The Cans, The Beckies

Years ago I had this job that I hated, but needed, so I put up with it. Most of the people I worked with were middle-aged, single women. They were day-to-day lifers of the job. They worked hard but hated working. They wore complacent faces, complained about bad husbands and embellished lottery ticket stories. Arriving to work first on Krispy Kreme Day or scribbling a signature for the shiny legged UPS man were goals. They devoutly watched Grey’s Anatomy. They were rescue parents. They didn’t sleep. And then there was Becky, a beacon of luster piercing through the fog of discontent. She was an irregular design of ignorance. Sweet, sweet Becky was a cylindrical and compact woman, blond, rosy, mid forties, single, JC Penny card, Food Lion at Thanksgiving, Church goer and don’t believe in guns but don’t want no terrorists shooting’ up her nephew’s school. She always smiled and we always flirted, not the “I wanna fuck you” flirting, but the kind you do with old people when you’re trying to be pleasant at a nursing home.

On an early morning I was making coffee in the break room. I was horribly hungover, that was typical protocol for tolerating such a job, and I couldn’t get the fucking coffee machine to do what I wanted it to do, which was to make my hangover go away and help me shit. My mouth could no longer clutch to moisture because the alcohol from the night before was a wool sock trapped in my neck. Water couldn’t make its way to my stomach. Becky walked in the room and saw me struggling with the machine.

“Russ, hon. What are you doin’? You know you gotta put one a them filter thangies in there, you can’t just put the coffee on the plastic part, sweet pea!” She tickled herself with laughter and reached into her golf bag of a purse and pulled out a 16 ounce can. I kept my head slightly turned away from her and breathed upwards to avoid poisoning her with some sort of alcoholic pollution. She moved in closer as she offered me the can.

“Here. You can have this. You like these? These are the best and you won’t need nothin’ else the rest of the day!”

I looked at the can and it reminded me of t-shirt/hermit crab stores at the beach. The drink was one of those off-brand MONSTERMAN BEAST MILK XXXL COFFEE BRAIN BLASTER drinks.

“Becky, if you weren’t older than my mom and three feet taller, I’d marry ya.”
“Oh shut it!” She grinned and whacked me with her purse. Lines like those were always my sweeper lines, especially if my actual wife, who also worked with us, was at hand. I drank that toxic glurp, punished a bathroom and my heart stopped for a little while. But I kept flirting, reminding Becky throughout the day how much of a lifesaver she was. And the next morning there was another can on the break room counter waiting for me. The next day it was the same. And the next day, yep.

It became an everyday thing and I drank the stupid drinks because it kept her smiling and we playfully bantered. I was tweaked and tired and occasionally shitting neon colors. I had the energy of someone on bath salts when I was on the can. That’s what the drink became to me, “the can”. I kept up and drank the god damn can like a god damn man because I just didn’t have it in me to tell sweet, sweet Becky that she was slowly killing me. The thought of hurting her feelings really bothered me. A few years and three or four shitty jobs later I was wondering around a grocery store looking for shoelaces when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Russell?! Is that you? Russell!” No one calls me Russell. I hate the name Russell. I slowly turned around. Becky was smiling and she reached for a hug. Jittery, crystalline images of the can coruscated from the toothpaste boxes behind her. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. She smelled like vanilla and popcorn on the top of her head; I could smell it as she squeezed my waistline and I thought it was an abnormal scent, but also agreed that it made sense she smelled like food.

“I hatten seen you in forever! How you been? How’s your wife, how’s Carmen? She’s so beautiful!” My wife’s name is not Carmen.
“She’s good! She’s doing really, really great. How have you been?”
“Oh, you know me! Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. My phone’s broke or’s I would show you pictures of the babies.” She means cats. Her babies are her cats.

“Oh, damn! Well, I hope those babies are just great! Well, it was great seeing–”
“You still singing?” I don’t sing, never have.
“Uhh, yes.” If only she could just go away. I want it all to go away. Just say lots of yes’s
because those lead to goodbyes.
“Oh, Russell, that’s great, hon! Good for you!”
“Yes! So, well, I have to just go on and get home. But, man, was it great seeing you!”

She kept smiling and my eyes wondered away from her face as I backed away, finally spotting the shoelaces above to the toothpaste. Fuck shoelaces. A few more years go by and I’m tending bar at a local establishment. One evening we were graced with the company of a work party and 20 people that love Chili’s and Alt Rock shuffled into the restaurant. Becky blended in beautifully and she was feeling crazy and ordered an “L-I-T” just like Billy, Brenda and Trevor. It took her a few glances at me carefully concocting her cocktail, but soon realized that it was, in fact, her sweet, sweet Russell behind the bar.

“Oh my god! Russell?! Russell Tyler! What are you doin’? I hatten seen you in forever! You better not tell no one that I’m bein’ bad and drinkin’! You know it’s your fault anyways! How’s Caroline, your wife? You still singing and painting?” You’re your own fault. Her name isn’t Caroline, we’re not together anymore and I do neither of those things.

“Yep! We’re good! Real good! I can’t complain! How have you been?” Please ask me to ‘make the drink strong like Billy’s.
“Oh you know me!” No, I don’t.
“Sure do!” I kept my head down the rest of the night and pretended there were important things for me to be doing on the opposite side of the restaurant. I pleaded with my co-workers to refer to me as Russell for the remainder of the evening and for once I was happy about the tattooed stain on my left ring finger; it backed up everything Becky believed about me. Becky laughed and carried on with her friends and drunkenly reiterated to me how excited she was to look me up on Facebook and that she was going to start coming to all of my concerts. That is exactly why my Facebook name is Tiller Russ. It prevents The Beckies from tracking down Russell “Canned Fury” Tyler, Singer/Songwriter/Painter, longlasting and loving husband of Catalina Tyler.

I think of Becky quite often. The cans. They’re everywhere. People drink them. Even the healthy, happy hippie EarthLife stores have AVOCADO KALE RUSHY RUSHER XLL drinks now. Adrenaline junkies have grown wings and pre-teen gamers with newly developed heart conditions keep leveling up. Smart people are putting claw decals on their Dodge Neons to display the pride they have for energy. In the beginning, Becky was a beautiful thing. Her luminous nature, her alertness, her kindness to others, her endearing ignorance and go-get-’em attitude were all just right. She was what the world needed just a little bit more of. Sadly, I hate her now. I fear her. The thought of her warm smiles make me convulse perform the road-kill shudder. When I see the cans, I think of Becky, but not Becky the Beautiful. No, this is a story about Becky the Bad