I spotted this man on the street recently who reminded me of someone—someone from the distant past. The words “very good” immediately formed on the tip of my tongue, and I whispered it twice under my breath. “Very Good,” you see, was a nickname that we—some three decades ago at a place called Pet Nosh—had affixed to a certain customer of ours. Behind the scenes of this very busy retail milieu, we did an awful lot of this sort of thing. It kept has sane.
As it turned out, it wasn’t Very Good after all—in fact, based on his chronological age back in the 1980s, he might very well be on a very good cloud in heaven right now—but the guy I spied nonetheless sported the same ill-fitting toupee and hangdog look. Very Good, you see, would repeat the phrase “very good” over and over and over as you packed his cat food cans, took his money, and returned his change with a “thank you.” The response to each one of these acts was the same: “very good,” “very good,” and “very good.”
The sighting of this Very Good mirror image inevitably commenced a stroll down memory lane to further former customers who were branded with comparable monikers. Most of the nicknames doled out by us were benign, like “Very Good,” but some were justifiably toxic. Privately always, we christened two siblings who regularly shopped together the “Grotesque Sisters” because—as you may have guessed— they were grotesque. They were involved, if memory serves, in raising Australian Cattle Dogs. They attended all kinds of dog shows and were, without fail, self-absorbed and insufferable. So, no, their nickname had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they also had mustaches.
Long before it was fashionable, I branded a patron “The Fifties Guy.” He was an affable bloke who wore his hair and dressed like he was auditioning for a part in Grease. Perhaps he’s "The Seventies Guy" now, I don’t know. Then there was this fellow whom we called “Beautiful, Wonderful Man,” and not because he was a "Beautiful, Wonderful Man." He was pleasant enough, I guess, but received his unusual sobriquet because—week after week after week—he would tell us what a “beautiful, wonderful man,” platonically speaking, our sexagenarian sidekick was.
Then there was this college-aged customer of ours—who ended up working for the business at some later date—known as “Mr. Mellow.” It seemed that Mr. Mellow was in a cannabis-induced state of perpetual bliss. From the mellow-minded to the frenetic “Zorro,” a woman unceasingly masked and shrouded from head to toe courtesy of an allergic condition to—if I remember correctly—just about everything. Certain odors, including fresh air, could take her down in a heartbeat. As we kindly catered to her every whim, she was always demanding, distracted, and disagreeable. But in retrospect: Who could blame her?
In stark contrast to Zorro, “John Gotti” was a widely liked patron of ours affectionately known by his handle. Sure, he resembled you know whom. I once asked him if he knew how to crack open a safe. Our antiquated store safe just wouldn’t open, and I desperately needed change on a busy Saturday. He feigned total ignorance. Subsequently, he landed in prison—with no bail—awaiting trial on a series of racketeering charges. I can’t say if safe cracking was among them. Sadly, he dropped dead of a heart attack before ever getting his day in court. All who knew him at Pet Nosh felt bad when we heard the news, because he was a one of the good ones...I think.
(Next: Part II, including memories of “Choo Choo Trousers,” the “Seamstress,” and the “Hummingbird.”)