Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Pester Prophecy

There it is now, the once mighty gas station. Proof that life is bittersweet. That things change and pass away, leaving behind empty buildings with no respectable burial and memorial.

What optimism and pride they had going in with this station! Ozymandias come to life! Even though it looked small to everyone else, they were all up in your face about it: We're number 1! We can't be beat! Ha ha, even now I'm shaking my head. But I've never rejoiced in the station finally going down. I'm more an impartial observer of human nature and human pretensions, not a judge. It's just that I've just been particularly gifted (cursed?) with the longer range view, that always sees the balloon popped.

Of course people don't always like to see me coming, which I also understand. Honestly, it's true, prophets know the whole story. We're able to see not just the narrow truth of the moment, but the feelings others have about the process in process, that we're cranks. Sometimes you'd just like to keep your mouth shut...

In the last few days we had a weird May snowstorm. So I went for a drive around town to see it, and couldn't help noticing the forlorn former Pester station on its corner, which I've seen many times. But this time, with the weather and the snowy untouched driveway, it was a lot different than it used to be, years ago, when customers were in and out constantly. I remember the glory days, then the struggles to keep it going -- open and shut -- and finally what essentially became an abandoned site.

Looking back, I'm remembering a friend of mine, a guy from high school, who worked there. Back then,  you'd get a job and automatically think, This is it! I'm here till retirement! Nothing can interfere with my hopes and dreams! I'm young enough to trot out and pump gas! When I'm 30, I'll still be fast. When I'm 40, a little slower. At 50, my son will help me. At 60, I'm the patriarch, manning the register. At 65, I retire. But the gas station will be here forever!

Looking back, I started remembering the day the spirit of prophecy hit me, hit me hard, hit me good, hit me so good I shook like a leaf. You know? It's a burden. Dark clouds stream past your inner eye. You see something like murky waves coming against a dark indistinct shore and receding. You see something like bats fluttering madly in a cold cave, dropping disgusting guano everywhere. And you're scared, which then becomes perplexity, then there's a strange warmth, then confidence. Buttons start popping off your shirt; you're spiritually hulking out. Your chest is very hairy.

Well, that day -- in the early '70s -- I happened to be at the Pester station. My friend smiled broadly and spread his hands, as if to say, "What a magnificent place, huh? This is a vast, inviolable domain, the best that ever was. Like a fortress, the 8th Wonder of the World." I wanted to lie, I seriously wanted to run away, to sob and beg that this curse would be removed from me. But I couldn't budge. So I lifted my mantle and enclosed my friend there in the darkness. And then, between him crawling out to wait on customers and returning, just the two of us, with words to this effect, I prophesied:

This vast gas station that you see today, advertised ceaselessly on the radio -- "Pester, ding ding, It's a gas!" -- and indeed very popular, one day will sit deserted, completely abandoned. Those upright racks of oil, so neatly arrayed, will be gone, as will be all this merchandise: Cases of Pepsi, air fresheners, cigarettes, maps, the peanut machine and all the rest. The cash register, gone. All the signs identifying the station, the price of gas, and other in-store specials will be removed. And you, even though you're confident today, one day you shall leave in despair. There's more, much more, but the vision is fleeing.

Of course, he told me I was cracked. And maybe I was, but look again at the photo. Do you see any gas pumps, cases of Pepsi, signs, merchandise, a peanut machine, anything that would even remotely suggest I was wrong?

Before I left -- I remember this so well -- I approached him again and told him it was no pleasure for me to reveal these mysteries, but I was compelled. Maybe it was so he'd be able to envision his future differently and dream anew, or maybe there was just some other reason, unknown to all, just the spirits messing with us. As for the rest, in addition to reiterating that the prophecy would come true, I said, "You don't believe me about the station's desolation. Give me your phone number and someday I'll message you a picture of it."

Well, that really did it! He goes, "Now I know you're crazy! You can't send me a picture on the phone, Dick Tracy!" I had to smile; he wasn't ready for this one.

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