THE SUICIDE OF A MIDDLE-AGED RETAILER

24 08 2010

THE SUICIDE OF A MIDDLE-AGED RETAILER

“I want to die.” Mr. Singh spread the fingers of his two hands across the counter. Like they were two crabs doing push ups.

“Is that too much to ask?” A robust man, Mr. Singh had thick hairy eyebrows that fell haplessly over his sorrowful down turned eyes.

A round face looked out at the world.

“But…” His nose spread like a train tunnel. His mouth fell open like a tea pot’s spout ready to pour. Mr. Singh took a deep breath as his eyes scanned the couches, beds, and bureaus in his huge furniture store.

“They won’t leave me alone. Why? You’re asking yourself why a successful merchant such as myself would want to commit the ultimate… sale.?”

There was a sign behind Mr. Singh. Hanging on the wall. Like a drapery on an aircraft carrier. Everything On Sale. Everything Must Go, read the sign.

Mr. Singh moved his tongue around in his mouth tasting his words.

“Appreciation!” The word shot out of Singh’s mouth like spit. “Nobody appreciates anyone. Anymore. We have lost the ability to appreciate. We depreciate. As soon as something is off the lot. We are never satisfied. There must always be more. Lesson learned. First word – appreciation.”

Mr. Singh hesitated. He looked off to one side as if he was waiting to be cued.

“Second word. Congratulations! No matter what difficulties you face and overcome, no one congratulates you. They do not come up and shake your hand. They do not say, ‘Mr. Singh, you have done a very nice job!’ They complain. ‘Mr. Singh, why aren’t your prices lower? Why must you add sales tax to the cost of this item? Or that item? If everything is to go, why can’t you give it to me for free?’ As if it was my choice whether to add sales tax. Am I not already selling this or that item on sale? Is that not enough? You are saving money. Be happy. Be content. You must not be so greedy. Smell the coffee… roses. Lesson learned. Second word – congratulations.”

Mr. Singh took a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket and wiped his brow.

“Infestation! We have mice. I was so embarrassed when I was showing Mr. Green a new couch and he discovered mouse droppings under the cushion. I am afraid to go downstairs to the storage room and check out the mattresses. There could be empires of mice down there. Civilizations. Mice versions of the Incas. Of Rome. There could be an Alexander the Great. An Attila the Rat.”

Mr. Singh raised his right hand and pointed upward.

“My brother-in-law sold me the mattresses. On margin. He was taking a loss. Or so he said. At such mind blowing prices, he argued, people would flock to my store to buy these mattresses. Have I sold one mattress? Have I seen a flock? I should not have trusted my brother-in-law. And would not have if my wife had not assured me of his honesty. Have I sold one mattress? I have not. Do not trust your wife’s relatives. Lesson learned. Third word – infestation. If not for these mice, I would have slit my wrists long ago.”

Mr. Singh took a deep breath and wiped his brow again.

“Compromises! I opened a corner of my store for one dollar purchases. Six aisles. Of junk. And so little profit margin. But it does cover the wages of the young lady I must employ on the cash. To monitor the store when I am not there. The young lady is my own daughter. Yes, I must pay my own daughter. Like I would any other employee. I do not charge her room and board but still she insists that I pay her. I do not mind. I want to encourage her to look after herself. To earn and save. But… she wants benefits. My own daughter wants benefits. She talks about a pension plan. What does a fifteen year old girl need with a pension? And a raise. She argues that she has worked for me long enough to warrant a raise. And still she complains. The sounds of the mice frighten her. Nightmares. The thought of the mice keeps her up at night. It is not the mice but that damn internet. But I say nothing. I must say nothing. That is what my wife commands. And she who spends my money must be obeyed. My wife says that I must not alienate my daughter. My daughter says that there aren’t enough customers to keep her busy. To keep her from listening to the tiny feet across the ceiling. And under the floor boards. And the cries of the new born mice. All pink and blind and wanting. Squealing to be suckled. I do not know how she can hear anything with that damn electronic device in her ear. She cannot hear me. How can she hear the mice? She tells me that the job is too boring. She wants to be busy. I hand her a broom. And she calls me a pig. I do not want her to be bored. I want her to be busy. Still she complains that it is my fault. How do you manage these teenage girls? Who only worry about make-up. And clothes. And the boys. That is what is on her mind. I have warned her mother. Talk to the girl. Make her aware of the thoughts of these young men. They are not satisfied until they are satisfied. And my wife looks at me like I am crazy. I was a boy once. Yes, she cries, I remember. You were always pestering me. More. More. More. You have always been greedy. Do not hire your daughter. If I had no daughter, I would have been in the ground long ago. Lesson learned.”

“Ambitious! That is what I am. Not greedy. I want a better life for my family. For my daughter. So that she can have the man that is worthy of her. And not some high school drop out. And my wife. I want her to have an easier life. Not like my dear mother. Who complained all the time that my father was lazy. But, I overstepped. The Six Points Plaza. I should never have come here. I was happy in Alderwood Plaza. Yes, the store was small. But I could get by. Okay, all the bills didn’t get paid. Do they ever? And yes, my wife wanted us to move to a better neighborhood. She’d heard that Canadians all have cottages. Where was ours? She wanted to bring her mother over from the old country. To a cottage. To let her swim. To go trout fishing. You think my mother-in-law wants to go trout fishing. I would pay to see that. But, my wife does not listen to me. She wants her Canadian cottage.”

Mr. Singh loosened his tie and undid the top button of his pale blue shirt.

“We wanted the better life. What did we get? Mattresses going musty. Mice shit. A daughter with the attitude. And Mr. G! I have not mentioned Mr. G. Mr. G is the owner of the plaza. A most unpleasant man. Tall. Wispy blonde hair. A beard that is clotted with food and spit. Bad breath. And terrible teeth. He does not want to hear complaints. He does not want to talk about improvements. Or maintenance. Or the fire code. He only wants to see my money. I tell him that we need to talk. I would like to drop in at his home. But, he doesn’t give out his home address. I think Mr. G is afraid of guests. Rules! There are so many rules. Mr. G tells me I must not open a dollar store. There is already one in the plaza. And he tells me that my furniture is too cheap. It makes the whole plaza look cheesy. And I must take down my bankrupt sale sign. People don’t believe I am actually going bankrupt. The sale has been going on too long. I tell him that is the way you must sell to the public. I know the public. The public has been my education! Mr. G. cannot teach me anything about retail.”

Mr. Singh picks up a glass of water from a side table next to him. He takes a swallow.

“I am not selling enough merchandise to make a profit. Oh yes, I do make some sales. Many of those people return weeks later with complaints. They want a refund. Or an exchange. Do they not understand the meaning of a bankrupt sale? It means that you cannot return the object that you have purchased. This is the meaning of a bankrupt sale. Everyone knows this. I should not have to explain it. But still they do not listen. The public! You cannot believe the kind of customers I have. Last week I was showing Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds living room suites when I found a man asleep on one of the couches. I did not see him come into the store. Later my daughter said that he had come in earlier that morning. I know the man. He is always loitering around the plaza. I do not understand how Mr. G allows such people to loiter. He buys nothing. This man. He comes into my shop and looks around as if he will buy something but never does he make a purchase. Always the promise. ‘I will come back later, Mr. Singh,’ he says. And he does come back later. But not to make a purchase. He is a giant. And he does not bath often. Nor change his clothes. I think he is deranged. He talks. Incessantly. Never stops. I should introduce him to my mother-in-law. And he takes naps on my couches. How am I to sell this merchandise to Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds? I cannot.”

Mr. Singh loosens his tie some more and takes another drink of water.

“Health! The doctor in the plaza clinic tells me that I must learn to relax. Blood pressure. It is too high. And I must lose weight. Around the middle. You see my complexion. I look like I have been in the sun. The good life by the pool. Laying on a beach in Florida. Don’t I wish? It is high blood pressure. I cannot afford to be ill. Who is going to buy a three piece couch from a man who is barely alive? You must exude health. The successful man is a healthy man. I shall die of natural causes before I can kill myself. It is not fair.”


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