Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Special Yearbook

I occasionally joined some of my people in a coffee break in the company cafeteria. There would be eight or ten of us, typically, all gathered around one large table.

One day, not long after our area had conducted a "baby naming" contest for which everyone brought in a baby picture, we were gathered for coffee and discussing what kind of fun thing we might do next.

Someone suggested that everyone bring in their high school yearbooks. "Alas," said I," I don't *have* a high school yearbook. I dropped out after flunking every subject in the eleventh grade."

After a moment's thought, one of my managers suggested, "You could bring in your reform school yearbook."

I am now reminded of another such coffee break. I had a deal with everyone else. I would ask ten trivia questions during the break, and if they ever got all ten answers I would take everyone present to lunch. One day I asked "What was the name of the prison team in The Longest Yard?"

Everyone went into a huddle, and at last Peggy, the team's best hope, squeezed her eyes shut and said, "Ooo. I can *see* the scoreboard." The "reform school" manager mentioned above asked, "Well, what does it say?"

Peggy: "It says, 'Home.'"

And finally, for this post at least, the reform school manager capped off ten in a row one day by answering correctly the question "What is the motto at West Point?" ¹

¹ Duty, Honor, Country

Thursday, January 10, 2013

More Customer Stories

  • In addition to wine, beer, hard liquor, mixes, cigarettes, yada, yada, yada, the store sold tickets for various lotteries: Mega Millions (a multi-state lottery), Illinois Lotto, Powerball, Little Lotto (a nightly drawing that starts at $100,000 and rolls over if there's no winner), and Pick 3 and Pick 4 lotteries. There was also a vending machine for "instant" tickets, ranging in price from a dollar to twenty dollars.

    One day when Mega Millions was up over $100 million. A customer bought a ticket, examined it, and said, "If I win this, the old lady can cut back to part time."

  • Customer, reading aloud from newspaper: "North Carolina law describes malicious castration as cutting off, maiming or disfiguring a person's gentiles . . . ."

    (Yes, I know that the above two appeared on an "overheard" site several years ago. I sent them in.)

  • On occasion I found myself one of only two employees at the store, the other usually being someone who deals strictly with stock. Very occasionally this created a brief conflict between my responsibilities. One afternoon a regular customer walked in, an Indian and a taxi driver. He routinely bought one can of beer and several minis. He went to the cooler and got his beer, but just as he approached the counter the phone rang. I answered and found that the caller was the store owner. He had a couple of brief instructions and we talked for perhaps thirty to forty-five seconds. I walked back to the counter and the customer.

    Impatient customer: "You shouldn't answer the phone. You should take care of your customers first."

    Donnie: "Oh, we're going to give each other job advice? Don't drink when you're driving a cab."

    We've gotten along much better since then.

  • It's not only drivers who are PITA cell phone users. Customers would walk in talking on a phone, transact their business, and walk out still talking on the phone. It's rude, but I could live with that. However . . .

    One busy night a customer approached the counter, arms loaded with bottles of various kinds and cell phone jammed between his shoulder and his ear. He put the bottles on the counter and I began scanning them. Several customers got into line behind him. I got a total, bagged his purchases, and quoted him the amount he owed. He looked at me, held up a finger signaling me to wait, and continued his conversation. I waited a few seconds and told him I needed to finish this sale. He held up his finger again and turned away, still talking.

    I deleted his items from the register, pushed the bags aside, and took the next customer. About halfway through this transaction, the first customer finished his conversation, turned around, and saw what I had done. He was hopping from foot to foot, unable to believe that I didn't just continue to wait for him. The line had grown to five or six customers and I pointed to them.

    "You see these people? Your conversation may have been fascinating to you, but . . . ."

    He fumed, but his choices were putting up with me or starting all over again at some other liquor store. The next couple of times he came in he walked by me silently, ignoring my greeting, but he got over it eventually. We resumed smiling and chatting, and although he sometimes repeated the phone conversation routine, he never again tried to make everyone else wait until he finished.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Annoying Customers

When I retired (read "when I could no longer find work") I supplemented my financial resources by selling online (easier then than now) but still had too much time on my hands. I took a part time job at a local liquor store, which turned out to be a lot of fun. But . . . there were annoyances, mainly in the form of customers who thought the entire universe centered on *them*.
  • Customers who are "surprised" they have to pay
    They get in line with their purchases, eventually reach the counter, stand there and watch me ring up the items, and when we have a total it finally dawns on them that they are going to have to pay for these items. With several customers in line behind them, they search one pocket, then another, and yet another. Eventually they fish out an envelope or a wallet and fumble through it, deciding whether this $4.67 purchase should be paid for with five singles, a five dollar bill, a ten dollar bill . . . on up to a hundred dollar bill. Finally, they settle on a twenty. They hand it over and as it is about to be entered they announce, "Wait. I think I have sixty-seven cents."

    Twenty-two cents comes out of one pocket, a quarter from another, and finally a lone penny surfaces. "Nope, take it from the twenty."

    It did not take that long to implement the Marshall Plan.

  • Wait . . .
    Some, however find all their bills rapidly. The singles number exactly four, the minimum required to pay their $4.67 debt. This is followed by patting the pockets and saying, "I have to go get the rest from the car."


    He (it was *always* a he) leaves, the items are deleted from the register and the next two customers are processed. Mr. Sixty-Seven Cents comes back in and is surprised that the cash register and cashier have not been idle, the world has not stopped pending his return, and his items have to be scanned again.


  • Mr. Center of the Universe
    As a matter of policy at the liquor store, if I owed you change of $1.29 I would give you a dollar, a quarter, and a nickel. The register might be a few cents short at the end of a shift, but we all knew why and nobody cared. It's simply a very minor nice touch - I didn't burden you with four pennies and other customers didn't have to spend the extra time in line while I dug out four pennies. The smallest of things can make customers happier.

    Still, the more or less traditional container sat on the counter, waiting for customers to toss an extra penny or two its way which a future customer might need or find convenient. After the incident I am about to describe I tried not to let the number of pennies build up. When there were three or more pennies I just dumped them into the cash register, knowing that we were not going to kill the deal if someone was a penny or two short.

    But one day a customer arrived at the counter with goods totaling some amount ending in eight cents - $12.08, say. He put a ten, two singles, and a dime on the counter but just as I was picking it up he said, "Wait." He had noticed that there were eight pennies in the container. He actually took his dime back, picked up the eight pennies, and put them on top of his bills.

    In a mildly pleading voice I said, "Oh, don't do that. That's not what those pennies are for."

    He just stood there and looked at me.

    Okay. I took the $12.08, entered it into the register and we were done.

    A couple of days later he arrived at the counter, gave me bills for his purchase, and watched as I rang him up and the cash register showed that he was due eighty-nine cents. I counted out three quarters, a dime, and four pennies and handed them to him. He knew that in the past I had always rounded such a number up a penny, and he looked at me and raised his eyebrows.

    I raised my eyebrows too and said, "Seven cents to go."

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Liquor Store

When I retired I encountered a problem in that most of my friends were fifteen or twenty years younger than I. Most were busy with jobs and families and I saw them only occasionally. The first couple of years of my retirement found me mostly at home, mostly in front of my PC. I could almost hear my mother's voice: "For Christ's sake, Donnie, get out and air the stink off yourself."

I decided it was time to find a part time job, which would serve two purposes: it would give me extra spending money and it would get me out of the house and into the world of flesh and blood people, as opposed to cyber-people. This was a good thought, but I am a procrastinator par excellence, and for a while I did nothing about it.

I lived a couple of blocks from a small strip mall in the Chicago suburbs. One of the establishments was a large (8,000 square feet) liquor store and I was in the habit of buying the occasional pack of cigarettes there. At some point I noticed that there was quite a turnover among the cashiers. Some were sour, some were ho-hum, some were funny, and some were friendly, but none seemed to last.

One day I entered the store to find yet another stranger behind a cash register, and a light went on in my head. I looked around and spotted a Korean man, Hwan, whom I knew to be the store owner. I walked over and chatted with him for a moment, mentioning the rate of turnover and he said, "What I'm gonna do? Young guys aren't so reliable. Maybe they come to work, maybe not. Young women got kids, sometimes can't get a sitter, sometimes kid is sick."

I told him that I was retired, that I lived a couple of blocks away, that I was reliable, and might be interested in a cashier position. I was going to be away for a few days (it was family reunion time) but I would be back to touch base with him after that.

A few days later I gave him my name and phone number and promptly forgot about it. He, however, did not, and in another day or two he called me and asked if I would pay him a visit at the store. I did and we chatted a few minutes. He was concerned that I might have "salary expectations" but I knew that this was not a career position. I told him that I had never operated a cash register and he would have to teach me everything about it. We did a deal and I found myself working part time six days a week: four shifts noon to four, a Sunday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM shift, and one other, I forget the details.

Hwan was fun to work with. He was in his early fifties and he had a fairly good English vocabulary. However, he often used the wrong forms of words, particularly intended adjectives:

Donnie, during a lull in store business: "Hwan, I'm bored. I need something to do."

(Hwan disappeared, then returned with a hand truck loaded with cases of minis  - shots, airplane bottles, nip bottles, whatever term is familiar to you - that were to restock some shelves.)

Hwan: "Donnie, are you boring?"

Donnie: "Opinions differ."

I worked there for four or five years before burning out, the main cause of that being Hwan's sale of the store to another Korean couple, both snakes.

I missed Hwan but there was a lot of continuity in the customers. A couple were crabby, a couple were arrogant, but most were friendly and some were definite characters. We chatted and teased a lot, and now this causes me to think about the makeup of the customer base.

A rough guess would be that it was 25% black, 30% Mexican, 5% Indian, 5% other Asian (mostly Korean), and 35% Caucasian (including some Poles and expatriates from several other European countries).

Hwan had also picked up quite a bit of Spanish and would chatter away both in English and in Spanish with the Mexicans, who called him "Chino" (pronounced Cheeno). No amount of discussion would persuade them to remember that he was Korean, not Chinese, and Chino he was to them. If he was absent one of them might ask, "Where's the Chinese guy?" His wife was "China" ("Cheena").

My favorite bit of teasing between him and them involved a new hire, a spectacularly built young woman Hwan hired as a part time cashier. Alas, she only worked two days. She was supporting herself by working three other part time jobs and adding this one turned out to be too much for her.

But two days was enough to attract the attention of a great many young men, and on the third day, when several Mexican customers came in, one of them noticed immediately that she was not there. He asked Hwan where she was and Hwan replied, "She no like you. Too small dick."

Several years later that customer was still referred to by the employees as "Too Small Dick." (Ironically, she was a lesbian, a fact not known by the customers and perhaps not by Hwan.)

One last thing about the Mexican clientele: I noticed that sometimes two or more would come into the store together, come up to the counter with a few things, and then have one of them pay for all of the purchases. When that happened it was not quite universally true, but almost always the one who paid did not carry. He paid and walked away and his companion or companions carried the purchases. And this began very early. I recall seeing two boys, perhaps eight years old, approach the counter with a two liter bottle of Coca-Cola.
One paid and walked away and the other grabbed the bag with the Coke.