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Quit Your Day Job by Virginia Konchan

Timmy’s strengths as a sales associate at Best Buy were few: he was a terrible liar, he couldn’t upsell for shit, and when a young couple walked into the electronics department with a baby, instead of saying “What a cute baby! Were you interested in hearing our specials on a plasma or flat-screen TV today?” he’d say “What a cute baby! Was this pregnancy planned?”
     Management kept him on because he took pay cuts gracefully and met his quota. Beyond that, Timmy was a warm body with a name tag who took up two parking spaces in the parking lot, not because he drove a monster truck, but because he could not park for shit, and was usually late to work, screeching in at the last minute with Talking Heads blaring from the Pioneer Premium 6” x 9” four-way car speakers he’d purchased with the generous Best Buy employee discount of ten percent.
     His only friend at work was Raphael, ethnicity unknown, starting date at Best Buy also unknown, though it was rumored to be in the late 60s, when Best Buy went by the name Sound of Music. Raphael worked odd hours stocking shelves.
     “Best Buy,” said Timmy to Raphael one day at closing, while reading the day’s sales report. “What a joke. Best Fry, more like it.” Raphael considered this.
     “Lest You Die,” he said.
     “Nowhere near catchy, bud,” said Timmy.
     “Don’t Ask Why. Buster Buy?”
     “Don’t quit your day job to name franchises,” said Timmy. “That’s for damn sure.”
     “Fuck you,” said Raphael.
     “Aren’t you named after an angel of God? Now that’s funny, with your mouth.”
     Timmy and Raphael began to tussle, throwing unopened rolls of register tape at each other until Sandy, the floor manager on Mondays and Fridays, got on the intercom. “One more headache from either one of you losers and you’re both splitsville.”
     “Don’t worry,” said Raphael, after a few minutes passed. “They’ll never fire me. I’m the black box. I know shit I don’t even know that I know. And if you’re let go, they’ll send you last week’s pay in the mail. It’s the law. To top it off you live with your folks, right? Hey, no shame in that. But if you lost your job, you wouldn’t miss a mortgage payment. That shit’s serious. They take your house now. They will. Hey mister. Meet street. Boom. Just like that. So relax.”
     The following day was uneventful, as was the day after that. Then came Friday.
     “TGIF!” exclaimed Sandy in the warehouse behind the store, where Timmy was doing inventory at 9 a.m. “God, I love Fridays. Any fun plans this weekend?”
     “I might buy a pit bull,” said Timmy.
     “Pit bulls are so nice,” said Sandy. “Really, they’re just genetically programmed to be vicious, with the right training. Or the wrong training, if you’re not into dog fighting. I know I’m not. I think it’s terrible. Those poor puppies! Once I saw a man calling to this little pit bull from across the lawn, ‘here girl, here girl,’ and the poor puppy was trying to make her way to her owner, and the owner had a brick tied around the little guy’s neck, so all she could do was like inch over to him. Did I say little guy? I meant little bitch, as in female dog. God, it was so fucking horrible! Those people are sick! Cock fighting too! All of it.” She paused to examine her fingernails. “You’re the worst salesman we have, Timmy,” she said. “All-time worst, in fact. But you’re kind of cute.”
     Timmy looked up, notepad in hand.
     “You’re blushing! God, you are cute. See you on the floor!” She danced out Salome-style, but without the sex appeal. Timmy dug his fingernails, long for a man, into the palm of his hand, the one not carrying the notepad, with the intention of drawing blood, but when he left the warehouse the only evidence of his frustration was a dark pink half-moon shaped indentation on his free palm. Fucking HOE, he thought. I’m a loser? She’s the loser to end all losers. She’s the lamest loser Best Buy has ever seen. She’s—his reverie was interrupted by the day’s first customer, seen on the video camera that monitored the entrance door, conveniently installed in the break room for slackers.
     “Go get ‘em tiger,” said John, without emotion. John dusted things. His official title included the clause “theft prevention.” He came in once or twice a week.
     The first customer of the day said he was looking for a vanity dressing table for his daughter’s sweet sixteen. “We have three models to choose from,” said Timmy. “Right this way.” On the way over to the vanities Timmy asked “What’s your daughter’s name? Judith?” The customer, a bit on the touchy side, was offended by Timmy’s line of questioning, and asked to speak with a manager. “I am the manager,” said Timmy. He’d always wanted to say that. He’d always found it very unfortunate that he was not in fact the manager, and would probably never be, not in his lifetime.
     “I don’t believe you,” said the man. “No company would ever let a flunkey like you manage their store.” He took off for customer service, Timmy hot on his trail.
     “Sandy, I can explain,” said Timmy, the moment she arrived after being paged. She listened first to the customer’s side of the story, then to Timmy’s (“I was just trying to make conversation! It’s a long haul from kitchen appliances to bedroom furniture!”), then pointed (this was the moment she had always dreamed of) to the sign above the customer service desk: “The Customer is Always Right, Even When They’re Not.”
     “If I don’t fire you, Timmy,” she said, while the customer stewed several feet away, “I’ll get fired. No hard feelings? You have my number? Don’t be a stranger!”
     Timmy threw his name badge in the waste bin behind the desk. “He’s not a customer! He didn’t even buy anything! He’s just a shopper! And that’s not a waste bin, by the way,” he said. “It really annoyed me that you called that thing a waste bin. It’s not a waste bin. It’s not a garbage receptacle. It’s a trash can, Sandy.”
     “Bye bye,” she said, waving her tiny hand. It was then that Timmy noticed Sandy’s wedding ring.
     “You’re married? Who’s sick now Sandy? Flirting with me in the warehouse? The fucking warehouse? It’s so dark in there! Anything could happen! I could scre—”
     “The cops are holding on line three,” she said.
     Timmy read with no small degree of exultation the following week in the local newspaper that the “B” on the “Best Buy” sign, improperly fastened, had fallen off mid-day, narrowing missing smashing the cranium of Norma Katz, an incoming customer, who promptly sued the store for thousands of dollars, citing the untold pain and suffering that results from a near-death experience.
     “New horizons,” said Timmy’s mother Rosalie that evening, on the family’s screened-in porch. “Your whole life is ahead of you! You’re only thirty-five years old. Thirty-five is young, Timmy. It’s the new twenty-five! I read that somewhere, I did. You could go back to school for nursing, that’s a hot profession, hot meaning lucrative, not sexy—oh, Timmy don’t give me that look. I know how you young people talk. What do you call getting together with a lady friend? Hooking up? Now what’s that look? Am I embarrassing you? Well, give nursing some thought. That or real estate.”
     “I’m opening my own business,” said Timmy. “Coffee.”
     “Don’t coffee shops get their coffee from sub-saharan Africa? They give those people peanuts in exchange for their labor, Timmy. The tea, too. The tea trade might be even more exploitative. And diamonds—did you know that every diamond is covered, figuratively speaking, in blood? Same with microchips. Both are dripping in blood, sweat and tears, from those miners. I only buy man-made gems now. All the Hollywood stars do. There’s this lab in Wisconsin that manufactures them—”
     “My business is called Starfux,” said Timmy.
     “I beg your pardon? Is that German?”
     “Yeah. It’s German for Fuck You, capitalist imperialism.”
     “Are you reading Marx again? Because when you do you always start talking like this, and I have a feeling you’re misquoting him anyway, not that I would know. I went to a trade school, not one of these fancy liberal arts schools that are all the rage. Your father’s monthly debt payments to Colgate for your education are obscene, for a four-year degree in anthropology nonetheless. A lot of good that degree did you! Women of my generation were encouraged to study something practical, like stenography.”
     “I took out a small business loan yesterday,” said Timmy. “We open shop next month, right across from you-know-who.”
     “Who’s we?”
     “Me and Raphael.”
     “You’re too young to have enemies, especially corporate enemies on the NASDAQ. Besides, that company is known for being good to its employees! I think they even get dental insurance. Who is this Raphael fellow? Someone from Colgate?”
     “Yeah. A trustee.”
     “I’m sure. So, a businessman. Let me practice. ‘I’d like you to meet my son, Timothy Walters the Third.’ ‘And what does Timothy do?’ ‘Timothy is a businessman. He owns his own store, right in Fairfax.’” Rosalie took a deep breath then reached for her cigarettes. “I like the way that sounds,” she said, lighting up. “I think I can live with this. But why coffee?”
     “Process of elimination. It was either Jerk It City, a new electronic superstore, Cockbuster, a new video store, or Raples, a new office supply store. An independent coffee store requires the least capital.” Rosalie blew a series of smoke rings.
     “Wait until your father gets wind of this. I’m going to need a long vacation just to cope with your anti-American hatred and defiance. Raples? Are you really my child? I just saw a special on people who were accidentally given to the wrong parents at birth. Happens all the time.”
     On opening day, Timmy’s mother and her friend Suzanne sailed in at half past 10:00. A little nonplussed that his mother was his first customer, but glad for the business, Timmy put on his best owner-who-gets-his-hands-dirty smile.
     “What’ll it be, ladies?” Suzanne put a twenty on the counter.
     “I’ll have a grande mocha java with extra whipped cream.”
     “We call those ‘biggies’ here.”
     “Fine. And whatever Rosalie wants.” She turned to Rosalie and winked. “That alimony check arrived not a minute too soon. I told my attorney for months garnishing Cheston’s wages was the only way. ‘Let’s play nice, Suzanne,’ he said. Play nice! You don’t play nice with sleazeballs, especially ones who leave their family in the lurch for a skanky 20-year old exotic dancer who probably has ten children of her own—”
     “Here you go,” said Timmy. He turned to his mother. “And for you, ma’am?”
     “Ma’am? I birthed you!” The bell jangled and in walked a pair of teenagers in Goth attire. “A small coffee, extra sugar,” said Rosalie.
     “That young lady looks malnourished,” Rosalie said loudly while she and Suzanne combed the small café for a table. “And pale. Have you ever seen such a pale young lady?” Timmy excused himself from taking the next order to follow Rosalie and Suzanne to their seats.
     “You forgot to take a brochure,” he said. The women sat down and Rosalie began reading aloud. “Welcome to Starfux! Here at Starfux we believe that Corporate America has successfully destroyed the American Dream, which in today’s capitalistic, hyper-litigious society is inseparable from purchasing power and informed consumer choices. The constituent/customer has been drugged into believing that—”
     “Wait,” said Suzanne, “are you making that up?”
     “I wish I was,” said Rosalie. “Thank God I’m almost to the end.”
     “Of the first flap! Rosalie! Your son is a flaming liberal! Does he support gay marriage? Is that the last flap? This is so bad. This is worse than bad. Oh my god. Keep reading.”
     “The constituent/consumer has been drugged into believing that free-market capitalism gives corporate monopolies a government-legislated right to gobble up small businesses like Pac-Man—”
     “Pac-Man? Wouldn’t that be Pac-Men?”
     “Take notes, Suzanne. Write that one down. ‘Like Pac-Man, and deny your average hard-working middle-class citizen the opportunity to choose between supporting a local business and buying into the mass corruption of corporate monopolies, who export goods from Third-World countries, paying laborers nothing resembling honest wages for their exported goods, and pay minimum wage to domestic workers with jobs titles like “greeter” and “stocker” to create their employee base and run pernicious outfits such as Wal-Mart, because there are no other factories or businesses in town for which a person with minimal or no education can seek employment.’”
     “Is that it?”
     “Of the front flap, yes. I’m scared to open it.”
     “Don’t. I wouldn’t. Thank god my kids went to a state school. Is Colgate where he picked up this, this, I don’t even know what this is. This is outrageous. I love Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart has the best deals on everything! And I don’t have to run around town for hours in a hot car—okay, I have AC, it’s not hot on the inside, but it sure is hot on the outside—picking up toothpaste from one store and frozen chicken wings from another! It’s brilliant! That’s why Timmy’s so upset. The corporate model is brilliant.” She leaned in closer. “Do you know how much he charged me for this mochachino? $3.75, Rosalie. Do you know how much his competitor charges? $3.55. You call this extra whipped cream? A measly dribble of some nasty soy-derivative is what I call it.”
     “It melted, Suzanne. Can’t you see how it got stirred in with the rest of your yummy drink? Think what you will about my son’s politics, but don’t insult his product. This is good product. This coffee—” she paused to take a deep swig—“this might be the best coffee I’ve ever had. Shade-grown beans right from Guatemala. Furthermore, I taste happy labor in this drink. I taste freedom, well-fed families, and legal, above-board transactions between grower and buyer. They probably export this coffee on big Delta airplanes flown by no-nonsense pilots. Delta, or United Air—what do you want to bet? Should I ask him?”
     “You tell your son that his little social experiment is having an adverse effect on this particular—what did he call me? Constituent/consumer?—this particular woman. This ‘outfit’ of his makes me want to take a road trip in my foreign-made car to my local Mickey D’s for a Big Mac, or make a run for the border to my local Taco Bell—”
     “Taco Hell,” said Rosalie. “Taco Hell! That’s so funny! I just made that one up myself. I hope I did, at least. I’ve never been very witty. Though Cliff tells me—”
     “Bell, hell, who cares. My point is that this place is doomed. Mark my words.” Suzanne slung her purse over her shoulder. “You coming?”
     “Yes, but not because I’m unimpressed by my son’s venture. This takes guts, Suzanne. That’s more than I can say for your son. What is Tyler? A paralegal? Working under your ex-husband?”
     “Get thee to a temp agency,” hissed Suzanne, to Timmy, on her way out. In the parking lot, she turned to Rosalie. “I had a lovely morning,” she said. “You should be very proud.” With that she got into her SUV, and left.
     Rosalie climbed into her Park Avenue with difficulty, shut the door, and began sobbing, slumped over the wheel.
     For two straight months, sales at Starfux went through the roof. Raphael proved to be more tactful, so he manned the register, while Timmy sat in the back office thinking about the big picture (a second location, comfier chairs). After a lengthy interview process they brought on one part-timer, a lanky teen named Torrance, and received press from local television stations, whose reporters were more amused by their assignment than the viewers were of the store’s existence, but most residents were so shocked by Starfux’s audacity that they checked out the café themselves, at least once. A graphic designer Timmy knew from college helped them create a corporate logo, business cards, and a website; when they added free Wi-Fi to their list of amenities, several techies who spent hours at the competitor’s café made the switch. Even Sandy stopped in with her husband, buying two lattes and a pound of coffee.
     “If only you had shown this much initiative at Best Buy!” said Sandy. “I didn’t tell you this at the time of your dismissal, but I receive incentives for reporting employee misconduct such as stealing, and that includes stealing company time through laziness, even though that’s kind of an abstraction. Time, I mean, not laziness. So I thought I would get bonus bucks for firing you, but it turns out behaving disrespectfully to customers or even making sexual innuendos—that’s what that customer thought you were doing, trying to get his daughter’s phone number—is totally cool. I mean, it’s not cool, but you don’t get bonus bucks for reporting it. I wish I knew that then. You’d still be with us, sharing your amazing marketing skills and putting customers in their places! Because you were right when you said he was just a shopper and not a customer, but I had my managerial hat on, and I can’t very well agree with you with that hat on.”
     “You didn’t have a problem propositioning me with that hat on,” said Timmy.
     “Propositioning you? Are you crazy?”
     “Say that again, to my wife,” said the husband. “I dare you. Say it again.” Sandy put her hand on her husband’s bicep.
     “It’s nothing, Hank. Just a misunderstanding. He’s young! He’s so young. He doesn’t have a clue. Look, he dyed his hair blue, just at the tips! He’s a baby. Come on. Let’s go.”
     Hank placed a call to the local health inspector, who paid a visit to Starfux the following day; the store was forced to close temporarily while further inspections of hand towels were conducted. Raphael, who had a mortgage payment to worry about, caved in at week three to return to Best Buy; Sandy took him back with open, gloating arms.
     “I told you son, you can’t just go around thumbing your nose at institutions that put bread on the table for thousands of Americans,” Cliff said to Timmy, after several drinks at their home on the evening of Raphael’s resignation.
     “Corporate conglomerates aren’t institutions, dad. They’re the devil’s workshop.”
     “Do you enjoy alienating yourself from the rest of society? Do you get a high? Because to tell you the truth, this venture has not been easy on your mother and me. You should come to work with me one of these days and see the guilty looks on the faces of my co-workers when I walk into a room after they’ve been speaking slanderously about my family. Your mother gets it too, little snickers at the grocery store and the post office. Forget about me. But your mother has a fragile constitution, Timmy. She’s bi-polar, which is a serious medical condition. One minute she’s singing in the kitchen, fa la la and all that, the next she’s holding a cleaver to my throat. How old is my secretary? How short are her skirts? I’m concerned your little guerilla war will send her over the edge, and no one knows what goes on over the edge, Timmy, except those unlucky persons who are already there. The loonies. Do you know where the loonies live? In the loony bin with other loonies. They play checkers all day and think up ways to give it to the man, which come to think of it, sounds a lot like your average work day. Am I right? Tell me, am I right? Are you a certifiable loony?”
     “Signed, sealed, delivered.”
     “Oh, you really are a piece of work. No shit. Well, here’s to you,” said Cliff, raising his glass and clinking Timmy’s. “Here’s to you and your spectacular bull-shit. Let’s just hope your mother can keep it together. Me? I kind of like the excitement. At my age, you tend to run into one problem, in all areas of your life, and that problem is called same old, same old. Do you know what I’m saying Timmy?”
     Timmy had his ins, too. Within a week the local indie rag ran a front-page story on the undercover investigation they’d conducted of the investigation conducted by the Fairfax health department. Within a week, a second health inspector drove in from Roanoke to conduct his own investigation, and found Starfux to be in perfect adherence to all sanitation health codes. The indie paper got a picture of the second health inspector presenting Timmy with his clean bill of health and buying a coffee before driving back to Roanoke. Starfux reopened the next day and sales resumed, if shakily.
     Within six months Timmy had courted and eloped with a trophy indie café bride, a former hippie named Margot with dreadlocks, and sales, thanks to Margot’s business acumen—she’d managed a bagel cart in college—continued steadily for the next year.
     When Margot divorced Timmy that summer, citing irreconcilable differences, and financial irresponsibility, Timmy was disconsolate, and called Sandy for advice.
     “Feel your loss,” she said. “Feel it! Allow yourself to grieve, but only for one month, and privately. What if I had been more communicative, what if I had been more romantic, just wallow in self-pity like a pig in shit, then get back in the game.”
     “It’s not Margot I’m calling about. It’s the store.”
     “I thought the store was doing well.”
     “We have our crowd. But the crowd is getting on my nerves. I didn’t open the store to make some grand royal statement. Counter-culturalism is its own closed system. And it invites a certain, how should I put this, coterie.”
     “So what? Do you think I like every shopper that comes in my store? Some of them are probably convicted felons! You can’t afford to be picky. I don’t care if you’re black, purple, or yellow, money is one color and that color is green.”
     “Most of my customers pay with a credit card, Sandy. Credit cards aren’t green. When I made noise about a five dollar minimum, sales dropped twenty percent.”
     “Fuck those assholes. You gotta have a minimum. If not, you’re just paying someone to stab you and watch you bleed.”
     “You should give seminars.”
     “Hank’s on a business trip this week, Timmy. I miss you.”
     “How convenient. You are crazy. I knew it.”
     “Timmy, what’s your ultimate dream?”
     “To open a second store. Then a third.”
     “What if I told you I could make that happen?”
     “I would say you’re lying to me so I’ll fuck you.”
     “Satisfying love-making can do a lot for a person, Timmy.”
     “I’m not coming over.”
     “Maybe not tonight. But you will. You’ll get hungry. You’re hungry now. I can hear it in your voice.”
     “That’s fatigue you’re hearing. I’ve slept about ten hours this week, total.”
     “Good luck opening that second store. But you’re going to need more than luck. That’s all I’m saying, Timmy. I know people who know people.”
     Timmy thought it over, hard, for a month, and decided not to risk being blown apart with a shotgun by Hank for what was quite likely a bribe with nothing to back it up except a night at the Red Roof with a cougar. Starfux closed shop within the year, whether due to Timmy’s lagging enthusiasm or dwindling sales, no one knew, not even Timmy. The indie rag that enabled Timmy to stay in business ran a front-page spread: Starfux: Just a Dream?
     A period of conflicted mourning ensued, during which no one in Fairfax patronized any café, instead making specialty drinks with their expresso makers from Bed Bath and Beyond in the privacy of their homes. A rumor spread about Timmy opening a retail outlet called J. Spew, which Timmy put to rest with a public statement: “To everyone who patronized, even once, Starfux, the now-defunct All-American anti-establishment café on Nelson Street, which thrived commercially for nearly two years: thank you for exploring not just the unique offerings of my business—which included homemade Danish scones and not just ten but fifty cents off a large drink by answering, not a trivia question, but a question about international trade law, correctly—but the greater gift of heightened civil liberties that you realized by exercising your freedom of choice, a liberty not tantamount in power to the freedom of speech, but commensurate therewith. I am exercising one half of that inextricable freedom—the speech part—today, and wish everyone, including I pledge allegiance to the drivel I’m spoon fed daily just to feel I have one foot in the oh-so-precious status quo drones, all the best.”
     Sandy called Timmy the next day. “You’re an elitist asshole, but you’re also broke and jobless. That’s priceless! Your public statement turned me on, by the way. On fire.”
     With nothing to lose but his life, Timmy and Sandy made plans to meet at a nearby love-shack. Within minutes of arriving in separate cars, they copulated profusely. “Don’t ask me to leave Hank,” Sandy said suddenly during a smoke break, covers pulled to her chin. Timmy laughed.
     “Who says I even want to see you again?”
     “Your body.”
     “I am not my body. No, I’m more than my body.”
     “That mind over matter reasoning doesn’t last forever. Wait until you’re my age. Wait until gravity—”
     “How old are you, Sandy?”
     “46, a woman’s prime. How old are you?”
     “Welcome to the real world, honey. It’s about time.”
Virginia Konchan’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, the Believer, Best New Poets, Boston Review, and The New Republic, among other places, and her fiction in Joyland and StoryQuarterly. She lives in Chicago, where she is a PhD student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.