4. Taking Count

May 13, 2010

“So did you do the survey?” Liz asked.

Rose looked up into Liz’s startlingly fresh and beautiful face.

“Not yet. I got distracted,” answered Rose, apologetically.

She wasn’t surprised to see her young friend in the music store. She had run into her in the library several weeks ago, and Liz had promised to visit. Liz had been one of secretaries at her college, and with the school’s collapse had taken a job editing and proofreading for a marketing company, which she despised. Rose thought of Liz as a free spirit and was puzzled when Liz had taken a job she hated, and again when Liz got involved with a man less ambitious and certainly less intelligent.

“Did we bet money on this?” continued Liz. “We should make a bet. I know I’ll win.”

“Yeah,” answered Rose, there was no way she would bet on such a sure thing. “But I thought we were doing this survey just to see what the percentages were. For sure you’re right.”

The bet was that more men came into Classical than women.

“Holy moly,” Liz had said when Rose told her about her new job. “I hate that place. I never go in there. It’s nothing but men. Men banging their way through the stacks. Men buying CDs from men selling CDs. Men hanging out, staring at nothing in particular.”

Rose had nodded in response. “It’s mostly men.”

“Mostly?”

“Sometimes women come in,” she hesitated under the skeptical look on Liz’s face, “but I’m working there; and yes, I’m the only woman on staff in Classical. But there are other women downstairs.”

Liz sniggered.

“I bet if you took a poll there would be only one woman in every twenty customers. If that.” Rose felt slightly alarmed at the look in Liz’s eye. There was some point the younger woman wanted to make and Rose didn’t know what it was. But she also knew Liz wouldn’t give up until it was made.

Finally Rose agreed to keep track of the number of men versus the number of women who cruised the classical section, looking for buys. Two weeks only, she insisted.

“God, I’m glad you’re working there,” Liz had smiled, victory transfiguring her already beautiful face. “Now I can go in there. I’ll come visit.”

And here she was, come not only to visit but also to check on their survey.

“Well, what if I keep track the first half hour?” Liz asked, her blue eyes wide in her untarnished face.

“If you like.”

Rose continued pricing the stacks of used CDs left by Bob Winston while Liz pulled out a stenographer’s notebook, drew a line down the page, and wrote “M” on the left-hand side and “W” on the right. She smiled at Rose, then wandered away down the aisle, pen poised. Rose sunk back into the task at hand.

“What?” said Rose, shocked by the loud whisper in her ear.

Liz was back at her side. “Is he always here?” she whispered. She gestured over her shoulder to an elderly man asleep in the plastic cushioned chair in the corner, next to the boxed sets of opera albums. “Him. Is he always here?”

Rose nodded.

“He’s my neighbor,” Liz continued in her stage whisper. Rose’s eyes widened in mock disbelief. “Well, not really my neighbor. He lives up the hill; he’s Meg’s and I see him when I go visit her. Is this what he does, come here and sleep?” Rose nodded.

“Does he come here everyday?”

“Almost,” murmured Rose, looking down at the CD in her hand—Immortal Romantic Moments. Who in their right mind would buy Immortal Romantic Moments, wondered Rose. And why? She had the sudden vision of a balding man, his hair combed over the top of his head, in a room full of plush red velvet, standing over a leggy blonde sprawled on a sofa. He’d be wearing black shiny loafers. God, thought Rose in sudden horror: sitting among all those tasteless album covers from the fifties was affecting her sense of … something.

“I’ve always wondered,” whispered Liz.

“Wondered what?” said Rose.

Before Rose could stop her, Liz was off again, this time in the direction of the old man. It was true the man was one of the regulars, that motley group of ten or eleven who frequented Classical. They were older men (only one woman among them), most in their sixties, and they showed up regular as clockwork on Wednesdays, when the new old vinyl was brought over from the warehouse. But the elderly man, whose name was Sid, showed up at any time. And his taste seemed more catholic than most of the regulars. Twice she had found him asleep in different parts of the store, once in World Music, once in Grunge Rock, the music blasting away over his faint snores.

“You’ve got to do something about him,” insisted Liz. The two women were on Rose’s break, sitting in the coffee shop down the street. Liz had hung around, dutifully recording the sexes of customers as they entered Classical. “He smells!”

Rose sighed, and looked out the windows at the verdant park that lay at the back of the record store. “Some days he’s not so bad,” Rose said. She was watching the homeless men who seemed to be in a discussion near the picnic tables, one of them waving his arms around his head while two others watched transfixed. And there was that homeless man she often saw shuffling down the sidewalk as if he were being pursued. His face covered in scabs, and his feet swollen and cut. He was wearing a red-and-black-check shawl wrapped tightly around his neck. A new find, she thought. “At least Sid has a home,” she gestured toward the man in the street.

The two women watched silently as the homeless man shuffled past them on the other side of the café window. Liz sighed, then pulled out her stenographer’s pad, “You see, I was right. Twenty men came in and only three women. And one of them was with a man. Well, it’s more women than I thought, but I’m sure that’s a sampling error. If you do this for two weeks the numbers will change.”

“OK,” said Rose, uncertain about what the point was.

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