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Monday, December 6, 2010

Ruminations of an Old Goat

The story was written for a Friday Challenge in December 2008. The challenge: write your best Christmas rant. The story is true. I offer it again so those of you who weren't around in 2008 may read it. I also offer it in hopes it will inspire just a bit of extra compassion for the poor fools who work retail during the Christmas season. I rejoice every single year that I am no longer one of the fools.

December 23, 1989. 7:45 AM. The Saturday before Christmas.

The mall is already packed, meaning one of the big anchor stores opened at 5:00 or 6:00. I get to the store and raise the gate just enough to get in. Four customers duck under the gate before I can start lowering it again.

“We don’t open until 8:00,” I say.

Holding up a game, one of the customers asks, “Have you got this for the Commodore 64?”

“We aren’t open yet,” I repeat. “You can come back in at 8:00.”

Three of the customers leave. The C-64 guy is still holding the Atari game, ignoring me and looking on the PC compatible section.

“We aren’t open yet,” I say in my best I’m-being-patient-because-you’re-a-moron voice. I use that voice a lot during the Christmas sales season. “You can’t stay in store right now.”

“Huh?” the guy says, looking up.

“Leave. Now.” The store hasn’t even opened and I’m already out of patience.

The C-64 guy slips the Atari game onto the PC shelf. “All you had to do was say so. No need to be rude. You’re not the only software store in the mall, you know.”

“Yeah. There’s a Babbage's at the bottom of those stairs over there,” I say, pointing. “Their sales guy is just showing up. If you hurry, maybe you can duck under his gate and see how he reacts.”

I slam the gate shut and finally start getting everything ready to open the store.

Joy to the world.

8:25 AM

I land my first babysitting job of the season when a mother instructs her two boys to stay in the store and play games until she’s finished. The boys are maybe 11 and nine.

Looking across the store at me, she says, “Keep an eye on them, for me. They aren’t allowed to wander around the mall by themselves.” Then she’s gone, reabsorbed by the amorphous multi-celled blob known as Christmas shoppers.

She goes right to the top of my Mother of the Year list. Competition for the top spot had been tough this season, but I’m confident this display of maternal instinct will prove well nigh unbeatable.

I finish with the customer I was assisting and look for the two boys. Oh, bliss, They’ve decided to be helpful! They’ve taken all of the software in the Amiga section and scattered it on the floor. I tell them to leave the software alone.

The nine year old looks to the 11 year old. The 11 year old says, “We’re bored.”

“Not my problem,” I tell them.

“Mom told us to stay here and play games but you don’t have any games to play!” he accuses.

I start putting the Amiga shelf back together again. “Correct.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing,” I tell him.

“When she gets back, I’m going to tell my mom!” he threatens.

I bend down, look him directly in the eyes and hiss “So am I.”

I don’t have any more trouble from the two boys.

Joy to the world.

9:40 AM

The first complainer shows up. He's right on schedule.

“It took me twenty-five minutes to find a parking place,” he snarls at me.

I don’t say anything. Besides, he probably doesn’t want to hear that I’m required to park half a mile away from the mall so more spaces will be available for the customers.

“And that was after I spent 30 minutes crawling through the traffic just to get here!”

I’ve had to fight that traffic for the last seven days. I doubt he’s interested.

“All just to pick up this damned game for my kid,” he waves something for a PC compatible around.

I know the game and ask, “Do you have a VGA card in your computer?”

“A what?”

“A VGA graphics card,” I repeat. “The game requires a VGA graphics card to run.”

“How the hell should I know?” He’s back to snarling.

“If you could tell me what kind of computer you have I-“

“It’s an IBM,” he says.

“Actually made by IBM?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he answers.

“If you can tell me what model it is, maybe I can help you figure out if you’ve got a VGA card,” I tell him. It looks like I’m starting to get him calmed down.

“I know that! It’s a PC, Jr.”

Crap. I’m about to have the nothing-you-actually-want-will-run-on-a-PC-Jr. conversation.

Joy to the world.

10:15 AM

The Mother of the Year returns. I’m busy juggling questions from four different customers and don’t notice her return until she plants herself right in front of me.

“My boys tell me you didn’t let them play any games!” she says.

I signal the customer I was returning to that I’ll be just a minute. He nods sympathetically.

“We don’t have any machines set up in this store,” I tell her.

“You could have set one up!” she demands.


“And you could have taken them with you,” I retort, “or left them at home! I am not a babysitter nor is it my job to entertain your children. That, madam, is your job. Now, take your children and leave my store!”

Now the Mother of the Year is truly furious. Like I care.

“I’m going to file a complaint with your manager!” she threatens.

“Go ahead!” I hiss back. What the hell, hissing worked on her boys, maybe it will work on her, too. "She hates people who treat us like babysitters as much as I do!"

“Hmph! Well, I can tell you we’ll never shop in this store again!” she says.

Joy to the world!

11:00 AM

Support finally arrives in the person of my co-worker, Bob. Thank God! I've got to piss like you wouldn't believe.

"Been busy?" he asks.

Our store is all of 900 square feet and is packed wall to wall with customers. It took Bob half a minute to get from the store entrance to the register at the back of the store. And he has to ask if it's been busy?

"Yes," I say. "Hurry up and sign in so I can use the can!"

Bob laughs. I'll give him that one. I'd have laughed in his place, too. It takes all of 15 seconds to sign in and grab a name tag. It only takes 10 seconds for a customer to approach me. She's holding at least half a dozen different computer games and looks completely confused. A typical customer, in other words.

She holds out all of the games, "Which of these would be a good game for a 13 year old boy?"

Feeling as if my eyeballs are starting to float, I take a look at what she's got.
The Bard's Tale. M.U.L.E. Gauntlet. Skate or Die. California Games.

"Any of those would be fine," I answer and start edging toward the back office.

She's a pro, though, and not going to be deterred by my evasion. "But which one would be best?"

I'm tempted to just tell her to get
M.U.L.E. But just because I think it's the best computer game ever designed doesn't mean the boy she's buying for will agree.

"What are some other games he likes to play?" I ask, cursing myself for taking my job more seriously than my bladder.

"I don't know," she answers. "It's for my nephew. My sister said he liked computer games and to get him one."

Uh oh, I'm stuck with a customer who's even more ignorant than normal! Experience has taught me what to do now, but I'm going to be stuck with this one customer for a while.

"But you're sure he has a Commodore 64?" I ask, positive she will be anything but sure.

"A what?" she asks.

"His computer. Is it a Commodore 64?"

"I don't know. My sister just said they had a computer. Does it matter?"

"Yes. If the game isn't for the right computer it won't work," I tell her, just as I've told countless other clueless customers this season.

I'm amazed my bladder has exploded yet. I also know what's coming next.

"That's stupid," she tells me. "Why would people make computers that are different like that?"

"I'd suggest you call your sister and find out what kind of computer they have. Then we should be able to help you pick the right game for your nephew," I say, starting to turn away. But she's not done quite yet.

"Can I use your phone to call her?" she asks.

We're not supposed to do that but I figure I can run back to the can while she's on the phone. "Sure."

I hand her the phone, dial the number, make sure it's ringing and then head for the can.

"Hi, Ellen, it's Sarah," she says. "I've got a sales guy who has some questions for you!"

Smiling, she holds the phone out to me.

Joy to the world.

11:18 AM

I finally get to the can.

Joy to the world.

12:30 PM

Lunch. I get an entire 30 minutes during which I don't have to answer any questions for any customers! I find the shortest line in the food court and wait to order my lunch.

Joy to the world.

12:57 PM

I finally get my lunch and have a whole three minutes before I'm due back at the store. Oh boy, I get to grab bites in between customers!

Joy to the world.

1:53 PM

I finally finish my lunch. Cold fries suck.

Joy to the world.

4:30 PM

There are three of us working the store now; Bob, Mike and me. But Mike's seasonal help so he doesn't really count. Unless saying, "Let me ask Henry" or "I'll check with Bob" counts as help.

The afternoon has been a lot like the morning. I've had the drunk, the shoplifter (complete with parents who don't believe their angel is a thief), the father who simply watched as his three children totally wrecked the Apple shelves (a strong candidate for my new Father of the Year contest) and the usual assortment of complainers.

But now my shift is over. I get to leave!

Joy to the world!

5:15 PM

After a 10 minute walk to my car, I find traffic is pretty light. It only takes me 35 minutes to make the 13 minute drive home. I stagger into the apartment and am greeted by my wife and the cats.

"Tough day?" Audrey asks.

"About like normal," I respond.

Audrey smiles, "I thought so. I got beer."

Joy to the world!
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