Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It Takes a Worried Man...

As some of you may know, I work part-time at a pet food store. This job, while below my education level, is not below my intelligence. If it were, I'd be better at it, wouldn't I?

The best part of the job is mocking the customers.

Well, okay, the best part of the job is the nice customers, but one of the most amusing parts of the job is mocking the customers. The following story thus helps keep up my Job-Amusement Quotient.

The Worried Man is (to my chagrin) a regular. He comes in at least once a week, and seems always to be in a state of what my boss calls "slow, placid panic." Everything is a struggle for him, a struggle written--much like a narrative of an unsuccessful and scurvy-ridden Viking trip to Greenland--on his face, which has a permanent expression like this:
(Please note, this is a simulation, enacted for instructional purposes only.)

I made the mistake some weeks ago of trying to help Worried Man identify some bird he was (ineptly) describing. So, on Tuesday, Worried Man came out to where I was pulling plastic off of the delivery pallets, and said, "You know a lot about birds."

"I know a little," I replied.

The Worried Man (worriedly): "A little?" [Try to imagine a subtle yet pervasive whininess. What a minute, it's not subtle; it's just whiny. The idea that I am not a Total Bird Expert has sunk him nearly to the Slough of Despond.]

Me: "What's the problem?"

The Worried Man: "I have these stellar jays I feed, and I just throw the seeds on the ground, but yesterday a gopher came up [gestures with his fingers in a way meant to indicate a gopher coming up] out of the ground right in the middle of where I throw the seeds down and started trying to gather up the seeds."

Me (already tired of this conversation): "Uh-huh."

The Worried Man: "So what would you do?" [Imagine an almost professional level of helplessness. He just Can't Imagine What to Do. The problem is insurmountable unless it could, maybe, be solved by NASA.]

Me: "Well, you could put the seeds on a table." [Duh.]

The Worried Man: "A table?" (confusedly, as though a. the word is unfamiliar, or b. the concept of "table" is just one too many for him.)

"Yeah. You know. Like a yard table. A gopher would have a hard time climbing a table leg," I say somewhat brusquely, making a gesture indicating a small tube like the leg of a table.

The Worried Man: "A table?" [Still evidently unclear on the concept.] Wouldn't the gopher just climb it? What about something else, not a table? What about a milk crate?" [A milk crate is not a table. Usually. And the fact that he actually knows this is nothing short of miraculous, akin to the Virgin Birth or the belief that supply-side economics actually works.]

Me (wondering if this man has recently or in the past undergone frontal lobotomy, or leucotomy, as they like to call it in the UK, or at least in the literature that I've read from the UK. Maybe in the UK they really just call it "Making someone an annoying git" or something else suitably witty and British, but the books use the word leucotomy): "Well, a gopher would have a lot easier time climbing a milk crate than a table."

The Worried Man: "It would?" [Wonderment! Amazement! HOW HOW could this be possible?!]

Me (sighing tiredly, mostly inwardly, because this is, in fact, a customer and we need custom): "Think about it [wrong phrase to use with this guy]. A milk crate would be easier to climb than a table leg. I mean a rat could probably climb a table leg, but even a gopher could climb a milk crate."

The Worried Man (With a "Eureka!"-type insight): "Because it's like a lattice? The milk crate?"

Me: "Uh-huh." [By the way, I'm working this whole time, tearing off the plastic from the pallet loads, opening boxes, sorting stuff, vaguely hoping that appearing busy might make him Shut Up. Or even, with luck, cause the earth to open beneath his feet so that he just disappears with a final, worried, wail.]

The Worried Man: "Well, I just don't know how to keep the gopher away." [This much has become obvious, but it's nice to hear. Repetition is a great teaching tool.]

Me (wondering how long this conversation can possibly last, yet still trying, Lord knows why, to help this sorry sack): "You could put down some gopher wire and make an area where a gopher couldn't dig."

The Worried Man: "Gopher wire?" [Two words that have never appeared together before in his cosmogony. Maybe the phrase needs to be categorized among the great oxymora of the English language, along with Shakespeare's "that is hot ice" and groupings such as "achievable fantasy" or "marijuana initiative."]

Me: "Yeah. Gopher wire. It's like poultry wire but the holes are smaller, generally, and sometimes it has double wires to make it harder to chew through."

The Worried Man (unaware that he is *this close* to getting punched): "Gopher wire?"

Me: "You can get it at the hardware store. They probably have some back at the nursery, but they might just have gopher wire cages to plant your bulbs in or whatever." [I'm babbling now. I know he has no idea what a gopher cage for bulb-planting is, but I have Ceased to Care. Soon I will begin to explain my argument as to why bear-baiting and public execution are not indications that Early Modern English society was somehow excessively bloodthirsty and that Elizabethan and Jacobean revenge drama were not, despite many modern interpretations, actually mere spectacles of violence. And why would I start explaining this argument? Because I feel like it.]

The Worried Man: "Gopher wire? So it's like chicken wire?" [See I made the mistake of calling it "poultry wire," which is what they call it when you try to buy it at the hardware store. I assumed, obviously in error, that many people know that chickens are, in fact, a kind of poultry.]

Me: "Yes. You could make an area lined with gopher wire so the gopher couldn't dig there." [I really don't know how this could actually work. I mean, if you just laid the gopher wire down, the gopher would dig up next to the wire, traipse daintily (or not daintily. Maybe some gophers are clumsy.) across to where the seeds are and, voilà! Screw you, gopher wire! One would really need to make more of a gopher wire box, but since gophers can climb gopher wire (because, much like a milk crate, it has a lattice structure), I have no clue what good gopher wire would do anyone in this situation. Or, rather, at this point in the conversation (loosely-termed), I have no clue how Anything would do Anyone Any good in Any situation. Ever.]

The Worried Man: "So I could maybe put some gopher wire down and make a place where the gopher can't dig?" [They say that repeating a person's last phrase proves you are listening. They say wrong. Okay, well, not wrong exactly. They say dumb.]

Me (resignedly): "Uh-huh."

The Worried Man: "Maybe I could get some gopher wire. It seems sort of complicated." [Like brain surgery or string theory, one imagines.]

Me (trying to find some way, any way, for this conversation to be over): "You could also get a bird feeder."

The Worried Man: "I just really like being able to just throw the seed down." [Having Things Stay the Same Even with the Advent of the HORRIBLE GOPHER MENACE OF DOOM CRAP OH HELL CRAP is clearly an idée fixe with him. A solution is the last thing he wants. I think he has a crush on me, and in future when he comes into the store, I will have to leave the building.]

Me (wondering haven't we been here before?): "Well, then you could just put out a table to throw it down on."

The Worried Man (in a phrase that deserves to be lauded and passed down in story and song across time and culture): "But then I'd have a table in my yard."


After this, I said, "Well, good luck with that." But my heart wasn't really in it. Then I went and hid in the bathroom until he left.