I called my friend, Dave. “I have a new job, and I get to carry a gun,” I told him. “Are you working as an armed robber?” “Sort of. I’m working as a clerk at a pawn shop.” I could hear him hiss out his bong hit. “Sounds like a new low.” I told him that new doesn’t always mean worse. “I get to carry a gun.”
A guy named Blackie offered me the job. Strange creature that one. He was bug-eyed, with lots of nervous habits that could drive you crazy if you paid attention to them. He was a toe-tapping, key-jingling, hair-flattening, shoulder-shrugging, eyes-darting-around mess. He looked like he just snatched a purse and was now blowing the line-up because he was too coked-up.
I met him at the bar I worked at. He would show up every Wednesday night, when we featured Pearl beer for a dollar. It was a total gyp. Pearl was the worst. Imagine beer-piss distilled in a dusty church organ, then filtered through hospital laundry. It had an acrid bouquet of nervous sweat, and a strong lead solder finish. Even I didn’t drink Pearl. Blackie was on his fifth one when he told me about the position at the pawn shop he worked at.
“Do you know how to use a calculator?” he asked me. “I think so,” I told him. “Come by tomorrow and fill out an application.”
I put another check mark on my seedy jobs list.
Being a pawnbroker was okay. It beat laboring hands down. I was indoors, and except for lugging TV’s back and forth, didn’t have to exert myself too much. I also got to wear a gun. That was the best part. Give anybody with low self-esteem a gun and watch their self-importance balloon. I began to understand why cops were the way they were.
Having a gun strapped on just murders your customer service skills. I’d get to work, still flammable from the night before, put on a holstered .357, and just wait for the first customer to give me shit.
“We don’t take TV’s without the remote,” I’d tell someone. “Why the hell not?” they’d ask. My hand would lower to my hip. “Because God told us not to, Shit-pants. You want to go ask him…personally?” They’d see the gun, call me a faggot, then drag the set back to the car. Since I wasn’t sold on peaceful acceptance back then, I opted for the next best thing, resigned submission, from the other guy.
When I lived in New York, I worked for Nat Sherman’s, a fancy tobacconist on 5th Avenue. I had to bow and scrape, ass-kiss and bootlick the snooty clientele. I ate their snide comments with a forced smile, and had to strain out some sincerity while doing it. Wearing a gun was definitely better. Right away it established who the shot-caller was, and kept the lippy backtalk to a minimum.
Being snotty to the help is the dubious luxury of those who can at least pay their utility bills. Not so for those not whose luck has been strung so thin it can slice government cheese. The pawnbroker can be the last hand to reach for before you bounce through the hole in the social safety net. We were happy to help (at 15% interest and $7.50 minimun charge per transaction) but still some people came in acting like they were the ones doing us a favor. They saw it as an honor for us to hold on to their holy relics until they broke the bank at some Indian casino.
I remember this one freak who used to come it to pawn his swords and knives. He had bought them through a catalogue featuring the fantasy bladeware so popular with the socially impotent. He’d be clad in psuedo-swashbuckler attire, with the ponytail, the puffy shirt, crystal necklace, seventeen earrings, leather pants and fringed buckskin boots. I named him “Gaylord, the Fantastic.” The routine always went something like this:
“This is a ‘Knight’s of Zardoz’ special edition, 440 tempered steel, onyx-inlaid, Royal Battle Sword,” he’d inform me.
“The owner says the most I can go on any blade like this is seven bucks,” I’d inform him.
Outraged, Gaylord would go on about how collectable Carl Buckler Signature Blades were, the limited number produced, and the fantasy folklore behind the design.
“Look dude, I don’t care if you pulled it out of a magic dragon’s ass, the most I can go is seven.”
“But I paid 149 dollars for this sword!”
“And you will get seven dollars for it if you choose to pawn it, and ten bucks if you sell it straight out.”
He’d sputter something about the box office records of “Zardoz; The Harkening,” the world-wide following of “The Zardoz Trilogy,” the sheer, cherished collectability of all things Zardoz!
” Why don’t you take it to Zardoz and see if he’ll give you more for it? Because we have better things to kill evil trolls with around here,” I’d say, tapping on my holster, “than some glorified letter opener for emotionally-stunted geeks. Now, do you want to pawn or sell?”
“I’d like to pawn it.”
I would hand him a clipboard with a form to fill out. A magical sword may be a valuable treasure in role-playing games, but it’s worth about a burrito lunch and a beer in the real world. He never seemed to get that.
People coming in with fake jewelry was always fun. They were either trying to hoodwink us or had been hoodwinked themselves, but either way there was a lot of ‘splaining to do when the diamond tester didn’t beep or the gold bubbled acid on the scratch test. Blackie would fuck with people he knew were trying to run him. He’d test it, see that it was fake, then ask “Would you take $500 for it?” Their eyes would widen, and trying to contain their excitement say, ” I guess I would.” He’d hold the piece up to a jeweler’s loop and go, “I bet you would, but I’m seeing it’s a little flawed. Does $4oo sound okay?” They’d agree it sounded okay, and then he’d put it on the counter. “I’m sure it sounds okay, because this is fake shit. You’re not getting anything for it.” Whah-whuh-whuh-whaaaaaaah!
Generally, we were kind to the downtrodden, all of us having been trod in that general direction ourselves. If somebody really beat came in, and set out a bunch of shitty cassettes, a souvenir Las Vegas (New Mexico) ashtray, a broken clock radio, and some plastic coat hangers (stuff they obviously found in a dumpster) we’d reach into our coffee money jar and give them a few bucks. We figured that crap should be worth at least a 40 ounce malt liquor and a hot dog in the real world.
You’d see some sad things. One couple would come in on payday every Friday night. They’d pay back the loan on her wedding ring. We’d polish it up for them. He would slip it on her finger, they’d kiss, and we’d all cheer. Monday morning, he’d be back to pawn it again. They did this every week. She only got to wear her wedding ring on week-ends. Cue the Country Western music…
Some criminal masterminds would try unloading the swag they stole. Since they needed identification to pawn or sell it, they would soon be caught. Most of them violated their parole and went back to prison. One guy got sent back to the penitentiary for pawning a stolen kid’s bike. I wouldn’t be bragging about that shit when I went back in. It hardly reveals the enterprising Scarface you thought you were when you took it.
What was the most interesting thing I ever saw being brought in to pawn? Nothing. There was never anything interesting. It was all dull, stupid shit. TV’s, electronics, jewelry and guns were what we were looking for. Stuff that moved fast in pawn shop resale, and that’s pretty much what we got. It was numbing in its banality. To this day if I see an electric drill or a turquoise ring, I barf a little in my mouth. Nobody ever came in with a Crimean War Pepper-Box derringer, or the cameo brooch Mary Todd Lincoln wore to the theater that fateful night, or antique bottles of narcotic, children’s cough syrups. That might happen on the cable shows, but not at our little aquarium of bottom-feeders.
Looking back now I wish I wasn’t such a dick. People never warn you to be nice to people on your way down. The fact that I could pay my utility bills and got to carry a gun, went to my head. It wasn’t too long before I couldn’t do either, and I was the one trying to pawn a German Army helmet. Hey, now that I think of it, that was the most interesting thing I ever saw being brought in to pawn- a German Army helmet. I got two dollars for it. They burned my ass and I took it. I needed it to drink. I just remembered that I even did a little song and dance to sell it, like Gaylord used to do.
I hate when that happens, when I realize I’m just like the people I make fun of. I guess it comes with the territory, with being sober. Oh well, at least the lights are on, the water’s running, and I don’t have to carry a gun.