Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
As the days went by I became groggier and groggier. It didn’t matter that after an entire day of begging I got Paul to switch me into a room with two beds because I was still sharing that room with Conrad and that was more than enough to break even the strongest man’s spirit.
While it was true that having a room with a double bed saved me with the choice between sleeping in a motel room bathtub or risking involuntary spooning there were still other problems. First of all there were Conrad’s night terrors, at least once a night he would wake up sobbing and disoriented. Which meant that at least once a night I was left weighing the pros and cons of committing assault and/or manslaughter.
But that wasn’t all I had to deal with. Conrad kept wanting to talk with me about his life, his family and his self-created tragedies. He would wait until I was just starting to fall asleep and then he would start whining. I kept my conversations with him brief and polite, after all I to share a room with him and I was worried that if I made him cry his brothers wouldn’t bother to weigh the pros and cons of assault and/or manslaughter.
Business was booming and my consciousness was failing. My eyes felt raw and my nerves were jangled. Athena and I handled the cash, Lonnie kept the inventory moving so that none of our displays were empty for long, Conrad kept busy dusting the pictures. There was no sign of our boss Paul DeSanti, he had borrowed my car to scout for new locations.
There was a radio with a cassette deck, the song ‘Louie Louie’ played as we toiled.
“Thank you again sir!” Athena said as she handed a sleezy-looking man his change. He walked away with a velvet painting that was equal parts cheesecake and degradation.
I asked Athena “Is that the last of Lesbians In Repose?”
“Yeah.” She turned and called back into the truck, “Hey Lonnie! I need five more hoochie koochie pictures and one baby Jesus swaddled in an American flag.”
“I don’t know much about art,” I commented, “and I don’t know about this stuff either.”
Athena smiled, “You need to study sociology when you get to college. This is what America is all about right here- consumerism, patriotism, religion and lust.”
“You think so?” I scratched my unshaven chin thoughtfully, “Tell me more about the lust part.”
“Excuse me,” a man in a three piece suit approached us, “do you have any dogs playing poker?”
“Of course,” I replied, “what breeds would you like?”
Another car pulled up and a pair of men in overalls began to browse, there was a pregnant woman with enough kids to have qualified for a reality show and the sleazy-looking guy was back. The song ‘Louie Louie’ drew to a close, and then began again in a slightly different cadence.
This was a sixty minute all ‘Louie Louie’ mix tape. After the second hour of it I would have begged to hear something else but the tape was Lonnie’s and I didn’t have the nerve.
Or the health insurance.
Lonnie sang as he worked, “Fine little girl waits for me... Get your thrills across the way... girl I dream of is all alone... every night I slip her the bone...”
“How can you take this?” I asked Athena.
“Oh I just tune him out,” she said, “the walls in the dorm are paper thin so you always have to listen to people partying or screwing around while your trying to study.”
“Oh sure,” she gave me a wry look, “everyone gets laid in college.”
“They say the same thing about the senior prom,” I grinned back but neglected to mention that I was the exception that proved that rule. My prom had been nothing more than a case of blue balls in a black tux.
“Excuse me? Can I get some help?” the sleazy-looking guy called, “Hey honey! Over here!”
“You mean me?” I asked.
“...tonight at ten I’ll lay her again...” Lonnie warbled on, “We’ll fuck your girl and by the way... And on that chair I’ll lay her there... I felt my boner in her hair...”
“Felt my boner in her hair?” I suddenly shouted, “Lonnie what the Hell are you singing?”
He regarded me with confusion, “‘Louie Louie’.”
“Those are not,” I tried to sound reasonable, “the lyrics for the song.”
“Yes they are.”
“Listen my Dad is a musician, I couldn’t not know these things,” I explained, “it goes like this- Louie Louie, me gotta go... Me see Jamaican moon above... It won’t be long before me see my love... Me take her in my arms and then... I tell her I never leave again...”
“Wow,” Conrad turned away from his dusting, “you call that singing?”
“In the Shatnerian sense.” I looked for Athena so she could back me up on this but she was still talking to the sleazy-guy.
“And those aren’t the lyrics Al,” Conrad sneered, “they’re too corny.”
“All right then mister,” and when it came to Conrad I used the term ‘Mister’ loosely, “you tell me what they are.”
“Well?” I said with my hands on my hips.
Conrad’s singing voice sounded like breaking glass, “Looweeloowhy ono saddat we gowow... yey yeh yeh yeh...”
I slapped my forehead, “Oh for the love of Colin Baker.”
“I like it the way I was singing it,” Lonnie said menacingly.
We were so busy arguing that we didn’t realize that the sleazy-guy was standing awfully close to Athena. He was holding his left and right fingers about twelve inches apart and we would later find out that he wasn’t describing the size of the picture frame he wanted.
“I’m not sure I could do that...” Athena said, her voice rising with each word, “we’re pretty busy and the guys really need my HEEEEEEEEEELLLLLLP!”
We all looked over, the great ‘Louie Louie’ debate forgotten. Now the guy was trying to run his hand along her upper arm.
At that moment Lonnie, Conrad and I moved as one to protect her. The sleazy guy turned his head and saw what must have looked like an impending attack from the Frankenstein Monster, Paul Lynde and Lou Costello.
Once we had run the guy off Athena gave each of us a big hug, “My heroes.”
In retrospect I realize now that if I had paid attention to the lesson of this day I might have stayed a hero in her mind.
Or at the very least a friend.
But more on that later.