Blog number 16 – May 28, 2020
Hey, Jaye Hawks… what up!
For me? Another day, another rash of random ridiculousness bombarding my brain, which I’m compelled to share. I suspect the long hours of self-isolation (and perhaps those glasses of vino before bed) may be responsible for the dizzying influx upstairs. Either way, I plead the fifth.
Alrighty, let’s get to it, what say?
For this humorous parable, I’m harkening back to the bad old days and one of my first and longest-lasting jobs—a sales associate at the venerable “S.” wallpaper shop in Buffalo, NY, sadly gone but never forgotten.
For twelve memorable years, yours truly flipped thousands of pages in this century-old, book-stuffed establishment, earning myself a reputation as one of the best damned wallpaper consultants in the land!
Also, a cyst on top of my wrist the size of a gold ball from all that repetitious flicking. (Such is the price of fame.)
Rabid for a romantic floral? Got ya covered. Craving cutesy checks for a country cottage? No sweat. Burning for a bold geometric? Ask and ye shall receive.
There was no wacky color combo or hard-to-find request I couldn’t unearth, no “pasted or unpasted” page left unturned. Back in the day, I had the contents of every book nailed, and trust me, there were hundreds of the buggers.
But it wasn’t just my passion for pattern that made the gig interesting. Heck, no. The true lure lay in the never-ending parade of offbeat characters that frequented the joint. Our large showroom was always jammed, and believe it or not, we had a whole slew of “regulars.” Strange but true—the big city houses in the ʼhood sucked up room after room of paper, and the faces popping in were oft familiar. Remember, this was back in the heyday, the colorful crest of the wallpaper-crazed boom.
(You know. Picture the faded vinyl boasting crowing roosters or oversized cabbage roses that took forever to scrap off your kitchen walls when you first moved in.)
I’m pleased to report wallcovering is enjoying a healthy resurgence these days. Thankfully, it’s far better-looking and much easier to remove then it used to be. If boring painted walls aren’t doing it for you, check out some wow-factor options and get set to impress your afraid-to-make-a-statement friends.
JC says: Jazz up that ho-hum powder room! (Just don’t forget to prime first.)
Okay. Without further ado, here are some all-time highlights from those wild and wooly days, this lady knee-deep in designer double rolls.
- The Cash
It was my first day on the job. My assignment was to “get acquainted” with the mammoth library while my savvy coworkers took care of the customers. Most unusually, there was a lull in the traffic around noontime, and I found myself all alone while my compadres grabbed lunch in the back. Flicking through a large bible of (atrocious) paisley patterns, my eyes boggled as twenty or so crisp Ben Franklins fluttered out of the pages and onto my bunion-causing pumps.
What. The. Living. Fuck?
Naturally, I assumed it was a test. I mean, who on God’s green earth would stick their savings in a wallpaper book, right? (We loaned out our sample books like a library, for a week at a time. Strict fines if late, bub!)
Hightailing it to the breakroom, I stood mute, fanning out the moola in my fingers like a set of green fans. Four pizza-munching faces stared back at me like I was off my rocker. Too late, I realized it was no test, and what could have been mine was instantly lost.
Sharp as a whip, my boss lady B. immediately recalled who had last borrowed the book. Dialing this crackhead up, the discovery was relied and the woman came rushing over lickedy-split, explaining she’d hidden a windfall from her hubby in a spot he’d never in a million years look. (Tue dat.)
I didn’t get a reward from Mrs. Airhead. Nada, zero, not even a fricking five-spot. Can you even believe that Scrooge? In addition, my shiny-new spouse reamed me over the coals when he found out what a good-Samaritan-goody-two-shoes he’d gotten himself saddled with.
The man had a point… that scratch sure would’ve come in handy for a much-needed appliance or three. But, hey, could I help it if I was more honest than his cunning, finders-keeper’s ass?
Still. If it hadn’t been my first day…
- The Hairdryer
My fearless leader’s brother was in the wholesale beauty supply biz. Every few weeks, he’d bop on over with a hot new product for his big sis to try out. One teeming-with-rain afternoon, it was a honkin’ hair dryer, decked out with all the bells and whistles. B. couldn’t wait to test this five-speed baby out, plugging it in behind her desk to assess its mighty power.
Coincidentally, at this exact moment, the front door burst open, admitting a habitual sales rep. Soaking wet and bogged down with two armfuls of the latest and greatest selections, he was hailed in a hearty voice. Ms. B’s voice boomed out across the crowded showroom as she made the man an offer I’m sure he’s never quite forgotten.
“HEY, DON! COME ON OVER HERE AND I’LL BLOW YOU BONE DRY!”
Important note: the accessory she was brandishing was hidden behind the counter in front of her. In other words, Donnyboy kinda took her at face value, if you catch my drift. To this day, I can still picture his face—as tomato-red as the unseen Conair buzzing in her hand. I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure he just dropped his books and fled, back out into that messy monsoon.
Maybe it would’ve gone another way, if all those people hadn’t been hanging around. I doubt it, though. I seem to recall the dude was a happily married man.
- The Bee Sting.
Gregarious B. had a partner in the business, a gruff teddy bear named R. Everybody thought they were married, but far from it. Yin to one other’s yang, these two were the perfect foil, like an unrehearsed comedy team. Made for a load of daily belly laughs, let me tell you.
One fine summer day, the two big front doors were flung wide to let the balmy breeze in. (Big surprise, A/C must’ve been on the fritz.) As per usual, the place was thick with clientele on the hunt for the perfect pattern with which to adorn their plaster walls.
Suddenly, a loud shriek disturbed the peace. An irate hausfrau marched up to the counter, across which R. sprawled, examining the sports pages. Raising her voice so everyone in the joint and across the road could hear, she jabbed an accusing finger across the Formica.
“SIR, I JUST GOT STUNG BY A BEE!”
(As if we planted the little devil on purpose.)
Taking his time, R. tore his eyes off baseball stats and assessed her pugnacious puss. Brows raised, he clucked a sympathetic tongue, studying the large lump planted like a bullseye in the center of her frowning forehead.
“Oh, geez… sorry about that. Your forehead, wow, it looks terrible! Wait, I’ll get you some ice.”
Hausfrau glared daggers at him, redirecting his attention to an angry splotch swelling just above her elbow.
“Not my forehead! My arm!”
I guess it didn’t help we all sort of tittered behind our hands. But come on, it was an honest mistake. Granted, R. wasn’t the smoothest dude on the planet, but I’ll bet anybody would’ve made the same faux-pas. Shit, that mountain between her eyebrows was huge!
The lady stormed out in a huff, leaving a heavy stack of books Guess Who had to put away all by myself. Rude! Well, she was likely in a hurry to get some mud on that big, nasty sting. Who knows, maybe she had an legit allergy.
Or maybe she was finally going to call a dermo.
- The Heart and the Banana
I’m combining these two beauties because both ditties follow a familiar theme: MPI. That’s JC code for Mistaken Penis Identity. An alternate label would be IFIMS, or Insert Foot in Mouth Syndrome. The heart debacle belonged to me. The banana misstep was classic B. at her finest.
- A) One of my coworkers (P of the flaming red hair), was heavily involved each year in a charity telethon, selflessly devoting many hours to a fine and noble cause. In the feverish heights of the thing, fellow volunteers would routinely drop by at the showroom, armed with various perks to hand off for P. to distribute.
One of these do-gooders was a dapper, bespectacled gent, whom I knew not from Adam.
In he rushed one day, hefting a brimming box of large, crimson-hued lapel pins. Heart-shaped swag, these were eye-catching “thank you” buttons for generous donors to wear with pride.
Situated front and center at the counter (R. must have finished his stupid newspaper), I greeted the suit-coated stranger with a wide smile, gesturing to his own nattily adorned lapel.
“Hello, here to see P? Great! I see you have your big heart-on!”
God in high heaven, I never lived that one down. Lucky for me, B. followed my red-faced lead shortly thereafter, so she couldn’t very well talk. And I still maintain her pithy pronouncement was even worse than mine:
- B) One of our “regulars” was a well-known weatherman on a local TV channel. Every week, he’d lug scads of sample books in and out, intent on papering his mansion top to tail. A thin string bean of a man, he usually searched the shelves sans spouse, obviously the more aesthetic one in the marriage.
It was the policy to plop your books on counter and get “checked out,” same as an actual library. A few weeks after the Heart-On Incident, the cloud studier strolled up with his selections, but breaking tradition, this day he wasn’t solo. Holding the small hand of his toddler-aged son, he greeted B., who barreled past me to assist.
(Being the owner, B. always waited on the “celebs”.)
Grinning cheekily, my boss nodded down to the wee imp, looking from his wide baby blues over to the vicinity of his parent’s bulging crotch. Opening her mouth, she let loose a zinger, eyeing the large piece of yellow fruit stuffed in Papa’s left front pocket.
“Hi, little man. I see your Daddy’s got a nice, big banana in his pants.”
Bahahaha… I’m still howling, all these years later. And isn’t it ironic both of us all-stars blurted out our pervy enquiries with the exact same “I see you…” line?
Freaky shit, for sure. We always were soul sisters.
I guess I don’t have to tell you how fast Mr. “High Barometer” bolted out of the place, nor describe the brilliant color turning B’s cheeks an interesting shade of purple. Yeah, that banana crack was one for the ages.
He was like three weeks overdue returning the books, too. Ha, wonder why. And when we finally did catch up with The Weatherman again, you can betcha he didn’t have a dang thing poking out of his pockets.
Well, not that we could see, anyway.
- The Pisser
It was a stagnant July day, a Saturday. I recall this vividly, because I used to constantly beg B. that we close early, or better yet, not be open at all on summer weekends. Seriously… who shops for shit to stick on the wall when it’s a sunny 80-plus degrees outside?
Lamebrains with nothing better to do, that’s who!
My pleas fell on deaf ears, and it was the bane of my existence to stand around waiting for the occasional idiot to show up while Hubby roared around the lake, whooping it up with his buddies in our spiffy, second-hand speedboat.
Arghhhh… the angst still lingers.
A well-dressed woman entered the portals. Very well-dressed, like a mature fashion model. Skirt, hose, pearls, the works. This I remember equally as well, since our usual clientele favored shorts, sloppy tees, and tree-hugger Birkenstocks.
Or conversely, the occasional heart-on or banana.
The store featured a massive “back room clearance” area, where cheapskates could pick up deal-of-the-century $2.00 rolls of paper for rental units or for their own chintzy hovels. Stuffed with outdated patterns, this bargain hunter’s delight was the antithesis of the pretty front showroom: dark and ill-lit, outfitted with an ancient, wood-slatted floor.
The Model politely asked to peruse the priced-slashed offerings. I waved her through, my Saturday Sulk cranked to high gear. (“Knock yourself out, loser.”)
After a lengthy interval, B. and I traipsed back to check on our solitary shopper. At first, we couldn’t spot her. Had she snuck out the back door, without even the decency of a “Goodbye?” It was then that we heard it, in unison. A steady liquid sound, like a stream of running water.
Our hearing was A-Okay. Turned out it was running liquid, a whole shazitload of it. But not water.
Gaping like a pair of dummies, we spied the fashion plate crouched on the wood between two dusty aisles, skirt yanked up, pissing like a bonafide race horse.
“WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?” B. screeched, incredulous.
This is the most bizarre part. The perpetrator just shrugged, pulling up her stockings and proclaiming in dulcet tones, “Sorry. I really had to go.”
(Uh… we did have a bathroom, lady. Quite a renowned one. See number 7.)
Following this newsflash, the brazen urinator breezed by our immobile forms and minced out the door, pretty as you please. B. and I stood there blinking, watching smoking pee seep between rotting floorboards.
Now, you’d think after something like that, the boss lady would cut me some slack and close an hour early, on account of pain and suffering. But no. Not only did the tyrant make me stay until the bitter end, I got assigned the repulsive task of pouring soapy water over the stain, a humiliation befitting the underling that I was.
Side note: R., P., and the rest of the gang never really believed that one.
Yeah. Like that lingering odor all summer long wasn’t effing proof enough?
- Humpty the Potato Eater
There was this character who used to come twice a year to inspect the fire extinguishers. To this day, I’ve never laid eyes on anyone who can remotely touch Hump when it comes to the word “unforgettable.”
I knew even back then that the man was one-of-a-kind, and not in a good way. For twelve straight years, two dozen times total, I’d snatch up the office horn, beseeching my husband to speed on over and take a gander. To see for himself I was not exaggerating.
(“HURRY! Get over here now! The Fire Extinguisher Man is here!”)
The lazy sow never complied, not once. Work, schmerk. So flipping busy… it’s his own damned fault he never believed me and my zest for detail.
I’m talking six-foot something. I’m talking bald, and asphyxiatingly smelly. Beady little eyeballs that went in two separate directions. A body shape uncannily identical to the storybook version of Humpty Dumpty’s, except way huger. Truly, you had to see this dude to believe him.
Now, I don’t want you Hawks to get the impression I’m poking fun at someone’s appearance. As bizarre as Hump looked, it didn’t matter, as long as he possessed a redeeming quality or two.
That would be a negative.
For one thing, he never spoke, only grunted out unintelligible sounds to the piss-saturated floor. Not a scrap of personality whatsoever. Even R., a “man’s man,” could never get a word out of the grumpasaurus. For another, there was that unholy stench. I mean, the guy was in the service industry. Could he not invest in an on-sale bar of Irish Spring?
Then there was his speed, or lack thereof. We could never decide if Humpty was super-thorough, or super-intent on killing time. (I myself heavily leaned toward the latter.)
Granted, the place the pretty large. Between the front and back rooms, and the mysterious, creepy basement (which I never once set a toe in), we boasted a decent carbon footprint. But, really. Possibly we possessed half a dozen extinguishers, all total. Just to give the weirdie the benefit of the doubt, let’s double that.
I ask you… does it take the better part of a work day to read faded little tags on a bunch of red steel cylinders? No, it does not. Not unless you make it your habit to disappear in the bowels of a building for hours on end.
Not unless you go and sit out in the back parking lot in your junky old truck—sun blazing, windows barely cracked, and engine not running—eating uncooked, unpeeled potatoes from a mesh bag.
I. Am. Not. Making. This. Up.
The basement part was awful, especially when R. wasn’t in-house to go and check to see if our egg-shaped friend was still among the living. Because you can bet your sweet bippy none of us ladies were going clicking down that rickety flight of cobwebby stairs, no way, no how.
Many was the time we were a hairsbreadth from calling the cops, only to hear the plod of gargantuan work boots emerging from subterranean depths. If we ever dared ask “What took you so long?” all we got back was a standard Hump-grunt before he weebled to the clearance room to hide himself among discontinued rolls of mauve-colored tulips for another three hours.
The potatoes? A most bizarre luncheon selection, and quite unsavory to witness. I’m not lying when I admit the surreal tableau out in that deserted lot haunts me still, like a scene out of a Buňuel film.
That was the afternoon I rang my hubby’s ear off, but of course Mr. Water Skier was incommunicado, happily enjoying the high seas. What a missed opportunity, and those were the days before cell phones. Lacking photo documentation, I was accused later that night of telling tales.
“What? Who eats raw spuds straight out of a bag in a sealed-up truck? Come on, babe… I know you’re steamed that you were stuck there all day, but you’re full of it.”
Dirty, sunburnt, rum-reeking disbeliever!
Not only was I not “full of it,” that was another gorgeous summer Saturday we didn’t get to close early. The worst part? We hadn’t had a single customer the whole live-long day. Finally, finally, B. had been on the brink of conceding, before Hump had shown his misshapen ass up.
Lord, had I been screwed.
Next morning, my day off? Skies poured rain for eight hours straight.
- The World’s Most Famous Washroom
And so we arrive at the ultimate absurdity, the pièce de résistance of my parable. That little red plaque with its incorrect comma? My husband had it specially crafted, gifting it to the store. Touched, R. hung it in our tiny, scuzzy bathroom with pride, because a truer declaration had never been writ.
Oh, yes. The House of S. did contain the world’s most famous washroom. Or perhaps a better word would be infamous.
From the first turn of the key to the last, folks flocked to our tucked-away toilet in droves, beseeching entry into its cramped, 5’ x 5’ chamber. This steady stream of pilgrims was a source of amazement to us all, not to mention a constant plague upon our olfactory nerves.
I mean, one can only stock so much Lysol!
Question for the ages: Why, why, why did B. and R. never refuse those buggy-eyed supplicants admission, as they blurted out that so-familiar query, charging in from the sidewalk to yowl:
“QUICK! DO YA HAVE A BATHROOM I CAN USE?”
I guess my bosses were too soft-hearted, even surly ol’ R., who normally hid his marshmallowy side well. Or maybe they were terrified something nasty would occur on the brand-new showroom carpet, or God forbid a repeat offense on that well-seasoned wood floor back yonder.
Now, a clarification must be made. These leg-crossed pleas were not uttered by legit patrons of the establishment, taking a break from their pattern perusing.
No. These were complete strangers in off the street, who wouldn’t know a ballerina border or a bucket of clear paste if it smacked them in the kisser. These folks simply decided, that out of all the businesses lined up and down the block, a purveyor of pretty designer papers was surely the most logical choice in which to relieve oneself.
The charming bakery, two doors down? Ah, too obvious. The large diner close by? Uh-uh, too expected. The bright coffee shop, a stone’s throw away? Nah, too predictable.
I’ve got it… Let’s try the WALLPAPER STORE! The one boasting the pee-wee-sized toilet and the rust-speckled sink, shoved in the furthest corner of the yawning back room. You know that john… the damp cracker box with the falling-off latch, located through a maze of roll-stuffed shelves a body needed a trail of popcorn to find its way back out of.
You know, The World-Famous One!
˂smack on the head˃
Why, yes! Stupendous idea! Now you’re talking!
Yup, for twelve years they came hard and heavy, occasionally even forming a line. It was nuts. So nuts, many was the time us saps who actually worked there had to “hold it.” Yet permission was always granted, no matter the appearance of the individual hopping up and down and turning green.
Maybe Humpty Dumpty did a good thing, desensitizing us to trivial details such as no shoes or a bunch of missing teeth. I guess if ya gotta go, ya gotta go. Still, the memory of those long-ago visitors to the Land of No-Name Tissue (we were not so foolish as to spring for Charmin) remains preposterous, off-putting, and icky to the nth degree.
I’m only bringing it up to drive home how kind and progressive my employers were.
Because, not to go into detail, the way those freaks took forever back behind that peeling, Pepto-pink-colored (oh, the irony) door?
I’m not talking number one here, people.
Awriiiight! Ending on a high note, I’m hoping my multifarious memories brought a smile to your face and elicited a chuckle or two. This weaver of words lives to serve.
Until next time, Jaye Hawks.
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In humor, lust, n’ love,