Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Panties Half Off
I still couldn’t believe I had to take a lie detector test, my only comfort was that I knew the experience would make a great subject for a story and with any luck that story could be one of the most important in Western Literature!
Moving right along...
It took some doing and a bus transfer but I found the lie detector place; it was a cramped little office building in a cramped little building. It was called ‘Rabitski Investigations’ and it brought to mind images of moderately competent detectives having soft boiled adventures. The office door was unlocked and the waiting room was empty save for three chairs and a roll top desk. I sat there and waited for a few minutes wondering if I would be the only person coming by from work today.
There were two doors on either side of the room, both were firmly closed. I spent a few minutes wondering if I should wait or pick a door and knock. Before I could settle on an option one of the doors creaked open and a gray haired man shuffled in. “I’m Carl Rabitski,” he was white haired and unshaven. “You must be Jan.”
“No.” I said, “I’m Al …Al Bruno?”
“Good Lord. You’re a man?” He fumbled in his breast pocket for a pair of glasses.
I deepened my voice, “All man sir.”
He nodded curtly, “Well we’ll get to the bottom of these and other questions.”
“I’m here from the Julia Shop.”
“Of course,” he retrieved a manila folder from the desk and waved it in the air. “They sent your file. The term dawdling was used several times.”
“I thought this was about shoplifting?”
“Shoplifting?” He cocked a grizzled eyebrow at me, “Is there something you need to get off your chest?”
“You mean aside from a nagging suspicion that God is picking on me?”
He patted me on the shoulder and directed me to the next room. There was another man running wires from a lie detector to the arm of an office chair. Mr. Rabitski guided me into the chair while his assistant rolled up my sleeve and started attaching wires and straps to my arm. “Have you ever had a lie detector test before?”
“I can’t say that I have,” I tried to keep eye contact with him, after all isn’t that what an honest person would do?
“A lie detector measures your pulse rate, blood pressure, respiration and skin conductivity. The machine records its findings here on this paper as it scrolls by. Just be honest with yourself and us and everything will be all right.” Mr. Rabitski headed back for the door, “My assistant will establish your baselines and then we’ll start the questioning.”
Mr. Rabitski walked past me and I heard the door open and click shut. I listened to his assistant fussing around behind me until finally I heard the scratch-scratch-scratch of the lie detector’s styluses coming to life.
“Now,” the assistant stood in front of me. “I am going to ask you a few questions. Answer honestly.”
A tiny cry escaped my throat, the entire world seemed to pitch sideways and right itself again. When I spoke my voice was quivering with recognition, “Orville?”
“Long time no see Al.”
Oh yes it was Orville. He and I had a history. I tried to get out of the chair but my one arm was still strapped in place.
“What are you doing?” He asked.
“I am not dealing with you.”
“If you walk out without finishing you’re fired. Do you want to be fired?”
I thought of my car, so close to being fixed, and settled back down, “Fine but none of your shenanigans.”
“Shenanigans?” He grinned, “Perish the thought. I’m just trying to do my job.”
“And how did this end up with this being your job?”
“This is my grandpa’s business. He’s grooming me.”
“Well that explains the haircut…” I mumbled.
“Oh nothing, just mumbling to myself.”
“You need to answer clearly for the next part,” Orville wheeled the cart holding the lie detector apparatus to the side of us, just outside of my peripheral vision. “I’m going to show you a series of cards, answer truthfully so I can gauge your responses. Please confine all your answers to yes and no.”
“Ok,” I sighed with resignation. “Let’s get this over with.”
Orville held up a card, “Is this a red card?”
“Yes,” I replied as I wondered to myself if this day could get any more surreal.
When would I learn never ever to think things like that?
He made a mark on the scrolling paper; then continued, “Is this a yellow card?”
Another mark, a fresh draw from his strange little deck, “Is this a red card?”
I narrowed my eyes, “It’s a yellow card with a red dot.”
“Please confined your answers to yes or no.”
“Yes…. I mean no!”
“Hmmmmmm,” Orville made a fresh mark on the paper.
“What? What was that?” I tried to turn in my seat.
“Please look straight ahead,” Orville said. “Watching the tape can skew the results.”
“Fine. Sorry,” I tried to clear my head, but I was uncomfortable being scrutinized. “Is it me or is it warm in here?”
Orville raised half his unibrow, “Something getting you hot?”
“Look idiot,” I said, the lie detector’s styluses began scratching like a cat trapped in a cardboard box. “Get Barnaby Jones in here and let’s wrap this up.”
“No reason to be rude,” he pocketed his cards and left the room.
I sat there like strapped in like a man awaiting execution. “Something getting you hot?” I grumbled sarcastically.
It was still a mystery to me how Orville had gotten Lilly to go out with him at all much less the senior prom. That whole damn prom would have been a soul crushing disaster if I hadn’t gotten the last dance of the night with Lilly. I held on to that memory pretty tightly, actually I held on to most of my memories of her pretty tightly.
High School hadn’t been an easy time for me, bad enough I was a nerd but I was a nerd that had failed ninth grade. It always gave my friends something to be snide about and it was so weird to watch the kids I had gone to grade school graduate a year before I did. Every day I felt like a failure, every day I felt like I didn’t belong. Sometimes I just wanted to give up.
That was where Lilly came into the picture, I first noticed her in the A-V Club. Being a teenage boy with blood made of 75% hormones I noticed a lot of girls in high school, but Lilly was different. When I first saw her I was dazed; I think an incurable romantic would describe me as being lovestruck, how ever a trained psychiatrist would most likely describe me as obsessed.
It didn’t take us long to become friends, it amazed me really. Most girls tended react to me with a combination of distain and creeping horror. Lilly and I spent a lot of our freshman year talking and joking around. I wanted to ask her out but I was terrified of being rejected. Things got a little more complex in my sophomore year when all of my so-called friends decided that since I wasn’t making a move on her they would.
Things got ugly pretty darn fast; it was like a remake of ‘Enter the Dragon’ starring guys with bad skin and asthma puffers.
No matter how had things got though I didn’t let it get me down. Whenever I got pantsed or food was thrown at me or when it seemed like everyone from enemies, to friends, to teachers was ridiculing me I would remember Lilly- her smile, her light brown hair, her ice blue eyes- and I would tell myself to hang on tight because I was almost there.
And for a few months of my junior year I got her but bad luck and my spectacular ineptitude mad our time together as brief as it was sweet.
This is what went through my head as I wanted and waited for the lie detector test to start. I heard the door to the room open up again and then caught the unmistakable sound of Maddie yelling at someone. It didn’t take much for me to realize that she was demanding that Mr. Rabitski give her a do over.
“Interesting…” I smirked to myself.
Orville closed the door behind himself saying, “Grandpa’s going to be busy for a bit.”
“Does this mean I can leave?”
A warm hand fluttered to my shoulder; I shuddered with memories to Nice Shopper’s loading dock, “He told me to administer the test.”
“I don’t know about that,” I shifted in the chair. “I can just reschedule.”
“No. No.” Orville stood beside the lie detector reducing himself to a shadow in the corner of my eye. “Like you said, lets get this over with. Are you ready?”
“Look I shouldn’t have called you an…”
“Question one. Have you ever stolen merchandise from the Julia Shop?”
Remember how I said I sighed with resignation before? Let me correct myself, this was a sigh of resignation, “Sigh.”
“Please contain your answers to yes or no. Do you understand?”
“You don’t understand?”
Several very Italian-American gestures came to mind but my gesturing arm was strapped down, “No. I mean I never stole. No.”
“Have you ever thought about stealing merchandise from the Julia Shop?”
“Has a friend ever asked you to steal merchandise from the Julia Shop?”
“Has a relative ever asked you to steal merchandise from the Julia Shop?”
“Have you ever had a dream where you’re in your underwear trapped in a giant spider web and three Vikings are trying to free you by rubbing canola oil all over your body?”
My voice cracked as though my entire body was trying to retreat back through puberty, “What?”
“I heard what you said, that’s not a work related question.”
“It’s on the clipboard,” Orville said with a dismissive snort.
“Can I see the clipboard?” I did my best to turn in my seat and glare at him.
“Then next question please- next real question.”
“Have you ever stolen money from the Julia Shop?”
“Have you ever thought about stealing money from the Julia Shop?”
“Has a friend ever asked you to steal money from the Julia Shop?”
“Has a relative ever asked you to steal money from the Julia Shop?”
He stepped in front of me, “Did you really think you had a chance with her?”
“You know…” I said with a sigh. “…in comedy the punch line comes with the third repetition of the premise.”
“I saw you in the talent show, what do you know about comedy?”
“The lighting guys were heckling me, it threw me off.”
“Everyone was heckling you,” Orville said, “Your family was heckling you.”
“Grandma was drunk,” I spoke through gritted teeth. “Am I done now? Can I go?”
“You didn’t answer my last question.”
“I love her.”
He paused to check the machine, “Well at least you’re telling the truth there but it doesn’t mean anything. She’s not for you.”
“Oh and you are the one for me?” My teeth were aching now, “Is that why you used to keep grabbing my ass? Because you wanted Captain Al’s Wild Ride all for yourself?”
“What the Hell is Captain Al’s Wild Ride?”
“I have no idea!” I was shouting now.
“The only reason I grabbed your ass was to get rid of you,” Orville roughly pulled the wires and sensors from my arm, “I couldn’t stand watching you moon over her all day at school then have to see you at work. No matter what I did you stuck around, even when I put those pictures of naked men on your locker.”
“That was you?” I shook my head. “I beat up Kevin K. Hanson for nothing…”
Much to my surprise I passed the lie detector test. I was even more surprised to learn that Maddie had passed her do-over. Within a matter of a few days life at the Julia Shop had returned to a semblance of normality; in other words I was constantly behind and the management was at each others throats.