Some things terrify me: war, pestilence, illness, handling a retail transaction

male-retail-clerk-taking-food-from-womanI have done many things in my life and some of the things I have turned my hand to I have been relatively proficient at.

Those include things involving the English language, history, or undoing a bra hitch with just one hand. The latter is of course a different breed of endeavor than academic disciplines, but it is a discipline nevertheless.

Consequently, considering my areas of prowess I involved myself in teaching school and penning moderately enchanting items of journalism. But I have also seared my pinkies hauling sheets of plywood out of a hot-press, I chipped welding flux off chunks of metal and scorched my eyeballs with arc-welding flashes; I hauled bags of rock-salt out of a boxcar in scorching weather and also applied myself to a number of other esoteric tasks like picking up golf-balls at a driving range.

At all of the above I was reasonably accomplished. One thing that I was never accomplished at, nor have I done as a line of work, was retail.


I have zero experience handling a retail venture from the selling end, only from the buying one. Oh, I can be a good salesperson per se. I mean, teaching is a selling job; news and editorial writing especially involve sales prowess, and addictions counseling to be sure. “I am going to convince you that you don’t want to jam that fucking syringe into your arm.” Sometimes, blessedly, the pitch worked. Oh, and I have done some personal selling in other realms, too, but the less said about those realms the better, just for the sake of family values, y’understand.

But there is another aspect to a mercantile transaction, and that is the paper work part, you know, giving receipts, counting out change and the most dreaded of all, ‘dealing with plastic.’

As I say, I have never been involved in selling transactions as a job, but I have as a volunteer.

For the past few years I have done desultory shifts as an art gallery volunteer, which mainly consists of manning the desk, greeting the nice visitors and, unfortunately also handling ‘transactions’. And there are people who do transactions as a living. How do they do that? This is why I am always nice to store clerks – you know, unless they are complete assholes or something – because they have to do a job that terrifies me for many hours each day.

So I am sitting comfortably in my gallery chair at the gallery desk, reading my book, and somebody enters. My heart thumps a bit. This person might want to buy something. Please don’t want to buy anything. Just look at the pretty pictures and then bugger off.

But then said person approaches my desk and said person has in hand two art postcards. That’s OK. Postcards are cheap and they’ll pay in cash. Just have to make sure I give them the right change, add the GST, and make out the receipt correctly. All of the aforementioned challenging enough for the retail transaction jerk that I am. Make sure I hand out the correct changes. Make sure I fill in the right blanks on the receipt. Make sure keep the correct copy of said receipt for the gallery.

But the most pants-wettingly terrifying for me is when somebody pinpoints a painting that is going for a few hundred bucks. That means the person is going to use plastic. “Sure you don’t want to pay cash for this? It’s only $750.” Fat chance, of course. Out comes the Visa or Mastercharge. Oh, intercourse?

We don’t have a fancy ass ‘new’ charge card process – at least we didn’t. We had one of those archaic swipe things wherein I had to fill in all the blanks on the form and invariably forgot something, you know, like the customer’s name. Sometimes the customer was obliging enough to point out my omission. And then if the customer was from out of town I was charged with phoning the charge company to verify their number. This was usually forgotten or neglected as well. In any case I am doing the paperwork in a state of panic for fear of screwing up. My pulse rate and blood pressure increase and I feel similar to the way I felt when I was doing a math exam back in school.

And to think there are retail clerks who do this stuff every day. Small wonder I love and admire you so.


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