The day has just begun at the Spanish store, and I’m outside hanging the flags. You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and the U.S. flag has got nothing on the Latin American flags. I mean, come on. Stars and stripes? The states of the union, and the 13 colonies? Really? I like a country like Argentina. It’s blue and white and has a big yellow sun on it. Venezuela’s got a horse on it. South America isn’t afraid to be like, listen, it’s sunny and we like horses. Put it on the flag. Symbolism Shmimbolism. I want a flag with an ice cream sandwich on it. And a pony. And the sheet music for "Love Will Tear Us Apart." There you go. Flag.
A woman on her cell phone walks by. There’s a duck nibbling at some crumbs by the door.
"So then I said, why don’t we just not invite Shannon, and…oh, HI there!" She bends down to talk to the duck. "How are you? Hang on, Margie, it’s a duck! What’re you doin’? No, Margie, not you, the duck. Havin’ some breakfast? No, no, the duck again, listen, Margie, can I call you back?" What, are they old friends? Who interrupts a conversation when they see a duck?
"Hey do you work here? Do you work here? Excuse me, Sir?"
"Oh! Me? Thought you were still talking to the duck. I do, yes. The duck is just loitering."
"Yes, well…I’m here to pick up some paella pans."
"Oh, right, that order’s right inside, let me give you a hand."
It’s Cinco de Mayo. A catering company is buying 16 paella pans for a Microsoft office party. Apparently they want to celebrate the Mexican holiday with Spain’s most famous dish. I’m proud to own a Mac.
"So are you guys doing anything special for Cinco de Mayo?" the caterer asks as I heave the stacks of pans into her car.
"Well…it’s not really a Spanish holiday. So not really."
"It’s not?" She looks horrified at the $800 dollars worth of paella pans in her trunk.
"Yeah…but…they won’t know the difference. Don’t worry about it. These are the people who made Internet Explorer." She looks stunned as she gets back into her car, and I smile to myself as I walk back into the store.
"Hey, do me a favor." Brenda is staring into her computer. "Price that case of wines at $39.99 a bottle."
"Sure, Brenda," I say.
"I’d do it myself, but…I’m vaguely busy." She’s checking her email at her desk while eating a sandwich. I look at the label. It’s a Madeira port.
Madeira port wine is a complex elixir that takes years and years and a complicated aging and tempering process to bloom into is trademark flavors of orange rind and cinnamon, toasted nuts and caramel. This winemaker is called Blandy’s. Now, I understand it’s your family name, you probably inherited the place from Great-Grandpa Blandy himself, but…is that really the best marketing plan, with a product like Madeira, and a name like Blandy? No one wants to buy crackers from Staley’s, no one wants to buy milk from Chunky’s, no one wants to send their kids to Dummy’s Private School. Come on, Blandy. Think this through.
"Also…" Brenda looks up quickly, startled at something in the window. "I have to go." She darts around the corner just as the door opens behind me.
"Hey, Guy!" Oh no. Flamenco Kid. The long black leather trench coat. The long black ponytail. The patchy little wisp of a moustache. The classical guitar slung across his back. I don’t know where he comes from, or where he goes when he leaves. But all I want in the world is for him to go back to that place. I turn around slowly. He has a fist extended toward me. "Gimme some rock, man!" I reluctantly "give him some rock."
"Yeah! What’s up, man? What’s new around the store?" He slaps me on the back. Hard. I wince.
"Oh you know, man. Same old stuff."
"Awesome. Are you guys doing anything special for Cinco de Mayo?"
"Well, not really. I mean, it’s not a Spanish holiday." He looks slightly alarmed.
"That’s right. Mexican Independence Day, right?"
"I believe September 16th is Mexican Independence Day. Independence from Spain, actually."
"Oh. What’s Cinco De Mayo?"
"Mexican victory over French occupation. 1861."
"Oh! Well that’s great!"
"Yeah, I mean. The French did come back, though, and then they occupied Mexico for 3 years after that."
"Oh. Where were we?"
"Fighting the Civil War, I believe."
"Oh, right. Well, listen. Can I park there?" He points outside.
"Where?" I know what he’s going to say.
"In the ‘three minute zone’?"
"Well…yeah. I mean. For three minutes."
"No, I need to be there for a couple hours."
"Yeah. Then no."
"Because I can’t find a spot anywhere else, and I really need to park there."
"Well. Sorry, man."
"Can I stay there for just like…an hour?"
Do you think I’m the one in charge of the three-minute parking? What do you want me to do? Write you a note and pin it to your shirt?
Please excuse Flamenco Kid from the three-minute parking rule. He’s too lazy to follow the rules of society, so I said that was fine. Call if you have questions.
Some Guy at Some Store
"I just don’t want you to get towed, man," I offer helpfully. He shakes his head like I really let him down and walks out the door to his car. "If you can’t find another three-minute zone, I’d suggest a Handicapped Space or a Bus Stop!" I say under my breath. I price the last of the case of wines and heave them onto a shelf. Brenda reappears.
"Oh, hey–did I say $39.99 a bottle? Because I meant to say $49.99." She whisks back around the corner as I pull the case of wine back off the shelf.
I’m halfway done relabeling when there’s another slap on my back. Flamenco Kid. He’s got his arms full of CDs, books, souvenirs. I didn’t even hear him come back in.
"Hey bro! I’m back!"
"So you are."
"Question. Where might I find the ferge?"
"I think I’m unclear on just what that might be."
"The sign. Over there." I look. It reads, "MORE ANTCHOVYS UPSTARES IN THE FERGE."
"Oh yes. I think Pascual did that sign. I think it’s short for "refergerator." Which is Pascual for refrigerator. On your right at the top of the stairs."
"Cool. I’m just going to leave this stuff here, and I’ll be back in a minute to pay."
He dumps it all on the counter.
The thing is, Flamenco kid has never bought anything in the store. Nothing. He comes in, he talks, he never breaks eye contact, he asks a lot of questions, he piles stuff on the counter, and then he says, "You know? I think I’ll pass for today," and walks out. Every. Time.
Once when I was four, I wandered off at one of my brother’s soccer games. There was a big wooden play structure and I decided to get under the stairs, and stick my head between the slats. I got stuck for an hour and a half, staring at wood chips while splinters dug into my neck, and the damp planks stained my Osh Kosh B’Goshes. I did finally escape, but I relive the whole experience whenever I see Flamenco Kid. Not because he was there or anything, he just gives me a very similar feeling.
He sprints up the stairs and I finish labeling the wines. I get the ladder out again, and I’m just grunting them onto the shelf when I hear Brenda.
"Oh, hey, you know what? Those are for a special order. So go ahead and just take the price tags off and put them upstairs."
"Ha, ha. Wait. You’re kidding, right?"
"No. No, I’m not."
"Right. Ok." I reach for the ladder. You know what’s NOT going to be on my flag? Blandy. Ladders are out, too. Maybe even the pony–I can’t have him eating the ice cream sandwich when I’m not looking. Ow. Slap on the back.
"Hey, Kid. This all for you?" I point to the pile of merchandise he’s left on the counter. He sets down the ‘ANTCHOVYS’ next to the pile. "Actually…maybe just the Flamenco CD, and the flag with the goat on it. No, the one with the pony. Ooooo…is that Blandy’s? Actually…" He pretends to be deep in thought, and then suddenly brightens. "You know, I think I’ll just pass today! Thanks!" He gives me a high five, and he’s out the door.
A minute goes by and he pops his head back in. "Hey–real quick. I’m going up to get fish ‘n chips. Can I park here?" I fake a cell phone call.
"Hello?" I cover the receiver. "Sorry, I have to take this. It’s a duck."