Honest Conversation Is Overrated
Actual Human Interactions Witnessed Or Overheard
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
In Twentieth And Twenty-First Century America
It’s been a long, quiet month or so in Comicland. I took a week off, and during that time all the insane people in this neighborhood either moved away or were finally confined to institutions more suited to their needs. The remaining irregulars have been sweet, hilarious, and other adjectives that haven’t provided me with any blogging opportunities.
Today, though, the tourists have arrived.
I usually shoot for getting to work a half an hour early when I’m scheduled to open the store. This isn’t because I’m a stellar employee, it’s because I know public transportation is awful and giving myself an extra half hour USUALLY means I’ll be less than five minutes late.
Because today is the first of the month, I had to reload my monthly pass, a process that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to about a minute. There are three cash machines and five credit card machines in the station near my house that allow you to add value to your card. I don’t use credit cards, so as I came down the stairs I did a quick eye check of the machines. In front of one of the cash machine was a line of, I am not exaggerating, thirty people. The other two machines had been opened up for maintenance.
"Excuse me." I said to the one person who was, presumably, going to fix one machine with his hands and the other with telekinesis. "Is there a reason why both of these machines are open?"
"It’s the first of the month. I have to put in lots of money." I assume this meant he was loading those horrible dollar coins into the machines.
"Shouldn’t you just do one machine at a time? And maybe not during rush hour?" I try and be polite to people dealing with the public because karma is a real thing, but this guy was about to add at least twenty minutes to my commute for no logical reason.
"Just use a credit card." He said. "Those machines are working."
"I don’t have a credit card." I said.
"That ain’t my problem."
I returned to the thirty person long line to find it wasn’t just thirty people, it was thirty students who were being instructed, one at a time, how to use their card as a monthly pass. The woman next to the machine was giving them step-by-step instructions including “You take your index finger and press it against the screen like this. Now you take the money out of your purse or wallet, making sure it is flat.” She repeated this info between every perplexed idiot student.
After, no exaggeration, eleven minutes, the repair guy finished loading one of the machines and nodded his head at me. I was glad I hadn’t wished he got his tongue caught in the bill accepter. But before I could get to the machine, one ninety year old woman descended from the ceiling Mission Impossible style (this seems hyperbolic but I have no idea where else she could have come from) and stood between me and the machine. There was a two minute archaeological dig through her purse to find her fare card. She pressed it against the machine, it beeped. She went on another dig, looking for money. It took her so long to find quarters that the machine reset, and she had to fumble for her card again, press it to the machine, and then she turned around and stared at me. “NOW WHAT?”
"You have to" take your index finger and "press one of the amount buttons." She did, but her finger was not strong enough for the screen to register it, so I pressed it for her. "Now you can put in your money."
She let out a horrible sigh, and went digging for more quarters. Trains came and left, the thirty people in line at the other machine whittled down to four people, humans evolved flight-like abilities, parachute pants came back into fashion, her great-great-great-great grandchildren turned seventy.
I was now going to be late for work.
When she was finished, it took me about forty-five seconds to update my pass. I walked down to catch the train, just in time, of course, for one’s doors to close as I arrived on the platform.
I got to the store at 10:04. There was no one there. Tumbleweeds passed, crickets chirped and then died of old age, the sun rose and set, rose and set, rose and set.
At 11:30 a family came in. Two parents, and two hyperactive but very friendly girls under ten. They, of course, all beelined directly for the Adults Only section.
"Excuse me," my phrase of the day, and I’m not even gassy, "but that section is for Adults Only."
"It’s ok," said the dad. "Look at this book, honey, The Little Book Of Butts.”
Fine, they’re not my kids. And it’s not like he picked up “Oh, and look at this one! Housewives At Play!” (It’s a NSFW book, but the link just brings you to Amazon, though you can probably guess the type of book it is without clicking the link)
I exhaled. Deeply.
After a few minutes in the Adults Only Section, the mother asked “Do you have any books on Greek Mythology?”
"Yes." I said. "We have them right over—" She was not listening to me. She was glasses deep in The Little Book Of Butts. “here.”
Leaving their children to scan the porn, the parents made their way to the back issue section. They flipped through X-Men and Wolverine and all of the mutants at the end of the alphabet. “Are any of these about Treasure Island?” the father asked.
"Not those." I said. "But we do have some old Classics Illustrated, and I’m pretty sure we have a copy or two of Treasure Island in there." I led him to the appropriate section.
The mother asked “No Greek myths?”
I smiled. “Yes. Over here.” I led her to the Greek myth shelf, pointing to aPercy Jackson book.
"Do you have any Percy Jackson books?" she asked, looking directly at my index finger which was pointed directly at the words "Percy Jackson."
"Yes." I said, picking up the book and handing it to her. "Right here."
"That’s all?" she asked.
"There are only two graphic novels in the series so far, and we’re out of the other one. I could order it for you, though."
She smirked. “We’re not from here.”
I said a silent prayer to whatever Greek deity was in charge of where people live. Then I went back behind the counter, where the father had a handful of about twenty Classics Illustrateds. “Could you open these?” he asked.
"I can open a couple of them, sure." I flipped through the pile and found the Treasure Island one. I took it out of its bag and handed it to him.
"It’s old." he said.
"It is." I replied. "It’s from the 1950s."
"This page is loose." he said, starting to fidget with it.
"Please don’t pull on the pages. It is a very old issue."
"You should glue it together better." He said.
"Yea, we don’t glue comics here. If it was in better condition, it would be much more expensive."
He nodded and flipped through the pages. “The English in here. It is not modern English.”
"Well," I said, "it’s a comic from the 1950s retelling a story written by a Scotsman in the 19th century. It’s not a modern story."
"I don’t like it." he said.
"Ok." I took the comic back from him.
"Show me Tom Sawyer."
I opened up the bag with Tom Sawyer and passed it, carefully, to him.
"I do not like the art." he said, almost immediately.
"Ok." I took the book back and returned it to the bag while the father wandered to the sci-fi section.
While the father scoured some old sci-fi paperbacks, the mother asked reasonable questions and seemed satisfied with my answers.
"Open this." the father said, handing me a copy of Galaxy from 1973.
I opened it and handed it to him. As he thumbed through it, the kids made their way back to the Adult Section to ogle The Little Book Of Butts some more.
"This book is not accurate." He said.
"Excuse me?" again.
"These stories are about the future but the future is now the past and none of these things have happened."
I sighed. “The curse of speculative fiction.”
"I do not want this one." he said. "Did any of these stories come true?"
I shrugged. “Probably not. I haven’t read all of them, though.”
"Why not?" he asked, smiling.
"Infinite amount of books, finite amount of time."
The family spent another half hour meandering around the store before the father left, and the mother presented me with one Simpsons comic. “That will be $3.99.”
She handed me a $100 bill.
"I can’t break that." I said.
"Your loss." she said. "You should be more prepared to do business. Your store won’t last very long."
I smiled. I didn’t mean it. “It’s not my store. But it’s been here for over forty years.” And I think we’ll survive without your $4 and your shitty attitude.
She wrinkled her nose. “But probably not for another forty.” and walked out the door.