I've never had a real job in my life. I've mowed lawns and walked dogs and other Rockwellian endeavors, but never anything that required two forms of government I.D. and a tax return. This summer, however, my parents insisted I not sit around the house all day, so I got a job working in the music department of Barnes and Noble. It's pretty straight forward for the most part: stocking, shelving, receiving, working the register, and helping customers. That last bit is the variable, though.
You get all types in a music store. I get tweens asking for the new album from the minor co-star on Hannah Montana (yes, he has a recording contract), old men with long beards looking for Z.Z. Top's greatest hits (life imitates art), and oddly anal ladies in button-up shirts shyly paying for Zeppelin IV. Most people are really pleasant to deal with, and I genuinely enjoy my work. They're a lot like the character a nervous Matt Damon plays in Ocean's Eleven, though; I "like them, then instantly forget them the moment they're gone."
I was working the afternoon shift (Noon to five) when an older lady stepped into the store. She appeared to be in her sixties, but with trendy glasses and a handbag that betrayed at least some sort of familiarity with popular culture. I quickly decided on which recyclable phrase with which to greet her, and asked if there was anything with which I could help her. She smiled back, and slowly offered that she had a funny request.
She was looking for a particular song ("We can search for that") by the Beatles ("My favorite band!"), but she couldn't remember the name or how it went ("Hmm...").
Almost automatically, I tend to ask customers why they're looking for what they're looking for. Some take this as an intrustion, some are delighted by the interest. This lady pleasantly explained to me that her son wanted this song played at his funeral.
My perfunctory laugh caught in my throat. My face frozen in a nice, safe smile, my mind went to work on deciding the proper reaction. Surely she had meant that her son just loved this particular song so much, he wanted it played at his funeral one day. I said, "Oh yeah?"
She responded, "Yes, he's been sick recently." She spoke with a voice free of melodrama. Her tone was not crushed by the gravity of the statement, but rather it caused her to orbit around around it, always falling, but at never quite slamming into the ground. I stupidly replied, "Aw, I'm sorry," like one does when someone explains that they had to buy tulips because the flower shop was out of daisies.
The lady chuckled and said that it was alright, that she would ask her son the title of the song some other time, and return. She wished me a great day and walked from the store.
I've told this story to friends who all remark about the tragedy of the situation, and then make comments about how short life is. The thing, though, is that I don't find this story sad. Whatever had happened in this woman's life and the life of her son up until this point had been so wonderful that the conclusion of their story was not a frightening prospect. She was so profoundly happy, even in her moments of melancholy.
On an utterly unrelated note, I've used my employee discount to buy three albums since I've worked there. They are:
"The New Danger" by Mos Def
"White Lies for Dark Times" by Ben Harper
"Number Ones" by Michael Jackson