by Laura Anderson
No one famous has ever come to Krypton Komik in the Rose City’s historic Mississippi District. We mostly get middle-aged collectors, graphic artists, and pre-teen jerks in our store. I like the collectors the most. The collectors don’t ogle my chest, like the graphic artist types sometimes do and the teenie-weenies always do, because they’re married and have daughters my age, I figure. One regular customer, Russell, reminds me of my dad; not my dad as he is now, more like, the way he was before mom died four years ago.
Russell is a high school principal. He grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota. His wife is a doula. Russell’s son Oliver comes in to the store with him sometimes. He’s my age. Oliver loves motocross, BMX, and supercross and he acts like he’s in detention when he comes into the store. Russell tries to get Oliver interested in the action, the fantasy, even the hot chicks portrayed in graphic novels, but I can tell by the way Oliver stares blankly at the page that it’s no use.
My dad is an ornithologist and used to harass me all the time to go birding with him. He had no idea how embarrassing it was to say the word ornithologist. “Did you say your dad is a HORNithologist? And, he has a big dick?” Imagine how mortifying that experience was for me in third grade. It changed the way I introduced my father to the world. After that, I just told people he worked for the National Audubon Society. My parents enrolled me in private school after that incident, certain that private school children would not use the word ‘dick’. I figure Oliver heard similar things when he revealed that his dad was a principal. It would be nice to talk to Oliver about it, but he is not interested in talking to me, especially after his father introduced us. At least Russell likes me.
I thought about Oliver when I chose my outfit for the Thor signing at the store today. Oliver probably likes long hair and leather. I wore my hottest black leather knee high boots and a slouchy knit beret that would have to do for hair. I prefer to keep my hair very short. I shaved my head after my mom died because I read somewhere that Jewish people shave their heads to show they are in mourning. My mom’s dad was Jewish and I figured that it was appropriate. Today, no one was going to look at me anyway. They were all coming to see Thor.
Denny was grinning like the cat that ate your Oscar fish. He was wearing a Krypton Komik t-shirt that he specifically designed after Superman’s costume. Blue t-shirt with red letters outlined in yellow. I anticipated the worst and headed for the office, avoiding eye contact.
“Frances!” he greeted me like I was someone special and then he held up a t-shirt.
“Just for today. Everyone has to wear a company t-shirt,” Denny shook the ugly thing at me.
“Unbelievable!” I slunk toward the register and took the rag between my thumb and index finger, holding it like road kill, as I walked to the office.
The door to the office was locked.
“What gives?” I asked Denny.
“Oh!” Denny rushed over and guided me toward the bathroom, whispering with quivering excitement, “He’s HERE…in the office, with his manager, Dale.”
“You’ll have to keep your bag up front until they’re ready. Ok?”
I hated changing in the bathroom. For one thing, it was covered in old comic books. Every year Denny adds a new layer. There are ten years worth of comics glued to the wall in that bathroom. But that’s not the remarkable feature. It’s the countless amounts of teenage fluids that glue some of those comic book pages together and make that bathroom uniquely disgusting.
Whenever a kid between the ages of 12 and 14 asks to use the bathroom, I ask for his backpack. Last year, we had to put up a sign that says No Backpacks Allowed on the bathroom door. Kids today have no perspective. How sad that successfully sticking your subject matter to the bathroom wall of a comic book store with your cum is considered an accomplishment. I am careful not to touch much in there.
Luckily, all I had to do was put the t-shirt on over my tank top. I basically covered up the hideousness with my leather jacket anyway. The t-shirt had completely blown my sexy clerk look. Instead, I resembled a homeless kid in a jobs program. I hoped that Oliver wouldn’t notice anything about me today, but if he did, it would certainly not help me out one bit.
Thor is a hot Nordic God and he sells comic books to men and women alike. Denny entered the store in a contest to be one of the ten mystery stops on a nationwide promotional tour of the new Thor movie staring Australian soapstar Chris Hemsworth. It was a huge deal that we were chosen but Denny kept it a secret until yesterday. He called me up and told me over the phone. Big deal, I thought, sure that we would get a look-alike to stand in our lobby in body armor and a red cape wielding a hammer, just like the poster.
I was counting the till, as I always do in the beginning of my shift, when I noticed that we had two hundred dollars more in ones and fives than is usual. So, I asked Denny what was up with the till?
Denny was staring at the Thor display. A life size cutout of Hemsworth as Thor stood in the middle of our floor space, completely messing up the traffic flow. Denny seemed on edge but not cranky like he gets when a shipment of new comics does not come in on time or is damaged. His eyes were shining and he grinned at the cutout like a game show contestant.
“The till is what?” Denny asked.
“It’s like $200 over from last night,” I replied.
“Yeah. That’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”
“I’m not. I’m just curious.”
“You’re right, Frances. I should have told you.”
Denny marches up to the counter and cries out, “It’s Hemsworth!” much like people cry out, “Happy Birthday!” but it was not my birthday, which confuses me. Then the meaning of his words sunk in, and I’m stunned.
“Shut up!” I gasp.
“Honest Injun! It’s Chris Hemsworth! People are going to go crazy!”
“Denny, don’t mess with me. Did he introduce himself?”
“Of course he did, Frances!”
“And, did he say his name?”
“Give me some credit. Of course he said his name. His name is Chris Hemsworth. He’s Australian. And, he’s in the office. Do you know what that means?”
I tore off my leather jacket and the company t-shirt. I was going to need all the ogling I could get from Chris Hemsworth. No t-shirt for me!
“Put that back on, Frances!”
“No, Denny. This is probably my one chance to have a movie star look at my boobs. I’m not going to hid them behind your adolescent fantasy t-shirt. Steve will wear his. You’ve got yours on. The name of the store is out there on the sign. Everyone knows…”
That’s when it hit me. Everyone will know that I work at Krypton Komik and I’ll be famous for fifteen seconds. I ran to the bathroom and scrutinized my face. Fortunately, all I saw was pale skin, dark eyes, and pink lips. Denny was filling Steve in on our auspicious guest when I returned to the register.
“I fully expect camera crews to be in here and I will need you to make sure they don’t mess up any of the merchandise,” Denny was coaching Steve. “Be firm but polite with them. If you have any problems, just let me handle it.”
“Should we call Tim?” I asked.
“He’s coming in too,” Denny said.
“Are you sure that’s going to be enough?” Steve looked stressed out. His eyes were bulging and he kept swallowing.
“We have three on the floor and Dale, Chris’s manager is going to handle the signing part,” Denny said calmly. “Our job is to make sure no one messes with the merchandise.”
“Got it.” Steve and I said in unison.
The doors open at 11 a.m. on Saturdays. Thankfully, the temperature was closer to 60 degrees and partly sunny as forecasted. The first news van pulled up at 10:45 a.m. Thor was still in the office. Denny knocked on the door and Dale appeared. He was dressed in a suit and tie and he was all business. No time to shake the clerk’s hand, but all smiles for the pretty reporter in a tight pencil skirt and chiffon blouse. She looked dazzled by the big city publicist, I could tell by the way she parted her lips while he talked.
At 11 a.m. the camera light glare was way too much and no one could see outside the front windows. Denny, Steve and Tim in Krypton Komik t-shirts stood in a row, facing the front door – a geek squad anxiously awaiting the rush. Thor had yet to make an appearance. I figured he was waiting for a long line of ecstatic fans. While the camera was still rolling, the front door bell jingled and our first customer of the day happened to be Russell.
“What in heck is going on?” he asked Denny eagerly.
“We are proud to announce that the star of the upcoming movie Thor will be here today to sign copies of his comic books. Tell your friends to come quick. He will only be here for an hour.”
“Really?” Russell was awe struck that our little neighborhood comic book store was host to a legendary character and a cinematic sensation.
“Call Oliver!” I piped up and then instantly grit my teeth, embarrassed by how desperate I sounded.
“I will indeed,” Russell said smiling at me until he noticed my tank top. He averted his eyes and started texting.
Dale appeared, standing in the middle of the floor looking powerful, he began to text on his Blackberry. We were all watching him furtively. When would Thor make an appearance? Denny was summoned outside for an interview. Tim and Steve wandered closer to the other windows keeping watch for an oncoming hoard of fans. It was my chance to ingratiate myself on Dale.
“So, you’re Thor’s manager?” I asked.
Dale looked up at me with his hazel eyes and square-jawed confidence and said, “I’m Chris Hemsworth’s publicist. Dale Granby.”
“Frances Warner,” I held out my hand and Dale reached across the counter and shook it. Then he retracted and went back to his Blackberry punching.
“I could get you something before the rush. There’s a great coffee place up the street. Do you drink coffee, Dale?”
“Oh, nothing for me thanks.”
“Does Chris drink coffee?”
“Actually, he has everything he needs,” Dale’s tone was polite but he did not lift a lash from his palm device.
“Sure,” I said and then I spotted my purse.
“Um, Dale. Sorry to bother you, but I usually lock my purse in Denny’s desk drawer before my shift. Do you mind if I do it now? It’ll only take a second.”
Dale looked at the office door and thought for a second and then he said, “Sure. I think that’ll be ok.”
“Thanks!” I grabbed my purse and my Krypton Komik t-shirt and headed for the office.
I knocked three times. Then, I heard Chris Hemsworth say, “Come in.” I checked myself for nerves and turned the doorknob.
Movie stars are so much prettier than normal people. It’s a fact. Even Steve Buscemi is better looking in real life than any of the characters he plays on screen. They expect adoration and therefore, do not seek it. They are self-contained beings, all the more desirable because they do not need your acceptance or approval.
The first thing I noticed about Chris Hemsworth was how small he looked sitting in Denny’s swivel chair. I know about the trick of the eye with film that makes everyone look ten pounds heavier and angles that can make you look a foot taller. So, at first, I thought I was just adjusting to the real human Chris Hemsworth as opposed to the big screen actor Chris Hemsworth. And then I heard what sounded like sniffling.
When I walked in to the office I was trying not to stare and so did not really notice that C.H. (I’ll explain) was almost curled up in a ball on the swivel chair. His knees were bent and his head was leaning on his forearm lying across his knees. He looked rather ridiculous, as he was, wearing chest armor and a red cape. The sniffle snapped everything into focus. He was crying! I was mortified and about to run out when he looked up.
“Tell Dale I’ll be ready in a minute,” he said with contempt.
“Oh, no,” I blubbered. “I was just going to lock my purse in the drawer. No. I’ll go.”
“Go ahead,” C.H. unfurled into a long, lean Movie Star and I just wanted to die!
“No,” I could not say anything else.
“Really! Go ahead. Don’t mind me. I’m just having a meltdown in here. Where are we again?”
“Portland,” I said.
“Where is that exactly?”
“North of L.A.”
“I’ll leave you. So, sorry to intrude.”
“No intrusion at all. Really. C’mon! Do what you have to do.”
There was nothing for me to do but obey. It would be rude to walk out now that he insisted I lock up my purse. So, I walked over to the desk and turned the key, while he looked on disinterestedly. Thankfully, I was able to open the drawer, put my purse away, and lock up smoothly enough.
“Do you need a glass of water?” I asked.
“Oh no love. I have a bottle over here,” he pointed toward the ground on the other side.
“Ok. I’m sure everything will be alright,” I said.
He looked at me with real ferocity, like he was deconstructing my face, layer by layer. And when he was satisfied that he had reached my essence, he sighed deeply. I have never felt so transparent or so terrified by a stranger’s gaze. We had connected. He had reached inside me with his mind and built something that only he could access inside my mind. My intentions had been probed. My worth had been accessed. He accepted me.
“I’ll see you out there C.H.” I said and walked through the door. I don’t know why I abbreviated his name. It just came to me.
“Ace!” he said as I slipped past the threshold and back into the store.
Outside, the store was fuller than I had ever seen it before. We were not at capacity but there were enough bodies in the place that I actually had to carefully walk down the aisle in order to avoid grazing any of my body parts on a slobbering pre-adolescent or pervy hipster. Denny was at the register and he was not happy.
“Frances, there you are!”
“Sorry, Denny,” I smiled bashfully.
“Did you talk to him?”
“Not intentionally. I asked Dale if it was ok. Don’t stress on me!”
“Promise me you’ll stay up here and man the register.”
“And if I have to pee, I’ll go in the wastebasket.”
“Right. Whatever.” Denny left me at the register to ask Dale one more time, when Thor would be ready to start signing comics and posters?
Oliver was perusing the local artists section with Russell and trying not to look interested in seeing a famous person for the first time in the flesh. I was completely alone at the register. No one was buying. Everyone was waiting for the main attraction. So, I watched Oliver. He was smirking while Russell was imparting an anecdote about a local graphic artist. Oliver was wearing a red and grey motocross jacket, which I thought was both hot and a little high school at the same time. He started to walk away from Russell and then he turned and walked straight toward the register, where I nervously awaited his arrival.
I heard the words, “It’s Thor!” before I realized exactly what that statement meant. Oliver was getting ready to ask me out. I could tell by the way he checked me out as he walked towards me. Then someone shouted, “It’s Thor!” and sweet victory that would have been mine when Oliver uttered the words, “Would you like to go out with me?” were ripped away. Denny stood in front of me and almost yelled at me, “Don’t let anything out of your sight!” What did that mean? But I did not give a damn. My sweet moment with Oliver was gone.
Like an alternate reality, Thor stood in his armor and cape, brooding over the crowd with an icy stare. The line went out the front door and down the block. Collectors, graphic artists, teenagers, girls in pleated skirts, mothers in low-cut blouses, and curious passersby all stood in the line to meet Thor, God of Lightening, and have him autograph their comic book or movie paraphernalia. Not a single person wanted to buy anything. One after the other stood in the line, placed their keepsake before Thor, awaited his seal, then turned and walked out the door. Denny looked dismayed. Tim and Steve looked bored. Thor looked god like and mighty until his cell phone rang.
“What are you doing?” Dale hissed.
“One minute!” C.H. boomed and a geek up front jumped back at the sound of the Australian’s voice.
Everyone in the store watched C.H. take his call.
“This is Hemsworth,” he answered and the next part we could not hear, but from the looks of things, it was the worst kind of news. He stood motionless. Then, C.H. realized where he was and that everyone was staring at him and he bolted straight back into the bathroom.
All of it was caught on a local news channel’s camera and several other cell phone cameras too. A few people walked out of the store, most likely to immediately contact TMZ or Perez Hilton with the scoop. The floor erupted with nervous laughter, overwhelmed sighs, and concerned grumbling. Dale was at a loss, obviously, but he handled the scene like a professional.
“I’m sure everything will be alright in a few minutes,” he said and then marched directly to the bathroom, knocking a row of comics off their perch. Steve scrambled to pick them up off the ground.
Denny was pacing back and forth like a mental patient now. Steve was at the door telling people to please stay calm. Oliver and Russell were no longer in the crowd. I hoped they would return in a little while, after the frenzy had passed. But, from the looks of it, the frenzy was just getting started. There were now three news cameras outside interviewing fans about what happened. The attention was diverted to the spectacle out on the sidewalk. Almost no one was left on the floor. Steve and Tim had the front covered. So, I decided to try and help and joined Dale at the bathroom door.
“I’m here to help,” I said.
“Thanks. But, everything is under control. Just tell your boss that we’ll be back up in 15. Maybe 20. Okay?”
I stepped back but hung around just in case. I just had a feeling that C.H. needed me.
“Chris,” Dale rapped his knuckle on the door. “Open up and talk to me, please.”
“I’m calling Alma,” Dale said this like it was a threat.
“Dammit, Chris! I’m calling her. Right. Now.”
Dale could not dial because he was receiving a call, which he took. Dale’s frustration turned to guilt and then discomfort. He turned to the bathroom and got really close to the seam between the door and the frame.
Dale’s voice was raspy. He said, “I’ll take care of it. Chris, I’m so sorry.”
The frightened look in Dale’s eyes told me everything. People are afraid of death. Dale had been shaken to his soul. I saw that same look in the eyes of so many people who attended my mother’s funeral. Am I next? When Dale was out of sight, I stepped up to the door and knocked.
“It’s me, C.H.” I said, and just like that, the door opened.
There I was in the bathroom of Krypton Komik with Chris Hemsworth, a movie star and the embodiment of Thor, Marvel Superhero and Germanic protector of mankind. He was sitting on the toilet, the red cape protecting him from bacterial infection. I locked the door behind me and stood two feet away from the most beautiful man I had ever seen up close and personal. He had been crying, his eyes were rimmed with tears and red from rubbing, but the sight was still amazing. I could not fathom being so distraught and so put together at the same time.
“What’s your name?” he asked and looked into my eyes.
Then he waved his hand around as if he was swatting at bees, which, I have since learned, is a greeting in Australia. At the time, I just thought he delirious from heartbreak.
“You want to talk?” I asked.
He straightened up and looked at me, right in the eye, and started to cry. While he cried, still sitting tall, he wrapped his arms around his chest and gave himself a hug. I just watched him try to comfort himself and release the unbelievable pain. Dale came back and was talking through the door again.
“Chris, you in there? Listen. We can leave as soon as you sign a few more autographs. If it were up to me, I would say ‘to hell’ but it’s in the contract. You have to be on the floor for an hour. Sixty minutes. No more. No less. You hear me, Chris?”
It seemed like I had a job after all. I would be Chris Hemsworth’s voice through the door. He couldn’t put subject, object, and verb together to save his soul. I would be Thor’s interlocutor. That was my purpose in this bizarre situation.
I cleared my throat and said, “He’s not coming back out, Dale.”
“Who is that?” Dale demanded.
“It’s Frances Warner. I’m speaking for Mr. Hemsworth at the moment.”
“No. Thor,” I said and then I heard a little snort of pleasure behind me. I turned and C.H. was smiling. He gave me the thumbs-up!
“Thor would like to leave in…” C.H. held up all five fingers on his right hand. “Thor will leave in five minutes.”
“Listen. Frances, was it? Let me talk to Chris directly. Why don’t you open the door? Alright?”
“Thor will leave in five minutes,” I repeated.
Dale kicked the wall next to the door with his fancy leather uppers. I heard Denny’s voice demand to know what was going on over here!
“Your employee is speaking for Chris! Get her OUT OF THERE!” Dale barked.
That was an unwise move. Denny is as tall as a horse chestnut tree and has hands big enough to be their own catcher’s mitts. I envisioned Denny getting up close and personal with Dale and then poking him in his boney clavicle.
“That’s not polite, Mister. I treat you nice. So, I expect you to do the same. Now, if you can’t play nice, well, then you’re going to have to leave. Right. Now.”
I can imagine that being poked in the chest like a weakling with glasses and tinsel teeth was quite demoralizing for Dale. So, naturally, he pulled up his big city britches and gave Denny his very best impression of an asshole.
Next, I hear grunting, sliding shoes across the bamboo floor, bodies bumping the walls and Steve shouting, “Stop it! Stop it!” There is commotion on the floor and someone has called the police. Denny is prevailing. I can hear Dale spitting and panting and groaning. It sounded like Denny was trying to catch Dale, but Dale was too quick. Finally, Denny had Dale and was walking him to the front of the store. I heard clapping and Tim shouted, “That’s right! Don’t mess with Denny!” A few minutes later, Denny was at the door.
“You okay in there?”
“I’m okay, but he’s not. Can you get him a car or something, Denny? He can’t sign anymore autographs.”
“Ahh. Sure. I’ll see what I can do.”
I turned around and C.H. was still sitting straight as an arrow on the toilet. He had color in his cheeks. He was breathing evenly.
“She sprained her ankle last week. She went for a run in Central Park and sprained her ankle. It wasn’t a bad sprain. She just kept it elevated. Whatever the doctor told her to do. A clot in her brain and now… I don’t understand how this could happen! I don’t know what to do now.”
There were so many things I could have said right then. Honestly, I had a hard time choosing just the right words for C.H. Not knowing the ‘she’ was that died from a clot in her brain, I needed something general about moving on after death. My father and I have developed a lexicon for our particular loss. In the morning we say, “Good to see you,” rather than Good Morning. At night, if I come home late, I place a post-it note on the front door that says, “See you soon.” When one of us forgets something like the dry cleaning or the electricity bill, we say, “Until next time.” When we drive anywhere together, and make it to our destination safely, we say, “We made it.”
C.H. did not ask for my story, but I figured that I should tell him a little before I gave him my two cents.
“My mom died when I was fourteen,” I started. “She was hit by a drunk driver. I think about her every day. I miss her. My dad misses her. We feel cheated. And that is going to scar you, but you will keep going.”
C.H. looked at me with wonder, as if I was the one wearing a red cape and wielding a hammer.
“How? How do you do it?”
“I just do,” I said. “So will you.”
A wild pounding on the bathroom door, so violent that it warped the door, brought C.H. to his feet and me into his arms.
“Chris! It’s Dale. I am leaving in five minutes. If you’re not on the bus with me, then find your own way to San Francisco. Got it?”
“First you need to apologize, Dale!” C.H. demanded. I closed my eyes and leaned into his armor, imagining that Dale was a barbarian come to rape and pillage our comic castle.
“Why the hell would I do that?”
“Either you apologize or I fly back to New York and you loose your job.”
“Goddammit, Chris! I’m leaving with or without you. No apologies. NO MORE BULLSHIT!”
Dale’s shoe whacked the door once more and then he was gone. C.H. dropped his arms and I could no longer justify leaning against his chest. It was my last chance to be ogled by a celebrity. I knew it was a cheap shot, but when else would I have the opportunity?
“Do you think I’m pretty?” I asked.
C.H.’s head snapped back. He was speechless and there went my chance.
“Nevermind,” I said, swatting at bees as he had done earlier. He tilted his head, totally perplexed.
That’s when we heard the sound of the alarm. And ten seconds later, the sound of water spraying the store. Denny was screaming bloody murder. Shouts and cries from the few remaining customers as they fled. I opened the bathroom door and immediately, Dale was on top of me, trying to muscle his way into bathroom. Tim came blazing down the aisle and jumped on top of Dale and locking his head in the crux of his arm. I was thrown to the ground. C.H. stood in the doorway with his hands on his hips and his legs shoulder width apart. He took one look at me on the ground and lunged at Dale, knocking Tim and Dale on their backs, essentially giving Tim a concussion and Dale a broken rib. Five minutes later, the Fire and Police Department arrived, followed by all three local channel news teams for the second time today.
Dale got hauled down to the Police station and C.H. with him. Denny, Steve, and Tim have gone down to the station to file a complaint against Dale. And here I am at the store. All I suffered was a bruised arm. I will live. I hope that Oliver will come back to check on me. Maybe he’s heard on Twitter that some psycho caused a fight and pulled the fire alarm at Krypton Komik on Mississippi Avenue in the City of Roses.
© 2011 Laura Anderson