$5 Is The Price For Happiness


Hey, Mr. Impersonal Retailer: today, I erased the damage you did to one of your customers.

On the way home, I listened with interest to the NPR story regarding the necessity of human contact, especially in contrast to the demands of the pandemic. Without much thought as to whether I needed to go inside, I pulled into a store. The story was still very much on my mind as I made my meandering way about the store. I wandered like one of Trump’s sentences.

Mr. Magoo helped me at the self-checkout. I had an item that needed approval. I was focused on being kind to him, as Mr. Magoo and I have a storied history. In the past, he upset Dawn a couple of times. He is a fervent follower of the anti-customer credo: “He’s not happy until the customer isn’t happy.” Because of my history with him, I try to remind myself to be as neutral as possible when interacting with him. Without going into specifics, I’ve repaid my debt to him by way of several pranks.

On the opposite self-checkout belt, less than 3 feet across from me, I saw a dark-haired woman quickly step back from her cart. Another cashier, one I often refer to as Mrs. Molasses, had left her customer to approach the dark-haired female customer. If people had floating icons above them, the cashier’s would be a languidly flashing “E for Empty” icon. From the other side, another worker approached, trapping the customer near the belt and between the two employees, both of whom were very close to the customer.

As I’d made a couple of passes through the store, I noted that no one seemed to feel any urgency. I’m not blaming them; I’m just commenting on the overall atmosphere of the store. For whatever reason, I had two employees who seemed to have suddenly acquired an unnatural interest in the female customer across from me. I assumed she was trying to steal something.

They were inside her personal space, despite the coronavirus, despite the floor markings and signs, and despite the fact that they were too close even for precovid society. Regardless of their motivation to be so close, they were ignoring the bigger issue of what prompted the fluid rules regarding purchases in the first place. Whatever triggered their sudden enthusiasm, it caused them to ignore all the social distancing protocols.

The customer had already stepped back. Her body language told me she was upset. To my surprise, Mrs. Molasses admonished the woman for having two cans of Lysol in her cart. The other employee, on the other side of the cart, berated the customer for ignoring the ‘one per customer’ signage. She had two 6-packs of toilet paper. Their tone suggested she had killed a puppy on Aisle 7.

“I’m so sorry, there’s so much toilet paper, even huge packs of 36 rolls. And the Lysol was all on clearance. I didn’t think it mattered,” she said, looking back and forth between the two employees. Her eyes were teary, and her voice sounded alarmed.

I won’t say precisely what one employee said as she grabbed one of the 6-packs from the customer’s cart to put it out of her reach. The other employee grabbed the Lysol from the customer’s cart. The customer cringed and flinched as they did so.

The Lysol can was huge, I’ll admit. It had a clearance tag on it and was marked down to slightly under $5. The 6-pack of toilet paper was much smaller than the 12, 18, or -36 roll packs still on the shelf. I made a pass through the toilet paper aisle during today’s retail adventure.

Regardless, the employees were enforcing the ‘1-per-customer’ rule literally. That the Lysol was marked for clearance or that the woman could have said, “Please exchange my two 6-packs for one 36-pack,” was completely ignored.

It wasn’t what each employee said that mattered, not really. It was their body language and tone. They saw an opportunity to express their authority. I don’t know what prompted them to be so needlessly harsh.

Because the employee grabbed the toilet paper so quickly, I didn’t have time to react to what prompted the tirades. I did, however, have time to say, “Miss, might I have that can of Lysol?” She looked up at me and at the can in her hand. She was weighing telling me “No.” I couldn’t imagine what might be her reason. Instead, she said, “I can’t give it to you. You’ll have to pay for it.”

I bit my tongue, as four or five clever things to say sprang to mind.

“Uh, okay, given the nature of commercial transactions, I’ll offer money in exchange for the can of Lysol.” The employee only grew more confused.I had to spell it out. “Yes, that’s fine.”

It provided the female customer a brief moment to collect herself.

I waited inside the double entrance. I saw Mr. Magoo looking over at me a couple of times, even though I was about fifty feet away. I think he knew what I was up to.

In a couple of minutes, the female customer who’d been accosted approached.

“Ma’am, I bought this fine large can of Lysol and suddenly realized I no longer need it. I’d like to give it to you as a gift, if you don’t mind.” I probably sounded crazy, especially since I was wearing my mask.

The woman reached out and took it. “Why, thank you. This means a lot.” She trailed off, uncertain of what to say.

I jumped in. “I apologize for the way those employees treated you. If they’re so interested in safety, they’d require everyone to wear masks. And everyone noticed how they invaded your personal space at the register. That was uncalled for. They are officially on my prank list.”

The woman’s eyes teared up. She was about to cry.

“I can’t thank you enough. I don’t know what to say,” she told me.

“Then say nothing and have a good day. Put those assholes out of your mind and focus on the people doing it right.”

Way behind the customer, I could see Mr. Magoo gesticulating in dismay to one of the employees. It was obvious he was communicating that I bought the female customer the can of Lysol. I waved and smiled. Perversely, I hoped that Mr. Magoo would make the mistake of trying to approach me and reprimand me for doing the horribly unjust thing of buying a can of Lysol for another person. He’s learned the hard way that I am very unpredictable.

The female customer and I left the store, both now happier than when we’d entered.

It cost me $5.

I’m not sure how close to edge the female customer was before I intervened.

When she left, I knew she was happier and that what I’d done had lightened her mood drastically.

Let’s face it: that’s often a difficult feat.


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