“Y’all take this shit too, right?” the clichély disheveled man asked crudely as he thrusted an abused, obsolete laptop on the counter of the record store. Yes, the record store—where the only things taken for resale were, obviously, records, cassettes, DVDs, VHS tapes, CDs, musically-themed clothing and maybe—just maybe—some particularly alluring collector’s items like a giant E.T. replica. Beyond that, The Juke wasn’t open to buying back much else, and it certainly wasn’t in the market for used electronics, including decimated and probably stolen computers. And sure, it was “racist” for Hopper, the thirty-eight-year-old white male employee working the buy-back counter that day, to assume that this unkempt Black man (of no discernible age behind his mask) had stolen not only the laptop to bring here and resell, but also the three giant garbage bags filled with whatever the fuck other arbitrary bric-a-brac he seemed to think The Juke should be only too thrilled to take.
Watching the man, whom he identified in his head as Desperado, because he was both that and desperate, tweak out ever so slightly as he tried, in his own way, not to come across as positively fiending for cash to get his next fix—whether drugs or simply a hot meal of some kind—he turned to Claire, who was the only other person that had worked at The Juke as long as Hopper. They had, incidentally, just been talking about this very phenomenon on their break when they went to buy four-dollar tacos from what used to be a two-dollar taco truck in the parking lot outside. The phenomenon that came to light particularly ever since the recession hit, when the clientele at The Juke seemed to become more… irregular. It was no longer music enthusiasts who enjoyed perusing through the hodgepodge collection and occasionally buying something to pay Hopper and Claire’s below-minimum wage, but people who looked as though they had decided to wander in on a whim and attempt selling whatever they had when they happened to notice that the store was usually in the business of buying people’s used items. But again, not just “any” used items: well-curated and well-maintained ones.
Desperado offered “possessions” of no such variety, and grew shifty when asked to fill out a form stating his name and address and then presenting an ID to corroborate what was on the form. He seethed, “Shiii, is this like a government operation you got goin’ on hea?” But the real reason he didn’t want to provide any such information was a result of being previously banned by Claire, who clocked him immediately when he traipsed into the place, even though it had been almost a year since the last time he had caused a scene. Desperado was perhaps banking on the idea that The Juke had higher employee turnaround than it did. But the thing about places like these was that the employees never left. They were lifers. The type of people who had realized long ago they couldn’t function in a “real” job, and would prefer something like this despite the laughably low pay. And if you wondered how someone could afford to live on such a salary, well, so did they. But maybe part of it was because they both paid a modest monthly fee for a room rather than renting an apartment or owning any property. They would never own property—the mark of a true plebe in this society. That’s part of what made it all the more ironic that they worked in an environment that seemed to serve as a temporary fix for “owning” something. Even something as marginal and valueless as a cassette tape.
Hopper watched Desperado as he continued to twitch and fidget, like there were bugs crawling underneath his skin. Maybe there were. And that made Hopper shudder all the more at the prospect of interfacing with this man, the one that incited Claire to emerge and say, “You need to get out of here.” After Desperado had already lugged everything inside.
“Scuse me?” he spat back.
“You were banned. You know you’re not supposed to be in here. Now, please leave. And take ‘your’ items with you. We’re not buying what you’re selling.”
Her icy cold tone was more jarring than if she had been screaming at him, and Desperado seemed to understand that as much as Hopper did. Until he didn’t, erupting into a rage that consisted of calling Claire all the usual “chestnuts” about women, and especially white women, before he picked up one of the sacks, filled with clothing he had likely stolen from a donation bin for homeless people or children with cancer, and heaved it right in Hopper’s direction. All it did was knock over a giant replica of Slimer from Ghostbusters. Valued at two hundred dollars. For Claire, that was what really pushed her over the edge, prompting her to call the police as he continued on his tirade about discrimination, and how he had every right to sell “his” shit here. Hopper, in all his years working at The Juke, had never witnessed such a scene. And it seemed that the first time Desperado came in, he had taken a rare week off from work to go back to his hometown for a funeral. This is what had caused him to evade the inaugural controversy with Desperado, whereupon Claire confirmed her suspicion that he had stolen an ultra-rare vinyl collection from somebody’s home that had been reported missing. The news had spread among the vinyl-loving community, as well as the missive that, should anyone try to resell it somewhere, the owner ought to be notified immediately. And that’s just what Claire did, returning the collection but generously deciding not to tip the owner off to Desperado’s identity or report him to the police, instead giving him the directive that he was barred from The Juke for life. Thus, to see him again set her off to no end. The total lack of respect he had for what she had done for him was, yes, an indication of his own rock-bottom financial situation, but also his lack of regard for Claire as a human being that had gone out of her way to protect him at her own risk. The risk being precisely this: that Desperado would come back even more deranged than before. But as it is said, no good deed goes unpunished.
It didn’t take them long to arrive, though, in the interim, Desperado had been able to cause a noticeable amount of property damage. And as the police escorted a screaming Desperado out of the store, Hopper turned to another customer that had come back to collect her unsold items and some cash for what she did manage to sell. She appeared ruffled by the goings-on in the store, likely debating whether or not eight paltry dollars of profit was worth putting herself in harm’s way.
“If you’ll just step over to the counter there, my associate will finish the transaction,” Hopper told her, alluding to Claire standing next to him at a different register. He could feel how ridiculous he sounded, going out of his way to infect The Juke with “office terminology” when a song like Bush’s “The Chemicals Between Us” was playing. It was utterly pointless to try and lend a “corporate flair” to this place, but something came over him and he felt obliged to revert to that period in his life when he did work in an office. Where things were clean. He didn’t have to touch other people’s dirty clothes all day in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, or wear a mask that constantly fell off right when a customer was approaching to chastise him for not wearing his face covering properly. He didn’t have to worry about these types of confrontations with people, confrontations that were becoming more frequent amid the monetary hopelessness that was seeping into their town. At the same time, regardless of working in retail or in an office, he knew he would always find himself passing the buck to a woman when it came to taking charge of a live-wire scenario.