Tag Archives: mercantile

Do You Know the Way to San José?

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The tourist asked the manager of the mercantile how to get to San Jose. The manager explained the directions to him in great detail—twice. The tourist and the young woman accompanying him seemed satisfied after the second time. They walked out of the store but were back in a few minutes. He requested the manager tell them again how to get to San Jose. They wanted to write down the directions.

Maybe there was a language barrier. The man spoke with a pronounced Spanish accent, so maybe he was unsure of what the manager told him. I grabbed a map so we could show as well as tell.

Take a left out of the parking lot, I said. Go to the stop sign, I told him, and make a right.

His fingers skimmed across the screen of his phone. Apparently he was taking notes.

At the second stop sign, make another right, I said.

Will there be a sign there?  he asked me.

Yes, I said, a stop sign. Make another right.

So there will be only the stop sign I see? he asked me.

Yes, I told him, fighting the urge to beat my head on the counter. At the first stop sign you see, make a right. At the second stop sign you see, make another right. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work.

It looks like I can keep going straight, he said, pointing at the map.

I’m not sure, I told him. I don’t know how to get to San Jose, I said. When you get to the town with the stoplight, your GPS should work, I repeated. Or you can buy this map, I continued, tapping on the map spread out in front of us.

What highway is this? he asked, pointing to a roadway shown on the map.

If he had looked closely, he could have found the number for himself, but I did it for him. I looked at the map closely, found the highway number, and read it to him. He continued to study his possible routes.

I think we can go straight right here, he said again, pointing, and I agreed, Yep, that’s what it looks like.

They didn’t want to buy the map, but they did thank us for our help.

When they left, the manager and I shook our heads at each other.

I don’t know how to get to San Jose,  I told her. He wanted me to tell him exactly how to get there, but I don’t know!

Well, I do know, and I did tell him, but he wouldn’t listen to what I had to say, she complained.

I’ve noticed people—particularly city people—expect to find an interstate or a direct route to an interstate up on the mountain. I hate to be the one who has to break it to them, but it’s just not happening. It takes two curvy mountain roads to get to a state highway to get to another state highway to get to an interstate to get to San Jose. I could see how all that could discourage even Dionne Warwick.

Candy Man

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When I returned from my ten-minute break, there were more people in the mercantile than I’d seen in the yurt all morning.

The store manager was trying to give directions to a young couple looking for the nearby Boy Scout camp, but she didn’t really know the area. She looked at me for help, so I pulled out a map and showed them two routes that would get them to their destination. Their thank yous said, they left, and I remained behind the counter.

A tiny child holding a red box of peanut butter M&Ms stepped up to the counter and looked at me slyly.

M & M's Chocolate Candies, Peanut Butter, 1.63 oz, 24-Count (Pack of 2)
He placed the box on the counter and continued to look at me with big brown eyes.

I looked around the store. While there were adults browsing, it wasn’t clear what family the kid might belong to. There were certainly no adults in his immediate vicinity.

That will cost $2.50, I said—not unkindly—to the boy. Do you have any money?

The kid never said a word, just took the box of candy from the counter and headed for the door. When he had one foot on the deck and the other still in the mercantile, I called out to him—again, not unkindly—Hey! Please don’t take that outside without paying for it.

This got his family’s attention. An older woman (Mom? Grandma?) and a younger woman (Mom? Sister?) both started hollering at the kid from across the store where they were looking at t-shirts.

George! Get back in here!

George! Put that back!

George turned around, returned the box of M&Ms to its place among the other candy boxes, then went over to stand with the women.

Sorry about that! one of the women called across the store.

No problem, I said. I handled the situation.

 

Placemat Evangelist

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Do you have placemats?  the woman enthusiastically asked the mercantile manager.

Placemats? I thought. Do people still use placemats?

I kept my mouth shut.

No, the manager said, we don’t.

I’m sure they’d really sell here, the woman said. You should get some.

The woman and her kids walked around the store a bit longer, then took their items for purchase up to the register.

We were in the John Muir Woods last year, and we bought placemats, the tourist woman told The Man.

Placemats? he asked, obviously perplexed.

Yeah, placemats, she said. You know, you go into any store, any grocery store, and they sell placemats, she said.

I tried to remember the last time I’d seen placemats for sale in a store. Maybe Wal-Mart? Maybe a small-town thrift store, way in a back corner? I certainly didn’t recall seeing placemats in a grocery store any time since we moved into a new century.

The Man must have still looked confused, because the tourist lady clarified by saying, Plastic placemats.

Oh, those things, I thought. There was a brief time of tackiness in the late 70s or maybe the early 80s when my family used plastic placemats, but they were long gone before the 90s rolled in. I was surprised to hear someone was still using plastic placemats.

They’re great souvenirs, the tourist woman was telling The Man. They’re inexpensive and easy to pack. They have really pretty photos on both sides, she went on. Now whenever we eat dinner, we can remember our trip. You should get some, she said. They’d be really easy to make. You just need photos to put between the plastic. I bet you would sell out of them in two weeks.

I bet we wouldn’t sell out of plastic placemats in two weeks since this woman was the only person in almost two months who’d ever mentioned such a thing. But I kept my mouth shut.

At the end of the transaction, The Man handed the receipt to the tourist woman.

Is there a phone number on here?  she asked while waving the receipt.

The Man retrieved the receipt from the woman’s hand and looked it over to find a phone number. Once found, he pointed it out to her.

Oh good! She said. When I get back home, I’ll look on the placemats and see if there’s an 800 number for the company that makes them. If there’s a phone number, I’ll call and give it to you. I know they would sell really well out here. Is there someone particular I should ask for?

We all named the manager who was standing right there and had not said a single encouraging thing about selling plastic souvenir placemats.

The tourist woman and her kids left the store.

She really likes placemats, I observed. All of my coworkers agreed, that woman really likes placemats.

She’s a placemat evangelist, I told them.

A few days later while I was alone in the mercantile, the phone rang. I answered it, and the woman on the other end of the line asked for the manager. I told her the manager would be in on Friday. I asked the caller if she wanted to leave a message. She did.

She gave me her name and number, and when I asked her what I should tell the manager the call was about, she said, Regarding placemats.

It was her! It was the placemat evangelist! She really had called about the placemats!

When The Man came back into the store, I said with a grin, Guess who called.

He couldn’t guess, so I said, The placemat evangelist!

Well, he said, when she says she’s going to do something, I guess she really means it.

 

Mamma’s Got Her Hands Full

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It was Saturday afternoon, and in about an hour, The Man and I would close the mercantile for the day.

Members of an extended family came in together. Three or four young kids were running around, and two women of the age to be their mothers were looking at magnets.  An older woman—probably the grandma—was looking at other items for sale. The men of the family were in and out of the yurt—off to the restroom, taking turns supervising the dog on the porch, offering the ladies souvenir suggestions.

The two smallest kids seemed to be the offspring of one of the women looking at magnets. The girl was maybe three, with long, dark hair that fell past her shoulders. The boy was five or six, wearing one of those floppy cloth hats popular with people going fishing.

The woman and her son had some sort of disagreement in front of the shelves of snacks. The disagreement seemed to be about the theater style boxes of candy. The woman dragged the boy over in front of the register while lecturing him on sharing and who knows what else. Anger was all over the boy’s face, and I could tell he was trying not to cry. The woman was not whispering, and everyone in the store witnessed the lecture. The main body of the lecture was in English, then the woman asked loudly, Capiche? When the boy didn’t respond, the woman demanded, Entiendes? (Do you understand?) The boy gave an indication that he did, indeed, understand. It was maybe the only parental lecture I’ve ever witnessed spanning three languages.

I’m all for parents disciplining kids, setting limits and sticking to them. I see too many kids who seem to be running their families, and I was glad to see this lady taking a stand. However, her little speech seemed all too public. It sure made me uncomfortable, and I could see how the kid might feel humiliated. I would have taken my (theoretical) kid outside or to a quiet area of the store and spoken in a low voice, but I don’t know how this family’s day had gone. Maybe the mom was at the end of her rope.

The conflict was over Whoppers, the delightful malted milk balls I myself do love so much. The boy wanted a box of his own. The mom wanted him to share with his sister.

Once the woman released the boy’s arm and returned to perusing magnets, he and his sister converged on the candy boxes. They each took a box of Whoppers from the shelf and placed them on the counter near the cash register among the bottles of water another family member planned to buy.

When the mother had chosen her magnet, she brought it up to the counter and placed it next to a box of Whoppers. I’ll take the magnet, she said to me, and one of these, indicating the Whoppers. The children began squalling about wanting a box of his/her own. The woman held her ground. They could share, she told her children, or they’d have no candy.

The woman said she didn’t need a bag, so once I rang up the box of Whoppers, I handed it directly to her. The still whining children followed the box with their eyes, and the boy tried to intercept the box as it passed into the woman’s hands.

This is my candy, the woman told him. He wasn’t getting any until he was willing to share.

The woman paid with a credit card. When it came time for her to sign the store copy of the credit card ticket, she only had a free hand to hold the pen.

Let me help you with that, I said as I pinned down the ticket so it wouldn’t slide around the counter while she signed. You have your hands full.

She looked me right in the eye and said seriously, I sure do!

As they walked toward the door, the children agreed to share, and their mom told them how she would divvy up the candy so they’d each have their own portion.

I also have a story where it’s the child who has his hands full.

 

Meltdown

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While the boys were obsessing over pocket knives, Little Sister was trying to pick out a souvenir of her own.

Pinecone earrings and bracelets sold in the mercantile.

To her credit, Bun Mom walked around the store with the girl and made suggestions. How about this cute pinecone necklace? How about the pinecone earrings or bracelet?

The girl picked up a $35 bobcat hand puppet. How about this? she asked her mother.

Bun Mom reminded Little Sister how they’d already discussed this souvenir shopping trip and how she’d explained each kid could pick out something small. The bobcat puppet, Bun Mom told Little Sister was not in her budget.

How about these dragonfly earrings? Bun Mom asked Little Sister. At $10.95, they were in the budget, and Little Sister could get her birthstone.

The mercantile sells these dragonfly earrings.

Little Sister spent a long time looking at the dragonfly earrings and the other items on the jewelry carousel, but did not reach a decision.

At one point, the girl was picking up and putting down and picking up again bear and bobcat bobble heads. These are only $6! These are only $6! she exclaimed over the $5.95 items.

You could get one of those, her mother told her, but the girl still hadn’t decided.

As the other family completed their transaction, Bun Mom told Little Sister to make her decision because she was about to pay. Little Sister ran around the store growing increasingly distressed.

I rang up Bun Mom’s t-shirt and Brother’s whistle and the Christmas tree ornament Little Sister had helped pick out for the family tree.

Anything else? I asked Bun Mom.

I’m paying, she called out to her daughter. Pick something.

By this point Little Sister was howling and whining and crying and stomping her feet. She didn’t seem to want something her mother said she couldn’t have. Her frustration seemed to be coming from not being able to make a decision.

She ran out onto the porch and her mother said she’d choose something for her.

I’m getting the pinecone bracelet, Bun Mom told her through the thin walls of the yurt.

No!  Little Sister howled. Not that, she wailed. Anything but that!

She came back into the store, and ended up picking out a pinecone necklace. I don’t know why she liked the pinecone on the necklace but hated it on the bracelet.

She continued to cry and ran back out onto the porch.

Bun Mom told me the girl had trouble making decisions and was overwhelmed by all the choices in the store. I would call “overwhelmed” an understatement. I think the girl was having a full blown meltdown.

We closed the store soon after Little Sister and her family and friends left.

The Man went outside to close the yurt’s window. When he came back in, he said, That little girl is still crying. He’d seen her run up to the store, look at the sign saying “Sorry, we’re closed,” and take off running while sobbing. She had probably wanted to exchange her pinecone necklace for something she’d decided was better.

I don’t think she’s enjoying her human experience, The Man said, and I had to agree with him there.

I took the photos in this post.

Knives

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The two women and four kids came in ten minutes before the mercantile closed.

The women looked so young to me, although they were probably in their early 30s and were obviously the mothers of the children.

The first woman who came in had her hair pulled back into a tight bun. She wore those hiking tights so popular with athletic (and not so athletic) women these days. Her scoop-neck t-shirt dipped just enough in the back to show the tattoo of a lotus at the base of her neck. Her son was maybe nine, her daughter around six.

The second woman had loose dark hair and glasses with square black frames. Her shorts were quite short, and she wore white almost-to-her-knee socks with her boots. She had a sarong or a large scarf or an East Indian tapestry draped over her shoulders with a side hanging over each breast. At first I thought she was topless under the sarong/scarf/tapestry, but when she turned, I saw her black bikini top. She had two boys with her, one about five, the other probably ten.

They were on a souvenir buying expedition. The children were turned loose in the store while the women looked at magnets and t-shirts and Christmas tree ornaments.

I have twenty bucks! the littlest boy exclaimed, to which the boy who wasn’t his brother said, Who cares? (It soon became apparent to me that this boy had just about had it with the younger kid.)

The little boy’s mom said, That’s not cool to the older boy, but the grin on her face told me she thought it was all pretty funny.

It turned out that while the little boy was clutching a $20 bill, he had to share it with his brother. Each of the four kids had a $10 souvenir budget.

They circled the store eliminating possibilities. The walking sticks were too expensive. The t-shirts weren’t enticing (and probably too expensive anyway), and none of the kids were interested in stuffed animals.

The mercantile sells these wooden whistles carved to look like forest animals.

The boy who didn’t care about the little kid’s twenty bucks was the first to find his souvenir: a wooden whistle carved to look like a bear. He tried to get the other kids interested in the whistles too, but he was the only taker.

(How do you know it’s a whistle? his little sister asked.

Let her blow it, his mom said.

No! said the boy with concern on his face. She can’t blow it! We haven’t paid for it!)

The older of the brothers tried to convince the little one to pool their money and buy something they could share. He showed the little boy a breakable “I Love California” bank, and the little boy about had a fit. He screamed his negative feeling about the bank until—finally—his mother told him to chill out. I was beginning to think the little boy controlled the whole family.

Then the older of the two brothers saw the pocket knives.

We keep the pocket knives in the glass display case. People can’t touch them unless a worker hands them over.

How much are the pocket knives? the bigger boy asked.

I told him they were $6.95 plus tax.

Can I see one? he asked.

I didn’t really want to hand one over to the kid and have to take responsibility for whatever might happen, so I said, We’ll have to see if it’s ok with your grown up. The boy rolled his eyes behind his Buddy Holly glasses.

Bikini Mom was across the store. Grown up? I called to her. Oh, grownup?

She looked at me, blinking, as if I were an intruder in her secret dream world.

Can he look at a pocket knife? I asked her.

She said he could. She didn’t even walk over to supervise.

The mercantile sells these “razor sharp” pocket knives. We keep them in the display case until someone asks about them.

I pulled out the cardboard knife display and set it on the counter. The boy grabbed a knife and examined it.  His little brother watched with great interest.

I’ll get this, the big boy declared.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered.

You have to get your parent’s permission, I told them. No way would I have given that angry little brother a knife. I’m not sure the big boy was really ready for one either.

The older boy rolled his eyes at me again. Can I get a pocket knife? he called out to his mother.

I want one too! I want one too! the little brother hollered some more.

Bikini Mom said sure, they could get knives. She hadn’t even come over to take a look.

I turned to her and said, You know the box says they’re razor sharp, right? Of course, she didn’t know anything about the knives because she hadn’t come close enough to gather any information. However at the words “razor sharp,” she did walk over.

The little brother was still hollering, I want one too! I want one too!

The boy from the other family was very interested in the knives. He also wanted one. Bun Mom told him he was NOT getting a knife. He said he’d had a knife before…And it broke! his mother said, and you’re not getting one! Her tone of voice left no room for argument, and the kid dropped the subject.

Meanwhile, Bikini Mom and her oldest boy examined the knife. They couldn’t figure out how to close it. I showed them. Both moms started talking about safety and being very careful and this is not a toy. The little bother kept hollering about how he wanted one too, and I thought the big boy might roll his eyes right out of his head.

Bun Mom told her friend this knife thing might not be a good idea. Maybe she should consult with the boys’ father, Bun Mom said.

Emboldened by her friend’s caution, Bikini Mom told her boys they could not have knives. I was relieved and put the knives back in the display case.

The older boy followed his mother around the store, hassling her.

She must have said she didn’t want the little boy to have a knife, because I heard the big boy say, Then just tell him no! I could tell he was completely exasperated. I suspect the little boy was hardly ever told no.

The big boy finally wore his mother down, and she told him to go ask his father. Presumably, the father was on a campsite nearby because the boy wasn’t gone three minutes.

He said yes, the boy told his mom.

Even for your little brother? Bikini Mom asked.

Yep, the boy said. I wondered if he’d used the words “razor sharp” when he described the knives to his father.

The boys used their $20 to each get a knife, plus a box of candy and a pack of cheap plastic finger lights. The big boy immediately opened his knife.

How do you close this again? Bikini Mom asked.

I told her The Man would show her, and he did, but neither the mother nor son could do it.

If he can’t even close the knife, he shouldn’t have it, The Man whispered to me.

Can I carve with this? the older boy asked.

Absolutely NOT!  The Man told him. He told the boy the knife wasn’t made for carving. It would be dangerous to carve with that knife, he said. The Man tried to scare some sense into the moms by telling them about times he’s sliced into his own hand while carving and how now he wears a special protective glove.

You can only use this when you’re with your father, Bikini Mom told her boys.

Someone’s going to bleed tonight, I whispered to The Man.

He just shook his head and told me quietly that no one under 13 should have a knife.

I took the photos in this post.

Patience is a Virtue

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I was alone in the mercantile when the couple came in.

While they were obviously older than I was—both the man and the woman had totally white hair—neither of them could be described as elderly or frail. Neither seemed feeble or weak. In fact, they both seemed fit and outdoorsy, just two people in their 60s who’d finished walking the trail and enjoying the trees.

When they came through the door, I gave them one of my standard greetings: How y’all doin’? or How’d y’all like those trees?

The man greeted me in such a normal fashion, I’ve forgotten what he said. Then he walked fully into the store and started looking at the merchandise.

The woman, however, stopped in front of the counter I was standing behind. She looked at me and said, Excuse me.

I waited for a question to follow, but none did. Nothing followed. The woman stood there holding a small cluster of needles from an evergreen tree. She looked at me with a strange little smile on her face, but she said nothing else.

I felt uncomfortable about the entire interaction. Had the woman said, Excuse me because something I’d said had offended her? She didn’t seem upset, and she was smiling. Had she done something to make her feel she should excuse herself? I hadn’t heard her burp or fart, and there’d been nothing for her to bump into. Why was she standing there, looking at me and grinning like the Mona Lisa?

In reality, she only stood and looked at me for a few seconds before she moved to the man’s side, but her scrutiny seemed much longer to me.

After giving the couple a few minutes to browse in peace, I asked them, Where are y’all visiting from?

(Side note: If any of my more grammatically gifted writer friends know a better construction for that question, please enlighten me. It’s been bugging me for years.)

The man named some town I didn’t know. He said his brother-in-law had suggested they visit the national forest  and see the giant sequoias. We agreed the brother-in-law had given them a pretty good tip, and I let them go back to their browsing.

About that time, the woman told the man they really needed to get on the road.

He gently told her they had plenty of time, and he wanted to do some shopping.

I want to go home, she told him.

I need to go home! she said more urgently.

The man told her again, patiently, that they had plenty of time and they would head home after they’d done some shopping. She told him a few more times that she wanted, needed to go home, but he stayed calm and distracted her by asking what souvenirs she thought different people might like.

As they moved from the display of coffee mugs the woman began complaining about the hat she was wearing. It was too heavy for her head, she said. It hurt! She indicated they should leave it behind. I’d noticed the hat when she walked in. It looked expensive and well-made, something a serious hiker or birder might use to shade his/her head. Would she really ditch it in my store?

Honey, the man said sweetly, that’s my hat.

As they moved through the store, I heard the woman repeatedly ask the man if he wanted the evergreen needles she was carrying. Each time he said, No. You can leave them outside, as if he’d never heard the question before. He never sounded irritated.

I started piecing together a story about the man and woman, and although some of my details may be wrong, I think I got the main idea.

The man and the woman were a couple, as in marriage.  Even if they weren’t actually married, that’s the sort of relationship they had. The woman was suffering from dementia or short term memory loss, maybe from a brain injury or a stroke or Alzheimer’s. In any case, the man was caring for her lovingly, patiently, gently.

As the couple placed their souvenirs on the counter for purchase, the woman placed a water bottle we do not sell in front of me.

Do we want to get this too? she asked the man.

Honey, that’s our water bottle, he said calmly.

I’ve thought about those people long after they left the store.

I want to emulate the man’s patience and calmness in the face of his partner’s short term memory loss. I get so irritated when The Man asks me the same question for the third time, even though I want to meet him with love and compassion. I want to follow the stranger’s example and simply answer the question again, not get caught up in the anger of he doesn’t even listen to me! Maybe he does listen, maybe the lady listens too, but their brains can no longer process the information into memory.

Let this be my prayer for patience, compassion, the ability to answer a question calmly and with love the fifth, the tenth, the twenty-fifth, the one hundredth and forty-second time it’s asked.