An Open Letter to Retail Customers

A seriously odd customer today got me thinking about how we all treat the people who wait on us in any service capacity.

Oh, let me back up: I work part-time in retail. I know that cashiering isn’t glamorous, it isn’t exactly intellectually stimulating, and I know it suggests high school students and, well, people with nothing else to do.

But let me tell you a few things. I have a Master’s degree in Journalism, and I’ve worked as a reporter. I’m actually a pretty good reporter. But I don’t like reporting. I don’t mind, however, working retail, and I choose to do so to supplement my household income. I can perform quick arithmetic in my head, I’m scrupulously honest (see above about not enjoying newspaper reporting), and I actually enjoy working in the gorgeous fast-paced setting that is retail sales.

Plus, I work in a semi-New Age store. I meet interesting people, and I get to look at pretty things. I’m a magpie of both shiny things and shiny ideas, so I do get some pleasure out of my work, when it’s going well.

The bad days are very bad, though, and that’s largely because a portion of the population does not appreciate that I’m a human being, not a talking cash register.

So I’d like to ask the internet to remember a few things about the people who wait on you.

1. I am not a child. Don’t accuse me of breaking things or of not keeping my room clean enough. I work hard at this, and I frequently work completely alone. It can be hard to keep up with your demands, but I’m not completely incapable. Just give me a minute to do my job.

2. I don’t want to be hit on. C’mon, guys. I’m a married woman. Plus, I’m not getting paid to flirt. I smile and ask you about your day because it’s polite for me to do so.

3. I don’t like it when salespeople stalk me, either. But sometimes companies expect their employees to do just that. Be understanding. Don’t shoo me like a stray puppy. I’m just doing my job.

4. I’m a pretty smart gal. Don’t assume that because someone is wearing a name-tag, they’re not an educated, intelligent person. Just don’t. You never know someone else’s story.

5. I have feelings, too. I know you’re in a hurry: I am, too. But when my equipment has a fault, or when there’s a long line, I can only do what I can do. Believe me, I’m trying to go as fast as I can. And if I can’t answer your question, don’t yell at me. Don’t take your bad day out on me. Maybe I’m having a bad day, too.

And finally, my gigantic pet-peeve:

Don’t talk on your cellphone when you should be interacting with me. I know that I’m just a function to you, a check-out machine at the front of the store, but I’m not a computer. I have to tell you your total, make sure you found what you needed, ask if you want a receipt, a box, a bag, any number of things. And I can’t do that if you’re not listening. You’re preventing me from doing my job well.

Plus, it’s just rude.

I’m begging you, internet. The next time someone in retail, in service, or on the phone asks you a question or takes a long time, remember that they’re a person. They’re doing a job, but they are not that job. Be nice.

Never Love a Supernatural Man

I will never love a supernatural man.

Obviously if my husband said to me one day, “Beloved, I’ve been hiding it from you all this time, but I need you to know… I am a vampire,” I wouldn’t dump him. I mean, I’ve survived for almost eight seasons, so I probably won’t die in the final battle. (Don’t tell that to Anya, though.)

But if for some bizarre reason, I found myself on a desert island populated with vampires, werewolves, witches, demons, and demon hunters, I would flat out refuse to date a super-powered man without taking some steps to protect myself. If the sexiest vampire there said to me, “Hey, baby, you wanna mosey on down to the cave with fresh water to watch the stars come out?” I’d make him sign a pre-dating contract that would go something like this:

1. No matter how many nasty-happies it would give me to bite you, I recognize that you, Kristin, are not dinner.

2. I swear that if we get pelvic, I will not lose my soul and kill your friends.

3. If somehow we fall madly and tragically in love, and then some supernatural antagonist starts pursuing you with all the dedication of a depressed teenage girl deprived of Ben & Jerry’s, I swear that I will, without angst or delay, turn you into a vampire so that you can defend yourself.

If he refused to sign my contract, I’d tell him to go sun himself.

And werewolves? Come on. I love dogs, but I’m not going to date one. Kibble breath first thing in the morning? Ew. Plus, they’re always exploding into wolf-form before they attack things, but they seem to get their asses handed to them most of the time. I don’t need a man with a built-in fur coat, especially when he’s just going around getting beat up by the cooler monsters.

The worst of the lot, though, might be the demon-killers. At least a monster is capable of protecting you with tooth and claw, but those hunter-guys have only guns and knives. Plus, they attract danger. When they’re not seeking out the baddies, the baddies are grinding them to a bloody pulp or dragging them into hell. And the mortality rate for love interests on Supernatural is shockingly high: if I ever meet a sexy guy who says he hunts ghosts and ghoulies, I will run far, far away. After I kick him in the shins to debilitate him so he can’t chase me, that is. (Running away is foreplay, you know.)

No, I’ll take a nice, well-adjusted human, thank you very much. I recommend you do the same.

Zombie Defense: The Squirt Bottle

The trouble with your average Zombie Apocalypse Preparation program is that it neglects the most disturbing and dangerous of all zombies:

THE ZOMBIE CAT.

Sure, we’re sad ’cause it’s dead–TILL IT RISES AGAIN.

The zombie cat is no laughing matter. Behind that soft fur and those long whiskers lurk glowing eyes, sharp (if broken and decaying) claws, and the deadly ability to half-bury you in a litter box after they LAP UP YOUR BRAINS.

I’m telling you. Cats already want to kill us all.

Look at the murder in those eyes.

I’m telling you: we must prepare.

And only the best zombie apocalypse training programs will teach you how to defend yourself. So when ZAP General Emmie Mears asked me to write about the best weapon in the zombie small animal defense arsenal, I agreed.

Because what do all cats fear above ALL ELSE?

This specimen exhibits abnormal bravery in the face of the squirt.

The deadly squirt bottle.

A cat’s fear of the squirt bottle is so powerful, so primal, even the compelling need to consume brains cannot overcome it.

Should you ever find yourself cornered by the furry, rotting, grime-bucket of DOOM, you need to know how best to use your squirt bottle.

1. Know where the nearest water supply is. Your squirt bottle ain’t no use empty.

2. Practice twisting the flow-control nozzle to the right setting. That scattered mist scares no feline: you need the jet setting, and you need to get it fast.

3. Target practice is essential. A truly determined cat will not be phased by a flank hit. No, you need to aim for the face, the ears, the eyes, and the neck. That’s the only way to stop the assault.

Of course, all these methods will only stop a finite number of LOLing-zombies demanding brain-cheezburgers. There’s only one weapon that will stop a pack of zombie-cats, the nuclear bomb of the cat-world, but it merits a blog post of its own:

The jar full of loose change.

Be prepared, folks. You never know when you’re going to need your weapons.

The Couple Pudge

My husband and I recently had that horrible moment where one of us looked at the other and said, “You know, my pants are getting kind of tight!”

And the other said, “Hmm. Mine, too.”

Then we had a moment kind of like this one:

This was quite awhile ago, too.

The trouble with being happily coupled off is that it’s just so much nicer to stay at home on Friday night (or any night), order a pizza, and rewatch The Importance of Being Earnest than it is to, say, go play tennis. Playing tennis involves putting on tennis shoes, gathering equipment, getting all smelly, and, you know, having somewhere to play tennis.

As it is, the only exercise we get is when we fight like dogs over the last breadstick in the bag before we go back to sitting, winded, on the couch.

And it ain’t pretty, folks.

I may be exaggerating a bit, but the bottom line is true: we’ve both gained a significant amount of weight. We enable each other, you see. We’ll encourage the other one to eat another cookie or watch another episode of the show-of-the-moment because then it makes it okay to consume more junk food or TV yourself.

We’ve also reached the age where we can’t eat six pizzas in a night and then comfortably button up our jeans the next morning. The approaching big 3 – 0 means the metabolism slows and the waistline grows. We’re not 18 anymore, and the calories no longer burn themselves.

It’s hard to work out together, too. We tried running in tandem recently, but my husband is a foot taller than me. He can walk at the speed of my jog. It’s pitiful. Most coupley-sports also require at least a bicycle or a racket, and we can’t go buying bikes and rackets willy-nilly, even if we had somewhere to keep them.

Our solution? Walking.

Revolutionary, I know. But we’re trying to make the semi-recommended 10,000 steps per day, and it’s harder than it sounds. When you work at a computer all day, it’s hard to get more than about 3,000. And every bit of movement has to help, right?

We’re also cutting back on our pizza and delicious baked-good consumption, which is, for me, harder. I like exercise. I like walking. I also love delicious baked goods. I wouldn’t give up food for $10,000 (though give me six figures and we’ll talk).

There you have it—simple, but not easy. Cut the input, increase the output. Easy to say when we’re both sitting on the couch, staring at our laptops.

Anyone have any advice for shedding the couple-pudge? 

The Epic Kitchen Woes of Kristin McFarland

I am, dear readers, clumsy.

This afternoon I was sauteing onions, green peppers, and carrots to put into a slow-cooker soup. I used my cast iron skillet—I always use cast iron because it was an AMAZING wedding gift and because it’s good for vegetarians like myself. But when I hoisted the skillet to dump the vegetables into the slow cooker, I wasn’t quite prepared for the weight, and I proceeded regardless. I discovered, however, when I turned my wrist to pour out the contents, that the side of my index finger was touching the gap between the handle mitt and the edge of the skillet itself.

Ouch.

That skillet probably weighs 10 pounds, and I knew I couldn’t drop it onto our cheapo ceramic apartment tile or I’d be facing a far worse disaster, one that would require a phone call to our evil property managers. Instead, I tried to get the skillet back to the stove… and I managed to spill a chopped onion, a minced green pepper, and a crapload of chopped baby carrots, all cooked in olive oil, on the tile.

I then sat down and had a teacup full of wine. (The wineglasses were in a cabinet over the mess.)

You see, this isn’t the first kitchen incident I’ve had—and most of my kitchincidents are more catastrophic than inconvenient. In the most famous accident, I dropped a mixing bowl full of half-mixed cookie dough on the floor, throwing flour and moist dough all over the floor, ceiling, cabinets, and appliances. I even had flour in the part of my hair. In the process, I broke the mixing bowl and the hand mixer, and I managed to chip the grout of the tile.

Once, I mistakenly added a tablespoon of powdered cayenne to our pizza sauce instead of a teaspoon. That was some seriously spicy pizza, and my poor husband manfully ate it anyway.

The cats stay clear when I’m in the kitchen.

I’m actually a pretty good cook: really, I am! If you like spicy vegetarian chilli, homemade pizza, or blueberry crumb muffins, come to me and I’ll blow your mind. But it’s hard to get a reputation for culinary excellence when, every few times you cook something, you turn a clean kitchen into a disaster area no one would dare enter without steel-toed boots and a hazmat suit.

Is anyone else this clumsy? Please, make me feel better and tell me a similarly shameful story.

Star Wars: The First Time

Oh, what the dirty minds out there are thinking, I’d love to know.

My husband and I just finished watching Star Wars: A New Hope for approximately the gazillion and fifth time—and it’s still damn good, no matter how many times we watch it.

As the opening text was rolling, though, Drew said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch this for the first time.

I looked at him and said, eloquently, “Huh?”

When he stared at me blankly, I said, “What do you mean? For the first time in the theater? For the first time as the Special Edition? For the first time with the crappy new ones?”

“No,” he said. “As just the first time—I’ve been watching these movies since before I can remember.”

“Oh!” I said. “Well, I CAN remember, and it was magical.”

You see, I was in sixth grade when I first saw Star Wars. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but somewhere in the midst of my Anne McCaffrey and Dragonlance obsession, my mother realized I’d probably like Star Wars. She told me about it, and I dimly remember crinkling my nose and saying something like, “I dunno…”

I vividly remember, though, going to Planet Hollywood and finding the TAPE (yes, the VHS) of the remastered version, released (I believe) shortly before the Special Edition films hit theaters in 1997: I was 11 and 12, respectively. We found the remastered version of A New Hope in the ‘popular releases’ section, and I remember we were both puzzled by the ‘Episode IV’ subtitle. We asked the nerdy guy at the counter if it was truly the first movie, and he assured us that it was in fact the right starting point.

Luke, Leia, and Han in all their 70’s glory.

We watched it that night on the “big” TV in our black-and-white basement (with the surround sound!), and my entire world changed. I was obsessed, in the way that only pre-teens can get obsessed with something. We watched all of them within a week, and I had to BEG my mom to let us rent and watch a movie on a weeknight.

Being a good mom, she indulged me. (Hi, Mom.)

Return of the Jedi ‘done me in’. Ewoks? Yeah, I loved them—still do, in fact.

They’re like teddy bears with weapons! (May the piracy furies forgive me… Image via starwars.wikia.com)

After that, I collected action figures, even though I was probably too old. I remember finding the remaster VHS trilogy in my parents’ closet for Santa to bring me, a month or so before Christmas. I had a Star Wars sleepover birthday party, to which I made all of my (female) friends wear Star Wars costumes. (I was Luke, naturally.) I bought all the soundtracks and listened to them obsessively. I watched the movies on the tiny TV/VHS system in my bedroom, and I have fond memories of snuggling up to watch them when I was sick. I even read some of the novels.

It shaped my life in the same way that Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, Braveheart, and the Dragonlance novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight all changed who I was. Honestly, it’s up there with the moment I read Hemingway’s short story, “Cat in the Rain,” in high school and realized that I wanted to study English literature in college. My life has never been the same.

I think, oddly, of the How I Met Your Mother quote when Ted’s best friend Marshall says to Ted’s almost-wife, Stella:

Look, Stella, that is Ted’s favorite movie of all time. He watches it when he’s home sick with the flu. He watches it on rainy Sunday afternoons in the fall. He watches it on Christmas Eve. Ted watches Star Wars in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad. Do you really think you can pretend to like a movie you actually hate — for the rest of your life?

Could I have married a man who didn’t like Star Wars? I’m not sure—all the guys I’ve ever been involved with have liked it. My high school boyfriend’s mom liked to tell the story of how her first date with my boyfriend’s dad was to see A New Hope. (They’ve since had a messy divorce… hmm…)

A New Hope was magical for me in a way that Brave would have been if I’d seen it at 8, that Harry Potter has always been, The Lord of the Rings was when I was 17, and Buffy was when I was 24. It’s one of those worlds you can get lost in and not emerge from for months.

So, can I imagine the first time?

Oh, yes, I can. I will never forget it. If I have kids, I’ll save this movie until they’re old enough to appreciate—unlike my husband, they’ll remember the magic of the first time. Any friend of mine will have to watch it. And I’ll always go back to it when I need a boost, or when I’m happy, or when I just want to get away for awhile. It’s part of who I am.

Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars, friends? Tell me your story. What other stories have had this impact on you?

The Battle of the Great Ambivalence

Have you ever warred with your own apathy?

Apathetic cat feels… it doesn’t matter.

As some of you may remember, I’ve been trying to read The Wheel of Time and to watch Angel.

I haven’t really succeeded at either. I get excited in individual chapters or episodes, but somehow I reach a stopping point and never go back. It’s kind of getting to the point where I wonder why I’m even bothering.

It’s not the characters, because I like some of them… though definitely not all. And it’s not the plot, at least not entirely, because sometimes I enjoy it. But feeling like I should read or watch something just isn’t cutting it anymore.

What’s your breaking point? How little can you care before you just can’t carry on?