Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Call Me Sweetie

The other day, I stopped to fill my car's gas tank at a convenience store station, went inside, and got on the line to pay. As the customer in front of me took the receipt for her carton of cigarettes, the gray-thatched woman behind the counter said, "Thanks, Sweetie. Have a wonderful day."

The customer slammed her cigarettes onto the counter, shot the clerk a look that could've corroded Big Ben's gears, then snarled, "I'm not your sweetie. Don't you call me Sweetie! Or Honey. Or Dearie." Then she snatched up her box of cancer sticks and goose-stepped away, slammed the door open, and disappeared in a cloud of dander.

The clerk blinked a few times, forced an anemic smile. "I was just trying to be nice," she murmured, then added, in a tone like the vox humana of an organ, "It's my first day on the job."

A passage from THE ASSISTANT, by Bernard Malamud, popped into my head: "Our life is hard enough. Why should we hurt somebody else? For everybody should be the best, not only for you or me. We ain't animals."

"You can't win 'em all, Sweetie," I said. "I wouldn't worry about it."

She started to giggle. "I'd like to give you a big hug."

I told her to be my guest.

I know a lot of people are put off by what they consider undue familiarities from strangers, but I figure that if having 6,587 friends, more than 99% of whom you've never set eyes upon, is something to brag about, and when the latest and greatest of anything is always referred to as the ultimate, why should I put someone down for addressing me with a mild form of endearment, and telling me they hope I have the best day ever?


Bernadette Pajer said...

Here, here! Hugs, hugs! I worked for decades in customer service jobs and routinely used terms like "sweetie" and "my dear" and told folks with genuine feeling to "have a nice day." I met some great folks and at times I realized I was the only kind voice some people heard all day long. The few rare occasions when my "sweeties" were rebuffed, I knew it wasn't about me, but the poor soul who'd had a bad day.

Larry said...

Hey, Bernadette, at least 3 cheers for you, being able to work customer service and be routinely beyond pleasant to people who were inevitably coming in with something to be unhappy about.