After signing on as a substitute teacher, the young man was preparing to leave the school office when a female staffer suggested he might want to check out the nearby P&TO.
At first he thought she was talking about a grassroots educational organization but she said no, what she meant was the “Parents and Teachers Outlet”, a nearby boutique known to some area adults as “The Bizarre Bazaar,” and to the local student population as “The Little Shop Of Horrors.”
The shop was sandwiched between a tavern and a tattoo parlor only a couple of blocks away so after talking with the staffer a while longer the young man walked down the street and entered the tiny establishment. The proprietor, a 60ish, overweight bald man wearing glasses and watching the MLB Network on the store television, greeted him warmly.
According to the female staffer the proprietor had once been a sub but had taken a leave of absence and spent the better part of a year undergoing intensive anger management therapy in another county. After being cleared by his doctors and the local constabulary he returned to the area and opened the P&TO.
His motivation, the female staffer told him, had less to do with profit than with a genuine desire to assist parents and teachers with the educational development of the area’s school children.
As an on-field reporter began interviewing a St. Louis Cardinal player on the television, the proprietor swore under his breath, switched off the set and rose to assist his customer.
The young man lifted a box from a display and examined it briefly. “Seriously?” he asked, turning, holding the box for the proprietor to see. “Popeil’s Pocket Renal Scanner?”
Chuckling, the proprietor took the box from the man and opened it. “Saved the profits from the fishing gizmo and invested in this,” he said, then reached into the box, removed a device resembling a cell phone and turned it on. Lights twinkled followed by a series of beeps.
“What does it do?” the young man asked.
“Just what it says,” the proprietor shrugged. “Half way through history class a kid comes to you all fidgety and says he really has to go. He’s a notorious slacker and hall runner so you’re immediately skeptical.”
The proprietor pointed the scanner at the young man’s abdomen and pushed a button. Again the device flashed and beeped. “Just point and click,” the proprietor continued, positioning the display so the young man could see, “and all the data and some nifty graphics appear on the screen. Bladder capacity to the milliliter; length of time since last elimination; the most comprehensive micturition analysis anywhere outside a urologist’s office.”
He studied the screen a second longer then smiled up at the man. “Looks like you’re about ready to pop young fella.”
Which seemed a tad personal but the young man said nothing.
“The results are color-coded,” the proprietor went on. “If the kid’s conning you, the display will flash red. If he really has to go the read-out will be bright yellow.”
The young man continued browsing, passing a number of peculiar displays. One consisted of a bowl of colored lozenges and a nearby sign: “Apathy Be Gone! Now in delicious tropical fruit flavors!”
Another showcased a fancy looking perfume-like spray bottle: “Subdue an unruly child or an entire classroom in seconds with Eau de barbiturate!”
Finally he stopped near a stack of black boxes displaying the skull and crossbones and the words “Last Resort.”
“For the kids?” the young man asked uneasily.
“No, no,” the proprietor said gently. “For you.” He sighed before adding, “Could have used some of that myself one day after the fourth or fifth showing of Mr. Poppers Penguins.”
In a darkened corner of the store the young man came to a bookshelf, brushed away a few cobwebs, blew a layer of dust off the cover of one of the volumes and read the title aloud. “It Starts At Home. A Parent’s Guide to Learning and Discipline.”
“Used to be a big seller,” the proprietor said sadly. “Not so much anymore.”
“A shame,” the young man said.
“Yeah,” the proprietor agreed. “You got that right.”
Blake Chambers’ email address is: email@example.com