The store was open six days — 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 weekdays with abbreviated hours on Saturday. Gordon always arrived first, parked out back in his reserved space, unlocked and entered through the rear exit coming forward switching on lights as he went, interior darkness evaporating as he approached the front door.
Waiting on the sidewalk outside the wide windows, a man in his mid-thirties and a boy of eleven with his bicycle.
The tumbler in the lock clicked, the glass door opened. The boy knocked the kickstand up and the spring made a twanging sound as he rolled his ten speed into the store proper. Anthony stepped into the shop behind the boy and said, “Thanks boss. Kind of chilly out there.”
The boy guided his bicycle into the back with one hand on the gooseneck that connected the round drop down handlebars. “Yah, thanks Mister Miter.”
The cool morning air was deceptive. Riverside lay inland on an arid plain: cold to freezing over night, but the temperature rose with the sun. It was going to be another hot desert day, perfect for watching paint dry, Gordon thought and chuckled at his own wry sense of humor.
The boy picked up a broom and began sweeping the floor in the customer area. Both Anthony and Gordon stood behind the counter with cigarettes dangling from their lips. Occasionally they flicked an ash toward where the boy worked, but Saturdays rarely got busy. The contractors and building crews mostly took weekends off so the only people who might wander in were homeowners looking to match a sample.
“Hear about them Ruskies?” Anthony was a news junkie easily influenced by David Brinkley. “Every family’s got a backyard bomb shelter. Gov’ment subsidy or something.”
This was a touchy subject with Gordon who had just completed his own fallout shelter. He found the do-it-yourself blue-prints and parts described in an article in Popular Mechanics magazine. But he did not publicize this fact except among a few friends, of whom Anthony was not one.
“We had a duck and cover drill yesterday in sixth period,” the boy said as he rested on the rectangular broom’s upright handle.
“That’s just stupid,” Anthony said as he tossed the unsmoked nub into the pile of dust and rubbish the boy had collected. The boy dutifully stepped on the butt to extinguish it without remarking on the casual, even careless act or the insolence someone watching might infer from it. “Duck and cover. Duck and kiss your ass goodbye is more like it.”
All three turned toward the front door when the bell above it jingled. A short fat woman stood expectantly, but at a respectful distance from the men.
Gordon took the lead. “Help you ma’am?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I want to re-decorate my daughter’s bedroom. Thought I’d paint it.”
“Then you’ve come to the right place,” Gordon said enthusiastically. “That’s what we sell here at U and I Paint supply where we’re grammatically correct.”
The boy understood this remark, which Miter made whenever possible, but not why it bore repeating or why Miter thought it so amusing. Anthony, on the other hand, really had not a clue. The woman must have got it because she chuckled.
However, she said again, “Oh, I don’t know.”
“Well you just come right on over here next to these color wheels and tell me what you like.” Gordon had a personable salesman’s style that was not country but neither was it city slicker. It was a well practiced genuine delivery that could get the toughest nut out of its shell. “Got a color you like from a magazine or a piece of wall paper or some cloth you admire? We’ll match it up right here for you, blend the color into the base, give the can a good shaking to be sure it’s thoroughly mixed and send you off with brushes and rollers and drop cloths and all the things you’ll need to make that little lady’s room look spic and span and new.”
Her refrain, “Oh, I don’t know,” was already old. But she reached into a satchel size purse that dangled brownly from a shoulder strap and began rummaging around inside until she at last pulled out a two inch piece of thread.
“How about this color?”
Miter did not say it, but matching something that thin and that small would be a major challenge. He started by asking, “And what color do you think that is Mrs. . . .”
She eventually bought one gallon for the walls saying she would be back for more if she needed it, and a quart of darker color for trim. She bought a roller with an extension handle saying she did not need a ladder. After Gordon explained how spackle and wall tape worked, she bought a box and a roll, sand paper and a three inch wide spatula as well. It took Anthony two trips to her car to deliver the goods and when he returned and passed the boy, he said, “Earning your salt today? I’m earning mine.”
The boy washed the front windows as high as his short stature allowed him to reach and Anthony took over for the areas he could not. Then the boy turned his attention to the glass counter tops and sliding sides which he sprayed with a blue liquid that smelled sweet. He wiped the glass down with bunched newspaper being especially careful to remove fingerprints and coffee spills, both of which were abundant. As he worked, customers arrived and ordered various supplies and the loud electric paint can shakers were turned on intermittently which made it impossible to think until the timer ran out and they came to a rattling halt.
Men in white bib overalls with hands crusted in paint that never came off and the skin of their palms like leather occasionally trickled in between arrivals of housewives and husbands.