Sep 5, 2011

This is One Herb of a Story

Everyone has their ten minutes of fame. I’ve already have had mine, as you might have read in my recent posting, Protests End Quickie Mart Tyranny. People like you call me a hero, but I’m just a regular person who thwarted a dangerous, armed man from robbing the store and possibly murdering an innocent. I guess I’m just “that guy” who does heroic stuff.

All good deeds should go noticed or there’s no point to doing them, I always say, so I was lucky that my boss, Mr. Patel, noticed. Three weeks ago, he fired everyone at the quickie mart except for me. He wanted to get rid of the lazy employees. You have to understand that these people were my closest friends. They were like family to me lo these many years. “Good riddance,” I thought, as I hugged each of them goodbye. I made a mental note to change my cell phone number. I’m all about a fresh start.

The new crew was full of energetic, vibrant people, much like me, and Mr. Patel entrusted me with training them. They were all terrific, but a charming, young college student was my favorite. I liked him from our first encounter, when he extended his hand to say, “Nice to meet you.”

You don’t expect such manners from a college kid, so I was immediately impressed. My hand had some sticky slushee syrup on it, so I quickly licked it off and gave him a warm handshake.

“I’m Robert, ma'am” he said.

“Nice to meet you, Herbert,” I said. “But you don’t have to call me ma'am. You can call me Mrs. Jackie Phillips or J Flo or Jackie from the Block.” I wanted this kid to know I wasn’t some geezer who can’t connect with younger people.

“Robert,” the boy said. I could see this chap had a sense of humor.

I laughed and said, “No, my name is Mrs. Phillips.”

“No, my name is Robert,” he said.

“Oh sorry, Herbert,” I said.

Herbert caught on quickly. I taught him how to stock shelves, sweep the floor, and work the cash register, which is the tricky part. You have to run the barcode of each product under a red, radioactive scanner light that rings up the price. “You scan the product, hit TOTAL, and you’re done,” I explained.

It took me about six weeks to learn how to do this, but Herb, as I began calling him (young people love when you shorten their name – it shows you like them). . . Herb took about five minutes to learn. “I personally like to run the product under the scanner wand several times to make sure I got it,” I explained to Herb.

“But that means you ringing up the product several times,” Herb said. “It beeps when it scans the product, so you only want it to beep once.”

See, I told you Herb was funny! I laughed and laughed and gave him a friendly slap on the back. “You really had me going, Herb.” I said.

“Robert,” he responded. Again with the Robert? This kid was hilarious. He should seriously be on SNL.

Everyone liked Herb, even the customers, and business began to pick up when he was working. He called customers by name and asked about their personal lives. I worked at the quickie mart for years, and I never knew they had personal lives or names. I had nicknames that I called them in my head, but they weren’t real.

One morning a young boy walked in wearing a Cubs jersey, a baseball cap, and gray pants with grass stains on the knees. Herbert greeted him and said, “Hi Johnny, how’d the game go?” Herb was like a super detective. How did he know that little Johnny played some sort of game? Johnny’s parents chatted with Herb as if he was an old friend. I was warmed by this young man’s presence in our store, and his glow rubbed off on me.

Herb even gave people cute nicknames. He called a very shy girl “Princess” and got her to talk and smile. Now I was in business! I can’t remember real names very well, but nicknames are definitely my thing. I’d always kept them to myself, but Herb taught me it’s ok to use them.

A minute later, a man walked into the store wearing a baseball cap and grayish pants. “Hey, Old Yeller!” I said. “How’d your game go?”

“Shut up you old bat,” the octogenarian responded and moved his walker to Herb’s register. I guess not everyone likes chit chat.

The next guy that walked in was a regular customer in his 40s. His brown, silky hair was his most distinctive feature. “Hey, Bowl Cut,” I greeted him. “I can ring you up here.” But Bowl Cut must have been deaf. He went to Herb’s register, despite having to wait behind other customers. Poor deaf people. They have so many challenges in their day-to-day lives.

Herb’s register had a line about six people deep now, and mine was empty. It was awkward. A gawky looking, pimply teenager who comes in everyday to buy chips walked up to my register. “Nice to see you again, Adam’s Apple,” I said, but the boy didn’t respond. The scanner beeped three times as I rang up his bag of chips, and I chuckled as I thought about the funny joke Herb had made about the beeps.

As the days went on, people would always line up in Herb’s register line, as if mine was closed. I didn’t mind. It gave me time to take naps at the counter. “People love you, kid,” I said to Herb admiringly. I was happy for him.

“Thanks,” Herb said. “Can I suggest that you don’t call people by nicknames anymore?” he asked bashfully. How cute -- and very smart! His advice made sense.

A guy walked up to my counter with a Wall Street Journal and a coffee. “Beautiful weather outside, sir,” I said, imagining what Herb would have said.

“Yes it is. Can I have a pack of Marlboro’s?” he said smiling ear to ear. I was working magic like Herb does!

“Sure thing,” I said cheerfully to the customer. “You have a grrrreat day!” I took a chance with rolling my r’s, and it was successful. The customer smiled and left. It felt good to be Herbert, I thought.

Unbeknownst to me, Mr. Patel was standing nearby watching the entire encounter. “You idiot, that kid was like 10 years old. You can’t sell him cigarettes,” Mr. Patel shouted.

“I had been so focused on providing good customer service that I didn’t even notice,” I yelled back.

Patel was not angry since somehow the cigarettes rang up three times. See, if you live well, the angels always watch over you, even when you have a defective register.

So life has been good of late, and I can’t help but reflect that we’re always learning in life, no matter how old we are. If you’re open to growing, you will always be happy. I’ve become so fond of little Herbert that I can honestly say I love him as much as my own sons, but not as much as that Great Dane I had who ran away. I sure do miss Mr. Winkles, pictured here. (Note, his name has been changed to protect his identity.)

Have a great week!
~ Jackie


Amanda said...

I was calling you a "gyro" (note: it reads "hero") Does this make the story any less fantastic?

Anonymous said...

Ive had similar experiences at Chik-Fil-A.

Jackie S. Phillips said...

Yeah, don't you work there, Dawn?
-- Jackie

Anonymous said...

Very funny I belive I met this herb before.