Waiting on Celebrities
                   Fiction by Robert Radin

      I first waited on the character actor in the summer of 1984, right before
the Olympics.
      He had been on a popular television show in the 1970s.  He played the
husband of a beautiful witch.  He was actually the second person to play the
part.  The show’s ratings declined after he took over the role and many people
thought it was because of him, but that wasn’t true.
      He was wearing a pastel yellow sweater and a pair of white slacks on the
day we met.  It was as if he was going to the country club to play a round of
golf with his friends and had just stopped in to pick up a molly bolt.  His eyes
were watery and blue.  He took a single out of a red Italian billfold and
handed it to me.  I gave him his change.
      “Have an incredible day,” I said.
      “Thanks,” he said.  “You too.”
      Most cashiers said “Have a nice day.”  They were so used to saying it—
and the customer was so used to hearing it—that it was meaningless.  By
replacing “nice” with “fantastic” or “magnificent” or “superb” I could
surprise the customer and turn our reflexive exchange into a genuine human
encounter.  The key was to say the new word with sincerity; if the customer
thought I was being cheeky the whole thing would backfire on me.

      Celebrities came to my register because I was fast.  Sometimes a
celebrity started in another cashier’s line and switched to mine.  When I saw
this happening I counted backwards from ten.  It was a little trick my
caseworker had taught me.  I wasn’t anxious because I had a famous person
in my line; I was anxious because the famous person was in a hurry.
      “You can’t take on other people’s stress,” my caseworker said.
      She was the one who got me the job to begin with.  She knew the store
manager, Tom Geupioas.  I think they had dated at some point.
      The character actor wasn’t impatient.  The second time I waited on him
he had all the time in the world.  I was working in lumber and he came to my
register with a lattice panel in an irregular size.  I called for a price check.  
Danny Boy was on the floor, but he was working the circular saw and
couldn’t hear me.
      “It’ll be just a minute,” I said.
      “All in a day’s work,” the character actor said.
      He stood at the end cap in front of my register and smelled the car
deodorizers shaped like Christmas trees.  Then he tested the plastic
cigarette lighters.  Then he pulled out the nail files and the corkscrews on the
Swiss Army Knife knockoffs.
      Danny Boy turned up five minutes later.
      “What do you need, Frank?”
      “Price on this panel.”
      “Dimensions?”
      “Six by ten.”
      “$7.99.”
      “Thanks, Frank.”
      “No problem, Frank.”
      The character actor looked at my nametag.
      “Why did he call you Frank?”
      “He calls everyone Frank.”
      “But then you called him Frank.”
      “We’re just goofing around.”
      I punched in the SKU number and the price for the lattice.  He was
probably putting up a trellis in his backyard, I thought.  Bougainvillea,
maybe, or purple hyacinth.  He probably had one of those modern ranches
in the Encino Hills: gleaming tile entry, sunken living room with plush white
carpet and modular furniture, sliding glass door, kidney-shaped swimming
pool.
      “Will you call me Frank?” he said.
      He leaned forward, taking me into his confidence.  For the first time I
appreciated his height.
      “Will that be cash or charge?” I said.
      He handed me his credit card.
      “I want you to,” he said.
      “Let me think about it,” I said.
      This was another trick my caseworker had taught me.  When someone
wanted something from me I didn’t have to give them an answer right away.  
I could say “Let me think about it.”  I made bad decisions under pressure.  
Sometimes the best decision was no decision at all.

      The character actor walked to his car.  From my register I could see him
wrestling with the lattice, trying to strap it to the roof.  I called Danny Boy to
help, but by the time he got out there the character actor was gone.  I turned
off my register light and brought my till to Hazel.  
      Hazel worked in the office, behind a steel double door, inside a
bulletproof glass booth.  She was protected but also on display, standing
there counting money all day.  The cashiers weren’t allowed to speak to her.  
Mr. Geupioas had admonished me on my first day.
      “No fraternizing with Hazel,” he said.  “She has a lot on her mind.”
      The only time Hazel spoke was if you had a discrepancy: The money in
your drawer didn’t match the total for your receipts.  You could be five cents
over or under; any more than that and she filled out a form and made you sign
it.  Then you had to meet with Mr. Geupioas.  If you met with Mr. Geupioas
three times you were fired.
      I had seen it happen.  I had seen my fellow cashiers tremble as Hazel
pulled out the telltale pink carbon forms.  It filled me with survivor’s guilt.  I
was in the middle of the longest winning streak in company history: six
months without a single discrepancy, not even a penny.  It was unheard of.  
My colleagues were in awe of me, but they were also resentful.  I had
already won employee of the month twice.  I didn’t dare tell anyone what
Mr. Geupioas had recently confessed to me: The only reason he didn’t give
me employee of the month every month was because he needed to keep up
morale.
      I rang the buzzer and Hazel let me in.  I put my till in the stainless steel
drawer in the window.  She pulled on a lever and the drawer closed.  Then
she picked up my till on her side of the glass and nodded, which meant I
could go.

      I went to see Carmen.  She worked in paint.  All day long she stood
behind a counter covered with color swatches.  Customers looked through
the cards and told her what they wanted and she consulted a table of
equations.  Fierce fuchsia plus English grey equaled dusky rose.  There was
a whole theory behind it.
      “Will you shake some paint for me?” I said.
      “Maybe,” she said.
      I went behind the counter and handed her a can of beige semi-gloss.  
She clamped it into the mixing machine and flipped the switch.  The whole
thing rattled like a Gatling gun.
      “There are two types of celebrities,” I said.  “Subcultural and
supercultural.  The subcultural’s fame is confined to a particular audience.  
The supercultural’s fame is universal.”
      “I waited on Melba Moore yesterday,” she said.  “She bought fifteen
cans of country pink.”
      “Who’s Melba Moore?”
      She turned off the mixing machine.
      “I guess it’s a black thing,” she said.
      “Don’t do that,” I said.
      She took the can out of the mixer and opened it with a hand weeder.  
We peered inside.  The paint looked like cake batter.
      “When are you going to ask me out?” she said.
      “I have to go to the bathroom,” I said.

      The stalls in the men’s room didn’t have doors.  I sat on the toilet and
prayed no one came in.  I smelled bad from all the sulfur in my medication.
      I still needed to tell Carmen about the critical role time played in
celebrity behavior.  If a celebrity was famous for something he had done in
the present, it was much more likely he would be arrogant and disrespectful.  
By extension, if a celebrity was famous for something he had done in the
past, it was much more likely he would be modest and polite.  Time exalted
celebrities, and it humbled them.
      Danny Boy flung open the bathroom door and walked right up to me.  
He wasn’t burly, but he carried himself like a muscle-bound man.
      “Jesus, Frank,” he said.  “What crawled up your ass and died?”
      “Be cool, Frank,” I said.
      “You be cool, Frank.  Strap a Renuzit to your backside.”
      “And your shit doesn’t stink, Frank.”
      He pondered this for a moment.
      “What’s the SKU on a three-inch PVC closet flange?” he said.
      “I’m on break,” I said.
      “I’ll remember that the next time you need a price.”
      “Sioux Chief or Armstrong?”
      “Armstrong.”
      “430246139.”
      He went to the mirror to check his pompadour, tamping it down ever
so slightly with his hand.  Between the hairdo and the pack of cigarettes
rolled up in his sleeve he looked like the real deal.
      “Sandra says Carmen’s into you,” he said.
      Sandra worked in the garden department.  She was Carmen’s best
friend and she was dating Danny Boy.
      “We should double,” he said.
      I liked Danny Boy, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything with him
outside of work.
      “Maybe,” I said.
      “Don’t be a pussy,” he said.
      He checked his hair one more time and walked out.  I should have
been more collegial, I thought.  I should have been more forthcoming with
the SKU.

      I finished my business in the bathroom and went to the 7-Eleven
across the street.  I called my caseworker from the payphone.
      “There’s this woman in paint,” I said.  “I like her.”
      “I don’t think you’re ready for that.”
      “I feel ready.”
      “You’ve made a lot of progress.  It’s important to take things slow.”
      “I don’t meet a lot of women I want to go out with.”
      “That’s the scarcity mindset.  Remember: The world is abundant.”
      “But she feels like an abundant woman.”
      I heard a rustling sound, and then a cough.  It was a man’s cough.
      “Time to go,” she said.  “We’ll talk on Wednesday.”

      I picked up my till from Hazel and returned to my register.
      Near the end of my shift, sometime after the sun had gone down, a
man in a trench coat and a porkpie hat approached my register.  Danny
Boy was following him, and Nestor the Filipino from flooring, and Stacey,
Mr. Geupioas’ secretary.
      The man slapped a couple of freshly cut car keys on the counter.
      “Get me out of here,” he said.
      He looked up at me from under the brim of his hat and I recognized
him at once.  He had been the leading man on a popular science fiction
show in the 1960s.  He had been typecast ever since and had publicly
expressed his bitterness on more than one occasion.  I hoped that someday
he would be able to reconcile himself with his past.
      You be the captain and I’ll be the first officer, I thought.  You wear
gold and I’ll wear blue.  We can go to Vasquez Rocks.  We can hitch a
ride out to Pearblossom and get date shakes and watch the sand pile up on
the side of the highway.  When we’re hungry we’ll take out our phasers
and kill a lizard and cook it over a fire.  It’ll taste like chicken.  At night
we’ll sleep in a cave.
      Inez Delgado from electrical was coming toward my register with a
Sharpie and a black-and-white head shot.
      “Please,” the leading man said.
      I typed in the price and the SKU for the car keys.  It came to $1.59
total.  He gave me a ten and I gave him his change.
      “Have a stupendous day,” I said.
      As I watched him run out of the store I realized I had violated all
three of Mr. Geupioas’ commandments.
      The first commandment was memorize the keypad, because if you
looked at the keypad while you were typing in the price or the SKU it
slowed you down.  Before you knew it your line was backed up to the
garden department and people were yelling at you.
      The second commandment was put the bill on the till.  This was to
prevent one of the oldest cons in the book: A customer gives you a ten
and you put it in the till and give him his change and he says “But I gave
you a twenty.”  You have no way of proving what he gave you because
the bill is in the till.  It’s his word against yours, and since he’s the
customer he’s always right.  So you put the bill
on the till and you keep it
there until you’ve counted back all his change.  Then if he says he gave you
a twenty you just point to the bill.  You don’t have to say a word.
      The third commandment followed from the second commandment:
Count back the change.  Mr. Geupioas said this was the main reason for
overages and underages: Instead of counting back you did the math in your
head and gave the customer his change in one lump sum, but without
realizing it you gave him too much, or too little.
      The leading man gave me a ten.  I should have put it on the till.  Then I
should have counted back from $1.59.  I should have given him a penny
and said $1.60.  I should have given him a nickel and said $1.65.  I should
have given him a dime and said $1.75.  I should have given him a quarter
and said $2.  I should have given him three singles and said $5.  I should
have given him a five and said $10.
      I didn’t do any of this.  Instead I put the ten in the till, did the math in
my head, and stuffed the bills and the coins into his outstretched hand.
      Inez Delgado was breathless when she got to my register.
      “Where did he go?” she said.

      I turned in my drawer to Hazel at the end of my shift.  She counted
the money and checked my receipts, impassive as always.  She filled out
a pink discrepancy form and passed it through the slot.  I signed it and
gave it back to her.  She picked up the phone.  A few minutes later Mr.
Geupioas called me into his office.
      I hadn’t been in his office since he first hired me.  He wasn’t too
optimistic about my prospects at the time.  “Cashiers come and go,” he
said.  “It takes a certain constitution.”
      I sat down in a chair across from his desk.  It was upholstered in
black Naugahyde and studded with brass tacks along the arms and the
back.  It looked colonial.
      On the wall behind his desk hung a photograph of the store from
when it first opened in 1949.  The parking lot was full of Ford pickup
trucks.  There was a stand of cypress trees that had since been bulldozed
to make way for a propane tank.
      “You were five dollars over,” Mr. Geupioas said.
      “I was waiting on a leading man,” I said.
      “Did you put the bill on the till?”
      “He was in a hurry.”
      He opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a paperweight.  It
looked like an oversized clothespin, with a gold-plated inscription glued to
the top: Divers do it deeper.  For a moment I imagined him and my
caseworker snorkeling along a coral reef.  
      “Did you count back the change?” he said.
      “I don’t usually get flustered by celebrities,” I said.
      He tapped the paperweight against the edge of his desk.  Then he
put it down and took two unsharpened pencils from his pencil holder and
started drumming on his ink blotter, a series of tight, syncopated fills.  It
sounded like “Tom Sawyer” by Rush.
      “This is an anomaly,” he said.
      “It won’t happen again,” I said.
      He changed tempo, jumping to the ending of “Won’t Get Fooled
Again” by the Who, pounding out the four declarative beats, then the
wash of cymbals before the final chord.  When he was finished he put
down the pencils and leaned back in his chair.
      I walked out of his office and went back to paint.  I didn’t care
about my progress or the scarcity of my mindset: If the world really was
abundant then I had to choose, and I had to choose well.
      Carmen was sorting swatches, replacing the cards that were missing.  
She had the full spectrum in front of her.
      “Help me with this,” she said.
      She handed me a stack of white.  The names of the shades were on
the back of each card.  There was cloud and gardenia and wedding cake.  
I couldn’t tell the difference.
      “What are you doing tomorrow night?” I said.

      Carmen lived in a one-bedroom in Burbank.  She must have been
looking out the peephole, because she answered the door before I
knocked.
      “Welcome to my happy home,” she said.
      I had never seen her out of uniform.  I had imagined her in something
black and clingy, but instead she wore a complicated navy pantsuit. The
neckline was ruffed and the sleeves billowed out and cinched at the
elbows. Non-functional zippers lanced the pants at odd angles. Only her
shoes—three-inch wedges that showed she had painted her toenails red—
gave me hope of accessing her body.
      We went into the kitchen.
      “Would you like something to drink?” she said.
      My caseworker had told me I wasn’t allowed to drink on my
medication.
      “I have to drive later,” I said.
      “I meant water,” she said. “Or juice.  I don’t have any alcohol.”
      Maybe she was a recovering alcoholic and this was a sensitive matter
for her.  Or maybe she thought I was an alcoholic for assuming she wanted
to serve me alcohol.
      “Actually, I don’t drink,” I said.
      “Why not?” she said.
      So she did drink; she just didn’t have any alcohol in the house.
      “I mean sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t,” I said.
      “I’m hungry,” she said.
      She had covered a card table with a blue tablecloth and matching
napkins.  She motioned for me to sit down and went to the stove and took
a lid off a pot.
      “Do you like chicken?” she said
      “Everyone likes chicken,” I said.
      She spooned a chicken thigh onto a plate and served it to me.  The
thigh looked so forlorn, sitting there all by itself.  But it smelled good, like
garlic and cumin.
      “I marinated it in adobo sauce,” she said.
      “It looks professional,” I said.
      “I made it for Sandra and Danny Boy.  She didn’t like it.  It gave her
heartburn.  But Danny Boy licked the plate.”
      “He’s a good guy.”
      She got a thigh for herself and sat down next to me.  I wanted to ask
her if there would be any side dishes.  I was starving.
      “Do you think his hair is too high?” she said.
      “I think it works,” I said.
      “Sandra’s going to break up with him.”
      “What?”
      “She’s a two-timer.”
      “I wish you hadn’t told me that.”
      “You can’t say anything.”
      I felt sad for Danny Boy.  My ex-girlfriend had cheated on me.  It
was right before I went to the hospital.  She was an aspiring actress and
she met some guy on the set of a student film.  It was a vision-quest type
of thing and she played the hero’s sister.  She had to carry a tiki torch
through the desert.
      After dinner Carmen and I went into the living room and sat down
on the couch.  She turned on the TV.
      “
Magnum,” she said.
      Three men were dressed, respectively, as an Easter bunny, a gorilla,
and a pig.  Each one had a gun.  They were robbing the patrons of a
restaurant called the King Kamehameha Inn.
      We kissed during the first commercial break.  Her breath smelled like
generic bad breath and adobo sauce.  The combination was intoxicating.

      The next time I waited on the character actor he was wearing a gray
suit and a gold tie.
      “You’re looking sharp,” I said.
      “I wore this suit in
The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.  I can’t believe it
still fits me.”
      He put two houseplants on the counter, a pothos and a Creeping
Charlie.
      “If it were up to me men would still be wearing suits and ties to
work,” he said.
      “We’ve become too casual,” I said.
      “You can’t grow up if you keep dressing like a teenager,” he said.
      The plants came to $8.64.  He gave me a ten and I counted back
his change.
      “I forgot,” he said.  “I need contact paper.”
      “I’ll have someone bring it up for you,” I said.
      Before he could protest I picked up the phone and pressed the
intercom button.
      “Contact paper to register three,” I said.  I put my hand over the
mouthpiece.  “What color, sir?”
      He leaned forward.
      “Did you have a chance to think about that thing we talked about?”
      I had thought about it.  I had even talked to my caseworker about it.  
She said I should trust my instincts.
      “Samples of all contact paper to register three,” I said.  I hung up the
phone.
      As the character actor waited for the contact paper a woman came
up behind him.  She was short and stooped but had the preternaturally
youthful face of a Persian princess: dark eyes, olive skin, Roman nose.
      “Can I have your autograph?” she said in Farsi-inflected English.
      She pulled a receipt out of her purse.  The character actor took it
without blinking.
      “You can write on the back,” she said.
      “I need a pen,” he said.
      I handed him a Bic.  He signed the receipt in a fluid, looping cursive
and gave it back to her.
      “Many happy returns,” he said.
      “God bless you,” she said.
      He looked at me the way he used to look at the witch right after
she cast a spell: with a grimace that made his top lip disappear.  He
wasn’t mad at me.  He was disappointed.
      “I have to go,” he said.
      He handed me my pen and walked out of the store, without his
houseplants and without his contact paper.
      My phone rang a minute later.  It was Danny Boy.
      “What the fuck, Frank?  Samples of all contact paper?”
      “Never mind,” I said.

      I didn’t have feelings about the leading lady one way or the other.  
When I saw her standing in my line I thought to myself
where do I know
you from?
      She set a box of nails down on the counter with a thud.
      “Did you find everything you need?” I said.
      She looked at my nametag.
      “Did you know your name means
miser in French?”
      “That will be $7.42,” I said.
      She gave me a ten.  Or a twenty.  I took it from her and put it in my
drawer and then I couldn’t remember.  For the second time I had violated
the second commandment.  Now I was in a no-win situation.
      “I’m not a miser,” I said.
      “I didn’t say you were.”
      I counted back her change.
      “$7.43, $7.44, $7.45, $7.50, $8, $9, $10.”
      I hesitated.  I was waiting to see if she would give me a sign.  An
expectant look, maybe, or an outstretched hand, but she just leveled her
gaze.  She was sizing me up.
      If I asked her how much she had given me the other people standing
in line would hear and think I was a fuck-up.  They would say to
themselves
he’s flustered and starstruck and we don’t have time for
this
.  There would be no way for me to explain to them that I didn’t care
about celebrities—not without insulting the leading lady.  Then she would
make a scene and Mr. Geupioas would get involved and he would take
her side and make me give her the money, because the customer was
always right.  She would have the last laugh.  “See,” she would say, “I
knew you were a miser.”
      I took a ten out of my drawer.
      “And $10 makes $20,” I said.

      I sat in the black Naugahyde chair and looked at the photograph of
the store circa 1949.  I could have sworn someone had moved the trucks.
      “You were ten dollars under,” Mr. Geupioas said.
      “It was the leading lady,” I said.
      “She seems like a woman of integrity.”
      “I couldn’t remember what she gave me.”
      He took his unsharpened pencils out of his pencil holder and started
tapping out a 4/4 beat.  He could have been playing anything.
      “You didn’t put the bill on the till?” he said.
      “Once I realized my mistake I thought I should err on the side of
caution.”
      He put down his pencils and leaned back in his chair.  We both
looked at the photograph from 1949.
      “We should take a photograph of the store today and put it on the
wall,” he said.  “Then forty years from now two guys will sit here and
look at it and get all nostalgic.  They’ll see the cars in the parking lot and
say cars were so much better back then.  But we both know cars today
are crap.”
      “The American automobile industry does seem to be struggling,” I
said.
      “You think everything was better in the past because you’re
remembering how you felt when you had no past.”
      I couldn’t tell if he was talking about me or people in general.  
      “I’m going to put you in patio furniture for a while,” he said.  “All
you have to do is keep up the displays and carry stuff out to people’s
cars.  You can recharge.  In three months I can rehire you as a cashier
and we can start with a clean slate.”
      “I don’t want to work in patio.”
      “I’m offering you something I’ve never offered anyone else.  You
go to patio and it all comes off your record.  You start over.”
      I couldn’t have one more thing taken away from me.
      “I’m not going to have another discrepancy,” I said.
      “You’re putting me in a position,” he said.  “If you mess up one
more time you’re out.  Do you understand that?”
      “I understand,” I said.

      As soon as it was time for my break I went across the street to the
payphone outside the 7-Eleven and called my caseworker.
      “Mr. Geupioas wants to take me off the register for a few months.”
      “Maybe that’s a good idea.”
      She sounded even more measured than usual.  He must have called
her to give her the heads up.
      “If he takes me off the register he’s never putting me back.”
      “That’s not what he said.”
      “How do you know what he said?”
      “Part of my job is keeping tabs on you.  I need to know that your
re-entry is going smoothly.”
      “My re-entry?”
      “You know what I mean.”
      “I’m not working in patio.”
      “Let’s talk about this on Wednesday.”

      I put together a few good weeks.  There were celebrities and non-
celebrities.  There were people from my past.  The first girl I ever kissed
showed up drunk in lumber one night.  The bay doors were open and the
air was cold.  She was wearing the same halter-top she’d worn the night
I kissed her.
      “I remember you closed your eyes,” she said. “It was like you were
kissing your mother.”
      It happened in her garage, in her father’s car.  He had a brown
Impala.  He kept a fire extinguisher in the front seat.
      “My mother kisses better than you,” I said.
      “You’re gross,” she said, and she stumbled away, down the aisle
toward the Douglas fir.
      Then there was the doctor who had treated me for my weight loss
when I was in the hospital.  He was wearing a muscle T-shirt and Lycra
bike pants and those special bicycle shoes that make a clicking sound
when you walk.
      “I can tell you’re a good cashier,” he said.
      “I can tell you’re a good bike rider,” I said.
      I had never liked him.  When I was in the hospital I had tried to
explain to him why I was losing weight.  It was because I had a super-fast
metabolism.  I ate something and I crapped it right out.  He didn’t believe
me.
      I got depressed when I saw these people from my past.  My
caseworker said it was because I compared myself to them.
      “But what if their lives are better than mine?” I said.
      “You can’t judge your insides by someone else’s outsides,” she said.
      “You can if you’re looking in their eyes.”
      “We’ve talked about this.  The eyes are not the window to the soul.”
      She was right, I thought.  But then a former professor of mine came
into the store.  He didn’t recognize me.  So I beseeched him with my eyes.
      Please.  Remember.
      Just before leaving school I’d written a paper for him about Hilary
Putnam, a philosopher who believed the meaning of a natural kind term,
such as
water, was its chemical formula: H2O.  So if two people were
talking about water and an interlocutor asked them how they knew they
were talking about the same thing and they told him it was because they
had the same image in mind when they used the word
water he would tell
them they were dead wrong.  Because the only way to know if they meant
the same thing was to go out and find the water they were referring to and
analyze its chemical composition.  Meaning, according to Putnam, wasn’t
in your head.  It wasn’t a mental experience at all.  It was something
outside of you, something only a scientist could determine and verify.  
      He illustrated his point with a story.  He imagined another planet:
Twin Earth.  On Twin Earth there was a substance that had all the
properties of what Earthlings called water.  Twin Earthlings drank it,
swam in it, and put it in their car radiators.  When Earthlings and Twin
Earthlings talked about water it seemed like they were referring to the
same thing.
      But when a scientist analyzed the substance Twin Earthlings called
water he discovered it had a different chemical composition—XYZ
instead of H
2O.  Since water was, by definition, H2O, the Twin
Earthlings weren’t talking about water when they were talking about
water.
      I found Putnam’s argument idiotic, but I liked the idea of Twin Earth.  
A parallel world where I had my counterpart, another me who responded
differently to the same set of circumstances.  Another me who had an
entirely different life.  On Twin Earth my former professor recognized me.  
He asked me what had happened to me and wanted to know when I
would return to school.  He told me he liked my paper and was looking
forward to discussing it with me.  But here, on Earth, he simply put a can
of WD-40 on the counter.  I picked it up to look at the SKU as he
stroked his white Vandyke in contemplation.
      “WD-40 stands for water displacement, fortieth try,” I said.  “They
were trying to develop a solvent to prevent corrosion in rockets and it
took them forty formulations before they got it right.”
      “I have a squeaky door,” he said.
      “Then this is the stuff,” I said.

      The former child star was standing in my line.  She was holding a
yellow requisition slip, which meant she was buying something big—bricks
or concrete or stepping stones—something Danny Boy would have to
bring to the register and carry out to her car.
      There were two customers in front of her: a teenage boy buying a
wrench and a middle-aged woman in a sweat suit the color of bubble gum.
I rang up the boy in under a minute, but the woman took forever.
      “I know I was supposed to get something else,” she said, putting a
bag of potting soil and a trowel on the counter, “but I can’t remember
what.”
      “Something related to gardening?”
      “Something for my husband,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention
when he told me.”
      The former child star took off her sunglasses and glared at the
woman.
      “I never listen to my husband,” the woman said.
      “I could put this aside for you,” I said.  “While you think.”
      “It’s okay, hon.”
      She gave me her credit card.  I ran it through the imprinter, had her
sign the slip, and gave her the carbon.  Then I bagged the trowel and the
potting soil.
      “Have an intoxicating day,” I said.
      The former child star stepped to the register and handed me her
requisition.
      “Did you find everything you need?” I said.
      “What the hell was that supposed to mean?” she said. “Have an
intoxicating day.”
      I looked at the requisition.  She was buying eight 100-pound bags
of concrete.
      “What if she were an alcoholic?” she said.
      She had a point, but something told me I shouldn’t concede it.
      “That will be $19.37,” I said.
      “Don’t ignore me.”
      I motioned to the line.
      “There are a lot of people waiting,” I said.
      “That’s total bullshit.”
      Danny Boy came up with the concrete.
      “Is there a problem, Frank?” he said.
      “Your friend Frank is a jackass,” the former child star said.  “‘Have
a
nice day’ isn’t good enough for him.”
      “Should I get Mr. Geupioas?” Danny Boy said.
      “I think we’re okay,” I said.
      “We’re not okay,” she said.
      The other customers stepped back.  They were like kids circling on
the blacktop, rooting for a fight.  They couldn’t take their eyes away.
      “I want an apology,” she said.
      I was just about to give her one when the character actor appeared,
as if by teleporter.  For a second I thought I could see his atoms
reassembling.  He was wearing the suit from
The Ghost and Mr.
Chicken
.  He put his hand on the former child star’s shoulder.  It was
clear they went back.
      “This guy was incredibly rude to a customer,” she said.
      “That’s not good,” he said.
      “He called her a drunk.”
      “We’ll notify the management.”
      “I can’t take this.”
      The character actor put his arm around her.  He was a full two feet
taller than her.  She fell against him.
      “Let’s get out of here,” he said.
      They walked out together, Danny Boy following behind them.  
Eight hundred pounds of concrete was leaving the store, and I hadn’t
gotten a penny for it.

      I drove around the freeway for three hours after Mr. Geupioas
fired me, waiting for Carmen to get home.  She was still in her work
uniform when she answered the door—the red pants and the royal blue
shirt with the white piping.  She still smelled like paint.
      “Danny Boy told me what happened,” she said.
      She invited me in.  We stood in the entry for a moment and I
panicked.  Maybe she didn’t want to go out with me anymore, I
thought.  Maybe her attraction to me was based purely on the fact that
we worked together.  It’s like when you’re a kid and your best friend
lives next door.  One day he moves away and you never see him again.
      “Give me a minute,” she said.
      She went to her bedroom and closed the door.  When she
returned she was wearing a yellow blouse and striped trousers that
looked like pantaloons.  I knew fashion was a form of communication,
but I wasn’t sure what she was trying to tell me.
      “Have you had anything to eat?” she said.
      I shook my head.  She took me by the hand and led me into the
kitchen.
      “I’ve got beef tips marinated in adobo sauce,” she said.  “I’ll heat
it up.”
      She made a plate for both of us.  I prayed there would be
something else—rice, or a vegetable—but nothing.  When we were
finished we went into the living room and sat down on the couch.
      “I couldn’t ask her to pay,” I said.
      “You did the right thing,” she said.
      She put her arms around my neck.  Then she kissed me on the
cheek.  Then she kissed me full on the mouth.
      Then she drew back.
      “You’re not into it,” she said.
      “That’s not true,” I said.
      She turned on the TV.  Some bad guys were shaking down Kate
Jackson.  One of them told her she shouldn’t lie because lying was bad
for her complexion and it would make her capillaries burst.  He said this
several times, each time placing the stress on the second syllable:
ca
pillaries.
      Then the bad guys brought in Bruce Boxleitner and started to shake
him down, but he and Kate Jackson fought back and managed to escape.  
They ran up several flights of stairs and out the door to the roof.  They
barred the door, but the bad guys shot holes through it.  Just when it
seemed like there was no way out Bruce Boxleitner noticed a wrecking
ball demolishing a neighboring building.  When the wrecking ball swung in
their direction he grabbed it and climbed on.  Then he pulled Kate Jackson
up on the ball.  The bad guys broke down the door, but it was too late:
Kate Jackson and Bruce Boxleitner were swinging out over the rooftops,
over the power lines and the trees, into the clear blue sky.           





                           ____________________________


Robert Radin’s work has appeared in Salon, Marie Claire, and The
Morning News
, among other publications.  


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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Contemporary Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 8, Number 2
(Fall 2013)

Copyright © 2013
by Leah Browning, Editor.

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Apple Valley
Review
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