Time now for another installment about the trials and tribulations of working at an independent bookstore.
Party night in the neighborhood. Shop owners throw open their doors, set out hors d’oeuvres (well, chips and salsa) and stay open late to entice passersby to spend money. I’ve come in early to help Teri set up the bar. A DJ who goes by the name, Pisces (guess he’s water sign), is fiddling with his turntable in a corner of the store, sound checking a hit parade of eighties bands—Depeche Mode, Eurhythmics, The Fixx.
Teri and I have just finished cramming bottles of Heineken and Michelob into the ice bin when a young woman with pink hair teeters towards us on silver stilettos (their heels the width of a toothpick).
“Hi, I’m Bethany,” Ms. Toothpick Totterer says, offering us a sparkly hand (her silver nail polish matches the shoes, of course). “Is there anyone who can help me bring in my paintings? They’re pretty big.”
Our manager told us an artist would be exhibiting here tonight. But she’s just now arriving? (The bookstore often features the work of local visual artists but they usually give themselves more than thirty minutes to hang their creations.)
Teri obliges (thank God) and a few minutes later she and Ms. Too Tot carry in two gargantuan paintings. Where the hell are we going to put these?
“Uh, we’re going to have to rearrange some things to give you enough wall space for those,” I say.
“ Oh. I have more,” Ms. Too Tot informs us. “Is that a problem?”
I can practically see smoke rising from the top of Teri’s head.
“How many more?” I ask.
“Oh, about…” Ms. Too Tot pauses to count on her silvery fingers. “Five. I hope that’s okay. They’re not as big as these, well, at least two aren’t.”
Oh, gee. How helpful! Teri trudges back outside to Ms. Too Tot’s borrowed truck as I (panic, don’t panic) try to tear down publicity posters for upcoming book signings without destroying them. Oblivious, Pisces cranks up the volume on the eighties and the first trickle of party guests heads for the bar.
“Uh, Pat? Where do you think we should put this?”
I turn around and there’s Teri with a canvas about the size of a coffin propped against her hip.
Damn you, Ms. Too Tot!
“Can I get a glass of Pinot”
“Pardon?” I ask. Pisces has got the music so loud—Tears for Fears is in heavy rotation—I can’t hear the orders over the bar unless the customers shout.
“Pinot!” the customer—a guy with a red beard and matching underarm hair (a tank top, really?)–yells.
“Pinot what? Pinot Noir? Pinot Grigio?”
“Pinot Noir!” Red Beard is obviously incensed. “Do I look like a white wine drinker?”
No. You look like an asshole. I hand him his glass of color coordinated wine. What is this, theme night for matching colors?
“When is Carrie going to get here?” Teri asks. “Someone has got to cover the book counter.” (Oh yeah, the books! We’re a bookstore. In all of the party-on frenzy, it was easy to forget.)
"Hey. EXCUSE ME.” It’s Red Beard again, this time, waving a copy of Atlas Shrugged. “I wanna buy this.”
“I’ll get it.” Teri winks. “Even though I don’t wanna to.”
With Carrie—one of our part-time employees—finally arriving to anchor the book register, Teri and I can downshift a bit. Heading for a bathroom break, I pause to look at a couple of Ms. Too Tot’s oversized paintings. Picasso she is not. It looks as if Ms. Too Tot has thrown a bucket of paint, the color of an old bottle of Copper Tone suntan lotion, across the canvas. Then to brighten things up, she’s outlined the edges of the Copper Tone splotches with a peach hued pastel pencil.
“I was scared that one wouldn’t be ready in time.” Ms. Too Tot stands beside me, sipping a glass of blush wine. “I had to use the blow dryer on it and it took, like, forever.”
I look at Copper Tone more closely and see little cracks in the paint. One more reason it’s not a good idea to use the “high heat” setting on a blow dryer.
“How long have you been painting?”
Doing the numbers in her head this time, Ms. Too Tot says, “Oh, a long time. About a year and a half.”
I realize time is relative to us all but a year and six months is a “long time?” Seriously?
“So, what do you think?” Oh God. Didn’t someone tell Ms. Too Tot she wasn’t supposed to ask that question?
“Well, uh, it’s hard to put into words.”
“Oh, isn’t all good art like that? Whoops, I guess I shouldn’t brag,” Ms. Too Tot giggles.
About that time—hallelujah!—a big boned woman with a giant Celtic cross dangling between her Jayne Mansfield sized breasts grabs Ms. Too Tot by the arm and drags her off to the bar.
Wow. “Good art?” Poor Ms. Too Tot. Not only is she a terrible painter, she’s delusional. Before I continue on to the bathroom, a white sticker on the wall next to the painting catches my eye. $3000, the price tag reads. I adjust my glasses. Three thousand dollars? She’ll be lucky to get 300, even 30 dollars, hell, anything at all for this piece of Copper Toned crap. Ms. Too Tot has clearly spent too much time in the sun.
Back at the bar, guests are getting drunk.
Red Beard is back.
“Pour my buddy Frenchy here a glass of merlot.”
A squat bald guy with a mustache so long it nearly tickles his teeth stands next to Red Beard.
I hand “Frenchy” his glass of wine.“Merci,” he says and wiggles his thick black eyebrows at me a la Groucho Marx.
(The second theme of the night appears to be facial hair.)
“French Fry’s from Paris,” shouts Red Beard. “And you know what they say about Paris?”
I look over at Teri. “Uh-oh. He’s going to tell us.”
Red Beard takes a swig of his wine, girding himself to impart his extensive knowledge. “Paris is a city in France!” Red Beard whoops and hollers and chugs the rest of his Pinot Noir.
“Oui, oui,” cries “Groucho,” placing his glass on the bar.
“More wine?” I ask.
“Oui, oui,” he grins.
What time is it?” I ask Teri.
Groucho wiggles his eyebrows at her.
“Not late enough.”
“Fly Me to the Moon,” cries Red Beard watching Groucho dance with Ms. Big Bones, her crucifix bouncing from one silicone twin to the other.
“Fly me to the moon,” Teri says. “You’d think he’d take the hint.”
We’d been trying to close for more than an hour. Aquarius, I mean Pisces, has already packed up his equipment and gone. Carrie left after shutting down the book register and Ms. Too Tot has wobbled off, leaving Copper Tone and their mates on exhibit through the weekend.
“Take me down to Moon River,” Red Beard warbles. French Fry and the Silicone Sisters shimmy over to us and FF ends their dance by flinging his left leg over the bar.
“Okay, that’s it,” Teri says. “We’re closing.”
“Huh?” Red Beard is, once again, not amused.
“Yeah, we’ve got to go home. Sorry.”
“Come on, Francois, this bourgeois joint is shutting down.”
“Oui, oui, says FF, and out he goes, followed closely by the twins.
“You know,” Red Beard pauses on his way out. “In Paris the cafes stay open all night.”
“Well, then,” Teri says, “perhaps you should go there.”
She closes and locks the door.
“Au revoir,” Teri waves.
The party’s over.