Friday, April 15, 2016

The Very Good Whisperer: Part II

Working in a busy retail setting is a roller coaster ride—a never-ending series of ups and downs courtesy of the diverse personalities and mercurial temperaments of the clientele. Forgive the mixed metaphor, but to put the cherry atop this particular stroll down memory lane—begun in yesterday’s essay—I give you the “Hummingbird,” a Pet Nosh patron who, without fail, entered the store harmoniously humming an easy-listening melody, gathered what he came for while not missing a beat, and paid his tab still in tune. He resembled James Earl Jones.

But not all of our clientele were of Hummingbird class and caliber. Take the “Seamstress,” a woman who earned her well-deserved moniker because she surreptitiously tore open bags of her preferred dog food—a trailblazing line of natural diets known as Cornucopia—at the seams, then left them pour out onto the shelves. She claimed her canine companions could only stomach pellets of a certain hue, and that even the slightest color difference made all the difference in the world. The Seamstress said they got physically sick from the food if it wasn’t a very precise shade of gray, which only she could decipher. Under such exacting conditions, I might have just shopped around for another brand of dog food.

Initially, we accommodated the Seamstress’s idiosyncrasies and permitted her to open the bags. But one, then two, and then three inspired a retailer’s worst nightmare—no purchase and no more products to sell (to other Cornucopia consumers not as fastidious regarding pellet color variations). This rather over-generous policy of ours quickly became intolerable. And, too, the folks at Cornucopia informed us they would not accept any more returns of perfectly good bags of their foods. For they, too, were acquainted with the Seamstress, who regularly harassed them on the telephone concerning matters gray. Still, our new hard-line policy couldn't keep her at bay. The Seamstress merely went underground, determined that it was best for her to enter our shop when it was very busy—preferably on a weekend—and where she could get lost in the crowd. She even took to wearing sunglasses and a kerchief—a disguise to enable her to reach unseen her targets. Her deception worked for a while, but when we found two and sometimes three opened bags of Cornucopia—at the seams of course—we knew in no uncertain terms who the culprit was.

From vandalism to out-and-out thievery, I submit for your approval an elderly man christened “Can’t See It.” He was a facial cross between Groucho Marx in his You Bet Your Life days and weather-beaten actor Glenn Strange, Sam the bartender on Gunsmoke. Upon being told how much he owed us, which was typically no more than two or three dollars, he repeated the phrase “Can’t see it…Can’t see it…Can’t see it,” and occasionally threw in a “Can’t be” or two to break up the monotony. It was truly bizarre. Subsequently, we discovered that Can’t See It visited the checkout to both pay his nominal tab and to perform his madcap “Can’t See It” routine, while Mrs. Can’t See It over-stuffed a shopping bag of her own with cans of dog food—out of eyeshot and bypassing the cashier altogether. We finally caught this senior citizen equivalent of Bonnie and Clyde with the goods one day, and they never again returned to the scene of the crime. This very old and very odd couple was last seen visiting a nearby psychic business. I can only surmise what vibes the psychic might have felt in their presence, but I can take an educated guess what Can’t See It told her when asked to pay for her services.

Finally, I close with memories of a personal favorite—an inscrutable fellow assigned the nickname “Choo Choo Trousers.” Choo Choo Trousers typically materialized minutes before closing time, which was then seven o’clock. Festooned in pinstriped overalls, the kind a train engineer might wear, he spoke with a southern accent of some strain—wholly unique in our urban Yonkers, New York setting—and wore a stud earring that was, believe it or not, extremely rare in a man’s ear in the early 1980s. Choo Choo Trousers would always greet us with “How ya all doing?” and wink at the younger adult staff on duty, which occasionally was just me. The unsolved mystery was whether or not this middle-aged man from somewhere in Dixie worked for the railroad. Perhaps the overalls represented some kind of fetish or fashion statement. We dared not ask. I can, however, say that Choo Choo Trousers never asked me to ride on his train. After closing the store, we would sometimes spot him awaiting his bus ride home with a big bag of dog food at his side—a priceless and unforgettable visual.

So, I am left to wonder now where Choo Choo Trousers’ train took him in life…and where the Hummingbird’s flown off to in these past three decades. As for the Seamstress and Mr. and Mrs. Can’t See It…well, they’ve more than likely shuffled off this mortal coil…such are the sands of time.

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