Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Foreplay On The Edge Of Forever
Working at Paper Shredder had settled into a routine, as much of a routine as you can have when you're working random part time hours. I stocked the shelves of the book department, performed duties as backup cashier and helped customers at the copy center. Tallulah had changed her schedule working nine to five weekdays so she could go to college at nights. When our paths did cross we didn't do much more than exchange vague pleasantries There was no bitterness or tension- but I did wonder how things were going with her roadie boyfriend. I imagined her running her slender fingers along his muscular stomach, a stomach that, unlike mine, you couldn't lose change in.
On one of those nights I found myself called to the part of the book department set aside for humor and newspaper cartoon collections. There was an irate customer waiting for me.
He looked like a Weeble; he was read faced and snarling. Just another day in retail. I thought to myself.
“How may I help you today?” I asked.
“What the Hell do you people have against Catholics?”
“I'm sorry,” I said. “I don't understand.”
He shoved a book in my hands, it was called Growing Up Catholic, “What do you have to say about this?"
I flipped through the opening pages, “Well according to the reviews, it is 'an irreverent revelation for those who wonder what the Catholic Church is all about'.”
“A likely story,” the irate customer said as he stalked off.
“Excuse me?” Another customer approached, “Excuse me Miss?”
I turned around, “What do you mean Miss?”
“Sorry,” the confused customer said, “I meant Ms.”
“I’m a-” I began then gave up, “-how may I help you?”
“I need some sheet protectors.”
“Of course. Let me show you where they are.” I led her to the appropriate section, “Here you are.”
“No, this isn’t what I want,” she scowled, “this is a box of one hundred. I only need ten.”
“I’m sorry. They don’t come in boxes of ten.”
“I don’t want to buy one hundred.” She said, “What are you going to do about it?”
An intriguing question and one I was not prepared for, “Uhmmm... apologize more?”
“I don’t want your apologies. I want to be satisfied.”
“What do you expect me to do? Open a box of one hundred sheet protectors so you can buy ten?”
So I did it. Burt how much were they going to cost? I decided to let that be the cashiers’ problem.
“Hey,” it was the irate customer again, now he had a paperback novel, “Can you explain this to me?”
“OK. They cut down some trees and then send them to a factory where they get turned into paper and then...”
“No! This is a copy of The Thorn Birds! What’s the big idea?”
“I don’t understanding.”
“This is an Anti- Catholic book. It has priests fornicating in it.”
“Really? On what page?”
“How should I know. I don’t read this filth but you shouldn’t have it on your shelves.”
“I am sorry if it upsets you,” I said, “but it is a free country.”
Appealing to his patriotism only made him madder, “A free country doesn’t mean you can just go around printing books about anything you want.”
“Excuse me!” another customer said.
“I’ll be back.” I promised.
The angry customer said, “You haven’t heard the last of me!”
I turned to my newest customer with a kind of relief, he was an older man and somewhat familiar looking, “And how may I help you sir?
“I am haffing to use your bathroom facilities.”
Speaking of relief. “I’m sorry sir, but Paper Shredder doesn’t offer public restrooms.”
“Vat does zat mean?”
For a moment I couldn’t answer. And I had thought Philosophy class was full of difficult questions! Finally I found my voice again, “I guess it means we don’t have a public restroom.”
“How could zuch a thing be? Vat about health laws? In Luxembourg every ztore has a bathroom. Vere do you empty your bladder?”
I found his concern both heartwarming and worrying, “Oh, we have restrooms for employees.”
“Vell I will use that vun.”
“Uh those bathrooms are for employees only. We don’t have restrooms for the public.”
He stepped closer to me, “Tell me zomething, vat vould you do if I relieved myself right here on zee floor in vront of you?”
Suddenly the irate customer was shouting for me, “Hey you! Get over here!”
I wished Mr. Luxemborg the best of luck with his bowels and headed back to the book department.
“Yes, sir,” I said to the angry customer how may I help you?”
“What is this?” he pointed to a shelf.
“That’s the Joy of Sex.”
“This is disgusting. With this kind of material I’m surprised people aren’t having sex right here on the floor.”
I cast a glance back towards Mr. Luxemborg, “Well you never know what might happen on the floor around these parts.”
“This store is anti-Catholic and anti-family. He said, “And I'm going to write a letter to the local archdiocese. You're going to find yourselves in the middle of a boycott. Your store is trying to undermine the very foundations of our society. Paper Shredder is anti-Christian!”
I looked around at the aisles full of Christmas decorations, wrapping paper and cards, “Are you sure about that? Not everything is a conspiracy.”
“Don't talk back to me you little faggot! I want to talk to your manager about the kind of books you’re ordering.”
“Sir,” I tried not to be knocked over by the waves of stupidity washing over me. “Neither the manager or I have anything to do with what books are ordered, the central office does all the ordering and also I will have you know I have been with a woman. However briefly.”
“Do you expect me to believe that?”
“Believe what? That we don't do the ordering or that a beautiful woman allowed me to plunge the pulsing heat of my desire into the delta of her Venus?”
Now it was his turn to look stunned and confused, “What the Hell are you talking about?”
“Sorry,” I apologized, “I was shelving some romance novels earlier.”
With that said he returned to his original request, “So you're refusing to get me a manager?”
“No of course I'll get you a manager but I want you to know that yelling at him is like yelling at a picture of Colonel Sanders because you don't like your chicken.”
Someday I would learn not to waste my razor sharp wit on the common horde but it was 1987 and blogs hadn't even been thought of yet. He yelled at the manager and threatened to write angry letters to the home office that never arrived. I can only assume some fresh outrage had distracted him on the way to the post office.