Sunday, March 9, 2008

Customers: Part 09 - Squishy Man

   "Could you watch my register for a bit?" Trina asked.
   "No problem."
   "There's a guy over in Cassettes. He doesn't know it yet, but he needs my help."
   I surveyed the section. "Big creampuff mooning over in Soundtracks or that 14 year old gangsta?"
   "Aren't you funny?"
   "Oh, maybe you mean that personal trainer type."
   "Wish me luck," she grinned.
   "You just be back in time to check out the Squishy Man."
   Trina cringed, then prowled towards Adonis.

   Squishy Man was a Classical Regular. Came in Saturday, checked New Releases, bought German or Russian. Moody and broody.
   The staff avoided him on sight. He was pasty white and soft. Bread dough. One might play patty cake patty cake with him, he was so soft. Zero muscle tone. The Squishy Man handle was in use when I started.
   He peered out of thick round spectacles. He was more into opinions and statements, less into questions. He liked touching. Tapped people on their shoulder or just below their ribs. Then complained.
   "Does this noise really have to be so loud?"
   Saturday morning, speakers purred light and breezy. Chart hits, movie soundtracks, alternative rock, rhythm 'n blues. No metal, no rap, no industrial or techno. That morning, Classical actually played. Orff's Carmina Burana. Not gentle music, but it should have been right up Squishy Man's alley.
   "I find my powers of concentration are diminished when you broadcast compositions I'm overly familiar with."
   Customers complained about loud music, about Rock. Country was stupid, Rap was offensive. Top 40 was repetitive, Jazz put people to sleep, and Christian or Gospel ... no one liked those. That Saturday, five Regulars browsed in Classical. Four were in Carl Orff Hog Heaven. Squishy Man protested, however, not because he disliked the music, but because familiarity distracted his mushy brain.
   I rolled my eyes, faded Carmina, and loaded Sinatra. If someone whined, staff fired up Sinatra, Beatles, George Strait, Al Green.
   As always, the Squishy Man entered with his shambling, meandering gait. His pants were baggy, white t-shirt half tucked, he always looked unfinished. Squishy Man taught at the large college. There were a number of profs in Classical. Hard core Regulars were predominantly Professors, Doctors and CPA's. The Doctors were quiet, CPA's gregarious, Professors moaners. They hated teaching, university politics, privileged, dim watt pupils. I doubted any of them scored coed leg.
   Trina and Mr. Rocky shifted their conversation to the Singles area. I tended Classical and watched the Cassettes register. Plenty of customers. Including Squishy Man.
   Funny, five minutes with the Squishy Man was an eternity. Ten minutes with someone cute was a nanosecond.
   " ... I conclude cheque writing is inherently problematic." Squishy Man tore up check number three.
   Squishy Man couldn't write a check to save his life. One of the girls, Emily, a bubbly type, once threatened she would brain him with a hole puncher or shoot herself if she spied his checkbook.
   No one understood his difficulty. Customers with severe mental problems mastered bank draft IOU's. For the fourth time, he scrawled across the paper, then held it against the lights. What was he looking for? Invisible hieroglyphics? I had watched, three times in a row, as perfect checks were ripped up after he noticed "something." What a muffin.
   "Mistakes lead to complicated misunderstandings," he explained.
   I grasped his meaning dimly. I had phoned his professorial abode several times for special orders. His mother always answered. She was a confirmed screamer. Loud, rural, and terrifying. Norman Bates sprang to mind. I didn't want to think about his home existence. "Misunderstandings" could be imagined a thousand unsettling ways.
   Everything was good. Check cleared. I handed Squishy Man his receipt.
   He'd purchased Beethoven, Brahms, and Orff. Orff, the "noise" he'd complained about, whom we'd removed from playing.
   There was no accounting. After he paid and departed, Trina took over her register.
   I didn't ask her how she fared.

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