I'm pretty sure Sartre came up with that "hell is other people" bon mot after coming off a 10-hour shift working retail during Christmas. It's well-known among the dramaturgical cognoscenti that the first drafts of NO EXIT were about three retail clerks doomed to work the Friday after Thanksgiving for all eternity.
That day's alternate moniker, Black Friday, was not coined by the media or by merchants, mind you, but by cash register slaves and stock jockeys. I know -- I used to be one at a Borders Books.
We're rounding the bend to December 25th, which is when they come out of the woodwork, those people who've waited until the last minute to shop and as such are full to the eyeballs with panic and guilt in addition to whatever intrinsic assholery they may bring to the party.
So, I'd like to extend a holiday wish.
Please have a kind word for the folks at Candles R Us or Trendy But Generic Clothing or Ottomans! Ottomans! Ottomans!.
Their feet hurt.
They make crap money.
They've been asked to find a book for a customer who can only say that it's pink. Title, author, genre? "No, but it's pink! Jesus, are you some kind of goddamn idiot? Fine, I'll just get it online."
Knock yourself out. You think I get paid on commission, bitch?
Retail workers get sick more often than those in other industries, because you bring in your germs and leave them all over the merchandise.
You mess up their sections and then complain that you can't find anything.
You decide you want to charge your purchase instead of using cash only after the clerk has finished your transaction, which as any retail survivor (and David Sedaris in his brilliant SANTALAND DIARIES) can tell you is a gauntlet of calling over the manager, initialing this, filing that, and starting all over.
Don't assume this is the only job they can get or that they're stupid.
Your mileage may vary, but in my store many of us were working to save some money for grad school. One guy was headed to Georgetown for his MBA. I was between Stanford and NYU. We even had one woman who had been a lawyer for years and just decided she wanted to do something different.
Retail is different from the law. When you're a lawyer, you can put the bad people in prison. In retail, you smile and give them a complimentary bookmark and mentally record them for when you have a private hitman at your disposal. I'm looking at you, Pink Book.
As I used to say, any day in retail you can walk away from is a good day.
So ask your clerk how they're doing. Listen, smile, wish them well. They're worthy and needful of any kindness right about now.
Except for the clerks at Barnes and Noble. Those guys are freakin' morons.