Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Jingle Bells On


Burbank, California is a bit of a redneck town. People tend to think of California as entirely peopled by liberals, be it of the tie-dyed, or the latte-swilling, variety. But look, it’s a big state. We can’t all be organic hemp entrepreneurs. Somebody’s got to work at the hardware store.

My hardware store is in Burbank, which is a town adjacent to, but separate from, Los Angeles. I tend to shop in Burbank even though I live in the NoHo neighborhood of LA, because the stores are nicer. Unlike at the North Hollywood Ralph’s, homeless dudes don’t rifle through the bagel bins of my Burbank grocery store. Vacant lots are kept clean of garbage. Police officers pull you over to issue you a warning that one of your brake lights looks a little dim.

And for that reason, Burbank tends to be a magnet for those drawn to the advantages of living in a large metro area, but who don’t necessarily want to share in the whole cultural melting pot thing. In other words, if you want good Mexican, don’t go to Burbank.

The employees of my Burbank hardware store are not the same as those you see working for the larger chains. They’re older. Quite a bit older, in fact. And they’ve been there forever. And I am not necessarily above the impulse to unconsciously judge employers by their ability to retain white employees – who, unlike their Latino counterparts, and in spite of what Fox News might tell you, can pretty much work wherever they want in Los Angeles.

In my store, mostly the men work the floor, and mostly the women work the registers. That’s no surprise. You’ll find that anywhere. In fact, I once had a friend who was a DIY goddess. Not having a garage, she converted a large closet in her condo into a workshop complete with a full-size table saw. She had every power tool known to man. She routed her own moulding. She could install ceramic tile in her sleep. And when she applied for a job at Home Depot, where did they put her? That’s right, behind a cash register. Meanwhile, the teenage boy working in the tool corral couldn’t identify a drill press in a lineup with a circular saw and a palm sander.

Unlike my friend, the register ladies at my hardware store seem content with their lot. And when they’re not busy, they keep up a steady stream of gossip about who always takes two extra minutes on their cigarette break, who didn’t finish stocking the items from Tuesday’s delivery, and who always pretends to be helping customers in order to avoid breaking down the pallets.

Which reminds me of another friend of mine, who worked one summer for a large Midwestern chain of hardware stores. Toward the end of the summer, he received his acceptance into Harvard Law School. When he gave notice, he asked the manager not to mention it to any of the other employees, who had given him no end of shit over the past couple of months because he was, ah, well, maybe not quite as committed to, and respectful of, a life devoted to retail as they thought he should have been. As luck would have it, the manager scheduled an all-staff meeting on my friend’s last day, and he could not resist announcing, proudly, my friend’s latest achievement, as if, without the manager’s expert bagging and stocking guidance, my friend would never have been accepted at such a prestigious institution.

As my friend expected, the announcement was met with much eye-rolling and groaning from his coworkers. One of them protested loudly “He’s going to Harvard? He don’t even know how to work the box baler!”

Indeed.

As I look around my own hardware store, especially at those denizens who count “toothpick” as an acceptable uniform accessory, I can well imagine that a similar scene might take place there. About a week ago, I was in the store picking up some drawer organizers, because that’s what I do when I get a couple of days off, and as I finished paying and had turned away from the cashier, she assaulted me with a fairly aggressive “Merry Christmas!” It was so insistently intoned that it made me stop in my tracks and look back at her.

She was one of those older ladies who dyes her hair that color that kind of splits the difference between grey and blonde, know what I mean? She wore a Santa pin on her uniform vest, and glasses on a chain around her neck. Her name tag placed her squarely in that set of women whose names are no longer in favor in this country: like Bertha, and Marjorie, and Eunice. Her jaw was set at a defiant angle, and her eyes narrowed their gaze at me. In the instant while I considered my reply, I imagined a meeting between workers and management wherein the employees were ordered to end each transaction during the month of December with a generic and inclusive “Happy Holidays.” I also imagined conversations among those who expressed, in between puffs on Pall Malls out on the loading dock, their determination to defy the directive, and their conviction that Christians, especially the English-speaking ones, you know, are the beleaguered martyrs of this country who love the USA while asking for not one thing in return.

And I wondered why she had picked me. As a middle-aged white woman, did she figure me for a friendly? Was her salutation an invitation to respond in kind, a sort of Burbank hardware store version of “geese fly south at midnight”? Or did she take in my ironic mirrored aviators and my Loteria jewelry and decide that I was part of the problem, and thus deserving of her loaded xmas greeting bomb?

I considered a variety of replies, from “Fuck you!” to “Happy Hanukkah!” and I suppose several in between. But at that moment, what struck me as sad, and sort of regrettable about the whole situation was that she was not only kind of missing the point of Christmas, but in fact even missing the point of wishing anybody a merry anything.

I squelched a sincere desire to retort “Christmas is not a weapon, bitch.” And then instead I smiled at her and said “Merry Christmas to you!”

And I meant it.

Because I may not be a Christian, but I believe in Christmas. Peace on earth, good will toward mankind, and all that. It’s a good idea, Christmas, and we’re living in a world sorely in need of some good ideas. So let’s all keep Christmas, all of us, and when we choose to defy the bone-headed so-called “politically correct” middle managers of the world, let’s defy them with love in our hearts and in our voices, not vindictiveness.

And merry Christmas, hardware store lady. For Christ’s sake, merry Christmas to you. Always. Always.

22 comments:

kirby said...

You're right, the phrase Merry Christmas has become the new "put up your dukes."

Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Amen sister.

bubbles said...

Merry Christmas! I haven't stopped saying it. I mean, even if someone doesn't believe in Christmas, how is it rude or insulting for me to with them a merry one. I really don't get it. It's just something nice for Christ's sake!

SkylersDad said...

I have become so bombarded with different versions of Happy Holiday Christmas Kwanzaa stuff that I always look at the person and ask "Oh, is there some sort of holiday coming up?"

dguzman said...

Well, you certainly took the high road on this one. I probably would've done the same thing, though I know it would've been out of habit--and it wouldn't have spurred such a well-written and thoughtful post.

Nice work.

Larry Jones said...

I was going to suggest that maybe you read too much into her Christmas greeting, that maybe you have just the teensiest little chip on your shoulder for the Bertha's of Burbank, but, you know, this is really a beautiful post, and thank you for writing it, and Happy New Year to you.

PS: I guess the atheists have been putting up billboards (not in LA, of course) saying "Be good for goodness' sake." Seems like a good enough reason to me.

Jess said...

Great post, Vikki. And to the poster above, the line "be good for goodness' sake" is kind of ironic, isn't it?! I mean, the song is all about how Santa knows when you've taken a shit and how he watches you sleep. It's REALLY telling you to be good for SANTA'S sake (because he's watching you. he's... watching you). And for presents' sake. Not for goodness, really.

Larry Jones said...

Jess - Yes, the atheists have taken a line from the song out of context, and twisted it around to serve their godless purposes. Bless you for your vigilance.

Dad E said...

Yeah, "Be Good for Goodness Sake". What a twisted thought. Better to have a list of sins to refer to. It is so much easier than thinking it out.

Bubs said...

Are you sure that she just wasn't one of those kind of cranky older people for whom every greeting sounds kind of gruff and challenging?

In any event, you sure handled that nicely.

deadspot said...

All I knew about Burbank was that the Tonight show is made there, so I've always pictured it as a place where old people and comedy go to die.

Cheer34 said...

I say Merry Christmas.....just because it's naughty

Jess said...

Actually, my point was that I agreed with "the athiests" about being good for goodness sake. I personally find athiests to be much more moral than christians who apparently only do good stuff because jesus/god/santa might be watching.

Simon said...

Love you, girl. Happy New Year. Can I confess that I love it when people say "Merry Christmas" to me? I guess because I dig the holiday. "Happy Chanukah" would of course be a perfectly acceptable reply, especially if you gave a shit about Chanukah. And you're right: Joyous celebrations of good will should not be occasion for xenophobic secret handshakes. But who knows what was cookin' in hardware lady's mind? Maybe it was just Xmas cookies.

Distributorcap said...

right from beautiful downtown burbank......

like laugh in used to say... i hope you got a good laugh in

vikkitikkitavi said...

A clarification to my readers regarding hardware store lady:

Even though I don't know hardware store lady personally, because I do a lot of home repair/improvement projects, she has rung up my purchases at least 40 or 50 times over the years since her employer became my hardware store of choice. We chit chat sometimes. She's a very nice lady. She always packs my plants well and offers me a plastic sheet to protect my car. She's a sweetie, usually.

So while my conjecture about the motivation for her remark is just that - pure conjecture, I just want to say that I was not predisposed to think ill of her. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Grant Miller said...

God bless and Ah-Men!

SFNative said...

I'd swear you grew up down the block from where I now live.

Merrpy Kwanzmasakkuh

and a Happy Year of the Ox...eventually.

Johnny Yen said...

A significant portion of our regulars at the restaurant are Jewish, so I just say "Have a great holiday!"' unless they've said something about Christmas. Unlike a lot of folks, I do love the holidays, probably because I have kids, and I've been able to make sure they've had a good time then-- surrounded by family, friends, good food and of course presents. I'm all for celebrating the diverse holidays, as long as people remember the important thing: presents.

Larry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Larry Jones said...

All these comments, and not one person mentioned your picture of crucified Santa. The ghastly, shocking thing was simply overlooked. Your readers are hardcore, Vikki.

Red said...

Very nice post, Vikki.