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No, I Don’t Work Here

November 11, 2012 | by Mordechai Schmutter

Ever since I was a teenager, people have been coming up to me in stores and assuming that I worked there.

I started thinking about my clothing recently when my wife sent me to the store. “We have a wedding coming up,” she said. “You need a white shirt.”

“We have a wedding coming up,” my wife said. “You need a white shirt.”

She said this because, for some reason, none of the shirts that I own are completely white. A lot of them started off white, but now the fronts of those shirts are more of a brownish white. And I don’t know why. I don’t even eat that much brown food on Shabbos, except, you know, cholent. And kishke. Oh, and farfel. Kugel. Sometimes rice. Also liver. And meat. Oh, I almost forgot cola. And most of the cakes that I like involve chocolate. Come to think of it, maybe I should just start wearing brown shirts to my Shabbos meals. Or a bib.

But I don’t really like going shopping alone, because ever since I was a teenager, people have been coming up to me in stores and assuming that I worked there.

“Do you know where I can find the cuff links?”

“I have no idea.”

“What do you mean? Don’t you work here?”

The first few times this happened, I didn’t realize that they thought I worked there. I thought they were just making conversation. So I answered honestly.

“Excuse me, where do you keep the peanut butter?”

“Usually in the pantry. I find that when I keep it in the fridge, it tears the bread apart. Why, where do you keep your peanut butter?”

“I don’t have peanut butter.”

“Oh, you should get some. I think this store carries it.”

I still don’t always realize when they think I work there.

CUSTOMER: “I’d like to return these pants, but there’s no one in that department.”

ME: “I know! Don’t you just hate when that happens?”

CUSTOMER: “What are you, a comedian?”

ME: “Umm…”

CUSTOMER: “I hate this store!”

ME: “Yeah, me too! Everyone thinks I work here!”

CUSTOMER: “You don’t work here?”

ME: “No! But to be fair, half the employees don’t work here either.”

Once in a while, if I’m not in a rush, I’ll actually try to help people find what they’re looking for, especially if they ask nicely. I’ll walk around the whole store, up and down all the aisles, and they’ll follow me dutifully, like I know what I’m doing, and then, when I do find their item (this happens about fifty percent of the time), they’ll suddenly take it too far.

“Do you have this in any other colors?” they’ll ask. “How about in the back?”

“Sorry,” I’ll say. “They don’t let me into the back.” Then they ask to speak to my manager.

Like I’m going to get my wife involved.

Like I’m going to get my wife involved.

But the truth is that I can’t really blame these people for thinking that I work there, because in a lot of these stores it’s really hard to find salespeople. Sure, in some stores, the salespeople hover over you like hawks. They follow you around and they stand an uncomfortable distance behind you, and they ask you every sixty seconds if there’s anything they can help you with. Even if you’re just browsing, they will not let up. “Would you like me to help you browse? Here, browse these items!” What I usually do in that situation is I grab something off a shelf at random and say, “There it is! Thanks! You can go away now!” And then I wait for them to walk away so I can put it back. But at least they’re trying to be helpful.

But there are some stores, such as the major hardware stores, where the customers don’t actually know what they’re looking for – you’re mainly there because something in your house stopped working, and you’re hoping to find some magical clue that will help you figure out how to get it to work again – and there’s almost never anyone around to help. Once in a while, you’ll see a salesperson talking to another customer, and you’ll wait patiently off to the side so he should know that you’re next, but then as soon as he’s done, he will dart off in the opposite direction, and by the time you round the corner, he’ll be gone – probably through some secret trap door in the Doors Department.

It’s like the attitude is, “Here we are, trying to do our jobs as salespeople, and all these customers keep coming over to us and asking us questions. Seriously. What’s with all these customers? Don’t these people have jobs?”

Occasionally, you’ll actually find an employee in a different aisle, and you’ll drag him over to your aisle, and he’ll say things like, “I don’t know. I don’t work in this aisle.”

“You work one aisle over. It’s not a different country. Is it possible that you maybe once overheard someone talking about something in this aisle when you were hiding between the racks?”

But sometimes, if you’re lucky, he will try to sell you something from his aisle.

YOU: “My dining room is really dark, and I need to buy a fixture. Something I can install myself.”

SALESPERSON: “I don’t know anything about fixtures. How about you buy some of these windows?”

But now I know why I can never find someone to help me: I look like I work there. The employees look down the aisle and say, “Hey, someone’s already in this aisle! I guess I can go home for the day.”

One day, I’m going to apply for a job in one of these stores. I’m going to say, “Look, half of your customers already think I work here. Why not just make it official? I already know where most of your items are!”

And maybe I can get a job in a specific department, such as “pants”. That way I never have to walk up and down the other aisles, and if someone comes in for, say, a pair of slippers, I can instead try to sell him extra long pants. Also, I can answer the phone, “This is Mordechai, in Pants.”

But thankfully, when I went to the store this time, no one bothered me. I don’t know if it was because I went the day after Tisha B’av, and I was wearing my I-Should-Have-Done-the-Laundry-Days-Ago shirt, or if it was because I was pushing a wagon full of kids. But in the end, I couldn’t decide between two shirts, so I brought them both home to ask my wife.

“What would you do without me?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “I would just pick a shirt and never look back. The only reason this is even a question is that I’m afraid of what you’d say.”

“Oh,” she said. “Why didn’t you just ask someone who works there?”

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