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.”
–“Molten… seedless… hydroponic… housewives?”
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?”
July 28, 2009
Listen, if you think Le Faubourg’s lookin’ good, you can just skip this story, ‘cause you’re fucked.
It is fucked.
I’m an open-minded guy, but this is one subject I don’t care to discuss.
It’s the Green Monster of retail, alright?
And we both know it didn’t have to be this way.
Yeah. Sure. It had problems from the start. Pre-fab old world markets always do. At the height of its grandeur, the first European word it conjured was ersatz. But at least where there’s imitation, there’s something flattering going on. Ces jours-ci, Le Faubourg is an oppressive slab of nothing.
So who took out the contract on its sliver of life? Can’t The Man even be trusted to take the Eurotrash in? Someone stumbled onto a good thing there. Why’d they have to trip it up?
I can’t answer these questions. I’m not an intrepid reporter or a real estate pundit. I’ve just spent a lot of time in the food court, whenever the escalators are working. I’m sitting there now—next to the Bangkok—with a plate of Phad Thai and a sightline congestion headache.
I turn to my fellow consumers for relief. I counted five of them on my way to the restaurant. I can’t see them now, of course, but I’ve learned to store up these nutrients like a dromedary of the imagination. Every visit to Le Faubourg is a leap into the backwash of life, shod with concrete galoshes. Somewhere behind these Cask of Amontillado renovations, the good times are screaming. I’ve done enough searching for mine. These days, I’m more partial to the rest of the choir.
There’s a middle-aged lady near the tea shop that I see here a lot. She’s just the type to wax nostalgic over carpet stores past. There was a good one on that bizarre mezzanine, back in 1994. An old classmate of mine used to own it. Cedric. Twenty years old and rolling in fabric. Meeting him there had been quite a surprise. He’d spent most of his teen years in rehab. Then fate pulled those rugs out from under him. This was long before the work crews invaded. Businesses did fail even then. In the end, Cedric gave smack another shot. He’ll write a memoir someday, you’ll see—Needles and Threads. It’ll help a lot of folks to make sense of their lives. Upon finishing it, the tea lady will glance up at her Punjabi tapestry and smile.
There’s a studious-looking man diggin’ in, on the building’s western front. This guy—I know—has got serious problems: back when there were bins full of candy at the heart of the market, he threw himself at me in the kosher gummi aisle. I had been reaching for the worms—and there weren’t many left. He made a decision and snapped. There was room to run in those days, and I got trampled but good. That kind of thing could never happen now. The store’s been swept into a dusty corner of ground zero, and half the time there’s a tarp over its face. Who wants gummies under those conditions? Certainly not my friend, sitting there with his books and a few tins of Dollarama canned meat.
There’s a twelvish-looking girl doing things with her cell phone at the Nutri-Pasta counter. No way is she old enough to linger here long. My guess is: she’s already pushed on to some less pathetic destination, like a hospital cafeteria. She won’t be back—unless she sparks up a career documenting ennui, some day.
There’s a couple laughing together by that weird shafted elevator. It’s a Miramax romcom tableau. The kind they showed in the sous-sol, before Sharx took it over. A charmed detour—that little theatre—on the road between monarchist venues and cinemausoleums. Now it’s swimmin’ with the neons.