Tales From The Thrift Store: Carnival of Chaos

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It was just your typical Saturday in Ghettoville, and things were rather slow at the store. So I was off elsewhere in the building doing what Super Heroes do; sweeping up dead cockroaches in the pantry while I microwaved a breakfast burrito.

I peeked around the corner and then did this ninja-flip, Chuck Norris style kick move across the kitchen. The remaining roaches scattered. “And don’t come back.” I said firmly with a nod, fully satisfied with myself for a job well done. I then slid slowly up to the window in the swinging kitchen door to spy on any potential crime going down in the cafeteria. All was quiet.

Until around 11:45 a.m., that is. That’s when all hell broke loose at your local neighborhood Baptist Church.

Now, before I get to this installment of crazy, I need to explain what went down last year around this time.

You see, I used to keep several chairs and a coffee table that I was trying to sell near the thrift shop door, and each day after I rolled the big door up, I would pull them into the entry area in an effort to get them noticed and potentially sold faster.

This became problematic when the local area homeless, who I, of course, didn’t mind coming in to see me for food and a change of clothes, started to view this as an invitation to hang out for most of the day; smoking, eating, drinking beer, cursing profusely, and fighting with one another. It was like an episode of ‘The 3 Stooges’ meets an episode of ‘Cops.’ For the first time ever, I had to throw people out on a regular basis. This didn’t always go well. I am not, after all, fit to be a bouncer. There are mosquitos that are tougher than I am.

So, to alleviate this problem, I planned to do some rearranging when I got the chance. Okay, fine; when I wasn’t feeling lazier than a blood gorged tick on a dog’s rear end. This rearranging was going to entail moving the chairs and tables to the back of the store. It was a big job. Might have taken me all of 5 minutes if I applied myself.

It was the day that the “Jacksonville Caribbean Parade and Festival” happened, that ultimately pushed me over the edge enough to finally put that decision into effect, though.

The day started like any other warm, humid Florida day. I had opened up shop and set my tables and chairs in the doorway.

As I straightened up around the place, 2 guys carrying huge tin foil trays came in and said they had a food delivery for some lady that I had never even heard of. I assured them that they had the wrong address. They argued that this was where they were told to bring their delivery.

We went back and forth in that manner for a couple more minutes. I finally did a little air karate move that made them nervous. They high-tailed it back out to their van as they made a confirmation call on their cell phone.  They then decided to just sit in their van in the parking lot for the next 20 minutes. I monitored the situation and wondered if they would eventually leave. They might be some of my crazed stalker fans. They could have just come right out and asked me for an autograph. No need to beat around the bush…

About 30 minutes later, a couple of young ladies came along with bags that they proceeded to plop down onto the coffee table in the doorway. They then settled themselves into the chairs that I had set up there. They pulled wigs, weave, and face paint out of the bags, and started doing each other’s hair and makeup like they were in the dressing room of some low budget Las Vegas Showgirl Review. I stared at them quizzically. They didn’t even glance in my direction. As far as they were concerned, I wasn’t there. They were joined a few minutes later by a couple more ladies that started doing the same.

It was then that I noticed all of the vehicles now parked down at the far end of the parking lot. I peeked around the corner. Much to my surprise, people were setting up a tent and chairs in front of the side entrance to our building. I, being a very non confrontation person… okay, chicken… a big, fat, hide under the coop like I just saw a fox, chicken… had to man up and go find out what was going on. So I slid past the women in the doorway who apparently thought ‘Thrift Store’ now meant ‘Salon’, and went down to try and find the person in charge.

Upon asking around a bit, I found out that they were setting up for a parade. Some Caribbean thing that would leave the parking lot at 1p.m, and travel down the street to a place where they were hosting activities and entertainment afterward.

Well then. I assumed at this point that they had maybe talked to our Pastor or Administrator, or someone that had given them the green light on using our property to set up for this event, and that person had just failed to let me know. Yep, that had to be it. So, I contacted my Pastor in an effort to clear things up.

He had no idea who they were or what was going on, either. They had never called for permission to use our property.

By this time, the parking lot was starting to fill up; a couple of large trucks with speakers on the back, some vehicles with bass thumping music that was so loud it drowned out the sound of the radio that I keep on in the store, and people with tailgates open passing out food. I went to try and find someone in charge again and was rerouted several times until I finally found someone that, while not the “head cheese” of this operation, was at least able to function as a liaison.

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I put her on the phone with Pastor. She assured him that this whole set up was merely a “children’s parade”, and that they would all be off the premises by 1 that afternoon. That, folks, was a big, fat, stinky, steaming pile of lie.

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Since they had convinced him that it was a children’s parade, however, and since they vowed to be gone within the next hour, my Pastor agreed to allow them use of the parking lot to set up. THE PARKING LOT.

Things went south pretty quickly. The handful of people loitering in the thrift-store-turned-salon doorway quickly doubled. They started asking to use the restroom. Seemed harmless enough, right? Plus, as you may already know, I have a problem saying no. I’m a floor mat to the point that there’s permanent footprints across my backside.

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Little did I know that the restroom had been converted into their own personal dressing room until I saw the first of the barely covered, glitter-coated females come back through the store. I did a double take and tried to process what I was seeing.  I reasoned that maybe they were making another Twilight movie and I had just warped onto the set. “Twilight VI: Bella’s Gone Wild” or some such nonsense.

They were in a church, but they obviously either didn’t realize it, or didn’t care.

Customers wouldn’t even pull into the crowded parking lot to shop, and the ONE that did, gave a disgusted huff and made a hasty exit when one of the stripper wanna be’s pranced through the store. Not to mention, they had starting pulling the store chairs that I was trying to sell all over the place. A couple of them had been drug halfway across the parking lot.

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They finally got their show on the road at about 1:30. The mess they left behind in the bathrooms was like the aftermath of an explosion at Hobby Lobby. There was glitter and feathers everywhere. The sinks were caked with makeup and stray weave.

These people that hadn’t even asked for permission to be here in the first place, just showed up and left me with a huge mess. Was I being punked? I peeked around the corner to see if Ashton Kutcher was standing there laughing.

To top it all off, “gone by one” apparently hadn’t included their vehicles. They took up all of my customer parking. I really had no choice but to just close up for the day at that point. So I did, and took the next hour afterward to clean up the mess that they had left behind.

Pastor wasn’t happy when he found out that they had lied to him, and when all of their vehicles were still sitting there in the parking lot that night, he got into contact with someone in charge and firmly requested that they be removed.

And that was it.

I had thought that whole mess was just a distant memory.

Until today.

When I saw the truck with big speakers pull into the parking lot and start setting up, and a young lady with a glittery bra in her hand came around the corner and asked if she could use the restroom, I froze.

Oh no. No no no no no. I’m not going through this again.

So I called my husband.

“Do you know anything about these people having permission to be here this year?” I asked.

“I highly doubt it. Call the cops.” He replied.

Now, revert back to the part where I said I’m a huge, non-confrontational chicken. I really didn’t want to call the cops. I honestly didn’t want to deal with the situation again at all this year. I mean seriously. Again? They were gonna pull this…this taking over the place without permission stunt again?!

So I went and talked to one of the ladies that was helping hook up speakers on the bed of one of the trucks.

“Setting up for the Caribbean Parade?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

“You know, you don’t have permission to be here right?”

“We don’t? Let me call the facilitator and find out what’s going on.”

She played dumb after she got off the phone.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I’m from out of town.”

“There’s a vacant lot right across the street. Ya’ll can’t move over there?” I asked

“No, we need to be on this side of the street.”

I was clearly going to get nowhere so I went back inside. The situation wasn’t out of hand like last year… yet. There were only 4 vehicles in the lot so far. No tents were set up, and no half naked people were running around the store or flopped in various chairs playing beauty parlor.

My husband kept urging me to call the police, and I kept stalling and making excuses. Then, a cop car pulled into the parking lot with lights flashing. Good, I thought. Either my hubby or Pastor must have done the dirty deed for me.

I peered out the window behind the desk and waited for the police man or woman to step out of the vehicle and handle the situation. And I waited. And waited. Nothing was happening. Then, while that nothing was happening, more people were starting to arrive. A truck pulling a flatbed trailer with huge speakers on it had pulled in and parked across the middle of the lot. Barely clothed, glittered and feathered women were pouring out of vehicles. Bass was bumping and drowning out my store music once again.

So, I heaved a sigh and headed toward the police car. The officer rolled down his window as I approached.

“Let me guess. Escorting the parade?” I asked.

“Yes ma’am, I am,” was his reply.

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that these people don’t have permission to be here again this year, and they hadn’t asked permission before just showing up and using our facilities last year, either.”

“Well, I haven’t heard anything about that,” was his reply. “You’ll either have to talk to their facilitator and clear it up, or talk to Officer Grant who will be arriving soon.”

I said, “Look. Last year, they came in and ran my customers off and created a huge mess for me in there. We really don’t want them here.”

He suggested that I just go close the store to keep them out while they set up. Seriously? Helpful much? Welcome to Jacksonville.

He then pointed out Officer Grant arriving on scene, and suggested once again that I go talk to her…and so I did. She was very understanding and even looked slightly horrified that they had never bothered to call and get permission first. Finally, I’m getting somewhere.

She assured me that the entire entourage would be moved out to the street right away, but as she started to herd them out, they started multiplying like rabbits. I don’t think she ever fully got them all out of the lot before the parade started.

I was grateful for the effort on her part, though, and grateful that I didn’t have to keep dealing with them wanting to come in and trash the bathrooms to get ready. Or so I thought.

After their glittery bodies, clad in less material then I usually see covering folks at the beach, shuffled off down the road to the beat of the island music thumping through several sets of enormous speakers, I heaved a sigh of relief and headed off to use the restroom. I had been holding it for so long at that point that my teeth were starting to float.

When I got there, I found that the decorative candles had been knocked off the shelves and were now laying on the floor, along with glitter, feathers, and an empty panty-hose package. There was makeup smeared all over the sink. Apparently, some of them had snuck in while I was out trying to get the police to handle the situation.

I huffed irritably and went to find the broom.

At least all was quiet until closing after that.

I closed 15 minutes early anyway, and went home to nurse my throbbing headache.

I hope that the Caribbean crew at least learned a lesson in asking permission first this year, but I doubt it.

Until next time, readers: stay clothed.

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Hot, Stale, Crazy, Rainy, Dirty, Summer, Saturday, Morning, Breakfast Memories.

Daily Prompt: Three-Tenths

Scribble down the first ten words that come to mind. Pick three of them. There’s your post title. Now write!

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I couldn’t think of a good cover photo, so here’s a monkey riding an Australian Shepherd while chasing a goat. Enjoy.

Hot, Stale, Crazy, Rainy, Dirty, Summer, Saturday, Morning, Breakfast Memories.

I sit back and look over my quickly scrawled ten word list. I then recite it out loud. I smile and decide to keep all ten words, which probably defeats the purpose of the whole exercise in the first place. I shrug. It just sounds rather awesome this way, and I like it.

I look over at my daughter sitting next to me playing a game on her cell phone at the thrift store desk. Yeah, it’s Saturday. That means it’s go time in Ghettoville. It’s been rainy all weekend, so business has been slow. I haven’t seen any crazies yet to give me new writing material for my ‘Tales from the Thrift Store’ stories, either. This deeply saddens me.

“What do I write about today, Big Red?” I ask my daughter. I call her that because she’s not only a redhead, but the child towers over me by a good 5 inches now. It was bound to happen eventually. Her daddy is 6’7. I’m 5’2. I know, I know. Given those numbers, the fact that this child was even created is a story problem in and of itself.  I’ve done the math. The answer equals Pi.

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Mmmm, pie. I realize how hungry I am. I forgot to bring something for breakfast. Lunch might just have to come early today.

“Well, what’s the daily thingy?” she asks. I relay today’s writing assignment to her. “Hmmm. Write about a childhood memory or something.” She says. “Just make it a good one, though. Something funny. Not those crappy sad ones that you always write about.”

Hoo boy. Make it hard on me, why don’t ya? I tap into my mental file cabinet and thumb through my neatly stacked and alphabetized memories (OCD, duh) for something decent to pull out. My mental fine cabinet is hot pink, to match the one in my closet. The latch sticks sometimes, too.

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Ooo, here’s one. I was probably about 7, and I saw the dogs eating grass so I figured that they must really like the way it tasted. l then set to work loading up their newly filled water buckets (compliments of my dad) with fresh cut grass clippings so that they could enjoy a nice mouthful with every refreshing lap. There. Mission accomplished.  Dad didn’t think it was a brilliant idea though. He was really angry. He hauled me over to one of the buckets and told me to take a drink and see how I liked it. I cried and begged not to…

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Ohhhkay. Maybe not the best memory, after all.

I quickly file it away and start digging for something better.

How about this one? I was maybe 10, and I was climbing my favorite Dogwood tree in the front yard. It wasn’t an overly large tree, and I wasn’t an overly large child, so there wasn’t any great danger in me thinking I was part monkey. I was about halfway up when it happened. I can’t really remember now if a branch had snapped or if I had simply lost my footing, but down came baby, cradle and all. Flat on baby’s back. It knocked the wind out of me, of course, but I wasn’t genuinely hurt. I had, however, felt the squish between my shoulder blades when I landed.

As I laid there for a second catching my breath and regaining my composure, the smell became obviously more adept than I had been at my task, and swiftly climbed right up my nostrils. Apparently, the dog would do just about anything under the Dogwood tree.

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I stood up and reached my hand around to touch my back like an idiot. I could smell it. I knew what it was. Further investigation wasn’t in order, but for whatever reason, I felt compelled to do it anyway. I guess I was just in shock. Or maybe it was denial. Sure enough, I pulled my hand back to find a tacky brown paste now coating my palm. Eww, just…eww. A large portion of the back of my white ‘Front Porch Ice Cream Parlor’ t-shirt was caked in fresh, gooey…and really, really stinky…dog excrement. It just had to be a white t-shirt, too, didn’t it?

I ran my hand under the outside faucet until I could go inside to better wash it, and went to the sliding glass door at the back of the house. Mom was in the kitchen. “What are you doing?” She asked with one raised eyebrow as I tried to sneak past her. I was pretty sure I heard an audible gasp as she turned to see the back of my shirt trying to discretely disappear around the corner.

“Oh no you don’t…get back here.” I halted and cringed. “Outside. Now.”

“But mom…” I stunk so bad. It was growing colder, too, as it seeped through my shirt and caressed my skin like a dead lover’s rotting fingertips.  I stepped out onto the porch again, where mom waited to take my clothes as she made me strip. Outside. Where the neighbors might see. I’m fairly certain that those clothes got burned afterward, too. “Shower. Now. Go.” But..but… Shower time usually meant outside playtime was over. There was still plenty of daylight left to burn. I wasn’t ready to be done for the day.

I really don’t know how this was originally going play out in my mind. Maybe I would just sneak into the bathroom with one of mom’s good washcloths, wipe the poop off my back, wash my hands, change my shirt, and be on my merry way again? At any rate, I hung my head dejectedly and shuffled off toward the bathroom…

You know, now that I think about it, maybe that wasn’t the greatest memory selection, either. I stuff it back into the file cabinet. I’ll try for one more.

Let’s see. Okay. I was perhaps 9 and we were out fishing on dad’s little leisure boat. I don’t know what else to call it. It wasn’t a speed boat; the thing maybe went 45 miles per hour tops. It wasn’t a fishing boat, either. It was baby blue, and it had 4 seats, 2 back to back on each side. It also had windshields in front of the forward facing seats, and a large, flat bow section where I could sit along the edge, and dangle my feet into the water.

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Close Enough

So, we were out fishing, my dad, mom, uncle Hose, and I. My uncle’s real name is Dave, by the way. For as long as I can remember, though, I’ve called him uncle Hose because my dad made a crack when they were younger about him changing his name to José, on account of some funky mustache that he had grown that made him look Hispanic. It was later shortened to just plain “Hose”, which stuck with him like a bad chicken pox scar for all these years.

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Anyway, I was propped up on my usual fishing perch; the top of the large, bulky Evinrude motor dangling over the back of the boat, when my uncle told a joke. Funny guy, that uncle Hose. Always had a joke or 50. I couldn’t possibly recall that joke now, but I know that it must have been hilarious, because I tossed my head back and laughed so hard that it threw off my balance, and I tumbled end over end into the murky bayou below.  I surfaced a moment later, shocked, gasping, and thankful that my parents always made me wear a life jacket while out on the boat.

My uncle grabbed hold of that water-logged life jacket and hauled me up into the boat like a sack of soggy potatoes. All 3 of them made sure I was alright, and then they stopped and stared at me for a moment before bursting into peals of laughter. Somehow, I had just made the joke that was told even funnier as I stood there and dripped all over the fiberglass.

It was funny, that is, until my mom realized that my fishing pole went right over the back of the boat with me, and all that remained in sight was my bobber innocently riding the ripples that skimmed over the surface of the water. It was maybe 5 or 6 feet away from the boat, so my mom got the oar out of the side compartment and used it to drag the bobber close enough to reach. With bobber retrieved, the excess line could now be hauled in until the pole magically appeared from somewhere out of the depths below. Problem solved.

Or not.  See, my dad always bought those cheap, closed faced, Zebco reels that you had to push the button to cast. We were a lazy bunch of fishermen, what can I say.  Apparently, I had just pushed the button on my reel and was about to cast the line before I went tumbling butt over teakettle into the lake.

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Needless to say, my mom spent the entire rest of that fishing trip wrapping hundreds of yards of excess fishing line around a can of bug spray until my pole finally emerged. She wasn’t laughing anymore by that time. As a matter of fact, she was quite hot…

Okay, maybe that isn’t some top shelf memory either.

I think maybe I stink at this come up with a “good memory” business.

I give up.

Until next time…

Tales From The Thrift Store: Step Into The Sauna

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If you’ve been following the saga that is my life, you’ll remember my mention of the fact that I run a thrift store on the weekends out of the church I attend. As promised, I have come to regale you with tales of the awkwardness that comes with the job thanks to some slightly (okay… majorly) unhinged people. I call them my regulars. As my tall, practically glow-in-the-dark (because she’s just so white), ethnically challenged teenage daughter might say, “people be actin’ cray-cray.” That’s ghetto slang for, “pardon me, sir, but the local Homo sapiens seem to have become rather unpredictable in terms of their mental capacity and ability to soundly reason.”

Anyway, this thrift store happens to be in an unsavory area. Okay, in the interest of full disclosure…it’s in ‘the hood’. What qualifies as ‘the hood’ you ask? Well, it’s a place where you wouldn’t care to be after dark while carrying a wallet, if that helps at all.

It’s Saturday. I’ve been sitting here for 4 hours now. Four down, two to go. If I make it out alive, I want ice cream. Not to eat, just to roll around in like a wallowing pig. It’s hotter than Satan’s Spandex in here. The heat index today is probably not helping the instability level of the locals. I’m suddenly inspired by ‘The Little Engine That Could’. I think I can, I think I can…

Sue is here today. Sue was here yesterday, too. Sue is the homeless lady that I met last Sunday when she came to our church service and stayed for the potluck dinner. Sue picked a good Sunday to come to church. Every time there’s a 5th Sunday in a month, we all bring a dish to pass and converge upon the cafeteria like a pack of starving wolves as soon as the offering envelopes hit the collection plate. Hey, who doesn’t love a free home-cooked meal, right?

Somehow, out of the few dozen people that attended church that day, it was me that Sue talked into giving her a ride downtown to the homeless shelter afterward. Not a terrible or impossible request in theory, but I spent the entirety of my Sunday afternoon stuck in bumper to bumper  traffic moving either at a slow crawl or not at all thanks to the fender-bender on the interstate. I don’t blame Sue for this. I blame the maniacs that don’t know how to drive in this town.

This act of kindness seems to have earned me a new bi-polar best friend. At least, I think she’s bi-polar. I have a tendency to dabble in psychiatry as a hobby by diagnosing other people’s mental disorders. Needless to say, I can’t seem to follow along with Sue anymore; she’s all over the page. One minute I think she’s asleep, then the next she’s crying, and then the next she’s on the phone yelling at some random person on the other end of the line. From what I can make of the conversations, I think that it’s her mental health specialists that she keeps calling and yelling at. Should I be concerned? This is after she’s greeted each new customer Wal-Mart style and formerly introduced herself with her full given name and a hearty handshake. My last customer scooted out of here so fast that she created the first breeze I’ve felt all day.

Sue has settled herself onto one of the couches that I’m trying to sell, along with a book that I’m also trying to sell. I guess I can always tell the customers that it’s a “live demonstration”, right? She’s falling asleep and is starting to drool on the pleather. Please, Lord, not the pleather. I can see the value of the 10 dollar couch rapidly depreciating. Do drool and sweat stain?

She’ll sit here until closing time and then ask me to drive her somewhere. Yesterday it was Wal-mart. I don’t know exactly when my free chauffer service opened for business, but lately, business has been booming. Ah well … it’s my job to serve. I have the gas, I have the time, and I couldn’t very well say, “no, I have to get home” without knowing that it’s just an excuse. Excuse is a fancy deep fried and rolled in sugar term for big, fat, stinky LIE. I’ve heard it through the grapevine that God doesn’t like those.

I see a lot of homeless people in the store during the summer months. Mostly men. They usually slur their words and struggle to stay upright all the while smelling strongly of whatever cheap adult beverage they’ve spent the rest of their money on and most of the afternoon consuming. My nostrils continue to burn even after they’re gone. Apparently, there’s a flashing neon sign in the window that says “Drunken people welcome.”  I can’t see it, but they can, like the Emperor’s New Clothes. I give them a free can of food and a clean outfit when they come in. I guess one could argue that it’s my own fault for “feeding the strays”, but what can I say? As I believe I’ve already mentioned, it’s my job to serve. This isn’t without its rewards, though. There are a few people that come in that are in genuine need. It’s those people that make sitting here in this sauna all summer long worthwhile.

Sue isn’t the nuttiest person that I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing company with during a day at the thrift store. Not by a long shot.

I once had a mother and her young son come into the store. Now, understand that in the building that houses the store, there are 4 separate bathrooms. That’s four distinct opportunities to properly relieve one’s self, including 8 individual toilets. Mom of the year didn’t let that fact deter her, though. After ignoring the pleas to ‘potty’ from her tiny charge who had been systematically destroying the store one item at a time up until now, her young offspring of maybe 5 or 6 years of age proceeded to pull down his pants, and happily urinate on the floor in front of the toy rack.

At this point, as a mother myself, my face would have turned about 50 shades of red, I would have apologized profusely to the manager (hey, that’s me!)…and asked if I could help clean up the mess, all the while eyeing the door wishing I could slink away with whatever dignity I could still manage to muster.  Not ‘Ironmom’, though, with her nerves of steel. She proceeded to step over the puddle with disdain as if she was actually offended that I would allow it to remain there, and continued shopping. If I recall, she ended up spending 75 cents in the end. This didn’t even begin to cover the trauma inflicted upon my fragile psyche as I proceeded to clean up the ‘boy spill’ on aisle 3.

Trust me, all of this nonsense is completely true. The stuff that seems to happen to me on a regular basis is far wackier than anything I could ever make up.

I think the heat is finally starting to get to me. My pants are too tight. I should lose a few…several…50 some odd pounds. I have a heat rash that I can’t scratch. Not now, anyway, I have a customer.  Don’t ask me where it is. Sunlight doesn’t venture there; your mind shouldn’t, either.

There’s a deaf guy that comes in every weekend. Let’s call him Dave…he looks like a Dave. I like him. He grunts and points. I nod and smile. Then I think to myself, “Now this is a level of communication I can handle.” Dave bought a box of nails yesterday. This led me to wonder…if Dave hits his thumb with a hammer by accident when he’s pounding those nails, would he keep quiet or would he scream or perhaps shout some form of distorted expletive even though he wouldn’t be able to hear it?  That’s one of those ‘If a tree falls in the woods’ type of queries. The world may never know. Good old Dave. I wish him luck with his nails.

Husband number 2 breezes in from time to time and promptly disappears elsewhere in the building. Can’t say I blame him. Why should he sit here and bathe in his own sweat if he doesn’t have to? I can’t bother with the air conditioning when it’s just going to escape out the roll up garage door that serves as the shop entrance.  It’s probably 175 degrees give or take half a degree behind this desk. Of course, the Hubster does suffer from A.D.D. He wouldn’t be able to sit still anyway. I diagnosed him myself. Saved us a medical bill. I made this assessment based on the fact that he tends to…oh look, a squirrel.

Hallelujah…would you look at that. Closing time already and it only took a decade to get here. I might just wander down the street to Wal-mart and stick my smoldering head in with the frozen vegetables for a few minutes before I make the pilgrimage home.

Until next time, readers….stay cool.