I’m a 26-year-old female, who’s about 5 foot nothing and generally harmless looking. I have no idea what it is about being seemingly harmless, but it tends to attract a whole array of bad news. Don’t believe me? Go ask a soft-spoken, tiny girl, who gives you the first impression of “isn’t she just adorable” and more than likely, she’ll have enough stories to make you worry about your sanity. This is compounded by my overall attitude of, “I’ll be sugar, rainbows, and sunshine right up until you give me a reason not to.” A job in retail makes the whole mess about as fun as bamboo splinters under your fingernails. Whoever came up with the idea the customer is always right needs to be shot, resurrected, and shot again. That said, I’ll do anything within the limits of my job for a customer. I like helping customers out. Most retail workers do. A little lesson is to be had here for those who have never worked in a service-based company: most employees want to help you. Let them and you’ll both walk away from the encounter in a much better frame of mind. If they don’t, you should ask yourself if it’s a situation beyond their control. If the answer is even anywhere close to, it might be, let them off the hook. I’ve seen too many retail employees get a look of dread on their faces when something goes wrong as I, myself, am out being a customer. It bothers me every single time because I know what it’s like to think, “Great, now I’m gonna get yelled at and called names for something that isn’t my fault, or if they’re mad enough they might even call in about me and then my boss will be wondering what in God’s name I’m doing.” You know what said employees can do about it? Sit there and take it, while apologizing for your inconvenience, but I digress.
I work as an overnight supervisor to a 24 hr drugstore. We get plenty of creepy people in, being a fair-sized city with only 2 24 hr pharmacies in town. I have some really weird stories. Maybe I’ll tell a few more at a later date. The evening of this particular incident had me working on a Saturday night with 2 other front end employees. Saturday nights mean ad tags. We overnighters, the few, the lucky, are the ones stuck with this joyful job. It means 10 hrs of monotony and a lot of back and forth around the store. Usually, the nights pass with some regulars, some meth heads/drunks, some regular meth heads/drunks, and the occasional sick person or person with a sick loved one at home. Most intoxicated persons are in and out like a flash, but, I’ve noticed, the more out of their wits they are, the higher the potential for creepy is. So, you learn to watch the ones with nervous twitches.
It was about 1:30 am when this taller, wiry man walked into my store. His dark brown hair was cropped pretty short and he was dressed fairly casually. I didn’t even realize his presence in the store until the cashier for the night, Daniel, came up to me and muttered something about the weird guy wandering around the front of the store. Daniel is middle-aged but mischievous and crotchety are 2 very apt descriptions of him. You never quite know when he’s just stirring the pot so I searched the guy down to see what was bothering Daniel. I had been thinking it was more than likely he’d noticed something strange about the guy and was worried about shoplifting. This would not the first(or last) time his so-called shoplifter turned out to be some poor, exhausted father or husband sent out to get cold medicine. I found him pacing along the front wall and asked if he needed any help in my cheeriest customer service voice. The moment he turned around, I froze. This man radiated subdued violence. It surrounded him like an aura of menace. I couldn’t pinpoint what was bothering me. The weirdly still expression maybe? Or the way he was standing? He was unnaturally tense during my whole experience with him like he was ready to go off at the first provocation. Truthfully, I still haven’t quite figured it out, but he was just . . . off enough to send up red flags just looking at him. Immediately uncomfortable, I was all too happy when he muttered, “No. I’m, uh, just looking.” I never have figured out how to gracefully exit the situation when a customer has nothing left to say to you but still stands there, staring, which feels almost expectant, even if it’s not. After a minute or so of avoiding meeting his eyes, I told him my usual line of, “Alright, well let us know if you need anything.” I backed into the aisle I’d emerged from and hurried off to busy myself with more ad tags. Daniel could keep an eye on him if he felt like it. The dude was scary and I was the only female on shift. No thank you, they don’t pay me enough.
It’s not long before I start to feel like I’m being watched and creepy suspect # 1 is lurking at the top of the aisle, staring. I finish all of the tags in line for that aisle and I’m relieved when I have to move across the store for others in a different section. Again, a few moments pass, and that weird prickly feeling hits me and he at the end of the aisle, staring right at me. I ask for the second time if I can help him find anything and he pretends to busy himself with some vitamins he picked up at random. He gave a creepy grin and told me again that he was just looking. Yeah, sure, I just bet you were.
This continues for another half hour or so until I find myself heading up to the front to ring up a customer. I had no idea where Daniel was, but it didn’t matter. I was grateful for the distraction. That was until I noticed creeper following me up to the register, still staring. I conducted the transaction as quickly as possible and after a few, too many nervous glances in my creepy’s direction the customer took off like someone had lit him on fire. I decide to go outside for my lunch break. It was cold and I thought maybe since Mr creeper didn’t have a particularly warm looking coat on he’d leave me alone. I searched out one of my coworkers and let them know my intentions, clocked out, and stepped outside and into my car. Now, normally I try to avoid smoking in my car. I’ve never liked the way it stinks up a car but, desperate times, desperate measures. I locked the car doors and rolled down the window just far enough to fit my cigarette through to ash it. I picked up a book, turned to the page I’d left off on a settled in.
A few paragraphs later I heard someone banging on my window. I jumped and looked up. Guess who? That’s right, Mr creepy. He grinned at me in what I’m sure was supposed to be a sheepish fashion but it came out more Norman Bates if you know what I mean. I again asked him if I could help him and he said he’d been looking for something in particular that he’d like my help with. I told him firmly that there were 2 other employees in the store that would have to help him. I was off the clock. He frowned and after a moment of me pointedly ignoring him in favor of tensely not being able to concentrate on my book he went back inside.
My lunch break ended and I still hadn’t seen him come back out. I hurried inside, clocked in, and called the other shift supervisor, Mark, into the office. I explained the situation and asked him if he could go deal with the dude. Mark sighed, nodded, and went to talk to the guy. I busied myself in the office with some training sessions I’d been putting off for a while. Mark came back inside the office, wearing a very bewildered look. I raised an eyebrow and he sat down.
“That guy was really weird.”
“Weird is not quite the adjective I’d use. What did he say?”
“He wanted to talk to you again. I told him you had other things you needed to be doing but I’d be happy to help him. That agitated him. You thought he was freaky beforehand. . .” He visibly shuddered and I raised an eyebrow again.
“He asked if I knew what time you got off or where you lived.”
“What the fuck?”
“Exactly. I told him we were legally obligated not to share such information and that if he wasn’t going to buy anything he needed to leave. Then he left. I followed him out just in case. He was looking around your car until he noticed I had followed and then he got in his car and left.”
I decided I wasn’t going to stick around to see if he was going to come back and noped out of the rest of my shift. Shortly after my store set up a guard contract with the local police department and I haven’t seen him since.