Cheshire Cat's Grin

The Gallery of Mall Characters

In November and December 2012 I worked at an ornament kiosk in the mall. It was a great opportunity for people watching. Here is a reproduction of the blog series I published on Facebook in December 2012.

December 12, 2012 - The Functionally Illiterate Cashier

Let’s start with the functionally illiterate cashier. I watched her make this sign. She used a calculator for the math. All of it. Seriously.

Emploee Discount

She needs to work on her spelling, too.

December 13, 2012 - The Evangelist 

A tall middle-aged man bought an ornament so he would have the opportunity to witness to me. Actually, he was going to buy four ornaments until I told him how much they cost.

His compelling closer: “Jesus Christ of Nazareth is coming back, but not until the churches buy up all the land and give it back to the Indians [sic].”

December 14, 2012 - The Dispenser of Unsolicited Advice

One slow morning I was sitting on my stool watching for the occasional shopper to wander near the kiosk. An older gentleman sneaked up behind me to warn, “You’re gonna have to do more than that if you want to sell something. You better get out there and wave people down!”

To which I replied, “What people? Where?”

December 18, 2012  - The Incredibly Naive Shopper

There are literally thousands of ornaments on the kiosk, at least 12 of each style. They’re made of cast resin and glazed. They all have “Made in China” stickers on the back. Yet, a couple of times a week, some wide-eyed customer will ask in complete seriousness, “Did you make all these yourself?”

The Functionally Illiterate Cashier, Take 2

A cashier was filling in her time sheet: “12:00 – 5:30 = 6.5 hours.”

Me: That’s 5.5 hours.

Her: No it’s not.

Me: Yes, from 12 o’clock to 5 o’clock is 5 hours, plus another half hour.

Her (intently counting on her fingers): No, it’s definitely 6.5 hours.

Me: Why do you say that?

Her: Because 12 minus 5.5 is 6.5!

December 19, 2012 - The Shepherd Queen

One Saturday morning in early December, a tall, clean-cut young black man came through the mall in a most unusual get-up. He was wearing nondescript jeans, sneakers, and t-shirt, a bathrobe, and an unfolded hand towel on his head affixed with a headband. In his right hand was a cane he carried like a scepter. I say “scepter” and not “crook” because he held it up while strolling solemnly, with a stately pace and looked neither left nor right.

I figured he might be getting into character for a Christmas pageant, but I couldn’t help wondering, “Why on Earth is he wearing pink lipstick?”

December 20, 2012  - Walker or Stalker?

Mall walking is popular among retirees and other folks who want to walk for fitness while avoiding the elements. One walker, a fifty-something man clad in sneakers, khakis, and casual plaid shirt, takes it to a whole. other. level.

Around and around the mall he goes, crossing the center of the commons, skirting the food court, then back toward the other end. His quirks include a tendency to walk on his toes, and a compulsion to hold his right hand behind his back as if an unseen bully were pushing him around.

I find it mildly disturbing he is always there, no matter what shift I’m working.

Just for fun, here’s a picture of my work.

Reindeer compressed


December 21, 2012 -  Da Bratz

Brat 1 paid with cash. Brat 2 whipped out a credit card. It had a man’s name on it. I asked for ID.

Brat 2: <eyes rolling> It’s my boyfriends’s card.

Brat 1: <big huff> Look, he’s my brother. I’ll show you my ID so you see he and I have the same last name.

Me: That really makes no difference. We can’t accept that credit card.

Brat 2: Never mind. <big huff> I’ll buy an ornament somewhere else.

Brat 1: Me, too! I want my money back.

Me: OK, good thing we didn’t write on it already. Here you go…Who’s next in line?

December 22, 2012 - People Who Ask Questions

The focus here is mostly on the questions. And the smart-ass answers I wish I could give.

Q: Do you know where Victoria’s Secret is?
A: I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.

Q: (Upon being told there’s a 25 minute wait for personalization because there are many ornaments ahead of hers in line). Our movie starts in 5 minutes. Could you do mine next?
A: I live to put you before all others, and it’ll be gold-plated because you’re so special.

Q: Do you know where Torrid is?
A: How should I know where anything is? I never leave this kiosk except to go to the restroom and go home.

Q: (All up in my grille, blocking my light while I’m writing) I hope you don’t mind if I observe. How did you learn to write like that? Is it hard?
A: No, not as long as I can see and have oxygen to breathe.

Q: Where’s Spencer’s?
A: What does the sign on this kiosk say? Does it say “Information?” Have you ever heard of a mall directory?

Q: What do most people have written on their ornament?
A: Death to Christmas.

December 23, 2012 - The OCD Walker

This walker is a slightly built 30-to-40-something black man who holds a magazine up in front of his face with both hands as he walks. (Good thing it’s not a crowded mall!). He can’t possibly be able to read it while walking because his movements are too quick and jerky.

At prescribed points in his journey when he reaches certain stores and kiosks, he stops and performs a compulsive ritual. It’s a quick sideways bend from the waist, keeping his whole upper body stiffly aligned with that magazine still in front of his face. He does four or five of these high-speed bends, and away he goes.

December 24, 2012 - The Mall Property Manager

This morning maintenance failed to appear to fix the kiosk’s broken cash register shelf which collapsed yesterday.

The temporary solution offered when the shelf broke yesterday was a rickety system of two steel beams propped — unsecured — under the outer edge of the table, leaving us with an unsafe and un-level table. The front was nearly an inch-and-a-half higher than the back, which eliminated one of the few surfaces where we can write on ornaments.

The kiosk owner followed up with a phone call to express her displeasure. Soon after, the Property Manager appeared.

Property Manager: You can tell your staff to stop harassing us with phone calls. We don’t need any more attitude about this.

Lead Cashier: That wasn’t us. That was the owner who called you.

Me: We have four of us crowded up near this table writing and cashiering. If one person accidentally kicks one of those beams a customer or one of us could be seriously injured.

PM: I suggest you take some responsibility for your own safety and that of your customers.

Me: I’ll convey your suggestion to the owner. I’m sure she’ll be happy to know this is what she gets for her $10,000 a month rent.

December 25, 2012 - Humans Being

Participating in the programmed annual consumer ritual of Christmas shopping from the other side of the counter gave me a unique opportunity to observe human nature in action. Here’s a summary of what I found:

The vast majority of people I encountered were friendly, honest and open to varying degrees. I saw a lot of generosity and thoughtfulness going into shoppers’ gift giving decisions.

When people weren’t so nice, it was always a surprise. But that young grandmother who was angry because we didn’t have enough quarters to make change for a dollar had an underlying pain. She wanted her grandchild to ride the merry-go-round and be happy, and perhaps she thought we were being selfish and cruel. We really just didn’t have the change.

The older Asian woman who accused me of skipping her ornament writing in favor of the next customer’s had probably experienced discrimination or put-downs at some time in her life.

Most of all, people are interesting and endlessly fascinating. And they are most interesting when they are just being human.

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