For two whole years I somehow managed to drag myself out of bed at 4:30am, five days a week, to sell donuts. The hours were grueling, and the weight gain not helpful, but the owner of the store is a gem of a human. Had it not been for that there is no way I would have lasted more than a few months. Prior to this 4:30am was my bed time, but the doors of Daylight Donuts in east Iowa City opened at 5:30, so I struggled to adjust in order to maintain employment under a human being I respected and liked. In fact I liked most of the employees, most of the time, and plenty of the customers as well. But as with any service job, there’s always got to be a few regulars whose mere existence is a thorn in your chill.
I don’t think I ever liked Sal, but for a long time I tolerated him charitably, and found some perverse humor in his general character. Sal was a middle aged man of Samoan descent, who had obsessively played then coached football. So he had that authoritarian attitude, which when mixed with his bloodshot sugar addict eyes and morbidly obese frame, produced a fairly scary visage. Sal had a major habit. He had a tab that never dipped below a hundred dollars, and would put down two days worth of calories in donuts during a single sitting. I knew he had it bad, but after about a year I also found out his addiction could make him violent.
I always arrived early, even though it was already painful. I was very particular about readiness and displays, and I took that time to make sure the ship was set for optimum sailing before the doors ever opened. I had developed this habit because, on occasion, you would be massively busy right from the start and all alone for the first hour. Sometimes customers would arrive early and beckon me to open early for them, but I did not give in. There were hours posted very clearly on the door, and I was not going to blow what little peace of mind I had after waking up that insanely early on people whose poor planning or impatience made them feel entitled to push against a very reasonable boundary.
One morning I was going through all my preparations when I hear a knock on the door connected to the gas station. I was in the back room so I ignored it and went about my business. A minute later I heard severe pounding on the glass doors that connected to the outside parking lot, and went to investigate. It was Sal, and he was practically foaming at the mouth, eyes glazed and staring at me with death thoughts. I returned the expression and put up five fingers to let him know how much longer he needed to wait before I unlocked the doors and began sales. I was not looking forward to it at all.
When I unlocked the doors Sal pushed through in what probably counted as a flurry for his mass of angry flab. He then proceeded to verbally abuse me, which quickly transitioned into bizarre threats, which included him striking the glass display with his hand and cane. Sal at one point proclaimed that he ‘runs this whole west side of town’ and warned me that I had no idea who I was messing with. And boy was he right. We were on the east side of town. Not even the western half of the east side. Did the east side boss know Sal was claiming his territory and abusing his wards? Was this a legitimate membership in a criminal organization, or was he abusing his powers as the district representative of the west Iowa City Youth Coach Association? After letting me know how gangsta he was, the bloated carb junkie warned me to watch my back and said he would have me taken care of.
I have to be honest, I was frightened. Not because I believed the organized crime pitch, nor because Sal posed much of a physical threat. But he was clearly unhinged and extremely likely to own guns. He had already displayed such extreme behaviors that, like any hardcore addict, it seemed at least plausible he would seek some kind of insane vengeance. Scott, the owner, banned him from the shop, but I was still nervous for a few weeks. I began carrying pepper spray, which I do not recommend bringing to a gun fight, and made a habit of carefully surveying the area before getting out of my car in the morning when I arrived. Thankfully, I never ran into Sal again. He paid off his tab and was eventually allowed to purchase carryout orders when I wasn’t working. I FUGKN BEAT THE MOB!
Shortly afterwards I found out he was in a wheelchair, and not longer after he died of a massive dietary consequence. Part of me remembers him as a dangerous bully, while another remembers him as a sad man struggling to accept the loss of his youthful glory who was trying to fill the void with fried dough, and the latter now occupies more of my consideration. It is hard to remember this when you have been wronged, but nobody creates pain just for you, they’re just passing along whatever trauma they have previously received. Everybody is a vulnerable child just trying to get by using whatever twisted means they have absorbed so far, and are worthy of empathy and forgiveness. Unconditional mercy and openness to redemption are not just good for the world, they are good for those with the courage to practice them. But that doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally feel it would be justified to beat some asshole to death with a rusty shovel.