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Lost Journal: Showdown at the Paper Towel Corral

Apr 132015
 By , April 13, 2015

Journal entry: September 19, 2010 (age 41) – Paper Towels

It was high noon when I dismounted my Honda Civic and ambled toward a lonesome cluster of buildings in the middle of no man’s land. A sign on the Pennsylvania Turnpike had told me there wouldn’t be another “area” for miles and miles. Needing some vittles before the showdown, I got some grub at the Roy Rogers.

The confrontation came when I most expected it. As I washed my hands in the rest stop restroom, I saw my nemesis in the mirror, waiting. I jumped around to face him, my hands dripping water onto the cold, dirty floor. “We meet again,” I said. “Well, this time I ain’t leaving ’til both my hands are dry. One tiny rectangle of paper towel ain’t gonna cut it today, ya stingy varmint.” He just stood there, wordlessly staring into my soul with that one, unblinking red eye.

I took a single, determined step forward. Stillness. Another step. Silence. With a third and final step, I was face-to-face with my adversary. As my head moved in front of his lidless eye, he made his move. It was his usual, mocking offer of a single, ineffectual scrap of paper. He knew it wouldn’t dry the left paw of a damp baby coyote. I snatched the proffered paper “towel” from his maw and growled, “My hands are still wet and you know it, ya dirty paper rustler!”

Before those words even left my mouth, I dodged out of his view. I went into a deep crouch, my back pinned against the cool tiles below his lowdown, high-up perch. Frozen, I held my breath for what seemed like half a season of Bonanza. I knew that son of a Cyclops was scanning the room for me. As he searched the opposing mirrors in vain, he must have asked himself if I had been a ghost. To prey on his fears, I suddenly thrust a hand up in front of his face, as if I had clawed my way up from the grave. But he stood firm, hanging onto his loot tighter than ever.

I stood and faced my opponent once more. “You like rodeo clowns, ya crafty old codger? Iffin’ ya want me ta dance, heck, I’ll dance!” I jumped, waltzed, and hoofed it like I was crazier than a cathouse full of penniless dogs. When it became clear my efforts to vary the speed, angle, and distance from his eye had not earned me more paper towels, I slumped against the wall, exhausted. “Motion-sensitive, my sweet Aunt Fanny!”

Just then, a father and son walked in. The father headed for the latrine, while Junior washed his hands. The kid, who couldn’t have been more than three feet tall, walked over and looked up at the dispenser. He raised his tiny hand in front of it, and then calmly grabbed the paper towel that came out. He brought that hand down, and then raised his other hand. He kind of waved it cheerily at my stoic adversary. Apparently charmed, ol’ one-eye gave the kid another brown rectangle. The youngin continued this technique until he had a handful of recycled goodness. Looking over at me and my still-soaked hands, he chirped, “Hey mister, ya need some paper towels?”

As I exited into the cruel, midday sun, I replied, “Thanks, son, but save ‘em fer your old man. He’s gonna need ‘em.”

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Buy your copy of "Lost Journal - the Book" at Each Lost Journal column is a journal entry written in retrospect. In other words, Mollen chooses a different day from his past, and writes about it as though it were today. The date may be last week, Halloween 1980, or the day he was born (May 4, 1969). Some of you may be asking, “But how would he have been able to write a journal entry on the day he was born?” To you he says: “Lighten up. It’s a humor column.” Mollen is a nationally syndicated columnist and actor, and he is available as a speaker on writing and humor.

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