I did my job well. I was proud of it. For no reason, as it turns out. Your own status simply becomes too important over time. I loved the job, it was a paradise, my paradise and my own paradise is basically worth nothing to the general public. I did not operate on hearts, I did not deal with millions, I did not sell works of art. I thought I worked it out by just reading. Words absorbing like a sponge, but it’s about status and I was a surviving minimum wage salesman of novels, half of which none bought in a year and the author names were forgotten as soon as you put the manifest aside before going to sleep. No status that could be sold to the females, I could still know so many books. Status, in the beginning, is everything you are to everyone – no matter who you are or what you want; status, a beautiful face, and beautiful things. I didn’t possess any of those three features.
Then there was the problem of getting to know each other. I spent 40 hours, mostly 42 or 44 hours a week at the store. During the week I came home, buried myself in the apartment, ate something, did nothing, because the working day was draining of strength, even if I actually did nothing, but above all, it drained me of my patience, which always needed a break to recharge. On weekdays I went to sleep at 10:00 pm, 11:00 pm at the latest.
Saturday was my day off, I was usually drunk or stoned, sitting in a bar or in front of the XBOX. I left out all the loneliness of everyday life for one day a week and lived it out as I wanted. On Sunday I sobered up and died a thousand deaths at least once a month. No time to acquire a large selection of marriage candidates, let alone get to know them. I wanted to meet my dream woman in a bar, whether my dream women wanted to meet their dream man in a bar? I didn’t think so. The bottom line was that only work as hunting grounds remained – theoretically. All the employees were at least ten years older than me. Gerhard often joked that he still had hope for the addition of young blood; preferably hot, wicked and with low standards. I was never a man of prayers, I had rather thrown my eye on the customers. Most of them didn’t want to talk to a salesman, let alone flirt when he wasn’t selling expensive watches or jewelry. My social status wasn’t desired, I can’t blame them. There were always those who danced out of the line of social acceptance, but the few times I could count on two hands.
After months it came, that a local artist was commissioned to design new bookmarks, which could then be distributed as a promotional gift. In the shop there was a rumor about nepotism because the artist was the sister of the company owner, I didn’t see it that way when they showed us the chosen motifs before they went to print. A man created only in black and red, crouching before a flame that dares to consume him with the same colors; what this has to do with books the cuckoo knows; I liked it nevertheless, not that the opinion of a worker of the lowest hierarchical level counted, the employees didn’t have the right of veto anyway and they had only been shown to us prematurely to find someone to hand them out in front of the store. Gerhard volunteered; an older, rough-looking female colleague, whose teeth I had never seen before, supported him involuntarily. When the boss had finished with the division, she wrinkled her nose loudly in the break room and complained about the cosmic injustice.
The bookmarks were printed, the day came, and that employee was on sick leave. The boss chose the first fool who didn’t see him coming, I cleverly hid behind my shelf, sneaked around him and he chose the part-time mom from the do-it-yourself department for the task. At first, she was overwhelmed, asked around, she wasn’t there yesterday and. Gerhard gladly took care of her. “What are those ugly things?” I heard her say as he showed her the boxes from which to get supplies if necessary.
For a long time, I watched the two of them hand out bookmarks outside on the sidewalk. Most people just walked by, keeping their hands in their pockets, others instinctively reached out when something was stretched out against them. Some of the bookmarks went straight to the garbage. That’s too bad. It was foreseeable that never all were distributed. The boxes were distributed among us so that we distributed the bookmarks further when the customers walked through our aisles of the store.
Most of those who arrived in my hallway, I just ignored. The bookmarks stayed with me in the box. I found them too good for the garbage, although I didn’t know what to do with a load of painted cardboard bookmarks; but I wanted them. Every other employee, just a few meters away, tried to persuade the customer into taking them and I did not do any harm, nobody would leave the shop a bookmark lighter, who did not want it. I put the box in the corner and left it there. I thought I placed them out of everyone’s sight, around the corner, would be enough, but later I had to realize that it wasn’t good enough of a hiding spot if the circumstance was against me. Sometimes the world seems to just simply want to spit in your soup.
I came back after lunch. A young woman was standing in my hallway. She had a sweet face, I didn’t like her short lesbian haircut, but hair grows back. I filled the shelves and watched them. She had two books in her hands and weighed them. One, that was a wonderful story about betrayal, the other a pile of paper that, according to the words in it, gave good fuel for a fire.
She came to me with her choice. She smiled at me as I tried to explain why the book in her left hand was much better than the one in her right. She listened to my lifetime stealing lecture and then told me:
“I’ve already read both of them. The book is for a friend.”
“So you listened to all this anyway?”
“I wanted a second opinion” she smiled.
We got off to a good start. She showed me at our assortment, what books she already had at home. We compared favorite parts and we laughed at those we didn’t like. I was about to ask her for her number when a staff member walked past us and returned to me when she was around the corner.
“Nathaniel, why hasn’t anyone handed out your bookmarks yet?”
For the lady, I wanted, like every man, to mime the man, and I could only do this in my own way: to act up; because when it comes to acting up, we are synonymous, and I could write a whole book about it.
“I’m busy right now with a customer, as you may see. Why… don’t you do it yourself, huh?”
“Because you work here”
“Put a shotgun in my hand and call me Hemingway; really, I work here? Like right now?” I said.
My colleague didn’t have the words to respond, she was trying to understand what I was saying, and she didn’t succeed. She got angry, ordered me to “just do it” and disappeared from my workplace. Dragged through the mud, I wanted to get back into flirting again, but the young woman I was flirting with had gone to the register. Maybe I had become too much for her.
I looked at the clock. It was ten minutes before 4:00. I took a smoking break ten minutes early. I grabbed Hemingway’s “Have and Don’t Have”, one of his most unusual works (the critics spoke of “bad”, the masses don’t care) and sat down in the delivery entrance by the garbage cans. I looked at the note on my phone. Page 26. I opened it and continued reading.
As usual, I smoked my camel, turned the pages over, finished the chapter, and as I put the book away, I heard the door open. I put the novel next to my leg so that whoever walked through the door couldn’t see the book and smoked my cigarette detached, pretending to look up at the sky. Ahead looked first to the left, then to the right, then Gerhard saw me, and the wind blew through his mullet.
“I heard you were ill talking to Hilde.”
“Is that her name?”
He sat down with me on the asphalt. Next to the trash cans. I said nothing, distorted my mouth, pulled on my cigarette and started looking into the sky again. Gerhard pulled a Chesterfield Blue out of his pack. He asked me for a lighter and I lit his cigarette.
“I started here because I thought it might be books that I need in life. You know, I used to work in the market office. I checked the butchers’ scales to make sure they weren’t fucking with their customers…driving cars away from holding areas…imposed administrative penalties. That’s what I did for years on end”
“You know, I had a dead man once. I was sitting in my office waiting for my boss to let me get lunch when we got a call. Someone had fallen over at an exit of the shopping arcade for which I was responsible and immediately I set off there. By the time I got there, the police were already there. I asked the cops, “How are we doing, gentlemen? And they said he was dead. I got angry. I didn’t feel like paperwork, so I questioned them if I was even responsible for it when it happened at the exit. They said everything that happened inside the compound was my jurisdiction. So, what did I do? The guy landed right at the exit, more outside than inside, there was a fire security door. So I pressed the button to make the wings fall shut, and to my delight, it was clear that the gates were going to go close without touching the dead man. Then I meant the cop: Not my jurisdiction, not my paperwork, I’m going out to eat.”I grinned, shook my head in disbelief.
“You’re a cool guy, Nat; can I call you Nat?”
“Call me Doctor Supercool for all I care.”
“I’m just like you,” Gerhard said to me.
“I doubt that”
I looked at him from top to bottom. That age denying sack. I saw the bracelets on his arm and the earring in his ear. I put out my cigarette and went to the break room. No, I will find a way to age in dignity, or not to age at all. I wanted to find new subtleties in life and not always run after those of my youth.
– STARTING Chapter:
The Romans Would Have Eaten Fries
PART OF: TOXIC 24/7
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