Sunday, June 2, 2013


He spotted her over the head of a life- sized Taylor Swift promotional cut- out for jeans.

Taylor Swift, a young country singer, who, at least in this ad campaign, appeared to only smile with one side of her mouth.

But this girl, she was not smiling with any part of her mouth. She was doing her job like a bitter automaton. Bitter was an assumption, but she did not look at all happy.

But how many Saturday night Wal-Mart cashiers were?

He wheeled his cart, filled only with two XXL children’s button down shirts, over to her check- out line. He cupped his breath and smelled it. He was thankful for the check-out conveyor belt; it would ensure a marked distance between her and what he had just smelled in his hand.

He was on the spot, so his woo- lines would have to be old standards.

Perhaps something along the lines of, “Give me your phone number or a tissue, because if you don’t give me those digits, I’m going to cry.”

Her name tag read Bonnie. Bonnie in Scots- Gaelic meant beautiful.

Beautiful was a bit generous, but, if, on any slow night, light on the customers, her co-workers were to throw together a hastily organized Employee Beauty Competition (as the blue collars liked to say, “for shits and giggles”), competing against all the old folks and tax deductibles on staff, she just might win. Her looks were the stuff of big fish in small ponds. As the prize announcing her victory, he envisioned a plastic tiara ganked from the toy aisle.

Tuesday would be the 2008 presidential election. Obama/Biden vs. McCain/Palin. He decided to use this in his opening.

“Is it true that Wal-Mart has been pressuring its employees to vote Republican?”

He had heard this on the news. Undercover of hastily arranged morale pep talks, Wal-Mart honchos stood accused of haranguing their employees to vote pachyderm.

“Huh?” she replied. She had a red state drawl.

He repeated the question.

“Is it true that Wal-Mart has been pressuring its employees to vote McCain/Palin?”

“You’re looking for a can for paintin’?”

“Nothing, forget it.”

He felt stupid, though she deserved the honor more. His shame only made her that much more attractive. Light brown hair to her shoulders, real, honest- to- goodness cerulean eyes, freckles across the bridge of a button nose. Twentyish, thin, shapely in the legs. She was clearly wearing stretchy jeans similar to the ones that Taylor Swift had been promoting in the life- sized promotional cut-out. He couldn’t decipher her breasts with the loose cashiers smock covering them, but her legs became discernible as she leaned away from the conveyor belt to turn off her register’s glowing light.

Never one to quit while ahead, he decided to try again.

“Do you get an employee discount?”

“I get a discount on everything,” she bragged. “Twenty percent. But if you’re askin’ me to discount these shirts for you, the answer’s no.”

Her southern twang would be fun to imitate.

“If I was your friend, would you let me use your discount?”

“Maybe. But you’re not my friend. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

He picked up the pen available to customers for filling out checks and signing credit card slips and scribbled on the back of his receipt.

“Here’s my phone number. Call me. Maybe we can be friends. And someday, you’ll let me use your discount.”

It was all so perfectly trashy. Wal-Mart, discounts, political ignorance, the scruff on his chin, the way his breath smelled. Her snotty disdain for no reason and tight- fitting Taylor Swift jeans.

When he had sex with her later that night, he didn’t use a condom. It was the perfect trailer park coda and he liked good endings. She, the Wal-Mart cashier with two kids at home, babysat by her mother, with absolutely no fear of getting pregnant by him, the smelly stranger, who bought his clothes 20 years too small.

©Fiona Helmsley

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Meet Cute

FH: Barry was a good guy. He was my favorite counselor. I remember he wore black leather pants.

SF: He was the only staff member there that I respected, besides some of the nurses…

SF: …So you came into Barry’s office, high and crying about your dog being missing, and sometime after that Barry saw your public access show on TV. He knew nothing about punk rock and at first I thought he had to be talking about George Tabb’s Destroy Television. This is going to sound horrible, but I had met so many scumbags at the clinic that when Barry told me about the show and that you were into punk, only then did I decide to talk to you. I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. A few days later you brought in a video of the show and I loved it. I was like, Quelle Surprise! This girl could be interesting.

FH: My dog was never really missing, he was just hiding in the closet…

SF: And seeing the public access show and your talent just made me want to kill that Tommy guy more. I mean, cognitively, I knew he wasn’t to blame for your problems. I’ve been blamed for other people’s problems and I knew it wasn’t fair, but it was so obvious to anyone watching that if you were in your right mind you would not have been with him at all. How old were you? Twenty-two, twenty-three? He was at least fifty, maybe 60, and he wore green acid- washed jeans!

FH: Then I saw you at the Suckdog show at Acme Underground.

SF: Are you trying to change the subject?

FH: It makes me uncomfortable. It’s like talking about another person, another person who is doing terrible, horrible things to themselves. Especially when it comes to that guy, Tommy.

SF: I think it’s important. It’s a definite low. But at the same time, one of the things that was so endearing about you was that as you went through so much of it…well, you didn’t wear it. That’s why I think the opening quote of your book is so perfect. I remember doing paperwork with you and you going on and on about that scumbag and how he had gone to the same high school as Jim Carroll, as if hallway proximity to Jim Carroll gave him some kind of fucking creditability! I remember you trying to convince me that he was a regular guy, that you and he had a regular relationship, that you two were going to the movies that afternoon. And as soon as you said "movies" I knew that that dirtbag had gotten the free movie passes that we gave to any client at the clinic who agreed to take an AIDS test first…

© Fiona Helmsley