Hard Rain

August 3, 2009

They come at you fast and furious, at the special orders desk:

How To Snare a Millionaire. Before Valentine’s, alright?”

The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, please. Newest edition. My pal’s finally getting an entry.”

“Vachel Lindsay, my good man. The works!”

“I’ll need about ten books by Sark.”
–“Sartre?”
“Sark.”
–“Molten… seedless… hydroponic… housewives?”
“Right. Sark.”

The best way to punish these fuckers is to give them what they want.

Every so often, you get something in return.

+++

It began with a phone call, as these things often do.

My colleague grabbed the receiver and winced:

“I’m… I’m… sorry… I’m…sir… I can’t… no… I can’t… Hey! I-can’t-understand-what-you’re-saying.”

“No,” her voice rose quizzically, “I don’t need you to speak up… I need you to speak… differently…”

A very fair assessment—I had assumed she was wrangling with Donald the Duck.

“Ah… yes… I see,” she moved to the web-search computer. “Labrador Retrievers…”

We already had a man with a thing for Schnauzers. He called up every Sunday, looking for new publications on the breed. There usually weren’t any—and this caused him much pain. Pain that inevitably flowered into acrid harangues. It didn’t seem feasible to allow another monomaniac dog-fancier into our lives. I went to the bathroom and tried to forget the whole thing.

“Nice guy, actually,” my friend reported, when I returned to the desk. “I was afraid it might go Schnauzer, but he’s really not that kind.”

Pleasant tidings indeed.

“His voice is pretty strange though…”

I floated my Donald Duck comparison.

“More like Porky Pig, I’d say—a white water hiccup… I took a deep breath, pictured the Lachine Rapids, paid attention to the rocks and paddled on home.”

It was just as exciting—and much wetter—to converse with him in person. The floodgates burst wide two weeks later: a portly, red-faced man rushed through the doors and sloshed up to the cash.

“You’ve got some books—some books—some… books for me!” he gushed. “Labs A-<cough!> Labs A-<cough!> Labs Afield… and… another one… equally important!”

Yes. The New Complete Labrador Retriever. Both items were filed under the name “Palmer Hard.”

He reached for them like long lost friends. Puddles of enthusiasm welled up all around us, as he proclaimed the foundation of a dog-knowledge empire, in his mother’s small Verdun flat.

“I told you he was better than Schnauzer man,” my friend poked me, as we did some quick maintenance.

The guy panted after his bliss with the determination of a Soviet five-year planner—pumping orders night and day. Collies, corgies, basset hounds. Whippets, beagles, samoyeds. Twice a week, he came for them.

Until his savings ran out.

Palmer Hard did not—could not—work. He survived on some kind of a disability pittance. I got the sense that he had given up feeding himself in order to bankroll phase one of the project, but even that gesture had its limits.

He kept right on making orders.

The Hard file was getting out of hand.

The dogs were barking.

When the books engulfed an entire shelf, The Manager reached for the muzzle.

“That’s enough of this Hard shit,” he scratched at the hair on his chin. “Cut him off.”

Of course I was on duty the next time he rolled in—empty-handed, as usual; head in a caniform cloud.

Wonderful Weimaraners!” he grinned.

His tail went limp when I informed him of the ban.

“You-mean-you…? You-mean-you…? You…can’t…?”

He appealed to The Manager, but the tether held firm.

Two weeks later, Palmer Hard strolled in with a woman on his arm:

“The Bearded Guy told me… he told me that… if I purchased four books,” he flashed four fingers, “four books… I could order the Weimaraners.”

I was genuinely delighted to hear it.

Hard stroked the woman’s purse:

“This is Dolores.”

“I’m Dolores,” she handed me the cash.

I punched up the transaction—and processed the request.

Palmer laughed like a schoolboy.

Dolores kissed the spittle from his chin.

That night, he called up to tack on a very strange postscript:

“Hel…Hello,” the voice was low, confidential, verging on suave. “I’d like one more book please. It’s called… Nubile Ladies.”

My colleague blanched at the data on the screen:

“What the fuck? Palmer Hard?”

For the first time in his life. Probably.

When the couple returned, he was clearly in the doghouse. They got kind of rowdy in the Self-Help aisle.

“All—alright,” he winked at her, finally, “fine… You don’t have to buy… You don’t have to buy five.”

“You aren’t nice, Palmer,” Dolores sailed out the door.

He drifted back to the desk.

“I’m… I’m sor–… ‘m sorry…” he dribbled. “I can’t… I can’t make my… my purchases this week… Do you? … Think? I could ask for one more? Great Danes in the Mornin’?”

“I’ll handle this,” The Manager tapped my shoulder.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Hard,” his fingers clacked ominously. “In fact, I’m deleting your account. Your books will be shelved in the pet section… and in… uh… Health & Sexuality… Your orders aren’t special anymore. Of course, you’re quite welcome to buy these items. But I think the rest of our clientèle deserves a crack at them.”

Palmer unleashed the juiciest raspberry on record.

“I don’t understand what happened,” my colleague wondered, as Hard stomped down the street, toward Indigo. “He was one of the good ones.”

“He was an asshole,” The Manager sighed.

“Which one of you wants to clean up this gob?”

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6 Responses to “Hard Rain”

  1. WP said

    Wow! Dude, I gotta say, particularly given my vast amount retail experience, you nailed it! This is the kind of guy who would fit perfectly on my store’s Wall of Shame (a collection of caricatures of some of our own bizarre repeat customers). Bravo, sir!

    By the way, I think Palmer Hard might now be residing in Mississauga. His speech impedement has improved, but he’s moved on from dogs to anime (of both the regular and Hentai variety). Tell me, did he have really bad teeth?

  2. pillock said

    Good Lord, I have to think about this one! I’m not sure. Maybe I think it would’ve been better if you’d eschewed the short, sharp sentences in favour of something more langourous and erudite? Or maybe that’s an unimaginative man’s fix…but still. I find myself longing for some connection, any at all, between your first-person character and Palmer, or at any rate Dolores. Lots of punning in here, but no one to be aggrieved by it, it seems.

    I only say it because I think those short sharp sentences shouldn’t be wasted. I suppose they’d be good, if only the thoughts were more langourous and erudite. Or pissed-off. Or something. Mind you I like your “wall of passive reaction” thing. But here I’m not sure it accomplishes what the other shorts do, even though they’re just as passive…somehow they’re more active, even so.

    Too much?

  3. pillock said

    Um, feel free to email if I’ve mixed you up. I think your writing’s colourful and engaging.

  4. anagramsci said

    Pillock!

    thanks so much for reading and commenting–gonna think about them and get back to you!

    this is definitely a work in progress, and I’m still working on nailing down the narrator’s role in the projected procession of 20, 25 or maybe even 30 Montreal Fiores–so the points you’ve raised are very well taken!

    thanks again!

    WP–thanks for your contribution too–the hope is that these stories will express something universal about quotidian life, and it means a lot to hear from a fellow veteran of the retail trenches… As for the original Palmer Hard–I honestly can’t remember his teeth (they were usually concealed behind a waterfall)… but I believe he is still shopping at the bookstore down the street from my old employer’s

    Dave

  5. It might seem an ignorant quibble, but have names in fact been changed in a preemptive attempt to salvage what remains of Palmer’s personal dignity? I mean if it is good enough for Sark…

  6. anagramsci said

    it’s true–some lingering affection for the original Hard man has prompted me to conceal his identity…

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