Click here to read this story from the beginning…
Once you open the oddly-large wooden doors of the “Cool Breeze” Beer Emporium and Bad-Taste Discotheque, you find yourself in an equally-odd vestibule of sorts, one that gives no indication as to why a vestibule is even remotely necessary. The antechamber does, however, give one time to collect their thoughts, reconsider other life options, and make sure important legal papers are in order, should those papers become even more important once things go awry in the Beer Disco.
Before trotting through the next set of doors, you may need some additional information concerning the cast and crew in tonight’s presentation of “Death of a Salesman in the South Pacific Chorus Line of Gothic Hello Kitty Cats”.
First, you need a little detail on the proprietor, Mr. Kim. I believe he is Korean, though I cannot provide any documentation of this, it’s just a guess. In any case, English is not his native tongue. It’s a fair assumption that English is not even his second or third tongue. He does not, however, let this situation hold him back, resulting in some head-scratching attempts at communication that would be quite amusing if your life did not possibly depend on some of them.
Mr. Kim greatly enjoys creating hand-made signs, using oddly-cut pieces of neon poster board and a black magic marker. He scribbles his curious sayings (things like “We not MEAN ask ID. It LAW!” and “Break pack buy all!” and “Feet in shoes!”) and then plasters them all over the store. You cannot walk more than two feet without encountering at least five directives from Mr. Kim, enamored as he is with what he perceives as one of his very critical missions in life. Of course, he has other callings as well, whispered by demons perched on his heavily-burdened shoulders.
He is very fond of cheap novelty crap. As far as the eye can see, there are displays crammed with rude t-shirts, extremely fake jewelry, toys that will obviously injure your child, CDs featuring bands that no one has ever heard of or ever will, knock-off perfumes, “designer” watches made out of paper and glue, and camping gear that will dissolve the first time it rains. You get the picture. (“Fine quality! Buy friends!”)
Amazingly, there are always at least two customers pawing through this junk, ooh-ing and aah-ing and hyperventilating like it’s the best sex they’ve ever had while standing up. And they BUY these things, racing to the counter in complete rapture, hurling down money that would be better spent on utility bills and birth control. It’s a fascinating but ultimately depressing reflection on the state of American society.
Mr. Kim does treat all things as equals, though. He does not segregate. At least when it comes to stocking the shelves. Which is why you will find diapers next to the dog food, car batteries in the wine section, and tampons next to the gingersnaps. (“Take on trip!”) Again, it’s a great roulette wheel of fun, unless you really, really need a particular thing immediately and you are unable to find it in the whirling menagerie of merchandise. (Cletus: “I done lopped off my hand tryin’ to change the gun rack on my pickup. Where you keep the duck tape in here?” Clerk: “Umm..”)
Speaking of the wine section, I’m not really sure why he has one. He actually spent some time on this, a clever little room off to the side, with wood paneling and mood lighting and a surprisingly broad selection. But the only time I ever see anyone in that room is when their car won’t start and they’re waiting for the Triple A. People around here just want beer. Besides, corkscrews are for gang fights, not for a bottle of Merlot.
There is no public restroom, with at least 4 neon signs indicating such. (“No pubic bath! No ask!”) Yet customers ask for one almost as much as they ask for a pack of Kool filter kings. (Clerk looks up from his quest for the duck tape: “Why you askin’ that? We KNOW you live just down the street. You walked here, for gawd’s sake, because you got fired from Bucket O’ Chicken and the repo man got your Cadillac. Did they get your toilet, too?”)
If you face the front of the store, you see a huge counter, lined with registers, running the length of the building. This is where Mr. Kim’s troops brace themselves for the degeneracy of mankind. Behind this battle line, there is a massive display wall, holding cigars, cigarettes, medications (“18 or NO drugs!”), rolling papers, trashy magazines, more cheap t-shirts with slogans like “Our time is nwo!”, energy pills that are really just speed, croutons, and Jimmy Hoffa. You know, all the things the little kiddies shouldn’t buy with their lunch money.
Off to the left is a short hallway that leads to the bagged-ice freezer and, eventually, the drive-thru window. But you’re not supposed to head this way, (“Not exit! No go!”), which confuses everybody the first time they buy a bag of ice. You start heading this way, and Mr. Kim will pole vault from wherever he is in the store, and put a stop to it. “We get ice. Wait!”
What the hell is he keeping over there?
It’s certainly not his family members. He lets them run all over the place. There’s Mrs. Kim, who every once in a while will work one of the registers but mostly just stands around and looks like she misses home. To be fair, I’m just assuming that this is Mrs. Kim. She’s about his age, she chatters with Mr. Kim in the same language that is not English, and they both look like the mid-teen girl that is constantly poking them and asking for things like an iPod or a tattoo.
And you really don’t want Mrs. Kim to ring you up, on those rare moments when she isn’t listening to the Miss Saigon original cast recording in her head whilst standing next to the pickle barrel. Since she doesn’t speak English, all she does is scan your items and then just look at you.
And since Mr. Kim, for some odd reason, has taped up the total window on the customer side of all the registers (I never bothered to ask), you have no clue what the total might be. Someone has to tell you. Luckily for me, I’m a regular and I know what my purchases should cost. If a newer patron is stuck with Mrs. Kim, one of the other clerks will have to lean over, yell out the total, and then go back to sacking up someone’s tampons and gingersnaps.
Now, Kimmy Junior is in full “goth wannabe” mode like so many girls her age. She wears lots of black outfits with metal jewelry, never looks happy about anything, and spends a lot of time sitting on this tiny chair that she probably picked out because it’s so uncomfortable and causes physical pain to go with the pretend emotional pain the she’s created in her head.
She retains enough girlishness that she paints her pink Converse low-tops with glitter glue, and when she’s in a good mood she’s actually kind of cute and charming. But most of the time, it’s Gloom City, with her looking pale and tragic on the miniscule chair. And she’ll often leap up from the sad pose, scream out something like “Boys are stupid!”, and run out from behind the counter, slamming through the front doors and out into the anarchy of the parking lot. (Girl, you better not honk while you’re out there, just sayin.)
Mr. Kim will wait a few minutes, sighing, regretting child-rearing decisions of yore, and finally wandering out front to talk to Little Neurotica and her Dazzle Shoes. (But you can bet your ass he’ll be back in two seconds if a customer even looks like he might try to get his own bag of ice.) Mrs. Kim, since the opera in her head has apparently reached intermission, usually wanders into the office where there is presumably a cot that she can use for swooning purposes, rending her hair at the emptiness of existence. Later, she will revive herself, once it’s clear that no one is going to do it for her, fortifying her constitution with lemon tea and gingersnaps.
And how is it, you might ask, that I have time to observe the familial dysfunctions of the Kims, when I am supposedly only here for the beer?
Because the remaining group of people behind the counter, who are responsible for simply taking my money and getting me the hell out of there, is one of the most astonishingly sloth-like, inbred, incompetent, ignorant, noisy, braying, belching, unwashed collection of human beings I have ever seen outside of the Department of Motor Vehicles.
And we’re about to meet them. But let’s take a short break. Perhaps you’d like to join Mrs. Kim at the snack bar swooning-cot until we return? You won’t have a lot to talk about but at least you can pat each other’s hands and sigh a lot…
Click here to read the next installment in this series…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 08/14/09. Some changes made.
Note: We leave for Houston in the morning, so my responses to comments may be a bit haphazard over the next few days. On the flip side, because we’re attending a huge family wedding, I’m sure to gather some very interesting tales to eventually share. Cross your fingers…
Categories: The Stories