I’m tired. I’m always tired lately. I’ve finished living, if you can call it that, through another eight hours of a routine I could not have imagined myself getting sucked into years ago. Another segment of time wasted helping someone else realize a dream. It used to be that I at least knew who that person was. Now I’m not sure they even exist. The after-work rush at the grocery store is one I know well, and I know how to get through it with minimal distress. Pretend no one else is there, parade through the aisles, pretend I’m still amazed at the idea of a single building that contains all the food I will ever need, replenished when I am once again hungry. I instinctively, unthinkingly load up the shopping cart, rented temporarily with the loonie that will be returned at the end of this process, with the cheapest brand of all the foods that I want. I make my final turn toward the cash, but am halted in my approach, by an endless lineup. At this point there’s no way I’ll be able to weasel my way into the 8 items or less checkout lane without someone being a hero and telling me I don’t belong. My cart is full, and there’s no denying it. I look up and for the first time this evening notice a familiar face near the front, loading his groceries onto the unmoving conveyor belt. It’s Kyle.
It’s been a few years, for sure, but I still consider him a friend. I call out his name at a low volume and he turns around. He looks genuinely happy to see me and gives me a wave. But the interaction ends there as he turns back around. Six customers lie between him and I, and as it stands I remain relegated to the back of the only line. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time, not that long ago, when a friend would help another friend, without being disadvantaged himself. Kyle would keep his place in line, while giving to me the spot behind him, in the majesty of a simian’s swap.
Ah, the monkey switch. The technique is a thing of beauty, when properly executed, in which the participant closest to the front of a queue helps out a friend and yet loses no ground. In this instance Kyle, a man who found his place in the series of people in a legitimate fashion, would have offered me the spot in front of him, in an apparently selfless gesture, far away from the watchful eye of the patsy behind him. After accepting his offer, I, in turn, would present him the spot in front of me, with the aforementioned patsy being none the wiser. At this point the ruse is complete, with Kyle remaining two people from the front, while I find myself ahead of all those we do not know, and thus do not care about.
I have Kyle on the Twitter, so I quickly pull out my mobile and write him a direct message. “Monkey switch?”
I can hear the vibration coming from his phone a few feet ahead, and he checks the device right away. He looks down as I hope from afar. Kyle starts typing, but he doesn’t turn around to acknowledge me again. My phone then pings aloud, with a simple reply of, “Let’s roll.”
I break out of the lineup and creep towards Kyle, my nerves bursting forth unexpectedly. The laws of children rarely apply in adulthood, but to regress to my schooldays, even for a moment, is exhilarating.
“Hello, good sir,” Kyle greets me, playing a part he was born to play.
“Evening, fellow shopper and friend,” I reply.
“It is lovely running into you. Would you like to stand in the slight gap in front of me as we exchange pleasantries?”
“I would enjoy nothing more. Blah blah blah, blah blah.” I scoot into the empty space and continue our dialogue.” Say, would you like to go ahead of me? It appears you have fewer items than myself, and such a move would certainly expedite your exit from this establishment with little inconvenience to my day.”
“How kind. Such act an of generosity, I will never forget!”
He’s going a little overboard at this point, but I commend his commitment. He effortlessly glides past me and in one fell swoop begins placing his items on the conveyor belt. I do the same to add to any confusion so that the customer behind me doesn’t get any bright ideas about what’s taken place before her.
Fortunately, she does not, and the rest of the operation goes accordingly to plan, swimmingly and seamlessly. When he is done paying, he turn back and winks delicately in my direction, with the implicit and accurate understanding that his helpfulness and recollection of the monkey switch will get me home slightly earlier than I normally would.
And for that, I will always cherish Kyle as a person. RIP buddy.
[Editor’s note: The above is an excerpt from a speech written and performed by the author during Kyle Hooper’s funeral service at which he was asked to say a few words. This was the only memory he had of the man and was unsure of why he was approached for such an assignment in the first place. He would later learn that Mr. Hooper had no actual friends and would pretend that he and the author were close in order to keep his concerned relatives off his back about being such a friggin’ loser.]
[Editor’s note 2: The original speech recounted this story in the past tense. However, for publication porpoises it was decided that its language be moved to the present, both for effect and accessibility.]