A man walks into a pet store, a bell on the door signaling his arrival, and walks up to the counter.
"Good morning," he says to the ancient, myopic proprietor. "I'd like to buy my six-year old daughter a pet. Perhaps a kitten or one of those tiny turtles you see at the fair."
"Oh no, I wouldn't recommend that, sir!" says the wizened little man.
"What? Not get my Tiffany a pet?"
"No, I wouldn't recommend one of those little turtles, sir, they're quite dangerous."
"Dangerous? Those tiny, dark-green turtles that would easily fit in the palm of your hand?"
"They may be small, sir, but they're vicious, they'll take your eye out if you're not careful. Perhaps your daughter would like an ocelot."
"An ocelot? Are you referring to the species of wild cat that grows to forty or even fifty pounds, sleeps all day, and stalks rodents and small mammals at night?"
"Yes," said the proprietor. "They have very nice fur and they're loyal to a fault."
"Loyal? They're fierce carnivores and they're almost as big as my daughter. I'm not going to bring home a wild animal with razor-sharp teeth and claws, why the wife would have a fit! No, no ocelots, thank you very much. How about a nice tabby cat instead?"
"Darn, I'm fresh out of tabby cats," says the little man, shaking his head.
"Alright then, how about a blue-tipped Persian or maybe a Maine Coon?"
The old man screws up his face in concentration, then makes a "tssk" sound and says, "Sorry, sir, but I'm afraid we're all out of those too."
Looking around, the customer notices there are no animals on display, in fact the store has an awful lot of empty shelves and darkened display cases.
"You know," he says to the pet store owner, "you don't really seem to have many animals, do you?"
"Oh, I've got lots, this place's a regular zoo, believe you me!"
"U-m-m, I don't see very many animals," says the man glancing about, "In fact, I don't see a single one."
The proprietor laughs, the harsh fluorescent light glinting off his glasses, "That's 'cause I keep them in the back, sir, that's where all the animals are."
The customer cocks his head and says, "But I don't hear a thing, not a meow or a bark or a whistle, it's as quiet as a church in here."
The little man points to a clock on the wall -- it's exactly ten A.M. "That's 'cause they're all sleeping, sir, it's their nap time. Do try and keep your voice down, we wouldn't want to wake the orangutan."
"Orangutan?" sputters the man, "Why . . . why . . . listen, you strange little man, do you have any cats for sale or don't you?"
"Sure, I've got lots of cats," says the old man, smiling kindly, "What kind do you think your daughter would like?"
The customer blinks a few times, as if someone's just asked him a question in Swahili and says, "Any kind of cat, any kind at all as long as it's not up to my knees and eats kibbles."
"Well why dintcha say so, sir? We could've saved a whole lot of chit-chat if only you'd said that in the first place. Let me go get you a nice little kitten."
The store owner opens the door to the storeroom but stops in the doorway. "Would your little Tiffany have any particular color preference?"
"Um . . . ," says the man, "Perhaps something in gray, no, make it white, yes, I'm sure she'd like a nice little white kitten."
The proprietor knits his brow and says, "I'm terribly sorry, sir, but we're presently out --"
"Any color!" shouts the man, a little louder than he intended, "Any color will be perfectly fine."
"All right," says the old man, "you don't have to shout." He disappears into the back, closing the storeroom door behind him.
The customer nervously shifts his weight from one foot to the other, wondering if he'll have to visit yet another pet establishment to get poor Tiffany her gift. He checks the clock on the wall, which still says ten o'clock, and realizes it's not working. Then the bell on the front door jingles as an extremely obese bald man waddles in.
The huge man walks right up to Tiffany's dad and says, "And who the hell are you?"
"Me?" says the father, taking a step back, "Why, I'm just here trying to buy a cat."
"Trying to buy a cat, eh?" says the rotund stranger, staring suspiciously at the birthday girl's dad. "That's what they all say. We'll just see what the authorities have to say about that," says the man and he pivots, rather gracefully for such a large man, and marches out the door.
"Bloody hell," the customer mutters to himself and before he can digest what has happened, the wee proprietor returns, empty-handed of course.
"My assistant, Maxwell, must have sold the last cat, sir," he says. "How 'bout a lemur?"
"A lemur? An omnivorous, tree-dwelling primate with a long, black-ringed tail? Christ, I can't give my daughter a lemur, we live in an apartment building, there's not a forest within twenty kilometers! What kind of half-assed pet store is this, anyway?"
"No need to swear, sir," says the little man, looking hurt. "And for your information, this is an award-winning pet store.
"Awards? What kind of bloody awards would a pet store get?" says the father, shaking his head in exasperation.
"Sir, I'm not gonna tell you again about the cursing," chides the old man. "And I'll have you know that in 1996, we won the award for Best Selection of Mid-Sized Marsupials in the Greater Metropolitan Area."
"Marsupials?" spits the man, throwing his hands in the air. "There are no marsupials in this part of the world, for Christ's sake, and if there were, they certainly wouldn't be giving out any awards for them, I'm bloody sure of that."
The proprietor frowns and says, "That's about enough, sir. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
"For cursing? You run a pet store with no animals, you make up silly awards, you waste my time, and you're tossing me out on the street for saying a few curse words?"
"Yep, I asked you nicely to stop. Now please move along, sir, before I call the police."
Tiffany's dad looks to the heavens for help, but as usual, none's forthcoming.
"You needn't call the authorities, you little weirdo!" he says. "Another fellow was just in here giving me grief, and he said he was coming back with a policeman."
"Oh my," says the strange little man, looking alarmed. "Was it a big fat chap with a bit of a Bulgarian accent?"
"Now how the hell would I be expected to recognize a Bulg -- wait a sec, there he is." Sure enough, the man in question is crossing the street in front of the pet store, a policeman in tow. When the customer looks back, the old man is gone, the door to the storeroom hangs open, and presumably the orangutan is still napping.
The fat man and the cop burst into the store, and while the former takes down the Pet Shop sign in the window, the latter grabs the father by his lapel and says, "Now what's all this about trying to buy a cat, huh, bub?"
"First of all, my name's not 'Bub'," says Tiffany's dad acidly, "And secondly, I was trying to buy a gift for my daughter from this odd little man who pretended that this was a pet store and he was the owner."
"A rather old fellow with thick glasses and a hint of an Argentinian accent?" says the policeman.
"Now how the hell -- oh, never mind! The little lunatic just ran out the back door, officer. If you hurry, I'm sure you can still catch him."
Needing no further encouragement, the man in blue hastens to the back of the store and disappears through the open door.
The bald behemoth taps the man's shoulder and says, "I'm sorry, sir, I thought you was here to rob my shop."
"Rob your shop?" says the little girl's father, "Of what? There's not a bloody piece of inventory in the whole fucking place!"
"No need to curse, sir," says the chrome-domed proprietor, "and besides, this is one of the finest cheese emporiums in the entire city."
"Cheese? I don't see a single wheel of cheese, nary a brick, not even a slice. Why, there isn't the teensy-weensiest speck of curd to be seen anywhere!" says the red-faced customer, looking around.
"Of course not, sir, we keep it in the refrigerator in the back."
"Grrrr," says the man, nearly at wit's end. "I'm really not interested in your cheese, my elephantine friend, I came here to get a birthday present for my daughter."
"Well perhaps she'd enjoy a little Gouda, sir, or maybe some sliced Muenster. My own little girl, she's quite partial to Muenster, she likes to roll it up and dip it in some Dijon, she does."
"Somehow I don't think my Tiffany's expecting a pound of pasteurized dairy product for her birthday, and besides, she's terribly lactose intolerant. Come to think of it, though, me and the missus do enjoy a little cheese and crackers with our wine. How 'bout a half-pound of Gruyere, if you'd be so kind?"
"Certainly, sir," says the proprietor, beads of sweat glistening on his hairless pate. "I'll be right ba -- oh blast, I forgot. I sold the last of the Gruyere yesterday, sir. What would your second choice be?"
At this point, Tiffany's dad has been clenching his teeth so hard that one of his lower molars is throbbing. "Cheddar," he mumbles, his tongue trying to soothe the unhappy tooth, "a pound of sharp cheddar, please."
"Right away," says the full-bodied fellow and he ambles toward the storeroom but stops abruptly. "Sir, I just remembered, we're fresh out of cheddar. Perhaps you'd enjoy some --"
"Oh bloody hell!" yells the frustrated father and he storms out the front door, the little brass bell nearly ringing off its hinge.
"There's just no pleasing some people," mutters the cheese entrepreneur as he puts on his apron.