There are a few times in my retail life that I’ve been able to have a little fun with customers at their expense. Both of these involved race, due to the circumstances. I didn’t do these things because I think race is funny issue, but I think making strangers uncomfortable is.
The most recent incident involved holiday elves in black or white options. One busy pre-Christmas day, a woman approached me asking where the elves were on display so I took her to the table, covered in boxes.
“Here ya are!” I said, standing next to the table with my standard, retail smile.
“Yeah, I saw these. I was looking for…different ones.”
All the boxes on the table contained one elf doll, as well as the companion storybook. “Different ones,” could only mean one thing. Sensing blood in the water, I put on a side-smile apology look and gave a slight shoulder shrug.
“We just have them packaged together with the book, I’m afraid.”
“No.” She floundered, trying to find the right words of escape. “No, I’m looking for a different…kind.”
“I don’t understand,” I said politely. I felt myself rising from the deep, the injured seal floundering above me as light in the water shone in a glimmering aura around it.
“I need a white one.”
Saliva burst into my mouth as my teeth tore flesh-shame and I let out an animal sound of pleasure. I tried to hide it behind an understanding, “oh,” but it lasted too long and no one was fooled.
I reached for a different box and pointed out how you can open the box and see the elf inside. She made a quiet, “hm,” the death rattle of customer service, and went on her way.
It doesn’t always play out this way, though. In a previous retail environment, we sold black and white holiday Barbies (I’m not sure what you do if you’re any of the other races) and a similar situation arose.
A man called, voice sounding of many years of rural life and the onset of holiday-shopping frustration.
“Do you have any Holiday Barbies left? The other store is all out.”
“Let me check for you.”
I walked over to the section and looked at the Barbie display. A collector-lust sized hole was the new focal point of the display, but my eyes caught a certain glimmer behind the normal Barbie rotation.
“As luck would have it, there IS one left.”
“Fantastic! I’ll be right over for it.”
You surely will have noticed what was missing from that conversation. At no point, did he ask, nor did I clarify the color of the Barbie. I warned the front desk of this omission, and returned to my department to lie in wait.
Sure enough, the trap sprung, but the quarry wasn’t going without a fight.
“Well they had THOSE kind in Moorhead!” He left without purchasing the doll.