Retail Memories: A manuscript snippet

This is scary. But I’m going to do it anyway. *deep breath* I spent several years working retail, and my company is closing soon. I’ve been working on a memoir about my retail escapades, and today I thought for Throwback Thursday I would share a little snippet. You meet a lot of customers over seven years and many of them were good. And many were…not. *Please note, names have been changed!*

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I hate to say it, but when it came to outright rudeness, some of our older customers took the prize. I don’t know if it was the mindset of “I’ve lived this long so I can say what I want”, or if we truly just lose our filter as we age, but there were a lot of insensitive women out there. Sometimes it was a minor snub: ignoring us when we talked to them, using a cold voice to tell us, “No. I don’t need your help.” Sometimes they were flat-out mean, like Martha and Hazel.

These two women (I don’t want to use the word “ladies”) were the bitchiest couple of women I ever had to help. They were friends, probably in their late 70s, and they typically shopped together. Martha had short brown curly hair and a permanent scowl on her face. Hazel was beautiful: gorgeous thick platinum hair, porcelain skin, big eyes, wide smile. She had to have been a knockout when she was young. Hazel was in better health so she drove them to the store. When they were there, they demanded the full attention of at least one associate for their entire visit. Being older, often it was easier for them to call us than come in. If we were really lucky, they would use three-way calling to call us together.

“This is Bonny, how can I help you?”

“Yeah, I need another pair of those pants.”

Of course I knew who it was. We had caller ID on our phone. But the idea that she expected me to know her instantly, and know what pants she was talking about, irked me.

“I’m sorry, who is this?”

“It’s Martha!” she snapped. “Hazel needs another pair of those jeans she bought!”

At that point, I would hold back my sigh and start looking her up in the computer to try to figure out which pants she was talking about.

“Can you tell me which jeans they were, Martha?”

“The black ones! Hold on, let me get Hazel on the phone.”

By the time Hazel joined us, I was looking through her profile. “Okay, Hazel, you need another pair of the classic waist straight leg in size 16?”

“No no no, I need the petite 16.”

“We don’t have that in the store. You bought the 16. You would have to order the petite and have it sent to you.”

“I don’t think that’s right. I’m sure I bought a petite.”

Martha couldn’t hold it in. “Well, we bought it there the other day!” No you didn’t. “Maybe whoever helped us that day knew how to find things.” Said with contempt and derision. Yep, that was me. “But if you can’t manage to find it, then fine. Order it and send it to her.”

“I can’t do that, Martha. You’ll have to call customer service.”

“Oh no! I’m not doing that! They’ll charge me shipping and there’s no way in hell I’m paying shipping just because you can’t find the right pants!”

Logic and reason were useless. If I tried to tell them that we weren’t allowed to place orders over the phone (which was true and I did try to explain sometimes), one of them (usually Martha) carped that we did it before and they couldn’t always get in the store and they were our best customers. 

Resistance was futile. It made it difficult when they called asking for things we didn’t have, items they’d seen in some other store’s ad and were convinced were ours. At least once, Martha insisted that we carried other brand names so of course we would have these pants she’d seen at Macy’s. While we realized part of the problem was honest confusion borne of age and mental decline, their attitudes and the way they spoke to us made it very difficult to be sympathetic.

For a long time, I thought Martha was the ringleader in their antics, since she took charge when they came in. Then one day I helped Hazel when she came in without Martha and realized they just had different styles of bitchiness. Martha was overt, always looking for a fight. Hazel was a queen who expected to be catered to, and would speak with a cutting forcefulness if we didn’t comply with her requests. More often than not, it wasn’t worth the effort to argue with them. We tried our best to anticipate and meet their needs in hopes that they would go peacefully, because in the long run, we knew we would end up doing whatever they wanted.

***

So there you have it. Just one encounter of many. I’d love feedback if you have it. Just be constructive and not cruel, if you don’t mind!

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