Written by: Bill Braunstein
It was another one of those days at work where if time went by any slower, it could be timed with a calendar. I look at the clock and it says 3:17 p.m. That means another 4 hours and 43 minutes working here at the electronics superstore.
We sell gizmos and gadgets of all kinds. If you can plug it in, wind it up, or put a battery in it, we probably stock it on our shelves.
And if Sir Isaac Newton’s law of gravity says “what goes up must come down,” then I’m the living, breathing example of the department store corollary: “what goes out, must come back.”
That’s where I come in – I work in “customer service.” In reality, it’s the complaint department…because that’s what I hear all day long. Complaints.
Thank goodness there’s only one more person in line. Finish with her, and I can take my break.
“Next.” A middle-aged woman, dragging a large opened box, approaches the counter I’m standing behind.
“This vacuum cleaner sucks,” she says.
“Then, what’s the problem?”
“It doesn’t suck! And that sucks!!”
“Oh, okay, I get it. Please take this form over there and fill it out. Name, address, reason for the return.” As the woman starts off, I’m ready to head to the employee lounge where I can text Shelby and start making plans for our date this weekend.
Listen… She beat me to it. That “chime” going off is the special ringtone I assigned to Shelby’s incoming texts. I glance at the screen.
“Will b gr8 2 c u l8r.”
Was that a message or her license plate? For a guy who works in a store that sells upscale technology, I’m more butter knife than Ginsu blade.
“Where do you want to go Saturday night?” I texted back.
I’d love to take Shelby to a fancy restaurant and then a movie, but it’s tough. I’m dating a girl who deserves nothing but sirloin, yet I’m living on a burger budget.
“N e where U like,” she writes. “Jst wnt 2 B w/U.”
Just then, as I’m about to sneak away for my break, an older man approaches.
“Fill out the form,” I say to the guy automatically, without looking up. My thumb presses “send,” winging to Shelby my reply — “No worries. I’ll think of something fun.”
As the man grabs a pen and jots away, my thoughts return to this weekend. Dating costs money. If I’m going to continue seeing a great gal like Shelby, I need to figure out how to afford the things she deserves. Things we both deserve… I need to…
“Young man, you’re not paying attention,” the customer growls. “You’re as absent-minded as my wife. That’s why I never got married.”
“Huh?” Shelby was going to have to wait.
The guy places an old-school tube radio on the counter, and pushes it towards me. I look at the radio, then at the man. This was not your run-of-the-mill customer. He sports a jacket with ducktails, there’s a cigar in his mouth, he wears wire rim glasses, and his black mustache and eyebrows are made of greasepaint.
It couldn’t be him, could it?
He pushed the item closer to me. “I’m having trouble with this radio. I think it all started with Marconi. I’m a big fan of Marconi. But before a nice Marconi, I prefer a minestrone. Or maybe an antipasto. No wait, I’m pro-pasto. It’s ravioli I’m against.”
I try taking control. “Sir, just tell me what the problem is.”
“Something’s wrong with the tuner. I have to fish for a signal, and I hate tuner fishing. I’d settle for a ham sandwich. Right now, I’d settle for a ham radio. But it would probably only play in pig Latin.”
Glancing at his complaint form, I scan the top line. “Julius Henry Marx.”
Right then, it all made sense. That is, to the extent my seeing deceased people ever makes sense. “Groucho?”
He waggled his cigar, raised his brows, and with a glint in his eye, beamed, “You just said the secret word.”
At that instant, I heard Shelby’s text tone again. I look down at the screen. Then, up at the man.
“What’s your name, son?” Groucho asked.
“Kyle,” I replied.
“You seem a bit distracted.”
“Start seeing dead people,” I said, “and you’d have frayed nerves, too.”
“Frayed nerves? Why, you’re the picture of a fine young man. And I think that young man wants his picture back, so just be yourself.” He paused for second. “Tell me what’s got you down. I know what’s gotten me down — the inside of a pillow. “
I decide to walk away from the complaint counter to get out of earshot of customers and co-workers. If someone thought I was talking to Groucho Marx, they’d think I was crazy. Hell, maybe I am.
But as I walk off, Groucho follows. I look at him and in a hushed tone, confess that I’m a big fan, that I loved Marx Brothers movies –“A Day at the Races,” “Monkey Business,” “The Cocoanuts.”
From what I’d seen in those films, Groucho knew a thing or two about being down and out, and needing to get ahead. Maybe I should tell him my dilemma. I mean, if you can’t confide in a famous dead comedian, who can you confide in?
“Groucho,” I said, “I’ve got a girlfriend, whom I love very much, but I just don’t know how I’m going to give her the things she deserves. On my salary, it’s just not possible.”
“I get it… You want to go out and paint the town red. Try a bucket of paint and a brush. A wide one if you can get it… The brush, not the girl. Kyle, you either need an account at Sherwin Williams, or more money.” He paused for a second as he fiddled with his cigar. “When was the last time you asked for a raise?”
“Never,” I replied. “I’m not sure I’d even know how to ask. “
Groucho looked me in the eyes. “I’m going to share with you something that my mother Minnie used to say. Or was it my uncle Teddy? Wait, it couldn’t have been my uncle Teddy because I haven’t got one. But it doesn’t really matter because I’ve forgotten what I was going to say.”
Still, he had me thinking. Asking for a raise was worth a shot. And Groucho’s got the gift of gab. How could I fail if he was with me? I rolled the dice and queried, “Will you help?”
“I can only be in one place at a time,” he said, “and I’m getting pretty tired of that place. So, I’ll do it. I’ll be right at your side. In fact, if I get any closer to you, I’d be right on your other side. Let’s go.”
We walked down the store’s long hallway, past the stockroom, wash rooms and arrived at the executive offices. As we made the long approach, Groucho moved in a half-crouch, knees bent, ogling every pretty woman he saw. And to his credit, he kept pumping me up.
“Ever think electronics isn’t your game? Maybe you should be in Men’s Clothing. Wait, you are in men’s clothing. If you weren’t in men’s clothing, something would be amiss. And if you were a miss, you’d be in women’s clothing. Maybe you should just stick to electronics.”
All right, so maybe he wasn’t the biggest confidence booster, but I was game.
We arrived just outside the door of my boss, Richard Hacker. Normally, I’d be a little uneasy since I’m not a great salesman, but now, with Groucho at my side, I felt composed and ready.
Then, I warned Groucho. “You know, this might be awkward. Sometimes Mr. Hacker likes to take a ‘Candy’ break.”
“So? The man has a sweet tooth. We all have our vices — especially hardware stores, auto garages…and cops.”
I knocked on the door, then entered. Perhaps a little too quickly. A startled Mr. Hacker was behind a heavy oak desk, his blonde secretary sitting on his lap. I turned to Groucho, and whispered, “That’s Candy.”
“Candy is dandy,” Groucho opined.
“Candace, why don’t you wait outside,” Hacker nervously stuttered to the secretary. “We can finish our dictation later.” Candy awkwardly grabbed her pen and pad off the desk, adjusted her skirt and tried hiding the embarrassed look on her face.
As she walked to the door, I noticed Groucho eyeballing her from top to bottom, then walking in lock-step right behind her.
“I’ve always said that women should be obscene and not heard… Call me a Candy man. In fact, call me cab. Toodles, Kyle.”
“Get back here!”
Candy turned around. “Mr. Hacker said I should go.” And she did.
Obviously, I wasn’t talking to her. But Groucho got the message. I knew he was a skirt chaser from way back, but he was a man of his word. He stopped in his tracks.
Hacker looked me in the eye, knowing what I had just witnessed. It wasn’t good for him. “Kyle, I wonder what it would take to make you forget what you’ve just seen here today?”
Groucho duck-walked behind Hacker’s desk and picked up off the floor a pair of woman’s underwear. Spun it around on his finger, placed it back on the floor, then walked to my side.
“Kyle,” he said, “when you catch a man in a compromising position… He’s in no position to compromise. If I were you, I’d go for the jugular. But if you went for the juggler, you’d be at the circus. So, stay here and just tell this cad your price and be done with it.”
I took the hint. And as Groucho slouched his way to the door behind me, I moved closer to Hacker. Emboldened by Groucho’s advice, and indicating the panties on the floor, I told Hacker that I’d be happy to forget what I’d seen. Then, I mentioned something about a raise… One thing led to another. And, let’s just say things worked out really well.
When I turned around to thank Groucho, he was gone. I left Hacker’s office in shock… A raise. A pretty good raise. I was wondering if I shouldn’t have asked for a company car too. But the important thing was this; I’d finally be able to take Shelby to places better than ones that serve breakfast all day.
My head still spinning, I practically floated back to the customer service counter, wondering if I’d imagined what had just happened. I looked at my station, and still sitting there was a radio…and a cigar. Hmm…
I could swear I heard music in the air… But it was actually Shelby’s text chime. No doubt, she wondered where I’d disappeared to.
“Good news, Shelby,” I spelled out. “But we’ll talk later. Way busy here at work.”
She typed back… “Hav u made r plans 4 Sat nite?”
And right then, it hit me like a thunderbolt from the sky. I knew exactly where to go…and now I’d be able to afford it.
“How about,” I texted back, “A night at the opera?”