Another “Swamis” Cutback

Shoppers saving their ‘good hair’ for later. I do love this photo. Not mine, but…

UPDATE- There will be a paddle out on Sunday, January first to honor and celebrate the life of real surfer Omar Jamaludin. It will be held at a break Omar and many of us consider our (favorite or a favorite) spot. No, not H****ck.

I am, finally, getting to the end of where I have now decided “Swamis” should end. While I have been actively, consciously trying to cut down or cut out anything that doesn’t further the main plot, I found myself with ninety thousand words and needing more than ten thousand more. THIS EXCERPT is from a chapter in which Joey is working at the fictional San Elijo Grocery Store, known as Mrs. Tony’s to the locals. There was, in the late sixties, a grocery store there, across the railroad tracks and highway 101 from the San Elijo State Beach. It featured a high wall of windows facing the view. I do recall Phil Harper and Ray Hicks and I, well into a week or so of camping and surfing, going into the market, and my becoming aware that I was probably close to maximum sun exposure. So, chocolate milk and Hostess donettes, back across the street.

The in store information is largely from Trish working at the Quilcene Village Store in Quilcene (in the 1980s) while it was known, by locals, as “Mary’s Village Store.” It was easy to get credit, easy to put purchased items on your tab. Mary also accepted, from the right customers, post-dated checks. And, she did some payday lending. Ten bucks on Monday was repaid with eleven on Friday. And, as the fictional Mrs. Tony and other checkers do in the manuscript, Mary and other checkers (not Trish) wore their hair in curlers at work, saving their ‘good hair’ for their men at home.

So… Swamis- a Sunday in March of 1969. Joey redefines is the narrator.

I was getting faster, steadily, at the register. I had already memorized most the prices on the most frequently purchased items, read others, only guessed on a couple; always, as instructed, ‘guessing up.’ And I was smiling, and sliding the goods, and bagging, and loading the carts, and responding positively to whatever clients said; I was making change and putting new balances on old tabs.

By my lunch break, 2:20, each of the Tonys told me I would get faster. Eventually. 

Just before what was supposed to be my afternoon break, 4:20, I checked out one customer, Sylvia Crawford, whose account card featured a red line under the balance. Sylvia Crawford, then I, looked over at Mr. Tony. He mouthed ‘okay,’ with a smile, followed by a bit of a stern look for Sylvia Crawford. Her expressions went from relief to a purposefully awkward smile, one meant to, if not conceal, to acknowledge the awkwardness and thereby lessen her embarrassment. She had offered no explanation of why she was behind, or when she would try to catch up. I was grateful for that. I just smiled. Neutral smile. As instructed.

After my smoke break, I held up a three-person line to get Mrs. Tony when a guy with a rather full cart slid a Traveler’s Cheque across the counter. “Where you from?” Mrs. Tony asked him. When she found out it was Arizona, she said, “Sure. Too hot there already, that’s my guess.” She took over checking out his purchase. I did the bagging and the moving of items from counter to bag to cart.

“Now, Jody,” Mrs. Tony said, the Arizona guy still there, “If this was an out of state check, you’d have to say ‘no.’ With a ‘sorry,’ of course.”

“What if, Mrs. Tony, he had been from, say, Minnesota?”

“I’d have said, ‘sure, still too cold there’s my guess.” Arizona Guy and Mrs. Tony both chuckled. Still, her look told me I could have stayed quiet.  Should have.

When Arizona Guy and the three other customers were gone, she said, “Jody. I know you’re smart. What you aren’t is better. None of us is better than our customers.” She put her right pointer finger high on my nose. She slid the finger down slowly and held it there for a moment. “They might want to tell us their business. Selling them… stuff, that’s ours. Got that, huh?

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Huh?” 

“Got it.”

At about 5:45, I rang up purchases for a guy in his mid-twenties. He had a clean shirt on, but there were some grease stains on his hands and forearms, and he was wearing dark blue mechanic’s work pants and hard leather shoes. He held out a check made out to Jack Jacobs, and flipped it over. Jonathan Jacob, Junior’s signature was at the top, “pay to the order of Richard Haber” below it, and a signature, “Richard Haber” below that.

“That’s me,” he said. “Richard Haber. Two-party check. I already signed it over.” Richard Haber flipped the check over and set it on the counter. “Jackie Jacobs says you do this all the time.”

I smiled, took the check, pointed at Mr. Tony at the first register as I walked away.  

Mr. Tony looked at the check, looked at Richard Haber, who was busily bagging his own groceries. “Don’t recognize him.” That was in Mr. Tony’s version of a whisper. In his loudest, announcement voice, Mr. Tony said, “Mrs. Tony, can you come to check out stand two?”

Richard Haber, Mr. Tony, several other customers, and I all looked around for Mrs. Tony. “Friend of John Jacobs, Junior,” Mr. Tony said in his normal-but-still-loud voice. “Jackie Boy Jacobs.”

Richard Haber had loaded the groceries into a cart by the time Mrs. Tony almost ran down the cereal and bread aisle and to the middle register. Her apron and scarf were off, and her hair was out and brushed. Only two clips on her bangs remained. She had makeup on, far less than what she would describe as ‘whorish’ on another woman. Her lipstick, however, was color I had overheard her refer to in a conversation with Doris as Revlon red.

“Almost closing time,” Mrs. Tony said, more to me than to Richard Haber, “It’s Sunday.” She took the check in her left hand. “Better start sweeping up, Jody. I mean, Joey.”

The oversized dry mop and the other clean up items were already staged against and in the very middle of the front windows. On my walking away from the middle register, and with several gestures from Mrs. Tony, two of the customers who had been waiting moved over to her husband’s line.

“No. Sorry, kid,” Mrs. Tony told Richard Haber, in a low-but-not-low-enough voice, “Jackie Boy Jacobs stiffed Mr. Tony and me good.” Richard Haber waited as Mrs. Tony walked over to the file cabinet, pulled a card out from the bottom of the ‘H-I-J’ stack. She held the full card, three red lines under the last entry, by the top edge, hitting it against her left forearm as she walked back to the register. Don’t know what you did for him, but…”

Mrs. Tony pointed at pieces of paper suspended on strings above the filing cabinet until Richard Haber followed her eyes. “Bad checks,” she said, “Never could collect. I used to have a board… with names of cheats and deadbeats, over on the back of the register… so’s people could see them. Some guy from the County, a detective. He…” Mrs. Tony looked at me, the message being to return to her register. I leaned the mop against the cabinet. “He said naming names might be what’s called, ‘bad form.’ But, Richard Haber, I still got every one of the names…” She tapped her forehead. “…Up here.”

Mrs. Tony put Jonathan Jacobs, Junior’s check on the top row of keys on the register. She looked at the total for the items on the counter, hit a key, opening the drawer. She took out five dollars and sixty-five cents, moved it all into her left hand, and said, quietly, “Or you can try the bank. Tomorrow. Or… maybe, if you see Jackie boy, see if he’ll come in and… honor his debt.”

“I need more money than that,” Richard Haber said. He removed several items from the bags, set them on the counter: A half-gallon of milk, a loaf of bread, a medium sized jar of peanut butter.

“Tell you what, Richard,” Mrs. Tony said, ringing-in the items, sliding them backwards on the counter, “take the bottle of Red Mountain… on me… and Mr. Tony. And, good news, you’re out of it. Lesson learned.” She looked at me, mouthed ‘lesson learned.’ I nodded.

Richard Haber wasn’t halfway to the door when one of the customers from Mr. Tony’s line, probably about their ages, late forties, headed back toward Mrs. Tony’s and Doris’s and, for a few hours, so far, my register. “Quitting time, Lenny; me and my mister are… going out.” Lenny smiled, turned back toward Mr. Tony’s register. “I got my hair undone, my lips painted up, and…” She kicked her right foot out toward Lenny, half-whispered, “Got my ‘chase me, catch me, fuck me’ pumps on,”

“You do look… delectable, Loretta.”

Loretta La Rosa shook her head, turned toward me. “You didn’t hear that part, Jody… I mean, Joey.” I shook my head. “So, Joey… Miss Cole? Huh?”

I shook my head again and started loading the items Richard Haber couldn’t afford into an empty cart.

“Swamis” is copyrighted and, as is all original material in realsurfers.net, the property of the author, Erwin A. Dence, Jr. All rights are reserved.

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