Sometimes . . . there just ain’t no cure for stupid.
There’s nothing quite like the retail life (and just before the Holidays at that) to really bring out the stupid in a person.
I moved from Tucson, Arizona to Bellevue, Washington in January of 2007. With that move went any hope of retirement and an easy life. Western Washington is one of the most expensive places to live in the entire country. Social Security and a tiny pension from a private-sector employer didn’t even begin to cover the budget. My late-life writing career is just getting off the ground. But what the hey–we were near the grandchildren, so it was all worth it–right?
Anyway, Grampie Dumb-Dumb Larry went back to work, a full-load forty hours in what I like to call The Temple of Doom (or of food retailing, which is the same thing) a mega death-star sized big-box food and stuff store on 148th St. It’s heck to work there on a good day, the managers apparently believing that any staff is way too much staff. Come the holidays, it not heck any more–it’s HELL ON STEROIDS.
I work in the meat and seafood department. Behind a counter. During the rush periods, it becomes sort of like the ramparts of the Alamo on the thirteenth and final day. As in OVERRUN with humanity. I have about the same odds as the Texan defenders of coming out on top in that little battle–absolutely zero.
I want to say this right up front. I love a lot of my customers. There are maybe a dozen or so that I look forward to seeing on a regular basis. They have become dear friends. Smiling faces that cheer me up, even on a busy day. Ninety-seven year old John tops the list. Now a widower, he used to come in with his darling wife. They were the cutest couple on earth, and I loved to see them. One morning she just didn’t wake up anymore, and now he comes alone. I have shed a tear or two with customers. John was one of those.
There are hundreds more that make their way to my counter that I have little feeling for, either positive or negative. They are simply faces in the crowd. I say good morning, or good afternoon–hand them their packages of whatever, thank them, and off they go–forgotten until the next time. These are just basically good and nice folks.
Some are unintentionally funny. That’s the third type.
It was my second day on the job.
Lady Customer: (as flat-chested as a fourteen year old boy. She’s looking into the meat-case. At the chicken. I have walked over to help her. The meat manager is by my side). “What I need most is a couple of really nice breasts,” she says. The meat manager turns away, gagging as he holds in his laughter–leaving me to try to keep a straight face.
Which somehow I did.
Then there is the fourth type.
The type that can appear on any given day, but just LOVE the holidays. When the poor clerks are really rushed–and really frazzeled. It’s like blood in the water to a school of hungry Great-White Sharks.
Some of their questions: Customer: “Do you have Tuna Steaks?” Me: “Yes, I have them in the freezer.” Customer: “Are those frozen?” Me: “Yes, last time I looked. I’ll have to check again to re-confirm.”
Customer: “How many of the 26 to 30 count shrimp do I get in a pound?” Me: “I’m thinking–maybe 26 to 30. Just sayin’ . . . “
Customer: “Do you have any fish without bones?” Me: “The only fish I know of without bones is the Jellyfish. “Customer: “Do you have any Jellyfish today?” Me: “No, we’re completely out of Jellyfish today. Maybe we could order some for you.” Customer: “How do you prepare your Jellyfish?” Me: “Well, sometimes if I am in a hurry, I don’t always prepare it. Sometimes I just have a peanut-butter and Jellyfish sandwich.” Customer: “Now you’re joking with me, right?”(Not much gets by this gal).
Customer: “What is the difference between the pepper-bacon and the plain bacon?” Me: “The pepper-bacon has pepper on it and the plain bacon doesn’t have pepper on it.” Customer: “Oh.” (As though that explained anything).
One evening a rather elderly lady approached the counter. If she were a day under ninety it would have been a miracle. Heavy old-fashioned hearing aids. The kind that are on the outside of the ear–as in heavy duty. She wanted a whole salmon, and she wanted it filleted.
I said fine, just give me four or five minutes. She shot me a dirty look, but didn’t say anything, and I went to work on the salmon.
She didn’t come back in the four or five minutes. She didn’t come back in half an hour either. Finally I gave up on her and put the fish in the cooler.
A little while later, there she was, looking more irritated than ever. I handed off the fish and thanked her. She replied, “Well, I suppose you’re welcomed young man, but I still don’t understand why it would take forty-five minutes just to fillet one fish!”
I explained the mis-communication and we both had a good laugh. She is a regular customer now, and comes to the counter to this day.
Then there are the surly ones. I have to preface this one by telling you that most grocery stores have about 40,000 different items. We have a little over a quarter of a million (250,000). The prices change once or twice a week sometimes.
Customer: “I want to know if you have any more of the Ad Mayonnaise on Aisle 12. (which is halfway across the store).” Me: “I’m not sure on that one. I’ll have to call a grocery clerk to find out.” Customer: “Do you know the price?” Me: “No, I’m sorry, I don’t. I’ll have to check on that too.” Customer:(sticking her nose in the air and walking away) “Oh, pardon me. I thought I was talking to an employee of the store.”
One rather elderly gentleman told me that as an employee of the store, it was my duty and responsibility to know the price and specifications of every single item under the roof.
Some days I have trouble remembering my full name.
And then there was my all-time favorite.
Customer: (visibly agitated) “Where do you have the sliced ham?” Me: “Sorry, we don’t carry sliced ham here in the meat and seafood department. That would be in the deli.” (pointing in the right direction). Customer: (his voice rising in anger) “No. Not the damned deli. They don’t know anything. They sent me here, You know, sliced ham.” (making slicing motions with his hand). Me: “Sorry, the only sliced ham I know of is in the deli. Hold on a second and I’ll call the grocery manager for you.” Customer: “I don’t want you to call the damned grocery manager. I want you to do your (insert bad word here) job, and tell me where the (ditto) the sliced ham is.” Me: “Sorry. Don’t know.” (finally giving up).
The customer stalks off, waves of heat and smoke visibly pouring off him. In five minutes he’s back again, and slams a package down on the top of the counter as hard as he can (which was hard), Customer: “Just what the hell do you call that, you moron?” Me: “Lunch meat. Aisle four,” I answered.
He left again at this point, spewing language at me I wouldn’t repeat in Sunday School. I never did see him again, but I did see the grocery manager in about two minutes. After he listened to the story, he just wordlessly walked away, slowly shaking his head.
Which brings me to the end of this blog. And to the aforementioned title. You see, when I started this job all those long-gone many years ago, way back in May of 2007 . . . I promised myself that it would only be for a year. Maybe two. But then the recession of 2008 hit, and it wasn’t all that easy to find another job anymore–especially at my age. So I stayed, promising myself that after just this next holiday season, I would be gone. I promised myself that I would never do another. Never ever again.
But here it is . . . Holiday Season 2014. And here I am, once more . . . doing it again. Christmas number eight.
Which only goes to show . . .
Sometimes–there just ain’t no cure for stupid.
Next up . . . The Origins of Thanksgiving.