The Customer: perverbs after Harry Matthews
by Corina Bardoff

The customer laughs best

“Good morning,” says the customer.

“Good afternoon,” I say. “It is 1:30.”

“Well, I just rolled out of bed,” says the customer. “So it is still morning for me.”

The customer has a point.

“What time did you have to wake up?” asks the customer.

“5am,” I say.

“Ha HA!” laughs the customer.

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The customer favors the brave

The customer leans against the espresso machine. My coworker is telling the customer about the time she went skydiving in New Zealand. 

“I’ve never been more terrified,” says my coworker. “But I did it anyway. It was such a powerful experience. I vomited afterwards, but it was worth it.”

“That is so amazing,” says the customer.

The customer is forearmed

“Actually!” says the customer. “I brought my own sleeve.” The customer means the cardboard thing that you put around your drink so you can hold it while the contents are hot.

“Thank you!” the customer imagines the rainforests cheering.

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The customer makes waste

There is a sign on the door.

“What is the cheapest thing you sell here?” asks the customer.

The cheapest thing is a banana for 50 cents.

“I just have to use your bathroom,” says the customer.

The customer may be entrusted with the empire

I have been outside on the phone with my boyfriend. I thought it would be quick. I wanted to know where I should meet him tonight. My boyfriend wanted to tell me how much he loves the movie Jaws. My brave coworker is in the back when I re-enter the place, and the customer has come in. I apologize for the wait, but the customer is cheerful.

“I could have stolen everything in the register!” the customer says. “And your tips too! But I didn’t. I love this place.”

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The customer will get you nowhere

I tell the customer that I have a degree in communication design. The customer knows someone who works for an ad agency. I do not reveal how excited I am, and instead ask the customer very causally which one.

“Oh, gosh,” says the customer. “I forget. My friend talks about work literally all the time, but he never says the name of the company! I feel like it’s a big name, though. Like, it’s called ‘Enormous’ or ‘Gigantic.’ Maybe it’s ‘Colossal.’ Yeah, Google ‘Colossal’ and it should come up. He’s just an intern, though. I think he’s doing AmeriCorps after this.”

The customer breeds contempt

“It seems like people working in cafes used to be musicians and artists, and it was just how they got by while they made their work, you know?” says the customer. “But now, it seems like it’s mostly people who couldn’t get a job in their field.”

“Well,” I say.
“You seem artsy,” says the customer. “But not like a real artist.”

The customer goes a-sorrowing

The customer is reading the café’s copy of the newspaper, which I display each day, unless someone steals it before I get to work or it rains and the newspaper is too soggy. The customer’s fingers are smudged with newsprint. 

“We’re all the same in the end,” says the customer who has been reading the obituaries. The customer orders another mocha.

“Kings used to display human skulls in their studies,” says the customer. “To remind them of their own mortality. I read the newspaper instead.”

“Does that help you rule your kingdom?” I ask.

The customer cannot reply, having just inhaled the cocoa powder I dusted on the whipped cream.

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The customer gets rid of the pain of being a man

I would like to text my mother back, because something urgent has happened to my aunt. I have been told not to text at the counter.

“Do you feel anything different?” asks the customer. The customer shows me two normal palms and ten normal fingers.

“I received the reiki energy from my teacher today,” says the customer. “I have been waiting for months. The energy can only pass from person to person.”

In the land of the blind the customer is king

The fool and his money are always right.


Corina Bardoff’s writing has appeared in Cream City Review, Phoebe, An Oulipolooza (a publication of Kelly Writers House), and elsewhere. Originally from Oakland, California, she has lived in Texas and Ohio, and she is now a librarian in Brooklyn, New York. Twitter: @causeatiger.

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