Friday, September 19, 2014



Esther and daughter Barbara were the owners and operators of a bookstore in Chicago's Old Town, a famous establishment complete with reading lounge, coffee shoppe, and a performing area for poets and singing acoustic guitarists. I was working there as a floorwalker whose main responsibility was to keep an eagle eye out for such things as shoplifting, tearing favorite poems out of anthologies, and leafing through art books with one hand while holding a pepperoni pizza with the other. (I must confess that I did occasionally let a young lady slip a volume of poetry--only poetry--into her purse or under her blouse; but that is another, complicated, story. Mea culpa.) The differences between my two bosses, for whom I was often working on projects essentially incompatible with each other, had me constantly in an emotional wringer. I was often on the verge of quitting, but my chronic difficulty in finding work, and my fantasizing about Barbara kept me there. The daughter was a lovely, sensitive, soft-spoken dream. The mother was a nightmare, a homely, vulgar, loud-mouthed shrew, obviously deeply jealous of her daughter, without whom the business would not have survived. I noticed that any time she saw me and her daughter together for more than a minute or so, she would shriek at "Steve-hen" with some kind of command. In the back room, where the inventory was kept, there was also, besides the restrooms, a dressing room for the women to change in, and a nook with a large couch for napping. Well, one day I was back there, unpackaging the latest shipment of books. I was unaware of Esther's presence until, from behind the curtain, I heard her call me. At first I didn't recognize her voice. Rather than its usual harsh tone, there was a softness to what sounded more like "Steve-hon" than her customary epithet. I entered the generally forbidden area and saw her apparently struggling with the zipper on the back of her dress. She said, in a strangely husky voice, "Would you mind...?" I could tell from the pressure she put on my hand when I touched the zipper tab that she wanted my hand to go down, not up.But, up it went, and, when she was fully zipped, I made some kind of forgotten, silly comment, like, "That's it." I just wanted out of there. Exit. A few minutes later, while I was busy playing vigilante, she screamed out, in front of her daughter and dozens of patrons, "Steve-hen, I want you to clean out the godamned toilets." I was again jobless!

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