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A Customer Suck Story in a Film Noir Style

June 9, 2008

I visited a craft store Sunday. Not just any craft store, but a major chain who had recently decided that our fair city should be graced with their presence. This was a blessing to those of us within the city whose only option for crafts was the Big Chain Fabric store, a smaller fabric store owned by a rather aloof gentleman, and That Big Craft Chain That Is Closed On Sundays. The excitement garnered by the arrival of a fourth craft option will give you an idea of just how small a town this is.

So there I was, surveying the array of small craft pliers. It was my intention to purchase a cheap set that I might be able to take with me on plane flights, so that I might be able to work on jewelry during the interminable waits for various flights. However, being that I was not comfortable with bringing my expensive tools through airport security (and thus risking having them confiscated by overzealous screeners), I was searching for an adequate substitute. I was attempting to make my choice between the bright pink miniature set and the bright purple larger set when suddenly, the air was rent by a most uncommonly distressing wail.

It was the cry of a child, to be sure, and one in a grievously wretched state. But this was clearly not the distress of an injured child. No, this wail had the sharp overtones of a child whose voice has had a great deal of practice in getting his way. His cries were proceeded by great gulps of breath, so as to generate the maximum length and volume of the cry before needing the next breath. He alternated between wails and sobs, much in the way that a car alarm will change pitch and frequency so as to prevent the listener from tuning out the noise. There was anger, and frustration, and sheer misery at his predicament all rolled into one continuous agony of sound.

And all I wanted from this child was for him to shut the hell up so that my headache and I could be alone together with the tools.

I quickly decided on the purple tools, after finding that they measured well under the 7 inches that is the maximum length allowed by the TSA. No sense in going for the mini tools when a larger set will pass and not kill my hands in the meantime. As I turned to head towards the register and escape the noise, I saw them. A mother, holding her child in her arms to comfort him, trying desperately to finish her errands and be on her way with her bundle of joy.

She was of average height and build, with sandy blonde hair slicked back into a simple brown barrette. Wire frame glasses perched on a pert nose, their lenses only emphasising the lines under her eyes. Her blue eyes spoke of a long line of tantrums just like this one that were slowly wearing her down. Writ upon her face was the inevitable. That her attempts to shush and comfort the child would be for naught and that she would soon give in.

He was a kicking, screaming, writhing bundle in her arms. A stout boy of perhaps three or four years, with white blond hair that would surely someday be the color of his mother’s, though probably only long after hers had turned grey. His skin was surely pale normally, but his face was red and screwed up in anger, mouth gaping as he inhaled precious oxygen and exhaled his next wail of indignation. His fists waved in impotent rage, just barely missing his mother’s face either through providence or some sliver of self preservation that understood that while crying would be coddled and tolerated, hitting was Right Out.

I turned down a different aisle than I originally intended, deciding that I really didn’t need the last item on my shopping list. Avoiding this spectacle was much more important. Alas, I was thwarted, as the woman and her still screaming child approached the register, just behind me. I considered my options. I could keep my place in line and hurry out as quickly as possible. Or I could allow the woman to proceed me, and give relief to the whole store. I took a quick peek at the contents of her basket. Several packages of pipe cleaners, the tinsel foil kind. She should be in and out quickly, and the cashiers would probably appreciate my generosity.

However, before I can make the offer, another customer steps up into line behind me. She is also blonde, but her hair is cut short, at a fashionable angle, with a series of streaks that she probably paid a great deal of money for. She has the look of someone who is quite proud that her little hobby is a hit with all her friends, and thinks that she is getting a great deal on the pile of beads she is buying. This other customer sees fit to inform me that the set pliers I’ve selected are lots cheaper at *other store in town*. Never mind that no, actually, they aren’t. There are sets over there that are similar and cheaper, but none have all of the tools I need. And I’m not AT *other store in town* and really don’t particularly feel like making the trip over there for this one thing. Thank you, O Great Jewelry Expert, now MYOB.

In the meantime, the woman with the child has given up on her attempts to quiet the child in the store and takes him outside. Along with her basket.

Naturally, this is upsetting to the cashier. The woman can still be seen (and her child heard) through the front doors, but she has clearly left the store with some of their products without paying for them. The cashier turns to the young woman at the returns register behind her and instructs her to go tell the woman outside that she needs to bring her basket back inside. The Returns Girl widens her big brown eyes at the older, obviously more experienced cashier in my lane and gasps “You want me to handle it? *gulp* Personally?”

The Older Cashier turns a steely gaze on the younger. Her face is weathered and hard. She is neatly dressed, with minimal make-up, and there is no powder upon her face to disguise the freckles which are scattered across her dark skin. This is a woman who has worked hard most of her life, and has had quite enough of the younger generation’s tendency to pass off responsibility to Someone Else. In the face of this look, the younger woman, whose glasses say “Emo Punk” and whose hairstyle says “Native American Chic (AKA I Think That Feathers In My Hair Make Me Look Cool),” scurries off to do her bidding.

A few moments later, she returns. The woman, it seems, has denied that there is anything in her basket that she hasn’t paid for. Naturally, the younger cashier accepts this, probably to avoid further confrontation with the woman and get away from the still screaming child. The older cashier is visibly annoyed with the younger, and insists that there are things still in the basket. I chime in that she’s right, and describe the items I saw. The older cashier sighs, and informs the younger that she will have to watch out the doors to ensure that this woman does not push the basket any further away. The younger cashier appears to be set to argue, but is once more pinned by a steely glare, and refrains.

I gather my bag and receipt, and exit the store, glad to be on my way home. As I exit, I glance into the basket of the woman, who has managed to convince her child to go from “screaming and crying” to just “crying,” which I suppose is an improvement of sorts. Sure enough, the pipe cleaners are clearly visible in her basket. Ah well. Perhaps she’ll forget she has them, and then I’m sure the Older Cashier will give her and her child something to really cry about.

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