Throwback Thursday: A Tale of Five Courtesy Clerks

The following is a story I wrote when I was sixteen and working at Safeway as a courtesy clerk.  Brace yourselves…

 A Tale of Five Courtesy Clerks

by Gayle Gossett

      One day, as a courtesy clerk named Fleance came in from a carryout, he was summoned by a checker. “A customer just left this in the store,” the checker told him referring to a jug of milk, “It was an old guy with gray hair; he should still be in the parking lot.” So Fleance grabbed the jug and with great stealth headed out the door in search of the milk’s owner with the checker yelling in his wake, “Fly good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!”

Once outdoors, Fleance looked around the parking lot only to discover half the people out there were old men with gray hair. In a state of panic Fleance went from old man to old man in a vain attempt to find the milk’s owner but was unsuccessful. Now disheartened, Fleance walked with head bowed back into the store to tell the checker that the old man whose milk this was was no where to be found. The checker instructed him to leave the milk at the checkstand in hopes the man would realize it was missing and return for it.

As it was not busy up at front at the moment, Fleance headed to the back to hide in a bathroom stall and cry. He could not hold his tears back though, and they were already streaming down his face in full force when he burst through the bathroom door.

In the bathroom, another clerk named Rosencrantz was just finishing washing his hands thoroughly with soap and water. Seeing Fleance in such despair, Rosencrantz attempted to comfort him. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“An old man with gray hair left his milk in the store and I was unable to find him in the parking lot,” he said between sobs.

“Oh Fleance, you shouldn’t dwell on such trivial things.”

“But I just want to do a good job!”

“Such small things do not matter.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive; but then I hold ambition of so airy and light a quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow. Oh, dry your eyes Fleance, you have a job to do. Be a man!”

“I-I’ll try,” said Fleance sniffling.

Fleance and Rosencrantz headed back to the front of the store together. On their way they passed another clerk named Anne. “Hey, do you guys know if we have any 12 packs of regular Pepsi in the back?” she asked them.

“Uh…I’m not sure,” said Rosencrantz, “we’ll help you look, though.” And so the three of them headed back.

After searching for a minute or so Fleance asked, “Hey, who all’s working up front?”

“Uh…I think Iago and Ophelia are up there.” Said Anne.

Just then Iago and Ophelia came through the doors to the back. “What are you guys doing?” Iago asked.

“Looking for Pepsi,” said Rosencrantz, “what are you doing?”

“I’m supposed to fill eggs,” said Iago.

“I’m on break,” said Ophelia, “Pepsi’s right there.” She pointed.

Fleance, Rosencrantz and Anne all turned around and then answered in unison, “that’s diet Pepsi, we’re looking for regular.”

“I think we’re all out of regular,” said Ophelia.

“Are you sure?” Anne asked.

“Pretty sure,” said Ophelia.

“I think I’ll keep looking anyway,” said Anne.

Then over the intercom system came, “can we get all available courtesy help up front please.”

To which all five of them answered mockingly, “no!” and then broke out in laughter. Then Ophelia went to the break room, Iago went to the dairy cooler and the remaining three headed up front. Anne headed through the pop aisle on her way up to inform a customer that they were out of regular Pepsi.

Things had picked up quite a bit up front and the three were quickly busied. Just as Fleance was about to go on a carryout, he was called to fix the bottle machines. He entered yet another state of panic; he didn’t know which to do first. But luckily Anne noticed his despair and since she was not busy at the moment, offered to take care of the can machines for him. “Are you sure?” asked Fleance, “I mean, they called me to do it.”

“Don’t worry,” said Anne, “I’ll bear thy blame and take thy office from thee on my peril.”

“Well, OK,” said Fleance taking off quickly behind a customer with an over loaded cart. Fleance’s customer, who had taken off so rapidly to begin with, suddenly came to a dead stop right outside the door, which left Fleance standing in the doorway. “I’ve forgotten where I’ve parked,” said the customer. And while she pondered this, the automatic doors were continually opening and closing with Fleance and the cart in between them. Then the customer began walking again. The cart Fleance pushed was so full of groceries that with every irregularity in the parking lot he passed over, something fell out and he had to stop and pick it up and then hurry after the customer who was swiftly gaining ground. Fleance was on this carryout for some time, as the customer hadn’t the slightest clue where she left her car and so wandered randomly over the entire parking lot.

Meanwhile, as Iago was filling the eggs, he spied out of the corner of his eye some people trying to steal some beer. He quickly made his way up to the front office where the manager was napping and knocked loudly on the door. “Awake! What, ho, Mr. Manager! Thieves! Thieves!”

The manager woke with a start and said, “What?”

“I just saw some men trying to steal some beer!” said Iago. The manager sprang to his feet and went over to the beer aisle and resolved the problem in an orderly fashion.

Iago decided he was done enough as far as the eggs were concerned and so headed back up front to brag to all the other clerks about his nobility in the beer theft incident. They were not amused and Iago became frustrated.

He decided then he needed to go on his break and so he asked the manager who told him to wait until Ophelia came back from her break. Looking at the clock Iago figured that if Ophelia was still on her break, she had been for more than an hour and so he went to take his break despite the fact Ophelia was nowhere to be found.

When Iago returned to the front once more he discovered that Ophelia had found her way back up as well. ‘Darn!’ Iago thought to himself, ‘so she didn’t accidentally fall down the garbage disposal!’

Ophelia headed out the door on a carryout. It had started raining and Ophelia didn’t have a coat. To make matters worse, the customer was an elderly woman who walked rather slowly. It didn’t bother Ophelia too much though, she had only an hour till her shift was over and then she had the next two days off. On the way to her car, the customer turned and asked Ophelia, “have you ever owned a pug dog?”

Ophelia stared back at the customer rather befuddled for a few seconds before answering, “well, no, I haven’t.”

“Oh,” said the customer and then continued walking.

As Ophelia came in from that carryout she was asked to empty all of the garbages in the checkstands. Rosencrantz was coming back to the front through one of the empty checkstands at the same time Ophelia was emptying the garbage at it. As Ophelia pulled the bin of garbage out both of them saw something move. There was a greenish brownish blob on top of the garbage and it appeared to be alive. “What is it?” Rosencrantz asked.

“I do not know, but truly I do fear it,” said Ophelia, “kill it!”

“Oh you wimp,” he said and then grabbed the water bottle from under the checkstand and whacked the blob a couple of times until he was sure it was dead. He then wiped the water bottle clean with his apron and put it back. Ophelia stood there for a minute dumbfounded and then emptied the trash bin cautiously.

Fleance had wandered over and watched the whole incident in amazement. He then noticed that the milk jug that had been left behind was still at that checkstand. “Hey Ophelia,” he said, “an old man with gray hair left this in the store a few hours ago and hasn’t come back for it, what do you suppose I should do with it?”

“I imagine we should put it back on the shelf, but do you think it’s still good?” she said.

“Well, I don’t know,” he said feeling it for temperature, “It’s not too warm.”

“Well then put it back,” she said.

“If you say so,” he said and then went to put the jug back on the shelf.


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