So, the place in our small town where you get your car license tabs and registrations, etc. is not like many others, I’d wager.
It’s run (owned? managed? franchised?) by a unique and colorful character – and I mean colorful in the literal sense. She’s about my age, dies her hair a different bright color every so often, wears clothes not unlike a Harley Mama would wear, sports several layers of make-up in a manner after Tammy Faye, and jangles with bangles of noisy and shiny jewelry. She’s very loud and flirty, calling all the male customers “Darlin’,” “Sugar,” “Babe,” etc.
Over the years, she’s decorated the DMV in a manner that is … uncharacteristic, shall we say … of a “government” office. She’s stuffed it with every antique you can imagine – from old cookstoves, to calliopes, to Victrolas, sideboards, etc. There are plants standing, perched, hanging everywhere. Every flat surface, of which there are many, including the walls, is festooned with old or flowery or cutesy knick-knacks. The place smells like one of those Bath and Body shops – very perfumey. I’ve been referring to the place as “The Licensing Boutique” for years.
There’s barely room to stand in line, if there happens to be folks ahead of you.
A couple of months ago, I had to go get my tabs. As I wedged myself between a deacon’s bench and an old hay wagon, fat cats winding around my ankles (they live there), I observed my surroundings in awe, as always. I noticed that she’s leaped into the chicken fad, as there were chickens replicas in many forms sitting, teetering, hanging, cross-stitched, stuffed, framed everywhere.
I glanced behind the counter as I waited. Seems that her decorations have now all but overtaken her desks and the workspaces of her two very plain helpers. On the back wall was an old mirror, with a twig wreath laying in front of it on some filing cabinets. In the twig “nest” was placed a small snow-white chicken with bright red comb and wattle. While I was looking at it, it turned its head, pecked its reflection in the mirror for a minute, then took a couple bites of something out of a dainty china tea cup.
When my turn at the counter came, I asked our gal if that was indeed a real chicken back there. “Oh, you mean Ralph?” and she went back, scooped him up out of his “nest”, cradled him in her arms like a baby or a fat lazy cat, and brought him to me, stroking him lovingly. Ralph seemed very relaxed and happy with his fate, closing his eyes and hanging his head over her forearm in ecstasy as she petted him.
Seems that she got Ralphie as a day-old chick from her daughter for Easter, and he’s been living in The Licensing Boutique ever since. When I asked her if Ralphie ever ventures out of his nest, she said, “Oh, he wanders out onto the filing cabinets once in awhile – usually to crow at one of the cats, and flutters over to the desks, but mostly he’s content to stay there and look at himself in the mirror.”
“Doesn’t he make a bit of a … mess?”
“Well, sometimes he makes a little poopie on the paperwork, but we don’t mind. We just wipe it up.”
She told me she does take him home at night and lets him wander around in her back yard and play with her dog. When asked how he stays so clean, she said she gives him a bath with Herbal Essence shampoo in her kitchen sink every morning before they come to work.
I can’t help but wonder how Ralphie’s doing now. And I can’t help wonder what other critter might be residing there next year when I renew my registration.
Essay – observations of an eccentric “shop” owner.