larrikin.

\ LAR-i-kin \  ,

adjective;  disorderly; rowdy.

noun: a street rowdy; hoodlum.

Retail during the holidays can be a real killjoy and spoilsport. Ever since Black Friday, the store has had a larrikin feel to it. The phone rings constantly, mostly people asking for YETI ramblers. Customers point to a jacket hanging on a rack and say, “What size is that?” like I know the size just from glancing. It’s usually a small when they need a large. It’s a large when they need a small. Then they act like this is totally absurd that we wouldn’t have their desired size four days before Christmas.

Today a lady ignored my hello and my eye contact. She put her pointer finger on a crazily detailed list (with sku numbers and all) from her son and said in an aggressive yet exhausted tone, “I need to find all of these things and I’m in a hurry.” I took a deep breath and thought about how just a little eye contact goes a long way. It lets me know that you know that I’m human. Instead of being frustrated, I tried to think of it like I was an elf and I could save this lady from a shopping nightmare at the mall.

I tried. But I’m not the best elf because I have to say that I found a bit of satisfaction in the fact that she left having to still find seven items.

And speaking of retail, here’s my old spruik from my retail days at the Mast General Store in Asheville.

“We should all work, however briefly in retail. If not solely to decide that it isn’t for us, then to discover the secrets of the human race through selling them things. We guide them to those things they need, remind them that perhaps there was something else they may have made this journey for, we guide them through the often baffling payment process and through it all we co-experience some bright or dark spot of their life, some arduous or therapeutic experience and we choose to make it easier or harder for them,” said my dear college friend Keith Roberts. Boy is he right.

“Oh Mother. I believe I’ve seen this Lost City before,” said an awe-struck little one no older than four years old. Such seriousness existed in her voice, I felt as though I needed to stifle my chuckle. I looked down and mindlessly moved the small sweater in front of the medium one, naturally.

Usually the kiddos who come in the general store are focused on the candy barrels toward the back. They party skip-hop-spring back there and parents often yell, “Not a lot of candy! Two handfuls!” or something similar. Yet this girl was not concerned with cherry glazed licorice bites or orange circus peanuts. She was unique and I found myself drawn to her.

The problem with retail (more to come) is that the people you are drawn to walk out of your life as suddenly as they walk in. “Good morning. Can I help you find anything?”

One in every sixteen customers would make eye contact with me and say something like, “Hi! I’m fine, how are you doing, sweetie/honey/dear?” When these gems respond, we chat about the cool weather and the leaves changing color and I help them find a vest they’ve been wanting for months. The husband gives me advice about where to go to graduate school, or what kind of guy I need to find to marry, then they make a purchase larger than my monthly paycheck. Then they’re gone.

Another challenge walks in the door. “Hello, how are you…”

No eye contact. Focused on the hot tamales in the back I suppose.

It’s awfully easy to get tired of people who believe you aren’t quite an equal, but that you exist for their retail satisfaction. It’s almost as if my life’s destiny is to run to the back stock room to find them a 14 LONG, not REGULAR, LONG. They repeat it four times and I want to tell them that I went to college and memorized speeches. I want to start quoting Wittgenstein and Aurelius and 42 of my elementary school friends’ phone numbers. Then I want to tell them they won’t even fit into the 14. When they realize they were being hopeful in their bossy size selection, they’ll make it seem as if I made the mistake by not grabbing the 16 LONG. I want to tell them if they would just smile while asking, I wouldn’t silently dream I never end up like them, discontented and…in need of a long pant. I smile and hurry my little retailer self downstairs to grab some pants on the top shelf. Crap. Size 12? Short?

These same folks ask me to unlock dressing rooms that have doors already wide open. They try on twelve shirts and put one back on the hanger somehow incorrectly. Others they bunch up and throw on the floor and I’m certain, step on them.

Moral of this blog post, smile at your retail helpers! Let’s avoid the larrikin chaos.

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