Thursday, January 10, 2013


     When I was younger and just began working in the world, often times I'd stumble over my words, speak too softly, mumble, speak too fast, or just flat out say things that made no sense to normal people. This got me into trouble quite a few times with customers when I was first starting out working retail.

     The store that I worked at had a very strict no-pets-allowed policy that we were told rather emphatically to enforce. We sold food, and coffee and whatnots, so legally, we couldn't have animals in the store, except for service dogs. I always did a pretty decent job of enforcing that policy. Someone would walk into the store with a little dog (where I worked was a high-end neighborhood; most of our customers were the wealthy hollywood-wannabe types, with little dogs in their gucci bags and things like that), and I would politely but firmly tell them "Oh, I'm sorry, we can't have animals in the store... It's a legal issue with the state." and either they'd get really mad at me and I'd have to call the manager, or they'd simply comply and go away with their dog. Now, as I mentioned, the people that would typically try and bring little dogs into the store were the wealthy-types. Or they were the "natural" types of people, the ones that carry their children in slings around their bodies and only eat organic, gluten-free food and refuse to purchase anything produced in China. Back when I was working, there was a funny trend; there were these silly little harnesses that people could wear around their bodies, like the ones to carry babies, but instead, you could carry around your dog or cat. Many, many people tried to enter the store with these devices, carrying their little dogs (and once, a cat, I kid you  not), and I'd have to give them the speech about the legal issues and blah blah blah. This was a very, very common occurrence back then. I'm not entirely sure if that's still a popular thing that still goes on these days, but back then it was an epidemic.

     One night, I was working the register (most interesting things happened when I was at the register), and this lady comes into the store with one of those harnesses strapped to her chest. The store was pretty much dead, as usual (this was when the economy first really tanked), so I was the only one at the front of the place. So the lady comes strolling in with one of those harnesses with what appeared to be a black pug residing within. I tell her "Oh, I'm sorry, ma'am, but we can't allow animals in here... The state won't allow it because we sell food products..." She looked at me very oddly, and said "Alright..." and continued walking into the store. I could tell this was gonna be a tricky battle, she seemed stubborn; she had a lot of gall to just keep on marching into the store like that after I so politely-yet-firmly explained our policy to her! Thinking that maybe she didn't hear me, I told her again. "I'm really sorry, ma'am, but we really can't have animals in here... We'll get into a lot of trouble if we let it happen, I'm sorry but I'll have to ask you to leave your dog in the car." This time, a bewildered look from the lady. Silence. She grabbed a cart while still making eye contact with me in what was probably one of the most uncomfortable silent moments in my career. She began wheeling it into the store. This was getting out of hand; at this point she wasn't merely breaking the rules, she was disrespecting ME, after I had worked so hard to be respectful to her whilst explaining the store policies! And that look she was giving me, that wasn't going to fly.

     "Ma'am, please... I don't want any trouble, but we simply cannot allow dogs in here! If this continues I'm afraid I'll have to bring the manager..." I was still polite, of course, but getting ever firmer in my pleas and explanations. Now, things got really scary. The lady, who was previously about 20+ feet away from the counter walked over to me. She asked me "What on earth are you on about?!" Just as I was about to explain the policies for the 4th time, I took a good look at her silly harness.

    The thing I thought to be a black pug turned out to be a black infant. Human. She had a small human in that harness. Granted, this was the most hideous child I'd ever laid eyes on; something was the matter with its face, it was very wrinkled and quite grotesque. I found out later that she had got the child from Africa; a legitimate African orphan with a myriad of various problems, one of which was apparently having the appearance of a pug or very small shar-pei dog.

     I looked up at her face; she was really quite angry looking, and I can't honestly blame her, I'd made an idiot of myself, and quite literally called her precious child a dog, and told her to take "it" out of the store. I had no idea how I was gonna get out of this one. I began with a feeble attempt: "Oh, my stars, I'm so sorry... I really thought your baby was a dog, you see there's this funny trend where people wear similar harnesses as yours, but instead of carrying babies they carry dogs and cats, and well the store has quite a strict policy on these things... can't have animals running around, because of legal issues with the state; we'd be absolutely shut down, and none of us would want that, right? Right... Well there's really no problem, since this isn't a dog, it's a real live human baby, so please feel free to shop around, I'm terribly sorry for all this, I thought it was a black pug..." And so it went, run-on sentence after run-on sentence. My face grew redder and redder throughout this train-wreck of an apology, while her face grew more and more confused, and then eventually amused. She could tell that I was genuinely in distress over this hideous mistake, that I truly felt awful, and like a class-A idiot.

     Her face slowly broke out into a smile, a kind, gentle, understanding smile. Not a "I hate you, you called my precious human baby a dog and told me to go leave it in the car" evil grin, but a sweet, reassuring smile. She then said "Oh, that's alright, sunshine. We all make mistakes. I do suppose it would make sense, if you say that so many people come in wearing dogs around themselves as though they were humans! It's only our nature to assume these things. You should commend yourself for your dedication to keeping up company standards, though.". This did nothing, I still felt like scum. "Ma'am, I want to tell you that I am SO. SORRY for insinuating that your baby was a dog. My eyesight is not that great, and from afar, well..." To which her reply?

     "Oh, no, don't stress over it! It's an unexpected sight, I get a lot of questions about little Dalili here. People are naturally curious about how a white woman [with dreadlocks] would come by such a dark-skinned child. Well, I adopted little Dalili from ::such and such:: orphanage in ::such and such African country:: a year ago". She then explained to me all the various conditions her Dalili had; it was really sad, but I knew the baby was in good and loving hands with this eccentric white lady. (The lady was one of those naturalists; she had long white dreadlocks, and she only purchased organic foods from me, and was apparently an avid believer in the wear-your-baby-in-a-sling sort of parenting). For quite some time later on during her transaction, after she had shopped around and gotten her goods, we talked about adoption, and orphans, and she regaled me with her tales of her work overseas, helping the starving children in Africa, and how it had so impacted her and changed her life, that she decided to adopt an orphan baby. Of course the subject of my own domestic adoption came up, in which she was very interested. As the transaction ended, she encouraged me to adopt foreign, if ever I decide to have kids. She said it was the most rewarding thing she's ever done, was to take care of Dalili and get her back to health. She laughed ever so slightly, and stared down at Dalili's face, almost scrutinizingly. She then looked back up to me, smiled, and said "You're right; I can see the pug now" and had a good, jolly laugh on it. I joined her in laughter, and apologized yet again for my stupidity. The naturalistic woman said "hey, no worries sunshine. Life happens, yeah? We're all laughing now and that's all that matters. You meant well; you have a very kind soul". Then she smiled her kind and genuine smile, and we said goodbye,

     I never saw Kate or Dalili again. But I certainly will never forget the debacle I had gotten myself into. I was so endlessly grateful that it ended in the way it did, and not with me being yelled at for my insolence and possible racism. Through my stupidity, I had inadvertently made a friend. Further proof to me that all things work out for the best in the end.