Sunday, April 29, 2012

Anecdotal Evidence Re: Decision Theory

I'm not like "normal" people.  I make strange decisions for strange reasons.  
Case in point...
The first job I got after returning to California a year after my Long Road Trip (the one I'm still basically on, see my previous entries) was working in a 7-Eleven convenience store in Woodland Hills, California at the corner of Fallbrook and Ventura Boulevard.  For those that don't know, Woodland Hills is a suburb of Los Angeles, at the west end of the San Fernando Valley.  The 7-Eleven job was working the graveyard shift.  From 11 PM to 7 AM.  I was pursuing my acting career and thought it would be best to be available during the day for auditions, acting classes and the like.  
How I got the job was the result of a strange decision making process.
"You're named, 'Erick Melton'?"  The owner of the franchise, Randy Welton, looked up from my application.  Randy had blonde hair that hung nearly to his shoulders and spoke like he should have been waiting for a good wave while floating on his board off the waters of Malibu.  We were standing in front of the ice cream freezer.
"My name is Welton.  And that guy over there," he pointed to a heavy set guy working the cash register.  "Is named Helton!"  He opened his arms out to me.  "Woah..."  
I knew then and there that I had the job.  
Woodland Hills was the home to a lot of working actors back then.  I got to meet a number of celebrities face to face.  Michelle Nichols, Lt. Uhura of Star Trek fame, came in ever so often.  I saw Lou Ferrigno a few times (he never moves farther than ten miles from the Gold's Gym he works out at in Venus).  Larry Wilcox, the actor on the 70's/80's TV show "CHiPs" came in once.  And at least three Playboy centerfolds that I can remember.  The guys that worked at the 7-Eleven would always pull the latest issue from the stands to make comparisons when that happened.  They always seem to look more attractive with their clothes on to me.  
And then there was Joe Don Baker.  He is this tough, angry faced actor that played hard-boiled detectives or heartless hit-men or policemen with their own brand of rough justice.  His most famous role, I think, was the "true story" of Sheriff Buford Pusser in the movie "Walking Tall."  He came in quite a bit.  Always complaining about stuff.  Always wearing this dark blue, velvet jumpsuit looking thing.  
He came in on the night of the incident I'm leading up to.  I was in the freezer at the time, stacking the delivery of Pepsis and Cokes that had arrived that day and restocking the shelves.  I was drinking from one of the warm cans of soda to keep me warm while I was doing the job.   When I came out to dolly in another stack of soda cans when I saw Joe Don standing by the cash register.  He was looking around, trying to find someone.  
"Sorry!"  I pulled off my gloves and ran over to the back of the counter.  "I didn't hear you come in.  The alarm must have..."  
"I was wondering where you were," Joe Don said in his angry Texas drawl.  "Was 'bout to starting searchin' for you.  Thought I might find you stuffed in the back with your throat slit or somethin'..."  
Joe Don said stuff like that.  
I took care of Joe Don's purchase.  I followed him to the door.  He gave me a dirty look over his shoulder that looked like it was saying, "you want something from me, Punk?"
"I want to check the door alarm," I explained. He nodded and walked out.  There was this little reflective thing, kinda like something you'd put on a bicycle at night, that bounced the beam from the door alarm back to its source.  The door was supposed to chime when someone broke the beam, but if the reflector-thing slipped it didn't work.  I spent a few moments tweaking it back to its place then trotted back to the cooler.  
A stack of 7-Ups later, I came back out to see another person waiting at the counter. 
"Sorry, sorry..."  I took off my gloves and the jacket everyone used when working in the refrigerator.  I trotted across the back of the store to get to the counter.  "Be right there..."
I didn't recognize the guy.  He was a heavy set fellow.  Reddish brown hair.  He was leaning forward, elbows on the counter.  He didn't look up when I called out to him.  
I came up in front of him and said, as cheerfully as I could, "Sorry to keep you waiting.  How are you doing today?"  
"I've got a gun in my pocket," he said in a harsh whisper.  "Give me the money in the register and I won't use it."  He kept glancing out the front window of the store.  
"Not very well," I thought to myself, answering for myself the question that I'd posed to him.  
"Get the money out, now!"  His hand he had in his pocket shook at me.  
I slowly reached over to the register.  I hit the sales button.  It rang.  Its drawer rolled out.  I stood there.  
"Get the money out and give it to me!"  
I pulled the money out.  I started with the ones...
"Big bills first..."  
There weren't any big bills, asshole, I thought.  It was now that I realized I wasn't scared.  I was angry.  I was mad at this sonovabitch for taking what wasn't his.  I pulled out a couple of twenties, plus the tens and fives and added them to the ones in my hand.  
"Hand it over.  Now!"  
Here's what I remember thinking.  My boss had told me, several times, whenever we heard about a robbery at another story, that if someone were to rob the place I was to just give them the money.  "Even if the register is full," he'd say, "It's not worth risking your life so some hop-head can get his fix."  So those instructions were in my head.  On the other hand, though, I didn't want this "hop-head" to get the cash.  I hated him so much in that moment.  And I was thinking about other "hand in pocket stories" where the robber had run away when challenged.  
"Did you hear me?"  
I stood there facing him.  What should I do?  
"Give me the money..."    
Given the parameters within which my decision was being made, and the skill set I had as an aspiring actor, the answer was obvious.  
I'd fake a heart-attack.
I acted like I couldn't breathe.  I clutched at my chest.  The bills slipped through my fingers to the floor.  
"No...  Oh, no..."  I started kicking the money that had fallen to the floor under the counter to where I hoped he couldn't reach it.  
"Hey, hey...  Fella..."  The robber was now looking at me.  I noticed now he had deep green eyes and a thick red beard.  "I just want the money!  I won't hurt ya if you give it to me!"  
Ah, Ha!  It's working!  I embellished my performance.  I fell to the ground.  I clutched the front of my 7-Eleven smock hard.  I curled  up into fetal position.  I think I tried to foam at the mouth for a bit, but then wondered if that was a heart-attack symptom and stopped.  
The robber ran around the counter.  I rolled on top of the cash that I'd missed with my foot.  The thief picked up two handfuls of cash and ran out.  
"Don't follow me!" he shouted when he reached the door.  
I did exactly that.  I sprang to my feet to see which way he went.  He was no where to be seen.  Fast for a big guy.  I listened for a getaway car.  Nothing.  
I ran inside and called the police.  I picked up the money I'd fallen on.  About twenty-five dollars in ones and fives.  I called Randy, my boss, and told him what had happened.  
Randy got there first.  The police came a few minutes later.  I was told to lock the door for a bit (that's why 7-Elevens have locks on their doors even though their open 24 hours).  One of the cops went with Randy into his office.  The other asked me questions, looked at the door for possible prints, and talked on his walkie-talkie a few times.  
Randy and the other cop came out.  The cop looked at me and laughed, then shook his head.  
"Erick..."  Randy raised his hand and indicated I should follow him with a flip of the first two fingers of his hand.  
We went into his office.  The TV monitor that hooked into the surveillance system was on.  Randy raised a finger at me, indicating I should wait.  He rewound the tape.  I saw my performance go in reverse.  He hit play.  
"Randy, I don't think he got..."  
Randy raised his finger again then pointed at the screen.  I watched my heart-attack performance.  I found myself questioning its believability.  Maybe I should have gone for an epileptic fit instead.  
When it was done, Randy pointed at the screen again.  "Why?"  
"Well, you see, Randy...  I thought..."  
"No, no...   I was thinking that he if thought..."
I paused a moment.  "I didn't want to confront him," I said carefully.  Randy nodded his head.  "But I figured if I..."  
"No."  This time he added a shake of his head.  
I paused again.  I looked at the screen.  Randy had paused the playback with me on the floor and the robber turning to run out the door.  I stopped thinking about it as a scene and a performance.  I thought about it as what it was.  
"That was stupid," I said in a small voice.  "I won't do it again."  
"Good man."  Randy got up and patted me on the shoulder.  "Go unlock the door and let's get back to work."  
I worked at the 7-Eleven for about three years.  Some time after the robbery, three guys came in to the store demanding I sell them beer after 2 AM (it's illegal to do so in California).  When I refused they smashed open the locked cooler doors.  One of them threw a can of 7-Up at me while I was calling 911.  It hit me in the mouth hard enough to bust my lip open and knock me down.  They pushed the displays on the counter on top of me.  
I continued to work there after that incident, too.  Friends of mine, people that came into the store, everyone who know about the incident told me I was crazy to do so.  That it was a stupid decision. 
I don't know.  I remember thinking that I was the one who had the right to be there.  Not them.  It was scary, but I went back to work with that thought in my head.  Two or three times after they smashed up the cooler doors, I saw the trio drive up into the parking lot, or peek around the corner into the store.  When they saw me still working there, they'd run away and not come inside.  After about two weeks I never saw them come back while I was working there.  I feel vindicated by that.
For me, these two decisions came from the same place.  Given the parameters of the situation, I didn't want to confront the perpetrators head-on.  But neither did I want to concede to them what they had no right to expect.  So, yeah...  A healthy looking twenty-something faking a heart-attack to prevent a robbery...  It wasn't going to work.  
Though now, at fifty-something...?  I think I can pull it off.  


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