Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

Sunday Smiles

February 28, 2016
Steve Campbell

With February ending tomorrow, I look forward to sunnier days to end my winter blues.

I find amusing things to laugh at when Old Man Winter scares away the sun and keeps life dark and cold. Here are three favorite funny pieces I found during the winter that made me smile, chuckle, and even belly laugh.

* * *

An odd phenomenon happens a lot at a store I work at. I call it the Retailers’ Law of Aggravation: As soon as you find a product you really like, the store will stop selling it.

* * *

An octogenarian couple toddled into the local McDonald’s and ordered a Happy Meal. The wife carefully cut the hamburger in two and began to eat half. The husband respectfully sat and watched. The eating didn’t progress quickly, and soon the other customers near the couple’s table noticed the old man without any food, watching the woman eat. One helpful person offered to buy the man another meal. The offer was rejected with the explanation, “We share everything.” Eventually, another couple could stand it no longer and made the same offer. They received the same rejection: “No thank you, we share everything.” And so, the wife ate and the old man watched for quite a while. Finally, one bystander could no longer stand it and quizzed the man, “Why aren’t you eating? What are you waiting for?” To which the old man replied, “The teeth.”

* * *

Many have probably seen these in a book called Disorder in the American Courts, of things people actually said in court, recorded verbatim and published by court reporters who had the torment of staying calm while these exchanges between attorneys and witnesses took place.

ATTORNEY: What is your date of birth?
WITNESS: July 18th.
ATTORNEY: What year?
WITNESS: Every year.

ATTORNEY: How old is your son, the one living with you?
WITNESS: Thirty-eight or thirty-five, I can’t remember which.
ATTORNEY: How long has he lived with you?
WITNESS: Forty-five years.

ATTORNEY: This myasthenia gravis, does it affect your memory at all?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: And in what ways does it affect your memory?
WITNESS: I forget.
ATTORNEY: You forget? Can you give us an example of something you forgot?

ATTORNEY: Now doctor, isn’t it true that when a person dies in his sleep, he doesn’t know about it until the next morning?
WITNESS: Did you actually pass the bar exam?

ATTORNEY: She had three children, right?
WITNESS: Yes.
ATTORNEY: How many were boys?
WITNESS: None.
ATTORNEY: Were there any girls?

ATTORNEY: How was your first marriage terminated?
WITNESS: By death.
ATTORNEY: And by whose death was it terminated?

ATTORNEY: Doctor, how many of your autopsies have you performed on dead people?
WITNESS: All my autopsies are performed on dead people.
ATTORNEY: Do you recall the time that you examined the body?
WITNESS: The autopsy started around 8:30 p.m.
ATTORNEY: And Mr. Denton was dead at the time?
WITNESS: No, he was sitting on the table wondering why I was doing an autopsy on him!

ATTORNEY: Doctor, before you performed the autopsy, did you check for a pulse?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for blood pressure?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: Did you check for breathing?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: So, then it is possible that the patient was alive when you began the autopsy?
WITNESS: No.
ATTORNEY: How can you be so sure, Doctor?
WITNESS: Because his brain was sitting on my desk in a jar.
ATTORNEY: But could the patient have still been alive, nevertheless?
WITNESS: Yes, it is possible that he could have been alive and practicing law.

Save-Some-Cash, 4

February 23, 2015
Steve Campbell

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 29, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.

CHAPTER 4

I called Jessi Southwood the next morning. It took some serious recall to get her number right, but when I did, we set up a practice session for Monday evening. Then I headed to another shift at $ave-$ome-Ca$h.

The Saturday after Black Friday is the official start of Christmas shopping. Ping Wu Hu, our store sales advocate, donned a Santa suit and made me wear a green elf costume. It got me away from the register, so I followed at his heels and handed out candy canes to the kids. He was euphoric, practically pirouetting after shouting “Ho, ho, ho,” to the customers and shaking their hands. Three hours later, he discovered that his right elbow hurt. He considered calling his sister Yan, the town doctor, but Jack and Bull Crapf over at foods suggested he use our brand-new diagnostic computer at the pharmacy. For ten dollars and a urine sample the computer tells you what’s wrong and what to do about it. So, Ping deposited ten bucks and poured a urine sample into the slot. Ten seconds later, the computer told him he had tennis elbow and it printed out these instructions: “Soak your arm in warm water and avoid heavy activity. Your elbow will improve in two weeks.”

Ping was happy with the result and we were amazed by the technology. Then Jack reminded Ping that his name means Duckweed. (Seriously. It does. I checked a Chinese dictionary.) So Ping went to his office to sulk and I returned to handing out candy canes until they were gone. I browsed the electronics department and considered what to put on my Christmas list. Meanwhile, Jack and Bull swiped the rest of Ping’s urine sample from the restroom garbage and returned later from their lunch breaks with some tap water, a stool sample from Jack’s dog, and a urine sample from Bull’s wife. They poured the concoction into the computer and received the following printout:

  1. Bull, your tap water is too hard. Get a water softener. (Aisle 9)
  2. Jack, your dog has ringworm. Bathe him with anti-fungal shampoo. (Aisle 7)
  3. Bull, your wife is pregnant. Twins. They aren’t yours. Get a lawyer.
  4. Ping, you duckweed … get a girlfriend or your tennis elbow will never get better!

I left for lunch break at one o’clock and passed Ping’s office. A sign on the door said he was giving interviews. I looked through the glass and saw that he still wore his Santa suit. He had four candidates inside, all guys, and all older than me.

I started to leave when I heard Ping ask, “What’s the fastest thing you know of?”

My answer had been hypothetical tachyons, so I stayed to hear their answers. The first guy replied, “A thought. It just pops into your head. There’s no warning.”

“Good,” Ping said. He turned to the second guy.

“A blink comes and goes and you don’t know it ever happened,” that guy said. “A blink is the fastest thing I know of.”

“Excellent,” Ping said. “The blink of an eye is a very popular answer for speed.” He then turned to the third guy who was contemplating his reply.

“Well,” he said after scratching his head, “out at my dad’s farm, you step out of the house and on the wall there’s a light switch. When you flip that switch, way out across the pasture the light on the barn comes on in less than an instant. Yep, turning on a light is the fastest thing I can think of’.”

Ping sounded very impressed with the third answer and probably thought that he had found his man. “It’s hard to beat the speed of electricity turning on a light,” he said.

Turning to the fourth and final applicant, Ping posed the same question.

The guy took off his NASCAR cap and scratched his bushy head for a moment. Then he said, “After hearing the previous three answers, it’s obvious to me that the fastest thing known is diarrhea.”

Ping’s jaw dropped but no sound came from his mouth.

“Oh sure,” the guy said. “You see, the other day I wasn’t feeling so good and I ran for the bathroom, but before I could think, blink, or turn on the light, I crapped my pants.”

I held in a guffaw that wanted to erupt from my throat. Ping, however, remained looking stunned. So did the other three applicants. I hurried off to the break room to share what I had overheard. I had a good laugh with one of the cart pushers there and by the time my lunch break was over, the fourth applicant had been hired.

“But he gave a lousy answer,” I said after I changed out of my elf costume and returned it to Ping.

“It was the best I’ve ever heard,” Ping said, disagreeing.

“Really?” I asked. “Better than hypothetical tachyons?”

“You’ll like him,” Ping said, ushering me from his office after instructing me to work the cash register near the exit door.

He was wrong. Randall Quincy Shelley, 27, hired as a seasonal helper until the end of December, wasn’t there because of the money (little as it was). He was there, in his own words to the police later that day, “to meet the guy who stole my girlfriend, Jessica Ann Southwood … the girl I’m gonna marry.”

He found me immediately outside the cash office where I waited for the hundred dollars for my register drawer. He never said a word when his right fist caught my jaw in a roundhouse and broke it.

Save-Some-Cash, 3

February 15, 2015
Steve Campbell

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 24, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.

CHAPTER 3

During my employment at $ave-$ome-Ca$h, I learned that old vendee vamps are the ones to be wary of because they tend to complain the longest and loudest and refuse to go away even when a manager intercedes.

There were five vampires, four of them older than sixty heading toward my register, cussing and complaining loudly about something. Two of the vamps were women; they had no teeth that I could see. I reckoned them rustics, especially when I saw that they wore colorful NASCAR sweatshirts beneath their winter coats. Then I saw the girl. The fifth vamp was Jessica Southwood, a girl in my grade at New Cambridge High, nicknamed Jessi the Mouse. She was a rare talker, considered shy by many of us. And she was as plain as vanilla ice cream: straight blonde hair, brown eyes, no makeup, an unembellished white sweatshirt under a black winter coat, faded blue jeans, and black boots. Nothing about her stood out, except how quiet she was.

She followed behind the others, her eyes aimed at the blue and white tiled floor in front of her boots. As soon as I said, “Thank you for shopping at Save-Some-Cash,” her face blanched when she looked up and saw me. Then it blossomed to crimson.

“Theezh batt’reezh,” the man in the lead said from a gaunt, whiskered face, “do they come in double double-A’zh?” He dangled a package of rechargeable triple-A batteries in front of my eyes.

“No, sir,” I said. “We stopped selling quadruple-A batteries three months ago.”

“Quad what?” He sputtered again. “No! I need double double-A batt’reezh.” He screwed up his blue nose snaked with red varicose veins. “I bought ’em here b’fore.”

I took a step back. The smell of his breath reminded me of my Uncle Carl’s catfish stink bait, which I helped concoct one summer three years ago. We mixed stale cheese and bloody raw liver in an old blender, poured it into a 10-gallon paint bucket, sealed it and put the bucket outside for five days. The sun turned the contents into a ripe smelling soup. When Uncle Carl lifted the lid, I accidentally inhaled the aroma and barfed all over my Nikes.

“Grandpa,” Jessi whined, “you’re embarrassing me! Can’t you ever behave and act like a respectable grownup?”

The four adults turned. Jessi the Mouse had become Jessi the Mouth.

The whiskered male vamp sputtered and tobacco juice splattered the girl’s face. “Ya wash yer tone, mishy.”

Jessi growled, stamped a foot and said, “I’ll wait in the truck.” She charged past the four and hurried through the exit. We watched her go, then her grandfather returned his attention on me when the hydraulic doors swished shut. His bloodshot brown eyes narrowed.

I cleared my throat. “We stopped selling quadruple-A batteries three months ago,” I said.

“Well thash ign’rant.” He looked at the others. They bobbled their heads in unison and agreed.

“Ign’rant,” the other man said.

“I wanna shpeak to a man’jer,” Jessi’s grandfather said.

I picked up my phone, changed my mind, and called Ping Wu Hu, our store sales advocate.

“Customer service is your job,” Ping said. “Main office says we’re not supposed to get involved.”

Jessi’s grandfather grabbed my phone. “Git yer Oriental hiney out here an’ git me shum double double-A batt’reezh.”

“An’ shum Geneshee,” one of the woman said. “They ain’t got no Geneshee beer.”

“We don’t sell alcohol,” I told her. “State law.”

She glared at me while someone next to her muttered, “Shtupid shtate.”

Ping came from his office at the back end of the store, hurried to my register and said with a frown directed at the four vamps, “We want all our customers to have a pleasant shopping experience. My apologies.” He scowled at me for a moment.

“Of coursh,” Jessi’s grandfather said. “Wouldn’t wan’ one o’ yer cush’merzh not buy shumpin.” The others laughed. One of the women belched and the laughter increased. Jessi’s grandfather said, “Thish kid shezh ya ain’t got no double double-A batt’reezh.”

Ping’s face blanched, either from the rotten breath or because he had no idea what Jessi’s grandfather was referring to. He turned toward me and opened his mouth to speak when my watch alarm sounded. It was seven o’clock; my shift was over. I locked my register, handed him the keys and hurried to the time clock. The company frowns on overtime.

When I headed back to the front, Ping and Jessi’s grandfather were having a serious conversation. Although I couldn’t hear what Ping was saying above the hollering going on from the others, I could clearly make out the cuss words exploding from the old man. For a moment, I felt sorry for Ping. In his odd way, he really cared about the store. Just the other day he was upset because our quarter profits were 19% below previous estimates. But after some serious figure crunching, he discovered that he could increase our profits by eliminating our health care benefits.

I raised a battle fist and silently cheered Ping on before I stepped into the flood of parking lot lights. My mom was parked quietly below the one in front of Row 4 where Mrs. Bloomfield hunched at the driver’s window, chewing on mom’s ear like always. Mrs. Bloomfield usually came at seven o’clock on Fridays so she could get deli specials at half-price before the deli department closed shop at eight. I saw Jessi Southwood two rows over, standing in the back of a red Ford pickup truck. She had a cell phone pressed against her right ear when I approached. I wanted to say hi, I suppose, to let her know things were cool.

The bitter November night air had turned her cheeks and nose a cute rosy red. Seeing her made me smile. Jessi the Mouse, however, was scowling. She started to yell. “Hey, I don’t care what you think! It’s a pretty easy thing to figure out!”

I started to lean in the direction of my mom’s car, but Jessi caught my gaze and raised a forefinger. She wanted me to wait. I did.

“I’m gonna remember this,” she yelled into her phone. “Yeah … yeah … fine! Bye!” She shoved the phone into her coat pocket and grumbled something under her breath. She looked at me less than a yard away and seemed vaguely embarrassed. “Sorry you had to hear that. My boy—” She swept a lock of hair from her eyes. “My ex-boyfriend. He’s cancelling on me for Friday night.”

“You have a boyfriend?” The words were out before I realized that I had said them. I mean, this was Jessi the Mouse talking to me like we were best friends and telling me she had a boyfriend … ex-boyfriend.

“He was supposed to be my karaoke partner.” Jessi looked at me with intense, caramel-colored eyes. “Big contest over at The Roundhouse’s Dance ‘N’ Skate.”

“That’s over in Ridgewood,” I said.

She lifted a thin eyebrow. “Uh-huh.” She smiled at that and it transformed her face into round cheeks and tiny dimples. “You should go with me,” she said.

I stared blankly. I barely knew anything about the girl, yet I felt suddenly close to her. I wished it was daytime so I could see her better. She stepped up to the tailgate and stared down at me. A parking light above her put a blue glow around her trim body. I thought I saw angel wings protrude from her shoulders. She said, “You can sing really well.”

“Sing? Me?” My voice cracked.

“Yeah. You sang a solo in music class last year.”

“I did?” My brain became unstuck. I had sung the lyrics to Sweet Home Alabama to get a passing grade. “Oh, yeah. Right.”

She shifted slightly. My gaze never left her midriff where I could make out a bellybutton ring where her sweatshirt lifted. “Tonight I celebrate my love for you,” she said.

I stumbled back a step. “What’d you just say?”

“It’s a song,” she said. “Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack. I need someone to duet with me next Friday night.”

Me? Sing duet?

“Um,” I said several times while I tried to think of a pleasant way to turn her offer down. “I’m sure you’ll find someone else,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I work that night.”

“I see,” she said. “You’d better go. I think your mommy’s calling.”

I turned around and saw my mother waving at me. Mrs. Bloomfield had gone inside the store. Then I turned back. “What time?” I said to Jessi. “If it’s okay with my parents, I’ll sing at your karaoke. Just tell me what time.”

“You will?” She sat down suddenly and looked at me, eye to eye. Light reflected in her eyes where they were wet. “Seriously?”

“Sure,” I said. “Why not?”

She grinned and rattled off some numbers before I realized she was giving me her phone number. “Call me,” she said. “We’ll set up some practice sessions.”

I nodded and turned, then turned back long enough for our gazes to connect. Time seemed to stop then. I don’t remember going, but when my brain unstuck again, I was sitting next to my mom inside her Saturn and halfway home.

Save-Some-Cash, 2

January 30, 2015
Steve Campbell

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 21, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.

CHAPTER 2

There’s an odd phenomenon in retail called Black Friday. Just the name sends shivers down the otherwise unshakable veterans of commerce while putting large, blinking dollar signs across their vitrified stares.

Before my first Black Friday evening at $ave-$ome-Ca$h, I knew only of the 1869 New York Gold Exchange scandal and the 1945 German and British aircraft battle called Black Fridays, and only because my history teacher spent a whole week that November teaching about them. My parents never celebrated the annual retail craze, so I didn’t know about it when I entered the store for my 3 to 7 shift that day and saw the aftermath.

The store’s “$ave-$ome-Ca$h Cu$tomer$ Love Black Friday$ $avings” had started at 6:00 that morning and ended at 2:00 in the afternoon, so most of the shoppers had left with probably 80 percent of our bargain merchandise. As I looked around, I thought a bomb had exploded inside the store. But since the powder blue chipboard walls were still intact and I saw only one fire, I thought steers had busted loose from Fred Franklin’s nearby farm and somehow managed to get inside the store. I heard mooing coming from the clothing section, so I was certain that that’s what happened. But upon inspection, I discovered it was only Ping Wu Hu, our store sales advocate, moaning from beneath a colorful mountain of discarded dresses, ladies’ undergarments and shoes.

He staggered to his feet, with my assistance, then wobbled to his office in the back of the store, all the while mooing—I mean “moaning”—like a heifer in heat. Later I discovered he was actually talking amidst his moans, saying, “No more. No more. No more.”

While I helped clean up the shelves and floor in Toys and Housewares, I made friends with  Charlie Humper, one of the old maintenance guys who looks like Lurch but talks like Uncle Fester from the Addams Family movies. He explained the history and frenzy of Black Friday to me. According to him, the term originated in Philadelphia back in the 1960s when crowds of football enthusiasts entered the city on the Friday after Thanksgiving to shop, stay over to watch the game on Saturday, and then go home. I listened, amazed and alarmed while he told me about massive traffic jams, over-crowded sidewalks, and shoppers mobbing the downtown stores from opening to closing.

“The kids were obnoxious brats at the Philly store I worked at,” he said. “All of them there to see Santa and making a mess of the shelves of toys.” He shivered. “This hogwash of balancing the financial ledgers from red to black is a bunch of PR subterfuge from the 1980s. We old-timers know it’s just dressing up a sinner and calling him a saint.”

As Charlie shuffled off to the maintenance room, I felt glad that I had missed most of the insanity.

I finished cleaning at 3:00 and manned my cash register at the front of the store. Because of my age, I always got the one farthest from the tobacco products, which meant I was closest to the front door. Because of its location, my register attracted the customers who wanted fast exits from the store. But because I was still unskilled at punching the correct register keys, counting out change, and bagging all their loot—and because of my acute interest in every pretty girl who walked by—my lines moved slower than dirt, which … well, you get the picture.

Anyway, there were scores of pretty girls shopping when the 6:00 PM rush surged inside. This crowd consisted of shoppers who needed groceries, shoppers who needed hunting licenses for the approaching deer, turkey and bear seasons, and shoppers who had just got out of work and were hoping for overlooked bargain leftovers from the Black Friday sale. But Ping and his stockers had removed the leftovers and managed to return the store to its usual somber looking self despite all of the cheap Christmas trimmings everywhere.

Other shoppers that entered the store that night were vendee vampires!

I know what you’re thinking: What? Vampires? Those zombie creatures that suck blood?

Not blood, but…

Vendee vampires are shoppers who come out after the sun goes down, and only on Friday and Saturday nights, no matter the time of year. These retail soul suckers are attracted to places with lots of lights and signs that say SAVE. And because $ave-$ome-Ca$h is always lit up like a miniature sun all night long, New Cambridge’s vendee vamps swarm our store as soon as the last glimmer of twilight leaves the sky.

Vendee vamps usually run in packs, but some of the really old ones like to cruise alone or in pairs. Any well-lit commercial venue is fair game as long as these creatures can spend money quickly and give someone a hard time while doing it. Among their favorite haunts besides this store are dollar stores and fast food places. In New Cambridge, several of these stores line both sides of Main Street on the way out of town, and you can often see vendee vamps gathered in packs, berating cashiers and managers if someone either packaged their fast food orders incorrectly or handed back the wrong change. A friend who works at Goody’s Burger Barn down the street told me about a time when some vamps swarmed upon a hapless night manager after a mix-up of food items at the restaurant.

Vendee vampires love confrontations most. I believe complaining and shouting give them energy boosts, stronger than artificial stimulants. They’ll even choose the longest checkout line so they can complain about waiting a long time … or so I’ve heard.

I called Ping on the telephone at my station when twenty of them—young and old—swarmed through the entrance. “The vendee vampires are here,” I whispered into the phone.

“I’m not,” he said and hung up. And despite the noise of lousy Christmas music on the intercom and shoppers talking loudly, I heard his office door’s lock click shut.

I took my break (late as always) and cowered at the round Formica table next to the broken microwave, drinking a Coke and trying to contain my anxiety. I hated confrontations of any kind, and I felt certain I wouldn’t surpass my probation that night.

After my break, I saw only vendee vamps in the store during my long walk back to my register. At the front door, more vampires entered. Several cashiers, including some who had already taken their allotted breaks, turned off their registers and fled to the break room.

Cowards!

I took a deep breath, squared my shoulders, and turned on my Checkout Here light, all the while feeling small and alone at the front of the store where more vendee vampires flooded through the entrance and threatened to drown my hope of keeping my wits until quitting time.

Save-Some-Cash, 1

January 22, 2015
Steve Campbell

WELCOME TO $AVE-$OME-CA$H (A WORK OF FICTION IN PROGRESS). Written 2003, published at Facebook, November 20, 2010 as Welcome to Waldo’s World, rewritten 2011.

CHAPTER 1

Every school kid studying Business History at New Cambridge High knows the story of Otto Van Douchebaum, of how in the 1940s, he started the first Van Douchebaum Emporium in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Despite the secrecy of his private life, we know that Van Douchebaum was a jovial man who dressed in top hat and pinstripes every day and personally greeted his customers at the front door. Within the workings of that store, he hired the cheapest labor to sell the cheapest made products at the cheapest prices. From farm equipment to household appliances, from clothing to radios to toys, he happily guaranteed everything with a money back endorsement. Cheap became popular and Otto became a millionaire two years later. His success and wealth put him among high standing with the editors of American business magazines and made him popular among senators.

To compete with the sudden rush of copycat stores and to accommodate family and friends living in other parts of the United States, Otto Van Douchebaum built more Van Douchebaum stores. By 1955, he’d become a billionaire and his reputation as a wise industrialist had spread to other industrial countries. Among his achievements, he was one of the first to incorporate plastic into his products. The following year, he added groceries to his stores. Then barbershops and hair salons the year after that. He even opened the first gas station at his Michigan store. The popularity spread until every Van Douchebaum Emporium was filling gas tanks with Van Douchebaum premium.

Otto Van Douchebaum married his boyhood sweetheart Polly Umber in 1960. Waldo Umber Van Douchebaum was born in 1961 and the Van Douchebaums lived a luxurious life while Otto searched for cheaper ways to build products to sell at his stores. It was while vacationing in Tokyo during the summer of 1967 that Otto and Polly vanished. Rumor says he was searching for a cheaper and stronger plastic, as well as promoting his stores to the Japanese government. He did purchase a yacht, which he was sailing on Tokyo Bay when he, his wife, and the yacht disappeared. Popular rumor says pirates boarded his yacht and whisked them away to parts unknown. Less popular rumors say aliens abducted them in a UFO—yacht included.

In any case, the Van Douchebaum stores floundered until Waldo turned 18 in 1979 and legally inherited his father’s enterprise. The first thing Waldo did was close all the stores. Then he sold the trademarked name to a group of meat packers from Connecticut that now sell Van Douchebaum Emporium wieners and bologna worldwide.

In 1985, Waldo built his own chain of stores called $ave-$ome-Ca$h. Though not as successful as his father’s stores, Waldo hired the cheapest labor to sell the cheapest made products at the cheapest prices, which appeased American shoppers, business magazine editors, and senators. Despite its flashing dollar-signs name, $ave-$ome-Ca$h spread to smaller cities. It came to the outskirts of my hometown of New Cambridge, Pennsylvania, in 1997, and I stumbled into employment there two years later while I was a tenth grader at New Cambridge High. My life has never been the same since.

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