By James Montello
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Every working stiff I know hates something
about their job. For me, it’s the complete and utter absence of women.
Occasionally, of course, a member of the fairer sex visits my
little corner of Main Street, but usually she’s an overwrought Den
Mother who’s been shanghaied by a gang of mutinous Cub Scouts.
No, my clientele is predominantly male, fathers and sons, and
frequently the only way to tell those groups apart is by noting that
fathers are usually taller and more mature.
ago, back when this was my after school and weekend job, I met the first
and still the only “regular” female customer I’ve ever known this
store to have. Her name
was…Sue, Suzanne, maybe Sally. Her
father always called her Suzy Sal.
Neither of them ever invited me into their joke, so I never knew
what the Suzy Sal might have been short for, or long for as far as that
goes. They came in every
Saturday, right about 11:30, like clockwork.
She always had her blonde curls stuffed through the hole in the
back of a baseball cap, and her dad followed her around like he was
Secret Service. She was his
princess—his pride and joy. When
the weather was warm, Suzy Sal invariably appeared with a chocolate ice
cream cone in hand. In cold
weather, it was a cup of hot chocolate.
father was always polite, well dressed even on the hottest summer days,
and she adored him. They’d
step in from the sunny sidewalk hand in hand, and patiently the man let
his little girl lead him. Up
and down the rows, past faces of heroes and villains alike, until
she’d zeroed in on the book she wanted.
“This one, Daddy,” she’d exclaim when something finally
caught her eye. I never
once heard them bicker about the price of a rare book.
Dad’s answer was usually yes, but when it was no Suzy Sal
(forgive me it’s the only name I know) would cheerfully and carefully
return the comic to its place on the shelf.
the time I decided to buy this place, Suzy Sal began to buy comics
“with her own money,” earned for doing chores and babysitting her
younger siblings. One
week—she must have been 11 or 12 by this time—she said there was
nothing in the store she really wanted.
“It’s okay, Dad. I’d like to save my money,” was her story.
I thought she might just be getting too old for comic books, that
she was spending her money on clothes or makeup or other things teenage
girls treasure. I remember
thinking, “How sweet. She
still comes to the comic book store with her old man every Saturday.”
For nearly 3 months the routine was the same.
Her father still bought a book or two occasionally, but Suzy Sal
left the store empty-handed every time.
was surprised one Friday in June when she came into the shop by herself.
She walked straight up to the case in the back, and pulled a
gallon jar of change out of her backpack.
I walked over to see her pointing at a very expensive book.
“I want to buy this for my dad,” she said.
“You tell me how much I need, and I’ll start counting.”
I asked her why this particular comic.
I was pretty sure her jar didn’t hold that much money.
“My dad has always wanted this one.
It’s the only missing issue from his collection.”
Suddenly she looked frightened.
“This is enough money, isn’t it?
Maybe I’d better count it.
I haven’t bought anything—not even a soda in months.
I even picked up extra chores every week.”
She had started to cry, poor kid.
I leaned across the counter and I said, “that jar looks just about
perfect.” She sniffled
and smiled. I gave her my
handkerchief to wipe her eyes, and I put the treasured comic book in a
bag. I didn’t even count
the change. Actually, I
took it to my apartment to use as ante on poker nights.
It was my first big loss as a businessman, but I figured what the
hell. She and her father
had spent hundreds, maybe thousands on books since I’d known them.
In the grand scheme, I could afford to eat one comic book,
father asked me the next time they came in how she’d managed to pay
for the book. I’m sure he
didn’t think she stole it, but it was quite a purchase for a
kid. I told him she brought
me a gallon jar of change that had just covered it.
He didn’t believe me. His
eyes, well they just screamed that I was lying, but he returned to the
side of his princess, and never mentioned it again.
After that the ritual weekly book purchase was never the same.
It’s a terrible thing, when a kid realizes they can live
without their comics, without the heroes they emulate and the villains
they thrash in backyards and basements around the world.
But it happens to all of them, sooner or later.
the time Suzy reached Junior High she had discovered clothes, and
makeup, and (pity her father) boys.
The old man continued coming to the store.
His appearances grew less frequent with his age.
It seemed, in his later years, that this place broke his heart
some days, because his little girl still lived here.
Then, he stopped coming in altogether, and I naturally assumed
the worst. I couldn’t
even check the papers; he had always paid in cash and I knew his
surviving daughter wouldn’t be listed as Suzy Sal.
Eventually, they both slipped into the fog of memory and the
endless sea of customers.
Suzy Sal came into my shop at 11:30 sharp.
All grown up, she looked beautiful, professional, poised.
Like years before, she walked directly to the display case in the
back. When she spoke, her
eyes brimmed over. “This
one, please.” I followed
her gaze to a Superman book, Superman’s death.
father?” I asked and she
nodded. “I always thought
he was a truly good man. I
never really knew him, but, I know he thought the world of you.”
I offered her my handkerchief.
was everything to me,” she replied.
Composing herself, she reached into her purse.
It’s on the house. Your dad was one of my best customers.”
much debating, she relented to take the comic book. But when I cleaned the store that night I found a
hundred-dollar bill stuffed under the cash register, with this note:
I was a girl this place taught me the value of a dollar.
Today you taught me the value of an old friend.
Take this, with my love and my gratitude.
Never give this place up. It’s
the last piece of home kids like me will ever have.
She had signed it