The 12 Days of Retail Christmas: Elephantitis Man

Mike Rowe Dirty Jobs filthy coal dust portrait promo
Mike Rowe, I've got a
dirty job for you--
retail customer service. 
I smelled him before I saw him, which is never a good sign.  The man wobbled toward me, almost a large scale version of Wheezy from Toy Story, only instead of being shelved for losing his squeaker, this man had been isolated for his smell.  Eu de toilette.  Only literally, like a toilet.  Even the insane pulsating throngs of Black Friday shoppers repulsed away from him in disgust.  He waddled straight for my register, ignoring the twenty people already in line.  They attempted to shout their disapprovals, but they too, smelled and saw it.  The man was shoplifting basketballs.  At least two were shoved down his disgusting manure soaked overalls.

"Billy," he said while reading my nametag, which clearly stated, "Chris."  

"Uh, no.  I'm Chris.  You want me to get Billy?"  I barely was able to say as even my weak sense of smell was overpowered.

"Billy, is that you Billy?" He asked again. After the fifth time he asked me it became apparent that he had no idea how to read, or how to interpret "no, I'm Chris."

Sears Lawn and Garden Hardware sporting goods salesmen selling barbecue equipment
Myself, selling some hot chick a BBQ in 2003.
  One positive from working at Sears: I met my wife there. 
Finally, giving up, ready to call store security the minute he walked away from my register, I asked "What can I do for you?"

"I've come for my watch."

This was odd, because I was a Sears Hardware associate. My isles of responsibility were filled with tool boxes and Craftsman hand tools and ringing up the occasional weed wacker or telephone.  Jewelry, like watches, never made it out of Department 42.  Those jewelry ladies were insane about their two percent commission.

I glanced around for Billy, my on the floor sales trainer just two months earlier.  The guy was a selling maniac.  He would routinely sell $5000 of merchandise a day.  At our commission rate of 1-3%, he was making good money for a lowly retail associate.  And he never took breaks.  He was just at register #1, ten feet to my right, not willing to give it away, knowing that the front cash registers had lines all day long on these magical commission days.

Stick figures stinky person breath armpit smell DK cartoon
I hate getting slimed by smells.  
Now Natasha, and not Billy was manning the desirable register, and she was frantically working customers through her line as I was preoccupied with the manure-overalls-guy. During the doorbuster deals, it's almost impossible to even look up, as our groggy mornings were completely filled with scanning merchandise and saying, "I'm sorry, we all out of we aren't doing rainchecks." I broke the conveyer belt of customer/clerk basic chit-chat by asking "Hey Natasha, where's Billy?"

Without glancing up, or slowing her scanning prowess, she replied, "I don't know, he just went on break a minute ago and let me have this register."

That didn't seem like Billy.  I overhead paged him, "Billy, please call 7009."  About a minute later (although next to the smell of my new friend the basketball thief, it seemed like an eternity) Billy replied on the phone, "it's under the cash wrap."

"What is?"

"His pocket watch."

Sears Craftsman limited edition collectible pocket watch silver steel
In-store collectables,
losing their value the minute
they walk out the store since
I looked under the registers as he said it, and there it was, a Craftsman pocket watch (a holiday exclusive), with a hold tag for Hershall.  It was probably supposed to be spelled Herschel, but after looking at the backwoodsy customer, I'm not sure his mother didn't name him "Hershawl" as in, "her shawl, sure was purty."

"Oh, thanks Billy."  I hung up, not questioning why he knew the answer to the question before I even asked it.

I looked at the customer, "is this the watch?"

He took it from me and held it like it was his precious.  I interrupted his intimate moment with his new love, "Uh, do you want me to ring that up?"


"Do you want to buy it now?" I asked in my first grade teacher voice.

"Yeah."  He handed me twenty five dollars all in fives.  They held the smell of his front pocket.  I placed his money under my till, knowing no ordinary customer would accept his smell drenched dollars as change.  I handed him his penny and his receipt and thanked him for shopping at Sears.

He waddled away a happy man.  The customers, myself, and Natasha, suddenly free to breath normally again, all started feeling better.  I picked up the phone to call Loss Prevention (our store security).  I wasn't sure why he paid for the pocket watch and was swiping basketballs, when Billy grabbed the phone from out of my hand.

"What are you doing?" I asked him  Where were you? I have to call security, cause that guy's got merchandise stuffed down his pants; basketballs or something."

"No, those are his balls."


Indian guy with elephantitis elephantiasis of the legs censored black and white archived India
Elephantitis of the legs. 
"That really stinky guy, Herschel?  I saw him coming and took off.  You're welcome.  I've dealt with him before. He and his brother have Elephantitis of the genitalia.  Their balls are literally the size of basketballs.  They come in like once a year for weird Craftsman collectables like Nascar tins or like that watch.  He called earlier and I vowed to be gone when he showed up to pick it up.  I'm sorry, Chris, but last time he showed up, I threw up at the register while he was here; and my vomiting didn't even faze him.  I think they are some weird inbred family that lives in the sticks of Marcola and drives into town only for emergencies and Craftsman promotions.  They don't know how to read, and obviously don't act normal.  So, sorry for taking off, but I got to take care of myself.  Plus, it makes a great initiation story for you.  Your first Day-after-Thanksgiving freak.  There will be plenty more."

He was right.  There would be plenty more.
Customer service is the quickening of the maturing process.  You deal with people who nobody should have to deal with.  It should be a requirement for all Americans for at least ONE year.  Treating complete strangers with respect, despite their attitude or strange behavior, might teach us how to actually love and respect those around us who we have an actual vested interest in.

This is the first of many 100% real retail stories.  I worked at Sears for 7 years while working my way through college (no I'm not a doctor).  I originally planned on turning my memories into a book titled:
Seven Years of Purgatory: My Retail Years, but thought Sears would probably sue me.  So I'm just going to write them for free here on my blog.  I will probably novelize my experiences in five years or so, when Sears finally files chapter 7.  I'll try not to be too disrespectful to the memories of the humans I interacted with, no matter how inhumanely they treat me, or how alien they acted.

Sears black friday line day after Thanksgiving mall long lines customers waiting door busters
After working 7 Black Fridays, I don't miss this sight at all. 

Have a retail horror story?  Tell me in the comments section below.


  1. Sometimes, I actually miss my Meier & Frank days. Did you really have to mention "Marcola"?! haha

    1. Well, maybe I should've mentioned Oakridge...nobody can defend that town.

      I do miss my employee discount, just not the Holiday hours or dealing with traffic trying to get to work. Or being cussed out for situations I wasn't even involved in. Or... Okay I don't miss much at all.

  2. I think you should feel free to write your purgatory book using the fictitious corporation called Ursa Beersock (an anagram for Sears Roebuck)

    1. Somewhere, somebody is salivating over the idea of a beersock. "Dude, it's a sock soaked in beer!"

      I don't know the legality of mentioning names and corporations, but I've been told, just in case, make sure nobody can even guess what you mean. There's not much fun in that. I hope somebody someday makes a thinly veiled biography of me...people love stories about lower than average internet stars.

  3. Mr Plumb, I'm the executive regional directer for IDRESYA. We at the union have been watching your personal development with keen interest. For years now we have been searching for young blood that actually have good brain activity along with ideas. You are at the top of our exhausted lisp. this is the first note to you to see if you have any interest in serving the American worker with your mental prowess. We'll be in touch

  4. Thanks for sharing this story Chris. I often feel nothing but pity for the poor souls on the other side of the counter on Black Friday. Throughout the entire Holiday season for that matter. It's taxing enough to get in, buy what I want and get out. The workers are stuck on the Island of Misfit Customers all the time.

  5. I don't have any retail stories, but I sure could tell some from my years at McDonalds. I just won't tell any of them now. It's midnight here and I need some sleep.

  6. I remember working black friday at Marche... surprisingly hoards of crowds actually showed up to 5th Street Market for 5% discounts on luggage overpriced by 200%. Luckily their coffee drinks I made were only 25 cents over priced, and of course the service they got was priceless.