my God! Did it bite you?!"
"No... but... Jesus!"
I remembered back to when I was a kid and my grandparents owned a farm in El Dorado Springs, Missouri. We'd go
and stay there for a few weeks every Summer. They knew a family down there that kept an eye on the place when we
weren't there. The family consisted of a father, Jack, who drove an El Camino he was insanely proud of. It was
basically a pile of rusted junk. He had a wife, Carol who was a bit heavyset with shaggy brown hair and a mustache.
They had a son, Greg who went on to join the Marines. I was always a little leery of Jack. Whenever someone
complained of a pain somewhere, he would pull out his pocket knife and offer to remove the offending body part. My
mother is very pretty and he was constantly flirting with her. I remember once she pointed out how hot it was and he
suggested she take her top off, promising her he wouldn't look. Jack took every random opportunity he could find to
show off his leg wound - for which he would have to remove his pants. Usually, my grandmother would collect my
cousins and me and take us all into the other room until he was done. One time I got to see the leg wound. It was a
large, deep scar. It looked like someone had scooped out a chunk of his leg and then filled it in with a lump of
off-colored wax; it was caused by a brown recluse.
My spine shivered at the memory and I hurriedly brought everything in from outside and threw it in the back room.
Stacy and I left and ended up going to see "Reality Bites" that night, appropriately enough. As it turned out, we
were the only two in the audience; it was late and we had driven all the way to the other side of the city. I think
we were more interested in the drive than the movie anyway. Halfway into the movie, we ended up finishing what we
had started back at the station.
A couple of days later, I was paired up with Chris again; he had the Beastie Boys playing on his CD player. Justin
had just stopped by with the King Pixie, Junior, and they had sold Chris some pixie dust. He was in the back room
sorting it out on the porn table while smoking a joint. I was outside getting a customer.
I started the gas and grabbed the squeegee from the bucket, raised it over my head and snapped it down in an arc to
shake out the excess water - we only used water in the buckets unless it was winter, then we mixed in just enough
windshield wiper fluid to keep the water from freezing. In a few seconds, the windshield was dry and bug-free. I had
been at that place so long, I was a master with windshields and still am. I always watched the people as I cleaned
their windows - they would watch the squeegee intently, moving their heads back and forth as I scraped the water off the
window row-by-row, from top to bottom. It always reminded me of waving a piece of bacon around in front of a cat. Some
guys - and it was always guys and usually when they had a girl with them - thought they could do better. They wouldn't
let you touch their windshield. They would get out of the car, grab the squeegee (sometimes out of my hand) and a blue
towel from the bucket. They wouldn't shake off the excess water so they would splat the sponge side down on the window
and instantly make a mess, dribbling water all over the hood of their car. Then they'd carefully dry off the excess
water with a towel and every time they swiped the water off, they'd clumsily dry the rubber side of the squeegee.
Amateurs. I finished with the window and went to stand by the nozzle. Then I heard Chris calling out from the back
I went back to see what he was going on about and saw four brown recluses scurrying around on the table.
"What are we running a brown recluse hatchery back here?" I wondered, sarcastically.
Chris looked at me with glassy eyes and a stoned grin, "aren't those poisonous?"
"Yeah, dude," I shivered remembering Jack and his infamous leg wound.
Chris laughed heartily until his laughter gave way to an uncontrollable, hacking cough. It was one of the things I
really liked about him that he always appreciated the subtle absurdities of gas station life.
I decided it was time to break the news to Frog. I knew it would be difficult - he would be crushed, as though it
were some reflection of his management abilities that the station was now officially facing a brown recluse
* * * *
I never really understood why Frog took his job so deeply to heart the way he did. Even Bob and Larry didn't
seem to care as much about that place as he did. As I had suspected, he didn't take the news well. In fact, he refused
to believe me when I first told him and actually did take it as a personal attack. I don't know if it was the alcohol
or decades of drug use or both, but you never knew when he would just shrug something off or when he was going to be
completely emotionally devastated. I remember one key phrase from the conversation, mostly because it became gas station
legend and was repeated among the employees with snickering derision until the day I left: "Warren, this place is my
fucking life!" The passion with which he uttered that sentence was inspiring.
After a couple of days, though, Frog had seen the brown recluses for himself. It was only a matter of time, as often
as he hung out in the back room sucking on his glass dick. Now, it was up to Frog to convince the miserly Larry to spend
the money on an exterminator. I thought about suggesting to Frog that he try taking Larry in the back room, sit him on
the porn table and go down on him and see if that brought one out of hiding; surely then, he would be more apt to spring
for an exterminator. I decided I didn't really want to go there and, fortunately, it didn't have to come to that.
Larry called an exterminator and they came and sprayed the station down, the whole time telling Frog terrible horror
stories about brown recluse encounters. I could only imagine the insane paranoia that inspired.
The death-throes started slowly. At first, we'd see an occasional brown recluse run out of the back room, head outside
and die on the nearest lane. Then more... and more... and more... I have no idea why they did that, or how they knew how
to get outside. My best guess was they were running from the poison and could detect where there wasn't any. Sometimes
customers would follow us inside and chat while we ran their credit cards. These customers were usually irritants - after
all, they had probably interrupted some back room drug use. That made it all the more delightful to watch their reactions
when they managed to spot a couple of brown recluses scurrying toward them on their way to certain death outside.
"They're brown recluses, dude," I'd take a drag off my cigarette, "we're infested with them." I would smile, knowing I'd
never again see that customer following my ass inside.
Eventually, the poison worked its magic completely and the brown recluse war came to a merciful end with no major
casualties - or even leg wounds - on the human side. A new gas station phrase was coined that was used to indicate particular
annoyance with a customer: "I'll be droppin' brown recluses on your ass, biatch!" However, there were also lasting
battle scars - I would never again get Stacy into that back room.
* * * *
01. The Pervert
02. The Night the Retards Came
03. The Paranoid Schizophrenic
04. The Art Institute
05. Frog's Restroom Misadventure
06. The Pixie Who Destroyed His VW Van
07. The Hooker
08. The Old Woman Who Drove Backward