Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Paper Hearts And A Red Haired Tart
By the third week of college a few things had changed, the English department had decided to move me into the advanced (aka hard) classes, while the history department had Kevin examined for psychological disorders. Marvin kept doing his thing and even ended up getting a few dates here and there; although I noticed that most of his relationships didn't make it past the second or third week. Corey just stopped coming in, at first I thought he was sick but then I found out he had quit. I promised myself that I would find out what was going on as soon as I had some free time.
Free time however was something I didn't have a smidgen of then. It was school and work with barely enough time for meals, sleep and onanism.
Go on look that last word up, you know you want to.
It was the day before the Paper Shredder store #42’s soft opening when I got the brilliant idea to try and win Tallulah and the guys over by taking them out to lunch. After all those pizzas and sub platters management had served for us we all wanted fast food.
“Nice car Bruno,” Bud commented.
“Well thanks,” I led the three of them through the parking lot and unlocked the passenger side door of my rusty and dented car with a proud flourish. The anti-theft alarm immediately went off.
They snickered as I fumbled to quiet it.
“Hey Tallulah,” I said, “you can ride shotgun.”
“Shotgun?” Chuck said as he sat down next to me, “Is that where she bends over and you cock her?”
I paled, “No?”
Tallulah was in the back seat with Bud. She said, “Lets get going Albert, we only have half an hour.”
I started driving, “Where are we going?”
“How about Burger Clown?” Bud suggested, “They’re close by and they have great shakes.”
“Burger Clown it is then.”
As we pulled out into traffic I saw Chuck staring at my dashboard, “What the Hell are you listening to?”
“Oh,” I started to explain, “that’s a Cher 8 track that got stuck.”
“Can’t you put on the radio?”
“You actually listen to this crap?”
I shrugged, “Until I get it fixed yeah.”
Tallulah and Bud snickered. He said, “You’ve got great taste in music.”
“This came with the car,” I explained. “I’m much more of a metalhead.”
“You?” Tallulah’s eyes were in my rearview mirror, looking at me with interest.
“Oh yeah,” I said, “I have all of KISS’s albums.”
“KISS?” Her voice suddenly became icy, “KISS is not metal.”
There were a pair of pink fuzzy dice hanging from my rearview mirror, they had been lovingly given to me by my brother Phil. And by given to me I mean put there without my knowledge or permission. I kept them there for fear of what he might replace them with if I removed them. Chuck was staring at them with amusement. He asked, “What are these here for?”
I lied, “For luck.”
“Luck?” Bud asked, “You get lucky?”
Before I could answer Chuck began cupping the fuzzy dice like he was giving my rearview mirror a hernia exam. Everyone laughed, even me. Laughter is always the best medicine and at times like this it kept me from driving into a concrete abutment at seventy miles an hour.
I parked my car in the lot of the nearby Burger Clown and only ran up on the curve just a little. As we walked in I spun my key ring on my finger and tried to look cool. I spun a little too hard and my keys flew off my finger, zipped past Tallulah and slid under one of the trash cans.
By the time I had retrieved my keys the others had already made their orders. Time and dignity were running out so I quickly ordered a number 7.
“A number 7?” the greasy guy behind the register asked.
“Yeah,” I paid for my food and waited. The other guys were talking conspiratorially with Tallulah and sharing mutual laughter. I felt a stinging sensation in my heart, it was a sensation I knew well, the feeling of being left out. This was a feeling I had known throughout high school, Bruno family Christmas gatherings and, perhaps most tragically, weekly meetings of the Northeast Doctor Who Appreciation Society.
But I was determined I wouldn’t feel this way forever, I was going to make people see me as the man I truly was, not some kind of a clown.
That was when a Garfield Kid’s Meal was plopped down on the counter beside me.
“Your number 7 dude,” the greasy guy behind the register said, “you got the racecar with Odie in it.”
The others were laughing and falling against each other. What I felt now was a new sensation, it was the feeling of my dignity hemorrhaging. I soldiered on and sat down in the booth next to Bud.
“You got a Happy Meal!” he said, “That’s so cute!”
Tallulah observed, “You don’t look very happy though.”
I opened the box and pulled out a small gaily-wrapped hamburger, “Well I must admit to experiencing a certain amount of ennui.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Chuck said, “but it sounds pretty gay.”
I tried to harden my gaze, I tried to make it as hard as the erections I get during bumpy bus rides. I said, “Well maybe you should read a book then.”
“Oooooooo.” Tallulah chuckled.
Chuck blushed and I started to feel a little smug.
“Al?” a voice said, “Al Bruno?”
I looked to my right and winced, “Oh hi Daniel.”
So much for feeling smug. Daniel pulled a chair over and sat with us. Bud and Tallulah both looked bemused and I think reading Daniel’s ‘I Grock Spock’ t-shirt had caused Chuck’s brain to lock up.
Talluluah was the first to speak, “Aren’t you going to introduce us Albert?”
I mumbled something, it might have been a cry for help.
“I’m Daniel,” he said, “Al and I used to have the same Dungeon Master.”
“Dungeon...” Chuck said as his brain re-locked, “...master?”
My posture became defeated, “OK let me explain ...”
“The game has really gone downhill,” Daniel started going through his own kid’s meal. He grimaced at the realization he had gotten the racecar with Garfield in it, “We’ve tried to get some new players but you know how it is. The Albany gaming scene is all weirdos.”
Bud nodded, “Except for you guys of course.”
“Adrian got tired of running Dungeons & Dragons so he started up a Boot Hill campaign but it is so damn easy to get killed in that game. So then he converted all the characters to Call Of Cthulhu and that was going great until one of the new guys tried to take down an inbred serpent wizard. He should have known better than to bring a gun to a shoggoth-fight!” Daniel laughed and raised his hand for a high-five, “Am I right? Am I?”
“I guess you had to be there,” Tallulah said, her eyes sparkled.