Sunday, December 16, 2012

Paul Simon

     Everyone remembers their first CD. Or cassette, or beta, or LP, or what have you. I remember my first CD. Someone from my dad's work had given me a walkman CD player at the tender age of 5. I had nothing to put in the player, so I looked through the few CD's my mom had. Billy Raye Cyrus. No. Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. No. Beauty and the Beast soundtrack. No. Sandi Patti. No. Random CD of piano music. Ehhhh. Paul Simon. HECK YES. I listened to the entire CD (Graceland) countless times on that walkman. I loved everything about it. Mom eventually "gave" me the CD, and I had my first album. Paul Simon's "Graceland".

     Now, I love all the tracks on that album (even still today), but one of my favorites has always been "You Can Call Me Al". Something about the intro, something about that bass, something about the lyrics, something about that SONG has always just drawn me in. I love it. Always have, always will. The chorus still gets stuck in my head, sometimes. "If you'll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal! I can call you Betty, and Betty when you call me, you can call me Al!" (I still remember singing this at the top of my lungs as a young child. [I still sing this at the top of my lungs to this current day]).

     One day, several years ago, I was working at my place of employment. It was an extremely, excruciatingly slow day, I recall. The only people working were my boss, one of my coworkers, and myself. I was working the register, my coworker was off stocking shelves in the back of the store, and my boss was working in the back office. Since I was stuck at the register, I really couldn't do too much. I had already cleaned the surrounding area, organized the drawers, cleaned the workstations, etc. My boss had delegated the most asinine task of cleaning the register keyboards. Not just taking a cloth and wiping them down, mind you. He instructed me to pry up all the individual keys, clean the lint from under them, and scrub each and every key in a bucket of water until they were clean. Not having anything else particularly better to do, I did what he requested. I must have been too busy scrubbing the keys to notice when a customer walked in, because when he got to the register, it completely took me of guard and I nearly jumped out of my skin. (Note: I only cleaned one key at a time; I'm not so daft as to take the entire lot of keys off of the keyboard; I'd never remember the correct order to replace them in. Just thought I'd mention that).

     At the time of the customer's arrival, I remember I was scrubbing the "B" key. It was particularly darkened with gray sludge, as I recall. As the customer began putting his things on the counter, I replaced the now-clean "B" key back on the keyboard, where it got stuck and promptly caused a line of "bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb" to appear on the little screen until I could pry it up again. While I was busy with all of that nonsense, the customer finished putting his things on the counter. After I had finished fixing the keyboard, I looked up and apologized to him for the delay. He met my gaze, laughed, and assured me that it was quite alright.

     Normally, I would be incredibly timid with male customers my own age. (At the time I believe I was 18 or 19). But something about this guy made me feel at ease. He had dirty blonde hair, dark rimmed glasses, and a very friendly smile. He had quite a laid-back, yet fun-loving, aura to him. The closest thing I can compare him to is the character Tombo from "Kiki's Delivery Service", pictured below. He had a striking resemblance to him, both in personality and appearance. Momentarily I pondered if this guy had modeled himself after Tombo. 

Tombo, from Kiki's Delivery Service   
Definitely not the sort of guy that girls would be chasing after, but he was adorable in an awkward sort of way.

     I absentmindedly asked him if he had found everything alright as I began ringing up his purchases. The counter was covered in packages of Japanese candy. "A man after my own heart", I thought to myself, amused, and now hungry. He replied "Oh yes, I know exactly where you guys keep the good stuff!" and grinned broadly. I found myself enjoying this guy's company. Not in a "I'd like to be your girlfriend!" kind of way, but in a "Hey, you know what? You're alright by me. Let's be pals." kind of way. He seemed harmless, too. Very friendly, but not in the usual flirtatious way. Deciding to make small talk, I asked him what his favorite flavor of "Hello Panda" was, as he was buying 3 different flavors of it at the time. He told me he had a soft spot for the strawberry ones, but actually preferred "Koala's March" to "Hello Panda". My gosh, do I EVER share the same sentiment! Koala's March is infinitely better than Hello Panda, hands down. Alas, the store only sold Hello Panda, though. He asked if we ever carried KM, I told him "sadly, no; we only have Hello Panda. I just have to make do and eat this on my break" and smiled. Sensing my sincerity and understanding on this topic of Asian snacks, the conversation carried on for a while. Eventually, I had rung up all of his food, and the register prompted me to ask for his email address in order to register him in the mailing list system. I hated to ask him for it, I really did; he was such a nice boy, I hated to seem so impersonal as to ask him for permission for my company to spam his email with ads and offers. Nonetheless, I was a decent employee, and put work first, so I asked him. He told it to me, it was something along the lines of "". I said "so your name's Alan, huh?" just trying to make small talk. This guy amused me; he was easy to get along with, and it had been a long and dull day. I figured I should take the opportunity to enjoy human interaction while I still had it. He replied "Yeah, I'm Alan, but you can call me 'Al'". Without even thinking about this, for some reason, I said "Well, then. You can call me 'Betty'".
What on earth are the chances of any NORMAL person my age understanding that reference? I had just set myself up to look like a complete idiot, and probably having to explain the song I had just referenced.

     He smiled his broad grin, then looked a little confused. I saw his eyes dart towards my apron, then quizzically back up to my face. He said "But your name-tag says 'Kris'..." My face reddened, I took a breath, about to explain the reference, when his eyes lit up behind his dark-rimmed glasses. "Wait a sec! Did you just reference Paul Simon?!" He looked at me expectantly, almost urgently, awaiting my answer. I said "Yes, yes I did! I'm glad you got that reference!". We both smiled, then laughed for a while. He told me that he LOVED Paul Simon, and greatly respected him as an artist. I told him I felt the same way.

     The racket of the printer spitting out the receipt interrupted our blissful connection over Paul Simon, and our discussion of favorite tracks from "Graceland". I reluctantly tore it off, and handed it to him. He asked to borrow a pen for a second, I obliged him. He scribbled something on the bottom of the receipt, tore it off, then handed it to me. It was his phone number. I looked up at him, he just smiled, sideways, and just a tad coyly, and he said "In case you ever need a bodyguard", and winked. I laughed and laughed, and reciprocated with "I'm actually in the market for a long lost pal..." and winked back at him. He grinned jovially, and said "see ya later, Betty!" and I said "Take care of yourself, Al".


     I lost Al's number. Which is a shame, because I actually would have loved to get to know the guy beyond the few minutes we shared during his transaction. He came in one other time while I was working; we parted the same way as we did before. I never saw him again after that.  The second time, he referenced "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes". I asked him to take me dancing, he said we'd just end up sleeping in a doorway. I never saw him again after that.

     Al, if you're out there, I hope you know you're fantastic. And I fondly remember our short conversations and references to the genius that is Paul Simon. ^_^

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