Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Imported straight out of a Texas Applebee's

You know how you develop a sixth sense about people, particularly about folks who may be Trouble? Everyone in the store seems to have that sense, so when they see such a customer coming in the door, they vault over the counter and dive into the workroom, where they may be found deep inside cartons, locked in the bathroom, crouched under the microwave, or announcing loudly that they're going to the bank and does anybody need anything.

And so it was today. The entire staff suddenly disappeared, and I found myself alone on the floor. In the door came a woman. She was the very spit of Anna Nicole Smith—may she rest in peace—from her dinners hangin' out like a whore's to the collagen-plumped lips that looked like a sectional sofa.
Our customer: a reasonable facsimile

The perfume in which she had marinated herself was without nuance; if it were music, it would be like Lawrence Welk's "Baby Elephant Walk" played at 16 rpm so it sounds like Soviet disco. She spoke with a whine but ver-rrr-rrry slowwww-wwwly, as if she were a Mormon on Xanax.

"Do yew have a T-shirt that says 'Atomic City'?" she asked.

"We do indeed," I said. "Come this way." She rooted through the T-shirts and whined, "They said yew'd have T-shirts that say 'Atomic City' and yew don't! Why don't yew have T-shirts that say 'Atomic City'? I need an atomic city T-shirt! And I don't have much time, because I have to go to the dog park!"

I held up a shirt featuring a mushroom cloud and bearing the legend "Atomic City." "How about this?" I asked.

"No! I need one for a tall, skinny girl. My granddaughter is tall and skinny, and that would not work at all." She regarded it thoughtfully for a moment. "This might work for my grandson, though. But yew don't have any mediums!"

I tried to soften her disappointment. "But maybe you could get a large, and your grandson could use it for jammies (heh heh heh)."

Her eyes lit up. "This is a set of jammies? A complete set of jammies?"

"No, I'm sorry. I was trying to make a joke. I said that he could use the shirt to sleep in."

"Well, where could I get atomic city jammies? And I need some more gifts for my grandchildren. Do yew have anything about space?" I showed her the telescope cards, planispheres, books, models, and activity kits. "Oh, I don't know anything about space. I just know that my grandson likes it." She rooted through all the stuff about space and finally decided on a telescope card.

"Now I need something for myself. Do yew have anything about the history of this place? My husband has been coming here for years and never told me that this is the place where they built the atomic bomb."

So we moved to the atomic history section. Now I could hear the moist, muffled sounds of unsuccessfully stifled nose laughs coming from the workroom. Arlene, who is quiet and unflappable, was making pom-poms at the counter. Her shoulders were shaking, her eyes watering. Alan must have been really tickled, because I could hear his quacking laugh: "Henk henk henk!" Ellen came out to shelve some kids' books. "Oy," she murmured as she passed.

"Now what is this book?" She hefted Richard Rhodes's The Making of the Atomic Bomb. I told her that it was the seminal work on the history of the Manhattan Project. "Now they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, and"—she picked up Dark Sun: the Making of the Hydrogen Bomb—"then they dropped the hydrogen bomb on Japan a few days later?"

"No. We haven't used the hydrogen bomb as a weapon."

"Well, will this book be too hard for me?"

"No," I said. "You don't need to be a scientist to appreciate it. Both books are accessible to an educated lay reader like you."


She brought her purchases, including some T-shirts to the counter. "Now where can I get some more atomic city T-shirts?"

I told her that CB Fox was half a block up the street.

"Up which street?"

"Up this street. Central Avenue. The street you're on now."

"Can I drive there?"

"It's half a block. You can walk there."

"But I have my dog! Can I park in front of the store?"

"Probably not. But you can park behind it."

"Well, where is it?"

I said, "Come outside and I'll show you." So we went outside, and I pointed out CB Fox.

"And they have atomic city T-shirts?"

"And socks. And underwear. And sweatshirts." We came back into the store, and I rang up her purchases.

"What's the name of that store where the atomic city T-shirts are? Where is it again?"

I really need to practice vaulting over the counter.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Not mental, despite what a fear of cornflakes, the color orange, and potato eyes might indicate

I've written previously about the loonies, lovable eccentrics, and assorted nutjobs that have come to the store. Two recent interactions may not be the nuttiest ones I've had, but they're certainly on the charts.

Last week a woman was browsing in the science section. "May I help you find something?" I asked. She said that she was interested in the work of Erwin Schrödinger and in quantum mechanics, specifically the science of perception.

Wow! I thought to myself, that's tough stuff. So I showed her the books by and about Schrödinger and the books on quantum mechanics, and she said, "Oh, I know all about Schrödinger and that cat. I'm more interested in observation and perception, and how observation of a thing can change that thing." I told her that our books about the topics were highly technical but that she might enjoy browsing through them; I figured if she knew "all about" quantum mechanics, the books would be just pie for her. But no. She wanted a book only on perception. Was there such a thing? I told her we'd probably have to do a special order.

I asked her whether she worked at the national laboratory here. She said she didn't have a job; she just moved here. I asked what she had done before she moved to Los Alamos. She said that she operated a gymnastics school for the children of the rich and famous in Hollywood. Well, I thought, she could certainly be a polymath, a Renaissance woman as it were, with an interest in both front pike somersaults and wave function. But then she said, "Yes, perception and the higher consciousness. That's what I'm interested in. How can I co-create reality?"

Co-create reality? I was about to direct her to the New Age shelf when she asked, "Do you know what your store needs? You need to sell Kindles!"

I said that Kindles were proprietary to the Great Satan, a company that is working diligently to put us and other brick-and-mortar independent businesses out of business. "Well, maybe you could just talk to Amazon and see if they'd let you sell Kindles."

Before I could even inhale to respond, she said, "You know what Los Alamos needs? I have this great idea, and you're the first person I've told. This is such a great idea and would bring people to Los Alamos from all over the county! Have you ever been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Well, about 2 million people a year visit it! Think of what 2 million people a year in Los Alamos would do for the economy. Los Alamos needs an aquarium just like the one in Monterey!"

Well, except for the fact that we're a thousand miles inland and in the high desert, and have no space to build anything, I guess we could have an aquarium.


I've never laid eyes on the writer of this email. We carry his book, which is his proof of the Grand Unified Theory as it relates to spirituality, because he's local, and we support our local authors, regardless of their race, gender, religion, veteran's status, political affiliation, or psychological state.
I mentioned to you that I never had a book signing but I didn't mention that I've sent people into your store only to have your staff turn them away empty handed. Amazon did help them. From the viewpoint of a local author, my local bookstore has done about as bad a job as possible in helping me promote my book. But the past can't be changed and now the movie about my work is finally progressing. We have secured over $5,000 of the $10,000 we need with a substantial contribution coming from my Muslim friend in Iran. Obviously if we win big at Sundance or one of the other film festivals, I will sell a lot of local books. Even though I make much more by selling them myself, I would prefer to send everyone to you. To make up for all past "sins" please make at least a $10 or more pledge at [website] to help finish the film, help us actively to promote our film and book by displaying a poster and keeping the book in stock as we move to a release of the film next spring. I know I'm the worst writer in Los Alamos but I'm the best philosopher as I've offered concepts yet considered by humanity.
I forwarded the email to the cops—just in case.