Red Bull in the cooler, five-hour drinks on the counter, lottery tickets and cigarettes behind me, Penthouse on the top rack, herbal tea on the corner shelf, ATM near the door, coffee canisters by the pastry bins.
When I was a kid, we called this place Pop’s Candy Store. Pops sold it to me twenty years ago, and I changed the name to Park Street Stationery. I sold Mars bars, baseball cards, Twinkies, Pez dispensers, even pens and paper. I ask myself – when did I become a drug and porn dealer? When did I start running a numbers racket?
I never changed the sign. It still says stationery, candy, cigars. I haven’t sold cigars in fifteen years. No one buys them anymore.
People come in for their fix— coffee to wake up, Red Bull to stay up, lottery tickets to feel hopeful, cigarettes to feel calm, sugar to fill a craving, herbal tea to sleep, porn for immediate use. I know what my regular customers need by looking at their eyes when they’re in the line. That saves me some time.
Last week, I signed with a delivery service. They text me orders and send a guy with a van. Next month, I’ll hire some kid after school to pack boxes. I’ll tell him, keep away from the drugs, the gambling, the porn, don’t feel dirty about the product, don’t think about the customers or their families. Just put the blue gloves on, pack the damn boxes, cash your paycheck, and wash your hands before you go home. There isn’t much room for sympathy in this business.
“Stationery Store” (a persona piece) was first published in Red Wheelbarrow #10 (2017).