Click here to read this story from the beginning…
Note: When the curtain came down on the previous scene, Mrs. Kim, anti-heroine, wife of the boss and practiced sigher, had just collapsed on her favorite feinting cot, at least according to a dream sequence that has been added to this director’s cut of the original saga. Since this development adds nothing to our story, as is often the case with director’s cuts, it’s best that I leave her, prone and mumbling, so I can attend to other duties.
Me: “Mrs. Kim, I know that you are troubled and bereft at the moment, and that you can’t be fully satisfied with the quality of your suffering unless you have an audience, which is part of the reason why Facebook was created. But I really must go introduce the rest of the cast. We’re a third of the way through the play and the spotlight hasn’t yet shone on everyone.”
Mrs. Kim: “…”
Me: “That’s okay, don’t strain yourself in order to acknowledge my existence. I’ll send your angry and rebellious daughter in to check on you in a little bit.”
Mrs. Kim: “…”
Me: “Yes, I know she is not pleased to have been borne of your loins, and you did find that startling poem she scribbled on the back of a crate of recycled motor oil, the one wherein she envisioned you being trampled by a herd of rabid Pokemon.”
Mrs. Kim: “…”
Me: “Yes, I am fully aware that Pokemon originated in Japan, and no, you should not take this as a shameful sign of my insensitivity to the Korean culture. Besides, your daughter scratched out that poem in a frenzy of teen dystopia, not me, so you can take it up with her when she checks on you later.”
Mrs. Kim: “…”
Me: “Yes, I will check HER for improvised weaponry before she breeches the perimeter of your Languishing Lounge. Look, I really need to go announce the other players. I’ll see you tomorrow, as usual, as I’m sure I’ll still be using alcohol to soothe my own inner torment. Bye, Felicia.”
And now it’s time to meet some of the fine folks who are here to serve you at the illustrious Cool Breeze alcohol emporium. Grab a snack, find a seat and away we go.
First Disclaimer: I really don’t know the names of any of these employees. No name tags. I’m sure Mr. Kim would never spring for such an extravagance. (I did briefly know one guy’s name, “Robert”, when he mentioned it in passing one night for no apparent reason. I never saw him again, but you get used to that in here.) Generally, I just make up names for these people. It helps pass the time when the bonehead in front of my is trying to pay for his beer with food stamps.
First, we have Playetta, this tongue-pierced (nothing wrong with that, just a descriptor) gal who will do anything for a tip. You walk in the door and she acts like it’s the best thing that’s happened to her, ever, all bubbly and chattery and making sure you have everything you need. Which is fine on its own, I guess, albeit a bit discomfiting in this day and age when many retail workers have a skill set of “bored and indifferent”.
But then when you go to pay, she all but shoves her tip jar at you. She’s going to “accidentally” touch it at least three times during the transaction, making damn sure you see the touching. And if you’re supposed to get 15 dollars in change? It’s all singles. And she counts them back to you very, very slowly. I guess her theory behind this is that you will get frustrated with the endless charade and tell her to keep the rest just so you can leave.
She used to just flat-out ask you for a tip. (“Honey, throw a couple dollars in the kitty so Momma can get some milk.”) But Mr. Kim put a stop to that. No explanation was provided and I never asked for one. I’ve learned to just use a credit card any time Playetta is the next one available at the checkout counter, and I make sure she sees me touching the tip line, where I draw a demonstrative mark through the blank little box.
Second Disclaimer: Tip jars at a convenience store? What’s up with that, you may ask. I have no idea. I can’t imagine anything that any of them could do that would motivate me to provide monetary gratitude. You ring my crap up, you put it in a bag, and I pay you. But every register has a tip jar. And there are always dollar bills in them, possibly earned, probably placed as decoys in the hopes of initiating some Pavlovian response on the part of the customers.
Interestingly enough, right above the counter is another of Mr. Kim’s day-glo poster commands. “Any one ask tip be FIRED!” Apparently, there was an incident of some kind. I’m blaming Playetta. After all, there was the one night she pretended to stretch her arms over her head, showed me half a nipple, and then winked at her jar. That was the night I switched to plastic. Don’t leave home without it.
Next up is Big-Head Farm Girl. She country. White-trash country. The pretzels are “back over yonder” and “I ain’t seened that wresslin show but I wanna” and “how many beers is in a 12-pack again”? She is living proof that people do indeed fall off the turnip truck just yesterday. And they get up the next morning and fall off again.
Her head is enormous, like a giant, pale-white, freckled beach ball. And her, um, bosom, is just as astonishingly huge. In fact, that triangle of white globes could probably be used to land planes if the power goes out at the local airport, which it actually does from time to time. I’m blaming Playetta for that as well. She probably flashed that gregarious nipple of hers and a pilot nicked a power line during his recovery.
For a brief bit, we had Tattoo Guy. He was completely covered in them, all different shades of the rainbow. When he would stand in front of the huge cigarette wall, with all those different colors, he would actually disappear. You didn’t know where he was when it was time to pay up. You would have to stand there and wait for what looked like a carton of Marlboros to reach your way and then shove your money in that direction.
He didn’t last very long. Mr. Kim probably fired him, thinking the guy wasn’t showing up for work, when he was standing right there.
Let’s see, there was Big Bear for a long while. He was a huge guy that never said a word unless it was absolutely required. But he was very fast, always had my total ready before I even set everything down on the counter. I’d be bagged up and ready to go in 2.5 seconds. And he had my cigarettes memorized, with a pack ready on the counter without me having to say a word.
And if I happened to check out with someone else because his line was full, he would quietly slip my cigs to the other clerk. He really took care of me. He was amazing. In fact, I think I loved him. It really tore me apart the day I discovered that he had… abandoned me… to service another special customer in another store. I was devastated.
Please give me a moment while I collect myself.
Okay, then. Next, we have Angry Girl. She was always mad about something; it just oozed out of her. She never said what it was, I certainly never asked, and she was never actually rude or anything. But you could just tell some burning fury was boiling in her veins, her eyes all wild with murderous passion. I’m surprised the caps didn’t just explode off the beer bottles when she touched them.
We have Skinny Wench, who could get away with wearing a wristband as a tube top, because there’s just nothing to her. There’s certainly no room for brains up in there, and she proves it daily. If she only has to re-scan your beer three times, you’re lucky. And don’t pay with plastic, she has NEVER mastered that credit card machine. She will either be unable to get it to work at all, or your total will come to $4,000. Pay her in cash. You will have to tell her how much change to give you, but it’s safer.
As mentioned, every once in a while Mrs. Kim will ring you up. Along with being unable (or unwilling) to speak English and the fact that you have to pantomime the whole transaction, she is unable to find the bar code on any item. When you set your things on the counter, be sure to place them in a way that the bar code is directly in front of her, and then point. If necessary, gently take the wand away from her and scan everything yourself. There’s only so much time in the day.
Tall Nipple-Ring Guy likes to belch and scratch himself, apparently as a form of communication. Bathing is something that he does not strongly support. Just warning you. Use him if you’re in a hurry and he’s the next register open, but you’ll want to get a Silkwood decontamination rinse as soon as possible. Otherwise, pretend to review the beef jerky selections until someone else is open.
There are two security guards that work on the weekend. A white guy that says “Yo” to the regulars when they come in, and a black guy that says “Sup”. They don’t look old enough to drive, but they carry guns, so I’ll just have to assume that things are in order and that Mr. Kim is not importing child labor from the Philippines.
The black guy does not speak after the initial grunt. It’s a very simple and efficient relationship. The white guy is a talker, and he will launch into extreme detail about every single thing he has done, touched or excreted since the last time he saw you. I do not know this man’s name, but I can tell you how many canisters of propane he bought the last three times he went to Costco.
And, finally, we have my current favorite, Smudge, so named because her tattoos were clearly not professionally done. They look like they were created with magic markers by someone going through detox shakes. During a windstorm.
She’s very smart, actually, and she can throw out one-liners that 97% of the customers will never get, which is how we bonded. On the down-side, she taawwllkks rreeaaalllllyy suhlowwww. Seriously, she can turn five syllables into a two-night miniseries. Naturally, due to her lassitude with the language, everybody thinks she’s simple, which makes it even funnier, because she just says whatever comes to her mind, knowing nobody is paying any attention.
She KILLS me. Sometimes I bust out laughing while standing in line, and she’ll look at me and giggle a little, but then we both knock it off when we remember that, basically, half the people standing in line will cut your ass just because they’re bored.
Which brings us to the star attraction of the depths-of-humanity science experiment known as Cool Breeze. The customers. The crazed psychotics and sociopaths that wander in the door and make you wonder how this nation can possibly survive.
We’re about to meet some of them, in a full-on, nightmare diorama. But it’s time for another intermission. Please, enjoy some refreshments in the lobby while I go check on Mrs. Kim. My phone just alerted me that there are Pokemon in the area…
Click here to read the next installment in this series…
Originally published in “The Sound and the Fury” on 08/20/09. Considerably changed, including the excising of a lengthy dialogue with Smudge. It was entertaining enough, but it just took too long to read all those extra syllables. Maybe the scene will be added back in for the Blu-ray re-release of the Producer’s Cut of the Director’s Cut in the commemorative case that opens up into a tiny model of the Cool Breeze Emporium. Or maybe not…
Categories: The Stories