To give you a little background on my expertise, I can tell you that during my professional career, I’ve made sandwiches, cleaned toilets, sold health food and hawked plastic surgery.
Amazingly enough, the plastic surgery patient has much in common with the health food store customer—one wants to stay young forever from the inside out, the other from the outside in. Both are pretty crabby as a result.
As for the lesson to take from being a sandwich maker and toilet cleaner? Since it was the same job, I can tell you this: disgruntled minimum-wage earners rarely wash their hands.
That said, let’s dive into today’s lessons, shall we?
1. Keep a straight face.
I learned this my first day of training in customer service at Kinney Drugs when I was 16 years old. An impossibly wizened old man appeared, slapped a pack of condoms on the counter and gave me a sly grin that still held a mossy tooth or two.
The woman training me actually dropped to her knees under the counter, shaking with laughter. I rang him up and got him “a pack of them Pell Mells,” as he put it. I never cracked a smile, but I did correct his pronunciation. I don’t think he cared.
2. Anticipate stupid questions.
Patient before plastic surgery: “Will I sleep until I wake up?”
Answer: “Yes, what will happen is you’re sleeping, you’re sleeping, then, boom, you’re awake.”
Customer at health food store: “Do you sell organic chicken?”
Answer: “Actually, all chicken is organic. We don’t sell cyborg chickens here.”
(Hah! That one was a trap. Were you paying attention? The correct answer is “yes.”)
3. Be prepared with helpful advice.
At the health food store’s vitamin counter, customers came to me with questions regarding their digestive health. Apparently, this had become an issue requiring attention although colons had been chugging along with no need for heroic measures for quite a long time.
One of these concerns had to do with toxins accumulating if a person’s bowels were not evacuating at a healthy rate. I mulled this over and found the perfect answer for those wanting to observe their own ‘intestinal transit time’: “Eat some corn.”
This always stopped customers in their tracks, perhaps because it reminded them of exactly what they were seriously discussing with a relative stranger, or perhaps because it was an ingenious idea. Either way, I think I helped a lot of people.
4. Remain professional at all times.
At the store, I interviewed an applicant for a promising career in the produce section. At first, I was put off by his t-shirt depicting a naked woman bound and stretched over a large wheel. Perhaps he hadn’t planned his wardrobe and had just spontaneously walked in to apply. Then I saw the button pinned to the shirt: “I wouldn’t fuck her with your dick.”
It seemed imprudent of this young man not to survey himself prior to entering the store and realize that it might be a good idea to take the button off and put it in his pocket for the duration of his interview. I’m all for freedom of expression, so I finished speaking with him and ushered him out the door telling him we would call if he got the job.
A few days later, he showed up yelling that he couldn’t understand why we still had an ad in the paper. As customers gathered, I tried to explain, “This is how interviews work. Some people get the job and some people don’t. It’s not automatic.” Our security guard helped him exit as he called me some names.
I consider this a failure on my part. I was unable to educate him about the process. The story does have a happy ending; a few weeks later, I saw him handing out flyers. I was gratified that he’d found a job and I quickly crossed the street.
5. Know when it’s time to leave.
At some point, it will dawn on you that now might be the time to look for another line of work.
At the plastic surgeon’s office, it came when I collected payment from a man scheduled to have liposuction. As he left, he said, “I feel lighter already!” to which I responded, “That’s just your wallet!”
At the health food store, it came when I toyed with the idea of creating a T-shirt that summed up my feelings quite nicely: Get laid and eat a cheeseburger, you pasty-faced maggots! It has a certain ring to it, don’t you think?