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Earth Minus Jeans...( Lenny, Part 2 )
As Alan raised the shutter, his specially prepared smug grin faded and made way to an expression of disappointment. This time I was more suitably attired. I wasn't going to make the same stupid mistake twice.
" Oh, " he said. " Not making a speech in the Commons today then? "
I laughed politely, whilst comforting myself with an image in my head of him dangling from the shop ceiling with a belt around his neck.
" Welcome to the team Jack, let's get you started. Carlos?...Carlos! Whatcha doing? "
The big Latino looked irritated at being interrupted as his head appeared from the other side of the till point.
" Jus' trying to get the CD player loaded up innit, " he muttered, ambling his huge frame towards us whilst rubbing his head ruefully, having smacked it on the Pay Here sign when he'd got to his feet.
Alan stared at him ominously.
" You aint playing that Jungle bollocks today, " he said quietly and firmly.
I wondered if I'd misheard my new deputy manager, because Carlos reacted as if he'd been ordered to have a sex change there and then on the spot.
" Aww whaa?! But it's good man. "
" It's not suitable for playing in the shop. We've got to play customer friendly music and create a more relaxed shopping atmosphere. "
" Oh right, so I gotta put up wiv Whitney friggin' Houston all day. "
" Yeahh, " said Alan. " You gotta put up with Whitney frigging Houston all day. Now stop whining like an old woman and say hello to Jack, he's our new full-timer. "
Oh, I thought, have I popped back into existence again? That's nice.
Carlos flashed his teeth at me in a friendly grin.
" Hi Jack, not making a speech in the Commons today then?..."
" Yes I've already done that joke Carlos. Can you take him out the back, show him where the bogs are and that. "
" Sure. "
We shook hands. As handshakes go, this one was an ' experience ', and I was rather proud of myself at not losing consciousness. I could imagine that many before me had woken up blurry-eyed in a hospital bed surrounded by concerned relatives. On further inspection, it appeared I had escaped injury altogether. No broken bones, all five fingers correct and present, and my arm hadn't been accidentally ripped from its socket and flung over Carlos's shoulder.
The thing is, Carlos was big.
When I had emerged from the interview the previous day, I had wrongly assumed out of the corner of my eye that he was up a ladder. I realised now that I was wrong and that he must have been about seven foot six. You wouldn't have wanted to knock him down in a road traffic accident for fear of the damage it would do to your car.
Hell, you'd probably have to fly an Airbus A-380 into him just to knock him off balance.
And it meant that everything else about him was big in proportion. His tight curly hair probably had crop circles in it somewhere, whilst it wouldn't have surprised me if a dog-walker had found a body lying in his goatee beard.
I followed him into the rear corridor, clutching my hand and trying not to whimper too loudly.
" Yer like Jungle? " he asked over his shoulder.
" Uh, do I like jungles? " I was confused.
" Music. D'yer like Jungle music? "
" Oh. Yeah, it's alright, " I replied. I admit I was being a little economical with the truth here. In all honesty I'd rather listen to a looped recording of a dog being castrated without anaesthetic, but I didn't want to ruffle any feathers on my first day.
" Ees all I listen to really, " he went on. " Like Ragga too, dats good. Elephant man, ees cool an' Capelton's alright as well. "
" Yeah. " I haven't a bloody clue what you're going on about but I'm sure it's all really great.
" Good morning Jack. " The manageress was sat in her office, leaning back with a cigarette dangling from her lips, eyes closed and her fingers massaging her temples.
" Oh er... good morning Miss Jan...I mean , sorry, good morning Janet. " Shit.
" That's Janet, she's our manager, " Carlos pointed out, which was really helpful and informative of him.
She leaned around the corner of the office door. " Yeah thanks Carlos, but we have already met. I did his bleeding interview, remember? "
" Oh yeah, course, " he guffawed and smacked a hand across his forehead. " Ow, " he added, giving the hand print a quick rub.
Janet kicked her office door shut. " Don't think I'm being rude, " she called from the other side.
The staffroom wasn't much bigger than Janet's office, more like a converted Wendy House really. The table was laden with the usual scattering of magazines - Hello, OK, FHM, The modern Taxidermist... the modern what?!
" Tea, coffee or chicken an' mushroom cuppa soup? " Carlos asked, filling the kettle.
" Errr... "
" Dunno who's the soup belongs to, but the sachet's been sitting there for ages so might as well 'ave it if you want. "
" Coffee is fine thanks. "
" Coffee it is bruv. Probably a wise decision, the cuppa soup's been there so long it's probably mutated into some kind of chicken an' mushroom monster that's waiting to spring out an' bring about some kind of world domination like. "
He released a sudden tirade of laughter at this that nearly sent me flying through the ceiling. I started laughing with him, just out of politeness. He stopped to take a breath.... and then carried on laughing.
Oh, I thought, suppose I'd better carry on laughing as well then.
A few more seconds passed, and I was a little perturbed that we were still laughing. I decided I was going to stop now, seeing as I already couldn't remember what had brought it on in the first place. Can't have been that funny.
Carlos seemed to be taking a time-out, and just chuckled quietly as he added the milk. Then he grabbed the soup sachet and wriggled it at me making I guess what must have been monster noises. And unfortunately that appeared to set him off again.
Oh shit, what do I do now? Do I join in the laughter again? Or do I dare to advise him that his 'joke' has just about run its course now?
I compromised with a fixed grin and a quick flick through one of the magazines.
Taxidermy. Who the hell buys and reads something like this?....Oh my god. Logically, someone who works here.
" Yeah so...Reign of fire, " said Carlos, who had stopped laughing now.
" Pardon? "
" Reign of fire by Capelton, " he said, as if I should have had the faintest idea what he was talking about. " Dassa good album that one. "
Oh christ, we're back to the music again.
" Oh right, " I said. I nodded sagely and pretended to be remotely on his wavelength. " Don't think I've heard that one. " Not likely to either.
" Aw man, you gotta. It's the one where ees goin' on about burnin' all the gays an' that, an' all that sorta stuff. It's good man. "
Yeah, I thought, that sounds lovely. Nice to know that the music industry has made a stand and refused to be infiltrated by anything that might be deemed as extremist.
There was a moment of blissful silence as Carlos turned his concentration to pouring the kettle, a task that clearly couldn't be mixed with any other distractions - such as talking for example. The silence was as short as it was sweet.
" Friggin' homos, " he muttered, " shouldn't be allowed. " He handed me the coffee and it occurred to me that he hadn't bothered to ask whether I took milk or sugar. But I didn't feel like raising the matter.
" Oh god, sorry. You're not a hom...er, one of them are you? "
I shook my head and laughed nervously.
" Cos I aint got a problem wiv it or anything. "
Funny how people always tag that line to the end of a tirade of prejudice and ignorance. I expect Cable-tie or whatever his name is says that too. I expect he adds it to the sleeve notes of his CD.
I took a sip of the coffee and realised why he hadn't asked whether I took milk and sugar. The presence or non-presence of any such ingredients would have made no difference as to how totally bloody horrible it tasted.
" So er, which one of you guys is the Taxidermy enthusiast? " I indicated the magazine on the table. Carlos suddenly looked a little troubled, as if he didn't want to even get involved in the matter. He shrugged and poured his own coffee.
" Oh, it's um...thingy's, " he mumbled. " His. " The reaction made me feel as if I'd stepped on somebody's grave.
Then he brightened with a slight detour. " I'm more of a Bazookas Weekly guy meself innit. " That didn't surprise me in the least. I'd already guessed the copy of FHM belonged to him, but I was still intrigued by the Taxidermy mag.
" Who is 'his' ? " I dared to pursue.
An uncomfortable pause. " Lmmnmn " he mumbled again, incoherently.
" Um... who? "
" Lenny " he finally said. And then he appeared to glance upwards and cross himself.
Once the store was opened up, Alan showed me the ancient mystical techniques of denim presentation, including such useful tips as layering and artistic interlocking of the fabric....Well okay then, he showed me how to fold a pair of jeans.
He flung a pair in my direction, and I just managed to pluck it from the air before it took my left eye out or wrap itself around my neck and decapitate me Highlander style.
" Right Jack, grab the ankles. "
I was confused. " Sorry? "
" Grab the ankles. "
This struck me as very odd, and probably some kind of wind-up, but I did as he asked and stooped to grab my ankles. I glanced up at him and he looked back at me without expression.
" I meant grab the ankles of the jeans actually, " he said quietly, " as in the bottoms of the legs. "
" Oh I see, er...right. "
I suppose he did well to stem it for as long as he did, but the inevitable smirk finally started to spread across his face like a Californian bush fire. I could see he was trying to compose himself but was fighting a losing battle.
" Okay erm, " he scratched his head. " Grab the err.... " and then he gave up the fight. For the next two minutes he proceeded to piss himself, whilst I silently cursed at not having a skin complexion like Carlos. Once Alan had got the hilarity out of his system, he smoothed his perfectly slick hair back and resumed the training.
" Okay, we fold in half, grab the ankles, fold up to the middle of the back pocket and.... Flip. " Sounded more like something out of an aerobics class. " Your turn. "
And so I folded in half, grabbed the ankles, ( the right ones this time ) folded up to the middle of the back pocket and... well, I flipped. Seemed easy enough. Alan took the jeans from me and examined my handy-work.
" Not bad, " he said. " Not bad at all. ". I felt like pointing out to him that it wasn't a painting, just a neatly folded pair of jeans. No big deal really. " Just one thing though, and you'll think I'm being a bit picky here. You haven't quite folded it exactly to the middle of the back pocket. " He showed me what he meant by this.
I have to say he was absolutely right. He was being incredibly picky here. Infact, he wasn't so much picking, as gouging and bludgeoning with a big iron stake.
" Okay, shall we try it again? " he suggested, handing the pair back back to me.
" Okay. " Shall I use a ruler this time?
" No, " he said, shaking his head before I'd even grabbed the ankles this time, " No, that's not right at all. When you fold them in half, the seams have to be perfectly aligned. "
" Oh, I thought they were. " Okay, now I was beginning to suspect I was on the wrong end of a first-dayers prank here. I glanced over at Carlos as he slouched over the till point and gawped at a CD case. There was a knowing smile creeping across his face which just about told me all I needed to know.
A couple more attempts followed, and inevitably I was told I was doing great....except for one small detail each time.
It could have gone on all day had it not been for the arrival of a harassed looking seventeen year old with mascara on her lips and lipstick on her eyelashes.
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