I should have known that this was the right business for me long ago. I could be wearing a paper bag during an afternoon of shopping and invariably, a guest will assume that I work in the store and begin a rapid-fire line of questioning. I was recently buying a couch at Jennifer Convertibles, minding my own business, examining the cushions of a floor model. A woman comes out of the restroom (apparently marked "employees only") and begins to explain that she was given permission to use it so I have no right to yell at her. I said, "Why would I care whose bathroom you use?" "Oh, I thought you worked here." Literally, I was wearing cut off gym shorts, a yoga top and flip-flops. Not what I would call work attire. I guess I have a natural air of knowledge.
Last week, I spent a day working in one of the stores that my company operates, learning the rope on merchandise offered, stocking shelves, talking to customers. This is the part of retail I love because it is an up-close and personal study of human psychology. Every person who walks is another living, breathing specimen of the human condition. And once you put on anything resembling a uniform, every customer assumes you know the answer to any possible question they may have.
After my lunch break, I headed back to the store and into the restroom when I hear someone calling me from behind. "Excuse me. EXCUSE me." Gosh, I can't even use the bathroom without someone flagging me down?
"What's your name?"
"Hi. I'm Kennedy."
"Hi, Kennedy. How can I help you (despite the fact that we're both about 6 inches from a bathroom stall)?"
"Are you a manager at Domino's pizza?" (huh?)
"No. I work here (which is not Domino's – not even close)."
"Well you tell Chen that I've got his number." (huh?)
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't know anyone named Chen."
"Oh sure you don't. I know what you're all about. These Italians are ruining this country. And you know what else? The Catholics Church is shit, too."
How did she know I was Italian? How did she know I was raised Catholic? And incidentally, I love pizza despite the fact that I don't work at Domino's. Is this woman psycho or psychic? I decide on the former since I don't know anyone named Chen and she didn't know my name. Though, I guess even psychics make a few mistakes now and then.
Now Kennedy is pissed. In my face, spitting. This isn't the first time I've dealt with people like Kennedy. It helps that my father was a psychoanalyst and often invited his patients to stay for supper when I was a child. People a little left of center always seemed perfectly normal to me. I thought everyone had schizophrenics, people with multiple-personality disorder, and manic depressives as dinner guests. Some college students spend their work-study hours working in the library. Not me - I spent my freshman year of college working in the psychiatric in-patient unit at my university's hospital. Some people would ask me how on Earth I could handle it – to me it was just another evening at the Avampato family dinner table.
I slowly backed away from Kennedy and headed for the door without using the bathroom. (If you ever find yourself in close quarters with someone missing all of his or her mental faculties, do not put yourself in the position of being in a bathroom stall with your pants down. Too vulnerable, rendering you incapable of making a run for it.) I went out to find one of the store managers. This could be disastrous if a guest was in the same position I had just been in. We needed to get this woman out of the store, quickly.
The store manager laughed when I told him about the event. I was completely confused. "Oh, you just met one of the crazies." First off, I was worried that there sounded like there was more than one of them floating around. Next, I was worried that they seemed to make a habit out of frequenting this rest room. We camped out by the restrooms, waiting for Kennedy to emerge. After about 15 minutes later, she did. (I still wonder what took her so long. Maybe an argument with the soap dispenser?)
Kennedy sauntered out the front door, taking her sweet time, shouting a few obscenities here and there. No one, not even the guests, seemed to mind. All this time I thought my upbringing was unique, only to find that I guess more people are having dinner with “the crazies” nowadays. My father always used to say that he was a thinker ahead of his time…