Monday, May 5, 2008

Dramatis Personae in the Mall

I used to work in a small computer software/books boutique in a mall. Actually, in the summer for two summers, I worked in the instance of that store in a mall near my dad's house, and during the school year, I worked in the instance nearest my college. Ultimately, I ended up as the store manager of the store nearest my college, which is when I decided that I seriously needed to evaluate my career progression.

Over the course of the years I worked there, I met a cast of characters who were regular shoppers or mall employees and who were memorable in some way or another. In other words, they were really weird, and the store employees usually tried to pawn those customers off on the unsuspecting noob or the guy just coming in for the next shift. The weird mall employees were various levels of entertaining or irritating.

Pirate Guy
Pirate Guy was actually not too bad. He had 80s curly hair and a goatee. He always (always) wore a black shirt with puffy sleeves when he shopped at our store. For a long time, due the fact that he sounded like Charles Nelson Reilly on Match Game, and he called all of the young men who worked in the store "Stud", we thought he was gay. Then he showed up with his wife and kids. Years later, I found out that he was a professor of economics or some such discipline.

I don't remember Richard's last name, and I wouldn't post it if I did, but he worked in the Sears store in the mall. He fancied himself to be even more of a computer geek than anyone who worked at the store, and he was just socially awkward enough to pull it off. He would come in and tell us of new developments in technology that didn't actually exist. Then he wouldn't leave until we had all acknowledged his technical superiority. Since we couldn't leave, because we WORKED THERE, we would try to play the waiting game. We wouldn't give him the satisfaction of pretending he was really knowledgeable, and we knew that his break would eventually end, so it ended up being this weird dysfunctional relationship that made everyone uncomfortable, but none of us could would do anything about it.

After a while, Sears (wisely) decided to banish him to the kiosk in the parking lot where they had the key duplication machinery for house and car keys. It was basically the same kind of setup as an old Photomat. Around that time, Baldo McNerdy and I decided to try to make Richard think that he smelled like peanuts. I don't think we ever succeeded.

We all started to pretend that saying his name would summon him, unless we did the anti-Richard dance, which involved singing a nonsense little tune while spinning around with our hands on our heads.

Deaf Little Latino Guy
This guy wasn't deaf, but he soon would be. He was a tiny Latino man who wore a tank top and shorts almost all the time. He also wore a Walkman that was turned up so loudly that we could clearly hear his music through his headphones from thirty feet away. He never bought anything, but he would browse for about twenty minutes.

When I first started working at the store, the place next to us was a video games arcade. It closed after about a year, and it was replaced with a chain Chinese food store. The managers were a Korean couple with an elementary school daughter named Angel. She appeared to have a crush on every man who worked in the store. Of course, we were all devastatingly handsome, so that's understandable. We would tease her gently. She spent a lot of time in the store. Free babysitting for her parents, and I don't think we ever got a discount from the Chinese place, but I might be mistaken.

Mall Rat
This middle schooler or high school freshman lived in an apartment complex adjacent to the mall parking lot. He loved to read the gaming magazines and just chat with us. He was good company for about ten minutes, and then it got to be a bit much. I think he spent most afternoons and evenings wandering from store to store in the mall, straying close to the "get out of here, kid" line before moving to the next store.

Touchy-Feely Guy
During the day at the mall, the demographics tended toward the elderly or the unemployed. This wasn't a ritzy mall that catered to the idle rich. One of the fellows that came into the mall had some kind of mental illness that I, as a layman, would associate with OCD. One time, he came in and started to read every one of the coupons in a little coupon notepad. When asked if we could help him, he muttered that he was just checking to see if they were all the same. Sometimes, he'd pull all of the pens and pencils out of the cup on the counter and gently touch the tips of each of them, one by one. Sometimes, we would watch him leave the store, and he'd go to other stores to check up on their coupons or look under their fixtures or whatever.

The Nine Year Old
This was another man with some kind of mental illness. He would come in and sometimes buy a magazine. He almost always would tell us stories about his day that were not possibly true. The guy appeared to be in his thirties, but his stories usually included one of the statements:

  • I'm only nine years old!
  • I'm only four years old!
  • I'm the quarterback for Small State College.
He was generally harmless, but we really had no idea how to respond to his stories.

The Revenant
We didn't call him that. We all knew his name. He was an older man with swept-back hair who would come in about once every six weeks and buy some software. After one week, he would return it - unopened. We had a shrink wrap machine in the back to re-wrap returned software, so we knew what re-wrapped boxes looked like, and these weren't. Eventually, the manager asked us to discourage the behavior, so I took the opportunity one time to explain to him that our store policy allowed us to refuse returns at the manager's discretion. I don't remember him ever coming back.

The Reverend
This guy would best be described as a fussy, fastidious little man with a smaller personal space than made any of us comfortable. He would buy things using his church's account information so he didn't have to pay sales tax. He used us as his personal computer geeks, and he would call us to solve problems he was having that had nothing to do with his purchases.

Some years later, I Googled him and found that he was the Archbishop of some splinter sect based on Greek Orthodoxy's Church of My Basement. He had been arrested for carrying a firearm into a place where such things weren't allowed.

Ren and Stimpy
These were two guys that always shopped together. As near as I can tell, they were not a couple, but merely two nerds who liked each other's company. Ren was a small, wiry fellow with glasses, and Stimpy was about 6'4", quite hefty, and carried the largest ass, proportionally, that I have ever seen on a man.

Ren, like Richard (di di dee da de da da da da da da da da da da dah, di di...), imagined himself to be quite the technostud. Rather than trying to tell us of new technology that didn't actually exist, though, he would try to trip us up with tough questions. We'd either answer correctly or refuse to play. One time, he announced that he'd written his own operating system to replace the one that comes with the Amiga computer. Those of us in the store at the time called him out. Finally, we got him to acknowledge that he had actually written a command line interface that would accept the name of an external program and launch that program. That's a much easier task.

Stimpy was just a big doofus that was along for the ride.

Later on, when I worked at Nearly Defunct Online Company, I trained an incoming class of CSRs that included Ren. Stimpy did not end up working there.

Sometimes I miss the characters, but I certainly don't miss the environment.


Bill said...

This was a fun read. Characters like these are much more palatable in hindsight.
The school-age mall wanderer made me a little sad. It sounds like he had a lot of solitary time without guidance.
I worked for years at the phone company, back when everyone had a land-line phone. We would get a fair number of crazies calling to tell us that the government/neighbors/enemies were tapping their phone. One time when a co-worker had such a call, I picked up on her line and said "Did we get that? Did you record what she just said?" The crazy lady flipped out, and I felt good knowing that I'd given her something concrete to work with.

GDad said...

Bill, that was stellar. You need to receive some kind of award for that one.

Bill said...

The customers with Tourette's who called were memorable, too. You just had to completely disregard the outbursts and weird noises.