Al Batt: Halloween is a sugar-coated day until you lose a nostril

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

I remember the scariest Halloween of my life.

I worked the late shift at a gas station. Besides pumping gas, my job was to check the oil, check the radiator, determine if the tires had a sufficient amount of air, wash the windshield, windows and mirrors, check the lights, give directions, offer a free road map, tell a joke, collect the money and do it all cheerfully. I also sold pop, candy bars, salty snacks and cigarettes.

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I’d gone off to college to grow a brain on a work-study program. It was all good except for the work and the study parts. They were hard. My scariest Halloween didn’t involve someone tipping an outhouse, giving fruit as a treat or shining a flashlight under a chin to tell a scary story on a dark night. One night, I opened a door covered in cobwebs. It creaked menacingly as I opened it. I stepped into a parallel dimension. The stench still haunts my senses. My eyes burned and it knocked a nostril out of joint. How did I end up there?

I insisted I needed to be in bed by 9:00 like all college students, but my employer didn’t believe me. I closed the station at midnight. People wearing Halloween costumes had been in dire need of gas, oil, water, air, clean glass, lights, bad directions, maps and jokes. My boss told me when there was a lull in the action, I should clean the bathroom. If anyone needed gas, they’d summon with a horn honk.

Dun, dun duuun! I’d never seen him so much as crack a smile before, but after giving me those instructions, he cackled fiendishly and left.

Yes, my scariest Halloween ever was the night I had to clean a gas station bathroom. It was kept locked and could be opened only with a key firmly attached to an anvil by a log chain. After asking to use the restroom, few people were willing to recruit a football team to help them drag the anvil to the door and back. I knew of no one who, upon opening the door, availed themselves of the facility. There were stories of those who had entered and were never seen again. The legend was that on a dark, stormy night, their anguished cries could be heard.

A coworker named Crying Charlie told me he’d peeked inside once and that’s how he got the moniker Crying Charlie.

I thought of it as Pandora’s box and the source of my problems. As I opened the door and held my breath, I noticed an eerie glow like a lightbulb with a pull string hanging below it. It was a lightbulb with a pull string hanging below it. This wasn’t a job for everyone; it was a job for me, someone fondly referred to as deadweight.

The memory disturbs me to this day. The sounds of that door and the gagworthy stench. Was it Dracula’s resting place? Was there a coffin inside?

The owner told me that the restroom had never been cleaned as long as he’d owned the gas station, but he’d owned it for only 23 years. He said no health inspector in his right mind would set foot in that den of iniquity. That was back when a Port O’ Potty was something on a nautical chart.

I searched for a loophole. There was nothing more satisfying than getting out of a good day’s work, but I was a yo-yo without a string and there was nothing below my pay grade.

I’ve been told we should do one thing every day that scares us even after watching a YouTube video on how to do it. I was scared, but with a stiff upper lip and trembling nose hairs, I mustered all the gumption I could find and charged into the abyss. One lone man armed with only a brush, mop, soapy water and pocket lint in his blue jeans attacking dark forces. I was an egg battling a rock, but I fought the beast to a draw.

The next day, a professor told me my best days were ahead of me. Duh!

Triumphs last. Ties, not so much.

I didn’t even get a Pearson’s Salted Nut Roll.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.