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Doing The Melt

Posted on Saturday, August 2, 2008 in prayers

The bookstore I work at is called Borders. I work there three days a week. I work on what is called IPT — the inventory process team — which basically means that I shelve books all day long. This is the third Border’s store I’ve worked at.

I like shelving books. It gives me a sense of order, and it helps shut off the storm that is usually going on in my head.

Most of the people I work with are very nice. I don’t know any of their names, because they aren’t real people. They are just Version People — people I’ve seen before a million times. The only thing I can tell you is that almost everybody there has a tattoo. Some of them even have pins in their lips and rings in their noses, and a lot of them have these really stupid haircuts where the hair is combed into a giant point on top of their head, or else it’s bald on one side with long hair on the other.

I really can’t figure out why people would do this to themselves. I mean, I know there’s a lot of peer pressure to be like the rest of your friends when you’re a teenager …but I promise you, no matter how much peer pressure there was, I’d never put a stupid ring in my nose or stick pins in my lips and eyebrows. I guess it’s really not much fun being a teenager, always having to look cool so that people will like you.

Besides the pierced tattoo people, there are usually one or two old ladies working at any Border’s you work at. At my last store there were about four of them, and they were all really fat with big butts. At this particular Borders there aren’t any old ladies, but there are a couple of really old guys that make me nervous. They look like old guys who probably live in some crummy little apartment alone, and have nothing to do all day except wonder when they’re going to die, so they take a crummy job at Borders in order to make them feel like their life has some meaning even though it really doesn’t.

I feel sorry for the old guys. The one at this store has a real red face and a very bad wig and he always sits alone in the break room drinking his tea and nobody ever talks to him (those young kids can be real snotty when they want to). Of course, I’m sort of an old guy too, but the thing is I don’t look like an old guy, and I don’t act like one.

Even though I don’t know the names of the replaceable people who I work with, I do have a rather intimate relationship with some of the customers who come in the store. These people who I have this connection with aren’t just normal customers; they’re what I call the regulars – people come into the store on a regular basis and do exactly the same thing every time they come in. Which means they generally take a pile of books or magazines and sit there for hours reading them, or else they sit in the coffee shop with their computers and pretend they’re working when really they’re just hanging out, or sleeping or maybe eyeballing some of the cute girls who work behind the counter.

I said I was intimate with the regulars, but that’s not because I talk to them or anything – these aren’t the kind of people you’d ever want to talk to. No, they serve another purpose for me. They’re there for me to observe them, which is my favorite thing in the whole world (besides hiding under the covers).

When I observe people, I do this …thing. I call it, “The Melt.” The only way I can explain it is that when I do the Melt, I make myself go all soft and gushy inside — I kind of disappear myself — and after that, I can go inside other people’s bodies, and I can find out everything I need to know about them without them even saying one single word! I mean, I can find out everything – what they think about, who they love and who they hate, what they’re scared of and what they dream of. It’s all there for the taking. It might sound complicated, but actually it’s quite simple. I learned to do The Melt when I was really young — maybe six or seven — and I’ve perfected the technique over the years. If you’re a journalist, which I guess I am, it’s a really good thing to be able to do.

There is one problem, though. Sometimes, you don’t want to know a lot of the stuff you find out when you do The Melt. You find out stuff that makes you real sick, stuff that makes you feel like you’re going to throw up or something. When that happens, you have to hurry up and get out of the people real quick, and then you have to use another technique to disappear them (which is a little bit harder than doing The Melt).

So far, my favorite Border’s regulars are the Angry Belching Guy With Big Zits On His Neck, the Monster Girl, and the Ear Picking Troll (this guy really and truly looks exactly like the troll in that book … you know, the one about the Three Billy Goats Gruff, where the troll is hiding under the bridge waiting to eat them ( I certainly don’t want to get eaten by a troll, I don’t know about you!). Oh yeah, I almost forgot the guy who never changes his clothes, and who comes in every day with his sack lunch and sits there reading those Japanese comic books all day (I think they’re called Manga: they’re drawn real badly and they’re very popular).

At first I hated this guy, but later on I began to like him, because I knew he was homeless and didn’t have anywhere to go, but instead of being out in the street, panhandling with all the other homeless people, he’d elected to hang out in a bookstore and just read all day long (even if he reads junk instead of real books). Now what harm is there in that ?

In my old store in Palm Springs there was this one regular we called the Newspaper Lady. She was a black woman of indeterminate age, and she came in the store every single day. A lot of times she fell asleep in one of the big stuffed chairs. She’d sleep until somebody would wake her up. You aren’t allowed to sleep in Borders. That kills me. They can’t kick you out, if you stay there all day reading books and never buying them, but if you fall asleep, they can tell you that there’s no sleeping allowed.

What a bunch of idiots.

Anyhow, what was different about the Newspaper Lady was that she had all these bags with her, like a lot of homeless people do…but instead of having the bags stuffed with all her crummy personal belongings, every single bag was filled with newspapers!

At first this was a total mystery to me. But then I understood. What she’d do was, wherever she sat – whether it was in the coffee shop or in one of the comfortable chairs — before she’d sit down, she’d cover the chair with newspapers. She’d cover it entirely, so that absolutely no part of her body would actually come in contact with the chair. If she went to the coffee shop and bought a coke or something (she always had enough money for cokes, which are fairly expensive), she’d never take the drink with her bare hand, No, first she’d cover her hand with newspapers, so that the glass wouldn’t touch her fingers. I guess she had a phobia about things touching her body… I don’t know.

One day when I came in, I saw her in the music section. I couldn’t believe my eyes. She was standing there, bopping around in time with the music (she was in the Negro section of the store), which she was listening to through the earphones. But the thing is, she had her entire head covered with newspapers …with extra newspapers wadded around her ears so that the earphones wouldn’t touch them.

Obviously she was either unaware of how crazy she looked, or she simply didn’t care. In any case, she was having a big old time listening to gospel music and be-bopping around the aisles, getting all twisted in the earphone cord, all the while singing real loud (she actually had a pretty good voice). Of course, she’d scared away everybody who was around her, so she pretty much had the whole aisle to herself.

I thought to myself that this was one of the most wonderful things I ‘d ever seen! She had revealed a whole other aspect of her personality. Normally, she was very quiet, and she kind of walked around real sneaky like.

Also, when she was in the coffee shop, she’d steal every single packet of sugar from the little sugar bowl. After she’d stolen the sugar, she’d go to sit at a table (she always sat with her back facing you, so you couldn’t really ever see her face), and she’d pour all the sugar onto a piece of paper. Then, came the best part. She’d stick out her big old pink tongue, and she’d lick all the sugar off the paper!

Every time she did this, she’d wind up with her face completely covered with powdered sugar. She looked just like Al Jolson or Uncle Remus or maybe Marcel Marceau – one of those guys. But she either didn’t know, or else she just didn’t care, I don’t know which.

One day I was sitting in the coffee shop eating my lunch when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked up, and lo and behold – it was the Newspaper Lady.

“Sir,” she said to me. “I was wondering if you had the correct time. You see, I seem to have lost my watch.”

I was in shock…not just because she’d actually talked to me, but because her diction was so good. Also she had this really nice, voice …kind of low and real soft. Clearly, I now had to change my whole opinion of her. Damn, this was going to take some work .

I told her the time.

“Thank you very much sir,” she said, turning and rapidly walking away.

That was when I smelled her. I don’t know why I hadn’t smelled her before…probably because I always watched her from a distance so she wouldn’t see me. Obviously, she had taken a dump in her pants. In fact, you could actually see it … this big old bulge in the back of her shorts.

I had to go outside and gulp a bunch of air, because the smell was so bad. But there was absolutely no doubt about it, she was walking around with crap in her pants. Maybe she was real intelligent, but she was also crazy as a friggin’ loon. I mean, this baby needed to be locked up…and quick!

The last time I ever saw the Newspaper Lady was the day before I quit the store to move to L.A to live in the house that I never come out of because I’m too scared.

I had parked my car across the street in the Bank Of America parking lot because there were generally no spaces left in the Border’s parking lot and the Nazis who ran the mall said they’d give a ticket to any store employees who parked in their stupid lot.

Anyhow, the sun was just going down and it was beginning to get dark…and as I crossed the street, I saw her. She’d put down a whole bunch of newspapers on the grass, and she was lying on them, flat on her back, just staring up at the sky.

Soon it would be dark and cold (the desert gets really cold at night), and she’d undoubtedly cover herself with more newspapers to keep warm. I thought to myself how crazy she was. Nothing she did added up. I mean, for someone who doesn’t want anybody looking at her, she’d opted to make her bed right in the middle of everything! She didn’t even have the sense to go and hunch in a doorway like normal homeless people do. What in God’s name was wrong with her?!

Usually when I leave a place, I never think about any of the regulars anymore. There are too many new strange and wonderful people you can do the Melt with. But for some reason, from time to time I thought about the Newspaper Lady. Whenever I’d think of her, I’d smell that smell again, and I’d have to go outside and gulp air.

I told you that I don’t usually get involved with the regulars, but recently, I actually did get involved (sort of) with the Monster Girl.

As far as I could tell, she was probably eighteen or thereabouts. She always wore the same thing — jeans, t-shirt, sweatshirt, and a pair of those black and white tennis shoes, either with no laces or the laces untied. She had this really pretty blonde hair that she wore in one of those curly, Stevie Nicks type of hairdos which managed to cover up most of her face.

The reason she wore her hair like that was because she didn’t have a face. I mean, she had one, but none of her features were distinguishable from one another. It wasn’t just one of those faces that deformed people sometimes have, where one eye is up and one is down, or their mouth is kinda sideways. No, this was way beyond that. I mean, she had eyes, a nose and a mouth, but you couldn’t really tell them as separate from each other…they were all sort of smooshed together.

The only thing I could think of is that she might have been one of those people that had tried to kill themselves by putting a shotgun in their mouths, but they screwed up and managed to live. Only now they were going to look like the Elephant Man or Quasimodo for the rest of their lives!

I watched the Monster Girl a lot. She always came in by herself – I figured she was probably a loner. No friends.

She usually hung out in the music section, and she’d be there, kind of bopping around while listening to some of her favorite CD’s on the store’s earphones. I liked the fact that she hung out in the music section. That meant that whatever else she might have felt — I mean, about not having a face and all — at least she was comfortable enough to hang out and listen to music that made her happy.

She also liked books. When she wasn’t in the music department, I’d find her sitting somewhere on the floor, with a huge pile of books next to her. So now I knew that she liked reading and she liked music. That meant she had a world that she lived in, a world furnished with things she loved.

Cool.

Oh yeah, she’d always drink the same thing — an extra large latte (I refuse to use that stupid coffee shop lingo and say “venti,” or any of that crap). What I’m trying to say is that she had a routine.

I don’t know why, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the Monster Girl. I thought about her while driving home from work, and I thought about her while watching TV at night (which is normally my time for disappearing from my brain all the people who I had made contact with during the day. I mean, I didn’t want any of those people’s vibes polluting my house). Pretty soon I couldn’t stop thinking about her. It made my chest hurt.

I was reading the Bible a lot during that time, but I still didn’t know if I was a Christian or what. I mean, half the time I believed in something, the other half, I felt like there was no possible reason for existence. I mean, if there is a God, how in hell could he explain the Monster Girl!? What could she have possibly done to deserve a life of eternal pain, humiliation and damnation?! A life in which she’d never have a boyfriend, in which nobody would ever kiss her on the lips, or even the cheeks or the eyelids. A world where other people would avoid looking at her wherever she went. Why would anybody create a lovely, wonderful teenage girl like this, then relegate her to living her life in the pit of hell!?

Why why why why why why why?! C’mon you bastard…give me an answer!!!

I tried to imagine the Monster Girl’s life. Even though she always wore the same clothes, she wasn’t poor. She didn’t reek of poverty. She might have even had a lot of money, but she just chose to wear old t-shirts and tennis shoes so she could look like the other kids her age.

She probably lived with her mother (for some reason I knew there was no father) in a small apartment or condo that was near the bookstore…that was why she came in there so often.

I pictured her bedroom. It’d be a typical teenage girl’s bedroom, with maybe pink wallpaper and a matching bedspread. She’d have a desk, a mirror, a computer, an I-POD … all the good stuff. And the walls of her room would be covered with pictures of her favorite rock groups — Greenday or whoever was popular these days. I thought she might even have a Teddy Bear on her bed (I got even more pissed at God when I thought of that Teddy Bear).

Soon I came to a decision. Somehow, some way… I was going to make contact with the Monster Girl. It wasn’t going to be easy, but I had to do it.

I tried to figure out what I’d say to her. I wouldn’t tell her that it didn’t matter that she had no face — she’d know I was lying, and that would hurt her even more. I thought about telling her about Jesus, but how could I do that, when half the time I didn’t believe in the cat myself?! Besides, she’d probably just think I was a fanatic of some kind.

All I knew was that somehow, I had to tell her that I cared about her. After I’d broken the ice, I pictured us having coffee together, discussing the travails of the world. Just a couple of pals.

A few days later I spotted her. I turned and walked in her direction, so we’d have to pass one another.

When I got up close, I couldn’t think of anything clever to say, so I just said, “Hi!”

She didn’t even look at me. She passed me by without so much as acknowledging my presence. I wasn’t surprised. She’d probably spent her whole life perfecting ways of learning how to avoid people.

On the way home, I was torn. My heart ached for her. I thought maybe at least she had created a beautiful world inside her head … a world that was pink and blue and Christmassy, a world where she could turn the music up as loud as she wanted and dance, flying waaaay up high … up in the sky … up to the moon.

A few days later, I saw her sitting on the floor of the music department. She had her usual pile of books stacked alongside her. I turned around for a moment, but when I turned my head back, she was gone (she would always disappear real fast like that). Fortunately, she hadn’t put away any of her books.

I immediately went to examine the pile, so I could see what she’d been reading. Left open was a book on the history of the Beatles, plus a bunch of other books on various musical groups. Another one was “No One Gets Out Of Here Alive,” the story of the dead Doors’ singer, Jim Morrison.

A couple of days passed where she didn’t come in. Then one Saturday afternoon, I spotted her. This time, she was in the photography section, and there she was, sitting on the floor next to a pile of books. She had her face buried in a book, which was the style she’d developed so as not to let people see her.

It was now or never.

Without thinking, I walked right up to her and stood there … but she didn’t look up at me.

“Excuse me,” I said, “But I have a problem. I have this niece about your age, and she loves music. Actually, she really likes the Beatles. But see, I have no idea which Beatles records are good, and I was wondering if, ah…if maybe you could help me out.”

There was a pregnant silence. Then she looked up at me. I’d promised myself that if she would just look at me, I’d look her right in the eyes, and that even if I was shocked by her face, I wouldn’t show it.

She thought for a moment, then she said, “Rubber Soul” – that’s the best. And maybe after that, “Revolver”… Those two are really great.”

Her voice sounded like it was coming out of her neck instead of what should have been her mouth, but her words were clearly understandable — there was no giant speech impediment or anything.

“Cool!” I said.

“Oh yeah, what about the Doors? She also likes the Doors…. Sheesh, can you believe it? Fifteen years old…. and she’s a throwback to the Love Generation!” I laughed. “I mean, that’s my era.”

She thought for a moment, but she didn’t turn her face — her wreck of a face — away. Then she said, “Probably their first album is the best — the one with “Light My Fire” on it. There are some others,” she said, “but I don’t really know them very well. But the first one is really good.”

“Hey, thanks…thanks a lot, man,” I said (I call everybody man). Then I turned on my heel and left.

Thank you, God. I did it! I made contact And she actually looked at me. We had looked into one another’s eyes!

I promised that I wouldn’t expect anything after that. I knew that maybe the next time I saw her, she wouldn’t look at me again, but it didn’t matter.

I had gotten to her.

For some reason, I didn’t see her for awhile after that. I began to wonder if maybe she’d moved, or if she was sick or something.

Then one day, she was back. She was galumphing down the steps, holding her extra large latte. I turned and walked in her direction. She always walked with her head down …but when I got right next to her, I caught her eyes, and said, “Hey, man…what’s happening?” I raised two fingers and waved hello.

“Not much.” she said, raising her two fingers and waving back at me.

Then she was gone.

I had to walk outside real fast because I didn’t want anybody in the store to see me crying. I stayed out there for a pretty long time.

After that day, I didn’t think about her so much, and I stopped having fantasies about us becoming best friends or soul mates and all that kind of stuff. But there was a new lightness in my heart. I could actually believe in God … or something like God … at least for a while.

It was only much later that I realized what had actually happened.

The Monster Girl had given me a great gift. The most beautiful gift in the world. She’d quenched some of the pus and the bile that runs in my veins. She’d touched my aching heart and patted it, as if to say, “It’s OK..It’s really OK.”

Here I thought I was doing something for her , when actually, she’d been the one to do something for me. I didn’t know if she knew it, but that didn’t matter.

After that, she still came in the store. Sometimes, she said hi to me, sometimes not. That was fine. She had better things to do. She had music to listen to. She had a whole store full of countless songs she could dance to and wonderful, magical books that could take her to far away places. Places that aren’t on any map. She had worlds to explore.

So, thank you God.

I took her off my list of “regulars.” She was on her own now, and me – I had a lot more melting to do.

(c) Stuart Goldman

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