As soon as Tom Waits entered my bookstore I assumed he was a shoplifter. Now, even if I couldn’t recognize a Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated musical genius when I see one, his impeccably distressed jeans and coiffed soul patch should have tipped me off that this guy had a more lucrative career than petty thievery.
But being an anxious, sheltered suburban boy, I couldn’t see past the tectonic features and fedora. All I saw was Wharf Thug #2 from The Eye-Gouging Angels or some other pre-code gangster film. All I saw was trouble.
I took it upon myself to track trouble through the store. But he never veered far from the art section, and its huge volumes were unlikely candidates to be snuck down someone’s pants. After 20 misdemeanorless minutes passed, I began thinking maybe this guy wasn’t a shoplifter after all.
But my anxiety still desperately felt for a foothold. I recalled among the art section’s Monets and Matiesses was The Last Day of Summer, a book of photographs featuring French beachgoers. These included a discomfiting amount of nude preteens.
His proximity to the book was fuel enough for my worry. How could I have been so blind? This guy wasn’t a shoplifter. He was a pedophile. I suddenly cared less about what he might sneak into his pants, and more about what he might sneak out.
But another 20 minutes passed, pedophilia-free, and he finally brought his purchases to the counter. I swiped his card and thought just how relieved I’d be when he left. Sure, he didn’t commit any crimes today. But I just knew he was someone to watch out for, someone with a record.
And when I glanced at the credit slip he handed back, my suspicions were confirmed. “Thomas A. Waits,” it read. He did have a record, plenty of them: Bone Machine, The Heart of Saturday Night, Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs.
“Uh, hey, you’re not THE Tom Waits, are you?” I asked my shoplifting pedophile.
“ME? Nah nah nah,” he replied, waving his hands like he was trying to wipe away his unmistakable, chain-smoking bullfrog voice that shattered the possibilities of sound for generations of music lovers.
I stood there blinking as he fulfilled my wish and left.