It was an ordinary day. I made myself a triple espresso and went to work. Customers started streaming in the door as we unlocked it at 10 AM. We were busy, and I lost myself in trying to be the very best high-end kitchen store salesperson I could be.
I sold knives and sets of pans. I gift-wrapped cookbooks and bridal presents. I handed out samples of grilled chicken in Valencia sauce. It was an ordinary day.
A lady in a large straw summer hat walked up to the counter with a vanilla-scented liquid soap refill and some ceramic storage containers she’d found on the sale table for about $15 (marked down from the original price of $75).
“Hello! Are you ready to check out?” I chirped merrily, like someone whose triple espresso was just kicking in.
“Yes, but I want someone nice to help me.”
(*Editor’s note: We all know that MOV makes a lot of stuff up. However, this last part was, surprisingly, not manufactured in MOV’s bloggy brain just to make a good story, but instead is absolutely, so-help-me-God, 100% true: The customer said, “someone nice.” Yes, this implies that she thinks MOV is not someone nice.)
What could I do? I laughed.
“I’m nice!” I flashed her my big white-teeth smile, the one my sons are mildly afraid of when I read them stories about The Big Bad Wolf complete with voices and wolf teeth.
“No one in this entire store has been very helpful to me since the moment I walked in,” she pouted, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Well, Holden is very nice!” I said, attempting to flag down one of my managers so I could pawn off this bizarre customer onto him. Holden sent me a mental telepathy message that he was busy with another customer (or maybe that was actually him on my ear-piece walkie-talkie: “MOV, I’m busy with another customer,”).
Straw hat lady turned around, looking for Holden, who was not there. She turned back to face me and blinked.
“So, is this all you need today, then?” I started scooping the items up to scan them, and at this point straw hat lady impulsively added a rooster apron to the pile.
“No one was nice to me,” she insisted, scowling, as she shoved the apron toward me, making me not want to be very nice to her.
“I love these canisters!” I said abruptly. “I almost bought them!”
She glared at me. She did not want me loving the same canisters she had picked.
At this point, I realized I was getting nowhere trying to be nice to her, trying to make up for the phantom sales associate who had apparently been mean to her.
“Why is everyone here so rude?” she hissed.
Why are you so crazy? I said to her in my head.
“Your total is $23.88.”
She swished her credit card through the machine, and her receipt printed out.
I looked down at the heavy canisters. They were made of white ceramic and were intended to hold flour, sugar, and coffee. The normal MOV, the “nice” one, would usually go in the back stock-room to wrap something fragile like this in “pillow paper,” (which is essentially spongey brown paper on a roll with tissue paper in between). We use it at the high-end kitchen store to pack hand-blown wine glasses, French porcelain serving pieces, ceramic cheese platters, or anything else in danger of breaking.
I wasn’t feeling very nice at this moment.
At the register, we have newsprint paper to wrap pasta sauces and jars of jam. Good enough. I quickly wrapped her canisters in the cheap newsprint.
Next, I automatically reached for one of our woven fabric bags with the bumble bee logo on the front. These bags are not only sturdy, but also beautiful, and people inevitably keep them to use for their groceries or library books. I stopped myself. Straw hat lady had not been very nice saying that I was not nice the moment she met me, so why on Earth did she deserve one of our signature re-useable bags? She didn’t.
I opened up the plain paper bag instead and carefully slid in the canisters, all the while thinking, Hey, if you had been half-way nice to me, you would be getting pillow paper and an expensive fabric bag, you big ol’ meanie!
What I said: “Here ya’ go, thank you, have a great day,” as I handed her the heavy bag. She took the bag, grunted at me, then walked out of the store.
“MOV, I need to speak with you.”
Holden had appeared out of nowhere. He was holding some sort of official-looking form in his hand. “Right now, please.”
I could feel my face flush red. Had I not been polite to snotty straw hat lady the entire time? I rewound the scene in my head, like Customer Service Groundhog Day: Are-you-ready-to-check-out, I-love-these-canisters, thank-you-have-a-great-day. What could possibly be wrong? Did I sound like I was being sarcastic to her? Was Holden a mind-reader now? Was he going to write me up?
Was he going to fire me?
“Holden, uh, I need to restock bags, can we talk a little later?”
The other employees had wandered up to the cash register area, like a little party. Great, witnesses. They were all going to see me get fired so they could gossip about me later and inevitably post it on their Facebook pages.
Holden cleared his throat and started reading off his form:
“We would like to thank MOV for her four years of dedicated service and exemplary service here at the high-end kitchen store. It is salesclerks like MOV that make our store the number one store in the district …”
This was a very strange way to fire someone. Was this a joke? The other employees were grinning and nodding at me in that sincere way they sometimes have. Words were dancing in the air, pirouetting and doing grand jetes, lovely phrases fluffing up their flattering tutus …
“… and in conclusion, we notice and appreciate how MOV goes above and beyond with all her customers, making each one feel happy and want to return again and again …”
Who was MOV? Who was he talking about?
“… and that’s why, you, MOV, have been voted as Employee of The Month! Congratulations!”
The other employees started clapping. I thought they might throw confetti or even produce a big cake.
“You deserve it!”
“Customers love you!”
“Way to go!”
“MOV, do you have anything to say?”
I smiled. “Is this a bad time for me to give my two weeks’ notice?”