Many years ago, sometime around 1984, I was in a large department store (think “small-scale Walmart before Walmart metastasized”) by myself.
I can’t remember why I entered the store to begin with, but before I left, I was looking at the men’s clothing; specifically at a pair of red pants. Why would I want red pants? Because I worked as a Snap-On Tools dealer, and our company logo and uniform shirts were black, gray, and red.
I wanted to try the pants on, to see if they fit, so I went back to the dressing rooms, only to find that all of them were locked. There was no store employee in the vicinity, so I kept walking until I found an employee, in the shoe department. I explained my predicament and asked if she could come unlock the dressing room so I could try on the pants.
She told me that she didn’t have a key to the dressing rooms, and she couldn’t leave the shoe area, but she would page someone to come over to the clothing section and help me. I thanked her and went back to the dressing rooms to wait. I heard her request assistance for me over the store’s PA system, “Customer needs assistance in men’s clothing.”, so I assumed someone would come unlock the dressing rooms. Five or more minutes passed (which seemed like 30+ minutes to me), and no one came.
I thought I would try to get someone’s attention, so I began to toss the red pants up in the air. Don’t ask me why I thought that was a good idea. At first, my tossings were just a few feet overhead. As time went on, and I was still unnoticed, I began to toss them higher.
After about 20-30 tosses, I was approached by a young guy who looked like another shopper (I was 25, and he looked to be about 20.). He had on faded blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a white undershirt. Unbeknownst to me, he was a plain-clothes security officer. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a badge, and said, “I’m store security, and I’m going to have to ask you to leave the store.”
I said, “Why do I need to leave the store? I’m just trying to get someone’s attention so I can get a dressing room unlocked and try on these red pants.”
He said, “Your behavior is inappropriate and dangerous. I’m going to have to call the police if you don’t leave.” Envisioning the newspaper headline, “Snap-On Tools Dealer Arrested for Tossing Pants in Local AIM Store”, I left, and never returned to that store again. My whole family knows this story, and they enjoy bringing it up every once in a while.
A couple of Fridays ago, when I was chauffeuring my middle child to a government office in Madison, TN, attempting to help her unravel a government-induced mistake, things went from bad to worse. The agency lost a check she mailed them (for overpayments they made to her because they didn’t process her employment paperwork fast enough, continuing to pay her disability benefits after she found a job). They continued to ask for payment and, when she explained (multiple times over the phone with different case-workers, each of whom had no record of previous conversations) that she’d already mailed the payment, they told her they didn’t know what happened to her check, so she would need to stop payment on it and come to their office, in person, to make payment.
Hey, if you can’t joke about your life, you might be taking it too seriously!
We were carrying on a group text conversation with her mom (my wife) who was at work in Fayetteville, keeping her apprised of our progress, feigning excitement as the numbers called were getting closer to hers. Hey, if you can’t joke about your life, you might be taking it too seriously! Right before her number was called, the office manager came out to the waiting room and abruptly announced that the office was closing immediately and we all needed to evacuate the building as quickly as possible, because there was “a strong chemical smell in one of the offices.” He then said, “You’ll all need to come back on Monday to take care of your business.”
My daughter took a day off, without pay, in order to make sure this agency posted her check and corrected its mistake, so I was pretty incensed. I went up to the office manager and said, “She took a day off work, without pay, to come down here and straighten out a problem that your office created. Do you mean to tell me that there’s nothing you’re going to do but tell her to take another day off and come back Monday?”
His reply was, “You’ll just have to come back on Monday.”
When we were filing out of the office with the 30 or so other people who were in the same predicament, one of the security guards said, quietly, “There’s another office 20 minutes up the road. You can go there and get your business taken care of.” She even gave us directions.
All of this was reported and responded to in the group text conversation. Somewhere in the middle of this whole ordeal, though it is not recorded in the text thread (must have been in a phone or face-to-face conversation), someone made reference to the red pants, asking if I was tempted to toss any pants in the air at the first office. Hey, if you can’t joke about your life, you might be taking it too seriously!
By the time we arrived at the second office, we had all laughed at this frustration and made jokes about who had sabotaged the office and the source of the “strong chemical smell”, theorizing everything from another irate client with pyromaniac/terrorist tendencies to a disengaged employee wanting an early start to the weekend.
The employee who eventually handled her case at the second office was remarkable. He was professional, apologetic, meticulous, and we left his office with a renewed sense of appreciation for and faith in humanity. I’m telling you this story to let you know, in case you’ve been misled, that there are good and helpful people out there in every profession. Sometimes you might have to evacuate a few burning buildings before you find them. Oh yeah, one more thing: Never toss the red pants. They probably wouldn’t have fit anyway, and they likely wouldn’t look good on you. Just walk away, and keep laughing.
© 2016 Todd Jenkins