Percy's Ink Shop

Percy's ink shop isn't his. It's a chain ink refill store at which I've spent an unfortunate amount of money over the past few months, thanks to all the estate paperwork. Percy is the Eastern European man who runs it, and with whom I've gotten to be friendly. He absolutely kills me. He says the most absurd, unexpected, and often inappropriate things every time I go in, and entertains me enormously.

Percy and I have perfected our ink-customer-and-seller schtick. I come in, angry and frustrated about my piece of shit printer having devoured yet another $8 in cyan or magenta, and he talks me down with a bemused, patronizing tone. Then he spends five minutes campaigning for me to go out with him, while I ask personal questions designed to get him to reveal more bizarre/scandalous details about himself.

Among other things I've learned about Percy is that, before he moved to the states, he was virtually swimming in hot, eligible women, all vying for his attention and money. Percy was a god in The Old Country. Here, he's a pudgy, moon-faced thirty something ink store manager, with a little boy's haircut and massive, dark eyes.

Today I've brought a depleted cartridge of yellow ink. I always put the used cartridges in a little baggie so they won't stain my hands or clothes or purse, but for some reason I feel ridiculous doing so. As if they're toxic, or I'm afraid of a getting a little ink blot on me.

When I walk in, he's reclining behind the counter as usual, talking on his cell phone. He lazily starts to sit up when he sees me, and says, "I gotta go. Customer. Don't worry. It's a guy." His words are heavily accented, and he winks at me on the last one.

"I'm just going to throw my printer out the window," I announce, as he's snapping his flip phone shut.

He cocks his head at me, as if to say Really?? "Why do you do that. I just tell her it's a guy. Now I'm gonna get in trouble, because she hear you."

I remind Percy that he's at work. Does his mistress think his only customers are men? He takes my ink cartridge out of its hazmat container and examines it. "Where is the number?" he asks. I have no idea. Number? "There should be a number on here. A sticker. That's how I know what you have. You take the sticker off, I don't know what to sell you."

I unleash a stream of vulgarity insulting the integrity of my printer, its manufacturers and designers, and making threats towards its longevity. Percy tells me to relax.

"How do men date you?" he queries, not bothering to look my way as he scans the shelves for the correct replacement. "You're crazy. I would lose my mind if I was your boyfriend," he adds.

Speculations about my dating life are nothing new at the ink shop. Over the course of the past three months, Percy has seen fit to 1) try and set me up with various other customers, 2) try and secure a date for himself, and 3) inquire as to the health of my sex life. None of this is done in earnest or with malice. He doesn't take himself one iota more seriously than I take him.

He reminds me that if I were to date him, I'd be "a lot happier and calmer woman." I have no doubt, I say dryly. He wags a small blue box at me as he says, "And I'm not just talking about orgasms." I can't keep a straight face.

"You're insane," I tell him. "You should have your own reality show. Percy's Ink Shop. It'd be perfect for Bravo. All about your interactions with customers, the relationship advice, the inappropriate comments..."

He lights up. "I love Bravo!" he exclaims. "Millionaire Matchmaker!" I am not surprised. I am not surprised by anything Percy says.

"The show could follow your personal life, too," I continue, "which I bet is...fascinating." He knows I'm teasing, and he laughs. He knows full well how ridiculous he is.

Suddenly his face gets serious. He looks at me conspiratorially, as if about to disclose his secret KGB identity. "You know, I'm actually having a background in the jewelry business." And before I can finish the crack I start about Russian mobsters, he's reaching into his pants pockets and pulling out two fistfuls of tiny plastic baggies. I can see immediately that one has a ring of some kind in it, and the others, loose diamonds.

"That's it," I say. "I'm calling Andy Cohen. You need to be on television." I shake my head in wonder. "Percy! What the hell are you doing carrying around a bunch of diamonds?"

He doesn't answer, and just holds out his treasures, eyes twinkling. "Have you ever seen diamonds before?" he asks me, in complete seriousness. I inform him that I am not, in fact, Oliver Twist, and yes, I have seen diamonds before. I remind him for the fifth time at least that I was married (a fact he suspiciously forgets to file away each time) and I even had the pleasure of wearing diamonds.

At this, he pulls the ring out and holds it up between us. I can see now that it's a pave wedding band. He makes as if to slip it on my finger, but I pull away. "Huh uh," I say. "Once was enough."

As always, he discounts my ink, exhorts me to bring my dog next time, and sends me off in a better mood than when I walked in.