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."
"HENK HENK HENK!"
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.