November, 2007

...doesn't it just suck, right out loud? I mean, it stinks on ice, yeah? You attempt a joke or a quip and it flops, and the intended recipient stares at you like like a dog for whom you've just done a card trick.

I have a decidedly...off-center sense of humor. It has kept me alive and kept me... uh... well,  what passes for sane, in my case, for years. Not everyone shares it; I wouldn't ever be stupid enough to expect that. Some people do, and I cherish those people. Now and again, it's enough when maybe only one or two people out of a crowd "get" me. The bare minimum number of live humans in any given situation who understand what I mean, or catch the nuance of what I'm either broadly implying-- or merely hinting at, from time to time, when I slip a little wry comment into conversation-- can save a really wretched, ordinary day and make it an occasion where a shared smile can just keep you from shrieking at the top of your lungs. It saves you pulling out bloody clumps of your own hair and grinding your molars to a fine, white powder because of the stress or boredom of your situation.

I've taken this shitty job. A real grit-your-teeth and knuckle your way though the day kind of a retail gig with a large company. Seasonal stuff, to lay in some cash for the holidays. Big place; national chain. You get their catalogues in the mail all the time. I won't name it here. The uber-boss is a cold fish who's still learning the ropes. The assistant boss is less than half my age, and bright and pleasant enough, but a real nerdy, company-type guy. He knows everything, and is pulled in 18 different directions, trying to answer everyone's questions and help everybody at the same time.

There are a couple of ditzy, fidgety, middle-aged ladies who work there, each of whom seems more befuddled and helpless than the other. There's a woman who works behind the scenes in a stock clerk type gig, who may actually be semi-retarded. I'm not kidding-- but then I'm not sure, either;  maybe she's just not very communicative. Or she could be autistic or something. Very dull and listless and never makes eye contact. She smokes, and is always off somewhere sneaking a butt when I need something.

Get the picture? Not exactly enough to keep the mind (mine, anyway...) alive. I have tried sprinkling a little humor over the proceedings, and so far it's going over like a turd afloat in the punchbowl. Today, one of the middle-aged ladies mentioned that she thought she detected the scent of cloves in a particular kind of spice muffin mix that was being sampled. I read the ingredients on the bag of mix, and cloves were the next-to-last one.

"You have a good nose" I told her. "Cloves are listed as the next to last ingredient. Very good!"

I picked up another product, a box of mix for another sort of quick bread which was called "MONKEY BREAD", and said to her: "Say, this one smells a little funny. Do you suppose they use fresh monkey in it, or is it that powdered stuff?"  

She just stared at me a minute before saying "There's not actual monkey in it. That's just the name of it." Completely straight faced... I just nodded and shuffled away.

Later on, the cold fish boss came and told me I had to watch a safety training video and then take a written quiz ( I shit you not...) about it.

"Then you have to read the Ladder Safety poster, and take a quiz on that, too" he told me.

"So, I watch a Safety Video and I take a Safety Quiz, and then I read the Ladder Safety Poster and I take another, Ladder Safety Quiz on that?" I asked.

"Uh-huh. Right." he said.

"Well, O.K.; sure. If you want me to do the Safety Dance, I can do that, too. I mean, I saw the video a few hundred times in the 80's", I said.

BLINK...BLINK.... blank stare.

"Uh no. It's just this video and this poster... in the office." he replied.

"Fine.... I'll get right on that", I said.

I tried not to burst into tears on my way to watch this insipid little film about bending your knees when you lift, and not trying to move a ladder when you're perched on top of it. Grown men actually need to be reminded of this stuff, apparently...

It was like that ALL GODDAM DAY.

My salvation came when I took a break and went to the Barnes and Noble bookstore nearby. They have a little cafe setup in there, and I felt like just chilling out with a cup of coffee, and reading a book for a little while. Now, this place is NOT a Starbucks, but they use that same, dismal, bullshit, coffee lingo-- silly names for things, and dopey nomenclature for small, medium and large.

I'm standing there, trying to plow through this gibberish menu board, and the young woman at the counter asks me: "What can I get started for you?"

I thought about saying "A steamy and illicit carnal romp with a lubricious teenager" but choked off the impulse.

"WHAT CAN I GET STARTED FOR YOU?" What the hell is that? What happened to "May I help you?" or the old standby: "Yes, please?" They're required to say this ridiculous stuff...

So, I tell her: "I'd like a cup of plain old, garden variety, B-Flat, regular style coffee, please. Nothing fancy or strange. Regular Joe-- not decaf."

"Would you like Squidgie, Volumish or Magnifico?" she asked. I think it was something like that. Whatever stupid-ass names they apply to small medium or large. Along about this time, I noticed another woman, slightly older, who had a vague, managerial air about her, sidle up to her. I could tell the younger gal was sort of new, and trying bravely to walk the walk as she talked the talk, under the scrutiny of her boss.

"Just a medium size will do, thanks" I told her.

She said: "O.K. Coming right up!" and turned to get it.

The other woman cleared her throat, and my server jerked, turned around and asked me: "OH! Uh... would you like to try our Christmas blend, sir? I forgot to ask you..."

"Christmas blend coffee?" I asked.

Her boss took a sip of whatever it was that she was drinking.

"What's in it; pine needles?", I asked.

Her boss snorted; the younger gal flushed beet red, and said: "No, sir! It's got Indonesian beans and..."

"And bits of broken ornaments? Candy Canes? What?" I asked, as her boss snorted again and this time shot a stream of coffee (maybe even the Christmas blend; who can say?) across the countertop.

"Uh... no, sir. It's just... uh..." she struggled on.

"No, thanks. Just plain old coffee flavored coffee for me. Medium. Caffeine, and sugar, you know? To get me all buzzed? Thanks..."

She darted off to fetch me my java, and her boss began to wipe down the counter and blot her face as she chuckled and shook her head.

"Pine needles? Ornaments? Candy Canes?" she laughed. "That's great. This one's on the house, mister."

I graciously acquiesced to her kind gesture. Hey-- it was... a moment, you know? Saved my day...


And further:

Honest-to-God, actual conversation with a customer...

She: (Tosses ticket on the counter from the parking garage's automated parking ticket spitter-outer)  "Can you validate me?"

I: "All right:  You're a kind, generous person who probably has a lot of wonderful friends, and you buy great, thoughtful Christmas presents for them because you care so deeply."

She: BLINK, BLINK, BLINK... "Uh... can you stamp this ticket for me?"


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