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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Can You Keep A Secret?

Some of my most interesting experiences happened while I was working in retail. The people that I worked for had shops in a very fancy "shopping center" (NOT a mall, it was in a neighborhood too ritzy for a mall), a quaint shopping district, and even at Denver International Airport. Some people might think that working retail is comparable to being caught in one of Dante's Circles of Hades, but it isn't, really. Okay, well, some days it is. But you get to see snippets of people's lives and behaviors that can be anything from shocking to hilarious.

My first holiday season in retail (at the ritzy shopping center) was probably the most memorable of all. I had not been hired on when the shop opened just a few months before, but had been brought on staff before the holiday rush to assemble gift baskets, and then in the shop to ring up sales. The lines were constant, so I learned to catch my breath whenever an opportunity presented itself. I grew to wish that people would write checks rather than use cash or credit cards - I could take a moment to catch my breath. 

At one such moment, I let my mind take a break as a well-groomed, intelligent-looking woman who was probably in her fifties wrote out her check. I was startled back to reality when she asked, "Pee-pee?" My heart started thumping and my brain went into overdrive. I was embarrassed for her, and for myself. "I beg your pardon?" I asked politely. Again she said, "Pee-pee?" What should I say? Here was a grown woman, quite possibly old enough to be my mother, and she was asking me where she could go pee-pee! Not where the watercloset or powder room or restroom was, but where to go pee-pee! I looked at her like a deer frozen by oncoming headlights. I was speechless, which is no small feat for me. "The word 'shop' in the name of the store, is it spelled with two p's?" I managed to hold it together, but had a hysterical laugh at myself later. Needless to say, I decided at that point to NOT mentally check-out any more!

Another favorite moment happened at DIA. So many different people from so many different places pass through airports. Grandmothers on the way to see new babies, pilots and flight attendants getting ready for another trip, celebrities and just plain folks. Incidentally, I learned one of my most important travel rules while working at DIA. Always carry two extra things in your carry-on bag - your medications and a change of underwear. That way, no matter where your suitcase goes, you will not be caught either without your pills or with your pants down, so to speak.

I was able to meet so many interesting people and share moments of their lives. One day, a gentleman told me that his mother had been quite a character. All the time he and his brothers and sisters were growing up, none of them knew how old their mother was. Seriously! They knew when her birthday was, but she would never let them know her age. When he and his mother were getting a bit older, for some reason it started to bother him. He really felt that he needed to know how old his mother was. So one day when he was visiting her, he said, "Mom, you've never told us how old you are. Now I am starting to get older and I would really like to know what your age is." She looked him in the eyes and said, "Can you keep a secret, Son?" "Of course I can, Mom!" She smiled and said, "So can I!" They both got a good laugh out of it, but the subject was closed. He never knew how old she was, but he had come to appreciate this little quirk of hers. The numbers were far less important than the person.

Although I often found myself going to and from work at times that were incredibly early or late in the day, I grew to appreciate the quiet time during my travels. I would start wondering what lives I would become a part of that day. I might be there for someone to share their sadness or joy with. And who knows, maybe someone would ask me if I could keep a secret!