Tag Archives: the Mercantile

Woman at the Back Door

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My workday at the Mercantile had been long. I’d already dealt with a lost family who only wanted to visit famous trees and an elderly couple who despite having made a reservation online claimed they had no idea the campground lacked running water. It was now nearly 5:45, and although the Mercantile was scheduled to close at five o’clock, I wasn’t quite finished with my nightly duties.

My last task of the workday was to zip shut all the windows on the yurt housing the Mercantile. The windows opened and closed from the outside, so I had to leave the yurt to complete this task. The straps that held the rolled window covers up were higher than I am tall, so I had to stand on a small step ladder in order to unlatch the strap and lower the covers.

I’d just finished zipping down the last panel when I heard a car pull into the campground. Something about the way the car slid on the gravel told me the driver was on a mission. I ducked into the yurt and hoped the people in the car would go away so I could get out of there undisturbed. Of course, that was not to be.

Hello! Hello! I heard a feminine voice yelling just outside the yurt. When I turned around, I saw a woman who was probably in her early 60s standing on the small back porch. Her hair was grey, but she seemed athletic and well moisturized. She had unhooked the yellow chain that’s supposed to convey to people not to step onto the porch (but often fails at its job). She was assuring me she was going to replace the chain, but I wished she’d never moved it to begin with.

I didn’t open the door. For security reasons, I don‘t open the door once the Mercantile is closed. For reasons pertaining to my sanity, I don’t open the door once the Mercantile is closed.

Did you just close? the woman asked through the flimsy glass covering the door’s window.

No ma’am, I answered. We closed at five.

This seemed to disappoint her. Perhaps she thought if I’d just closed, I’d be more inclined to let her into the store.

Ok, the woman said, undeterred. I have a few questions.

Here we go, I thought.

I was talking to the camp hosts here yesterday…she started

They’re on their day off, I said, in no mood for exposition. I’d anticipated her question of Where are they now? or maybe When will they get back tonight?

Oh, ok, she said, seemingly giving up on her idea of speaking to the camp hosts that evening.

What kind of food do you sell in the store? she asked, moving onto the next item on her agenda.

I listed some of our snack options. Chip, usually, but we’re out right now. Payday bars. M & Ms.

I don’t eat any of that! she snapped at me as if I should have already known her dietary habits. Do you sell any fresh Assorted Vegetable Lot vegetables?

No, ma’am, I said. No fresh vegetables. There’s a general store 10 miles down the road…

I was just there, she interrupted. They didn’t have any fresh vegetables either.

I wasn’t surprised by the lack of fresh vegetables for sale on the top of the mountain.

The closest place to get vegetables is probably the town at the base of the mountain, I told her. There’s a grocery store down there.

The woman seemed supremely displeased by the lack of fresh vegetables in the area but ready to move on to another topic.

Person Holding Outlined MapMy camp host says you have a map of the trails, she said.

We have one map, I replied. It’s $20. But the store is closed.

By “closed,” I didn’t just mean the doors were locked and the window covers were down.  I meant there was no money in the register. All the money had been counted and was now locked in the safe. I’d gone through the register’s closing procedure, and the drawer was no longer active. Once the drawer was inactive, it wasn’t activated again until the next morning. The entire point of purchase system was closed for the night.

I have an excellent map! the woman said as if I should have known that too. I just want a sheet that shows the trails in the area.

During my time working in the Mercantile, tourists often thought they were going to find stacks of free literature in the store. They thought we were a division of the Forest Service and would have free maps and brochures to hand out. Most people were surprised to find out I didn’t work for the Forest Service but instead for a private company that paid a lot of money to the Forest Service for a permit to do business in the Sequoia National Forest. The Forest Service did not give us any literature to give out. Any handouts we gave to tourists (and there were a couple), were photocopied at the expense of the company for which I worked.

No ma’am, I told the woman on the back porch. I don’t have anything like that.

She explained again what she wanted, in the event I hadn’t understood her the first time, and dropped in another my camp host said for good measure. I didn’t point out that I wasn’t sure her camp host had ever looked around in the Mercantile to see what we actually had there, and when she asked about a map showing trails, he probably referred her to the map we sold for $20. I also didn’t point out that if I had anything vaguely resembling what she was looking for, I would have gladly handed it over just to get rid of  her so I could go back to my camp after an almost nine hour day mostly on my feet. Instead I just repeated. No ma’am. I don’t have anything like that.

Finally she took me at my word and left. I huddled in the store until I heard her car pull away, lest she think of new questions and accost me before I could lock the door and make my way to my van.

Images courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/art-business-closed-logo-1152831/, https://www.pexels.com/photo/assorted-vegetable-lot-1300972/, and https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-outlined-map-793088/.

 

 

I Think I Made ‘Em Happy

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The couple walked up to the front door of the Mercantile just as I was about to close it. It was five o’clock–closing time–and I was ready to do my end-of-the-day paperwork and go back to my camp for dinner and relaxation.

Are you the camp host? the woman asked me when we met on either side of the screen door.

Oh no! I said, but the woman launched right into their campground woes anyway.

Gray Dome Tent Surrounded by Tall TreesThey had reserved site #4, but the walk from where they had to park their car to down to the camping area was too long.

We’re both 65, the woman told me, and apparently she believed their age determined that they couldn’t walk very far.

I explained that since I wasn’t the camp host, I couldn’t authorize a change in campsites. I told them the campground’s regular hosts were having a day off, but the relief host would come around some time that evening to fill out their permit.

The woman wanted to know what time the camp host would be there. I told her the host didn’t have a set schedule, but he usually patrolled the campground between 4:30 and 6:30 in the evening. She was anxious to gett their tent up before dark, which is a valid concern. I told her again she’d have to talk to the camp host about changing sites, since there was nothing I could do to help. I even told the couple how to find the campground (only two miles away) where the relief host was stationed and said they could go there and find the host if they wanted to talk to him right away.

I thought I’d handled their concerns to the best of my ability, but then they started asking about the Mercantile. Was it closed? (Yes.) Could they just take a peek inside. (Sure.)

They’d come back to the Mercantile in the morning, they said; I told them it opened at 9am.

I thought they’d be on their way then, either to find the relief camp host or to pitch their tent, but then the fellow asked me if we were having problems with our plumbing.

What? I asked. I was very confused, as the campground had no plumbing.

He’d seen all the gallon jugs on the ground near the 300 gallon water tank on the host site. Javier and Sandra the camp hosts kept gallon jugs of water there for campers to use to put out their campfires.

There’s no running water in this campground, I said cautiously. This lack of water was the kind of thing some campers got very angry about.

No running water? he echoed in surprise.

No, I confirmed. There’s no running water in this campground.

They didn’t know. The reservation website didn’t say. I was pretty sure the reservation website did say. The fellow was holding a handful of printouts from the reservation website, so I asked to see them. After shuffling through them and skimming the information contained therein, I’ll be damned if I could find anything about the campground’s lack of water. It didn’t really matter anyway. Even if I could prove to the couple that they should have brought water, knowing they’d messed up wasn’t going to magically provide the water they needed.

We have water in the store, I said as I ushered them in.

I could tell the fellow was angry, so I suggested he complain to the reservation service for not specifying on their website that the campground was dry. Then I dug out a comment card to go to the president of the company I worked for so the camper could lodge a complaint from that end too. The fellow seemed to calm down once I offered him a clear route of complaint.

The woman, on the other hand, had worked herself into a state of consternation over how many gallons of water Person Holding Green Hosethey should buy.

Should we get one or two? she kept asking her husband. She calculated several times how much water they would need before they’d go somewhere to get wash water out of a hose.

We have to cook dinner tonight. Pasta. And breakfast tomorrow. And we have to wash the dishes, she stated several times. Do we need both of these? she asked her husband more than once, gesturing to the two one-gallon  jugs she’d placed on the counter.

The fellow obviously didn’t care if they bought one gallon of water or two. I just wanted the woman to make a decision so I could collect payment, and they could leave me to close up shop for the day. Finally they decided to take both gallons, and I sent them on their way.

The next day I found out from the relief camp host that the couple had decided to stay on the campsite they’d reserved after all. The camp host had given them a gallon of water from beside the 300 gallon water tank so they could wash their dishes. He was absolutely not supposed to give that water to campers, but I didn’t say anything about it. The deed had been done; I’m sure the water had already been used to wash supper and breakfast dishes. Besides, I wasn’t the boss. It wasn’t my job to tell someone the rules about water from the tank.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/forest-trees-adventure-tent-6714/ and https://www.pexels.com/photo/man-hand-garden-growth-2259/.

Inappropriate Store Clerk Behavior

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At the start of my fourth season working on the mountain, I worked at the Mercantile with two other women. The other clerks were both in their early 60s. One of the women was very sweet and kind hearted. Seldom did a cross word come out of her mouth, and she got melty over the cuteness of dogs and little kids. The second store clerk—let’s call her Butch—was most kindly described as abrupt.

Butch burped loudly and didn’t excuse herself. She raised her voice at children, and her tone when she invited customers to ask questions betrayed her true feeling. Butch was bossy, although all three of us clerks had equal lack of authority in the eyes of the company we worked for. One day when there were no customers in the store, Butch used an obvious racial slur in casual conversation with me, The Big Boss Man, and Sandra the camp host. I was stunned into silence.

Butch was kind to me in her own way, which complicates how I felt about her. She offered to loan money to me and The Man when we experienced some payroll problems. She offered to pick up supplies for us on the weeks she and her husband went to town and The Man and I stayed on the mountain. She bought two copied of my book before she and her husband quit their jobs on the mountain shortly after the Fourth of July. She showed her desire for friendship with me in the manner of an eight year old boy: rambunctious teasing, invading my personal space, tugging on my clothes. I tried not to stand in her general vicinity so she didn’t have the opportunity to get too close to me.

Butch had suffered major health problems in recent years. I suspect facing death had given her a don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. Perhaps she felt life is too short to apologize for belching like a ruffian or to stifle a racial slur. However, I suspect her bossiness and negative teasing have existed through most of her life.

I first witnessed her exhibiting inappropriate-toward-a-customer behavior on the third day we worked together. The day was cold and foggy. The temperature inside the yurt housing the Mercantile only got up to 42 degrees. Many people had come up the mountain unprepared for the weather. We were doing bang-up sales in long sleeve tees and sweatshirts.

We would have sold more if we’d had sweatshirts intended for men. We had one unisex sweatshirt in Carolina blue (which is sort of a powder blue, if you don’t follow college sports) and a grey one that ran small and was cut for slender curves. We’d seen a couple guys try on the grey sweatshirts that morning, and the larger sizes looked ok on very thin men.

Late in the afternoon during a lull in the customer action, a tall, muscular young man came into the store asking about nearby trails he and his friends could hike.  I told him there were no real hiking trails in our immediate vicinity and tried to sell him on a map of the area that showed all the trails and Forest Service roads. The map was a no-go, but the handsome young man politely thanked me for my help.

The young man’s friends had followed him in and were browsing in the store. One picked out a small souvenir, and the other one found the grey sweatshirts. He was very thin, and when he pulled on one of the grey sweatshirts in extra-large, it looked fine on him. It was by no means baggy, but he didn’t look as if he had been squeezed into a sausage casing either. The young man paid for the items, and all three men exited the Mercantile.

The tall young man who’d asked me about hiking trails returned a few moments later. He liked the sweatshirt his friend had bought, and since he was cold he was thinking about buying one too.

I could understand why he was cold. In addition to his shoes and ankle socks, he only wore a pair of tight shorts and a snug t-shirt—no hat, no jacket, no knee socks. I bet he was fully experiencing the chill of the day.

He said his friend had gotten an extra-large sweatshirt. Of course, his friend was six inches shorter, 75 pounds lighter, and lacking developed muscles. No way was the guy standing in front of me going to be able to squeeze into an XL.

I went over to the rack of sweatshirts and found a double extra-large. I handed it to the handsome young man, and he surveyed it skeptically.

You can try it on, I told the young man helpfully, even though I doubted the sweatshirt would fit him comfortably. Maybe he was cold enough to buy a sweatshirt that didn’t fit very well.

He asked if we had a dressing room. I said we didn’t. That’s when Butch piped in.

You can try it on right there, she said in what she probably thought passed for a sultry voice. I’ll watch.

The young man had the sweatshirt half over his head by the time she finished speaking.

Butch! I exclaimed. Don’t talk to the customers like that!

She just smirked.

I had turned away from the young man to chastise Butch. When I turned back to him, he’d pulled the shirt over his torso and by the look on his face, I could tell Butch had embarrassed him. The shirt was really too small for him, although I didn’t say so. He did look like a sausage, albeit a very fit sausage.

The young man decided he didn’t like the way the sweatshirt fit. The over $30 price didn’t help either. As I ran around the store finding less expensive long sleeve t-shirts designed with broad shoulders in mind, he tried to get out of the grey sweatshirt. He had to lean forward and pull it over his head. Of course, his t-shirt rode up and exposed his abs. I looked away to give him the illusion of privacy, but true to her word, Butch stood there and gawked at his every move.

When the young man finally got himself out of the sweatshirt, he couldn’t get out of the Mercantile fast enough. As I showed him other long sleeve options I’d found, he just repeated I’ll pass and I think I’ll pass. The young man was obviously mortified.

I don’t know what Butch was thinking. Maybe she thought it couldn’t be sexual harassment since she was a woman and he was a man. Maybe she thought life is too short to not let attractive young people know she’s looking at them. Maybe she wasn’t thinking at all. Maybe she simply opened her mouth and let some words pop out.

If a man had said such a thing to a woman, it would have been creepy and inappropriate. I think Butch saying such a thing to the young man was also creepy and inappropriate. The reversal of genders didn’t make it ok.

 

Impatient and Rude

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The family at the register was taking a long time.  It was a weekend morning at the Mercantile.Things were getting busy, and it was taking forever to get these folks on their way.

The other clerk was ringing up the items they’d selected while I bagged everything. A brown plush bear that was really a backpack went into the shopping bag, then the mom decided she wanted to buy another one. She left the counter to pick up the plush black bear backpack.

Do you have this in brown? she wanted to know.

No ma’am, I told her. Everything we have is out.

We had exactly two plush bear backpack available for purchase, one brown and one black. The brown one was already in a shopping bag, waiting to go home with this woman. If she wanted another plush bear backpack from our store, it would have to be the black one. She decided to take it too.

The other clerk couldn’t get the black bear’s tag to work with the register. When she scanned the barcode, the message “item not on file” appeared on the computer screen. When she punched in the item number from the tag, the computer told us it did not exist. Finally, she pulled the brown bear backpack out of the shopping bag and scanned its tag again. Of course, what she’d done was going to mess up the store’s inventory, but I guess she figured it was better to sell the backpack today and worry about the inventory later.

When the other clerk was finished with the brown bear, I put it back in the shopping bag, but when I began to tuck the black bear into the bag, the customer asked for a second shopping bag. It’s a gift, she explained. I reached for a second shopping bag and placed the black bear in it.

Then there was a problem with the dad’s debit card. The other clerk ran it a couple of times, but each time the message on the screen was “NSF” (Non-Sufficient Funds). While the customer fished another credit card from his wallet, I asked if maybe his bank had put a hold on his card because he was using it outside his usual shopping area. He decided that was probably the case.

At some point during the transaction, I realized the next person in line was growing increasingly agitated. He was a tall guy, in good physical shape, with short hair. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn he was a cop or in the military. He had an uptight, regimented look about him. He was alone—no buddies, no lady friend, no kids. I could tell from his body language that he was tired of standing in line, tired of this family in front of him showing down his very busy day. I’m not sure how I knew he was unhappy. Maybe the stiffness of his shoulders or the pinched expression on his face gave him away. In any case, I was not excited to have to deal with him next.

Sure enough, when the slow family stepped away from the counter and he stepped up for his turn, the guy with short hair barked Parking! That was it. He had not a single kind or pleasant word for us.

I wanted to bark out Asshole! but I didn’t. I knew calling him out wasn’t going to help and would, in fact, certainly make matters worse. Instead I tried the kill ‘em with kindness method, which at least got me a thank you muttered through clenched teeth as he took his credit card and day pass and left. He got through the entire transaction speaking only three words.

I was livid when he left. I shouldn’t have let him get to me, but I did. The other clerk and I had done nothing to deserve such rudeness. It wasn’t our fault the woman ahead of him decided she needed something else after she was already at the counter. It wasn’t our fault the price tag was out of date, and the item was no longer in the system. It wasn’t our fault the fellow’s debit card didn’t work. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man hadn’t brought cash to pay the parking lot attendant and needed to come into the Mercantile to pay for parking with a card. It wasn’t our fault the impatient man had come to see the trees during busy hours on the weekend. It wasn’t our fault the store had only one register, and we could only take payment from one customer at a time.

For the rest of the day, I’d intermittently snap Parking! at my coworker when no customers were around. I probably shouldn’t have made fun of someone who was obviously so unhappy, but maybe he’d be happier if he worked on being less impatient and rude.

WiFi

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Person Holding Wi-fi Stencil PaperThree East Indian men came into the Mercantile on a Sunday morning. The first one asked me if we had any food, and I directed him to our shelves of snacks.

The two other men came in shortly after. The short young guy with puffy hair asked for food too, or at least I though he did. When I directed him to the snacks, he got exasperated and said, No. Like a banana. Apparently, he had asked for fruit.

I spared him my boisterous rendition of “Yes, We Have No Bananas” and simply told him we had no fruit. He bought a Payday bar and a granola bar, and then the men were on their way.

The other clerk had gone to lunch when the short fruitophile guy came back into the store. Excuse me, he said politely. Do you know the password to the WiFi?

Yes, I said, which I thought was the truth, but I’m not allowed to give it out, which was certainly the truth.

The young man looked very sad. Is there anyone here who can give it to me?

I shook my head and said no. All employees were under strict orders not to share the WiFi password with anyone not employed by the company that runs the store and the campground.

I don’t have signal, the young man said, looking sadder by the second.

No one has signal up here, I told him.

Knowing he was not alone in his lack of signal did not seem to comfort him. He stood there and looked at me with his big, dark eyes.

Do you have an emergency? I asked. If someone had been bleeding or his car had been on fire, I would have handed him the store phone.

No, he said, and I appreciated his honesty. I get super annoyed when folks try to convince me that their lack of planning is an emergency.

I haven’t talked to my family in like five days, he continued,

(That’s why I come up here! a camping friend of mine exclaimed when I told her this story.)

Once you get down to Tiny Babylon, you’ll have service again, I tried to comfort him.

My friend has the car, he said. Maybe he could only go where his friend drove, but I’m not sure how the ownership of the care affected his cell phone service.

There’s a facial expression I found myself making when I had nothing more to say to someone in the Mercantile. I pressed my lips together and turned down the corners of my mouth. This expression was accompanied by a little noise which sounded something like Hmm. This is how I conveyed that I could do nothing to help and the conversation was over. This reaction was the last thing the young man got from me. He looked at me sadly for several long seconds, then he turned around and walked out the door.

I found out later the same man had asked the other clerk for the password as she was coming back from lunch and had asked Javier the camp host for it too. Of course, they told him no, but I was a little miffed he’d asked after I told him no one would be able to give it to him.

Javier pointed out to me that although he’d put the password in his phone and he was now allowed to access the internet, he couldn’t access the password anymore. He wasn’t able to share the password with anyone even if he wanted to because he couldn’t find it on his phone.

I poked around on my phone and discovered I was in the same situation. The password was in my phone, doing its job to allow me to access the store’s WiFi, but I sure as hell couldn’t figure out how to see the password. (I had the password in a note on my old phone, but the battery on that one died so completely, I couldn’t get to any screen even when it was plugged in. I hadn’t thought to copy the password before my phone was totally gone.)

I was pleased when I realized I could truthfully tell people who wanted the password that I didn’t know it. I didn’t have to tell people I wasn’t allowed to give it out; all I had to do was admit my ignorance.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-cliff-fingers-grass-386135/.

Attempted Bribery and a Lie

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Person Holding Wifi Logo CardShe tried to bribe me; I told the lie.

It was Friday morning at the Mercantile, and members of a large family from Indiana and Illinois staying in the campground were shopping. The parents of one family were probably in their early 30s, and they had four kids—three boys and a girl. The oldest kid was probably 10, the youngest 5. The kids ran around touching things and playing with puppets while receiving practically no supervision from either parent.

The mom of the family noticed the WiFi networks on her phone, or maybe she had noticed it before she stepped foot in the Mercantile. Do you have internet here? she asked. Since she must have known there were networks available, what she really wanted was the password so she could utilize one.

I shook my head and made a sad face. No, I said, then realized her phone was telling her otherwise, so I added, not for public use.

At least once a day, someone asked about accessing the store’s WiFi. If I didn’t think they’d seen the networks on their phone, I just said no. If the visitor already had a phone out, I’d say the internet wasn’t available for public use, and maybe I’d add it was only to run the cash register, which was a fib in and of itself. All of the company employees in the area had the password to one of the networks and connected to it to so we could access the internet. Still, I used the only for the cash register fib when I saw that a visitor was not going to simply give up on the idea of using the internet while near the Mercantile. Most people were obviously disappointed but didn’t push the issue.

I tried to help people by finding out why they wanted to use the WiFi. Most people told me with panic that their GPS wasn’t working. They didn’t seem to feel any better when I told them that no one’s GPS was working on the top of the mountain, but I could usually give them directions to where they wanted to go. For the people who wanted to post pictures or check their social media, there was nothing I could do to help.

It seemed like the mom on this Friday morning was going to let the topic of WiFi drop, but then she brought it up again as her family piled their souvenirs on the counter on front of me for purchase.

Couldn’t she use the internet for a few minutes? she asked. Couldn’t we just give her the password? I’ll pay you, she offered.

I knew what was going to happen if we gave her the password. She would go back to her extended family camping on three sites and brag that she had access to the WiFi. Maybe her family would beg, or maybe she’d hand out the password with no coaxing, but I was confident she’d share it and all the adults in her group and the older kids too would be on our porch, logged in to the WiFi.

She offered to pay me, but I just said no. That’s when I told the big lie.

I could tell she wouldn’t give up if I simply said no again or told her it was against store policy to share the password. I knew she’d promise not the give the password to anyone else or even tell anyone she had it, but I was confident she wouldn’t be able to keep such a score a secret. I knew I had to tell her something that would make an impression on her. That’s when I told her the big lie.

I’ll pay you, she said, and I said, No. If I give you the password, I’ll get fired. You don’t have enough money. I shared this information flatly, matter-of-factly, no smile on my face, not like I was joking.

I knew I probably wouldn’t get fired if I gave her the password, even if The Big Boss Man somehow found out about it, but I knew if The Big Boss Man found out I’d done such a thing, he would not be happy with me. At the least, I’d get a stern lecture. At worst, if I gave the password to this woman and she shared it, her extended family could use up our monthly allotment of internet access or crash our system from overuse. Why would I want to bring any negative consequences on myself for what I’m sure would only be an offering of a .few bucks?

I don’t like lying and I try not to do it, but in this case, as I suspected it would, my lie shut the lady down. She quit asking for the password. Perhaps she didn’t want my job loss on her conscience. Perhaps she realized I wasn’t going to give her the password no matter what she offered or how much she begged.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/blur-clear-sky-close-up-fingers-423367/.

A Gift of Avocado

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The family came into the Mercantile late on a Sunday afternoon.

The short fuzz of the tall fellow’s hair was mostly grey. The woman had short hair too, stylishly cut, but in need of a trim. The child was maybe three and appeared to be a boy. From the conversation I overheard between the adults, I determined the child was their kid, not their grandchild as I might have guessed.

The adults let the kid run around. He wasn’t destroying things, but he was touching everything and moving things around. He certainly wasn’t being told to look with your eyes, not with your hands or the Spanish equivalent, no toca. The parents didn’t demand the kid hold an adult hand or stay by an adult side. Basically, they were letting him do what he wanted with minimum parental supervision or intervention.

The adults were busy picking up items they wanted to buy and piling them on the counter. I guess their shopping was interfering with their parental duties. I got the feeling most things they did interfered with their parental duties. In any case, it looked like it was going to be a big sale, so the employees of the Mercantile silently tolerated the child’s behavior.

The Big Boss Man was in the Mercantile too, using his phone to utilize the internet. He conversed with the adults as they shopped. I stood tired and mostly silent behind the cash register waiting to ring up the sale.

One of the adults mentioned their reservation had been for this night and the previous night, but they’d only just arrived. It seemed they hadn’t been able to get things together to arrive on time. They were thinking of staying the next night too, since they’d missed the first night of their reservation.

I don’t know if The Big Boss man was just feeling generous in general or if he was inspired by the growing pile of merchandise on the counter, but he told the couple they could have their site for free the next night if they decided to stay. Of course, The Big Boss Man lost nothing by making this offer. The couple had paid for a night they hadn’t used and since Mondays are typically slow, the site would probably sit empty if the couple decided not to stay. The Big Boss Man is good at being generous in ways that don’t cost the company money. He’s all about generating goodwill when he can do it for free.

I rang up the family’s purchases. They spent more than $100, which definitely stimulated The Big Boss Man’s feelings of goodwill. I packed their purchases into a large shopping bag and sent them on their way with wishes to have a good night!

The other clerk left for the day, but The Big Boss Man lingered. Sometimes he does that. Sometimes I’m hoping for a quiet last half hour of the day alone in the Mercantile, but The Big Boss man hangs around until closing time. It looked like this was going to be one of those afternoons.

Sliced Avocado FruitThe father of the rambunctious child came back into the Mercantile. I want to give you these, he said. He handed me and The Big Boss Man each a large, green, perfect avocado. He tended about 200 avocado trees back home, he said. These were from his trees.

I thanked him profusely and energetically. I love avocados and to receive one as a gift is high on my list of wonderfulness. The Man and I ate the avocado that night. It was perfectly ripe. Sometimes niceness pays off in delicious ways.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/avocado-close-up-colors-cut-557659/.

Phone Home

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Seven Assorted Colored Rotary TelephonesNot three minutes before the young people walked into the Mercantile, I’d been telling the new camp host how The Big Boss Man did not like visitors using the phone in the store to make calls for any reason he did not consider an emergency. He’d allow phone calls for fire and bleeding, and I bet broken bones would have met his criteria for an emergency, but to him car trouble didn’t count. Car won’t start? Flat tire? Keys locked inside the vehicle? The Big Boss Man thought you should go to the payphone eleven miles away to make your call.

This phone policy put me and the other clerks at the Mercantile in an awkward position. I didn’t want to displease my boss, but I certainly wanted to help people. Also, it wasn’t the boss who had to tell the woman traveling alone who’d locked not just her keys but her phone, her ID, her cash, and her credit cards in her car that she couldn’t use our fully functioning phone—it was the store clerks who had to do the dirty work.

I explained all of this to the new camp host in the course of our conversation, and he just shook his head. He was really into helping people and couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t let a driver having problems with a vehicle call for help.

Just as the camp host left the Mercantile through the back door, three young people walked through the front door. I’m not sure how young the people actually were, but they all looked at least 18 to me. The two women could have been a little younger than 18 or maybe a little older, but I’d be astonished to find out the fellow with them was younger than 22. In any case, the three young people before me appeared to be adults.

The tallest woman stood in front of the counter looking sad. She had straight dark hair and wore a loose shirt over a bikini top. She started talking to me in a voice so low I couldn’t understand her words.

Could you speak up? I asked. I can’t hear you.

She looked completely startled. Maybe I’d spoken too harshly. Maybe she’d learned speaking softly helped her get things she wanted from people. In any case, she raised her voice and started again.

We don’t have any phone service out here, she began.

No one does! I interjected.

And I need to call home to let my parents know I made it to the campground safely, she told me.

A big girl like you? I wanted to say.

How old are you? I wanted to ask. For once I kept my big mouth shut.

If my parents don’t hear from me, they’re going to file a missing person report, she told me. Whether she was exaggerating or if she had really grown up under such helicoptering, I do not know.

I gave her a big speech about my boss and the phone, how he thought it should only be used for emergencies and he definitely would not consider her situation an emergency. I’m going to let you use the phone, I wrapped up my speech, but you CANNOT. TELL. ANYONE.

She solemnly agreed not to tell anyone, and I handed her the phone. She dialed the number, and there was a long wait while the phone rang before the young woman reached her mother’s voicemail. She explained she’d reached the campground, had no phone service, and would not be able to touch base until the next day when she returned to civilization. She hung up the phone, and I was glad the entire interaction was coming to an end. It was time for me to close the store and count the money in the drawer and go home for the day.

But wait! There’s more!

I’d assumed the young woman’s two companions were there for moral support, but no, each of them also wanted to call home and reassure their parents that except for the lack of cell phone service, they were fine. I couldn’t believe this! Grown ass people (or at least it seemed to me) insisting on calling mommy and daddy to check in from the first day of a camping trip! What would they have done if there had been no telephone in the campground?

I let the two other young people use the phone. I couldn’t tell them no after I’d told their friend yes. This was the problem with letting a visitor use the phone—it was never a quick 30 second call; it was always some sort of ordeal.

Where are y’all from? I asked the first young woman as her friends used the phone.

Orange County, she replied.

They were only a few hours from home! They hadn’t even left their home state!

Finally all calls home were complete. The young people thanked me, and I ushered them out so I could close up shop.

As I was closing the front windows, the phone rang inside the store. I ran to get it and answered it using the script taped to the counter, identifying specifically the store where I work and myself, then asking How may I help you?

The woman on the other end of the line seemed flustered. She must have the wrong number, she told me. She thought her son had just called from this number.

I sweetly assured her that he had. There was no cell service up here, so he’d used the store phone to let her know he was ok and that she wouldn’t hear from him again as long as he was up here.

She laughed and agreed that’s what he message had said. (Then why did you call here!?! I wanted to shout, but I held myself in check.) She thought maybe she could catch her son if she called right back.

No, ma’am, I said, he’s already gone, which was the truth.

I’ll be damned! It was some kind of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie scenario.

If you let a gal from the O.C. use the phone, then her two friends will want to use it too, which will make you close the store late. Then the young man’s mother will call back and interrupt your closing procedures with her chatting. She’ll want to talk to her son directly…

I was beginning to understand why The Big Boss Man didn’t want us to let visitors use our phone.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/seven-assorted-colored-rotary-telephones-774448/.

Cups

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The campground where the Mercantile was located didn’t have running water. It didn’t have running water during the three previous seasons I worked on the mountain. At the beginning of last season The Big Boss man was confident the campground would have running water before Memorial Day. As of late July, the campground was still bone dry. As far as I knew no one was working on the water system. After Independence Day, The Big Boss Man had stopped talking about getting the water to run in the campground.

Almost every day, people came into the Mercantile looking for a faucet or a water fountain. I’m sure the camp hosts saw as many (probably more) people looking for water than I did. Visitors wanted to fill a water bottle or wash their hands. Every time someone asked for water in the campground, I had to explain there was none.

We sold cold water in the Mercantile, and a significant portion of people did buy it to drink. However, fewer people (significantly fewer people) spent $2.50 for 16.9 ounces or $3.95 for a gallon of water to use to wash their hands.

One Wednesday afternoon, I was working alone in the Mercantile. Two older men came through the door and ignored my greeting. Both men were probably in their early 60s, and each was wearing long pants and a long sleeve shirt despite the heat. Their clothes were not trendy, and while not shabby, didn’t look new. These men had not dressed up to come up the mountain. They looked like hunters or fishermen (or maybe both), working class outdoorsmen. The skin on the second man’s face was a strange mottled red, as if his sunburn had been sunburned, and he wore an expression of anger or maybe just impatience.

I could tell they were looking for something, but before I could offer to help, their eyes lit up. They’d seen what they were seeking.

They made a beeline to the beverage cooler and considered their options. I heard some mumble grumbles about the cost of the water. I understood their consternation, but there was nothing I could do to change the price.

The first man who’d come through the door carried the gallon of water up to the register where I scanned the barcode and asked for $3.95.

Clear Plastic Cup on Gray SurfaceDo you have cups? The fellow making the purchase said.

We have coffee mugs right over there, I said while pointing helpfully,

No, said the red-faced man. Paper cups. To drink this, he said gesturing to the gallon of water.

Oh no, I said. We don’t have anything like that.

I guess they figured if they paid more for water than they paid for gasoline, cups to drink it should come with the purchase.

Image courtesy of https://www.pexels.com/photo/sunset-cup-water-drink-87383/.

Whistleblowers

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The most annoying items sold at the Mercantile were whistles.

The first season the store was open, we sold a plastic device consisting of a whistle, compass, thermometer, and fold-out magnifying glass. The whole deal was on a clip so it could be snapped onto a backpack or zipper pull. We displayed these items in a small basket on a low shelf. Sometimes little kids picked one up and blew into the whistle. Usually when this happened, the kids’ parents didn’t want to buy the whistle, and who could blame them? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want it further annoying me by tweeting on a whistle for hours a day. If one of the other store clerks or I could intercept the blown whistle before it was tossed back into the basket, we’d squirt it with some Windex, wipe it with a paper towel, and call it clean enough to sell.

Late in the first season, the Mercantile received whistles carved to look like bears, owl, eagles, hummingbirds, and blue jays. Made in China, hung on long cords to be worn around the neck, and brightly painted, kids loved these. The problem was, if a kid blew a whistle and the parents wouldn’t buy it, it was difficult to clean. Can mouth germs on wood be killed without damaging the wood? We tried to solve the whistle problem in the Mercantile’s second season by hanging them out of the reach of little kids.

We thought we’d solved the problem. Turns out medium-size kids, big kids, and even adults like to blow whistles they have no intention of buying.

Personally, I would never go into a store and blow on a whistle because yuck! How many people before me had the same idea and already put their mouths on the whistle? Germy!

If the other clerks or I saw someone messing with the whistles, we told them if they blew a whistle, they would have to purchase it. Sometimes we even used cute little slogans we made up like You blow it, you buy it or You try it, you buy it. Some people got very defensive and told us they had no intention of blowing the whistle. You’d be surprised how many people do blow them, we told the defensive customers.

I was surprised by how many parents didn’t think it was gross to put back a whistle their kid had put in its mouth. One dad picked out whistles for his kids who were both under seven years old. He handed the whistles to the kids and let them blow on them for several minutes. Then the kids saw the other whistles and decided they’d rather have bears than eagles.

Can we switch these? the dad asked me.

I had to tell him no. Your kids already had their mouths on them, I explained while he looked perplexed. He just didn’t see the problem with selling something that had been in the mouth of his child to someone else. I’m not even a germophobe, but yuck!

Adults blew the whistles too, then didn’t want to buy them. At best, they just blew air through the whistle, then assured me they didn’t put their mouth on it when I called them on their action.

Hello, I wanted to say. You just blew your germs into that whistle!

They must be like my five year-old childhood neighbor who got downright pissed at the suggestion she had germs. I do NOT have germs! she howled before running home to her mother. I wasn’t taunting her, just telling her the facts.

Some adults full-on wrapped their lips around the whistles and blew. The other clerk had it out with a grown man one morning while working alone. He blew a whistle and she told him he had to buy it since she couldn’t sell it to anyone else. The guy moaned and groaned and complained about how he didn’t understand why he had to buy it. My coworker stood her ground despite her pounding heart. Even the guy’s friend told him he needed to buy the whistle. Finally the guy did pay for it, but left none too happy.

One Saturday afternoon in early August of my second season in the Mercantile, I almost lost my mind over whistles.

It started when three little boys came into the store unsupervised. The oldest was maybe ten, the middle kid eight or nine, and the littlest boy probably six. I was working the register, so I said to the other clerk, Unsupervised children.

I know, she said, but she didn’t walk over to keep an eye on them.

I saw the boys were near the whistles, but I was busy with a customer, so I didn’t say anything to the boys. Then I heard it: the unmistakable tweet! of a whistle being blown.

You’re going to have to buy that whistle now that you’ve blown it, I called out, and everyone in the store went silent.

When I looked over, the big boy and the little boy had stepped away, leaving the middle boy standing alone holding an eagle whistle. He’d gone pale beneath his freckles.

I can’t sell it now that you’ve had your mouth on it, I told the boy sternly.

Can’t you wash it? the big boy pleaded.

No, I said. It’s wood.

At that point the big and little boy left their friend behind and walked out the Mercantile’s door.

I don’t have any money, the whistleblower said, then I’m really sorry.

I figured getting his parents would be fruitless. Anyone who’d send three little boys into a store alone probably wasn’t going to pony up for a whistle the kid had blown. Besides, the kid’s apology had softened my heart. I think the kid really was sorry, at least that he’d been caught, at least that he was in trouble.

I held out my hand for the whistle, which the boy handed over. I accept your apology, I said, but next time you go into a store, you better think about where you put your mouth.

I thought surely I was done with the whistle drama for the day, but there was a little bit more right before I closed the store. The other clerk had gone home, so I had to deal with the drama alone.

The family came in about 15 minutes before closing time. Judging from the way the women were dress, I was confident they were Muslim. In addition to a mom and dad who were probably in their early 30s, a girl who was maybe nine, and a boy who was probably 12, the man pushed an old woman in a wheelchair.

The family stopped by the wooden whistles, and I thought I heard a tweet. I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. The family made their way slowly through the entire store before the man came up to the counter to make the purchase. He had a whistle in his small pile, so if someone in the party had blown it, at least he was buying it.

I thought the family would leave once the purchase was made, but no. All but the young boy went back to the whistle display. I couldn’t understand the language they were speaking to each other, so I figured they’d decided the family needed more whistles.

The younger woman took two whistles from their hooks, put her mouth on the business end of one, and blew. Tweet! She handed the whistle to her young daughter who followed her mother’s example. Tweet! The girl handed the whistle back to her mother who blew into the second whistle. Tweet! She handed the whistle to the girl who also blew it. Tweet!

The family was delighted by the mother/daughter whistle duo. I could see the delight on their faces. Mom was delighted. Daughter was delighted. Dad was delighted. Grandma sitting in her wheelchair was delighted. (The young boy was nowhere near the whistle fest, so I didn’t see his face, but maybe I would have seen embarrassment there instead of delight.)

I would have been delighted too, if they had brought the two whistles (each priced at $8.95) to the register for purchase. Instead any potential for delight I felt turned to chagrin when I saw Mom hand the whistles to Dad and Dad reach to rehang them on their hooks.

I’m sorry, I called out. I can’t sell those after you’ve had them in your mouths. I held out my hand so Dad could give them to me.

Every member of the family (except the boy, who I still couldn’t see) looked confused. Why can’t she sell the whistles now? their faces seemed to ask.

I just hoped they wouldn’t think I was being weird because they were Muslim. Of course, I would have reacted the same way if they were white or Latinx, African American or Asian, Christian, Jewish, Hindu, or Buddhist. The problem was not where they were from or the religion they practiced. The problem was that they were human, and humans got germs!

The next day, the other clerk and I decided the only solution was to put the whistles in the glass display gas with the knives, the hand sanitizer, and the Claritin. If even adults can’t resist blowing into a whistle they haven’t yet purchased, our only choice was to keep the enticing toys under lock and key.

Photo courtesy of https://pixabay.com/en/whistle-attention-warning-referee-2475470/.