Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Customers: Part 21 - Ringside


   If we had been selling wrestling tickets for the week, I might have drawn conclusions. Wasn't like that, however. No wrestling tournaments, football games, bull riding championships, no Thunder Warrior rock festivals. The week had simply been an ugly, confrontational one.
   First match, Stacey got into a shouting test with some deadbeat customer. I use the term customer lightly. The man had entered with a friend. He wore a dirty white t-shirt two sizes too small. Arms covered in prison tattoos. I knew they were jailhouse stamps because he and his friend warbled about his recent release during checkout.
   Then, either he and buddy cut Stacey & Shelley off at the door, or vice versa. Next moment, shouting and threatening. Stacey and Mister Convict, who was rolling his shirt up, displaying the manly pot belly. The shopper friend kept trying to calm the parolee down. Shelley looked mildly amused, mildly annoyed. She'd finished several stints in the Navy, she could have beaten this loudmouth into hamburger.
   Nothing escalated beyond shouting, and everyone screeched away.


   Couple of days later - - J D's turn. He had joked to a beefy guy wearing sunglasses. The guy took offense with J's comments about his hair, his billowy cream shirt, or crooked sunglasses. Next thing, both guys steamed outside and squared off on the sidewalk.
   I hurried out, hoping to defuse the situation. One, with boots, J D weighed 120 pounds, Mister Sunglasses looked 220. Two, any fight between employee and customer would probably result in termination. Three, if cops showed up, J D would suffer worse than some chunky white guy. Wasn't fair, but neither was our society.
   Turned out the guy was resentful of J D. J D was selling CD's, J D had a movie out, J D was featured in a newspaper article. The man didn't think that was proper. Who did this kid think he was? He used the word "uppity." Didn't mention the second tag of the cliche, but he did toss uppity. Twice.
   And ... he repeatedly pointed out ... J D wasn't funny. Neither were his stupid comments.
   Then he walked off.
   I shot J a look and shook my head.


   Jefty and Killwater were both Regulars. Jefty came in mornings, twice a week, with his mother and rented New Release DVD's. He was in his mid to late twenties. I'd lately observed more and more young males still clutching Mommy's skirt. The women were always single or divorced, and refused to push Junior into manhood. Hopefully, this wasn't a trend, unweaned men and mama's milk, like in a Mediterranean country.
   Jefty owned a loud, piercing voice, and he took a shine to Mandy. He sought her out, attempted jokes, flirted badly, mentioned that his room at Mom's house had a lock on the door. He ignored comments such as, "I'll ask my husband," or "My daughter liked that movie, too." Jefty didn't hear or didn't care. Mandy was stuck. We tormented her.
   Killwater was an afternoon type. Welder or mechanic. Wore a black tank top which revealed multiple piercings. Bought metal, industrial, goth, heavy metal, thrash. Sing along albums.
   Like me, Killwater carried a knife.
   He also packed a gun.
   Killwater was genial enough, and I enjoyed talking with him, but I never forgot that hip pocket firearm.
   Late afternoon, hot outside. Jefty showed up alone. No Mommy. From the manner he clutched his videos, face to face, I guessed he'd selected adult titles. Spicy. Wouldn't want Ma to find out.
   He shifted back and forth, in an obvious hurry.
   Three customers loitered in front of him. College girls. Sundresses, halters, shorts. Plenty of skin for the Summer breeze.
   Nearby, The Professor lingered, playing with his fingers. Staring at the girls, then glancing away. Replaying some perfect joke in his mind, biding his time to break the ice. He had to be older than their parents, yet he couldn't help himself. Summer was his favorite time.
   "Couldn't you girls hurry up a bit?" Jefty asked.
   The girls looked back, then dismissed him. They were catching up, sharing stories, gossiping, laughing. If it was any other customer, I might have encouraged the girls, but it was Jefty. I let him stew. The later he was, the more likely Mommy would snoop.
   "I really am in a hurry," he repeated, "I don't have time while you and your big butts talk your stupid baby talk."
   What a maroon. I rang for backup.
   "Excuse me! But we were in line first."
   "And we are checking out."

   I exchanged smiles with one of the girls.
   "Sounds like you bitches are just running your mouths instead."
   "Hey! Jefty!" I said loudly. No wonder he still lived with Mommy.
   "What did you call them?"
   Killwater stood at the far end of the counter. His eyes were flat and hard.
   The girls ceased talking and hurried their purchases. The Professor decided to organize the Rap section and backed away. Joe was almost to the front, I waved him away.
   "What's it to you? I called them bitches. They're in my way. Besides, this is none of your business."
   "Jefty, clam up."
   "Since when do you think you can talk to women like that?"
   I processed the third female. Short haired brunette with a diamond stud in her eyebrow. All three were alarmed. Jefty resembled a bully in an ice cream suit, Killwater looked like the biker from hell.
   "I talk to men and women like that. Especially if they're nothing more than useless bumps in the road."
   "You need to learn manners, kid."
   "And you need to learn to shut your fucking mouth."

   "Here you go," I handed the brunette her change. "And thanks for leaving me this mess," I whispered.
   "Sorry," she murmured back. All three were gone in five seconds.
   "Are you in a hurry, too? You want to cut in front of me?" Jefty asked, sarcastic.
   "No. I'll wait till you're done. Then we can go out together."
   "Suits me. Like I worry about some loudmouth wearing dirty, black underwear."

   I could have sold tickets.
   The two gentlemen went outside. The conversation was harsh and brief. If I had actually sold tickets, buyers would demand a refund.
   "Where'd I set my drink?"
   Killwater strolled over to his Coke.
   "What happened to those women?"
   "Out the door. Probably joining a convent right now, Dude."
   "Just my luck," Killwater chuckled, and headed towards Rock.

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