Looking for a new job is not fun. It’s only logical that only the last person you ask says yes, but going through all those turn-downs just to get to one acceptance sure is discouraging. Every day I purchase the newspaper and scour it for help-wanted ads. I do it every day, even though most often there’s nothing in there for me during the week—the good ads appear mostly on Sunday.
Today I decided to reward myself for my diligent, if fruitless labors by making a trip to Prince George’s Plaza, a major shopping mall in nearby Prince George’s County, Maryland. Most people just call them “Pee Gee Plaza” and “Pee Gee County” much to the displeasure of the local county government.
The trip from the District of Columbia over the border to Maryland wasn’t very long, at least not as bus trips go. I planned to stroll through the mall leisurely and observe the people. My job search, however necessary it may be, had caused me to get a little behind in my real task on Earth: observing Humans in their natural habitat. So I combined the business of observation with the pleasure of relaxation.
I strolled through the mall, eating an ice cream cone, when I suddenly noticed a pet store! Now that brought back a flood of memories of the time I spent with Mr. Hufnagel in his pet shop in Pittsburgh! So I hurriedly finished the ice cream and walked towards the store.
“Chau’s Pets” the sign read. The door advertised the shop’s hours, and indicated that about a half dozen credit cards were accepted. As I entered, an electronic buzz announced my presence. Inside the air smelled of clean animals: there were puppies in the windows and in cages along one wall, birds and small mammals on the other side, all sorts of pet-related gadgets and food in the middle, and tropical fish tanks bubbling happily in the back. The store had a crowded feel to it, even though no one appeared to be in it but me.
What a glorious place this is! I thought. I decided to give it a thorough looking-over, just for old times’ sake. The shop was very clean and obviously well cared for, although Mr. Hufnagel had a better layout, I decided. Where is the storekeeper, I wondered, but I kept on browsing. I had just gotten past the huge parrot and was watching the hamsters play, when a thin oriental man came into the shop from the back room. He was wearing a white smock with the name “Chau” embroidered on it. He offered his assistance.
“You must be the owner of the shop!” I said.
“Yes, I am,” he said proudly. He stiffened with pride as I told him in detail how well he kept his shop. “I pride myself on cleanliness and the health of my livestock,” he explained.
I couldn’t resist talking shop. It has been such a long time since I have been in a pet shop, but it all came back to me. We discussed each sort of animal and its requirements, and all the details of keeping a shop. Finally Chau voiced his suspicion that I was a pet shop owner myself scouting out the competition!”
“Oh, not at all!” I protested, “I used to work in a pet shop in Pittsburgh. I just took care of the animals, swept up, and ran the cash register from time to time.”
“You certainly seem to be very competent,” he complimented, “What brings you here today? Looking for a pet perhaps?”
“I am only reminiscing today, Mr... ?” I didn’t know his last name, and I did not want to be impolite.
“My name is Trinh Chau, so if you want to call me ‘mister’ you have to say ‘Mr. Trinh,’ but most people can’t pronounce it right. It’s a Vietnamese name. Just call me ‘Chau’.”
I nodded. “Who takes care of this place for you?”
“Just me. I have no employees,” he smiled.
“Doesn’t the mall management require you to be open certain hours? Isn’t that a lot of time for one man to work?” I was a little astonished.
“It is a lot of time, but I am used to it. Every time I think of my wife and children, I know it’s okay,” he said, but his eyes betrayed that he was quite tired.
“I have no job right now,” I disclosed, “perhaps you could hire me and then you could get some time off.” I started us walking towards the door—I didn’t want to miss the bus!
“It is a good idea,” he admitted as he leaned on the door jamb, “but I have no plans to hire anyone right now. Why, I haven’t even gone over my books to see if I could afford it!” He paused in thought, then shook his head. “No, perhaps some other time.”
Just then a group a tall black youths swaggered towards us. They were dressed in a manner that was designed to intimidate—and they did succeed at this.
“Oh no!” Chau muttered, “I am afraid of people like that!” Then, realizing that I’m black too, he added hastily, “They are probably quite harmless, but how can I know that for sure?”
I craned my neck so that I could size them up. One of them was wearing an orange jacket. He turned around and walked backwards for a short while to talk with another member of the group. I could see the word “Moonman” on the back of his jacket! “You have nothing to worry about,” I reassured Chau, and walked out to a more conspicuous spot. “These are the same kids that mugged me a while back,” I said, “I know how to handle them.” Chau looked at me in alarm, but I just waved it off. The only black kid with an orange jacket like that was Alexander, and I was very excited at the prospect of seeing him again.
Finally, they came close enough that Alexander and I could recognize each other.
(You can read about the mugging if you missed that episode.)
Alexander stopped, and so did the others, but you could see from their faces that they were annoyed with the delay. I was wrong; except for Alexander, these were all strange faces.
“Hey Bobo! My man Bobo! What’s happenin, man!” We slapped palms. Chau stood in the doorway of his shop and watched in growing amazement. “Hey you all,” Alexander said excitedly, “Meet my friend Bobo! He’s the dude who took me to the Moon!” They all laughed, but he didn’t mind. He was used to it by now. He asked me about my leg, which I said was good as new. You should have seen the look on Chau’s face! Alexander and I began what would have been an extended conversation, except that we noticed everyone standing around impatiently.
“I gotta go,” Alexander said, “What you doing here?”
I explained that I had lost my job, and was taking the day off to reward myself for my intensive job hunt.
Alexander put his arm around my shoulders and turned me to face Chau. “I don’t know if you need somebody, but if you do, Bobo is the best friend I got in the world. He’s the best man for any job!” Then he turned to me. “How come you didn’t tell me about this?” he scolded, “Maybe I can help you.” He poked me in the chest with his finger, “You need anything, I mean anything at all, you just give me a call. You’re my friend. I owe you.” He insisted on giving me a quarter. “Hide this in your wallet,” he instructed, “that way you can call whenever you like.”
I thanked him for his kind offer, and promised to be in touch if necessary. Then, after a brief hesitation, he gave me a very strong hug.
“If I can’t go to Thorgelfayne, at least I can hug like it,” he explained.
As his group wandered off, I heard Alexander try to answer a question about whether or not Thorgelfayne was an African country. I didn’t envy him that one!
Chau was still standing in the doorway, his armed crossed. “You seem to be a special person,” he observed. He was impressed, and I was embarrassed. Chau stared at his hands as he rubbed them together thoughtfully. Then he looked up and said, “I think I can hire a special person! I really need someone to help around here. Come back inside, and we can talk!”
So that is why I have this problem. Can I commute on the bus from here, or should I move to an apartment closer to PG Plaza?