Now that Thanksgiving is over, all the garlic mashed potatoes have been consumed, and no one wants to look at turkey again until next time, thoughts turn to Christmas.
Back in my younger days, I worked retail one Christmas season. I could wait at least another millennium before that ever happens again. I was employed to assist in the mens furnishings department of a very fashionable clothing store in an upscale mall in Chevy Chase, Maryland. For those of you who know me, that's funny enough. But wait, it gets better.
Every morning we were lined up and our appearance "appraised" by this six-foot-three German amazon named Gert. Gawd help ya if you had a hole in your stocking, wore a wrinkled piece of garment, or had a hair out of place. I am surprised the woman didn't open your mouth and examine your teeth, just in case you were lying about your age. Plus Gert had this thing about eyeshadow, and insisted we females wear it. "It makes a voman's eyes pop out of her head," Gert would tell us in her Arnold accent. "The customers vill love it." We, the shop help, looked at each other with confused expressions. Who the hell wants to be assisted by buggy-eyed women?
With our eyes, to the best of our knowledge, still in their sockets, we were released each morning to assist the general public in buying extremely overpriced gifts for loved ones near and far. The people were astonishing. It was as if they hung a huge sign above the store's front door that read, "Please come in and be rude...and destroy the place while you're at it." They were snotty and nasty, to us and each other. People in $1000 suits pushing and shoving to be able to be the first to buy extremely foul-smelling aftershave. A woman dropping a shirt on the floor cause it bored her and it was just too much trouble to put it back on the shelf. You wanted to blow a whistle, have all the customers line up, and simply group slap the crew of them. By the end of each day, the section of men's ties looked like a snakepit, and no employee could leave the premises until each tie was refolded and back in place.
There was another rule: if you sold it to 'em, you had to wrap it for 'em. I wrapped so many packages that Christmas, I think it is the reason that if I wrap a present for you today, it's because I really like you. Picture some haughty matron in a fur coat tapping the floor with one of her $300 shoes and sighing a lot because you were taking so long to wrap the 27 things in her order that you were making her late for her nail appointment.
But, being Irish, I did have a bit of fun with some of the real jerks. On the Saturday before Christmas, the action in the store was 100% Grade-A Bedlam. I was ordered to people the cash register by the section called "Underthings for Men." A surly self-important chap with about 47 pairs of packaged undershorts walked up to the counter, slapped them down, threw his American Express Card at me and declared, "I am in a hurry." I looked at the card. It said, "Mr. Wright." I looked at him, smiled sweetly and said, "Ah, my mother always told me I'd meet you someday."
He screamed for the manager, the police, anyone in authority who could assist him. The manager, a friend of mine, came to the rescue. He could tell the guy was a total doink, but listened carefully to the story, and managed to keep a straight face when he demanded, "Mary, I want to see you in my office." We made it to the shoe department, then around the corner to where the shoe stock sat when he burst out laughing. I had to give him the tissue paper from a shoebox so he could wipe his eyes from laughing so hard.
But there was one fellow who made that season jolly. On that same Saturday, I noticed a man, as stoic as a Zen monk, waiting his turn to be waited on. He was calm. I helped him find everything he needed, and he smiled as I pushed the buttons on the cash register. I remember he inquired about how I was doing in all the madness. He handed me his credit card, and it simply read "Oliphant."
I remember I read the name, looked up at him and smiled. I always admired his work, as he spared no one, "liberal nor conservative, sinner nor saint." And he signed the credit card slip, and drew one of his famous tiny ducky characters at the bottom of the sheet, with the words, "Have a Merry Christmas."
Image: Red Barns, Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926)