The cash drawer groaned out and I jammed it back in after the line had died down. I never understood how we could have a rush at noon, on a Wednesday, in September, but that should be the biggest rush until tonight. By then, I would almost be done, and I would have my other manager here to share the load.
I walked away from the registers to find the shelves were surprisingly neat, considering. Not many kids in the store at this time. They were like little whirlwinds up and down the aisles behind a parent desperate to just get done shopping. I never did understand why parents would drag their kids along. It's not like we were a grocery store and they had to be here. We sold decorations, furniture, nonessentials. Give the kids to the grandparents before you come. The store was fifty percent glass! Eh, whatever. I can't judge until I get kids of my own, I guess.
Some things needed down-stocking. Some aisles needed recovery. Nothing special. Perfect time to get my lunch in.
I rounded the corner in front of the tablecloths and saw a woman inspecting the dining tables near the wall. Not just any woman. God...I thought I saw her come in during the rush, but it didn't register. It was Pastor Lisa. She was in every other week, buying whatever furniture fit her fancy. She could never decide anything on her own, always had to walk you through the decision process, and, no matter how many times you talked with her, she always made sure you knew what she was buying furniture for. Yes...your church. Yes...the bible groups. Yes...your giving community. Yes, I know! If she spotted me now, I would never get to lunch. I helped her for a literal two hours last time. One customer. Two hours.
So, I turned right back around and headed past the registers again. If I curved the other way around to the break room, I could pretend that I never saw her! God, this job has made me cynical.
“Hey, Julian?” the newbie Cathy flagged me down as my pace was just getting quicker. Strange to call her a newbie. She was in her late fifties, a good thirty years older than me, and I never got used to giving directions to the associates over twice my age.
“Yeah, what's up?” I asked.
“What do you want me to do now?” asking because she felt like she had to.
“You finished with the go-backs?”
“No...there was that rush we had, so...”
“Okay, well, finish those and recover the middle when you're done, by then I'll be back from lunch.”
“Sounds good” she sighed, walking back towards the front.
Jesus, I'm sorry. It's not like I have some exciting tasks to hand out here. Every time, I swear. I just needed to get off the floor, into the break room before...
“Oh excuse me?” a woman's voice from behind me.
I turned half cringing. Mentally anyway. I couldn't actually show it.
It wasn't her. False alarm.
“Excuse me, do you work here?” she asked.
The red apron and name tag didn't give it away, I suppose.
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“I saw that you had a coupon online for members and...” “...hello?...” “...I was wondering how to get that here. Do I...” “...yes hello?...” “have to sign up before I come in or can...” “...pardon me...”
I couldn't even focus on the question, as the first customer went on asking in the background. Pastor Lisa had found me. She went right past the registers and found me, not caring that I was helping anyone at all. There goes lunch, I guess.
"Yes, ma'am," I said, "I'll be right with you after I help this customer with her question here."
“Yes...I need to ask about some dining furniture.” she kept going.
“Okay, like I said, I need to help her first, then I'll be right with you.”
"Well, it's a big order."
“Okay, I'm the expert on duty for dining right now, so I'll be right there after this.”
Made that job title up on the fly. I didn't have it in me to send one of the other sales associates. Besides, I would just get pulled to help with her potential requests that we probably can't accommodate.
“I'll be over at the dining tables.” she said.
Well, I'm certainly glad that she gave me directions.
I finished with my initial customer. Simple question, simple answer that would have only taken a moment to wait for. Maybe someone is already helping her. Doubtful. No, no stop. So shitty. I always start with the frustration, I wasn't always like this. Just be nice, she's just asking about tables, that's all.
Just as she promised, she was standing in the dining section, looking at one of the high-top round tables. Maybe she already made her choice and this would be nice and simple. And if she wants that one she better have a truck or something to put it in. I would hate to go through what we did last time.
“Hi there, Lisa!” I said. I put out my hand to greet her and smiled, trying to ignore her earlier interruption. “How are you doing?”
"Yes, hi there...well, I'm okay...just such a busy day, but I'm getting there, and that's what counts!" She responded, limply shaking my hand. She was forcing a smile through her heavy makeup.
Lisa, perhaps, had once been pretty. It was hard to tell what was really under the mask. A few injections here, a couple there. She was holding on as much as she could to what she had. Her dress too still held on to the summer a month after the fact. Floral curves around the brilliant white space. Her hair, bleached too many times to count, was held back to conceal the frayed ends. Wide rimmed sunglasses like a crown and silver cross necklace hanging over her dress.
"Well, good good," I said. "You were interest..."
"Yes I think the adult groups need some new tables to meet at," she said. "I like the high ones, they go better with the room they meet in. After my husband's sermons this month, I'm sure there will be more discussions in the bible groups."
"Okay, let's take..."
“Do you have any other kinds other than the one here?”
“Uh, yes we do, but we don't have them here in the store, unfortunately.”
“What do you mean?”
“There's some additional selections online, you can...”
“Is there a delivery fee for those”
“Yes, if you have them shipped to your home.”
“Church, right, either way, but you can have it delivered here for no extra fee. It will just be a week or so before it gets in.”
She grimaced at her options, I could see her flipping back and forth in her mind.
“It's just...” she started. “Hmm...it's just we get more people joining these bible groups the closer we get to the holidays. I can't have them sitting at the tables from last year.”
"Oh, it won't be a problem getting it in well before Thanksgiving."
“Well, I'm going to need about four, maybe five, can you get that many to me that fast?”
“Yeah, should be no problem.” I said. “They just ship it all at once.”
“But with a shipping fee.”
“Like I said, only if they ship it to your church.”
“Well, the church's money isn't going to go to a shipping fee that's for sure.
“Okay, then if you see something you like online we can have it shipped here so let's...”
“What about this one.” she said, pointing at the only one she was looking at before.
“We have that one in stock, yes.”
“And you have four?”
“Yes, actually just got...”
“Great, and what kind of discount do you give for buying this much?”
“Well, unfortunately, we don't have any additional discounts.”
“There is a coupon out that...”
“Oh I've got that, I've got that.” She said, shuffling her hand out, silver bracelets clinking.
I wish I could say that I suggested the next thing because I was doing her a favor, or watching out for the donations of those completely unaware church goers, but I was being selfish. I knew where this was going already. She would want to take everything today. Which was fine. I actually didn't mind loading up trucks, it helped pass the time in a pretty straightforward way. But she was in that little BMW she had. I could just feel it.
“And in two weeks we'll be having our big dining room event.” I said. She squinted her eyes slightly. It was like I was upsetting her with additional information that was clogging her brain. “Yes it's in two weeks but all these tables will be thirty percent off. And we guarantee everything to be ready by Thanksgiving.”
She chuckled to herself and turned her head. I wasn't sure if it was to roll her eyes or if she was just looking around because she didn't know what else to do.
"Oh no, no..." she said. "I'm going to need these as soon as I possibly can..." she moved her head forward to look at my name tag. "...Hoolian.”
“Uh..just Julian. And of course. I just wanted to let you know what was around the corner.”
“Well, okay Hoolian.” Oh for Christ's sake “I guess we Spanish need to look out for each other!”
Now, she was as white as her dress, what the hell was she talking about? I must not have hidden my inquisitive thoughts all that well, as she tried to quickly explain. Or she just loved talking about it.
“Oh my great-grandmother was Spanish, I'm from down there too, honey.”
Wait...Spanish or Mexican? Or one of the many other countries, down there? And I wasn't exactly all that brown myself. I had some El Salvadorian in there on my dad's side, but it wasn't much. I thought it best not to try and clog my mind with the conundrum. I could feel the frustration start to rise. I needed to try and suppress it. Keep that customer service sense.
“Oh, that's cool.” I said, finally.
“I know it's hard to tell from what I wear, and heck, even shopping here! I'm so white-washed!”
“So...are we still set on this round high top table here?” I said, after a nervous chuckle, wanting to move away from the topic.
“Yes, since its the only one like it that you have.”
“Okay great, and you want four tables?”
“Yes...I would like to take them today, if you have them.”
I scanned the tag just to double check. It said we had six on hand, and I usually check to make sure it's correct, but this was the fastest decision making I had ever seen her do, so I wasn't going to give her extra time to think.
"Yes, we do. So do you have a truck then?"
“I'll go get the truck from the church.” she said.
Thank God. Dumb not to bring it in the first place to furniture shop, but I'll take what...
“Oh but I do want to take one now.” she continued. “I have the BMW, but it'll fit. I've put furniture in there before.”
“Well...” I started. “It's a pretty big table, and it comes in two boxes. I would recommend at least having an SUV or something, but a truck always works best.”
“No, it will fit. Should I meet you at the dock? I'm an expert at this these days.” she said snorting in her satisfaction.
“Um well, okay...we can measure...”
“No, I promise it will fit. You gotta believe!”
“Okay.” I gave up the argument. Soon there would be all the proof we would need. Although, I didn't want to bring the table down off the dock myself just to have it not fit. “Let me just get the SKU number for you here so they can ring you up at the front.”
I always wrote them down carefully. I knew my fours could look like nines.
Cornerstone Tbl 452470 (x4)
I handed the paper to her.
“And you have the coupon for me up at the front?” she asked.
“No, you would have gotten an email and they should be on the main website too.”
“Why don't you have them in the store?”
“They just don't give us any to pass out, unfortunately, but we will bring it up on our computer up there.”
“Okay, good.” she said and headed for the front of the store.
I made a direct line to the stockroom and the dock. I don't know if I was more frustrated with her or myself for thinking that she wouldn't try shoving a table into that car. There's no way. No, no I'm not going to take that damn table down off the dock and try Tetris-ing it into a coupe! There's two fucking boxes! Even if one gets in, where is the second one going to go? We did this same damn dance last time! Oh, don't learn from before or anything, shit, that would be asking too much. Who doesn't listen to the person who works with this furniture all the fucking time? Jesus Christ.
My freshly flared calamity burst into the stockroom, grabbing a tape measure as I passed the tool shelves, knocking down pliers in the process. I shoved aside the boxes in front of the tables and pulled out the largest of the two pieces of her table. Then I measured. Forty-eight inches on both sides. It was round, after all. Nope, there's no way. Fucking people, I don't understand.
I pushed the large box, and the one with the legs in it, over to the dock gate. My frustration doing most of the work for me.
“CUSTOMER SERVICE TO RECEIVING, CUSTOMER SERVICE TO RECEIVING”
The speaker signaled she was done paying. I opened up the gate and natural sunlight broke into the brown fluorescence of the stockroom.
I turned back towards the tool shelves, the pliers still on the ground. A roll of tape and twine from the bottom shelf also splashed onto the floor in my rush, without me even noticing. I put them all back, laughing a little. Wow, Julian, calm down. She's wrong and not thinking about this clearly but, man, come on. It's not worth this kind of frustration. This job...it's making me something I'm not. Are the decent people becoming fewer or am I just losing my ability to have patience at all? I don't know. Both maybe.
The deep breath I took would have calmed me down more if her BMW didn't come crawling into view. It was newly washed, as it always seemed to be, silver gleaming in the sunlight. She pulled forward, approaching the dock, front first. Every time. And every time, I suggest she turn around and pull in backward so that we didn't have to go around her car. She's basically defeating the purpose of the dock, as if a BMW was meant for a dock at all. I walked around the boxes to the edge of the dock, as she came out of her car with receipt in hand. I checked it out of procedure.
"Well..." I said, "Let's check the width of the trunk before I bring this down." I hopped off the dock, the stairs were only ten feet away to the right, but I rarely went around.
"Oh! We don't have to do that!" she said. She looked up at the box on the dock. "Oh, that'll fit!"
She waved her hand at me like it was too obvious to miss, silver bracelets still jingling. The car barely looked wider than the box, let alone the opening of the trunk.
"Let me just double check," I said walking to the back of her car. "Do you mind if I open the trunk?"
I tried popping it but it pulled back at me, still locked.
“Oh...oh...” she said clicking her keys to open it.
Once it was unlocked and open, I drew out the measuring tape across the widest part of the opening. It was an odd shape too. The trunk cut in before dropping. Even at it's widest, it was only thirty-eight inches. Almost a foot short of the table. I wasn't surprised, but glad I checked anyway.
“Unfortunately, it's about a foot too short.” I said. “I mean, good news is you are coming back for the others so...”
“I really need to see what it's going to look like, though, in the room it's going into.” she snapped back, trying to think of options. “Let's measure the box to see.”
“I already did, it's forty-eight inches.” I said.
“Well, let's see.”
I just stared at her for a moment, not really wanting too, but then my service sense snapped back into place, trying to tell me I was probably showing my frustration at this point.
“Okay.” I said in a higher pitch than intended.
I walked up the stairs and measured the box in front of her.
“Yup, forty-eight.” I said.
She glanced up trying to peek at the tape measure, but she finally conceded that I was telling the truth.
“Let me see something.” she said, holding out her hand.
I handed the tape measure to her and she walked to the back of her car. She tried a few times, but even her attempts seemed to fail. She came back defeated, handing the tape measure back up the dock.
“Well we can put it in the back seat.” she said.
“Let's go ahead and measure first.” I said.
“I know it's going to fit, like I said, I've brought home furniture in this before.”
"Well, the problem is..." I started as I hopped back down off the dock "...that I'm going to have to bring that table down off the dock. It's not the heaviest we have, but, if it doesn't fit, it still won't be all that easy to get it back up myself."
She just glared at me. I don't think she even knew she was giving me that look. I opened up the back seat of her BMW and measured from the farthest corners. It was forty-three maybe four inches.
"This is still too short." I said. "Forty-four inches."
“Oh perfect.” she said. “We will just take it out of the box!”
“Um, you might get an inch or two but...”
“Oh please, we have to get it in. It'll be fine. You're just going to have to do the work, that's all there is to it. I'm buying four of these after all, the least you could do is get this in for me.”
Fuck it. I'm done. I'll shove that shit off the dock, I don't give a fuck anymore. The heated strength helped me go back up, push the box to the edge, hop back down, slide it towards me off the dock and set it right on the ground. I slashed at the tape with my cutter and pulled the table top up through the styrofoam, pieces of it twirling through the light breeze, like winter had come a little early.
I always think I look more emotional than I actually do. She just stood and watched, seemingly unphased. I angled it into the doorway, the inward curve of the door was the first barrier. I couldn't even get to the opening itself. I angled again and again, but there's only so many ways to turn a circle. She looked on, spitting out half sentences of suggestion that weren't anything but noise. Finally, when I thought she surely had seen enough, I put the table top back into the box.
“I'm sorry it's just not physically going to work.” I said. “The measurements don't lie.”
She shook her head, then rubbed her temple.
"I can't believe this." she said. She waited for me to respond but I didn't. "I really thought it would fit. Not much in those packages then, to protect the tables!"
“Well...I'm going to have to come back.”
“Yeah...but you would have had to anyway, so, at least it's not an extra trip you wouldn't have already made.”
“I just wanted to see how it would fit back at the church.”
I looked down at the table top, one last bit of strain to get the customer service sense back. I measured the table itself.
“Forty-six inches.” I said. “That way you can, at least, measure it out in the room and make sure all four can fit.”
“Well, that won't help too much.” she said. “I need to make sure, the only way to do that is actually have them there.”
“I mean, the measurements would tell you exactly the space you would need, but yeah seeing one there would be nice.”
“Well...you don't go to a church so you wouldn't understand what we need to do to make sure we take care of our congregation.”
“There's just so much to do when taking care of people, you know?”
“Actually, I worked...”
“So much, it's hard to explain to someone outside the church.”
“....yeah. These will all be on hold for you for when you get back with the truck.”
She watched as I taped the box back up and leaned it against the dock sliding it up, pushing it on top.
“Oh you have to get it back up that way?” she asked.
I don't know what other way she could have thought I would have done it.
“Well, you must hate me!” she said with a chuckle.
I always hated when frustrating customers said that. How was I supposed to respond? It was easy when nice customers said that about easy requests, but customers that actually made you angry? If only we could respond the way we wanted.
“Well...” she said, after I couldn't think of anything to say. “The Bible does say we will be hated!” Then she laughed, happy with what she thought was some kind of inside joke.
She got back into her car as I stood there thinking over her theology. I didn't have the time to analyze it. By now, I probably was on a meal violation. Ah, well. The confusion took most of my anger away. And I was just glad she was driving away.
The day passed as it usually did. Lunch, then projects and service and coordinating everyone else's breaks. A few hours went by before she finally came back. She had brought the church gardener and his truck, paint peeling, and side view mirror held on with duct tape. She didn't say much this time, but the gardener and I made some small talk before talking about how we both liked hiking. We slid the tables off the dock, directly into the bed of the truck. He began to tie down bungees over the top as she stood to the side watching him run to either side of his truck. I hopped down, tying one side as he tied the other. He thanked me before getting back into the truck.
Then she walked up to me and slipped something into my hand. Before I could tell her I wasn't allowed to take tips, I realized it was a pamphlet. I looked down at it. She walked away without saying a word.
Are You Lost? It was titled. Inside, it had directions to her church and grade school Jesus talk. Just before she got into the truck I looked back up.
"Matthew 10:22," I said.
“What?” she said. “Oh, it's a good one in that pamphlet, you should get a Bible and read the other verses it shares.”
“No that's not what's in here.” I said. “It's what you were probably referring to earlier. About everyone hating you for following Jesus.”
“Oh yes, of course”
“Well Mark 13:13 too, and there's other places, as you surely know.”
“You take it out of context.” I said bluntly. “You should be hated because of your grace, your love, because of the idea you hold that there's more to this world than things. Because you follow Christ above anything else.”
“Exactly!” she said, not fully understanding that I was calling her out. I had to sit back for a moment myself. There I was spouting Bible verses that I didn't act much on.
"Just saying." I said, "From someone who loves God, to a Christian."
“Thank you!” she said and closed the door. Then they drove off.
I pulled myself up on the dock, avoiding the stairs again, sitting on the edge for a moment. I looked up at the much lower sun, as the day passed around the store. I left the church to get away from that shit. Here I was though, sitting on a dock, nothing happening in the empty back alley. What was I doing?
SUPERVISOR TO THE FRONT PLEASE, SUPERVISOR TO THE FRONT.
Then the moment passed.