Tickled

The doldrums of a dead-end retail gig are interrupted by a bizarre phone call. Read an excert from the book, I Saw a Stranger on the Freeway.

Tickled

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Casey stared at the pile of pink slips, a mix of dread and ennui forming deep in her belly. The imagined pains of customer interaction sloshed alongside the salted pretzel and cherry Icee she wolfed down before clocking in. Tuesday mornings were considered the shortest straw of shit-shifts. You had to call every reservation slip to let customers know their DVD was sitting in a box collecting dust — and would continue to do so until they coughed up the money they promised the Suncoast Video Company in good faith.

No one liked this part of the job. Most reserve customers had forgotten they had even ordered anything and were furious you were bothering them while Judge Judy was on. That was the best-case scenario. Other deadbeat customers had since changed their minds about paying for the DVD, spouting a litany of excuses why they couldn’t.

All those unwanted reserves weighed heavily on the store manager — if you actually cared about Barry’s feelings. He despised every unfulfilled order, which sat for a holding period of three months. The unwanted DVDs crowded an already claustrophobic back-of-house, making store inventory nearly impossible to track.

Casey considered leaving the pink slips for the losers working the next shift. Sure, they’d be pissed, but so what if they fired her? She’d just walk next door and sell board shorts to the dude-bros at Pac-Sun for the rest of the summer. Such was life for a 19-year-old putting off college as long as minimum wage would keep her in weed.

She thumbed through the stack of papers just to make sure there were no perverts. On rare occasions, there was an upside to making the reserve calls. Casey thoroughly enjoyed shaming customers who’d ordered skin-flicks. She’d read the smutty titles back to the (mostly) middle-aged men, in a disturbing, child-like voice to gauge their reaction, which most often was supreme embarrassment. When what they really should be embarrassed about, she maintained, was ordering soft-core Girls Gone Wild DVDs instead of just actual porn, which Suncoast didn’t carry. “No penetration, no point, am I right?” Casey once told her co-worker, Steve. Besides harassing pervs, the other joy of Suncoast was how quickly she could make Steve’s face turn hot pink. Working in retail, you get your kicks where you can.

After scanning each reserve slip meticulously, Casey found not one dirty movie or risqué feature to pounce on. She neatly slid the papers under a binder, repercussions from the second shift be damned. But before she could exit the stock room, the phone rang. She figured it was Barry, who called almost hourly, sheerly out of boredom. He lived a sad and lonely life, focused entirely on the well-being of his store.

Instead of Barry, on the phone line was a barely audible voice, quietly whispering, “Are you ticklish?”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” Casey asked.

“Are you ticklish? Are you ticklish on the bottoms of your feet?” he repeated, just as softly.

“Uh, who’s this? Did you mean to call Suncoast? Cause we sell movies, dude, not phone sex.” Casey broke into a wide smile, her heart racing.

“Do you like to be tied up and then tickled? Slowly, at first,” he asked. She could barely make out his hushed words, straining to hear each one.

“Did you say tied up?” She laughed until snorting. This was the best Tuesday ever. “Are you serious right now? Please tell me you’re for real,” she said. That prompted the mystery caller to abruptly hang up, just as things were getting good. “Goddamn it, don’t hang up on me!” she screamed into the receiver.

Casey stood absolutely still for a moment, gleefully clutching the phone as her brain caught up with her adrenaline — then exploded from the stock room to share her story. Unfortunately, Tony was at the front register. He was the absolute worst person to talk to about virtually everything.

In just two months of working with him, Casey had determined that Tony was a sociopath in sheep’s clothing, leaving a trail of emotionally destructive relationships in his wake. She kept a cold distance, her past mistakes firmly in the rear-view.

Sadly, this juicy tickling story would have to wait until tomorrow when Steve was working. Or was Micah on the schedule? Hell, she’d settle blabbing about Mr. Tickles to Barry. But Casey could just picture Steve’s face when she lured him into a deep and meaningful conversation about tickling fetishists. The fantasy was almost enough to make the next six hours with Tony bearable… almost.

Read more here