The People You Meet In Retail
The first job I ever had was employment as a clerk at a department store. It seemed like easy money, and I needed no talent other than the ability to put together a cohesive sentence. And even that was negotiable. I soon learned that working with the general public for minimum wage, which was $3.35 an hour back then, was about as gratifying as sticking a hand into a wasp nest. Actually, the wasp nest would be less painful. Dip your hand in once and it’s over. Back in the late ‘80s, there was no such thing as debit cards. Instead, people used checks. If the check was over $200, we had to call security for approval. One day, a grandmotherly woman with deep lines etched into her wizened face approached my cash wrap. She placed her merchandise on the counter and filled out a check. It totaled over $200, so I dialed security. They asked for her name. I glanced at the check to read it off to them, but hesitated. Her last name was Lickenfelt. The guy in security repeated, “We need her name.” In the calmest voice I could muster, I told him, “Edith Lickenfelt.” There was a pause. And then he busted out laughing. I smiled apologetically at the woman, hoping I could hold it together for the rest of the phone call. “Wait,” the security guy said, gasping for breath. “Let me get her on camera.” I could hear the whirr of our security camera turn above us. And then he said, “That little old lady is Lickenfelt?” He hooted and hollered while I bit my tongue and turned away from the poor woman. That was one of my easier days. I tried to be friendly to everyone, especially other employees, including maintenance, for whom I had the greatest respect. They were the ones doing the grunge work: sweeping floors, fixing registers, cleaning bathrooms. Most of them were also very strange people, perhaps a little too accustomed to being behind the scenes rather than in the forefront. One maintenance man in particular, nicknamed Huggies when he wasn’t in earshot, was especially odd. He wore pants that came up to his nipples, and people used to joke, “How’d he find a zipper that long?” He was rotund, shorter than my 5 foot 3 inch stature, and had tufts of hair sticking out the sides of his head. Round-rimmed glasses with black frames perched on his tiny nose. He called himself Wolfie, and I heard a rumor that this was in reference to his malehood. I was kind to him because so many others were not. I spoke to him each morning as he vacuumed my area in the drapery department. Small talk stuff. I was 19, and naïve. One day he showed up bearing an envelope, which he handed to me, his face pinking. I opened it to find coupons for Dove soap. Under normal conditions, I would ponder this gift, questioning if it could be considered a hint of some sort. But this was Huggies we were talking about. The strange little man with pants up to his armpits. A couple weeks later, he handed me another envelope. Then he bolted, toting his vacuum cleaner behind him, its plug trailing across the floor. More coupons? I wondered. Nope. It was a letter explaining how we should get a hotel room where we could get it on. (It was written in much cruder language, but my fingers can’t type something so disgusting, or I will have to wash them in lye.) The topper? He wrote that I’d have to pay for the hotel room, as he was strapped for cash. I almost threw up my vending machine pancakes. Now, I’m ashamed to admit this…and NO I did not go through with his plans, don’t even go there. What I’m ashamed about is how I handled this matter. Nowadays a woman would call HR and report him for sexual harassment. Back then, we didn’t have the information we do now, and there were a lot of inappropriate things that went on in the workplace. At any rate, I truly believe he wasn’t trying to be a sexual predator. Wolfie called, and he decided to do Wolfie’s bidding. Whatever. But I was creeped out, nonetheless. So…I ignored him. That’s right. When I saw him approach, a fat grin on his face, instead of telling him I didn’t appreciate the sexual comments, I sniffed and turned away. He tried to say something, but I stormed off. When I turned back, he was drifting away, a miserable expression darkening his face. And I felt bad. Yes, he did something that horrified me…but there was also innocence in his actions. He thought we had something special. I only thought of him as Huggies, the man with the longest zipper on earth. A zipper that needed to remain zipped. The poor, sexually deprived man. Although I suppose it could have been worse for him. I could’ve screamed at the top of my lungs for security. I could’ve sprayed his eyes with mace. He could’ve had a lawsuit on his hands. Instead, all he had to deal with was a bruised ego. And if there was anything at all he should’ve been happy about, of all things, it was that his last name wasn’t Lickenfelt.