Price Breaks And Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Foreplay On The Edge Of Forever
“What the Hell is wrong with you?”
“Do you think you’re funny?”
People have been saying those two statements, or a combination of the two, to me since I was five years old. I mean it. If I had a dime for every time I’d heard it I’d be too busy counting dimes to make inane blog posts about my love life.
Sometimes I think it was because people just couldn’t understand me. I was too far ahead of the curve... Too edgy. By sixth grade I was enjoying and stealing jokes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and as a young adult I was brimming with energy and ideas. Was it so wrong that if I saw the opportunity to make a joke I threw any sense of self-preservation to the wind? Could I really be the only person out there unable to resist the urge to make a terrible pun or bizarre statement?
On the days that Tallulah wasn’t in the copy center I barely got to work on time. There was some grumbling from the Paper Shredder’s management about it but I felt my job was pretty safe.
The Christmas holiday had just passed and the store was busy with people searching for post holiday bargains. How was my Christmas you may ask? This year had been one of the best of my sheltered life. I had gotten my first word processor, a real top of the line model.
Now for you kids out there a top of the line word processor in 1988 was roughly the size of a briefcase. The device was a dot matrix printer with a keyboard, a floppy disk drive and an amber screen roughly the size of an unpublished writer’s ego.
And weirdly enough my brother Phil had gotten it for me. Yes, the same brother that I frequently got into fistfights with. It took the term love-hate relationship to a whole new level.
Awesome as that gift was I had barely noticed it, after all what present could ever outdo the simple pleasure having Tallulah’s hand in mine?
Truth be told I don’t even remember if I thanked my brother for what was a pretty fantastic and expensive gift.
Sheesh, the more I write these things the more I come to realize I was kind of a prick in those days.
Anyway... the Paper Shredder dress code for men was black slacks, our standard issue smocks, a white collared shirt and a necktie. I tended to forget my necktie so I had gotten into the habit of leaving mine at work. Since Tallulah was a full time employee she had a locker so I kept my necktie in there.
On this busy day a week after Christmas I retrieved my tie and found a note pinned to it. For a moment my head swam with possibilities. Was this a note from some arch enemy of mine demanding I endure a series of physical and mental trials to save the lives of my family?
If so my arch enemy would have to wait, I had a girlfriend to now.
See what I mean about me being a prick?
I unpinned the note from my tie and read-
I like coffee
I like tea
I love Al
He loves Me
Grinning I pocketed the slip of paper and headed for my register. The lines of customers were already halfway to the back of the store. The sound of the canned music was drowned out by the general din of the customers and the occasional call for a price check. Right then and there I decided to stop by Tallulah’s house after work, I wanted to see her, even if it was only for a few minutes.
“Albert!” the assistant manager Ms. Cooper yelled, “Where is your tie?”
“Whoops! Be right back,” in my glee at reading my girlfriend's little note I had forgotten to actually put on my tie. It was still in Tallulah’s locker. It only took a few second for me to retrieve it and slip it on.
Ms. Cooper was waiting for me near her office, “What have I told you about going out onto the floor without a tie?”
“Not to do it,” I answered.
“Exactly but this is the second time in as many months that you’ve forgotten.”
Ms. Cooper glared at me, “If you’re sorry then why do you have that silly grin on your face?”
“Oh,” I tried to look serious and failed, “I was just thinking.”
“Thinking about what?”
“I was thinking that it is kind of unfair in a way.”
“Are you questioning the wisdom of Paper Shredder’s uniform policy?” Ms. Cooper’s unibrow bristled.
“You know what I mean,” suddenly my shirt collar felt very tight, “only us guys have to wear ties. None of the female employees have to do that.”
There was a long pause and if I had been older and wiser I would have used that pause to make a run for it.
“I think the policy is perfectly fair,” Ms. Cooper said, “after all none of the male employees has to wear a bra.”
“Well,” I laughed, “you don’t really have to wear a bra do you?”
I had intended my statement to be a witty commentary on the state of affairs in this post-feminist era. Ms. Cooper’s expression darkened and I realized then that flat chested women don’t appreciate witty commentaries on the state of affairs in this post-feminist era.
Mostly because they think you are making fun of their poker-chip sized boobs.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Ms. Cooper shouted, “Do you think you’re funny?”
Not right then I didn’t.
My Dad was laughing, and by that I mean he was mocking something I had said, “Oh yeah. You’ve got some whiskers on your chin and suddenly you think you know it all.”
We were in the kitchen of his apartment, he was cooking, I was standing there looking helpless. Every once in a while my Dad’s hot girlfriend would pass by, she was cringing on my behalf.
“All I’m saying,” I explained, “is that you could show me a little more respect.”
“What you said was that you wanted me to start treating you like a man,” My Dad arched his eyebrow then turned back to stirring the spaghetti sauce. He usually let his girlfriend do the cooking but when it comes to pasta and sex the Bruno men like to take charge of everything. “I’ll start treating you like a man when you stop living out of my pocket.”
Now that really offended me, “Hey! It isn’t just your pocket I’m living out of. I mooch off everyone.”
“A man stands on his own two feet, you should have listened when I told you to join the army.”
“They wouldn’t take me.”
My Dad added a few dashes of salt to the sauce, “Well maybe if you didn’t pee sitting down...”
“One time!” My voice cracked with frustration, “That was one time and you should have knocked! Besides the reason I wouldn’t get in is because I only have partial vision in my right eye.”
And that’s true folks. 3-D movies do nothing more than break my heart. I had, and still have, untreated lazy eye. Everyone from the school nurse to my teachers to the eye doctor thought I was faking or goofing around when I told them I couldn’t see clearly out of one eye. Only my Mom had my back but by the time someone with a medical degree realized there actually was a problem I was in fourth grade and the damage was done.
“Partial vision?” My Dad snorted, “Your Mom made you neurotic.”
“Hypochondriac,” I corrected, “you think she made me a hypochondriac. Mom thinks you made me neurotic.”
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Was there a subject?”
“Yes there is a subject. You think you’re a man now and that’s a mistake, you’re still a boy,” the water was boiling, Dad added the angel hair and told me to stir, “what’s worse is the way you’re talking about this girlfriend of yours Dora.”
“Tallulah, her name is Tallulah.”
“Her name doesn’t matter. What matters is you think you’re in love.”
I dropped the spoon into the boiling water, “I am in love.”
“No, you’re not. You don’t know what love is,” Dad handed me tongs so I could retrieve the spoon, “you’re just a kid and if you’re not careful you’re going to ruin your life.”
“Ruin my life? I don’t drink or do drugs, I’m going to college. I’m doing all the things you’re supposed to do.” I was so flustered that my hands were starting to shake.
“All I am saying is that you are supposed to be having fun and kicking up your heels,” Dad explained, “you’re not supposed to be acting like you’re going to marry this girl. You can’t marry the first girl that screws you.”
“Then that really messes things up for the guys that are saving themselves for marriage,” I tried to joke.
“What the Hell is wrong with you?”
“Al!” my Stepdad called, “your girl is here.”
My girl. I must admit I liked the sound of that. I saved the story I was working on and headed out to find Tallulah talking with my Mom and Stepdad. They really seemed to like her and that made me happier than I thought it would.
I headed into the kitchen and gave her smooches, “You’re early.”
“I figured you would want to look at the bookstore before the movie started,” she replied.
“Don’t you think you’ve got enough books?” my Mom asked.
Of course you can never have too many books but on the other hand I did have more books than I had shelf space to keep them on. In fact twenty years later I am still working my way through some of the backlog I created during those times when I was flush with cash.
“And don’t forget...” Tallulah said, “You owe me something.”
“What?” I said momentarily confused. Then I remembered that I had promised to chip in for a birthday gift for her mother. I had been invited to the family birthday party. I had wanted to make a good impression and Tallulah had explained to me that a copy of Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood might not be the best thing for the woman.
I reached into my wallet and gave her a pair of twenties. My Mom and Stepdad were watching and with a smirk I blurted out, “Here you are and you were worth every penny last night.”
My mother and Stepdad laughed. And that was when my girl punched me in the gut. Tallulah stormed out of the house, I ran after her. Well I shambled after her really.
“...wait...” I gasped, “...wait...”
She opened her car and got inside, “You’re an asshole do you know that?”
“...can we talk about this?” I begged, “...I mean after I stop tasting blood...”
“Is that what you want your family to think?” She shouted, “ That I’m a whore?”
“...they don’t think that...”
“Why not after what you said?”
The sound of her car starting nearly drowned out my voice, “It was just a joke!”
“Just a joke?” She threw her car into reverse, “Do you think you’re funny? What’s wrong with you?”
“Wait!” I cried but the squeal of her car’s tires as she sped out of the driveway was the only reply I got.