Have you ever noticed a certain phenomenon that happens whenever you run out to the store for an emergency ingredient, or something your kid needs for school, and you haven't showered yet, or you're wearing your 'I'm doing laundry' outfit? You know the scenario, I'm sure. You look like something the cat dragged in, and you're jogging around the store, trying to grab whatever you need in a hurry so you can slink back to your car before anybody sees you? What always happens? Right. You run into someone you know.
Of course, who you run into can make a big difference in whether this is a small embarrassment or a giant disaster. If I run into one of my friends when I'm looking less than stellar, I can smile and shrug my shoulders and say something charming (I'm very charming when I look like crap. Ask anybody.) and it's no big deal. After all, they've seen me lots of times when I look gorgeous. Well, maybe not gorgeous. Okay, they've at least seen me lots of times when I've been showered and neatly dressed, so they know this little incident is just an aberration. I always give them that special smile that says, "I'm just about to head out for my spa treatment and they don't like you to shower first..."
Anyway, recently, I was on just such an mission: grab a can of diced tomatoes that I desperately needed, and I ran into someone. Unfortunately, it wasn't one of my understanding friends. It was someone I hadn't seen in several years - a guy I worked with a long, long time ago. And he was THRILLED to see me, or so he said, and wanted to catch up on YEARS of separation, right there in the canned vegetables and soup aisle. I did the best I could to be friendly, and chatted for quite a while before making my excuses and dashing out of there. As I was driving away, I remembered something about this guy that made me chuckle. All. Day. Long. And I thought I'd share it with you.
Many moons ago, I worked for a newspaper. I worked there a long time (12 years) and loved it. My career there began in the classified ad section. For this story it is important that you know a little bit about the layout of the place. There were four of us, in a rectangular formation, each with a desk and a guest chair that sat at one side. All of this was in a giant open room that included all the rest of the advertising department. At the opposite wall from our classified section was a hallway that contained the women's restrooms. Then there was a complicated series of hallways that led to the other areas of the newspaper, including composing, stripping, editorial, the business office and, just before the pressroom, the men's restrooms. We took classified ads by phone mostly, with a few walk-ins, and worked on large display ads in our spare time. There were three of us that had been there a long time, but the fourth spot seemed to be made up of perpetually new people. Us long-timers were a pretty fun-loving bunch, with a healthy sense of humor that not everybody enjoyed. We may have been guilty of playing the occasional light-hearted prank on our co-workers, and that's what this is about.
There were certain customers who were required to pre-pay their ads, rather than being billed. It probably had something to do with a once-overdue bill or whatever. So these customers would call in their ad, get the price from us, and then stop by with a payment so that the ad would run. One of these customers, who frequently ran ads, was a man who dressed as a woman. He was a very nice guy, and I don't know anything about what his story was, but he was very clearly a man with a 5 o'clock shadow and a giant adam's apple, but used a woman's name and wore lovely summer dresses and heels. Come to think of it, he would never have been caught in WalMart unshowered with nasty sweatpants on like I was.
Anyway, our newest classified ad guy was a model employee - really, he was just a model citizen, very proper and straight-laced, and a bit uptight, so of course we wanted to harass the heck out of him. One day, our man-dressed-as-a-woman (let's call her Nicole) called to place her ad with me. She told me she'd be in to pay in an hour, which gave us just enough time to plot. We decided that the rest of us would make sure we were unavailable to help Nicole when she came in, so that our new friend (let's call him Sam) would have to do it. Our expectations were low - we just thought his expression upon realizing Nicole was a guy would be fun to watch. (and yes, I know I'm probably going to hell for this, among other things. I was young. That's my whole excuse).
Nicole came in and we made ourselves scarce, so Sam offered to help her. We, of course, were watching to see his face, and we weren't disappointed. Sam was about halfway through writing out her receipt when he looked her right in the face and the light dawned. And it was pretty funny, but it got so much better. After she had her receipt, she asked Sam where the restroom was. Sam, thinking that he was giving directions to the men's room, said, "oh, it's really complicated, you'll never find it. I'll take you," and stood up. He took about two steps, realized she probably wanted the women's room, stopped, pointed, said "It's right there." I just about lost it and had to run for the main lobby before collapsing in screams of laughter.
Forever after that, if anybody ever said anything about going to the ladies' room, we always made sure to say something like, "do you need directions? It's really hard to find." Poor, dear Sam. He was a pretty good egg, really, because he didn't hold a grudge. Of course, so many years later, after I fled WalMart, he was probably making fun of me to his wife, "Did you see what she was wearing? And that hair? Dreadful!" I don't blame him one bit. Karma's a bitch.
It's Me You're Talking About
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