July 30, 2009
They say there’s microbial life on Mars, and that was certainly the case at the planet’s namesake store on Sainte–Catherine. The place fairly bristled with biodiversity—and catered to it as well. Bored with humanity, as it seems to be constituted? Mars always had a few unseemly specimens in stock. I’m no prize ham myself, but the dude at the cash (Ozzy Osbourne in a toque) knew just how to cure me:
“Hey guy—you’re doin’ good, eh? I saw ya on TV!”
(He absolutely did not.)
That’s customer service, folks—with a dope sick smile.
I started shopping there years ago, when it lurked in orbit around Phillips Square, upstairs from an adult theatre. The Martian consortium ran both establishments, and they were quick to cross-market:
“Fuck that triple x shit,” Ozzy once told me, “We got four X down there! Guaranteed sex. You’ll see.”
I was twelve. But you don’t turn your back on a chance to build up your brand. Those guys planned ahead. They didn’t do much else. They certainly didn’t sweep, dust, alphabetize or pay their heating bills. All was chaos in the cold void of Mars—and you knew it had been this way from the start.
It was the purest browsing experience of my life. Paperbacks, comics, records, tapes. Posters, t-shirts, rags and games. They could have had anything—and your guess was much better than theirs as to where it might be. Daring New Adventures of Supergirl #13? Ozzy had other issues on his mind. He’d talk the wax clean outta your ears, if you got him on the right subject. It wasn’t all flesh-peddling either. More often than not, it was robots.
“I mean big, homicidal row-bits,” he would spray, in his nasally way. “Helpers of mankind? Not for long. You’ll wake up one morning with a steel boot up your ass—and no foot inside it. Guaranteed.”
The guaranteed sex sounded better.
Ozzy wasn’t alone with his fears at the helm of the ship. His partner—The Viking—was an even-keeled sort: a tall, ponytailed android who didn’t talk much—except about salvaging the business:
“That piece of shit theatre was dragging Mars down.”
So they moved down the street, into a basement near the corner of Sainte-Catherine and City Councillors. They brought every mite and mote with them. The moist conditions under the rock thickened the collection into plastic-pulp pudding. For a while, the store was more wonderfully alien than ever. You simply could not see the floor. But within a few years, they’d terraformed the place to the ground.
Just one law. That’s all it took. A creased yellow decree. Even the dismal calligraphy couldn’t save it. After years of announcements like “Welcome Grand Prix!” and “Ask About Our Deep Discounts on Anal,” they hit us with:
ALL PORNOGRAPHY MUST BE EXAMINED IN THE DESIGNATED AREA.
Was it a joke? After all, “The Management” hadn’t bothered to separate the Heat from the Laugh Digests. It was a parody of Order, at best. But the “area” existed—and the peepers trooped dutifully into it. My own tastes run more toward Nero Wolfe novels and Alf Comics; but it had mattered so much that Mars made no distinctions.
I was working nearby at the time—and spending my lunch breaks at the store. Would some challenger arise to beat off the system? Would Mars let things slide if they did? I had to know.
Finally, one day, the man across the bin from me struck Hustler in a drift of Doctor Whos. A pomaded yobo in a dirty cream suit, he had no clue at all about the Rule. I made a bid for his attention, but a discman barred the way. His eyes were smeared onto the page.
The Viking rowed over.
“Excuse me sir.”
Cream Stain didn’t look up.
“Sir?” A shadow loomed over the offender. “Sir!”
What can I say? The guy was preoccupied.
“He can’t hear ya, man,” Ozzy yelled from the cash.
“Yeah,” his partner sighed, “no kidding.”
The tall man reached for the headphones and yanked the wire from its socket.
“Ah!?” Cream Stain yelped. “What’s going on?”
“You wanna know what’s going on?” The Viking’s voice rose. “You want me to explain it to you?”
The all-purpose retail defense.
“Sir, you’re reading pornography in the middle of the comics section.”
“Sections?” the man’s lip quivered. “But, I…I found it here.”
He looked at me for corroboration. (It was me or Ozzy.)
“Don’t look at him,” The Viking threw up his hands. “And don’t make excuses. You’ve been drooling over pussy in full view of these Disney comics.”
“What Disney comics?”
“I’m standing on them,” he pointed down. “I’ll stand on your head in a minute.”
“Yeah,” The Viking nodded. “You’re pissing me off. Me and my friend over there.”
He pointed toward the cash.
“Personally,” Ozzy smiled, “I’m fine with it. But a rule’s a rule, right guy?”
He winked at me.
The Viking pushed the man toward the exit:
“Get your ass outta Mars.”
I kept right on pawing at an issue of Action (that’s Superman—not porn).
“Fuck!” The Viking slammed the door. “How’re we supposed to attract people with these assholes around?”
“I don’t know, man,” Ozzy shrugged. “But it’s no big deal. People are just about done.”
A little while later, the place was condemned.