It had been almost a year since I was in the Office Max store and now everything seemed different. The lights were brighter, the employee’s uniforms more colorful, the muzak jauntier. It all swirled together in my brain creating a miasma of sights and sounds that left me dizzy as though I had drugged my own Rice Krispies that morning. I was looking for a pack of heavy stock paper but inventory had been rearranged. I wasn’t sure where to go and for one of the few times in my life I wanted an associate to helpfully say “May I assist you?” Staff outnumbered customers 6 to 1. There were 4 female employees standing in a huddle in the middle of the store only feet away from the entrance but as I walked past them no one offered help. Instead what I heard was “I had to go, Joey was there, so you know.”
I almost stopped and inquired, “Do you mean THE Joey?” If JOEY was THERE, I understood why they had to stand in the middle of the store talking about him instead of helping customers. Joey is just . . . so . . . Joey. I wouldn’t wait on me either if it means not talking about Joey. You have to have your priorities straight and even the people at Staples know Joey comes first.
I swallowed my anger because of the beatific Joey and wandered the store like an orphan in search of a home. Aisle after aisle I cast my net for heavy stock paper. Each time I pulled my gear back it was filled with pens, manila envelopes, staplers, cork board, reams of 20 lb 92 brightness paper on sale, organizers and office chairs, but no heavy stock paper.
Then I thought, “What would Joey do?” and the answer came to me like a kidney punch. I doubled over in pain, spitting up a soupcon of blood but I was able to regain my balance before the referee counted me out. Then even though I was puzzling over why there was a boxing referee hanging out in the bubble wrap section of Office Max, I was still able to home in on my heavy stock paper as if it were emitting a beacon. A halo of light encircled my prize while a church choir descended from the rafters singing psalms set to the electronic, ambient music of Moby. I picked up a pack of paper, dropped a coupon for dryer sheets in the choir’s collection plate and headed east for the check-out register. My back was arched; my gait was strong as the choir faded out their serenade.
I approached the only open register but was immediately brushed away with a wave from a bony hand that resembled a chicken foot pointing to a register on the other side of the store. One of Joey’s harem had been dispatched to it, I guess because Chicken Foot couldn’t handle the throng of 2 customers all by himself. He was no Joey after all, as his gnarled appendage proved. So I walked back to from whence I came, laying my purchase down on the counter.
Obviously irritated at her reverie of Joey being broken, the girl worked to dispatch me quickly so as to return to the mid-store huddle before the other females made a territorial grab for her man. I held my hand out for my receipt but instead she lazily dropped it to the counter leaving me awkwardly looking like a panhandler, palm outstretched for ripple money.
As I left the store I tried to think calming thoughts of you-know-who, but my bitterness at the rude behavior of the employees made me restive. I needed to cleanse myself so I went home and used my precious heavy stock paper to make posters for Joeypallooza, a musical festival I will pretend to put on later in the summer. And employees of Office Max are not invited.