Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Behold the Power of Chocolate

For those of you who know me from MySpace, sorry for the re-run.

For those of you who don’t, this is one of four blogs I salvaged from the two-hundred and something I posted on MySpace before they went down. Er, reinvented themselves.

It was plainly the sweetest moment I’ve ever enjoyed at work. It was my last day at J.C. Penney’s catalog desk, a job I had taken to put some much-needed legal tender in my wallet following a move to New Mexico.

It was a deceptively tough job, owing to the variety of services we offered. Each had its own highly-detailed set of procedures and processes that needed to be followed—and learned on the fly.

The department manager was a woman named Helga. She was in her late-fifties and clearly exhausted by the continual turnover in the department. Even the most earnest questions were answered in a weary and resigned monotone.

A few moments stand out.

The night a customer anxiously watched me wrap her wedding gift, distress written all over her face as she frantically searched for the politically correct words to get me to stop and let a woman take over. In a fiendish mood, I continued. I even suggested pairing a tartan plaid ribbon with the pink, satiny wrapping paper she had requested.

(I'll admit to being a bit put-off as I've been wrapping gifts since I was old-enough to give them and do a pretty fair job of it.)

Then there was the middle-aged Native American woman who wanted to return a comforter. In accordance with store policy, I removed the comforter from its heavy plastic storage bag for a quick inspection.

After unfolding it, I needed a moment to digest what I was looking at. The comforter looked as if she had given birth on it. Or murdered someone. It was covered with red stains and others the cast of CSI: Miami would have trouble identifying.

I looked at her in disbelief. “I can’t take this back, Ma’am.” Expressionless and unblinking, she asked why. “It’s used” I said. “No it’s not.” I wasn’t in the mood for a Monty Python skit just then and summoned the assistant manager.

She took one look at the comforter, then the woman and went blank. It was the only time I saw this wise-cracking New Jersey transplant speechless.

She went to the phone and called the store manager, who—unbelievably—gave the woman her money back. No questions asked. I don’t remember if the comforter went to the CDC in Atlanta or the Navajo police in Shiprock.

But I digress. This is about sweet moments, not comforters.

After a month at Penney’s, I had found a “real” job and given notice. My last day would be a Saturday. That morning, a new marketing promotion (miniature chocolate bars wrapped in coupons) was to be introduced.

I was chosen to hand them out, and positioned myself near an entrance. It didn’t take long for the mostly-female shoppers to figure out that chocolate, no free chocolate, was being handed out

Within minutes I was surrounded by women. Women with broad, beautiful smiles. Women who looked at me with something approaching adoration. If I wasn’t the fountain of youth guaranteeing eternally moist and youthful skin, I was at least handing out chocolate.

The circle surrounding me grew three and four deep. As best I could, I attempted to get a bar to each of them.

The eye contact was deep and lingering. And full of unspoken surrender.

God I loved this. Was this what it was like to be a rock star? Or Brad Pitt? Or George Clooney?

I didn’t want it to end.

“How’s it going, Randy?”

Then peals of laughter. The assistant manager had approached with another box of chocolate, and was taking in the success of Penney’s new marketing promotion.

But all too soon, the second box was empty as well.

The women? Gone. My fifteen-minutes were over. I was a has-been.

The truth emerged late one night, in one of those long, soul-baring internal conversations we sometimes have. And it was this: it could have been Charles Manson handing out the chocolate, and the results would have been the same.

I sighed and resigned myself to the fact that I had been a mere delivery system for a woman’s true love—chocolate.

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