Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Brigadoon's very own calendar store

“Are you closing?” a customer asked me as he looked around at the half-empty shelves of my calendar store.

It was the seventh such question I’d fielded in the last three days and given that I had only dealt with about 12 customers, that was saying something…something involving four letter words on occasion (even if only in my mind). “We just opened, actually,” I replied—same as I had the six times before—twitching a faceout of calendars of Italy over an empty spot. “I should be getting six more pallets of product soon…I hope.”

I never actually add the “I hope” aloud, customers can since fear and indecision. Instead I just think it. I hope that I’m not lying to you, Mr. Customer-man. I hope that my company is not lying to me when they say this will all get taken care of as soon as the new inventory system is fixed. Considering that last year my shelves were so packed that calendars jumped free, propelled by the quantity behind them—no doubt in an attempt to fall into customers’ arms, crush toddlers or just end it all—or overlapping them, or just plain shoving them out over the edge. There definitely wasn’t room in the place for all of them. Compared to then, I could see why some might mistake the vast expanses of bright, white shelf space (especially with their just dusted gleam brought out by some employee’s boredom) as the result of a store selling down, and not just reopening. Soon, I assured myself and the customer, soon there would be inventory as far as the eye could see (which was about forty feet across, given the store’s dimensions).

“Pipe dreams,” I heard my coworker’s voice whisper in my head, but I ignored her…and the fact that I was hearing voices at all. It was the result of being up in the calendar store by myself for too long, I was sure.

“We should have some more calendars by the end of the week at the very least.”

He didn’t seem to notice the doubt in my voice—damn you, pessimistic coworker—and nodded his head. “How long are you open?”

Yet another question I heard frequently, right up there with requests for the bathroom, food court, and another calendar store. A human directory; oftentimes that was all I was to these people.

“From the end of August to the end of January,” I chirped in my best “customer service” voice. The “Customer Service” voice was always a chirp that seemed to deploy in these situations, building a nice, thick, protective wall between my oblivious customer and the sarcastic, hormonal part of me that tried to compel me to roll my eyes and add things like, “Maybe I should get it tattooed on my forehead,” in a tone guaranteed to make my mother bitch-slap me into next year if she heard it. It was protection for the customer too, because he had no idea that I may have heard that question (or one like it) five million times already, it was the first time he had said it, and the customer service world (at that point in time) revolved around him. I knew this, and did my best to make sure that he remained unaware of any mental anguish that he may have caused.

Besides, I knew that tattooing anything on my forehead would be a waste of money for the simple reason that most customers would never see it—mostly because they never seem me. As a retail worker, I’m a non-entity, a retail drone. My face and appearance don’t matter, only the answers I give to the customer’s questions. Tattooing anything anywhere visible would only matter to my boss.

But while the customer may not see me, they can hear me (or why bother asking a question) and any anger, contempt or other emotion that may come through in my voice, hence the necessity of the chirp. Truthfully, it was that or the phone sex operator voice.

Now I know what you are thinking: Sex sells. Sex sells big! Yes, I too took Marketing 101, but whether the voice was too good, or not good enough, it earned me a lot of discomforting looks at my chest and cleavage (or lack there of). I don’t know if they expected me to have TB, or just a double D, but the response did not make the voice worth the effort.

So chirping it was, which saved me from being sexualized from all but the most deluded of male souls who seem to view me as having some sort of Pollyanna complex. Inevitably these forty-something men (and they are always forty-somethings which has lead me to a lot of theorizing on the male midlife crisis) offer to take me out to coffee or dancing, and since I don’t have the heart to tell them that they are old enough to be my father, I make up some excuse that sounds lame even to me. I mean, guys, I have a very healthy relationship with my father, thank you very much, and therefore feel no need to indulge an inner Electra, because ewww. No thanks.

Lucky for me the customer I was talking to—though in the right age group—did not seem to need his very own Pollyanna. Instead he just smiled at me—Oh God! Actual eye contact!!—and turned back to my half-filled (see that optimism) shelves. “You’re kind of like the calendar store version of Brigadoon, aren’t you?”

Oh God, first eye contact, then something vaguely interesting in response. Must. Find. Acceptable. Comeback! “Only we show up more often.”

He laughed (see, some people think I’m witty), and promised to return later when we had more stock. I mumbled something reassuring about Friday again, but my mind wasn’t really focused on my answer. No, I was captivated b the idea of a Brigadoon calendar store floating somewhere in the mists, open for 41.6 years (instead of five months) where no one could see (except for, you know, the people that lived in Brigadoon).

How would the calendars be set up? Would the New Year be marked when Brigadoon became visible to the rest of the world or was it some arbitrary day of some arbitrary month? What did they do about leap year? Was it a Chinese or Roman calendar (or something else)? Would the person running the calendar store counter know that they were actually open for decades (because it sometimes felt like that to me, in just a matter of hours even)? Would they even sell anything or would their existence be marked by customers that appeared and disappeared without ever buying anything because they were waiting for THE NEXT SHIPMENT!?

Who the hell would ship to Brigadoon? And how? And when?

Every 100 years?

It certainly put my moments of boredom into perspective. It could have been worse. I could have been that lone calendar store on Brigadoon, holding a calendar for a customer that actually wanted to purchase it, only to disappear back into the mist before they could return from the ATM. How long would I be compelled to keep that hold: three days, three months, three decades? What if I reappeared out of the mists 100 years later to find a rickety old man waiting outside my doors, ragged money in hand, ready to get his calendar? Not even considering the inflation he might face, I have this horrible suspicion that my answer would not be positive, uplifting, or even a testament to his endurance. Nope. I’m pretty sure that it would sound something like this, “I’m sorry, Sir, but only half my shipment has arrived. I don’t have that one in yet.”

But hey, my own store was not in Brigadoon, right? It was in the real world, dealing with real things like FedEx and distribution centers and inventory systems. They would fix that pesky problem soon and I would have plenty of stock, more stock than I knew what to do with. It wouldn’t take a hundred years. Not at all.

“Pipe dreams,” I heard my coworker’s voice say again.

I really should see someone about those voices in my head.


Before the shrouding mist of Brigadoon—er, I mean, monotony closed in on me again.

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