Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Foreplay On The Edge Of Forever
I don't mention life at Paper Shredder much because I barely noticed it, school and love occupied every aspect of my conscious mind. Even when I was stocking shelves or sweeping floors my thoughts were never far from the Peloponnesian War or the way Tallulah would squirm against me when I nibbled at the corner of her neck. So as you can imagine I didn't do a very good job stocking shelves or sweeping up most nights. Still though I showed up on time and could run a front register or a copy machine with equal ease so my status there was pretty secure.
Still though, some nights went by more quickly than others.
Tallulah had the night off so I was on double duty, book department and copy center; book department was mostly a matter of answering questions and taking care of the odd special order, copy center was always a lot more work than that.
A blue haired woman caught me by the arm as I passed, “I'm looking for a book called Borrower of the Night.”
“Oh,” I turned away from my shelving. “Let’s see if we can find it for you. Do you know the author's name?”
“Do you know what the book is about?”
I rubbed my chin, “Is it a hardcover or a soft cover?”
“I don't know!” irritation was starting to creep into her voice, “Why can't you just look it up on your computer?”
I should mention for the benefit of those readers with a properly functioning prostate that in the more innocent time of November 1987 bookstores did not have computers. Such ideas were the stuff of science fiction and consumer fantasy.
“I'm sorry Ma'am we don't have a computer but I'll see what I can find in books in print.” I headed over to the microfiche reader and started searching for the title she had mentioned.
She harrumphed, “I thought you said you didn't have a computer.”
“Then what is it you're using.”
I looked up from the deep blue glow of the screen, “This is a microfiche reader.”
“What the hell is a wigwam-niece?”
“Well according to my computer,” I sighed with resignation, “The book you are looking for is by Elizabeth Peters it should be over in the romance fiction department.”
The customer strode off as I reached around and switched off the 'computer'. Someone rang the bell at the front counter of the copy center so I headed there pausing every aisle or so to hi to a co-worker; when I did that to the plainclothes loss prevention officer his face turned all kinds of colors.
There was already a line forming, the first customer wanted to buy a Cross pen, the second needed four copies of their resume, one of which they dropped off with my manager, the third customer was a familiar face.
“Daniel?” I said, “How have you been?”
“Albert. Adrian told me you were working here.”
Daniel was the best friend of Adrian, who was one of my best friends even though I hadn't talked to either of them for months by this point. I'm not sure how it all worked out that way but it made for healthy drama and saved me loads cash on Christmas and birthday presents.
I decided to be polite and professional, “How is Adrian these days?”
“He's over there shopping.” Daniel said with a jerk of his thumb.
Adrian was over by the science fiction books with a girl on his arm; she was pretty darn beautiful with a proud chin and hair the color of honey. If my love life hadn't been going so well I might have felt a twinge of jealousy. Of course in a matter of a few years I would feel more than a twinge.
I hope you readers appreciate foreshadowing like that, lord knows I could have used a little back then.
“So what can I do for you?” I asked.
Daniel handed me a copy of the Advanced Dungeon and Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide, “Adrian needs some copies.”
“Oh sure, what pages do you want?”
“All of them.” Daniel said.
“What?” my heart sank.
“All of them. We did the math and it’s cheaper than buying a new copy. Your prices are very competitive.”
“Do you know how long that is going to take?” I explained, “I’ll have to lay each page down flat on the glass take one copy, then repeat the process about 200 times.”
“Ok.” Daniel said with a shrug, “I mean you’re going to be here anyway so at least you’re being productive. When should I expect it to be done?”
Now reading this safe and secure in the era of hot and cold running torrents and the ensuing lawsuits you might be surprised to learn that back then Paper Shredder had no real policy regarding the duplication of copyrighted material. The rule was that if the customer wanted it copied, and didn’t want to use the self service machines, we filled their order- no matter how long it took or how much misery doing it caused. During the weekdays Tallulah had her own frustrations with ‘frugal’ college students making her copy textbooks at 4 cents a page. I made a few mental calculations and told Daniel, “It should be done by tomorrow.”
Daniel snorted, “Tomorrow? Well you are getting paid by the hour aren’t you?”
With that said I took down his information, taking care to deliberately misspell his last name for comic effect. (Take that Daniel Lunt!)
The three of them headed up to the front register, Adrian and his girl never even stopped by to say hello. I tried to remember what I might have said to make him that upset but when it comes to Adrian all my insults kind of blur together.
For the remainder of my shift I copied the pages from the dog eared book and tried to make sure none of the copies got out of order. I made good time but every once in a while I paused to look over a familiar page or passage- there was the Wand of Orcus and there was the random monster and dungeon generation tables and who could forget the D&D to Boot Hill conversion rules?
I bet half of you have no idea what I’m talking about. Oh well.
The point is that while I might been feeling a few wistful memories of long nights wasted with graph paper and oddly shaped dice I was sure I would never play another role-playing game again; not D&D, not Top Secret, not Chill or Lords Of Creation or Champions.
After all I was - God willing- on the cusp of becoming sexually active. I was sure once my first orgasm swept through my body I would lose all memory of what THAC0 meant.
The irony of course is that the hobby of role playing is a lot like sex. When you're young you can go all night, but you aren't always very discriminating about who you do it with and you're not all that skilled. As you get older your start to find the things you like and then things you don't like. You develop a level of expertise at what you’re doing buut suddenly you don't have the time for it anymore, at least not like you used to. Work, responsibilities and family all take their toll. Suddenly you find yourself approaching the act with a combination of longing and ambivalence. Sure you still really want it but you don't really want to bother with the preparations and just thinking of the clean up afterwards makes you feel tired. You're not even sure if you can even remember where you stored all your accessories. Finally you wonder if maybe you should just say to Hell with it and check out what's on TV tonight.
Why yes sometimes my Dungeon Master and my wife do call each other up on the phone and just cry for hours.