Price Breaks and Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Foreplay On The Edge Of Forever
I had hoped to work in a date or two with Ramona during semester break but she had gone home for the holidays. The earrings I had bought for her were still in my glove compartment, waiting.
At least that gave me more time to work at Paper Shredder, after all disposable income didn’t grow on trees.
It didn't take long for word to get out about the Paper Shredder's Copy Center. It wasn't just our helpful staff and competitive rates that got us noticed by the hoi polloi. It was also our company's complete ignorance of the copyright law and the capacities of your standard late 80’s model copy machine.
It was a Tuesday afternoon and I was happily shelving books when I heard Tallulah say, “You want me to WHAT?”
Lord how I had longed for her to say that to me, hopefully when we were both naked and on a toboggan.
Curious I made my way to the back of the store and saw her arguing with a scruffy looking kid about our age. Apparently he wanted to have us copy each page of an economics textbook. He explained that it was cheaper than actually buying one.
I guess an economics student would be the one to know.
An order like that was bad enough, taking at least 8 hours of uninterrupted work and trust me you never had 8 hours of uninterrupted work at the Paper Shredder's Copy Center. Tallulah waved me over. The expression on her face was growing more and more sour with every second.
When the scruffy fellow had left I asked, “Hey. How have you been?”
“I need some help,” She ushered me back into the Copy Center, “I'm printing some presentation binders for some Mary Kay thing and they've got to be done by tomorrow morning. And I've got some Church flyers to print up. And now I've got this.”
I offered her my most reassuring smile, “Well the nice thing about being busy is it makes the day go by faster.”
“Don't make me slap you.”
I said, “I could help.”
“Thanks, you copy that idiot's textbook on copier two and I'll try to get these presentations ready.”
For the next hour or so it was place the odd page on the glass, press copy, flip the book, place the even page on the glass, press copy and repeat. I kept myself occupied with making plans for my latest book. I wanted it to be a horror novel about group of modern day Dungeons & Dragons players that discover a real life dragon living under the streets of Albany. The man character was based on me, except he was a little taller, a little richer and he always knew the right thing to say.
Of course the main stumbling block for me was that I honestly had no idea how a group of modern day Dungeons & Dragons players would kill a real life dragon, so the manuscript, the protagonists and I were pretty much meandering around at this point.
I mean how would you do it? Explosives? Poisoned sheep? Exploding poisoned sheep?
Tallulah's voice startled me from my thoughts of sheep, it wouldn’t be the first time, “How was your play?”
“You know ...your play?”
“Oh.” I nodded, “It went pretty good really.”
“You're kinda sweet on that girl you acted with aren't you?”
“And how would you know that?” I smiled a little.
“A girl knows, just like I know Marvin's girlfriend is hot for you.”
“What?” I made a blurred photocopy in shock, even now I wonder if it impacted the scruffy kid's GPA, “You mean Joanna? Oh my God, she's just... you must be kidding.”
“Her eyes follow you around the room,” Tallulah said.
“Well,” I said, “she isn’t the first girl to find herself woozy with desire for me.”
(Actually she probably was.)
One of the copiers ran out of toner and Tallulah took a few minutes to refill it. Meanwhile I helped an older gentleman look over some Cross fountain pens. He had several expensive models picked out but when he learned that Paper Shredder offered no senior citizen discounts he stormed out.
“You know,” I said as I returned to photocopying the textbook, “I would love to have one of those expensive Cross pens but I don’t think I’m going to treat myself to one until I get one of my novels published.”
She asked, “How long do you thinkit will take?”
“Maybe a year or two?” I said, “I mean look at all those crappy books out there on the shelves. Somebody’s got to be writing them. I mean why not me? I’m just as crappy as the next writer. What do you say?”
“SON OF A BITCH PAPER JAM!” She slammed her fist into the side of the copier and then got to work pulling crumpled sheets of half-printed, burnt-smelling paper out of different parts of the machine.
“Make sure you don’t let the auto sort throw off the collate.” I suggested. It was fifteen minutes to closing and there was no way either of us was going to finish our respective projects in time. As for the book department, it was on its own. “It loves to do that after a good jam.”
“And it always does it after you reload the toner.” She said, “Are you sure this beats flipping burgers?”
“Oh God yes.” I replied, “Except I didn’t so much flip burgers as retrieve them from a steam chute.”
“Al?” She said suddenly, “I think I made a mistake.”
That was the kind of thing you never wanted to hear in context to a big order. A lot of the customers just didn’t understand that we weren’t a print shop and if there was one mis-ordered page or slightly crooked copy they could be as unforgiving as the returns policy at a dildo shop.
I walked over to see if I could help her, there was a shaky vulnerability in her voice I wasn’t used to hearing, “What’s up?”
“My boyfriend…” She drew in a breath.
She shrugged as she restarted the main copier, we both braced for a fresh error light or cloud of toner but everything started working smoothly. “I don't know.” Tallulah said, “That first night was great but then after we made love he immediately asked to borrow my car so he could get some cigarettes.”
“That doesn't sound so bad.”
“Al that was a week ago.”
“Oh.” I said, “That's awful. You deserve a lot better.”
“Do I still deserve you?”
I don't know what throbbed faster in response to her words; my heart, my loins or my ego. “Do you mean that?”
An economics textbook clattered to the floor, an error light went unnoticed and a few days from now an entire group of Mary Kay trainees would be lacking critical eyeliner data. Tallulah and I moved closer to each other with sweet familiarity. “Do you think we could start over again?” She asked, “From the beginning?”
“Well...” I took her hand in mine, “just so long as we can skip over the part where I almost had sex with your beltloop.”
“Actually that was your own beltloop.”
“Oh God, that's even worse.”