Friday, September 30, 2011

Memories of Class Warfare

While toiling in a retail pet food and supplies business approximately two decades ago, I found myself the acting cashier—and just everything else—one afternoon, which was par for the course. Since the business in question was a friend and family member partnership, the daily operations were typically informal. Often, whoever was on duty wore many hats, played many roles, and nothing was beneath him or her, including the scrubbing of anxious canines’ diarrhea off the floor, which occurred from time to time in our pet-friendly store.

On this lazy summer afternoon, a woman came to counter with a basketful of cat food cans. She told me how many she had in there, and then went off to gather a few more things. I began bagging her cans and—as was my routine—counted them. I always placed a certain number in each bag—and no more—that was my bag, if you will. She evidently told me she had three cases worth, or some such thing. I counted a couple of cans fewer than her tally. I didn’t tell her and, admittedly, I was remiss in not informing her that her count was off. Still, when all was said and done, I charged her the correct amount, which would have been more had I accepted her erroneous calculation as the gospel truth.

Anyway, several days later, the store received a letter from this woman. She was peeved. Her home address was somewhere on Manhattan’s Central Park West. Apparently, this lady had means. In her missive, she bitterly complained about the cashier who charged her the correct amount, and not more based on her faulty arithmetic. She wrote, “He certainly would have told me if I had more cans in my basket, instead of fewer cans.”

Rich, the headcheese, posted the letter on his back office bulletin board. It was his policy to answer every missive he received from aggrieved clientele (generally speaking a good policy). Even though he had gotten all the pertinent details from me, he was nonetheless going to respond to this lady’s letter.

What particularly irked me about this whole affair was that this evidently well-off woman with a premium view of Central Park was, in essence, attempting to get a cashier—whom she presumed was making minimum wage or close to it—chastised or, better yet, terminated. She was making trouble for the little guy. For what reason:r charging her the right amount, and not more money based on her addition gaffe.

As the days turned into a week and then a couple, I noticed the letter still pinned to Rich’s bulletin board. I had had enough and yanked it off. It is in my archives somewhere now, and that Upper West Side denizen never did get a response, nor did she get that cashier fired. Now that was class warfare.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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