Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sketches of retail customers, part 1

"Hey, there, gorgeous," he leered as he looked through the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue.  He didn't quite make eye contact; he never really does.  He looks off to the right a little, at the floor, so sometimes you're not sure he's talking to you. 

He's one of our regulars.  A younger man, kind but a little faded, always accompanies him and, I suspect, guides and keeps an eye on him. 

The older man shuffles, extremely stiff, but if the other man isn't leading him, he stops, like a robot turned off.  They usually sit in an alcove somewhere.  The younger man gets up to get coffee sometimes, or to briefly look at merchandise.  They never stay for very long.  The old man always leaves behind Sports Illustrated Swimsuit or GQ or Esquire or Penthouse (or some combination of all of these).

The first time he made inappropriate comments (the first time I saw him), I was offended, and then I realized he's actually kind of a crazy old man who's not all there.  I felt a little guilty for getting so mad.  By now, I realize it's a spinal reflex for him.  I write it off as expected and try to stay out of his field of vision.

Today, I got blindsided, and he made his usual creepy comment.  I turned at the sound and faced them but did not react.  I kept walking.

"Is that a boy or a girl?" he asked the younger man in a quavery, slightly hurt, overly loud voice.

"It's a girl," the younger man answered quickly. 

This cracked several of my co-workers up later (and will probably make my poor mother sad).  The man is infamous in our store.

"You should report this to a manager," one of the newer employees who hasn't encountered this odd couple said.

And I wondered.  His comments are unwelcome and inappropriate.  They make us all feel uncomfortable and awkward.  Our managers should protect us from problem customers like that.  But, then again, he's not all there. 

I guess I feel like I should put up with it because he doesn't mean anything by it because he's not in full control of his faculties. Is it appropriate to get mad?  To seek protection?  If everyone did that, the poor guy would never be allowed to get out in public.  Should we put up with a bit of uncomfortableness for the well-being of others?

I was thinking about this from a writing perspective.  Who should we (be allowed to) exclude from the public view and why?  This has changed over time and is different across cultures.  What an odd way to start thinking about it again . . .

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