One day my boss comes in to the store and tells me that Bryan Adams will be dropping by later on. He's a collector like me, my boss says, and I think Bryan Adams is a collector completely unlike you. My boss looks a bit like Groucho Marx on steroids.
He hands me two CDs of Bryan Adams music and two toy guitars. Get him to sign these, he says, and adds: you give him whatever he wants. I say Of course, not understanding that what ordinary people want is not remotely similar to what celebrities expect as their due.
Later that afternoon a very compact Bryan Adams enters the store, accompanied by a girl dressed in something black and complicated. I've never seen a bona fide celebrity up close before, and I'm amazed at how carefully detailed Adams is. His clothing is simple but fitted to his body with precision. The jacket and pants match the colour of his hair perfectly, which is in turn arranged just so, with each hair snipped to its correct length. He looks like a statuette, as if he were his own award for being Bryan Adams.
Celebrities are premeditated people.
I say hello and let him know to ask me if has any questions or needs. He doesn't exactly look at me, but he gets an expression like he's just thrown up in his mouth a bit. I decide to ignore him unless it's absolutely necessary. After a few minutes in the stacks, he comes out with an antiquarian French book on Tunisia. He tells the girl and a man with a British accent, who has the look of a manager who's slowly slid into the position of friend, that it will be perfect for a French friend of his. Then he flips the book open and points to the price.
What's this? Bryan Adams says.
I look. That's a fifty, I say.
Look closer, he says.
I already know what he's talking about, but I look anyway. Beneath the penciled-in fifty, there's a rubbed-out thirty-five.
The book was once priced thirty-five dollars, I say. That may have the listed price at a previous book store.
I'm not paying fifty dollars for a thirty-five dollar book, Bryan Adams announces, like I've tried to serve him cat food instead of paté.
There is a brief silence.
No problem, I say.
So what can you do for me? he asks.
Give him whatever he wants. Sure, why not.
How does twenty-five dollars sound?
Okay, he nods.
Great! I say, thinking pay and get out now please. That's twenty-five dollars and a dollar seventy-five GST* for a total of twenty-six seventy-five.
Adams places twenty-five dollars on the counter.
I don't pay GST, Bryan Adams says.**
I'm sorry? I say. The girl and the manager are darting their eyes around. Bryan Adams is scowling. I'm realizing that this is not one of those crazy stories where the celebrity encounters the guy at the bookstore and invites him to be part of his wacky entourage.
I don't pay GST, he repeats.***
At this, I have nothing to say. It's less than two bucks, but it seems so tiny and petty that I can't relent. Maybe my boss and Bryan are tight, and I'll be fired at the end of the day, but all I can think is pay the damn tax already.
In the end the manager breaks. He digs in his pocket and pulls out the change. Bryan Adams continues to scowl, but the awkwardness of the moment has passed. I give him his book. Then I remember the other half of my mission.
My boss asked me if you'd be willing to autograph these.
I place the CDs and the guitars on the counter. Adams surveys the materials, pulls out a marker and signs the CDs. He indicates the toy guitars with the butt end of the marker and mutters, I'm not signing those.
And out he goes.
*The GST is the Canadian Goods and Services Tax. It's a federal sales tax paid on nearly every item bought and sold in the country.
**Yes he does.