8. Reporting In, Number 2

May 13, 2010

Rose had spread out the pieces of paper in front of her, turning them in Liz’s direction so that the young woman could more easily count the hatch marks. Not a lot of people came into Classical, especially the hours Rose worked, but Liz was right: the ratio of men to women browsing in Classical was easily ten to one. Maybe, as she had insisted, as much as twenty to one.

“What happened here?” Liz asked, tapping a piece of paper on which the ratio was almost two to one.

“That was Black Friday,” Rose replied. Black Friday: the media name for the day after Thanksgiving, the biggest shopping day of the year, a name that seemed to be on everyone’s lips this year.

“Oh well, that doesn’t count.” Liz pushed the paper aside.

“Why not?” Rose found herself outraged, and she reached over to push the paper back in line with its fellows.

“Special circumstances—holidays.” Liz pushed the paper to the side again.

“But the holidays are about buying and selling things. Stores wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the holidays. Especially Christmas! Think about all the gifts you have to buy. Isn’t that what’s in the business page? How the sales went on the day after Thanksgiving? It’s some kind of indicator. Like Groundhog Day. Bad sales and the recession deepens for another six months. Good sales and it’s springtime.”

“Only women buy Christmas gifts. Think about it,” Liz pushed the paper farther to the side. “Mothers having to buy gifts not only for the husband and kids but also for all the relatives. I can just see the house husband wandering the aisles of the local department store, trying to figure out what to buy Auntie Maxine and her five brats. Not likely. And then there’s all the secretaries having to buy gifts for the boss’ wife and kids. And mistress…es.”

“I don’t think secretaries do that anymore. Or bosses.”

Liz cocked an eyebrow.

“All right,” said Rose. “We’ll do it your way.” Liz began adding up the marks.

Rose looked up at the sound of someone coming up the stairs. It was Brad. Great. Rose knew exactly why Brad was heading for the counter where she and Liz were standing. She had known it the other day when Brad had appeared, CD returns in hand. She had ignored him then, but the look in his eye now made it clear she couldn’t ignore him again. She looked down at the numbers Liz was writing in her notebook.

“See how good I was?” said Rose. “I kept records for three weeks.”

“276 divided by 13 is what?”

“Hi Rose.” Brad had stopped within striking distance of Liz. He looked at Rose with an expression of fixed sincerity.

“Brad.”

“What’s 276 divided by 13?” Liz repeated.

Brad reached over and took the pencil out of Liz’s hand, and continued her arithmetic. Ooops, thought Rose. Strike one. “21.23. And some more.” He turned a glowing smile on Liz.

Rose had never seen Brad glow before.

“Thanks,” said Liz, looking at Rose. “That’s 21.23 to 1. Didn’t I tell you?”

“21.23 of what to what?” asked Brad, innocently.

Rose smiled. This was good. She was going to enjoy this.

“21.23 men to one woman,” Liz turned to him, her eyes wide with information. “21.23 men come into Classical every day compared to one woman. On an average day.”

“Oh,” said Brad. Silence.

Strike two, thought Rose.

“Why do you think that is?” Liz asked Brad.

And why, thought Rose, was she was getting a charge out of watching her co-worker Brad flounder? He wasn’t a bad fellow, but like Liz’s current boyfriend, John, he just wasn’t very interesting. A clueless dork, really. Rose wondered, though, if she was jealous. No one came tripping up the stairs to ingratiate himself to her. Not that she wanted Brad to pay attention to her—well, actually, yes, she did want that. She wanted everyone to pay attention to her. She was starved for attention. Being neglected was part of being a sixty-year-old woman. But having Brad as a boyfriend would be like working in Classical. A poorly paying dead-end stopgap measure. Rose considered: If she was working in Classical and had someone like Brad as a boyfriend, she might have to kill herself.

“Well,” Brad was choosing his words as if behind each word stood a lady or a tiger. Which was insightful, thought Rose, after all, he had two strikes against him and no balls. “Men like to collect.”

OK, thought Rose, maybe one ball.

Liz was nodding. “I think I read something about that,” she said, “in yesterday’s paper. In the Sunday supplement.”

“I’ve got that,” answered Rose, flipping through the cast-off papers under the counter. “In this section?” Rose smacked “Bay Area Living” on the counter.

“That’s it!” Liz pounced. “Here listen to this: ‘Large shopping carts stimulate the brain to create dopamine, one of the body’s most addictive chemicals. Having a cart full of items, whether we need them or not, excites the natural human instinct to hoard, which is located in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This small region is associated with collecting.’”

“But what’s that got to do with gender?” puzzled Rose. “If it were just about shopping carts and dopamine, everyone—male or female—would be up here buying and collecting like crazy.”

“Hmmm,” said Liz, a frown on her lovely brow. Brad stood as if frozen.

It was then that Arnold appeared at the top of the stairs. His thin shoulders looked more burdened than usual, his mouth was puckered and his hair stuck out in a hundred different directions.

“What’s wrong?” asked Rose.

Arnold was the image of a defeated and abused man. “The managers told me I have to get rid of Kitty.”

“What?!”

“You’re kidding.”

“No. I have to find a home for Kitty.”

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