Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Second Most Important Thing

This Christmas finds me selling things no one needs to people who have too much.
 I’m a flex-time Sales Associate in Fine Jewelry at Grackle’s, the department store. There at the mall behind the locked counter in my black pants and black vest, I sell rubies and emeralds and diamonds and pearls. I have buckets of them. Fine watches, too. Though they come with warranties, I offer extended insurance on them. The gems, too.
One recent rainy Tuesday evening, a few minutes before closing at 9 p.m. when the store was bright and empty, except for idle clerks itching to be home, in came the happiest man in the world.
He gave me a sunshine smile. The next day would be his tenth wedding anniversary. He and his wife, the mother of their four children, would fly to the Caribbean at dawn. He wanted to get her something special. He was headed for housewares, but I said, “Sir, tin or aluminum is no fitting gift.”
            Together we browsed the pretty things. His eye fell on the gold necklace adorned with emeralds and rubies. I took it out of its locked case, set it on the counter, and unfixed it from its stand. After laying it on a blue display pad, I unsmudged a ruby. It was his to handle. As in a fairy tale, the moment he touched it, he had to possess it. At $10,000, it was the second most expensive thing in the store.
            This man was lucky, for it was on sale. I totaled the discounts, including one for getting a Grackle’s account and another for joining our “Thanks for Helping” charity program. Lo and behold, the necklace was his for $4,383. There was one catch: It was a pre-sale. To get the deal, he would have to wait several days to pick it up.
            “Not a problem,” said the man, so long as Grackle’s could give him a photo of the necklace. He would give that in its stead to his wife.
            “Not a problem,” I said, dispatching a colleague.
            Now the man’s woes began. We began the check-out process. It is a process because there is much pressing of buttons. Because his account was new, the computer would not approve his purchase.
So much debt for so new a credit customer.
            Downcast, my co-worker returned. No photo. Printer malfunction. A cloud passed on the man’s face, yet he beamed on.
            As I called Grackle’s credit center, the store’s lights, as they do at closing, one by one by one went out. There we stood in near darkness, lit by lamps on the counters, amid purses, pumps, and rings. Finally, the credit center gave its okay. But my register would not accept the approval code: 4444. I called again.
            “I’m sorry, sir, that this is taking so long,” I said, my armpits damp. This was the biggest sale of my short career. My commission would be one percent. “I’ll have you on your way soon.”
            “I’d really like to get home to put my kids to bed,” the man replied.
            In the gloom, I waited on hold. Getting through, once again my register beeped its displeasure at the go-ahead code: 4444.
            “Well, operator, what should we do?” I asked.
             “I’m not an operator,” she replied. “I’m a Grackle’s credit specialist.”
            I called a manager. She came, face blank. Pressing a button to unlock the gate, I buzzed her in to my secure area. Now she called. By now the store had been closed a half hour. Now it was just me, her, and the happy man. Behind him, the store’s undercover dick hung in the shadows by the dresses, grinning.
            As the manager took charge, the man showed me pictures of his children on his iPhone. I saw them. I saw his dog. I saw his wife. I saw his friends. They were all as happy as he was. He kept saying, “I’d really like to get home to put my kids to bed.”
            When all was well, the store had been shut nearly an hour. As we parted in the dark, I shook his hand. “Congratulations,” I said.
            “When I come back with my wife, “ the man beamed, “let’s have coffee from Grackle’s coffee bar.”
            “Yes, sir,” I nodded.
            The thing is, though, Grackle’s doesn’t have a coffee bar.