Extreme Juvenilia: "Bob Blanchard"
I wrote this short story when I was 21. Here it is in its original form.
By Sarah Miller (IN 1991)*
THIS POST IS FREE. Everything free more or less for now. Please subscribe if you’re a regular reader with the means to do so.
“The China Chef is the only place in this town to piss,“ the Cumberland Farms clerk in Franklin, Massachusetts says when I finish inquiring politely on the whereabouts of the bathroom. “It’s that thing across the street that looks like a tool shed. But it definitely has a bathroom.”
I know a family that rates bathrooms. It all began when the father, a motel magnate, decided that he wanted to add a restaurant to his tourist empire. So, for a year, his wife and daughters took a grand tour of about 50 restaurants in the Northeast. Besides the food, service and atmosphere, they rated the bathrooms of each establishment on the basis of such things as cleanliness, attractiveness, special features like liquid hand soap, towel patterns. They finally opened a restaurant, a sort of pseudo-European establishment which served Monte Cristos for lunch and veal piccata for dinner. After about three years, despite a very attractive bathroom and great frozen drinks, the restaurant went under, along with the marriage. But the girls and the mother still rate bathrooms and I have picked up the habit. Hand soap, towels and cleanliness escape my scrutiny however. I’m into bathroom graffiti, and this bathroom graffiti is a 10. I may never leave the China Chef.
The China Chef has its share of the standard, “Jenny loves JT.” Also well represented is the female to female graffiti, Shelly O’Keefe is a fucking slut, Kelly Hines will blow anyone, Molly Hill better watch out or I’m gonna kick her fucking sleazy head in. Allies and enemies have added responses. But my favorite graffiti centers around one unlucky individual, one Bob Blanchard. “I hate Bob Blanchard!” is scratched across the top of the hollow door, twice. “Men like Bob Blanchard eat you up and spit you out,” runs diagonally through the middle, like Miss America‘s banner. Next to this someone has added, “You said it. Bob Blanchard is a fucking loser!“ Etched in the bottom corner “Bob Blanchard is the antichrist.”
”Bob Blanchard is a shoe salesman”
“May I help you?” Shoe salesmen are always the most apt to confront you. Maybe this is something that doesn’t merit much attention, they sell a product which necessitates their assistance.
The customer is receptive and does not seem irritated with being confronted after she has been in the store for six or seven seconds. “Yes, actually I would like to see some black shoes. Something high, but you know, not too high.” She glances around the store and does so attractively. The niceness of her glance lies in the neck movements, the cords are tense enough to indicate body awareness, yet her motion has a fluidity that releases her from suspicion of being too self-conscious or or even self-indulgent. She touches the heel of a lizard pump. Then she replaces it and selects its black counterpart. “I’d like very much to see this in a size 7 and 7 1/2.”
He’s glad to help her.
In the moment where one waits for the shoe salesman to return there is a certain pleasure. You have asked someone to get something for you and not only are they getting it but they are doing so willingly, cheerfully, and with clean haste. She waits near the children”s shoes, half smiling, studying the red sneakers and soft tan boots with bits of fleece pointing out of the tops, and the most curious one, a tiny loafer smug and shiny on its wooden perch.
“Here we are!” The shoe salesman has returned. He holds the two boxes on his hand while she sits down and removes her shoes and exclaims “Oh God, I forgot to wear stockings! Have you got a ped I can wear? I’m really sorry.”
Like a magician with a rabbit he pulls a limp crumpled cloth from his pocket. “Not to worry,” he says, sliding it onto her uncalloused foot.
The size 7 1/2 fits. “I just don’t understand,” she says, walking around the show room, testing them out. I wore a size 7 until last year right after my 20th birthday almost exactly. I swear to you! And then my feet grew… it’s the oddest thing.” She sits and simultaneously crosses her bare legs. He notices that she has just shaved, that the fluorescent lights reflect off her shins. He looks up at her face, but her gaze goes across the room, perhaps to those adorable loafers.
“Thank you for your help.” She stuffs the sales slip into a wallet and zips it up. “These are exactly what I wanted. I don’t live around here but I think I’ll drop by next time I’m around. You’ve got quite a selection.”
“Take my card,” he suggests, and holds one out to her.
“Bob Blanchard”, she reads. “Sales Assistant, Hennessey Shoes.”
“Thanks again.” She tucks it into her bag and is gone.
”Bob Blanchard Wants Respect”
“I was on my way back from town today and I saw this girl that I sort of know waiting for the bus. She comes into the shoe store now and then, and I’ve tried to talk to her, but she just seems kind of like a fucking bitch to me. So she was standing on the side of the road and I just barely got past her and she starts waving her arms and shit. She even stuck out her thumb as if I wouldn’t know that she was waving her arms because she wanted a ride. I didn’t think that she was saying hello to me or anything! I followed her in my rearview mirror, all the way around the curve. I could see her saying something to the other people the bus stop like “I know that guy” or something but I just kept going. That she thought I was going to give her a ride so ridiculous to me. You have to watch out for girls like that. I can imagine her getting in my car being all like “How are you?” like she gives a shit. I just don’t need that shit.”
”Bob Blanchard Misjudges”
“Is this your car?” Officer Gerald C. Bone stands at the rear of the blue Ford, his hand resting on the trunk, and his weight shifting from one foot to the other.
The owner, a medium-sized brown haired man in his early 30s, just ran into the hardware store for a second, just to get some molding for his storm window, and goddammit, this guy is about to give him a ticket. He looks up the street, past the hardware store towards the drug and grocery stores. At the fruit stand in front his old second grade teacher is pressing grapefruits with what he remembers as a very bony, flat, thumb.
“The problem being,” the officer rambles, “This is a handicapped parking zone. You don’t look handicapped to me.” He is a state cop.
“I just ran into Dewey’s to get some molding for my storm windows.” He holds up an orange plastic bag. The 12 o’clock whistle sounds. Noon finds this street as full as it ever gets. Children on their lunch breaks speed by and banana bikes, teenage girls comb their hair in store windows and store owners on their way to lunch greet each other between the parking meters. He feels suspended amid the activity holding up his bag.
“Is that so?” The officer eases a pad out of his pocket, adding, “You can’t park in the handicapped zone, you see, even for a second. Now I know it might not seem to a man like you that it’s any big deal to park here for 15 minutes, and if you’ll let me let you in on a little secret, it probably hasn’t interfered with anyone’s day but mine and yours. But this is a handicapped zone and it’s reserved for people that have a little sticker with the wheelchair on it. So I’m giving you a ticket. Can I see your license please? And why don’t you move your car while I’m filling this out?“ Until this point he had stood in the same place rocking back and forth on his black shoes, but now he has stepped onto the curb.
The man sits in the front seat of his car for a moment watching the policeman in his rearview mirror. Finally he pokes his head out the window and tells him that there isn’t anywhere to move it. The policeman finishes writing the line he is on before the looks up. “Oh well. Why don’t you just take her around the block for us? Can you do that for me Mr. uh….” He glances at the license. “Blanchard?”
”Bob Blanchard’s Good Deed”
I don’t mind working the lunch shift, usually, even though it’s busier and more hectic than dinner. I guess I kind of like the pace. Dinner means overtired wives and their whiny children and over apologetic husbands who look at your ass every time you get them another draft. At lunchtime people are still looking at your ass but everyone sort of knows what’s going on, and in a way it’s all sort of funny.
Kelly, the only girl that works all the shifts I do, she came into the back the other day and pounds a bottle of ketchup down on the cutting board and goes, “I’m gonna kill this fucking guy, table 12,” so I look out and there’s this guy about 50 or so. He’s reading the paper. He looks Ok. But Kelly tells me that he’s changed his order three times, and the last time she told him it was too late he sort of smiled at her and said, “Oh come on now, you don’t really expect me to believe that.”
“Can you believe this guy,” She said, shaking her head. “Like I was a four year old or something.” ‘You don’t really expect me to believe that.’ She repeated it with his big cheesy smile. And she was all, “Fucking A right I do,” but of course she didn’t say that, she just told Danny to scrape the provolone off his tuna melt and make a grilled cheese with it.
But anyway the thing that’s good about lunch is that there was this guy sitting next to table 12. He comes in every once in a while. He left Kelly this note. It said: “Sorry you had to deal with that asshole. Hope your day gets better, keep your chin up – Bob Blanchard.” He put his full name, so I guess so she can look him up? I wouldn’t really want someone telling me to keep my chin up but it was a nice note. And he left her about 30%.
”Bob “I’ll bring the wine” Blanchard”
She opens the door to reveal herself leaning in the archway. “Hi,“ she says, with a little toss of her shoulder.
My God, he thinks, what is this. He clears his throat and holds up a bottle of wine by the neck. “I brought the wine.”
”Oh terrific!” She collects it from him like a baby. “Should I put it in the refrigerator? Or do you want some now?”
Sliding out of his coat he says that a glass of wine would be great.
While she opens and closes cabinets in the kitchen he sits at the corner of her chintz covered couch, examines his fingers, glances at the TV Guide, the wallpaper and the television itself, which is off. Next to it is a bunch of yellow daffodils, and he apologizes for not bringing flowers. “You brought the wine,” she says, filling glasses. Before she can hand it to him he picks his up.
”Well,” he extends his glass. ‘To us.”
“To us,” she repeats, surprised. “I made chicken. I hope you like chicken.”
Bob assures her that yes, chicken is one of his favorites.
*THIS STORY IS ABOUT REAL GRAFFITI