There’s only one thing worse than having customers in your place of business. Lingerers.
The lingerer. A soulless beast who picks things up and puts them on other shelves, a Golem long known to spend hours in front of a single item and not buy a thing. The sorceress creature is even known to spend an entire afternoon pawing through fresh fruit, checking every single apple and peach to see which ones are ripe.
Scientists have long studied the lingering customer. Some say they originated as far back as the 1600’s. Puritan wives would go to the general store in search of witch-burning supplies. Entranced by the sheer variety of torches and binding ropes, and spurned by the boredom of having no purpose in life, they would spend hours perusing the expensive selections of religious torture devices, only to walk away and impulsively buy a cheap butter churner.
Other scholars say the lingerer is a much newer phenomenon. Civil War historians say Abraham Lincoln would spend entire days clogging up the beard aisle at the local grocer’s store. He would bring a wooden chair with him from home and sit in the aisle. Then he’d pick out just the right trimmers and oils and musks to remind people he was not only a President, he was a beard President.
The dangers of the lingerer are well-documented. Employees have been known to rip out their hair and gouge their eyes at the pure insanity induced by a truly obnoxious lingerer. One white-haired shopper once asked a young shelf-stocker questions about dog shampoo and flea collars for two hours. As was his job, the boy complied, and answered her gibberish. He died in his sleep later that night.
I remember my first lingerer. I remember it like it was today. I still carry the scars. My only hope was to never face such an abominable retail foe again in my existence. But it was not to be, for on this day my fears grip my chest and clog my lungs and I can’t breathe. In the hardware aisle, with a train of children and a cart full of nothing, one such animal stands, unchallenged in the wild, a lingerer.
“Miss, can I help you find anything?”
“No, you can’t help me find anything.” She shoots me a dirty look. “Thank you for your sarcasm, though, hard worker.”
Oh, she’s gonna be one of those. Look at her four little gremlin children, sitting on the shelves, smearing diseased fingers and snotty noses on my merchandise. I just fixed that duct tape. The little one is playing with the duct tape. Don’t play with that. Put that down. Put that duct tape down now.
“Do you have this hammer in a different color?”
“No, ma’am, just standard grey, steely color.”
“So you’re telling me you don’t carry this in any other color? Seriously?”
“That’s what I’m telling you. We don’t have multi-colored hammers.”
I bet she made those children just so she could drag them through the store for attention. She tells them to yell and act up on purpose and then she can scream and people will look at her for once. Who wears lipstick grocery shopping? Who wears a skirt? That’s not an accident.
“So if I buy two of these hammers, can I get one free?”
“No, we don’t have a deal on the hammers.”
“But if I buy two. Because I’m buying two, it’s like buy two get one.”
“No, there’s no hammer deal.”
“But if I buy two-“
“No hammer deal.”
I know she’s never used a hammer for anything in her life. In fact, I’m not sure she even knows how to use that cart. Is it really necessary to park it sideways in the aisle? I bet she spends four hours here and walks away with a yoga DVD and a box of freeze pops.
“Can I pay for these things here?”
“What do you wish to pay for?”
“Well, there’s nothing in your cart, and this is a paint booth. You’ll have to take your empty cart up front to pay for it.”
“Oh. Thanks for your sarcasm, hard worker.”
Here we go. She throws a can of paint in the cart, but where have her children gone? I was so entranced in her actions; I failed to notice her lack of spawn. Apparently, so did she. I bet you she got the paint so she can spark a conversation about painting kitchens with the next 40 year old man she sees. She’ll lure him in with a soft giggle and a complex question like, “I’m so lost. I’m painting my kitchen because I’m single. How do you use paint?”
Two customers approach from the East end of the aisle. Damn, she’s blocking them. Like a crowd blockade at a Nickelback concert, like a cement statue, like a glob of ice cream clogging up your milkshake straw. Her perfume haze is gonna scare them off. I can tell they’re buyers too.
35-42 year old males. Rugged faces. Thick jeans. Dickies coats. Definitely here to spend eighty dollars. Oh my God, she’s gonna flirt with them both.
“Do either of you gentlemen know what kind of paint is best for kitchens? It’s just, I don’t even know what I’m doing. It’s so hard to paint a mobile home on your own.”
“Well, I use semi-gloss…”
Sale ruined. By the time she finishes sucking out their life, they’ll be too exhausted to buy a new saw, a power sander and all my sandpaper.
“Excuse me, hard worker, can you get me these things on my list?”
“You want me to shop for you?”
“Just this list. And this other list for my woman things.”
“You want me to get a cart, pick up your…” I read the list. ”Foot cream, apple juice, Ritz crackers, the peanut butter and jelly that comes in the same jar and the tampons in the box that glows in the dark.”
“That’s exactly what I want you to get. Thanks for your sarcasm, hard worker.”
I get the cart. I get the things. With every step down the aisle, a little piece of me dies inside. I know that she will not pay for all this victimized, unsold merchandise, and my time wastes in vain.
“Miss, I picked up your groceries for you.”
“Thank you so much. Did you get the glowy tampons?”
“I got the glowy tampons.”
“It’s funny, I actually forgot I don’t need any of that.”
Bam. My heart stops. This is how it happens. This is how a twenty-four year old dies on the job. A lethal cocktail of humiliation and workplace frustration. They call it a speedball…times one thousand.
“That’s no problem, I’ll just put it all back.”
“Forgot I only came here to buy myself a Valentine’s Day card.”
“Right, right, that’s why you brought two lists.”
“Okay, bye now.”
“Bye miss, have a good day!”
I smile wide as I possibly can, like a watermelon slice, and it’s exhausting. Stay on there, fake smile, just a few seconds longer. Why doesn’t she look away? Look away, lingerer, look away.
Finally she leaves and her flock of children frolic along behind her, like flies swarming around a Rhino’s ass. I collapse in a heap on the floor. Sweat trickles down my brow. My heart pounds in my chest, and I gaze into the artificial lights above, and they all blur like rows of iridescent, starry constellations. A single tear falls from my eye, and I breathe deep. I survived the lingerer.